There are unforgettable people in everyone's life. Walter is one of them for me.
Walter was a 12 year-old boy when I met him in the small town where I went to college. He lived with his mother, aunt and two younger siblings. His father was in prison. Their old ramshackle house was behind the grocery store where I worked.
Walter would come into the store almost daily so he and I became friends over a period of time. His family was poor and he lacked self confidence. All you had to do was listen to the way his mother and aunt spoke to him and you understood why he felt that way. Their manner of speech was almost always demeaning.
In spite of the way he was treated by others, Walter demonstrated a sense of self pride. When he was in the store at my break time I would try to buy him a Coke or a snack but he would not accept. He refused to take a handout. He earned spending money by sweeping the sidewalks in front of downtown merchants' stores or collecting bottles and returning them for the deposits. Anything to make a nickel or two.
One cold, rainy December day Walter came into the store and was obviously excited about something so I followed him outside as he beckoned me. This was uncharacteristic of him and I wondered what could be so important.
Walter ran ahead of me. As I walked around the corner of the building I saw the source of his delight. His old raggedy winter coat was soaking wet as he held up a pitiful looking Christmas tree. It would have made Charlie Brown's look exquisite.
"Walter," I asked. "Where did you get that?" He answered that he had bought it from the Optimist Club tree lot on Main Street. "They let me have it for 50 cents," he said. I thought to myself that they should be ashamed of themselves for charging him anything.
"Ain't it pretty?" Walter asked. I probably lied in response because this was the worst excuse of a Christmas tree I had ever seen but he was so proud of it.
I asked, "Why did you buy it?" and he replied, "Well, I just didn't think it was right for my little brother and sister not to have a Christmas tree." With that he reached his hand into his pocket, counted his change, and asked me, "How many decorations do you think I can get for $1.83?" Before I could answer he picked up his tree and ran toward his house.
As Walter ran away I stood in the downpour and felt like crying.
Compared to Walter I had plenty but I was "down in the dumps" because Lena and I couldn't afford to buy each other gifts that Christmas. I was reminded that my pity party was so irrational and selfish. Walter exhibited the joy of Christmas through his generous spirit, although he had very little to give.
It doesn't take a Walter to help us have the Christmas Spirit. Let us remember that although Jesus had all the privileges and rightful dignity of God, He took on the status of a servant, was born a human being, and lived a selfless life. That is the Gift of Christmas. Glory to God in the Highest!
[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," Dec. 13, 2010. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]