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MERRY CHRISTMAS, ANGELS

     Welcome to a sparkling place where you will hopefully find joy and peace and love and hope wrapped up - not in fancy packages, but in honest words written with passion and love. 

I am going to be posting YOUR stories here so we can have a quiet place to rest and read and be blessed. 


Are you sitting comfortably?


Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

                                         Just Tell Us You Love Us: My Christmas Miracle.                                                                     
                                                                                           by  C Elaine Ingalls Hogg
              
                 [Pg. 183; Originally Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul; Christmas Magic ©2010]


Most of my life I've been the type of person who listened to the opinion of
others and if they said something couldn't be done, I accepted their
decision and went about what I needed to get done that day. That was before
an event that happened last year just before Christmas. At the time I was
standing at the counter in a gift shop signing a copy of my latest book,
Christmas in the Maritimes when I overheard a lady say, "I'm sending this to
my nephew in Afghanistan and I know he'll love it. When he's finished, he'll
pass it around to the other Maritimers in his unit."
     "Other Maritimers in his unit," her words kept repeating themselves over and
over in my mind. Gradually an idea began to take shape. I shared my idea
with a friend but they said, "You'd have to raise the money. You'd have to
know where to ship the books. You'd... Forget it, there's no way!" But this
time I wasn't about to take 'no' for an answer. The news last year was full
of stories about the conditions our troops were serving under and I thought
if this little book would mean something to the members serving our country,
then I was going to at least try to find a way to send some copies to them.
     My first step was to write to Roger Cyr, a friend who had been in the air
force before his retirement. I asked him if he thought the book would be
welcomed. He wrote back right away encouraging me to pursue this idea. He
also said, "I spent four years in Europe during the cold war serving with
our NATO troops plus a tour as a peacekeeper in Africa (Congo). One of the
things we treasured the most was a Canadian newspaper or word from home."
     The more I thought on it, the more I was convinced stories from home would
be such a morale booster. I began investigating the possibilities and
started by making phone calls, doing web searches and writing e-mails.
However, the results from my inquiries only served to add to my earlier
doubts. It was fast becoming evident that it wasn't a workable project. My
major stumbling block was the fact that I'd never done anything like this
before so I was unfamiliar with all the rules and considerations involved in
sending something to our troops. I discovered parcels could only be sent if
you knew the specific name and address of the unit and the name and number
of the person receiving the gift. My friend was right, this idea might have
been a good idea but it was fast becoming a dream that would never be
fulfilled.
     Somewhere along the way I read an article about another Elaine who was able
to help the troops through her project "Operation Wish." She didn't listen
to the 'no's' and her story encouraged me to press on.
     Finally, Wednesday noon hour (November 15) I made contact with Margaret
Reid, Coordinator of Deployment Services, 14 Wing Greenwood. Her response
was immediate. She wrote, "Great idea! Definitely possible, from my
perspective anyway. We're doing our packages to the troops on Nov 21st. I
guess the question now for you is if you can make Christmas miracles happen
by next Tuesday??
     I called Nimbus, my publisher. "Do you have 140 books in stock?" (They were
waiting for more books from the printers and I wasn't sure if they had
enough to fill their immediate orders.) Sandra McIntyre, the managing
editor, assured me they could fill my order if I could raise the funds
needed to purchase the books by Friday 3:00 pm. I needed to meet that
deadline in order to leave enough time for the books to be delivered from
Nimbus' warehouse to Greenwood in time to be packed with the parcels on
Tuesday.
     I wrote back, "Dear Ms. Reid, I'm believing this Christmas miracle will
happen!"
     My idea was to ask the community (through contacts with the media) to get
involved and sponsor the books as a way of showing the men and women serving
our country they were being remembered. Two reporters agreed to help but
before the afternoon was over I ran into another snag.  I didn't have a
business address where people could drop off the money and my telephone
inquiries to this point suggested setting up an account for this purpose
would take some time. The deadline for getting the story out in Thursday's
papers was fast approaching. Around four o'clock I remember thinking, Ms.
Reid said I needed a Christmas miracle, so why not ask God? I did. Within
minutes I had an unexpected phone call from someone I'd talked to earlier in
the day.
      "Elaine, I was touched by what you want to do. You're going to get your
Christmas miracle. I'll cover the cost!"
     Two days later the books arrived in Greenwood in time to be packed in the Christmas parcels being made up for 140 troop members of 14 Wing Greenwood who were serving our great country, Canada, in various places throughout the
world.
     As I wrote my Christmas letters last year I thought of a poem I'd received
from a friend. In the poem the author asked a young soldier who had left a
wife and child at home to serve his country, what he could give him for
Christmas.-money or a feast? The young soldier's answer was, "Just tell us
you love us.'  When I sent the books it was my prayer that the small gift of
stories and memories from home would do just that-tell 140 soldiers who were
serving their country that I loved them.
 
 
Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

The Farmers' Parade of Lights
by Caroline Sealey
 
 [p.61-64 in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada © 2014]

                 In prominent red letters, the headlines of a local newspaper, boldly declared, Farmers Parade of Lights. Overwhelmed by curiosity, not letting deep snowbanks slow my pace, I hurried back to the house from the mailbox. A parade that involved farmers was something I needed to know more about.                                                                 
                The newspaper article stated that the Farmers Parade of Lights began as a spontaneous, informal event on the 2nd Thursday of December, by the 3rd and 4th Line March Blahs Committee and friends of Rockwood, Ontario. Local farmers dressed up
their farm equipment for the Christmas season and rode through the village of Rockwood. A holiday gesture of good will from the farmers to their non-farming
neighbours.
                Over the years, the tradition continued. Twenty area farms joined in the celebration and two hundred farmers, their families, employees and friends rode on floats. This was an “invitation only” local event, that involved no advertisements, fundraisers and no fees. The parade route began on the 5th Line and travelled along Highway 7 to the 4th Line with the North Pole as the final destination. The article suggested an early arrival for spectators, as visitors had been known to attend from various locations in Ontario, all across Canada and numerous countries around the globe. Everyone from babies to seniors filled the streets of Rockwood and enjoyed the decorated farm equipment.
     When the school bus dropped my children off late that afternoon I excitedly told them about the parade. A unanimous vote confirmed, we were going!
     On the afternoon of the parade, we sat around the kitchen table and enjoyed a simple meal. Grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup, celery and carrot sticks disappeared within minutes. At five o’clock we began to prepare for the journey to Rockwood.
     "Put on your snowsuits, warmest boots, toques, scarves and snowmobile mitts. It’s going to be cold tonight and the parade is supposed to be long," I told my children.
     Bundled up and ready, we left our home in Pilkington Township for the forty-five minute drive to Rockwood. A slight breeze blew, snow was in the air, and temperatures hovered around -10C.
     Excited about our adventure, my children tried to imagine what the parade would be like.
     “How do they put the lights on the tractors and light them up?” they wanted to know.
     “How big would the tractors and equipment be?”
     “Would Santa and Mrs. Claus be in the parade?”
     The newspaper article offered answers to some of their questions, but the remainder would have to be a surprise.
     Five miles outside of Rockwood we joined a long line of cars, that were headed to the parade. The number of cars parked along the side of the road, caused concern about parking, but closer to the village a few spots opened up. With the car parked, we walked a mile into the village.
     After a short search for the perfect spot to stand and watch the parade, we settled in front of one of the local parks. The newspaper article had warned that a large number of spectators attended but I was astonished by the crowds. Literally thousands of people filled the streets of Rockwood that night.
     Leading the parade was a police cruiser with flashing lights. Sirens wailing, a policeman waved to the crowd. We stood in awe as the first float passed in front of us. A John Deere tractor pulled a hay wagon with a nativity scene perched on top. The size of the float and the number of Christmas lights that decorated it, overwhelmed us. Garland, tinsel, ribbons, wreaths, bows and banners added to the collection of lights.
     The second float, a well decorated Massey Ferguson tractor, towed a manure spreader covered in thousands of lights. Gold coloured tinsel hung from the spreader's beater bars. A generator powered fan blew the tinsel into the air to resemble manure as it was tossed from the spreader. A group of local “cloggers” clogged to Christmas music, on the bed of a hay wagon pulled by an antique Ford tractor. Clowns and fire fighters waved to the spectators, shook children's hands and passed out candy canes as they walked the parade's route. Christmas music provided by each float, filled the air. The spirit of Christmas took over the crowd as parade goers joined in and sang Christmas songs.
     The chute and auger on a snow blower, mounted on a dual-wheeled Case tractor was decorated with white lights. Two short horizontal rows of icicle lights protruded from the chute. Creative minds had designed the lights to look like snow as it blew out of the snow blower.
     Cheers erupted from the crowd as a skidsteer named The Dancing Christmas Tree performed its version of a square dance, down the main street. Covered in multi-coloured balloons with a flashing red light on its roof, the skid steer spun around, dipped and dived and doe-see-doed to the delight of the crowds on the street. Other floats contained stars mounted inside tractor tires, sprayer arms lit with red and green-coloured lights and hay elevators displayed green and red candy canes.
     Christmas trees of all shapes, sizes and colours mounted tractor fenders, cabs and hoods. Last but not least, as in every parade at Christmas time, Santa and Mrs Claus rode high in the cab of a John Deere combine. Santa's shouts of “HOHOHO Merry Christmas” resounded into the night. Mrs. Claus's rosy red cheeks and smile delighted young and old alike while the crowds cheered and shouted “Merry Christmas.”
      Tired but excited, my children chatted about their favourite floats on the drive home. The Dancing Christmas Tree was voted number one. Candy cane filled pockets emptied, as we satisfied our sweet tooth. With tired voices and sleep filled eyes, my children asked if we could go to the Farmers Parade next year.
     Attendance at The Farmers Parade became a Christmas tradition for my family. Each year the floats become more imaginative than the year before. Participants wrap themselves in Christmas lights and wear Christmas tree shaped hats. Plastic blow up Frostys, Santas and reindeer have been added to the floats. Elvis made an appearance one year and entertained the crowds. Some floats remain the same, while others make minor changes. The more adventurous, creative farmers display new ideas each year.
     Farm machinery has gotten larger over the years but is restricted to the width of the roads and streets in and around Rockwood. Most years, the weather has co-operated and been ideal. As long as it odes, we go and each time we have joined the crowds at this spectacular event parade, we have experienced what the organizers have set out to accomplish: to catch the Christmas spirit – in a farmer’s way. As long as Santa and Mrs. Claus have their crops harvested they will be back the next year with the combine. That way Rudolph and his reindeer team get well rested before the big night!

 
Wednesday, December 21st, 2016 
 
“Love, Shania and the Whispered Wish”
by Sally Meadows

[p.103-105 in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada © 2014]

