holidays

Meeting Ella (Part 4)

MeetingElla

On the Monday after Thanksgiving I presented Part 1 of this year’s Christmas Story, “Meeting Ella”. Look for the final installment (Part 5) of this story in a special post on Friday. Today, I present Part Four–

      Ella sniffed a bit and then stared at me with her bright blue eyes. I felt completely out of my element. I had little experience with children and even less experience with such unexpected happenings like this. I gave her hand another warm squeeze and then dropped it and told her to follow me upstairs. Soon she was sitting at the table with a cup of hot cocoa and some of Mrs. Miller’s cookies.
      “So, Ella, how did you happen to choose my house to visit?” It seemed like a silly question but I didn’t even know what else to ask. I didn’t want to be too blunt, but I have to admit that curiosity was just about killing me by now. And she was so quiet. This did not look like it was going to be easy.
      Should I call someone to help me? Should I take her somewhere? What does one do in a situation like this? I told myself to just relax and give her a moment.
      She sat there a few more minutes, drinking cocoa and petting Charlie.
      “What’s his name?” she finally asked, ignoring my question.
      “His name is Charlie. It suits him, I think. Do you agree?”
      She soberly nodded and went back to her cocoa.
      “So how did you get here, Ella?” I tried again.
      With a catch in her throat, she started. She finally seemed ready to share and, with a few questions from me, she told me her whole story. She had grown up with her single mom, Melanie, in a little town about an hour away. When Melanie had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, she had finally shared the story of Ella’s father. She had told Ella how she had been lonely and sad, working in the office of a local mechanic. Thoughts of marriage had long since departed and her life was unexciting. One day, a handsome, older man had come to have his pick-up truck serviced. The two had hit it off immediately and were soon spending lots of time together.
      Marriage was promised and so Melanie had let her guard down and soon became pregnant. But before she could let the man know he was going to be a father, he had disappeared out of her life, making it clear that it was over. She had resigned herself to her new life as a single mom and had made the best of it. Little Ella had filled Melanie’s life with love and sunshine, despite the circumstances of her birth. Melanie had always hoped deep down inside that the man would return and they could be a family but then a few years ago she had found out that the man had died. Melanie had cried when she told that part of the story to Ella and then had grown very serious as she had explained that she was not going to recover from her illness and Ella was going to need someone else to care for her. And, although Ella’s father was no longer living, his mother—Ella’s grandmother—was still alive and residing in a great big farmhouse all by herself.
      Melanie, feeling alone and desperate, told Ella she was going to take her to her grandmother’s house to live. She had met the woman a couple of times and she was quite confident that this was the best and safest place for Ella. Uncertain of what welcome she would receive as the mother of Gus’s illegitimate child, Melanie had decided to carefully draft a note of explanation and had tucked it in an envelope along with Ella’s birth certificate. Trying to spare her daughter the horror of watching her mother die and assuring her that her grandmother would be overjoyed to have her there, she had given Ella the envelope and simply dropped her off at the farm one Tuesday, without even so much as a knock on the door and drove away.
      Unbeknownst to Melanie, Hattie Barnwell had passed away several months earlier and so Ella had been greeted by an empty house rather than the warm hug of her grandmother. Not quite knowing what to do, she had walked around the house until she had found the open basement window. She had climbed in and had been eating from Gram’s full pantry and sleeping in the tiny sewing room ever since. From what I could gather, Ella had arrived only three or four days before I did.
      She was finished and expecting my response. I was still reeling from the fact that Gus had a child he had never met. Serious and shy Uncle Gus. It just didn’t seem possible. But Ella’s eyes were all the proof I needed. There was no doubt that she had Uncle Gus’s distinct, cobalt blue eyes. How did I not notice how much she looks like him?
      “So I guess we are cousins!” I said, trying to inflect a happy tone into my voice in the midst of my bewilderment.
      She gave me a tired, tentative smile.
      “Well, there isn’t much we can do about this situation tonight, so how about I tuck you into bed?” I gave her a warm smile as I tried to remember something about little girls and bedtimes. The only thing I could recall is that Gram had always read to me. Was Ella too old to enjoy a story? It couldn’t hurt to ask. “Would you like me to read you a bedtime story? I am sure Gram has some storybooks around here somewhere,” her eyes lit up at these words as she nodded her head.
      An hour later, she was sound asleep, her blond hair fanned out against the pillow and a fisted hand next to her cheek. I was completely unprepared for the maternal feelings that had welled up in me as I had helped this small, defenseless girl prepare for bed. Snuggling together while reading to her from the red-covered book of Christmas stories had given me unexpected joy and pleasure. I had never even thought about children before. I had alway been driven by my career.
      As soon as I walked into my bedroom, I realized that my blankets were still outside on the wash line. I sighed and turned to Charlie, “Come on, boy, we have one last thing to do before we can go to bed tonight.”
      Charlie wagged his tail and followed me.
      “You know, it’s been quite a day for you, hasn’t it, boy? Lots of adventure. I can promise you that every day won’t be like this one,” I leaned down and petted his head as we walked out into the beautiful night together to pull the blankets from the line. Gram’s light spring jacket that I had grabbed from the hook in the mud room wasn’t keeping me very warm against the chill in the air, but I had to stop for just a moment to look at the stars, twinkling and shining in the black sky. You sure didn’t see such a sight in the city. There were far too many man-made lights for that.
      “What do you think, Charlie? Maybe this is where we are supposed to stay for good,” I stood there praying for a few moments, asking the Lord to give me direction and wisdom, not only for my uncertain and murky future, but maybe even more importantly for the future of the sweet little girl that had literally been dropped in my lap.
      “Please show me what to do,” I whispered.
      Grabbing the blankets, I headed inside.

