It was just before Thanksgiving, mid-1980s, when my then-husband’s work went on strike. Thankfully, we already had our turkey and other food for Thanksgiving, but rumor had it the strike would last past Christmas, and possibly into the new year.
Of course, neither the utility companies, nor the mortgage company would put our billing on hold because of the strike. And as usual, we had no savings account.
Our holidays were going to be very strained. I was used to living on a meager, shoestring budget and usually prepared ahead of time with gifts, especially because my son’s birthday was November 30th and one of my daughter’s birthday was just eight days later.
I always did everything I could to make my kids’ birthdays and holidays a pleasant experience. I babysat, sold Avon, or Christmas Around the World gifts and toys, or had an educational toy party, or something similar to earn gifts for my kids.
But that particular year the strike caught me off guard. I had not sold very much, and had barely accumulated any gifts when the strike was announced.
As the days dragged on with no income my heart sank. One day, wanting to desperately snap out of the depression I felt, I decided to trust God completely to help us get through the holidays.
My mother gave me birthday money for the kids, but I was forced to use most of it for groceries. I bought them a couple of gifts, made them each a cake, and served it with ice-cream and punch. We made it through the birthdays without the kids noticing the scarcity of presents.
“Let’s see what God will do about this,” I kept saying, “It will be exciting. “ I really did believe God would bless us if we trusted Him.
This situation was particularly difficult for me since Christmas has always been my favorite holiday because it brings back a few of the rare happy childhood memories I have. I tried to keep my mind upbeat, but felt drawn down anytime I left my home.
One particular day I felt especially low. My cupboards were looking horribly bare. We had less than two weeks before Christmas. I was losing hope, but continued with my reliance on God.
I prayed for strength as I drove past cars with Christmas trees tied on top.
I prayed for joy as I watched happy faces picking out trees on my way into to the store. In southern California there were no forests to cut down our own tree.
I prayed for God to help me not feel envy, and tried not to notice people’s carts piled high with toys, gifts, and food.
I asked God to help me to be thankful for what I had, and looked past the countless displays of festive gifts and food. I could only stretch the $20.00 bill, the only money I had for a week of groceries, so far.
Was God even listening? I thought as I walked out of the store with my nearly empty cart, and an even emptier heart.
On my way to my car, I noticed a two-foot long branch lying on the parking lot. I ignored it at first, but then an idea struck me.
With a little decoration it will almost look like a tree.
A new sense of excitement filled me. I gently placed my newly-found, priceless treasure in the trunk of the car.
This is a Christmas gift from God! We will have a Christmas tree after all! I thanked God for placing the branch in my path.
“What is that, Mommy?” My kids wanted to know when I walked in the door with the large branch. (They’re father watched them while I went shopping.)
“It’s going to be our Christmas tree this year! God provided us with a fresh-cut tree!”
“But that’s not a tree, it’s a branch,” one of them said.
“I know it’s a branch, but once we are done decorating it, it will look just like a tree!” I said.
Not convinced, they watched silently as I placed the branch in a large vase of water and positioned it on the dining room table, leaning the branch against the wall for support. Our dining room table was pushed up against the wall because we had a tiny dining room.
I located a bright, red bow and put it on the top of the branch. We attached lights and ornaments to it. I tied another bow on the vase.
“It still looks like a branch,” a child said.
“We will just have to pretend it’s our tree,” I said.
As the days went by, the bleak feelings of the upcoming Christmas day haunted me. I kept up a cheerful countenance for the kids, and continued to trust God. Whenever I began to doubt, I looked at that large branch leaning against the wall with its string of blinking lights and red bow.
God gave us that tree!
Each day I would say to myself, I am excited to see how God will bless us today.
Then, someone from church brought over some groceries. I thanked the person profusely, then thanked God.
A few days later a lady I hardly knew stopped over with a bag. She bought each child an inexpensive toy; the girls a baby doll and a truck for my son.
Overly thankful to the lady and to God, I wrapped the gifts with leftover paper from the previous year, and put them under our “tree.” By then, the kids had accepted the branch as our tree.
Then another friend brought over several bags of groceries, a bag of diapers, and a turkey. This sweet lady even gave me a $20 bill to buy anything she missed.
Teary-eyed, I hugged her and accepted her very generous gift. Then, I thanked God.
I thanked God when my mom gave me more Christmas money than usual.
The Lord had not forgotten us after all.
We made it through Christmas. Thankfully, the kids were young enough to not really notice that there were few gifts under the tree.
That Christmas turned out to be one of the most treasured Christmases of my life. Though I remember the sadness a little, I remember that season as such a joyful time! Without the pressure of the hustle and bustle, I felt a freedom. I found my heart singing more enthusiastically and joyfully when the Christmas songs played. I felt truly blessed when we watched old Christmas movies together.
As predicted, just before New Year’s Day the strike was called off.
I had been forced to rely on God for how that Christmas turned out. The Lord came through for us. We had everything we needed. I had my kids, and was ever grateful that we had our health.
The most amazing thing of all was the abundance of joy I felt bubbling up from within me even though the stressful situation could have turned out much more solemn.
I found much more joy, even in the midst of less.
Let’s remember those around us without work this holiday season.
By ~ Elizabeth Yalian 2013 ©http://hiseyeisonthissparrow.com.