How was I going to find the right gifts on my budget?
Yet another cheery holiday tune was playing over the radio at the thrift store. I cringed. “Santa’s on His Way,” by George Strait: “Christmas is always my favorite time of year!” Not mine. Not now. I gripped my empty shopping basket’s red plastic handle in one hand and my gift list in the other and stared at the cracked snow globes and chipped mugs among other castoffs cluttering the shelves. What did I expect to find? This wasn’t Toys “R” Us. It wasn’t even Walmart. This was my last resort.
God, I’d prayed on the drive here, give us only what we need. That’s all I ask for Christmas.
December 23, and I still didn’t have a single present to put under the tree for my seven-year-old son, Joseph. How was I ever going to find—let alone afford—the brand-name craft set he and all his friends were going crazy over? When I’d dropped him off at school one morning, Joe had pointed out the beaded thingamabobs his friends had designed and melted together with the kit. He’d put it at the top of his list.
“I know Santa will get it for me,” he told me. “I’ve been a good boy all year.”
How could I explain that sometimes even good boys didn’t get what they asked for from Santa? My husband, Jerry, an auto mechanic, had gone on temporary disability leave months earlier, so I had become our family’s breadwinner. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. I worked as an IT technician at a software-development company, but my boss had cut back my hours.
I’d scraped and saved every penny, but I still only had enough for a few secondhand gifts. I hoped that I could at least find my son a new backpack for school. Maybe a wooden chess set so he and his dad could play. And a nice picture frame for my parents, one that would hold Joe’s new first-grade pictures.
But the sorry state of everything in this thrift store dimmed my hopes. Clearly I had a lot to learn about bargain hunting.
“Santa’s on his way?” Yeah, right! Maybe for you, George Strait.
I took a deep breath and walked down another aisle. There was a doll that looked like it had been run over by a truck. A set of colored pencils—half of them worn down to tiny nubs. More junk. I found a bunch of frames, but none that would fit Joe’s school photos. I stopped at a display of board games and stared at a beat-up box of Monopoly, leaking play money. Lord, if only those beige hundreds were real!
I felt plain worn out. It was hard to have faith that things would turn around for us. Even if deep down, I knew that without hope and faith I’d have nothing.
Just then I noticed something poking out from behind the box. I slid Monopoly to the side. A wooden chess set? It was in mint condition, never even opened. What a find! I thought. Odd that it would be hiding there. I dropped it in my basket.
In the next aisle, I spotted a backpack. it was bright green, Joe’s favorite color. Behind it was an action figure in its original packaging, from one of Joe’s favorite animated shows, and a brand-new computer game for three dollars. I swapped out my basket for a shopping cart. This was better than Toys “R” Us.
Maybe I just hadn’t been looking hard enough, looking with hopeful eyes. I returned to the place where I’d seen the colored pencils. Sure enough, on the bottom shelf I spied an unopened box with beads on the cover. The brand-name craft-supply set Joe had asked for . . . at only half the original retail price! I grabbed it and practically ran to the checkout.
I stopped at two more thrift stores and checked off just about everything on my list. At the last shop, something on a table by the register caught my attention. A picture album, lying facedown. Someone had decided not to get it and dropped it there, I guessed. I opened it up. The slots inside were just the right size for Joe’s school photos, and the pages were decorated with fruit, blossoms and bumblebees, perfect for my mom, a dedicated gardener.
I turned the album over. Inscribed on the front cover was a Bible verse, from Philippians: “God shall provide all your needs.”