Find the beginning of this story here.

Meeting Ella (Part 3)

MeetingElla

This is the third installment in this season’s Christmas story. Hope you are enjoying it!

      Morning came far too quickly after my restless night. Dragging myself out of bed, I got ready for the day and then made myself some toast. Last night’s events played through my mind as I ate my breakfast and, thankfully, my fears were considerably diminished in the bright morning sunshine. Of course, houses make strange noises—especially hundred year old farm houses. I would just have to get used to it.
      Perhaps a dog would help. It was so disconcerting being in this house completely alone—especially at night. I put my dishes in the sink and grabbed my coat, excited for today’s adventure.
      The first stop was the local Walmart to buy some pet supplies. The brightly colored collars and leashes drew my eye. I picked out a medium-sized, green polka-dotted collar, with a leash to match. That seemed to be the safest selection, as it could be used for a male or female medium-sized dog. My cart was soon loaded with dog food, dog treats, bowls, pet shampoo, and a big, over-sized dog bed. I walked by the crates and realized that this was probably going to be a necessity, as well. Who knew how well-behaved this dog would be? And so a medium-sized crate went in on top of everything else. I carefully wheeled my cart to the front and through the checkout. I watched as the the items began to add up to an exorbitant amount. Shopping sprees like this would have to be extremely rare these next few months.
      A half hour later, I was walking through the concrete hallways of the local shelter. There was certainly no dearth of dogs from which to choose. There were big ones and small ones, ferocious ones and friendly ones. How would I ever choose just one? And then I saw him. He sat calmly in the corner of his cage but as I approached his tail started wagging fiercely. He greeted me like a perfect gentleman—happily but without that over-the-top excitement that some dogs have. Short brown hair with a small white patch on his chest and medium-sized, I knew he was just right for me. His name was Charlie and it suited him perfectly. Charlie it was.
      Soon all of the paperwork was signed, the small fee was paid, and we were on our way home. Charlie was amazing right from the start. He sat quietly in the car looking out the window.
      As the car pulled into the driveway, Charlie’s tail started wagging as if to say “What an adventure!” He hopped out and excitedly started to explore his new home. He followed me into the house and happily continued his exploration. Finally, he flopped down beside me in the kitchen to watch me prepare my lunch. His brown, soulful eyes silently asked me to share.
      “Oh, alright!” I laughed as I threw a bit of cheese down to him.
      After lunch, I decided to decorate for Christmas. Sure, only Charlie and I would really appreciate it, but somehow it just felt like the right thing to do. And so, turning the switch on at the bottom of the steps, up to the attic I went. Charlie followed me up the narrow stairway, sniffing all the way. It was clear that he was overjoyed with his newfound freedom. I found the Christmas decorations in the back right corner of the attic, just where I had put them last year and the year before that and, well, for forever. There were boxes upon boxes. Gram sure had loved Christmas.
      I opened the first box and found the tree decorations. I pushed that box towards the staircase. The second held Christmas-themed linens and tablecloths. Deeming them unnecessary, at least for this Christmas season, I pushed that one to the side. Continuing on in this manner for another thirty minutes, six boxes were soon waiting at the top of the stairs.
      One by one, I lifted them and carried them downstairs to the dining room, almost tripping over Charlie a few times as he followed on my heels. But he was such a welcome addition to the house that I just couldn’t grow angry with him so I just laughed and gently scolded him.
      After all of the boxes were down, I made myself a cup of coffee and decided to sit down for a few minutes. My rough night soon caught up with me and I found myself dozing off. At least, until Charlie started barking at the sound of the doorbell. Who could that be? I peeked out the front window. Mrs. Miller stood there smiling, holding a candy-cane striped tin. Beside her stood a young woman with brown hair wearing a navy pea coat.
      Opening the door, I welcomed them inside.
      “Hello, dear! I hope we aren’t bothering you. I just couldn’t wait for you to meet my granddaughter. Katie, this is Libby. Libby, Kate. I am just sure you two will get along fabulously,” She gestured from one to the other as we gave each other tentative—and rather awkward—smiles.
      And then she continued, “And I just happened to do some baking this morning, so we brought some cookies along. They are the peanut butter kind with the Hershey Kisses on top. They are Jim’s favorite,” She winked as she handed me the tin and then started to look around, “Oh, so many memories here. We used to come and play games with your Grandma. I sure do miss her.”
      And then she spotted the boxes of decorations in the dining room, “Oh! Did we interrupt you?”
      “Well, I actually didn’t get very far yet,” I glanced at my watch and saw that it was already 3:30pm, “I will do what I can today and then finish tomorrow. There’s really no big hurry. Can I get you some coffee?”
      I saw Mrs. Miller turn to Katie and ask her a question before she turned back to me with a surprising question, “Libby, darling, could Katie and I help you decorate? We’d love to help and, besides, decorating by yourself is really not near as much fun as decorating with friends!” (She had such a warm and rather loud enthusiasm as she said this), “Kate assured me that she has a few spare hours. So why don’t you go make coffee and put on some Christmas music and we will have ourselves a wonderful time. What do you say?”
      Truth be told, I really wanted to decorate alone. I wanted to take my time going through the old, familiar things and I wanted to be able to cry if I felt like crying. But Mrs. Miller was a force to be reckoned with and so, hiding my disappointment, I pasted on a smile and told her I’d love to have their help. I put on some Christmas music and then went to the kitchen and made three cups of hot coffee and put a few of the cookies from the tin on a plate. Charlie quietly stared at me and rubbed his nose on my legs as if to tell me he understood and was sorry for how things had turned out.
      But, surprisingly, the next three hours flew by in a flurry of activity and merriment. First, we set up and decorated Gram’s three artificial trees–The old-fashioned one in the living room; the formal one, bedecked with gold and silver, in the dining room; and the smallest one, decorated with simple bows and silk poinsettias, in the foyer. Next, we filled the banisters and mantel with green garland, white lights, gold stars, and tiny crocheted angels. I pulled Gram’s collection of porcelain angels from their careful wrapping and set them around on every possible surface. Finally, we worked outside to put the garland and lights around the door. Kate had even helped me pull Uncle Gus’s manger scene out of the old shed. I stood back with a great sense of satisfaction. Mrs. Miller was right—it had been so much more fun to accomplish this with friends.
      Throughout the whole afternoon, Mrs. Miller was so wonderful—both sharing snippets about Gram and also letting me reflect in silence at times. And she was right about Kate and me. We hit it off immediately—like we had been friends our whole lives.
      As I waved good-bye to them, I smiled, so thankful for them. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad here, after all. Kate and I had already made plans to go Christmas shopping together. It was as I stood with my back against the door, thanking the Lord for His kind mercies to me, that I spotted it.
      I squinted to be sure I saw it correctly. Under the dining room table was a small red mitten.
      Where had that come from?  It had definitely not been there when I vacuumed yesterday.
      Picking it up and turning it over, I saw that it was a little girl’s left mitten.
      Startled, I began to suspect that the owner of the mitten and the owner of the purple sweater upstairs were probably the same little girl. And now I was beginning to wonder if the little owner might be in this house. That feeling of not being alone yesterday came to my mind. And, too, the odd open window last night. On a sudden hunch, I ran up the stairs to Gram’s sewing room.
      I was right. The purple sweater was gone and the rumpled covers on the bed were pulled up towards the pillow as if someone had tried to make it in a hurry. It became clear that I was not alone in this house.
      As I stood there for a few moments wondering what to do, Charlie was wildly sniffing around the room, as if to confirm my suspicions.
      My tummy growled, reminding me that it was long past dinnertime. I prepared a ham and cheese sandwich and put it on a plate with a handful of potato chips, all the while my ears listening for any possible sound. She had to be around here somewhere.
      After dinner, I decided to go on an all-out hunt for this little person. I checked in closets, under beds, and behind dressers. Overcoming my fear, I looked in both the cellar and the attic, moving boxes and crates. I couldn’t find anything. I didn’t even see any more clues that would verify her existence. Perhaps I was just dreaming this all up. I remembered Mrs. Miller saying she taught Sunday School. Perhaps she had had the mitten in her coat pocket for some reason, I rationalized.
      Feeling rather silly, I sat back down into the comfortable blue chair and turned on the TV. Soon I was engrossed in Christmas in Connecticut and forgot about my musings and speculations.
      That is until Charlie started barking like crazy.
      “Charlie! Stop!” Maybe a dog wasn’t such a good idea, after all. It was a little frightening to have a dog madly barking in an old house and having no idea why. I grabbed his collar and looked him the eye, “Stop!”
      He didn’t listen to me. In fact, he wriggled out of my grasp and ran to the cellar steps, growling and barking all the way.
      I opened the door and he rushed past me, down into the darkness. Flipping the switch, I saw that the basement window was open once again. How had that happened?
      And then I saw her. Standing at the bottom of the steps. She looked to be around nine. Soft, wheat-colored hair and pale skin. She had on a red wool coat that was stained and ripped at the hem and one red mitten. Tears welled up in her startlingly blue eyes as Charlie rushed at her.
      “Aw, honey, don’t cry,” I shushed Charlie away and then sat down on the steps, helplessly uncertain as to what to do. A million questions danced through my mind, begging to be answered all at once.
      I grabbed the girl’s cold, mittenless left hand and gave it a warm squeeze, before softly asking, “What’s your name?”
      She took her mittened hand and rubbed it across her face to remove the tears that had started a quiet trail down her cheeks. She took a deep breath and then said faintly, “I’m Ella.”
      Ella. So this was who I had been sharing my house with for the past couple of days.

