20 Days of Christmas…a short story

This is the account of 20 days of Christmas that occurred this past December.  It is written in deep appreciation for all who shared their time, resources, and talents and for a precious family who opened their home and lives to others.  It is NOT a blog…it is a short story.   When you have time, sit by the fire, snuggle in with your computer and celebrate with me all that God did to bring about “the best Christmas ever!”

Note Of Thanks
Thank you does not begin to express the gratitude in my heart for the role that each person played in caring for the Booker Family this Christmas. 
The memories that I will have of the month of December 2011 are rich and I will treasure them in my heart for many, many years to come.
I feel so blessed that I was able to be one of the “messengers” to provide hope, joy, and love to this family.  Through our many visits, my husband and I were quick to remind the Bookers’ that we were just the “messengers.”  We just became the “deliverers” of others’ generous gifts.   Over the past 20 days, from what started with 3 women, grew to upwards of 75 to 100 people sharing what they had to care for and supply the needs of this precious family. 
This simple note of gratitude turned in to a short story spanning the past 20 days of Christmas.  It would take a novel to share every detail or express every emotion.   I could have spent weeks writing and yet I am almost certain that I would still not be able to adequately document all of the details, background, or even the emotion expressed by those who were a part of those magical 20 days.  As the “keeper of the stories” I still felt it was important for others to see how their “thread” was woven together in to a beautiful tapestry of generosity, hope, and love.  When you have a few quiet moments, sit down, grab a cup of coffee, and join me.  Marvel and celebrate humanity’s generosity and a Sovereign hand that brought these two unlikely worlds together. 
Determined Not to Miss Christmas
We have all heard of the famous Christmas carol, “The 12 Days of Christmas.”   This year I was fortunate enough to experience “The 20 Days of Christmas.”  
My husband told Hope Holly Springs that last year (2010) we “missed” Christmas.  As painfully true as it was–it was still hard to swallow.  Don’t get me wrong…last year was full.  At times it was full of some really wonderful things–tree trimming, baking cookies, and Christmas productions.   But it also was full of obligations: presents to buy, parties to attend, people to entertain.  It was packed so full of “things and stuff” that in our efforts to make memories and solidify traditions, we simply missed the essence of Christmas.  Last year starting on December 26th I spent several days in a funk because I knew I had missed it.  I also knew I would have to wait another 350ish more days until I got another chance to do it again.   This year, determined not to miss the true Spirit of Christmas, we picked a family off the “Tree of Hope.”  This family was designated by Wake County schools as a family in need of assistance over the Christmas season.  Our “job” was to help provide their children with some clothing and a gift from their wish list.   MANY families were chosen from the tree…but I am certain that this family was chosen for us.  In my lifetime I do not believe I have seen God so active and obvious in such a short concentrated span of time.  There were just too many coincidences…too many pieces that fit together “too” perfectly.  Each thread woven together seamlessly and at the end there was a beautiful friendship that formed, hope delivered, and lives were changed. Thanks to the Booker Family and the many people involved in this story, I did not miss Christmas this year!  No, the Spirit of Christmas has filled the past 20 days of my life and I hope it’s impact will continue to spill over in to my next 20 years of life! 


