Reading, “Flowers in February”

If you’re struggling with loss or discouragement during this cold and dark season, I pray my short story, “Flowers in February” reminds you of the unending hope you have in the Lord. ♥️

Be blessed, and thank you for watching!

(If you’d rather read the story instead of watching this video, click here.

Believe

With things still spinning outside my window (pandemic, politics etc.), I’ve been calling out to God and asking Him what I should do.

I mean, really. We all have a part. We all have a purpose. (Are you asking Him what you should do?)

For me, it all goes back to the word He gave me for this year:  Believe.

At first I thought the word was just for the Christmas story I wrote last month. But the more I travel into January, I know it’s for this year. (He gave me another word, but I believe that’s something He’s going to do and is already doing. But that’s for another post.)

But the believing, well, that’s up to you and me.

We believe God parted the Red Sea, and Jesus calmed the storm. We believe Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. We believe the countless times when Jesus showed up people were healed, changed, challenged, and redeemed.

Don’t let the storms, the cresting waves of this world threaten you, scare you, or send you running for cover, my friends.

Believe in God. Believe in His power and His promises. Believe in His faithfulness and His love. Believe that He never leaves you. Believe that He has good plans for your life. Believe that in all things He is working things out for the good of those who love Him. Believe that Jesus rose from the grave and is seated at the right hand of the Father right now, interceding for us. Believe the Holy Spirit is on planet Earth, inhabiting the spirits of the willing vessels who surrender and call out to Him, inviting Him to guide, counsel, comfort, and direct. We don’t have to wander around aimlessly and hopeless.

We don’t have to lower our heads as discouragement tries to weigh us down.

We lift our eyes to the hills, where our help comes from, and we praise our God because we KNOW He is faithful! He always has been and always will be. And nothing is impossible for Him or too hard for Him.

When we believe in God, we are turning our eyes (see, that’s our part) to focus on God instead of the noisy waves crashing all around.

Do you remember what happened when Peter took his eyes off of Jesus while he, Peter, was walking on water?

Peter began to sink. He cried out to Jesus, and immediately Jesus saved him.

Wherever you are today, my friends, don’t take your eyes off of Jesus. Stay focused on Him. And if you give into your flesh and you look away, don’t give into the sinking. Don’t give up. Call out to Jesus. Immediately, He will be there to lift you up.

Don’t doubt. Believe.

“‘But if you [Jesus] can do anything, take pity on us and help us. ‘If you can’? said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for him who believes.’ Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:22b-24 NIV.)

One Cookie at a Time

Thank you for reading, my dear friends. I pray this year’s fictional Christmas story blesses you. And I pray you have a blessed and very Merry Christmas as you remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ who came to save us all.

One Cookie at a Time

I nibbled on stale candy corn while my fingers hovered over my laptop. I hesitated to send the email, knowing it would make everything so final. But the truth was, the numbers were bad, and I’d already lost hope in my bakery. There was no point in dragging out the inevitable. I had to tell my faithful client list I would be closing at the end of the year. And I had to tell my daughter, Jenna, there would be no business to return to after graduating from college. I just couldn’t hold on anymore.

It was Christmas Eve, and it took everything I had not to close my doors permanently tonight, to hold out and wait for a miracle. But I knew that stuff only happened in Christmas movies to happy people with happy lives. Not the kind of life I’d lived—an ugly divorce, bankruptcy, and struggling to make a fresh start with only a dream and a box of my own recipes.

“It’s freezing out!” Jenna said, the bakery door jingling as she came in blowing on her hands.

I closed my laptop.

“Are you ready to go? The snow is really coming down.”

I sighed. “I’m ready. I just need to grab these last few boxes.”

“Deliveries?”

“No. Cookies that didn’t sell. No one will want to buy stale Christmas cookies after Christmas.”

“Mom, what have you always told me? ‘Pray and trust.’”

I couldn’t tell her I was too tired to pray, and I didn’t know how to hold onto trust when it seemed like grasping at sugar in a sandstorm. So instead, I put on a smile for my daughter, knowing when the time came to tell her the truth, maybe then she’d understand.

We loaded the white boxes onto the backseat of Jenna’s pickup and climbed into the cab. With my laptop and unwanted cookies in tow, I turned to see my bakery, dark and shrouded in a heavy snowfall. I was thankful the wind was bitter—it could explain the tears in my eyes.

Jenna steered away from the curb and whispered something.

“What was that?”

“I was praying.”

At least I’d done something right. Train up a child…

As we headed across town, the snow stopped falling, leaving the sidewalk as a satin ribbon of white. Evergreen wreaths dangled from the streetlights as their timid colored lights cast a glow into the night.

“Look over there,” Jenna said, motioning to a church parking lot with people spilling out of the building.

She pulled the truck over, reached around to the backseat, and lifted two boxes. She hopped out and handed one to a man and woman with three small children—all with scarves covering most of their faces. The other box she handed to an elderly couple. Their words of gratitude floated in the night air in a puff of white as Jenna returned to the truck.

“Come on, Mom. We’ve got more deliveries.”

“What are you talking about? It’s Christmas Eve.”

“Exactly.”

I tried not to laugh as my twenty-year-old daughter bent over the steering wheel with fierce determination like she’d done when she’d first learned to ride a bike.

“Over there.” Jenna gave a nod before parking at the community center. A man had just stepped out, silver keys shining in his hand.

She grabbed more boxes, jumped from the cab, and hurried to the man who chuckled at her offer while rubbing the back of his neck. She followed him inside and moments later, returned without the boxes. She hoisted herself into the truck, giggling.

“What in the world are you up to?”

