Life was upside down. Household income — gone. Home in the suburbs — gone. Her health — gone.
Standing in the food bank on a gray December day, it seemed kindness for a moment had disappeared, too.
“She said I was a loser,” remembers Jael Cox about the woman in charge of the Lynnwood food bank counter. “I had missed hearing my number called.”
A quick dash to run errands during the predicted two-hour wait had resulted in one more blow — this time to her already fragile self-esteem. The middle class pastor’s wife could never have imagined standing in a bread line. But when the 2008 economy went into a free-fall, it took their family with it.
“Our church was experiencing serious financial challenges,” Jael, now a Richland resident, recalls the anxious time of uncertainty. “As I feared, Gary, and one other pastor were given notice that their positions were being eliminated.”
Two weeks later, and now without employment, Jael was diagnosed with an aggressive Stage IV breast cancer. Mounting bills for this second bout with the disease — surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation again.
Over the months that followed without steady employment came the loss of their home in 2009, sold well below market value in the crumbling economy. Struggling to stay afloat, the couple took odd jobs, even working as night janitors at the children’s school. Jael’s fulltime work during the day as secretary there helped supplement financially while Gary traveled to work as a guest worship leader.
Still, the family had to turn to the food bank in spite of many kindnesses from friends.
“We found ourselves in a position in life we never imagined we would be in,” reflects the mother of four who knew there would be no Christmas gifts for the children. “As a parent, it was a very difficult time and I became very sad and discouraged.”
The journey, already into its second year, was wearing. While others looked forward to the 2010 holidays, Jael was struggling with ongoing cancer treatment and her faith in God’s plan for her and her family. An invitation to a Christmas party was one more reminder of their bleak outlook for the future.
“I felt like the greatest loser ever,” confesses the attractive woman in retrospect. “And the thought of attending a festive party surrounded by successful people with their lives so together only magnified my feelings of failure and discouragement. We didn’t fit in with that perfect picture.”
But the kids were anxious to go, and so Jael relented even though she had to attend without Gary — who had another commitment, one that would bring in much-needed income.
It was at the party, though, that a “coincidence” changed their family’s dreary Christmas plans. As Jael withdrew to a small library in the spacious home, another guest approached her.
“We exchanged names and she said, I know you,” Jael remembers her surprise and the words that followed. “’I have your name written in my Bible!’” the other woman had exclaimed.
The two had met at a Family Life conference five years earlier, one that brought them from different cities hours apart. But even though miles had separated them until this party, the women made a “heart connection,” Jael says, that led to another invitation.
“She said, ‘I know there is a reason we met tonight after all these years,’” Jael clearly recalls the moment and the glimmer of joy it brought. “’We have a beach house that will be available Christmas week, and we would like to offer it to you and your family.’”
The reacquainted friend then added a thought that had Jael truly considering it, words she held close to her heart in the days approaching Christmas.
“Taking the family to a new place on the water, digging for clams and having a different kind of Christmas might be just what we needed to keep our minds off of our circumstances,” Jael says about the change in venue.
Only hours before they were to leave for the beach house, Jael’s friend arrived with clam-digging boots for them to borrow and an apology that only a scraggly tree from a recent stay — and a few leftovers — would greet them. But what this friend said she could do was give them gas money for the trip.
Pressing the dollars into Jael’s hand, despite her protests, the woman repeated the same words that had allowed Jael and Gary to graciously accept the beach stay — words that again spoke to her heart.
While the encouraged family excitedly packed the minivan, an out-of-the-blue call came from Gary’s former employer asking if he could stop by the church. Since it was on their way, they promised to visit the office.
“A gift was there for us — it was a check for $600! We were astounded!” Jael recalls the family’s shock and gratefulness at being able to buy a few necessities and gifts for the kids.
Once again her friend’s words echoed in her mind. She held them close.
As the family drove and evening approached, they followed the winding road through the wooded area turning finally into a long narrow driveway. Ahead was a lovely cabin aglow with old-fashioned Christmas bulbs illuminating a beautiful deck surrounding it.
But what happened next when they stepped inside was almost incomprehensible.
Hanging from a beautiful mantelpiece were six Christmas stockings, each one bearing their family member’s name. A gorgeous Christmas tree decorated with lights and ornaments stood in front of floor to ceiling ocean view windows. And under the tree? Gifts were piled high.
At every turn they were amazed.
The refrigerator and pantry were stocked with fresh food and holiday goodies. Not one thing had been forgotten for the struggling family. Even stocking stuffers had been tucked away for Jael and Gary to fill their children’s stockings on Christmas Eve.
And as the family gathered around the dining table to read the letter that had been left for them, they learned of the generosity and kindness of people they would never meet, but who cared.
While Jael paused to take it all in, her friend’s oft-repeated words came to mind once again.
“Jesus wants you to know, he just loves you so much.”
An affirmation to say again and again when all seems to be gone, and trials too great — a reminder that God’s love is constant. Just ask Jael Cox.
Philippians 4:19 “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” (NIV)
If you have a story idea for Light Notes, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Lucy on Twitter @LucyLuginbill