     The sun was low in the sky by the time I stepped out of the limousine into the slush of mid-December downtown Ottawa. I gingerly gathered up the frothy layers of white tulle and lace, exposing my clunky winter boots, my only nod to practicality on a day filled with hope, beauty, and joy.
     I stopped for a moment, looking up at the ornate doors, and took a deep breath. This was the church my parents were married in over thirty years ago. And today, less than a week before Christmas, I was about to enter into my own wedded bliss.
     Inside, it was warm and welcoming. The flames of the candles swayed and flickered, beckoning me forward. The enchanting scene in front of me was simply delightful.
     Quickly replacing my boots with my white satin pumps, and gently resting my hand on my father’s arm, I walked down the aisle amidst the smiles and whispers of fifty close friends and relatives, ready to pledge my heart to my soul mate. Perhaps because I had a bad cold—always a potential peril for a winter wedding, and evidenced by a chapped nose in otherwise lovely photographs—the ceremony was a bit of a blur. Nonetheless, my friend assured me later that she had never heard anyone say her vows with such certainty. I in turn teased my new husband that, in his nervousness, he said his vows to the reverend instead of me! We all chuckled about the “help me” painted on the shoe soles of the best man, exposed for all to see as we knelt down for the final blessing.
     After our first night together as husband and wife at the stately Chateau Laurier, we headed west to continue our honeymoon at Deerhurst Resort in the heart of Muskoka country. The highway was shrouded in fog almost the whole way, but we were too blissfully content to feel any fear. With the big city lights long behind us, the hush of the Canadian boreal forest enveloped us with a surreal peace and calm.
     Arriving at the resort, we were struck by the contrast between the rugged scenery surrounding the property and the spectacular Christmas lights of the main lodge. We were surprised to see how deserted it was, realizing only later that we had arrived in the lull before the Christmas crowds arrived. We had our own charming little honeymoon cabin, but for that first night we decided to dine at the lodge restaurant.
     The food was excellent, and as we lingered over after-dinner tea, a petite, beautifully dressed brunette with a lovely voice serenaded us with seasonal music. I leaned over to my husband and shyly whispered my very first wish as a newly married woman: “That’s what I want to do one day!”
     I had always loved to sing and play piano but I was too shy to do so publicly, and too focused on my professional editing career to really have time to pursue it. But even as I was starting a new life as a wife, that simple confession of my heart’s desire would just as dramatically shape and define who I would become.
     Two babies and a move across the country later, I started singing in a church band. At the same time, there was an explosion of outstanding female artists coming on the scene, including the soon-to-be Canadian icon Shania Twain. Gorgeous and a little mysterious, Shania was from Timmins, a small northern Ontario city I had visited once years before.        
     I read that her first break in show business had been at Deerhurst Inn—the very resort where I had spent my honeymoon, at around the same time. Could it be that I saw music history in the making that Christmas weekend I got married?
     Over the years I followed Shania’s career, searching for the unequivocal answer to my question, at the same time never giving up my own dream of pursuing singing. Being a wife, mother, and working outside the home often placed my personal aspirations on the back burner. But I continued to sing at church, work on my craft, and eventually write my own songs.
      In 2011, I entered a recording studio for the first time to record my first album. While still knee-deep in the process, I read Shania’s recently released autobiography, hoping to solve the mystery once and for all. Finally, I came to the conclusion that I may never know if Shania was that young singer I saw so many years ago. But my belief that it was, and her phenomenal success, has kept me inspired all these years as I carve out my own little niche in the music world.
      Two years ago, I finally quit my day job. By the end of the year I had released my second CD, fittingly a Christmas album, a nod to my most favourite time of year.
     We can’t really understand until we look back through the eyes of the future how one snapshot in time can impact our life so profoundly. For me, on this last weekend before Christmas the year I got married, I not only received the beautiful gift of a lifelong partner, but the seeds of a dream that, to this day, is still growing.


 

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

A CHRISTMAS RESCUE
Kathleen Friesen
 
The car sputtered as we drove through the tiny, still town of Elrose, Saskatchewan. I looked over at my husband, Ron, and fear froze the words in my throat. His brow furrowed as he stared at the drifting snow on the deserted highway. The lone service station was closed, of course. It was Christmas Day
     I hadn’t wanted to make the trip. It was dangerously cold with the temperature dipping close to minus forty. Our white Plymouth had passed its best-before date long ago, and while it was usually reliable, in that kind of weather our lives depended on it. I wasn’t comfortable with that.
     That year, Christmas Day was the only time we could venture from our home in Martensville, Saskatchewan, to my in-law’s home in Swift Current, a three-hour trip. My husband’s extended family would be waiting for us, the last to arrive, to open brightly-wrapped gifts, consume the scrumptious feast prepared by Mom and the sisters, and enjoy one another’s company.
     But it was freezing. Even though our three young children were bundled from head to toe and huddled under a blanket in the back seat, I worried about what might happen if we had car trouble. Then the Plymouth sputtered again.  
     If you’ve ever travelled Highway 4 between Rosetown and Swift Current in Saskatchewan, you know how desolate the forty miles appear between each of the three small towns that separate the two larger centres. Those barren spaces held few buildings. Farm fields stretched from one horizon to the other, the small towns the only oases of civilization. And on Christmas Day, all businesses were closed. In fact, we seemed to be the only ones foolish enough to travel on such a bitterly cold holiday. The road was empty except for our coughing, sputtering white Plymouth.
     “Lord God, help us.” It wasn’t my most eloquent prayer, but it was heartfelt.
     I knew He could change the weather, but obviously that wasn’t His plan. It didn’t seem right for our family to freeze to death on Jesus’ birthday, but as the car and then its heater slowed, my faith faltered.
     Our ten-year-old spoke up from the back seat. “What’s wrong with the car?”
     “Are we almost there?” That was the four-year-old.
     “I’m cold!” Our daughter, age eight, chimed in. 
     “The car is acting up, but we’ll be okay.” I struggled to keep my voice steady. “God sees us and knows what we need.”  But my anxious heart wasn’t convinced.
     My husband pulled over to the shoulder of the highway as our car crawled and then stopped. I wondered how long it would take for anyone to notice a white car on a snowy highway bordered by flat, white fields from horizon to horizon.
     Just as the car coughed one final time, my husband glanced in the rear view mirror.           “Where did that guy come from?”
     No one else had been on the highway since Elrose, but there was a black half-ton parked behind us and a young man walking toward our now-dead car. He tapped on the driver’s window, and Ron rolled it down.
     “I noticed your white exhaust a while back and knew you were in trouble. You need some gas line antifreeze. I’ve got some. I’ll put it in your tank, and you should be good as new.”
     Still puzzled, we thanked him. He opened the cap to the gas tank and pulled a small container from his coat pocket. We heard faint gurgling as the antifreeze worked its way into the tank. A moment later, the man was at my husband’s window again.
     “Now try it.”
     Ron turned the key, the car sputtered back to life, and began to run smoothly.
     “Where are you headed?” the man asked.
    “Swift Current.”
     “I’ll follow you to make sure you get there.”
     Our thank-yous couldn’t adequately express our gratitude. He just waved his hand and headed back to his truck. As we continued toward our destination, I kept glancing in my side mirror. He was still there. For more than an hour, every time I glanced behind us, the reassuring bulk of the black half-ton was in sight.
     When we reached the edge of the valley where the city of Swift Current nestled, we all cheered. Just another half mile downhill, and we’d be safe in the arms of loved ones.
     I glanced in my mirror one more time. The road behind us was empty.
     God hadn’t changed the weather for us, and He hadn’t kept our car from failing, but He hadn’t deserted us. He’d sent a man in a big, black truck to take care of us when we needed it. Was the man an angel? I don’t know. But I am convinced that he was a   messenger from God, sent not only to put some antifreeze in our gas line, but to remind us that God is always with us.
     The colourful packages we exchanged that Christmas Day have faded from memory, but I’ll never forget the gift of that man and his truck. And ever since that day I’ve wondered, do angels drive black half-tons?


Monday, December 19th, 2016

Glimpsing the face of God
 by Robert White

     I’d been sleeping in my usual spot when the light woke me up. It seemed a bit early for the dawn and as I struggled to open my eyes I wondered why Zephaniah, my partner, hadn’t woken me up for my shift on the watch.
     Life as a shepherd was hard. Long, hot days of trotting the sheep from one grazing pasture to another in the fields surrounding Bethlehem turned into cold nights where we watched, waited and warded off predators—both animal and human.
     Tonight didn’t start out any differently. Young Zeph had the energy to stay up late and offered to take the first watch. I gladly accepted the offer, bedded down against the wall of the pen as best I could and fell into a fitful sleep.
     But the sudden dawn, with a brilliance I’d never before experienced, startled me from my sleep. Only, as I opened my eyes, the inky darkness of night still surrounded a brilliant light. It wasn’t morning.
     “Don’t be afraid.”
     The words seemed to fill the sky as I shielded my eyes from the blinding light. By the time they adjusted, I could see why: hanging in the middle of the sky was as unearthly a creature as I’d ever seen—and from that point on I couldn’t take my eyes off the terrifying beauty of what I could only surmise, from the descriptions I’d heard read from the ancient Scriptures in the synagogue, was an angel—a messenger of God.
     “I bring you good news…” it continued in a voice that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. I’ll never forget what he, she, it, said that night, but for sake of brevity it came down to this: God’s Son had been born and was lying in feeding trough in Bethlehem.
     Just when we thought it couldn’t get any more terrifying, the whole sky became filled with the heavenly creatures. Their brilliant countenance blotted out the moon and stars with an unearthly light that was brighter than the sun at midday.
     “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace,” they sang with tones that defied description. As they disappeared from sight—all of them gone in the blink of an eye—and I hadn’t stopped staring since I laid my eyes on the first, the night sky reappeared in all its inky darkness.
      A silence as loud as the angel’s song filled the sheep pen. Not a word was spoken. Not a bleat was blatted. Not a sound was heard. I imagined we were all lost in the same thoughts that crossed my mind: did I just dream this?
     Then one of the newborn lambs nudged Zeph and I. And then Zeph broke the silence with: “Did you see that?!”
     None of us really wanted to answer Zeph, knowing that any reply would solidify the reality of what we’d just experienced.
     “Yes. We did.”
     It was Old Abe who spoke first. Abe wasn’t the oldest of the shepherds—that would probably be me—but he was called Old Abe because his hair had turned prematurely white. He’d even travelled to the Temple in Jerusalem to be declared clean so he could keep tending sheep. But it was Old Abe who said what we’d all been thinking.
     And before you knew it we sounded like a brood of hens chattering at their chicks. Until, again, Old Abe spoke up.
     “So what do we do now?”
     I won’t go into the details of the argument, but the sides came down to this: all of us had to hightail it down to Bethlehem and find the Son of God; we would go in shifts because somebody had to stay to take care of the sheep; or we’d all go and take the sheep with us.
     Before you knew it, we were all hightailing it down to Bethlehem with the most unusual flock of sheep I’d ever seen: not one ewe, ram or lamb strayed from the flock and it was the quietest bunch of sheep I’d ever heard or seen walk through the streets of the City of David in my life.
     It took some doing as a bunch of excited shepherds herding a flock of docile sheep wandered the dark streets of Bethlehem… but we finally found the manger.
     It was quite a sight. The mother—whose name I later found out was Mary—couldn’t have seen more than 20 summers. Somehow she must have expected visitors because she looked relatively presentable for a woman who had just endured her first labour. Still I’d seen that faraway, haggard look in the eyes of my own wife after the birth of each of our children.
     Her husband—again it wasn’t until some time later that I’d found his name was Joseph—stood behind her, with his hands placed tenderly and lovingly on her shoulders. They were gnarled hands. The hands of a man who laboured with them. Yet, against Mary’s shoulders they portrayed a man that loved deeply and cared passionately for his new family.
     We each took our turn at the trough. The child looked like every other newborn with a peaked head and pruned skin. Yet there was a radiance about Him that clearly defined Him as what the angel called Him: the Son of the Most High. And when I looked into His eyes it was if He was peering into the very depths of my soul.
     When the last of us had glimpsed the face of God, Joseph questioned Mary with a look. She nodded and we knew it was time to go. By now the sun was rising and the city stirring. And as we left to take the sheep out to the pastures we excitedly told everyone we could about the night. Some of them waved us off with a hand, assuming we had an early fill of wine. Others stood by their doors, puzzling over our words. And others took of in the direction of the manger.
     We talked about that night for many years. But the one thing none of us ever talked about was what we’d experienced when we looked into the face of the babe. For we knew that we had glimpsed the face of God.



Friday, December 16, 2016

An EarthlyTreasure by Marcia Lee Laycock

   Jessik watched the bauble twirl as he held the loop of string attached to its top. It was made of real glass, a material once used abundantly on his ancestors' home world. He loved how those primitives on Earth had made such trifles - things meant for no purpose but just to please. He thought of how this trinket might please Adana and wondered how valuable it might be. Since the final religious wars had ruined Earth’s atmosphere, anything from that world was highly prized. And it had been a while since he’d taken an earthly treasure home for his daughter. He smiled, remembering when she’d started calling them that – all her earthly treasures.

   Jessik sighed. Earth. He’d heard a rumor again the other day about a group that was planning a return. Foolishness of course, to risk leaving their safe environment here on Eutopos, the most advanced space station ever built. But Jessik couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to step onto real ground, to walk under green trees along a free-running river and see a blue sky adorned with puffy white clouds that wasn't the fabrication of a hologram. The stars and whirling planets of space were beautiful, but earth ... sometimes he wondered why he longed to see it, why that longing was sometimes even a physical ache inside him. Yes, he did dream of it even though he knew his dreams were pure fantasy. And he wasn’t alone. Each time another attempt was made to find a suitable habitable planet, there were those who attempted to make it back ‘home.’ As far as anyone knew none had ever been successful. Jessik sighed. He knew the earth he saw in the edvids had perished long ago. Even if an expedition were to succeed in reaching it, the planet was likely still just as uninhabitable as all the other planets they had explored. Jessik gave his head a shake. But some always seemed willing to take the risk, some always clung to hope.

