News Articles

10 women overcoming hopelessness: a picture of Christmas at its best

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Christmas came early for me this
year. I had hardly bought any presents. Cards were still to
be addressed. I had yet to buy a Christmas tree. I hadn’t
even pulled out the Christmas CDs and started listening to
Christmas music.
All around me my neighbors had glistening lights, trees
shining through living room windows and wreaths on their
front doors. Not me. I was totally unprepared for this
holiday season.
And yet — despite an absence of all the vestiges of
Christmas — it just sneaked up on me when a group of us
gathered on a cold Thursday night in the chapel of a
Southside Baptist Church. It was another night meeting;
preachers have a lot of meetings.
But sitting there, looking around at this gathering, I
knew from the start this night would be different. We didn’t
all look alike — there were all colors and ages. We weren’t
even from the same church — more than eight faith groups
were represented. Besides the Baptists — which are
everywhere in Alabama — there were Catholics,
Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Mennonites.
We had all come together to celebrate the graduation of
10 women who had completed a 10-week intensive program in
the Christian Women’s Job Corps. The purpose of the program
is to help women move from welfare to jobs that pay a
livable wage. This was the first program of its kind in
Alabama. Seven of the 10 women were there to receive their
diplomas. Three of the 10 already had found good jobs. It
was quite an evening.
We learned that this was no cushy program to make us
do-gooders feel good. This was work. Each woman was paired
with a mentor. All 10 women learned about computers,
communication, managing money and how they might complete
their high school diplomas. They learned about cultural
differences and how they might be better mothers. They
discussed the developmental needs of their children. Among
the 10, they had 20 children. The mothers learned about
health, nutrition, how to prepare a resume and even how to
conduct oneself in an interview.
On this Thursday night the women received challenges
and certificates and gifts. The director of the program
called each graduate forward and told one special thing she
admired about each woman who had gone through the program.
Diane, she said, was a peacemaker. Tanya, the leader
said, had the ability to change. Deborah, she told us, was a
dreamer, wanting to open her own day-care center. Dawn’s
special gift was that she always put her children first.
Cherie’s great gift was self-confidence, even though she had
seen a lot of disappointments. Katrina was a hard worker,
the director said. Kisha dreamed big dreams for her life and
her children. Annette wanted to go back to school and become
a nurse.
One of the speakers for the evening told the story of
Dumbo the elephant who hated himself because he was big and
clumsy. And she told about Timothy Mouse, who became Dumbo’s
friend. This new friend told Dumbo he could fly if he had a
magic feather. Timothy Mouse gave him a feather and Dumbo
began to soar. But, Dumbo, the speaker said, dropped the
feather and began to fall. Timothy Mouse whispered to him,
“Dumbo, it’s not the magic feather. It’s really you. You can
fly.” The speaker gave each woman a feather and told them to
remember thatthey, too, could fly.
I looked up at the stage where seven very proud black
women stood. All were carefully groomed. Several of them had
gone to the beauty shop getting ready for this night. All
were proud of what they had done. Suddenly Christmas came as
I looked into the faces of every woman on that stage. I saw
hope. Christmas hope. Hope for themselves. Hope for their
children. Hope that they could somehow pull themselves up
out of the awful cycle of dependency and hopelessness. Hope
for better days and a better life.
Toward the end of the program someone moved to the
piano and we began to sing:
“Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come
Tis grace has kept me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.”
Strange Christmas song. Strange Christmas. No mangers,
no baby — except those crying in the pews. No wise men and
shepherds. No silver bells and no presents to speak of. Just
hope, which is Christmas at its best. Hope that stands up
against incredible odds like race and poverty and the
injustice of a hundred different indignities.
The real Christmas is believing that the future is
really bright for all God’s children. Knowing that Timothy
Mouse may be right after all. It isn’t the magic feather
anymore than it is the presents under the tree or cash in
your pocket or chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Christmas
is knowing that deep, deep down it is no feather after all.
Inside of us all buried deep, yet there nevertheless — in
all God’s creatures great and small. Elephants, tiny mice,
birds of every stripe and color under the rainbow — can fly
after all.
It was dark when I left the church. It was a cold
evening but the sky was clear. I looked up at the stars that
blinked in the heavens. There was no tree at my house or
shining lights. The cards had yet to be addressed. I had no
idea what I would buy for the people I love. And yet —
walking to my car, I think I heard an angel sing. It was for
me and for those 10 women with their shining faces who had
proudly marched across the stage earlier that evening. It
was the strangest Christmas song I heard that night, “You
can fly,” the angel sang. “You really can fly after all.”

Lovette is pastor of the Baptist Church of the Covenant,
Birmingham, Ala. This article first appeared in the
Birmingham News on Dec. 21, 1997.

    About the Author

  • Roger Lovette