Christmas

Christmas Comes to Lupine Valley (Part 5)

Today marks the final chapter of the 2020 Christmas Story. I hope you have enjoyed your visit to a simpler time in Lupine Valley. If you would like to read the rest of the story or any of the Christmas stories from previous years, you will find them all here.

I hope you a happy Christmas, in spite of all the craziness in our world. I read these words somewhere this week: “Just because the world is aflame doesn’t mean my world has to be on fire.” And how true this is for those who are saved. God has been so faithful to His own in 2020 and we know He will continue to be faithful as we head into 2021. So keep sharing the Gospel with the lost and keep encouraging and edifying fellow believers as we wait for the day when we will be caught up in the twinkling of an eye to experience glory forever!

On to the conclusion–

  Christmas Day dawned bright and clear. Grace was fixing breakfast while Clara sat on the rocking chair, watching the fire. Baby Edward lay sleeping in the old cradle that Henry had retrieved from the barn loft and then tenderly cleaned and polished.
  Conversation flowed freely between the two women as Grace set the table. In the center of the table she placed a small and treasured Christmas figurine of Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus.
  “How nice to have our own Christmas baby this year,” she said happily.
  Clara looked over at the cradle where her baby lay and smiled. She already loved him more than life itself. Her smile dimmed as she remembered that he probably would grow up without a father. The thought of this made her heart so heavy. Imperceptibly, she gave her head a little shake. She wouldn’t think about that today. After all, it was Christmas Day and she would soon be leaving these new and dear friends who had been so kind to her. She wanted to enjoy this day. There would be plenty of time to think about the future tomorrow.
  “I wonder why Henry isn’t in from the barn yet,” Grace went to the window to look out, “Well, I’ll be…”
  “What is it?”
  “Someone is outside with Henry. Who in the world would come visiting on Christmas? I hope nothing happened at the McCullough farm,” Grace worried as she thought of the large, needy family that lived about a mile from them.
  Henry started walking towards the house. A stranger, left arm hanging useless and awkwardly at his side, walked beside him. It definitely wasn’t Mr. McCullough.
  Grace went to the door and opened it for the two men. As they walked through the door, a loud and joyful cry was heard.
  “Eddy? Eddy!” Clara leaped off the chair, despite the fact that she had just had a baby.
  Eddy and Clara were in each other’s arms in seconds. Henry and Grace looked on wonderingly. Why, it was their own Christmas miracle.
  Clara, with tears streaming down her face, finally spoke. “I thought you were dead, Oh, Eddy, I thought I’d never see you again. How did you find me?”
  Eddy held on to his wife tightly until he spotted the cradle.
  “Is this our baby?” He said with awe. He moved to the cradle and gently bent down to touch the little hand that had flung itself out of the blanket.
  “Meet Edward Henry,” Clara said proudly and then she added, “We may want to call him Henry now that his daddy is around.”
  “Henry is a right fine name,” He looked at Henry appreciatively as he said these words.
  “Come, come, let’s eat breakfast. There is plenty,” Grace’s words encouraged them to the table where a veritable Christmas feast was laid out before them. Bacon, sausage, eggs, flapjacks, and sweet rolls all gave off a wonderful fragrance, while a basket that held a few big oranges sat nearby. This treat had become a Christmas tradition and Grace always looked forward to her first bite into the luscious, round fruit.
  Henry thanked the Lord for the food and then, as Grace poured cups of strong coffee, Eddy started to fill them in on how he came to be with them on Christmas Day.
  His division had been fighting the enemy on French soil when he had become injured. He had been knocked out cold and, in the fray of the chaotic retreat from the battle, he had been left for dead. When he awoke he was in the home of a family who lived high in the mountains. Though they couldn’t speak a word of English, the family both protected and nursed him. He spoke of them fondly as he explained that it took several months to recover from his injuries.
  “Unfortunately, my arm will never be the same,” he said this soberly as he looked at the helpless limb hanging by his side.
  “I don’t care. I am just glad you are here. That’s all that matters,” Clara stated this with fervor.
  Eddy smiled tenderly at her and then continued. He had stayed with the family until just a month ago, when he was finally able to communicate with the war office that he was alive and needed to get home.
  When he arrived home, it was to find out that Clara was no longer there and had not even received the information that he was still alive. Not knowing what to do, he had traveled to her parents, hoping to find her there. Thankfully, they had heard from her just a few weeks earlier and could tell him exactly where she was. When Henry had arrived at Oak Ridge that Christmas morning, he had knocked on the door of the church parsonage where Pastor had kindly directed him to his little family staying in Lupine Valley.
  Clara sighed with contentment, “I still can’t believe you are here.”
  The rest of Christmas Day was spent in joyous celebration. It was a special day to be remembered by all.
  Late in the afternoon, Henry brought the wagon around, so that he and Grace could head into town to have dinner with Jack and Martha. Eddy and Clara decided to stay home with baby Henry and enjoy some time together as a family.
  As Henry and Grace made their way to town, they went over their exciting day. To think that Eddy was still alive and reunited with his little family! How amazing!
  Little did they know that they had their own surprise in store.
  They were soon in front of Jack and Martha’s house. James and John, with little Millie not far behind them, came out shouting “Grandpa! Grandma!”
  But who was this? Another child stood shyly in the doorway. Why, was that their granddaughter, Caroline, all grown-up? But no. It couldn’t be!
  “Mom! Dad! Surprise!” And out rushed their son, their daughter-in-law, along with their three children. And, there, behind them, stood Jane!
  Grace’s eyes welled up with joyful tears as she surveyed the happy group before her.
  With smiles and laughter, they told Henry and Grace how they had been planning this special reunion all year.
  Christmas dinner was crowded and oh, so noisy and Henry and Grace loved every second of it. Soon, it was time to go home. Many happy plans were made for the coming days and, with assurances of seeing one another again soon, they took their leave.
  As they drove home under a clear sky full of stars, Grace sighed contentedly, “I believe this is the happiest Christmas I have ever had.”
  “I would agree with you on that, my dear. God is so good.”
  And with those words, Henry reached his strong arm around Grace and hugged her as the horses led the wagon back to the little cottage in Lupine Valley.

  
Epilogue

  Eddy, Clara, and little Henry left a few weeks later. They had become like part of the family during those weeks and Henry and Grace watched them go with sad hearts. Letters and visits were promised as they gave each other parting hugs.
  Henry had placed a well-worn Bible in Eddy’s hands before they left.
  “Young man, this has been an invaluable and irreplaceable source of guidance to me here on earth, as well as showing me how I can be saved for all eternity. I hope that you will read it and take it seriously.”
  Eddy took it soberly and promised he would.
  As Henry and Grace watched them climb into the train, it was with hope in their hearts that they would soon be part of the family of God.
  “We’ll just have to keep praying. God is so faithful,” said Grace.
  Henry squeezed Grace’s hand as they started off for home. It had been a Christmas never to be forgotten in Lupine Valley.

