If you’d like to read more on the story behind my Christmas stories, please click here. Merry Christmas and God bless!
The last thing I wanted to do after work was stand in a long line at the store to buy a gingerbread-house kit hours before the contest, but Tommy was worth it. I shifted the box in my arm, tugged at my scarf, and tried to hold my breath when I neared the case of cinnamon-scented pine cones.
“Rebecca? Rebecca Trenton is that you?”
I hadn’t heard anyone call me that name in years. I thought about ignoring it but decided eventually my home town would know I’d come back to live in my deceased parents’ house, so I gave in and turned to face my past.
“I thought that was you!” she squealed. “It’s me, Mallory Westfield. Spryer now.” She held up her ring. “We went to school together. Remember?”
I remembered. I remembered how she ruthlessly picked on me all through high school.
“You look so…different,” she said eyeing me up and down.
Of course I didn’t have a bit of makeup on and was wearing one of Greg’s old ball caps. Wonderful. I should have just written “total wreck” on my forehead to clear things up. Mallory, on the other hand, hadn’t changed a bit: tan in the middle of winter, dark red lips, and enough flashy jewelry to blind you when she stood in the sun.
“I heard you got a…”she leaned in to whisper, “divorce. Is that true?”
“Next, please,” the cashier said.
I shrugged at Mallory and placed my box on the conveyor belt. I quickly paid, smiled when Mallory mentioned getting together, and bolted to my car feeling both exhaustion and relief.
Tommy was waiting at the door when I got home. “Did you get it?”
I handed him the bag and smiled. He was such a good kid, always positive. No easy task considering the divorce and how he had to leave all of his friends behind.
I paid the sitter, took off my coat, and stuck a frozen pizza in the oven. Guilt washed over me. Tommy deserved better than eating cheap pizza with his mom, sticking candy to gingerbread, and hurrying off to some small-town contest. I knew Greg would have planned more. He would have taken his son sled riding or to see some extravagant Christmas lights. Something grand. Something more memorable.
“Can I start now?” he asked, his hazel eyes pleading. The freckles on his cheeks made him look younger than his ten years while the braces on his teeth made him look like a teen.
“You better,” I said, noticing the time. “But you’ll need to eat dinner when it’s ready.”
He tore open the box and dug out the bags of assorted candies and gumdrops. And when I returned from tossing a load of laundry in the washer, kicking it and begging it to run just one more time, he’d already covered a cookie sheet with tinfoil and was reading the directions.
I opened a bag of chips and cut the pizza when it was ready. We ate off of paper plates and drank warm root beer from the cans.
“Did you read all of the directions?” I asked in between bites.
He shrugged and swallowed. “Did you ever enter the contest when you were little?”
“Once,” I said, stopping there. My pitiful gingerbread house with the tiny candy cane fence must have looked like a run-down garden shed next to the mansions some of the other kids built. One girl even had a gingerbread town and airport using her brother’s toy plane. Of course she won. After that, I never wanted to do it again. But I couldn’t tell Tommy that. He’d been so excited to build one, especially when he realized the grand prize was three-hundred dollars. I shook my head. I should have bought another kit and made one myself.
The washer was off balance and rumbled. I hurried to the basement, lifted the washer lid, and repositioned the load. “Okay,” I said. “Now one more time.”
Tommy had already wolfed down his dinner and was kneading the bag of frosting when I returned.
“Do you want some help?”
“No. You told me I could do this by myself.”
I held up my hands. “Sorry. I was just checking.”
I finished my slice of pizza, stuck the rest in the refrigerator, and went upstairs to take a hot shower to wash off the grease from working as a fry cook all day.
Tommy was shouting for me to hurry when I finished blow drying my hair. I spritzed a little perfume on, hoping I wouldn’t have another Mallory episode, and rushed downstairs and into the kitchen.
My heart sank and I tried to hide the look of horror on my face. His gingerbread house was anything but a house. It was a total wreck. The walls were leaning inward, one caved in all the way as if hit by an earthquake. The frosting looked as if it had exploded on the tilted roof and gumdrops were stuck together in a pile as if he didn’t have time to use them. The colored candies were scattered like confetti in the wind all over the structure. More guilt came as I realized the ridicule that was to come. I should have skipped showering and helped him build the thing.
“Come on, Mom. I don’t want to be late,” he said zipping up his coat.
“Do you…” I cleared my throat. “Do you have a name for it?” The rule had always been that you had to name your gingerbread creation. Some fancy lodge or ski resort name usually ended up winning. Winter Crystal Chalet or something like that.
“I got it, Mom. Can we please just go?”
I took a deep breath and silently prayed that the contest would be cancelled.
The community hall was packed and I felt the stares, heard the whispers, and even caught a few laughing as we walked by. My face burned. Not out of embarrassment but out of something else entirely. I wanted to protect Tommy. But once he registered his gingerbread house, it was too late.