“The community Christmas dinner is tomorrow. He told me donations were low this year, and they need cookies.”

My mouth slipped open. “Really?”

“Uh huh.”

Moments later, Jenna steered onto a dimly lit street. The stretch of houses, lonely without Christmas lights hanging from the porches or inflatable snowmen waving in the yards.

“I need your help, Mom. Take a box and leave it.”

I turned to inspect the backseat. “But we only have a few left. And leave it where?”

“At each house. Until we run out.”

I did just that, feeling a surge of adrenaline each time I bent to leave a box of cookies and hurrying away before anyone spotted me. As I was about to leave my last box on a dark porch, a light came on and the door creaked opened. I stepped back when a woman glared from her screen door. A little girl in pigtails ran to her side, but after spotting me, hid behind the woman’s leg.

“I’m sorry to bother you. I was leaving a box of Christmas cookies. I own the bakery down the street, and, well, I have enough to share.”

The woman reached out to take it, the hard lines of her face softening. “Thank you.”

I smiled, and as I turned for the truck, the woman gasped.

“Is something wrong?”

The little girl ran off to another part of the house, her feet thumping on the floor, while the woman gently held the opened box to her chest.

“It’s been a rough year,” she whispered. “A really rough year. My husband lost his job. Two weeks later, my sister passed away. I prayed God would help. Just give me a word to hold onto to get through everything, you know? Just a word. I wanted to believe He was going to help us, but it’s hard to believe when things seem so dark.” She paused to stare into the box. “But then you brought me this.”

I didn’t understand. They were just sugar cookies – frosted stockings, Christmas bulbs, and snowflakes with assorted sprinkles. That sort of thing. Nothing special.

The woman’s eyes filled as she carefully lifted one of the round bulbs from the box. It was frosted in red with white sugar crystals like a gentle dusting of snow. And written in the center in gold was one word: Believe.

I’d forgotten each Christmas bulb proclaimed that word like the angels announcing Jesus’ birth. Or maybe I’d forgotten the word altogether because I’d also found it hard to believe. It was hard to believe God hadn’t given up on me when everything seemed to be falling apart. I’d lost hope in so many things this year. I hadn’t realized until that moment that I’d even lost hope in Him.

“Are you ready, Mom?” Jenna asked from the sidewalk.

“Thank you,” the woman whispered. “Thank you for bringing me hope.”

The words I wanted to say lodged in my throat, so I simply nodded as my eyes began to fill.

I started for the truck, willing my tears to stop, as I peered down the street. We were able to leave a box of cookies at each house. It didn’t make sense. We didn’t have that many to share.

Later that night, Jenna curled up in the living room to watch a Christmas movie with a bowl of popcorn in her lap while I sat at the kitchen table. Reluctantly, I reached for my laptop to finish the email to my customers—those faithful clients who’d been so supportive but also struggled this year.

But when I opened my email, a message appeared in my inbox from the mayor, thanking us for sharing hope with so many—he was amazed the cookies had reached from one end of town to the other.

But we didn’t go that far.

Suddenly I remembered the One who multiplied a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread to feed thousands. And tonight, He’d multiplied hope and stretched it clear across town at a time when we all needed it. When I needed it. God wasn’t far away. He hadn’t given up on me or any of us. He was still the God of godly miracles and mighty rescues. Even if it meant using one cookie at a time.

I smiled and closed my laptop without finishing the email to my customers, knowing I needed to pray and trust. Even though things seemed dark, I found myself believing God still had a plan for us. And I couldn’t wait to see it light up the world.     

Thank you for reading! If you’d like to read another one of my Christmas stories, you can click on A Touch of Fiction at the top of the page, and you’ll find more of them there.

As I do every year, I’d like to bless someone through this Christmas story, but I’m doing something a little different this year. I’d like to give a shout-out to a local bakery owner, Amanda, at Ginger’s Bakery in Uhrichsville, Ohio. If you are blessed by this story, maybe you can give this wonderful bakery a shout-out of your own by ordering some of their delicious Christmas cookies – everything is made from scratch! To order, call (330) 691-7201. Thank you!

Merry Christmas!

          

Lost?

Homing pigeons know how to find their way home, even if they are hundreds of miles away. They are born with this ability (one theory – the ability to hear ultra-low frequencies). They have this internal compass that helps them get back home.

Humans are born with their own type of internal compass, leading them to know where they’ve come from and how to get back.

“He [God] has planted eternity in the human heart…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11b NLT.)

We came from God. We were created by Him:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 NIV.)

The way back to God is through Jesus Christ:

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6 NIV.)

When you feel lost, you can search and analyze and try to figure it out until you’ve exhausted yourself, giving in to discouragement or frustration.

Or you can find the answers in the Bible, God’s Word.

Your internal compass was designed to lead you to God and His Word. You know you were meant for more. You know you have a purpose. You know Someone bigger created you. Even if you don’t know who it is just yet. You want to know Him.

And just like the homing pigeons that can be thrown into confusion when planes interrupt the ultra-low frequency sounds, veering them off course, we get confused and can even veer off course when the enemy of our souls tries to interrupt or distract us from our internal compass with his deafening voice that sometimes slithers in like a whisper.

We may even head in the opposite direction, believing it’s the right way—confusion can do that.

So what can you do if you’re lost?

Call out to God. He does not cause confusion. He is the One you can count on for truth. He is, after all, your Creator. And He’s given you His Word, so you can know Him and His plans for your life. Read it.

God has given you a longing in your heart that will lead you to Him and to His Son, Jesus Christ. And it is Jesus Christ who will lead you home.

“[Jesus said,] In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2-3 NIV.)

(Photo from pexels.com.)