 

 
If you enjoyed this year’s story, would you consider letting me know? It is so helpful as I plan for next year. Thanks so much!

Christmas Comes to Lupine Valley (Part 4)

It’s time for Part Four of this year’s Christmas story. If you’d like to go back and read the rest of it, you can find the first three parts here. The final installment of the story will be presented on Christmas Eve (Thursday) next week.

  The next few weeks flew by, as Christmas Day rapidly approached. Henry and Grace invited Clara to stay with them until the baby was born and she agreed that would be best. She had received a telegram from her parents, stating they would pay for her fare home when the baby was old enough to travel. With this settled, Clara was able to enjoy the holiday season as she settled comfortably into the little, pleasant cottage in Lupine Valley.
  Grace had many opportunities to share with Clara about the baby that came that first Christmas night. She explained how baby Jesus would grow up to die for the the sins of man and that, through Jesus, anyone could be forgiven of their sins and be reconciled to God. Clara didn’t say much, but she did listen. She hadn’t ever heard the story of Christmas put quite like that before and it gave her much pause for thought. Meanwhile, Henry and Grace prayed that she would come to know the Lord Jesus personally, contemplating that perhaps this was the reason for their special Christmas guest.
  Clara joined Grace in all of her many holiday activities, although she grew noticeably more tired as Christmas Day approached.
  On the day before Christmas Eve, Henry drove the two women into town to make some cookie deliveries. They had made dozens and dozens of cookies the day before and now it was time to deliver them. The festive plates of cookies, wrapped with red bows, bounced up and down as Henry carefully guided the wagon to town.
  They first stopped at the church parsonage, where Pastor was studying for his Christmas sermon.
  “Oh, Grace, what a lovely gift! Mabel wasn’t up to making cookies this year, so this is a wonderful surprise!” He said with a twinkle in his eye as he rubbed his ample belly. His wife suffered from a chronic health condition.
  Grace asked after Mabel and they spoke a few more pleasantries before heading back to the wagon. They next headed for the doctor’s office.
  Henry carefully helped Clara off the wagon here so that the Doctor could give her a quick check-up. Thankfully, he was there when they knocked on the door.
  “Well, what have we here? No baby, yet, Clara?” He laughed.
  “Not yet, Doctor Miller,” Grace’s voice reflected the fatigue she felt in every bone of her body.
  “Well, by the looks of it, I’d expect that young’un any day now!” The doctor gratefully took the large plate of cookies from Grace and then gave Clara a quick examination. Announcing that all looked well and that he expected the baby to make an appearance any day now, he sent them on their way.
  After stops to deliver cookies to the Widow Burgess, elderly Mr. and Mrs. Whitley, and several other townspeople, they finally drove the wagon to Martha’s house with the last two plates of their cookies.
  “Oh, Mom, thank you for these! I just wish I could have helped you make them this year! I didn’t even have time to make any for my own family,” Her broad smile showed that she didn’t mind too terribly much. Motherhood suited her. Martha loved to bake cookies but she loved being a mama even more. With two month old twins added to her other four, all who were under the age of eight, it was just a little too much to help this year.
  During their visit, Grace happened to look up and see Clara holding tightly on to her belly with her eyes closed. She made her way over to Henry and whispered in his ear. He nodded and announced that it was time to go.
  James and John, Martha’s two oldest boys, protested loudly, “Awwww, but you just got here, Grandpa!”
  Henry quietly leaned down and said something. The boys looked over at Clara and nodded their heads quite seriously. They understood.
  Martha told Grace that if they needed her, she could come. Jack would gladly stay with the kids in an emergency. Grace smiled gratefully and, in a flurry of good-bye hugs and kisses, they climbed in their wagon.
  Clara grew more and more uncomfortable with each bump and shake of the wagon as it made its way back to Lupine Valley. Grace tried to make her as comfortable as possible but there was little she could do.
  When they arrived home, Clara announced that she was going to go lay down.
  Grace was uncertain. Had Clara’s labor officially begun? Or was she coming down with that flu bug that was going around? Finally, she went into the room with a cup of hot tea to see if she could find out.
  “How are you feeling, dear?”
  “Awful. Just awful. I have such a back ache,” she rubbed her lower back as she spoke.
  “Are the pains coming with any regularity?”
  “No, not really.”
  “Okay. Here is some hot tea. Please call for me if you need anything,” she gave Clara’s hand a gentle squeeze.
  “Okay,” she said feebly.
  The day passed by quietly, with Grace checking on her every hour or so. The pains did start becoming more regular as the evening wore on, indicating that she was indeed in labor, so Grace shooed Henry off to bed and decided to sleep in the rocking chair. She had just dozed off when she heard a loud cry. She jumped up, trying to figure out where she was, when she suddenly remembered. Clara!
  She ran into her room to see her thrashing about on the bed in pain.
  “I think it’s soon time,” she said, gasping for breath.
  Grace ran out of the room to tell Henry to fetch the doctor. He was soon saddled up and riding towards town.
  Meanwhile, she tried to remember everything she could about a baby’s birthing. After setting a pot of water on the fire to boil and finding some clean cloths, she went and sat by Clara’s bedside to wait for the doctor.
  Thankfully, Henry was soon at the door with Doctor Miller.
  “Well, Miss Clara, are you ready to be a mama?”
  Clara smiled wanly.
  Henry waited impatiently in the main room, while Grace and the doctor aided Clara in the bedroom.
  An hour later, he heard a loud cry. Grace soon peeked her head out the door.
  “Is all well?” he asked anxiously. The girl had become like another daughter to him in just the few weeks she had been staying with them.
  Grace gave a huge smile as she affirmed that it was, “It’s a healthy baby boy. Naming him Edward Henry, after his missing father and after you, my dear.”
  Henry was shocked and delighted to hear this. What a wonderful Christmas surprise.
  As Christmas Eve dawned, the people in the cottage in Lupine Valley were a happy, exhausted bunch. There is nothing quite like a new baby at Christmastime.

 
 

Christmas Comes to Lupine Valley (Part 3)

Today I present Part 3 of this year’s Christmas story. I hope you are enjoying it. It’s been a little more challenging for me, as it takes place in the past during a time I have not lived through. It means a bit more research for me but I find it pretty interesting (for example, what kind of writing instrument did someone use in 1917?) My goal is to make the story as real and authentic as possible, so hopefully I am accomplishing that purpose. If you missed the first two parts of this story you can find them here.

