When I was younger, I went on a tour of an underground cave.
After all, my father was a geologist and he considered underground caves and igneous and metamorphic rocks and shale and limestone outcroppings by the side of the road part of our basic education.
There’s nothing like being interrupted in the middle of a the Bangels song on your Sony Walkman to stop and listen to an enthusiastic lecture from your father on sedimentary rock formations.
If you are a sassy teenager with aqua net hair and stirrup pants, when you’ve seen one outcropping of sedimentary rock…..
…you’ve seen them all.
And so it was, at my father’s insistence, we took a tour of an underground cave. I don’t remember much, except it was dark. Really, really, really dark. We carried flashlights and the guide had a lantern so it didn’t really seem that dark at first.
Until the point in the tour when everyone turned out their lights.
And then you couldn’t see anything at all. Nothing. You could wave your hand in front of your face or stare really hard or blink twice and open your eyes wide, but all you could see….
….was absolutely, positively, nothing.
Then, into the darkness, the guide would shine the smallest of lights.
And that tiny glimmer of light shining into that vast cavern of emptiness was all it took. It bounced off the underground walls and flooded the room with light and banished the darkness to the recesses of the cave.
Our youth minister, Micheal, was just like that small light in the dark cavern.
Before he and his entire family died tragically in a car wreck earlier this year, Micheal had been in charge of our annual shoe box drive at the church. Every year he stood up in front of the congregation and asked us to donate a shoe box full of tiny toys and toothbrushes and shampoo and paper and pencils and whatever else would fit inside the box.
He would patiently remind us again every week until the shoe boxes were supposed to be turned in and then faithfully gather the boxes to be shipped off to children around the world.
Most of the time his announcement was met with mild interest and choruses of, “Oh…is it that time already?” and “Shoe boxes again?” Everyone would faithfully pledge to bring in boxes…..and sometimes we did.
And sometimes we forgot.
Two weeks ago, shoe box collection time rolled around again.
Someone else made Micheal’s announcement.
Someone else said they would gather the shoe boxes.
Someone else gave us instructions and set a goal and arranged for the boxes to be shipped off.
It was hard to think about someone else taking up where Micheal had left off. After all….he had always taken care of making sure we had enough shoe boxes….reminding us to donate and making up for those who forgot.
So in his absence we encouraged each other and hoped that during a busy holiday season….
….the shoe boxes would be remembered.
Early Sunday morning, I arrived to church, opened the doors and stood in awe.
Everywhere I looked were shoe boxes.
Stacks and stacks of fancy shoe boxes as far as the eye could see…tied up with brightly colored string and ribbons and bows.
And as I stood there in the quiet of the morning staring at the rows of presents…
….I heard a shuffle behind me.
It was an older gentleman. His head was bent and his shoulders were drooped and weary from years of illness. I watched as he walked through the pews with painstakingly slow, halting steps.
And in his hands he held a shoe box.
It was wrapped with pieces of jagged vintage paper and an over-abundance of scotch tape and covered in an old rubber band from a newspaper.
And he carried it as if it were the most precious thing in the world.
Slowly and steadily he made his way down the aisle to the stacks and stacks of brilliantly wrapped boxes. Then he paused, bent his head for a moment, placed his gift atop all the others and quietly left the sanctuary.
And somewhere up in heaven…..
Because one small light can change the world.