Ashlee still remembers the Christmas when the only thing her mom could give her was nail polish.
A hard-working single mother, Ashlee’s mom asked her for a favor: “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.”
Though Ashlee had stopped making wish lists for Santa by then, she hadn’t expected a Christmas with hardly any presents. But her younger sisters still believed in Santa, and Ashlee didn’t want them to lose that sense of joy. She wrote:
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 5 and 7 years younger than me, and I was pretty sure they still had faith in the little jolly man with the red suit.
When Christmas morning came, it was harder than Ashlee imagined. As promised, there was nothing for young Ashlee but the nail polish. When she watched her sisters open the few presents her mom had been able to buy, she realized what it meant to her mother:
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.
A knock on the door sent the whole family running to see who it could be. When they opened the door, whoever knocked was gone. But they had left behind a miniature tree — with surprising ornaments. Ashlee noticed that “instead of leaves, this little tree proudly sported little wrapped-up dollar bills — tiny ribbons held them tightly to each branch.”
I remember a Christmas—I had to have been about eleven—when my single mother took me a side one day and said, “Ash”—she…
They brought the little tree into the kitchen, and Ashlee had the opportunity to see what the gesture had meant to her mom:
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 that dropped off a tiny reminder in that tiny duplex: we were not forgotten.
Five or six years later, Ashlee’s life had changed substantially. But she didn’t forget the lesson of that Christmas.
Her mother had remarried a “very generous, kind man” and between them had 12 children (with six living at home). That Christmas, her parents put forward a suggestion to do something different for Christmas: They would get presents for a family in need, and everyone would get a budget and a specific person to shop for.
They would drop the gifts off on Christmas Eve and make sure the gifting was done anonymously. There was one more thing: “It will be really fun … the only catch is: we won’t be buying anything for any of you.”
Remembering her mother’s face on when they got their own anonymous Christmas gift, Ashlee enthusiastically agreed. Then she threw herself into finding the perfect presents for the family they chose:
I took it to another level — as I often tend to do — and knocked on their door with a fake “research questionnaire for school”. 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.
When Christmas Eve came, they drove to the family’s house with a car full of wrapped boxes. They loaded the porch with gifts, then Ashlee’s stepfather tasked her with ringing the doorbell and running back to the car so they could drive away.
Wanting to see how their gifts were received, Ashlee talked everyone into watching from behind a fence at a nearby shopping center. She wrote:
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.
Ashlee says that she will never forget either of these Christmases — both the feeling of being the recipient of an earthly angel and “how powerful it feels to be one.”
Having shared that experience, Ashlee’s post has now been shared more than 150,000 times on Facebook. Many commenters wrote about how touched they were by the message behind her story:
Ashlee concluded with a reminder that “heaven is close, there are angels all around us — some we can see, and others we can only feel.”
“Most of the time,” she added, “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.”