From time to time our family has what we call “A Pena Family Outing.” A Pena Family Outing is an event that is either simple and mundane, or that goes awry in some way, but is looked upon fondly (and sometimes unfondly) as an adventure. We have had many of these adventures, but one in particular comes to mind at Christmas time.

When my husband experienced a lengthy unemployment many years ago, buying gifts for Christmas became a challenge. Kids have a hard time understanding financial problems, and still expect to find presents under the tree Christmas morning. But that particular year, we planned on buying the few meager gifts we could afford at the 99 Cent store.

However, about a week before Christmas, an unexpected gift card arrived in the mail for over two hundred dollars! We were elated, but also a little puzzled. You see, the gift card was for Staples, the office supply store, and we didn’t think our kids would be too thrilled to get paper clips and manilla envelopes for Christmas. Still, we decided to make the best of it, look on the bright side, put on a happy face, and a plethora of other optimistic cliches, as we loaded the kids into the van and schlepped off to Staples.

To make this Pena Family Outing a fun experience, my husband and I decided to escort each child into the store one at a time to buy gifts, and when that child finished, another child would have a turn. Surprisingly, there were a lot of fun choices of gifts. There were stuffed toys, art supplies, tins filled with flavored popcorn, and lots of other kid pleasing items. A couple of times one or more of the kids waiting in the car would need to use the restroom and when both shopper and bathroom visitor saw each other at a distance, the shopper would scamper into a corner to keep the selected gifts, easily seen in the shopping cart, a secret. By the time we had used up all the funds on the card we had spent over two hours in the store.

But when it came time to ring up our items, there was a problem with the card. For some reason it wouldn’t go through. The sales representative could see that there were funds available on the card, but it wasn’t being accepted. Supervisors were called in, then the head manager, and finally calls were made to corporate office, all to no avail. Meanwhile, I was sitting in the van with four antsy, hungry kids who were swinging from van doors and dancing in adjoining parking spaces as our radio blared Veggie Tale Christmas music.

Another hour passed. Still no luck. Finally, the store manager made a decision. He was going to issue another card to us for the amount on the original card, plus an additional $100 to make up for our inconvenience. It seemed the Pena Family had disproven the Staples motto, “Staples, that was easy!” and the manager wanted to restore the Staples’ good name.

So back into the store we went to buy more gifts.

After almost five hours at Staples, the Pena Family Outing was complete! Or so we thought. We put everything into the back of the van (with hands covering our eyes, of course) clicked on our seat belts, and put the key into the ignition. Nothing happened. Apparently, Bob and Larry had run down the battery in the van, resulting in an additional hour in the Staples parking lot waiting for the Triple A guy to arrive.

But, at long last, our adventure ended. We went home, wrapped our gifts, and on Christmas morning had four very happy children. Our Staples adventure, though far from easy, had been a success. Most importantly, our children had witnessed first hand, that God provides, not only for our needs, but for our wants.

Once again, a Pena Family Outing had become a special memory, not just of a fun time together as a family, but of God’s faithfulness to us in lean times as well as in plenty.

Wishing you and yours a very merry Christmas!