Sometimes when I read the Christmas story I ask myself:
I wonder, if he had it to do again, knowing what he probably learned later, would the Innkeeper have found something for the couple who pulled in off the Bethlehem Highway and asked about a room? Even something a little unusual? Maybe he did, in letting them stay in the stable; could be. I wonder how I’d do if given the opportunity? Tonight I found out.
Some of you who know me know that this fall I began working part-time at a small independent luxury hotel after Church Multimedia eliminated my position. It’s part time and it’s temporary, but it helps while I look for a full-time ministry position or something local that will pay the mortgage just as well. I’m almost always at the front desk on Sunday nights and sometimes things are rather slow – like tonight. Once the handful of expected guests had all checked in and were preparing for tomorrow’s business appointments I turned my attention to other things.
You can imagine my surprise when I looked up to see a meek, quiet lady in her late 60’s at the front counter. “Do you have any rooms?”
“We do,” I answered, and smiled, remembering that last night I would have to have said “I’m sorry, we’re sold out.”
“My husband can’t drive after dark,” she explained, “so the driving has fallen to me, and I can hardly see to drive in this rain. It’s going to freeze soon and I don’t want to end up in the ditch, we need to stop. How much is a room? We’re with AARP if that helps at all.”
Fortunately our Sunday night rates are heavily discounted so the room rate I was able to give her matched rates available at the next exit or further down the interstate. The smile that crossed her face at the news brought a smile to my face in return. She was visibly relieved. “Oh, that’s not too bad – I was expecting a couple hundred dollars!”
“On another night it would be, but not tonight,” I smiled.
“There are three of us,” she continued, “we just need one room, two beds; I’ll go get my purse.”
Hmmm — I wondered what to do while I waited for her to return. A room that will sleep three is two levels above the rate I just quoted her. I was still thinking about how to approach things when I saw her escort her special needs daughter into the lobby. The younger woman sat patiently on one of the lobby sofas taking it all in while her mother took care of business at the front desk. The husband/father appeared a moment or two later with their luggage. I overheard the child-like simplicity of the soft-spoken dialogue between tired mother and curious child while I entered their information into a computer the Bethlehem Innkeeper never had to learn.
“Ma’am,” I ventured “Our room configurations are a little unusual as a luxury hotel, and we have only two rooms with two beds. They’re both ready, however, so I’m going to put you in the best one, at the rate I originally quoted you.”
She smiled a tired but appreciative smile. “Thank you, Sir. Thank you.”
Wow, did it feel good to give like that. The husband/father/traveller picked up their luggage and I showed them to the elevator while his life partner offered their daughter her arm, waiting for her hand to loop through the crook of her elbow. “Come on, Dear, let’s go to our room for the night.”
In a moment the lobby was silent once more.
We’ll probably never see them again — this isn’t the type of place they’d choose. But the weather forced them in off the road tonight and into our establishment much like a census forced another couple, make it three, to travel when they didn’t much care to either.
But it’s OK that they’re here just tonight. We were at the right exit on the right winter night. And it felt great to give because I could. Sleep well, dear strangers, you’re safe and warm.