As the holiday season drew near, dread filled my heart. I had three young children and a husband working his way through school.
I was creative and resourceful and no stranger to the yoga-like stretches needed to make due on our limited income.
Things looked bleak in our little apartment as Thanksgiving came and went, but even worse, things were starting to feel bleak in my heart. I didn’t know how to provide a Christmas for my family.
On the first of December, a friend showed up to our apartment. She had with her a sparsely branched tree and a white five gallon bucket to hold it. She didn’t have much herself, but there she was, standing at our doorstep, sharing with us what little she did have.
We placed the tree in the corner, laughed about how it was so crooked propped up in the bucket, then my boys and I cut out some funky construction paper ornaments and tied bows to the branches. They were excited to have the first signs of Christmas right before their eyes.
Weeks went by, and Christmas Eve arrived. I was home alone with the kids when the doorbell rang.
I answered the door and found a man in his early forties and a boy who looked to be his teenage son.
He said, “Are you Deb Evans? I need to talk with you in private.”
I stepped outside and closed the door where he quietly explained that he had heard that our family could use a little help this Christmas. He had a few things for us in the car…and just needed to know where he should put them for Santa to grab later.
We knocked on my neighbor’s door and she gladly agreed to be the present keeper for the day.
The man instructed me to go back inside my house and stated that he would come back over in a few minutes.
Twenty minutes went by and there came a knock again. I opened the door to the same two guys holding a large box. They stepped inside for a quick moment, had a brief introduction to my boys playing by the couch, set down the box and handed me an envelope.
They wished us a Merry Christmas, and just like that they were gone.
I opened the box to find it contained all the makings for a delicious Christmas dinner.
I opened the envelope to find $200 cash.
I couldn’t believe what had just happened.
I went to my neighbor’s house, and as she opened the door, she said, “That sure is nice of your brother to bring you all those gifts.”
I sheepishly responded that he wasn’t my brother, in fact, I didn’t even know him.
She said, “Deb, you gotta come look at this.”
She guided me to her spare bedroom. It was filled top to bottom with presents each carefully divided and tagged for every member of the Evans family.
My husband arrived home late that night, and after the kids were asleep we carried present after present from our neighbor’s house to our tree.
Within a half an hour, our bleak apartment had successfully been turned into a Christmas wonderland.
Morning came, and three little boys wandered out to find that Santa had indeed visited.
It took a full three hours for the presents to be unwrapped. There were socks and shoes, shirts and pants, coats and gloves for every member of the family. There were toys and books and stuffed animals of every kind. Every package individually wrapped. No detail overlooked.
I quietly watched as my husband unwrapped a big box with his name on it. An old fashioned train set appeared, and he carefully assembled the track all around the present-filled room. He arranged the engine, cars and caboose, followed the instructions to add oil and then fired it up.
My boys squealed with delight as the train raced around the track. They watched in amazement as the tiny stream of black smoke puffed out of the engine. They laughed with glee as the horn sounded and the railroad lights flashed.
I watched the scene through the teary eyes of a thankful mother…a magical Christmas had just been unwrapped in every corner of our living room.
I marveled at the pure joy on the faces of three little boys and could hear the laughter in the heart of a father unabashedly enjoying his children.
I promised myself to never forget the feelings of that moment.
I sat at the table early the next morning and wrote a letter pouring out my gratitude for the Christmas cheer we had so generously been given.
But…there was one problem.
I didn’t know WHO or WHERE to send the letter. I didn’t know HOW to say thank you.
The letter went on a shelf. My gratitude went unexpressed.
The most memorable gift I received that Christmas arrived several months later on a sunny spring afternoon.
With a bit of investigative research, I had found the person who had so dramatically changed our Christmas.
I had a name and an address.
I woke up that morning excited to go and meet this person who had done so much good for my family.
They lived about fifteen minutes from my apartment, and as I drove to their place, I visualized the scene that would shortly unfold. I imagined pulling up to a giant house, wading through four wheelers and boats and RVs in order to get to the front door.
I wondered what I would say to this family who was obviously so much more cultured and refined than I was.
I started to get nervous.
And then I turned onto their street. I found myself double checking the address. It was an old neighborhood lined with brick houses from fifty years ago.
I pulled up to the house and paused to take in the scene. It was a plain house. The driveway was cracked and the shutters needed repair.
This was NOT what I had expected.
I knocked on the door and after a short conversation with a soft spoken woman, I handed her my letter, and I heard her quietly say:
“A bunch of families get together and each do a little, and together that makes a lot. It isn’t really a big deal. We love doing it!”
But it WAS a big deal to me.
It WAS a big deal to my family.
It was a life changing lesson delivered in 150 crisply wrapped packages by a nameless group of benefactors.
They gave my family a Christmas we would never forget, but what I learned that spring day was this:
Lifting the slumped shoulders of those whose burdens seem unnecessarily heavy is not a privilege reserved for a select few with padded bank accounts and carefree lives, but it is available to every individual whose heart is committed to blessing mankind.
Ordinary people working together and bound by love for their fellow man will accomplish untold good and will forever bless both the givers and the receivers.
Therefore, we must not wait for an undetermined future season when life will be easier and funds more available to do our part–to warm hands and fill bellies and bring cheer to the hearts of those less fortunate than ourselves.
We cannot rise to our highest human potential without reaching out to lift another.
That is the spirit of Christmas.
This is the message of Christ.