Find Part 4 of this story here.

The Candle in the Window (Part 5)

candleinthewindow

Today is the final part of my holiday-themed story. For some reason, it seems like this December has gone especially fast and here we are already–ready to celebrate our Lord’s birth! I hope that you have enjoyed this story and that it will give you cause to think outside just you and your own family this Christmas and move your thoughts towards those who may not have a family or who may have lost a loved one this past year. Christmas can be especially hard for so many dear people. 

If you have missed this series, you can find Part 4 here. You will also find links to the other three parts on that post.

And, now, onto the fifth and final part of The Candle in the Window

     Helen lit the red candle and then went into the kitchen to heat up the leftover Christmas dinner that Marge had brought her last night. The memory of the night before warmed her heart. Christmas Eve spent with a friend was so much better than spending it alone. It even took a bit of the sting out of spending Christmas Day all by herself. She hummed Joy to the World as the microwave heated her meal.
     She decided to take the plate of the food into the living room. This was the last evening that she would burn the Christmas Candle and she wanted to fully enjoy it. Setting the plate on her recliner seat, she pulled an old TV tray table from it’s spot in the corner and set it up. She sat and rested for a minute or two before turning on the TV and digging into the turkey and stuffing before her.
     Thirty minutes later found her dozing, with an empty plate in front of her and an old Christmas movie playing on the TV.

