My friend and publisher, Tracy Ruckman, is letting me share an inspiring story she wrote about a time when someone showed her unexpected love. I want to find opportunities to love like this. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
December that year appeared bleak. As a newly single parent of two small boys, I worked two jobs to pay our bills. At times, it seemed I earned just enough salary to pay the babysitter, with nothing left over for the basics.
Then it got worse.
The first week of December, the owners of the store where I worked fulltime decided to focus their energies on their parent store in another town, and planned to close ours within a few days. The same week I received my notice, I had a disagreement with the editor of the paper where I worked my second job. He wanted me to report a false story. When I refused, he forced me to resign.
In one week's time, I lost two jobs—both just before Christmas.
I spent most of my time seeking other jobs, and tried to keep life as normal as possible for the children. The dreary weather matched my mood, and I struggled to stay upbeat for my kids. The world—my world—depended on me, and I seemed to be failing miserably.
On December 12, I came home from one of my final days at work to find a black trash bag hanging on my front door. I shifted the baby to one arm, and with the other, cautiously lifted the bag from the handle. "Stay back," I yelled at my older son. I had no idea what was inside.
I put the baby down and carefully peeked inside. I laughed at my silliness. Inside was a tiny, gaily-wrapped package. We pushed through the door, and I settled the boys on the sofa. "Okay, just sit there and we'll see what this is." I pulled out a package about the size of my hand. A note taped to the box read: Open Now.
I tore off the ribbon and paper and opened the box.
When I revealed the gift hidden in layers of tissue paper, Zach laughed, Jonathan said, "Mooooo," and I stared.
A cow? A ceramic cow? What did that mean?
There was no note explaining the ceramic cow.
Later that evening, I called some of my friends and asked if they had given us the cow. No one confessed, but they thought the whole story was rather amusing.
We put the cow on the table and went to bed.
The next morning, there was another trash bag hanging on our door. This time, the note said "Day 2–Open Now." It was a donkey.
An excited Zach rushed to the door the third morning, ready to add to the barnyard collection. Nothing was there, but later that evening, his monitoring of the door paid off because we unwrapped a sheep.
The next morning, a shepherd boy arrived and that's when I figured out what was going on. "Twelve days of Christmas," I said aloud.
That was exactly right. Each day, for the twelve days before Christmas, we received one piece of a beautiful nativity set and it even included a stable. The anticipation of each day's arrival seemed to perk us up a bit, and it caused my own focus on the season, and on our lives, to change.
On Christmas Eve, baby Jesus arrived, and our crèche was complete.
Our special gift that year was a turning point for all of us, and we knew God was with us. We enjoyed that nativity for many years.
I found work—one job that paid better than the two previous positions.
But that's not the end of the story.
Seven years later, the boys and I moved to another state to get a fresh start. We faced other trials, too. My father and my grandmother had both been diagnosed with cancer, and their deaths were imminent. "Only months, possibly weeks away," the doctors told us. We moved into my grandmother's house. She gave us her house and moved into my father's house where my sister, who lived next door, could care for them both. Once again, we began to rebuild our lives.
When Thanksgiving arrived that year, I thought of the hardships we had gone through. If we hadn't had my grandmother's house to move into, we would have become homeless. I seemed to creep through the activities of each day. Our circumstances brought to mind that other Christmas years before. We no longer had our Nativity set. We couldn't afford to hire a trailer to move everything, so that was one of the items we left. At Christmas I realized how deeply I missed it.
My godly grandmother died on December 2. I felt her loss to the depth of my being. But I knew she was in heaven, and God carried us through the pain and the tears, and comforted our hearts.
A week after her funeral, I climbed into the attic, looking for possible Christmas decorations. I didn't really feel like putting out anything, but the boys were still young, and it was important for us to honor Jesus' birthday, regardless of our circumstances.
The attic was small, hardly big enough to stand in. It looked as if no one had been up there for years. But there were several boxes, so I explored each one.
When I opened the last dusty one, tucked in a far corner and saw what appeared to be Christmas things, I closed it and hauled it back down the steps. I set the box on the sofa in front of me and re-opened it.
As I unpacked the first piece, tears filled my eyes. I pulled out the objects one by one. By the time the box was empty, I sobbed uncontrollably.
In my hands were all the pieces of a nativity set—identical to the one I'd left behind. I pulled out the familiar cow, the donkey, the sheep and shepherd boy, and the precious baby Jesus. Even the stable was the same.
God was with us. That may sound strange, but the comfort of that crèche made me aware of the love of God for me and my family.
Two days after Christmas, my dad died. That was even harder than the death of my grandmother. Friends and family have asked us how we got through that difficult time. I have only one answer; God was with us.
Now, twelve years since that Christmas, and nineteen since we first received the nativity, I still don't know the identity of the giver. But God used that gift to give us something more—He made His presence known to us, both with the first Nativity set, and then again with my grandmother's.
That simple crèche made Christmas a reality—twice. Both times I was able to turn my focus away from my life and remember the message of Christmas. Jesus had come into the world and had nothing, not even a bed on which to sleep. By comparison, I had so much.
My treasured Nativity scene is an annual Christmas reminder of the meaning of the season. God is with us.
I hope you're enjoying Ruby's search for the perfect nativity scene. See what she finds in the fourth chapter here.
There's also a contest on the publisher's site, with a prize of books! Look for the details when you go to read the chapter.