This is the first of seven winners in the Deseret News' annual Christmas writing contest, "Christmas I Remember Best."

Christmas 1983 promised to be rather bleak for us.

In April I had lost my position at U.S. Steel's Geneva Works and had practically worn out a pair of shoes pounding the sidewalk in a futile hunt for stable new employment. We had battened down the hatches, canceled magazine subscriptions, ended piano lessons and scaled back discretionary purchases of all kinds — and learned to live on very little.

We were truly blessed throughout this experience. It seemed that whenever we hit a new low spot, some good friend or neighbor, usually anonymously, dropped off a box of groceries or a $50 bill. I managed to get some church food assistance and a few extra days of National Guard duty just when we needed it most, so we were able to keep up with our bills and meet our basic obligations, despite the many bumps along the way.

But it was not easy, and there were discouraging times, especially as the search for full-time employment dragged on and on. Particularly disappointing were the "near misses," those times when it seemed like I had a good shot at a job only to have the opportunity slip away.

Despite the challenges and disappointments, our family held together well. Everyone was healthy and happy and we had sufficient for our needs.

But it was hard for us not to dread the coming holidays just a little bit. The prospect of such a materially meager Christmas for our eight little ones, ages 3 to 12, was almost overwhelming at times.

And then on Nov. 30, I spotted an item in the local American Fork newspaper soliciting gifts for a special "Christmas Family." Thinking that helping with this worthy project, even in a small way, might be a good way to take our minds off our own troubles, I showed the article to my wife, Eva. As we read the details more closely, especially the depiction of the family's circumstances and the ages and gender of the children, it dawned on us that it was a perfect description of our family! How in the world did they find out about us?

After an initial wave of embarrassment at being considered a suitable object for communitywide charity, we sought advice from our clergyman on what we ought to do. He counseled us to swallow our pride and let our neighbors and friends help. Not yet convinced, we contacted the newspaper's publisher, hoping perhaps to persuade him to find a more needy family, but when he expressed his and his staff's heartfelt conviction that we were the right family, we reluctantly agreed to go along.

What a wonderful experience it turned out to be! We were overcome by the outpouring of love and kindness by so many good people in the community.

A local square dance club provided a beautiful, fully decorated Christmas tree. Others provided groceries, including all the fixings for a great holiday feast. There were gifts for all of us; so many, in fact, that they literally filled our living room. We were able to stash enough away to take care of the following year's Christmas as well. Our hearts were indeed full of gratitude for such generosity. Other community organizations also reached out to help hundreds of other families in our community that year, and kind neighbors made it a memorable Christmas for many beside us.

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Among the many gifts, however, was one very special one. Some good person had sent along a set of beautiful, hand-made Christmas stockings — one each for Mom and Dad and all the children. They immediately became a central feature of our family Christmas tradition and have been ever since. But the most interesting twist of all is that they had "mistakenly" included one extra stocking. It wasn't until several weeks later that we learned that there was to be one more member added to our family. How did they know? God knew! And he touched their kind hearts in this very special manifestation of his love.