Helen’s Christmas Dream (Part 4)

Today I present Part 4 of this year’s Christmas story–

     Four weeks had passed since that first day in the mansion and Helen was beginning to learn that dreams rarely remain golden and that “grass is rarely greener on the other side of the fence”. While she did enjoy having her own room and not having to do housework, she desperately missed her big, noisy family and the cozy farmhouse.
     Here in the mansion life was simply…boring. She quickly learned that Aunt Ida, while always very kind, remained rather distant when any discussion of importance came up. There was no talk of anything that mattered. It was all parties and events and social gossip. Coming from a family that would discuss anything and everything with passion, Helen found this change the most difficult of all.
     She especially missed the family Bible time that her father led each Sunday evening. It was always a wonderful time of discussion and learning every week. She kept up with her Bible reading on her own but it wasn’t quite the same without the challenging discussions each week.
     Truthfully, she had been surprised to find out that mansions and glittering parties didn’t make one happy. And while mounds of laundry and hours in the kitchen had been frustrating, this boring life with little to do was far worse.
     This particular morning, a month or so before Christmas, found Helen rather glum. And the cold winter rain wasn’t helping her mood. Other than an hour or so working with Aunt Ida on meaningless correspondence, she had little to do. There would be another fancy dinner party that night but Helen wished she could just stay home instead of having to make idle talk with people she didn’t know.
     She climbed out of bed and considered ringing for Annie but even the idea of being waited upon had lost its luster. She found that she much preferred to just get herself dressed and ready for the day.
     An hour later she sat at the breakfast table with Aunt Ida eating bacon, eggs, and toast while listening to her discuss her schedule and her friends and her world. It was all so monotonous.
     The dreary morning passed slowly and, as usual, she was left to herself after lunchtime. One afternoon, a few weeks before, she had put on her coat and decided to check out the grounds. She had wandered through the gardens, which had very little to offer in December, and then had made her way to the stables. There she felt at home more than any other place. She had visited the stable most everyone day since then, developing a friendship with Mr. Walker and his favorite horse, Winnie.
     Deciding to go visit with Mr. Walker, she stopped by the kitchen, where friendly Mrs. Bundle was happy to give her a few carrots for Winnie. Helen always looked forward to her visits with Mr. Walker, for he alone on the mansion grounds was a fellow believer in Jesus Christ. He was effusive and enthusiastic as he talked of his salvation from sin and the wonderful faithfulness of God. Helen was drawn to him in the midst of the spiritually dead household.
     This particular day, Mr. Walker asked Helen if she had a few minutes to go with him to his cottage to meet his wife. He had a feeling they’d be “kindred spirits” as he put it.
     “Oh, I’d love to,” Helen’s eyes sparkled at the suggestion. She longed for a Christian woman in whom to confide. She had been so very lonely.
     They walked the trim path to the little white cottage the Stableman called home. They were met at the door by a pleasantly plump woman who wore a big smile.
“So this is Helen? It is so nice to finally meet you!”
     Helen smiled timidly as she stepped through the doorway. But inside the cottage was a warmth that reminded her of her own home. Mrs. Walker reminded her so much of her own dear mother and the two soon developed a friendship that was to be of great encouragement to Helen during her stay at the mansion.
     A week later, while Helen visited with her, she confided to Mrs. Walker her discontent in her new life. She told her how she had been so wrong in thinking that happiness was based on wealth and luxury and how she so longed to go back home.
     Mrs. Walker just listened as Helen poured her heart out to her. And then she gave her some profound counsel that Helen never forgot for the rest of her life.
     She said, “you know God has taught me a thing or two throughout my life. And one of the most important things I’ve learned is that you can’t look for joy—true joy—in your circumstances. Whatever they may be.”
     Helen listened closely.
     “I surely learned this the hard way,” she continued with just a bit of moisture gathering at her eyes, “you see, our dear Billy used to be quite the challenge. I’d complain about him loudly and often to whoever would listen. As a three year old he was already defiant and troublesome. He got into scrapes almost every day. Herbert and I just didn’t even know what to do. We just prayed and did what we thought was best. But I was always complaining in my heart about this troublesome boy. Why couldn’t he be like his sister? What did I do to deserve such a boy? Oh, my heart and my focus was more on my own troubles even more than on the dear boy that God had given as a gift to Herbert and me,” she heaved a heavy sigh.