God Is Coming for You

God hasn’t forgotten you. In the middle of the storms raging in the world today, God still hears the quiet prayers of those calling out to Him. He still hears the tiniest of whispers calling out His name.

I believe He is listening for your voice. Today. Right now.

The enemy is going to try to magnify the darkness of the world, making it seem so large that you, your concerns, get swallowed up—like you’re whispering  into hurricane winds and your voice is too weak, small. You can shout, but no one will hear.

Satan wants you to lose all hope. He wants you to give up. Stop praying. Stop trying. Just give in. It’s useless. The world is one big mess, and you’re just one person. You can’t do anything to fix your own problems let alone the massive struggles of the world. Besides, God isn’t really listening to you and your little voice.

Rubbish. All of it.

God hears His children. Always. He never sleeps, so on those nights you can’t sleep, He calls you to curl up next to Him in the living room. When you’re in a meeting or in the middle of a conversation and you are in desperate need of guidance, God hears the silent prayers of your heart.

And when you are on your knees, sobbing into the carpet or standing during a church service and the tears are reaching clear down your neck, God stands beside you.

He sees the walls you’re trying to build again.  He knows why you built them before. He wants you to trust Him. Hand Him the bricks.

My dear friend, God is coming for you. He is going to rescue you. He is still the God of godly surprises and mighty rescues. Don’t think for even a minute that He doesn’t know how to reach you or how to get through to you. He created you. He knows you better than you know you.

He may come for you through the words of someone you haven’t seen in a long time—words that leave you standing in awe with more tears coming because you’ll see God has not forgotten you.

He may come for you through the mighty power of His Holy Spirit—speaking to you through your own mouth and the words He gives you. He may reach out to you from the pages of His Word—helping you to hear His voice clearer than before with eternal hope staring at you from words so profound and true they leave you trembling.

Or perhaps He will come for you, to love you and remind you He’s never going to leave you, through this very blog—so you will know His children are still out there in the world, in the storm, battling the darkness.

They are fighting for truth, for light, and for you. And more importantly:

God is fighting for you.

You are not alone. God is coming for you. Hold on.

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14 NIV.)

“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay.’” (Hebrews 10:35-37 NIV.)

Photo from pexels.com.

A Christmas Moment in July

 

 

table-setting-with-christmas-theme-3329110

As the blistering sun toasts our grass into a crispy brown, I’m thinking about Christmas.

Yes, that’s right. Christmas. In July. (Cue eye-rolling for those of you who think I’m nuts.)

Let me explain. I’m not thinking about the Christmas in July sale ads or even the Hallmark Christmas movies that are playing right now.

What I’m thinking is we could all use a Christmas moment.

A moment where we pull back from what’s going on in the world around us and focus in on a little miracle that wasn’t so little after all, changing our lives in a big way.

Jesus Christ. Our Savior. The Messiah. The One Who came to save us. The One Who’s coming back for us.

Of course, we can think about the smell of almond extract coming from the candy cane cookies baking in the oven (my daughter’s favorite). We can think about snuggling under a cozy blanket with a cup of hot cocoa while reading a Christmas book or watching a Hallmark Christmas movie. (Where’s the remote?!)

We can even think about snow, remembering how those delicate flakes reflect Christmas lights like wintry fireflies. Or the way the snow frosts the ground like a sugar cookie, those tiny flakes dazzling like sugar sprinkles in the moonlight.

We can remember Christmases where little feet in footy pajamas raced to the tree, sleepy eyes opening wide with anticipation and excitement. Or the first Christmas we wore wedding rings or just settled into a new house with hardly any furniture.

We can even remember final Christmases with someone we loved before we had to let go. Those painful moments replaced with joy when we remembered where they were going, Who they were going to be with, and the celebration they would experience like nothing we could even imagine.

And we can remember the moment when the true meaning of Christmas became real to us—when we began to understand the miracle that took place so long ago that still changes lives today.

The calendar may tell us Christmas is still months away. The temperature may be a scorching ninety-something and summer chores may be tugging on our shirt sleeves like impatient children. And it may be the season to toast marshmallows over a fire instead of plopping them into a mug of hot cocoa.

But Christmas is just a moment away. All we need to do is take the time to remember Jesus and be thankful.

And the joy that fills our hearts will undoubtedly spill out and into the world around us, reminding us all that when God brings great joy, He brings great hope.

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’” (Luke 2:10-11 NIV.)

 

(Photo from pexels.com.)

 

 

 

 

Amber’s Drawing

This is another fictional story to touch your life. I hope you enjoy it!

arts-and-crafts-child-close-up-color-159579fix

Amber’s Drawing

Little Amber Melancholy was usually nothing like her name. She was the happiest child I’d ever seen in all my years of teaching elementary school. Not only did her hazel eyes resemble ballerinas twirling in morning sunbeams, but the rest of her sparkled like she was a walking gem reflecting some great light.

But one Monday morning, things were different for Amber. As my first-graders brought their giggles and chatter into the classroom along with the smell of exhaust fumes from the buses and the chill that clung to their coats, Amber brought a heaviness with her. She didn’t smile, keeping those dimples that framed her smile hidden, and she didn’t wave to me from her desk or offer me a hug like most mornings. Instead, she quietly slipped into her chair without a peep. Something was terribly wrong, and I wondered if it had to do with her grandpa. Amber’s mom had told me that the child’s grandpa was terminally ill.

While some of the children compared weekend stories in the back of the classroom as they hung up their coats and tucked away their lunch boxes in their cubbies, I took the opportunity to talk to her, stooping down at her desk.

“Good morning, Amber.”

