On a dark December night four years ago, I received an unexpected gift — a gift which left me standing alone in the mudroom cradling a gargantuan black garbage bag in my weepy arms.
This gift was set into motion, unbeknownst to me, one week before…
It had been late November and Christmas was fast approaching, accompanied by a building wave of overwhelm:
- I was weary with holiday shopping lists, daily school reminders, and energy-consuming traditions.
- My oldest child was acting out.
- My preschooler begged for attention.
- A fog of late postpartum depression held me stubbornly in its hopeless grip.
- And my toddler had just discovered a thrilling new treat — licking the bottom of our toilet each time we mistakenly left the bathroom door ajar.
I was exhausted. A walking mom-bie. Did I have a personality? Maybe. I think so. Probably somewhere.
That November night, the night the gift was conceived, I felt a nudge. As I struggled to load the dishwasher and start supper with three bouncing children at my feet, I experienced a gentle stir in my heart. And I knew.
Really, Lord? I can’t. I don’t know how I could manage that.
Even while I battled inwardly, I knew.
Even as the dishes were being rinsed and I clinked them into their places inside the dishwasher rack, I knew.
Even as I wondered when I would find time to buy that white button-up shirt and those black dress pants which were required for the elementary Christmas concert the following day, I knew.
Even as I side-stepped over my son with his pile of cars and favorite Hotwheels track set up in the middle of the kitchen floor, I knew.
Fine, I finally sighed, but I can’t do this without you. I have no energy to spare.
Several minutes later, after everyone was dressed in winter gear, we all plowed through the deep snow across our backyard.
I carried my one-year-old daughter and my two stumbling, rolling, snow-angel-making boys trailed behind me.
Stepping through the trees that divided our lot from the neighbor’s, we made our way to their back porch and rang the doorbell. From outside, I heard a voice yell, “someone get the door!” followed by shuffling feet.
The door creaked open.
A red-haired boy stood in front of me. I asked to speak to his mother. Leaving the door wide open, the middle-school-aged child disappeared around the corner. I heard more muffled conversation and shuffling before his mother appeared.
I awkwardly explained why I was interrupting their family supper hour.
We chatted a few minutes on her doorstep:
me, offering to give her daughter a ride home from school because I pick up my son after school every day and I pass by her daughter walking in the cold and I feel like a brutal neighbor passing her little girl by while my own child is sitting cozy in a heated vehicle; and
her, thanking me kindly but declining.
I bumbled some sort of reply and trudged back home to finish supper.
“Well, Lord,” I breathed, greatly relieved. “I don’t know what the point of that was, if she was just going to say no anyway, but I guess I obeyed.”
One week later, I heard a loud knock outside my kitchen window after dark.
I opened the back door, revealing my neighbor’s three children standing in a row in the snow. The boy with the red hair extended his arms toward me, in which he held an extra-large garbage bag.
Clearly, there was something inside of it, although I couldn’t tell what.
“This is for you,” he said, taking one step forward. “And my mom told us to say, ‘thanks for being so nice to my kids’.”
I reached out to take hold of the package and stuttered a ‘thank you’ before they vanished into the black December night.
Tears welled with genuine surprise. I had never received a thank you like this before and I was speechless, standing alone in the entrance, holding my garbage bag present.
Back in the kitchen, I untied the bag and eagerly peered inside. A huge bouquet of flowers smiled up at me, lovingly arranged in a glass vase with sparkling Christmas leaves and a rhinestone butterfly, which clung to a thick stem.
I gasped, lifting joy and color up out of the bag and placing it directly in front of the kitchen window.
What was it that had I done for these children that was ‘so nice’, I wondered.
I thought back over the brief interactions we’d had in the two short years that we had been neighbors: cookies and juice offered on a hot summer afternoon when my children and I were already playing outside; homemade tomato soup and freshly baked carrot muffins brought to the neighbors on a cool, fall day; invites extended to welcome them into our backyard to play…
These were such small things. Things I had asked God to use, if he could, because they were all I could give.
I stared at the gift — Christmas cheer in a vase — and I cried because of what the gift represented.
- It was God, loving me.
- It was God, showing his pleasure in my obedience.
- It was God, acknowledging that I am seen, not only by my neighbors, but also by my heavenly Father.
That Christmas season, every time I saw those flowers in my window, I believed.
I believed that I was loved and understood.
I believed that God could use my “little” and turn it into something beautiful.
Take the next step! Has the Holy Spirit been nudging you, too? Don’t ignore him. Good things are in store for those who obey His still, small voice. 🙂
With much love,
Sara Jane Kehler