Hippos Are Optional!

November 24, 2016

The faith of a child.

As I was going through my files this week, I came across something I’d written years ago, concerning a little girls Christmas wish.

At the time, I was an over-the-road truck driver, and I was trying desperately to make it home to my children on Christmas eve. Hundreds of miles from home, I couldn’t help thinking about the faith of a child.

Jesus admonishes us to have the faith of a child; “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. And, whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Although she was waiting for Santa and Christmas, it was the absolute surety of her faith that sets an example for the faith we should have in Christ and his salvation.

“The Christmas Gift”

The tires pounded hard on the pavement as my eighteen-wheeler rolled north through the Kentucky countryside. Christmas Eve; and here I was 700 long miles from home. As usual, dispatch had waited until the last minute to find me a load, and now I had just a few hours in which to make it home to my children and Christmas.

Bills, every trucker’s nightmare, had forced me to take that one last load before the Holidays. As usual, dispatch had promised a fast turn-around with plenty of time to get home before the big day, and, as usual, they had lied. I learned later, they had no idea even whether they would be able to get me home at all, but I had believed them and left, telling myself that I’d dead-head home empty if that’s what it took to be there for Christmas.

As the sound of the motor rumbled in my ears, I thought about my kids and all of the unwrapped gifts tucked safely away in the side box, wondering when I’d find time to get them wrapped and under the tree. In my mind’s eye, I could see all their expectant faces as they scrambled into the living room to see what Santa had left. I wondered if they knew that “Santa” was at this moment barreling north and hoping he’d get there on time.

I should have left yesterday, but how could I afford to drive home empty? I couldn’t, so, here I was making tracks on Christmas Eve and hoping that the weather would hold for another 12 hours.

As I thought about my children and my problems, I tried not to think about three little girls who weren’t going to have Christmas this year. Their father had left just three months ago, leaving their mother to fend for them all, and she had no job.

It’s funny sometimes how life will pass along a problem to you when you have more than enough of your own to deal with. Maybe tackling this problem would make my own seem a little less overwhelming.

I remembered back to the night just a month ago, when I had met this family. I had met them while picking out Christmas cards in a Hallmark store. The woman and I had reached for the same card causing us both to laugh and then talk about the upcoming holiday. She explained that her girls were getting only cards this year because money was tight and there wasn’t anything left for Christmas.

The woman told me that she was struggling to go to school, living on welfare and trying to make ends meet for the four of them. She told me about how her husband, the girl’s father, had left them after the youngest was born. He just walked out of the door one night and never came back. Looking at the three little girls, I wondered what could have possessed him to leave these three little angels all with blond hair and wondering blue eyes.

I asked the littlest one what Santa was going to bring her for Christmas and she said “Hungry Hungry Hippos!” as certainly as if the gift were already under the tree. She was positive, even though her mother had already told her otherwise. That didn’t matter, she was sure that Santa would come through.

For children, Santa Claus and gifts are a given; how could there be any question? I knew, that there would be no tree, no Santa, and no “Hungry Hungry Hippos.”

How very sad, but, I’ve got three little kids of my own that are depending on me to bring Christmas home.

It was mid-morning and as I rolled North, the temperature was dropping and a light snow had begun to fall. “Hungry Hungry Hippos” seemed to dance through a part of my subconscious until finally I knew what I had to do; can’t let that little one be disappointed, besides, how long can it take to make a quick stop and pick up a game?

I watched carefully for an exit ramp that might hold the promise of a shopping center; somewhere big enough to park this rig long enough to buy this game. Paducah, Kentucky seemed to have a mall and I swung off Exit 4 and looked for a place to park.

“Everyone in Paducah must be shopping today” I grumbled as I tried to find a spot big enough to put my truck.

After twenty minutes of searching, I was cursing myself for being so stupid as to get off the highway in the first place, and for losing so much time in the process. I still had hundreds of miles to go and time was running out. Just as I was about to wash my hands of the whole mess, I found a back lot with enough room to stop. Jumping out of the truck, I hurried into the mall looking for the first toy store I could find.