Her chin sunk low, nearly touching her chest.

“Is everything okay? You seem sad.”

She didn’t budge.

“Is there anything I can do? Would you like to talk?”

She shrugged. “Mommy said they weren’t always like that. That they used to be just like me.”

“Who are you talking about, sweetheart?”

“The people in wheelchairs.”

I knew Amber’s mom was a nurse at the hospital, so I asked, “Are you talking about patients at the hospital?”

She shook her head. “No. The place where my grandpa lives now with all the other people that stay in wheelchairs and beds all the time. He had to move there yesterday.”

I sighed, realizing they’d probably taken him to a place to receive palliative care.

“Oh, sweetheart. I’m so sorry.”

As the other children took their seats, I whispered to her, “Can we talk more about it later?”

Again, she shrugged.

As I returned to my desk in the front of the classroom, I silently prayed that God would show me how I could help this sweet child with such a tender heart. So young to carry such a heaviness. Class hadn’t even started when I felt a nudge to change what I’d planned for their art project.

Okay, Lord. Lead the way.   

Later that day, the children were in the cafeteria while I was alone in the classroom. I took a stack of drawing paper from the cabinet beside my desk. I had originally planned to have the children make lions and lambs from the cardstock patterns to hang beside the large “March” in the hallway but knew that would have to wait. Today it seemed God had something else in mind.

The classroom filled up quickly and it took a moment to quiet everyone down.

“Okay, children. It’s time for an art project.”

Usually when I made this announcement, Amber was on the edge of her seat with her hand in the air, pleading to help pass out materials. But today she chewed on her fingernail as she stared at the floor.

I took the stack of paper and handed each student a piece. “I’m going to ask you to draw something special for me today, so please wait to begin until I’ve given you my directions. And you can use whatever you’d like: pencils, markers, or crayons.”

After everyone had their paper and all eyes were on me, I began.

“I’d like you to pretend you’re someone else, and I’d like you to draw what you would see if you were looking through their eyes. For example,” I said, picking up the lamb pattern and showing it to the class, “if you were a lamb, what would you see?”

“Lots of grass,” one child said.

“And dirt,” another shouted, “with worms!”

I smiled. “Probably. And if you’re looking through the eyes of an ant, would things look really big or really small to you?”

“Really big!” they shouted.

“That’s right. So whose eyes are you going to look through? It can be anyone. An animal. A person. When you decide, draw what they might see.”

This had been an idea I’d gotten for an art project last year when a student asked me if eagles thought we looked like bugs or rocks when they were up in the sky really, really high. I’d loved the idea and knew God had reminded me of it today. Only, I wasn’t exactly sure how it might help Amber.

I returned to my desk, giving the children time before making my rounds to encourage them, and realized some of them seemed a little bored with the idea. Thankfully, Amber was not one of them. She was busy drawing, her hand moving quickly as she switched back and forth between markers and crayons, her tongue sticking out slightly as she focused.

When a few had finished, I weaved my way through the rows of desks to have a look.

“Whose eyes am I looking through?” I asked Maize, noticing her drawing of what appeared to be a room with a purple blanket on the bed and dolls and boxes on the floor.

“Beanie’s eyes,” she said. “He’s the bunny I got when I got my ears pierced, and he waits on my bed when I’m at school.”

“That’s wonderful, Maize! I feel like I’m really looking through Beanie’s eyes while he’s sitting in your room. Good job.”

She beamed, the freckles stretching across the tops of her cheeks.

“What about your drawing, Trevor? Whose eyes am I looking through?” I was guessing a fish or some other water creature because of the blue waves and the other fish in the picture.

“A bird. He’s swooping down for his lunch.”

“Oh, very good! I can see he has a lot of fish to choose from. I wonder which one he’ll pick.”

He considered the idea and started adding more to his picture, perhaps to make one fish look more appetizing than the others.

As I made my way through the class, nodding and offering praises to my budding artists, I had circled back around and was at Amber’s desk. I didn’t see her drawing because she held it to her chest as if it were extremely private.

“Would you like to share your drawing with me?” I asked.

I expected her to shake her head or maybe shrug. I even wondered if I might see a few tears, but she did something that surprised me. She smiled. My sweet, tender-hearted Amber Melancholy smiled, those gorgeous dimples making their long-awaited appearance. I felt myself exhaling slowly without even realizing I’d been holding my breath.

She held out her drawing to me, and I studied it. She’d drawn an open gate in the foreground with a whole crowd of children running to it. They had messy hair, dirty knees, and great big smiles on their faces. Some were holding hands and others were, it appeared, sprinting straight to the gate.

Before I could ask, she said, “This is what it’s like to look through God’s eyes.”

I was shocked and without words.

“The people that are sick and hurt,” she said, pointing to their knees, “are still little kids to Him. They’re not old or hurt or anything. And they’re smiling really big because they see Him.” She paused, looking back at her own drawing. “You can’t see God in the picture because you’re looking through His eyes, but He’s smiling even bigger than they are because they’re home. And they’re not sick anymore.”

“It’s lovely, Amber,” I whispered.

Her hazel eyes danced in their own light. “Can I take it home? I need to show my grandpa so he’ll know God is waiting for him and he doesn’t have to be sad. He’s going to get out of bed and run.” She stopped and pointed to a child that was eagerly running in the drawing. “That’s him right there. He’s the fastest one.”

I knew Amber had a great light shining from within her, and I had no doubt that light was from the One who’d helped her to see through His eyes that her grandpa was going to be just fine.

And I thanked God because I knew Amber was going to be just fine, too.

 

Thank you for reading this short story.  I hope you enjoyed it!

