I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a wonderful new year. I would also like to share a special story I wrote last year about a real life experience that my wife and son had a few years ago. My wife was gracious enough to allow me to share it with you. I think it helps us all realize the true meaning of Christmas. I hope you enjoy it.
The Christmas Gift
As often happens, fate took a hand in our search as my wife learned from a friend, of a family who needed some help. The friend’s husband was a Minister at a local church, and one of its members was going through some tough times.
My wife learned that this person was a single mother with two sons who worked a full-time job and was providing for her family, but was finding that once the bills were paid, little was left over for anything else. She faced a Christmas in which she might not be able to provide any presents for her family. As a parent, and knowing the joy in a child’s face as they rush to the tree on Christmas morning my wife could understand her feelings of not wanting to disappoint her two sons.
A few days later, with a phone number in hand my wife soon found herself talking to a pleasant woman. As mothers inevitably do, they struck up an easy conversation focusing on their families. As they continued to talk my wife asked if there were any special items her sons would like for Christmas. I firmly believe that you learn a great deal about a family and especially the children by their Christmas wish lists. All of us have seen children in a mall who while sitting on Santa's lap spend five minutes reciting a huge list. The list often includes everything from the most expensive toys to a new pony. My wife was surprised to see a short, simple and practical list. It included clothes in the boy's sizes, books and educational toys or games. It would appear that this woman had already given her two sons a very special gift; an understanding of the true meaning of Christmas.
With wish list in hand, my wife as she always does for us, did her best to make this family's Christmas special. Along with all the items on the list, she added MP-three players for each of the boys and a food basket that contained an entire Holiday meal. My son was twelve at the time, was in the Christmas spirit, had helped my wife wrap all the presents, and asked if he could accompany her when she delivered the gifts.
Within a week arrangements were made to meet the woman at her house. My wife had learned that the woman's sons would be at her mother's at the time of the meeting, so as not to spoil their surprise on Christmas morning. With directions in hand, a car-load of meticulously wrapped gifts and a big basket, my wife and son soon arrived at a neighborhood of small, well-kept row homes. There they were greeted warmly by a woman in her mid-thirties who seemed a little tired and maybe just a bit nervous, but had a bright and friendly smile as she led them up a short flight of steps, across a porch with a swing, and into her home.
First impressions are very important, and you can learn a great deal about people by their homes. The house was small and the furniture was sparse, but everything was organized and meticulously clean. There weren't any big screen televisions or expensive stereos, but there were subtle touches that make a house a home, including: small knick knacks, porcelain figurines, simple pictures on the walls, and photographs of her sons, proudly displayed on a living room table. In the corner was a small sparsely decorated tree with a string of blinking lights, a few glass bulbs, strands of tinsel, and an assortment of home-made ornaments.
The two women sat down on a well-worn couch, and soon the conversation turned to the woman and her two sons who she was very proud of. She had recently moved to this neighborhood to provide a safer environment for her sons as well as the opportunity for a better education. She took a series of buses each day to her job in a nursing home, and her mother helped out with her boys after school. The boys were both doing well in school, and were looking forward to the Christmas break.
As my wife told me her story of the meeting with the woman; besides wiping a few tears from my eyes, I became curious about some things. As a writer, I like to think of myself as a keen observer of the world, and of the human condition. I didn’t want to pry too much into my wife and son’s special moment, but I needed to know something. I asked my wife how she would characterize the woman's emotional state. It had to be a tough situation to have strangers in your home, and be struggling, especially during the Holidays to provide a better life for your family.
I was surprised by my wife’s answer to my question. She said that best word to describe the woman at the time was “humbled.” To be honest, I didn’t expect that word. I asked a few more questions, and soon learned that the woman was humbled not by my wife’s visit, and the gifts, but rather by God and her faith in him.
