Christmas Miracle ~ 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 this little one still believed in her magical red hat. Magic, 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 Cap 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 put it on Emilia's head, saying, "from my heart to yours, my sweet little angel." This moment was the last time they were together or would be for quite a long while. It was Thanksgiving three years before the happenings of this story; 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 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 attended the Regional Foster Care Children's Christmas Party in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, well known for Phil, the infamous groundhog. Today it was the sight of the third annual Foster Care Children's Christmas Pageant hosted by the organization called Little Ang"E"l. The large "E" was to symbolize the name of one extraordinary lost angel.
This year, Emilia would be a part of the program, even though her arrival at the group home was so recent and still three long years after her last family Thanksgiving. The staff believed that involving her in the pageant 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 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. They were two hours away amidst a devastating storm. The rain mixed with the first flakes of winter snow, ice was building on the windshield. The back roads were pretty busy with traffic, as many were returning from their family gatherings. Still, the cars were entirely separated as the storm was blinding, and distance would provide room for slippage.
Emilia and her beautiful mother, with features almost mirror-like to her little girl’s, were singing their rendition of Silent Night with their bravest voices. Her daddy was holding to the wheel. His knuckles whitened, 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, tossed like rag dolls in the horrific crash. The world for sweet Emilia turned upside down as the accident claimed her parents’ lives. They were both killed on impact.
Almost immediately, the back door of the vehicle was jimmied open and a young woman, looking somewhat irritable 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.
Emilia felt swept into the arms of a man unfamiliar but steady, securing her to his hip. Unable to resist, she melted into the bulky jacket that smelled musty, covered in grease oil and dirt. The pungent smell was foreign to her, and still somehow in the chaotic whirlwind, it drew her in. Emilia’s eyes closed, and she fell into a profound 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 patch 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 wireframe with a cloth mattress and no padding. There was a distinctive sway where her back lay as the cloth held a more massive 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 in her sweet innocent eyes.
She noticed she was still wearing her clothes; even her overcoat remained donned to her tiny 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 it 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 repeated inundated with the story of the young couple tragically lost on their way home Thanksgiving weekend. The community describes them as a loving couple involved in their church family and community. The saddest part of their story is that the beautiful little girl is missing from 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 the name Caitlyn had chosen for herself. She was a young grandmother and hence chose a word 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 wanted this name, as it was bold and brilliant. The nickname became a habit for close family and friends.
Ayanna was one to spend her time in her exquisite garden of whimsical color and lively plants that seemed to dance around her. No matter the weather, Ayanna, as she was now fondly addressed, would tend to her botanical oasis with her oversized 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 considerable 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.” Still, 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 slipped 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, respected his bride, 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 flowers 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 hurried 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. Married now for a lifetime, and of course, 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 work hand in hand with 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. Still, they continued their efforts to bring other families together in the cases of abducted or lost children. Together, the Schafer’s raised significant funds to help families in need and 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 local Christmas Pageant, put on by their new statewide organization.
They were well known for their generosity of bringing multiple gifts, then staying for the show, as an attentive 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 made it seem like 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 extraordinary 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. Each little bear wore nothing other than a little red knit cap. They were symbolizing 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 abductions, the couple that stole her from the accident scene was unstable. They were impulsive in their actions. Witnessing the accident and finding sweet Emilia made kidnapping seem 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 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 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. 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, she called herself “Just Emilia,” and I have a Papa. Due to this, it was pretty 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 who took Emilia never had a stable home environment; they often moved, usually after too many questions, or they were nearing eviction. However, they remained within one hundred-mile radius as they had connections for their drug needs. The young woman eventually had an episode when mixing street drugs with her medications, resulting in a complete mental breakdown. The man had brought his wife to a facility, thinking they could help her return to a functional human being. She met with quick evaluation and, in her depressed state, ultimately committed to the state psychiatric facility. The hope was for her to at least be able to resume her necessary daily living skills. The dark fairytale of this couple was now coming to an abrupt conclusion. Hence the so-called prince was turning into the genuinely slimy frog he was.
Upon this event, some almost three years after the taking of Emilia, they called social services for the again abandoned child 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 seen again. There was a scattered and limited paper trail on this couple, so it was nearly impossible to find any remnants of 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 caseworker arrived, putting her in foster care.
I Was Lost But Now I'm Found
Emilia had been assigned to the group home the same week before the pageant was to ensue. She was one of the younger fosters in the house, and one of the counselors took her under her wing. The counselor was energetic and decided it may be helpful 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 a personal secret. No one connected the costume enhancement as 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 opened as dusk began to fall on the local community church. All the attendees were in their places. Emilia was up high 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 you 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 of her heart. Ayanna, the beautiful flower, 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 scurry as Ralph chased behind her, not sure where she was heading. She cried, laughed, and even tripped up the stairs to the stage, racing to the little angel on the platform. When Caitlyn finally got to where the child was, the mere possibility pushed her straight to her knees as she reached for the young girl with open arms shouting, 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 woman's voice 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 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 nestled 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 never to 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 in their arms. Emilia's nightmare was finally over, and the faith of her Yanni and Grandpa Ralph at long last had their very own unique Christmas miracle!
Thank you for reading. Always believe in Christmas miracles, for all things are possible with Christ, your Savior, and Lord. In this season of His birth, remember to believe in Christ Your King. Blessing to all, Christmas is every day in our hearts, so keep looking for the little miracles. God Bless
© 2012 Kathy Henderson