Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas With Leftovers

About 12 years ago my husband and I were serving a small church in a tiny community in rural Kentucky. We were early in our ministry there when someone mentioned that a women's auxiliary in town had recently disbanded and that there was no one who would be helping the less fortunate families in town for Christmas.

This small town is land-locked by a military base. Some of the kids living there had never been more than a few miles from its borders. Many of the families in our community were in need. I knew that the gap left by the auxiliary would be a large one.

I gathered the ladies in our church and we began raising funds to try to help. We published a cookbook, took donations from local businesses, and placed miniature Christmas trees in local service stations and restaurants with handmade ornaments on them. Anyone who made a donation was invited to take an ornament for their tree. One restaurant took it upon themselves to hold a toy drive to help us out.

We contacted the elementary school for the names of families that might need our help. We quickly collected a list of names, ages and sizes. When shopping day came we had 18 children from five families who needed our help. Our bank account boasted $1400 (I had double-checked with the bank to make sure), and I felt confident that we could provide food and gifts for each family without difficulty. I had already visited all of the families on our list to find out about their need, except one. They were a last-minute suggestion by the principal of the school, newly arrived in town and obviously struggling.

A friend and I stopped by the home on our way out of town to go shopping. I knocked on the door and it was opened a bit apprehensively. I introduced myself and explained my mission. The mom was kind, but almost suspicious of me, keeping the door open just enough for us to talk through it. I asked if there was anything specific that she needed. Her response was one word, "beds". "I'm sorry," I replied. She said, "We need beds. We are sleeping on the floor."

As I walked away from her door, I was overwhelmed. My $1400 seemed a paltry amount to provide food and gifts for 18 along with beds for a family of seven. We started praying and headed for the store. We did all of the other shopping first, purchasing clothes and a toy for each child on the list and food items to round out what we had already collected in our food drive through the church family. We did manage to find bed frames for $20 each, so we picked those up, too. When we were finished that day, my mind was heavy with a concern that I would have to go to that family and tell them that we were not going to be able to provide the beds that they needed.

The next morning I started gathering receipts and totalling our expenditures from the day before. So that I would know exactly how much we had. We stopped by a local business on the way out of town and the manager asked us how the shopping was going. (This is a very small town.) We told him our dilemma and he immediately wrote a check for $200. We knew that would help, but I still did not believe that it was enough. We stopped by the bank to deposit the check and the teller wrote our new balance on the receipt. I turned to leave, and then turned back to her. "Are you sure," I asked. The total was more than my records indicated. I shrugged it off as a miscalculation on my part from the receipts the day before and we hurried off, thrilled to have $800 instead of $600.

We visited several furniture stores, but could find no way to buy more than two or three twin mattress sets. Finally, we were down to the final store available to us. We found that they had an incredibly poor quality mattress set that we might be able to swing, if they would give us a benevolence discount. (It was essentially foam-rubber wrapped in cotton). So I approached the salesman and told him about our mission, asking if he would be able to help. He said that he could, but admitted the poor quality of the product and pointed out that it would not last that long. I told him that I understood that, but our money was extremely limited and it would be better than sleeping on the floor. He paused at that statement and said, "You know, the next level of our product line is actually pretty good. Our regional manager happens to be in town. Let me call him and see if I can get approval for a deeper discount."

As he walked away, my friend and I discussed the need for sheets, pillows and blankets. We started praying, sitting right there on the mattress, and decided that $600 was our limit (regular price for the second-tier mattresses would have been more than double this). If it was more, we would go with the cheaper set. A few minutes later he returned. "My manager says that we can do three full and one twin set for $618, will that work for you?" In unison, we said, "Yes!"

The rest of the day was full of similar blessings. We delivered the beds, bedding, toys, and food to the family the next day, December 23. The kids were precious. They paid little attention to the wrapped gifts that we brought in that day. They all wanted to try out their new beds.

Believe it or not, we had a little left over. You know, that happened once a very long time ago as well. Jesus was teaching a huge crowd of people and meal-time was approaching. He told his disciples to feed the people and their response to him was, "How?" A little boy was there with a little bread and a little fish. Jesus took that food, blessed it, and told his friends to start passing it out. When everyone had eaten their fill, all 5,000 of them, the disciples collected 12 baskets of leftovers so that, "nothing [would] be wasted". Undoubtedly, the excess was shared with those who needed it. You can find the whole story in the Bible, in the book of John, chapter six.

I cannot explain what happened that Christmas. Those receipts that I thought I had miscalculated? I didn't, I checked and re-checked. There was simply more money left than there should have been. We had a little, Jesus presented us with needs far beyond our means. We started passing it out, and it grew to meet those needs with leftovers. Oh, and the leftovers...want to know what we did with them? On Christmas Eve, a home burned down just outside our community. They lost everything. We had enough to provide many things for that family of three as well.

The numbers for that year:

Money Collected: $1800
Families in Need: 6
Children in Those Families: 21
Clothes, toys, and food provided for all, as well as beds and bedding for 7.

You will never convince me that God no longer preforms miracles.

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