The Gift of Christmas

Since several thousand readers have read and enjoyed The Gift of Christmas, I’ve posted it again as my Christmas classic. It’s worth a re-read or to pass on! And I’ve written a sequel. Find out what happens when Matthew’s interview goes viral. It’s a touching holiday story that is crazy and fun. Posting in a few days. Merry Christmas everyone! kcs

I should be snuggled in bed, but as my family sleeps, I tiptoe downstairs, the smell of stale popcorn and pine guiding my footsteps as much as the soft Santa nightlight and dying fireplace embers. I walk past the poinsettias lining the foyer, past the big wreath hanging over the wooden nativity, and finally stroll under the mistletoe atop the arched doorway leading into the family room. Our nightly gathering place seems eerily serene without the twinkling lights and the family din.

Like a Christmas thief, I slink into Dad’s big oversized chair where I have a bird’s eye view of yuletide magic–the chimney embers fading with the night from the stocking-adorned brick fireplace, and nestled beside it, a ceiling high, ornament-bright, Christmas tree.

One of Mom’s small china plates, decked out in green and red cookies and flanked by a glass of milk, awaits Santa on the hearth, left by my little brother Jeff, or Jeffy, as I call him. Colorful presents with sparkles and bows spill well past the Christmas tree, topped by a drooping, oversized star balanced above the popcorn strings our family threaded at the dining room table.

Jeffy loves Christmas. Makes him the happiest kid on the planet. Me, I like it. Mostly because I get toys and stuff, but also because I like watching my brother have fun. Sometimes I feel cheated there’s no Santa for me. Oh maybe to some extent, but I’m too old for Santa, really. Twelve. Not too old for the Christmas spirit. At least that’s what Mom says.

I close my eyes, thinking I’ll sit here until Dad comes down to eat his cookies and distribute a few Santa presents, but my stomach rumbles at the thought of the cookies, probably the largest and most garish I’ve ever seen. They must scream “buy me” to mom’s who want to impress six year olds like Jeffy or to Christmas greenhorn’s, if one exists on the planet. Still, the cookies are for Dad, and I promise myself not to eat them, even as I think about it.

I rise from the chair and immediately fall back. In the dim light of the embers’ shadows, a man sits on our sofa!

I pull back and gasp! He isn’t Santa by a whole lot of belly inches, and he just sits there smiling like he’s at home, one arm propped up on a sofa cushion. I try to regroup and immediately stand. Stepping to the side of Dad’s chair, I prepare to run. That’s when I notice his clothing—a long white robe with a gold sash. I’ve never seen anyone dressed like this. I’ve never seen anyone who seems to . . . to glow.

“I hear you want to interview me.” The stranger scoots to the front of the sofa, clasping his hands atop his knees, looking for all the world like he belongs here.

“Are you serious? How did you just materialize out of . . . ? Who sent you?” I laugh, nervous. “It was Joey, wasn’t it? I’ll get him for this.”

“No, Joey didn’t send me. He’s in St. Petersburg with his parents and sister, Leah, for Christmas.”

I grab hold of the chair back. “How did you know that?”

“I know everything, Matthew.”

“Is this a joke? How do you know my name?”

“No,” the man says. “It’s not a joke.”

The interview. It was for an assignment. Our teacher told us to interview and write an article about someone we knew, and, okay, I fudged. I waited until the last minute, so I made up a discussion I had with Jesus. She said it was unacceptable, because we were to interview someone alive, someone we knew. And besides, my questions were totally superficial.

“I do know him,” I had argued. “Give me one more chance.”

Her look spoke an emphatic “No!” But when she turned from me she said, “Get a Christmas interview with Jesus, and if it’s decent, we’ll see.”

“Maybe you’d like to interview me now,” he says.

What kind of a get-up is a robe and sash, even for Christmas Eve? Is he supposed to be some kind of fit, new-age Santa—or Jesus?

“Wh. . .who are you?” I stammer. Afraid to stay, afraid to run, and especially fearful Jesus is here because I lied. About him! Whoever he is, the man’s aura has an undeniable sense of calm, love, and every good thing simultaneously, so much so that I cannot help but stay. love-1221444_1920

Could this be . . . “Is it really you?”

“Yes, I’m no new-age Santa,” he answers my unspoken sarcasm.

As he holds up his hands, I see the faint light through the puncture wounds in his palms, and my lower lip drops. Jesus? Two steps forward and my misgivings vaporize. Obvious holes!

My knees sort of buckle and a nervous tick I sometimes get over my left eye comes upon me. “Wait, I’ll be right back!” I run to get paper and pencil, afraid he’ll be gone when I return, but he isn’t. He’s smiling, telling me how he loves to spend time with me. In fact, he says he loves that I talk with him every morning and sometimes during the day.

“So, what did you want to ask me?” He settles back like there’s no place he’d rather be.

Guess I’m really going to do this. “Well, for one thing, I need to know about Christmas. I mean, I know the Christmas story about the angels, the manger, the wise men and shepherds coming to see the baby Jesus. . . uh, I mean, you.“

Jesus points to my paper and pencil. “You don’t need those.”

I toss them by my chair.

“You’ll remember every word of our conversation until you’re very old,” he says.

His eyes seem to burn into mine and I can’t stop gazing at Him. The need of his touch is so overpowering, I rush to the sofa as He arises. The fullness of His white garment and His ample arms fall around my shoulders like rings of love. I bawl like a baby, for what reason, I have no idea. When I pull away, he kisses one of my cheeks and then the other. “We are brothers, you know. Always talk to me.”

“It’s so good to see you in person.” I dry my eyes on my baggy tee shirt. “Millions of people would love this. Why me?”

“Only a handful of people have ever claimed to interview me, and since you didn’t, and you need to, I thought I’d keep you honest.” We both laugh.

When I sit down in Dad’s chair, he asks, “So what’s your first Christmas question, Matthew?”

“Well, tell me about the beginning, before Christmas, before everything,” I say, feeling the need to pinch myself, but ignoring it.

