Three days before Christmas, Brian and I set out on a mission: to find tamales for Christmas Eve. In the scope of human events, this doesn’t seem like a mammoth undertaking, but again, it’s three days before Christmas and we knew our procrastination might put us in a pickle.
You may ask, “Why tamales?” and my answer is simple. “My dad.”
My father grew up in south Texas, and tamales on Christmas Eve is as common as turkey is for Thanksgiving Day. My dad continued this tradition with our family, and it is one that I hope will carry on with my children and their children. Again, you may ask why, and I’ll again say, “My dad.”
It’s a small way to have him with us on Christmas Eve.
We understood when we set out on our journey that we probably wouldn’t be able to order “homemade” tamales, but we set out anyway, knowing we could always find frozen ones at Brookshire’s. Brian found a place that specialized in large tamale orders and tried calling, but only got a busy signal. We knew this wasn’t a good sign but decided to go in person to see if they were out of business, overwhelmed by calls, or no longer taking phone orders…
We’ve lived in the Tyler area for three decades and are pretty good at finding our way, while also fighting the Tyler traffic. People scoff at me when I say that Tyler traffic is worse than that of any major metropolitan area in Texas. That is until they try to navigate it themselves. And Tyler traffic at Christmas time…well, that’s a whole new experience.
We knew that the Tortilla Factory was located in downtown, in the courthouse area. I pulled up the address, (on my new phone which is a story for another day). As we began searching, I noticed that my GPS wasn’t working correctly. It showed the location, but it didn’t spin around and show us where we were. I desperately began channeling famous explorers for help: Magellan, Columbus, Dora, but to no avail. I tried turning my phone to figure out the direction, but it was all for naught. The map would turn with it. It was then that I realized while my APPS had all been transferred to my phone, I hadn’t “downloaded” GPS so it wasn’t working correctly.
After several wrong turns and words, we discovered The Tortilla Factory, and weren’t shocked at all when they said it was too late for tamales. I quickly looked up Brookshire’s on my phone and was relieved to find they had frozen tamales in stock. We decided to go to the Brookshire’s on Rice Rd since it was across from Nothing Bundt Cakes.
It is another tradition of ours to give a Red Velvet Nothing Bundt Cake to our next-door neighbor. It’s three days before Christmas and I hadn’t pre-ordered the cake. I’ve always been able to walk right in and pick out what I wanted. But now, after the tamale debacle, I was sore afraid…
The parking lot around Nothing Bundt Cakes was crowded. Brian dropped me off and said if he didn’t find a parking place he would drive around until I came out.
As I entered the premises, there were eight people in front of me, and I whispered a prayer there would be a Red Velvet cake for Bob. I heard a familiar voice and standing right next to me was a young man who graduated with my youngest son and played basketball for Brian. We quickly caught up on life, and then his order was completed. He turned to walk out of the store and I said, “Coach would LOVE to see you!” He asked, “What’s he driving?” and I responded, “A black Nissan Titan truck.”
We exchanged “Merry Christmases” and then I was batter up. I made my request, and within 5 minutes I was holding the most scrumptious smelling Red Velvet Cake known to man.
Feeling like I beat the system, I strutted out of the store and into the packed parking lot. As I peered around looking for Brian, there were at least eleven black trucks. No kidding. I began searching and figured he would honk or wave or something to help me along. I was still on the sidewalk and hadn’t found him yet. As I stepped out onto the asphalt lot, I heard a honking sound. I knew it was him. I began walking in the general direction, again trying to look closely at the make and model of all the black trucks before me.
He honked again, and I turned and went in a different direction toward the sound. Apparently, this was wrong, because he honked once more. It was like playing the game in elementary school when they tell you if you are “hot” or “cold,” and I was freezing.
I spun around and headed to my left, and I heard it again. The taunting honk from the truck that eluded me. I headed back to my right, and then I just stood there. I was completely bumfuzzled. With all the black trucks, there was no Nissan Titan.
