And Then There Were Presents; But What if There Hadn’t Been?

 If you have read our book, Swaying in the Treetops, then you already know that Christmas for our family is a season of faith and trusting God for provision. This year was another interesting year.

After God’s incredible, even miraculous, provision that allowed us to travel and complete Scott’s cancer treatments in the spring, He suddenly seemed to go very quiet.

On June 26, 2016, after weeks of financial struggles, I started a journal. I wanted to keep track of my thoughts and my prayers — and of God’s answers. Answers that, from experience, I knew would come eventually.

On July 19, 2016, my journaled cry for help said simply, “God, where are you???” 

The following months were full of entries that included my cries for help and God’s answers to my prayers when He sent those. But many times, we waited days or weeks for desperate answers. I won’t go into all of those details, here, but we will probably share much about these months in our next book.

On Thanksgiving night, the children drew names as part of our annual Secret Sibling Gift Swap. They love this part of Christmas better than any other part. They spend the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas thinking about what their secret sibling would love to have, and then we sneak in moments here and there to shop online for just the perfect gifts. It’s such a fun part of the season for all of us as the house comes alive with the buzz of secrets and excitement and anticipation.

But there was no money to begin shopping for these gifts, and as we moved into December, we continued praying about Christmas for the children.

And God remained quiet.

Dear friends who run a local tree farm made sure we got a Christmas tree, just as they have done every year for the past decade. Oh, how we thanked God for that tree! And it was such a beautiful tree, and our home was filled with joy as we decorated it together, asking God to help us just be in that moment and leave tomorrow in His hands.

Christmas Tree Day #9
Christmas Tree Day #13Christmas Tree Day #13
Christmas Tree Day #14Christmas Tree Day #15
Christmas Tree Day #16Christmas Tree Day #17
But day after day passed, and the floor around this beautiful tree remained empty. I began to wonder if this might be the year God would ask us to experience a Christmas without gifts.
Christmas Tree Day #18

This wasn’t the first year we have wondered that, as we shared in our book. And each year that we are faced with this question, my heart longs to embrace it willingly if this is God’s plan.

But each year, my humanness trembles with fear at the thought, and I have to admit to myself that I want to be able to give my children presents. And this desire always leads me to the question, “Do you want to give your children presents more than you want to follow God’s plans?”

In the end, God provided gifts for all of us to give to each other. It started as a bit of a trickle as friends who knew nothing about our current situation sent money that made it possible for us to buy coats for the few kids who needed them this year. Then more friends from Alabama texted to say they had a financial gift for our family. Other friends from another state sent a financial gift, and little by little, we were able to begin shopping for the kids.

Financial gifts, some sent anonymously, continued to come from completely unexpected places until we were able to finish all of our shopping for everyone and cover some bills we hadn’t been able to pay. Gifts weren’t extravagant, and a number of them were bought used from eBay, but they were perfectly suited to each child’s special needs, level of development, and areas of interest.

And God didn’t stop. The trickle increased to the point of a full-blown shower of blessings.

  • Neighbors who, again didn’t know about our need when they approached us, pulled together resources from friends at work and from their family members and provided gloves and hats; craft items; needed items for our kitchen, like a toaster and a blender; a new huge grill for our deck; homemade blankets for the kids’ beds . . .
  • Someone secretly left bags of gifts on our front porch, and each child got one special gift that was incredibly matched to that child’s challenges and/or hobbies.
  • Other friends secretly ordered beautiful fleece throws embroidered with each person’s name. We all love using these on chilly family movie nights!
  • A steady stream of gift cards from Target, Walmart, Kroger, and Sears, as well as Visa gift cards, took care of covering the cost of special Christmas baking, wrapping supplies, and some other needs.
  • Other friends wrote to us and offered to handle the overwhelming cost and task of ordering color-coded towels for every person in our family and having them shipped directly to us.
Christmas Tree Day #4

New hats and gloves

Choosing blankets1

Roslyn choosing a new homemade blanket for her bed

Choosing Blankets2

Owen choosing a new homemade blanket for his bed

Grill Being Assembled

New grill being assembled in our family room

Gifts from Anonymous Person 12-16

Casacading gifts from an anonymous “Santa”

Ertl's Amazing Surprise

Embroidered fleece throws

Baking Cookies 12-16

Let the baking begin

Baking Christmas Pies 12-16

Sibling Gift Wrapping

Lilyan wrapping her Secret Sibling Gift

Towels from Brian and Sharon Horton

New towels for every family member

Where did all of these people come from? We firmly believe that God moved each person’s heart to be a part of our Christmas story this year. And we were deeply, deeply touched by the generosity of their hearts and their willingness to follow God’s prompting.