   The chime at his door made him start. He pressed the key on his computer to clear a transparent window he’d installed in the metal. Guilder. Hastily Jessik laid the ball in its protective wrapping, closed the chest and slipped it under his desk. He opened a tray of ordinary utensils, then hit another key on the computer to open his door.

   His supervisor strode in, his eyes roaming the room. Jessik nudged the box further under the desk with his toe.

   “What are you working on?” Guilder’s voice came out with just the right inflection; the tone used by those in authority.

   “Cataloguing.” Jessik deliberately left off the ‘sir’ he knew he should have added.

   Guilder’s face did not reveal that he’d taken notice. “Finding anything of interest?” he asked, his eyes scanning the clutter of boxes on the floor.

   “Nothing out of the ordinary.” Jessik’s voice came out in the boring, flat tone used for common conversation. His toe rested on the small chest.

   Guilder nodded. “Carry on.” He stepped through the door.

   Jessik pressed the transparent panel again and saw that the man lingered, leaning slightly toward  the door. Jessik wished he could read his expression. But a man at Guilder’s level was skilled at keeping his face devoid of emotion. Jessik forced himself to wait until the supervisor moved off, then retrieved the small chest.

   He lifted the lid and removed the baubles. There were four of them, all different colors and shapes. One was in the ancient form of a star. Jessik smiled at the primitive shape. It was bright red glass with swirls that caught the light. Adana would love it. He slipped it into the inside pocket of his tunic.

   Separating the shredded material that had cradled the decorations, he saw there was another layer under it, covered by a soft blue cloth. Jessik removed it and held his breath. Gingerly he lifted out a shape and laid it on his hand. It barely reached to his fingertips, but was finely cut and exquisitely detailed. It was the shape of a man, dressed in garb that could only be pre-history. So very little was left from that era that Jessik knew he held something priceless. He examined the material. Wood. Very old. He lifted it to his nose. There was no smell but the figure had not been colored so he would be able to trace the grain to determine the type. He picked up his tablet, selected the file he needed and photos of wood grains flowed across the screen. He selected three, then swiped his finger across the tablet, sending them onto his wall computer. The third photo looked promising. Jessik tapped the tablet again and a short block of text popped up. Olivewood, found in the middle-east area of earth. The middle east. That pivot of earth’s history. Jessik’s hand shook. He stood the artifact on the table and uncovered a second figurine.

   This one was in the shape of a man as well, but it had two wing-like forms sprouting out of its shoulders. It was slightly longer than the first. Jessik knew it had spiritual significance. He’d read a bit about the ancient icons and rituals of earthly religions, clandestinely of course, or under the cover of ‘research.’

   The third figurine was more slender, the carved garment showing traces of color, perhaps a pale blue. Jessik studied the face. Female, he thought, and placed it beside the other two. Only one remained in the box. He lifted it and frowned. It was more roughly carved, the marks of the carver’s knife plainly visible in the wood. Each end formed an X that held a trough wedged between them. Jessik turned it in his hand. How incongruous, he thought, and set it down by the others.

   He stared at the figurines for some time, then turned to his wall computer and spoke two words – “Earth, pre-history.” Immediately the screen glowed with a list of categories and code numbers. Jessik scanned them but could not find anything suitable. He tried a couple but got no relevant information. He stared at the figures again then spoke a word he’d come across in his reading – “Angels.”

   The links gave him only a few options. He waved at the wall to open the first one and stared at the picture that popped out and began to rotate before him. The hologram made it obvious it was of a man’s form, glowing with a white light that seemed to reach out for Jessik even here in his office. He minimized the image quickly, his heart beating. If Guilder stepped in ... even if he had reason, researching this kind of content could get him in big trouble. Jessik closed the wall monitor and sat down to read the text on his smaller tablet. It directed him to the restricted vaults. He memorized the code and an additional number, a page number.

   He sat back. It must link to an ancient document, a history book perhaps. He’d have to get special clearance to get into that section, and for special clearance he’d have to tell Guilder what he was researching. But what reason could he give the supervisor? That area of study was tightly restricted and all projects were assigned only to those at the highest levels. Guilder would know Jessik did not have the needed authorization. He tapped his lips with his index finger. Perhaps there was another way.

   Jessik spoke and the wall screen flashed, then scrolled the names of all those on duty in the archive vaults. He scanned the week’s schedule and smiled. Hease was on duty. He’d used the leverage he had with the guard before, to gain admittance to the vaults holding ancient books on earthly religions. It would be a risk and there was no way he could get around logging what he wanted to see once he was inside, but … he stared at the figurines again. They were so fine, so beautiful. Jessik had to know more about them. Adana would be so pleased.

   A strange feeling came over him as he focused on the smallest artifact on his desk. Why would it be included with the others? He picked it up and examined it again. It was really quite crude. He picked up the angel in his other hand. Perhaps they did not belong together. He frowned. No. For some reason he knew one had something to do with the other. The light that had beamed into his office from the hologram seemed to pulse through him. He felt a burning desire to know.

   Jessik packed the artifacts away carefully and slipped the small chest into the hidden compartment behind the landscape screen on the wall. There were a few other items in the hidden recess, things that had intrigued him enough to warrant further examination when he had time. But these - these were the most exciting and most valuable things he’d come across in years. He couldn’t wait to show them to Adana.

   The thought gave him a sharp thrill. It was the same thrill he felt every time he contemplated taking something for her, every time he thought of the look on her face when he presented her with the gift. The thrill was followed by the familiar sadness, the wail of sorrow Jessik carried deep inside him, the pain he bore for his only child.

   He cleared the memory and closed down his computer, making sure the lock feature was activated. Then he pressed an intercom button to tell his secretary he was leaving his desk for awhile.

   The descent to the ancient archives sector took fifteen minutes. It was the deepest level of the facility and he had to go around a couple of checkpoints to avoid the surveillance cameras. He was glad they had removed the cameras on most levels. Part of the new “trust” initiative the government was trying out. He had been surprised to discover they had removed them from the religion section. Religion was still considered dangerous, but there were so few now, who insisted on practicing the clandestine rituals, so few who dared ask for access to the lower levels, that the government had been letting up on security. Jessik smiled. That would work to his advantage today.

   The guard was dozing when Jessik stepped from the lift and strode toward the door marked
Ancient Religion Archives – Authorized Access Only. He was almost on top of the man before he jerked awake and stood up, flustered at finding himself face to face with a superior.

   Jessik smiled. “Kind of slow today, Hease?”

   “Ye – yes, sir. Sorry, sir. It won’t ..”

   Jessik cut him off. “I can’t seem to locate Supervisor Guilder and I need to check something.” He moved toward the door. “It will only take a short while.”

   Hease did not move but Jessik saw his throat constrict as he swallowed.

   “Neither of us needs to file a report. We’re all human, after all,” Jessik said, knowing the guard would remember the day he’d caught him away from his post. And now dozing at his station would be a second infraction. Either lapse would be cause for dismissal. He lifted his eyebrows at the guard and smiled again.

   The man gave a quick nod and pressed his thumb into the console in front of him. Jessik heard the lock disengage. He nodded back to the guard and stepped through the door.

   Lights flicked on as he strode down the long corridors. The archival units consisted of vaults within vaults. Some held only computers that activated wall monitors with more
pictorial and textual information than a man could absorb in a lifetime. Others, the deeper vaults, held the archives themselves, the original articles salvaged from earth. It was to this area that Jessik strode.

   He reached it quickly and stood for a moment facing the hand-sized square on the wall. The moment he put his palm on it there was a risk he could be detected. He wiped his hand on his tunic to clear it of the slick perspiration and laid it on the square. When he removed it, the screen lit with the time and date – 14:45, December 10, 2175.

   A small panel slid back above it and Jessik spoke the numbers he’d memorized. The screen flickered with another code, telling him which vault to access. He stored the information in his mind and entered the now open corridor, watching the codes that glowed as he passed by. The number he wanted was not far into the vaults. He stood in front of the door, glanced back down the hall and licked his lips. His heart raced and his hand shook as he reached out to push the slider key. The panel whisked open immediately and he stepped inside the room.

   A pale white light illuminated hundreds of transparent cases lining the walls from floor to ceiling. Jessik’s eyes widened as he scanned them. He went to the index panel and entered the numbers he’d memorized. A faint hum made him step back and hold his breath as a column of cases began to move. Then the whole room seemed to shift and the case he had requested slid into place in front of him. He wiped at his eyes, let his breath out slowly, and raised the lid of the case.

   The book looked heavy but fragile, so Jessik did not want to risk lifting it out. He stared at the scrolling on its cover, carved into the smooth dark surface. The letters glinted with yellow and Jessik wondered if it was a residue of gold, that most precious of earth’s metals. He ran his hand over the surface and knew it must be what was called leather, a substance made from the skin of an earth animal. This was not just some history book. This was something special, something perhaps at one time considered sacred.

   Jessik swallowed as the word rolled around in his mind. It was an ancient word little used any more, one of the words he’d had to define when he read the old texts. Sacred. Consecrated. Hallowed. Sanctified. The words seemed to whisper from the book itself. Jessik shook himself. For a few seconds he thought of fleeing back to the safety of his office. He’d been here before, staring at a book that he knew was restricted, but this time he had the feeling that if he lifted the cover of this book something would change. Something would change forever. His hand hovered over it. He withdrew it and placed it over his heart. He could almost feel its rapid thumping. He reached out again and lifted the cover.

   The words were written in flowing gold script on the yellowed page. The Holy Bible. King James Version. Published 1876. Jessik’s heart almost stopped. This was a copy of the Christian’s holiest book, the book that had been banned along with several others after the second religious wars. It was the third war that had finally brought an end to it all, but by then the earth’s atmosphere had been so damaged the survivors were doomed to a slow death. The small number who had managed to flee into space were all that was left of the human race. He was a descendant of one of them. One of them, Jessik realized, must have brought this book with him as he fled with the others to search for a new world. No doubt he had paid for that infraction with his life.

   Jessik’s hand shook. This was one of the books that were responsible for the near annihilation of his race. He’d been taught how evil it was, how blood-thirsty and obscene. The image of the winged figure flashed in his mind. Its beauty seemed to hover in contrast to what he knew to be true. Perhaps … Jessik’s hand moved to turn the page. Perhaps his teachers had been wrong. He had long ago recognized that not everything the government officials told them was accurate.
Much was manipulative.

   He turned the pages, quickly becoming absorbed in the contents. Several of them were beautifully decorated with ornate lettering and detailed drawings framing the scrolled text. He scanned them, a sudden urgency making his heart race again. He flipped to the page number he’d memorized. There was the picture of the angel that had shone such odd light into his office from the hologram. In this depiction he was standing before a kneeling woman. Jessik read the text on the opposite page, his lips moving, perspiration standing out on his forehead as he struggled to understand the ancient form of his own language.

“And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women." And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:26-35

   A metalic clang made Jessik’s head jerk up. Someone else had entered the vaults. He strained to hear footsteps but silence made his ears ring. His foolishness suddenly overwhelmed him. If he was seen here it would mean dismissal, the end of his career, perhaps even prison. Who would care for his daughter then? He closed the book, sealed the case and watched it slide back into its place on the wall. A surge of regret made him linger. He wanted to read more. He wanted to know more, with a desperation he did not understand. He sighed, strode to the door, and listened again before pressing the exit panel. He had been here too long. More reading would have to wait.

   It took Jessik a full week to sneak the baubles and the figurines out of the building. Each time he thought the thumping of his heart would be heard by the guards but each time they waved him past without asking him to step through the scanner. His seniority was enough to give him the needed level of trust.

   And the look on Adana’s face was enough to make him keep doing it until he had given her all of the decorations and figurines. He was surprised that she was most fascinated by the last one, the one he almost left in the box, the small crude one that did not seem to belong with the others.

   Adana clapped her hands when he placed it with the others on the shelves surrounding her bed. Jessik scanned her collection. Small toys of all shapes and sizes were arrayed there. She would gaze at them for hours, he knew, inventing stories in her mind to pass the long days that dragged by without mobility, without hope. Jessik sighed. The physicians had finally stopped giving him excuses. They had no explanation for Adana's paralysis. Psychological trauma was the last prognosis. But his daughter had never been traumatized. She was, in every other way, a happy normal child. But a child who could not walk, could not lift her arms or even move her fingers and toes. They had advised him to place her in a facility that had nurses and orderlies who would care for her, but Jessik could not bear the thought. He knew patients like Adana often died suddenly in such facilities. He had hired a private nurse for the hours when he could not be with her. He smiled at her now as she stared at the last artifact. Then her face lifted expectantly to his.
 