The honk came once more and as I inspected the vehicle which was only five feet away, I realized it was my husband. And he wasn’t in a black truck, but rather my car. And he was laughing hysterically at the wandering stranger holding the red velvet bundt cake.
At the very moment I stumbled upon my car, I realized that Jamie, the young man I talked with in the store, was coming across the parking lot. He looked at me and said, “I was looking for a black Titan.” Without missing a beat I replied, “So was I.”
I have to confess, y’all. This “senior moment” left me feeling unsettled. I struggled using my GPS (until I figured out the problem) and then was “lost” in a parking lot because I was looking for the wrong car. It was funny, but part of me wondered if I was “losing it.” I was still a little shaky when we entered Brookshire’s. As I continued the tamale search, I heard a voice yelling, “Sharon! Sharon!”
I questioned my senses and wondered if I was now hearing things. I spun around, and then I saw the beautiful face of my lifelong friend, Carol. We hugged, and I shared my story about being lost in the parking lot, and we laughed and hugged, and she said, “Praise, Jesus! This is a divine appointment! God brought us together!”
And she was so right. All of the searching, and confusion, clumsiness, and embarrassment of the morning had led to this moment. And boy, was it sweet. Even sweeter than a Nothing Bundt Cake.
It seems we spend a great deal of time searching for things: tamales, the perfect bundt cake, a car.
Searching. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Searching for the perfect gift, the best parking space, a great job or home; happiness, contentment, belonging.
Searching begins at a young age. My grandson Cooper loves to find the moon. Brian introduced him to the moon one night when they were outside with the dogs, and since then, Cooper is on a nightly quest to find it, along with the stars. He can even say “moon,” and it’s the most precious sound on earth.
He knows the moon comes out at night. It brightens the darkness. While he doesn’t understand who made the moon, and who saved us from the darkness, this is an important step. It’s the beginning of the “search.”
There are times, these days, when I feel a little “obsolete.” As I get older, and things change more and more, I find myself thinking about the good old days, when things seemed simpler. I struggle at times, because there is a gap between me and the younger folks. I know that if I were more connected on social media, the gap might be bridged, but for me, it’s a choice to not be “cool,” or “hip,” or always in the know. And when I don’t understand a phrase or concept, I can always search to find its meaning.
I wonder at times if it’s time for me to retire completely. I feel like I’m up against the wall as a counselor, working to help my students, knowing that until their home environments change, most of these kids will be facing an uphill climb throughout their lives. It’s sad, and if I think about it too much, it’s overwhelming.
But inasmuch as it breaks my heart, these kids constantly amaze me.
When we returned after the Christmas break, I resumed my busy schedule, meeting with sixteen students and going to twelve classrooms teaching guidance lessons. I’m not complaining—in fact, I’m probably bragging because I’m one of the few counselors in the world whose job is to meet with students, sans all the other paperwork. I’m extremely lucky, indeed.
One of the students I’ve been meeting with for three years said this when I asked about his break: “We celebrated Jesus’ birthday and opened presents and ate a lot.”
This warmed my heart. It’s comforting knowing that one of my students knows about Jesus. Sadly, many do not. And because of this, they will spend their lives trying to fill a void that they don’t understand.
Many of the students I deal with come from dysfunctional homes. They have seen and endured things that most adults never have to. Their happy place is school. It is there that they feel safe and loved. They are fed, and cared for, and they are part of a routine. While many kids can’t wait for Christmas, there are countless others who would rather be at school.
I was in a classroom this week and had wrapped up my lesson. The teacher had to leave for a moment, so I was trying to find something to fill the time. One student came up to me and asked if everyone could tell what they got for Christmas. This seems like a completely harmless suggestion, but I knew for a fact that at least one of the students in the class didn’t get anything for Christmas. So, my answer was “No.”
