There's something especially infectious about a child's joy during Christmas time. This thought occurs to me as I sit here on the couch, watching my newest friend decorate her specially chosen Christmas tree that is now sitting in the corner of my living room. She places ornaments with a special attention to detail; a skill that most 10-year-old girls have yet to develop. She pauses every couple of minutes to stand back and admire her handy work. The gleaming lights reflect in her glasses, complementing the sparkle in her smile. My roommate and I commend her on her decorating skills, and her quiet sense of pride shines through her sweet expression.
Isn't it amazing how one small person can completely change your perspective on life? One week ago, I didn't even know who this precious little girl was. She isn't my sister, or my cousin, or even a kid that I see occasionally at church or some other various place. She came into the lives of my roommates and I as a complete stranger, and just over a week later, she has changed us. She is going through probably the most difficult situation of her young life, yet her sweet spirit hasn't been broken. She is still humble, and thankful, and full of joy.
She is putting the last ornament on as I look back over to the tree. She completes one final observation of her masterpiece, staring contently at her beautiful creation. I can't help but wonder if perhaps she is so happy because she has been preparing to not have the enjoyment of holiday decorating and celebrating this year. She has probably been mentally preparing to not be home for Christmas. For a moment, this saddens me. But then, I see that genuine smile on her face, and I realize that this is not a time for sorrow. This is a Christmas miracle.
Some stories are just too special to not share. Today, I have one of those for you.
A few weeks ago at church, our pastor had told us that he received an email from a woman asking for help. This woman, we will call her Rita, wrote him, telling him all about the difficult situation that her and her 10-year-old daughter (who we will call Dina) have been enduring for the past year. At the beginning of 2013, the water heater in their home malfunctioned while they were away, and all of the damage wasn't discovered until they returned a week later. The damage was extensive, and on top of all of the initial destruction, mold also began to spread rapidly through their home.
Even with her full time job, Rita couldn't afford to pay for the rising costs of the damage in their home. Eventually, their house became unfit and unsafe to live in, and her and Dina were forced to move out. The only problem with this was that they had nowhere to go, and no one that they could really turn to for help. At the time that Rita had contacted our pastor for help, her and Dina had been living out of their car for nine months.
Although our church is quite small in every way, Pastor knew that we were being called to help Rita and Dina. They quickly became the main focus in our endeavor to celebrate Christmas by giving back. The "Home for Christmas" initiative was born, and plans were quickly made to do everything possible to get their house prepared and comfortable for them to move into by Christmas day. Through prayer and generosity, their house is in the process of renovation. Everything has been stripped and thrown away. The mold has been treated. They drywall is being replaced. Donations of clothing and necessities and money are coming in so that they're home can be refurnished.
The only issue remaining was, where would Rita and Dina stay while all of this was taking place? With the weather getting colder, continuing to stay in their car just didn't seem like an option. God always has a plan for everything though.
Last weekend, I was getting ready to drive back to Tallahassee from Pensacola when I got a text from my roommate Amber. I opened it and it said, I have a crazy request. Call me when you can! So, as soon as I got in the car, I called her. She had gotten the opportunity to meet Rita and Dina earlier that day, and spent a lot of time talking to them and getting to know their story. I'm sure you can guess what she asked me. It went along the lines of, "I know this is kind of crazy, but do you care if they stay with us for a couple of weeks? You can say no, and it will be okay. If you don't care though, I'm going to give them my room and bathroom and we can just share yours."
Of course I couldn't say no. Sometimes, you just have to take a leap of faith and trust God's reasoning.
So, Rita and Dina came to stay with us. For the past week, they have had the comfort of knowing that they have a bed and a warm house to come home to after a long day of school and work. They have had hot showers when they want them, and food and drink when they need it. Rita has been able to sleep at night, without having to stay awake and constantly being on watch while Dina is asleep in the car. Dina has had internet to do her homework, and three older girls to laugh and play with. Amber, Alyssa and I have had the chance to get to know them, and their hearts. We have had the privilege of listening to and praying with them.
Every year, we are told what Christmas is supposed to be all about...giving, quality time, prayer, loving others. This year, I have witnessed all of that in what is nothing short of a true Christmas miracle. Rita and Dina have entered our lives with such a force of faith and positivity, despite their situation. The attitude that they have is one that I often lack in my life that has been so much easier than theirs.
Our church is still aiming to have them back in their home by Christmas. For right now though, they will continue to stay here with us. They have quickly become a part of our family, and there's no way that we will let that go if we don't have to. These are the types of situations that offer hope in a world full of doubt. God always pieces everything together perfectly. You never know when you will be in the right place at the right time. There are still people out there who care, and who want to help. Rita and Dina themselves are proof that hardships do not have to break a person. Watching Dina decorate the Christmas tree tonight has deemed that true.