The Story Begins…
          My initial phone call was made to Sophia on December 6th.  I was a little nervous to call as it is sort of a strange “exchange” to explain why you are calling and what your intentions are.  Quickly Sophia put me at ease with her excitement and gratefulness for our willingness to help. 
After my first phone call to Sophia, I realized that there were much greater needs for this family than simply some clothing and Christmas gifts for their children.   A friend had offered to bring Christmas dinner and so I asked Sophia if she might be interested in a friend providing their Christmas meal?  She paused silently as if somewhat shocked or as if she was processing the information.  She then explained that her family had had an electrical fire and lost their stove.  She shared that a meal would be ideal as she was not certain what they would do for a holiday meal this year.   Apparently, they were cooking on an old hot plate and a griddle.   
As the conversation continued I realized that they were not just a family of 6 but the children’s Grandmother and Great-Grandmother lived in the home as well.  Over time, I found out that they had another daughter who lived locally, who was pregnant, with a grandson just days from being born.   Quickly it became apparent that this was a larger undertaking than originally expected. 
The family did not expect us to provide more than some simple gifts and clothes.   Deep within my being I knew that much more was needed and that if we could provide some of these “household necessities” this was going to be a very special Christmas for all parties involved!  I wasn’t sure if in 20 days anything significant could be accomplished…it was the “thick” of the holiday season…but I shot up a quick prayer for hope and generosity.  What happened next was beyond my wildest dreams or imagination. 
3 + Compassion = Unimaginable Generosity
What started as two families caring for the Bookers quickly turned in to three.  My friend Allison is a “connector” and has an unparalleled heart for serving those in need.   She shared this story with her family, her neighborhood, her friends, and her friends’ friends. Through her heart, passion and connections, we delivered 5-6 truck loads of household items over the next 20 days of Christmas.  
It really started with an email that Allison sent mentioning that she knew a couple who owned a couch.  The couple was hoping to donate this couch to a family in need.  At the time I had not phoned the Bookers, nor did I know that their home needed furniture.  After Sophia and I spoke and I learned of the stove fire I realized that there might be other furniture needs.  Sophia explained that they had moved in to their home prior to her husband losing his business.  They moved so that they might have more room and also be in a safer neighborhood.  She explained though, that they did not have the furniture to fill this more spacious home.  When asked if she might be able to use the couch she paused in what I now know was shock and amazement.  (Another “need” met without asking!  We had never even met one another.  How would I know about her needs for a stove or furniture?)  But a sovereign God knew and used others generosity to provide it.  
Moving…Furniture and Hearts
My husband and I borrowed a truck from a friend. (We used their truck 4 different times to deliver goods back and forth—yet another provision!)  Our first stop was at the home of the kind “New Yorkers” who owned the couch.  They were so happy to share what appeared to be a brand new couch!  Incredibly, the couch had been on Craigslist with no prospects, for over a month; but on the very day we arrived to pick it up—someone expressed their interest to purchase it!  The couple explained that even if someone would offer 100 times it’s original price, they would not take it now…they were so overjoyed just to be able to give it to a family that really needed it.  In addition to the couch, this couple offered a toaster oven that was in great condition.  We don’t believe that they had knowledge of the Booker’s need of a stove.  They seemed touched to know that this oven might be able to be used to cook for the family of eight! 
My husband and I delivered the couch to an empty room.  It was a huge improvement!  Vivian (the grandmother) kept saying over and over, “it’s beautiful!”  I could not agree more.  The email that started with a question about a couch began a huge chain of emails and generosity that poured out upon this family.   Those 5-6 truck loads that we delivered included items such as beds, mattresses, dressers, book shelves, end tables, lamps, bedding, a crock pot, blankets, bags of clothes, toys, and much more!  There were new needs met daily and it appeared that each gift delivered was hand-picked by God for this family.
 
