Gifts to a Holiday Stranger

One Christmas Eve afternoon when our daughters were little, my husband was nowhere to be found, and I felt annoyed and inconvenienced. I was baking peanut butter balls and Christmas sugar cookies by the dozens, there were Santa gifts still to wrap, and I was behind schedule on the preparations for the Christmas Day Feast. As if that wasn’t enough, we were supposed to go to the family Christmas Eve service at church, which meant everyone had to be dressed and ready to leave the house by 5:30 pm. There was no way I could get it all done by myself.

As my anger increased it distracted me and made me careless. I burned two batches of cookies into black lumps of coal and had to throw them away. I called my daughters by each other’s names and didn’t even notice. I spilled my coffee all over the kitchen floor and traipsed through it in my white fluffy slippers. By the time Neil got home my holiday cheer was long gone. As his carefree face bounced into the kitchen, I noticed he was flushed and smelled faintly of alcohol. That was all I needed to explode.

“How dare you spend the afternoon out drinking and celebrating while I’m here cooking and cleaning by myself. You are so selfish sometimes!”

He sat down at the kitchen table, rubbed his stubble of unshaved beard and said, “You’re right. I am selfish sometimes. But today isn’t one of them.”

He told me about a 13-year-old boy whose dad was arrested a few weeks ago. The boy had been in two different foster homes since Thanksgiving, and ran away from the second one. He ended up with a family Neil knew, and although they promised he could stay for Christmas, they couldn’t offer anything more.

Neil’s tender heart was deeply touched by the story. He understood the uncertainty of foster care and the pain of uncelebrated holidays. He took the money he saved to buy new work tools and spent the first few hours of his afternoon shopping. The next few hours were spent tracking down the boy, since he had run away again.

“Do you know how hard it is to shop for a teenage boy?” he asked. “Especially one that you don’t even know?” Having three daughters, shopping for a young man was not something we knew much about. Using his imagination, though, Neil covered all the bases: books, video games, candy, and even found an old guitar at the antique store. And in a small Christmas miracle, he found the boy, whose shocked expression made it all worthwhile.

Ashamed of my angry outburst I apologized. At church a little while later, I thought about the afternoon. Christmas isn’t about cookies and fancy dinners; it’s not about the presents. Why do I forget so easily? It’s about a baby boy born 2000 years ago, about a God who loves us so much He gave us the greatest gift of all.

Neil’s offerings to another poor boy reminded me, and it was the best gift I got that year.


  1. What a wonderful remembrance of what it s all about, in opposition to what we sometimes think it is about!!! You are so gifted in bringing truth to life in today’s world!!!

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