Not by chance…
Today was a day that I had been looking forward to for some time. Today I went back to see the family I met in the homeless shelter. Simply put, this family has changed my life. A young mom and a dad with a little boy and a little girl. When I met them, I couldn’t help but see my own family…my little girl, my son. The moment that my mom and I started talking to them, we connected with them. I know it wasn’t chance that we met them in the shelter that day…we were supposed to meet them, to help them…and to learn from them. And I have.
I remember the first phone call I had with the mom, Ashley. I called to tell her that my family would like to help them with Christmas…all she wanted was 1 or 2 gifts to give to each of her children so they would have something fun to open on Christmas morning. As my family began planning how we were going to grant their Christmas wishes, a sad reality hit me: they don’t have a home…they don’t have anywhere to store presents…nowhere to keep new gifts. In the shelter each family is given a small locker–all their possessions, everything they own has to fit in it. It was a reality check for me. So we decided to do the next best thing: gift cards. And I realized that our alternate plan was actually even better–this way we were able to give something to Ashley and Mark that they probably hadn’t been able to do in a long, long time…a chance to go Christmas shopping for their kids.
Pulling up to the shelter, part of me felt bad. Over the past 2 weeks my family and I have combined money and had a few hundred dollars in gift cards to give them. I wished it was more. I met Ashley in the lobby–her two little ones were running around playing. They were even cuter than what I remembered. She asked if I minded to go outside so we could talk.
We sat on a bench next to each other while her little girl and little boy played off to the side. That’s when she shared with me their story. It’s one that probably a lot of families could relate to. Her husband, Mark, used to have 2 jobs–working construction and in a factory. With the winter approaching, there wasn’t any work with the construction and so he was laid off…and then he was laid off from his factory job. They spent all their savings, sold everything they had…and last month ended up in a homeless shelter with nowhere else to go.
As I’m listening to her, Mark walks outside and joins us. We talk for a few more minutes and then I hand them the envelope. I will never, ever forget the expression on Mark’s face when I told him how much money in gift cards was inside. His eyes got as big as silver dollars…and then I saw a single tear drop down his face. This grown man was now crying.
While I had hoped to have given them more, he explained that this was so much more than they even dreamed of. And then I remembered…all they wanted was a couple of small gifts for their kids. Instead we were able to give them much more.
The best Christmas gift I could receive…
It’s at this point in my story where I’m extremely thankful that I’m able to share what happens in writing…I’ve cried every time I’ve tried to tell out loud.
He calls his little kids over…and what he said overwhelmed me.
“Can you tell this woman thank you? You don’t realize it or understand it now, but know this woman just did something incredible…just for you.” And then I heard two sweet voices say, “thank you” with huge smiles…and before I knew it, I had 4 little arms wrapped all around me.
I looked up and Ashley was crying. “How in the world can we ever thank you?”
And this is when things came full circle. The little girl taps my leg and starts to tell me a story. “I met Santa. He came and talked to me.” When I was at the shelter last week the Director mentioned that Santa was going to come over the weekend so the kids could share their Christmas wishes.
“Wow! That’s so cool!”, I exclaimed. “What did you ask him for?”
“I told him I wanted a princess puzzle. But I already got a present and it’s my favorite.”
“Really? What did you get?”
Her answer warmed my heart. “A book. It’s about a rabbit. I love to read it.”
I had to try really hard not to burst out in tears. That little girl didn’t know it, but I was the reason why she had that book. Just 3 days earlier I planned and managed an event where a team of us dropped off lunches for 150 people…and gifts for 100 children at the shelter. The gifts we donated were books…one of which was The Velveteen Rabbit. Things came full circle to me–I was looking at this little girl and seeing first hand the joy I was able to bring. She didn’t know it…Ashley and Mark didn’t know it…but that little girl just gave me the best Christmas gift I could ever receive. I got the chance to see how my actions helped someone else.
I looked up and tears were now running down Ashley’s cheeks as well. She kept repeating two simple words: thank you.
I’m so hopeful for this family. They’re in the process of changing shelters, moving to Greene county so they can try to get into transitional housing. Both Mark and Ashley are working with social workers to try and find jobs. These are nice people–they’re smart, polite and while they don’t have much, it’s obvious that they love each other.
Yep, there was definitely a reason why these 4 people came into my life…and I’ll never be the same.