Saturday, December 8
Prompted to remember moments when I have “risen to the occasion,” I think back to our four years in Gainesville, Florida, where we lived while Charles was assigned to the ROTC Department at the University of Florida. Orders came sending him back to Viet Nam for a second tour. What would the children and I do? Stay in Gainesville? Go home to Savannah? We had a comfortable home, good neighbors, they liked their school, and I was finishing up my undergraduate degree. The decision was made: We’d stay. The time passed and we stayed busy, but as Christmas approached, I felt increasingly unhappy. We’d spent far too many holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries apart during his military career and I was not looking forward to another.
But then, I was called to rise to an occasion, to stop thinking only of myself and consider the loneliness of others who also would spend holidays far from their homes and loved ones! The University of Florida had a large international student population and our church, Grace Presbyterian, belonged to an alliance of churches that took these students in during the holidays when the dormitories closed. Our fellowship hall was turned into a dormitory and members “adopted” students for meals and outings. I signed up for two European women. We’d have dinner and then decorate our tree. Chuck and Vicky and I drove to the church on that chilly afternoon to meet our young women. Waiting for us were four Asian men: two Taiwanese, a Korean, and a Japanese. I checked to be sure that these men were my guests- they were- so we stuffed ourselves into the car for the ride home.
Following dinner, with carols playing on the stereo, we started on the tree. The lights were strung – not with Charles’ usual precision, but not too many gaps – and then the ornaments were taken out of boxes. Each one had to be examined. Chuck and Vicky told about the ornaments and placed them on the tree or handed them to the men. No one was a Christian, but they’d all seen trees. However, they had never decorated one. As a last touch, the manger scene was placed and our task was complete. I served coffee with nut cake and ambrosia. The two from Taiwan were doctoral students in agricultural studies, particularly citrus fruits, and they especially liked the ambrosia. I wrote down the ingredients for them and imagined this Southern dessert being served to their families on the other side of the world. They showed us pictures of their children, about the ages of my two blond-haired children who looked on with interest. The younger men brought out pictures of their parents and we talked about their homes so far away. It was getting late. We stuffed ourselves back into the car for the drive to the church. As I drove I realized that the trepidation I’d felt when I first saw those four men had been replaced with joy. Chuck, Vicky and I had the pleasure of sharing a treasured family tradition with four strangers, who, by the end of the evening, had become new friends.
There are so many instances when we are called to rise to an occasion. We can help out at Emmaus House, serve on a committee, visit the elderly, provide meals for Interfaith Hospitality, donate to missions, teach a class, clean up a property, plant a tree – the opportunities for service are numerous. Every time we participate in such endeavors, our own lives are enriched far beyond our efforts because in “gifting” others, we are gifted. And it starts when we rise to the occasion. Shall we stand?
– Lynne Davis