  The following morning, Henry and Grace quietly ate breakfast while the girl slept. Oh, how exhausted she must have been.
  When Grace peeked in on her after breakfast, she was just waking up.
  “Good morning, dear. I hope you slept well. I took the liberty to wash a few things in your bag so you’d have something clean and fresh to wear today. It dried so nicely by the fire overnight. We can wash the rest of your clothing today in some nice, hot water,” and with those words, she laid a dress, along with some fresh underclothing, on the chair in the corner of the room and then quietly left, closing the door behind her.
  Soon the girl came out of the bedroom wearing the clean dress and a shy smile.
  “Are you hungry?”
  She nodded her head and sat down at the table, where hot coffee and delicious-looking flapjacks sat waiting.
  Grace sat quietly by the hearth as she waited for the girl to finish eating. She tried not to look impatient but inside she was chomping at the bit to hear the girl’s story.
  Finally, the girl turned to her, “Thank you so much, ma’am. That was delicious.”
  “You are quite welcome. Do you feel up to talking this morning?”
  The girl sighed, “Yes. I guess I do owe you my story after all you’ve done for me.”
  Grace gave her the comfortable rocker and then pulled a chair close by. She asked her a question to get her started, “What is your name, dear?”
  “Clara. Clara Hill.”
  “And how old are you? Do your parents know where you are?” Grace asked gently.
  “I am twenty. And I am actually on the way to my parents. Maybe I should start at the beginning,” she said and then continued, “A couple of years ago, I got married to Edward Hill. We grew up together. He wanted adventure–Eddy always wanted adventure his whole life–and so we got on a train and headed west. We didn’t get that far before we ran out of the little bit of money we had saved and we ended up in Slate Valley because that is where Eddy found work.”
  Grace recognized the name of the town that was about 20 miles northwest of them.
  “Mama and Papa weren’t very happy that I was moving so far away, but I was full of adventure myself and excited to go,” Clara sighed and then continued, “Everything went okay for awhile. Until earlier this year when Eddy was drafted.”
  Grace remembered that there had been a draft for World War I last May for the young men in the country. It hadn’t affected her or her family but Clara’s predicament reminded her of how many must have been affected.
  Clara went on to explain that a few months after she realized she was pregnant, Eddy had left for the War. She had lived a lonely, friendless life in a few rooms above the cobbler’s shop. When she had gotten behind on her rent by a month and couldn’t pay yet again last week, the cobbler had told her she had to be out by the following day. He didn’t seem to care or consider her condition.
  Grace’s mouth fell open. How could anyone be so cruel?
  Clara continued, “The landlord reminds me of Mr. Scrooge in that Dickens story. Only no spirits have visited him yet.”
  The women both smiled and then Clara continued, “The day after that happened, I received word that my husband was missing in action,” she tried to say it without emotion but gave a little pause to catch the sob in her throat and wipe her eyes with the back of her hand, “At that point, I just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t mind living there when it was Eddy and me. But being there without Eddy and knowing he was probably never coming back and, with no money and now no place to live, well, it just seemed time to go home. So I packed a bag along with a bit of food and decided to try to get to Mama and Papa before this little one makes its appearing. It’s only a few hundred miles and I figured I might find a little help along the way. But it may not have been so smart to do that with the baby coming and all.” She finished with a big, hopeless sigh.
  “When do you expect your little one?”
  “I really don’t know,” she shrugged her shoulders. With some tactful questioning, Grace realized that she hadn’t had seen a doctor or midwife up to this point. But, in a quick evaluation of her condition with her limited experience, Grace wondered how wise it was for Clara to be traveling anywhere right now.
  “Surely there is a church in your town? Did you ever reach out to the pastor? Or some of the church ladies? Surely, they would have helped you.”
  Clara grew a bit uncomfortable at this point and Grace was sorry she had mentioned it. Finally, she said, “I’m not really a church kind of girl and those church ladies always seemed like real snobs when I saw them in town.”
  Grace tucked that knowledge away for later and then asked, “So how did you end up here in our woods?”
  “Well, I was traveling on the road from Oak Ridge when it started to grow dark. I saw your lane and it looked so friendly-like, that I thought maybe I could find a cozy place to rest for the night. I saw that little path and then found that old tree by the crick and, well, it looked pretty safe there. I am so sorry if I am causing you any trouble,” she looked genuinely worried about this.
  “Oh, my dear, we are so glad you are here and want to help you. It seems like you’ve had a very rough year,” Grace’s comforting words fell over Clara like a soothing balm.
  “You know, God is in the business of meeting needs. Just look at how He brought you right to us in Lupine Valley!” Clara wasn’t sure she agreed with Grace, but she smiled, anyway.
  “So the first thing we need to do is write a letter to your parents, letting them know you are coming home and to expect you. I don’t know exactly how yet, but we are going to get you home.”
  Grace pulled out a piece of paper and a fountain pen from a shelf above the little desk they kept in the corner. She invited Clara to come and sit down to write.
  “In the meantime, we are going to have Henry send them a telegram so they know you are safe.”
  Clara looked down at the ground and seemed embarrased, until finally Grace realized she probably couldn’t write. Scolding herself, she kindly said to her, “Why don’t you tell me what you want to write?”
  The next few moments were spent with Clara dictating a short but meaningful letter to her parents telling them she was coming home. Grace folded it, put it in an envelope, and then addressed it with the information Clara gave her.
  Leaving the young woman sitting by the hearth, she pulled on her shawl and took the letter out to Henry, where he was chopping wood.
  “Could you take this to the post office and then send off a telegram to them, as well. If it was Martha or Jane, I’d want to know they were okay,” as a mother herself, she wanted Clara’s parents to know as soon as possible that their daughter was in safe hands and that they would figure out a way to get her home.
  Henry said he would finish cutting the wood and then head out. And, true to his word, he was headed to town in the horse and wagon within the hour.

 

Christmas Comes to Lupine Valley (Part 2)

It’s time to head back to Lupine Valley for Part 2 of this year’s story. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.

