Sunday, December 27, 2009

Bicycle Blessings for Christmas

Every time I think about bicycles and Christmas, I think about kids.

I especially think about one very special boy who showed us all the true spirit of Christmas without even knowing he did.

This is a true story. It happened one December a few years ago when I was working as a full-time newspaper journalist in New Mexico.

The local Fraternal Order of Eagles held an annual Christmas Shopping Spree, which allowed 100 children, ages 7-12, to spend $100 apiece during a special early morning shopping trip at a local store.

After doing a story about the project, I volunteered to be one of the adults who were needed to shop one-on-one with each child.

I had no way of knowing I was about to witness ~and then be part of~ a true holiday miracle.

As I got my shopping cart that early December morning, a bright-eyed, excited 10-year-old boy named Timothy was waiting for someone to help him shop. Timothy told me he needed a winter jacket, new shoes and toys for his younger brother and baby sister.

We quickly found a warm winter jacket and some new sneakers that fit perfectly.

But just before we reached the toy aisles to look for presents for his brother and sister, Timothy stopped and stared with a grin from ear to ear.

In front of him was a shiny new bicycle with a price tag of $99.99.

“Wow! I could get that bike, couldn’t I?” Timothy asked in awe.

Knowing there were no restrictions on what each child could buy with the $100, I told him that he could buy the bike or whatever he wanted.

He stood there in front of the shiny bicycle, still grinning, as it sunk in that the bike could be his.

Then, he realized it would take all his money.

We talked about how he could definitely get the bike. However, if he got the bike, he couldn’t get his winter jacket or shoes that fit and he wouldn’t have any money left to get gifts for the rest of his family.

I didn’t pressure him either way. I gave him time to think.

Obviously struggling, for a bicycle means a lot to a child, Timothy grew quiet for several minutes.

“Well, I guess I’ll think about it some more, and then I’ll decide,” he said.

In the meantime, he decided he’d continue to shop. So we proceeded to the toy aisles, where Timothy found a colorful pop-up toy to delight his baby sister, some toys for his 9-year-old brother and a couple of small toys for himself.

There were a couple of dollars left, so Timothy proudly chose a beautiful Christmas card for his mother and father.

As the time came to approach the cashier, Timothy looked up at me with a smile and said wistfully, “Well, I think maybe I could get a bicycle another year.”

I smiled and told him I was very proud of him because I knew it was a tough decision.

What he didn’t know was that I cried as soon as I got to my car. Then I started praying through my tears that somehow that sweet, unselfish boy would get the bicycle he wanted ~and needed.

Because I believe with all my heart that every child should have a bicycle.

Later, I sat down to write about my experience volunteering with the Christmas Shopping Spree. I told the true story about Timothy and what he did.

But I didn’t mention anything about my prayers. I didn’t say anything about how every kid needs a bike. I simply told Timothy’s story.

The morning the story ran in the newspaper, I was still praying. And trying to believe.

Hoping with all my heart that somehow Timothy would get a bicycle for Christmas.

Just after 10 o’clock that morning, my home phone rang. A local woman I’d never met said, “I read your story this morning, and I want to buy that boy a bicycle.”

Tears filled my eyes as I thanked her for her generosity.

She had absolutely no way of knowing I had been secretly praying someone might give Timothy a new bicycle ~ because every boy and girl should have a bicycle ~ and because he had sacrificed his biggest wish so he could bless others.

But I also had prayed that because Timothy’s brother was just one year younger, that maybe there was a way his brother could have a bicycle, too, so he wouldn’t feel left out.

An hour after the first woman called, my prayers were answered-again.

A local man I’d never met phoned and told me that he and his wife had read my story and wanted “to buy the bicycle for that little boy.”

I explained that someone already had offered and made arrangements to buy Timothy a bicycle.

Then I decided to be bold. I get that way when I see kids in need.

I asked the man on the phone if he and his wife might consider buying Timothy’s brother a bike so each boy could have one.

“Sure, we’d love to,” he said, and I wept with joy.

The story didn’t end there. By the end of the day, thanks to more generous readers who called, we had made arrangements for new bicycles and helmets for Timothy and his brother, needed items for their baby sister, and even plenty of groceries for his whole family.

