There are days, which follow weeks like this, when I start the morning with a prayer asking for the eyes and heart to see the wonder in my humdrum life. I have learned without fail that this prayer is always answered in abundance, in unexpected and delightful ways.
The first time I clearly remember saying such a prayer, I was on a four-wheeler zooming across a golden pasture an hour later. Completely unexpected, and totally one of the best days of my life. I still laugh as I remember how much I dreaded making a trip to a country development way south of the metro area. I flat did not want to go that particular day.
Not only did I have the thrill of driving a stranger's vehicle wide open across untouched prairie, but I learned so much from the man and how he conducted his business. He was the kind of guy who could dig a hole and make money selling the dirt. Literally! He had dredged out a lake on a piece of property he was developing in Colorado, and sold the dirt to landscaping companies in a five-state area!
He also had closed out some livestock operations and was looking for another way to make some money from the land. Well, he happened to discover that the hay made excellent bedding for apes, and coincidentally was an excellent food for giraffes. Zoos could not buy enough -- turns out his stuff cut down remarkably on the number of respiratory infections giraffes got.
Likewise, he had owned a horse trailer company, which he started to meet his own needs in transporting horses. After selling off the horses, he looked for another way to use the trailer company and before you know it, he was making specialized trailers for catering companies to use as party trailers at big rodeo events and other venues!
Seriously, I think the man could sneeze and make money.
It took a few days to pry the smile off my face, not just for all I saw, learned and did that day, but because it was such an obvious answer to the pitiful prayer I had whined that morning. Lord, help me see the good -- and boy did he!
And so it was with today.
First thing this morning, I returned to the home of a man I had interviewed a few weeks ago. One of the editors I sometimes work for had wanted me to make a photo assignment to go with the story, so we went back to Buck's home. Buck happens to be the uncle of my best friend's fiance, so I have sort of a familial feeling, like he's my adopted uncle twice removed or something. I think he's a great guy and he's got a fascinating story as a retired furniture maker.
Anyway, I enjoyed getting to visit with him again for a little bit and getting to play with his little dog, Penny. After the photographer left, we visited a few more minutes. I told him I was going out to his nephew's house to dog sit later in the day. We started talking about fishing in his pond and half-joked that we should get out there with a couple of poles this afternoon. I told him I'd be content to sit out there with a stick and not even mess with a hook.
Seeing Buck again put me in an even better mood and I caught myself smiling as I drove the few blocks to the next appointment. I was meeting with the leaders of a nonprofit housing group in the same area.
Sometimes, when I meet with people in this type of nonprofit work, I get the impression that there are some very big-hearted people with big visions and very small business plans. They often are underfunded and dream bigger than their purse will pay for.
When I drove up, the banker who is part of the leadership team was sitting in her little sports car, talking on her cell phone. I didn't rush to get out of my car -- I made a few notes, then decided to get out and look around, while she finished her call.
I heard another car down the block and it caught my attention. It was a ruby-red PT Cruiser, sparkling like a gem. Driving it was a chubby man with long, white hair and a long, full white beard. His deep blue eyes twinkled through his wire glasses.... are you getting the picture here?
Guess what his car tag said. Go on, guess!
He slammed on the brakes and slid to a stop right next to me, hopped out and called me by name. I shook his hand and realized my mouth was hanging open. I snapped it shut, smiled and said "Yes, I'm so-and-so. Glad to meet you!" He laughed and introduced himself by name.
We wound up talking for a very long time about the nonprofit's work, and a bunch of other stuff. He said something about being busy with his "other" job. Yes, indeed, he IS Santa Claus and has the pictures to prove it. He works during the season at a Christmas store called North Pole City. Honestly, it's one of my favorite places. Walking through it makes me feel like a young child again. Sometimes I make a couple of trips there during the season just to experience that joy that the holiday always brought.
Meeting Santa Claus was enough of a delight for the day, but wasn't really even the biggest blessing of our meeting. We had moved the meeting to the nonprofit's office space in a nearby church, and during that second part of our conversation I started realizing that I have done several stories on such housing ministries. Small clusters of houses are being renovated and rebuilt in formerly blighted neighborhoods all over this metropolitan area.
You know what? When I started with that thought, I realized exactly what I was witnessing. With each of these groups and their work, I am seeing God's fingerprints all over this city! YES! That's what they are!
Not any group can do everything, but every group can do something. And with each change that each group makes to improve housing for the poor and disenfranchised in our city, we're making life better for everyone here.
You've no doubt heard or read the statement: "If you want peace, work for justice." These ministries and non-profit projects do exactly that. They instill the pride of home ownership in parts of the city where ownership rates are miserably low. They treat people with dignity and respect. They bring neighbors together in areas where such contact has been unheard of.
Yes, I can see God's fingerprints on this neighborhood and this non-profit.
Security bars are coming off windows. Drug houses are being abolished and replaced with good, quality homes that are safe. People are able to sit on their porches again and visit with their neighbors.
And in this area, one of the neighbors is Santa Claus. He is so vested in his work and seeing this neighborhood improve, that he's actually bought a home there himself, so he can be present with those he's trying to assist. It's the best way to find out what their needs really are, he says. It also helps him see what the neighborhood resources are.
And who knows -- there may be some child out there who is writing a letter to Santa asking for a safe place to live. There's a good chance that's a request that would be granted.