I guess most of us are preoccupied with how cold it is about now. I’ve had it with this dark, cold, sunless January. I have to admit the snow did help our plight somewhat, as my philosophy about cold is, “If you get no snow, the winter has no redeeming quality whatsoever.” Today, I see the sun from my warm recliner as I write this blog – so, I may literally go outside, today … later.
I have endless memories of being freezing and sweating at the same time while skiing. I believe the coldest seat on earth is a ski lift climbing to the top of a mountain in Colorado. But as I reflected this week, without question, the coldest I have ever been wasn’t at the top of the peak in a chair lift in Colorado, Utah or California … but ,instead, in Southern France on this very day, many years ago. I know when I say Southern France you have an image in your mind of the warm beach, so did we, until we arrived and stepped out of that small airport. I felt like I had been slapped in the face, and the optimistic smile I wore was somewhere between Marseille and Barcelona. We were jet lagged, culture shocked and trying, desperately, to keep that “call of God” on the frontal cortex of our brains. This day in mid January didn’t welcome us to town.
Trying to appear pleased, comfortable and eager to our new friends and hosts, we each managed an optimistic phrase of some sort (except for our daughter Rachel, who was a month away from being nine). I stared at her and burst into laughter to keep from crying as I looked at her eyes wide, blue and frozen in the widest position possible for an eye to be. She was wearing more of a jacket than a coat, for which I claim full responsibility. Suddenly, our first order of business seemed clear … find Rachel a warm coat. I propped her up, and as I pushed her forward, with each step sharp daggers of pain shot up our legs.
Our new friends made the first foreign exchange of currency on our behalf. We were grateful to have American friends shielding us, not only from the cold, but also from the equally cold stares coming from the French who were sizing us up. There we were … Americans, easy to spot, not dressed in solid black and speaking in extraordinarily loud voices. It’s funny I had never noticed how loud we were before this time.
Our first day continued on as our friends were giving us the long, extended tour around the city of Marseille … but it was lost on all four of us. We did learn our first new word in French that day. “Atencion!” which translated means, “Watch out for the dog poop on the sidewalk in front of you, and yell it to the people behind you so they don’t step in it either!” I guess in light of San Francisco’s problem of humans doing the same on their sidewalks it doesn’t seem quite as disturbing. The French at least hose down the sidewalks every night.
From that point on, I would ask the kids at the first cold snap if they had a warm coat. I become terrified at the notion that they wouldn’t be warm in the bitter winter air. I imagine this is where the joke in our family comes from … ”Do You Have A Winter Coat?” They reply, “Moooom.” But I still ask the question every year, if only for posterity.
One of my favorite, spontaneous memories was a snowy, freezing day in Fort Worth. Rachel was home with the school closed and Lance was in his freshman year in college. We started laughing about my yearly question concerning coats. My mother had passed away the previous summer and I still hadn’t given away all of her things. I said, “Lets go downtown and give these coats to people who need them. So we bundled up my mother’s coats, as well as all of our coats we never wore, made as many peanut butter sandwiches as the bread allowed, hopped in the car and drove downtown. We stopped in an area where we knew many homeless people stayed under the bridge. As soon as the trunk opened and we pulled out the coats, people came from every direction towards us.
It probably took 10 minutes to give away every coat, including the ones off our backs, as well as every peanut butter sandwich. We just wished we had more to give. We told them Jesus loved them and shared the gospel message. Maybe it was the best cold day ever for the three of us, and, ironically, we ended up without a warm coat … but our hearts were warmed by the blessing of giving.
So, I have to ask you today, “Do You Have a Warm Coat?” Do you have so many coats that some could be given to someone who has none?
“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you tells him, “Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,” but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that? So too, faith by itself, if it is not complemented by action, is dead.” (James 2:15-17)
If you’re going out, bundle up and, for goodness sakes, put on a warm coat!