fiction

The Lost Son (Part 5)

The final part of this year’s story is presented today. Instead of a “happily ever after” story this year, there was an unexpected twist. Life is so much like this, isn’t it? It’s so unpredictable. And when you least expect it, tragedy strikes. And, yet, God takes those tragedies and trials and weaves them together for His glory and our good. And then–when we least expect it–He gives us wonderful and unexpected gifts. I hope that you like how this year’s story ends–

       Christmas dawned bright and clear. The kids were jumping on the bed by 7am, excited about their gifts. John and Abby groaned playfully as the kids begged to open presents. After a wonderful, chaotic, and loud morning, they got ready to go to Abby’s parents’ house for Christmas dinner.
       It was around noon when they pulled out of their driveway. Abby’s mind went yet again, as it so often had over the past few weeks, to the disappointment of Uncle Charlie not being there this Christmas. Grandma had taken it pretty well, overall. She had been pretty shaken up by the whole thing but was somewhat comforted by the fact that he had been actively walking with the Lord, which meant she would see him again one day.
       Abby was not so comforted. She had felt a real connection with him upon their phone conversation and her disappointment was profound. She knew he would have fit into their family so perfectly. Why had God allowed him to die at such a horrible time??
       She gave an imperceptible shake of her head, as if to rid it of unwanted thoughts. Today was no day to be having these maudlin thoughts. And she certainly knew she shouldn’t be questioning God’s sovereignty. Sometimes that was hard, though.
       The kids started singing Jingle Bells in the back seat and John soon joined it. Abby left her depressing thoughts behind on this lovely Christmas Day and joined in, as well.
       Soon they were all piling into Grandpa and Grandma’s house with joyous shouts of “Merry Christmas!” and lots of hugs. Grandma Belinda sat smiling in the recliner, hugging anyone who came over to wish her a Merry Christmas.
       Tom and Janet smiled joyfully as the house began to fill up with Abby’s family and the families of her two brothers.
       The delicious smell of baked ham wafted through the air and pies, cakes, and cookies sat on the counter. Abby laughed to herself. Mom always did cook for an army. She knew they’d put away containers and containers of leftovers, just like they did every year.
       Tom thanked the Lord for the meal and the family began to eat. Suddenly, the doorbell rang.
       “Now who could that be?” said Janet, wonderingly.
       Tom glanced her way as he spooned a large portion of mashed potatoes on to his plate, “I have no idea.”
       Janet got up from her place at the table to go answer the door.
       When she opened the door there stood three strangers, smiling.
       “Merry Christmas!” They exclaimed.
       “I am Shelly…” said the woman with the short, blond hair.
       When Abby heard the familiar voice she hurried to join her mother.
       “Shelly! What in the world are you doing here?” She said with a huge smile.
       Janet looked questioningly at Abby.
       “Mom, I’d like to officially introduce you to your niece, Shelly.”
       “Oh, my goodness! How wonderful to meet you!”
       “This is my husband, Shawn,” she pointed to the tall, thin man that stood smiling by her side and then, pointing to the woman with long brown hair who looked very much like herself, “this is my sister, Lori.”
       “Oh, come in, come in. Please!”
       Grandma Belinda sat quietly eating at the table, not realizing that two of her granddaughters had stopped by for a visit.
       Janet brought the two women over to the table and said, “Mom, I’d like you to meet Shelly and Lori. These are two of Charlie’s children.”
       Belinda’s eyes grew wide and she was speechless in her delight.
       They quickly added an extra leaf to the table and retrieved some extra folding chairs from the closet. Cooking for an army had served Janet well on this occasion and they enjoyed a wonderful Christmas dinner together.
       After everyone was filled to the brim with the delicious holiday home-cooked meal, they went into the large family room. Sending the kids down to the basement to play for a bit, the adults sat and talked. Shelly explained how they had happened to come there on Christmas day.
       “After Abby called dad, it became his dearest held plan to come and see you after the holidays. I had never seen him so excited. A few weeks after he died, us kids talked about perhaps continuing his plan. We knew it would never be the same as meeting your own son,” she directed this to Grandma Belinda, “but we wanted to fill in this missing piece to our family puzzle. A few weeks before Christmas Lori and I realized that neither of us had anything special planned over the holidays. Shawn and I don’t have any kids…yet,” she added the yet with a glimmer of hope in her eyes, “and Lori’s two boys are with their father this weekend. Instead of staying home and mourning dad over the holidays, we thought, why not go meet our grandmother at Christmastime? We were going to call in advance, but then started thinking how fun it would be to surprise you. Abby had given every indication that you would welcome us and so we decided to take a chance and here we are!” she laughed.
       Grandma’s heart was full, “Oh, how I would have loved to meet your father. It would have been my greatest gift ever!” but then she continued on, smiling broadly at her two granddaughters, “but having you girls here today– why, it’s just so very wonderful!”
       “Jessie and Kevin want to meet you sometime, too,” said Lori, referring to their other two siblings, “But they have families and so much going on over the holidays so they just could not come along today,” and then she told Grandma Belinda a little bit about her other two grandchildren that she had yet to meet.
       Abby watched them all talk and laugh and thought about how comfortable it all felt. The cousins she had never met already felt like family within a few short hours. She sighed with contentment.
       No, this Christmas had certainly not turned out how she had dreamed. In what felt far too early, Charlie had left this old earth for his permanent home in heaven. A home that is only for those who recognize their lost and sinful state before God and their utter helplessness in being right with Him and, in that helplessness, turn to Christ alone for salvation (John 3:16; John 14:6).
       All at once, Abby realized just how much hope and comfort this really did give. How kind of God to assure Grandma that, even if not in this life, she would see Charlie in the next.
       And then Abby thought of God’s goodness in bringing her two cousins to their door today. Oh, how wonderful for them to surprise Grandma. Amazingly, there was no awkwardness between them and the girls and Shelly’s husband, too, all fit in like they had always been a part of the family.
       Janet came and sat next to Abby and touched her arm, “Thank you,” she said, her eyes bright with unshed tears.
       Abby smiled and hugged her mom. No, this Christmas wasn’t anything like she expected but it was a wonderful Christmas, nonetheless.
       