That’s easy. The beginning was before the world began. When there was just Father and me.”

“Wasn’t that lonely?”

“Oh no! Regardless of what we’re doing or where we are, Father and I love. And since we’ve created everyplace we go, we just enjoy our creations.” He actually flashes a mischievous grin, but I am too awestruck to return it.

“Did you live in heaven then?”

“Oh yes, of course, we needed a place to live.”

Of course he lived in heaven. What a stupid question.

“There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” Once again he answers my thoughts.

My eyes are as saucers. “What exactly do angels do? Are angels around us now?”angels in the air wallpaper - Copy

“Oh yes, angels surround us.” He gestures around the room and actually nods a couple of times. “Angels guide, engage, and protect my people—from themselves, from each other, and especially from Satan, the evil one. Angels have many wondrous attributes, one being their astounding beauty.”

I consider these glorious creatures, and finally say, “I know my questions aren’t really about Christmas; there’s just so much I want to know.”

“They are about Christmas.” His eyes twinkle like that other patron of Christmas. “You’ll see how it all works together.”

“Okay, then, tell me about when you or rather God, or, um, when humans were created?”

His eyes move heavenward and his body relaxes. “One day Father decided to create special beings he called people. They would have hearts and be in our image, and they would love us as we loved them.” His smile literally casts more light into the room. “So, day by day we began establishing what you know as the universe.”

“What about the people? Adam and Eve?” I ask.

“They’re coming.” He grins at me. “But first we had to create an environment they could live in—planets, moons, atmosphere, sun, stars . . . every vector in the galaxy had to be planned.”

I sit forward, riveted.

“Layer upon layer, we crafted, over more years than you can fathom. We were creating out of that deep vacuum spoken of in Genesis. ‘The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep.’ He spreads his arms. The blackness was our blank canvas.”

The incredulity of His words nearly dwarf His presence.

“We set things up strategically, making sure it would all work together, and then, Bang! everything materialized as Father intended. He even fashioned a way we could ride intergalactic floes.” He smiles at what must have been a beautiful memory. “In that very beginning we had so much fun.”

I shake my head, mesmerized, so happy to be sitting here.

“Even for us, this was new. The Bible says that a day is as a thousand years, but that’s really just a number because before man, time didn’t exist. Suffice to say, your beginning is not Our beginning. And, time as you understand it began when the first humans, Adam and Eve, bit into the apple in the Garden of Eden. The first sin.” He stops. “Are you getting this?”

I nod. “Time began after Adam and Eve and sin.” I repeat his words. “An amazing statement. So many amazing statements! This will blow my teacher away.”

When he smiles, I admire the soft halo about his body, his aura, so calming.

“Because the essence of Father and I are love,” he continues, “we never even postulated Sin in the Garden. Everything was perfect, almost as magnificent as heaven. Blue-green rivers, and oceans with crystal crests, glistening mountaintops, and long, lush valleys, and the blueness of an uninterrupted sky, dotted by perfectly visible galaxies, deficient of structures and pollution and even mankind.”

“It’s hard to imagine.” My thoughts race through my narrow band of travels. “Was it anything like Alaska?”

Jesus laughs. “Much nicer than even that. However, sin caused even the atmosphere to change. Father had given Adam and Eve only one small, now-famous tenet: Do not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” He lowers his head and I suspect that happens each time the Tree comes to mind. garden-of-eden-1803805_1920

“That Tree had to exist, because human beings had to be given a choice to obey Father. Or not. I remember Him saying, ‘I cannot force my will on them. I want them to love me simply because I love them.’ And, if not for Satan’s deceptions, it would have worked.” Jesus looks away, remembering, no doubt, that time when Earth was paradise.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.”

“Oh no. It’s okay.”

I shrug, not sure it is. “Can I get you anything?”

“Actually, I’d love something to eat.” He looks toward the kitchen. “Just something simple.”

I walk to the hearth. “How about some Santa cookies?”

He eyes me shyly. “Speaking of forbidden fruit. Those are for your dad.”

I walk the plate to him. “He’ll understand.” I make a face at the dollops of color. “Do you even want them? They’re heavy on icing.” Setting it on the sofa cushion, I go back for the milk.

He eyes the cookies. “The essence of Christmas,” he says, dryly.

“They’re awful looking, aren’t they?”

He takes a bite.

“One thing I don’t understand,” I say, setting the milk on a table by the sofa. “You said time didn’t exist. I thought time had always existed?”

“When earth was created, its axis rotated, which humans eventually hypothesized, then used as a gauge. However, in the early period, earth and the galaxies that surround it didn’t subsist in time as you understand it. They lived in God’s time, which is really outside of time.”

“It sounds plausible; it’s just mind blowing.” Something implausible—watching Jesus eat a cookie! He lifts the plate in my direction.

I shake my head.

“Go ahead,” he says. “You’re hungry.”

Two of three cookies are left. “I’ll have one,” I say, walking to retrieve it. “Since you don’t get my way very often.”

“I’m always here, Matthew. Holy Spirit alerts me every morning when you pray or when you need me. Just like with the interview.” He wipes his mouth with the cuff of his sleeve just like me. “But, you’re right, I don’t often come in the flesh. Speaking of flesh, let me explain the ‘time’ thing in a way you might understand.” He sips the milk and sort of swishes it in his mouth. “That Rudolph cookie was a little heavy on the sugar.”

I can’t believe He said that, and I’m sure I wear a stupid look. It’s just that He’s such a regular guy.

“Father created time all at once. One day it didn’t exist, the next, it did. Imagine a storybook with picture frames that continue through every second of every day. Except that this storybook has players—people—who are writing their own script. And while Father set the storybook in motion, he didn’t dictate what would happen in each frame, which serves as the seconds, hours, and years of a person’s earthly history. Father and I can look down into the frames and see what you’re doing—past, present, and future. If you’re making a huge mistake in June of next year, We set things in motion that could counteract the consequences of that wrong choice, always encouraging you to act in your best interest. Yet if you don’t listen, we don’t interfere.