He settled his dilapidated house beside a three story gingerbread restaurant, complete with sugar-glass windows. And to make matters worse, the owner of the restaurant was Mallory’s daughter.
“My, is that…unusual,” Mallory said, holding her hand over her mouth as she stared at Tommy’s creation. Her daughter stood quietly at her side, not cracking a smile but looking to the floor.
I ignored Mallory and sat on a plastic chair beside other parents as we watched the judging begin. We were informed that each contestant needed to state his name, age, title of creation, and inspiration. I wondered if Tommy were regretting his decision to be a part of this.
Mallory’s daughter began. “I’m Sylvia Spryer. I’m nine and my title is, ‘The Shimmering Chalet.’”
“And your inspiration?” the judge asked.
Sylvia shrugged. “My mom.”
The judges took their time inspecting it and then moved on to Tommy. I held my breath as he took the microphone from the judge. A few parents around me snickered.
“My name is Tommy Sullivan. I’m ten years old. My title is, ‘The Master Carpenter’s Project” and my inspiration is Jesus.”
The judge asked, “Can you elaborate on that?”
“Sure.” Tommy held the microphone boldly, like this was second nature to him. His voice didn’t quiver but held solid as he said, “Our lives are like projects or houses in Jesus’ hands. He is the Master Carpenter and He fixes what is broken and rebuilds us. No matter what damage has been done and how bad things look,” he said looking at me, “Jesus can fix us.”
The whispering and the giggling stopped. No one said a word. The microphone squealed when Tommy handed it back to the judge. I did my best to stifle my tears but obviously failed when another mom seated beside me handed me a tissue, keeping one to dab her own tears.
As we walked to the car after the contest, Tommy said, “I’m sorry I didn’t win the money. I really wanted to buy you a new washing machine.”
“Oh, Tommy,” I said, the snow falling gently around us. “You gave me so much more than a washing machine.”
“What? A free large pizza for coming in second?” he said grinning.
I smiled back. “You made me realize everything is going to be okay. We’re just under renovation. And we’ve got the Master Carpenter on the job.”
I once had a writing teacher who taught to look for the unnoticed, the dismissed things in life and write about them. He explained writers are to use peripheral vision.
I thought about that for a long time. How do we use peripheral vision?
In writing, it means to catch those hidden gems, those tiny details in a scene: the smell of fried potatoes as they hiss from a cast-iron skillet, the man wearing a suit and tie who digs into his pocket, pulling out a fifty-cent comb to smooth his already sleek hair, or the sparrow hopping in the slushy parking lot who stops to peck at a piece of plastic.
But what if God wants us to use our peripheral vision for His purpose?
Maybe He wants you to notice the elderly man who can’t reach a bag of potato chips and not only help him with it but talk to him; you may be the only person he’s talked to in days. Or maybe the teen across from you at the gas station just learned his parents are getting a divorce and he could really use some kindness. Perhaps there is a woman you see every day who is hiding behind her smile, loneliness slowly breaking her apart.
They are out there. And it’s no accident that you are out there with them. Let God use you to reach them.
But the forgotten are not always those we’ve never met or those we believe society has dismissed. Sometimes they are those in our lives we simply get too busy to remember.
I know, it’s the Christmas season and you’ve got a million things to do.
But what if instead of worrying about all of those things, you honor Jesus’ birthday by remembering those He came to save, those the world seems to have forgotten.
“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Hebrews 13:16 NIV.)
“What if?” is a daydreamer’s go-to question.
What if, while I’m hurrying through the empty parking lot with my bags of chocolate and coffee, I find an old skeleton key with an address carved into it that leads me to a deserted house with a worn lock box on the front? What if I tiptoe up the splintered steps, careful not to disturb the slanted railing, and slip the key into the lock? What if I lift the creaking lid to find…
“What if” is a great way to get lost in a daydream or a story. And it’s a great question to consider, especially at Christmas.
What if I call him to say, “I’m sorry?”
What if I send her a card with the words, “I miss you?”
What if I forgive them?
What if I admit I was wrong?
What if I show up on her doorstep and without a word, hug her?
What if I show the world that Jesus is in me?
What if I refuse to complain about the long lines at the stores?
What if I let the Holy Spirit stir me to help someone in need?
What if I obey God when He asks me to do something uncomfortable?
What if I refuse to get distracted this Christmas season and keep Jesus first in my mind?
The “What if” daydreams can sometimes, if acted upon, heal and mend the brokenness in our lives, even if our attempt is rejected. We can have peace knowing we tried.
What if you and I prayed and asked God how we can shine like bright stars for Him this season?
Oh what stories we might share.
“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe…” (Philippians 2:14-15 NIV.)
If you’d like to read more on the story behind my Christmas stories, please click here. Merry Christmas and God bless!
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.”