He showed up unexpectedly on our front doorstep, while fat flakes fluttered down from the heavens, in moonlight.
My husband, Scott, opened the door. And a man stepped in, stamping his snowy feet on the rug. Winter exhaled this frosty cloud into our house.
I couldn’t see him. But the man’s voice was familiar, and he sounded urgent.
“I need to give this to Jennifer,” he told my husband.
Was everything OK? I stepped around the corner, and moved fast to the front door. He unfolded a yellow slip of paper and handed it to me.
On the paper were 28 names. He pointed with a gloved finger. My name was among the 28.
He handed me a gift card and then, he read detailed instructions from the yellow paper. He said I needed to take that gift card to the college where I taught journalism. Still reading, he added: “You’re supposed to give this to someone and tell the person, ‘God cares for you, and so do I.’”
He looked up from his paper, and I stumbled over confused words, lodged in my throat.
“I’m supposed to, … um … what? Who do I give it to? Who do I tell them it’s from?”
He answered and shook his head: “I don’t know who. I just know that you’re supposed to give it to someone at the college.”
And, just like that, the name came, in that Spirit voice that can’t be heard audibly but whispers in the soul.
“I will do that,” I answered. “I know who the person is.”
And he nodded. He’d heard names, too — including mine. That’s why he had come to this country door, stepping over high snow-drifts to ring the doorbell.
He knew that it was more blessed to give than to receive, but he didn’t want those who received his gift to know who the giver was. So he was stopping at the doorsteps of 28 people, on a blustery December night, to recruit his army of Christmas helpers.
I asked if I could look at his list. At the top were dollar amounts, scratched out.
And then finally: $700.
God kept giving him names, he said, so the number grew and grew and grew.
“I finally put my hands over my ears like this,” the man said, laughing and demonstrating. “And I went: ‘La-la-la-la-la! I’m not listening any more, or I’m going to go broke, God!’”
This is not a rich man. This is a middle-class Iowa guy who works at a factory. He drives a used car. He wears second-hand jeans and Walmart shirts. He’s a dad and a husband, and he and his wife are putting a kid through college.
He won’t let me tell you his name.
“Maybe we could have gotten a new TV with the money. But this is what I’m supposed to do,” he shrugged. “It’s a gift from God. You can’t tell anyone who did it, because this is from God — not me.”
He knows it’s from God, because at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, God put name … after name … after name on his heart. And he transcribed. He wrote names on a yellow slip of paper.
And now, he needed elves to spread Jesus’ love at Christmas. Each person on his list — 28 in all — would receive a $25 gift card to Applebee’s. Each one would be instructed to give the gift to someone else.
I was supposed to give mine to someone at the college.
A neighbor-boy down the road was supposed to give a card to someone at the elementary school.
Another neighbor, in her 60s, would find someone in need in a nearby town.
A beer-truck driver on the list would give his card to someone on his route.
A man who sells cigarettes and Doritos at area convenience stores had a card to give, too. So did a stay-at-home mom, a teenage girl, a schoolteacher, a coach, a farmer, a nurse, a grandpa, a local business owner.
I read down the list and just shook my head and began to cry. This is the multiplication of giving: One + one + one + one.
And we — this little army of deliverers — we got to take part in this wild act of giving, this extravagant generosity of an anonymous man who won’t give his name.
Who won’t even get to witness the blessing.
* * *
So what does Christmas generosity look like?
Some might say generosity looks like the “Tips for Jesus” guy, who leaves extravagant tips anonymously on restaurant tables. Or maybe the guy who paid the layaway bills for everyone at a Walmart in Florida.
Maybe generosity looks like Westjet. Maybe it looks like that friend of mine with 28 gift cards at our front door.
Or maybe? Maybe generosity looks a little bit like YOU.
In fact, I know it does, because yesterday, on my Facebook page, I asked you to share Random Acts of Kindness that you’ve participated in. I’ve included a few of those stories below, and have shared a few more ideas to inspire the rest of us.
16 Ways to Offer Random Acts of Kindness
Fill the tank. Surprise someone at the gas station, but paying the bill. One reader shared with us on the Facebook page that she paid for a mama’s gas bill. “I noticed the worried look on her face on whether to use her credit card or cash. When she went in to pay, I filled her tank.”
Sing, even if you’re off key. Organize a group of carolers to head out sometime this week. You’ll make someone’s night. Guaranteed.
Give away your parking spot. That rock-star spot next to the front door of the big-box store? Let someone else have it.
Pray. Pray for the people on your Christmas-card list when you are sealing the envelopes. Pray again, when you find their cards in your mailbox.
Keep a seat open. If you’re at a restaurant, and see a stranger eating alone, invite him or her to the table. And then, pay for your new friend’s meal.
Go on a Giving Spree. Rachelle — inspired by Ann Voskamp — shares this story with us: “For my last birthday, I wanted to try Ann Voskamp’s suggestion of “Be the Gift”… so my friends & I put together some random gifts & we spent the afternoon giving them away. We taped some cash to a pop machine with a note. Handed out a Subway gift card to a random woman in the parking lot. Gave chocolate covered pretzels to a man raking leaves. Muffins to someone walking their dog. Sweets to some men working on fixing the streets. … We took pictures with everyone, and WE WERE BLESSED! We can’t wait to do it again, on our next friend’s birthday!
Be the answer to someone’s prayer. That need you know about? Follow the nudge.
Spread Virtual Love. Leave a kind comment on someone’s blog post or Facebook status.
Movie Night. Tape a package of microwave popcorn to a Redbox. (Idea found here on Pinterest.)
Leave Happy Little Notes. Under the windshield, on the mirror of a department store dressing room, in your husband’s briefcase.
Regard the Aged. Visit a nursing home before Christmas, and watch the sweet miracles unfold.
Start Over. What friendship has suffered lately? How could you, with one word, clear the elephant in the room? Saying sorry might make the biggest difference.
Pay for the Weary Mama’s Lunch. There is a special place in heaven for you. 🙂
Make Pies. Another inspiring tale of kindness! A mysterious elf swooped onto the front porches of our farming community a while back, leaving strawberry pies at doorsteps and then disappearing faster than you can say “graham-cracker crust.” Inspiring!
Pick Up the Phone. Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a long while.
Be Good To You. Offer your own sweet self a Random Act of Kindness, by Quieting your inner critic this Christmas.
So, what’s your Story? A #TellHisStory is any story that connects your story into the story of God.
You’re invited to tell that story right here, in community with us.
Share your narratives, your poems, your Instagrams tagged with #TellHisStory, … your beautiful hearts. You are the chroniclers, the people who help others make sense of the world with your words and your art.
Story is how we know that, no matter what happens, we can get back up again.
Visit someone (or two) in the link-up to encourage with a comment. Then, Tweet about your posts, and the posts you visit, with the #TellHisStory hashtag. Come back on Friday to visit our Featured #TellHisStory, in the sidebar.
A final note: This is a safe place to tell your stories. You don’t have to be a professional writer or a grammarian to join us. Story is built into every single one of us. Your story matters, because it’s part of God’s story down through history, not because you punctuated everything correctly. Deal?
For more details on the #TellHisStory linkup, click here.
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