The April Christmas Gift - a True Story
This Christmas, remember April!
Michelle hastily planned her morning.
A week before Christmas, Michelle woke up with a headache from a sinus infection that had inflicted her days before. Between getting the children ready for school that morning, writing a school note to excuse her daughter for a sick day taken the day before, and serving breakfast to the household, Michelle found herself with little time to shower and dress in warm attire for the cold day ahead.
Later in the afternoon, she would be due at an appointment one town over. She didn't like driving to that town, especially in snowy weather. Traveling on the treacherous roads was dangerous. Michelle thought about cancelling her afternoon appointment. With selfish motive, she began dreaming up reasons why she couldn't make it. Michelle finally put the thought to rest. She finished tying her sneakers.
The children were bundled in their coats, mittens, and hats, waiting at the door patiently for Michelle's permission to go to the car. Michelle hurriedly put on her own coat and gloves leaving her cell phone upstairs. She locked the door behind her. The car was parked at the bottom of a steep, icy driveway. The children were throwing snow at one another when a private plow truck drove by. Michelle was elated to recognize the driver as one of her favorite relatives. She drove the children to the small elementary school that had no bus service to her rural road.
Michelle dropped the children off at the snow-covered playground and headed down the main road in town to go to the small post office to mail her Christmas cards.
The line at the post office was short.
Michelle competitively raced out of her car and ran on the slick pavement to the front of the post office. She noticed two customers closely behind her as she reached for the door and saw no one in line.
She thought to herself that she didn't feel like holding the door today, when normally she would. She had alterior motives. Her children were back to school after illness and a snow day, and this was her day to do as she saw fit. She had no desire to use her time standing in line at the post office.
She went to the first available counter. The clerk was a friend. They chatted briefly and Michelle turned to leave. She noticed a young man coming through the door with a large box. It was another one of her friends. She was well-known in town. But today was different. Normally she wouldn't see one person, let alone several out and about on the same day.
She held the door for her friend Andrew. After exchanging hellos, Michelle started walking toward her car. An older woman of shorter stature asked Michelle, "do you think you can give me a ride to the train station? I have no money for the bus."
Michelle was in disbelief. Of all days, today, the one day of freedom she had planned by the hour, and someone asks her for a ride. And, the train station was located in the very town Michelle was trying to avoid that afternoon.
Michelle held the car door open for the woman. She went around to the other side and placed her purse behind the seat. The woman had opened Michelle's door and began talking to Michelle.
At this time, Michelle thought to herself the things that you hear about on television that happens when a good samaritan is kind to a stranger. The bad thoughts circled Michelle's mind. She thought about Andrew. He was the last to see her leaving the post office. Surely, if something were to happen, Michelle thought Andrew would be able to identify the woman Michelle left with. Michelle also remembered she had forgotten her cell phone on her way out the door this morning.
Michelle so wanted to be wrong about all of those bad things she has heard time and time again on the television. While Michelle has her selfish moments, she also has a big heart. Especially for people who are in need.
The ride wasn't quiet. The woman told Michelle a lot of things. She was obviously very knowledgeable about computers and told Michelle how to search more efficiently by using quotations. She also told Michelle that Yahoo searches were better than Google.
The woman looked at Michelle and said, "My name is April."
April was much older. Silver curly hair, blue eyes, and glasses. She looked much like the caroler in this card.
As the car approached the train station, April told Michelle that she had things at her apartment that she needed to get for the train ride. She told Michelle of the thoughtful gifts she had bought for her family in New York where she was headed to visit by train. April asked if Michelle minded stopping there first.
Michelle asked for directions to April's home. Upon arriving at the destination, Michelle was very surprised and kind of scared. The area where April lived was known for violence and crime. There were people walking around the street despite the six inches of snow covering sidewalks and curbs.
April said, "pull up right there. My apartment is in back."
Michelle pulled up to the curb in front of a gray colored house. April got out of the car and walked to the back before Michelle could follow her. Michelle turned off the car engine and opened the back of the trunk. While waiting for April to return, she could hear April in the distance saying that her stuff was in the hallway. While standing on the sidewalk, several people walked by Michelle and said hello. Despite feeling nervous in a crime-ridden part of town, the people were exceptionally friendly.
April returned with a large suitcase. Michelle was surprised at how easy April made it look to carry such a heavy suitcase. Placing it in the back of the car, April asked Michelle if she could return to the apartment to help her with the lighter items. Michelle retrieved her purse from behind the back seat and locked up the car.
April went on ahead up the two flights of narrow stairwells to her apartment and disappeared in to a hallway. Michelle noticed a black tarp on the ground near the basement, and a man slowly walked from the side of the building in front of Michelle carrying a hacksaw and two hammers.
Michelle wanted to run away in fear. She thought it was a trap. All of these things that she had heard about on the news that happen to good people when a stranger needs help surfaced again in her mind.
But at that moment, Michelle thought about the consquences of her own choice to help the woman. She didn't want to leave the woman out in the cold if by chance the man with the tools was just a coincidence.
Michelle walked up each small step. The steps were painted green and curved around a very tight hallway. Michelle felt scared. She could feel her feet slipping because the bottoms of her sneaker tread was covered in a thin layer of frozen snow.
She carefully made it to the top when April handed her two bags to carry back to the car.
To the train station.
Michelle locked the doors and turned up the heat to relieve April's frozen toes under her thin shoes.
Michelle's feet were also frozen and numb despite wearing a layer of socks and sneakers. She couldn't imagine how April's feet must have felt in nothing more than simple slip-on shoes.
As Michelle pulled away from the curb to drive toward the train station, she wanted to mention the man to April, but didn't want to say anything in a way to offend her.
