Tag Archives: Forgiveness

A Christmas Story 2019®

The sound of the garage opening next door drew Julia’s attention from making her world-famous wassail. Well, maybe not world-famous, but all of her family and everyone at church sure loved it.

Julia raised her upper lip in a snarl at the sound. It was that infernal Jamal Hudson heading out to do God-knows-what again. Here he was interrupting her wassail making too. Now I’ll probably cook it too long and make it sour, she thought as she scuffled across her small, one-bed, one-bathroom house. She was more than capable of walking, but her red slip-on houseshoes were getting old, so she was just keeping them from sliding off.

Julia glanced at her reflection in the glass of the small tv in the cabinet in her living room and fluffed her white hair. That tell-all would probably tell everyone in town if I didn’t have myself put together. 

Turning the tv on, Julia turned the knob to the station showing It’s a Wonderful Life. She wasn’t in the mood to watch it, but it would suffice for appropriate background noise while she worked on her favorite holiday drink.

She walked over to the front window, and standing on her tippy toes, reached the cord to open the blinds. Another hand around the house to help with things like this would sure be nice, but she wasn’t about to admit that she could use the help. Julia Winston was as independent and strong as she had ever been. With a zip, she drew the blinds up to watch outside. She squinted her eyes against the brightness of the sun reflecting off of the snow.

Sure enough. Jamal was scraping the ice off of the windshield of his old, blue Chevy truck while a white cloud poured out of his exhaust, freezing from the cold. 

Julia scowled at her troublesome neighbor. He has a garage. Why in the world doesn’t he keep that old truck in there. It’s probably full of old junk he won’t throw out. She watched in disapproval as he pulled his corduroy coat tighter and beat the frost off of his scraper onto his tire.

That was it. She had had enough. Julia stepped out of the front door and pulled her thick robe tight around her to shield her from the cold. “Looks like your driveway is nice and clean,” she said snidely.

“Yep,” Jamal said not looking up from reaching across his bed to scrape his back window. “Cleaned it off last night.”

“And I don’t suppose you could be bothered to help an old lady by clearing hers.”

Now Jamal looked up and raised a brow of mock disbelief at his neighbor. “After you having that boy cut the limbs off of my tree last week? I don’t think so, you petty woman.”

“They were hanging into my yard! Squirrels were jumping from them into my birdfeeders.”

Jamal rolled his eyes as he sat in his truck before slamming the door shut signalling the end of the conversation.

Rage boiled in Julia’s veins. She huffed and slammed her front door as she came in the house.

Their feud was an old one. They had been neighbors for the better part of three decades and they had hated each other every second of it. If Julia was honest, she would confess that she didn’t know what ignited their animosity for one another, but she could easily tell you that last week Jamal shoveled the snow from his driveway into her yard, which was a good ten feet away from his driveway.

Julia looked back out the window at her own driveway, still covered in snow. A real man would have offered to help a 76-year-old lady clear it. That certainly wasn’t Jamal. She would just have to wait until some teenagers came by on their way home from school and offer them $20 to do it.

When Jamal drove by, a scowl on his face and his rotted exhaust rumbling loudly, she dropped her blinds shut and stormed back into the kitchen. 

“One of these days that old jerk will move out of this neighborhood,” she said as she stirred her wassail. She put the wooden spoon to her lips and tasted it. Her face puckered and she threw the spoon down in the sink. “Sour.”

Julia struggled to carry her crockpot, with new wassail that Jamal hadn’t ruined, across the church parking lot. The little handles were trying desperately to slip out of her slick mittens. At least the warm liquid inside was helping to ward off the cold.

Today was the Christmas play, so there would be a lot of guests. There was no way she was going to serve soured wassail today of all days. Then everyone in town would think she didn’t know how to make wassail. Sally May’s eggnog was certainly not going to outdo her drink either. She cursed Jamal again under her breath.

“Here, let me get that for you, Miss Julia,” a voice from behind her called. 

Julia turned around and smiled. “Why thank you, Curtis Lee. We could use more men like you.”

The two struggled to make the exchange without spilling any wassail or burning their hands on the side of the old, tan crockpot.

“You’re welcome, Miss Julia. I wouldn’t want to spill any of your famous wassail. What a waste that would be.”

Julia slipped her arm under Curtis’ and the two walked slowly to avoid any slick spots still in the parking lot. Their merry chatter carried on the still, cold air.

Inside the usual greeting and hugging that accompanied a church service took place. Everyone asking each other how their week went or how their sick loved ones were doing. Shortly everyone made it into the sanctuary and quieted for service.

The play was perfect, as always. Mary, the music director, had such a talent for making stories come alive. Her voice was amazing too. She definitely needed to go on one of those singing shows. 

The actors all lined up at the front of the stage donning clothes from the 1800s and bowed as the crowd clapped. Pastor Jerry came out and called for another applause as the actors walked offstage. Then the pastor gave an exhorting and stirring sermon examining the lesson of the play. He talked about forgiveness and the biblical parable of the man who was forgiven for a lifetime’s debt then turned around and punished a man who owed him just a week’s wages.