  Henry’s heart pounded as he made his way down the path to the edge of the woods. The creek, splashing over and through the rocks, along with the wind swishing through the trees, helped to cover the sound of his footsteps. He followed the light which seemed to be on his side of the creek, up near the giant oak that spread its branches out over the water. The memory of the kids swinging off of that tree into the water many a hot summer day brought a quick, unbidden smile. In fact, it had come to be known as the “Swinging Tree”.
  As he crept closer he realized that the light was made by a fire. He carefully approached and stood behind the big oak. His eyes first spotted a small traveling bag and lantern on the ground nearby. The lantern would explain the moving light. Its owner probably had been using it earlier when Grace looked out the window. As his eyes lifted and focused in on the fire and the lone person who sat beside it, they grew wide with surprise.
  A young woman–why she looked younger than his own Jane–sat on a log with her hands and feet towards the fire, looking both hopeless and exhausted. As he was deciding how to handle this odd situation, he saw her shift her weight in an ungainly manner and suddenly realized that she was very pregnant. He stood there helplessly for a moment and then realized: His wife would know what to do. He’d see if he could convince the girl to go up to the house to see Grace.
  He didn’t want to scare her, so he moved a bit closer and then cleared his throat. She startled and fear crept into her eyes. He stepped out of the shadows.
  “Ummm, ma’am, hello there. My name is Henry and my wife and I live in the cabin up on the hill,” he pointed towards the speck of friendly light that could just barely be made out through the woods, “Are you okay, ma’am?”
  His words, spoken so kindly, made the girl feel safe. And then the tears started to flow. She seemed unable to stop them. Henry stood awkwardly by, unsure of what to do. He wished now that he would have brought Grace along. But, of course, he never expected to find a pregnant girl by herself when he had set out a few minutes ago.
  “Are you alone?” He asked gently.
  She nodded her head, as a new wave of tears took over. He sat down on a nearby tree trunk and waited patiently. Being married for over 40 years and having daughters to boot, he knew womenfolk sometimes just had to have a good cry.
  When she started to settle down he asked her if she would like to come up to the cabin to get warm. His wife always had a ready pot of tea in the evening and she looked like she could use a cup.
  She hesitantly nodded her head, pulled her shawl on more tightly, and then picked up the small bag and lantern that Henry had spotted earlier. By the looks of things, that baby could come any day. Henry couldn’t help but wonder what she was doing out here all alone by his creek.
  He offered to take her bag, which she gave him, and then held his lamp up nice and high to give plenty of light as they walked up the dark path through the woods and out into the meadow. There the moon shone brightly and it was easier to see. Soon they were at the little cabin and opened the door.
  Grace’s heavy heart lifted as she saw her husband come through the door. But what a surprise to see a very pregnant girl follow him in. Why, she looked to be no more than sixteen!
  “Well, my dear, you weren’t seeing things. I found this young woman down at the Swinging Tree, warming herself by a fire.”
  “Oh, my goodness! Oh, dearie, come and sit by the fire,” Grace drew her towards the rocking chair by the cozy fire.
  The girl lowered herself carefully onto the plump cushion that Grace had handmade for the hard wooden seat. It felt heavenly after what she had been through for the past couple of days.
  Grace busied herself in getting the girl a cup of hot tea. She swirled a bit of honey in it before handing it to her.
  The girl put her hands around it and sighed deeply. “Thank you,” she said, her eyes shining with unshed tears, as she took a sip of the hot liquid. She didn’t say any more and, after just a few moments, set the tea down on the hearth, leaned back in the chair, and closed her eyes.
  Grace pulled back and whispered to Henry, “the poor thing is exhausted. Let’s just make a bed up her for tonight. We can find out more tomorrow.”
  Henry agreed and so Grace went into the girls’ bedroom to prepare it for their guest.
  Soon, the girl was sleeping peacefully in the comfortable bed in the cozy cabin.
  As Grace peeped in on her for the umpteenth time, Henry laughed.
  “She’s not going to disappear.”
  Grace gave a wry smile, “She’s just so young. I wonder what her story is.”
  “I am sure we will find out in the morning.”
  And with that they blew out the candle on the table and went to bed, too.
  
  

Christmas Comes to Lupine Valley (Part 1)

It’s time for the annual Growing4Life Christmas story! This year’s story is from a simpler place in a little valley far, far away from where you are. I hope it is a welcome and pleasant respite from the strange and chaotic happenings of this present world.

  It was getting dark and Henry still wasn’t in from chores. Grace grabbed a wooden spoon and leaned over the big pot of stew that hung over the fire. A delicious fragrance wafted up from the pot as she stirred. Smiling, she reflected on the many meals she had made for her family at this hearth.
  Henry and Grace had come to this valley forty years ago now. She recalled that first view as they had come through the forest and looked down into this little valley. There, before them, was a meadow covered with shades of deep purple, lavender, and purply-pink. Wild lupines were blooming in all of their glory.
  Henry had declared it the perfect place to build their new home, with the creek just a ways yonder and the large oak and maple trees that were scattered throughout the valley. Agreeing, Grace’s eyes had sparkled as she told Henry that they would call their new home “Lupine Valley”.
  Lupine Valley had seen many changes over the years. Five children had been birthed there but only three lived to adulthood. Henry, jr. had been stillborn and her precious Sarah had died from Scarlet Fever when she was five years old. Even now, memories of this happy little girl brought tears to Grace’s eyes. She brushed them away with her arm as she continued to stir.
  The three remaining children were all grown now, living their own lives. Martha was married to the village’s blacksmith and they were the parents to a large, lively brood. Jack had taken his young family and moved further west. They received only an occasional letter from him. Jane had gone east to live with her wealthy great aunt Ida for a time. They heard from her more often than they heard from Jack but it wasn’t as often as Grace would have liked. Oh, how she missed her children and those busy days of motherhood. It was always worse around Christmastime.
  “Enough of this!” she scolded herself and stood up and stretched. Reminding herself that Martha’s family would be here for Christmas dinner, she smiled as she put her freshly made biscuits in a little basket on the table and then peered out into the darkness through the pane of glass at the front of the house. Henry’s lantern swayed back and forth as he came in from the barn.
  Suddenly, something else caught her eye way down towards the wood’s edge. It looked to be beside the crick. It was a light of some sort. It disappeared. And then there it was again. What was that?
  By this time, Henry had reached the small cabin and was stomping the dirt and debris from his boots. He opened the door and started talking about an infection on the leg of Star, their new mare.
  “…should probably have Doc Hayfield take a look at it. Or do you know of some other remedy to try first? Not quite sure what to do.”
  Grace was still staring out the window and only heard the end of his sentence. With one final glance towards the woods, she sat down and put her mind to answering her husband’s question about the horse and to serving him a well-deserved supper.
  A half hour later, Henry leaned back and patted his stomach, “Oh, Grace, you sure do know how to cook. That was very, very good,” he said the words heartily.
  He pulled back from the table and went into the bedroom for his Bible so that they could have their evening readaloud of the scriptures together. Grace took this opportunity to look out the window and see if the light was still there. She stood there for a few moments, her eyes searching the darkness. Yes. There. There it was.
  “Henry…”
  By this time he was seated with the open Bible, “What do you see so fascinating out that window, my dear?” he teased.
  “Come look at this,” she beckoned him to the window, “I see a light down by the crick. Am I imagining it?”
  Henry pulled his spectacles off and put them on the table and then joined his wife at the window.
  “There,” she pointed towards the creek, “do you see it?”
  “Hmmm, how strange,” he said in his typical deliberate manner, “Maybe I’ll go outside and see if I can figure out what it is,” Henry was already pulling on his old brown coat.
  Grace hurried after him, wrapped in a thin shawl that wasn’t very helpful in such cold weather. She stood there with her teeth chattering while Henry stared into the distance.
  He face was sober as he said, “Go on inside, Grace. I am going to take a quick walk to the crick just to make sure all is well.”
  Grace looked at him. He looked worried and that made her worried. She had heard of bandits out this way but she never thought they’d come to Lupine Valley. They had always felt so safe and secure here.
  They both went inside and Henry loaded his gun and then grabbed the lantern. He kissed Grace good-bye and gave her a squeeze, “Don’t worry, sweetheart, I’ll be okay,” and, with that, he headed out the door.
  Grace went to the window and watched him move quickly and stealthily towards the creek. When he was out of sight she sat down in the rocking chair by the hearth and prayed.
 
