Light Notes

She prayed for a ‘miracle’ and the answer was astonishing

Christmas. It was on the horizon. But in her moment of despair, it seemed impossible to catch even a glimpse of the coming season of wonder.

“I just sat there in my bedroom and I said, “God, you’re really going to have to help me this time. I need a miracle,” Shyla Gentry said, remembering how she had given in to tears over her desperate situation.

Stretched financially as her mother’s caregiver, this part-time employee had found herself overwhelmed with bad news from a trusted mechanic. Her older Chevy Malibu had broken down and would require $3,000 in repairs, including more than two weeks in the shop.

Where would she get that kind of money? And without a car, how could she be at work early morning when public transit wasn’t available at that hour?

Already she had missed her assigned 3-day work schedule when her mom, suffering with advanced dementia, had to be hospitalized while Shyla stayed bedside. Even with her supervisor’s blessing, that still meant there would be no paycheck coming for regular expenses, much less this unexpected car engine repair.

The worries felt insurmountable.

“My whole life, if a door shuts I find a window and never give up,” the spunky Kennewick woman said, emotion playing on her face. “But this time I felt like I’d hit a wall, tried every window. I was just in a spot, not knowing hardly anyone here.”

Fairly new to Tri-Cities, it wasn’t the first time this curly redhead had relocated when she saw another’s need. For almost a decade she had helped her widowed mother in Christmas Valley, Ore., a desolate stretch of high desert where extreme temperatures and weather discourage all but a few hardy residents. Even holiday street names such as Mistletoe Road and Candy Lane weren’t enough to bring many to the unincorporated area.

“You’re a hundred miles from the nearest anything,” Shyla said, recalling the challenge of finally finishing a log-type home – her parents’ dream – and also the hardship of traveling in winter for her mom’s increasing medical appointments and emergencies. “I decided we needed to sell the place, it wasn’t going to work anymore.”

Determined to make a difference for her mom, Shyla found her “window” to the north in Washington state. A growing Tri-Cities metropolitan area with sun-filled days – and just what any doctor would order.

She also found her niche cashiering at a convenience store where the team feels like family. After Shyla’s car had quit, her boss kindly gave her a lift to work on cold, dark mornings when Shyla’s son worked and wasn’t available.

But beyond the comradery in the workplace, this business is also a place where customers have become friends.

“They’re just my ‘peeps’,” Shyla said with a big smile, referring to her regulars who drop in for coffee and her warm welcome. “I want them to have a good day, and they don’t even know it’s a gift I give.”

This red-shirted “happy cashier” – what she jovially calls herself – had casually mentioned her car problems, turning it into a joke rather than a complaint. Even so, one perceptive patron heard the pain behind Shyla’s cheery chatter, returning to the store within minutes of his visit.

“He pulled me aside and he said, ‘This is to give you a break. Everybody needs a hand-up and you definitely deserve it.’ “ Shyla said, remembering the incredible moment when the gentleman – who wishes to be anonymous – gave her a check for $3,000, a gift he said he felt compelled to give.

“I just stood there and cried. It changed my life.”

A Christmas miracle had come early. Oh, the wonder of a generous heart.

Lucy Luginbill is a syndicated Tri-City Herald columnist, religion editor and career public television producer and host. Her popular Light Notes column reflects inspirational and faith-focused stories. She’s been working in journalism for more than 30 years.