“”You see, we owe much to God for His forgiveness, and when we don’t forgive the little transgressions of others, we look like this man who didn’t forgive the little debt owed to him,” Pastor Jerry explained.

Julia smiled contently. I sure hope some of these people are listening to this, she thought. I know several people who could learn something from this. 

After service was dismissed, it was Julia’s time to shine. The pastor asked everyone to come by the visitors’ booth for a quick beverage and an invitation to the Christmas dinner. 

Julia grabbed her purse and was the first one out the sanctuary door. She loved her after-service chat with Rose, but that would have to wait for another day. People needed their wassail poured… and of course if she admitted it, she liked being able to tell them it was her secret recipe when she poured it for them. 

Julia hustled across the foyer and slid her purse under the draped folding table before setting the styrofoam cups on top. She took the lid off of her crockpot and the sweet aroma of cinnamon rose with hot steam, washing her with nostalgia. Looking around the room, it seemed like the Christmas lights glowed a little brighter. Soon the Christmas music was playing, and the mood was perfectly set.

The sanctuary doors slid open, and a lady of similar age and stature joined her behind the table, wrapping her in a warm hug.

“Sally May. It’s good to see you, honey. How’s Bob? Did his surgery go well?”

As Sally pulled away, she gave Julia a warm smile. “Yes. Thank you for asking. He should be healed up in a month or so. He’s kind of being a baby about it though. That was his excuse to stay home today.”

The two shared a chuckle and Julia said, “He’ll do anything to sit in that recliner and watch football.”

“Yes, yes he will.” Sally May reached under the table and pulled out a jug of store-bought eggnog and some plastic cups. 

Julia held back a gasp and her face flushed. “You didn’t make your eggnog this year?”

Sally May looked away sheepishly. “Well, with Bob’s surgery, I was busy taking care of him. I didn’t have time to make my own. It takes a long time.”

“Well. I think I would have made time,” Julia said sitting her ladle in her wassail. I’m definitely not going to have any competition this year.

Sally May turned to respond but a tall, blonde woman with a fur-rimmed coat had made her way to the table with a young boy and a tall, dark-headed man in tow.

Julia was quick to be the first to greet them. “Well hello, Michelle. Want some wassail?”

“You know I do, Miss Julia. I wait all year for some of your famous wassail.”

Julia was beaming as she poured some of the drink into a cup, steam dancing blissfully from its rim. Michelle pulled it to her face and sniffed deeply. “Mmmm. Thank you.”

As Julia poured two cups for Michelle’s family, she smiled at Michelle’s son. “Benjamin, you did a great job in that play. You mark my words, you’ll be famous someday.”

“Thank you, Miss Julia.” The family accepted their drinks with gratitude, grabbed a Christmas dinner flyer, and stepped out of line. A line that was growing quite rapidly, Julia thought. Especially compared to Sally May’s. 

She should have left that hospital long enough to make her homemade eggnog. She’s going to make visitors think we don’t care about them with that stuff from the store. Though she could hardly contain her disapproval of the store-bought eggnog, she was loving being so popular.

As the people began to disperse, Julia made light chatter with some of the regular churchgoers. She was as happy as she had been in some time. Whether it was the holidays, the compliments on her drink, or a little of both, she was practically glowing with excitement. Then she caught something out of the corner of her eye that drained her mood.

It can’t be, she thought. Sure enough, Jamal was talking to her pastor. He was dressed in the nicest clothes she had seen him in. The look on his face made it apparent he felt awkward talking to Pastor Jerry though. When Pastor Jerry gestured toward the welcome table, Julia panicked. 

That hooligan is not getting any of my wassail. Julia looked around for an excuse before deciding to quickly slide her cups under the table.

“Hey, Julia,” Pastor Jerry said, startling the old lady. She quickly stood and smiled at Jerry before he continued, “This is Jamal. I was just telling him that he had to try some of your amazing wassail.” 

Jamal and Julia looked at each other, terror in Jamal’s eyes and disdain in Julia’s. Julia shrugged. “I would love to, but I’m out of cups.”

Jerry shrugged and began to reach for Sally May’s cups. “I’m sure Sally May wouldn’t mind if you borrowed some of…”

“Can’t,” Julia interjected, a bit too quickly. Jerry raised a brow at her. She tried to laugh it off. “I mean, wassail’s hot. It’ll melt those plastic cups and make it taste weird.”

Jerry began to reply, but Jamal interjected. “It’s okay. I’m… more of an eggnog guy anyway.” 

When Sally May began pouring for the visitor, Julia came from behind the counter and pulled on the pastor’s elbow. “Pastor, can I talk with you for a minute?”

Jerry’s look of confusion deepened. “Okay, Julia. Just a sec.” He grabbed a flyer and handed it to Jamal. “Anyway, we hope to see you at the Christmas dinner.”

Julia could feel her face flush as she tingled with anger. They walked to a quiet corner of the foyer next to one of the couches and Julia turned to Jerry with her arms crossed.

“What is it, Julia?”