 

(You can find Part 2 here)

The Christmas Ornaments (Part 5)

Today is the final installment of this year’s Christmas story. If you have enjoyed this short break from my normal type of post, I’d appreciate if you’d let me know. Your response helps me to decide if I should continue the Christmas Story tradition here at Growing4Life. If you’d like to read the rest of the story, you can find it here. I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

The kids were growing. Max was now a sturdy five year old and the triplets were three. Life had settled into a routine, albeit a very busy routine. Julie continued to receive the special ornaments along with the gift of a thousand dollars each December.
Each gift was welcome and needed, as money was always tight. Jack worked hard but with four kids to support, it was tough. There seemed to be an endless amount of things needing fixed in their 1970s suburban home; their minivan, with over 180,000 miles on it, was constantly in need of repair; and the kids were always growing out of their clothing. Jack’s paychecks were often spent before they had been received, despite their careful budgeting.
Although the Bible Study had ended upon the birth of the triplets, Julie had stayed in touch with Mrs. Bailey. She didn’t go many places with the four kids because it was just so much work, but knowing that Mrs. Bailey didn’t have any family to visit her, she’s take the kids over to visit the widow almost weekly to bring a little cheer into her life. The kids would create colored pictures to hang on her refrigerator and Julie would make homemade treats for her to munch on. The family brought much comfort and joy to the childless lady who lived all alone in her tiny apartment in the city.
One day, when Julie and the children stopped by to see her, a neighbor told her that Mrs. Bailey was gravely ill.
Julie dropped the kids off at Maggie’s and then headed to the hospital. When she arrived, she found her sleeping peacefully.
She slid the room chair over by her bedside and sat down. Funny how God brought people into your life that you never expected. The Baileys had been a tremendous blessing in her life. Not only had they been so warm and friendly and opened up their small home to a lonely young girl, but since Mrs. Bailey became a believer, their relationship had grown deeper and more meaningful. They had become family.
All of this came back to Julie, as she watched Mrs. Bailey’s labored breathing. She thanked the Lord for her and reached out to hold her cold hand. She stirred and her eyes fluttered open.
“Julie? Is that you, dear?”
“It is, Mrs. Bailey.”
“Thank you for coming to see me. It won’t be long now until I see Harold.”
“Oh, don’t say that quite yet.” Julie squeezed the old woman’s hand.
“It’s okay, my dear. I am ready to go, thanks to you. Harold knew the Lord and now we will be together in heaven because of Jesus. Only because of Him.” She stopped to take a few labored breaths and then continued, “thank you, my dear Julie, for sharing the truth of God’s Word with me. God was so good to bring you into my life. You are a dear girl.”
Julie gave a wry smile at her use of the word “girl”. She didn’t feel much like a girl anymore but she supposed in Mrs. Bailey’s eyes she would always be a girl.
Within a few minutes, Mrs. Bailey was sleeping peacefully again. A nurse told Julie that they didn’t expect her to live much longer and so Julie called Jack to let him know that she’d be staying with Mrs. Bailey for awhile.
She didn’t want her to die without someone who loved her by her side. It just seemed important.
A few hours later, Mrs. Bailey had breathed her last and Julie had lovingly squeezed her hand one last time, as the tears freely flowed.

_______________________

      The weeks passed by and soon it was time to take down the Christmas tree. Jack was keeping the triplets busy with a craft and Max was playing with trucks by the fireplace, giving Julie some time to reflect as she lovingly held each mysterious ornament for a moment before carefully wrapping it for next year. There was the mini-globe, the wooden cross, and a “Baby’s First Christmas”. There was the miniature woodland couple, a tiny manger scene, the porcelain triplets, a glass cottage, and a beautifully crafted miniature bell that actually rang. Each one was special in its own way.
There had been no ornament this year and, to be honest, this had filled Julie with more sadness than even not getting the expected gift of money. The ornaments were so special and not getting one had made her Christmas feel incomplete.
She always hated taking down the tree. It seemed especially hard this year, with Mrs. Bailey’s recent passing. Jack sensed her mood and brought her a cup of steaming coffee and told her to sit down for a few minutes. He rubbed her shoulders while she closed her eyes.
Suddenly, the doorbell rang. Max ran to the door and opened it to find the postman.
“I have a registered letter for your mama, young man. Is she here to sign it?”
Julie had soon signed for the letter and was sitting back on the sofa, looking at the mysterious letter.
Inside the envelope was a short note from a solicitor:

I have been instructed to send this letter to you upon the death of Mrs. Martha Bailey. I will be in touch with future instructions at a later date.

It was signed by a Mr. Brown, of Brown and Slade, a law firm from the city. She pulled out the short handwritten letter that accompanied the note.
Julie looked at the signature and saw that it was from Mrs. Bailey. She sat down on the nearby sofa to read it. Sensing that it was important, Jack took Max with him to check on the triplets so that she would have a few minutes alone to read it.

Julie smiled as she thought of dear Mrs. Bailey. So she was her secret Santa all of these years. She should have figured it out. But she was glad she hadn’t. It had made it all the more special. So no more anonymous gifts or special ornaments. Her eyes brightened with unshed tears as she remembered how their gifts had blessed her.

_______________________

      A few months later, the estate had been settled and Julie had given a third of it, about a million dollars, away to charities that she knew had the Gospel at the heart of their ministry. And then she put some of the money into savings for her children’s college education and for whatever other needs came along. She and Jack loved their home and made the decision to stay there, despite having the means to move somewhere else. They did purchase a used SUV with less miles.
But Julie kept a good portion of it to start her own secret Santa fund. And each year she’d carefully pick a special Christmas ornament and send it on its way to its owner, along with a gift of a thousand dollars.
It was in this way that Julie kept the spirit of Mrs. Bailey’s generosity alive.

The Christmas Ornaments (Part 4)

Can you believe it is mid-December already? Christmas is next week! Today is Part 4 of this year’s story. So I hope you will grab a cup of steaming coffee or hot tea and sit and read for just a little while. The conclusion will be posted next Tuesday, the morning of Christmas Eve.  (Find the rest of the story here.)

