by Jolita Peterson
As I pulled in the parking lot of the Salvation Army, my chest tightened with anxiety. It was a few weeks before Christmas, and around me were needy families picking up Christmas boxes. I was acutely aware that I looked different from most of the people there. My shiny minivan, my skin color, even my clothes made me feel like I stuck out like a sore thumb. But like everyone else there, I had arrived not to give, but to receive.
The past eighteen months had been heart-achingly difficult. My husband’s failed business and months of unemployment, the death of his dream and a current job that hadn’t become a full-time salary had taken their toll on our family’s finances, emotions, health and spirits. That Christmas, he’d finally found a full-time job but it wasn’t going to start until January. Now we faced our second December in a row without the means to pay monthly bills, let alone purchase Christmas gifts.
Several weeks earlier a neighbor who worked for the Salvation Army asked for our kids’ sizes and Christmas wishes. “I’m going to put your family on the list for Christmas boxes,” she told me. I protested. Surely there were families who deserved it more than we did. But she insisted, so I reluctantly gave in. When I got off the phone with her, I was surprised, humbled and conflicted.
So here I was in the parking lot, thoughts tumbling inside me like socks in the dryer. As I slowly walked into the building, I told God my frustrations. I don’t want to be here! This isn’t fair! Hasn’t this year been hard enough? Why do we have to endure more suffering? Why haven’t you provided for us? Why are we reduced to this?
I tried not to be self-conscious as I handed my letter to the attendant. She reviewed her list and said, “Family number 25.” Her assistant disappeared into a room with rows of large green and red Rubbermaid tubs. Then she turned to me. “Do you have a big car?” The assistant returned, pushing a cart full of tubs bearing the label “25” and I realized they were all for us.
I thanked them both and pushed the cart to my van. That’s when it hit me. This is how God was providing for us. It definitely wasn’t how I had dreamed, but we were being taken care of.
As I loaded the tubs, I peeked inside them. There was a tub for each of my children, with toys, clothes and shoes, all in their sizes. There were two tubs of food and paper items. Then I saw two tubs with my name and my husband’s name, with clothing for us too. I closed my eyes, tears streaming down my face. God, I’m so sorry, I breathed. Shame washed over me, mingled with gratitude. Minutes earlier, I’d poured out complaints; now I was speechless with wonder. I had almost let pride keep me from an incredible blessing.
These days the tubs are still around the house. They’ve either been used for storage or to bless someone else. One, however, sits in my laundry room, with its label still on. Each time I see the “25,” I am reminded that God turned a humbling situation into an example of his goodness to me.