I nod, trying to imagine Jesus and Father God peeking down into my life as it fast forwards like movie screens on boxcars

“And really, that’s the simple version,” he says. “Because, the fervent prayers of a righteous person can reverse anything.”

“That explains so much. I never understood it when people would say, God . . . well, You . . . knows our yesterday’s, today’s, and tomorrow’s.”

“I’m glad it’s clear to you.” He breaks the second cookie and brings me the largest half.

“Thank you, Jesus.” I bite into it. “But there’s another thing that isn’t clear.” I am chomping through my question. “You said time didn’t begin until after Adam and Eve sinned. I would’ve thought time began when you created earth.” I swallow hard.

“Time wasn’t needed then. Like heaven, earth was a Paradise outside of time. Adam and Eve were pure and Father actually walked side by side with them.”

His tone becomes more serious. “It’s difficult to understand the holiness of God . . . ” A thoughtfulness comes over him and he hesitates. “God is detached from evil and sin; if you dwell in it, you’re separated from Him. And all mankind dwells in it. The Apostle John wrote that God is light and in Him there is no darkness.’ That’s true. We are moral perfection. Our hearts—our very beings—are light and love.”

“After Adam and Eve became creatures of sin, Father was daily confronted with the thing He abhorred the most. Sin not only brought death into the future generations of his precious creation, but they were lost to him forever. He had to find a way to redeem them.”

His Christmas cookies gone, Jesus walks the dish to the fireplace. I wonder what Mother would think if she knew the Messiah, the true King of Christmas, had eaten Rudolph and half an elf on our best china.

“Mankind had no future.” He looks at the empty plate. “They were now as devoid of God as this plate is of cookies.” He places the china on the hearth and returns to the sofa. “To redeem mankind, Father came up with the time/frame concept, which put earth on a different plane, if you will, from heaven. Father no longer walked with man, but He could teach them about goodness and sin through ‘time.’ He did this by creating the laws of the Ten Commandments, which no one could fully obey. Not the Jews of latter day or the Gentiles of today.”

“But there was icing on God’s plan of salvation. It wasn’t sugar coated like those cookies, that wasn’t possible. Sin had to die. And the only thing pure enough to remove it had to be as light and as white as a Christmas snow.”

“Enter you!” I pump my fist in the air. “Christ Jesus.”

He nodded. “As mankind’s Messiah, I was born to a woman and became human. My birth was prophesied throughout time in the Old Testament and revealed in the New Testament: God’s sinless Son would shed His blood for Godless men.”

“I’m sorry, Jesus.” I hang my head.

“Don’t be sorry. Be happy.” His tone is gently firm. “Now Father sees you through a filter of light, forever forgiven, and, once again, God’s friend. The New Covenant covering of my blood redeems all people back to Father, if only they believe.” His voice softens. “Back to a holiness and love they previously couldn’t comprehend.”

“The gift of Christmas.”

“Yes,” He practically whispers.

“Jesus.” I whisper, too. “Thank you for Christmas, and for coming.”

“You’re welcome, Matthew.”

“Help me to be more like you.” I wrestle tears as I crawl down the sofa and throw my arms around his neck. “I’m so glad you came tonight.”

He kisses the top of my head as his arms encircle me.

“I love you so much,” I say, tears covering my face. “I know you love me and I’m just grateful for all you’ve done.”

“I know you are, son. I love you more than you know.”

I pull my tee-shirt up to wipe my eyes and nestle into his chest. “Thank you for all this, but I have one more question.”

“Okay, that’s why I’m here.” He strokes my hair.

“Tell me what happened that first Christmas in heaven, before you came to earth as a baby? I know the Christmas story of your parents, Joseph and Mary, and your birth, but what was it like in heaven—before you left?”

I feel a chuckle in his chest. “Well, first of all, we had a feast. Everything in heaven begins with a feast. The archangels Michael and Gabriel were there, other angels, the Seraphim and Cherubim. Father. It was grand. We love parties in heaven. Don’t let anyone say otherwise.” I pull back, beaming, to look at his face. Something about a heavenly party makes me smile.

“But, it was bittersweet,” he says. “I would be a fetus for nine months, not separated from Father, but not walking with Him either. And when I did surface, I would be a baby.lightstock_55067_xsmall_user_2435152

“But, I was excited to go, and Father wanted me to go. As I mentioned, He was anxious to have His beloved people in heaven and that couldn’t happen until we liberated them.”

“I’m grateful you came.” I pull back again to look at him. “But if you had been my best friend, I’d have said, ‘Don’t do it!'”

“And I would have said, ‘Get thee behind me Satan.'” He sort of laughs and I try to remember the story he refers to.

“I said that to Peter,” he says, “one of my best friends. He told me I couldn’t die for mankind.”

“The disciple Peter. I remember now.” I nuzzle back into his arms feeling more acceptance and love than I’d ever known. “Glad you didn’t listen.”

“Even back then, I knew you’d feel that way.” He rubs my back and continues, “I longed to become human, and believe me I’d seen the future through time in the storybook frames, so I knew it would be agonizing. But, like Father, I wanted those who loved us to reside with us.” He tilts my head up and smiles at me. “But, yes, I had reservations. I was, after all, the Son of God. I sat on a throne, exalted. Seraphim sang above me, ‘Holy, Holy Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.’ And the building shook when I spoke and it filled with glorious smoke. It still does.”

“Wow! That sounds awesome.”

“I guess it is, but it isn’t some fantastic ritual. No. It’s a testimony to who we are and it portrays the pureness, the holiness of God.”

I pull away and crawl to the opposite end of the sofa, to see his face. “I can’t imagine going from heaven to earth. That’s backwards. No wonder you had reservations.” Facing Jesus, I pull my feet up in front of me. “You left a throne to be born in a barn, with a carpenter for a father. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s a long way from being the Son of God.”