      Five years had passed. Each December brought with it a special ornament. There was the little snow-covered cottage when Jack and Julie had moved from the condo to their craftsman-style home in the suburbs. And then there was a Baby’s First Christmas ornament when Max had joined their family. Each year, the ornament was specially chosen to reflect some event or happening in her life. Other than that one exception the year of her wedding, the amount of money that came with the ornaments was always ten crisp $100 bills.
      Julie reflected on this as she awkwardly moved to hang the ornaments on the tree. It was the day after Thanksgiving and she felt as big as a house. She lay her hand on her belly and felt a little kick. Max would soon be up from his nap and, at two years old, he was into everything. She sighed with exhaustion.
      Over the past few years, life had brought much change. While she no longer worked at the restaurant, she was now holding a Bible Study there every Tuesday evening. It was so interesting how God had orchestrated its inception. She remembered it so clearly.
      It was about three years ago now and Mrs. Bailey and Mrs. Gunderson were animatedly discussing what happens to a person after death, while Julie sat and listened. Mrs. Bailey was saying that Harold had believed the Bible and “all that jazz” about Jesus but she had never really thought there was anything to that.
      Mrs. Gunderson laughed and said that Mr. Gunderson was sure nothing happened after you die and that that was the end. They went on for awhile about how you just can’t really know.
      Julie, her heart beating fast, had finally spoken up. She told the women about the Bible and why she believed it is true. She went on to explain how the only way to be reconciled to God was through Jesus Christ and she shyly offered to teach them more, if they were interested. She felt woefully inadequate to do this but she also realized that God had given her this special opportunity with these dear ladies. When they eagerly agreed, she asked Maggie to help her.
      Thankfully, Maggie had been happy to join Julie in her new endeavor. Ted and Jack had offered to watch the kids, leaving the two young women free to meet with the ladies on Tuesday nights to explain to them the truths of scripture.
      The small group had grown as Mrs. Bailey’s friend from her book club, Lucinda, asked if she could join them. Soon after, Mrs. Gunderson’s neighbor, Mrs. Littman, started coming. The group grew like this until there were about seven ladies who were committed to coming every week. Even Mrs. Zimmer, the little old Jewish lady who was a faithful customer at the restaurant, had expressed interest and had recently started to join them.
      In a year or so, Mrs. Bailey placed her faith in Christ. Mrs. Gunderson still held off and Julie was getting a little discouraged. But she kept coming to the meetings so Julie and Maggie just kept praying for her.
      Julie spotted her study Bible on the end table and the toys scattered on the floor. She smiled as she thought about how different her life was compared to seven years ago when she received that first mysterious package in the mail. A mommy and a Bible Study leader. Who would’ve guessed? And now twins. Twins! She wasn’t sure if she could handle this but God was giving them to her, so she guessed He would give her grace to survive this. She didn’t know if they were boys or girls or one of each. Together, she and Jack, had decided to leave that as a surprise, just as they had done with Max.
      She felt a sharp pain and sat down to rest. She wasn’t due for another five weeks but now she wondered if these little ones would wait. The doctor had told her that twins often came early.
      Julie grew increasingly uncomfortable until finally, a few days later, around midnight, they dropped a sleepy Max off at Ted and Maggie’s and headed to the hospital.
      Three weeks later found Julie and Jack back home with their arms full of babies. There had not been only two babies, but a third one hiding behind his sister. Two girls and a boy. Triplets! What a surprise! They had spent a few days in the NICU but they were all able to be home in time for Christmas.
      They named the girls Kate and Kara. They named their new son Carson. Max was unsure what to think of all of these babies.
      Life became a crazy carousel of feeding, changing, and rocking babies while still trying to make sure Max got the attention he needed. Thankfully, Martha McNally from the church had organized a schedule for church ladies to take shifts to help throughout most of the day and night.
      December came and went in a blur. Somewhere in there, a new ornament arrived—a delicate porcelain ornament of three smiling babies wrapped up in mint green blankets, with the word “triplets” below it. The customary cash was with it. They could sure use that thousand dollars this year. Babies were expensive!
      In a rare moment of silence with all the babies sleeping, Jack and Julie sat exhausted on the sofa by the twinkling tree. It was New Year’s Eve and the new year promised to be an interesting one, to say the least.
      Julie gazed one-by-one at each ornament from her anonymous benefactor. Her eyes landed on the latest one. The identity of the ornament-giver seemed almost irrelevant with all that was going on in her current life. Almost. Somehow it was rather comforting to know that, out there somewhere, was someone who cared just a little bit about a grown woman who was, in all senses of the words, an orphan.
      
      
      

The Christmas Ornaments (Part 2)

Each December, I take a break from my normal style of writing and write a Christmas story. Today you will find the second installment of this year’s story. If you missed part one, you can find it here. If you’d like to read the Christmas stories from previous years, you can find them all here. And now, here is Part 2–

      The following December found Julie at a much different place. Oh, she was still in the old brownstone struggling to make ends meet, but life had sure changed in other ways. It really all began with the tiny snow globe from the anonymous sender. As Julie pulled it out of its careful wrapping, she reflected on this.
      A couple of weeks after she had met Ted and Maggie at the restaurant, she had been true to her word and she had gone to their church. They had greeted her kindly and invited her to sit with them. Their genuine kindness met a need deep inside her. But the pastor’s message met a spiritual need that she didn’t even know she had. As she had listened to the pastor speak about sin and how no human can do anything to merit salvation on their own, she grew slightly uncomfortable. This was unlike any other message she had ever heard.
      She thought back to her own childhood, where she attended a church that taught that the only way to be saved was to be morally good. And, while she did try to be a good person, she grew tired of the hopelessness and eternal striving to be perfect. She walked away from that church and never looked back.
      But now here was this preacher telling her that it wasn’t even about works. This lit a fire in Julie’s heart and the Lord was surely drawing her to Himself. She went home and started reading her Bible—something she had never done before. She asked questions to Ted and Maggie, who patiently answered and never made her feel foolish. Within a few months, she had come to the understanding that Christ alone was her salvation. He had died for her sins and covered them with His blood. A newfound peace filled her heart and a deep love for her Savior grew.
      Over the course of that winter, Ted and Maggie “adopted” Julie into their family. She became Auntie Julie to their two girls, three-year-old Lucy and one-year-old Ava. She started spending each Tuesday evening with them, eating and talking and helping with the girls. As Julie’s only remaining family lived a thousand miles away in another state, she grew to consider them as her family.
      When springtime arrived, it was with a newfound enthusiasm for life. With a spring in her step and a brighter smile on her face, she had served the customers at Gunderson’s Diner. Suddenly her life, which had seemed so hopeless a few months before, was full of hope and joy.
      Of course, her money troubles didn’t go away just because she was now saved and, sometime in the summer, she started thinking about changing jobs. Mrs. Gunderson had started talking about selling the Diner and Julie finally felt like she could leave. But to where? To do what?
      She thought about the money she had tucked away in savings last Christmas. Quite suddenly, a thought came to her: Perhaps she could start taking classes? The thought grew like a flower within her and soon it was fully blossomed. Yes! That is exactly what she would do.
      She had poured over the catalog of the local community college and finally settled on nursing. Perhaps she could get her degree in nursing, one class at a time. She met with an advisor and was soon scheduled for two classes during the fall semester—both paid for by the generous Christmas benefactor.
      Sometime in October, Jack had entered her life. Thinking of Jack made Julie pause in her reflection temporarily as she glanced down at her watch. He was picking her up for a Christmas concert in a few minutes and she wanted to be ready. The watch indicated she had ten more minutes, so she let her mind wander back to when she first met him.
      Jack was the younger brother of Ted. He had grown tired of city life and longed to be closer to his family. And so he had found a job in their town, packed his bags, and moved into a condo a short distance from Ted and Maggie’s neighborhood.
      With Jack came fun and laughter and yet he had a serious side, too. When Ted and Maggie had introduced them, they quickly realized they were kindred spirits. They became good friends immediately and, within a few weeks, they started dating. Julie lingered on her thoughts of Jack. She never dreamed that she would meet someone like him. He was kind and generous and, most important of all, he loved the Lord. God had been so good to bring Jack into her life. It was hard to imagine life without him already, although it had only been two short months.
      Suddenly, she heard a knock at her door. She opened it to Jack’s smiling face.
      “Look what I found in your mailbox,” he enthusiastically tossed a package to her. Julie had enjoyed a long, lazy Saturday in her apartment decorating for Christmas and had asked Jack to get her mail on his way up.
      “This looks very similar to the one from last year,” she mused as she began to open it.
      A few moments later she was pulling out a beautiful hand-made wooden cross ornament along with a thick wad of cash.
      Jack’s eyes widened as he whistled long and low, “well, look at that.”
      Julie carefully hung the beautiful little cross on her tree and then counted out exactly one thousand dollars. A little note accompanied it: Merry Christmas! I continue to pray for you.
      After the concert, as Jack and Julie lingered over coffee, they talked about who could have sent the package. Not just once–but two years in a row. But not even one of their ideas seemed plausible.
      “Maybe it’s a rich relative,” said Jack.
      Julie furled her brow. She remembered that she did have a great aunt in Boston. And she thought there may be a couple of great uncles down south somewhere. But she couldn’t imagine them sending money or –even more strangely–praying for a girl they hadn’t seen since she was five. But she supposed stranger things had happened.
      Julie discussed it with Ted and Maggie, her adoptive family, Mrs. Gunderson, her boss, and Mrs. Bailey, her favorite customer. They all offered helpful suggestions but to no avail.
      The sender remained a mystery.