       
       

The Lost Son (Part 4)

Here is Part 4 of this year’s story! December is just flying by, isn’t it?

       John and Abby pulled up next to an old home. One half was painted blue. The other half was a dingy white. Abby looked at the numbers. She was going to the blue half.
       “Ok, I’ll be right back.”
       “You are sure you don’t want me to come with you?”
       “I just think it would be better to not overwhelm him. Going alone seems the wisest.”
       John nodded and then gave a small wave, pulling his phone out of his pocket to check on what was happening in the sports world.
       Abby noticed the well-maintained little yard and the happy little snowman on the painted porch. Soon she was at the door.
       She took a deep breath and knocked.
       As she waited, she thought about how she ended up here in front of this sweet little home. She had never dreamed how hard it would be to find her uncle. Charlie Clark was apparently a very common name. The fact that Ned and Harriet Clark had moved overseas at some point really complicated things. The fact that none of the family were anywhere to be found on social media complicated things even further.
       Finally, after weeks of searching and talking to what felt like dozens of “Charlie Clarks”, she had found a Charlie Clark that lived in this little half house in a suburb of Kansas City. His kind voice had responded to her questions. Yes, his parents were Ned and Harriet. Yes, he has two younger sisters named Pam and Beth. As the conversation marched on it became very evident that this was finally Uncle Charlie.
       Abby had broached the subject very carefully but she had had nothing to fear. He was aware of his adoption and had been planning to search out his biological mother after the holidays. It had taken him long enough to find her already but “life had always gotten in the way” as he had put it. He went on to talk about his busy life as a plumber and the four kids he and his late wife, Nancy, had had. Uncle Charlie was a delight to talk to, inserting humor into the conversation but also talking seriously when the occasion arose. He was actively involved in his local Baptist church and oversaw the widow/widower ministry there.
       Providentially, John already had a business trip planned to Kansas City the following weekend. Abby couldn’t help but believe this was a God-given opportunity and so she asked if she could stop by for a visit, which he had warmly welcomed.
       That had been two weeks ago. And this is what brought her to this door today. She was hoping to convince him to meet Grandma for Christmas.
       Wouldn’t that be the most awesome Christmas present ever? She thought excitedly as she waited.
       After a few very long minutes, her knock was answered. There stood a woman about her age with short blond hair. She had dark circles under her eyes and looked exhausted.
       Abby cleared her throat in her surprise, looking down at her phone to confirm the house number, and then nervously started to speak, “I…um…I’m sorry. I must have the wrong house. I was looking for Charlie Clark.”
       The woman sighed, “You have the right house. You must be Abby. Dad told me you were coming, although he never did tell me when. Come on in.”
       Abby looked out at the car where John was watching. She subtly shrugged her shoulders at him and then followed the woman inside.
       As she walked into the front room, it was full of boxes and containers. Photos and artwork had been removed from the walls and had been carefully placed on the coffee table. Knick-knacks were piled high on the table that Abby could see in the next room. The tired woman offered her a seat on a comfortable sofa covered with muted blue flowers.
