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,

       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.


       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 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.


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.

Because We Just Don’t Know

We had our company breakfast at a local restaurant the other day. We usually do a fun get-to-know-you game and this year was no exception. One of the questions asked in this game was: What is your favorite thing about Christmas? Everyone’s answer seemed to have the same theme–


Each one, without exception, loves getting together with family.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Life is so fragile. It hangs on a fine string that can break at any time. While life and death are never outside of God’s sovereignty, we all experience things that remind us that– at any time– someone can be taken from us.

Each Christmas spent with those we love is a tremendous blessing. Each springtime, each Fourth of July, each Thanksgiving, each ordinary day we spend with family and friends are true blessings.

So what’s my point?

First, I think we sometimes take these things for granted. Let us not neglect to thank the Lord for His grace and mercy in allowing us to be together as we celebrate His birth.

Second, if we remember how fragile life is it might give us more love and grace for one another. It’s easy to be easily irritated or annoyed by someone who isn’t like us or who grates on our nerves. But if we remember what life would be like if they weren’t there, it reminds us of how important it is to redeem each moment we have with them.

Third, let’s ask those we love about their lives, their interests, their histories, and how they came to know the Lord. There is so much I wish I would have asked my Grandma but she died before I was given the opportunity. We spend so much time talking about things that don’t matter. Perhaps we could think of a few questions to ask others this holiday season that dig a little deeper than “how’s the weather?” It is through conversations like these that we can grow to understand and appreciate one another.

And, fourth–and most importantly–we should share the Gospel and point people to the Lord and His Word as often as we are given opportunity. We don’t want to be the one who is eternally sorry because, too afraid or too worried about what other people thought, we chose not to speak up and share the Truth with someone who isn’t with us next year.

Life is constantly changing. Some changes are exciting and fun.

And some are not.

So let’s not take even a moment for granted this holiday season. Let’s love one another and encourage one another and have meaningful conversations about God, His Word, and the Gospel. Because we just don’t know know what next year–or even tomorrow–holds.


P.S. I will post the final installment of this year’s story (Mending Fences) tomorrow and then I will be taking off from writing for a few weeks because I will be hanging with my family during the holidays and I want to focus on them as much as possible! Happy Christmas to you!


Mending Fences (Part 1)

During the holiday season, I like to step away from my normal type of post once each week and share one part of a 5-part Christmas Story that I have written. It stretches my brain to write in this different way and hopefully provides you with not only a little escape from the busyness of the season but also challenges you in your own walk with the Lord as you reflect on the story. And, so, with that brief introduction, I present to you this year’s story, which is called Mending Fences

      I don’t know when it happened but I couldn’t remember what she looked like. Not that it mattered. She probably had changed, anyway. And it wasn’t like I was going to see her anytime soon. But it still filled me with sorrow that I couldn’t remember her face.
      I sat on my front porch, deep in reflection. The smell of autumn was in the air and a cool wind had forced me to don a light sweater. This time of year always made me nostalgic. It brought memories of school days, football games, and the much-anticipated preparation for the holiday season at Dad’s store.
      My thoughts turned back to my sister. I squinted my eyes as I tried to recollect her features. I remembered that she had straight brown hair. And greenish eyes hidden by rather thick glasses. But the rest just disappeared into the vague recesses of my memory.
      How could I have forgotten what my sister looks like? The thought startled and scared me at the same time. A part of my past was escaping my memory and it deeply saddened me.
      I went back into the house and climbed the stairs to the attic. I turned on the light and started making my way through the collection of boxes kept there. There was a photo album from my past somewhere in all of those relics. I finally spotted the gray container that held all my old albums. I found the frayed, green photo album I was looking for as soon as I opened the container.
      I sat down on a box and started paging through it. Ahh, there she was. My beautiful, green-eyed sister with the tortoise shell glasses and thick brown hair that fell just a little below her shoulders. The perfect nose and high cheek bones gave her a special type of beauty that I had not inherited.
      I wondered if she still wore her hair like this? Did she still wear glasses or did she have contacts now? It had been fifteen years since we had laid eyes on each other. Could it have really been that long?
      It was with great regret that I remembered that we hadn’t even talked to each other that last time. The awkwardness of Daddy’s funeral came back in a rush. The great efforts we both made to try and avoid one another. The rapid heartbeat and eyes on the ground if she got too near. The lack of desire to even speak to her. Her lack of interest in Greta, her only niece. I could remember it all like it was yesterday.
      But one does a lot of growing up in fifteen years. And now I found myself wishing I had done a lot of things differently. If onlys plagued me.
      If I had to do over, I would change things. I really would. But I recognized the futility of that thought.
      “Mom?” Greta stirred me out of my reverie.
      “Up here, honey! I’ll be right down!”
      Sighing, I placed the photo album back into the box and placed the lid on top. A few hours later, our Friday pizza and movie night was over and Greta was sleeping soundly in her room. As I sat on the sofa in the family room, my mind went back to the past.
      Life has a way of stealing our happy endings. And so it was with me. But maybe I had short-changed myself. I was simply reaping what I had sown. Perhaps I should start at the beginning. That would help all of this make more sense to you.