      
      
      

The Christmas Ornaments (Part 1)

In 2016, I started a little tradition here at the blog of writing a five-part Christmas story during the holiday season. While this does not appeal to all my readers, many of you have shared with me that you look forward to these stories each year. I really enjoy writing fiction and this is a bit of a way to stretch myself and my writing skills. And so I will take a little break from my normal style of writing over the next five weeks and will instead post a part each week to this year’s Christmas story: The Christmas Ornaments. I hope you enjoy it!

      Julie sighed. Pulling her frayed sweater around her shoulders, she trudged on through the slush. Sleet fell hard on her shoulders as she walked down the street to her tiny apartment on the upper floor of an old historical brownstone. Adding a bright note to the dreary night were twinkling Christmas trees in the windows and Christmas lights strung from porch roofs and wrapped around lamp posts.
      Biting her lip with worry, she wondered how she would pay the rent this month. Things were so tight. Waitressing just wasn’t providing her enough to live on. Especially now that they had cut her hours back. She thought of poor Mrs. Gunderson who had lost her husband a year ago. The restaurant was sorely missing its owner and manager. The owner’s wife seemed to be doing all she could, but it just wasn’t working. Mr. Gunderson had been the face of the Diner. He had been the reason for his establishment’s success. His fun, lively spirit and excellent management, along with a caring heart had made him one of the town’s favorite people. Some people you just couldn’t replace.
      Julie knew she should get another job and yet thinking about leaving Mrs. Gunderson in this difficult time just seemed cruel. She sighed again as her options—or lack thereof—trailed through her mind.
      “I’m too tired to think about it tonight,” she thought as she climbed the porch steps of her apartment building. Entering the huge foyer that served as an entry way, she stopped to check her mail and found an unexpected surprise: A small nondescript, brown package.
      Curious, she put it, along with the bills and flyers in her box, in her tote bag and went up the stairs to her apartment. Putting the key in the old wooden door, she heard it creak just a bit as she opened it. Oh, it was so chilly! She turned up the heat a bit, trying not to think about the extra expense, while Mr. Tibbs, her orange cat, rubbed against her legs.
      “Hello there, my big fellow,” Julie reached down and picked up Mr. Tibbs and cuddled him. She wasn’t really a cat person, but Mr. Tibbs had shown up in the yard downstairs one day and no one wanted him. After some effort to find his owner, Julie had eventually claimed him, growing quite attached during the process.
      But there were matters more pressing than cuddling Mr. Tibbs and she put him back down and took the mysterious package over to the table. A scissors quickly opened the box and there, in a soft bed of bubble wrap, lay a miniature snow globe. A ribbon was attached, indicating that it was a Christmas ornament. She shook it up and down and watched the snow fall on the tiny Christ child who lay in a miniature manger with His parents close by.
      She reached her hand into the package to look for a card. Finding an envelope she pulled it out and opened it. Her eyes widened in great surprise as she pulled a wad of bills out of the package. What in the world? She wondered. She counted them and found ten one hundred dollar bills along with a small post-it note that said only these simple words: Merry Christmas! I’m praying for you!
      Julie thought through all of the people she knew and realized she didn’t know even one who could afford to send this kind of cash. Who could it be?

_______________________________________

      The next day she awoke to the pleasant realization that her rent was no longer a problem. The gift she had received yesterday would more than cover it. In fact, she could put several hundred away and still have a bit to spend on Christmas. She couldn’t remember the last time she had even a dollar that could be spent frivolously. She didn’t go to work until the dinner shift that evening and so she decided she would go have some fun. She hadn’t planned on getting a tree but now that she had this little ornament, perhaps a small tree was in order.
      The crisp, bright weather outside seemed to understand her mood. The sun shone brightly from the blue sky as she walked into the city to do a little shopping. Beginning at her favorite department store, she found a small artificial tree for her ornament. She bought a few other ornaments and some mini-lights to complete the tree. Her heart welled up with excitement at the thought of decorating it. It had been so long since she had even celebrated Christmas. She hadn’t realized how much she missed it until she received the ornament.
      Next, she went to the pet department and found some toys for Mr. Tibbs where she purchased a cloth mouse that squeaked and two little tinkling balls in bright colors.
      The women’s clothing department was next on her list and there she picked out a new soft and thick heather gray sweater. She even found a much-needed winter coat on sale. It was a bright pink color—most likely the reason it was on clearance—but she bought it anyway. It was five times warmer than the thin, worn out coat she had had since she was a teenager.
      Within a couple of hours she had made her purchases and was struggling to carry them home. She should have thought about that, she berated herself. The bag with the ornaments kept falling.
      “Here let me help you with that,” A young man jumped to her aid just as the bag was getting ready to slip again.
      “Oh, thank you so much!” She laughed as she accepted his help. She liked his warm brown eyes.
      “Where are you headed?” He asked in a friendly manner.
      When she told him her street, he whistled, “That’s a long way with a load this heavy. Why don’t I flag a taxi for you?”
      “Oh, no, I’ll be fine—” and then she remembered. Just this once, she could afford a taxi. And so she told him to go ahead.
      Within a few moments, she was cozily settled into the taxi with all of her packages.
      “Thank you!” she said to the nice man but he had already turned and was walking away.