Julia took a deep breath to calm herself. Her pastor didn’t know this man or he wouldn’t have been so chummy with him. He definitely wouldn’t have invited to the Christmas dinner.

“Pastor, now that Jamal is my neighbor. He’s nothing but trouble. He has no consideration for me. Just last week he dumped his garbage into my trash bin. I’ve had to call the law on him 5 times already.”

Jerry looked across the foyer at Jamal who was talking politely with Sally May and back to Julia. “He seems awful nice to me.”

“He’s just hiding who he really is to you…” She thought really hard for a reason that Jamal might be putting up a false pretense. “Probably because you’re a pastor.”

Jerry smiled knowingly. “You did have some cups behind the table, didn’t you?” 

Julia sighed and shook her head in frustration. She knew what he was trying to do. Jerry was good at lightening a situation with humor, but this was not the time for that. There was definitely no room for Jamal in this church, and he needed to see that.

Seeing his trick wasn’t working, Jerry gave her a resigned smile. “Look. I understand why you’re frustrated and what you want me to do, but we don’t turn people away from this church. Maybe you guys will get to chatting at the Christmas dinner and put your differences aside.”

Julia couldn’t believe her pastor wasn’t seeing her side. She narrowed her eyes at him and kept eye contact as she stomped past him. 

“Julia…” Jerry tried to stop her, but it was too late. 

Julia threw on her thick, maroon coat, grabbed her empty crockpot and purse, and went straight for the door. When she got halfway across the room, a pain started shooting straight from her heart into her arm. Her eyes widened in pain and her mouth dropped open.

“Julia?” Curtis came running from the nursery door and sat her crockpot to the side. “Pastor!”

Jerry came running over and put his arm behind Julia, a look of panic in his eyes. “Julia, are you okay?”

The pain intensified in her chest, and her breathing became labored. She looked at Jerry with tear-filled eyes, pleading for help. Her vision blurred and narrowed and the last thing she heard before losing consciousness was Pastor Jerry’s shout.

“Call 911!”

Julia blinked her eyes open. When she saw that she was in a hospital room, she began to panic. Her heart started beating wildly against her ribs, and she broke out in a cold sweat. She couldn’t remember where she had been or what happened to get her here.

When Julia sat up quickly and began to look around at the IV in her arm, the oxygen hose in her nose, and everything else attached to her, a familiar voice began to soothe her.

“It’s okay, Julia. It’s okay. I’m here with you.” Pastor Jerry stood and put a hand on her shoulder.

Julia looked at him and tears began to well in her eyes. Bit by bit she began to put it all back together. “Di… did I have a heart attack?”

Pastor Jerry gave her a strained smile. “The tests haven’t come back for sure, but that’s what Dr. Palinski thinks it was.”

Julia sat back with shock in her eyes. It couldn’t be. Julia had never had a heart attack. She had never had any trouble with her heart. What did this mean for her living on her own? Her daughter, Patricia, lived so far away, there was no way she could help. Oh how Julia wished Patricia was here now.

A knock on the door drew their attention that way. “Hello, Ms. Winston,” Dr. Palinski, a tall, gray-haired man with handsome features stepped into the room. “How are you feeling?”

All Julia could answer in reply was a defeated shrug.

The doctor gave Jerry an understanding and sad half-smile then looked back to Julia. “Listen, you did have a heart attack, but it looks like your heart is still in good shape. It may have just been a combination of that and stress that caused you to pass out. Are you currently under any stress at home?”

Julia eyed Jerry then turned her head away sharply. She looked out of the window and paused for a moment. “I’m fine.”

Dr. Palinski looked at her for a moment before patting her leg. “Well, just try to take it easy. Okay? You may just need to stay at home for a few days. I’m going to write you a prescription and we should be able to get you out of here today.”

Julia heard him walk out of the room before shutting the door behind him. She and Pastor Jerry sat in silence for a few moments, neither knowing what to say. What luck. The Christmas dinner was just around the corner, the one she looked forward to all year, and now she was going to have everyone fussing over her there. If they even let her go.

Then something caught her attention from the corner of her eye. Someone had bought her flowers. She was curious to see who, but she wasn’t ready to be done sulking yet so she turned her eyes back out the window. But really. Who brought her the flowers? They were so pretty too.

Julia raised a brow and strained to read the name hanging on the card. She could hardly contain her shock when she read it. Jamal! What was that nosy neighbor doing here?

Almost as if reading her mind, Jerry said, “You’ll never guess who stopped by.” It was obviously an attempt to cheer her up, which she did not appreciate.

Julia took a deep breath through the tube in her nose. “I already know. Your best friend Jamal. Why did you let that nosy man in here?”

“I didn’t think it would be right to kick the man who saved your life out.”

Julia turned so quickly her neck tensed. She looked at Jerry in utter disbelief. 

“Yep. Jamal was the one who gave you CPR until the ambulance got there. It’s a good thing. None of the rest of us knew how to do it.” Jerry shrugged with a smile.

Julia didn’t know what to think. What was his gain here? There had to be some angle that Jamal was trying to work. He wouldn’t have just saved her.

