I remember a Christmas—I had to have been about 11—when my single mother took me aside one day and said, “Ash (she probably really called me by my nickname SMASH), I have to ask you a favor.” She then proceeded to tell me that this year, her Christmas budget was close to nothing. She said, “I need your help; the only thing I was able to purchase for you was a nail polish, and this year I need you to be OK with that.”

I was long past the years of asking Santa for presents, but I had never imagined a Christmas when there was going to be close to nothing under our tree. Being the brave young woman I was, I looked my mother in the eye and said, “Do not buy me another thing. If you have any money left, get something for the little girls.” My little sisters were five and seven years younger than me, and I was pretty sure they still had faith in the little jolly man with the red suit.

Christmas morning came and just as she had promised, all I opened was my nail polish. I sat quietly as the others opened their meager gifts.

It was hard to breathe as I choked back tears. I wasn’t sad about the presents, but it killed me to watch my mother go around trying to smile—I could see it all over her face . . . she felt like she had failed us.

Soon, there was a knock. We all scampered to the door of our little duplex and as it swung open we were surprised to see what looked like a miniature tree standing boldly on our porch. Instead of leaves, this little tree proudly sported little wrapped up dollar bills—tiny ribbons held them tightly to each branch.

Tears filled my eyes as we picked up the little magic plant and carried it into our tiny kitchen. I looked up to see my mother’s face—it was wet from tears—as she watched us count what felt like a million dollars. We felt rich that Christmas—rich in blessings, rich in dollars, and rich in love. Someone loved us enough to know that year . . . we just needed a tiny sprout of hope, not in a little jolly man in a red suit—but in Christ. They were His hands that day. Angels who dropped off a tiny reminder in that tiny duplex: we were not forgotten.

Fast forward about five or six years; it is Christmastime again. My mother has remarried a very generous kind man who announced, “Kids (there were 12 of us between the two of them, probably six of us living at home), this year we want to do Christmas a little differently; we want to give our presents to a family who needs it. We will give you a budget and assign you partners to shop for each of their children and we will drop everything off at their house on Christmas Eve. Our goal is to make sure they have no idea where it came from. It will be really fun . . . the only catch is: we won’t be buying anything for any of you.”

My mind quickly took me back to the nail polish and the money tree, and the look in my mother’s eye. I shouted with excitement, “Yes!”

I took it to another level—as I often tend to do—and knocked on their door with a fake “research questionnaire for school” first. I had to meet the people we were going to be shopping for. These total strangers let me in their house. I surveyed the room; they had no TV, and I didn’t see any sign of a scrap of food. They had four little kids. They talked very kindly to their children as they filled out my fake questionnaire. As I drove home that night, tears fell down my cheeks as I thought about all the fun things I was going to purchase for their family.

Christmas Eve came. The boxes were all lined in our front room, decorated beautifully. We loaded them into our cars. We drove in silence and when we approached their tiny apartment my step dad turned and said, “Ashlee, you are the fastest kid I know. Once we get all the presents loaded on the porch, why don’t you be the one to ring the doorbell and run around the corner.”

The porch was loaded and everyone had piled into the cars. I rang the doorbell and ran as fast as my legs could carry me. I slammed myself into the car and we sped away. I noticed over the fence from their apartment was a K-Mart. I suggested we go over to the parking lot and look over the huge cinderblock fence to see if we could see the family. (Like I said, always trying to take it to the next level.)

My stepbrother hoisted me up so I could barely peek my eyes over the wall. And there on the porch were all the presents . . . along with a mother, weeping so hard she couldn’t even bend over to pick up one box. I could hear her sobs, I could feel of the gratitude she felt, but I also could remember a moment when my own mother had cried those same tears—and I felt joy.

This time we got to be His hands. Someone else had the opportunity to remember His love . . . and we got to be a part of it.

I will never forget either of these Christmases and the lessons I learned feeling the earthly angels . . . and how powerful it feels to be one.

Heaven is close, there are angels all around us—some we can see, and others we can only feel. This Christmas let us always remember the miracles—we even have the power to create some. Three wise men followed a star to bring their love to a little baby far away. Most of the time we don’t have to look or travel too far to find someone who needs to be reminded that they are loved—a little glimmer of light can help us remember we are not forgotten.

Originally published on The Moments We Stand

Ashlee Birk

I am Ashlee. I am a mother. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a survivor of murder. I am a survivor of infidelity. Life has tried to pull me down but I choose to stand.