It turned out that Timothy lived in the same town as I did. So I even got to arrange a very, very special delivery on Christmas Eve day.

We called his parents ahead of time so they’d know what was happening and so the family would be home.

As a reporter, I had lots of friends at the local Fire Department. Being the great guys they are, they happily offered to help make the delivery with me ~ and make it extra special.

Timothy and his brother were playing outside in their front yard when we rolled up in the big ladder fire truck. One of the firemen and I were riding in the front bucket platform of the fire truck with both bicycles.

I will never, ever forget the look on Timothy’s face as the fire truck stopped at his house and started raising up and then lowering the platform.

First he saw me and recognized me. Then he saw the new bicycles.

His joy was unforgettable. And immeasurable. The pure, simple, exuberant joy of a boy with a new bicycle.

It still makes me smile. And yes, tear up a little bit.

In my mind’s eye, I can still see Timothy and his brother, wearing their new helmets, riding their new bicycles with such excitement through their neighborhood as we drove away that Christmas Eve day.

Even though this story happened a few years ago; in fact, Timothy would now be about 20 years old I guess; it never grows old.

To me, it’s a true story that shows that no matter who you are or what your circumstances, God still hears the quiet prayers of our heart.

Most of all, He hears the hearts of children ~ especially children who think of others first.

I can say that because I saw it firsthand. I experienced a true Christmas miracle of eternal hope, unconditional love, abundant generosity, great joy ~ and bicycle blessings.

***My greatest wish is that this story or stories like it would be repeated year after year, especially at Christmas. It takes so little to give a lot. It’s an amazing thing to be part of this type of bicycle blessing ~ or any other blessings for that matter. We can all be part of giving joy and hope to children where we live. Look around you. Find a need and fill it. Or find someone who can. Even though it’s a couple of days after Christmas, the love and generosity don’t have to end.***
~Luv, J.~

Saturday, October 31, 2009

You Know You Live in New Mexico When/If......

I love bicycles and cycling. I’m pretty sure I established that with my first, and yes, feature-length, blog post.

That said, I love to write about more than cycling because ~gasp, yes, I’m going to say it~ life is about more than cycling. There, I said it. Breathe into the nearest paper bag if you need to, but keep reading.

I love to write about life. I also love to laugh and hang out with people who have a sense of humor. Quite frankly, people without a sense of humor worry me.

So, inspired by reading and commenting on literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s wonderful blog site post~

~which lists her version of funny, true aspects of life in Colorado, along with other people’s lists about their states and/or countries, I came up with a few funny, true aspects of life in the beautiful Land of Enchantment that is the state of New Mexico.

Okay, so my definition of “a few” may differ from yours. But they’re numbered, brief and easy to read. I promise. (You can trust me. I’m not a lawyer or a politician.)

So without further ado, here is a little original true humor about New Mexico (and sage advice to keep in mind for anyone travelling to NM).

Drum roll please.

You Know You're Really From New Mexico When/If:

1. Your waitress asks if you want your enchiladas "Red or Green?" and you tell her/him, "Christmas" and you both know exactly what you're talking about. (You want both red+green chile.)

2. You look at someone strangely when they don't want green chile with just about any possible food from breakfast to lunch to dinner.

3. You don't consider "Tex/Mex" food to be "real" Mexican food. (I also lived in Texas; I can say this.)

4. You know that real green chiles are NOT those small pickled versions in the cans that some people put on Nachos.

5. You know the hottest green chiles come from Hatch, NM. Natch.

6. You have spent an entire day roasting, peeling and freezing an entire winter's worth of fresh green chile for your home.

7. You know the difference between a luminaria and a farolito and you bristle and/or roll your eyes every time someone uses those terms incorrectly.

8. You know where the best Christmas Eve luminaria viewing is ~ and you know that everyone turns their car lights off as they drive down that street to better view them.

9. It wouldn't be Christmas Eve without a traditional feast featuring a huge pot of posole with all the side fixings and lots of homemade tamales.

10. You actually know what posole is and how to make it.

11. You either know how to make homemade tamales or you know someone who does who sells them by the dozen.

12. The only breakfast vendor who comes to your workplace sells several kinds of homemade breakfast burritos ~ and sells out almost immediately after company-wide e-mail gets sent that says simply, "The burrito lady is here."

