Christmastime last year was a very difficult one for me. My husband was working a low-end temporary job making $15 an hour – with no time off for the holidays (not even Thanksgiving or Christmas). We had no Veteran’s benefits coming in yet. Neither of us had healthcare. We were living in an 850 square foot apartment with a very active three-year-old. Anxiety was high. We weren’t getting any counseling to help us with the transition to civilian life. Money was slim to none.
Money isn’t everything, but it sure helps. Money means you can buy the gifts you want for the people you love. It means red cups at Starbucks. It means picking up extras just because it’s Christmas.
We had none of that – not even space for a tree in our apartment. Instead, we were relying on the generosity of others, like gift cards the in-laws gave us just so we could buy gifts for each other.
I really struggled to find joy in the holiday season. I was apathetic at best, clinically depressed at worst.
I really tried to find the beauty in it all. I even wrote a blog post to encourage others in similar circumstances, entitled “If you don’t have a lot this Christmas.”
I had met a gal at the MOMS group I attend at another church. She asked how I was doing and all of my frustration just tumbled out. The next week she handed me a card. When I got to the parking lot and opened it up, there was $150 in gift cards for our family. $100 to a local grocery store, $25 gas card to BP, and $25 to Target.
The tears came and I sat there in my car just bawling. I had met this woman only a few months before, we had only spoken a few times, and here she was, giving to me.
When I told my husband about her gifts, he responded by telling me that we needed to give some of what she gave me to someone else in need. Can I tell you, honestly, how hard this was for me to hear? Everything within me wanted to say, “No, not this time. I know this is our family policy – to give a portion forward every time we receive – but not this Christmas. We need this too much.” But instead, I started looking for an opportunity to give, in spite of how much I wanted to hold onto the gifts we had been given.
There was another gal whose presence was slowly being made known to me around. I had started seeing her name pop up in the blogging comment box and in comments on Facebook in response to the things that I was writing. Things like this…
“This is absolutely amazing, Aprille. I struggle with the very same things…”
“I was nodding my head the whole time I was reading this post! …I’m so happy I found your blog and that you share so openly and honestly.”
“You provide kindred spirits with needed peace.”
After posting the “If you don’t have a lot this Christmas” post, I received a personal email from her saying this:
I have been so moved by your posts recently and wanted to thank you for being so open and honest about life’s challenges. Our family is constantly juggling, trying to make ends meet. It has been a very challenging past few years for us, but God always does provide in more ways than one, and one of His gifts to me has been your blog.
Keep writing, take heart, know you are not alone and that your voice is heard and appreciated!
You are in my prayers. If you have anything specific you’d like our family to pray for, please let me know and we will gladly add it to our Advent Tree prayers.
Her words were such an encouragement to me that I wrote her back personally. I told her thanks for her words and gave her some things that she could pray for my family about.
And then I asked her, “Can you send me your address – if that’s not too weird coming from a stranger?”
She sent it back and the next day I mailed her the Target gift card that the gal from MOMS had given me.
A week later I received an email that said this:
Oh my heavens, thank you! A hundred times thank you! I cannot even begin to express how blessed we are by your generosity. How much we needed a boost this very day. I was sifting through a stack of bills that arrived in the mail today, panic rising, when your card surfaced – it was like receiving a miracle.
I am so blessed by your friendship, your writing, and your giving heart. I have learned and continue to learn so much from you. Have I told you that you introduced me to Allume, the conference, the amazing women and writers? You did – and it has truly changed my life. I cannot wait to attend next year’s conference. No matter how much I have to scrimp and save, I’m going to make it happen. Will you be there? I hope so!
From there, we friended each other on Facebook. In January we hopped on Google Hangout and video conferenced for the first time. We hit it off amazingly – us in our messy hair and no-makeup faces and kids and husbands in and out.
Then we started Voxing each other. Conversations happened deep and often.
I’ve never met anyone with whom I have so much in common. We regularly joke about how we are the same person.
Katie is my blogging bestie, co-host of Faithful Fitness Friday, brain-child behind 31 Days of Supporting the Special Needs Family, my biggest advocate in getting Ezra into behavioral treatment, and in October we were able to meet in person at Allume.
We have done blogging together, but more importantly, we have done life together – in spite of the nearly 800 miles that separate us.
It started out in me giving to her, but I think she has given back to me by pouring into my life almost daily, a hundred-fold. Two itty-bitty blogs and a $25 gift card has grown into one of the best friendships I’ve ever had.
This Christmas, things are better for both of us. Katie and her family are almost out of debt and my family is receiving not just monetary veterans benefits, but counseling and help for the things our family is going through.
If I had had a lot last Christmas, I probably never would have written that blog post. I wouldn’t have received such a generous gift from my friend at MOMS. Katie probably wouldn’t have emailed me. I never would have sent her a gift card. And I would have missed out on her friendship.
This year Katie and her family are doing Project Advent Tree again. If you need prayer or are facing discouragement this holiday season, head on over to see what it’s all about and let her love on you a bit.