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.

When Christmas Hurts

 

I remember standing in the cemetery at Grandpa’s funeral on a cold December day. The wind was bitter and my soul hurt beyond words. How could I possibly be joyful days later? My grandpa, the one who took me fishing, bike riding, and introduced me to church, was gone from my world.

Sometimes Christmas hurts. It seems like the whole world is celebrating while we feel completely removed. Alone.

There are times when relationships in our lives have been strained, even cease to exist, and we are reminded of it at Christmas when we reflect on the year that’s gone by.

Loneliness can strike harder than usual. It seems families and friends are gathering, and you’re alone in the corner while the whole world is celebrating.

It seems this way. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Christmas is personal. It’s between you and Jesus Christ. If you want to bring others into it, to love and share with them, that’s fine.

But my friend, don’t let the struggles of failed or strained relationships, the loss of someone you love, or even the looming darkness of loneliness steal the joy that is yours.

Joy is waiting for you because Jesus Christ is waiting for you to spend time with Him.

Remember when Jesus was visiting Martha and her sister Mary? (Luke 10:38-42.) Martha was distracted, worried, and upset about so many things that she failed to see her sister was fulfilling a greater need and desire of her heart.

Mary was spending time with Jesus. Sitting at His feet. Listening to Him.

It’s no wonder the enemy tries to distract and discourage so many during the Christmas season (sometimes with all the preparations just like Martha) as we reflect on Jesus. Satan will distract you with past hurts, current struggles, pain and loss. He will magnify it like holding a magnifying glass in the sunlight to destroy a bunch of ants.

Let God be magnified in your heart. Let Him swell and fill those hurting places. Give Him the room to stretch through every part of your life. And allow yourself the time to sit at the feet of your Savior. Allow moments of stillness and prayer to draw you closer to Him.

Perhaps you could step outside after your corner of the world has gone to sleep. Gaze upon the stars. Remember the mighty One who knows each one of those stars by name knows you. He knows everything about you. He knows why you’re struggling, who hurt you, who you’re missing. Remember, He sees every tear you cry.

There are painful times in all of our lives—we live in a fallen world. But don’t let them become the focus during this miraculous season.

Don’t give the enemy control of your focus. Don’t give him the magnifying glass so he can destroy this moment in your life.

Turn away from the enemy’s lies. Rebuke Satan out loud in the name of Jesus Christ. Use your voice and take authority over the enemy.

And let Jesus Christ be your focus.

Think about the light piercing the dark night when the angel appeared, when the heavenly multitude showed up praising God (Read Luke 2:8-20). Imagine how the earth must have trembled with joy at the appearance of the One who came to save. Can you feel the shaking in your own spirit? Can you imagine rushing as a shepherd, your heart pounding, your legs feeling numb as if you’re flying, to find the baby just like the angels proclaimed? What joy your heart would feel! To be a part of this. To be included in this moment in history.

You can have a moment like this right now. Reflect and think about it. Focus and pray and put yourself in the Scripture. Let that night encompass your heart in the miracle that is Jesus Christ. Let the light of that night break through the darkness of your suffering.

It is very personal.

Jesus left all of His majestic glory behind for you. He suffered greatly for you. He is coming back for you.

If you’re hurting and the burden is too heavy, sit with Jesus in prayer and give it to Him. Listen for the sweet voice of our Lord. Wait for the Comforter to bring you peace that makes no sense to your human reasoning but is exactly what your fragile heart needs.

He will be there for you. Cry out to Him. Whisper His name.

Jesus Christ. Savior. The One we celebrate at Christmas.

You can celebrate. Deeply. In your heart. With Jesus. Just the two of you.

What a special Christmas this can be for you.

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11 NIV.)

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!

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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.)

 

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

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I’ll Be Home for Christmas

I hid in my pickup truck in the garage. I didn’t want to fall apart in front of Maddie. It was bad enough my daughter lost her mom so close to Christmas. I didn’t want her to think she was losing her dad to loud sobbing fits. I was supposed to be the strong one, the tough guy. But somehow I felt smaller than my five-year-old who played with baby dolls.

Leslie, my wife, always knew how to talk to Maddie. But since three o’clock in the afternoon two Wednesdays ago, after a horrible accident involving my wife’s minivan and a big rig, I was on my own to raise our daughter.