       “Oh, Abby,” she gave a tired smile, “I feel like I know you already. Dad was so thrilled to talk to you. You just have no idea.”
       Abby’s hopes started to fade. Something was very wrong. She was soon to find out what.
       “A few days after he talked to you, Dad had a massive heart attack. It must have happened during the night. My sister found him the next morning. She had stopped by when he hadn’t answered her phone call,” The words were said robotically, as if she had repeated them many times.
       She continued, “I am so sorry, Abby. He was so very excited to meet you and, particularly, to meet his biological mother. It had taken him so many years to finally start the search. Both Grandpa and Grandma had blessed his search and had given him what they knew about your Grandma. I am not sure what was going on inside him, as he tended to not speak too often of his feelings, but there was something in the past year that was driving him on his search. He was planning to reach out after Christmas,” she said the words sadly.
       Abby sat there, stunned and deeply disappointed. She mourned the uncle she would never really know. It was almost made worse by the fact that she had talked to him and they had hit it off so well.
       “I guess I should introduce myself. I am Shelly, Charlie’s youngest daughter. I am working on cleaning out the house and getting it ready to sell. It all feels… surreal,” her eyes looked around at all of the mess.
       “I am so sorry you have lost your father. How awful! I can’t even imagine,” Suddenly, Abby realized that Shelly’s loss was far greater than hers.
       Shelly sighed deeply, “it is. And it was so unexpected. Dad was in such good health.”
       They sat there awkwardly for a minute or two. There seemed to be little else to say, under the circumstances.
       Finally Shelly broke the silence, “I guess, officially, we are cousins…”
       Abby smiled brightly at that, “Yes, I guess that’s true. Very nice to meet you, cousin.”
       Shelly continued, “I know my sisters and brother would love to meet you but this may not be the best time. My sister, Lori—the one who found him—isn’t handling this well at all. She’s been really struggling.”
       Abby’s brow grew concerned as she said “Oh, I totally understand.”
       The two women made arrangements to stay in touch and to perhaps meet at a later time and then stood up. As Abby made her way to the front door she heard Shelly say, “Wait!”
       She turned around and she could see Shelly digging around in one of the boxes. From it she pulled a family photo in a wooden frame. She then went to another box and pulled out a tiny, porcelain angel.
       “Can you give these to your Grandma? This will show her dad’s family,” she held up the frame and then gave a brief description of everyone in the photo. Abby hoped she would remember.
       “And this,” she said, holding up the tiny angel, “meant a lot to dad and I want your grandma to have it.” She went on to explain that most of the abundant knick-knacks they were busily packing away were her mother’s but that this tiny angel had been a gift to dad during a very difficult time and he had treasured it.
       “I was planning to keep it but it just seems right that your grandma should have it.”
       “Thank you so much. I know this will mean the world to her.”
       Abby reached her arms out to Shelly and gave her a warm hug. They had met as strangers but were parting as family.
       John was waiting anxiously and was relieved when Abby opened the car door.
       “Well…?”
       Sorrow filled Abby’s eyes, “Oh, John. It won’t be the Christmas I had hoped for, after all.”
       
       
       
Find the rest of this story (as well as all of the other Christmas stories) here.
       
       

The Lost Son (Part 2)

Here is Part 2 of this year’s Christmas Story! (You can find Part 1 here.)
 
