An Old Friend Performs a Small Holiday Miracle—and Saves Christmas for a Single Mom

On a Friday evening in December, two weeks before Christmas, I lost my job. I hadn’t seen it coming. I was excited for the weekend, when my daughter, Kristil, then 12, and I planned to get our Christmas tree. Then I listened to my voicemail: “We’re sorry, but your work assignment has ended as of today.” My heart sank.

I wasn’t just a single parent; I was the only parent. My paycheck was survival. I did everything I could to give Kristil a good life, but there were some things my love couldn’t fix. The next day as we searched for our tree, I struggled to be cheerful as I eyed the Christmas tree prices.

“Is everything OK?” Kristil asked. “You seem worried.”

“I got some bad news yesterday,” I told her. “I lost my job.”

“Oh no,” Kristil said. “Well, I have $100 that Grandma gave me that I can give you.”

“Absolutely not,” I told her.

Monday morning, I dropped Kristil at school and set off on my ­moneymaking pursuits. Looking for where to sell stuff, I headed to the pawnshop with a garnet ring set in 14-karat gold that my mother had given me a decade earlier.

“Best I can do is $70,” the owner said. “The stones are worthless. We’re only interested in the gold.”

Next was the antiques store. I sold six Precious Moments figurines for $150. I ended the day $220 richer­—not bad.

Over the next week, I furiously applied for jobs as my bank account grew smaller. I felt as if the world was closing in on me. On a weekend afternoon, I dropped Kristil in a wealthy gated community for a birthday party. I watched as she went in, surrounded by all the nice things we couldn’t afford. I drove home defeated.

TEXT: I felt as if the world was closing in on me

Back at home, I glanced out the window. It had been snowing on and off all morning. I noticed a petite woman with short white hair struggling to open her car door against the wind. As she got out, I realized it was my old professor, Sister Esther Heffernan. I hadn’t seen her since we’d met for lunch three months ago. I’d first met Sister Esther 10 years earlier, when I was her student at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin. Kristil was 3 at the time, and I sometimes took her to class. Sister Esther was understanding and would bring coloring books to occupy Kristil.

After I graduated, Sister Esther kept in touch, meeting me for lunch every few months. I had grown to love her like family. I rushed to the front of my building. “What are you doing out in this weather?” I asked as we hugged.

“Well, I tried to call last week but couldn’t get through. Then I called your job and they said you weren’t working there anymore, so I thought I would come by,” Sister Esther said. “I have a couple of gifts for you and Kristil.”

I made her a cup of tea, and we talked. Just being in Sister Esther’s presence gave me hope that things would be all right. As she got up to leave, she handed me a Christmas card. “This is for you,” she said as she kissed me on the cheek. I walked her to her car and waved as she pulled away.

When I opened her card, I gasped in shock. There was money inside. Hundred-dollar bills fell onto the table. Tears of gratitude puddled in my eyes as I counted. Sister Esther had given me $1,000.

On Christmas morning, Kristil and I gathered around our tree, and I joyfully watched as she opened her Christmas gifts. I silently thanked Sister Esther in my heart.

It has been 14 years since that Christmas, but I’ve never forgotten what Sister Esther did for us. In 2020, at age 91, Sister Esther died, but the love she gave during her life lives on in the hearts of many. I am lucky to be one of them.