Tonight, I am thinking back to all the times I have seen miracles happen in the lives of those who just didn’t expect God to intervene. Pondering all of this, I am reminded of my first Christmas in service to the King of Kings.
1991- I had just taken over a condemned property in Texas, a homeless shelter. It was in a rural area of Texas, pitch black at night, except for the light from the train as it passed by. I had forty-two youngsters and thirty adults staying in our shelter, no money and only the Christmas ornaments for the tree I had collected with my own children over the years.
It was time to decorate, and as we were putting the tree up, I noticed the children were grumbling… “Miss Penny, how is Santa ever gonna find us out here in the dark?”
I laughed at them and said, “Well, let’s sing real loud while we decorate and maybe he’ll find his way.”
The shelter was so new to the area I didn't expect anyone to find us; even Santa, I thought, as I continued trimming the tree. A few of the helpers were timidly singing Christmas carols. “Stop!” I said, “That’s a miserable attempt at joyful singing. I can barely hear you. Let’s try Rudolph and I mean loud!” Sure enough, they threw their heart and volume into the song, and just as I was getting in the spirit, suddenly they stopped cold. I turned to see what had caused the song to end so quickly and saw Santa walking toward me. The children’s eyes were as big as saucers and you could have heard a pin drop.
Santa leaned over to my ear and said “I’m on my way to a Christmas party and I heard you may need a Santa tonight.”
“Thanks,” I answered in amazement. Santa took a seat and quietly talked with each child asking what they wanted for Christmas. Then off he went, leaving big smiles behind him.
I was delighted by their new enthusiasm and my heart was thrilled as they sang one familiar carol after another while we finished decorating the tree. As they shared the excitement of Santa’s visit, to my dismay, I learned each and every one of them had asked Santa for a bike. Suddenly, the magic was gone and the reality of needing forty-two bikes settled on me. “How Lord, will I ever get that many bikes when just getting enough food is stretching my faith?’
I was new in ministry. I knew how to believe for me, my four and no more, as my Pastor John Osteen would say. But for this crowd?
Then, little by little, articles appeared in the local paper, and people began to visit our shelter. They brought surprises like sweatshirts and other warm clothing, blankets and supplies, and the word about our needs spread throughout the community. Yes and the bikes started coming. We stored them in a vacant room titled the workshop, secretly assembling the new bikes at night while the children slept. I was feeling pretty good about life.
Christmas morning came and the paper and ribbon flew. There was laughter, singing and a few tears of joy. And oh, the bikes…bikes everywhere! I was emotionally spent and plain ole tired from playing Santa’s helper all night. I told Ms. Kaye, our medical assistant, “I’m going back to my room for a well deserved rest.” She walked with me so we could discuss plans for the rest of the day. As we approached the main part of the shelter property, I heard a child running up behind me, calling my name.
“Miss Penny, Miss Penny!" I turned and saw Cedric, a precious five-year old boy, his cheeks streaked with tears. I got down on my knees on the dirt driveway to embrace him and see why he was crying so. What is it Cedric? Why are you crying, honey?” I asked.
“Miss Penny, I didn’t git me no bike! I told Santa I wanted a purple two wheeler but I didn’t git me no bike.”
How could we have been off by one bike, I thought to myself, and then quickly said “Cedric, did you ask Jesus for a bike?”
"No, Miss Penny,” he answered with a shocked look on his face, “I asked Santa.”
“Well, that explains it," I said. You see, Santa is a story about Christmas, and he is a one-day wonder. But Jesus, He is both the Gift and gift giver. He is Christmas, today and every day. He loves you and hears you when you pray. You know He is the reason we celebrate this day, so let’s talk to Him."
With that, we told Jesus all about our trouble. Cedric had quite a noisy plea, and then we closed with a request for a purple bike someday soon. AMEN.
I was struggling to get up off my knees when a pickup truck screeched to a halt, throwing dust all around us. “Are you Miss Penny?” a man asked, stepping out of his truck.
“That’s me,” I said, “Can I help you?”
“I’m sorry to be so late. My wife and I planned to be here yesterday but our kids surprised us by flying in from back east,” he said, while lifting a bike out of the truck bed. He placed a purple two wheeler on that dirt drive, right in front of Cedric.
“Hope you can use a bike like this. Sorry I was late,” he said, getting back into his truck.
I never got the name of that man. This woman of great faith was speechless as I watched God make Himself absolutely real to a very excited little boy. That moment is as fresh in my heart and mind today as it was that Christmas morning in 1991. I had only been out of the wheelchair a short time and wanted to say "thank you, Lord" for healing my body, as I had been told I would never walk again. I thought if I served Him for a year by volunteering at a homeless shelter, He would know how much I loved Him and how grateful I was. I believed that by September of 1992, I would get back to my old life of international travel and adventure, however there is no adventure that compares with adventures in faith with Jesus! And what an adventure it has been. I did not return to the family business but continued ministering to homeless- adults and children whose parents are in distressed situations; to date, helping more than 8,000 individuals and hundreds of children find a future with hope.
I remarried, founded a children’s home, and adopted a child, only to become a widow drowning in grief. I made a huge decision to move to another state, all the while my dreams seemingly dashed and retirement on my mind.
But then in 2008- I recall a beautiful Christmas on Thunder Ranch with a new husband, a daddy for our children who shares my bigger dream, and two homes full of children. God did that!
2011 - Ah, Christmas time, I think to myself. Leaning back against my favorite wingback chair, looking out my office window at the fresh snow on the ground, I can see the twinkling lights on our log home. I see too, the lights that wrap around the fence that stake out our yard from the seventy beautiful acres of Jacob’s House on Thunder Ranch. Smiling to myself, I realize this isn’t just my office. It is where I witness lost dreams rekindled and deferred hope resurrected. This is not just a window where I view twinkling lights, but where I view The Light who was born to die and whom is celebrated on a day we call Christ-mas. I am looking up now Lord, to the vast starry sky, and thanking You for the children who sleep peacefully tonight, and for the new ones arriving tomorrow.
I am praying for all of you who read this story, this Christmas Season ~ that you get your purple bike, whatever it may be. Healing for your body, Peace for your mind, Comfort for your heart and the Savior who will say to you…
“Keep your eye of faith on Me, child, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
--Penny Robichaux-Koontz, manager of Jacob's House at Thunder Ranch, Chestnut Ridge, MO., and author of the book I Thought you had a Bigger Dream.