38: From Gloomy to Grateful

38: From Gloomy to Grateful

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Christmas Miracles

From Gloomy to Grateful

This is the message of Christmas: We are never alone.

~Taylor Caldwell

A family of six living paycheck to paycheck usually means a pretty skimpy Christmas. But in 2014, it finally felt like we were going to have more than one or two presents under the tree. I had a list, a budget and a plan. It was going to work!

Then our dryer broke. A family of six creates a full load of laundry every day. Since it was the middle of winter, hanging laundry outside to dry wasn’t an option. I had one dryer rack because that was all I had room for in my house. Going to a laundromat was out of the question — I would have to live there to get it done. Then the brakes on our van started squeaking, signaling that it was time to replace the brake pads. It was one thing after another. In one week, we went through nearly all the money we had set aside for Christmas.

The night I had planned on ordering the presents for the kids, I stared glumly at the lists I had made. I crossed off the most expensive gifts first, feeling a pang of sadness when the remote control tractor that scoops had to come off my older son’s list. It was the one thing he had asked for over and over. I kept telling myself that Christmas isn’t about the presents and that the kids were still young enough to not really care about how many presents they didn’t get. It didn’t work. All I felt was frustration that the same thing seemed to happen all the time, not just at Christmas. We would finally get just a little bit ahead and then something would happen.

I cried to God that night, telling Him how I was so tired of feeling so hopeless. I wailed that it wasn’t fair — that I didn’t want to be a millionaire, but I just wanted to know what it feels like not to worry about money. I just wanted to give my kids a nice Christmas, for crying out loud! What’s so wrong about that?

The next day, I went to the gas station to fill up the car. I knew we only had twenty dollars to spend on fuel until my husband got paid the next day. There wasn’t enough fuel in the car for him to get to work, so that was where our last twenty was going. I went to the cashier to pay and she said, “Someone just came and put twenty dollars on every pump, so go ahead and pick one!” I walked back to my car, stunned. I had heard of this kind of thing happening and thought it was awesome, but I never expected it to happen to me.

The day after that, there was a knock on our front door. It was the local leader of our church. He handed me an envelope, wished me a Merry Christmas, and walked away. Inside were gift cards worth one hundred and fifty dollars.

A week later, my husband was at the store buying some diapers and other necessities. There was a lady in front of him and he noticed that before she left, she handed the cashier an envelope. The cashier rang up his purchases, he paid for them and then was handed the envelope the previous customer had left behind. Inside was a one-hundred-dollar bill. The stranger had told the cashier to give it to my husband as a Christmas gift. When he came home and handed me the money, I couldn’t stop crying. I’ve been the receiver of kind deeds before and I had always been grateful for them — but these deeds were coming at a time when I really needed them.

I thought money towards gas, gift cards and a random one-hundred-dollar bill were more than enough to prove to me the generosity of people’s hearts. I was to be proven wrong. The same night that we were anonymously given the one hundred dollars, there was a quiet knock on the door. I was in the middle of changing a diaper and it was so quiet that I wasn’t even sure I heard it. I called out; “Just a second!” in case there really was someone there, hurried with the diaper, and then went to the door. All four of my little ones were right at my heels. When I opened it, I discovered two big boxes full of wrapped presents. Tears began to sting at my eyes. Of course, there was no person standing there for me to thank. I yelled out, “Thank you!” and then brought the boxes inside.

The kids saw the packages and knew they were for them. I couldn’t stop them from unwrapping them, even if I had wanted to. They were each labeled by name for the kids, so whoever our anonymous gift giver was, they knew us and we knew them. There was a sled and some books for our older son, a play doctor’s kit and doctor’s dress-up outfit and crayons for our older daughter. A baby and a stroller and dress-up dress for our younger daughter, some balls and puzzles for our baby boy. Presents that were immediately loved, hugged, and played with.

It wasn’t until after I had gotten the wrapping paper cleared away that I saw the envelope. It was sitting at the bottom of one of the boxes with the names Josh and Nicole on it. I picked it up, hoping there would be a name of our gift giver. What I found inside left me in tears.

There was a note, but it wasn’t signed. It said simply:

Joshua and Nicole

We were given a gift when our budget was tight. Now we are happy to pay it forward. You are an inspiration!

Inside the envelope — not one, not two, not three — but TEN one-hundred-dollar bills — one thousand dollars. I think I quit breathing for a few seconds. When my husband got home from work and I showed him what had been given to us, I thought I was going to have to administer CPR. He too, was completely speechless.

We still didn’t have a huge Christmas by any means. It was very tempting to go out on a major shopping spree, but I remembered my pleas to God just a few weeks before of wanting to know what it would feel like not to have to live paycheck to paycheck. This completely unexpected money was an answer to those pleas. It wasn’t enough to meet all of our obligations — but it was enough that not every single cent from my husband’s next paycheck would have to go to bills. It was just enough. It was exactly what I wanted for Christmas.

~Nicole Webster

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Random Acts of Kindness

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