The Christmas Miracle
The Christmas of 2013 was a Christmas that I will never forget. It wasn’t because we finally splurged on the pre-lit tree, or were able to get the really expensive presents for our kids, or we gifted ourselves with some fancy trip. No. That was the Christmas I prepared my older two children for a very small, humble Christmas, and reminded them that the most important part of Christmas is that we were together as a family.
Three months prior my husband had been laid off. We both searched for months for employment, lived off our savings, with me joking that we’d end up living in a van down by the river (I use humor to cope). Right before Thanksgiving I was looking at our quickly dwindling food supply and crying while considering putting groceries on our credit card once again, when my Relief Society president texted me. She had kept offering me help over the two months since my husband was laid off and I had always begged off. I am deeply uncomfortable for asking for or accepting help. On this day as I cried looking at my bank balance on my laptop, she texted me and said something along the lines of, “look Risa, I have a food order for the Bishop’s storehouse already signed by the Bishop for you, so what time am I coming over to help you fill this out?” It took me a whole hour to swallow my pride and text her back, finally relenting to her that I needed her help. There was no doubt in my mind, that me relenting to her was also relenting to God admitting that I couldn’t save my family on my own.
When Thanksgiving came, my mother-in-law asked us to bring our usual side dish to dinner and my husband had to tell her that we had just accepted a food order from the Bishop’s storehouse. Thanksgiving night we stayed later than everyone else helping to clean up. My wonderful mother-in-law handed us an envelope full of cash and told us that all of my husband’s siblings chipped in to help us out this Christmas. With that money we were able to make our mortgage payment for December and provide two small, modest gifts for our four children. And that was going to be enough for me because I was so grateful for what we had – a loving family willing to help pick us up when we were down.
What I didn’t expect was the overwhelming generosity of my friends, family, and neighbors over the coming weeks. Bags of food were left on our porch. Envelopes full of money were slipped under our front door. On Christmas Eve we got a knock on our door as we were preparing to leave for the night for a family party. It was the Bishop of our ward and one of his counselors. They told us that they had Christmas gifts for our family. Our benefactors wished to remain anonymous so they asked him play Santa. I burst into tears and told him how everyone had been so kind and generous that I was speechless. After they left, my husband and I went to our room and held each other as we wept. When we returned home that night after our family party with our sleepy kids, we were met with another surprise. Our entire front porch was filled with gifts. We were able to get the kids to bed without seeing (our garage blocks the view of the porch) and snuck the gifts in after they had gone to bed.
As my husband and I placed the gifts around the tree that night we were amazed at the abundance. Even in our fattest years we would never have been able to provide that many gifts for our kids. We again, sat down together and wept as we looked at the gifts. To me, it wasn’t about the material goods we were getting, it was the enormity of love and generosity my family received during that season. The next morning I pulled my two oldest aside and again prepared them for what was under the tree. Instead of the modest, small Christmas I told them they were getting, I told them about all the family, friends, and neighbors who loved them enough to make sure they had Christmas gifts. They both cried. My son, who was almost 10 years old at the time, told me he had a confession. He had gotten up in the middle of the night and snuck out to the living room to see the tree. In that moment when he saw the gifts he thought to himself, “is Santa real?” I told him that yes, the spirit of Santa, or more accurately the love of our Savior, is alive in the people who made sure we had a Christmas.
It was so much fun watching my kids unwrap their presents because I had absolutely no idea what they were getting either! They got age appropriate toys, clothing, candy, and we got gift certificates to grocery stores and other places. My 5-year-old son exclaimed that every new toy was “everything he always wanted.” That Christmas I have never felt so loved, humbled, and grateful in my life.
A few short weeks later, my husband was finally hired at another company. I was able to find full-time work right after. Things back to normal, as much as they could, and we were once again able to pay our bills and did not end up living in a van down by the river. Friends and family even gave us money after Christmas to stay afloat until that first paycheck came.
However, we were forever changed as a family. To know how deeply you are loved is a gift. It gives you the strength to keep fighting on hard days. It gives you the courage to take risks. It gives you the humanity to serve others. There is not a Christmas that has passed since where I haven’t thought of the one in 2013 and cried in humility. I have spent the last six years trying to pay it forward. I don’t know if I ever really will be able to. It reminds me of the gift our Savior gave us – we didn’t earn it, we don’t deserve it, and yet his mercy and love is so expansive it has the power to change hearts, homes, and humanity.
May every Christmas we remember the true miracle of Christmas. That because He lives and gave His life for us, we can have salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life.