       After dinner, and with the kids playing a game with John at the kitchen table, Abby went back to her desk and picked up the first letter and stared at it for a few moments. Picking up the cell phone that lay on her desk, she clicked on her mom’s number.
       “Hello?”
       “Hey, Mom. How are you this evening?”
       “Just fine, dear. Grandma and I were just sitting here talking. Dad is out doing something in the garage. Hanging some new rack or other. You know how important it is that he stay organized,” she laughed.
       Abby looked at her watch. It was only 7pm. Should she or shouldn’t she?
       She took a deep breath and dove right in, “Mom, can I come by to talk to you and Grandma for a few moments? Won’t take long.”
       Her parents lived a short ten minutes away. She could easily be home before the kids’ bedtime routine.
       “Sure, honey. Should I be worried?” Her mom sounded a bit unnerved by the solemnity in Abby’s voice, which she tried, in vain, to hide.
       “Oh, no,” Abby nervously laughed, “I’ll be there shortly.”
       She clicked to end the conversation and sat there for a brief moment, praying that the Lord would give her wisdom. She then went to John and asked to talk to him. They left the kids playing the game without him for just a moment while she explained what she had found earlier that day.
       He whistled through his lips and then exclaimed, “Whoah!”
       “I know, right?”
       “I can understand that you want to know what’s going on, but do you really want to bring this up as we head into the holiday season? Maybe we should wait until the new year?” John rubbed his left ear, as he had a habit of doing in uncertain situations.
       “You are rubbing your ear,” Abby smiled at him, breaking the tension of the moment. He grinned as she continued on in a more serious tone, “you might be right. But it’s too late now. I know about Charlie and the new year feels like an eternity away at this moment,” she paused briefly and then said, “Why don’t I go over and just see how it goes? Ask a couple of questions and see where they lead? I won’t bring it up if it just doesn’t seem like the right time.”
       John agreed and soon Abby was on her way.
       As she pulled into the driveway, she saw both her mom and grandma waving cheerily from the living room window, heads together and smiling broadly. She hoped they would still be smiling when she left.
       Pulling her coat tightly around her, she walked briskly to the door in the nippy night air which was reminding her that winter was only a few weeks away.
       Gathering around her with warm hugs and questions about her day and her life and John and the kids consumed much of the first half hour. Both her mom and her grandma loved exuberantly and without condition. She wasn’t scared to have the upcoming conversation with them but she was reluctant.
       As the conversation about current happenings wound down, the room grew awkwardly quiet.
       “Are you okay, dear?” It was Grandma who finally broke the silence, “you don’t seem quite yourself.”
       “I was just thinking that, as well.” Both sets of inquiring and concerned eyes fixed themselves on her.
       Squirming a bit, Abby tried to decide how to handle this. It wasn’t going anything like she had hoped. Oh, why couldn’t she hide her feelings better? Frustrated and never being one to “beat about the bush”, she made the impromptu decision to just say what what was on her mind.
       “Grandma, do you remember when we had that conversation about me helping to sort through all of the stuff left in your house?”
       “I sure do. And I am so blessed that you would help me with that. It is such a huge and overwhelming task. I could never do it all by myself,” Grandma Belinda smiled with gratitude.
       “Well, there was a wooden box of letters in the attic that I brought home to read through…”
       When Abby mentioned the wooden box, Grandma’s face grew white as a ghost.
       “Mom! Are you okay?” cried Janet, running to her mother’s side.
       “I am fine, dear. Please sit back in your chair,” the pallor of her face belied her faint words.
       Janet walked back to her chair, her mind in a whirl.
       “I cannot believe that I forgot about that box,” Grandma Belinda said the words casually but her breath was raspy, revealing the magnitude of this moment.
       “So you know what I found then,” Abby said this in a low, gentle voice.
       Tear started to form in her grandmother’s eyes as the secret that had been hidden in her heart for over fifty years came to light.
       “You learned about Charlie, then?” She said.
       “Charlie? Who is Charlie?” Janet was beside herself with curiosity by now and wanted to understand what was happening between her daughter and her mother.
       “I guess that is what I am here to find out,” said Abby.
       Grandma Belinda put her face in her hands as she started quietly weeping, her shoulders shaking.
       Janet handed her mother a box of tissues as she asked, “Abby, what is going on?”
       Abby pulled the two letters out of her purse and handed them to her mom. Janet took them, her eyes growing wide in unbelief as she read them.
       “I have a brother? Is that what this means?”
       Grandma Belinda sighed, “a half-brother, yes.” She said the words with defeat and perhaps just a touch of relief. The secret was finally out.
       Abby and Janet quietly waited for her to continue.
       “I will tell you the story. I should have told you a long time ago,” said Grandma, as she started to reveal the decades-old secret that had haunted her for her most of her life.
       