______________________________________________________

     Jessa licked her lips nervously. Perhaps this was a really crazy idea. Maybe her grandmother wouldn’t even want to see her. What was she thinking?
     “Ready?” Mark smiled at her.
     Lacey was full of nervous excitement, while Logan looked just a bit bored at the whole situation.
     “Okay, let’s do this,” Jessa determinedly started walking towards the front door of the little white Cape Cod. When the rest of the family had gathered there with her, she took a deep breath and then knocked.
     Since setting out the red candle at home a few weeks ago, Jessa had felt an increasing desire to find out if anyone from her father’s family was still alive. What she had discovered was that there was only one person left—her elderly grandmother. The family had decided they would drive the hour south to visit her after they had had Christmas dinner with her mother’s side of the family. Since they had been with Mark’s family on Christmas Eve, Christmas evening had seemed like the perfect time to make the momentous visit. But now here they were. At her house. On Christmas day. To Jessa it all felt quite surreal and a bit frightening.
     As the family stood on the front porch and waited, they looked around. The little house was in much disrepair. Besides being in dire need of a fresh coat of paint, the porch needed fixed and the shrubbery needed trimmed. Mark, always big-hearted and generous, started thinking about how the family could help his wife’s grandmother before he even met her.
     Suddenly, the door swung open, and there stood a small, thin woman.
     “Merry Christmas to you,” Jessa said nervously, “are you Mrs. Helen Morgan? Helen Rose Morgan?”
     “Why yes, that’s me,” she said, puzzled. She shivered as a gust of cold air blew into the warm room behind her.
     “We are the Washington family and we have come from across the border especially to see you. May we come in for just a moment? We have something we’d like to share with you.”
     Helen grew just a little nervous at the smiling strangers. Her eyes took in the tall African-American man with glasses and then moved to the pretty tan blue-eyed woman with dark curly hair. With them were two older children. The boy looked like he didn’t want to be there but the girl looked sweet. Who in the world would come visiting a stranger on Christmas day? How odd! She stared at them for a few more seconds before finally deciding they looked safe enough and inviting them inside.
     “Have a seat,” she said as she gestured to the sofa across the room. Her hands shook nervously as she second-guessed the wisdom of letting strangers into her home. She had heard horrible stories about wicked people who tricked and terrorized the elderly. What if they were going to steal from her? Or, even worse, kill her?
     There must have been a look of terror in her eyes, for Mark tenderly touched her shoulder and said, “Oh, Mrs. Morgan, you need not fear. We are here to share good news!”
     He moved to the slip-covered sofa and sat down. The family followed his lead and soon they were all squeezed there, side by side. Helen felt herself relax just a bit. They did seem like a very nice family.
     After they introduced themselves, they all sat there for a few awkward moments in silence, until finally Mark gave an imperceptible nod of his head to Jessa. At that, Jessa said a quick prayer for strength and then just decided to get it over with. Out it all came in one big rush, “Mrs. Morgan, we are here because, well, I think you are my grandmother.”
     Helen’s eyes grew big at this but she remained quiet.
     “You see, my father died in a car accident before I was born so I never met him. I knew his name was Kenneth Roy Morgan and thought about trying to find his family through the years but…”
     “Your father was Kenneth Roy Morgan?” Helen interrupted, aghast, “Are you sure? Kenny didn’t have any children.”
     As Jessa shared her story of how Kenny and Bernadette had met and then got married and had her, Helen started shaking uncontrollably.
     “Kenny’s daughter? You are Kenny’s daughter?” Helen kept saying it over and over again in disbelief.
     “Are you okay, Grandma?” Lacey rushed to her side in her typical fashion. To this precocious and loving child, this woman was her grandma and it made total sense to call her that. She had no idea that this name was a name that Helen never thought she would be called. The shock was almost too much.
     Mark stepped in, “Lacey would you go to the kitchen and get Mrs. Morgan a glass of water?”
     As she left to do her father’s bidding, he tenderly held Helen’s hand, “Mrs. Morgan, we are so sorry for the shock. A few weeks ago, Jessa’s mother died. This event awakened in her a desire to find her father’s family. As she searched, she realized that you are the only relative left on her father’s side. She wanted to meet you as soon as possible and so here we are. Are you okay?”
     Helen’s heart had stopped pounding as this new and wonderful thought started to seep into her brain and then settled into her heart. She had a family! She had a FAMILY! SHE HAD A FAMILY! The words just kept ringing in her ears.
     Happy tears made their way down her wrinkled face as unfamiliar hope started to grow in her heart. As she sipped the cup of water Lacey handed her, she looked at Jessa. She had felt like something was familiar about the woman but couldn’t figure out what. But, suddenly, she knew! It was her cobalt blue eyes. Kenneth had those same eyes. And the boy–Jessa’s son—he looked like Kenneth. How had she missed that earlier? Oh, he had darker skin but he had those same blue eyes and something about his face definitely reminded her of her boy at that age. She knew without a doubt that this family was telling her the truth.
     “Come here, dear,” Helen directed the gentle request to Jessa. When Jessa was kneeling in front of her, Helen put her frail hand up to caress her face, “Oh, how much I have missed. Oh, how dreadfully sorry I am that I wasn’t there for you and your mother. If only I had known,” she said sadly and then sat in silence for a few moments while Jessa tenderly held her hand and then Helen smiled and looked at the children, “So I suppose that makes you two my great-grandchildren!” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
     Logan gave a gentle smile—even he was affected by this reunion– but Lacey jumped to her feet and rushed to her great-grandmother’s side, talking a mile a minute, “So what would you like me to call you, Grandma? I mean, I know that you aren’t really my grandma, but “great-grandma” seems like such a long name to call you and since my other grandma just died, maybe you could kinda take her place? Well, not take her place exactly but be my grandma now that she’s gone? Would that be okay?—”she was prepared to go on but Mark quickly put a firm hand on her shoulder.
     “Shhh, Lacey,” he said quietly behind her.
     “Oh, don’t shush her,” said Helen merrily, “I haven’t had this much fun since–well, perhaps since your father left our home,” this she directed to Jessa, “It has been an awfully long time since I had some young blood around here and I am enjoying it immensely!”
     And, with that, she turned towards Lacey and the two of them chatted on and on, while the rest of the family sat quietly and listened.
     A little later in the evening, Mark asked if he could read the Christmas story and the family talked about God’s Son coming in a manger and how He would later grow up to die so that man could be forgiven and reconciled to God. They talked about Jesus like He was their friend. Helen was puzzled and unfamiliar with that part of the Bible.
     A few hours later, the family gathered their things together with a promise to return soon. Phone numbers were exchanged and Jessa promised to call Helen and check on her the next day. The family all hugged Helen good-bye like they had known her for years. Their coats were on and they were just about to leave when Jessa stopped in her tracks as she spotted the red candle.
     “That candle in the window…”
     “Oh, yes, that was one of your father’s favorite Christmas traditions!” smiled Helen, “Light a red candle to…”
     “Symbolize the light that Jesus brought to the world,” finished Jessa, “My mom and I did that in honor of my dad for all of my growing up years. In fact, I am continuing the tradition at my house now.”
     Helen’s heart felt like it would burst. Kenny’s memory was still alive in another soul besides her own. It was so comforting somehow.
     More hugs and then they were gone and the house grew strangely quiet again. Helen sat back down in her recliner with just the candle for light and reveled in pleasant thoughts of family picnics and dinners. She dreamed of going to gardens and concerts with her new family. And, most of all, of never having to spend another Christmas alone. After an hour of daydreaming, she blew out the candle in the window and went to bed.

