Christmas Miracle Stories ~ The Red Knit Hat
The red knit hat
The white passenger van from the Children's Home was heading to the Annual Christmas Pageant; Emilia, riding in the back seat was tugging fiercely at her red knit hat refusing to take it off. She held firmly to the prized possession always fearful someone would try to take it from her. The little girl with naturally messy curls had lost so much, yet she still believed in her magical, red hat. Magical, because, just by touching the woven yarn she felt comforted. Her innocence continued to allow a desperate wish, that one day, the little red knit hat could somehow take her home.
The brilliant apple colored hat connected Emilia to the memories of her loving family. It was handmade by her grandmother, her "Yanni." She used the thickest yarn she could find placing love and warmth into every stitch. Kissing it gently, she placed it on Emilia's head saying, "from my heart to yours, my sweet little angel." This was the last time they were together. It was Thanksgiving three years prior, she was just four years old.
Emilia recalled that Thanksgiving day vividly it was her most treasured memory, the last of her family together. Desperately she tried to go there in her dreams. Even awake, she forced images in her mind not wanting them to fade. Closing her eyes, tightly this sweet child could almost smell the turkey as it sizzled to a golden brown in the oven. The aroma of fresh bread baking and sugar cookies, mixing with fruit pies and spices overwhelmed her senses. Sadly, her dreams never lasted long enough, she always found herself waking, returning to her nightmare.
Emilia was a beautiful quiet little girl, with the brightest green eyes always shining like emeralds. Her hair was a crisp dark brunette color and it lay softly on her porcelain skin. Her frame was small but not petite in comparison to the others her age. Her slightly plump cheeks had a rouge tint of pink most of the time, as she had difficulty keeping warm and her nose to the touch was most often like a tiny cube of ice. Emilia was seven years old on this day of the Christmas Pageant. She was attending the Regional Foster Children's Christmas Party in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. This community had been long known for the official showing of Punxsutawney Phil, the infamous groundhog from Groundhog Day. Today it was the sight of the third annual Foster Children's Christmas Pageant hosted by the organization called Little Ang"E"l. The large "E" was to symbolize the name of one very special lost angel.
Emilia had been chosen to be a part of the program this year as she was very recently brought to the group home just prior to Christmas, three long years after her last family Thanksgiving. The staff believed by involving her in the pageant it may be a way to connect her to the new environment. No one could have guessed the impact this sheepishly quiet child would make on everyone. Emilia's past was unknown, however, her performance would change everything!
The dampened snow layered the window and it was silent
Everything changed in an instant
Shortly after the last visit to her grandmother's home Emilia and her little family were heading home some two hours away in a devastating storm. The rain mixed with the first flakes of winter snow, ice was building on the windshield. The back roads were fairly busy with traffic as many were returning from their own family gatherings. Emilia and her beautiful mother with features almost mirror-like to her little girl’s were singing with their bravest voices their rendition of Silent Night. Her daddy was holding to the wheel as his knuckles whitened, his grip tightening with every minute passing in the storm. Quite suddenly the four-door blue Sedan spun violently in a circular motion. It then crashed broadside into an old sycamore tree that stuck out just enough to impale the vehicle with a life-changing jolt. As the car wrapped around this old stately tree, one of its oldest and most prominent branches smashed violently through the windshield. Emilia’s parents were thrown forward claiming their lives quickly, as they were killed on impact.
Almost immediately the back door of the vehicle was jimmied open and a young woman, looking somewhat gruff and tired, shouted, “well, come on then!” Emilia was of course shaking, disoriented and crying. To her in that horrific moment, any voice was one of comfort. She began to wiggle her way to the edge of the seat, but at the last minute before leaving the car, she quickly turned and grabbed the red hat placing it in her coat pocket. She felt herself being swept up into the arms of a man unfamiliar, but strong, securing her to his hip. Unable to resist, she melted into the bulky jacket that smelled musty as it was covered in grease oil and dirt. The pungent smell was foreign to her still somehow in the chaotic whirlwind it drew her in. Emilia’s eyes closed and she fell into a deeply irresistible sleep, probably due to a concussive state from the accident.
Emilia awoke to find herself in a scary darkened room unknown to her in any way. She felt the frigid air on her skin even with a ragged patchy blanket placed over her. Goosebumps formed on her skinny arms as she lay on what she assumed was a bed. In actuality, it was a wire frame with a cloth mattress and no padding. There was a distinctive sway in the part where her back lay as the cloth had formed to a much heavier frame in the past. She closed her eyes then quickly opened them, hoping to realize some sense of security reminiscent of home. Sadly, her reality had drastically changed and tears welled within her sweet innocent eyes. She noticed she was still wearing her clothes, even her overcoat remained donned to her little body, as she lay under the barely there blanket. She reached into her pocket and could feel the soft plush yarn of her warm red hat. She grasped it, squeezing tightly, holding onto it, hoping it could place her back in her grandmother’s kitchen. She went to her memory and could almost feel the warmth of the hearth. The smells, the singing of her grandfather and the joyous holiday traditions of a prayerful Thanksgiving followed by feasting and then family snuggle time, as her “Yanni” called it. She was feeling safe in this memory as it lulled her to sleep once again.
