The Cabbie and the Christmas Tree
It was a week or so before Christmas. My husband had managed to get leave from the Air Force so we could spend the holidays with our families in Pennsylvania. We packed our little girls and our luggage into the car and made the long drive from Oklahoma City to Philadelphia. When we got to Bill’s parents’ house, I noticed that they hadn’t put up a Christmas tree. My mother-in-law said it was getting to be too much work for her, but added that I was welcome to put one up if I wanted to.
The next day, I pulled their old 60’s-era artificial tree out from under the basement steps. I scowled at it in amazement—how could I have forgotten how ugly it was? The branches looked like twisted, dusty, dark green bottle brushes. No amount of sparkly ornaments or shiny tinsel could make that hideous thing look festive. As I tucked it back under the stairs, I thought about buying a live tree but I knew it would be hard for my in-laws to dispose of it after we’d gone home. I talked it over with Bill and we agreed that a pretty, easy-to-assemble, artificial tree would make a nice gift for them. After deciding how much we wanted to spend, I bundled up and off I went: around the corner, down into the subway, and into town.
A few hours and several department stores later, I found it: a very realistic-looking, six-foot-tall beauty—at half price! I paid for it and lugged the bulky box outside in hopes of finding a taxi. I was happy to see three cabs sitting in a row, but when I approached the first, the driver said that all three of them were off-duty. He gestured to a man sitting in a sedan parked across the street and said that the man used his car as a cab. I looked warily at the man in the car. (This was long before the advent of Uber and Lyft, and the thought of getting into a privately owned car with a stranger was scary.) The cabbie must have noticed the look on my face, because he told me he knew the man and assured me that I’d be safe getting a ride from him. I still wasn’t convinced, but it was dark and it was cold and my tree and I needed a ride home, so I sent up a quick prayer asking for wisdom. When I looked over at the car again, I saw something I hadn’t noticed before: a front license plate with a slogan prominently featuring the name, Jesus.
“Okay, God,” I said, “I’m taking that license plate as a sign that this is my ride and you’ll keep me safe.”
I walked over to the car; the driver hopped out and greeted me with a smile. I asked him what he’d charge me for a ride to South Philly, with a drop-off near Broad and Snyder. His rate seemed fair, so I got into the front seat as he slid the big box onto the back seat. Once we were on our way, I broke the ice by saying, “I was nervous about getting into your car, but then I saw your Jesus license plate and I figured you were okay.”
“Oh, that isn’t mine.” he replied, “It’s my wife’s.”
[I have to stop my story here to tell you something about myself: I’ve been a Christian since I was three years old. So, essentially I’ve been a follower of Jesus all my life. (Full disclosure: there were a couple of years when I didn’t follow him very well; but that’s another story . . .) I love Jesus more than anything or anyone, but telling other people why they should begin a relationship with Him had never come easily to me. I’d never felt like I had an evangelistic bone in my body, and I’d always felt guilty about it. But in that car, that night, something kicked-in that I hadn’t known was in me. I opened my mouth and the words that came out amazed me . . .]
“It belongs to your wife?” I chuckled, “What about you? What do you think about Jesus?”
The man’s face became serious as he considered my question.
“I believe in Him,” he answered earnestly. “I want to be a Christian, I really do—and someday I will. But I’m not ready yet.”
“What’s the problem?” I asked gently. “What’s standing in your way?”
The man looked sad as he replied,
“I like to have a few beers with my friends . . . at the bar in our neighborhood. My wife says I have to give that up if I want to serve God.”
“Wait a minute.” I said. “Let me get this straight: you think you have to be perfect before you can become a Christian? That’s like being sick, but not going to the doctor until you get well. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
He seemed to be taking in what I was saying—mulling it over. So I continued . . .
“You come to Jesus just the way you are. You invite Him into your life and as you get to know Him, He decides what needs to change. He does it gradually . . . little-by-little. If the day comes when He wants you to stop meeting your friends at the bar for a beer, He’ll tell you. And you know what? When He does—if he does—you’ll be ready. And He’ll help you.”
I saw a look of amazement spread over that man’s face: as if the sun was coming up and he was beginning to see something that had been hidden during the night.
“Really?” he asked, “That’s how it works?”
“Really,” I said, “That’s how it works.”
We chatted a bit more as we made our way down Broad Street. I pointed the way onto the little street where my in-laws lived; we pulled up in front of the house and the driver helped me get the big box up onto the stoop. I paid him for the ride and we wished each other a Merry Christmas.
I walked into the house that night feeling ten-feet tall! (Four feet taller than the new tree!)
I had finally shared my faith with someone—and it had been easy and natural—not at all forced or awkward.
I don’t remember any of the gifts I got that Christmas, but I’ll never forget that ride and that conversation and how great it made me feel.
I’ve never worried again about telling people about Jesus. I just let Him know I’m available, ask for opportunities, and believe that the right words will come.
And somehow they do.
Exodus 4:12 “Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katie Lerro is a happily proclaimed “Late Bloomer”—only finding her passion for writing upon hitting her middle years. She lives in South Philly with her husband, Bill, where she enjoys gardening in their tiny concrete yard, taking long walks around the city, and spending time with daughters Alexis and Alison.