Little did I know that God would provide in such a startling way that Christmas of 1991, nor could I have dreamed He would change the course of my entire life.
The homeless shelter was in a remote area of Texas, pitch black at night except for the light of a lonesome train passing by. I had just taken over the property, planning to serve God for one year to thank Him that I could walk again after polio's crippling effects.
With 42 youngsters, 30 adults, no money, and few ornaments, our holiday season looked rather bleak.
"Miss Penny, how will Santa find us way out here?" The children asked while decorating the tree.
Let's sing," I suggested. A few weak voices began singing a carol. "Come on," I urged, "Put your heart into it." They upped the volume, and just as I was getting into the inspirational words of the song, all singing stopped. I turned to see Santa in full costume walking through the door. He whispered to me as he passed by, "Heard you might need a Santa. I'm on my way to a party and thought I'd stop here first."
Mr. Claus delighted the children, taking them one at a time on his knee and hearing their Christmas wishes. But to my dismay, each child asked for a bike. After he left, the reality of somehow making 42 bikes appear hit me. "Lord, how will I ever get that many bikes when just getting enough food for these people is stretching my faith?"
I certainly knew good Bible verses about how God provides abundantly and exceedingly. But I would never have guessed how specifically God, and not Santa, was about to show up.
Soon articles started appearing in the newspaper. Word spread. People brought warm clothes, toiletries, and other items, and yes, the bikes started arriving to be assembled in our "secret workshop."
Christmas morning arrived and oh, the bikes…bikes everywhere. Eventually exhausted after all the gift-giving, laughter, ribbons, and tears of joy, I decided to head for my room for a needed rest.
As I headed out on the dirt path, I heard little feet running behind. "Miss Penny, Miss Penny!" Five-year-old Cedric caught up to me, his cheeks streaked with tears. I knelt on the dirt drive to see what troubled him.
"What is it Cedric? Why are you crying, honey?" I asked.
"I didn't git me no bike! I told Santa I wanted a purple two-wheeler, but Santa didn't git me no bike!"
Dismayed, I groaned inwardly, how could we have been off by one bike!
Looking into those tear-filled eyes, I asked, "Cedric, honey, did you ask Jesus for a bike?"
"No, Miss Penny, I asked Santa."
"Well, that explains it," I said. "You see, Santa Claus is a story about Christmas. He's a one-day wonder. But Jesus is the true Gift and the gift-giver. He hears you when you pray. What I am telling you are quotes to live by, so let's talk to Him about this.
Cedric got on his knees beside me and made quite a noisy plea to Jesus ending with a request for a purple two-wheeler.
After the amen, I looked up to see dust from a pickup heading along the drive toward us. It pulled to a stop and a man stepped out.
"Sorry I'm late," he said, "I meant to come yesterday, but our children made a surprise visit. Can anyone use this?" He lifted a brand new purple two-wheeler from the pickup's bed and placed it right in front of little Cedric.
Woman of 'great faith' that I am, I stood there absolutely speechless and simply watched as God made Himself real to a delighted child. I never got the name of the man.
The joy of that moment is as fresh in my heart today as it was that morning. And because of that joy, I have continued ministering to homeless adults and children at Jacob's House at Thunder Ranch, helping more than 8,000 individuals and hundreds of youngsters find a future with hope.
I am praying for all who read this story that you also get your purple bike, whatever it may be. Healing for your body, peace for your mind, and comfort for your heart . . . that only Jesus can bring.
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