HURST — Crystal Samano settles into a metal chair, coffee in hand, and slides her sunglasses down her forehead to shield her eyes on what may be the final temperate day of 2019. Across the yard, her sons tumble across the family trampoline, pausing only to shower themselves in fresh fallen leaves. The back door is open; the family stereo pumps Zack Williams’s Rescue Story out across the scene. Crystal’s phone chose the song at random, but it’s a fitting theme for a family.
Michael and Crystal were themselves rescued just over six years ago, escaping from addiction and stepping fearlessly into a marriage that — by most accounts — seemed doomed to fail. Today, their three children are helping them continue a dramatic story of reconciliation with a new family tradition, born around this time last year.
The Samano family doesn’t celebrate Christmas. At least not as most of us would recognize it. You won’t find any gifts under their tree. In fact, you won’t find a tree in their home at all. There’s no lavish feast or colorful decorations marking the season. Instead, their entire holiday budget goes toward Night of Hope.
Advised Not To Marry
When Crystal met Michael, she had just finished a months-long rehabilitation at Nexus, a Dallas-based nonprofit that helps women recover from drug and alcohol addictions. Crystal had both. Michael was stepping out of his own addiction to methamphetamines. They met at a Celebrate Recovery class hosted by their church. Each of them fit in at the Biblical 12-step program, having grown up in religious backgrounds before wandering away from their faith.
“We were advised not to [get married] by almost everybody, except two people; one being the pastor — he wasn’t the executive pastor, but he was a pastor — and then a friend of ours,” Michael said.
“It’s odd to think about because everything that didn’t look right and proper, God was like: ‘that’s exactly what I want. I’m going to show something through that.’ So it’s definitely not your fairytale beginning; it’s a mess as far as external appearances… but that was exactly what God wanted, to mold something; to be able to display something, too, through the marriage: restoration, grace, forgiveness, and bringing us to a place in life where we otherwise would not have been.”
The couple were engaged and married within a year of meeting, bringing two children into their new family and adding a third soon afterward. They spent their first few months together without a home, living in the back bedroom of a friend’s house. Eventually, they landed in their own apartment; albeit one completely devoid of furniture
“We shouldn’t be together, but we are!” Crystal said. “God put us together.”
The Family That Serves Together…
Nowadays, the Samanos live in an understated home near the border of Hurst and Bedford. They’ve been slowly increasing their involvement at Cross City Church, the same congregation that launched 6 Stones over ten years ago. Last year, they heard about Night of Hope during an otherwise normal Sunday service. Crystal pitched the kids on finding a way to give back in spite of the family's limited budget.
“Our kids never saw [our old] lifestyle. They don’t understand what it is to have a deep need; to need a blanket, to need food, to need shelter,” she said. “This gave them an opportunity to see that. I think it’s extremely important that our children are trained early to know that we’re all here to help one another. If we don’t help one another, who’s going to be the feet? Who’s going to be the hands of Christ to go feed these people and clothe these people? We don’t have a lot, I’ll be honest with you, we probably used a very small portion of what we had left last year for that. And it was everything to us.
“We made a decision to support a family last year. When we sat down with the kids, we explained to them: this is how much money we have. We can use it to get a tree, do all the presents, have a big Christmas, or we can use it to go do this really amazing thing at 6 Stones. Once we told them what it was, the fact that there are kids in the world that don’t wake up on Christmas Day to open up a present… they were ready.”
The entire family agreed to forego tradition and give their money to a family that needed more than they did last year. All five of them volunteered to help “shop” for gifts at 6 Stones, packaging gender- and age-specific toys for at-risk kids using numbered trash bags instead of making their own lists.
“They loved going and making the bags,” Michael remembered. “We told them ‘these are for kids who don’t have what you have,’ and I just thought it was great that the kids loved it.”
“They loved it!” Crystal jumped in. “We didn’t have a single complaint, not a tear, nothing. Even to this day, they can’t wait to do it this year!”
Sharing Christmas With The World
From their eldest daughter to their youngest son, every member of the family cherished their time as volunteers. Both parents were quick to correct the suggestion that they had given up anything, pointing out that a night of snacks, crafts, and fellowship was far more impactful for their kids than any number of material things.
“We didn’t cancel Christmas, we just redirected how they should perceive Christmas,” Michael said.
“The emphasis on the day isn’t what we got. It’s what we gave,” Crystal added. “We might not have gotten to do the big Christmas tree and all the presents and all the decorations, but the fact that we get to go [to Night of Hope] — it’s Christmas there! They create a Christmas right there, and so they get to have Christmas with all these different kids. That’s neat! That’s really neat! They’re sharing Christmas with the world.”
The kids talked about their Night of Hope experience for months afterward, and the family decided to make their sacrificial sponsorship an annual tradition. But they wanted more than once-a-year involvement. Soon, the kids were helping with Cross City food drives. Michael and Crystal started volunteering in the New Hope Center.
Some Service Required
Crystal stepped back her involvement because of some recent health issues, but Michael still serves in the food sorting room from nine until noon on most Saturday mornings. For him, volunteerism is a foreign-but-necessary part of his growth as a follower of Christ.
“He mended that which was broken,” Michael said of the impact of his Savior on his marriage. “It was kind of messy for a while. The first couple of years, not only learning how to be married, not only trying to figure this thing out, but also dealing with the baggage of the previous lifestyle. Whatever you want to call it, sanctification — or growing or maturing — is a painful process. We were trying to deal with that on top of being married and mending pieced together… That’s a microcosm of the Christian life for everybody. There are things about you that God is working on; sometimes it’s painful and sometimes it’s glorious, but that’s just life, you know?
“Serving is really a requirement. It’s not something that, you know, if you have the time to do it, Jesus asked you to do it. It’s an absolute requirement. Our God, one of His distinct qualities is serving: Jesus came to serve. That helps me get up on a Saturday morning to go do it because I know that this is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, as far as applying what it is that I say I believe. I don’t have a Servant’s Heart, though. It’s not natural to me.”
For the Samano family, service is an essential component of faith. Crystal and Michael both believe that one of their most important duties as parents is to be an example for their kids, and they’re grateful to have 6 Stones as one of many outlets for that service.
“It’s God and 6 Stones, just bringing us all together,” ” Crystal said. “You’re bringing different people from different walks of life, they’ve had different backgrounds. Whether it’s addictions or hurts or hang-ups; emotional pains or loss that they’ve experienced, everybody gets to get together in one room under the love of Jesus Christ and share. And give. And reciprocate. That is just so amazing because you don’t see that much anymore.
“6 Stones provides the means to give people hope… [the love of Jesus] extends and flows through each one of us. 6 Stones gives us the avenue to express that.”
This year, 6 Stones and donors like you will provide Christmas for thousands of at-risk kids identified by the Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District. If you’d like to be part of the celebration, you can sponsor a child for $65 or a family for $250. To join the team as a volunteer, simply register through the Night of Hope page of this site.