“I would have done anything.” Jesus leans forward and rests his hands on his knees.

“Actually, you did everything possible–designing the universe, leaving heaven, dying horribly.” A thought escapes my mouth: “But you got to choose your own mother.”

Jesus lowers his head and laughs. “Well, that’s only partially true. I agreed, but Father chose Mary. She was amazing. A perfect mother. Always knew exactly what to do. Even today, Father allows Mary’s vision to be seen around the world. People adore her, and so do I.”

“Matthew!” My dad calls from the stairs. “Do I hear you in there?”

“Dad!” I look at Jesus, stricken.

Jesus leans over and squeezes my foot. “Your interview is well complete.” He winks at me. “Now you understand, Matthew. Everything Father and I did, we did for you. For all of you. I love you, little brother. Merry Christmas.”

“I lov . . . “ My mouth flies open as Dad walks in. It is now officially Christmas morning.

“What are you doing in here?” He shuffles into the room in his slippers and pajamas. “Do you know what time it is?”

My eyes move from one corner of the room to another. His aura, His glow! He’s gone. Jesus! Be cool. “Hi, Dad.”

“Did I hear you talking to someone?” He’s carrying a poinsettia that he sits on the hearth.

I look at the opposite end of the sofa and glance around the room again, crestfallen. “I was talking to Jesus.” I shrug.

Dad sort of laughs as he looks at the empty cookie plate. “I suppose Jesus ate the cookies?”

“As a matter of fact . . .”

“Couldn’t sleep, huh?”

So glad I couldn’t. “No. Not really”

He walks over and musses my hair. “You still feeling cheated because you’re too old for Santa?”

“No!” I practically scream. “I have something so much better than Santa.” I look away, missing Jesus already, trying not to cry. “Jesus visited me tonight.”

“Well, I’m glad.” He stirs the fireplace embers with a poker. “I just wish he’d left me a cookie.”

“Really, that’s what you care about?”

“Hey, bud, I’m just joking.’ He puts a log on the burning ashes. “I don’t care that you ate the cookies.”

“I don’t care about the cookies or the presents. I just wish people would think about who Jesus really is and what He did for us.”

Dad brushes his hands together as he sits in his chair. “You really have been thinking about this?”

I nod.

“Want to talk about it?” He leans back, his eyes fully fixed on me.

“Do you believe Jesus is like us?”

“Well . . .” my Dad hesitates. “He’s God, but He came to earth in an ordinary way to an ordinary family and worked an ordinary job for thirty years before starting His ministry. So, yes. I think He’s like us. And I think that was the whole idea. Now we know the person advocating for us in heaven has been here and done this just like us.”

“Can we do something special for Christmas this year? Something to honor Jesus for coming to earth as a baby.”

“Do you have something in mind?” Dad leans forward.

“Can we just love everybody? Maybe not say negative things about not even one person. Try to love even the people we don’t like.”

Dad walks to the sofa, sets beside me, and puts his arm behind my shoulders. “I think you’ve finally outgrown Santa,” he says. “I’m very proud of you. After what Jesus did for us, the least we can do is love those who are sometimes unlovable.” He hugs my shoulders.

I nuzzle against him. “Did you know God and Jesus sometimes get their feelings hurt?”

“Well, I never thought about it, but it makes sense,” he says.

I put my head on His shoulder. “The Virgin Mary was an awesome Mother. Did you know that?”

“Well, she does get a few accolades.” He pats my shoulder and chuckles. “I’m beginning to think maybe you had a real conversation with Jesus.”

“He’s real, Dad.”

“I know.”

“Do you love Him?” I ask.

“With all my heart.”

“Good. I want you to be in heaven with me.”

“You sound pretty sure you’re going.” He musses my hair again before pushing up from the sofa and walking back to the hearth. I follow behind him.

“I know I’m going to heaven, Dad, and I know how much Jesus loves me. He even knows I lied to my teacher about His interview, but He didn’t scold me. He actually helped me.” The poker is fixed in his hand.

“You spoke to Jesus about that?” His voice rises as he jabs at the small flame.

I shrug. “Well, yes. Sort of.”

“That’s good.” He’s cradles the poker and faces me. “One thing I hope you always remember, Matthew–Jesus is always with us, whether we see Him or not. And for all the cookies and presents in the world, the love of the Father through His Son Jesus Christ is the real gift of Christmas.”

“I know, Dad.” Tears flood my face and I throw my arms around his neck. “He did so much for us.”

“He certainly did, Matthew.” He hugs me tight. “I don’t understand what happened tonight, but I think I like it.”

A chime from the hearth alerts me and I raise my head from Dad’s chest. Nothing. Suddenly, as I’m wiping my tears, a startling light my dad can’t see moves up through the roof. Momentarily spellbound, I quickly compose myself and point behind him. “Look, Dad!”

Dad turns and grins at me. “How’d you do that, Matthew?”

“I didn’t do anything.”

“Well, someone did.”

I laugh enthusiastically, loving the fact that the cookie plate is now piled with those awful green and red cookies. Loving Jesus.

“So, how’d you do that, Matthew?”

I look at my dad, wanting him to know the truth, but knowing he can’t accept it. “Some things a guy keeps to himself,” I say. “You taught me that.”

“That’s true.” He turns around and picks up the plate of cookies, offering me one.

“I got an elf,” I say, holding it for him to see.

He looks at his. “I got Santa.”

“That’s fitting,”

I crunch into my cookie and look up, up, wanting desperately to see Jesus, wishing I could see heaven. Choking back tears, I am humbled and overwhelmed, like I’d wished on a star and received every Christmas miracle imaginable. I silently pray: “I’m so grateful you made me an honest boy, Big Brother. Thank you for coming tonight . . . and for coming before. And, Jesus, thanks for the cookies, too.”

“So, you ready to help me set out Santa presents?” Dad has already downed his cookie and sort of glows in the shadow and warmth of the flames.

“Dad, I can’t believe I was so upset about Santa when I had Jesus all along.”