I’ve thought a lot about my career, and the victories and defeats that come with being in public education. I’ve stated this before, but I have never believed it more than now: Teaching is a mission field. Everything we do or say can impact others.
Last week, I was a little hard on a young fella. He just can’t seem to get organized, which causes distractions and problems in his classroom. It seemed that he couldn’t find a pencil to do his work. Everyone else had finished, but he hadn’t even started because he wasn’t prepared.
I tried to give him some strategies to help him get organized. Looking back, I feel that I was a little too harsh. I have felt bad about it all week, but at the same time, this student needs structure, and it is part of my job to help him stay within the boundary lines—the rules and procedures that are practiced and enforced daily.
We all need boundary lines. We need to “stay in our lane,” when something really isn’t our business. We need to know when the best thing we can do for someone is to let them figure it out for themselves. It’s hard. It’s my nature to try to fix everything and everyone. I need to remind myself that oftentimes it’s in the “searching” where we learn the most and find the answers we need.
As I work individually with fourteen second graders, I understand that my time with them is short. They will be moving on to another campus next year. I have five months to try to make a difference in their lives. Five months to let them know they are important, and loved, and that I care for them, and want for them the best future possible.
It’s like being a mom. It’s all about letting go. If you think about it, that’s what motherhood is. Leading our kids to the next stage and letting go of the previous one. We are pushing our kids out of the nest, after preparing them to fly. We equip them with the tools they need and pray they will soar high about the trees.
We are all teachers. Each of us has our own mission field. It is our daily task to be kind, helpful, and encouraging to others, no matter where we work. We also have to understand boundaries—-when to keep helping and when to back off.
But, we should always remember that to others, we may be the light. We might be the moon, and the stars. Maybe we’re the GPS that helps to guide them in finding their way.
An old song came to my mind the other day. It’s a song by Reba McEntire called “The Christmas Guest.” It’s about a man named Conrad whose only wish was for the Lord to visit him on Christmas day. Conrad is interrupted three times that day by a beggar, a hungry woman, and a young child. But the Lord never came.
As Christmas day ended, he asked the Lord, “Why didn’t you come?”
And this was His answer:
“But as he entered his own darkened door
He knew the Lord was not coming today
For the hours of Christmas had passed away.
So he went to his room and knelt down to pray
And he said, “Dear Lord, why did You delay?
What kept You from coming to call on me?
For I wanted so much Your face to see.
When soft in the silence a voice he heard
“Lift up your head for I kept my word.
Three times my shadow crossed your floor
And three times I came to your lonely door.”
“I was the beggar with bruised, cold feet,
And I was the woman you gave something to eat.
I was the child on the homeless street.
Three times I knocked and three times I came in
And each time I found the warmth of a friend.
Of all the gifts, love is the best
And I was honored to be your Christmas Guest.”
If you read Matthew 25: 31-40, you will see where the idea of this song comes from.
And in the last verse of that scripture,
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
What a wonderful reminder that the Lord is all around us. When we help others, we are doing the Lord’s work. I’m so thankful for this truth, and whenever I’m weary and I feel like I’m losing my quest to save the world, I will remember this:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
I have renewed hope when I listen to the words of one of my favorite Chris Tomlin songs, “God of This City.”
“Greater things have yet to come, greater things are still to be done in this city.”
There’s still work to be done. I’m not finished (or to quote my favorite football coach, “We ain’t done yet.”)
So whether you’re searching for tamales, the moon, or cake, I hope you find goodness along the way. Remember, all who wander are not lost, and something other than what you’re searching for might be revealed along the way. It may not be obvious, but when you look deeply into your relationships, career, your family, your everyday life, there will always be goodness.
As I begin 2022, I hope to remind myself of this whenever I’m feeling down or questioning my worth or ability to effect change. And as I continue with my “Jar,” I will uncover, and discover kindness, and goodness, and thankfulness and “Count it all Joy” for the searching, and the trials, and the hardships that brought me to this day.