There was once a little raggedy girl who lived with her widowed mother in what could only be charitably called a shack, just outside of town. She had few clothes to wear and those that she had were worn and patched in many places. She was clean and tidy. Her mother saw to that. But, her schoolmates could not see past her ragged clothing and they enjoyed making fun of her.
The little raggedy girl bore the insults of the other children in silence. One little boy, in particular, liked to make fun of the coat she always wore. Like the rest of her clothes, the coat had seen much better days. It was an ugly green color with pulls and rawls all over it. Some places had dark stains that no amount of washing could ever remove. But the coat was warm and it was the only one she had, so the little raggedy girl wore it to school every day.
Christmas was only a few days away now, and it was the last school day before the long vacation. On her way home that day, a wet snow was falling accompanied by a biting north wind. It was cold and miserable. She was happy about her old coat and the warmth it provided. Still she wanted to get home quickly to the warmth of her house.
Several blocks from the school she saw three boys standing on the sidewalk. They seemed to be arguing, but she couldn't make out the words -- just a lot of shouting. Then one of the boys suddenly snatched the coat off one the other boy's back. The boy tried to hold onto his coat, but the other one was stronger. As soon as the coat was free, he and his friend ran off with it, laughing. The boy started to run after them but, in his haste, slipped and fell in the slushy snow, landing heavily on the sidewalk. The raggedy girl ran up to the boy on the ground. She was startled to find it was the very same boy who had always taunted her about her coat at school.
"What happened?" she shouted.
The boy on the ground was crying, tears streaming down his face. "They took my coat," he wailed. "Now I'll freeze to death."
The little raggedy girl smiled. "I doubt that," she said, "but you're going to get mighty cold before you get home. You might catch a bad cold and that's no good around Christmas.
Then the boy felt a gentle, soft hand wiping the tears from his cheek. "Don't cry," she said. "Here. Wear my coat until you get home."
"But you'll freeze."
"No I won't," the little raggedy girl answered as she took off the coat. "Mama always makes me wear this old sweater under my coat for extra protection. It's not much, but it's better than nothing. Now put on my coat and we'll walk over to your house. If we hurry, it won't be so bad."
Ten minutes later, the pair arrived at the boy's house and stepped onto the porch. "Can you come in with me?" he asked. "You look positively frigid. Mom always has some hot chocolate and cookies for me when I get home on days like this."
The little raggedy girl felt funny going into such a fine house, but before she knew it the little boy had taken her by the hand and was dragging her through the front door. Inside, the house looked just as nice as it had from the outside. Just as the boy was taking off the ragged coat to return to the girl, his mother met them in the vestibule. "Who is this?" she asked. "And just where is your coat, young man?"
The little raggedy girl had never tasted anything so good as the cookies and cocoa in her life. Her mother was far too poor to buy such luxuries. Just before she finished, the mother walked into the kitchen with a huge box wrapped in shiny red ribbon. She placed the box in front of the little raggedy girl. "Go on and open it, honey," she said. "It's for you."
The little raggedy girl opened the box. Her heart leaped into her throat. There, folded neatly inside, was a brand new coat. She looked up at the boy's mother. "Go on," the mother urged. "It's yours. Try it on. See if it fits."
The little raggedy girl took the coat from the box and held it out in front of her. It was beautiful -- bright red with a warm liner and a thick, soft fur hood. And there wasn't a spot on it. She had never seen anything so beautiful in all her life. She looked up at the boy's mother. She was smiling broadly. "I had bought that coat for my niece for Christmas, but I think you deserve it much more," she said.
Then the mother drove the little raggedy girl to her own front door. She thanked the woman, then ran into the house to show her Mama the new coat. After she had finished telling her story, she saw that her mother was crying. She put a small arm around her mother's thin shoulders.
"I thought you would be happy, Mama," she said softly. "But if you want, I'll take the coat back. See? I still have my old one."
The mother gathered her little daughter on her lap and hugged her. "I"m not unhappy, honey," she sniffed. "I'm overcome with joy. I knew that I would never be able to buy you a new coat for Christmas. Even used coats down at the mission cost too much for me. So I prayed to God that he would provide you with a new coat. And He did -- and a finer coat than I ever imagined."
The mother kissed her daughter on the cheek. The little girl could feel the warm wetness of her mother's tears against her dry, cool skin. "You know," the little ragged girl said as she hugged her mother, "I really am so very rich to have a mother like you."
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
(Romans 8:28 NIV)