Strangers Among Us


Quietly sneaking out of bed, I tiptoe out past the dog crate where our two new small rescue dogs sleep, hoping not to wake them or their adopted mom. Softly closing the door, I think the dogs are still sleeping, only to hear the door open and a sleepy mumble, “Please take them out.” Walking from the cozy warmth of the indoors to the stark chill of a winter morning, they wander through the tall grasses and around the trunks of the gnarly oaks, then briskly head back to the heat.

Peace Interrupted

My best Sunday mornings involve quiet, undisturbed moments on the porch or a dock as the family sleeps. Now, a new era involves a couple of tiny dogs the size of couch pillows walking across my keyboard in search of a cuddle. Silence and peace are interrupted by an occasional love nudge or a growl at something seen out the living room window. At least I can see my porch and my little slice of heaven from where I sit. It’s just too cold to be outside writing, and gloves make me hit two keys at a time.

Looming To-Do List

Brightly and with bold confidence, the morning sun streaks a beam of light across the porch, ending on the Christmas tree leaning against the house, waiting to be brought inside. My to-do list stares me in the face — boxes of ornaments and yard decorations that should have been addressed right after Thanksgiving. If I get my chores done, I’ll have the tree up before it’s time to take it down.

A Walk Through the Woods

Last Sunday we managed to drag the triplets away from their busy lives, piling all five of us into Mom’s car, a rarity these days, off on our annual tree-seeking tradition. For us, a walk through the snow-covered woods, saw in hand, and dragging a tree down a country road is replaced by  pointing to a tree and pulling out a credit card. Not terribly romantic, but a tradition the kids love just the same.

The ritual of carrying boxes from the attic, decorating the house, and then tearing it all down again is worth the effort as we pull out ornaments, handmade by the kids as toddlers, that stimulate conversations about childhood. It’s one of my favorite parts of Christmas, especially when the kids bring up their own memories. In spite of being hormone-overloaded teens, there is a brief moment when they think we gave them happy memories.

Decorative Memories

Silly objects that sit around our house will be remembered forever, just as I recall the little white plastic church with the light inside whose doors would open as its music box played “Silent Night,” filling my grandmother’s 1940s living room. One memory stimulates others — odd things we remember, like serving Hillbilly bread at the dinner table, and important memories like reading a devotion and a passage from the Bible at every meal. As I kid I could not wait for it to end, yet today I appreciate faithful dedication, and maybe I absorbed a thing or two.

Family Prayers

Marathon prayers longer than War and Peace came from the hearts of my grandparents, as they made sure to ask for a blessing for every person they ever met in their lives. It’s in the grandparents’ manual, I suppose, because it continues with my own father’s epic prayers. Yet each prayer contains these words we will all remember for the rest of our lives: “Change all of our plans according to your plans, we do and say, and all of our actions according to your will, not our own.” Pretty good advice.

My own kids react the same way we did as kids, just wanting to dig into the meal. I remember an old family friend who used to say, “Don’t ever eat unblessed food.” But we would open our eyes and sneak an occasional green bean. My kids do the same.

Strangers at the Table

Christmas was that time when people we rarely saw would come out of the woodwork. Like aunts and uncles, they were always at holiday meals. One man who was always there, a fellow named Raymond, who was single his whole life and lived alone in a little white house down the road, had served in the Merchant Marine with my dad. I never heard much more about the story of why we adopted him into our family. I’m guessing when I ask my parents they’ll say, “That’s just what you do when people are alone. You include them in family.”

Adopting Families

I don’t know if it was the times, or just something our family did, but people were always living with my grandparents. One woman, Della, was like a third grandmother to us. She was there from the time we were born until she died when we were in our early 20s. I’m guessing she lived with my grandparents for over 30 years. She had lived a few doors down, across the street in a tiny little Craftsman kit house, and was left penniless when her husband and all her kids were killed in an auto accident. That’s when she became part of our family.

Am I That Selfish?

I had not thought about these adopted adult “orphans” in years, and I don’t know if it is what people did back then, perhaps rooted in the Great Depression when people needed help, but I don’t see it today. And I sometimes wonder if I’m too selfish to do something like that myself. I can’t imagine how disruptive it is to a family to take in a widow and let her stay the rest of her life. I’d do it for a week or two, maybe a little more, to help someone get settled. It makes me realize just what special people I had in my life who would put the needs of others before their own comfort. I wish I was less selfish.

Awaiting Your Call

I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent some Christmases alone because of circumstances such as not being able to afford to travel home to the family. Being alone for Christmas is not fun. No one should spend Christmas alone, especially people who are suffering with tragedy in their lives, where the simple gesture of an invitation to a meal and to hang out with a family may be the best gift they get all year.

Displaced Families

A few weeks ago I wrote about friends whose lives have been disrupted by hurricanes and fires, losing everything. Maybe you and I can share a little of what we have with them, even if it’s just for a day or a weekend or Christmas. Let’s not assume they have an invitation. There are so many displaced people in those communities that there are not enough hotel rooms or housing to take care of them all.

Is there someone in your life who would enjoy an invitation to Christmas dinner?

Is there someone who, if you stop and think about it, is lonely because of a recent change in their life? Maybe they just moved to your town, or maybe they are recently widowed or divorced. Maybe they are just in need of some friendship.

Imagine the impact you and I could have if each of the 100,000 people who read this would invite just one person for Christmas dinner. That one gesture could change everything for that person. It may seem small to us, but it is major to them.

With Christmas just a couple of weeks away, now is the time to be planning who you will invite.

Charities will tell you that Christmas is the biggest giving season, but what if we found a way to hold on to that Christmas feeling year round? Maybe asking someone to move in for the rest of their life would be a bit of a stretch for most of us, but let’s not ignore our Christmas invitees the rest of the year.

