IMG_6279The holidays are a popular time to show appreciation to those who enrich our lives with the gift of their presence – everyone from neighbors and clergy to mail carriers and civil servants who spend their days making ours easier. But many who’ve brightened my path this year are nameless strangers who may never know the difference they’ve made.

The dark-eyed woman who waited on my mom and me behind the falafel counter at the Mediterranean café in New Haven one bright day this past summer surely didn’t know our lives had just been pierced by the word “cancer.” She simply served us good food with genuine hospitality. Her kindness offset the acrid words we’d just consumed and brought back happy memories of when my mom and I went to college together – me as an undergraduate student, she has a grad – in Jerusalem two decades earlier.

The heavy-jacketed construction worker unwrapping his breakfast sandwich on a brisk morning this past week on another New Haven street could have easily ignored the frazzled mom from Maine who rolled down her window to ask directions. Instead he put down his sandwich and carefully pointed the way to the nearby hospital where my mom had been temporarily admitted.

And the middle-aged Hispanic chaplain who knocked on her hospital door a couple hours later could have offered a perfunctory prayer and gone on her way. Instead, she pulled out a chair and listened as my mom shared about her passion for translating Scripture and how she is trusting God for healing so she can complete her work.IMG_6483“Could I share a hymn?” the chaplain asked as my 1-year-old pushed a toy tractor across the floor.

Mom nodded.

“I’m not sure I remember all the words,” the woman said. “But as you were talking, this is what came to me.”

Then in a strong, soothing alto this woman sang all five verses of a hymn written more than a century ago about God’s faithfulness, “How firm a foundation.”

“Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed,” she sang. “I am Thy God, and will give thee aid; I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.”

As her words filled the room, I closed my eyes. Tears slid down my cheeks as I nodded along. And when I bundled up my son and drove away that afternoon, I carried her encouragement with me.IMG_6489Never underestimate the difference you make in the lives of those you meet today, whether by serving a meal, or helping a stranger or taking the time to truly listen. That aid, that strength, that help of which the chaplain sang is often delivered through you and me.

While you may not know the sorrows others carry, God does. And he wants to use your simple ordinary gifts to show them his love.