Christmas Miracles and Memories
I am an obstinate, outspoken, and often ornery individual, but if there is a particular time of year that brings out the incurable sentimental sap in me, Christmas is the season. Because if you know me, you know I am also a softy by nature. I am the kind that actually enjoys watching those sappy Hallmark movies and reading mushy romance novels. I am the kind whose heart breaks for someone else estranged from a loved one. The kind who still believes in Christmas miracles and who relives past Christmas memories along with each new one.
I do not know why certain memories never seem to fade while others are gone almost as quickly as they are made. It seems sometimes that my brain randomly chooses a little sketch to etch in my mind. Time forever frozen in that little space like an old photograph. Or a video clip caught on some film strip in my psyche, available for replay at the mere thought of it. But recollection is a peculiar thing. It not only stores images, video clips, sound bytes, and even smells - it also recreates feelings from another time and place, including past holiday blessings like this one.
A Backstory. Imagine If You Will. . .
We were headed to the grocery store. My husband worked two jobs only to have half of his wages from both jobs garnished for child support. Sadly, that child never saw that money because the state kept most of it. And while the state collected its money for a child declared his by default our two children suffered.
We lived in a drafty, dilapidated, old house and did not even own a vehicle. My husband was driving a borrowed one. To make things even more challenging, we had recently found out I was pregnant with number three. I could not work because we had no one to babysit and the minimum wage jobs offered in that small town would not cover the cost of daycare. Making ends meet often happened with tightly stretched, frayed ends or not at all. But somehow we survived.
On this particular day, we passed an older woman walking to work. My husband worked with her. He liked her and respected her. If you knew some of the people in that town and you knew how rampant racism was on both sides of the fence, you would understand why her character was the only reason he was willing to offer her a ride - if only we had a place for her to sit. I suggested that I crawl into the back seat between the kids. Problem solved. He turned around to go offer her a ride.
No sooner had we asked her if she wanted one did the police car that had been sitting running radar pull up behind us. I am not sure why offering someone a ride seemed suspicious, but that was their official excuse for running licenses. The woman was sent on her way, but my husband was arrested. Two jobs and wage garnishment were not enough to keep up with child support payments and our own necessities. He had a warrant for failure to pay child support. Because I had the children with me, they allowed me to drive home even though I did not have a driver's license. I never made it to the store that day, and they kept my husband in jail for a week before letting him go.
In the meantime, I had to figure out how to take care of the kids on my own without income. We did not even have beds; just a queen sized mattress to put on the living room floor at night. We had a door that separated the front of the house, with the kitchen and living room, from the back of the house, where the bathroom and three bedrooms were. But only one bedroom was usable if it had a bed and heat. The window unit in the living room provided our heat and air. I was overwhelmed and the stress was getting to me.
At some point, I clearly recall having a telephone conversation with the only neighbor we had on that street. My husband did yard work for her and her husband. We were surrounded by woods. But he cleared trees for them and kept up their large property all on his own. They often praised his work and recommended him to others. However, on this particular day, she was busy being judgmental.
It might not have been her intent, but judging me on that day was a mistake. I did not want nor need to hear about what some pseudo-pillar-of-the-community's opinion of us was. Yeah. He gave us a freezer we did not keep or appreciate. But he forgot to tell her it did not work and he just wanted it hauled off his property. It was not the nice gesture he made it out to be. And those trips "out to eat" after my husband got paid for working for her each day. . .those were actually trips to the grocery store. For food, yes, but not from McDonald's. We did not have electricity and food simply does not keep very long in a cooler. Ice melts. We made daily trips for food out of necessity.
By the time I got done with her, I was livid. Until I wasn't. I don't stay mad long. I don't remember not having power when I was speaking to her, but I must not have had any because I remember the phone going dead in the middle of my gripe. I also recall that I could not call her back to finish speaking my mind. I remember thinking that she probably thought I hung up on her and that it served her right, except that people hanging up on others rudely is a pet peeve of mine. Whatever I said to her when I let her have it must not have been all bad. She never assumed anything about us again. She was also quick to defend us after that incident to anyone in town speaking ill of us.