      Once upon a time (don’t all stories begin this way?) there were two sisters. Evie, the firstborn, was shy and quiet. Her younger sister, Eliza, was boisterous and outgoing. But the two were inseparable from the very beginning.

      Doesn’t that sound nice? Just like a lovely story you might read in an actual book.

      Except that the lovely story ended up not so lovely. I’m Eliza. The younger sister by only 15 months. And Evie and I were best friends. Together we navigated playgrounds, middle school, and teen-aged angst. Together we weathered broken friendships, boyfriend break-ups, and frustrations with Mom and Dad.
      Memories started flooding my mind as I recalled those days. Like the time when Marcy, my best school friend of several years, just decided one day that she liked Lauren better than she liked me. From that time on, I watched the two girls eat lunch side-by-side, climb the monkey bars at recess, and sit beside each other at every opportunity—all while I sat alone and uninvited to their circle. Oh, how I had cried. It was Evie who comforted me. Evie who wrapped her small arms around me so tightly and said, “now, don’t you worry! We love you and family is what matters.”
      I felt my eyes start to burn. Oh, the turns that life takes. I wondered what would have happened if Rick had never set foot in dad’s store? How would our lives have been different?

Meeting Ella (Part 2)


This is the second installment in this year’s Christmas Story. Hope you enjoy it! (If you’d like to read Part 1, you can find it here.)

