NSB Shared Story: Nate's Story


Unexpected Christmas Joy
Nate Klinger

It was just another Monday night in mid-December, or so it seemed when it started. I was a member of the house band at Toolies Country, a huge steak house/country dance hall on the west side of Phoenix. This place was so big that if you two-stepped around the dance floor once, you had gone a quarter mile. We played Tuesday through Saturday nights and on the off nights they would bring in a different band. Most of the time he would bring in other local bands to fill these nights, but that night was a special night because he had hired a road band that was passing through, so we all decided to go hear this new band.

lostgirlIt was a normal night for mid-December in Phoenix, with temperatures in the high 60’s. The night was full of stars, something I didn’t realize that I would miss until I had moved to the Chicago suburbs only to find out that the city is so bright that it hides the stars for the most part. The breeze was blowing softly, and I was taking in some breaths of fresh air as I walked toward the building knowing that once inside the cigarette smoke would take over, invading my lungs and clinging to my clothing and hair. As we walked I saw the figure of a young African American girl, perhaps in her late teens, wearing denim shorts and a t-shirt. She was walking through the enormous parking lot speaking to each person she encountered. At each stop she would make brief conversation, the people would shake their heads, and then she would move on. I knew right away that she was looking for money, and that sinking feeling came over me as I also knew she would undoubtedly be making her way over to us.

It is so hard to know how to respond when people ask for money. Only a few weeks before there had been an exposé on the news about those people who stand on the medians of the roadways wearing torn and dirty clothes holding signs that say things like “will work for food.” The investigative reporter told us that these people regularly make between three hundred and four hundred dollars per day doing this, and it is just too hard to know who is playing the game and who really has the need. I remember catching a guy playing the game who would stand at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Indian School Road. This particular intersection had cloverleaves to get on and off and had lots of decorative landscaping in the center. One day as I was getting onto Grand Ave in the late afternoon this guy was ending his day. He took his sign and cut through the shrubs on foot. On the other side of the shrubs was his brand new four-wheel drive pickup truck which he jumped into and drove away after changing out of his dingy shirt. This not only made me angry, but gave me a more cautious and cynical view of those asking for money. And even though some of my best friends were African American, I still carried within me somewhere some of my father’s racial bias that he was more than vocal about expressing throughout my childhood.

girlmountainAs we neared the front door my fears were confirmed and this young girl did indeed stop to talk to us. She did in fact ask us for money, but what was surprising to me was that she didn’t ask for money so she could catch a bus, or put gas in her car, which were two of the most common stated needs, but rather she said her baby was sick and needed Pedialyte. Now, at the time I was a new father, and I knew exactly what Pedialyte was and what is was for. It is something you give your baby when they become dehydrated due to either diarrhea or vomiting. For an instant my mind wrestled with the request. Was this real? Was this just a fresh new way to play on the sympathy of people going in somewhere to have a good time? What was the deal? What should I do? I must confess that I did exactly what everyone else in our group did. I claimed that I did not have any cash and that I would be using plastic that evening. In other words, I lied through my teeth knowing full well that I had at least twenty dollars cash in my front pocket. She heaved a sigh, thanked us for our time, wished us a good evening and set her sights upon the next group of people in the parking lot.

We went into Toolies and got ourselves a table. We ordered up our first round of beers and looked around for the owner. When he saw us he came over to our table to sit with us. It was almost as if I couldn’t focus long enough to even hear what he had to say because the word Pedialyte just kept eating at the back of my head. Why did she say that? Why did she say that? She could have said she needed the money for anything else in the world and it wouldn’t have mattered to me, but the connection to my own child kept this word pulsing at my conscience. Pedialyte, pedialyte, pedialyte. After about an hour I couldn’t stand it anymore. I was so convicted of my own unwillingness and so concerned by the possible validity of the need that I excused myself and went outside to see if I could find her.

When I walked out to the parking lot she was nowhere to be seen. I walked up and down trying to catch a glimpse of her but she was no longer there. I went around to the side of the building and looked through that parking area and she wasn’t there either. I decided to walk out to the corner and look up and down the street to perhaps see her in some other parking lot. There was a supermarket diagonally across the intersection, and after scanning that parking lot for awhile I found her. She was moving from person to person just as she had been doing when we first saw her, and it seemed that she was having the same kind of luck in that parking lot. I now desperately wanted to help, but I also wanted to be sure in my heart that this was truly a need, so I walked across the intersection and into the supermarket. I found the aisle where they kept the baby medications and picked up two bottles of Pedialyte, brought them to the cashier and paid for them.

leapinggirlI walked out of the front doors expecting to see her still there, but once again she was nowhere to be seen. My heart sank as it seemed that I had once again missed the opportunity. Just then she walked around the corner of the building and onto the main sidewalk where I was standing. She stopped and just looked at me, looking very tired and very discouraged. I held out the two bottles of Pedialyte to her and in a half whisper said “Merry Christmas.” The look in her eyes and on her face was one that I shall never forget. She practically leapt toward me to throw her arms around my neck and she was crying and saying over and over “thank you, thank you, God bless you, thank you.” Then she took the bottles and tucked them under her arm and took off on a dead run, disappearing into the neighborhood.

It was just another Monday night in mid-December, or so it seemed when it started. I sat down on the sidewalk in front of the supermarket, stunned by the whole experience. As I sat, I wept. There were tears of sadness, perhaps because I felt that I had not been as willing to be the hands of God as I had fancied myself to be, but there were also tears of joy and thankfulness because Christ had shown up on that Monday night. He had shown up and He used me in spite of me to bring Christmas joy to someone in need. star


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