Sunday, December 25, 2011

What were you, born in a barn?

I've been thinking long and hard about what I was going to write for Christmas Day--yes, I'm calling it Christmas.  If you have a problem with that, get over it.  And, I know, I don't usually post any blogs on the weekends, but today is a special occasion.

Several points came to mind, although all seemed to be a retelling of my Thanksgiving blog.

Two years ago, I witnessed a single act of generosity that almost brought me to tears--okay, it did, I'll just admit it.  I'm man enough to admit that I cried.  And in front of my kids too.  In fact, now that I think about it, this act of generosity had a profound effect on my kids.

Let's just say on that day we were broke.  I mean down-on-our-luck broke and it was a few weeks before Christmas.  This was a very low point in our life--funny how our lives have been like a roller coaster ride, with much of it riding along the bottom--where I would dread each day as I checked the balance in our checking account, fearful to hear the word "overdrawn".  I believe in those days we probably had more days in the negative than we did in the positive.

Being broke had nothing to do with the economy nor my lack of employment.  I had two jobs--the same two I have now--with one being a full time job as a sales rep for an electronics distributor (per company policy, I cannot disclose their name) and the part time job as a law enforcement officer.  Our money problems stemmed from our lack of budgeting--something we gladly learned because of a financial guru Dave Ramsey (for those who haven't taken his Financial Peace University I highly suggest clicking on the link and finding a class near you) and our own hard work.

On this day, it was a Saturday evening and I was in Grand Forks, ND, at a SuperOne grocery store.  I had my list of things to get (and, boy, I just got those very items and nothing more--hell, we couldn't afford it anyway).  Some things were items such as toilet paper, which there was no sale on but I could find at a bargain.  Other things were on sale.  I remember standing in the aisles, stretching the dollars as much as I could.  To say I was stressed is an understatement.  We had bounced so many damn checks in those days and even a few came back NSF--and sent on to whatever checking collection company they used to handle these.  Weird thing of it is, those checking collection companies were some of the nicest people to talk to, and understood our plight and worked with us.  Collection companies used by all of the major credit card companies like Discover, Chase, Capital One, and Citibank are not so nice--yes, I've gotten myself wrapped in their clutches too.

The grocery bill only came to a little over thirty dollars--not bad for a man and his wife's list.  For some reason, I remember the lady who was being checked out in front of me.  I'm not sure why.  It's not like she was a supermodel or a movie star or anything.  She was just a lady, probably the same age as my mother.  Probably the reason I remember her even prior to checking out is because I was running through my mind what I thought the grocery bill would come to and guessing what I had in our checking account.  The lady also, if I recall, had these canvas bags to put her groceries in, so she didn't have to use any of the store's plastic bags.  I thought this was a good idea, but when you can barely afford TP, canvas bags don't fit in the budget.

After I checked out, and thanking God for the check clearing, I gathered up my kids and started walking to the car.  That's when she stopped me.  That same lady--who I'm sure of it probably saw me in the grocery store as I contemplated which package of toilet paper was the best buy or not--was standing by the front door.

"Excuse me," she said to me, as I neared her, "but I don't see any Salvation Army kettles and I'd like to give this to you."

In her hand was $40 cash.

"Thank you," I said, the whole world seeming to close in around me.  I couldn't believe a complete stranger would just hand me money.  Some would say I probably looked pathetic enough--bargaining for toilet paper will have that affect on people--but I think it was nothing short of miraculous.

"Merry Christmas," she said, and walked out to her car.

"Merry Christmas."

My kids were speechless for several minutes as I mentally picked myself off the floor and collected myself.  I barely remember walking out to my car.  I called my wife (on a cheap Nokia cell phone nonetheless; no iPhone or SmartPhone for us) and said to her, "Do you believe in miracles?"

I told her what happened.

We both cried.

To this day, when I talk about being generous to others, my kids will ask me, "Like what that lady did to us?"

Yes, that's exactly what I mean.

Okay, $40 doesn't seem like much, but when you have nothing--and these were days when I'd go to the bank to take out $20 right after I just got paid from my two jobs and discovered my paycheck barely covered what we were overdrawn on--anything will help.

So this Christmas season, remember those who don't have much and are working their tails off just to make ends meet.  And especially remember the origin of this holiday . . . the one born in a barn.

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