The beautiful new couch was then paired with a brown chair (donated from another family) that matched as if it had been a set in a show room.   The giver of the chair had explained that as a kid, he grew up in the Bronx and he appreciated his parents desire to provide for him…and he hoped to give to this family so that they might be able to provide a better life for their children.  
Back to the Basics
I had noticed that the Bookers’ kitchen appeared somewhat “bare” and so in a blog I mentioned simple things like canned goods would be appreciated.  A friend brought over 2 bags of food that she intended to donate to the food donation drop box at Lowes.   She took the bags of food earlier in the week prior to receiving my email—but the box was not out that day.  She loaded her bags back in car only to come home and learn of the Booker family and my request for food.  She delivered the canned goods and a gift card for more groceries.  The next time I visited Sophia, she enthusiastically brought me in to her kitchen and showed me the fresh fruit on the counter and the pantry full of food.   She was SO grateful for this gift and it was something that was clearly intended for the Booker family!  
One of the first conversations that I had with Sophia revealed that her children needed new shoes.  I had asked her if there were other “needs” not mentioned.  She explained that the children’s shoes had holes and several had worn through the soles.  This broke my heart and I knew I would have to figure out how to get the children new shoes.  This wasn’t in my “original” budget…but I lifted a silent prayer knowing that the shoes were a “top priority”.   I shared with my two friends (who were helping with the family) about the immediate “needs” and “wishes” of the family and Allison responded immediately explaining that her mother desired to purchase the children shoes.  Incredibly, her father was a cobbler and she believed that no child should be without proper shoes!  So on a Saturday morning she met the family at Dick’s and bought all of the children brand new shoes.  My father in law believes we all should have comfortable shoes and a comfortable bed and I was so very pleased that these precious children would be leaving the store with nice,  new comfortable shoes!  The smiles were contagious. 
Kids get in on the Action
Sophia shared that her daughter had some disabilities with her feet and she needed a wide shoe.  She also explained that the school would often call and ask Sophia to pick up her daughter due to discomfort that she was experiencing throughout her day.  My daughter (who wore the same size shoe) was given a pair of Uggs from a friend last season.  Even though Kylee enjoyed them, she also had plenty of other pairs of shoes.  The more Kylee and I talked, the more we discussed how much these shoes might be a great gift to Vanessa.  They were wide and really fit more like slippers.  It was so sweet to see Vanessa’s face of excitement and hear the reports that these shoes not only fit but were comfortable for her feet.
            A few days later Allison’s daughter Palmer shared her beautiful Barbie house with Vanessa.    LeAnne’s daughter brought Vanessa her Princess Tiana Barbie doll for her house.   Both were unexpected pre-Christmas gifs that were treasured by Vanessa.
            Allison, LeAnne and I were grateful for a teaching moment for our daughters that encourages them to look not only to their own interests but also to the interests of others; to share, and to not hold too tightly to “things”.  
Appliances Provided
The showers of generosity continued.  Around the 10th day of Christmas someone donated a brand NEW washing machine.  (Prior to that, the family was mostly hand washing their family clothes or fighting for machines at the laundry mat).  A few days later, a new electric dryer was donated by a family who had just moved to town. When they arrived at their new home they had gas, not electric and they were happy their old/new dryer could go to a family that needed one.  The Bookers’ overnight went from hand-washing to a new washer and dryer!    This seemed to baffle Sophia as the gifts and donations were above and beyond what she could have dreamed.  Gifts that she referred to as, “God’s best!”   
My friend LeAnne had shared that she and her husband wanted to provide the Bookers’ with a new stove.   This gift was personal in that LeAnne very much enjoys cooking and providing her family with healthy meals.  She also values the quality family time around the table during dinner.  She hoped to help reduce the stress of cooking in the Bookers’ home.  This was yet another gift that Sophia described as God opening up heaven and pouring out his “best.”
A Timely Sale Makes the Difference
LeAnne and I had decided to take the kids to Old Navy to find some new clothes—it made more sense to find them things that they enjoyed and that fit!   The weekend that we decided to go happened to be “friends and family” weekend.  That meant everything was an additional 30% off.   We were so pleased because this meant that we would be able to get “more” for each child than we had originally anticipated.   But alas at this point I stopped looking for the “coincidences” and realized that this was yet another Sovereign provision.
An Eye-Opening Chicken Sandwich
The shopping trip was exciting and overwhelming at times…but I will say that the most humbling part was when we decided we should go to lunch.   It had been a long day of shoe and clothes shopping and we all were a little cranky and hungry.   We loaded the family in the car and took everyone to Chick-fi-la.  Everyone stood quietly waiting to order and Sophia finally said, “What is good?  We have never been here before.”  My heart ached a little in embarrassment at how often I had frequented the restaurant and taken my convenience meals for granted.  She kept exclaiming it was the BEST chicken sandwich she had ever eaten!  We were so pleased to be able to treat their family to even this simple meal…and the conversations with Sophia and her family continued to be a highlight of this 20 day adventure. 
Baby Boy Brings Beautiful Bounty
Watching so many give and share what they had with others caused me to be believe that we might even be able to share with their eldest daughter Brianna who was days away from delivering a little baby boy.  The emails went out and within 24 hours, diapers, a car seat, a baby bath, a beautiful swing, clothes and blankets were waiting to be delivered.  It was remarkable to see yet another need met in such a generous way.   I met the sweet young couple at the hospital after Justin Tyler was born and they were so very grateful for these gifts of love and support.
The Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary
The provision of others for this family was above and beyond what I could have ever imagined.  One woman offered to wrap all of the gifts that we had purchased for the children.  Yet another took all of the money she planned on using to workout that week and spent it on the family providing them with clothes and other household needs.  I offered a 6am strength class that was designated as an opportunity to donate household items and gift cards to the Bookers.  The response was tremendous.    People shared their time, their connections, and their resources.   Daily my porch was flooded with furniture, bags of clothes, and household items like toilet paper, and cleaning supplies. Sophia kept reminding me, “I need people to know, this is not stuff that we wanted, but things we really NEEDED!”   She explained that just before her husband lost his business to a down turn in the economy, they had moved in to their home.   It was a bigger house in a safer neighborhood.  The move had positioned them to better neighbors, good schools, and safer conditions;  but after his job loss, they were working to just “put food on the table and keep the lights on”.   In the midst of this season, Sophia and her husband Jerry, who have been married for 19 years, sold their wedding rings just to keep their family in the home that they currently live.   Whether we brought a new bed, washer, food or toiletries, all were received with the same amount of appreciation and gratitude! 
