>Slowing down the Train

>Last week, I had the privilege of accompanying 60 + kids from my daughter’s school to a field trip in San Francisco. The idea was to help our country kids learn about public transportation as well as cooperation and service. As I sat on Amtrak (which, let me say, is hugely underrated), watching acres of land and cities fly by, I couldn’t help but feel that my life was mimicking this fast moving train. December is a sacred, holy time, and yet, if we don’t tell the conductor to slow the train down and let us off, we might just miss our stop; we’ll miss our true destination.

The City (as we northern Californian’s call S.F.) holds many extremes: wealth and poverty; beauty and filth; hope and despair. Our kids got to see all of it, from the bright Christmas lights of Union Square filled with shops sporting $6000.00 dollar dresses, to the homeless huddled in doorways late at night. I wondered, as I took in the loneliness, homelessness, and hunger around me, how would these sheltered children handle such pain when coming face to face with it.

I got my answer. Our group was the first to have the honor of serving at Glide Church, an outreach that offers meals, shelter, counseling, etc..to the homeless, the marginalized, the hungry. After a thirty-minute session with the volunteer coordinator (who, by the way should tour schools and talk to children about knowing who they are…that’s for another blog), we were led into the various cafeterias where we would serve drinks, meals, wipe down tables, and most of all, try and make eye contact, greet the hungry with a smile, and welcome them into our lives.

Boy, that was the turning point: our train slammed on its breaks and we were hit with real life…real love…the meaning of Christmas. I watched those children, who, with GREAT joy, smiles, and kind words, serve people who, some, smelled like garbage, or were difficult to look at. They offered water to people who wrapped bits of their leftover food into used Dinty Moore canned stew containers. They sang Jingle Bells at the top of their lungs and the entire place erupted into song, smiles, and clapping. My heart, like the Grinch’s, grew 100 times its size that day.

When we asked the group at the end of the trip what was their favorite part of this field trip, nearly all agreed it was serving at Glide. They got it! They let their train slow down and found that true love, compassion, and grace is more meaningful than any shiny present, any tree, any tradition. They found the true meaning of Christ’s Christmas.

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