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Oh, what a difference one year makes. This Advent, as we prepare for the arrival of God’s greatest gifts in our lives, my family is on the giving end. December 2011 was quite the opposite.

Photo by ccstbp on Flickr

Photo by ccstbp on Flickr

It had been a tough year. The worst one of our married lives, financially speaking, to be exact. Paying bills late was the norm. Sometimes, we were unable to pay them at all. Over the course of 2011 we received not one, not two, but three eviction notices from our apartment complex. The office staff was compassionate towards our inability to pay, but ultimately unable to override the terms of our lease.

We qualified for and received state-funded assistance. Our oldest daughter benefitted from our school district’s free lunch program. I showed up at food pantries one or two times, but not in my usual role as a volunteer.

Commission jobs come with great potential and great risk. Both my husband and I searched for jobs — a different one for him, a part-time one for me. The job market was cold and unforgiving.

Through it all, God provided. We were making it. The Lord’s prayer took on greater meaning and significance — “give us this day our daily bread.” God did, each day without fail. Meals consistently showed up on our family table like manna in the wilderness.

And then December rolled around.

The holidays are tough for commercial sales professionals. No one wanted to buy what my husband was selling. That meant no income. Hubby and I would sit in silence, staring at our Christmas tree after we put our girls to bed. It was aglow and adorned with ornaments that refracted the lights throughout our small family room. The evergreen branches held strong, not sagging under the weight of even the heaviest ornament.

empty billfoldThe tree symbolized such hope…hope that my husband and I were unable to conjure within ourselves. Ever the one looking for a positive spin, I collapsed under the weight of hopelessness. As much as I smoldered with shame when the eviction notices came, I thought that having no Christmas for my girls would give my heart third degree burns.

I don’t speak for my husband without his blessing. Let’s just say that his response was similar to mine.

We had little money, and it would soon be swallowed up by automatically drafted bills. We knew what this meant. No money for food, no money for Christmas gifts. We didn’t know how we would pay rent in January, but we couldn’t think about that. One crisis at a time, or else we’d go crazy.

We didn’t want to have to call our church again to ask for hardship assistance. We’d lost count of how many times we had to do this in 2011. Eric didn’t want me to call. I saw no other option. We were ineligible for additional help with community organizations because we’d received donations before.

Sigh. Pray. Cry. Sigh again, more heavily this time.

When will this end, Lord? I pray. I know that you are here, but I can’t see you, and I can’t feel you. Please, show yourself.

I could have drowned in my desperation.

I call a friend at church who is a deacon. Deacons handle requests for assistance in our church. Only, it ends up that he’s not a deacon, he’s an elder. Oops, wrong church office. I need to make another phone call. This process will take a little longer.

Deep breath in…imagine exhaling stress and worry.

“You don’t need to make any more phone calls,” my friend says. “I’m on it. We’ll get you the help you need.”

I weep and thank him profusely. I have no idea what “help” he’ll make sure that we get, but I let go and trust. I’ve exhausted myself with worrying. Can’t…do…it…anymore.

Two days later, my friend calls me.

“Are y’all at home?” he asks. “I’ll come over if y’all are. I got something for ya.”

Within minutes he and his amazing wife, who is also my friend, are knocking on our door, boxes in hand. The boxes are filled with food.

“Do you want me to help you organize and put this stuff up?” my sister in Christ says.

I stand in my kitchen speechless, crying silent tears of gratefulness and wonder. God is good.

My girls are squealing. Gleefully they tell our friends where to place things. Thank goodness they can talk.

“Look at all this food, Mama!” they practically shout. “And, look! A turkey and some potatoes! Now we can have Christmas dinner!”

All I can do is cry and hug our friends. There is enough food to last us for one month, or perhaps a little more.

The sun seems brighter the next day. My daughters and I had just finished putting everything away when my phone rings. It’s our friends again.

“Are y’all at home?” the husband asks. “We’re in your area, and have something for ya.”

“What more?” I say, “Y’all have blessed us greatly already.”

“We’ll be right over,” is all my friend says.

My girls run to the door when we hear knocking. They open it, and their eyes are bombarded with shimmer and color. All we can see of our friend are his legs, hands, and Santa hat.

“Ho, ho, ho!” he says.

“PRESENTS!!!”

The girls jump up and down, hug our friend’s legs, and thank him multiple times. They are so excited they forget to invite him and his wife in.

This time they carry two large shopping bags for my daughters. Each bag is filled with several individually wrapped gifts. The gifts are supposed to be age appropriate, our friends say. We hope the girls will like them.

What’s that saying that my mother says that drove adolescent me crazy? Something about not looking a gift-horse in the mouth.

“We don’t forget about Mom and Dad,” I’m told.

I open the envelope that I’ve been given. The kind written message in the greeting card would have been enough. The gift card to a grocery store was over the top.

Again I’m speechless and crying huge tears of thankfulness.

Wow, God…just…wow! I pray, this time with a better attitude. Yes, I see you. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

In January 2012, God showed us a way to get our rent paid, and led my husband to a new job.

December 9, 2012 … my church spends Sunday morning serving our community. We are at the warehouse of the very organization that provided food and Christmas gifts for our family last year. Now my family is giving our time and money, sorting food, and decorating boxes for other families who are in the same place that we were in just a year ago. This Saturday, we’ll be delivering the boxes and gifts. Oh, what a difference a year makes.

“The Bible teaches us that God is everywhere, that the Spirit is present in all places and situations, but we are sometimes oblivious to that presence,” writes Keri Wyatt Kent in her book Deeply Loved: 40 Ways in 40 Days to Experience the heart of Jesus. “Today, pray this simple prayer: ‘Jesus, if you are there, show yourself to me.’ … As you ask God to show [Godself] to you, don’t just look for flashy, dramatic encounters. [God] often speaks in a still, small voice, if only we have ears to hear it” (75).

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