By: J Robert Giles
CHRISTMAS SERIES 2011 (Part 2)
“We Make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” - Winston Churchill
'The Christmas Angels'
Original Story by: Susan Fahncke
It was December 23, 1993. For a single mom who was going to college and supporting my children completely alone, Christmas was looking bleak. I looked around my little home, realization dawning like a slow, twisting pain. We were poor.
Our tiny house had two bedrooms, both off the living room. They were so small that my baby daughter's crib barely fit into one room, and my son's twin bed and dresser were squeezed into the other. There was no way they could share a room, so I made my bed every night on the living room floor.
The three of us shared the only closet in the house. We were snug, always only a few feet from each other, day and night. With no doors on the children's rooms, I could see and hear them at all times. It made them feel secure, and it made me feel close to them -- a blessing I wouldn't have had in other circumstances.
It was early evening, about eight o'clock. The snow was falling softly, silently, and my children were both asleep. I was wrapped in a blanket, sitting at the window, watching the powdery flakes flutter in the dimming light, when my front door vibrated with a pounding fist.
Alarmed, I wondered who would stop by unannounced on such a snowy winter night. I opened the door to find a group of strangers grinning from ear to ear, their arms laden with boxes and bags.
Confused, but finding their joyous spirit contagious, I grinned right back at them.
"Are you Susan?" The man stepped forward as he held out a box for me.
Nodding stupidly, unable to find my voice, I was sure they thought I was mentally deficient.
"These are for you." The woman thrust another box at me with a huge, beaming smile. The porch light and the snow falling behind her cast a glow over her dark hair, lending her an angelic appearance.
I looked down into her box. It was filled to the top with delicious treats, a fat turkey, and all the makings of a traditional Christmas dinner. My eyes filled with tears as the realization of why they were there washed over me.
Finally coming to my senses, I found my voice and invited them in. Following the husband were two children, staggering with the weight of their packages. The family introduced themselves and told me their packages were all gifts for my little family. This wonderful, beautiful family, who were total strangers to me, somehow knew exactly what we needed. They brought wrapped gifts for each of us, a full buffet for me to make on Christmas Day, and many "extras" that I could never afford. Visions of a beautiful, "normal" Christmas literally danced in my head. Somehow my secret wish for Christmas was materializing right in front of me. The desperate prayers of a single mom had been heard, and I knew right then that God had sent his angels my way.
My mysterious angels then handed me a white envelope, gave me another round of grins, and took turns hugging me. They wished me a Merry Christmas and disappeared into the night as suddenly as they had appeared.
Amazed and deeply touched, I looked around me at the boxes and gifts strewn at my feet and felt the ache of depression suddenly being transformed into a childlike joy. I began to cry. I cried hard, sobbing tears of the deepest gratitude. A great sense of peace filled me. The knowledge of God's love reaching into my tiny corner of the world enveloped me like a warm quilt. My heart was full. I fell to my knees amid all the boxes and offered a heartfelt prayer of thanks.
Getting to my feet, I wrapped myself in my blankets and sat once again to gaze out the window at the gently falling snow. Suddenly, I remembered the envelope. Like a child, I ripped it open and gasped at what I saw. A shower of bills flitted to the floor. Gathering them up, I began to count the five, ten, and twenty-dollar bills. As my vision blurred with tears, I counted the money, then recounted it to make sure I had it right. Sobbing again, I said it out loud: "One hundred dollars."
I looked at my children sleeping soundly, and through my tears I smiled my first happy, free-of-worry smile in a long, long time. My smile turned into a grin as I thought about tomorrow: Christmas Eve. One visit from complete strangers had magically turned a painful day into a special one that we would always remember...with happiness.
It is now several years since our Christmas angels visited. I have remarried, and our household is happy and richly blessed. Every year since that Christmas in 1993, we have chosen a family less blessed than we are. We bring them carefully selected gifts, food and treats, and as much money as we can spare. It's our way of passing on what was given to us. It's the "ripple effect" in motion. We hope that the cycle continues and that, someday, the families we share with will be able to pass it on, too.
Susan’s story is a perfect illustration of what Christmas is all about. Her story could have taken place at any time of the year and the immediate effects enjoyed by her family would have been the same. They would have been grateful for the food and money, but it wouldn’t have had the lasting impact that this season tends to deliver only to those of us willing to accept it.
Obviously, it’s loads of fun to receive gifts. Everyone loves it. I’m not going to lie and tell you that I don’t enjoy the thrill of opening up a carefully wrapped present on Christmas morning any less as an adult than I did as a child. That elated curiosity that brings a smile to your face as you reveal the contents to a waiting audience. That’s a terrific feeling no matter what the occasion, but Christmas carries a weight with which no other celebration can compete. Something about the spiritual celebration that takes place in the hearts of Christians this time of year just makes us remember the events a little more vividly. Like a movie that you truly connect with. You remember not only the lines spoken and the facial expressions displayed, but you remember your own emotional reactions to each and every scene. For most of us, that seems to be the case with Christmas as well, but can any of you truly imagine the joy Susan felt that morning when the “angels” visited her?
If you think long and hard about it, I bet you would be surprised at just how easily all of us can relate to Susan’s story. All of us have gone through that one Christmas where money was especially tight, options were bleak, and panic seemed to have you one negative event away from thinning out the population around you. We’ve all been there. The fact that you’re reading this article tells my keen sense of deduction that you survived the nightmare. For many of us, there was a shining moment, in the midst of those dark hours, that we can point to as the moment we knew we would get through it. For some, it was a generous gift from an unknown source. For others, it was the perfect gift given by your perfect person. Maybe your shining moment came when Christmas morning delivered the first smiles since the recent funeral of a much loved family member. Whatever the moment, we got through it. Susan tells a dramatic story, from the perspective of a desperate woman. What separates Susan from the people seeking handouts and expecting free luxury is that her prayer was not uttered out of self-centered greed. She had accepted the label of “poor.” Her prayer was for her children. In the midst of putting herself through college, and struggling on her own, she prayed for the ability to deliver happiness to her children. Not expensive gifts, not extravagant trinkets they would forget within a month. She prayed for the ability to deliver happiness to her own children.
And what about the family that God asked to deliver His answer to Susan’s prayer? It’s safe to assume that at some point, that family sat down and made a conscious decision to help a needy family. There’s a huge difference between needy and lazy. Susan was needy and she received blessings as such. Had she been simply lazy, such good fortune would not have come her way. Yes, she may have received the food. She may have received gifts to give to her children, but those were not the actual gifts she received that day. Those were the earthly representations of her gifts, but through her Faith she was able to see the lesson beyond the tangible objects. She was able to see that the true gift was her own ability to accept the generosity of others. Many of us don’t really see acceptance of someone else’s generosity as a gift. Sadly, it comes all to naturally in this “give it to me now – just charge it and worry about it later – do whatever feels good to you” society we live in. That seems to be all we do anymore is receive, take, and discard. Susan, like so many of what seems like an overwhelming minority, realized that she would only realize the full blessing of that generous gift if she strived to one day be on the other side of the transaction. As much as the food and the money helped Susan and her blossoming family that year, the true gift has been in her ability to give the same joy to others. Only the recipients can determine if they gain the same experience Susan and her children gained from the generosity of strangers, but somehow Christmas allows us to believe that they will. Christmas, and the defiant birthday celebration it was intended to be, add special impact to normal events. Generosity goes further at Christmas than any other time of the year so get out there and give something. Give time, energy, or money but just make sure your experience doesn’t end upon delivery.
As always, thanks for playing!
J. Robert Giles