Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Christmas Elephant

An elephant showed up, unexpectedly, at our house for Christmas 2004. I wasn’t planning on having an elephant join us then—or at any time—but once he arrived he quickly became a cherished part of Christmas.

He was living his life quite contentedly on the bottom display shelf at White Drug. I had taken my two girls there so they could purchase, ironically, small ‘White Elephant’ gifts for their class gift exchanges.

As usual with six children, money was tight. Even though we had been careful in our purchases, I only had twenty dollars left. That was it. There wasn’t a penny more and it was still over a week until Christmas.

At the store I needed to purchase the gifts for my girls as well as a few other last minute items requested by their teachers or needed for the holidays at home. If I was careful, I hoped to be able to purchase everything for fifteen dollars and still have five dollars left to buy gas for the van. Hopefully it would be enough fuel that I could continue to deliver papers each morning without using tithing money that had been set aside.

The girls didn’t know the financial situation. They were excited to go shopping. After looking at some plastic trinket, my four-year-old daughter—who was close to the same height as the bottom display shelf—turned around. The open, white winter coat she was wearing knocked the elephant over and he tumbled off the shelf and to the ground.

The sound of breakage caused me to turn and look. I saw the elephant lying in one place while his ear and tusk now rested in their own separate locations.

Inside I felt a sinking feeling. Through fourteen years and six kids I had never had to pay for something broken by my children in a store. They had been so careful, so responsible. Why now, when money was so tight?

Yet, at the same time I felt a quiet calm…as if the Lord was telling me the elephant was no ‘big’ deal.

I looked at my daughter and asked if she had been holding the elephant..

“No. I didn’t even touch it,” she responded and I could hear the truth in her voice and see the candid shock on her face. She was as surprised by the event as I was. Then I noticed she still had her tiny hands in her coat pockets. She hadn’t even had time yet to remove them.

While I picked up the three pieces, my daughter told me she had just turned around and the corner of her coat knocked it off the shelf.

I looked at the price tag. It would take thirteen of my twenty dollars. Inside I felt my heart sink. There was no way I was going to be able get what we needed.

I explained to the girls we would have to pay for the elephant but that meant we couldn’t buy the gifts right now. Not wanting them to feel bad, I told them things would be fine. We would just have to put everything back until I could get some more money. Silently I hoped it would come, though I didn’t know how.

The girls were very understanding as we went through the store returning each item. Then I took the elephant to the counter along with one item requested by a teacher. We paid for the purchases and the twenty dollars was gone.

As we drove home the girls asked what we were going to do with the broken elephant. I didn’t know. I knew it didn’t match the décor of our house and, because it was broken, it wouldn’t work as a Christmas present. But, with a cheerful voice I told the girls that we would fix it anyway then decide what to do with it.

Once at home we looked at the elephant. Inside I felt a peaceful assurance that, although this surprise trial had taken our remaining money, there were some things ‘bigger’ and more powerful than elephants. With gratitude I reflected on the events and was glad I had not been upset about it or let it ruin my daughters' night. I was also grateful that I had believed my four-year-old and not blamed her for the situation. Quietly, too, I was immensely grateful that the girls had been so understanding and even happy about putting their purchases back.

As I quietly reflected on these ‘bigger’ blessings, I also realized that, despite the setback, we had also been blessed financially that year just as we had every year. As tight as it was, our Christmas was better and ‘bigger’ than other years and I felt immense gratitude for what we had.

It was then I noticed the color of the elephant’s trappings. They were deep Christmas burgundy and gold. Suddenly I knew what we could do. We could repair the elephant, we would record his story, and then we would keep the elephant as a permanent reminder that some things are more important than money and presents at Christmas time: things like the feelings of others and gratitude for the gifts of the Lord.

With a genuine smile, I told the girls my idea and they grew excited, too.

So the elephant was repaired and left to await the recording of his story.

Early the next morning, with no money for gas, I left to deliver papers on a ten-mile route. Five houses into the route I found a card taped to the front door with my name on it. Inside was a twenty dollar bill—a tip for delivering the paper each morning.

Later in the route someone left me a box of cherry chocolates as their tip. It had been one of the requested last-minute Christmas items I had returned to the shelf just the night before.

Suddenly I was further ahead than I had been before the elephant blessed our lives. With tremendous gratitude in my heart I drove home knowing that some things, indeed, are bigger than elephants…like the Lord and those people on earth who listen to, then follow, His promptings to serve others.

I will always be grateful the day we brought an elephant home for Christmas.

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