A Christmas Story

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“Every time you do a good deed you shine the light a little farther into the dark. And the thing is, when you’re gone that light is going to keep shining on, pushing the shadows back.” Charles de Lint

It’s that time of year again. The fall has settled in and giving way to a cold winter. The leaves have turned and given up their hold to be swept across the landscape. The pumpkins are gone, costumes put away and thoughts are heading toward family gatherings and gifts. Most of us look forward to the old traditions we have grown up anticipating, the Christmas tree, gathering around the TV to watch Christmas specials and old movies. There have been many versions of the Christmas Carol, but I got to be a part of a real life Christmas story that I am just now ready to tell. It doesn’t really have an end yet, and hopefully it won’t end.

A few years ago, I developed a friendship with a couple that shared a hobby of mine. They owned a store and operated a website devoted to candy and cake supplies. I had messed about with decorating cakes for years and for our wedding, I was going to make a faux cake and then we would serve sheet cakes. I turned to them for advice and developed a friendship. I would go over and help out with some basic data entry in my free time if they needed some help and got to know them pretty well. Over the years, they offered me a job in their expanding business, but we had a growing business of our own and I didn’t want to jeopardize the relationship. 

Kent and I became quite close. His partner, Andrew, told me that Kent had never really gotten that close to females before and thought a lot of me. I was touched. I noticed that Kent seemed to not be feeling very well for a while and he finally told me that he had been HIV positive for a long while and now had AIDS. He went in and out of the hospital several times. He knew what his fate was and opened up more and more about his past and what he wanted in his last days. I went one day to visit him and took him a book, “The Shack”. I don’t know if he read it, but he had such a love/hate relationship with God, I thought if he read it, it would be good for him. 

I believe in God and also know there is an evil being that exists as well. You can see it’s influence everywhere. My friend was raised by an evil man that wore the cloth of a holy man. Growing up watching the hypocrisy, knowing that when the door closes, the public face comes off and the real monster appears. Trying to fit in, marrying, having a child and then having it all stripped away when he had the courage to stand up and be true to himself. That small seed of love that God must have planted was still there and wanting to grow. We talked about God and how God and religion sometimes have little to do with one another. He asked me to pray for him. I still do.

Don’t get me wrong, Kent was not perfect. He gave it as good as he got it. He would take on a whole town if he thought it was right, or they were disrespectful of he and his partner. He would send several hundred dollars frequently to a local charity until he found out that the person in charge of that charity was the same person that had led a ‘secret’ campaign to keep his partner from being elected to a public board. They would go on Christmas Eve around town and deposit extra supplies to random houses as gifts. I still have to laugh when I remember the stories about some of the phone calls Kent took. I used to tell him that he was the last person that should be answering the phone because he had absolutely no customer service skills once someone started being snippy! He stole my Estrogen Packed Battle Ax nickname and probably used it on several unsuspecting complaint callers!

The Christmas before he died, we visited him on one of his hospital stays. We brought him a little pre-lit Christmas tree for his room. He loved Christmas. A few weeks later, I got a call from him that he was sending Andrew over with some money for me to disperse to someone needy as we saw fit. He said he knew that we would use the money for anyone, not just certain people. He just asked for receipts. I was floored when I opened the envelope and there was over a thousand dollars! I felt a great responsibility in this task.

 God knows what he is doing. Just after having the money put into my hands, we received a call from a food pantry user saying her kids were coming to visit with her over Thanksgiving and all she had was some bread and a roll of sausage. She hadn’t gotten on the Thanksgiving list because she didn’t know they were coming and didn’t want to take from someone else’s holiday.  Ginny is an outsider. She is loud, nervous, talks a blue streak, and most people think she has a mental illness. I don’t know for sure about that, but she had a hard life and is still full of love and generosity for others. She would come to the pantry to get food, help do whatever she could do there and even donate back what little money she had to the pantry. I called Kent and told him about her. He told me to give her the best Thanksgivng she’s ever seen.

 This is where it became fun and humbling for me. I called Ginny and said “We’re going shopping”. I picked her up and we went to the store. She kept thinking my Husband and I were funding this even though I told her an anonymous person donated the money. Turkey, dressing, pies, rolls, yams, veggies, anything I could get in the cart! I even threw in a ham for her freezer for Christmas dinner. She was in tears and trying to get me to put things back. She could make her family dinner. I got to know more about Ginny that night. She doesn’t get to see her children and grandchildren often and has led a rough life and a lot of people have taken advantage of her. Her health isn’t good and her sole companion at the time, a small dog, had recently passed away. I helped her carry our bounty up to her small apartment and saw her devotional materials and her love of butterflies. 

 I reported back to Kent and told him of her gratitude and of her heart. He asked me if she had a Christmas tree. I said she did not. He then told me to use the rest of the money to bring her Christmas. Wow. I know some of you may think that the money could have gone to help several different people, but for Ginny, this was life changing. I called her up again and told her we had more shopping to do and we decided on an evening to go shopping.  She got in my truck and was crying, I let her go for a moment and then told her “There’s no crying in shopping! Let’s go!”

We picked out an artificial tree, so she could use it again. She picked out some sparkling butterflies, I added five more. She picked out some decorations, I doubled it! She finally seemed like she was having fun. We bought presents for her kids, grandkids, neighbors, and friends. She didn’t want anything for herself. This was her gift. We finally got it all up to her apartment and she gave me one of many precious hugs.

I reported back to Kent and he cried as I told him of her joy and reactions. She wanted to thank him so badly, but he didn’t want anyone to know it was him that had done this wonderful, generous thing. That was one of the last times I spoke with him before he passed away. Andrew called us in the middle of the night to let us know he was gone. The hospital Doctor was very nice and I made sure I closed Kent’s eyes before Andrew went in for his last goodbyes. He had seen all he was going to see on this earth and what he was seeing then was more beautiful than he could have imagined.

Ginny stopped by the house soon after the holidays to tell us how her holidays went. She brought a card with a long note inside for Kent with pictures of people. She told me the pictures were of people she gave presents to and dispersed her Christmas decorations and food she didn’t use. At first, I was a bit taken aback that she would give away what Kent had so generously given her. Then she told me of each thing she had given, who she gave it to and why. The she gave me one of her glittery butterflies as a keepsake to remember her by. She said that this experience had changed her and like the butterfly, she will never be the same. She was dedicating her life to what God wanted her to do, to give to others, to not serve herself, but always others. She wept as if she had lost a loved one when she heard of Kent’s passing. She still prays for him, even without knowing his name, daily.

Ginny has gone on to do exactly what she said she would do. For me she is like John the Baptist in the wilderness. She threw herself out there, she gave most of her belongings away, tried to reconnect with a sister. That sister used her and nearly trapped her in the house for the disability monies. She was living in her car in downtown Chicago. I tried to take her in with us. She would not hear of it. God will take care of her. The only thing I could get her to take was a jar of peanut butter. She left me with her Grandmother’s vase for safekeeping filled with white flowers and a glittery butterfly. She stopped by again not too long ago. She looks better than I have seen her in the last few years. She said the peanut butter saved her life. She has a job three days a week in the city (where she sleeps in her car) and spends the other days at her Mother’s house. 

She calls us her blessings from God, her Angels. I think she is my Angel, teaching me what faith really can be and how to live it. Kent’s gift taught me that good deeds live on beyond the moment, grow and flourish with love, time, and faith.

That’s the story I think about now at Christmas when I look at the glittery butterflies we now put on our trees. 

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