As we get close to the big day, and as the stress of giving “things” tends to keep us going from store to store, let’s not forget the difference we can make in the lives of others with a little slice of our time.

Eric Rhoads


  1. Sharon Strite December 16, 2018 at 8:00 am - Reply

    Thanks Eric for sharing these thought-provoking words. As a pastor’s daughter in a small community, I grew up sharing our home with persons with special needs in our community whether with a newly released prisoner or a wife escaping her husband’s abuse. It’s a legacy that I am challenged to carry on. It seems the older we become the more stingy we will become with are protected spaces. My daughter has a young single girl who lost her job staying with them. I often think, well with three small kids you sure could use that extra space but she sees it as ministry and the way she can help others. I guess our children can teach us too! Thanks again Eric for sharing your Sunday coffee. I love reading them and find them very challenging and inspiring! I also love your podcast!

  2. Dottie Purpura December 16, 2018 at 10:38 am - Reply

    Thanks Eric for bringing back memories of my childhood. We always had someone living with us when I was a child. My parents never shared the details of why we had family friends living with us, they just became part of the family. Also, my parents invited children to stay with us after my brother died in a tragic accident at the age of seven. A neighbor boy stayed with us while his parents were on “vacation “, a cousin from another state would stay all summer. Now I assume they came so I could transition into being the only child. As a seventy plus adult I have a friends Christmas dinner and have friends whose relatives live out of town or are just at loose ends. My parents were kind and loving people, I could only hope to live up to their example.

  3. Cindy Goad-Payne December 16, 2018 at 3:01 pm - Reply

    Amen!!! Christmases and all family gatherings were magical and blessed with love. Della and Raymond were awesome and knew they had family even though they were not blood.We have a blessed family which I love being a member of. Merry Christmas to all and a blessed New Year.

  4. Carol Lynn Coronios December 16, 2018 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    Beautifully written, Eric! Some of your memories jostle mine – and make me want to do more for those in need. I’m off to search for an organization that’s doing for victims of the Carr and Camp fires, since one of my dear friends lives northern CA. And call our utility company tomorrow to pay someone’s overdue bill.
    Thanks for the kick!

  5. Linda Shoults December 16, 2018 at 6:14 pm - Reply

    So well written and stirred up memories I hadn’t taken time to think about for ages. I remember my maternal grandfather living with us and cousins that would visit during the summer, holidays with family members long gone. The best memories are the ones we are making is right now. My parents moved in with us three years ago, mom 93 and dad 95, and their presence in our lives has been a blessing. Hours of time that I would have never had the opportunity to share with them is such a gift, the family stories, laughter are precious. While reading this weeks “Morning Coffee” I immediately thought of a couple that do not have family nearby and due to work obligations can’t travel. I am calling them to invite them to share our Christmas day with us. Thank you for your article and Merry Christmas!

  6. Mollie Prager December 16, 2018 at 6:34 pm - Reply

    Very nice! Down to earth and straight from the heart

  7. Anne Brownyard December 16, 2018 at 8:14 pm - Reply

    APPROPOS- Dont know if you have seen it, but in the last two days artist Margaret Dyer posted aGoFund Me to benefit a young homeless woman named Kia, with her two young children, who she happened upon trying to stay warm in an Atlanta laundromat. She has given them a place to stay in her home temporarily while she tries to get supporting services located and some money donated to give this woman a helping hand. Big heart!

  8. carolyn opderbeck December 17, 2018 at 5:49 am - Reply

    Thank you, Eric. Your memories are similar to mine and those of my husband. There was never a meal that my father did not offer thanks to the Lord for what we were about to eat. He always read a portion of Scripture after the meal and often “preached a sermon”. We did the same with our sons and also sent them off to school with prayer for that day. My husband and I were privileged to have the responsibility to drive two or our grandchildren to school each day because both of their parents are teachers and had to leave earlier than they did.
    We both never neglected to pray just a short prayer for the Lord to guide and help them for that day. They don’t need our rides anymore. Last year our granddaughter turned 17 and she drives herself and brother to high school each day. My husband misses the time spent before they had to leave watching the sports channel and sharing that time. I have spent much time with my granddaughter who comes with some of her friends to one of my classes to learn to paint.. She definitely shares my love for painting and I finally found one that really has a passion for painting!
    I am a very early riser and treasure the quiet hours before my husband gets up. I teach a women’s Bible study class on Sunday mornings at our church and find that is the best time for me to prepare for that. Most often I have a painting on my easel and pick up my brush to add a few strokes here and there. Much of my day is spent painting or teaching some art classes in my home. I am so thankful for that. So treasure each moment. Be thankful for family and friends. Have a blessed Christmas. Not only at Christmas, but each day I thank God for His Son, Jesus, my Lord and Savior, and for a loving family and friends.

  9. Peach Mc Comb December 17, 2018 at 9:01 am - Reply

    Your Coffee series is wonderful. Frequently thought provoking and always heartfelt.

  10. Rick Wilson December 17, 2018 at 8:41 pm - Reply

    You are one of the least selfish people I have ever known. Evident in your weekly writings and your actions. Your ministry reaches a lot of hurting people at just the right time. This story reminds me that we used to do the same thing when I was a kid. On holidays, Mom would invite elderly people in the neighborhood to dinner or we’d take a meal to the ones that couldn’t come over. I still get a lump in my throat when I think back on it. That lump should be telling me something! Thank you for reminding us that kindness should never be a fad or a distant memory.
    BTW, the other unselfish people in my life, my Mom and my Wife, Sherry.

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