By now, you can probably tell that I am not someone who gives a damn "what the neighbors may think." I am, however, someone who does not like putting up with gossip and misinformation. If I don't hear it straight from the source, I can only assume so much. And I do not care to know the business of people I do not know very well, if at all. I expect the same level of respect from others. Especially if these people DO know me. ME. I am the best source of information about myself. If I choose to share it. So, yes, that conversation did upset me. But I still had mouths to feed.
I believe it was that same day, maybe the next one, when I was walking the couple of miles to the dollar store with my kids, knowing I had no other choice than to keep going somehow. It did not matter what the rest of the world thought they knew about me or my husband. None of the people asking questions had any real intentions of being a friend. And I knew that. The people who were friends could not help even if they wanted to. Maybe that is why I found some relief in a stranger.
On my way to the store, I saw two women jogging. Maybe they were just being friendly. Maybe something in my demeanor made them say more than just a hello with a passing wave. These women were not from that town, but I cannot remember why they were in town. One of them was so kind. Kind enough that I shared a brief version of why I was walking with kids at that particular moment. Grateful for the friendliness, we exchanged numbers at her request. Considering she did not live in town, I did not expect much to come from the exchange. She assured me that I was being a good mother when I felt insufficient, and we went our separate ways.
To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.— Chriss Jami
Fast Forward to Christmas
This lady who showed me such sincere kindness and compassion at one of my lowest points gave me an unexpected call one December morning. For some reason that is still beyond me, she offered to buy my children presents. Not just one gift each, but several gifts for each child. She picked me up one afternoon while my husband watched the kids and we went shopping. If you ever wondered what it feels like to be humbled, this is it. This show of generosity to a total stranger for no apparent reason. Aside from one random encounter, she did not know me. She wasn't even sure when she called if I remembered her, but it's hard to quickly forget someone who said just what I needed to hear right when I needed to hear it mere months before.
I hesitated to accept the offer, though. I mean, it really is a humbling experience to allow something like that. Especially when it's no secret most people make snap judgments, and some of those who did make offers of assistance then resented me if I took them up on that offer. It was clear she was not one of those people, but part of me felt undeserving. I was undeserving. I had done nothing to warrant that kind of generosity, and this was not a lucky lottery win. I will never know what compelled her to bestow a gift of that magnitude upon me, but I finally accepted.
I often recall the words of my husband's grandmother: Never refuse a gift because if you do, you deny someone their blessing. For those of you who like to give, you understand those words well, probably better than I did at first. She gave me that advice after I politely turned down a jacket her friend tried to give me. It was not that I did not appreciate the gesture, but rather I felt someone else would probably benefit more from receiving something I did not need. Still, had she been someone easily offended I would have hurt her feelings by refusing to accept the jacket. Some people thrive on being able to do something for someone else. I do sometimes, too. But I would much rather give than to receive. So cliche, but it's true.
Having said that, I did try to convince this angel of a stranger that it was not necessary to spend so much. Nevermind that she wanted to. I attempted to be frugal with someone else's money. However, she convinced me to get a play kitchen set. Anyone with children knows those things are anything but cheap. Moreover, when shopping for the children was complete, she insisted that I pick out something my husband and I could both use. Again, I tried to say it was not necessary. But she decided upon a new Kitchen Aid mixer because I apparently mentioned something about baking bread.
Christmas was amazing that year. It is every year, but that is one that stands out in my mind. How could it not? We did not think the kids would have much to open that year. They were too young to know the difference, but old enough that the magic of Christmas is extra special. Perhaps the idea of no celebration was more of a disappointment to the adults than the oblivious kids, but an angelic stranger saved the day.
I read about stories like this. I see news clips of things like this happening to someone else. I watch these kinds of plotlines play out in fictitious movies. I never imagined I would become part of one. But, as a matter of fact, I have received many other Christmas blessings, often from strangers. This is just one holiday made special by the abundant generosity of a gracious heart. Some day I hope to be able to repay this spectacular gift of kindness to someone else tenfold. Because this is one memory that will never completely fade away. It deserves to be the catalyst for someone else's special blessing.
Real Life Christmas Blessing Stories
Have you ever experienced a Christmas miracle or blessing? Tell me about it when you comment. Have you provided the blessing for someone else? I want to hear about that, too. There can never be too many heartwarming Christmas stories.