By 7pm, the big house was feeling a bit more like my old home. I had even dusted and swept. I sighed with contentment. The fond memories of this place filled me with a peace I hadn’t known for quite some time. Of course, there was a big empty hole without Gram here. And something else was missing, too. What was it?
I walked through the house and made my way to the living room. Spotting the braided rug in front of the hearth, it came to me. It was Snoopy. It was just not the same here without the little black dog that used to follow me around everywhere I went.
With the flip of a switch a fire came to life in the fireplace insert Uncle Gus and I had talked Gram into buying awhile back. The comfortable overstuffed blue chair by the stone hearth was the perfect place to do a little day dreaming. I allowed my mind to travel back in time to that moment when Gram had finally allowed me to get a dog. Driving to the local shelter and giddy with excitement, I had found the happiest puppy there and named him Snoopy–after my favorite cartoon dog. From the beginning, our relationship was special. We became fast friends and were inseparable. I was heart broken when he died during my freshman year of college. I had longed for another dog ever since, but apartment living and a demanding job just didn’t make it possible. Of course, all that had changed now.
Wait! Yes, all that had changed! What was holding me back? I grew excited as I considered the prospect of owning a dog again. In fact, I could feasibly go back to that same shelter and find a new dog. What quicker way was there to shoo away the loneliness of this house than with a new canine friend? Tomorrow grew into an exciting adventure as I pondered this idea.
I was jolted back to reality as my mind turned to my job situation. That was of grave concern. I didn’t need to worry about it for a few months but those months would go by fast. I shook my head, as if to free it of the troublesome thoughts and grabbed my keys. That problem would have to wait until tomorrow as I had a much more important priority currently–a grumbling belly that was urging me to eat.
I drove into town and pulled into Martha’s Diner. As I munched on a hamburger and fries, I looked around, hoping to see a familiar face but saw not a one. It had been over ten years since I had lived in the area. Things do change.
Feeling rather lonely and out-of-place, I pulled out my iPhone and started scrolling through Facebook. The happy faces of my city friends provided a sobering reminder of all that I had given up. Photos of adorable children and beautifully decorated homes reminded me that I didn’t fit in with my married friends, either. In fact, I didn’t really fit into any world at the moment. It was rather disconcerting.
“Libby? Libby Barnwell?”
I glanced up to see a smiling, older couple staring at me.
“Mr. and Mrs. Miller? How nice to see you,” I gave the older lady a warm hug and then turned to Mr. Miller to shake his hand, but, he, too, pulled me into a big hug. This couple, dear friends of my Gram, provided just the dose of encouragement I needed. We chatted for several minutes about life and change and then they made me promise that I would be at church on Sunday.
“We will save you a seat, dear. We always sit about six rows back on the right and will look for you. And please plan on having lunch with us afterward. Our granddaughter, Katie, is living with us currently and I think you two would really get along. Don’t you think so, Jim? She’s in grad school at the local university so she is living with us for awhile,” said Mrs. Miller. And then with one final hug, they walked out of the diner.
Thank you, Lord. Thank you for bringing a familiar face. That was exactly what I needed.
I had one last cup of coffee and then paid my bill. Glancing at my watch, I saw that I had time to run by the grocery store to pick up a few things. My trip to the store didn’t take very long and soon I was back at home unloading my car in the bitter wind. Dropping the last bag on the table and locking the door behind me, I reached up to feel my cold cheeks. Winter had certainly arrived.
I quickly put everything away and then checked the clock above the sink. Only 9:30pm. The sound of the wind drew me to take refuge in my comfortable, childhood bed and so, grabbing a book from my backpack, I made my way upstairs and got ready for bed. I snuggled down into the blankets and down comforter and then sniffed. These would definitely need a good airing tomorrow.
Engrossed in my book a few minutes later, I froze when, suddenly, I heard a creak coming from the direction of the stairs.
I strained to hear anything further, but nothing came. After what seemed like hours (but was probably only a few minutes), I returned to my book. Wait! There it was again! Someone was definitely in this house. I immediately realized my vulnerable situation. No weapons. No friends. No family. I was quite defenseless. I didn’t even know a phone number of a neighbor, for goodness’ sake.
I started to panic. I tried to calm myself by remembering that old houses make noises. It was windy tonight. It was probably the wind.
It was just the wind.
I lay there for a few more minutes but couldn’t shake the idea that someone was in the house. I decided to go check. Anything was better than laying in my bed paralyzed in fear. I glanced around for some kind of weapon. The only thing I spotted was a small glass candlestick on the dresser. I picked it up and held it in front of me with one hand and opened the door with the other. I must have made quite a site, me tiptoeing quietly across the room in my snowflake print pajamas, polka-dot slippers, and carrying a glass candlestick as my only mode of protection against who knew what?
I peeked out of my room and looked both ways. Nothing. I cautiously stepped out into the hallway. I crept down the stairs and explored the first level. It didn’t seem as if anything had been disturbed. I hesitated at the cellar door. Even in the daytime, I hated the cellar. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I didn’t check it out and so I opened the door, switched on the light, and started down the steps. Halfway down the L-shaped steps was a window that stood wide open. Each gust of wind would cause it to move and creak just a bit.
An open window would definitely cause strange noises on a windy night. I sighed with relief and quickly shut and locked it. From my vantage point of the steps, I looked around the forgotten room. It was piled high with Gram’s stuff and someone could easily hide there. This thought gave me no comfort.
At that point, I realized that I had a decision to make. I could either trust the Lord to take care of me or I could choose to be fearful. God and I had a close relationship. He had saved me from my sins and He promised to care for me. My job was to trust Him and not cave in to fear. With a prayer for protection, I headed back to bed, trusting that He would keep me safe through the night.
A few minutes later I was tucked under the stale-smelling covers and, after an hour or two of laying there listening to the weird noises an old house makes at night, I finally drifted off into a troubled sleep.

Find Part 3 to this story here

Meeting Ella (Part 1)


One of my favorite things to do is to write fiction, which doesn’t fit very well with the purpose of this blog. However, at Christmastime last year, I broke away from my typical posts and presented the story A Candle in the Window. I decided to do the same thing again this year. And so I hope you enjoy this year’s story, which will be presented on Mondays throughout this December. It is called Meeting Ella and here is Part 1, “Moving into the Farmhouse”