Dad puts his hand on my back. “I love you, Matthew. Merry Christmas.”

Merry Christmas, Dad. I love you too.”

 

The sequel to this story will be up in a few days. Discover Matthew’s troubles and triumphs when he turns in his interview of Jesus. You will love it!

Angels Amongst Us

Angels are everywhere! I love it when it is obvious, they are following ME!

I shuddered as a snow front pelted the East closing schools and businesses. Reclining on my heated mattress pad, watching through the blinds, I hoped it would pass. Yet we were in its path. I snuggled down into the covers. “Lord, it’s coming. Please don’t let it be a wet, heavy snow, the kind that breaks power lines and causes outages.”

And it wasn’t. Almighty God answered me. Along with thousands of others who, no doubt, prayed the same thing. House

“Thank you, Lord.”

Skeptics and worse may believe this blanket of dry snow, which was predicted to be wet, is a coincidence, but I believe God is the Lord, our Provider. The Psalmist writes: “For He will give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all of your ways. They shall bear you up in their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” This verse is from my favorite Psalm, 91. Some Christians call it a “covering” prayer. I memorized it in a warmer time, early spring, 2014, around 300 words, reciting it almost daily. The passage made me more cognizant of angels . . . and demons, and the spiritual realm that I’m convinced interacts with us more than we imagine.

On snow covered days like today, and often, I wonder: How is the spiritual world working in my life?

Just weeks after memorizing this Psalm, I got a lesson in Angelology 401.

It started on a road trip to Rugby, Tennessee, a lovely, restored Victorian community, settledIMG_1269 on the lush Cumberland Plateau. Rugby’s restoration was founded in 1966 by my husband Alan’s brother Brian, now deceased, so we’re family when we’re in Rugby. Our friends Cat and Dan came along. We’d told them about Rugby, how the original settlers arrived in the 1800’s, how a fabulous tiny library of Victorian literature was housed within the community, knowing Cat, a writer, would particularly enjoy it.

It was May, one of my favorite times of the year, and certainly my favorite in Rugby. The community’s Spring Festival was underway. People milled about the colorful church and buildings that lined either side of old Route 52. English buildings with names like Kingston Lyle, The Board of Aid, Percy Cottage, and The Commissary.

Open air tents were perched on the front lawns of the buildings where artisans sold glassware, jewelry, woodwork, stained glass and other handmade crafts. The festival goers and the artisans were sparser than usual, but a lively group walked about the grounds, along the charming wooden sidewalk, and near the two-lane, which split the community.

Our foursome had just left the library headed to the church across the highway. We chatted as I led us down a slope into the ditch that paralleled the road. Navigating the downward pitch on the ditch and back up, I obviously underestimated the thickness of the pavement. The toe of my shoe caught the lofty edge of the blacktop.

I saw it happening—that slow motion thing people talk about.

With no time to pull up my hands or arms to break myself, I fell forward on the asphalt. Hard. Fast. Nose first. Blackness smashed my face like an unsuspecting two-punch. It was a split second that felt as fatalistic as anything I’d ever experienced.

Stunned, my mind raced as thoughts weaved one way and then another . . . I won’t be making the Jamaican trip we’re planning with Matthew. Our grandson. Will I need plastic surgery? Have I been here seconds or hours?

At some point I decided my mind still worked, a good thing. Where was everyone? Did they notice I fell? The longer I laid there, it seemed I was loitering. (that’s the word that came to mind.) I imagined my busted face, no contender for the hard, rough surface. My glasses were probably smashed to smithereens, along with my nose, cheekbones, and who knew what else.

Alan had been behind me. Our friends Cat and Dan. Where was everyone?

Finally, Alan nudged me. “Karyn, honey . . .” His voice sounded unusually anxious. Later I learned he hated to turn me over, afraid of what he’d see. “Talk to me.”

Move. I have to turn and move. A car pulled up, stopping on the road. People spoke, but the words were mumbled. Alan rubbed my back. “Honey.”

He turned me over gently, looking at me a little too intently. “Are you okay?”

Still stunned, I couldn’t yet speak, but I was puzzled. Was I okay? I wasn’t sure. A woman came over, though I didn’t turn to see her. “I’m a first responder,” she said. “How do you feel?’

A first responder. I’d never needed one of those before. “I . . . I don’t know,” I heard myself say.

“You don’t look bad,” said Alan. “It’s not as bad as you think.”

How did he know what I was thinking? But he was right. Do I look like a Freddy Kruger victim? I wondered. Am I blood splattered? Yet no one turned in pity and Alan’s expression revealed nothing diabolical.

“She has to get some ice on that,” said the woman. “I’ve got something.” She turned to leave.

“My glasses?” I patted my face, realizing they were gone.

“They’re on top of your head.”

“I can use a new pair anyway.”

“They appear fine.” Alan never turned from me.

“Really?” I was wearing them when I fell. How did they get atop my head? He was mistaken. They had to be smashed.

Voices and someone exiting the car caused me to turn. Cat was talking to Thelma, (not her real name) an old family friend who’d cleaned my stepson’s weekend home, where we’d stayed. It was her car on the road.

I placed my hand to my nose. “I really don’t look awful?”

“No. I swear. I can’t believe it. The bridge and the tip of your nose are red and scrapped, but not bloody. That’s it.”

That’s not possible. I turned toward the car. Thelma was looking over at me. “Good job on the house, Thelma.” I sort of waved. If I wasn’t bloodied or half dead, it was time to move. Thelma walked toward us as Alan helped me up. I felt dizzy and completely unstable.

“You okay, honey?” she asked.

I stood for a moment, amazed that I could. “I think so.”

Nobody appeared to have called an ambulance. That and the fact that I could move were good signs. I hugged Thelma.

“I hope I did a good job on the house,” she said.

“You did. Thanks for cleaning it.” I must look okay or she wouldn’t be talking about the house.

