Miracle in a thrift shop

Volunteer cashier Jennifer Norton, left, and customer Rawan Ibrahim at the Crowded Closet in Iowa City, Iowa. — Julie Birky Volunteer cashier Jennifer Norton, left, and customer Rawan Ibrahim at the Crowded Closet in Iowa City, Iowa. — Julie Birky

On the eighth day, God created a thrift shop. God called it the Crowded Closet, because it would help the rich empty their closets and make space in their hearts for love.

And God saw that it was good.

One day God told Isaiah: “Get ready! The Messiah Baby is coming. Go to the Crowded Closet and buy things to prepare for his birth.”

Fortunately, the Crowded Closet had made order out of chaos. What would the baby need? Browsing the aisles, Isaiah found a night light. The child would not be afraid of the dark, he thought, but the people who walked in darkness would welcome the light.

In the craft section, Isaiah found kits to personalize bibs with a baby’s name. Isaiah had never done counted-cross-stitch before, but he was sure he could learn. He was already counting the days to the Messiah’s coming.

Isaiah rushed home and embroidered the names: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Years passed, and the Crowded Closet thrived. It opened a branch store in Bethlehem. One year, inventory swelled when the government levied a new tax. Donations surged from people wanting deductions.

One night, a young expectant mother and her fiancé came to the Crowded Closet seeking baby clothes and blankets. Seeing their need, the manager gave them a Mennonite Central Committee relief kit and a voucher for anything in the store. They didn’t find a crib but noticed a gently used feeding trough — suitable for a bed, they thought.

There in the store, her labor pains began. Rushing her to the back room, volunteers laid down linens from the linen sorting corner. She gave birth to a baby boy.

One of the volunteers remembered the bibs in the storage room — the ones with mysterious embroidered names. One bore the words, “Emmanuel, God with Us.” The volunteer had always wondered where those bibs came from — and why no one had ever set them out to be sold. She decided this baby should have them.

The store stayed open late that night. To everyone’s surprise, some poor folks who had been working the night shift showed up. Breathless, they asked to see what was in the back room and were overjoyed to find the baby and his parents.

“Where are your greeting cards?” they asked. “We need to spread the good news we have seen.” All were amazed when they found a box of baby announcements inscribed in gold: ­“Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born. He is the Messiah.”

The next day, volunteers gathered in their morning prayer circle around the little family. As they prayed, they heard voices from above: “Glory to God in the highest heaven! Sing praise to the One who brought glory to a humble thrift store!”

Margalea Warner volunteers at the Crowded Closet in Iowa City, Iowa, one of more than 85 Mennonite Central Committee thrift stores in North America. The Crowded Closet has donated about $8.5 million to MCC since 1978.

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