I could barely hear her voice over the phone, but I knew she was crying. "Joan*, are the holidays getting to you?" I asked. She meekly replied, "There's just not enough of me to go around. I'm working three jobs, but the kids aren't going to have much of a Christmas this year."
Joan had struggled to raise five children alone for the past several years. My heart broke as I listened to her; I knew too well the desperation she was feeling. Even though it had been 15 years since I was on welfare, the painful memories came rushing back. I could easily recall the dread that came each holiday season, wondering how we'd ever find enough money for food and clothes, much less gifts.
As Joan finished talking, God gently reminded me of a prayer I'd shared with him in those painful years. "Lord, I'm tired and embarrassed of always receiving. I'm grateful, but will I ever have the opportunity to give to others?" Now I felt God respond, "The time to give has come. Joan needs your assistance."
So I asked Joan to tell me about one gift each of her children wanted for Christmas. At first, she refused. She was too embarrassed. I prodded her, telling her some day she'd have the opportunity to give. "For now," I said, "this is your season for receiving. And it's okay."
The next day I called a meeting of the newly formed single parent leadership team at our organization. I shared Joan's worries of not providing a Christmas for her kids. Her 9-year-old son wanted a train set. Her two high school daughters wanted curling irons. Her college-age son and daughter needed toiletries.
The team rallied during the next few weeks. My office became a symbol of the Magi's gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Soon after Christmas, a letter arrived at my office:
I have attempted several times to try and find the words that would truly describe my appreciation for the wonderful Christmas my family enjoyed thanks to your help. There are no words to cover the feelings I have. I could not believe the train set. It was just the one Sam had wanted. Words cannot describe the happiness my little boy had when he unwrapped that terrific surprise. Tiffany and Dawn are each thrilled to have a curling iron. It sure has made the mornings easier. Joe, Sue and I would like to thank you for the care packages of toiletries. They were filled with all the things we seem to always run out of. I believe God must have guided you when these gifts were selected because they were so perfect and meaningful. My sincere thanks and appreciation for turning one of our bleakest Christmases into one that will live in our memories for a long, long time as one of our happiest.
I've kept this letter in my file as a reminder of God's faithfulness in our lives. Perhaps this holiday is overwhelming you, and you feel buried by stress. Perhaps you need your own reminder of God's faithfulness. Phone someone and share your burden. Ask for help. Vulnerability is not a weakness but a strength. There will come a day in the future when you'll be able to return the gifts of kindness others have given to you. God puts other people in our lives as a way of reaching out to us. His Word promises that you can freely "cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). Take him up on that promise and watch what happens.
* Names have been changed to protect privacy.
Copyright © 2000 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today Magazine.
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