Not to Mention, The Unmentionables
Yet another “non-coincidence” that occurred was that I had discussed with Allison and LeAnne how great it would be to allow Sophia and Jerry to go and buy a few gifts for the family and also take care of some of their “needs” like new socks and underwear.  This was territory I was not super comfortable covering!   I had whispered a few prayers for the provision of extra “money” as this was not something that was in our budget.  Within the next 72 hours a generous Wal-Mart gift certificate was donated.   It was the ideal amount and was something that would provide for their under garment needs as well as some special gifts for the entire family. 
Making Wishes Come True
It was special to also see the provision of not just their “needs” but also a few “wishes” as well.  A brand new pink shiny bike was provided for Vanessa (the youngest) on Christmas morning.    The boys ages 10 and 13 really were hoping for a gaming system.  Allison said we should,  “pray for a system to fall from heaven.”  A few days later a gift certificate for the exact amount of a new Wii was donated explaining to use as “needed”.   Jerica, the 16 year old, really needed a computer for school.  Sohpia  explained that several assignments were online and often she had to go to the library, but because gas money was very limited, even this was becoming an issue.   In an extraordinary act of generosity, a brand new Dell computer was donated along with a printer!    In addition to all of this, a friend also shared tickets to a Hurricanes game.  The Canes inherited 2 new young fans ages 10 and 13 on the 23rd of December!  
Wearing Our Hearts on Our Sleeves (Literally)
Sophia (and I) continued to marvel at the “details”.   On the 7th day of Christmas, Allison, and LeAnne and I took Sophia to lunch.  While driving to the restaurant she expressed embarrassment about her coat.  The coat was an old camouflage army coat that belonged to her husband.   It was well worn and she was convinced since she was not able to properly do her laundry was concerned that it smelled.  I assured her that we did not care what her clothes looked like and that we simply cared about her heart.  Having said this, I knew it was still a very courageous moment for her to push past her exterior insecurities to allow us in to her life and go to lunch.   Just a few weeks later as Sophia walked up to us on the “shoe shopping day,” she was wearing jeans that fit, and a fleece jacket that looked like it had been tailor-made for her body.   I hugged her and whispered how beautiful she looked and she replied “I feel beautiful.”  We don’t need designer clothes…but an internal transformation can occur and give us confidence when we have clothes that fit and make us feel beautiful.  For many of us, this is a luxury that we take for granted.  It was wonderful to be able to give Sophia and her family this gift. 
Oh What A Night
One of my favorite nights was a night that we decided to “carol” the family and deliver one of the truck loads of gifts.   Jerry and Sophia (the parents) were actually at the hospital with their oldest daughter and their grandson.  Jerica (16) welcomed us in, and about 20 strangers congregated in the Bookers’ living room.  The room was full of joy, full of music, full of smiles, and full of love.  Jerica (who loves Christmas) told me later that it was one of her favorite nights ever.  She was such a precious hostess and it was such a beautiful picture of two unlikely worlds colliding…all to make it… “the best Christmas ever”! 
In a continued indicator of this 20 days being much bigger than we could have ever dreamed or imagined…I will briefly share this story:
The night we went caroling it came to our attention that there was another family who was in need and could use some assistance this Christmas.   In the abundance of generosity that was poured out toward the Booker family; we had some additional clothes, toys and household items.   The family in need lived close to the Bookers and so after we caroled their family we caroled this new family and delivered items to the young couple and their 4 year old daughter.  They were shocked by this random act of kindness.  The mom wrote a kind and heart-felt note of appreciation:
“What you all did was so inspiring and probably one of the nicest things that has ever happened to me in all my 32 years (honestly) and thank you for for showing my Daughter how nice and kind people can be and the magic of Christmas caroling (we have never seen that), it made me think that I spend so much time teaching her the dangers of strangers and to be safe that maybe I forget to mention more often all the wonderful giving caring people in the world.
You went above and beyond and you helped us have a great Christmas not only in material gifts but also the gifts of the heart and helping us remember the things that are most important ( Love Helping others Friendship/Family and God).”
Families and Friendship
         It was my hope that we would not just drop off gifts but get quality time with the Booker family.   I was drawn to Sophia as she is woman of generosity herself.  She shares a home with her grandmother and mother.  She is raising her nephew, and quick to be helpful with her grandson and daughter who are out of the home.  The children have wonderful manners and do not believe they are entitled to anything they receive.  I admire her leadership in her home and I appreciate her children and how kind they have been to my children.  Allison, LeAnne and I hope to continue to stay connected to this family.  The friendships that have formed are just as much of a blessing as witnessing the material provisions provided over the 20 days of Christmas. 
Slowing down this Christmas did mean “doing less” at times.  It meant a few less parties, a few less trips to the mall, and a few less cookies made.  It meant doing less, but accomplishing more.  It meant deep impact made on our own lives as well as the lives of so many.  It meant bridging the gap between two worlds and finding common ground.  It meant opening ourselves up to the lives of others, and watching a sovereign God orchestrate a miracle in and through us, just like he did many Christmases ago.
Thank you for the role you played in making this the “best Christmas ever”. 
 May you be a blessing and may you be blessed.

Jenni 

One thought on “20 Days of Christmas…a short story

  1. I enjoyed reading every word and I know this experience will forever touch your entire family as well as the lives of all others involved. Lendon and Pickett had shared some of the story with us after they visited you and they too were so moved by all that had transpired. Jenni, I know you had a lot of help, but this is a true story of how God can use one individual who will just sit at His feet and listen and move forward in faith toward His calling. Bless you and thank you for the inspiration. Happy 2012, may each day be filled with joy!

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