     I approached the front door with a combination of fear and nostalgia, the wind whipping my hair into my eyes. The front of the big farm house looked so forlorn. The last time I was here it was Christmastime. Garland with twinkling white lights had hung over the door. Big red pots that held miniature Christmas trees had sat like guards on each side of the steps. And out in the lawn had been the wooden nativity made by my Uncle Gus.
     I sighed with sadness as I pulled the key out of my coat pocket and placed it into the deadbolt on the door. What a difference a year can make.
     Had it only been six months since Gram had died? It felt so much longer than that…and so much shorter. My parents had died in a car accident when I was just a baby. My grandparents had raised me. Grandpa had died two years ago and Uncle Gus a year before that. I was truly alone now.
     I pushed in the big wooden door and hesitantly stepped inside to the entry way. The stale smell of an unlived-in house assaulted my nose. I walked through the familiar rooms downstairs, pulling sheets off the furniture amidst clouds of dust.
     I had called the utility companies last week to assure I would have electric and water when I arrived. Tomorrow I’d call about setting up wifi.
     I ended up in the kitchen, where I plugged in the refrigerator and stove and pushed them back to the wall, relieved to hear the hum of the refrigerator as it started up.
     The magnitude of what I was doing suddenly hit me. Did I know what I had gotten myself into?
     As Gram’s only living relative, I had inherited the house. My first thought had been to put it on the market immediately. But there was something that held me back. Maybe it was the memories. After all, it was the only home I had ever known.
     I decided to give myself a few months to think about it and during that time I had lost my graphic design job when my company was bought out. I remembered the conversation well. We are sorry, Libby. We treasure your talent and wish we could keep you but the other company already has a designer on staff and we don’t need two. Please feel free to ask us for a recommendation. We wish you the best. And that was that. I had worked two more weeks and then took my small severance package, packed up my office, and walked out the door.
     But what had seemed devastating at the time started to look like the purpose of God leading me back to this house. My job was the main thing holding me back from moving. Now I didn’t have any excuses left.
     And so I had sold my furniture, packed up what was left in my Jeep Cherokee, and traveled across the state to my hometown. And here I was on a cold, windy night in December.
     I shouldn’t have come back at Christmastime. I realized that now. Anytime would have been difficult but December was by far the worst. Gram had loved Christmas. It had been the most special time of the year. Even last year, when she was really slowing down due to her heart failure, I had hauled the boxes out of the attic and she had sat, her knees covered with a bright red afghan, and directed me with her smiley face and twinkly eyes.
     I sat down on a kitchen chair and laid my head on my arms. My shoulders started to shake. Christmas would never be the same again. Never.
     I must have sat there for fifteen minutes, sobbing, when suddenly I got the distinct impression that someone was watching me. My eyes scanned the nearby doorway and then moved around the room. I didn’t see anyone. I wiped my face on my sleeve, stood up, and looked around a bit before chalking it up to my imagination.
     I shrugged and decided to head upstairs, eager to see my old bedroom. As I walked up the creaky stairs, the strangeness and unfamiliarity of being in this big old house by myself assailed me. It was not a pleasant feeling. But I had sold everything now and didn’t have much of a choice but to stay here. At least for a little while, as I decided what to do next.
     I found my bedroom very much like I had left it, which was incredibly comforting to me. I sat down on the edge of my bed and sighed. I was home. Even without Gram, it felt like home. This feeling renewed my energy and I jumped from the bed to go get my stuff. I glanced in some of the other bedrooms on the way, just for old times’ sake. Uncle Gus’s room still had the plaid bedspread and dark oak furniture. And there was Gram’s room with the delicate floral wallpaper. I checked out the guest room, made up with one of Gram’s lavender quilts. And then, finally, headed down to the last tiny room on the right. I remembered that this room held a twin bed and Gram’s sewing machine. It was one of my favorite rooms in the house and I remembered many hours playing on the floor with my puzzles and dolls while she sewed and quilted there.
     However, I was not prepared for what I found in that room. The bed looked like it had been slept in the night before, unmade and unkempt. There was a small cup of water by the bedside, along with a girl’s sweater. I picked up the purple sweater and stared at it. It was a size 10, faded, with a tear at the elbow. Questions came to me in rapid succession. Had Gram had a young visitor here when she died? And who in the world had it been? And where was she now? And why hadn’t Gram bought her a new sweater?
     Oh, well. Those were questions for another day. For now, I needed to go get my stuff and move in. I ran lightly down the stairs and out to my car, ready to unload my things. Tomorrow I would get out the Christmas decorations. It was a good day.
     I was home.


Continue to PART 2


The Candle in the Window (Part 1)


This Christmas season I have decided to do something a bit different here on the blog. I have written a five-part Christmas story and will share one part of it each Friday, starting today. The final part will be shared on Friday, December 23rd. I know this is way outside my usual style of writing, and, honestly, it is a bit outside of my comfort zone. But sometimes it is nice to mix things up a bit! I hope you enjoy it. So without further ado, I present to you Part 1 of The Candle in the Window

