Christmas, at its real heart, is about a young couple with a baby on the way who had no place they were welcome.
That too often neglected aspect of the holiday season has been on my mind a lot lately, especially after writing a series of stories about poverty in our community.
One story not written for the series is haunting me. In the course of doing interviews for the articles, one young woman shared her experiences growing up in poverty ... and living in it now.
But several days after doing the interview, she called me, asking if I could please not put her story in the paper. She was overwhelmed with thinking she would be judged and harassed because of her history.
Which is a shame but unfortunately is totally understandable. We - I am as guilty as anyone at times- judge people by their situation without really knowing their circumstances. However, I'd like to think people would have reacted kindly once they learned her reality.
This young woman, who I will call Mary to protect her identity, survived a difficult childhood, never really have a permanent home. She was shuffled between her parents and her mother moved frequently, making Mary's attempts to finish school impossible.
Mary would spend only weeks at a particular school before being uprooted by a move. She made it through eighth grade. And that was it. She has no high school credits.
Her father has not been part of her life for a long time. She told me she only hears from her mother when her mother, who lives many miles away, needs gas money.
As you can imagine, Mary has a tough time trusting people. How can you trust when you've never had anyone to depend upon?
Now in her early 20s, Mary has survived some bad relationships with men, finally learning recently to stand up for herself. And that developing sense of worth is shining through now in a most important way: Mary has two little girls and another baby girl set to be born in a few months and she is determined to make a better life for them.
Mary was shy when answering questions about herself during our interview, but her eyes sparkled when she talked about her girls.
To make life better for her daughters, Mary is taking literacy classes, hoping to earn a high school equivalency and then to enroll in college. Her big dream is to be a veterinarian, but with three kids, she knows that would be tough. So she's hoping to work with children in some capacity.
Mary would love to go to church regularly and get out to do fun things with her kids, but with little money, no transportation and living miles outside of town, those wishes are difficult to make a reality.
As we were ending the interview, after I snapped some pictures of her and her younger daughter, Mary asked if she could give me a photo of her elder daughter, who was in preschool that morning while we were talking. She wanted this daughter to be part of the story, too.
While understanding why Mary later asked to keep her life private, I hope she knows how much I admire her and all she's trying to accomplish in order to make her daughters' childhood better than her own.
Mary, you cannot help where you come from, but you're doing your best to make sure where you're going is a place full of hope and promise. That's a beautiful gift you're giving to your own children, one which should fill you with immense pride.
Your daughter's photo is in my wallet now, something I will cherish. I will always remember you and hope you fight your way to a better life.
Merry Christmas to you and your precious girls, Mary. God bless you on your journey.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.