Also, another great big “Thank you!” to one amazing editor, Julie Schultz, for allowing this story to be a part of The Outreacher. God bless you, Julie, for all you do to further His Kingdom!

If you’re interested in reading more short stories, please click here

 

(Photo from pexels.com.)

Flowers in February

This is a fictional story I wrote a number of years ago and recently felt led to rewrite it and share it again. I hope you enjoy it!

background-backlight-blur-color-262713

Flowers in February

I met Walter after his wife died in February. It was a week after the funeral, and I arrived right on time with a bucket of supplies to clean the house he swore he’d never cleaned in the forty-eight years they’d lived there.

“Margaret always took care of it,” he explained when he greeted me at the door.

I nodded. I knew Walter needed more than a clean house.

“Can I fix you a cup of coffee or tea before I get started, Mr. Peterson?”

“Please, call me Walter. And coffee would be fine,” he said, moving to the recliner in the living room. “Margaret loves tea, but I’ve always been a coffee drinker.”

In the kitchen, I found everything I needed to make coffee, but I couldn’t find any cream or sugar. And the refrigerator was nearly empty with only a carton of expired milk and a few eggs. Just as I thought.

“I was going to fix some toast to go with your coffee, but I didn’t see any bread.”

“No. Margaret does all of the shopping.” He slipped off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

“I can take care of the shopping for you. If you’d like?”  I set his coffee down beside him, hoping he liked it black. I sat down on the couch with my own cup. “I hope you don’t mind if I join you before I start cleaning.”

“Margaret likes to clean… I mean, she liked to clean in the morning.”

“After her tea?”

“Yes. Tea was always first. She would have a cup and watch the birds empty the birdfeeder.” He took a sip from his cup, returning it to the table. “I was always filling those feeders. I didn’t mind. It was no trouble.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, how did you two meet?”

Walter’s eyes softened. “Her father owned the hardware store, and I was a carpenter. She said it was God’s plan all along.” He rubbed his hands together, the rough calluses sounding like sandpaper on wood. “The first time I saw her she had her hair pinned up, but it was slipping and falling in her face, and she was covered from head to toe in dust from working in the basement. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.”

He stared out the window before continuing. “When I was in Africa during World War II, she would write me letters. She had beautiful handwriting.” He paused. “When I saw my name in her handwriting and felt that crinkly blue stationery in my hands, I felt like the luckiest man in the world.”

“I’m sure she missed you.”

He nodded. “When I got home, I realized she had been working on paintings for me, of everything she wanted to share with me while I was gone.”

“Do you have a favorite painting?”

His brows furrowed. “Actually, there was one. The lake. She painted it in February, a few months before I came home.”

His gaze went to the ceiling as if he could see it there. “The lake at her parents’ house was frozen over, but she painted it as if it were a spring day. The water was bluer than blue and there were wildflowers, all different colors, and all around the lake and covering the field.”

“But she painted it in February?”

“Yes. It had been a very cold winter. But Margaret told me, ‘There is hope in color.’  When I got home, she said she never lost hope that I’d come back to her.”

I knew he was getting tired, so I took both of our empty cups to the sink and rinsed them and started cleaning in the den. I dusted the bookshelves and the framed photographs that hung on the walls. Each had a layer of thick dust coating the glass, perhaps when Margaret had been too sick to clean. There were pictures of a younger Walter with unruly, dark hair poking out from underneath his wool cap. And Margaret was elegant in her wedding gown, her smile lighting up the dark walls. There was no doubt her death was going to be a real struggle for Walter.

The following morning, I arrived right on time with a couple bags of groceries; some essentials and of course, sugar. I knocked on the door and waited.

“You again?” Walter asked. “I didn’t know if the agency would send someone every day. I’m not sure how this works. My son, William, arranged it. He lives in Florida.”

I stepped inside. “Well, you’re stuck with me again.”

As he went to the recliner, I noticed he was wearing the same brown cardigan and blue shirt. I hurried off to the kitchen to put away the groceries and cook breakfast, so I could sit with Walter. We ate scrambled eggs and toast while enjoying fresh coffee with sugar.

“I see you’ve got new neighbors,” I said.

“Neighbors?”

“There’s a moving van parked next door.”

“That’s the Conner’s old place,” he said. “They moved out last spring.”

I set my cup down, noticing a painting of a worn barn nestled in autumn leaves hanging on the wall. “What a beautiful painting. Is that one of Margaret’s?”

He shook his head. “I bought that for her after the fire.”

“Fire?”

“Our old farmhouse burned to the ground. We lost everything. More than I realized at the time.”

“What do you mean?”

“It felt like the devil was reaching for us with his fiery hands, and I just wanted to grab Margaret and William and get out of there. It was awful, just awful. William was only nine, but he was trying to console his mother who kept crying. We stood in the cornfield and watched it all burn up. And the wind took hold before any help came, and we lost the barn too. We lost it all.”  He shook his head. “If only I could have grabbed one of her paintings. Just one. I think it would have saved a piece of her.”

He rubbed his forehead as if he were trying to soothe the painful memory. “I lost a part of my wife that day. All the memories while we were apart, all her passion, all her spirit, had been reduced to ash just like our house. I begged her to try to paint again, told her it was still inside her. But she just couldn’t. I think she felt like she’d lost a child or maybe a part of her soul. She used to tell me the devil was after her, and the day he took her paintings was the day he won.”

I shook my head. “But that’s not true.”

“Well that’s just it,” he said. “I think she believed it, so she let him take that from her. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t think of the right thing to say.” He pressed his hands together. “I’ve never been good at that sort of thing.”

“So she never tried to paint again?”

