It was our third Christmas together. Ellie and I had almost nothing in the refrigerator. We didn’t have enough money for food, let alone spare dollars to buy gifts for each other and for our two young children.

That’s why it made no sense when, completely independent of each other, we each felt impressed by God to buy Christmas gifts for our nieces and nephews to show the love of Christ. It wasn’t logical, but it was so much like God, whose ways are not our ways. So we did the only thing we knew how to do in situations like these: We prayed, asking God for His provision, and we put faith to our prayers.

Putting feet to our faith

After we said “Amen,” I grabbed a rake and went door to door in our neighborhood, trusting God to provide enough work to buy the Christmas gifts. After countless knocks on unanswered doors and a smattering of polite “No, thank you” responses, I finally got a yes—from an elderly man with a huge yard that the wind had made home to all his neighbors’ leaves.

As I started raking, the daunting size of the task was no match for the gratefulness I felt. God seemed to be answering our prayers. But the hopeful minutes dragged on into lumbering hours. With the setting sun, my enthusiasm was fading to discouragement, but still I pressed on in faith that this was God’s provision. Working well past dusk with aching muscles, the only help I got was from a lone, distant streetlight that dimly illuminated all the piles of leaves still needing to be bagged.

Each bag seemed to take longer than the next, but eventually, I filled the last. As I walked to the front door, my only remaining energy came from the satisfaction of finally finishing and seeing how God would reward my obedience.

The elderly owner answered my knock on his door. My confidence in a great reward grew with each compliment for my quality work and my perseverance, only to have my hopes crushed when he handed me $15.

Missing God’s provision

My mind flooded with thoughts. Fifteen dollars for a long day’s work! What had I done wrong? Maybe I had missed God’s leading after all? Even back then, $15 wouldn’t be enough for the Christmas gifts we had planned.

The trudge home seemed a lot longer than the morning’s hopeful trek. My muscles ached. My expectations were bruised. Amid the enveloping darkness, I found it hard to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I focused my eyes ahead to that distant streetlight, its halo illuminating only two things. One was a pile of leaves that had drifted against the curb. The other was an out-of-place small, flat rectangle in the street.

Momentarily distracted from my fatigue and discouragement, I strained to make out the object in the road. My slow steps took me close enough to see that it was green. A few dozen more steps and I realized it was about the size of the $5 and $10 bills I had dejectedly slipped into my pocket a few minutes earlier.

What if it’s $20? I thought to myself, hoping against hope, dreaming big. That would sure make up for my disappointing day.

The unexpected Christmas gift

Reaching down to pick up the bill, my excitement turned to incredulity. It wasn’t $20 or even $50. The $100 bill was something I scarcely even saw in my weekly trips to the bank to deposit my paycheck. And here was one in the middle of the street!

My heart wanted to explode with gratefulness. But my conscience countered with the thought that someone might have dropped it and would be looking for it. I looked around to see which neighbor it might belong to, fully ready to return it. But as I surveyed the dimly lit properties around me, there was only an empty lot on one side of the street and a vacant house on the other. And there was no one within sight.

Could this be how God wanted to answer our prayers? This doesn’t just happen! People don’t just drop $100 bills and not realize it.

As I walked the final block toward home, the exhaustion and discouragement I had felt were gone. They were replaced by a brisk pace and a mind full of thoughts about how my wife was never going to believe me.

Sharing joy

Needless to say, Ellie had grown increasingly worried at my long absence when I bolted through the door and breathlessly started to tell my story. I don’t remember the words I used. But we both, to this day, remember our thankfulness at how God had supplied in an inexplicable way. I don’t even remember what we bought for our nieces and nephews, or their responses to the unexpected gifts.

The $100 was not the only unexpected gift for us that week.  The next day, our assistant pastor and his wife showed up at our door with two sacks of groceries. We also received an anonymous gift envelope with enough cash to buy Christmas gifts for our family. And we hadn’t told anyone about our need.

Well, almost no one.

The Giver of all

The One we told was the only One we needed to. His resources are limitless, and His compassion is boundless. And in the same way He prompted us to buy Christmas gifts for others, He prompted others to provide food and money for us.

The real unexpected Christmas gift that year though wasn’t the money or groceries, but an increase in our faith and our gratefulness. That Christmas was a watershed time for Ellie and me.

To this day, any time we are tempted to doubt His goodness, His provision, or the truth of His Word, we remember that Christmas where He clearly gave us a call that made no sense and answered our trust in a way that can’t be denied. Ever since, we have found that every time we increase our trust in Him, He responds by showing us how much more trustworthy He is than we could ever imagine.

It’s more than just an unexpected Christmas gift. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

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