Alan got on one side of me and Cat on the other. I was wobbly, but I didn’t feel hospital ready. We baby-stepped to the wooden rungs of Rugby’s gingerbread-like Episcopal Church. The first responder brought an ice cold bottled papaya drink in a towel since her ice had melted. Alan held it to my face. “I can do that,” I said, taking it from him.

A few people stopped to ask how I was. No one could believe my face didn’t look like it had been smashed by the front end of a dump truck. I knew the ferocity of the fall. I felt it. How did my nose, glasses, and cheekbones survive a forward, full-throttle assault? It wasn’t humanly possible.

Yet it was spiritually possible.

We went back to the house and I went to bed, my perfectly unscathed glasses on the nightstand. Alan tucked me in. “How long did it take for you to get to me after I fell?” I asked. “

About two seconds.” He looked at me lovingly, and like he was seeing a miracle.

Seconds.

When he left, I thanked God for the marvelous angel who’d softened my descent. My eyelids fluttered. It was midday, but all I wanted was to sleep, and dream. “For He will give His angels charge over you.” Had Psalm 91 made the difference? Had this “covering” prayer covered me, keeping me safe? The fall had shocked me, my body needing to rest and recover, but come evening, makeup dabbled around and over the bridge of my nose masked my redness. In less than a week, I was normal.

The incident humbled me, especially after seeing pictures of two Facebook friends who had similar falls. Looking at their battered, purple, and swollen photos, I knew this should have been me. Both required ambulances, hospital care, and a fairly lengthy recuperation. Before I fell, I’d never heard a story of someone I knew falling face first on asphalt.

However, another baffling episode lay ahead. It would leave me equally befuddled and amazed.

Just over a month later, late one evening, I was making a cup of magnesium tea, topping it with boiling water. Except on this night, distracted by my cat, I poured the roiling liquid over my hand. I shrieked and Alan came running.

“Put your hand under cold water!” He flipped on the tap and my hand was immediately soothed. Five, eight, ten minutes . . . every time I pulled it out, my skin felt like it was on fire.
Since it was near bedtime, I began to concoct standing sleep scenarios and prayed a simple prayer, “Lord, help this to heal. I really need you to do it now. Thank you, Lord.” Something like that.

As long as my hand was under cold running water, it felt okay, but outside the water, a fiery pain erupted. “How will I sleep?” Finally, I dried my hand and slathered on one and then several oils and lotions, hoping for a remedy. I settled in bed, blowing on it, shaking it. Nothing. Before returning to the water, I prayed earnestly: “Lord, I need you to heal this now. I didn’t sleep last night and tonight will be terrible if you don’t intervene. Please have mercy on me.” I ended as I usually did—believing. “Thank you for healing me, Lord, and for always answering my prayers.” And almost that quick, the pain left.

Totally.

It didn’t burn, it didn’t hurt. Until a few minutes later, I laid back on the bed thinking, “Maybe that water didn’t boil as long as I thought.”

As quickly as the thought formed, the pain returned. (How stupid am I?) But, I repented and it left. No need to repent again, I’d learned my lesson. That night, like the afternoon of my fall, I slept peacefully, and my hand never again hurt.

What happened was clearly beyond the laws of physics. Once again, I felt thankful and humbled. God is no respecter of people, I knew. He won’t do something for me that He won’t do for you. Yet, all I could think was, why now and why me? On numerous occasions I’d asked to be healed of illnesses or pain and nothing happened. Perhaps, I theorized, angels  deal with wounds rather than sickness. But the “Why” word was stuck in my head.

I kept going back to Psalm 91. Was I now dwelling in the secret place of the Most High God like the Psalm suggests? All I knew for sure was that I’d been delivered on two occasions. Perhaps in my daily recitation of Psalm 91, I was dispatching angels and dispelling demons.

It’s difficult if not impossible to determine which prayers God fully answers. I don’t understand the Why in these two situations. Perhaps angels were dispatched because my trust is in Jehovah Jireh, the Lord my provider, and Jehovah Rophe, the Lord my healer. And on one afternoon and one evening, He had taken me under His feathers.

Today, in this very real blustering snowstorm, as I press up to a fire roaring up the chimney, comforted, warmed, and full, I’m reminded, He is always with me.

No matter how bad the storm, how hard the fall, or how hot the water.

“Thank you, Lord.”  xxx

Psalm 91
1 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him will I trust.”
3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from the perilous pestilence.
4 He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
6 Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you.
8 Only with your eyes shall you look,
And see the reward of the wicked.
9 Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your habitation,
10 No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;
11 For He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you in all your ways.
12 They shall bear you up in their hands,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.
13 You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra,
The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.
God’s speaks
14 “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
15 He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him,
And show him My salvation.”

A Love that Never Died

Thanksgiving is about love—love of God, family, country, and for some, just love of food. I’m thankful for much, but especially for family, particularly my Aunt Jeanette, above with her grandson, Rod McCoy. By the grace of God, she is still with us, miraculously. Hope you enjoy this story I chose for Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! kcs

She had searched under her bed, through her closet, behind the dresser, and throughout her bathroom. Nothing. Maybe she was wrong; maybe she hadn’t smelled something burning after all. Things had started to change as she aged, her 84 year old brain worked fairly well, but maybe her sniffer wasn’t quite up to par. Still, my Aunt Jeanette checked the room several times that balmy June morning in 2010.

My brain doesn’t work as well as my Aunt Jeanette’s, and even if it did, I couldn’t remember back to when Jeanette met her future husband, Paul McCoy. Or even back to 1949, when diapers were my underwear of choice.

Back then, I was the first grandchild to debut. As such, my aunts, uncles, and parents often sat me in their midst where I mesmerized them with baby gibberish as I tried to eat my toes or yank on one of my fourteen hair strands. They would make faces and ridiculous goo-goo sounds as they coaxed me to their laps. Like other oft-told stories from my childhood, this one seems like a memory, but I was much too young to remember.

