The Christmas shoes

The Christmas season—undoubtedly my favorite season of the year—holds many unforgettable memories. It was on a snowy December day when I was six years old that our family flew home to the U.S. from the Philippines, where we had been missionaries for the previous several years. This was the first time I met my grandparents and the first time I experienced snow. When I was 15, I spent the Christmas season playing percussion in a band that had come to Mexico from Washington D.C. to hold benefit concerts. I had a blast.

But the two most memorable Christmas seasons for me occurred in 2002 and 2003, and they are linked together by a simple song and its impact on my life.

Christmas 2002 was an especially joyous occasion. My mother had been declared cancer-free several months earlier and was feeling much stronger than she had in quite some time. One day in December, she was baking something for a gathering the next day. I remember the aroma filling our Southern California apartment. The radio was set to a station that played holiday favorites 24-7. The repertoire consisted mostly of lighter carols, such as “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” etc. Then suddenly the tone drastically changed when a song began to play that captured my attention. I put aside what I was doing in order to tune in to it. (I later found out that it was titled “The Christmas Shoes,” performed by Newsong.)

The song tells the story of a man who found himself in line at a fancy department store on Christmas Eve, trying to finish his last-minute holiday shopping. In front of him was a little boy, with an appearance that made it obvious he had no business being in that store at all, holding a pair of shoes. When his turn came to pay, he said he wanted to buy the shoes for his mother who was sick and didn’t have much time left—he wanted her to look beautiful if she were to meet Jesus that night. The boy put all the change he had on the counter, but the cashier shook his head and told him it wasn’t enough. He turned and looked at the man imploringly. The man in line behind him paid the difference and couldn’t forget the look on the boy’s face as he thanked him and left.

As I listened, tears rolled down my cheeks. I realized how fortunate I was to still have my mother by my side. I imagined how sad I would have felt if I were in the place of that little boy who was about to lose his mother. The song stayed with me through the remainder of the Christmas season, eventually fading as the new year was ushered in.

In the course of 2003, Mother’s cancer recurred and she again took a turn for the worse. By Christmas, she was in a nursing home, and the staff had informed us that the only thing they could do was try to keep her comfortable until the end. One day, I was running errands with my brother, listening to the radio as we drove around. Suddenly, on came the same song, “The Christmas Shoes.” How true to life it rang this time around!

Moved by the song, my brother and I immediately bought Mother a pretty pair of shoes, which fit her beautifully and gave her great joy. She left us (in the physical, at least) only weeks later.

Today, this beautiful song helps me look beyond the hectic side of the Christmas season with all its activities, plans, and preparations for festivities, family get-togethers, and what have you. When the ceaseless activity threatens to drive me nuts and I find myself succumbing to frustration, I hear my mother’s voice whispering to me, Remember the “Christmas Shoes” song.

With this reminder, the stress and frustration dissipates, and I remember to count my many blessings. I think of my family and loved ones who are still alive and well and give thanks for my own life and health too. I say a prayer for the many who find themselves in painful circumstances during the Christmas season—as the little boy in the song did, or as my family and I did in 2003. I ask Jesus to lead me to such people and give me an opportunity to be of comfort to them. He often does.

Gone is the nervousness I feel over the approaching singing engagement I don’t feel sufficiently prepared for, the irritation I feel when important details are overlooked, and all other such cares, as I strive to simply appreciate the fact that I am alive and able to enjoy another Christmas.