It’s dark outside, black, we are sitting at a red light, rain streaming down the front window, wiggles of red curling down from the stopped light. The side of Maria’s face is bright white, illuminated from the liquor store sign, it’s an empty haze.
“I’m glad we are helping them,” she smiles, “I remember when I didn’t have anything.”
I thought to the week prior when he told me there were six kids, how they were kind and how they needed food to feed them.
I wanted to do well by them, this was our one chance, I hoped we could do well by them. I emailed our growth group giving everyone the easiest outs, “I know this is a crazy time of year, please don’t feel obligated, this is only if you really want to…” and I got an email back from each family picking a child and despite a hectic season and seasonal financial obligations, each child was covered. They sent me photos as they shopped, new shoes, a bed set, sea blue. We had kind people mail food cards, a racecar bed, homemade baby food, boxes of diapers. What had felt like a vulnerable need, was beginning to brim with kindness and support. I held myself back from texting Sarah as the needs of her family were being met on the cold tile of my kitchen each day, wrapped in bright paper, homemade cards, words of encouragement, “We struggled for a long time, too…” tucked into envelopes.
Just before they were going to come over, I lit a candle from a neighbor. I felt nervous, how do I express? I want them to feel loved, encouraged, cared for. I felt the weight of the kindness sitting in my kitchen, the sacred gift of loving someone struggling and visually seeing people coming together for them, and now it was time.
The plan was to have them come here, but one of the babies got sick, so we were going to drop them off, we decided last minute, I felt relieved not to need to clean up my house.
Andrew came home from work, rain dripping in rivers from his hood. “We’re going there,” I told him as Finley finished wrapping the final presents.
“Let me get the things out of my car,” as he went back into the rain. Finley laid one final long piece of tape onto a now wrapped amazon box, a Star Wars toy dropped off earlier that day for the 11 year old boy.
Andrew grabbed the larger things, a beautiful wooden race car toddler bed, shipped from Sherry in Michigan. Maria ran her arm through gift bag handles and tucked them under her jacked, starting the process of moving everything to the car. The boys followed close behind into the dark to the open trunk, emptying out the kitchen, filling the trunk of the car, running out in the rain, drops pelting their necks, covering each item with their bodies as best they could, fresh rain streaking down paper with red snow flakes, a winking santa, dancing snowmen.
Under the liquor sign was a slider for letters, just the letter P hung, crooked. Green. “I think they will be very happy,” Maria told me, “Yeah I think so, too!” Finley said. “Finley, I am thankful you prayed for this family, you helped connect us to this moment. You know what guys, I was actually nervous when they told us they had 6 kids, but do you guys know that story of that little boy who offered his lunch?”
Maria nodded her head with a smile, Finley yelled, “YEAH!!”
“5,000 people were hungry, he didn’t have much but he just said yes and gave what he had to God, it was tiny, and what did God do with it?”
“It was like an explosion!”
“Yes! When you say yes, it’s an explosion, we could never have gotten all these things to help this family on our own, never. But God helped us. I feel a little nervous, let’s pray, k? Let’s pray they feel loved, that they feel encouraged in a really meaningful, life changing way.”
Each child said a quick prayer, Poppy just cheered quietly, “YAY!!!” We pull past a lonely park, a Head Start center, up a steep hill, and we see a fenced in apartment complex. Two gates.
It takes a long time for the gates to open, I go from nervous to impatient and eager, it was perfect.
The 11 year old boy is in the parking lot, helping us find a spot to park, “Hey buddy!” I call to him. He is polite and well mannered, serious, and helps us park. Finley wants to know his name, “Cause he’s cool…” he says.
I smile at Conner, “Yeah, Conner is cool, huh?”
We are all out of the car, “Of course,” Conner tells us when I ask him to help carry. “And look at this one, says Conner,” I say to him, he looks at it, smiles, and looks down, carrying lots of boxes. Andrew and I both look at each other, what a sweet kid.
A tall, scruffy man walks out holding two blonde babies, “Hi, hi guys,” he says.