Paul McCoy wasn’t my blood uncle, but I didn’t understand what that meant until I was too old to care. By then, blood, coca cola, or whiskey couldn’t have kept me from my fun-loving uncle. He was a big man, tall, with brute strength, always teasing or pranking, scrubbing your head with his knuckles, and telling you the latest and best of the dozen or so jokes he’d just learned. He was always happy to see every person who walked through his front door.

Jeanette feigned exasperation at Paul’s jokes and stories, but exposed her affection by repeating them often. They were quite the pair; Paul was an early bird, Jeanette was a night owl. She’d often cajole her nocturnal kin to drive around our small town, looking for neither mischief nor mayhem in the early hours, just laughter and crazy fun. I’ve made that circuit with Jeanette, my mother, and Jeanette’s daughter, Cheryl, more times than I can say.

The years passed; Jeanette and Paul grew older and we children grew up. In 1997, Paul succumbed to diabetes and passed into heaven. Jeanette’s friskiness was understandably curtailed. Her heart and humor were forever intertwined with her husband, and his death, she often stated, was the worst thing that ever happened to her.

Make no mistake, the myriad surgeries and ailments she had suffered were major calamities in their own right—hip replacement, knee replacement, even breast cancer. All told, nine operations. And although she was grateful for the years she’d survived since Paul’s death, not having her best friend and soul mate to share it with still brought tears to her eyes.

And that morning in 2010, she was acutely aware that there was no one to confirm or deny the burning smell that may or may not have been. And, so, she went about her day, making the trek from her bedroom to the kitchen, and passing, as she always did, the photograph of the man she couldn’t remember not loving, which hung prominently on the living room wall.

In the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians, the eloquent St. Paul writes: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” Jeanette knew the quote, but her husband was gone, and in her twilight years, when her senses weren’t what they once were, when her confidence waned, she needed him more than ever.

That evening in 2010, around eight o’clock, Jeanette did something uncommon; she fell asleep on the family room sofa. It was early for her, but it had been a long, busy Friday—cleaning day—and she’d worked harder than usual. Fatigue swept over her, driving her into a deep slumber.

How long did she sleep? She couldn’t quite say, but something in her subconscious was nudging her to awaken. A noise . . . buzzing. What? Finally, groggily, she realized the phone was ringing and reached to pick it up.

“Hello.”

“Grandma, I knocked and knocked and you didn’t answer,” said the voice on the other end. “I’m outside.”

Jeanette quickly arose and opened the door to her grandson, Rod.

“I have the keys to Chad’s truck,” he said, referring to his cousin, another of Jeanette’s grandsons, and laid the keys on the kitchen table next to her purse. It was an odd time for him to come by. Odd that he had Chad’s keys.

She shook off her sleepiness and walked outside to say goodbye, where they chatted, as they often did.

Just minutes had passed when Rod glanced up, startled. “Grandma, look!” he said, pointing to the left side of the house.

She turned to see an alarming gray haze rising like a storm cloud from the living room. They rushed inside to find every crevice of her one-story home filled with smoke.

“My purse!” Jeanette, near hysterics, covered her mouth. “I have to get my purse.”

Rod jockeyed to move from the hallway into the kitchen, but the dense fog blocked his vision and choked him. He retreated. “Can’t do it,” he said, and led his grandmother outside. It was not only an impossible feat, but surprising, given the short time they’d been outside.

When the fire truck arrived, a fireman retrieved her purse, but the house was a loss.

It seemed a blur, this finite period of time that had assaulted and then plundered her. That had brought her from a groggy awakening to now standing in the dark with flashing red lights and puddles of water and meandering hoses. Without a fresh set of clothes or a place to sleep. Without a safe harbor. Tears covered her cheeks. Except for Paul’s death, nothing had ever compared to this.

The next day she and her children made their way through the charred remains of a life well lived, now mounds of soot and ash. The furniture, pictures, clothing, books, shoes, linens, eye glasses, and vast array of Christmas ornaments—everything was ruined. Glass shards littered the sooty floor beneath the blackened lop-sided picture frame that had held Paul’s photograph, now missing from the frame. Once again, Jeanette couldn’t contain her tears.

Her daughter, Cheryl, noticed what must have looked like the tip of an angel wing peeking through the midst of the dismal gray floor residue. She bent down to investigate and pulled the whiteness up and out of the ashes like the Phoenix arising. After blowing the soot off, she gasped, “This is impossible!” Then she turned the photograph so her mother could see the familiar head shot of her husband Paul.

They were speechless. (The second miracle of that day!)

Though her home and her valuables had burned, Jeanette understood—the love that burned in her heart lived forever. Forever. And it had just been confirmed, miraculously, unbelievably. As she stared at the perfectly intact photograph, she knew it was a gift. Paul McCoy, by God’s Grace, had made an appearance on the second worst day of her life, an appearance she desperately needed. Love had reached out of heaven and shown its face, healing some of the heartbreak.

The Psalmist writes, “For He will give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.” And so He had. From Rod waking her unexpectedly from what could have been, to Paul’s coveted picture escaping the blaze. Miracles existed in her world.

One day she’d be reunited with the man she loved, because love, as St. Paul promised, never fails. And Paul and Jeanette’s love surely never died. xxx

Below left is the recovered picture of Paul. Right, is a rare picture of them dancing. Today, Jeanette is 89. She has survived the odds, many of her friends, her seven siblings, and her husband. She still lives alone, cleans her own house, and goes to every home basketball game her high school alma mater plays.

Paul head shotIMAG0044 (2)

My Dark City Night

     I didn’t know about the drugs. But I saw the girls, beautiful and fawned over, who used to sit in the big roomy booths. Once they left, I never saw them again. 2nd story in a NY series.

New York, New York, what a wonderful town! Theatres, museums, skyscrapers, financial centers, night life. . . The city itself is a celebrity. The song says, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” And I wanted to make it. Everything in New York seemed bigger and brighter—skyscrapers lighting up the sky, soaring toward the gleam of heaven.

