I was reflecting on the giving tree at our church and smiling to think of the families who will get a gift for Christmas because of someone else’s giving heart.
It always brings me back to the story of the blessing my family received the year my dad died. That was fifty-one years ago and the gift keeps on giving in the hearts of our family members.
I share this with you to bless you as you prepare for this Christmas season. The article was on the front page of the Montana Standard and the Anaconda Leader in 2006, my Mom’s last Christmas on earth. What a blessing it was for me to give her the memory of that story when her memory was fading day by day because of dementia.
Story lives. Story gives.
Thanks to a loving community, the harsh reality of cancer was forgotten for our family during Christmas 1965.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, lung cancer had stolen away our beloved dad, Bob Devine. Mom’s first words after he died were “Now what are we going to do?” With medical bills exceeding $10,000 and a bank account wiped out, she feared the worst.
At age 44, although she had overcome the challenges of a high school injury that left her crippled, Mom had no idea how to deal with the reality of her life as a widow with 10 children. The situation looked grim as Christmas day closed in.
My teenage siblings pitched in to make the season feel somewhat normal. They cut down a fresh tree and dragged the boxes of decorations from the basement.
Dad loved to watch his 10 children scramble for their favorite ornament and carefully place it on the branches of the evergreen. Jim and Jack, the 15-year-old twins, lifted 4-year-old Patti on their shoulders placing the angel on top of the 10-foot pine, something Dad used to do. Christmas would be different without him, but this one would be remembered for the rest of our lives.
Imagine the mystery and surprise when each day Christmas angels emptied their pocketbooks to fill a deep void left in our hearts. They filled our front and back porches with Christmas love. There were sacks of potatoes, bags of flour and sugar, apples and oranges, boxes of cereal, turkeys, hams and roasts. One egg carton arrived with a $100 bill tucked neatly inside. Wrapped gift boxes marked “boy” or “girl” were quickly hidden to save the Christmas morning surprise for the kids who still believed in Santa.
Although she claimed not to believe in Santa, 13-year-old Kathy was forced to say “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” as she watched us trip over the packages on Christmas morning. Yet, Santa was not a singular noun, like our English teacher mom had taught us. Santa was an entire community, dear sweet Anaconda.
We were overwhelmed by clothes and coats; a train, a race car set; Monopoly and Mouse Trap games, dolls with beautiful dresses, ice skates, sleds and skis. The most overwhelming thing was the look on mom’s face as she watched her cherished 10 squeal with delight at the surprises.
Mom would not have been able to buy any toys this year, just a month after losing dad. At a time when her future was uncertain and worry caused sleepless nights, loving friends and strangers gave her something to smile about.
To this day, we do not know the names of the Christmas angels who blessed us in 1965. No one ever came forward to take credit. God knows who was responsible for this incredible blessing that lives on in our hearts.
This gift of love has motivated me to help needy families in my community. One year we witnessed the excited smiles as we delivered food and wrapped gifts to a Romanian family with 13 children. Christmas 1965 came alive in my heart that day.
Severe dementia has stolen mom’s ability to tell this story herself, but for years it was a favorite told to her family. As she lives her remaining years in a nursing home, I am telling the story for her.
May the blessing of Christmas live long in your hearts as you choose to pass it on to those in need. The impact you had on our family will never be forgotten.
Thank you, Anaconda.
— Gigi Devine Murfitt is a freelance writer living in Woodinville, Wash., with her husband, Steve, and sons, Zane and Gabe. She and her husband have recently established Gabriel’s Foundation of Hope, a non-profit organization serving families who deal with a disabled family member.
It IS better to give than to receive.
And it is so much fun to watch others receive that unexpected surprise.
I share with you a video I found on YouTube of what JCPenney did to several random customers to make their Christmas special. They gave the opportunity for customers to give and for others to receive.
My hope is to inspire you to give. If you’d like to help our church with the Giving Tree, click the link and find out more.
Bless you with a giving heart.