The Memory of a Christmas Eve Miracle

Christmas Dining TableIt’s Christmastime again! Everywhere you look there are festively decorated store windows, Christmas commercials about joyful family gatherings, and music that floods us with memories of long ago holidays. Yet for many folks, there is also the longing for yesterday that this season can create. Vacant places at the table where deceased loved ones once sat, or maybe an empty table resulting from a family that’s been broken, or just grown and moved away.

There is also the financial burden for economically struggling individuals not knowing how they will make ends meet, let alone having anything left over for their children’s Christmas list. After all, children don’t understand that their circumstances are not conducive for a visit from Santa.

My late friend Liesl Sondheimer asked me for my help in sharing her own miracle of holiday provision, but for her it was a Hanukkah miracle. To explain, sometimes the two religious celebrations intersect, as they must have that December almost 75 years ago. Liesl was a Jewish Holocaust survivor who lived in Lima, Ohio for six decades. After fleeing from Germany in 1938, the Jewish immigrant began life anew, but most of her extended family perished.

It was a decade ago, when Liesl’s 97-year-old arthritic hands prevented her from writingphoto (13) the inspiring story herself, so I typed it down while she dictated. The small of stature, silver-haired survivor began, “…Although my husband was a physician in Germany, we were forced to flee from our home to seek refuge in the United States because of the rise of the Hitler regime. We recently had arrived in this country from Nazi Germany. At the entrance of the dilapidated apartment building that was to become our home, my two little girls asked, ‘Will we get any Hanukkah gifts this year?’ I had to tell them there was no money for gifts when we were not able to even provide for the most necessary things.

“On Christmas Eve, there was a knock at the door,” Liesl continued. “The janitor handed me packages with clothing and toys for the children, food, and a little Christmas tree. Asking who the kind donors were, the janitor would only tell me some people had overheard our conversation and did not want the children to go without gifts this holiday season. They did not even want us to know their names.

“How blessed it is to give, so much easier than to receive,” concluded the elderly Jewish lady. “My financial circumstances improved and I was able to be able to be on the giving side the rest of my life. However, I will never forget how wonderful it was to receive goods, warmth, love and encouragement while struggling in poverty. It keeps up one’s faith in the goodness of man.”

As I typed the account of the long-ago random act of kindness, it was Liesl’s assertion of her steadfast faith in the “goodness of man,” that has always intrigued me. Especially, since Mrs. Sondheimer’s words echoed that of the 18th century German poet Goethe whom she deeply admired, “Noble be man, merciful and good.”

The compassion of other human beings is something that most of us desperately need to be reminded of right now. With nightly news broadcasting horrific features about the cruelty of individuals involved in terrorist attacks, school shootings, and ongoing racial tension in metropolitan areas, we can forget about all the giving folks trying to make the world a better place.

Christmas Tree 2015Besides, at Christmastime, we frequently witness the very best in people. The countless law enforcement officers making sure local kids have gifts to open; the churchgoers everywhere who collect thousands of shoeboxes filled with little blessings for impoverished children overseas; the service clubs, ministries, and organizations working diligently to fill the gap for parents through local programs or through Angel Tree and Toys for Tots; the Salvation Army volunteer bell ringers grateful for each dollar donated; the school personnel and families secretly giving to those in need among them; and the list goes on and on.

Mrs. Sondheimer refused to allow her once painful circumstances to make her bitter. Rather, she chose to celebrate the memory of a holiday miracle when her family was cared for by strangers. It might help to remember that the reason for the season was never about festively wrapped gifts anyway, but about a baby born in a humble Bethlehem stable offering mankind the gift of God’s love. In closing, Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all!

Christina aloneChristina Ryan Claypool is an Amy-award winning journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com

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Supporting the American Dream

white wickerIt begins with a dream. Then you add venture capital probably equating to all the money you have, plus borrowing from a host of other sources. You add heart and soul, and more courage than most people could ever imagine. After that you work grueling hours on a daily basis, and finally you end up with a small business. “Forty percent of consumers say they will seek out small businesses to support their community,” wrote David Chaverns, CEO of the Newspaper Association of America in a recent editorial. In my own heart, I have a special place for aspiring entrepreneurs, because I was once one of them. Like approximately 70 percent of small business owners, my former resale store in Lima, Ohio, was a sole proprietorship. “A sole proprietorship is basically an unincorporated business owned and run by one individual (no partners are involved)…,” according to Caron Beesley in a 2013 Small Business Association blog post.

“Someday, I’m going to have a store when I grow up,” I absentmindedly told my grandmother when I was a little girl.  I didn’t remember this significant statement, until I was a thirty-something single mom working 12 hour days and up to my eyeballs in debt in my own retail establishment. Grandma, who was the store’s employee of the month every month, because she worked for free, reminded me of my childhood vision on a particularly discouraging day. What I do vividly remember is my first experience with another store proprietor. The middle-aged lady was a family friend who owned an antique shop in my hometown. When I was about 11-years-old, the generous owner allowed me to choose a gift from some of the more moderately priced collectibles in her inventory.

For a couple hours, I walked up and down the crowded aisles of the shop contemplating which treasure to select. At first, she and my grandmother seemed amused by my indecision, but then they both grew impatient. Still, everything looked extraordinarily beautiful, because the colorful glass items sparkled in the sunlight of the store’s windows. To their relief, I finally picked a ruby red vase to take home with me. That vase started what eventually became a collection of ruby red glass, but more importantly, I had been bitten by the small business bug. For me, being a shopkeeper became my idea of the American dream. Besides, I had been raised in a family of small business owners.

Shopping Good FridayIn 2010, to raise awareness American Express came up with the idea to create Small Business Saturday, which has become an annual event celebrated on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. “The 28 million small businesses in America account for 54% of all U.S. sales,” reports the Small Business Association website, but they need our support all year long, not just on one day. Although this column isn’t an indictment of big box stores, because sometimes our budgets necessitate shopping based solely on price or availability.

Yet my version of the American dream was the ability to own and operate a vintage/thrift shop, and I was blessed to fulfill that vision. In 1931, James Truslow wrote that his idea of the American dream was “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” These words are found in his book, “The Epic of America.” The www.investopedia.com definition is “The belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success…The American dream is achieved through sacrifice, risk-taking and hard work, not by chance.”

At the end of our lives, for most of us there will be opportunities that we will be grateful for, and missed opportunities that we will regret. Although I never became rich owning a resale shop, I will be forever thankful that I was once part of the small business community. My little store started with a leap of faith, and ended almost seven years later with an unceremonious “Going out of Business Sale.” Still, the memories of my wonderful customers, and the countless lessons learned there cause me to never forget the small business owners striving each day to live their own American dream. Whenever financially possible, let’s show these hard-working citizens our support, and keep this dream alive for generations to come.

 

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