There is just no way that we will ever be able to say thank you for the amazing love that was showered on us during this past holiday season. But this blog post is my attempt to try to express how much each of you mean to us. How your generosity and love, your prayers and your gifts blessed us beyond anything we could’ve imagined at the beginning of this holiday season.

It’s our way of trying to remind you that God used you in such tangible ways to meet the needs of our family during a very difficult time. To hopefully enable you to see that you are a part of the incredible story God is writing through our unusual family.

It is our desire that you not underestimate what an important piece of our lives you each have been during a year when we sometimes needed reminders of God’s faithfulness and willingness to always hear our prayers. Thank you with all our hearts. And we pray that God will bless you abundantly in return.

But this post is also more than that.

It’s also an attempt to share/confess the fragility of our faith compared with God’s great faithfulness; to examine His huge benevolence as we grapple with learning what things are genuine needs and which are merely desires; and to focus on His loving sovereignty that chooses the very best path for each of us in every season of our lives.

So I ask myself — what if God had chosen not to send these material blessings? What if the floor around that tree had remained empty? 

Chatting with Santa1

Catching up with Santa since last year’s chat

Chatting with Santa3
Chatting with Santa3
Chatting with Santa2

Scott and I did a lot of talking and praying about what kind of an example we wanted to set for our children during those days and weeks of uncertainty. This quote expressed the desires our hearts:

“Men are apt to think of God by his worshippers, and by the people that profess themselves near and dear to Him; therefore it concerns us to walk so that our lives may honour Him. There is no way to honour God entirely and sincerely until we have learned both to know and to do His will. So you see what need we have to go to God, that He will give us grace that we may please Him and glorify His name.”
~ Thomas Manton (1620–1677)

There is no place where it’s more important than in our own homes — in front of our own children — to “walk so that our lives may honor Him.” So we prayed often that God would enable us to accept His will about what our family Christmas should look like and that we might “please Him and glorify His name.”

And more than once, we failed to do this in the ways we longed to do it.

On the days when we felt scared or sad, and not at all strong in our faith, we made sure to talk openly about this with our children. We knew they would sense it anyway, and we always believe that anything that hints of hypocrisy is one of the most damaging things we can bring into our children’s lives. They need honesty from us.

They were all surprisingly comforted by hearing that we experienced times of doubting and fear and sadness because they had been struggling with their own guilt over these same emotions.

There were beautiful moments in our family room, around that empty Christmas tree, when we all encouraged each other, prayed together, quoted Scripture, and reminded each other of God’s promises. And I believe we all grew a bit in our ability to trust through this past season, just as we all grew even closer to each other through these moments.

I also believe that, had God decided this was a year when He was not going to send gifts, His light and joy and presence would’ve filled our home and made it a beautiful Christmas, and that He would’ve given us grace and enabled us to praise Him and celebrate this wonderful season.

I know this because I know that we can trust Him to always decide what is best for us — what will best refine us and make us more like Him as He has promised to do.

I know this in my head, at least. There are times when my heart lags behind a bit. 

After the holidays were past, some of our children began experiencing unexpected medical problems again. Kathryn was one of these as her body suddenly developed significant issues with urinary retention. This is so painful for her. As she was going through her most recent bout with this and whimpering in pain, I was struck by her ability to trust us even when she is hurting. She sat with me on the couch and looked into my face just waiting for me to make things better for her. Innocently trusting that I could and would take away her pain and care for her.

And, once again, I longed for this kind of child-like trust in my Father. He knows what’s best. I want to face every day, even Christmas when it comes around again, trusting Him to do what’s best for us.

I pray, “Deepen my relationship with you God. Deepen it to a place where circumstances don’t affect my ability and willingness to follow wherever you lead; to accept, even embrace, whatever you deem to be good and right and beautiful.”

But I pray this while squeezing my eyes closed and maybe even flinching a bit. Because I do want to grow. I DO want to grow.

But, oh how painful growth can sometimes be.

Tree With Presents 12-16

Our tree, standing nobly over gifts for each family member

2 thoughts on “And Then There Were Presents; But What if There Hadn’t Been?

  1. Pingback: Treading Water | Where Love Learns Its Lessons

  2. Crying as I read this. How amazing the body of Christ is as we rely on him to meet our needs. Growth hurts so bad, but I want it so badly too!

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