December that year appeared bleak. As a newly single =
parent of two small boys, I worked two jobs to pay our bills. At times, =
it seemed I earned just enough salary to pay the babysitter, with =
nothing left over for the basics.
Then it got worse.
the first week of December, the owners of the store where I worked =
fulltime decided to focus their energies on their parent store in =
another town, and planned to close ours within a few days. The same week =
I received my notice, I had a disagreement with the editor of the paper =
where I worked my second job. He wanted me to report a false story. When =
I refused, he forced me to resign.
In one week’s time, I lost two =
jobs—both just before Christmas.
I spent most of my time =
seeking other jobs, and tried to keep life as normal as possible for the =
children. The dreary weather matched my mood, and I struggled to stay =
upbeat for my kids. Their world—my world—depended on me, and =
I seemed to be failing miserably.
On December 12, I came home =
from one of my final days at work to find a black trash bag hanging on =
my front door. I shifted the baby to one arm, and with the other, =
cautiously lifted the bag from the handle. "Stay back," I =
yelled at my older son. I had no idea what was inside.
I put the =
baby down and carefully peeked inside. I laughed at my silliness. Inside =
was a tiny, gaily wrapped package. We pushed through the door, and I =
settled the boys on the sofa. "Okay, just sit there and we’ll see =
what this is." I pulled out a package about the size of my hand. A =
note taped to the box read: OPEN NOW.
I tore off the ribbon and paper =
and opened the box.
When I revealed the gift hidden in layers of =
tissue paper, Zach laughed, Jonathan said, "Mooooo," and I =
A cow? A ceramic cow? What did that mean?
was no note explaining the ceramic cow.
Later that evening, I =
called some of my friends and asked if they had given us the cow. No one =
confessed, but they thought the whole story was rather amusing.
put the cow on the table and went to bed.
The next morning, there =
was another trash bag hanging on our door. This time, the note said DAY =
2–OPEN NOW. It was a donkey.
An excited Zach rushed to the =
door the third morning, ready to add to the barnyard collection. Nothing =
was there, but later that evening his monitoring of the door paid off =
because we unwrapped a sheep.
The next morning, a shepherd boy =
arrived and that’s when I figured out what was going on. "Twelve =
days of Christmas," I said aloud.
That was exactly right. =
Each day, for the twelve days before Christmas, we received one piece of =
a beautiful nativity set and it included a stable. The anticipation of =
each day’s arrival seemed to perk us up a bit, and it caused my own =
focus on the season, and on our lives, to change.
On Christmas =
Eve, baby Jesus arrived, and our cr=E8che was complete.
special gift that year was a turning point for all of us, and we knew =
God was with us. We enjoyed that nativity for many years.
I found =
work—one job that paid better than the two previous positions.=A0 =
But that’s not the end of the story.
Seven years later, the boys =
and I moved to another state to get a fresh start. We faced other =
trials, too. My father and my grandmother had both been diagnosed with =
cancer, and their deaths were imminent.
"Only months, =
possibly weeks away," the doctors told us. We moved into my =
grandmother’s house. She gave us her house and moved into my father’s =
house where my sister, who lived next door, could care for them both. =
Once again, we began to rebuild our lives.
When Thanksgiving =
arrived that year, I thought of the hardships we had gone through. If we =
hadn’t had my grandmother’s house to move into, we would have become =
homeless. I seemed to creep through the activities of each day. Our =
circumstances brought to mind that other Christmas years before. We no =
longer had our nativity set. We couldn’t afford to hire a trailer to =
move everything, so that was one of the items we left. At Christmas I =
realized how deeply I missed it.
My godly grandmother died on =
December 2. I felt her loss to the depth of my being. But I knew she was =
in heaven, and God carried us through the pain and the tears, and =
comforted our hearts.
A week after her funeral, I climbed into =
the attic, looking for possible Christmas decorations. I didn’t really =
feel like putting out anything, but the boys were still young, and it =
was important for us to honor Jesus’ birthday, regardless of our =
The attic was small, hardly big enough to stand =
in. It looked as if no one had been up there for years. But there were =
several boxes, so I explored each one.
When I opened the last =
dusty one, tucked in a far corner, and saw what appeared to be Christmas =
things, I closed it and hauled it back down the steps. I set the box on =
the sofa in front of me and reopened it.
As I unpacked the first =
piece, tears filled my eyes. I pulled out the objects one by one. By the =
time the box was empty, I sobbed uncontrollably.
In my hands were =
all the pieces of a nativity set—identical to the one I’d left =
behind. I pulled out the familiar cow, the donkey, the sheep and =
shepherd boy, and the precious baby Jesus. Even the stable was the =
God was with us. That may sound strange, but the comfort of =
that cr=E8che made me aware of the love of God for my family and =
Two days after Christmas, my dad died. That was even harder =
than the death of my grandmother. Friends and family have asked us how =
we got through that difficult time. I have only one answer: God was with =
Now, twelve years since that Christmas, and nineteen since we =
first received the nativity, I still don’t know the identity of the =
giver. But God used that gift to give us something more—he made =
his presence known to us, both with the first nativity set and then =
again with my grandmother’s.
That simple cr=E8che made Christmas =
a reality—twice. Both times I was able to turn my focus away from =
my life and remember the message of Christmas. Jesus had come into the =
world and had nothing, not even a bed on which to sleep. By comparison, =
I had so much.
My treasured nativity scene is an annual Christmas =
reminder of the meaning of the season. God is with us.
[I truly =
LOVE the writing of Tracy Ruckman. Her blog and information on this =
story her books is at
Dr Bob Griffin =
email@example.com www.grif.net =
"Jesus Knows Me, This I =