Paying It Forward

I’ve spent my weekend shopping and wrapping gifts for families that I don’t even know. Our church does “Angel Tree” and my children convinced me to get three angels from it this year. Yesterday, I bought clothes for a 15 year old boy, and toys for a 4 year old boy and a 15 month old girl. In addition to these, I drove some of our church youth out shopping for their own angel. The kids were super excited because our group had enough money to buy a really cool bike for the 10 year old boy on our angel. It was awesome to see the excitement of the youth when we found the bike and still had enough money to get a matching helmet. It’s truly what Christmas is all about: giving to others who are less fortunate than we are.

As I was shopping for my angels, I kept thinking about the strangers who took care of us during that first holiday season without Steve, when we were the family in need. I remember being overwhelmed by the love that I felt from people I didn’t even know. I felt God all around me in a time when I could easily have felt completely alone.

When Steve died, I began receiving condolence cards in the mail. Many of them were from people that I didn’t even know, from all over the country. I didn’t know how these people knew about us or got my address but it was comforting to know that so many people were praying for us. Many of the cards told of prayer lists and even masses that were being said for our family. The most surprising part was the number of cards that contained checks! It was completely unexpected and I was so overwhelmed by the outpouring of support that I could only attribute it to God. I really had no other explanation.

There was a day, a few weeks after Steve died, when a firefighter came to pick up my van. He was not a friend of Steve’s and he did not work for the same department. He had arranged for new tires to be put on my van. Again, another stranger reaching out to us in our time of need.

As the Christmas holidays approached, I was contacted by Steve’s fire department to supply a wish list for my children. When I went to his fire station, they had gotten EVERYTHING on the kids’ wish lists! It was incredible the number of toys my children received that year! There was a woman at the fire station that day and I didn’t know her. The firefighters asked me to come into the office because she had something for me. This kind woman told me how she lived in a neighborhood near the fire station and had heard about Steve’s death. She said that she was thankful for him (she had never met him) because he served her community. I started crying as she told me how she went door to door collecting money for our family. That woman gave me a check for $2,000! I was sobbing! Never in my life had strangers wrapped their arms around me in prayer and support as they did when I lost Steve. I was a Christian before he died but in the midst of our tragedy, I felt God’s love all around me. It was truly amazing.

In addition to the toys, several other fire stations sent me gift cards that I used to buy a new washer and dryer. I was working at a school and the teachers gave me LOTS of gift cards that I used to buy shoes, clothes, school supplies, many things my children needed for months after Christmas. God had made sure that our family had everything we needed while I was going through the most difficult period of my life.

As I look back, I wish I had written thank you notes. I wish I could tell all of those people how much it meant to me when they reached out to us. At the time, I was so exhausted that all I could do was cry and say thank you. Now that time has passed and I am stronger, it’s my turn to give back to others in need. I especially love helping people that I don’t know because it feels like I’m “paying it forward.” My hope is that the families who receive our Christmas presents will feel God’s love in the same way that I did. When a friend helps you, it’s because they love you. When a stranger helps you, it’s because they love God. Perhaps those families will pay it forward when they are stronger too?

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa
    Dec 13, 2011 @ 11:18:18

    Just joined your blog, Mary. So sorry for your loss of Steve. I gather he was a firefighter, as my husband is a career firefighter too. Bet wishes for a happy Holiday season.

    Like

    Reply

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