But night comes fast in a city of towers, and bright lights slowly flicker out. When darkness descends, the city’s nocturnal life can turn to shadows of foreboding.

Especially when you get blindsided.

The National Broadcasting Company, (NBC), New York’s premier television station in the 1960s, had been my employer for about a year and a half. It wasn’t my dream job, just a starting position with first-class appeal and location—30 Rockefeller Center. I had an easy bus ride to work, and from work, on to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts where I attended acting school. Celebrity sightings were common at NBC, and really, that’s the reason this country bumpkin originally chose to work there.

However, restlessness and a desire to advance had steered me toward a possible career as an assistant casting director at a talent agency. In case the acting thing didn’t work out. Surprisingly, I was hired, but with a three week hiatus between jobs.

To celebrate, a friend took me to New York’s hottest, most trendy new restaurant and club where his father knew the owner. Immediately, I wanted to work there. I’d waitressed the summer before, my junior year at Marshall University, with a group of sorority sisters in Wildwood, New Jersey. So I had experience. My intent was simple: make some quick cash between jobs.

Aquarius, I’ll call the club, had gotten a smashing review in the New York Times and as luck would have it, the owner came to our table. When I brazenly asked him about a three-week job, he hired me on the spot. Unknown to me, and I hope to my friend, the owner was a half-crazed cocaine addict.

Aquarius was a great place to work: fast paced and lively. New York’s socialites and a few celebrities came and went. I received special treatment from the beginning: free drinks and no weekend schedule. I never gave it a thought since I had a connection to the owner, the other girls wanted to work weekends, and I would soon be leaving. The friend who had taken me there and introduced me, however, had gone back to Georgia, to finish an MBA program.

One night I was the closing waitress and the only person there except for the owner addict. I will never forget his name. He called me to his basement office in the dazzling four-level club, and when I got there, he walked behind me, slamming and locking the door. Wide, frightened eyes gave away my emotions. “Don’t even think about screaming,” he said in his thick guttural accent. “No one will hear you down here.”

He took off his belt and I thought . . . well, you know what I thought. But, then he said, “I’m going to beat you until no one recognizes you.” A mantra he kept repeating, like he wanted me to grasp the enormity of the words. “I’m going to beat you until . . .”

He held out his belt buckle, making sure my eyes met the heavy, reflective metal. “. . . no one will recognize you.” I had never been hit in my life. Dazed and terrified, a prayer went through my head fast. “Jesus! Please help!” Something like that.

Instantly, I was no longer horror-struck. Fearful perhaps, but strangely reassured. Sitting down, I patted the seat beside me. “Come sit by me,” I heard myself say.

Glassy eyes glared down on me. My knees felt as brittle as dead, fallen tree branches, but somehow I got up and took his face in my hands, running them down his arms. “Let’s get out of here,” I said, “This basement gives me the creeps.” He was totally stoned, his pupils scarily dilated.

I turned around fast—acting—the reason I’d come to New York in the first place. “Did you hear that?” Meanwhile, I would have welcomed Ali Baba and the forty thieves.

“I hear nothing,” he said.

“Please, I’m frightened,” I grabbed his arm tenderly. “Will you check it out?”

Several appeals later, he succumbed, “If you move while I’m gone, you’re dead.” He gave me an executioner’s look, unlocked the door, and walked out.

Don’t run. Don’t run!

The well-appointed room was small and softly lit compared to the bright, opulent surroundings outside the freedom door. I went back to the sofa and sat on my hands. They naturally trembled and they trembled now. Praying some more, I stared at the opened door, but stayed put.

No place to run.

When he returned, a lethal half-smile crossed his face, no doubt surprised I was there. “It was nothing, I told you.”

“Please, let’s go to my place or your place,” I said. “Anywhere but here.”

My ceaseless requests seemed not to register, until surprisingly, he agreed. It was late—at least 4 AM. He held my wrists tight, hurtful, as we made our way through the huge club. What I would do on an empty New York street, I couldn’t say, but that sense of calm streamed through me.

At the front of the building, he held only one of my arms while jerkily opening the wooden door with the keys in his right hand. But, the outside metal gate required both of his hands. Slit, moist eyes looked down on me, black and foreboding, as he released me to open the gate. I stood calmly. Waiting. When that metal clanked back, I shimmied through the opening and sprinted down that street like an Olympian! Even stoned he knew he had to lock the doors.

Unbelievably, at that early hour, at the end of the street, a cab was pulled to the curb. A beautiful black cabbie was cleaning ice cream out of the back seat. “Please, please, get out of here!” I screamed, jumping into the seat beside him, “Now!”

He looked at me as calm as the summer air, and with a lilting island accent, I swear he said something similar to this. “Lot of anxiety for this hour of the mornin’.” And he kept cleaning.

“Please! A man, he’s coming after me! Hurry!”

He put down his rag and got behind the wheel, his head shaking. Crazy woman. He didn’t need to say it.

As he pulled away, I heard my boss cursing, curbside.

Days later, and with little effort, a lawyer friend, David, found that my former employer was connected to a crime syndicate that enslaved girls. At the time, this naïve country girl thought that particular notion ridiculous. Today, I know human slavery is an all too real horror.

I did all the right things that night, too many to say it was luck. While I had strayed from my spiritual upbringing, my family always prayed. Today I see their dozens of answered prayers. I also see a guardian angel, not in the bedside chair of my youth, but next to my shoulder, telling me what to do and say.

And there was that child-like prayer, “Jesus, please help.” Simple words that produced supernatural composure and delivered me from a nightmare.

To be old and wise, the saying goes, you first must be young and foolish. And I was young and foolish. At the time, I didn’t see the signs or the depth of depravity that could have been. I did not make it in New York, but I made it out of New York. Because if we belong to Christ, while the world gets out of hand, we are always in the Master’s hand. In today’s insane world, it is the safest place, the only place to be.

IMAG0042

Visiting New York, circa 1981

Rockefeller_Center_(2006)

Winter at Rockefeller Center

NY 2