______________________________________________________

     In the months and years to follow, Helen’s newfound family would fulfill all their promises and more to the elderly lady. They took her to concerts and gardens. They took her to doctor and dentist appointments. And Helen never spent another Christmas alone but was, instead, surrounded by her loving family. But, most of all, they introduced her to the baby in a manger. They told her that Jesus had died for her sins and that if she believed on Him as her Savior, she would be reconciled to God and spend eternity with Him in Heaven. Helen did believe and started studying her Bible during her many hours alone. Placing the red candle in the window each Christmas became even more special as Helen finally understood the real meaning of the long-held family tradition. And when, five years later, she slipped away quietly in her sleep, her family knew– without a shadow of a doubt–that they would see her again.

 

I hope you have enjoyed this 2016 Christmas story. As you probably already know, this is far outside my usual content. However, sometimes it is just nice to do something different! If you have enjoyed this story, would you take a moment to comment and let me know?

The Candle in the Window (Part 4)

candleinthewindow

You may (or may not) have noticed that this is my first post this week. My daughter and son-in-law are here for the holidays so I decided to take a break. Not sure if/when I will write over the coming weeks, but I will be back at it in the new year. Thankfully, I wrote this story last month with this in mind. By the way, before moving on to the story, I just want to let you know that I will be offering a Growing4Life 2017 Bible Challenge. If you don’t have another plan in place, I hope that you will consider joining me! Look for the details soon!

Today I bring you the fourth installment of The Candle in the Window. If you have missed the first three parts, here are the links so you can catch up–

The Candle in the Window, Part 1

The Candle in the Window, Part 2

The Candle in the Window, Part 3

And, now, here is Part 4–

     Jessa carefully pulled the thick red candle from its tissue wrapping. A plastic holly candle ring, already unwrapped, lay on the floor beside her. As she held the candle, she could feel tears burn behind her eyes. Willing herself not to cry, she tenderly placed the candle on a glass plate and placed the holly ring over it. As she set it gently on the table in front of the window, one lone tear spilled over and made its way down her cheek.
     Unpacking the memories of Christmases long past was a heart-breaking affair. Her mother had loved Christmas. There were five boxes of beautiful–and sometimes tacky–Christmas decorations to prove it. Looking at the remaining boxes, Jessa thought it might be wise to wait until the kids got home from school to go through them. Their chatter would be a welcome distraction.
     She went to the kitchen and made a cup of coffee. She eyed the plate filled with Christmas cookies on the counter and then picked up a couple of them and placed them on a napkin. Taking her coffee and cookies back to the family room, she sat down in a comfortable chair and picked up the novel that she was currently reading. Perhaps immersing herself within its pages would take her mind off of just how much she missed her mom.
     A few minutes later, she sighed and closed her book. She had just read the same page four times. Putting the book on the table beside her, she sat munching on a cookie. Childhood memories of her mother and Christmases long past flooded her mind. Mother and daughter had weathered many trials as a team and the bond between them had been strong. Christmas had always been a happy break from the hard times and Jessa was so thankful for the memories. However, reviewing them was painful and the fact that her mom had died just a few weeks before the holiday wasn’t make it any easier.
     Her eyes fell on the red candle. They had had Christmases without a Christmas tree. They had gone without turkeys and wreaths and gingerbread and presents. But they never had a Christmas without that red candle in the window.
     The candle reminded her of her father. She had never met him but the red candle in the window had always been placed there in his honor. Her mother had told Jessa that the candle was one of her father’s favorite Christmas traditions from his childhood home and how the young couple had gone to the local Woolworth’s to buy their first bright red candle and cheap plastic ring of holly. It was the only Christmas decoration her parents could afford to buy that first and only Christmas together as a married couple.
     What had her father been like? She had seen a photo or two but photos told so very little. Nettie had told Jessa that she felt like she never really knew the man her father would have become as he grew in the Lord. Nettie had often shared the story with Jessa of how she had married an unbeliever and counseled her daughter not to follow in her footsteps. But she had rejoiced that God had saved him! Oh, how she rejoiced! Especially since he was gone a few short weeks later. And Nettie would then tell her daughter how her father had repented of his sins and accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior just before the tragic car accident that took his life. She told Jessa that after her father was saved he had stopped drinking with his friends and how grateful she was for those few precious weeks of happy memories.
     Jessa knew little else about him—except that he was a white man from New York. And that his name was Kenneth. Kenneth Roy Morgan.