   “Will you bring me the baby next, Daddy?”

   Jessik frowned. “The baby?”

   Adana nodded and her eyes flicked to another shelf, then back to the last artifact. “Yes. It has to have a baby in it, like the other one.”

   “Other one?” Jessik’s eyes scanned the shelves now. “What other one, sweetheart?”

   “There,” Adana said, pointing with her chin. “On the third shelf, beside the teddy bear.”

   Jessik moved closer and reached for the object. It was a small globe he had given Adana a couple of years ago, thinking she’d be thrilled with the floating glitter inside it. He peered into it now, and caught his breath.

   Four miniscule figures surrounded by sparkling glitter hovered inside the globe. Though not as finely wrought, they were similar to the figurines he’d just given Adana. An angel figure was suspended from the top, its wings spread. Below it a man and woman stood peering down at the same crude shape but this one had a tiny baby lying in it.

   Jessik put the globe back and reached for the crude carving. “The baby,” he murmured.

   “Can you find it, Daddy?” Adana asked.

   Jessik turned the figurine in his hand. “Perhaps.” He looked at his daughter’s hopeful face. “I’ll see if I can, sweetie, but it’s very old. It may have been lost long ago.”

   “Please find it, Daddy. Please, find the baby. It’s not complete without the baby.”

   The look in his daughter’s eyes made Jessik’s fill. “I’ll try, sweetheart. I’ll try.” He kissed her forehead. “Rest now.”

   He passed his hand over the light sensor as he left her room, not realizing until he collapsed into a chair in the living room that he still held the small artifact in his hand. He stared at it and shook his head. Who would have thought such a crude thing would be designed to hold an infant? He placed it on the table beside him and slouched into the chair. Exhaustion overtook him. His head fell back and in a few moments he was asleep.

   The man standing in front of him was taller than most. His skin was a dark colour, almost black, yet he seemed to glow with a white light. He held a book in his hand – the book Jessik had seen in the vault. The man smiled, then began to read.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

   Jessik jerked awake. His arm spasmed away from the arm of the chair and knocked the artifact to the floor. He reached for it and placed it upright on his palm.

   “The babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes.”

   He leaped to his feet. It took him half the normal time to reach the archives building at this late hour. No crowds of people heading to work slowed him down and he knew there would be no-one in the building except a few guards. He met only one who simply nodded to him and kept walking.

   He went directly to his office and retrieved the box from its hiding place. He opened it and removed a handful of shredded packing, separating it carefully. Nothing. He dug into the box again and removed another handful. This time his finger touched something hard. He pulled at the material and a tiny hand reached up toward him.

   Jessik removed the rest of the packing with his thumb. The baby was carved in the same wood, its head realistically too large for its body, which was wrapped tightly in strips of cloth. Its arms were outstretched as though expecting to be lifted up. Jessik’s heart beat faster. He wrapped the small carving in a cloth and tucked it gently into his pocket. Then he headed for the lower levels.

   It wasn’t until he stepped off the lift that he thought about how he would convince the guard to let him in. The man snapped to attention as Jessik approached.

   “Open the door,” Jessik said, using his highest tone of authority.

   “Yes, sir,” the man replied and the panel slid open.

   Turning his face away so the guard would not see his shock, Jessik strode into the corridor. He did not take time to ponder the man’s unquestioning obedience. His mind and soul hurt with the need to know more about the angel, and especially more about the infant.

   When the box slid into place in front of him, Jessik did not hesitate. He turned to the page with the picture of the angel. Then he followed the references to other portions and read each one of them. And each one added to something swelling inside him, something he felt he could not contain. It made him want to shout with joy, made him even want to dance. But why? His own emotions confounded him.

   Jessik stepped back for a moment. What did it all mean? Was it simply some superstitious nonsense from long ago? Was this something dangerous, even obscene, as he’d been taught? Then why did his heart race? Why did he feel such longing? He stepped back to the case and turned the pages carefully again, scanning the text here and there. Then his heart stopped. He read the words over and over.

“Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.”  (Is. 35:4-6)

   The lame man shall leap. Jessik didn’t know what a hart was, but the lame man leaped. Oh, if it were true, if it were only true.

   Jessik stared at the book for a long time, his hand resting on it. Then his heart slowed. A strange feeling came over him, a feeling he had never known before. Peace. Complete peace. And a solid, calm resolve.

   “And he shall be called the prince of peace…”

   Jessik straightened. His hands wrapped around the book and he lifted it from its case. He was not wearing a coat so there was no way to conceal it. But Jessik didn’t care. He turned to the door, pressed the exit code and left the room. The guard did not look up as he strode past him. He hurried to the transport level, expecting the alarms to begin blaring at any moment but nothing happened.

   By the time he reached his home, he was drenched in perspiration and he thought his heart was going to leap from his body. It pounded against the hard surface of the book he clutched to his breast. Leaning against his front door, Jessik gulped for air. When he could almost breathe normally again, he entered and made his way to his study. Placing the book in the middle of his desk, he laid both hands on it. A single word surfaced in his mind.

   Pray.

   He had researched that word too. I was what the ancients did to petition their gods for favor. For things like making the blind see and the lame walk.

   Jessik did not know what words to use so he said only one word. He said it out loud: “Please.”

   Then he opened the book and began to read. He read and read and read until his head dropped down and eventually lay on the page as sleep overcame him. And Jessik began to dream.

   A man dressed in rags held out dirty hands, his voice pleading with those who passed by him.
 
   “Alms,” he cried, “alms for a man lame from birth. Alms, alms.”
 
   Most passed by him without a glance but after a time two men approached. One squatted down in front of the lame man.
 
   “Look at me,” he said.
 
   The man did as he was told.
 
   “Gold or silver I do not have, but what I have I give you.”
 
   The stranger stood, reached down his hand and said, “In the name of Jesus Christ, Messiah, rise up and walk.”
 
   The lame man stared at his hand for a moment, then looked up into the man’s eyes. Slowly his hand reached out and grasped the stranger’s. Then he stood. Then he took a step. Then his face began to glow as he leaped in the air.
 
   “Praise God,” he cried. Praise God!”

   The alarm almost gave Jessik a heart attack. He leaped up, panting, his heart slowly returning to normal when he realized it was only the wakeup alarm he had heard. The house was still dark and silent. He always rose early, before the servants. He usually loved that time alone, to read and to study, but this morning he had only one burning need in his mind.

   He hurried into his daughter’s room. The soft glow from a night-light fell on her face. Jessik stared down at her and his love for her made him groan.

   “Adana,” he whispered. She stirred but did not wake. “Adana,” he said again.

   Her eyelashes fluttered and her eyes opened. Then her lips curved into a slow smile. “Daddy?”

   Jessik placed the book on her bed and gently lifted her into a sitting position, tucking the pillows and a blanket around her rigid body to support her.

   “I have a story to tell you,” he said. “A very old story, from a very old, wonderful book.” He pulled a chair to her bedside, took the book in his hands and began to read, holding it so that his daughter could see the illustrations.

   The dawn light had grown to full morning sun pouring into the room as he finished reading.

   Adana’s eyes sparkled. “It is a wonderful story. Is it true, Daddy?”

   Jessik had never seen such hope in her eyes. “I believe...” The words caught in his throat. He closed the book, took the small carving from his pocket and held it out to his daughter.

   Adana turned as the morning light fell softly on the baby’s outstretched arms. “Jesus,” she said. Then she gave a soft moan and slowly raised her arms, stretching out her hands in a way that mimicked the child in the manger.

   Jessik’s hand flew to his mouth as his daughter took the tiny carving from his palm. She pushed the bedcover back and let her thin legs slide over the edge. As her feet touched the floor and began to move, she moaned again.

   Adana,” Jessik whispered again and reached for her.
   “No, Daddy,” she said. “Let me do it on my own. Let me walk.”

   Tears flowed down her cheeks, but she smiled at him, took a step away from the bed, then turned and walked stiffly to the shelf where the other figures stood. She placed the baby in the manger beside the female form, moved the male form to the other side and placed the angel between them, all facing the baby.

   “There,” she said, “Now it’s complete. All together again.” Then she turned, took a step toward her father and stared down at her once paralyzed limbs. "Am I dreaming, Daddy?"

   Jessik scooped her into his arms and whirled her around the room. "No, sweetheart, you aren't dreaming."

   She laughed and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Put me down, Daddy. Let me walk. I want to walk.”

   He lowered her gingerly to the floor, holding onto her arm.

   “It’s okay, Daddy.” She laughed again. “You can let go.” She skipped across the room and back into his arms. “It’s true,” she whispered, “It’s all true.” Then she kissed his cheek. “This is the best earthly treasure ever.”


   “Yes, Adana.” Jessik choked the words out as his eyes fell on the book. “Oh yes, my girl, it is. This truly it is the best, the most holy earthly treasure ever.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

May’s First Christmas
T.L. Wiens
 
May watched Joe, her common law husband, as he sat on the couch, drowning his sorrows with a forty of whiskey. She would tell him the war was over but that would only result in him cussing her out. Joe still lived on the battlefield of World War II where he had seen action. Even on Christmas day, he relived it over and over by watching the newsreels from the war. It was one of the many reasons she dreaded the holiday season. Her childhood experiences, that haunted her memories, were another.
            The thoughts lead her back in time and she was once again the small girl huddled in the corner of the cold damp room, locked away from life. She didn’t understand why her aunt hated her so much and condemned her to this room, leaving no chance of escape. Beyond the walls she could hear the shrill laughter of her cousins. Judging from the volume, something big was happening. While they celebrated, May fought to keep from wetting herself by squeezing her legs together as tightly as she could. Her prayers went unanswered; urine soaked into her pants.
            The door swung open. Her aunt’s words were sharper than her pointed chin and nose.
            “Wet yourself again?” Auntie’s hand came at her.
            May ducked but the blow came too fast. The hard floor broke her fall. No tears fell—years of this ritual had taught her to never react to pain. Why did she get punished for something she couldn’t stop? There was no time to ask. Auntie grasped May’s thin arm and pulled her across the room. May did her best to get her feet under her as they made their way to the bathroom.
            “Clean yourself up.” Auntie walked away.
            Another bruise to be added to the others, May thought as she rubbed the sore spot. There was no time to worry about it. She had to get changed into dry clothes before Auntie came back or round two would follow.
          When she entered the living room, May noticed her cousins clutching new dolls. Their delicate porcelain faces and silky hair shone. May longed to hold one of these ‘big girl’ dolls or any kind of new toy. 
         Her cousin ran to her, a smirk on her face and handed her a paper bag. “Merry Christmas.”
         Inside, May found her 'new' toy. The doll hung limp from years of play. Its hair had been cut or pulled out and it was missing an eye. May wanted to throw it on the floor and demand that she too get a new doll from the store. But Auntie watched her every move. A bruised arm would be the least of her worries if she voiced her thoughts.
          Joe’s cursing brought her back to the present. What did he want now? She sighed and headed into the other room to see to his needs to find the phone was ringing. She answered it. It was her son, CJ. He and his new girlfriend would arrive in about an hour.
     When May first met Lea, she knew this girlfriend was different from the others CJ had brought around. Lea talked to her, listened to May’s stories about her past. They had even prayed together. And this year, Lea would be spending Christmas with them.
      May worked hard on making the meal perfect. Lea’s Mennonite roots didn’t include many of May’s holiday traditions. Would Lea appreciate the Scottish dressing with its oatmeal base? Or cooked cabbage? Maybe May should have tried to include some of Lea’s customary holiday foods? Joe would complain if they didn’t have the traditional meal even though he wouldn’t be sober enough to remember eating it. May wasn’t about to risk an argument with him today.
     CJ and Lea arrived as May put the gravy into a bowl. Lea carried a small present that she set with the packages May’s daughter had sent in the mail. May had hoped her daughter would be home for the holidays. She was too busy. On the outside, May pretended it didn’t matter but inside, the mailed packages were cruel reminders of her lack of importance in her daughter’s life. But who cared about gifts? Joe only wanted more whiskey and May had long switched to giving cash to her children and grandchildren.
          Joe sat on the couch in his underwear holding his plate of food. CJ sat in May’s chair beside his dad with his plate. At least she and Lea sat at the table in the dining area. The compliments for the meal almost scared her. May trembled, unable to say a word in response. Lea didn’t seem to notice her silence.
After the meal, Lea jumped up and started clearing the table. May watched, stunned to see someone else helping in her kitchen. She held her own plate unsure what to do next.
          “I’ll wash because I don’t know where to put things after I dry them,” Lea said.
I must look dense standing here, my mouth gaping, overwhelmed with something so basic, May thought. Good thing her guest had already turned her attentions on the dishes in the sink. May found a tea towel and began drying.
          It was over. Every one was fed and another Christmas done. Gift opening would wait until May found a private corner away from Joe. She folded her tea towel and was headed to join Joe and CJ in the living room when she noticed Lea at the table,
a Bible in front of her. May had never learned to read and never passed up an opportunity to hear someone else read to her.
         Lea said the words loud and clear, unafraid of Joe’s protests at this addition to their holiday celebrations. “And it came to pass in those days…”
May knew the story of Christ’s birth but somehow in her world, Christmas and Christ never came together. For her, it was a day to endure and remember her aunt’s lessons about May’s place in life as someone undeserving of the finer things. But as she listened to Lea read the account of the first Christmas, something clicked within her. She had a right to take part in the celebrations in their fullness. When Lea read the part about the shepherds and the angels, May couldn’t hold back. She burst into song. Lea joined in for the chorus of Angels We have Heard on High.
           Joe grumbled his complaints as the women made their way into the living room. A tremble went through May but Lea ignored his cussing and retrieved the small gift. The brightly coloured bag could hold any number of things May thought as Lea set it in her hands.
     May opened it with great care. When she peered inside, she saw something brown. Reaching in, she felt something soft and furry. Grasping it, she lifted the hidden treasure out of the bag. Around its neck, the teddy bear had a ribbon that shone with newness. Its fur was soft, untouched by another. Memories flooded back to the many times May had watched her cousins enjoy their gifts at Christmas time while she went to her room with some used up old doll. But this time she had the new toy. Cuddling the bear against her chest like a mother would hold a child, she thanked Lea for the gift.
          “I’ve always wanted a teddy bear...thought I was too old.” May brushed away a tear. “People would think I was crazy.”
          That night, May held her bear, petting the soft fur. This small gift brought with it a beginning of healing from the many years of being told she was a useless burden and extra expense, especially during the holidays. This bear said something different. There would be no more Christmas celebrations with her listening in from behind a wall.

