God has given me a Christmas story to write every year since 1996, except for those few years I was too busy to stop and make time for Him. I’m sorry, Lord.
The following is this year’s Christmas story. I was blessed to share it with the Outreacher and didn’t think I would be sharing it here…it’s pretty long! But this morning, God nudged me a few times and told me to post it. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s not to question God but to obey Him.
A Broken Christmas Bulb
After my husband Ted passed away, I started waitressing downtown at a quaint and cheery place that always smelled like coffee and fried potatoes. I was thankful for the income to support Nick, our little boy, and I was deeply grateful for the way serving others filled this unfamiliar, empty part of my life. It even seemed to stop the void from getting deeper somehow. At least for now.
I scurried to the window to pick up a plate of biscuits slathered in sausage gravy. The cook scowled at me, his mustache twitching as if to warn me. Obviously he still had issues about the bowl of tomato soup I dropped last week.
Carefully I set the plate in front of a customer who reminded me of Jimmy Stewart; tall and lean with that old-fashioned dreamy quality. I wondered if he heard that a lot.
“That tree is a real beauty,” he said motioning with his fork to the Christmas tree in the corner decorated in large red bulbs, slivers of tinsel, and all sorts of angels.
“I guess the owner loves Christmas,” I said.
“What about you?”
“Me? I don’t know.” I didn’t want to tell this stranger that it would be my first Christmas without Ted and that Nick, who was only four, couldn’t understand why his Dad wouldn’t be there. I glanced around to make sure the cook wasn’t glaring at me from the kitchen before I finally answered, “Christmas is okay.”
“Look, I better get back to…”
“Don’t look now but the cook is staring at you,” he whispered.
“What?” I turned around anyway. The cook’s back was to us.
Jimmy, or whatever his name was, laughed. “You’re awfully jumpy.”
“You don’t understand. I need this job. And I’ve already screwed up enough as it is.”
“I’m sure you’re doing fine.” He wiped his hand on his napkin before extending it to me. “I’m Bob.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said shaking his hand. “I’m Clara.”
I raced back to see a lineup of plates. Some were for me, others for Rose, the jolly waitress who continuously hummed. She wore her own frilly apron and called everyone “dear.” I liked her instantly.
As I dropped off two burgers and fries for a man and woman who each had a laptop and paperwork spread out across the table, the bell over the door began to jingle so much I thought someone was playing with it. A large group of children filed into the restaurant as “Silent Night” played from the radio. I felt the color drain from my face and plop somewhere beside the many coffee stains on my sneakers when I realized they were heading for my section. Three adults and eleven kids. I started to sweat on the top of my head.
“I can help you,” Rose whispered. “If you’d like.”
“Please,” I whispered back. Rose knew I was nervous with big crowds and so many opportunities to spill things.
We pushed the three empty tables together that were near the tree in the corner.
“We’re on a field trip to see where baby Jesus was born,” a little girl wearing long braids explained.
“Remember, they’re acting like it’s Bethlehem,” corrected a woman wearing a furry vest. “So you can understand what it was like.” Suddenly she yelled, “Dylan! Don’t touch that tree!”
Dylan, a boy about six or seven with curly blonde hair, sank in his chair like the weight of everything he’d ever done wrong was tugging at him. The angel on the tree behind him swayed gently.
After handing out water in plastic cups with lids, chaperone’s orders, I went around the table and wrote down each child’s order; either grilled cheese sandwich or hamburger, again chaperone’s orders. As I finished scribbling down the final order, the little boy beside Dylan slid his arm across the table and knocked Dylan’s drink onto his lap. Thankfully it still wore its lid, but Dylan instinctively shot back in his chair and right into the Christmas tree. One of the red bulbs fell and crashed to the floor.
“Dylan!” yelled the woman in the vest.
My heart literally hurt for him, as if he were my own Nick who was also followed by that menacing and capable shadow called “trouble.”
“That was me. My fault,” I said before I realized what was coming out of my mouth. “Oops,” I said to Dylan who was dumfounded.
I carefully picked up the pieces, cradling them in a napkin. It didn’t hit me until I was almost in the kitchen that the cook may try to get me fired over this. My stomach twisted into a tight knot at the thought of losing the only income Nick and I had to survive on.
I avoided the cook, deposited the pieces in the trash, and washed my hands. I started for the front of the restaurant when I realized Jimmy Stewart, no, Bob, was waiting on me at the counter with his cup.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I had a little mishap and I…”
He nodded and waited.
When I reached out to take the coffee pot from its warmer, I realized my finger was bleeding. I must have cut myself on the broken bulb.
“There’s a first-aid kit on the wall in the kitchen. On the left,” Bob said.
Without questioning how he knew that, I hurried off.
After taking care of the cut, I made another attempt to give Bob, who’d returned to his booth, some more coffee.
“Sorry,” I said as I started to pour. “Guess I’m having a bad day. A bad year,” I whispered. The stubborn tears began to spill out. I leaned back, hoping they wouldn’t fall in his coffee.
“It can’t be that bad,” Bob said.
I smiled through the tears, feeling ridiculous that I was opening up to a stranger and added, “I don’t know. I guess I’m just feeling a little like that bulb. Broken.”
“You know whatever is broken in your life, Jesus can mend it. You just have to give Him the pieces.”
I nodded. It reminded me of something I’d heard at Ted’s funeral service. Something I needed to hear again.
“And if I might add, what you just did over there for that little boy, taking the blame like that…that was really something. Reminds me of what Jesus did for us.”
I wiped the back of my hand across my wet cheeks. “What do you mean?”
“Jesus was innocent and took the blame for all of our wrongdoings, all of our sins. Although He paid a much bigger price than a cut on his finger.”
“But I still might lose my job.” I couldn’t believe I was comparing Jesus’ crucifixion to something so minor. “I’m sorry.” I sighed. “I didn’t mean…”
“I know. But I can assure you your job is safe.”
“Oh really? How can you do that?”
Bob stuck his hand out for the second time and said, “Bob Tranter, owner of this establishment and that bulb you claim you broke.”
My mouth slid open but no words came out. I shook his hand again feeling foolish.
“Now I can’t offer you wholeness like Jesus can, but I can offer you a promotion,” he said.
“Excuse me?” I slid down into the booth across from him.
“My wife and I are planning to expand this business in a new direction. A food truck to reach the needy. We need someone with a compassionate heart to oversee it, to manage it. Are you interested?”
More tears came and Mr. Tranter handed me a napkin from the holder.
“So does that mean we have a deal?” he asked.
I nodded with the wet napkin pressed against my face.
“Good.” His eyes softened. “And if you’re going to compare yourself to a broken bulb, Clara, just keep in mind that over time, those broken pieces will be mended in such a way that only the reflection of the One who restored you and made you whole will be visible.”