We were running out of more than money. We were running out of time. It was just a few days before Christmas. If there would be a Christmas at all.. it would be now or never. So….we spent the day Christmas shopping.  To be honest- we spent our rent. Yup. On Christmas gifts. We also hit the lottery of “instant credit approval” at a department store.  Which, we immediately ran up to it’s limit on a special gift for ourselves….Merry Christmas to us! At least for the moment…

We were young. (very young) Every month when we made out our bills we robbed Peter to pay Paul… every month, some bill had to wait. To say we were struggling financially is an epic understatement. It’s like calling the sinking of the Titanic a fender-bender. I think spending our rent made us feel momentarily rich. Well…if not rich… we at least felt: not poor. The fear and guilt were barely covered by the excitement of giving. We were emotionally short-sheeting ourselves. It didn’t cover.

We figured we’d pay our rent in January. We thought for sure we could  catch up, eventually …We’d figure out how to pay for groceries, later. Maybe we could float a check for long enough to cover. There were only three of us… it wouldn’t take much. And it was Christmas, after-all. Each bag of gifts we stuffed into the trunk of our tiny old Toyota- held a mix of guilt, fear and excitement.

The truth is-we just didn’t know how to say “No.” We should have said: “No, we can’t buy gifts for everyone we’re related to.” No, we can’t donate to this cause and that….” Instead.. we played Santa. A game we would lose.

Only the real Santa has an unlimited budget. Only the real Santa can make Christmas dreams come true…but- we were having an identity crisis. Maybe it was that first grey hair, I’d noticed…. or the extra baby-weight I was carrying… whatever the reason- we sure THOUGHT we were Santa.

On the way home, the truth settled in like a blizzard of smothering snow….We were not Santa. We’d eventually have to pay for everything.

We arrived home, still full of guilt and fear and excitement. We carried our little one and all the Christmas gifts into our duplex. The gifts weren’t extravagant… we’re not talking Tiffany’s here.. just more than we could actually afford. The thought of returning them flew in and out of our heads like a hummingbird… one that migrated to a warmer place -instantly.

After the baby went to bed.. we wrapped everything, and prayed it would all work out.. eventually.

Instead of seeing that pile of gifts and feeling excitement and joy.. we felt mostly: nauseous.  Which is probably good, because the cupboards were pretty bare, and there wasn’t much to eat. It would be days before our next check. I hoped we’d get a bunch of holiday leftovers to help tide us over….which is when I realized I wasn’t sure I had enough money left to buy the ingredients for the “dish to pass” that we had to bring for the holiday meal.

I checked under the couch cushions for coin- Mostly, I found cheerios.

I turned down the heat. (A way too late effort to save a few bucks.) and turned off most of the lights so the extra from the tree wouldn’t cause our power to be shut off in January…It had happened before- and January is NOT a good time to have your power “limited.” Not in Michigan, anyway.

Sitting on the couch, we’d have prayed- if we didn’t feel so guity for making the mess we were in. We’d made our bed.. we’d lie in it.

Which is when there was a sudden and loud banging on our front door.

It wasn’t just fear that came up into my throat.. I was sure it was a bill collector. I wondered how they’d fond out already that everything would have to be paid a month late….and if they could come out to collect when they knew you were going to be late… We didn’t move. I was glad the lights were off. Maybe it looked like no one was home.

After a few minutes- when the banging didn’t continue… my husband got up to answer… maybe it was just kids…

There was no one there.

On our porch- was a huge box we brought it in and found it stuffed with a frozen turkey, and groceries.Everything we’d need to make it through.

I cried. I wondered if it was a mistake. I mean, we weren’t ACTUALLY that poor… not Christmas food box poor, anyway. Or were we? We had an income.. we were just… stupid. How could anyone know? Who would have done this?

To this day, I don’t know. It’s been over 20 years and no one has ‘fessed up.

But, I can tell you this: that box held more than a turkey and trimmings- it held grace.

Grace- is when you receive the opposite of what you deserve… forgiveness for sin… love for hate- joy for fear…The truth is- we deserved to go hungry. We’d made awful decisions. The fear we felt, was real. And it was caused by us. We’d put ourselves at risk… for a little Christmas magic.

Instead, we received a banquet.

The gifts under the tree are long forgotten, but that box of grace, is not.  I’d love to say that night changed our financial story.. but it didn’t. Not then.

It has taken years for us to get a clue. But, i’m hoping.. that if you’ve popped by here today- feeling that hot shame of lame financial decisions… or the temptation to try and buy your way out of feeling poor.. that you’ll find a bit of grace in our story.

Maybe- it’s not even about money for you.. maybe it’s something altogether different…

There is grace for everything…. it’s the true and perfect gift of Christmas…

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1: 1-14

Dear Lord- I pray grace for all who visit here.. and the courage to say “no” for those who struggle…. I love you lord- and thank you for that box and the grace it contained- may it be extended here- to any who need it– amen