I’m driving through downtown St. Louis City, alone, in my car. I’m thanking God that I have GPS because I really have no idea where this place is and everything is looking a little run down and sketchy out there. I pull up to a dilapidated area and my GPS tells me, “You have arrived”. There’s only a few cars and I don’t even see a sign for the Sunshine Ministries, which is where I am headed. So I park and look around and see a couple people walking into this church-looking, brick and stone building. The windows are boarded up and you have to ring a buzzer to get inside. Then I see a few people my age walking in and figured it must be the right place. I step outside of my car to the St. Louis winter cold. It’s freezing outside, but I am thankful that at least there is no snow. The day is December 20, 2004 and I am volunteering at the Sunshine Ministries Christmas Party.
As I walked into the Sunshine Ministries building, the first thing I heard was the sound of kids laughing and yelling. They were so excited for a Christmas party. Surprisingly, most of the kids were from the surrounding neighborhood area and walked there by themselves!! They didn’t even have a parent bring them to check them in. As I signed in to the volunteer log, I was immediately partnered with a child. Her name was Angela, she was about six years old, and she had braids in her hair. She was a sweet girl. I remember her telling me that this was the first time she was going to get a present for Christmas!! It broke my heart, but at the same time she was such a kind-hearted and happy little girl, so I couldn’t show her how sad I felt for her on the inside.
The Christmas party was set up in different stations. Each volunteer was assigned a child to spend time with and rotate through all the stations. The place was amazing on the inside. They had a huge indoor play area and I remember they even had a loft of some sort for the kids to climb up into and play. There had to have been 40 – 50 kids at the Christmas party. Angela and I rotated through each station, all the while she was telling me some amazing and heartbreaking stories about her life. We started off at the indoor play area, then made a few crafts together, and then she got to pick out a Christmas gift. It truly was a Hallmark movie moment when she was told that she could pick out ANYTHING that she saw. The sparkle in her eye was enough to bring me to tears.
Angela ended up picking out an Easy Bake Oven. She was so excited to be able to make her own snacks for her and her brothers. I was so touched that she was able to pick out anything, but still she picked out an item that she could share with her brothers. Now, I don’t think the easy bake oven is really a BIG toy, as far as size goes, but I do remember that it was difficult for me to carry around Angela’s big, new Easy Bake Oven, her puffy winter coat, and the crafts she made earlier in the evening. I think I was even carrying Angela, too, at some point.
Anyway, we were on our way to the games station and came to a door. With my hands completely full, there was no way I could open the door. In swoops Matt, Mr. Prince Charming himself, to open the door for us and help me carry everything to the games area. I thanked Matt and as he went on his way, Angela and I started playing games. That was the only time Matt and I spoke at this event. We were both at the Sunshine Ministries Christmas party to spend time with these kids, not to meet other people. So, that was it.
But, was it really??
As the Christmas party was ending, I helped clean up and then……I left. I didn’t know any of the other volunteers there and I still was an unconfident, shy person at the time. Little did I know that God had different plans. A few days went by and Matt kept popping into my thoughts. It was so odd because I did not want to date anyone at the time. I mean, no one. I was working three jobs, raising two kids, not getting any child support, and trying to pay off my marital debt. There was no time to go out on dates.
Still, two days later I kept getting the feeling that I was missing an opportunity. So, I emailed the people at Sunshine Ministries and told them that I was looking for another volunteer named Matt. I asked them if they could give him my email address and have him contact me. A few minutes later, I open an email from Matt….
“You don’t make it easy for a guy when you leave right away.”
That was the first sentence in his email. So, I guess he was interested in me?!?! Then, I started thinking…maybe he thinks I’m someone else??! I also wanted full disclosure, so I sent him this response….
“Just wanted to let you know that I’m divorced and have two kids.”
Ha. How’s that for a pick up line? Thankfully, it didn’t run him off. Matt and I ended up going last minute Christmas shopping on December 23, 2004 for our first date. He even brought me a gift. It wasn’t until weeks later that I learned our first date was on HIS birthday.
When I first started dating Matt, the thing that drew me close to him (besides his handsome good looks and sarcastic sense of humor), was the way he cares about others. He is the most selfless person I know and it inspired me to want to be a better person, too. Matt makes so many sacrifices for our family, he is always the first one to step up and help someone else, and he does all of this without accepting any praise or recognition. I look at who I was then, and who I have become as a person now, and I know that Matt has been the biggest influence, motivation, and inspiration in my life. He makes me want to push myself beyond my limits. He shows me through his hard work and dedication, that we can do anything.
Looking back is always 20/20. Who would’ve thought that as I was walking into Sunshine Ministries to make a difference in someone else’s life, I would meet the person who would change my life the most.
Matt Evans, YOU INSPIRE ME.
Today, I want to encourage all of you to make the time to tell someone you know, what a difference they have made in your life. How have they inspired YOU? How have they motivated YOU? Post it on social media with the hashtag #youinspireme so we can all read them.