     “And then one day, Lucy ran into the house screaming. Here Billy had walked out onto the pond, thinking it was frozen solid when it wasn’t. By the time we got to him, it was too late,” She stopped her story for a moment to blow her nose in her handkerchief.
     “Oh no, I am so sorry…” Helen murmured.
     Mrs. Walker held up her hand, “Oh, my dear, it is awful and, as you can see, I still get choked up when I think of my dear beloved Billy. Because I did love him so much. I often lost sight of that fact in the midst of my frustration. I didn’t realize just how much I loved him until he was no longer with us. But through that time, the Lord grew me up quite a bit. You see, I sadly realized that I wasn’t happy when Billy was alive and I wasn’t happy when Billy wasn’t alive. Oh, I was a fickle lass back then, never happy, always something not right. But as time went on and the shock of Billy’s leaving us started to fade, the Lord really began a work in my heart and taught me to be grateful for what I have. He taught me that my joy should be based on Him rather than on my situation. And you know what I realized most of all? That much of this complaining spirit I had was born out of one thing: My focus was always on me. Oh, woe is me. Poor little me. God taught me that I needed to get my eyes off of myself and on to Him,” She said emphatically and then she smiled sadly at Helen before saying, “I just wish we didn’t have to lose our son for me to learn this.”
     Helen thought about what Mrs. Walker had said for the rest of the day. Later on, after the dinner party was over and she sat cozily in her chair by the fire, she pondered further, considering the ramifications of the older woman’s wisdom in light of her new and rather unsatisfactory life at the mansion.
     She realized that she was just like the young Mrs. Walker. She hadn’t been happy at the farm and now she wasn’t happy here. And she wisely began to understand that she was the problem. She reflected on Mrs. Walker’s confession of thinking only of herself and she realized that this was again describing her perfectly. Every bit of discontent was because of her focus on self. Her happiness. Her desires. Her comfort. Her convenience. Her free time. Her room. And on and on it went. Helen grew more disgusted with herself. It was like Mrs. Walker’s words had ripped the blinders from her eyes and she was seeing herself as she really was for the first time ever.
     And, oh, how agonizing it was to finally see. She didn’t like to think of herself as selfish and self-absorbed. But, if she was going to be honest with herself, she had to admit that this was true.
     So how to change? What to do?
     She started to think about what God’s purpose might be in bringing her here, for He had obviously directed her path to live with Aunt Ida in her big mansion—at least for now. Perhaps it was to encourage and support her aunt. Even to share the Gospel with her? She thought of Annie and Alice and Mrs. Bundle. So friendly but so lost. They didn’t know that Jesus had died to pay for their sins and that they could live for eternity if they would put their faith and trust in Christ. Was she here at this time to share this Good News with them?
     As she sat there quietly by the fire, she realized all the many ways that she could be a blessing to the household in which she found herself.
     When she attended the next dinner party she viewed it as an opportunity instead of a dreaded activity. She tried to be more intentionally kind and interested in what others were saying, planting seeds for the Gospel as God gave her opportunities.
     And each evening she would take a moment to write in her journal something for which she was specifically thankful to God for on that day. She soon found that His grace and mercy on each day was enough. When she took her eyes off of herself and put them on God, she was filled with a joy that wasn’t based on her circumstances.
     She practiced this through the next few weeks. Soon Christmas approached. And, while this new perspective on life did give her a sense of purpose and made the days fly by faster, it didn’t take away the awful sadness that enveloped her just a little more each day. She was missing her family terribly and the closer Christmas came, the sadder she grew. The only thing she wanted was to be with her family for the holidays.
     Aunt Ida was kind enough but it just wasn’t the same. She kept telling herself that it was just a day. She would survive. But many evenings after the lights were turned off and the fire was low, her pillow would grow wet with tears.

You can find the previous parts of this story and all of the other stories I’ve written for Christmas here.

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