He didn’t answer but stood. “You know, I’m not feeling very good. I think I’m going to go upstairs and lie down.”

“Okay,” I said, standing.

I watched him shuffle up the stairs before I began working in silence. Hours later while I scrubbed the kitchen floor on my hands and knees, I prayed and talked with God. Depression was sinking into Walter’s bones, and I needed to act quickly.

As I approached Walter’s house the next morning, I noticed a boy watching me from the house where the moving van had been. He was peeking out the window and when he realized I’d spotted him, he ducked down and disappeared.

I stepped onto Walter’s porch, but before I could even knock, he opened the door.

“Good morning,” he said, straightening a black tie.

“You look nice this morning.”

“I’m going to see Margaret. Is it okay that I leave?” he asked.

“Of course. I’ll get to work right away.”

After he left, I went upstairs to clean. There was one room I hadn’t been in yet. When I opened the door, the scent of baby powder greeted me as sunlight streamed through the lacy white curtains. A sewing machine sat abandoned with pieces of fabric stacked beside it and spools of thread lined up like loyal soldiers. But on the other side of the room, well, that was why I was here. I’d found it.

Resting in an easel was Margaret’s final painting. I knew it was true that she hadn’t painted since the fire, but here it was, the one she needed to paint for her own peace. The one she needed to paint for Walter’s peace as well. Perhaps the cancer made her realize how precious life is, and when God has given you a talent, you mustn’t waste it. Or perhaps she realized Satan couldn’t touch her. Maybe her faith had grown in the foreshadowing of her death, and she wanted to make a final portrait of the hope she found in God; a portrait that would be pleasing to her heavenly Father and crucial for her husband.

I had to sit down. The colors were mesmerizing. It was a beautiful and inspiring vision, and I couldn’t wait for Walter to see it.

He was gone most of the morning, and I was deeply concerned as I dusted and swept his bedroom and the guest room. I knew all about depression and what it can do to a person. I’d seen it many times, especially this time of year. It seemed Satan was busiest January through March. Perhaps it was because every December the world remembers and celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ and the hope He offers, and Satan wants to try and steal that hope while the earth is cold and dark.

The front door opened, and the frigid air followed Walter inside as I was folding the stack of newspapers by his recliner. It was obvious he’d been crying and was in a great deal of pain.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“I miss my wife.”  He held on to the back of the couch. “I miss her so much. I have this void in my soul.”

I spoke as tenderly as I could. “Let God fill that void.”

“How?” he whispered.

“Come with me.” I led him upstairs to Margaret’s sewing room.

He stopped outside the door. “I can’t go in there.”

“Why?”

His eyes filled. “Because I like to think she’s busy in there making a quilt for someone at church and that’s why I haven’t seen her in a while.” A tear broke free and traced a line down his weathered cheek.

“Please,” I said. “Please.”

I’d made certain not to touch a thing so the scent of baby powder and Margaret’s perfume would still be there. He closed his eyes, and I knew he could smell her. I also knew he was afraid to open his eyes, afraid to see an empty chair in front of the sewing machine. But he did open them and when his eyes found the painting, I watched as his tears fell from a place that must have ached beyond comprehension.

Walter neared Margaret’s last painting, slowly, as if he were afraid to move too quickly or it might disappear. He knelt in front of it, carefully reaching to touch it. So very tenderly, as if he were touching his wife’s hand, he allowed his fingertips to rest on the flowers. There, in front of him, Margaret had created a new image of hope for her husband, one that even surpassed her first painting of the lake. Once again, it was a painting of the lake at her parents’ house, and again, there were flowers surrounding the water’s edge and flowing across the field. But unlike the original painting, the field not only had wildflowers in every shade of yellow and red but a familiar farmhouse. And sitting on the porch was a woman in a rocking chair and at her side, an empty chair. Margaret was showing Walter that she was waiting for him; she was waiting for him in Heaven.

I moved in closer to speak to him.

“Margaret didn’t let Satan steal her hope and neither should you. You have to trust God and let Him fill that void.” I gently touched his shoulder. “And you have to understand that there is always hope, like Margaret found in her paintings. She saw it even in the coldest snows in February, even when she battled cancer. She realized her hope was in God all along.”

He nodded, not taking his eyes from the painting. He sat like that for a long time. Finally, he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and standing said, “I need to get this to the living room.”

A few hours later, after Margaret’s painting found a permanent place on the living room wall across from his recliner, after Walter and I ate pancakes lathered in butter and syrup while admiring the painting, and after I packed up all my cleaning supplies, the phone rang.

“Hello, William,” Walter spoke into the receiver. “I’ve got something wonderful… What delay?  But I don’t understand.”

Walter looked at me from the kitchen, and I knew it was time to go. I slipped into my coat, picked up my bucket, and started for the door.

“Just a minute,” Walter said as he hung up the phone. His lips pressed together as if he were angry, or perhaps he felt betrayed. “My son said the agency was sending someone over tomorrow to start cleaning, and they’re sorry for the delay in service.”

I took a deep breath before I began. “Walter, the agency didn’t send me.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I wasn’t really sent to clean your house but to minister to you.”

“Minister to me?”

“I was sent to help you find your way back. Back to hope and back to God.”

He thought for a moment. “Well, you’ve certainly done a good job of that.”

I smiled. “And that’s why it’s time for me to go. But you need to understand something, Walter. You are still alive. You need to live your life that way.”

His eyes seemed to search for something in front of him that he couldn’t quite see.

“Your purpose isn’t over. For starters, the little boy who moved in next door is going to need you. His parents just got divorced, and he could sure use a grandpa to show him how to make a really good snowball. And a birdfeeder. And when school starts in the fall, he’s going to need some help with his math homework.”