Would he?

Her pastor must have read the struggle in her eyes, because he spoke as if she had said it out loud. Laying a hand on her hand, Jerry said, “I think Jamal is ready to move on. I talked to him. He said the play and the service really moved him. I was thinking… maybe it’s time for you to do the same.”

Pastor Jerry’s deep smile was so disarming, Julia believed every word he said. She wanted to stay mad, to hold onto that well-cultivated hatred for that man that had caused her so much trouble for so many years, but… she just couldn’t. It felt like one hundred layers of ice and stone just melted off of her heart.

And she forgave him.

Julia began to cry, and Pastor Jerry just hugged her. They sat in an embrace that both felt like it went on forever and that it was over in a moment. When they finally pulled apart, Julia looked him in the eyes, put a hand on his cheek, and said, “Thank you.”

Jerry patted her shoulder and said, “You’re welcome.” 

The pastor stood and slid on his black peacoat. “I’d love to stay and chat with you, Julia, but the church staff needs my help setting up for the Christmas dinner.” He paused and looked at her with sincerity. “I’ll pray that you can make it.”

As her sweet pastor walked out of the door, Julia became more determined than she had ever been in her life. I’ll be there.

The night of the Christmas dinner party had finally arrived. The places were set, and the mood was right. Volunteers milled about the events room that doubled as the youth room on Wednesdays. Red tablecloths were set on long tables arranged in a U-shape around the room with chairs sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with each other to make as much room as possible for all of the dinner guests. The pillar in the middle of the room was hugged by a square setting of tables with crockpots, tinfoil-covered plates, cups, and bottles of soda covering every square inch. All food that everyone had chipped in to bring.

Lights and garland with large red bows and poinsettias set in them dotted the room, and the giant Christmas tree stood as the center of attention against the back wall with a little manger scene set before it. The wonderful scent of cinnamon filled the air sharing space with the joyful sound of Angels We Have Heard on High playing softly.

Julia took a deep breath as she stood in the doorway. She was preparing herself for the onslaught of questions she knew was coming. They all meant well, she knew, but that wasn’t the attention she wanted today. It didn’t really matter though. She was just glad to be released to come to the dinner in the first place. As if the doctor was going to keep her away anyway.

Julia smiled and strode in. The first to greet her was Curtis. He asked the question she dreaded, but the look of genuine concern in his eyes disarmed her. She politely let him know that she was fine and that she was glad to make it to the dinner.

With the first one inquiry out of the way, the rest felt less and less intrusive and soon she was no longer being asked. She was truly grateful for a church family that cared so much.

Julia went over to check her crockpot with wassail and stirred it once for good measure. She wafted the scent toward her and smiled. This dinner was going to be the best yet. Her hospital scare and time to reflect at home was giving her a new appreciation for reasons to be joyous in life.

Out of the corner of her eye, Julia spotted Sally May struggling to carry a couple of store-bought jugs of eggnog into the room. Julia hustled over and took one from her. “Here let me help you, Sally May.”

“Julia. I’m sorry. I tried to find time to make homemade eggnog, but I just couldn’t…”

“Don’t you worry about that, Sally May,” Julia interrupted. “I’ve always liked Hiland’s eggnog anyway. Everyone’s going to love it.”

Sally May looked at Julia for a moment, obviously unsure what to think, but then a smile grew on her face she recognized Julia’s authenticity. They carried the eggnog over together and sat out their cups before helping to prepare where they could with everyone else.

Soon people began filtering in and the sounds of clanking and preparation were replaced by the sounds of light and joyous conversation and laughter. Friends and family were hugging one another, and then the finger food began to run low.

Julia smiled and greeted people as they came in, shaking their hands and hugging them, but she kept watching the door for one person. I really hope I didn’t scare him away…

Before long, she saw Jamal step into the doorway and was washed with relief. His face wore the same awkward look of uncomfort that it had when he talked with Pastor Jerry all those days ago. He pulled his hat from his head and began ringing it in his hands, apparently nervous about meeting all the new people.

When he began walking in, he and Julia made eye contact. He looked away quickly as if he hadn’t seen her and started trying to pick his way through the crowd in another direction. 

Julia’s heart hurt. Not in a physical way, but she knew she had done this. She was ashamed of herself for the first time in as long as she could remember. After pouring a cup of wassail, she headed straight for Jamal.

The bustling crowd of people seemed to part before her, opening a way straight to her neighbor while Jamal still struggled to find a way through them elsewhere. It was almost as if this meeting was supposed to happen.

When Julia approached him, Jamal looked at her nervously. “Oh. H.. hi, Julia. I was just…”

“Would you like some wassail?” Julia asked offering the cup up to the tall man.

Jamal paused and looked down at the wassail for a moment then back to Julia. When he saw her smile, he returned the favor and it seemed as if all of his apprehension about the dinner began to melt away.

“Some of Miss Julia’s famous wassail? You’d better believe it.” He took the cup and put it straight to his lips. His eyes went wide and he pulled it away from his mouth quickly with a pained look on his face. “Sssss.”

