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This is going to be one of those random posts that happens just because something was niggling at my brain all night and it won’t shut up till I let it out.

ink jet printerI was sitting downstairs at the PC printing off a map of Oregon for yesterday’s Writing 101 assignment. I drew a couple circles on it and labeled three places, then scanned it into the computer. While I was sitting there waiting for my scanner software to boot up, I noticed the little green indicator light on the ink jet printer that means it’s ready to go. There it was, glowing bright, clear green. That moment quite stopped me in mid-task as I thought of how long that light had been glowing like that. I’ve never really given it any thought before, but I surely do take it for granted that it will always be on.

We bought that little color printer in 2003. I couldn’t begin to guess how many church bulletins, women’s retreat books, Christmas letters, and Lord knows what else have been printed on that sucker. We’ve never had a minute’s trouble with it. It just sits there quietly, ready to be of service at the drop of a hat.

insomnia and sheepAs I lay there in bed last night still awake at 2:30 a.m. (yes, I have trouble sleeping) I kept thinking about that little green light. And it finally dawned on me what it was about it that captured my attention. It was the fact that there are PEOPLE in my life who are just like that light. People who seem always to fade into the background of my life until I, in my self-centered importance, need them. I was especially convicted around 2:32 a.m. about a neighbor, Ann, whom I know would drop whatever she’s doing and give me a hand or a shoulder or whatever I needed, and about a particular Christmas where this unobtrusive friend who I seldom make time for these days made such an impact on my life.

presents under treeIt wasn’t yet Christmas as I sat moping in the living room. The tree was up, laden with 20 year’s worth of ornaments, and despite frustrating financial circumstances, there were still many presents beneath the low-hanging boughs. I didn’t think so just then, but Ann knocked on my door and changed my mind.

Ann is a very small woman, somewhat frail looking with a proper English nose, delightful British accent, and silver-streaked, gray hair. I had met Ann when our kids started kindergarten together. We’d gotten to know each other well over the years. We’d taken the kids to the park for picnics and swimming, worked on room mother activities together, and generally visited back and forth. I’d stood with her as one daughter married and another had gone off to the Air Force. She had doggedly kept in touch with me when my life seemed so busy I couldn’t take the time to call her.

For most of the time I’d known Ann and her family they’d been struggling to get their janitorial business off the ground. And business hadn’t been terribly good. I’d often marveled at how she’d managed to keep her large family fed. And although I’d feel bad for them year round, I was always especially aware of their hardship at Christmas time. And yet, in spite of the strained business circumstances, Ann maintained such a cheerful outlook on life. I was always amazed at the grace God had given her in the midst of such Cratchit-like want. This particular year was no exception.

Plain Paper PackagesThat night Ann had stopped by to bring me a small gift. I put it under the tree and brought out the one I’d bought for her. Then we visited for a few minutes until she had to leave. Normally I wouldn’t have opened the present until Christmas morning, but my curiosity got the best of me, and I tore into it with child-like anticipation. I was expecting something homemade, but inside the box was a beautiful trivet with my name on it.

My mind spun like three wheels in a slot machine and came up all lemons. I’d seen those trivets somewhere before. Oh yes, at Rainbow Gardens. And, I remembered how much they cost. I sat there holding it for quite awhile thinking about the sacrifice this gift must have meant for Ann. Suddenly the few presents under our tree seemed a great many, and maybe even a little extravagant.

heart stringsPresents. Gifts. It occurred to me that night that there’s a difference. Ann’s gift, unlike the brightly colored presents under our tree, was a true gift of the heart. It was given not out of her abundance with an attitude of benevolence and pride, but out of her own want, just because she cared so much. And maybe that’s why there seems to be a difference. Presents are tied up with colored strings, but gifts are tied up with heart strings.

As I laid there in bed last night I thought about the last time I’d seen Ann. I’d run into her at the grocery store several weeks ago and promised I’d call for a coffee date — the same thing I always promise because, well, like that little green light Ann will always be there, right?

two-cups-of-coffee-610x457I don’t know whether the spirit was just reminding me last night of a truth I sometimes forget, or if there’s something going on in Ann’s life that I need to know about, but the thought won’t leave me alone this morning. I think it’s time for a long over-due coffee date with my quiet little friend…