by: Annette M. Hall
Holiday gift giving can be tough enough when the family finances are in order. When money is stretched to the limit — Christmas can be especially stressful. Let's face it, our children have expectations, no matter how well we have tried to keep the commercial aspects out of the festivities.
Several years ago our family was faced with hard-times. Our finances were quite frankly, non-existent. The holiday's were looming upon us, with no relief in site. We were struggling to keep food on the table, while our son was busy making Christmas lists. He still believed in Santa and was expecting a visit from the jolly old man. We didn't want to disappoint him but our prospects weren't looking good.
We had called around to the various charities only to find that most holiday lists were already filled, our chances for getting help, were looking pretty bleak. I was depressed and stressed out. I just wanted the season to be over and quickly. It was hard to keep up appearances for our sons sake, who at age 6 really couldn't understand how hard things were for us at that time.
I tried to pray, I really did but was feeling like my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling. Everything seemed so hopeless and I couldn't see past our current circumstances.
I talked to my family and explained that we would not be giving gifts and we would not be able to spend the holidays with them because of our finances. I also asked for advice on where to obtain help in our area from a friend on a local homeschooling list. We had been moving around a great deal, seeking work and were not very familiar with the charities in our immediate area.
My family was understanding and my friend gave me a few suggestions and then asked for a list of our needs. I made a few phone calls and was able to get some much needed groceries a couple of days later.
I began to get busy using what little we had on hand, in an attempt to put together some sort of Christmas for our son. I was desperate for gift ideas and grasping at straws. I gathered colored index cards, stickers and markers. I decided to make cards for our son that he could use at-will. The coupons were for items like:
The possiblities are endless, they are only limited by your imagination, your child's age and personal interests.
I made laminated cards (we have our own laminator) for anything I could think of that would be something my son would want and most importantly, wouldn't cost us anything but time. I used the stickers and markers to decorate both sides of the cards, trying to make them appear festive. In my wildest dreams, I would never have imagined what a huge hit they were. My son was thrilled with these cards. He said these cards were the best gift he had ever received (keep in mind he was 6 at the time). The child (now 12) still likes to earn them today by doing extra chores or as a reward for a job well done. In fact as I work on this page, he keeps popping in and talking about them.
I still have those cards and keep them as a reminder of those tough times, when we worried we wouldn't survive the harsh winter and rough economic times.
About a week before Christmas I was thrown for a loop. My niece and her husband had taken it upon themselves to purchase gifts and groceries for our family. Out of the blue I had a knock at the door and standing on my doorstep was my mother, sister, niece and her husband with a gaggle of children in tow.
I was less than excited about the visit because no one had bothered to call and I was in no mood for company. It wasn't long before the tears began to flow as bags and bags of groceries and gifts were unloaded. We were very touched by their thoughtfulness, especially since my family is not a rich one and I knew for a fact that this was a sacrifice for them.
My niece had even purchased gifts from "Santa" for my son to open on Christmas day. They stayed a few hours and even helped me put up Christmas decorations that had been still in the boxes. I just didn't have the heart to tackle the job.
A few days later my homeschool friend showed up with a gift basket, a $50 gift certificate and gifts for the entire family. We had been adopted by our local homeschool group and everyone had donated items for our family. I will never forget their kindness as long as I live.
As you can imagine I was feeling much better about the looming holiday and thanking God for our wonderful family and friends. Then the phone rang again. Someone had donated gift certificates to a local charity and we would be receiving a $100 gift certificate in the mail, which could be used at Meijers.
I was pinching myself, when the telephone rang yet again. The local fire department had received some unexpected donations and they had a gift basket for us, could we please come pick it up. I was beginning to feel very guilty by now because our cupboards were already stocked to the brim. Not only did we have a ham for Christmas but we now had three turkeys in the freezer as well. I felt as though God had opened up the Heavens and was pouring out his blessings on our family. Even the thought of it today, almost eight years later, brings tears to my eyes.
We debated on what to do but decided that we should pick up the basket because we had no idea when we would be able to work again and no prospects at the time. So, I called my girl friend to see if I could get a ride to pick up the gift basket, she told me I could borrow her car for a few days that she would not be needing it. (We had driven our van for a year without reverse and it had finally died, which is why were in such terrible shape to begin with.) The area where we lived didn't have public transportation and walking over three miles in the freezing cold and snow to look for work was not an option. I wasn't physically capable.
My dear sweet friend, not only loaned me her car but she gave it to us in exchange for computer work my husband had done for her, after purchasing a new one for herself. Her generosity will never be forgotten and one day I hope to be able to pass along the love she showed me that day as she handed me the keys along with the money to purchase insurance and register the vehicle.
I am proud to report, not a single morsel of food went to waste. We were able to help my youngest sister with a turkey and bags of groceries. She was struggling just as bad as we had been. We also were able to show my brother-in-law the Christmas spirit and delivered a turkey and sacks of groceries to him as well. His cupboard was almost totally bare and he had lost a tremendous amount of weight due to his financial hardship. It felt good to be able to help others who were also in need. It was especially wonderful to be able to see him again, driving our new car, since it had been months between visits.
Not a penny of money from the gift cards went to waste either. We were able to use them not only for necessities like toilet tissue and laundry soap but also for gas for the car, so that we could find work.
That precious car enabled us to finally get back to work and back on our feet.
I have never in my life been the recipient of such an outpouring of love and kindness. It was overwhelming and very touching to see so many people work so hard to help our family in this time of need. I'm certain that those who gave, have no idea just how much their generosity touched our family and helped us to get back on our feet.
I learned several things that winter:
I wrote this article back in the fall of 2004. I have to tell you that God has continued to bless our family in many ways since those bleak dark days back in Michigan. That gift of a car we received was finally laid to rest early this spring. Additionally, generous clients donated a van to us, which we gratefully accepted, then donated to another couple who were down on their luck. I hope it brings them much joy and happiness to their lives.
Our business is flourishing and we are pleased to report that God has used to us to bless many other families, just as he has blessed us and continues to bless us. I have to warn you — giving can become addictive. We have found some people like to take advantage of us, but we try to let the Lord lead us in the right direction. You just can't fool God in the end.
I want to challenge you this year. If you are in need this holiday season, don't be afraid to ask for help. Make your needs known to your friends, family and local charity. If you have plenty, why not adopt a family? There are many adopt-a-family programs to choose from. Donate to your local charity, church or foundation, be a blessing to our troops overseas or invite someone to share your holiday table. If we all give a little, we can share our hope with those who are in despair, blessing both the giver and the receiver.
I wish you a happy holiday season, filled with faith, hope and charity.
May the joy of the Lord fill your hearts this Christmas season and all throughout the year.
For best results use a sturdy white card stock, we used 60# card stock in our test, which will hold up well, especially if you don't plan to laminate the cards. You may wish to take a dry run, to be sure you know which way to feed the paper into your printer. If the paper is inserted correctly the cards should line up exactly.
You may choose to print only one-side - only one-side is actually needed. If you choose to laminate, using a full-page laminator, you should do so before the cards are cut. For best results follow the instructions on your laminator.
Updated November 9, 2010