Julia chuckled. “Sorry, I forgot to say, ‘careful it’s hot.’” The two shared in a short laugh.

Julia began to feel conflicted. There was so much to say. So much to apologize for. Jamal seemed to be accepting her now, but would he accept an apology that was decades late? And was right now, in the middle of this Christmas dinner, the right time to do it?

Before she could stop herself she was blurting out to him.”Jamal… I’m so sorry.”

Jamal raised a hand to her. “Julia we both have so much to be sorry for. Let’s just enjoy each other’s company this Christmas and leave the past in the past. Besides, I don’t need that bowl of Jack’s anymore. That dog’s been gone for more than 10 years.”

Suddenly Julia remembered what started this whole feud. She must have worn a look of shock on her face because Jamal gave her a knowing smile. 

“I… I think I know exactly where that bowl is,” Julia replied. “It’s on the top shelf in my linen closet. I had completely forgotten. I was so sick of the cats coming on my porch because you kept leaving that bowl out…”

“That you just took the bowl to solve the problem,” Jamal finished with a laugh. “It’s okay. If I hadn’t put the cat bowl on your porch when you did that, things probably wouldn’t have got so hot between us anyway.”

They both laughed at the pettiness of it all. Their conversations got much lighter as they reminisced about all of the inconsequential things that kept that fire stoked between the two houses at the end of Lyon Street. 

When the pastor announced it was time to begin eating, everyone gathered into a circle and held hands as he said Grace. When it was time to sit down to eat, Jamal and Julia sat side by side sharing in merry conversation the whole night. 

Julia looked at Jamal as he was taking a bite of mashed potatoes and just smiled as she was flooded with warmth. Who would have ever guessed this Christmas would bring so much joy that she didn’t know she needed.

May you have a Merry Christmas filled with as much joy as Julia and Jamal share.

Shawn Bain

A Christmas Story 2017 ®

Paul sat with his knees against his chest in the empty, snow-dusted alleyway counting the money he had just acquired. The merry, multi-colored Christmas lights that shown on his face from the overhang above and the joyous music playing from the nearby shop stood in contrast to his gloom countenance and the dirtiness of his worn-out clothing. His conscience weighed heavier on him with each dollar bill he counted, though the sound of his rumbling stomach helped to quell the guilt.

Stealing on the day before Christmas. What have I become? The homeless man thought. He stared blankly at the paper for a moment wanting to break down into tears. Knowing it wouldn’t help matters, he wiped his cold nose and sniffled as he stood and pocketed the meager $26.

Paul pulled his corduroy coat tight around him and walked along the store fronts keeping outside of the bustling crowds of holiday shoppers that had come downtown to make their last-minute purchases. The townspeople’s mixture of conversations was light and joyful, centered on holiday traditions, their favorite flavors, and what perfect gift they were picking up for their loved ones. Paul was making his usual trip to the Kum & Go on 7th and Mt. Vernon Street.

Hopefully this would be the last time he would have to endure the judging glare from the attendant as he picked up his ham sandwich and that fifth of his favorite liquor to drown out the nagging voice in his mind that was telling him to give the money back. This is the last time, he thought, though he was having a harder and harder time convincing himself of that fact every time he was forced to think it. Besides, what options did he have? None of the local restaurants would hire him, and he gave up on his dreams of being a concert pianist long ago.

When the convenience store came into view, Paul stopped to gather his courage, as he had done so many times before. Just as he took his next step, he noticed a husband and wife getting out of their car and stopped out of their sight.

“Bodee’s going to love it,” the woman exclaimed.

“Yeah, and it’s 4k, so all of his games are going to look sweet on it,” the husband replied.

“Uh huh,” she said as she rolled her eyes.

Paul watched silently in the distance, thinking of what it would have been like to receive a gift like that when he was a kid. One car door latch resounded loudly on the still night. Just one though? His eyes went wide when he noticed that the woman’s car door didn’t close as they walked into the store. The brand-new Samsung TV sitting in the back of the SUV seemed to taunt him.

Man, selling that would give me enough money to get me through the winter. Paul shook his head. I couldn’t take a little boy’s TV. I don’t need it that bad. He started toward the station, but couldn’t help but turn his attention back to the gift. How easy it would be to reach in and pull it out. Another growl of his stomach was all of the motivation he needed. Besides, they had nice clothes, and the SUV looked expensive. Maybe they could just buy another one.

Paul snuck up beside the vehicle and put his back against it. He glanced into the store and saw the man standing outside the restroom checking his watch. Plenty of time. Quickly and quietly he pulled the door open and pushed the unlock button on the door. He stepped back, pulled open the back door and in a moment he had his hand on the television box.

He paused at a sight in the back seat. The little brown teddy bear sat in the car seat, and though it had a smile on its face, it seemed to be asking him, “Why?” Paul stopped and bit his lip. How could he do such a thing? The door to the store jingled, and Paul made his decision hastily.

In a moment, he was around the side of the building, his heart racing, breathing heavily, and… clutching the TV to his chest.

