The term “glorious impossible” refers to the impossible things that God does for his glory. The Christmas story has so many “glorious impossibles” in it, and Carl Cartee wrote one of my favorite songs about it that our church often sings at Christmas. You can read my first blog about it here to get the whole picture. But this year God gave our family its own glorious impossible.
It was a few weeks before Christmas and our Christmas cash envelope was completely empty. The money was tight this year, and in this last month of the year, we felt it more than we had before. Because my husband is self-employed, a paycheck is never guaranteed, and even when we were able to pay ourselves, it wasn’t enough to make it all the way down the list. By the time the other budget items had their say, there was no cash left for the Christmas envelope.
We had made it through the year working hard and being open to every opportunity God put in front of us. We both picked up part-time jobs. Andrew worked as an umpire during baseball season. I took part-time jobs catering for weddings, being a personal assistant, working as a PR assistant for a marketing firm, substitute teaching and writing and editing on the side. God even sent a wedding cake client to help make ends meet. All the while, we knew I needed a full time job. My resumes evaporated into cyber space, and I never even got called for an interview. After being out of the work force for 13 years, I began to doubt my chances of getting back in. The closest I came was a long-term substitute teaching position, which God used in interesting ways, that lasted for two months.
In the last year, we cut and slashed our budget too. We got ride of cable and satellite TV. We used coupons and menu planning to cut the grocery budget. We were even down to one car for awhile because we didn’t want to get a car loan. But finding extra cash for a car was as impossible as finding cash for Christmas. The next thing on the budget chopping block were the kids’ extracurriculars, and that one we wanted to put off as long as we could. Not to mention, the house repairs that needed immediate attention and sucked up whatever cash was left.
But then December was coming, and it looked like it was going to be impossible to pay for Christmas with cash this year. Life with one car was impossible as we tried to figure out how to get six people where they needed to be every day. My husband was ready to go get a car loan, and I was ready to buy a jalopy just to make it back and forth to school. But then we compromised and moved some money around that was held for our salary to buy a car. It seemed impossible to find a car in our price range that my husband wasn’t embarrassed to drive. And yet once again God made a way for the impossible to happen. We found a Lincoln “Alligator” in great shape, which Faith called the “Crock”. After taxes, title and new tires, we had $400 left. And this was the extent of our Christmas cash.
One night we sat down with our cash and made our Christmas budget. We decided not to get gifts for each other, but to instead fix the fireplace that had been unused for six years. We also wanted to give the kids money so they could buy gifts for each other. That meant their “big” gift budget was $50 each. Sadly no gifts for extended family, friends and teachers. And no money to send Christmas cards either. I sighed as I put down my pen. I tried to make myself content with what we had. My husband tried to tell me it would be fine. We told ourselves the kids would be fine and having a small Christmas could actually be good for them.
On December 23, I was walking home with Connor from his pet sitting job. He was telling me how hard it was for him to be “poor.” To not have what other kids in his school had. I tried to explain that we choose to live like this because we don’t borrow money and that everything comes with a trade-off. I reminded him that his dad and I both grew up the same way. We were always the “poor” kids in rich neighborhoods. That night Andrew and I both agreed that we needed to get our kids around some people who really were poor.
I also found myself complaining to God. I hated that our year had been so hard financially. That we were both working our tails off and getting nowhere. I remembered thinking that we weren’t poor enough to be on anyone’s radar. That no one even knew we had nothing in our Christmas cash envelope. That my kids would have a crappy Christmas, and it made me mad.
Then on Christmas Eve morning a strange car pulled up across from our house. As three men pulled packages out of their trunk, we thought the new neighbors were trying to celebrate Christmas in their new house. But then they crossed the street and came to our front door with six large gift bags labeled “teen boy,” “tween boy,” “older girl” and “younger girl.” Andrew was puzzled and asked who it was from. They simply said they were asked to deliver it to the Pattons and didn’t know where the gifts came from.
I was hiding around the corner still dressed in my pajamas. Tears filled my eyes as I remembered complaining to God. I heard his small whisper in my heart, “I know how hard it is. I see you. I see how hard you have been working. I love you.” I told him I was sorry for complaining. We did not deserve this. We didn’t even know how anyone knew. We knew that there were other families much poorer than ours, much more deserving of this gift. We honestly didn’t know how to feel in that moment. The shame of the reality of our small Christmas threatened to steal our joy and our gratitude.
Very early on Christmas morning, Kyle stood by our bed and whispered that he couldn’t sleep. I think he was imagining what lived in those mysterious boxes delivered to our door. Soon enough everyone was awake and Christmas morning went on with our traditional breakfast and reading the Christmas story. We opened the Christmas presents we had bought, and then it was time for the “bonus” Christmas. Andrew and I looked at each other, not knowing what to expect. We opened the envelope to the “Parents” hoping for a clue to the identity of our benefactor. Instead we found a generous gift card for ourselves. Kyle opened his smallest present first. When he saw the $50 iTunes gift card, Andrew looked at me and said, “That was our whole budget for him.”
And the gifts kept coming. Name brand clothes for the kids with names they couldn’t pronounce and stores we had never been inside. Hope squealed with delight as she opened her “American Girl” doll from Target. As we looked at the carnage of boxes and wrapping paper left behind, Andrew and I agreed it was the biggest, most expensive Christmas we had ever seen in our lives. We couldn’t imagine who would have given this kind of Christmas to us.
This was our glorious impossible. God gave my children a Christmas they would never forget, and something we could hope to do for someone else someday. He reminded us that he sees and he knows and he cares. His lavish grace is upon us even when we don’t ask for it and don’t deserve it. And once again God in his mysterious way made the impossible possible.