The truth: I was lost without Leslie. I was lucky I could get myself out of bed every morning and make coffee. And somehow I managed to wash our clothes and boil water for hot dogs. Other than that, I dragged myself through the dark nightmare my life had become. The only thing that brought me any light was when Maddie held my hand when we walked to her ballet class.

I wasn’t much of a praying man, but I found myself bent over the steering wheel and crying as my heart split open and the words spilled out.

Please help me, God. I don’t know how to go on from here.

More tears fell until I finally pulled myself together, blowing my nose on some napkins I found tucked in the glove box under a church bulletin. I hadn’t been much of a church goer since I was a kid, since accepting Jesus. I’d gone a few times to make my wife happy, but my dad always said, “Men that go to church are weak” and I had my “tough” reputation to uphold.

I caught a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror. Both of my eyes were swollen like someone had sucker-punched me. Oh sure. I’m a tough guy all right. I felt like a big fake.

I got out of my truck, slammed the door, and grabbed a screwdriver from my toolbox – my excuse for coming to the garage. I went into the house and found Maddie sitting in the middle of her bedroom floor with Sylvia, her favorite baby doll, resting in her arms. Maddie’s strawberry-blonde hair was the same as her mom’s, and I wondered if I would ever be able to braid it like my wife had done.

She stopped rocking Sylvia when she saw me. “Want to hold her, Daddy?”

I smiled. “Maybe later. Are you getting hungry?”

“I don’t want a hot dog.”

I chuckled, the sound startling me. “Me neither. Why don’t we go to town and get a pizza?”

Maddie smiled, revealing the tiny window where a front tooth had fallen out last week.

When we got back with a large cheese pizza, the house was completely dark. Quickly I turned on some lights and those on the Christmas tree. I couldn’t stand the darkness – there was enough of that inside of me already.

“Can we watch a Christmas movie, Daddy?”

She was the spitting image of my wife; those hazel eyes pleading to watch Christmas movies. I could hear my wife’s soft response in my ear, and I repeated it to Maddie:

“Only if you put on your PJs.”

She squealed, ran to her bedroom, and moments later, emerged wearing snowman footy PJs with Sylvia wearing the same.

“You have to wear yours, too, Daddy.”

“Maybe later. Why don’t you pick out the movie, and I’ll get us some milk to drink.”

After we finished eating a few slices of pizza and somewhere in the middle of Frosty the Snowman, Maddie fell asleep beside me on the couch – her head rested against my arm. Carefully, I scooped her up and carried her to her bed – it was one of a thousand moments that made my heart ache for my wife who loved tucking Maddie in at bedtime.

I pulled her covers up, turned on the nightlight, and quietly closed the door. I didn’t want to go back to the living room yet, so I went to our bedroom closet where Leslie had stashed some Christmas presents in a large garbage bag, those she’d already wrapped. I liked holding them, knowing her hands had been the last ones to touch whatever was underneath the red and green paper. I was sure there was a flannel shirt for me and an ornament for Maddie.

Every year, Leslie and I would pick out an ornament for Maddie, something she’d done or enjoyed that year. Last Christmas was the year she fell in love with eating ice cream from the cone, so of course we got her an ice cream cone ornament. This year, Leslie and I decided it should have something to do with dancing, although I hadn’t seen the ornament yet.

I returned the garbage bag to the back of the closet and opened my bottom dresser drawer where I hid Leslie’s gift.  I bought her a soft, red blanket because she was always cold and wanted nothing more than to cuddle on the couch and watch Christmas movies. It was folded and had a cardboard sleeve around it and snowflakes in all different sizes. Leslie would have loved it. I held it to my chest and lost it again, the blanket holding my tears and muffling my cries.

Christmas Eve, I sat beside Maddie in her velvety green dress and shiny black shoes, her feet dangling above the church floor. She’d begged me to take her, and I was glad I did. I found myself feeling closer to Leslie and when the choir sang “O Holy Night,” I found myself feeling closer to God, too. It had been years since I’d felt that way.

When we got home, Maddie kicked off her shoes and ran to her bedroom.

“I need to get Mommy’s present,” she yelled.