 Previously Published in Christmas Chaos
   (copyright 2010 Prairie Dog Publishing and its Licensors)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Justina Crispina
©2013 Glynis M. Belec

           Amanda’s eyes lit up each time she watched the commercial. Every five year old child needed a Cabbage Patch Kid.  The television said so.  I had taken a psychology course or two so I knew what those marketers were up to but no matter how hard I tried to convince my little girl that it was all a gimmick to get parents to shell out hard earned money, the more she wanted one.
            “I need to adopt a Cabbage Patch baby,” Amanda said day after day. It was hard for her to differentiate between want and need at her young age and when she felt the pull, need always came out the winner.
            Money wasn’t exactly flowing like a river and with Christmas drawing near, the struggle to buy gifts and pay bills tipped the scales more in the direction of unbalanced a little too often. I secretly wanted to buy Amanda a Cabbage Patch doll, though, but it was a craze that I had sworn I would not succumb to; no aggressive marketing ploy would make me submit and surrender, no matter how appealing the baby dolls were with their adoption papers and big, beckoning eyes.
            I had heard the news stories about Cabbage Patch Kid dolls being sold out within minutes; I was aware of the tales about back order woes and upset children and frantic parents who would line up for hours hoping to score a doll from the next shipment.  I refused to line up to buy a doll. Besides we really couldn’t afford it, anyway.
            All the same, Christmas shopping excursions included a mandatory trip to the toy department. The yellow boxed babies did not sit on the shelf for long, but with Amanda in tow, it was crucial we checked. Although she knew she needed to adopt a Cabbage Patch baby, Amanda also understood in her own childlike way, that she likely wasn’t going to get one for Christmas. Mommy was a bit of a stubborn shopper and she was slowly learning that my idea of the perfect gift did not necessarily mesh with hers.
            All the same, I was lenient when it came to window shopping. The more I watched my darling daughter interact with the boxed babies, though, the more I felt a nudge that maybe I should give a little.  I saw how she looked at the Cabbage Patch creations. I listened to her trying to pronounce the name – each one came pre-named. Then I would see the hurt on her little face when someone snatched a box from the shelf. I got to the point where I thought it perhaps time I relinquished. Maybe, just maybe I would talk it over with Daddy.
            So I did. We considered our budget and rationalized that she was only young once and we probably should make her Christmas wish come true. I put it on my list. Next time I was in town I would march up to the toy department and adopt the perfect Cabbage Patch baby for Amanda. I could hardly wait for Christmas morning.
                It was a week before Christmas and I headed to the department store. Daddy would keep Amanda happy and occupied.  When I arrived at the store I headed straight for the toy aisle. Dolls of every sort stared back. There were baby dolls, princess dolls, dolls that walked, talked and danced. But I could not see any Cabbage Patch Kids anywhere. I asked the sales clerk.
                “Sorry, Ma’am. We sold out a few hours ago.”
                “When are you getting more in?” I asked.
                “We’re not.”  The salesclerk sounded as if she was sick of answering the Cabbage Patch question. Her rolling eyes were an indication.
                One week before Christmas. I had finally relented and now the desire for me to find a Cabbage Patch for my daughter was becoming an obsession.  Why had I been so stubborn? It was a doll and it was all Amanda had wanted for Christmas. I needed to find one.
                My shopping trip turned into a mission. But to no avail. I tried store after store. No Cabbage Patch Doll to be found. Eventually, the last store I tried, the sales clerk apologized profusely but then her eyes lit up a little and she pointed to a display.
                “We have these.” The helpful young lady pointed to a display of Cabbage Patch Key rings. Squeeze the back, the arms open and they cling to clothing or books. They were definitely cute but definitely not what I was looking for. But I bought one. At least it was a Cabbage Patch Kid in miniature.  I had tried.
                When I arrived home my sullenness was a dead giveaway. I told Daddy what had transpired and he uttered something about ‘not meant to be.’
                Christmas morning arrived. We decided not to wait for Nana and Grandpa to arrive to open gifts. Amanda was anxious to see what was in the glistening packages under the tree. She was gracious. When she opened the little box containing the Cabbage Patch Kid key ring, she smiled and kissed the little doll, cradling it in her small hands, the little silver keychain dangling. I felt wretched. Why had I been so stubborn? I should have shopped earlier. I should have known, given the craze over the popular doll that I needed to plan way ahead. But Amanda seemed content to rock her little key ring baby.
                When Nana and Grandpa arrived we settled down for a lovely Christmas breakfast and we chatted away, basking in the simplicity and joy of family. Then Nana pulled out a box.
                “Oh, I almost forgot. This is for you, Amanda.”
Amanda quietly took the box and gently peeled away the pretty paper. A squeal of delight pierced my heart.
                “Mommy!  It’s a Cabbage Patch Kid!” Amanda cried.
I could hardly believe my eyes. A dark chocolate skinned little baby stared out of the distinctive yellow box.
                “Mom? How did you know?” I hugged my more than surprised mother.
                Apparently my mother’s friend, Peggy, who loved to shop, had bought a Cabbage Patch Doll earlier in the year. She had no reason to buy one herself, except that everyone was buying them.  So when Christmas rolled around she gave the doll to Nana because she knew she had a granddaughter.
                Tears flowed for a myriad of reasons that Christmas morning. No one was more thrilled, though, than Amanda. She took out the adoption papers and announced that her new adopted baby was officially named Justina Crispina.
                “I guess that was meant to be,” uttered a teary-eyed Daddy!

                Amanda clipped her key ring to Justina’s dress. My heart skipped a beat… 




Friday, December 9, 2016

                                                NOTHING UNDER THE TREE
 
                                                                        by Carol Harrison
 
            "Don't get me anything for Christmas!" my husband's voice broke into my thoughts which were full of all the Christmas preparations I planned to complete in the next few weeks.
            I looked at him and nodded, "You say that every year."
            "This year I'm serious. There won't be anything for you under the tree or in your stocking, at least not from me. So don't get me any gifts either. Put the extra money towards more things for the kids." he repeated.
            I didn't bother replying. We went through this every year. Most years I'd listen and get him a few little gifts so the children could enjoy watching him empty his stocking. Every year he'd have a gift under the tree for me and my stocking would have lots of surprises, sometimes costly surprises in it. Every year I wished I hadn't listened to his instructions. This year I wouldn't.
            Days passed in a whirlwind of activities including baking, shopping, decorating and sending out Christmas cards and letters. My husband repeated his ‘nothing-for-me’ message frequently.. Each time I would look deeply into his eyes for the teasing glint that was sure to be there, yet he appeared more serious than in the past.
            Finally, the gifts were all wrapped and under the tree, the items for everyone’s stockings well hidden from prying eyes and the children's Christmas programs were done. Christmas Eve had arrived. I tucked the children into bed. Sleep would be delayed in claiming them due to their excitement so I curled up on the couch and settled in for a long wait.
            "You know there's no gift under the tree for you, right?" my husband asked.
            "Yup! I checked."
            "Don't have anything for your stocking either. So don't be disappointed. I warned you. You listened and didn't get me anything either - right?" he said.
            I looked at him and smiled. I would wait and see. Maybe this year he listened to his own rules and I'd be one up on him. Then I tried to shake those thoughts right out of my head. Since when had giving gifts become such a competition? That shouldn't be what Christmas was all about.
            I felt like I had barely laid my head on the pillow when I heard the children's voices attempting to break into my sleep fogged brain. "Get up. It's Christmas! Get up!"
            They pulled at our arms urging us to hurry. They needed to see what Santa had put in their stockings. I pulled on my robe and followed them to the living room where I watched them eagerly empty all the treasures from the stockings. I loved to see their smiling faces. Then I turned to watch Brian empty his stocking. He leaned over and whispered for my ears alone, "I wasn't supposed to get anything."
            I pulled a few chocolate candies and an orange from my stocking. He had been serious. There was no gift under the tree and none in my stocking. I tried to hide the disappointment that suddenly surfaced.
            Later that morning, we headed the few blocks to my parent's house to celebrate with the rest of the family. The fragrant aroma of roasting turkey and pies filled our nostrils as we stepped into their home. Christmas dinner always provided a bountiful supply of scrumptious food. I quickly pitched in to help load the table with its bounty while the children ran off to play with their cousins.
            We had barely finished eating when the children clamoured to open presents. The gift exchange needed to wait while the women tackled the mundane chore of kitchen cleanup and the men headed out to check the trucks and warehouse. With impeccable timing they returned just as we completed the last of the dishes. I looked forward to a relaxing afternoon of visiting. Brian looked at me and said, "Before presents why don't you take some of these leftovers to our fridge and bring back a couple games for later."
            "Sounds good to me but why don't you go?" I replied.
            "Nope I'll stay here. You go. Hurry back." he countered.
            I looked around but no one took my side. Frustration began building inside me when I asked him once more to do the errand and he again refused. The realization I could not win this argument sunk in, like a rock into the pit of my stomach. Rather than creating an unpleasant scene, I grabbed my coat and jammed my arms into it. I pulled on my boots, grabbed some containers of leftovers from my mom and headed out the door, barely refraining from slamming it behind me. I mumbled and grumbled to myself all the way home. By the time I arrived in my own kitchen the frustration had turned to full blown anger.
            I yanked open the refrigerator door, shoved in the containers and slammed the door shut. I wheeled around, almost colliding with a huge dishwasher standing in the middle of the kitchen floor, as I stomped from the room to find the games. I stopped suddenly and turned around.
            "A dishwasher! I don't have a dishwasher!" I yelled into the empty room. My anger drained out as tears began to run down my face. I ran my hands over the brand new appliance. My present didn't fit under the tree or in my stocking. I had been sent home to find it. Checking the warehouse had been an excuse to sneak the dishwasher home. I wiped my tears before heading back into the cold. My anger dissipated only to be replaced by shame at my attitude. I slowly walked back into my folk's house and sheepishly faced my family. Their faces were wreathed in smiles as they waited expectantly for my reactions.
            I directed my comments to my husband, "You didn't keep your word. You got me a present!"
            "What present?" he said as he tried to keep a straight face but the twinkle in his eyes betrayed the losing battle he fought.
            "The dishwasher in our kitchen!" I replied.
            Laughter filled the room while everyone began talking at once. The laughter drove the last vestiges of frustration, anger and shame from me. That Christmas I learned a lesson or two. First, things aren't always as they seem. Secondly, frustration and anger should never have first place in my life, especially at Christmas.
 