 

The Candle in the Window (Part 2)

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Each Friday this Christmas season I am unfolding part of a Christmas story I wrote. Today is Part 2. (You can find Part 1 here, if you missed it.)

     Jessa stared at her tanned skin and thick, curly hair in the mirror. It was a strange thing—this being part black and part white. Which world did she belong to? Even as a 50-year-old, she still didn’t really know. She washed her face and brushed her teeth as she pondered this question that had resided somewhere in the back of her mind for her whole life.
     A few moments later found her staring at the contents of her closet. What does one wear to their mother’s funeral? She found her favorite black sweater and looked it over. This? She dropped the sleeve of the sweater and lifted the hanger of a black and gray print shirt. Or this?
     Finally settling on a pair of flattering black trousers and the print shirt, she started to put on her favorite heels. And then she remembered that this day would mean being on her feet for many hours, at which point she put on her black flats instead.
     “Logan? Lacey? You ready to go?” She called her 15-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter as she walked out of her room.
     Mark, her husband, met her downstairs and gave her a warm embrace, “I’m so sorry, honey. I know how hard this is.”
     Jessa felt her eyes start to burn at his kind words. She quickly swiped at her eyes. She couldn’t start crying already. The funeral hadn’t even begun.

**********************************

     Ten long hours later, they came home exhausted after a long day of talking to people who had loved Bernadette Williams, lovingly called Grandma Nettie by almost all who knew her.
     As they sat down in the family room, Logan and Lacey started talking about Aunt Althea’s crushing hugs. Althea, Grandma Nettie’s youngest sister, was a large, matronly woman who loved on others by wrapping them in her arms and squeezing them tight. The family started laughing, which was a welcome relief from the many tears that had been shed that day. Nettie had had a very short battle with cancer and her family was still in shock over her quick departure from this earth. However, her vibrant relationship with her Heavenly Father and her faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation gave them calm assurance that they would most certainly see her again.
     They continued to talk about memories of Grandma Nettie when, out of the blue, Lacey turned to her mother with an unexpected question.
     “Mom, whatever happened to your dad?”
     Jessa was rather surprised that Lacey hadn’t asked this question before. She remembered having a conversation about this with Logan when he was around the same age and she answered her the same way she had answered Logan, “He died before I was born.”
     “Oh.”
     Jessa figured that was the end of it. But Lacey had another question.
     “Have you ever tried to find his family? Wouldn’t it be so cool to meet them and see what they look like?” Lacey’s eyes lit up as she pondered the excitement of solving a lifelong mystery. This was so typical of Lacey. Always dreaming about possibilities and ever passionate about solving mysteries.
     It wasn’t like Jessa had never considered it before. Once, when she was seventeen, she and her mother had had a long talk about it. Nettie had given her blessing for Jessa to search for her dad’s family but something had held her back. Perhaps it was the knowledge that her father had left his family under bad terms. Whatever it was, she had decided at that time to just be content with her life the way it was.
     Until today. Until Lacey’s question.
     Perhaps it was because Jess was now truly an orphan—both her mother and father were gone. It made her feel empty. Honestly, this whole day was making her feel a little unsettled inside. She gave a deep sigh. Funny how a question from a 13-year-old can change everything.

 

Hallmark’s Reason for the Season

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The other night I was watching a Hallmark Christmas movie. Yes, I know they are super predictable and, generally, have the same theme every single time. But don’t judge me. They are clean and, overall, fairly innocent. At least that is what most of us believe.

But is this true? Are they as innocent as we may think?

Does something become good for us to watch simply because it doesn’t have bad language, sexual content, or violence?

While I am not saying that we should never watch Hallmark movies, I do think there is some value in evaluating the messages of their movies and to contemplate how this production company is secularizing Christmas.

So let’s go back to the other night, when I was watching that movie. At one point, there is a conversation about the meaning of Christmas. What is the meaning of Christmas?

Do we hear something about Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men? Do we hear of the Christ child and the glorious hope for man to be reconciled with God? No, instead, we hear some ambiguous message about the “love we all feel in our hearts towards each other”.

Look, I am not saying that we don’t feel those things around the holidays. And I am not saying that is not a good thing. But things have really changed.

Years ago, even the secular movies would have made some reference to baby Jesus. Some movies would even mix baby Jesus and Santa all together. But at least there was a reference to the religious message of the season.

