When you move to a small town, the first thing that you discover is that everyone knows everyone else’s business. You would think moving away from all of the people in a big city would mean more privacy, but actually the opposite is true. And after people sufficiently interrogate you about what gives you the right to move into their town, they will then switch and begin telling you the latest gossip about your neighbors, the best and worst school teachers, the mayor, which businesses you should patronize, etc.
I believe it was the very first day in town that I was told that Katherine Heigl lived in the area. And not just by one person, but almost everyone I met. They seemed proud of it. They wore it like a badge of honor. I imagined if you could translate the Latin inscription on the city seal it would read “Katherine Heigl Lives Here!”
Some of my first conversations went like this:
So what made you think you could move into our town? Are you related to someone here?
Well, my wife’s grandmother’s brother lives here in the summers.
Oh okay… Did you know Katherine Heigl lives here?
Yeah, someone else told–
My friend says she saw her mother at the gym the other day. She used to go on Tuesdays, but now she goes on Thursdays.
That is good to know.
Yeah, and don’t buy gas at 7-Eleven. None of the locals buy gas there because it is a chain.
I tried to immediately forget all of the gossip I heard about everyone (much of it contradicting each other), but I admit I looked up Katherine Heigl out of curiosity. Partially, to see if anything these people were telling me was the truth, and partially because I wasn’t sure who Katherine Heigl was. I knew I had seen her name on some movies and stuff, but I couldn’t tell you which movies or which stuff. And what if I ran into her at the grocery store? Wouldn’t it be useful if instead of smiling and saying hello, I could quiz her about every tabloid fact that was ever listed about her online?
Years passed and surprisingly Katherine Heigl’s presence in our town had little to no affect on my life.
Speaking of my life, things were at an all time low. My wife and I were working a total of 6 jobs between the two of us and we were both depressed, stressed and having nervous breakdowns. We had 4 kids at the time and were living in a two bedroom apartment and were unable to pay our bills. We saw each other for approximately 38 seconds between jobs as we handed off kids and drove them in opposite directions. We had a bunk-bed in our front room and a crib set up in the master bedroom closet. I was living mostly off of soda and candy bars, but was losing weight from all the stress.
I got a phone call in the late fall from the bishop of our local church congregation. He asked if we would be willing to receive some help in providing Christmas for our children that year. I initially wanted to say no, that we were fine, but I knew that we needed serious help. There was no way we could provide any kind of Christmas for our kids. Embarrassed, I agreed to the needed help.
Then the bishop surprised me further by asking if I knew who Katherine Heigl and her husband Josh Kelley were. I admitted I knew of them. And he then said that they had approached him recently and asked if he knew of a family in the area that could use some help this year with Christmas. He prayed about it and said that he felt very strongly that our family should be the ones they helped.
At this point, I remember asking him to hold for a moment while I talked to my wife. I put the phone against my chest and told her–not really believing the words as they came out of my mouth–that Katherine Heigl and her family want to buy Christmas for us.
After a moment of shock, she said, “Really?”. I nodded my head. She then said, “Okay”. And I then said “Okay” into the phone.
We were then given an email address where we sent our children’s ages, clothing sizes, and interests. We corresponded back and forth to clarify and provide other information.
Eventually, Christmas Eve arrived and arrangements were made to bring the gifts to our little apartment. Josh, Katherine, their children, and Katherine’s mother and father all came. Apparently, they were heading to a Christmas party afterwards and so everyone was dressed up and looking their best.
Josh asked me if I wouldn’t mind helping him bring in the boxes. I was surprised hearing that there were “boxes” and not just a box, and I told him so. He smiled and pointed out that the entire back of the truck was full of gifts for our family. We opened the shell of the truck and began to carry the loads into the crowded front room of our house where everyone was now standing and chatting.
On one of our loads, Josh said that he had heard about the theater we were running and wished they could do more to help us with that, but that if I was interested he did have an old audio mixing board that he no longer used that I could have for our community performances. I told him that would be great and we arranged for him to bring it by another time.
Back in the house, Kat hesitated and almost embarrassed said that our daughter was not far behind her daughter and asked if in addition to the gifts they purchased if we wouldn’t be offended to receive some of their hand-me-down clothes. We were quite used to hand-me-down clothes and thought that was a wonderful idea. (These hand-me-downs, of course, were very nice and some still had the tags on them.)
After the front room was filled with packages, I sat on the arm of our little brown sofa next to my wife across from Josh, Kat, their children, and her parents for a few minutes–mostly thanking them and feeling like the whole situation was surreal. I remember them thanking us for the experience and telling us how much their kids had enjoyed picking out gifts for our kids.
I sat there studying these “famous people” in our front room and observed that they weren’t that different from us. Yes, they were beautiful and talented (and in a different financial situation than we were), but they were still real people with kids, and problems, and all the crazy things that life throws at all of us. I’m almost certain they occasionally got sick, stubbed their toe, and even (maybe) had a bad day.
I was impressed with how easy they were to talk to and how nonjudgmental they were. I never once felt like they looked down on us. I remember thinking that these were the kind of people that I could be friends with if our life situation had been different.
Kat told us that she also wanted to give us a night off and that we could bring our kids to her house to be babysat so we could have a date night. We thanked them again for all of their generosity, and then they said they needed to get going to their party.
The family of Santa surrogates got back in their now empty truck and headed down the road. The heavy stress of providing Christmas seemed to leave with them.
As I looked at the endless gifts that I had been unable to provide for my own children, I thanked God for sending these good people who had come to our home without fanfare or need for publicity. They were a much needed light in a world that had seemed very dark.
Sharee and I discussed how one day we wanted to be the ones giving and serving a family in need. We wanted to be able to do the same thing for others—to remind people that there is still good in the world, and not to lose hope.
Have you been the recipient of an unexpected kindness? Please share your story in the comments section below!
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