20: Gifts of Hope

20: Gifts of Hope

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Christmas

Gifts of Hope

The wings of hope carry us, soaring high above the driving winds of life.

~Ana Jacob

The doctor stared into my eyes, “I’m sorry,” he said. “Your condition is permanent.” I should have felt shock, disbelief or even sadness. But I felt nothing. I was already numb; he had only confirmed what I suspected to be true. Pain and disfigurement would be my constant companions for the rest of my life. An unexpected illness had taken its toll, leaving in its wake a broken, insecure person who just wanted to be herself again.

“If you need anything, just let me know,” dozens of kind people offered. My answer was always the same — a small smile and a thank you, but I would never ask them for help. Somehow that would have been admitting I was weak and that I couldn’t handle life.

With each passing month, I felt myself sinking a little deeper. No one knew the dark place I was in. I put on a good face, never letting on how much this illness had cost me. I had lost hope, and a life without those four small letters became very bleak indeed.

One morning, a couple weeks before Christmas, I opened my front door to a bright colored bag sitting on my porch. “How sweet,” I thought. “One of my neighbors must have left some holiday goodies for my kids.”

I picked up the bag and was shocked to see that it was addressed to me.

I’ll admit, I felt a small thrill that someone had left me a gift. My kids received presents and trinkets all the time. A trip to the dentist meant balloons and digging in the treasure box; birthday parties yielded bags of goodies. But as an adult, I had learned not to expect happy surprises. Magic was for the children.

That gift tag even had a poem on it:

On the first day of Christmas,

We’ve often heard it said,

It’s nice to give your friends

A box of candy with a bow of red.

The bag contained a box of chocolates tied with a red bow. I stood there staring in disbelief. Someone had done this for me. I wondered: if this was the first day of Christmas, would there be a second? The next morning I woke feeling a bit lighter as I raced to the front door to find another package waiting.

On the second day of Christmas

Some stickers and sticky tape,

To help you wrap the presents

To be opened Christmas Day.

And on it went for twelve days. Candles, tissue paper, candy, soda, fancy pens, gum… each wrapped present with a tag containing a poem. So many wonderful things that brightened each day, reminding me that someone cared enough about me to make the effort to shop for gifts, wrap them up, write gift tags, and place them on my front steps in the middle of the night for two weeks.

I asked every one I knew about this mysterious gift-giver. I would tell them the story about the lovely packages arriving on my porch. “Is it you?” I would ask, hopeful that I could discover the identity of this secret angel. As much as they wished it had been their idea, it never was.

As I opened each gift, I found something in those bags that the sender never knew he or she had left at my front door. They were gifts of hope. Hope that there was still goodness in this world. Belief that people still cared. And the realization that I was wrong to have given up on myself.

One of the clues mentioned there would be twelve days, so it was bittersweet to open the last. It had given me something to look forward to each morning. With a grateful heart, I silently thanked this elusive person who had brought me so much joy. I didn’t even think to check the porch the next morning. To my surprise, later that day I found yet another gift waiting.

Yesterday was the last day of surprises,

But here is a little hint.

Can you guess who’s responsible

For this stuff being sent?

I would finally know the identity of my secret Santa! Slowly unwrapping the tissue paper, I savored the last gift from this kind friend. I pulled out a sparkly ornament in the shape of a red bicycle.

But that didn’t help. I searched to the farthest recesses of my mind for someone relating to this red bicycle, but came up completely empty. I tried a play on words, rhyming, analogies. . . nothing. I had absolutely no idea. Years later, I am no closer to learning its origins than I was on that first day when I held that red bicycle in my hands for hours.

Perhaps never finding out the giver’s identity made it all the more special. It taught me the meaning of true kindness. It was the people that didn’t ask, but just did, who touched me the most. A card to let me know a friend was thinking about me. A meal that unexpectedly showed up at my door. A gift basket after a surgery that I told no one about. Like the gifts on my porch, those acts of kindness stayed with me and showed me how to be a blessing to others.

I decided to banish these words from my vocabulary: “If you need anything, just let me know” Instead, I would give my friends who were facing a rough situation a small pick-me-up. A book, a candle, a card, a sweet treat, a handwritten note — the options were endless.

Even though I pick out something I think they might enjoy, I’ve discovered that what’s inside the bag doesn’t really matter. It’s the hope that I offer that makes a difference. I want my friends to know that despite their troubles, life can still be good.

As I wrap these little presents every now and then, I remember the magical twelve days of Christmas gifts that made their way to my door during my darkest hour. Now I get to say thank you over and over again to my mysterious benefactor for the hope I received when I wasn’t sure I could ever believe again.

~Katie Bangert

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