No matter how dark the night, the star of Christmas shines on, undimmed by human despair. May that same star fill your heart with light.
I was so busy this week at work. Trucking along just waiting for Thursday. My last day at work before my holiday celebration could begin. I didn’t want any extra work. I didn’t want to stay late. I only wanted to come in, do my job and get home to my boys. Keep it simple.
This week was anything but simple.
It all started with a phone call. I picked up the line and heard a soft, trembling voice on the other line.
“Are you all adopting any families for Christmas?” a girl asked.
“No, we don’t really do that. Just a few special situations for clients using our services.”
“Well, I heard from someone that you were. My dad used to be on your service. But he passed away over a year ago.”
It was already late in the day on Tuesday. I didn’t think there was anything I could do. Then I heard absolute desperation in her voice.
“Please. I have a 3-month-old, 18-month-old and a 7-year-old. I don’t have any money to buy them anything.”
I told her that I would try. I would page it out to all the staff and if I heard anything from someone that was willing to help I would call her back later that day. But I figured I wouldn’t be calling her back.
About a half hour later, a woman who used to volunteer at my company called asking if anyone might need a gift card to Walmart. She said she usually adopts a family each year but all she could do was a gift card this year. I gave her the woman’s phone number and took myself out of the middle. Like I said, I wanted to keep my week simple.
Later that night as I rushed to get my boys home from daycare I received a call from the volunteer from earlier. I have no idea why I even answered. I was running behind and had my hands full but something told me to answer. What I heard shook me to the core.
She told me that she had given the gift card to the woman but Christmas presents were the last things she needed. Her three boys, two babies and a 7-year-old, had no beds and were sleeping on the floor. Their heat had been turned off and the gas company would not turn it back on unless she pays $427 in past due bills. The young mom is on disability which is $690 per month. Her rent is $400, which means they live on $290.
I instantly felt terrible. I’m not kidding when I say I almost hung up on the poor woman earlier that day. I don’t work for a company whose main job is to participate in adopt-a-family initiatives. This was not in my job description. But something in me changed when I heard that there were babies sleeping on the floor. I mean, really, I know that there are many terrible stories of poverty in this world. But for whatever reason I received that phone call. The chance to help someone was laid in front of me. How could I say no?
That night I went into my boys’ bedroom. And there they slept, snug in their fleece pajamas and safe in their beds. I kissed both of their foreheads. I stood there for a minute watching them breathe in and out. And then I did something that forever changed me as a mom. I closed my eyes and pictured their room empty. A room with no crib or bed. No blankets. No warm air pushing out of the vent. I did something I never thought I would do. I pictured my babies sleeping on the floor. Hungry. Cold. Terrified.
And then I wept for that mother and the three children I had never met.
The next morning I put all other projects aside and started working on raising money to get this woman’s heat turned back on. We have about 250 employees at my company. I decided to page out the need for help to all of them thinking I might get a couple of calls in return. I received way more than that. In fact the rest of my day was spent on the phone with my wonderful coworkers all wanting to do something for this needy mother and her children. By the afternoon I had $350.
At one point I looked up and standing in my doorway was the assistant executive director. She had gone to Target on her lunch and brought back a pack & play, diapers, wipes, toys, clothing, and blankets. And things like that continued throughout the day. Every time I looked up someone else was asking me to tell them this woman’s story. They all wanted to know more. What size clothing should they buy? What else did they need? I could barely answer one person before starting the story all over again.
Before I went home that night I called the mom to tell her that I would come bearing gifts tomorrow afternoon. She was so grateful she could barely speak. I told her I didn’t know what all I would be bringing because more people might be donating the next day.
The next day I stood amazed as so many of my coworkers stopped by my office to hand me envelopes filled with cash. By the time I loaded up my car with all the goodies I had collected $750. In a little over 24 hours. I would be able to tell her face-to-face that her heat would be turned back on.
My coworker rode with me. They live in a very run-down house in a dangerous part of the city. When we pulled up to the house we knew it was bad. The house looked like the wind might blow it down. I climbed the stairs and approached the house. A sign read, “Trespassers will be shot.” I was a bit scared to knock on the door but they knew I was coming. I knocked on the door and the woman’s boyfriend opened with a smile. Then I saw the mom. One of the only times I’ve witnessed firsthand what poverty truly looks like.
She was morbidly obese. Her teeth completely yellow. But oh, how she smiled at me when I walked in the door. I immediately put my arms around her and hugged her. My friends will tell you that I am NOT a hugger. But this woman? Above all else, she needed a hug. She needed to know that someone loves her. And to tell you the truth, I do. She may not be a friend or family member but from the moment I saw her I felt like I had known her all my life.
Next I saw the 18-month-old crawling so fast to get to me. I didn’t even need to think about it. I grabbed him and hugged him tight. He was small for his age. He didn’t have any pants on. His diaper was so filled with urine that it draped to his knees. And he couldn’t walk yet. My heart broke into a million pieces. But even with all that he was laughing. He was smiling. He was content, completely oblivious to the dire situation in which he lives.
Although my heart was already broken it shattered into a million more tiny shards at the sight of the three-month-old. He was cute as a button. But skinny. I asked the mom if she was breastfeeding or formula feeding. When she told me she was formula feeding my heart sank. Not because I don’t like formula but because I know this baby needed his mama’s FREE milk more than anything else.
The tiny baby was sitting in the car seat. I brushed the back of my hand across his forehead. He felt warm and she said he had a bad cold. This was not surprising. With no heat it was freezing in the house. The 7-year-old was wearing a coat inside to keep warm.
I told her that the heat was going to be turned back on because we had raised enough money to pay the past due amount. With a look of complete shock she and her boyfriend hugged. They showed me the room where they had all been sleeping on the floor at night. But not anymore. We brought a crib for the 3-month-old, a pack & play for the 18-month-old and a blow up bed for the 7-year-old. I gave her phone numbers of places that might be able to assist her family. I could only assume that there is a severe lack of education leading to a lack of resources. It’s not like she has a computer with internet to look these things up.
But above all, I stood there and talked and laughed with her. She was on the verge of tears the entire time. I was too. A part of me wanted to grab the two babies and run home. Another part of me wanted to stay there with them so they knew that someone cared.
Obviously, I could do neither. I had to leave. Without the babies. But with the hope that maybe, just maybe, those babies will sleep snug and warm in their new beds.
On Christmas Eve, I again went into my boys’ bedroom. And there they slept, snug in their fleece pajamas and safe in their beds. I kissed both of their foreheads. I stood there for a minute watching them breathe in and out. I closed my eyes again, only this time I pictured the mom standing in her boys’ room. I pictured her smiling as her boys slept in their new beds. Warm and loved. I pictured them waking up to fresh diapers and warm milk and toys under the tree.
And then I climbed into bed with hope planted firmly in my heart.