This year is different. This year has been strange, financially and otherwise. We didn't start the year out hurting. In fact, we started it out doing pretty well for a large family living on a single income. But as we've neared the end of the year, we've become more familiar with food pantries. We've stretched food budgets of $75 so they fill 6 bellies for 2 weeks. We've spent weeks living on soups, eggs and dressed up beans and rice dinners. I personally have given up my dinner multiple times to be sure my boys go to bed with full tummies.
Times have definitely gotten tough. It isn't one particular thing that landed us here, no string of poor financial choices or anything like that. Just a bizarre wrench in the works here and there, an unfortunate this or that, happening at the most inopportune times, and one after another until we're doing more sinking than swimming.
We switched to exclusively cloth diapers, because of the cost. I would have preferred cloth from the beginning for a whole host of reasons but hubby wasn't such a fan of the idea for awhile. Ultimately it boiled down to the fact that medically (because of our chemical sensitivities), we couldn't afford the risk cheaper disposable brands would pose for me or for the baby, but we also had absolutely no way to continue buying the brand of disposables we knew to be safe for us. We had no choice. I even pulled out my sewing machine and made my own diaper inserts to try to save money with the switch to cloth.
Our gifts to the boys for Christmas are going to be almost exclusively hand made. Longed for crocheted beanies, scarfs and handmade toys are a couple of the ideas I've been working on. And Santa has decided to forego the bulk of the Christmas Wish List for his own idea; He's been watching the boys and seen them lose some control of their "wanters," and he's also noticed the need for some work on brotherly kindness and family quality time. So in lieu of most all "want" items, he's putting board games and card games under the tree this year.
Because he's such a busy guy, we've been acting as Santa's helpers a bit with this board game idea. When I put out the word on social media and a neighborhood community app to see if anybody was getting rid of any games, I didn't expect much. But anything to help us (...err...Santa...) offset the cost of such a plan, would be a blessing. We ended up being blessed on a level far greater than we could have dreamed.
The second response to my outreach was the following day from a woman who had a bunch of board games to pass along. She was kind enough to deliver them, so under the rouse that I was looking for something in dad's truck, I snuck out to meet her and stash the box of games without the boys ever knowing she'd been there. Within minutes of her leaving our street I got a text from her telling me she and her husband wanted to help more. She asked what else they could do.
This is where my story takes a turn. You see, I knew somebody was going to respond to my ad with an incredible blessing for us. I didn't know exactly who or exactly how. But I knew it would come about because of that ad and it would be from a stranger. You could call it my intuition, or the Spirit speaking to me. I didn't place an ad with details of our hardship, or even that there was a hardship. I simply stated that I'd had an idea for Christmas and would like to collect any, if folks had any to get rid of.
Either way, when I got that feeling that some big blessing would come out of it impressed upon me in the groggy wee hours of the morning, I knew I could simply have been dreaming, or I could have been mistaken. But something told me differently. I didn't dwell on it, but it felt different. So when this kind woman asked what they could do to help, because I'd had that distinct impression already, and frankly, because of the position we are currently in, I knew I couldn't turn down her offer. God was putting a couple before us with the means and eagerness to bless our family. I wasn't about to turn away from God in that way, nor was I going to deny this couple the fulfillment and blessing that I know comes from serving others.
It was uncomfortable at first, because I struggle accepting generosity. Pride doesn't even begin to factor in...humility has become one of my strongest traits in recent years. It's more a matter of not wanting to be a burden to others. But either way, I struggled through the text messages I was receiving from this gracious woman and her husband asking what they could do for us. I finally said that the most logical thing they could do for us would be to help with groceries. Help with food would free up some money to go toward some of the bills we were facing a juggling act with.
A few hours and several texts later, this amazing couple showed up at our door with bags and bags full of groceries. Everything we'd put on our grocery list that morning had been taken care of for us. And in addition to that, they gave us a Christmas card and brought in a paper bag full of stocking stuffer goodies for the boys.
