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After months of unemployment and a year-long search my husband, Loren, finally landed a job. Though we now had a steady income, playing catch-up on old bills left little for extras. And Christmas loomed weeks away.
While carols played on the radio and the aroma of ginger, cloves, and cinnamon enveloped the kitchen, one question clamored in our brains. How would we buy presents for our three children?
With our kids tucked into bed one night, Loren and I snuggled on the couch. "What do you think we should do about Christmas?" I said.
He nuzzled his head against mine. "It's going to be slim, but at least I have a job and our bills are paid."
"Yeah, you're right. But Ben hopes to find a Nintendo system under the tree. And Bethany's list takes up a whole page."
He looked at me with half a grin. "I know what Joe wants."
I laughed. "Everybody knows what Joe wants."
Pound Puppies, the latest creation from the Tonka Company were the rage, advertised on television as the must-have toy of the season. They topped nearly every child's wish list, including our eight-year-old son Joe's.
I shook my head. "I don't want the kids to wake up Christmas morning with nothing under the tree."
"Me neither," Loren said. "Why don't we pray?"
"Do you think the Lord really cares about Christmas presents?" I said.
"The Lord cares about people, and expects us to bring our needs and our wants to him." Loren wrapped my hand in his, "Dear Lord, Please make a way for us to give our children each a Christmas gift. Amen."
Several weeks before Christmas the kids and I visited Grandma Freeborn. "I cleaned out my old sewing stuff," she said. "Sort through the box in the bedroom and see if there's anything you want."
The box contained scrapes of material from decades of Grandma's old dresses, odds and ends of other fabrics, and a variety of faux furs. I unfolded a piece of fur the color and texture of a golden retriever, large enough for a sewing project.
While the kids played outside, I told Grandma my secret plan. "Just a minute." She reached into her closet. "You'll need this." She handed me two bags of craft stuffing. "One should be enough but take two just to be sure."
At home that night I showed Loren the material.
A puzzled expression crossed his face. "What do you plan to do with that?"
"Joe's going to have a Pound Puppy for Christmas! And I'm going to make it."
"You're a good woman," he said. "What about Ben and Bethany?"
I shoved the bags of stuffing into our bedroom closet. "We'll have to keep praying."
Friday night Loren arrived home from work and set his lunch box on the kitchen counter. "The shop Christmas party is the third Saturday in December. We each need to bring a $10.00 gift for some game they plan to play."
My shoulders dropped and I took a deep breath as I dished up dinner. Twenty dollars? How could I squeeze twenty dollars from our cramped budget? I already knew the answer ... my grocery money.
In the morning, Loren stayed home with the kids while I drove to the local craft store. I found a pattern for the coveted Pound Puppy, picked up a swatch of brown felt to make pads on the feet, then grabbed a package of eyes.
On my way home I perused another store in search of generic gifts, suitable for a man or woman, for the company party. I resented spending money for items no one needed, when we didn't have enough for our own children.
Still two gifts short for our kids the night of the party, I grumbled on the drive to town. When we arrived we entered a large banquet room. Chairs circled a mound of presents near a decorated tree. Loren placed our contribution on the pile.
After a delicious dinner, everyone took a seat around the gifts. The first person chose a present, then the next person could steal an opened package or choose a wrapped one.
Loren's turn came and he chose a package from the depleted stack. He ripped off the paper to reveal a steel gumball machine.
"Ben showed me one of those in the Sears Christmas catalogue," I whispered.
Not wanting to draw attention to ourselves, we stifled our excitement. Loren placed the box on the floor and nudged it under his chair, where I hoped our prize might go unnoticed. The next few people to take their turns scanned the room and scoped out items already opened. One of the men's wives strode over in front of us. I held my breath as she leaned down to glance under Loren's chair.
"Wow. That was close." I whispered to Loren.
We were all smiles on the drive home that night.
"We still have to come up with something for Bethany," Loren said.
"We'll the Lord's provided two presents." I held the gumball machine secure on my lap. "I can't believe it's the same one Ben wanted," I said. "But we may have to buy Bethany's present. Maybe a doll."
A few days before Christmas, Bethany spotted a child's tea set at the grocery store.
"How pretty." I checked the price when she wasn't looking.
When Loren arrived home from work that evening, I raced back to the store and purchased the pink-flowered tea set, perfect for my girl.
Christmas morning our children woke to discover three presents under the tree, one bearing each of their names.
Perry Como and Bing Crosby crooned carols from the stereo while Joe and his Pound Puppy howled and barked in unison to the music.
Bethany served us sugar cookies on small plastic plates and poured water from her tea pot into tiny cups. Seated on the couch in our pajamas, Bethany and I sipped tea like queens.
Ben raced to his room and returned with a handful of pennies. "Dad, do you want to buy a gumball?"
Before going to bed that night, we peeked in on our sleeping children. Ben's gumball machine stood on his dresser. Bethany's teapot and cups sat arranged on a little table in a corner of her room, ready for the next tea party. And we found Joe burrowed under the blankets, his arm firmly around his Pound Puppy, his face snuggled into its fur.
That Christmas I learned what Loren already knew. God does care about our needs, and yes, even the wishes of his children.
**Note: "Three Gifts" first printed December 2015 in LIVE, a publication by Gospel Publishing House.
© 2014 Kathleen Kohler