“Honey, did you leave the back door open?” Paul heard the wife ask. He closed his eyes to bear the sting of guilt.

“On your side?” The man asked with a laugh.

The woman rolled her eyes again and shut the door. Paul’s heart sank as he heard the vehicle start up and drive away. He wanted desperately to run out and scream, “Wait,” but it was too late. He looked down at the television box and saw the bear in the car seat staring back at him.

Paul breathed on his freezing hands, the frosty mist from the cold air drifting from his scraggly goatee and through his paled fingers. He hugged his shoulders and kept his gaze on the window as he shivered. Inside a familiar husband held his wife close to his side with her head on his shoulder as they stood behind a young boy excitedly opening his presents in his pajamas. The room was lit with an array of colors from Christmas lights hung about the wooden walls and shelving, and garland dotted the vicinity. Against his better judgment, the homeless man had followed the family home.

It was Christmas morning. The last thing Paul wanted to do was make himself feel more guilty, but there he stood. Why am I doing this? He glanced down at the stolen television in the snow behind the bushes with him. Paul had already convinced himself that he needed this television more than the child it was intended for. Quickly surveying the area, he could see he had still gone unnoticed by the neighbors. His gaze returned to the scene inside.

As the boy crawled under the tree to search for any presents that he may have missed, his mother looked at her husband and they shared a sorrow-filled smile. Paul’s heart broke, and a tear streaked down his cheek glistening against the white backdrop. How could he let himself be convinced that he deserved that gift? Now a child’s Christmas would be ruined. And for what? Whiskey?

The regretful man rubbed the inner part of his sleeve against his eye, wiping his tear away. Then his remorseful look was replaced with a smile as a thought set in. It wouldn’t be ruined, he decided. He could return it when they weren’t looking. All of those skills he had acquired in entering someone’s home to take something could be used to return something as well. Paul’s heart warmed and his spirits lifted. He could do one thing right this Christmas.

When the young child turned back to his parents, their demeanor shifted back to joy and he jumped into a hug between them. The boy grabbed a toy plane from his haul and flew it through the air. He playfully ran from his parents, apparently playing keep away, and they gave quick pursuit. As they ran up the stairs, Paul knew this might be his only chance.

The homeless man made haste to the door looking about for anyone who may be watching, his feet crunching softly on the new snow. He closed his eyes, clenched his teeth, and hoped against all odds that they had left the door unlocked. He twisted the knob; no such luck. He couldn’t help but wonder if they would have felt safe enough to leave the door unlocked just a few days prior, had he not taken from them.

Paul looked in the window and made sure the room was still vacant, then fished a lock pick from his coat pocket. His tongue worked as he ran the hooked object through the lock until he heard a click. He smiled and ran back to the television kicking his knees high in joy. Grabbing the gift, he ran back and slowly slid the door open.

The room was warm. Oh, how much he missed warmth. Paul breathed in deep. Inside the house smelled of cinnamon and fresh-brewed coffee. A thud upstairs made him jump.

“Get back here, Mommy,” the father cried out. “We’re gonna get you!”

The woman laughed and the boy made whistling sounds like a plane chasing a target.

Paul smiled with a tear in his eye. He stopped himself from getting too attached though. If this family caught him in their home, no matter what his intentions were, he would be spending the rest of the holiday in jail.

Paul quickly surveyed his surroundings. He was in a big living room with hardwood floors, a high, cathedral-styled ceiling, and wooden stairs against the wall to the right. A double-wide doorway to the left revealed a dining room with large windows facing the front of the house. To the right was a room with similar windows and lush carpet, apparently a wreck room of sorts. Straight ahead was a hallway and at the end standing prominently on the wall was a cross hanging on the wall.

Satisfied he was alone, Paul crept quietly to the tree, and laid the snow-dusted television between it and the crackling fireplace. The box was a little worse for wear, so he lightly blew on it and brushed off some of the snow hoping to restore some semblance of newness to it before sneaking back to the door. He caused a floorboard to creak in the floor and his blood to froze.

“Hello?” a voice called from upstairs.

Paul rushed through the door and slammed it shut with little time to focus on being silent. He rushed away and dove behind the bushes before quickly turning back, pushing the shrubbery aside, and looking back in the window.

The father came down first. He stopped on the stairs when he noticed the television by the tree. Scratching his head with a look of confusion, he appeared to call back up the stairs. The wife came down clutching a tennis racket, ready to strike with her son close behind, clinging to her robe. It didn’t take long for the son to notice the new gift, and he was downstairs checking out the box.

Paul smiled for a moment, but his face dropped when he noticed his tracks in the snow leading straight to his hiding spot. When the front door began to open, he beat a hasty retreat. He huffed as his legs pumped harder than they had in years, his hard breathing leaving a trail of frosty mist behind him. After what felt like hours, he ducked under a nearby bridge and clutched his chest as he tried to calm his breathing. Paul closed his mouth and tried to breathe through his nose; the cold air was burning his teeth.