My heart hurt so much I thought I was having a heart attack. I took a few deep breaths and the pain went away. I braced myself for our little family tradition of opening one present each on Christmas Eve – the first tradition of many without my wife.

Maddie returned with two packages she’d wrapped with a little help from the Christmas Store helper at school. She handed me something skinny with a silver ribbon.

“I got this for you, Daddy.”

I knew better than to hesitate. When Maddie handed you a present and stared at you like she was holding her breath, it meant you needed to open it before she busted a lung.

I ripped off the ribbon and the paper. “It’s a tire pressure gauge,” I said. “Thank you.”

She jumped into my arms and kissed my cheek.

“Can I open Mommy’s for her?”

I didn’t know how she was handling it all so well. A lump had lodged in my throat so I nodded. She slid to the floor and shredded the Christmas tree paper.

I cleared my throat. “That’s a really nice candle you got for her.”

“It smells like coffee,” she said, sniffing it and smiling like this was the most natural thing in the world.

“Your mom would have loved…”

She jumped up. “Can I open mine?”

I was glad she interrupted me. The words seemed to stick in my throat like someone squeezed and held them there.

I nodded, went to the bag in the closet, and returned with a small package I was pretty sure was her ornament. Maddie stopped fiddling with my tire pressure gauge and clasped her hands together in front of her mouth like she could hardly contain her excitement – something her mom always did.

The gift barely left my hands before Maddie ripped off the paper.

“Wow,” she whispered.

Maddie held a snow globe ornament in her hands, staring into the tiny world like she could will herself to step into it. A girl wearing a long, silver dress and rosy cheeks stood in a field of snow with her head titled back and arms outstretched as if she were dancing.

Carefully, Maddie tipped it upside down, then right side up, and watched as the little flecks of white floated down, landing on the girl’s face.

Kisses from Heaven.

The thought startled me. I remembered the night I took Leslie to dinner while we were dating, and she stopped right in the middle of a crowd of people on the sidewalk when it started to snow. She stood there, looked up, and smiled. And when I asked her what she was doing, she’d said, “Someone is sending me kisses from Heaven, and I want to take them all in.” Funny, I’d forgotten about that until now.

“Daddy, don’t be sad,” Maddie said, noticing the tears I couldn’t stop. “People in snow globes aren’t stuck forever.”

I wiped my eyes. “What?”

“I used to be sad for the people stuck in snow globes, too. But Mommy said it’s like all of us on the earth. We’re sort of stuck here until Jesus says it’s our turn to go home. And Heaven is our real home. This is just where we have to stay for now.”

I nodded.

“Mommy said the earth can be pretty like a snow globe. But Heaven is going to be really, really pretty.”

It sounded like something my wife would have said.

“Daddy,” Maddie said, picking up Sylvia from the couch, “can Sylvia have some hot chocolate?”

“And watch a Christmas movie?” I asked.

She grinned and squeezed Sylvia.

While Maddie changed into her PJs, I retrieved the red blanket I’d gotten for Leslie. My heart began to ache again, knowing I would have given it to her tonight to cuddle with while we watched a Christmas movie. I decided to give it to Maddie to use, knowing Leslie would have loved the idea.

A Charlie Brown Christmas and two mugs of steaming hot chocolate were ready when Maddie flopped beside me in her PJs. I pulled the cardboard sleeve off the blanket and unfolded it, gasping when I realized there were words I hadn’t seen hidden in the folds.

“What does that say, Daddy?”

“I’ll be home for Christmas.”

Maddie smiled. “Mommy is home for Christmas. It was her turn to go home.”

I stared at my five-year-old. “How did you get to be so smart?”

“God. I talk to Him all the time.”

I smiled because I knew it had to be true.

“And He said you can talk to Him too, Daddy. He said He misses you more than you miss Mommy. He said He will help you not to be sad anymore. And He said you don’t have to be afraid of the dark. He’s going to bring you lots of light.”

I fought the tears, but they came anyway. “Did He say anything else?”

She nodded. “He said you should learn to cook something other than hot dogs.”

I laughed a real, honest-to-goodness laugh and it felt so freeing. And somehow, someway, I felt like my wife was with us, kissing my cheek and laughing too.