Now, how could I have known that “Hungry Hungry Hippos” was going to be THE most popular kids game this year? Every store I checked had been sold out long before now and no one could offer any hope of finding one, not in Kentucky anyway!

OK, so I won’t buy the game. I tried, but I haven’t got time to look all over creation for this silly game. Kicking myself for wasting an hour, I pulled back onto the freeway and pushed the pedal down just a little harder to the floor to try and make up for lost time.

Hours past and it seemed like I wasn’t getting any closer to home. Bloomington, Illinois, was just ahead, so the sign said, and still over four hundred miles to go and it was almost five o’clock.

I was almost past the exit when I saw the mall and pulled sharply off the highway again to go on safari. How long can it take? Another hour actually, and still no “Hungry Hungry Hippos.” I must have looked in a dozen stores only to be told time and again that they’d been sold out for weeks.

That’s it, no more Hippos! I’m sorry, but I have kids of my own. For the next three hours, I drove on with Hippos, hungry ones, racing through my mind faster than I was making progress up the highway.

It was just minutes before nine o’clock when I saw the little strip mall at Janesville, not much there, but maybe? I pulled off and into the parking lot next to Walgreen’s; maybe they’ve got toys? I walked into the store and looked around fast to find the toy section. Not much there and most of it is junk.

I was turning to leave when up on the top shelf, just over my head, sat “Hungry Hungry Hippos!”

The box had sat there long enough to be dusty, but here it was. I grabbed it and headed for the cashier. “That will be twenty-nine dollars,” she said. Twenty-nine dollars? There must be a mistake; how could this box of plastic possibly cost twenty-nine dollars?

Maybe I could find another one somewhere else; no, it’s nine o’clock on Christmas eve and this was my last chance. I was half way out the door when I remembered the tree, there must be a tree, and there has to be gifts for the other girls too.

Eighty dollars later, I had two more gifts and a tree and nowhere to put the tree.

If you’ve ever examined an eighteen-wheeler, you’ll note there’s really nowhere to put a Christmas Tree except, maybe, in the sleeper! I’m not going to sleep on the way home right? So, in it went along with the other gifts and the Hippos.

It was 2AM when I crossed the Mississippi into Minnesota and remembered that I didn’t know where this woman lived. What a bonehead! I’ve got Hippos to deliver and I don’t know where they’re going. Thankfully, after pulling off in the rest area, I was able to find her name and address in the phone book.

As I pulled back onto the highway headed into St. Paul, I wondered how big the fine would be for driving a fully loaded semi through a residential section of town. Can’t worry about that now, I’ve got Hippos to deliver and I’ve got to try to find this house in the dark.

It was after three when I pulled up on the side street and made my way to the door, knocking as quietly as I could so as not to wake the neighbors in the apartment next door.

A feint light came on in the hallway as this startled woman peered out to see a haggard truck driver standing at her door with a tree in one hand and a shopping bag in the other.

To say that she had a shocked expression would be a gross understatement, but you couldn’t have knocked the smile off my face with a two-by-four. Tears were rolling from her eyes as she opened the door to let me, the tree, and a blast of cold air into her living room.

I didn’t try to explain, and she wordlessly acknowledged “Santa” and hurried to get out her Christmas things without waking the children.

An hour later, a little spruce was magically transformed into a Christmas Tree, complete with lights, tinsel, colorful balls and three presents waiting for the wide-eyed delight of three little girls.

She hugged me and thanked me as I made my way back outside and into my truck and somehow, a hundred miles later, I pulled up in front of my own home and made my way quietly inside.

It was 6AM when the last present was wrapped and under the tree and I had just settled sleepily into “my chair” and was about to doze off when my own three little angels burst into the room showering me with kisses and love.

“Santa” had worked his magic; I was home on Christmas morning with my children and, as I watched them open each of their presents, I knew that “Santa” was also in the heart of a child, transfixed at the sight of the lights, the tree, and “Hungry Hungry Hippos!”

The faith of a child; it’s a wonderful thing.

I’m looking forward to the day when I will stand transfixed by the sight of my Lord and my God. When my faith will be rewarded and I will be forever with my Savior in heaven. Hippos are optional!

Amen and Amen.