‘Tis the season of charitable giving. The most cheerful givers tend to
be those who’ve been on the receiving end, often quite recently. This week, I would like to share a Christmas story that’s near and dear to my heart. They say you cannot spread joy to others without some spilling back on yourself. Luckily, joy won’t stain your shirt, like turkey gravy or cherry pie. So feel free to spread and spill as much as you want:
ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a young couple who lived in a drafty rental house in upstate New York with their five cats, three of which were not sanctioned by the landlord and had to be kept hidden. They dreamed of owning a home and taking in all the strays they wanted. When they learned the Air Force was moving them to Dayton, Ohio, they contacted a realtor in Yellow Springs, a liberal village that felt right to them. There were only a couple homes in their price range. They trekked across I-90 three times that autumn to check out the possibilities and made an offer on the best one, a small, sturdy brick ranch with a fenced backyard, located on a quiet cul-de-sac.
The bank required a thick stack of paperwork, their finances laid bare on the loan officer’s desk. They had overextended themselves in the past: a new car, a motorcycle, a vacation to Europe, vet bills for the cats. They had gone through credit counseling and reined in their spending, but they were still a long way from paying off their debts. The loan officer reviewed their forms and shook her head. But if they were willing to jump through some hoops and obtain a VA guarantee, maybe she could swing it. The VA packet was thicker and even more daunting, but they persevered and the guarantee was granted. Even so, their application was iffy. The loan officer issued strict instructions not to touch their credit cards or deplete their accounts for anything frivolous. Just rent, utilities, food, and existing loans. Nothing else. Every dollar counted and the approval of their mortgage hung in the balance. This meant there would be no tree, no presents, no trip home, no Christmas. They sighed heavily; the thought of it was almost too depressing to contemplate.
The next morning, they took stock of their assets. A trunk of lights and Christmas decorations. Flour, sugar, and cookie cutters. Miscellaneous craft supplies. Paper, envelopes, and a book of postage stamps. They pooled the cash from their wallets and added the change from the big Mason jar, a grand total of $64. They obviously couldn’t buy and mail gifts to everyone, so they devised a plan. They would fulfill one wish from the Angel Tree, spending fifty of their precious dollars on a fancy dollhouse for an underprivileged child. The wife sent a letter to their closest family and friends explaining their circumstances. Inside each, she enclosed a handmade angel ornament crafted from white felt and lace and buttons, a reminder that however little one might have, there is always someone who has less. They baked sugar cookies to munch on. There wasn’t enough left over for a tree or a holiday dinner with all the trimmings, but it didn’t matter. All they really wanted was good news about their house.
Two evenings before Christmas, they heard a knock at their front door. On the porch was their neighbor, Tim, wanting to know if they needed help putting up their lights. He could lend them a ladder. Tim peered into the living room, wondering aloud why they had no tree or decora-tions, and the whole sad story came pouring out. He invited the couple to join his family for Christmas dinner, assuring them there would be plenty of food. Having nowhere else to go, they gratefully accepted.
The following night, Tim dropped by again, this time dragging a lush evergreen he’d gotten for a song from a tree dealer eager to clear his lot and head home. They retrieved their decorations from the attic. Tim steadied the tree while they secured it in the stand. They finished stringing up the lights and arranging the ornaments just in time for Midnight Mass. On Christmas day, Tim and his family welcomed them, inviting them to fill their plates and grab a seat by the tree. Little did they know, there were gifts for them, too. Overcome, eyes glistening, they opened up packages of slippers, a throw blanket, hot cocoa mix, cashews, popcorn, and candy. It was one of their most memorable and joyous Christmases ever. Tim smiled ear to ear, accepting nothing but their gratitude and the promise that when they were able, they would pass it on. He could not have imagined what he set in motion that day.
Soon after, their mortgage was approved and they moved into their very own home. By the following Christmas, they had added a pound puppy to their menagerie and saved up enough to make good on their promise. For twenty-three years now, they’ve been paying it forward, largely under the radar. They’d like to keep it that way, so I’m not at liberty to say who they are or exactly what they do, but rest assured, they are real people, just like you.
There are still eight days until Christmas… it’s not too late to spill some joy. Keep your eyes and ears and heart open; you’ll know what to do.
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