When he felt he could finally relax, he sat down and his stomach growled. “I could really use the money from that TV right about now,” he said with his gruff, time-worn voice as he put his hand on his belly. No, you did the right thing. He sat for a moment then nodded in contentment. “Yeah, I did the right thing.”

Paul rested his head back against the cold concrete arch behind him with his eyes closed and smiled. Thoughts of Christmas seasons past played like a movie in his mind. That holiday at the foster home, the one he really liked, before his father got back out of jail and got custody back. The George’s gave him the warmest hugs, and Mrs. George made the best pecan pie. Paul licked his lips, and he could practically taste the caramel.

Paul remembered that Christmas at his parents’ home, before his dad lost his job and before his mom… He only had two presents under the tree, but that was all 6-year-old Paul needed. Lifting his new Mr. Potato Head up with a toothless smile in his G.I. Joe pajamas, little Paul had no idea how many hours of joy that hunk of plastic would provide.

Paul sighed and frost drifted from his lips as he thought about how he wasn’t going to prevent that warm feeling he was getting in his heart for another child. Then he sat up thoughtfully as he tried to imagine how the boy was using his present. How happy he must be. I have to go see. He shook his head. What’s wrong with me? I can’t go back there. But then again, they’ve probably gone back to their Christmas. He rocked with his knees pulled to his chest for warmth as he mulled the thought over. It was probably a bad idea, he knew, but he couldn’t help himself. Paul stood quickly and made his way back to the house.

Paul ducked back behind the bush he had hid behind and looked around the neighborhood again to ensure no one noticed. He was clear. Peaking his eyes over the top of the shrubbery, he grinned once more. Sitting at the table in the dining room was the dad swiping his finger up the screen on his phone sipping a cup a coffee, the mom spreading butter on a piece of toast, and the son who was much more interested in flying his new toy plane than eating the bowl of cereal sitting in front of him.

A brisk wind pulled Paul from his thoughts as he pulled his coat tighter about him. The breeze caught a piece of paper that was stuck in the bush in front of him and carried it into his face. He pulled the paper away and stopped when he noticed writing on it.

“To whoever returned                                                                                                       my son’s TV.                                                                                                                   Thank you.                                                                                                                    Please join us                                                                                                                      for Christmas.                                                                                                                  Just knock.”

 Paul’s mouth dropped open. Why would a family ask a stranger to join them for Christmas? Did they not know that he was also the one who stole the TV? Of course they did. That was probably the point. They were going to have him come in and call the cops. Paul pulled his beanie down further on his forehead and stood up to walk away with a look of unassured resolution. His job was done here, and he could see that the family’s Christmas was indeed restored. The man stopped before he took two steps, though, and looked back down at the paper. He really wanted to join them though. The smell and warmth of the house rushed back to his mind, and he closed his eyes. No.

“’Scuse me, Mister,” a small voice said, startling him from his thoughts. “Did you bring me my TV back?”

Paul looked down at the little brown-headed boy then back to the house. The door stood wide open and the mom and dad were no longer in the window. He looked back down at the boy who was staring at him with an innocently expecting look. Paul wanted to run. The boy’s parents would surely be coming after him soon. But there was something about the boy that reminded him of something. Perhaps he reminded him of himself at another time in his life. He knelt down and looked into the boy’s big brown eyes.

“Yes. Yes I did. But I also…”

“I thought so. I saw you from my house. My Daddy said he hoped you would come back. He said he wanted you to come inside with us. Are you going to come inside our house?”

“I – I’m afraid I can’t.”

“Why?” the boy said, tilting his head with a look of confusion.

Before Paul could answer, a shout from the door made his blood run cold.

“Bodee! What are you doing?” The father made a hasty walk toward them.

This was it. No need in running now. Judging by his athletic physique, the younger man would surely catch him and any pure intentions Paul had would go out the window. He could only hope the man’s message on the paper was sincere.

“Daddy, this is the man who brought me my TV.”

“Oh, hi. I’m Jack Bauman,” he said with his hand extended.

Paul looked at the hand for a moment before taking it and shaking.

“It’s okay. We’re just thankful you brought it back. Little Bodee here sure liked his new TV.” His son nodded emphatically and Paul just stared silently not sure what to think or feel.

Jack looked at him for a moment before grabbing his own shoulders and mimicking shivering to break the silence. “Bvvv. It’s a cold one this year. Won’t you join us inside?”

“Oh, I don’t think I could…”

“C’mon. We thought we were going to be missing a big portion of our Christmas, and you returned it. You really saved the day.”

“Yeah, but I also…”

Jack interrupted him with a waved hand. “It doesn’t matter. You saved our Christmas.” The father and husband smiled as he motioned with his head back to the house. “C’mon. My wife is cooking up some pecan pie.”

Paul felt his mouth water and his stomach tense. What did he have to lose after all? He nodded reluctantly. Jack patted his shoulder and Paul flinched.

“That’s the spirit.” Jack winked and ushered Bodee back toward the house. “C’mon, son.”

“Are you proud of me, Dad?” Bodee asked.

“You and I are going to have a talk about going outside by yourself.”