 
 
                                                            


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Jenny’s Story
                                                  Sharon Dow


Jenny knelt in the snow in front of the manger scene in the square. The baby looked so peaceful. His eyes were closed and his red lips slightly parted. His mother had wrapped the blanket around him so carefully.

Blue, blue like the sky.” She reached in and stroked the soft wool of the blanket.

“Dare I touch him?” Slowly she lifted her small hand and laid it on the baby’s face. It felt warm.

“Just like a real baby.” Jenny pushed the blanket back from his forehead and was surprised to see tiny strands of dark hair. She looked up at his mother, looked into her open eyes.

“She’s smiling at me.” Jenny lifted the corners of her lips to return the smile. “I don’t think she minds that I touched her baby.”

“Get away from there. Be off with you. Who do you think you are, touching the manger scene?” Harsh, cold words flowed over her. She jumped back startled and stared into the angry face of the custodian.

His gray overcoat was fastened over wrinkled brown pants. A fur cap rested on his shaggy hair; shaggy gray hair that escaped beneath the cap all around his head. Bushy eyebrows were tightly drawn together in an outraged frown.

“’Way you go. Back wherever scum like you comes from.” The man waved his arms wildly at her, shooing her away.

Jenny stood, her face twisted with disappointment and fear. She took one last look at the baby then ran for the park across the street. When she reached the path into the wooded area, she paused and looked back to see if she was being followed. The angry man was still standing there, shaking his fist at her, but making no attempt to cross the street.
She pulled her leaden feet along the slippery path. Snow was falling; that soft, gentle snow that embellishes the front pages of glossy magazines around Christmas. To Jenny it had lost its beauty long ago. It was just cold, far too cold for her shabby coat and worn shoes.

The tree branches overhead provided some shelter from the wind as Jenny continued along the path. A squirrel scolded from a low branch, but she ignored him. Her mind was still on the baby in the blue blanket.

“Beautiful baby, beautiful baby,” she crooned to herself. Her thin arms hugged her chest as she pretended to rock the baby.

She reached the other side of the park and looked up at the apartment building blighting the skyline on the far side of the street. It had seen better days. Graffiti sprawled along the dirty brickwork on the lower levels, paint was a foreign substance to the doors and windows, and a sadness seemed to hover over the neglected domicile.

But it was home to Jenny. She had never lived anywhere else. She looked through kinder eyes not seeing the crumbling exterior, the dingy hallways, the tattered curtains. She only saw the familiar, the comfortable; home, her home.

Carefully she crossed the street and entered the foyer. The threadbare carpet did little to absorb the dampness from her feet. Stairs rose before her, rising up along peeling, faded walls. Her steps slowed as she reached the first floor. Two doors down and she’d be home.

She pushed open the door to her apartment, entering quietly. “Mama, I’m home.” She kicked off her wet shoes and shoved them to the side with a damp foot.
“Jenny, where have you been? I’ve been calling for you out the window.” Mama bustled into the living room, wiping her hands on an apron that had once been pretty.
“Mama, I saw the baby.” Jenny’s eyes shone as she looked at her mother. She was still holding her arms as though cradling him.
Allie, her mother, stared at her, her eyes puzzled. She pushed back lank pieces of dark hair from her face as she observed her daughter. “Baby? What baby? What are you talking about, Jenny?”

“The baby in the manger at the square. I saw it. I saw the little blue blanket. I touched it, Mama.” She spoke with a dreamy lilt to her voice. “I touched the blanket and the baby’s face.”

“I’m surprised someone didn’t stop you.” She reached out and touched her daughter’s hair, slipping the small hat from her head.

“Oh, that old man who looks after the rink did chase me away. But that was after I felt the blanket and patted the baby’s face.” Jenny reached around and hugged her mother.

“Okay, enough about the baby. It’s time to eat. Get your wet things off and come to the table. We’ve got a pork chop to split between us tonight.” Allie turned to head back to the kitchen, wiping a stray tear from her eye.

“All right, Mama, I’ll be right there.”

Jenny always tried to obey her mother. She was all she had. Her mother refused to talk about her father. She had no memory of him, but she dreamed about him every night. He always wore a red jacket with a white shirt and tie. Jenny thought he was handsome. And he always took her mother and her away from their tiny apartment to a big house in the city where she had two dogs and an orange cat. She never told her mother about her dream. She knew it would upset her.
 
“Jenny-girl, you’ve hardly eaten anything. Can’t you try to eat a little more?”

Jenny-girl was her mom’s special name for her.

“I’m not very hungry, Mama,” Jenny sighed as she pushed around a tiny piece of pork chop on her plate. “I’m just tired.” She sighed again then brightened quickly and looked at her mom. “I know I’ll feel better tomorrow.”

Her mama looked at her with sadness in her eyes. Jenny had seen that look before and would do anything to erase it from her face. She knew it had something to do with her and how tired she was.

It was cold in their apartment so bedtime came early. When she was ready for bed, Jenny went to the front window as she had done every night since the lights had been lit on the big tree down the street. There were no Christmas lights in her home, but she could see the tree.

“Mama, it’s so beautiful. Look at it with the snow falling on it.” She wiped steam from the window and leaned closer to it.

Allie stood behind her, arms wrapped around Jenny’s shoulders. Jenny leaned into her mother’s embrace, resting her head on her shoulder.

“Mama, what’s Heaven like?”

“Why are you asking about Heaven, Jenny-girl?” Her mother’s arms tightened around her.

“I don’t know. It just occurred to me. I think it’s warm and bright there. I think there are Christmas trees on every corner and a baby in a manger with a soft blue blanket under every tree. What do you think, Mama?” Jenny stayed in her mother’s embrace, tilting her head so she could see the whole tree.

“Oh, Jenny-girl, that sounds nice. I think you’re right.” Allie leaned her head down to nestle in Jenny’s hair.
Jenny yawned and snuggled closer to her mama. Allie picked her up and hugged her tightly.

“Time for bed,” she said cheerily.
 
At midnight the coughing started, deep rough coughs, jarring Jenny from her sleep. “I can’t breathe,” Jenny wailed between gasps and coughs.

Allie got up right away and forced a straw between Jenny’s lips. “Drink, Jenny. It will ease your cough.”

But the cough didn’t stop. Allie finally left the apartment and mounted the steps to the next floor. She rapped sharply on the first door.

“Sam, Sam, please wake up. I need your help.” She knocked again, harder this time.
Presently the door opened a crack and a wrinkled face framed in a nightcap peered at her. “What’s going on,” the raspy voice grated.

“It’s Jenny, Sam, she won’t stop coughing. I need to get her to the hospital. Can you take us?” Allie reached out and gripped his arm.

“Allie, it’s you.” He threw the door wide open. “Come in, come in. Let me get dressed and I’ll see if that crazy old car will start.”

“I can’t come in, Sam. I’ve got to get back to Jenny. Please hurry, I’m scared.” Allie started to cry.

Sam awkwardly patted her shoulder. “Now, now, Allie, we’ll get her to the hospital. You just get ready and meet me at the front door.”
 
The hospital doors loomed before them as Allie carried her precious bundle into the waiting room. The room was bleak. Lighting was dim and an old TV spewed forth a program unwatched by weary people sitting on plastic chairs. Sam and Allie found two seats at the back and Jenny was shifted to Sam’s arms while Allie went to the desk to register.

A baby cried and an old man coughed discreetly into his handkerchief. Allie sat down dejectedly beside Sam.

“She said it’ll be at least two hours before a doctor can see her.” Allie pulled her coat around her and sighed.

Jenny stirred, sat up abruptly, and began coughing. The sound was disturbing, rattling deep in her chest. The nurse looked up from her paper work, rose and entered the room behind her. When she returned, she called Jenny’s name.

“Already?” Allie whispered to Sam.

“I don’t think she likes the sound of Jenny’s cough.” Sam’s wrinkled face had the hint of a smile as he adjusted Jenny in his arms.

Allie lifted Jenny and followed the nurse into the busy emergency department behind the waiting room. Here the lights were bright and nurses and doctors moved about quickly, assessing their patients. A friendly face emerged from behind a desk and led Allie to an empty cubicle. The narrow bed had a clean sheet on it and Allie laid her burden down.

“Hello sweetheart.” The new nurse entered the cubicle with her clipboard in one hand, her eyes moving over Jenny.

“Hi.” Jenny smiled in spite of her cough.

“Are you cold?” The nurse felt her forehead and checked her pulse recording the information on her clipboard.

“Yes, very.” A little shiver rippled across her shoulders.

“I’ll be right back.” She patted her arm and turned to leave. When she returned, she carried a heated blanket which she unfolded and gently placed over Jenny, tucking in the sides around her.

“How’s that?” The nurse stood back and surveyed her patient again. Her forehead wrinkled as she smiled.

“Nice, thank you.” Jenny snuggled under the blanket, flexing her cold toes to extract the warmth.

“The doctor will be here in a minute.” The nurse patted Allie’s arm as she left the cubicle.
While they waited, beeps came from nearby monitors along with soft voices. People whisked by the cubicle bent on errands that needed their attention.

“Hi, I’m Doctor Mike. You must be Jenny.” A broad, cheery face accompanied the voice as he stepped into the cubicle. He seemed to fill the whole space with his presence. When he sat beside Jenny, he asked her questions while taking her pulse and listening to her chest.

“Jenny, I’m going to give you something to ease your cough and help you to sleep. I’ll have the nurse bring it to you.” He sat back on his chair, observing her.

“Thanks.” Jenny tried not to cough, but she was unable to stop. Her face turned red as a deep one engulfed her again. She covered her mouth with her hand then quickly shoved it back under the warm blanket.

Doctor Mike turned to Allie as he stood. “When Jenny is asleep, I’d like to talk to you in my office. The nurse will show you where it is.”

“Yes, thank you Doctor.” Allie drew in a deep breath and moved to sit beside her daughter again.
 
When Jenny was finally sleeping peacefully, Allie sat and watched her daughter before rising to meet the doctor.

“How was I so lucky to have Jenny?” she whispered to herself. She leaned over the bed, brushing the dark curls back from Jenny’s damp forehead. She reverently placed a kiss on the flushed cheek and without looking back, left the cubicle.

Doctor Mike was busy when she reached his office.

“He’ll just be a few minutes.” The nurse looked up from her work and spoke softly to Allie. “Sit in here and wait for him. He particularly wanted to talk to you right away.” She indicated a chair placed just inside a small room.

The inner door opened and Doctor Mike loomed in the doorway. “Thanks for coming, Allie. I need to talk to you about Jenny.”

A cold chill ran down her spine the same time as a hot flush rushed up her neck. The doctor stood back to let her enter his office. He indicated a chair in front of his desk while he sat across the desk from her.

“What is it Doctor? Jenny will be okay won’t she?” A worried frown gathered around her eyes as she leaned toward him.

“Allie, I’ll be frank with you. I don’t know yet exactly what’s wrong with Jenny, but I don’t think it’s good.” He rested his elbow on his desk and rubbed his chin as he looked at her.

A sharp gasp escaped Allie’s trembling lips and she quickly put her hand over her mouth as her eyes widened.

“We’ll need to do a number of tests and I need your permission for those. I know this is hard, but I know you want the best for her. I can’t treat her unless I’m certain of the cause of her cough.”

Allie pulled herself up straighter on her chair. “Of course you have my permission. I’d do anything for my little girl. Please just help her.” Then the tears came, running rivulets down her unfeeling cheeks. “Please, please help her,” she squeezed out between sobs. She fumbled in her pocket for a tissue.

Doctor Mike rose, patted her on the shoulder and left the office. The nurse returned almost immediately.

“Allie, we’re going to admit Jenny. The doctor wants her taken to a room as soon as possible. Come with me and we’ll gather her things.” The nurse turned and left quickly leaving Allie no alternative but to follow.

Hour after hour, Allie sat by Jenny’s bed. The tests had been completed earlier and the doctor would soon be in with the results. She looked up as Sam came through the door. This was a new Sam; hair washed and brushed, a suit she had never seen before, face shaven, even his shoulders were pushed back as he joined her in the room.