April suddenly spoke about the man and said he was not a very nice man. He had not provided what he was supposed to in the rental agreement. April said she had no money and nowhere else to go. She was living on disability and had a lot of bills she couldn't pay. In fact, she was a widow. The wife of a veteran.
Michelle sympathized with April. April reminded her so much of someone else she knows.
April spoke again about how she has had issues in life. She has been labeled manic depressive, although she has genuis intelligence.
Michelle realized then that April reminded her of her own son with Autism. She looked at April's sweet demeanor and the longing in her eyes. Behind her glasses and silver hair, Michelle realized that she was a human being reaching out for help when there was no one there. Michelle asked April, "what would you have done had I not been at the post office?" To which April replied, "I would have had to walk or wait for a bus, and would have missed the train."
April went on to say that she would have had to walk to her apartment from the bus and back to the train station in the snow and freezing cold temperatures to catch a later train. The journey would have been an astonishing mile to mile and a half walk. It would have taken hours to walk those snowy-covered streets and sidewalks that had not been shoveled.
A safe trip.
Backing in to a free spot wasn't easy because of the large piles of snow covering the sides of the walkways. April's feet hurt more than ever at this point and wanted Michelle to park in front of the door. But there was a taxi there.
April got out of the car in a snowbank and took the large suitcase from the trunk. Once again, MIchelle was amazed at April's strength.
Michelle offered help, but April said she wanted to put her luggage in the the back row of the waiting room, and would be right back to get the remainder of the items.
Michelle waited by the open trunk. When April returned, she asked to carry everything except one thing. She gave Michelle a box to carry for her. It was a painting April said she picked up at a local library sale to give to her brother for Christmas.
As Michelle followed April in to the train station, April said Michelle could just stick the box anywhere so she wouldn't have to leave her car. Michelle insisted on bringing the box to April's other belongings. Her car was locked in a legal parking spot.
Michelle set the box on the floor as people waiting for the train looked on at the two of them. The waiting room was full. April repeatedly told Michelle that as soon as she got some money, she would send her some for gas. Michelle looked at April and said, "I don't want your money."
April said, "Merry Christmas" to Michelle. Michelle had not told April her name.
Michelle hugged April and said, "Have a safe trip April."
April looked at Michelle with kind eyes as she turned to leave the train station.
I highly recommend
The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen.
My grandfather's sister gave me this book when I was a child. I treasured this book as I do of my great-aunt's memory. She survived my grandfather by a few weeks and passed away at the age of 92, a week before Christmas 2013.
Would you help a total stranger on the street?
The story of the Little Match Girl.
The Little Match Girl was first written in 1845 by Hans Christian Andersen.
The story is about a poor little girl trying to sell matches in the street. She is freezing terribly, but too afraid to go home to the stepfather who will beat her for not selling any matches.
She takes shelter in a nook and lights the matches to warm herself.
In the glow of the matches, she sees beautiful visions. As she lights the next match, she sees a vision of her grandmother, the only person to have treated her with love and kindness. She strikes one match after another to keep the vision of her grandmother alive for as long as she can.
After the light of the last match burns out, the little girl's grandmother carries her soul to Heaven. The next morning, passers-by find the childs body in the nook and take pity on her. They do not know about the visions she saw, or that she will not be cold or hungry any more in Heaven.
(I've often wondered why none of the passers-by stopped when they saw the child freezing.)
This Christmas, remember April!
I often preach about being a good samaritan. There is a lot of pretentiousness in society. What are words without action? People say, "I love you", but don't often treat someone like they love them. People say, "I'll pray for you", but don't offer help when someone is in need.
Many of us are often on the lookout for ways to help. From fundraising to bake sales, we reach out to help where we can. In this story, April called out for help. Fortunately, someone was there willing to help her.
When my grandfather passed away the day before Thanksgiving, the pastor he picked prior to his own funeral service was no one any of us had ever met. But he did a terrific job. He spoke about a personal story that really touched my heart.
He said he had a friend that owned a lamb. She gave birth. He wanted to see the newborn lambs. His friend invited him over. When he approached the barn, the mother lamb looked at the pastor as if to say, "stay away, I don't feel safe with you here." So the pastor didn't approach any closer. Then the owner walked in to the barn behind the pastor. The mother lamb relaxed. She looked at the pastor as if to say, "my shepherd is here now, so it's ok for you to be here."
The pastor said that those of us who practice Christian faith, should remember this. For when we are fearful, remember that God is always with us. "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?" Psalm 27:1.
Whenever you step out of your comfort zone, remember those words. Remember not everyone is bad or out to get you. If you feel there is opportunity to help someone in need, open your heart to them and do not be afraid.
This story is dedicated to my grandfather.
This story is dedicated to him for everything he was.
These are his last words.
"Let all my children, grandchildren and family members know that life is short, and it goes by quickly. Before you know it, you've reached the end of your trail. It's time to check out. We are all riding the same horse, headed down the same trail. Don't let the devil buck you off as you travel that trail. Ask the good Lord to save you before you take your last ride. Then it's too late."
Rest in Peace,
September 21, 1927 to November 27, 2013
To all of you, Merry Christmas.
It takes courage to step out in faith when an opportunity arises to help a needy person.
It also takes bigger courage to ask for help.
April could have been any one of us. At any time, any one of us could face a situation where we need help and there is no one.
This Christmas, remember the biggest gifts are free. They don't come wrapped in shiny paper or cost a small fortune. True gifts are from the heart. Love one another. Encourage one another. Enjoy one another. Be kind to one another.
Remember to be the change that you want to see in the world to make it a better place for all.