It wasn’t until the other night that I realized just how secular our nation has become. Hollywood rarely even mentions the name of Christ during Christmas. City scenes never have a manger scene and Luke 2 is never read. God is seldom mentioned and if He is, it usually has to do with a very unbiblical portrayal of angels.

Instead, in many ways, this culture has gone back to the pagan roots of the holiday and Christmas has become a godless holiday centered on the glory of man and materialistic consumerism.

So what does this mean for us? I think it means two things–

First, we each need to decide just how much we are going to fill our minds with entertainment that promotes a very secular worldview during this holiday season. I am not saying it is a sin to watch the occasional Hallmark movie. But let’s be very aware of what each movie is saying (or not saying) about Christmas. Let’s not mindlessly consume the entertainment of the age, even if it is morally okay. We need to always give thought to the philosophies that are being taught in anything we watch and that includes Christmas movies.

(and perhaps we should think about watching less entertainment during this time of year and filling our evenings with things that have nothing to do with the television…)

Second, we have a special way we can now stand apart from the world over the holiday season. As we talk about Christmas with our neighbors, co-workers, and friends, let’s be sure to mention the Bible’s reason to celebrate the season. Let’s consider the Gospel and how we can share it with those we love as we give gifts. And let’s keep the focus of Christmas where it belongs for our children, our grandchildren, and for our extended families as much as we possibly can. Let’s not get caught up in the shallow, secularized version of Christmas that is now celebrated by most of the world.

Every now and again I realize just how very different America is compared to when I was a kid (and, honestly, it wasn’t all that great then). But it wasn’t until the other night as I was watching that movie that I realized just how far we have come from our Christian roots. Many would laud that as a wonderful thing–they have been working towards that for years. But they are short-sighted and blissfully unaware of where relativism and immorality lead any culture. It is a sad, sad thing to watch.

Thankfully, through it all, we have the opportunity to shine brightly for Christ. We have a wonderful message of hope to share. Let’s share it freely and often. And there is no better time to shine than during the Christmas season!

 

 

America 2016

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America the Beautiful? Or America the Broken? Perhaps on this patriotic holiday–July 4–in the year 2016, it is a little bit of both.

My pastor said something in church that summarizes exactly how I feel about my country. He shared the mix of emotions he felt as he listened to our country’s anthem the other day. What used to fill him with pride to be living in such a great country, now also brings shame. He expressed the feelings of so many of us perfectly.

I love my country. And even now, amidst the increasing lawlessness and evil, I still love my country. I am also heartbroken and ashamed of where we are headed. The grace of God that has been so wonderfully shed on this country throughout its history is now being withdrawn. If our eyes are open to truth, this is something we cannot deny.

Wildfires, tornadoes, and floods are happening in record numbers across this nation. Shootings and other crimes–once a real rarity–are now becoming a part of daily living. While all of this certainly has happened in the world for all time, it is becoming more and more frequent as we leave absolute values behind us and have declared that man can do what is right in his own eyes. Of course, we know from the book of Judges in God’s Word that this is a recipe for disaster if there ever was one. And I believe we are seeing this truth play out right before our own eyes. Sometimes I am filled with such sadness and despair over the state of our nation.

To many of us, it looks as if the American Dream is dying a slow and very painful death.

I find this July 4 so bittersweet. As I already said– I still love my country. I am filled with such gratitude that I can still freely go to church and hold Bible studies. I am thankful that I can go to the store feeling reasonably safe. We are blessed that we can travel on roads without fear of being kidnapped or murdered. On this day, most of us have enough to eat, a home with running water and electricity, and a car–material blessings that the majority of the world does not have. We still have it SO GOOD in this nation, even with the downward spiral we are currently in.

Will it change? I have my doubts. But I do know it can change. With God, anything is possible. But while we wait and watch, let us not grow weary of doing good and standing for truth. Let us remember that our safety and security should never be found in a country or its government, anyway. God alone is our hope. He alone is our solid ground.

I had a little free time over the weekend and decided to put a little video together. Please keep in mind that I am quite an amateur at making videos. I am sure that this is no technical masterpiece. But, for some reason I cannot explain, this idea came to me and it seemed the best way to express what I am feeling about our nation on July 4, 2016. I hope you enjoy it–

 

Rescued

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Imagine you are on the ocean a thousand miles from land. You are literally dying from thirst. Your lips are parched and your skin blistered from the scorching sun. The only thing keeping you from drowning in the unfathomable depths of the endless ocean is a flimsy yellow raft. The days are ticking by and death seems close at hand.

Or imagine you are in the belly of the earth, deep inside a cave. You have lost your source of light and you have lost your way. You don’t know where to turn and the darkness is so thick you can touch it. You can’t even see your hand in front of your face for there is not a hint of light anywhere. You recognize that you are never going to be able to find your way out and you start facing the fact that you are going die a slow, torturous death in this place, leaving behind a pile of bones that someone may stumble onto some day in the distant future.

In both scenarios, all hope is gone. Your life on earth is over and you know it. You have faced the facts and are simply waiting to die.

Now, suppose that–against all odds– someone rescues you. Not only does he rescue you, but he gives his life to save you. He knew that your rescue depended upon the sacrifice of his life but he chose to save you, anyway.

How would you feel about this person?

What kind of passion would you express when you tell the story of your dramatic rescue? What kind of words would you use when describing the person who gave his life to save you?

Most people would tell the story of their rescue in great detail, infusing their words with zeal and fervor. They would try to convey –as much as words would allow– the deep, abiding love and tremendous awe and respect they have for the stranger who saved them.