“Sam, thanks for coming,” Allie said with a look of relief on her face.
“I wanted to be here with you. No one should have to face a hospital alone.” He sank into a chair on the other side of Jenny’s bed. Jenny was still sleeping quietly so they spoke in whispers.

“The doctor is coming soon to give me the results of the tests. Will you stay with me when he comes? I don’t think I can face it alone.” She reached out a trembling hand.

“Of course I’ll stay.” He gently squeezed her fingers.

“She’s probably going to be fine, but I’m really worried.” Her face crumbled but she held back her tears.

She heard the doctor’s voice in the hall and took a deep breath. Sam rose and stood behind her.

Doctor Mike slipped into the room and approached the bed, nodding to Allie and Sam. He checked the chart hanging by a string at the foot of the bed, took Jenny’s pulse, felt her forehead then turned to Allie.

“I have the results here,” he said in a noncommittal voice holding up the papers in his hand. Sam’s hand found its way to her shoulder, resting comfortably there.

“Jenny is suffering from a severe case of pneumonia. We already know that she has a weakened lung capacity due to that birth defect.” He cleared his throat and scanned the papers in his hand. He looked up into Allie’s eyes. “I’m afraid there’s not much we can do.” He glanced at Jenny in the bed. “We’ll start her on medication, but you need to be prepared for the worst. I’m sorry. We’ll do everything we can.” There was compassion in his voice.

Allie sat stunned at the news. Sam rubbed her shoulder.

“Do you have any questions?” Dr. Mike’s eyes were on hers.

“I . . . I don’t know what to say. I can’t even think.” Allie whispered in a strangled voice, unable to move.

“I know this is a shock. I’ll be available if you need me later. I’ll get the nurse to come.” He left the room, leaving them staring at his back.

“Mama, Mama.” Jenny stirred in the bed, pushing the covers back from her face.

“You’re awake, Jenny-girl.” Allie rose and went to her daughter, kneeling beside her.

The coughing started almost immediately, harsh wheezing coughs. Allie gave her some water which soothed her a little.

“Mama, I’m real sick,” Jenny managed to gasp out between coughs. She let her head drop back on the pillow. Her cheeks were pale and her lips were beginning to crack.

“I know Jenny. Try not to talk.” Allie caressed her forehead, lifting a lock of hair back from her face.

“But Mama,” more gulping coughs, “I want to tell you something.” She struggled to sit but fell back.

“What is it darling?” Allie leaned closer and put her arms around her.

“I want to see the baby in the blue blanket one more time,” she managed to choke out.

“Oh Jenny, we’ll see him once you’re better and out of here.”

There was only the torturous sound of her breathing for a minute. “No Mama,” she panted, “I need to see him today.”  Her hands moved restlessly over the blanket, picking at the fabric.

She fell silent, spent from trying to talk and from the wrenching coughs. Sam glided from the room, unnoticed by either mother or daughter. The nurse soon arrived and attached Jenny to an IV to start the medication. Jenny lay very still as the needle was inserted into her arm.
 
Mother and daughter sat quietly, holding hands. Jenny drifted to sleep once more as the medication eased the cough. Allie never knew how long she sat in that one position. 

Nurses came and left offering her lunch or coffee which she declined. The doctor came in twice to check on her. It all seemed a dream to Allie.

Daylight turned to darkness and still she sat. Jenny’s breathing was laboured and a light sweat dotted her forehead. Christmas lights came on all over the city, visible through the hospital room window but unnoticed by Allie. Still she sat.

A soft knock on the door brought her out of her reverie. She placed Jenny’s limp hand on the sheet and rose to answer. A woman stood there, her face was familiar but Allie couldn’t place her.

“Hi Allie, I’m Joan, the mayor. Sam came to see me this afternoon to tell me about your daughter. I’m so very sorry.” Her voice was low and sweet.

“The mayor? Ah … please won’t you come in?” She stood back and let the older woman enter the room. Her black leather coat looked expensive and was set off beautifully with a blue scarf and gloves. Although her hair was gray, it was styled in a youthful cut enhancing the beauty of her face. Under her arm she carried a package wrapped in a paper bag. Sam eased into the room behind her.

Allie stood amazed as she looked at this incongruous pair invading the hospital room. 

Joan smiled at her as she stepped closer to the bed.

“I have something for Jenny,” the woman spoke kindly, shifting the parcel to her other arm.

Allie nodded and moved close to Jenny. “Jenny, Jenny,” she spoke softly to her, gently touching her face. “You have a visitor dear. Can you open your eyes?”
Her eyelids fluttered then opened full. She saw her mama, Sam, and the strange lady.

Joan leaned over the bed. “I’ve brought something for you to see.”

Jenny smiled her sweet smile at the mayor.

Joan placed the parcel in her arms. Allie helped her unwrap it.

Jenny lifted the baby with the blue blanket from the bag. Her eyes had a faraway look of wonder in them as she cuddled the baby to her.

Allie’s mouth fell open as she realized what the bag had held.

“Where . . . How . . . ?”

“Allie dear, being mayor opens doors closed to other people. It’s one advantage of the job. Thank the gentleman with me. It was his idea, a grand idea. I simply did what he asked.”

Allie gazed at Sam with a new look of appreciation. He smiled shyly back at her. Then all eyes focused on the bed, watching the joy on Jenny’s face.
And as Christmas Eve made way for Christmas day, Jenny closed her eyes for the last time, a beautiful smile on her face as her arms encircled the baby in the soft blue blanket.

And His arms encircled her as she was ushered into His presence.




Wednesday, December 7, 2016 

 
Miriam’s Gift
by
R. K. Livingston
                                             
 
Miriam opened her eyes to the sound of the cock’s crow and stretched lazily on her thin pallet.
 
There was a sudden rattling of the wooden shutters and a piping voice called urgently.  “Miriam…Miriam!  Have you forgotten what day it is?”
 
It was Eli and even though he was three years younger than her, he was her only real friend.  She scrambled to her feet, groping for her leather sandals.  “Wait, Eli.  I’ll be there in a minute.”
 
“Hurry!  The King doesn’t have a birthday every day and the village is already getting crowded.  I can’t believe he is really coming!”  Eli was so excited that his voice squeaked even more than usual.
 
A visit from the King!  Miriam scrubbed her face at the basin with special care and slipped her tunic over her head.  She looked ruefully at the faded blue cloth and tried vainly to smooth the wrinkles from it.  Ah well, it was the best she had.  She began to braid her long black hair with nimble fingers when the shutters rattled again.
 
“Eli, you know I can’t go till I finish my chores.  The fishermen will be in by now and my father will want to sleep after being out on the lake all night.”  For a moment she wondered if there would be any fish this time and felt a pang of worry.  “Oh no,” she scolded herself.  “Nothing is going to spoil the King’s birthday for me.  I refuse to be sad for one moment.”
 
Eli burst through the door in a flurry of thin arms and legs.  “Give me the bucket then and I’ll go to the well for you.  Hurry up or we’ll miss something.”
 
“Here then,” she said gratefully and handed him the water bucket.  He disappeared out the door and she set to work.  She lived alone with her father in the tiny hut so there wasn’t much to do.  She rolled up her pallet and set it in the corner before taking up the straw broom to make everything as tidy as possible.
 
A smile tugged at her mouth as she thought about the coming celebration and her grey eyes took on a faraway look.  She began to hum softly and sway back and forth, the broom forgotten.  Soon she was dancing, turning and gliding, with her hands weaving graceful patterns in the air around her.  She danced to music that no one could hear and it was her one great secret.  Not even Eli had ever seen her dance.  After all, how could she explain it?  She didn’t really hear her heart’s music; she just felt it somehow and it made her want to move to let it out.  When she was alone she could forget her poverty and her worries and dance with a freedom and joy she could not find any other way.
 
It was midmorning before they finally found themselves in the village square.  Eli, panting but triumphant, had returned at last with his tunic soaked and the bucket nearly full.
Miriam gazed around her with wide-eyed wonder.  There were bustling crowds everywhere with people laughing and talking all at once.  The air was filled with the smells of roasting mutton and spicy sausages.
 
“Look!” Eli was tugging at her arm and pointing to a gaily striped awning that had been set up in the centre of the square.  Beneath it stood a huge chair of finely carved cedar.
 
“What is it for?” she asked the man next to her.  “I thought the King was just going to ride through the village.”
 
“Oh no,” he grinned.  “He will stop and sit there to receive the gifts of those who wish to honour him on his birthday.  This finely woven cloth of gold will be my gift.  There is none better in all the land.  It is a gift fit for a King don’t you think?”
 
Miriam stared at the shimmering cloth in awe.  “Why yes, it’s beautiful,” she stammered.
 
Now they began to notice others who were carefully watching over their precious gifts as they waited.  Miriam had never seen such treasures in all her life.  Not all the gifts were rich of course.  For the most part the villagers were humble folk, though not so poor as her father and herself.
 
“It seems like everyone has something to give.  Just look at that basket of white loaves that Ephraim the baker is carrying,” Eli pointed out.  “I wonder what a loaf like that would taste like.”
 
Miriam didn’t answer.  “They are giving the best they have,” she murmured.  She was looking at old Nathan, the shepherd.  In his arms he carried a new lamb, spotless and without blemish.  Miriam looked into the lamb’s luminous eyes for a moment and reached out to touch his silky white curls.
 
She turned away suddenly and headed for the nearest side street.  The King would be arriving soon but instead of the excitement she had felt earlier she now felt weighed down with a terrible heaviness.
 
“Miriam, what’s the matter with you?” Eli called as he scrambled to catch up.  “Where are you going?”
 
Once out of the crowd, Miriam turned to him and spoke in an urgent voice.  “Don’t you see?  How will the King know that I want to honor him?  I have no gift to bring.”  She rested her flushed face against a cool stone wall and tried to think what to do while Eli stood silently watching her.  There was nothing among her father’s few possessions fit to give away let alone something beautiful enough to give a King. 
 
Her head came up with a jerk as a new idea suddenly flashed in her mind.
 
“I do have something beautiful in my life,” she exclaimed to an open-mouthed Eli.  “At least,” she added, “it’s always been beautiful to me.”  It was her secret…the music in her heart that made her dance.  Her spirit seemed to leap within her at the thought and she swung Eli in a circle shouting, “I am going to dance for the King!”
 
“Dance?  Miriam, have you gone crazy?” Eli squealed.
 
Just then they heard the sound of many trumpets and voices raised in cheers.  “There’s no time to explain now,” Miriam cried.  “Come on.”
 
By the time they made their way back to the square, the King had taken his place under the awning.  The richly dressed men and women of his court were ranged behind him.  The two friends had to squirm their way to the front of the crowd to catch a glimpse of him. One by one the people were coming forward to bow and present their gifts but Miriam hardly noticed them.  She had eyes only for the King.  He sat in regal splendor, dressed in dazzling white with a crown of gold on his head and a golden scepter across his knees.
 
“See how wise and strong he looks,” she whispered to Eli.
 
As the last man set his gift at the King’s feet and returned to his place, Miriam knew she must move or lose her chance.  Before she could change her mind she stepped into the open space in front of the throne and spoke in a voice that trembled.
 
“I too wish to honor the King on his birthday.  I have a gift to bring.”
 
She heard Eli groan and then someone called her name in an anguished voice.  It was her father.  She had never seen him ashamed before and it wrenched her heart.  She tried to reassure him with her eyes and the crowd fell silent as the King spoke.
 
“Come, child, and bring your gift to me,” he said gently.
 
Miriam took a few hesitant steps and faltered.  She looked around as there was a murmur from the people and wondered how she could bring herself to move.  Her feet seemed rooted to the ground and the only music she felt was the pounding of drums…or perhaps it was only her fear pounding along with the beat of her heart.
 
Then she looked back at the King and his eyes seemed to be speaking to her, saying “Look at me…look only at me.”
 
As she looked, she forgot the crowd and the pounding drums.  She saw love in his steady gaze and it washed over her and filled her with wonder.  Then she felt it.  The music was there, soft and insistent and beginning to grow.  And she thought she understood at last where it came from. 
 
The King smiled and nodded and she began to dance. She danced as she had never danced before.  She danced to honour the King on his birthday.  She danced to music that the people couldn’t hear.  It was music in her heart and when she looked at the King, she felt sure he heard it too.
 