Words don't fully cover the emotions we felt. Gratitude is too simple. Thankful is too mundane. Blessed is true, but not enough. It was a big deal all the way around, from the delivery to when I put everything away after they left. But it really sank in and hit me hard when I was able to load the boys' dinner plates with salad and fresh veggies for the first time in weeks. It's not that we hadn't had veggies at all recently. But I had skimped and cut back, filled them more with rice to stretch the veggies as far as we could. In that moment, I didn't need to worry about stretching them. I could fill the bottomless boy tummies with the good, healthy stuff I normally would and not have to worry about how I would feed them in the coming days. That's not something I've ever had to worry about. Even during this difficult financial time, I had been very heavily leaning on God, and my faith that our needs would be met, regardless of how uncomfortable the situation could become. But I didn't realize something like filling their plates with fresh veggies would be something so powerful. The gravity of my own pattern of thinking and coping, hit hard.
In the following couple of weeks, we would be blessed by others similarly. From Santa gifts given out at a WIC Christmas party we didn't even manage to attend, that staffers graciously called and asked me to pick up, to a secret Santa gift from a bible study friend who knew small tidbits of our struggle.
This doesn't even detail the generosity of a couple of grandparents who gave gift money for the boys to spend as they wished, which are also thoroughly counted among our blessings this season.
Christmas Eve is tomorrow, and in the days leading up to today, as predicted, Santa managed to obtain a few items for the boys from their wish lists that he'll deliver to our tree by Christmas morning, in hopes that the gesture will keep the spirit of innocence and belief alive in them. It's not much, but enough to show them he's watching. And I've been working feverishly to complete some yarn projects for them, to show we've made an effort on their behalf. Carter gets a scarf to match his early-gifted beanie. Corbin gets an owl pillow and some soft balls to throw around. Caidan gets a boys infinity scarf in colors he chose. All the older boys also get hacky sacks I made for them. And Cuinn gets a couple of my first crocheted stuffed animals. The gifts from mom and dad don't amount to much. Nothing found in a holiday ad. Nothing on a holiday most wanted list. Just a few small, relatively meaningless items woven together with a little yarn and time...a lot of prayer for a brighter New Year, and more love than there are fibers holding the shabby pieces together.
Although our abilities run on the measly side this year, we're running out of room beneath our tree for gifts. Our blessings are beyond bountiful. We were looking at it all the other day, marveling at how much they'll receive on Christmas morning. Other than their one or two handmade gifts from mom and dad, and the few small things Santa brought from their lists (2-3 small items each), every other thing under our tree is a blessing labeled, "from: kindness," and "from: love," and "from generosity." ... totalling into the dozens! I didn't want to label them "from: Santa" or "from: mom and dad." But I didn't want to label them with these beautiful stranger's names either, because it wouldn't mean as much in the longterm. I want them to dwell on the power of those words they see on the packages. I want them to see that the magic of the holiday season doesn't lie in those normal package labels, in twinkling lights, Santa and his elvish helpers, decorations or goodies. I want them to see that the magic of this season lies in God's promise to provide, in His infinite grace and the power of His mighty ability to use us to be a blessing to one another while we're here on earth.
The boys won't understand all of it this year. And we won't share many details, if any. But these labels will leave a lasting impression in their memories that, hopefully, they'll carry into their many years to come. And one day, when they do start stitching the memories together with some more mature life experience, hopefully they'll remember this Christmas for the magic that was built into it by faith, and love and generosity. Hopefully they'll carry that spirit of giving and loving with them, and will choose to be vehicles for God's glory and blessing to others, the way they received it this year.
All I can say, is that I pray each of those people we encountered on our rocky path to this Christmas day, receive every happiness and blessing their hearts desire this season, and long into the new year. And I pray the same for each of you reading this.
Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. And a blessed 2017, to you and yours.