The news had been inundated with the story of the young couple tragically lost on their way home Thanksgiving weekend. They were described as a loving couple involved in their church family and community. The saddest part of their story was the fact that their beautiful little girl had not been found at the scene. A massive search ensued to find little Emilia. Emilia's grandmother, Caitlyn Schafer, spearheaded the efforts as she had lost her only daughter and dear son-in–law, as well as her precious little Emilia.
Emilia called her grandmother by a name Caitlyn had chosen for herself. She was a young grandmother and hence chose a name close in sound to traditions and yet one that would separate her from the ageism of the title “grandmother.” Although Caitlyn was Irish and German by her lineage she chose a proud African name “Ayanna”, meaning beautiful flower. She chose this name, as it was strong and beautiful. The nickname became a habit for close family and friends, as she was one to always be found in her exquisite garden of whimsical color and lively plants that seem to dance around her. No matter the weather, Ayanna, as she was now fondly addressed, would tend to her botanical oasis with her over-sized floppy hat and long burlap colored apron. Emilia loved her Yanni, which is how she ended up shortening her grandmother’s name.
At first, Ayanna worked tirelessly to get her baby granddaughter to call her the name correctly. After great frustration, Caitlyn found the meaning of “Yanni” to be "God Is Gracious." After a brief time, Ayanna settled for her sweet Emilia calling her “Yanni”, but if you wanted to remain in one piece all others referred to this strong-willed grandmother as “Ayanna” or " beautiful flower." Only her Emilia could call her “Yanni” and for some simple reason, it sounded like God’s Grace when it came from her sweet lips. If someone would slip the word “grandmother” she would assume they were not speaking to her and just kept involved in her business. Her middle-aged and foremost admiring husband, Ralph, appreciated her spirit in this matter and also respected his bride and so he called her as such. You could be walking past their beautiful Victorian home with lattices placed strategically around the garden with a mix of gorgeous flower's growing abundantly beyond the white picket fence.
The home was medium in size nothing too extravagant and yet welcoming beyond measure. Often you could hear Ralph whistling as he scurried after his bride of twenty-five years and singing, “My Ayanna you are my sunshine, you’ll never go far from me, you are the rainbow and my smile, please don’t take my Ayanna from me.” They were connected at the hip and always found together. They had been married for a lifetime and much pain came in those years after the accident. After losing so much, they felt a need to stay close, wherever you found one the other was never far.
The way home from darkness
The Schafer’s were known for their compassionate hearts and they also worked for hand in hand on the Little AngEl organization. They hoped for a Godly miracle to find their Emilia among the lost children. They sadly had given up on this possibility after three long years had passed, but they continued their efforts to bring other families together in the cases of abducted or lost children. Together the Schafer’s had raised significant funds to help families in need and to provide foster children with a memorable Christmas and the joy of feeling special. Each year Caitlyn and Ralph would travel to the site of the regional Christmas Pageant put on by their now statewide organization.
They were well known for their generosity of bringing multiple gifts then staying for the show as a loving audience for the cast members of each pageant ensemble. Ralph was always known to carry along his big red suit and he would, of course, play the role of Santa for the children after the conclusion of the Christmas story. Caitlyn would always dress up and stand right by his side until every child was seen and spoken to, each was made to feel as if they were Santa's favorite. After every visit to Santa’s knee, the two would look deeply into the eyes of each child and say, “ You are God’s very special creation and He loves you for today and always, He will never leave you, sweet angel.” They would give them a big hug and a teddy bear that bore angel wings wearing none other than a little red knit cap. The red knit cap was the last gift they gave to their precious Emilia. It was their way of sharing their angel with the world.
From the brokenness
Emilia had been through a difficult three years as in most abduction’s the couple that stole her from the accident scene was unstable. They were impulsive in their actions. Kidnapping seemed like a good idea at the time, but they were ill-prepared to care for themselves, let alone a small child. They had a desire of the heart, in that the young woman, who was ultimately the instigating factor in taking Emilia, truly wanted a child of her own. She sadly was mentally incapable of raising a child and her fiancé was a functional, yet drug addicted man. His functionality was minimal at best, but he could hold down a job at a small gas station in a rural part of the Pocono Mountains. He didn’t want to have the baggage of a child or another mouth to feed, he could barely care for himself, but in his own misguided way, he loved his fiancé and wanted her to be happy. Initially, they kept the child hidden when they asked her name she said, “I am Emilia.”
