A lot of people are going to go through very difficult times this holiday season. Many people are going to have to make the difficult decision of whether they should use whatever little money they have to keep their lights on or buy Christmas presents for their children. I can answer that question easily because I’ve been there. My answer would be to forgo the holiday gifts and use your limited funds to keep the lights on and a roof over your head. Kids would rather have a home to live in than a fancy plastic toy to play with….regardless of what they might say or think.

When I lost my business in 2000, my last day of operation was December 24th. I literally closed up shop with no money in my wallet, bank account or squirreled away somewhere in a hiding place. I was flat broke. One of my last customers paid me in cash for an item and it was all the money I had in the world.

I closed my doors early that afternoon. After all it was Christmas Eve. I remember my husband picking me up and my two young adult daughters (ages 19 and 23) were sitting in the back of the car. None of us wanted to go back home because it was dark and empty. We didn’t put up any holiday lights and I didn’t have the money to buy a tree.

I knew my business was failing and I was in the process of selling off some of my assets to ward off my debts. One of the properties I owned that I had put up for sale was a townhouse located up in the Catskill Mountains of New York. For some strange reason, we all wanted to drive up to the townhouse and spend our Christmas there. It was a five hour drive and thanks to that last customer of mine, I had enough cash to make the round trip.

Being broke does strange things to you. I knew there was no way I could afford to buy any presents for my family. But one thing we all agreed on and discussed was buying at least a Christmas tree. We discussed it and when we realized the price of a real tree would cost around $60, the thought of buying a Christmas tree was totally out of the question.

As I said, being broke does strange things to you. I made the suggestion that maybe perhaps we could steal a tree. It was late. It was dark out. Most businesses were now closed. I knew of an open air tree stand we could go to and yes folks, I actually said and actually planned out stealing a Christmas tree. We would drive into the lot from a side entrance, scope out the place and then see what we could steal.

True to my plan, we drove into the open lot, in the darkest of the night and as we turned around the front office building………what did we see?

Two police cars, side by side, with their driver side windows rolled down as the two police officers chatted away. Almost immediately, the cops turned on their vehicle lights and asked us what we were doing there? I lied and said “We’re here to buy a Christmas tree“. “Too late, lady” the cop yelled out to me. “The place is closed. The Boy Scouts sold out a while ago.”

And with that, I sat in the car and just cried.

How embarrassing? How pathetic? How low could I go?

The police officer had something else to say to me. “If you look in the back dump, lady, I think the scouts threw away a few trees that were no good. Maybe you can scrounge around and find something you can use. Merry Christmas!”

We all looked and we did find something we could resurrect and use. We loaded the tree onto the top of our car and drove it up the rest of the way to the townhouse. My husband sawed down the base and made a makeshift stand. We didn’t have lights or ornaments but I did have a serious collection of red cookie cutouts (25 in all) and we used those to decorate the tree.

I don’t remember what we ate that night or what I prepared for Christmas dinner the next day. I just know that I had enough money to put together a meal. The electricity was still on. We had enough stored wood to light a fire in our living room fireplace and keep us warm. And we had a real Christmas tree. All decked out and decorated with my 25 red cookie cutouts.

It’s funny how God works, isn’t it? God was there when I almost sinned. He intervened and made it possible for me to get what I needed and to make my family and I have a most memorable Christmas holiday. Without breaking any commandments.

I’ve never ever been as broke as I was that holiday season. The next year I bought a fake tree so I’d never have to worry about Christmas trees again either. This holiday season, if you are short on cash, don’t fall into the Christmas guilt trap. Prioritize what’s truly important for you and your family. Keep a roof over your head, food on the table, the lights and heat on. Don’t worry about buying gifts for your kids or others. They won’t remember that. They’ll only remember you all had a wonderful time spending the day together.

Let God take care of the rest.

Obviously cookie cutter ornaments are now a ‘thing’. Who knew?