Walter’s eyes glistened. “I always wanted to be a grandpa.”

I smiled. But when I turned to leave, Walter Peterson did something that surprised and delighted me. He hugged me. And when he did, I felt his soul was beginning to heal. Thank you, Lord.

He let go of me, and I realized his eyes had changed. They were full of light and deeper in color, reflecting hope instead of anguish. And he had Margaret’s painting to remind him of that unending hope if he ever forgot.

 

Thank you for reading this short story.  I hope you enjoyed it!

Also, a great big “Thank you!” to one amazing editor, Julie Schultz, for allowing this story to be a part of The Outreacher. God bless you, Julie, for all you do to further His Kingdom!

If you’re interested in reading more short stories, please click here

(Photo by Pexels.)

 

A Star Shining in the Night

macro-shot-photography-of-star-with-lights-1671431

A Star Shining in the Night

I never liked the shed next to our house. Mom kept it locked with a silver padlock like there was something valuable inside, something worth protecting. But it reminded me of a slouching old man with a silver tooth, the peeling blue paint revealing gray slats underneath like gray stubble on his face.

“Run out to the shed and see if you can find some wrapping paper,” Mom said as she knelt on the carpet in the living room. “And don’t go rolling your eyes at me. You may be sixteen but…”

I walked out before she could finish telling me that I still needed to respect her even though I was a teenager. I’d heard the same sentence at least a thousand times since my thirteenth birthday; the birthday I celebrated at home without any of my friends because Mom said we didn’t have enough hamburgers to feed anyone other than my two brothers and me. I felt bad that she ate peanut butter again, and I offered to eat it too if I could at least invite Shay over. She still said no. I quit asking after that.

I stepped outside, the cold air taking my breath away like it did when I went swimming with Dad at the lake before the water warmed up. I wrapped my arms around myself, hoping to shield my body from the wind and the fat snowflakes, not wanting to go back inside for my coat; I was sure Mom’s lecture about respect was still dangling in the air like a cobweb I wouldn’t be able to escape.

Surprisingly the shed wasn’t locked; an open invitation to any thief walking by who might want to go through Mom’s secret stash. I pulled the door open and tripped my way through large coffee cans and cardboard boxes. Sitting on the table Dad used to keep in the garage at our old house were stacks of shoeboxes, each with their own assortment of costume jewelry, socks, or toy trucks and dinosaurs. Resting on the rusty metal chair Mom snagged from the dumpster at work was a brown paper bag holding a couple of curtain rods and a single roll of wrapping paper with red and pink hearts. I wished she could wrap Christmas presents in normal paper like everyone else. Last year she’d used wedding paper covered in doves with the word “love” written in silver. Aunt Rebecca had smiled at me when I handed it to her like it was completely normal to get a snowman mug wrapped in holy matrimony paper.

Everyone knew we were broke and that Mom visited every garage and rummage sale within a twenty-mile radius all year long to stretch her single paycheck. I liked it better when we could buy new things at the store before Dad died, before we had to move into our house with the slouchy old man shed and his fancy tooth.

“Hurry up!” Mom yelled.

I grabbed the wrapping paper, closed the door, and left it unlocked like I’d found it; maybe someone would steal the whole thing. As I hurried through the cold, I noticed the neighbor lady, Mrs. Switch or Fitch or something like that, staring at me from her window. She waved at me like she wanted me to come over, but I ignored her when Mom yelled again.

I rushed inside and stepped over my brothers who’d stretched out in front of the door to make paper airplanes from the coloring pages they ripped out of a snowman coloring book. I handed Mom the roll of wrapping paper.

“I thought you fell asleep out there.” She unrolled it and cut a section of the paper and started to wrap a gardening book she’d bought at the library book sale for a quarter and a pair of fuzzy socks for Aunt Rebecca. “I’ve got to get this done, so I can get ready for work.”

“I thought you were off today.”

“I know. But they offered us overtime.”

I sighed. “It’s Christmas Eve.”

She pulled a piece of tape from the dispenser. “I should be home in plenty of time to tuck you guys in.”

I crossed my arms. “I don’t need tucking in.”

“Somebody’s here!” Brady yelled, lifting off of his belly to sit on his feet while Brandon focused on perfecting his airplane.

I stepped over the coloring book pages and opened the door. It was the neighbor lady Mrs. Snitch or Twitch holding a plate of cookies covered in plastic wrap.

“Hello, dear. I tried to get your attention earlier. I’ll be leaving in the morning to go to my son’s, but I wanted to give you these cookies I made for you all.”

My brothers jumped up like someone lit a bottle rocket underneath them.

“How thoughtful! Thank you so much, Mrs. Fitch,” Mom said, abandoning her wrapping.

At least now I know her name.

“Just a little something I like to do,” she said, her cheeks pushing up her glasses when she smiled.

“I’ll take a few with me to work.”

Mrs. Fitch’s smile faded. “You’re not working today, are you dear?”

“Yes,” she said, shooing both boys away from the plate of cookies.

“But that snow is really coming down, and the man on the weather program said it’s going to get a lot worse. And these backroads of ours can be dangerous. They already canceled the Christmas Eve service at church.”

“I’ll be careful,” Mom said, taking the plate. “Thanks again for the cookies.”

“You’re welcome, dear. I’ll be praying for you.”

Mom stopped and for a second I thought she was going to say something, but instead she smiled one of her fake smiles, giving Mrs. Fitch a nod. I tried asking Mom about God one time after Dad died, but she locked herself in her bedroom and cried for half the night. I stopped asking her about God after that.