Emilia was so young they felt protected in that the little girl could not state or spell her last name. Emilia was a bright little girl it was just that her last name was quite long and she had yet to learn to say it correctly. In fact, she struggled with her surname. Emilia’s father was of Greek descent and his last name was Papastathopoulos. At the age of four and barely four at that, she would call herself “Just Emilia” and I have a Papa. Due to this, it was quite easy for her abductors to confuse her into using a new last name when almost a year later she entered school. She became Emilia Jackson, the last name of the woman who wanted her so badly.
The couple that had taken Emilia never had a stable home environment, they moved often, usually after too many questions were asked, or they were nearing eviction. However, they remained within a one hundred mile radius as they had connections for their drug needs. The young woman eventually had an episode when mixing some street drugs with her medications resulting in a complete mental breakdown. The man had brought his wife to the facility thinking they could help her return to a functional human being. She was quickly evaluated and in her despondent state ultimately committed to the state psychiatric facility. The hope was for her to at least be able to resume her basic daily living skills. The dismal fairytale of this couple was now coming to an abrupt conclusion, hence the so-called prince was turning into the truly slimy frog he was.
Upon this event, some almost three years after the taking of Emilia, social services was called as the child was again abandoned at a local hospital with whom they believed to be her young mother. The said father or father figure wanted nothing to do with the child without his companion. He left abruptly upon the admission of his cohort, hopping away like a rabbit, never to be seen again. There was a scattered and limited paper trail on this couple, so it was nearly impossible to find any remnants of a life together. Thankfully, due to the state of the young mother, social services had no other option but to take the child and place her in protective services. She sat anxiously in a waiting room until a case worker arrived, placing her in foster care.
I was lost but now I'm found
Emilia had been assigned to the group home the very week before the pageant was to ensue. She was one of the younger fosters in the home at the time and one of the counselors took her under her wing. The counselor was energetic and decided it may be good for Emilia to be in the Christmas Pageant. The young counselor thought Emilia would make the most beautiful angel. They were now practicing and getting ready for the performance to be later that Saturday evening and the only problem they had was that little Emilia refused to remove her red knit cap. They realized it was too traumatic and let her wear it along with her angel costume. It was symbolic that the Little AngEl organization gave out bears with little red knit hats, yet the reason for this symbolism was not readily discussed. In fact, no one connected the costume enhancement being similar to that of the stuffed bears. So no one could have known the profound attention this little red knit hat would bring to the Christmas Pageant.
The curtains were drawn as dusk began to fall on the local community church. All the attendees were in their places. Emilia was placed on a platform above the manger where the baby Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in His mother’s arms. The curtain rose and the pageant began. The attention now turned to the tiny angel above the Manger as she said her lines. She spoke clearly, but timidly, “Do not be afraid, for I bring your tidings of great joy for on this day a savior is born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:10
Caitlyn Schafer had her eyes fixated on this beautiful angel. For a long time, she felt she could barely breathe, fearful of the hope that was welling inside her heart. Ayanna the beautiful flower actually froze in place for a few minutes. She tried to move but couldn't, fearing the image would disappear. Could it be? Could this beauty with the angel wings that spanned far beyond her tiny frame be their Emilia? Caitlyn began to stand slowly and then move hurriedly as Ralph chased behind her, not sure where she was heading. She was crying and laughing and even tripping up the stairs to the stage as she raced to the little angel on the platform. When she finally got to where the child was she fell to her knees and reached for the young girl with open arms and said, Emilia? The tiny angel almost lost her footing as she glanced at the beautiful lady with dark curls similar to hers and her mother's, only with the slightest touch of gray. Emilia took a long deep breath as she heard the voice of the woman again, calling to her, Emilia?
The little girl was stunned at first not sure she could believe her nightmare had ended. Each night Emilia had prayed to see her Yanni again and to be wrapped in her arms. Finally, the little girl looked into the eyes of the beautiful lady, the sweet angel responded, “My Yanni.” The child ran into the outstretched arms of her grandmother where she finally pulled the little red knit hat from her head looking deeply into her sweet green eyes. It was as if time stood still as they allowed the shock of the moment to ease into a natural and familiar comfort. Emilia was now laughing as she was swooped up into the loving arms of her Grandfather; his smell, was warm and fuzzy like a bear, just as she remembered. The three were filled with immediate peace hugging tightly as if to never let go again. They looked to the audience and shared with them, "this is our angel, our Emilia, and She has found her way home to us." The large crowd swelled with resounding joy and Ralph led them in singing "Amazing Grace," as their little Emilia was found. Emilia’s nightmare was finally over and the faith of her Yanni and Grandpa Ralph was rewarded in their very own special Christmas miracle!
God is so Gracious in His mercy for His lost. Believe in Christmas miracles for all things are possible with Him, your Savior and Lord. In this season of His birth remember to believe in Christ Your King. Blessing to you all this joyous season and Merry Christmas. Christmas is every day in our hearts so keep looking for the little miracles. God Bless
© 2012 The Stages Of ME