13. You can immediately spot a movie or photo that pretends to be in NM but is really shot in AZ by the Saguaro cactus.

14. You know how to spell Albuquerque.

15. You know that the capital of NM is Santa Fe. And that there is NO such thing as Sante Fe.

16. You know it's possible to be living and riding at over 4,000-feet elevation and yet the scenery and roads look completely flat with no mountains in sight.

17. You've used a metal snow flying saucer to ride down huge sand dunes instead of snow.

18. You have a really good sense of humor and even make jokes yourself about the whole "Roswell UFO" thing.

19. You have ever told someone you live in or are travelling to NM and been asked, "Oh, do you have your passport and visa?"

20. You have ever told someone you live in or are travelling to NM and been asked, "Oh, I didn't know you spoke Spanish?"

21. You know that it's possible to have "rivers" that have no water in them ~ even the mighty Rio Grande in some places at certain times of the year.

22. You know what an arroyo is and why they issue warnings to stay away from them during and after heavy rains.

23. You realize you live somewhere that is a major tourist vacation destination for others.

24. You know that Georgia is not the only state that grows good peanuts. You also know where to buy green chile peanuts in the shell in New Mexico's peanut capital city~Portales in Roosevelt County~home of the Valencia peanut.

25. You have a very convincing story for the unsuspecting about how they grow green chile peanuts in the shell that begins something like this: “It all started when research scientists experimented with growing green chile and peanuts very close to each other in the NM soil…

26. You know where to go in Portales, NM, for the very best chocolate peanut butter milkshakes. ~And that your brother will want to drive there for one whenever he comes to visit NM. *smile*

27. You know where to go for the very best green chile cheeseburgers in most every city you’ve ever been to in NM.

28. You just smile when other people talk about how they think all of NM is a desert. Oh, if they only knew what they’re missing.

29. You know the true story of Billy the Kid.

30. You know what Cowboy Poetry is.

31. You know real cowboys who make their living that way.

32. You know when someone tells you they have “a little ranch” that it is probably huge and stretches for miles and miles and miles.

33. You know a lot of people who own or work on cattle ranches or dairies.

34. You know the difference between adobe and stucco.

35. You know where the Texans go to ski in NM. And where everyone else who’s from NM goes skiing.

36. You know how to correctly pronounce places such as Cerrillos Road, Jemez, Gila, Valle Grande, Llano Estacado, Abiquiu, Ojo Caliente, Penasco, Chimayo, Tijeras and even Tucumcari ~ and where they are.

37. You consider it a normal sight to see hundreds of people of all ages walking along the shoulders of major highways for sometimes hundreds of miles during Easter Weekend to get to Chimayo and the legendary Santuario de Chimayo.

38. You know when the best years are to pick pinons. And that by "picking pinons" you mean gathering them off the ground.

39. You know what Zozobra is. And when and where and why he will burn every year.

40. You cringe every time someone forgets that NM is actually a state in the USA and not a foreign country, but you also laugh and have funny stories to tell about that very same thing.

~And finally~You're really from New Mexico if you know and appreciate the true beauty of:

*Endless blue skies the very color of azure.

*Purple mountain majesty, especially at sunset and sunrise.

*Climbing up on a flat adobe roof to watch the sunset ~or the sunrise~ or a full moon rising above the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

*Starry nights and meteor showers seen from out in the country with no other lights for miles.

*Actually seeing an eagle soar effortlessly through the sky.

*Being invited by a friend who lives on one of the Northern NM Indian Pueblos to come to a traditional spiritual dance and be part of the family feast.

*Living in a state that truly is multicultural.

*The ahhhh-mazing aroma of roasting green chile outdoors in the fall.

*Miles and miles of four-lane highways with wide shoulders that are officially designated “Bike Routes.”

*Being able to see the sky anywhere you are in NM ~ for miles and miles and miles.

To Be Continued. I’m sure.

In the meantime~Look for the beauty all around you wherever you are. Be good to each other. Find as many reasons to smile as you can. Share them with as many people as you can.

~Luv, J.~.