As I thought a little more, I began to realize how this woman's beliefs were much like my wife and I. We have always believed that you should have faith, work hard, try to be a good person, and help others when you can. Do this and everything no matter how bad will somehow work itself out. We've seen this in our own lives many times. I can't count the number of sleepless nights sitting in front of a stack of unpaid bills, wondering if we were going to make it or not. We've lost jobs, dealt with illness, and weathered the deaths of loved ones. Yet, it seems that just when things reached their bleakest we would see a little light at the end of the tunnel, and everything would work out. As I continued to think, I thought to myself that maybe this woman's faith, and love for God, had somehow brought her family and mine together for one special Christmas. I've learned through the years that God often works in mysterious ways.
My wife continued her story of how they spent an hour in easy conversation. Realizing it was getting late my wife, said she had to go, but first reached into her purse, and presented the woman with a final gift. It was a simple Christmas card, and inside was a small gift. Unless you're two women who understand the true meaning of Christmas you may not understand the significance of what my wife handed the woman. To be honest, at first I didn’t realize the meaning of the special, yet simple offering. As the woman opened the card and pulled out a Wal-Mart gift card, the emotions of the day caught up with both women. Tears fell as they gently embraced each other. My wife didn’t need to say anything. They both new the importance of a mother buying her own special gifts for her children. This simple gesture of understanding between two mothers who loved their children meant more to the woman than all the beautiful, expensive gifts in the world.
After another quick hug, my wife and son headed home. The drive home was filled with talk of more shopping, a tree to decorate, a Christmas dinner to plan, and most importantly; thankfulness for all they had been blessed with.
As I listened to my wife recount the day’s events, I grabbed a box of tissues, sat down at my laptop, and started to think about writing this story. At first, my wife was hesitant about having me write a story that others would read. She’s the type of person who helps those around her every day, not because she wants recognition, but because it’s the right thing do. She felt that if this story was published it would lessen the memory, as well as the meaning of that day. I could understand her feelings, but I felt it was a beautiful and inspiring story. It might bring some good into the world and possibly inspire others to reach out to someone in need during the Holidays.
My intention was to write a simple story of the events of the day, but as I began to write, I came to realize something else. I began to see that on that day, when two women met in a small row home a few weeks before Christmas, that perhaps the most important gifts given were not by my wife and son, but by the woman and her family.
Sometimes the greatest gifts aren't those that come neatly wrapped in beautiful paper with brightly colored ribbons and bows. You won't find them at the mall, in big department stores, or even in the most expensive jewelry shops. The gifts that mean the most are those that we give from our hearts and minds and souls. This woman and her family gave us many special gifts. We certainly received a renewal of our faith in God, inspiration, and a wonderful glimpse of the Christmas spirit. I think though that the most important gift we received that day was the gift of understanding.
The woman and her sons gave us the understanding and the realization that for all our differences, people everywhere are basically the same. Sometimes we have the habit of judging people by how they look, their job, where they live, and even by their marital status, sexual orientation or religion.
There our almost seven billion people on this earth of different races, nationalities, religions, and cultures. We look different from each other, speak a multitude of varying languages, and have thousands of different beliefs and traditions. Some of us are rich, and some are poor. Yet, when it comes down to whom we are, and what we want for ourselves and our families, we are all so much alike. Like most of us, this woman wanted to work, provide for her family, insure a good education for her children, worship her God, live in peace, and find happiness for herself and those around her. I guess my family did receive a very special Christmas gift.Christmas is always a special time for our family. It's a time to gather together with our loved ones, count our blessings, renew our faith, and look to the coming year. My wife in particular, has always enjoyed the holiday season as she searches for that special gift, makes gift baskets, volunteers to help those less fortunate and tries to brighten the lives of those around her. A few years ago she came to me with the idea of finding a family in need, and helping them during the Holiday season. We agreed to keep our eyes open for a family who may need help, and possibly contact one of the local charitable organizations to see if there were any families who through illness, loss of a job or other circumstances were struggling not only to make ends meet, but to provide their children with presents on Christmas morning.