     Helen’s uncooperative hands shook as she struck the match against its box. It took three tries before the match and the box finally connected. The warm flame wobbled as her hand stretched towards the simple red pillar candle that sat surrounded by a fake holly candle ring in the deep sill of the front window. As the match brought the wick of the candle to life, Helen’s heart was filled with an odd and comfortable nostalgia. She hobbled to her recliner and sat down with a deep sigh.
     Alone. Always alone. The loneliness was especially painful at Christmastime. It had been five years now. Thoughts of Roy, her husband of fifty-five years, brought a smile. They had been through so much together. Until a massive heart attack had ended his life one cold, blustery day in January. Oh, how Helen wished she had died first. Instead, she was left to roam this house and find something to do, day after day, month after month, year after lonely year. The past year had been especially lonely as her worsening arthritis limited her activities severely.
     Her friend, Marge, wasn’t lonely. Oh, how she envied her! Her children and grandchildren visited regularly, taking her to special restaurants and beautiful gardens and church concerts. Great-grandchildren danced and played around her feet, calling her “Granny”. Helen couldn’t help but compare it to her too-quiet life. Once in awhile, Marge invited her to a family outing. But this inevitably reminded Helen of all that she was missing and so she generally refused Marge’s offers.
     Unbidden, thoughts of Kenneth filled her mind. Her precious boy. What would her life have been like if Kenneth had come home from Canada? Would she have grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Or would his teen-aged rebellion have led him to completely sever ties with his parents forever?
     She would never know. That is probably what ate at her soul the most. She would never know.
     Kenneth would be close to 70 now if he were alive. Her heart would still fill with shame, even after all of these years, when she remembered the circumstances of her pregnancy. She remembered the dismay of being unwed and pregnant at 16, the love that she and Roy had shared even as teenagers, and the hurried wedding they were forced into at an all-too-young age. It had all worked out, although her father had never really forgiven her for bringing such dishonor to the family name.
     After they were married, Helen fully expected her home to be filled with happy children. She waited excitedly for the siblings that would join Kenneth. But as the years came and went, her hopes for a large family started to dwindle. When Kenneth was six years old, there was the excitement of a pregnancy, but hopes were dashed almost before they took root when she miscarried at twelve weeks. Helen never got pregnant again.
     From that time on, all of her mother’s love and energy were poured into the little boy that had resulted from an unwanted pregnancy. The happy little youngster had been so kind and thoughtful, always thinking of others. And smart! He was smart as a whip! Helen remembered proudly. But in the turmoil of the sixties, dear Kenny had taken up with some friends who were not a very good influence. He started growing his hair, using marijuana, and became an outspoken protester of the Vietnam War. As Helen struggled to communicate and discuss the issues with their son, Roy, on the other hand, was just furious. One crisp autumn day, he had finally told Kenny that if he was going to turn his back on his country, then he was turning his back on his family and was no longer welcome to stay in their home.
     Helen could still remember Kenny angrily packing his things and carrying them out to his beat-up VW van. As he shoved and stuffed it full of all of his earthly belongings, she had pleaded with him to stay. When he had brusquely told her to get out of his way, she had gone to find Roy, who was sitting in stone silence in his recliner, staring blankly at the evening news on the black and white TV. Roy, too, had ignored her pleas and within an hour, Kenneth had driven off towards the sun that was setting on the horizon.
     Helen had spent the next weeks in despair. Where was their boy? And how would she ever be able to forgive Roy for driving their son away? Even now, all these years later, Helen wondered if she had ever truly forgiven him. The pain, buried under other memories now, still plagued her sometimes. Somehow the couple had learned to live with their new normal. Each new day was just a tad bit easier than the one before and within a year of Kenny’s departure Helen and Roy had reached a truce of sorts. They were fine– as long as the subject of Kenneth wasn’t raised. During that time, Helen longed to hear something—anything— from her son, but nary a word came. Until that fateful day.
     Oh, how she hated that day.
     Eddy, Kenneth’s best friend during that tumultuous time, had knocked on their door about two years after the departure. Roy was at work at the time. As Eddy stood at the door, nervously pulling at his scruffy beard, Helen could see that he was visibly upset. She invited him in and offered him a cup of coffee. He said no thanks and without even sitting down, proceeded to tell her that Kenneth had been killed in a car accident a month ago. He and Eddy had moved to Canada to avoid the draft and one snowy evening, the boys were on their way back from the grocery store when they had hit a slick spot and slid off the road and into a tree. Eddy had escaped with just a few bruises but Kenneth had been killed on impact.
     Helen had stood there shocked. So this was how it was all to end? Her beloved son was gone from this earth for forever?
     Even now, all these years later, Helen’s eyes filled with tears. They started to trickle down her weathered face. She drew comfort from the red candle, one of Kenneth’s favorite boyhood traditions of Christmas. They would light a red candle in the window each holiday season to symbolize the light Jesus had brought to the world at Christmastime.
     Reminiscing always tired Helen and after an hour she pulled her old body up out of her chair, blew out the candle, and went to bed.

Continue Reading Part 2 here

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