Mrs. Fitch left and before long Mom was wearing her work clothes and buttoning her heavy coat. “Now don’t forget there’s leftover spaghetti for dinner in the fridge, and put the load of whites in the dryer for me. And I want you to go to the shed and find something nice for Mrs. Fitch.” She pulled on her boots. “And I want you to wrap it and take it to her before the weather gets worse.”

I sighed, knowing not to argue. After she kissed the boys goodbye and made her way to the car, I threw on my coat and crunched through the snow that was quickly piling up. I knew I was losing daylight and needed to hurry or I might blindly grab a book about windsurfing or a pair of socks with chickens on them. I made sure the shed door was wide open to let in as much light as possible before digging into a shoebox. The first one I opened was full of ornaments. Jackpot. I fished through a few bulbs without any hangers, tiny book ornaments, a cloth candy cane that was torn, and a star. I lifted the star to inspect it. It looked like a cookie cutter filled with pinecones and tiny red berries, and on the top, a piece of twine to hang it. If she didn’t like it, she could always tear it apart and use it to make her cookies.

While the boys were busy building forts out of a deck of cards, I wrapped the star and started outside again. The snow would have been pretty if it wasn’t so scary. I could barely see Mrs. Fitch’s house, and I wondered how Mom was able to drive. I got a sick feeling in my stomach when I realized I didn’t hug her before she left. I didn’t even tell her goodbye. I knew she was working overtime for us. I wished I would have hugged her and thanked her.

As I kept my head low to keep the snow out of my eyes, I did something I hadn’t done since I was little. I prayed.

“Please, God, help Mom to be okay.”

I stepped onto Mrs. Fitch’s porch, knocked, and waited.

“Oh you sweet child,” she said, barely opening the door while pulling a shawl tighter around herself. “What are you doing out in this weather?”

“Mom wanted me to bring you this.” I handed her the package covered in hearts.

“What lovely paper.” With her frail hand, she took it and started to unwrap it. She gasped, and I worried one of the pinecones had fallen out.

“It’s a star,” she said. “Oh, it’s just perfect.”

I wondered if she needed new glasses.

“It makes me think of the star that led the way to Jesus. You know about Jesus, don’t you?”

I nodded but something lodged in my throat. It had been a long time since I’d heard someone say His name like that. In such a kind way.

“I’ll hang this on my tree right now. Thank you so much.”

I cleared my throat. “You’re welcome. I better get back to my brothers now.”

“Of course. Of course,” she repeated. “Be careful, dear.”

I trekked home through the blinding snow just in time to see my brothers demolish their forts with the paper airplanes they’d rigged to drop pennies.

While heating up a large bowl of spaghetti in the microwave, I stared out the kitchen window but couldn’t see anything in our backyard. With heavy snow falling and no moonlight, there was only a thick darkness. I wondered how Mom would find her way home.

As I set our plates on the table, I heard something. At first, I thought it was a snowplow clearing the road, but when the lights pulled into our driveway and lit up the living room wall, my stomach twisted and my legs felt weak. I’d seen plenty of movies to know when someone unexpected shows up in your driveway in the dark that something was probably wrong. Did something happen to Mom?

“Somebody’s here!” Brady yelled.

Before I could tell them not to open the door, it was already opening. It was Mom.

“It’s Mom!” Brady yelled as if we needed him to tell us.

She closed the door and stomped her feet, snow landing on the floor. “It’s terrible out there. I couldn’t even make it to work. And then I didn’t know if I could make it back home. I couldn’t see a thing. I went off the road twice.”

The boys busied themselves at her feet, picking up the snow and forming miniature snowballs to throw at each other. But I stepped around them and hugged her.

“What’s that for?” she asked.

I felt something in my throat again, making it hard to talk. But I managed to say, “I’m glad you’re home.”

She smiled. “So am I. And I’m glad Mrs. Fitch has the star on the top of her house lit up tonight or I might not have made it. I couldn’t even see the road. That star led me home.”

I followed Mom into the kitchen. “I was really scared. I thought something might happen to you.” I paused. “I prayed for you. That you would be okay.”

Mom’s hand went to her mouth and the tears started to form. I didn’t know what to do. I prayed again, silently, that God would keep her from locking herself in her bedroom.

“You prayed for me?”

I nodded.

She sank down on the kitchen chair. “I’ve been so mad at God since your Dad…” she stopped. “But when I went off the road I realized I was in trouble. I needed Him. I wanted to get home to you and your brothers. I didn’t want something to happen to me too. So…I prayed. I told God how sorry I was. I told Him how much I miss Him.” She started to sob, and her voice cracked.  “I begged Him to please get me home to my children. And He heard me. I know He did. I felt such a peace in that awful snowstorm.”

The sound of the phone made me jump. Mom reached for a tissue to blow her nose, so I answered it.

“Hello, dear,” Mrs. Fitch said. “I just wanted to make sure you all are okay. I saw a car pull into your driveway.”

“Yeah, we’re okay. Mom came back home because the roads were really bad. She said the star on the top of your house led the way home.”

“My star? Goodness. I told my son to just leave it up there. But it hasn’t worked in years.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“Oh my,” Mrs. Fitch whispered. “It sounds like God led your Mom home through the storm tonight.”

But when I realized Mom was smiling a real smile, even with her eyelids swollen and pink, I wanted to tell Mrs. Fitch it was more than that. God led Mom out of a much darker storm than any of us understood. And He brought her back home to Him.

Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this year’s story. If you’d like to check out last year’s Christmas story, you can find it here.

Merry Christmas and God bless you!

(A big shout-out to pexels.com for another wonderful photo! Thank you!!)