Thirty years ago this Christmas, Jeff and I were newly into what (in many ways) would ultimately be the most difficult season of our married life. And simultaneously, one of the most glorious, surprisingly beautiful seasons of our life together. How can that be?

Can pain and uncertainty co-exist with peace and joy?

My answer is a resounding yes! Let me share a glimpse of that season and one of the many ways that God caused this to be so.

In the early 90’s, Jeff worked in the building industry where he excelled and had known much success. Our home was modest and comfortable, perfect for raising our young family. With the economy in recession, widespread job loss and home foreclosures were all around us, but we had escaped the direct impact. Until now. With the unexpected closure of Jeff’s department, the economic downturn became personal. We were among the rising statistics of unemployment, uninsured, home loss and uncertainty.

Together, we began adding up the numbers to this new, unwelcomed budget. How are we going to get by on unemployment? What can I do to help? Should I look for a job? But then what about our three kids and my mom who was living with us and for whom I was sole caretaker?

It was overwhelming.

Looking back, I see how God had prepared us for this. Just a few years before this trial, we gave our lives to Jesus. We jumped in wholeheartedly, fully surrendered and thankful for all His promises. We were learning together as a family, anchored in God’s Word. There was Sunday church, we participated in Men’s and Women’s Bible studies and attended a weekly home study. We knew so many were praying for us. In many ways, our church family was bearing this burden with us, as Galatians 6:2 commands. There was always a good word of hope from the Scriptures.

So in childlike faith, we embraced the uncertain future, trusting that our Good Father would direct our steps and take care of us.

One evening early in December, we heard the doorbell ring. Our kids—ages eight, six, and even the three year old—scampered to the door, taking turns up on tiptoes to look through the peek hole.

“Nobody’s there!”

Sure enough, no one was on our porch. Laughing, I told them about growing up in Iowa and playing “ding-dong ditch.” As mischievous kids we would go around the neighborhood, ring doorbells then run away and hide to see who would come to the door. Harmless fun, but I didn’t want my kids to do the same!

Five minutes later, the doorbell rang again! This time Jeff opened the door to see if he could catch the neighborhood kids and give them a lighthearted scare back! But what we saw perplexed us.

Our front sidewalk was lined with bag after bag, overflowing with groceries. We hurried outside hoping to spot the mysterious giver of such gifts. All was quiet. We saw no one—not even a car driving away. Whoever that generous and loving messenger was remains anonymous to this day.

Recently I asked our kids (now married with children of their own) if they remembered that December surprise. Our two oldest said, “Absolutely! Every bit of it!” Though our youngest son was too little to recall the actual incident, it has become a memory for him through our sharing over the years.

That December blessing, so long ago, takes on deeper meaning for us this year.

Jeff and I are not experiencing those same trials of thirty years ago. But we know so many who are.  The trials of 2020 are not remote statistics to them. Illness. Unemployment. Loss. These are daily realities that no one should have to bear alone.

We all need to be anchored in the constant confirmation of our hope and faith in God.

Will you ask the Lord what you can do to bear one another’s burdens? The Bible says that Jesus went around doing good (Acts 10:38). Why not engage in a holy version of ding-dong ditch? Acts of kindness to show the love of our Savior in a tangible way—letting Him get all the praise and glory!

Put together a Christmas basket. Write that note of encouragement, appreciation, or comfort for someone you know needs to hear it. Bake a loaf of bread, bring a meal, leave groceries on the doorstep.

Who knows? Decades from now, these simple acts may be the very thing someone will be reminiscing as they share how faithfully the Lord has always provided for them. As they, in turn, help to ease the burden and encourage the weary.

Talking about that Christmas with our children, I asked if they recalled what was in the wrapped presents under the tree that year. As I suspected, they didn’t have a clue. But they will always remember what God surprised us with­—that grocery delivery so simple…yet so miraculous!­