Stop me if I’ve told you this story before, but this is probably one of my most gut-wrenching Christmas stories that I’ve ever personally witnessed. I’m not sharing this story for sympathy, although, I have been known to tell stories for that end. I’m telling this story because it’s just plain, good storytelling.
After I graduated from high school in 1994 (to me, years are important), my family moved from our small home in Heyburn, Idaho to my dad’s car lot in Burley, approximately three miles away. Yes, I said car lot.
You see, my dad was a successful car salesman at a Chevrolet dealership in Burley in the early-to-mid 80s. But then the owner of that dealership wanted to move on, probably due to lagging sales brought on by fierce competition of the Japanese auto markets. So my dad partnered up with a fellow co-worker and friend, and they started another used-car business.
Yada, yada, yada, they built a big building, yada, yada, yada, the car business didn’t do so great, yada, yada, yada, the partner left leaving my dad with a huge mortgage payment on the building, yada, yada, yada. So after years of trying to sell the business, my parents had the brilliant idea of moving the family into the car dealership and selling our Heyburn home so that they only had one mortgage to pay.
It sounds worse than it was. I left for college the week they moved into the car dealership, but from a girl coming home to visit, living in the car dealership was pretty cool. There was a pop machine readily available at all hours of the night. That’s probably where my youngest sister Hetty developed her deep and abiding love for Dr. Pepper. And we were within walking distances to grocery stores and video-store rentals. Ah, the good ol’ days before Netflix.
My parents had divided the show room into half car office, half living room. There was also another living room behind the main showroom. There was a kitchen, three huge bedrooms, a laundry room in back by the shop, and two bathrooms. Really, it wasn’t so bad. It was probably nicer than our Heyburn home, which had red, shag carpet and popcorn ceilings. Seriously, don’t feel bad for us.
And it was good for my parents to move from Heyburn. Don’t get me wrong: I love Heyburn. My grandpa started the first Heyburn Garage and was one of the first school bus drivers for Heyburn Elementary. But there’s something great about getting a new start somewhere else, where hopefully people don’t know you as the irresponsible family whose dog escapes all the time and wreaks havoc on neighbors’ lawns; or whose children wander the streets looking for welcoming doors and refrigerators full of food.
We left our old baggage in Heyburn, but as everyone knows, there are bags waiting for you in new towns, too.
The first Christmas in the car lot was interesting. For a church youth group activity, my younger siblings were asked to bring gifts for a needy family for Christmas. I can already see you cringing. Just wait for it, please. Shall I continue?
So my sister brought a rubber ball. I don’t know what my brother brought.
I was at home from college for Christmas. One night as we sat around playing solitaire on the computer or watching old movies, we got a phone call. I think it was my sister Mary who answered it. The person on the other line said, “There’s something at your door.” The car lot had four different entrances, and it took us a while to figure out which door exactly they were talking about. At any rate, we found the goods, and yep, there on top was the rubber ball my sister had taken to the youth activity to give to the needy family. I remember there being a turkey, too.
I can still see my dad’s face. It wasn’t so much sadness as it was bewilderment mixed with anger. I’m still perplexed as to how to think about this act of service. On the one hand, good for them for helping a needy family. On the other hand, I really didn’t view us as the needy family who needed help. Trust me, I’ve seen MANY needier families.
It was interesting being on the receiving end of something like that. It’s actually not that great of a feeling. I’ve always thought about that incident when I pass Giving Trees or Sub for Santa. Will these gifts go to truly needy families, or will they go to families who are just struggling like the rest of humanity? Will the kids see the tag that says, “Boy, age 5?” I don’t want to sound ungrateful, nor do I want to encourage NOT giving at Christmas time. Please continue to give. However, I’ve learned that it is almost harder to receive than to give.
To wrap up this already long story, the next day we took that box of food and presents to another home not far from our home. The family lived in a home that was patched up with tin siding. We knocked on the door and introduced ourselves. We asked if they would like some things for Christmas. They were smiling and couldn’t speak English, but they took our gifts.
I just mention this last part in passing, mostly because I love my parents like nobody’s business. On a few occasions, my mother has spearheaded us to give Christmas to another family. I remember in my youth, my mom taught us the first verse of “Silent Night” in Spanish. Then when we went to the people’s house to give them our Christmas gifts, we went in smiling and singing. My parents tried to communicate to the family who we were and to leave them a warm welcome. I remember another time, I think I was a junior in high school, when we did the same thing. And my mom in her very broken Spanish tried desperately to communicate love.
I’m not sure I have the guts that my parents had to actually go into a family’s home and bring a feeling of love, as well as physical relief. I’m fonder of the anonymous Christmas giving, purely because it’s easier.
That night when we received those gifts was a true defining moment in my life. That’s when it really hit home that we don’t need presents for Christmas. What we need is a communication of love. You are loved. You may not believe in Him or even have a desire to know Him, but I know that He loves you. In those moments in my life when I have felt the lowest emotionally, that is the one truth that has brought me back to my proverbial feet. I am loved.