“Hey there,” as we follow Conner around the corner, “Let me help you guys…”
Sarah greets us at the door, she is tinier than I thought with a beautiful blonde pony tail. We hug and she welcomes us inside, out of the rain. Their home is small, but bright. There is a fire in the fireplace, a dining table right in front of it, there is a bunk bed in the kitchen, Connor’s. It is carefully, strategically organized, all of his items that a room would hold, stacked neatly in his little space, all his own.
A cheerful girl with white blonde hair comes into the dining room greeting us, she and Maria would later play the entire time we are there in the room she shares.
“Thank you so much for coming over her,” Sarah spills out. One of the babies has gauze on her arms, she was in the hospital for pneumonia.
“Oh, our pleasure, it was actually better for us, and now it can all be set up for you guys here.”
Andrew and the father return from the car, arms filled. The father doesn’t know what to say.
“Oh my goodness,” Sarah breathes.
“We can open them now…if you want?”
“What? No, this is just for you guys. For Christmas, keep them under the tree. This is all for you guys.”
“This is so nice…thank you so much…”
I smile at her, everything look so much better sitting under their small tree, sitting in front of their fire instead of in the corner of my kitchen,”This is seriously so much better than what we thought it could be. And trust me, it’s not junk, it’s honestly good stuff from people, we have some really nice friends, it’s mostly all from them, not us, our stuff is random, but people really got some cool stuff for you guys, your kids are going to love it… I think the bed spread for Ellie is from Nordstroms…”
“Oh my goodness…we would have been happy with anything…” she tells me wide eyed.
“Oh, I know, I know you would have, me too, but our growth group and friends really got together to bless you guys, we really didn’t know it would be like this…”
They are back from their 3rd trip and sit with us.
The presents are under the tree, the girls are playing in Lisa’s room, Poppy and the babies are sitting on the couch, Conner is showing Finley a toy, he is mesmerized, which I love because he can be so shy, by Connor is kind hearted, patient.
“Why us…how did you find us, how did you know…” the words aren’t coming to the father, he can’t find them.
“We don’t even know, we prayed that God would show us a family, and he led us to you. This is really just for you guys to feel loved, and supported,” I even looked that tall, gruff man in the face, “We wanted you guys to feel cared for, to feel relief.”
Sarah was overwhelmed from the moment she saw us, but hearing that, the father’s shoulders sank a little, he looked less gruff and opened up a little bit while the kids were distracted, “Thank you guys…it’s actually been really hard, finding work,” he hesitated, looking down, “is hard, I’ve even just been at home with the kids the past couple days…” it looked painful for him to say.
Andrew and I nodded, “We’ve been there, it is hard. It’s no joke.”
He looked at his hands as his two year old son hugged his leg.
“We’ve been there, man,” Andrew says to him, softly.
“We used to live in low income housing when we first had our son, Finley. It wasn’t easy, but there is hope. So, all these gifts are for you guys for Christmas, but there are 4 things we have to give you now so we can explain them, two are totally optional.”
I handed Sarah a present, the card was written by Finley and Maria, “You are a good mom, God loves you,” in crayon on orange construction paper. Inside was a new photo frame, and a gift certificate, “One free family photo shoot.” “She’s amazing, you will love her,” I smiled at her, the next envelope in my hand, ready to give.
Sarah was so joyful, she kept reading the card over and over, but I broke it up, “Here is the next part,” and handed her a big blue piece of cardboard, it read, “Costco Membership,” in white letters at the top. She looked at it when I handed it to her, covered her mouth with her hand and tears came down her face. “Oh my gosh…”
Andrew, my details guy said, “We got you guys the executive membership, with your family it will be more beneficial and you will receive more at the end of the year.” Sarah still hadn’t said a word, but with her hand still over her mouth got up and embraced me in a hug, Andrew, too.
“You’re welcome,” I told her, “Costco is the best,” I look to the father and Conner, “And they have free samples, and good pizza, and they only mark up their products a very small percentage, it’s a great deal. You guys will love it, it’s great for big families.”
Sarah spoke, “I’ve always wanted, my mom was going to help me, but…”
“I know,” I smile at her.
“Ok, here is the next envelope,” I hand her. Inside are 5 bright, shiny cards, each to a different grocery store. She pulls them out and reads them in disbelief, she holds them up to her husband, “These are food cards…” she whispers to him.