_______________________________________

      A few hours later, she was at work. But, unlike the previous days, there was a spring in her step and she hurried to the booth where her favorite customer, Mrs. Bailey, sat.
      “Good evening, Mrs. Bailey!”
      “Good evening, dear. So nice to see you.”
      “Where is Mr. Bailey tonight? Still under the weather?”
      “He still has that cold. He just can’t seem to shake that awful cough. His nurse seems worried. I left him in her care and thought I’d come out for a quick bite to eat.”
      In the four years that Julie had worked at the restaurant, Mrs. Bailey had been joined by Mr. Bailey faithfully until the past three months. He had caught a terrible case of bronchitis and his 89 year old body was having a very hard time recovering. The Baileys had never had kids and had expressed how lonely they were. In this, Julie had felt a kinship with them and they had developed a relationship that went beyond just a few meals at the restaurant.
      “Please let him know I asked after him.”
      “I will surely do that, dear. You should come and visit when you can. I know that would cheer him up.” the Bailey’s lived in a tiny apartment in a nice neighborhood just a short walk from the restaurant. Julie had been there often.
      “Yes, I will have to do that,” she smiled, “now what can I get you?”
      A few moments later she carried out a steaming bowl of creamy potato soup along with a cup of coffee for her friend. Behind her, at a nearby table, someone sat watching.
      “Well, that looks delicious. I think I’ll have the same,” said a slightly familiar voice.
      Julie turned and, surprised, saw that it was the friendly man from earlier that day. He sat with a pretty blonde woman.
      They were sitting in her section and so, smiling, Julie walked over to the table with her pad in hand, ready to take their order.
      The man gave a big grin and said, “Well, if it isn’t the girl with too many packages from earlier today! What are the chances?”
      He introduced her to his pretty wife, who was as friendly as he was. It was a slow evening at the restaurant and this gave her an opportunity to talk with the young couple. She found out their names were Ted and Maggie. Before they left, they extended an invitation to come to the young people’s meetings at their church. When they explained where it was, Julie realized that Grace Bible Church was not too far from her house and decided she would go. It was time to try something new.

Mending Fences (Part 5)

Sometimes things don’t work out as we had hoped. And that is when it is hard to trust. But sometimes they do. And those times help us to trust in the times when they don’t. God continues to be sovereign over all, whether things turn out like we want or don’t. Our job is to submit and obey and leave the rest to Him. This is how we find inner peace, even when things aren’t going like we hoped in our circumstances. This is an important lesson Eliza had to learn in this story and, surely, it is one we should all learn.

I really hope you enjoyed this year’s story and, if you have, I’d appreciate if you’d take a moment to let me know. This helps me to decide if I should continue this tradition of writing a fictional story for Christmas here at the blog. You can find this entire story, along with my other Christmas stories, here. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and may we remember the real reason for the season! And now, without any further words from me, here is Part 5 and the conclusion to this year’s story–

______________________________________

      I hummed merrily along with the Christmas music playing on the TV. The music, along with a fake crackling fire picture, was courtesy of a local TV station. It would play for a few hours on this Christmas morning.
      I gathered the ingredients of my homemade apple spice coffee cake and started mixing it up. It was a long-time tradition and one we all loved. I’d put it in the oven and then go and get Mom and bring her here for the day.
      Greta came sleepily into the kitchen while I was making it.
      “Merry Christmas!” I said cheerily.
      “Merry Christmas,” she groaned, “why is it that the older you get the less you care about getting up on Christmas morning?”
      “That just means you are growing up!” I laughed.
      “So Aunt Evie never contacted you?” she asked. It had been three weeks since we had prayed in that booth. And the three of us had continued to pray—sometimes together and sometimes alone– every day since then.
      The world that had seemed bright and cheery only a moment before suddenly darkened. “No, she didn’t. I guess it will never happen. But God has His reasons. I can’t change her. I can only control me.”
      That’s what I had learned through this whole ordeal. While I was deeply saddened that Evie wouldn’t forgive me, I recognized that I had now done all I could do and, in that, I found peace. I had lived out Romans 12:18 and it had changed my perspective.
      While peace with God was always possible through His Son, peace with and between people was not always possible. I needed to learn to be okay with this hard truth. I understood that now.
      “Well, we will have a great Christmas, anyway!” I gave Greta a quick kiss and then grabbed my jacket, “I’m going to get Gram. Can you take the cake out when the timer goes off? I might be back because it needs to bake a full hour, but just in case—”
      “Sure, Mom. I’m going to go read but I’ll listen for it. See you soon.” Greta smiled as she held up her Jane Austen novel. She poured herself a glass of orange juice and took it, along with her book, to her favorite chair in the family room.
      It took me considerably less than an hour to pick up Mom. Traffic was nil on Christmas morning and I was soon pulling back into my driveway. In front of the house was a red SUV. For a brief moment I wondered who was visiting, but then I remembered that the neighbor’s often had their visitors park in front of our house. They must have some family visiting for Christmas.
      I went around and helped Mom across the icy driveway. It had snowed again lightly last night and with the cold temperatures it just wasn’t melting. She gave me a hard time for helping her but I knew, down deep, she appreciated it.
      I opened the front door to the sound of voices. At first I thought it was the TV but then I recognized one voice.
      No…
      It couldn’t possibly be…
      “Evie?!” Mom shouted her name with glee. She pulled away from me and Mom and daughter ran toward each other.
      “Evie! Oh, Evie! I knew you’d come! I just knew you would!”
      Tears streamed down both of their faces. I, on the other hand, stood back. I was still unsure exactly how this would go. It had been a very long time and there was so very much “water under the bridge”.
      After a few minutes, Evie pulled herself from Mom’s embrace and turned toward me.
      “I have decided that enough is enough. I want to forgive you. I am working on it. This is my step towards forgiveness.” She said hesitantly and then proceeded to introduce us to her family. Her husband, Mark, stepped forward and shook my hand. With thick, wavy blonde hair and glasses, his firm handshake and serious brown eyes were nothing like Rick’s. I was thankful for this. And then she pulled her children forward. Ten-year old Bryce looked just like his father. Eight-year old Trace looked like Evie. And five-year old Savannah looked like…
      “Why she is the spitting image of you, Eliza!” My mom said what we were all thinking.
      “She is, isn’t she?” My sister laughed and it was a happy laugh. It was the laugh I remembered from our childhood days.
      And that’s when I knew that everything was going to be alright.

      And it was. From that time forward, the two sisters became friends again. Eventually they became best friends again. But that would take some time.

      For this year, it was enough for me that we were together. It was the best Christmas gift ever!
      
      

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