The Bell Ringer

Jeanine Brenner shares a beautiful story about how to give back through your pain. It is in giving that you receive the greatest gift and that is the gift of self worth, feeling like you make a difference in the lives of others and developing a new sense of self. If you choose, share the gifts of the heart, the love support, friendship, kindness, giving spirit, etc. of your loved one with others, you can find hope again in living.

by Jeanine Brenner

The intermittent jingle of the red Salvation Army Bell did little to attract the attention of those hurrying in and out of the grocery store on that bitter, cold blustery Tuesday the week before Christmas. However, there was something about the man hunched over in his wheelchair, muffled in an over-sized Penn State ski jacket with a matching rain hat pulled over his ears that did make the busy shoppers pause for a second glance. It was not his cheery countenance, for his face, stiffened from the paralyzing effects of a stroke, showed little emotion. Even when someone dropped a dollar or two in the red bucket, there was little change in his expression. Holding the bell in his gloved hand, he was intent on his job but he did always manage a warm, “Thank you,” and occasionally a mumbled, “Merry Christmas.”

Although his handicaps made him a pitiable sight, there was also a hint in his demeanor of the man he had once been. He was contributing to society, and fulfilling his heart’s desire to do something worthwhile. The job gave him dignity and boosted his self-esteem. When he retired from teaching there were so many things he wanted to do. He lost no time in beginning work on his rock garden, taking on new church responsibilities, volunteering at a hospital and busying himself with a part time job.

However it was not long before one stroke and then a second deprived him of the life he had planned, and for almost a year he was forced to reside in a nursing home, where the biggest contribution he could make was winning a game of Bingo. The stroke confined him to a wheel chair, taking away his ability to walk, feed himself, and care for his basic physical needs.

After much painstaking therapy and some incredible hard work, he was finally able to return to his home, but, to him, his life remained dull and unproductive. He spent his mornings at adult day care and afternoons napping or watching whatever was on TV. In spite of what doctors considered miraculous gains, his life was a far cry from what he had hoped for it to be. As an elementary school teacher, helping others had always been a part of his life. Now he was the unwilling recipient of care from others. His exasperation and frustration were painful to observe, and he longed for something to give meaning to his days. Various possibilities were discussed, but his handicaps were very limiting.
Then one day leaving the grocery store, his wife saw the familiar Salvation Army kettle, and a light bulb went off. After a call or two, connection was made with the schedule maker at the local Salvation Army headquarters, and he was given the date and time to begin his first shift as a bell ringer. There would be a red apron and little red bell waiting for him. Arrangements were completed for the city transient wheel chair accessible van to pick him up and deliver him to his station, and thus began his first day as a Salvation Army bell ringer.

Although the money collected at the end of the day was not a huge sum, and some no doubt thought him a pathetic figure, others who looked at this older gentleman braving the bitter cold were moved by his tenacity and his willingness to endure the discomfort of the elements so that others might have a brighter holiday. He ignored the biting wind on his cheeks to bring hope and new life to others in need.

Two thousand years ago another man endured agonizing distress to bring hope to a weary world. While many mocked his broken body, nevertheless his suffering opened the door for new life for all who are willing to receive him as their Savior. Life may not be all that we would want it to be. But if we persevere and are willing to give of ourselves, we will find purpose and meaning, and hope will bloom again.

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