“Oh my gosh…” he says. He has his hands folded between his knees, he suddenly looks really young.
“We had some really nice people donate via email, so this one to Albertsons is for $455.”
Sarah starts crying again and gets up to hug each of us, this time the gruff husband does too. You can tell this is not common for him, but he couldn’t help himself.
“This next envelope is optional…” I tell them. They open it and it’s a piece of paper I printed from online about a Dave Ramsey class starting next month.
“This class…changed our lives. I told you we were in low income housing, we had debt, but this helped us so much. Most of our friends have taken it, they loved it. It brings so much peace…I don’t want to over sell it or anything, take your time and think about it…”
They both looked eager, “Oh, if you guys think it’s good, we want–”
“No–don’t decide now, check the dates, check the schedules, I don’t want you guys to feel pressured to make a decision now, just think it over.”
The father looks at us, “Well, if we can take this class, and one day bless a family like you guys have blessed us, it would be worth it.”
Andrew and I smile, “It’s actually a fun class to take, and there is good food and snacks. It’s 13 weeks, but you really only need to go to the first 5 or 6 and you’ll be set for a few years.”
“This is all….so…this is…it’s soo….” the father can’t put words together, we’ve been there, in a place of extreme gratitude.
“God has blessed us, and we want to bless you guys,” Andrew shrugs, what else can we say, it’s not us.
“Thank you guys… what church do you guys go to?”
“We go to North Coast church.”
“We’ve actually been thinking about going to one.”
“Oh yeah? It’s great, it’s big, but it’s great.”
“Is there childcare?”
Andrew and I look at each other and laugh, like laugh hard, “Oh yeah… there is childcare, and it’s amazing. Drop the kids, off, get our coffee, sit, we love it… Our kids are like, ‘Bye!'”
I hold my hand up, “But that’s not what this is about… we are here to just bless you guys, that’s it.”
“No, I know,” the father says, “we really had been looking.”
“We’ll meet you guys there anytime you want, but hold on, we have one more thing for you guys.”
They open up to us, share some things on their hearts. We give them the final gift, optional, a small college fund for each child gathered by my friend and her cousins.
“Ok, we’re going to get out of your guy’s hair…Maria, Finley, let’s go, say goodbye.” Maria loves the little girl, “Bye Connor,” Finley says. They all walk us, out, “We’ll talk to you guys soon,” we say.
“We’d love to have you guys back, we can do a playdate, we’d love to see you soon,” Sarah says as we head to the car, all the 3 babies toddling along, too.
“Yeah, that sounds good, bye guys, God bless, Merry Christmas, take care.”
Andrew picks up burritos on the way home, I had fed the three younger earlier and Maria helps me put them to bed, she reads the boys a tractor book.
I text our growth group, “Best night ever.” And don’t respond to their questions until much later. Finley, Maria, Andrew and I eat our burritos, all cut in half and shared and talk about the night. How much better than even we could have expected.
“They were really happy,” Finley told me.
“And they haven’t even opened their presents yet,” I smiled at him, pouring the hot sauce.
“I like helping them…”
“Me too,” Maria says.
As we ate our cheap burritos, it felt like the kind of Christmas dinner you see on the commercials, our hearts filled, overflowing with contentment, joy, indescribable pleasure. My children were contemplative and peaceful, they both sat a little taller, but humble having worked so hard that whole day. Everything I would chase to consume and buy to give us these feelings, these moments was only found by emptying the jar, filled by God, and poured out onto a family who struggled, swirled together with tears, and hope, new friendships and opportunities, and people knowing, really feeling that they are valuable and loved, just because they exist.
“I don’t even want all the toys for Christmas,” Finley adds, “I only have two hands…” Maybe we sell our kids out, trying to buy their happiness, and preventing them from the joy of serving and giving… Thoughts I have while looking at them in this moment.
We finish eating a kiss them goodnight, thankful and tired ourselves. What a gift, what a surreal gift.
Thank you to each person for filling and spilling the jar out in real, true love. What an incredible, humbling expereince to help them. Thank you to everyone who helped so selflessly. It was beautiful.