       
       

The Lost Son (Part 1)

This is the sixth annual Growing4Life Christmas Story. It is my small gift to you, my readers, and is offered in five parts which are presented every Friday during the holiday season. If you have recently subscribed you can check out the past Christmas Stories here, should you be interested. I hope that this is a welcome break from the rest of the world for just a few minutes.

____________

Dear Belinda—

I hope this finds you well. We are settling into our new normal with baby Charlie. He loves Ned and just lights up when he comes in the room. I want you to know that we are happy to keep him for as long as you need us to. Please be in touch when things settle down and we will figure out how to get him across the country. Perhaps Ned and I could take a road trip. We have always wanted to do that. Take care.

Love Always,
Harriet

       Abby stared at the letter in her hand. The box of letters from Grandma’s attic had so far been boring accounts of daily life with an occasional memorable happening thrown in. They were filled with lists of canned fruits and vegetables, illnesses of farm animals, and neighborhood events. Most were from Grandma’s sister, Edna, in Omaha; a few were from her sister-in-law, Martha, in Canada; and then there were just a handful that were from her Grandma’s best friend from childhood, Harriet, who lived in Oregon. The biggest surprise up to this point had been a beautiful love letter penned by her grandfather, a staid and quiet man who rarely shared his feelings. At least that had been the biggest surprise until right now.
       Abby looked again at the shocking letter in her hand. Her eye caught another letter tucked into the large brown envelope from which she had drawn this first one. She carefully pulled it out and unfolded it. The date was five years after the first one had been written.

Dear Belinda,

I hope this finds you well. We haven’t heard from you for awhile and I am a bit worried about you. It is hard to believe Charlie is going to be six years old next spring. He has become part of our family and the girls just dote on him. It’s been fun having a boy in the family and we thank you for sharing him with us.

I do think it may be good to settle in on a plan for Charlie as we move into the future. It’s been five years and we all feel rather in limbo. Do you still plan to raise him now that things have simmered down and Felix is no longer in the picture? Each year we wait will make it harder on us and on Charlie. I guess I am just a bit confused… Will wait to hear from you.

Love,
Harriet

       Abby peered into the brown envelope, hoping for more letters to explain. But there were none. She then shuffled through the rest of the unread letters still in the old wooden box. She desperately wanted to solve the mystery she had just stumbled upon. But the only other letters to be found from Harriet were when she had gone away to camp one summer as a teenager.
       Abby thought of her kind and cheerful grandmother who had just recently moved in with her mom due to some health issues. Did Grandma have a son out west somewhere? Or was there some other explanation? Who was Charlie?
       “Mom! Preston took my doll!” a voice called Abby from the past and back to her little cottage on Willow Lane.
       “Preston…!” Abby called as she pushed her chair back from the small vintage desk in front of her and went to tend to her children.
       A few minutes later, with Preston, Kyle, and Maddy in front of a familiar movie and munching on goldfish crackers, Abby headed back to her desk to see if she could find out more about the mysterious Charlie. She felt a little guilty leaving the kids in front of the TV but she figured for this once it wouldn’t hurt. She didn’t do it often.
       Sitting back down at her desk, she stared out the window and thought of what had just come to light. What other conclusion could be drawn but that her grandmother had had a son named Charlie? It appeared that, instead of bringing him with her when she moved east to marry Grandpa, she had left him in Oregon with her best friend, Harriet.
       Had Grandma Belinda kept Charlie a secret from everyone? Or did Grandpa know about Charlie? Was Charlie still alive? If so, where was he? Did he know he had a family here in Ohio?
       The many questions came like a flood, begging to be answered. Abby looked at her watch. It was time to start dinner. The questions would have to wait.
       
       

Visit this page to find all of the Growing4Life Christmas Stories.

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.

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