When at last she was done, no one spoke.  Neighbors turned to one another and shook their heads, smiling in wonder.  She paid no attention though. 
 
She only looked at the King who rose from his chair and walked over to her.  He placed his strong hands on her shoulders and smiled down at her.
 
“No gift you could have given would have pleased me as much as this one has.  You have honoured me indeed,” he said.



Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Light in the Darkness
By Ruth Smith Meyer, December 2010
 
              The streetlights illuminated the gently falling snow. There was no breeze, so the snow stayed where it fell. It was Christmas-card perfect to the eye, but within Greg a storm was in the air. He walked, outwardly calm, beside his wife, her arm hooked in his to steady her on the slippery sidewalk.
              He glanced down at her petite form. After thirty years of marriage, he still occasionally saw her with the eyes that first drew him to her. Catherine’s burgundy knit tam with a piece of holly pinned to one side, set off her dark hair and white leather coat with the fake fur collar. The bits of snow that clung to her hat, enhanced the picture. Under the street light, her cheeks glowed red.
              He knew her well enough that he could sense her mixed emotions—happiness at having him come, and tension because she knew he didn’t really want to be there. They did agree on the latter.
              For years, he had dutifully gone to church with her. Gradually it changed to now and then, while the children were growing up. Even after he had given up the pretense of regular church attendance, he still went on special occasions like the Easter service or Christmas Eve. 
     In recent years, he’d even given up on that, giving the children some excuse of not feeling well or some emergency at work.
              Just call me Scrooge,he thought, but except for family gatherings and the gift exchange, I could do without Christmas!  Catherine’s always at the church, it seems. One in a family’s enough, isn’t it?  
              It was a source of contention between Catherine and him, but for the most part they had come to an uneasy truce by not talking about it.  
              Ahead of them, their son Steve and his young wife Sheri walked through the snow forging a path for the rest of them. Steve carried four month-old Jacob, their first grandchild.  It was Sheri who had begged him to come with the family for Jacob’s first Christmas Eve.
          Their second son, Chris and his fiancée, Wendy brought up the rear of the Carmichael family entourage. In between, their daughters Sue and Mary Ellen, chattered, their excitement like tinkling bells, added holiday cheer.
              It was just a few blocks from their house to the church—enough time to make Greg uncomfortable with the idea that he was actually going, but not enough to get so perturbed that he would turn back. 
              As they neared the old brick building, the organ could already be heard playing Christmas carols. Before entering, they brushed off the snow that clung to them. Greg did a swift side-step to avoid the pastor who was busily greeting the guests.
          Don’t need him making a big fuss about me finally coming again!
           He wished he could be invisible to everyone but his family.
              They weren’t sitting long before the choir filed in to the strains of O come, o come Emmanuel and took their place on the platform. 
          A few of the words penetrated his busy mind: Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery.
 
Now that last line is one I can agree with.
Recently life had become more and more,
 a path to misery.
Same old job,
unappreciative boss,
aches and pains.
 
In spite of the happy family that surrounded him,
his own life rated a “Bah! Humbug!” 
 
One of the choir members stepped forward to the microphone. 
 
“The Word was first,
      the Word present to God—God present to the Word.”
 
Greg had never heard the Bible,
if that is really what it was,
 read with such intensity and excitement. 
The reader paused,
then, eyes sparkling with exhilaration, she continued.

   The Word was God,
      in   readiness  for God from day one.
 Everything was created through him;
              nothing    —    not   one   thing!—
                        came into being without   him.”
 
Again the reader paused.
She looked as though she was bursting to share
the most thrilling surprise ever.
 
“ What came into existence —was  Life,    pause
      and the Life was Light    to    live    by.
                        The Life-Light  blazed  out of the darkness;
                                 (again she paused, then proclaimed)
And the darkness  couldn't  put   it   out.
 
The words,
The Life was Light to Live by
were seared on Greg’s mind. 
For some reason he couldn’t fathom,
his heart wanted to sing “tee hee!”
and the darkness couldn’t put it out!
 
It was as though that light was breaking through the
dreariness of his life.
He shook his head slightly and cautioned himself,
Now don’t get carried away with this, Greg!
 
The choir began another song,
but those same words kept repeating themselves in his mind. 
The Life was Light to Live by….and the darkness couldn’t put it out. 
 
The same enthusiastic reader stepped forward again
and began reading the familiar Christmas story that Greg remembered.
Except this time it wasn’t read in the usual ‘church’ tone
in Shakesperean language. 
She made it sound as though it were happening today,
right now.
    
Arguments rose out of his depths
—light and dark fighting it out inside him.
 He looked over
as Sheri handed Jacob to Steve. 
Would he want Jacob to grow up to be like his grandfather?
 
A voice reminded him how much Catherine had wanted him to join her on Sundays.
 I know I haven’t been a model husband over the years, he argued back,
 but there are lots of husbands way worse than me!
 The Life was Light to Live by
and the darkness couldn’t put it out!”
another voice whispered.
 
 He looked around and saw how many families were sitting together,
 and remembered how many years his family sat here without him.
  Probably I haven’t set the best example for the kids.
“The darkness couldn’t put it out!”
 
The mirrored star that hung above the choir slowly turned
in the natural movement of air. 
Right at hat moment that a reflection of light
beamed right in Greg’s eye,
 the reader pronounced “ASavior was born for you.” 
Greg jerked in surprise but hastily reassured himself,
She doesn’t mean YOU, dummy! 
 
But then she repeated,
“Yes, a Saviour was born for YOU!” 
 
It was almost as if she had read his mind.
Just like that light reflecting in his eye,
suddenly   the words    shone     true. 
 
He’d always thought you had to be born into the right kind of family
 to believe all this stuff. 
But right at that moment, suddenly it seemed it just maybe
could be for him, too. 
 
As the choir sang on,
interspersed with other readings,
his mind mulled over the thoughts so new to him,
wondering,  Could it really be so
 
Then another phrase sliced through
to his conscious thought.
 “Where meek souls will receive him still the dear Christ enters in.”
             
 He didn’t usually think of himself as a meek soul,
but with all that had happened,
he was definitely feeling meek and rather awed. 
 
So, did I really want Christ to enter in? 
Do I want that Life-Light to blaze into my darkness?
          He struggled with the thought but then figured
What do I have to lose?
 
His last reserve gave way and he nodded his head. 
Catherine, noticing the movement looked up at his face. 
He was sure she saw the tear that had formed in his eye,
for her face registered a big question mark. 
 
Just then the choir and congregation, singing Away in a Manger,
 began the last verse. 
The words were on the overhead. 
He reached for Catherine’s hand and sang:
 
“Be near me Lord Jesus,    I ask thee to stay,
close by me forever and love me, I pray.”
And he meant it!  He really meant it!
     Love me, love me,   his heart echoed.
Instinctively he knew this Christmas was going to be different.
 
The congregation was asked to stand for the last song.
As the choir came down the aisle with lighted candles,
Greg’s one arm encircled Catherine
while his other hand rested on Jacob’s little head,
asleep in Steve’s arm  pause
 
—and Greg sang as he had never sung before
Joy to the World, the Lord is come!”
 
By Ruth Smith Meyer, December 2010 


December 2, 2016

Well done Patricia and thank you for sharing this
 heart-warming, thought-provoking Christmas story.

 
Fragile
                                                                                         Patricia Ann Elford

It was a beautiful ornament. It had hung on family trees since Mother's great-grandmother was a tiny child. It had been handmade, somewhere in Europe, they said.
     Each year, Father had hung it. There had been a special way of doing it—never before the star, but right after, Father would put it on a top branch. No one else was allowed to touch it.
     But Father wasn't with them anymore. Billy's throat had a lump in it that wouldn't go away, and his chest hurt. His mother, Ellen, now worked at a hateful temporary job that barely kept their household going. She became furious as Billy swallowed, over and over. She yelled at him to stop. But he couldn't stop -- it hurt too much.
     Last night, after her last day at work, Ellen dragged out all the ornaments and set up the tree. But she was too worn out to decorate it, except for the star. Instead, she went to bed and cried herself to sleep.
     Awake early next morning, Billy smelled the tree before he saw it. Wonderful! Hoping against hope, he crept into the living room. Surely Father would be there, decorating, as usual. But ... The room was chilly. The tree star twinkled ... The ornament boxes still sat, undisturbed, on the floor.
     Billy opened them up. He knew what came next. Mother had been so sad lately. He would surprise her. Carefully, he opened up the crinkly, dark-blue tissue. The ornament sparkled up at him from its paper nest.
     It was a clear, blown-glass ball, silver on one side. Billy looked through the clear side into its centre. There, as in every year, was the tiny, hand-carved figure of the Baby Jesus cradled on the hay. The ball almost seemed to have a light of its own.
      Billy pulled out the step-ladder, the way Father used to. He pushed it close to the tree. And, in a gruff voice, he said the words his father always said at this time in the little ceremony: "Can't really have Christmas without Baby Jesus, now, can we?" 
     Carefully, he lifted out the ornament. He climbed higher and higher. He leaned out to put it in its special place near the star. He reached over, his tiny fingers pushing the thread over the prickly needles, pulling the branch down. His little body swayed at the top of the step-ladder. There, that should do it!
     As Billy let go, the branch swung up and down violently. The sparkling ornament fell with a crash. Splinters of silver shot across the room. 
     Billy froze on the ladder. "No! Oh, no!" he cried. He heard the crash. He saw the flashes of light, and, yet, he hoped it would be all right. It had to be! He shook with cold as he came down the ladder. Billy crunched across the glass. He didn't notice the sharp pains in his feet as he picked up the tiny figure of the Baby Jesus.
     Awakened by the noise, Ellen ran into the room. The light reflected from the glass shards. She saw the dark blue wrapper. She saw the box. She saw the glass pieces. She saw her son, crouched under the tree.
     No more job! No more husband! And, now, this precious family link is smashed by this obnoxious child who keeps swallowing! It is too much to bear!
     Enraged, Ellen grabbed an umbrella. She would hit Billy. She would hit and hit him! He'd learn not to take away her last joy.
     Billy's stricken face made Ellen even angrier. He shrank back against the tree, holding out the miniature Christ Child in small cupped hands.
     Exhaustion and anger, hate and despair had raised Ellen's umbrella to strike. But as she looked at the Christ Child trembling in her son's hands, awareness and awe, shame and love brought her arm down to her side. She dropped the umbrella and fell to her knees.
     Ellen hugged her child to her. She cradled her beloved son, as he cradled the Baby Jesus, sobbing out his story of what he had tried to do.
     A star above them. A mother and child holding each other and holding the Christ Child close to their hearts. A precious bauble lies broken, but precious broken hearts are healing.

December 1st, 2016


Let's begin with our first story. 

Are you sitting comfortably?


Our first story for December 1st, 2016 - CHRISTMAS IN THE CLASSROOM, was written by Barbara Heagy. 

Christmas in the Classroom   
by Barbara Heagy
 
     One year in my classroom, as we approached the winter holiday season, I asked my gr. 1’s what ‘Christmas’ was all about. I got a variety of answers.
     I said to them, “It’s somebody’s birthday. Do you know who?”
     No one knew. So I told them the original Christian story of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus visited by the wise men and shepherds and angels.
     Later I was reading them a story about the nativity scene and Cameron asked, “Who is Jesus Christ?”
     “Well, Christians say he’s the son of God,” I answered.
     “Does that make Joseph the step-dad?”
     “Well, in a way.”
     “Well, if God’s his real father, what does he look like?”
     “God is a spirit. God doesn’t look like people.”
     Lily piped up. “God isn’t a he or she. God’s a spirit.”
     “What’s a spirit?” asked Ashley.
     “Well, a spirit is kind of like a ghost…”
     “Like Casper?” asked Cameron.
     “…or maybe like the tooth fairy,” I fumbled, trying to think of images that they could relate to. “Or, perhaps more like Mother Nature. In some magical way, the sun comes up, the sun goes down, the seasons change and seeds grow and animals are born. God’s the energy that makes all that happen.”
     “God created us,” Lily said.
     “Yes, Christians say that. And they say God created Jesus Christ magically inside Mary’s belly or womb.”
     Nathan, still puzzled, said, “Well I know who Jesus is but who is Christ?”
     “Jesus Christ is one and the same person. Just like you are Nathan Wood, Jesus has two names, too.”
     “Oh,” he smiled, happy to understand. “Mr. Christ!”