And this passion is given for a temporary escape from something that’s still going to happen eventually. Our rescue hasn’t cheated death permanently–it’s just given us a bit more time here on earth.

Why do we feel such great passion about a temporary physical rescue and yet feel little or no passion regarding our spiritual rescue?

We were sinners completely without righteousness (Romans 3:23). We were headed for eternal separation from God. Eternal separation (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). Our final destination was going to be hell–a place of torture and fire (Luke 16:24).

Unending punishment was certain.

We were without hope.

And then came the day long ago that God put His plan of salvation into motion. He sent His only Son to the earth as a baby. That baby would grow into a man who would die on a cross for the sins of man. He took our sins on Himself and covered us with His blood and righteousness so that we could be reconciled to the One, True God!

And then He rose again, victorious over death!

O, Death where is thy sting? O, grave, where is thy victory? (I Corinthians 15:55)

We haven’t been given temporary respite from death–we have had an eternal rescue!

And yet, most of us Christians talk about our rescue like we talk about what we are having for dinner. There is no passion, no fervor. We don’t tell our neighbors and we don’t tell our friends. In fact, some of us do all we can to avoid bringing up the subject, nervous and afraid to speak the name of Jesus.

But how can we keep from praising His name? How can we keep from singing?

Salvation is far more than an intellectual acknowledgement. Even the demons acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God (Matthew 8:29). Salvation is a change of heart.

If our hearts have been changed, then praise should spill forth without effort because we have been rescued! We have left the roiling sea of sin and have found the solid anchor that holds! We have left the inky, black darkness that has blinded us and have walked into marvelous light!

How can we keep from praising Him? How can we keep from singing?

I know this type of  passion and fervor in “Christianity” isn’t always acceptable. We don’t want to get too excited because we don’t want to look strange. But have you been to a sports event lately? Or a concert? Passion and zeal abide there for literally no reason. And we can’t bring some excitement to our dramatic, eternal rescue from sin and hell?

As we focus this week on the death and resurrection of Christ, let us consider what Jesus did for us and the passion we have towards what happened. Let’s ponder our wretched sinfulness and reflect on how He reconciled us to God, gave us eternal life, and saved us from eternal damnation. If we are truly saved, we will find that we can’t keep from praising His name and singing out!

 

Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name. (Psalm 18:49)

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him. (Psalm 28:7)

Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof. (Isaiah 42:10)

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. (Hebrews 13:15)

How Do You Say Good-Bye?

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This year brought so many changes into my life. It was an exciting, exhausting, and emotional year. With two weddings and the announcement that we are going to be grandparents, life took a turn that I knew was coming but, for some reason, was not really prepared for. I guess it’s a little like when you get married or become a parent–you can try to prepare for what you know is coming, but there is no way to really understand until you are in the midst of the new situation, taking one day at a time.

Another big change we had this year was that one of our daughter’s and her husband moved across country after their wedding. The two of them made plans to come home for the holidays and so only three weeks ago we were waiting for them with great anticipation. We have had a wonderful time with them the past couple of weeks.

But, eventually, our final moments together approached.

We are all familiar with them. Those last few hours of time together. Wanting to make the most of it. But not really quite sure how. Talking about weather and places and people. Trying to ignore the fact that, all too soon, we will have to say good-bye for another few months or longer.

Every hello means an eventual good-bye. For some of us we are the visitors, packing up our families to stay with parents or siblings over the holidays. For others of us, we are the parents and siblings the rest come to see. Whatever we do over the holidays, most of us experience sweet hellos and sad good-byes during this time.

We get together, spending an unusual amount of time together. We try to get along, knowing that we won’t see each other again for who knows how long. It can be a challenge for so many people to live together in one house, but, for so many of us, this time spent with family is just such a wonderful blessing.

It is a strange emotion–this dread to say good-bye to our loved ones but this yearning to go back to the routine of life that we are so familiar with. And we wonder why we can’t have our routine and the people we love in our lives at the same time. But that’s just not how it is. And, for many of us, will never be how it is. It’s just life in this day and age of careers, callings, and desires drawing people to live in places all over the country. And all over the world.

And so we have joyful holiday reunions and tearful good-byes. And we thank the Lord for bringing us together again and ask Him if He would bless us with another visit again next year.

And then things settle back down to our normal routine again and we have to be satisfied with e-mails, texting, and Skype. It’s just how it is.

No spiritual lesson here today. Just a mother’s heart that was sad to say good-bye. Again. Do we ever get used to this?

 

One of our attempts at a family photo over the holidays…

p.s. Did you make it through the 2015 Bible Challenge? If so, visit my growing4life Facebook page and let me know!

‘Twas the Day After Christmas

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‘Twas the day after Christmas
And all through the house
All had grown quiet
Even my spouse.

Off doing their own things
The family had scattered
I sat quite alone
Not sure if that mattered

Another Christmas
Had come and had gone
It had happened so fast
I stifled a yawn

But then I remembered
How lovely it’d been
I was so blessed
I just had to grin

Once more we had joy
We had love, we had laughter
We filled up our insides with food
Up to the rafters

What more could you ask for?
For what else could you yearn?
Gathering with family
Before the calendar turns

All of this joy
All because of the Savior
Who came to the earth
Tucked into a manger

Because of this baby
Fellowship here is sweet
And because of this baby
Promises are replete

Oh, what a thought!
Oh, the great story!
Knowing forever
We will be together in glory!

Because of the cross
Because God made a way
To be reconciled to Him
On that most marvelous day

And so I sit here
By the light of the tree
Alone but content
Because God has so blessed me

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