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A Bell Ringer’s Promise

How could the woman possibly know about my situation?

A Bell Ringer's Promise

Sad times can be even sadder at Christmas. Twenty years ago I was a divorced single mom, struggling with a job and college classes, hoping for a better life. Money was tight. I literally counted pennies.

One cold December day I squeezed into the last parking place at the supermarket. Meals for my 13-year-old son, Shawn, and me were a priority. But it was Christmastime. Shawn dreamed of an electric guitar.

I believed God would help me if he could. But I knew how much money was in my purse. How could I make Shawn’s dream come true with only 25 dollars and a few grocery coupons?

A Salvation Army volunteer stood beside a bright-red kettle in front of the market. The ringing of her bell cheered me a little, and I couldn’t help looking at her. Her eyes were astonishing, a bright sapphire blue. I shivered, but not from the cold. The woman had a powerful presence. It was as if she could see right through me.

“Would you like to help the poor for Christmas?” she asked. Her voice rang out as clearly as her bell. I was in a hurry to finish my shopping and pick up Shawn at school. Anyway, I thought, I’m the poor. But there was something about this woman that made me stop. After all, many people were far worse off than I was. I opened my purse.

“God bless you, daughter!” the woman said. Her sapphire eyes shone as I stuffed five dollars into the kettle. She put her hand on my shoulder.

“I know things have not been easy for you,” she said. “I’ll be praying that your life will get better.”

“Thank you,” I mumbled and walked away. I was startled by the woman’s words. How could she possibly know about my situation?

After my burst of generosity, I had just $20 left. I’d have to do some careful shopping. But I was amazed by the number of items on sale. Most of the discounts were on my list! I even found a few extra things to tide Shawn and me over for the holidays.

I sorted through my coupons and handed them to the cashier. I held my breath as she deducted 20 cents here, 30 cents there. She pressed the grand-total button—exactly 15 dollars. A $5 windfall! The eyes of the Salvation Army woman were bright as I passed her on the way to my car. “Merry Christmas!” she called.

I could still hear her cheerful bell as I drove toward my son’s school. The extra five dollars were a godsend, but it was not enough to buy a guitar for Shawn. The new year would bring me a small tax refund, but that was no help now.

Shawn almost never asked for anything. He loved music and had real talent. He’d even shown me a picture of the guitar he wanted. Dear Lord, if only it could be possible. I thought of the Salvation Army woman and her powerful eyes. I knew she was praying for me now.

Suddenly I realized I was so lost in thought I’d missed the road leading to the school and was headed back toward town. How could I have done such a thing? I turned into a side street and found myself stopping in front of a Victorian house. The big bay window was filled with twinkling lights. On display was a shiny red and black electric guitar. This was a music store! And the guitar was the very one Shawn wanted. 

A middle-aged woman welcomed me as I entered. “Anything in particular?” she said. Somehow I couldn’t help myself. She was a complete stranger, but I opened my heart and told her what I was going through. “Christmas would really be Christmas,” I said, “if I could buy that guitar in the window for my son.” I offered her $5 as a deposit and promised to pay in full with my tax refund after the new year. 

“It’s yours,” she said simply. She not only agreed to give me the guitar on credit, she waived the down payment.

She put everything in a red Christmas box and attached a large candy-striped bow. As she did so, she told me she was once in a similar situation. “But with God’s help I got back on my feet,” she said. She handed me the beautiful box and wished me a merry Christmas. “Things will get better,” she said.

I barely touched the ground. I was convinced the Salvation Army woman had made miracles happen for me that day, and I wanted to thank her. After picking up Shawn and driving him home, I went back to the supermarket. The woman was no longer there. I asked the store manager when she would return. He didn’t know, and to my surprise he said he hadn’t seen any volunteers at all. I went home and called the Salvation Army. No volunteer had been sent to the supermarket that day.

My son and I had a memorable Christmas, and in the years to come our lives did change for the better. I had no doubt of that after my meeting with the Salvation Army woman. I saw the promise in her sapphire eyes and heard it in the ring of her bell.


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