Pay it forward
I’m Just Sayin’
by SHEILA SMITH
“When life held troubled times, and had me down on my knees
There’s always been someone there to come along and comfort me
A kind word from a stranger, to lend a helping hand
A phone call from a friend, just to say I understand
And ain’t it kind of funny that at the dark end of the road
Someone lights the way with just a single ray of hope
Oh I believe there are angels among us
Sent down to us from somewhere up above
They come to you and me in our darkest hours
To show us how to live, to teach us how to give
To guide us with the light of love”
The first time I heard those lyrics in a song by Alabama, I was in the seventh or eighth grade, listening to the radio in the cold dark outside my childhood home. Through the years, each time I hear that song, it takes me back to that night.
I’m not one of those people who gets excited about Christmas. Yes, to me, Christmas is most definitely about the birth of a baby boy who would grow, then die, to save the world. Like any person, though, I also know Christmas is about celebrating with family and friends, decorating the home and yard, and shopping for the perfect gift for loved ones.
My parents were both hard workers who always made sure we had a warm home, food, clothes on our backs and shoes on our feet. Most of the time growing up, though, Christmas was a financial burden. As an adult, I look back and wish I would have had the wisdom to know and tell them there was no need for a burden; toys and new gadgets were certainly not a need and I would have rather known my parents were stress-free and without any feelings of guilt than that I got new clothes or a new doll.
Like loving parents, though, they wanted to provide that ideal Christmas. I think all parents can relate to that. Even though I wish I would have been wise enough to say, “Who cares about gifts?”, as an adult, I also understand their desire to give.
So it was that Christmas season, when I was in junior high, that times were really tough. One of my parents had undergone a series of surgeries over the past few months and was unable to work. On top of this, the medical bills were astronomical. My parents shared one vehicle and I assure you there were no high-priced items in our home to sell for extra cash. Still, with Christmas approaching, even though I was fully aware of the financial crisis, they wanted to give me and a few others a good Christmas.
One night, the pastor of our church arrived with an envelope and asked to speak to my parents. Of course, I was sent from the room. Once he left, I came out to find my parents crying, but crying tears of joy. My father explained that people in the church had pulled together and given $1,300 so our family could have a Christmas.
I was excited but deep down, I think I was more excited that my parents were happy than I was that I might get some cool gifts.
But, you see, that is not the incredible part of the story.
My late mother, as long as I can remember, always wrote her prayers in spiral notebooks. She never read them aloud or let us read them but it was something she always did. So that night, after the pastor left, she went into the bedroom and came out sifting through her notebook, then laid it on the table for my father and me to read.
The prayer, written a week before, told God that she was worried about Christmas. Though she knew Christmas was not about money, my mother wrote, she wanted to be able to give to me, my older sister, her husband and my grandfather. She also wanted to be able to pay a few bills. She asked God to somehow provide $1,300; then she left the request with Him and no one else.
One week later, God provided $1,300. That night, sitting outside, I heard “Angels Among Us” by Alabama and smiled. To this day, when I hear that song, I smile.
To be honest, I don’t remember what gifts I received that Christmas. I only remember amazement at how God so specifically answered my mother’s prayer.
Because I know how tough Christmas can be for kids and their parents, during the season, I try to give what I can in hopes of bringing the joy and amazement I felt during that Christmas season so many years ago. I’m not writing this publicly so people will think I’m a good person; I write this in hopes that the people God worked through to provide $1,300 read this and know that they inspired me to pay it forward. Because, honestly, I still do not know who all gave to my family that year.
I am also writing this in hopes that it touches your heart. Some of you have plenty of money to spare. Some of you maybe only have one dollar. Whether alone or with a group of people, though, you can change a life or a family this year. You can be their answered prayer. We have plenty of public programs that are trying to provide food, clothing and toys for locals this season; you can help those programs reach that goal. You might even know of a family having a particularly tough time and wonder if you can make their Christmas merry.
So, I ask you – and challenge you – to not only think about your wants or your family’s wants this year. Look around you and see who you can bless.
The people who gave to my family so many years ago might have thought they were just doing a good Christmas deed. Instead, they left me with a cherished memory and a desire to spread Christmas cheer however much I can, even though I am far from rich. And it’s a desire I hope is lit within the heart of many kids and teenagers this year, too.
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