Money slipped anonymously under a door brings about a Christmas miracle.
Posted in , Nov 2, 2011
When you’re a freelance cameraman like I am, you can’t always pick and choose your assignments. Often, you accept work not out of any particular affinity you have for the subject but because you have bills to pay and a family to feed.
Sometimes, though, you’re fortunate enough to land an assignment that you can really get into and feel passionate about, even learn from. You pray for jobs like that. Well, I do anyway.
That’s why I was pumped when I got a call from a local client last April. They were selected to shoot a documentary on Paul Young, a novelist in my area who wrote the surprise best seller The Shack. They asked if I’d be their cameraman.
Are you kidding? I thought. I loved shooting documentaries. And about a book that my wife, Julie, and I had both enjoyed immensely? It’s the story of a man who meets God when he’s at the lowest point in his life, inspired by Paul Young’s own dramatic spiritual journey.
He didn’t intend for it to be published. He wrote it for his children, to show them the redemptive power of faith. He printed up 15 copies at Office Depot and gave it to family and friends for Christmas. His friends passed it around. Eventually a major publisher picked it up and The Shack became an international phenomenon, with 14.5 million copies sold worldwide.
The crew and I shot a series of interviews with Paul, at his beautiful suburban house and at different locations around town. Writing the book, he said, had been his offering to God, who’d reached him and restored him when he’d hit bottom.
Listening to him over the course of several days, I was struck by his assurance that good followed faith. I believed in God, but I had a lot of questions about how exactly he works in our lives.
One afternoon, as we were wrapping up for the day, the producer said to me, “We’re going to film the last segment tomorrow at Paul’s old house, where he lived when he wrote the book.”
The next morning I picked her up at her hotel and together we drove over. We pulled up in front of a modest house on a quiet street about 20 minutes from my home.
“Paul sure has come a long way from here,” the producer remarked.
A shiver went through me. “I think I know this house,” I told her.
Six years ago I had driven to a house that looked very much like this one, on a far different mission. After years of struggle as a freelancer, I’d finally carved out a comfortable career in sales.
Christmas had turned from a time of anxiety, from Can we afford anything besides the necessities this year? How will we break it to our kids that we won’t be able to see their cousins in California? to a time of celebration, visits to relatives and gifts under the tree.
Our family had been freed from want, and I wanted to find some way to pass our blessings along.
Christmas was coming. The local paper was full of stories of people struggling to keep their families afloat. “We could donate to a charity,” Julie suggested. But I wanted to do something more directly.
“What if I could find one husband, one father, to help anonymously?” I said. I’d slip one hundred dollars under his door. To the recipient, it would be a gift from God, not from me. Julie was all for it.
A few days later, a friend of a friend, Scott Closner, told me about a family of eight that was just about broke. The husband was working three jobs trying to keep his house warm and his kids fed.
Sounded perfect. I knew what it felt like to disappoint your family on Christmas. I asked my acquaintance for the address. He gave it to me, then said, “His name is…”
“No, don’t tell me,” I said. “I don’t want to know his name any more than I want him to know mine.”
The next morning I drove to the man’s house, checked to see that no one was looking and slipped a plain white envelope containing five crisp twenty-dollar bills under his door. I walked back to my car and drove away unseen. Merry Christmas! I thought. Other than Julie, I never told a soul.
I hadn’t thought of the man and his family since then. Till now.
We walked up the pathway to the house. Yes, this feels familiar, I thought. But maybe I had misremembered. After all, it had been six years.
Paul was standing there on the porch, waiting for us.
Should I ask him? I thought. A part of me wanted to. But the key to the gift was its anonymity. I was relieved when the producer said, “Let’s get to work.”
I set up my camera on the porch. The sound man prepped for the shoot. We filmed for 15 minutes, then the producer needed to pause. The whole time I gazed at Oregon’s most successful new author, wondering…
Paul and I chatted. My curiosity finally got the best of me. I had to know. This was my last chance. “Hey, Paul,” I said, “do you remember that Christmas when you found a hundred dollars under your door?”
He stopped short and turned around, his eyes widening. “Of course,” he said, “I’ll never forget it.” He looked at me. “But how do you know about that?”
I told him. We hugged, amazed at how circumstances had brought us together again.
“Want to hear the most incredible part of the story?” Paul said. “When I finished writing The Shack, I didn’t think I’d have the money to print the copies I needed for Christmas. I used that hundred dollars to help print the original 15 copies. And without that first printing, word about the book would never have gotten out.”
Did I say circumstances brought us together? Did I say I wished I could have proof that God is at work in our lives? I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Julie.
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