The young boy’s chest deflated and his shoulder’s slumped. Paul looked down at his dirty coat and hands before quickly pulling his hat from his head and wiping his hand across his hair, vainly attempting to conform it to his balding scalp.

As Paul walked back into the house, he was washed over by the amazing smells and warm air from inside once more. He must have inhaled loudly because Jack looked back at him with a knowing smile.

“You can smell that caramel, huh?”

Paul nodded, holding his hat in front of him with an embarrassed expression. “Um, I’m sorry if I smell. I haven’t had a chance to wash in awhile.”

Jack waved a hand dismissingly. “Nonsense. My wife’s burning so many candles I think my sniffer’s burnt out anyway?”

Jack’s wife came around the corner as he was speaking giving him a dangerous ‘oh-really?’ look. She smiled at Paul as she wiped her hands on a dish towel. “Oh, is this him?”

“It is. Joyce, meet… I’m sorry, I don’t believe I caught your name.”

Unsure of how to really respond, Paul bowed as if addressing royalty. “Paul. I’m Paul. Nice to meet you.”

Joyce suppressed a kind-hearted laugh and curtsied obviously attempting to draw some embarrassment from her guest. “Well nice to meet you too, Paul. Please, make yourself at home. The pie’s got about 5 minutes left.”

Joyce turned and walked back out of the room. “Do you like ham? I can warm some of the ham from my parents’ yesterday if you’d like,” she called from the kitchen.

“Yes, Ma’am. Thank you.”

“Dining room’s in there,” Jack said pointing over his shoulder. “I’m going to run Bodee upstairs to get him outta these pajamas.” He put a hand on his son’s back. “C’mon, Sport. Let’s get changed.”

The two rushed up the stairs, Jack playfully poking Bodee’s ribs causing him to laugh and run faster.

Paul took a deep breath and looked around the house. He couldn’t believe how this Christmas was turning out. In fact, he was still having a hard time convincing himself that this was all real. He saw a piano in the hallway and walked up to it. As he ran his hand over the finger guard, memories of playing at his recital came flooding back to him.

“Came with the house.” Joyce’s words pulled Paul from his thoughts. She leaned against the kitchen doorway and looked down at the instrument. “We couldn’t find anyone to give it to, so it’s sat as a decoration in our hallway. You play?”

“Oh. I did a long time ago,” Paul said with his gaze still on the wooden object. “I don’t know if these old fingers could remember now.”

Joyce smiled back at him. “I bet you’d be surprised.”

Paul smiled at her then looked back at the piano. Why not? Not like anything could make this Christmas any weirder. He slid the stool out from beneath the keyboard and picked up a little brown bear sitting on top of it. His smile deepened as the toy that once had a judgmental glare from a car seat now seemed to embrace him warmly. Paul sat the toy to the side and seated himself at the keyboard. When he pulled the guard back and sat his fingers on the keys, his hands looked like his 9-year-old hands in his eyes. Suddenly he was sitting at a black grand piano in his mind on a stage with a giant Christmas tree. He looked out in the crowd and saw his dad sitting there with a smile, a rarity in those times, and an empty seat to his left.

The young Paul looked back to the piano and plunked out a few notes. Then he played a few notes with his other hand. As if on instinct, he played a melody from memory.

“Just hear those sleigh bells ringaling ring, tinga tingaling too.” Joyce’s sang, correctly identifying the song and bringing Paul right back into reality. He looked at her stunned for a moment then smiled and continued playing.

“C’mon it’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you,” Joyce continued, her beautiful voice resonating with the notes from the piano.

Jack’s deep voice resonated from the stair well as he leaned over and joined in. “Outside the snow is falling and friends are calling yoo hoo.”

All three joined in, “C’mon it’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.”

Paul played better than he could have hoped, and laughed, and sang, and nearly cried. For the first Christmas in years he wasn’t alone, cold, and starving. If for only one day, he had a family. And all because of the forgiveness and love of a few strangers.

A Free Gift

If there were a free gift sitting on a table with a vial inside that had water from the fountain of youth, would you take it? All you have to do is open the box, drink the water, and believe that the water would allow you to live forever and you would never die. It would seem that only a crazy person would say no to this.

Now let’s say that the gift is from your friend that has never lied to you and you can trust them completely. They told you that all you have to do is drink this water and you’ll live forever. You would have no reason to not take the free gift.

Similarly, if your friend gave you that gift, wouldn’t you want to give that gift to your other friends so they could live forever?

The gift of salvation from Jesus Christ is just like this gift. It is like the gift sitting on the table that all you have to do is accept it, and you will live eternally. That’s it! Accepting salvation is just like opening the present and drinking the water from the fountain of youth.

  • By asking Christ into your life, you open the box
  • By asking for salvation, you drink the water
  • Trusting that you are saved by grace through Christ is like believing in the water from the fountain of youth.
  • If your friend is God’s Word, it is a trusted friend that won’t lie to you and tells you that you can trust in Christ for salvation.

So if you had no reason to not take the free gift before, you have no reason not to take the free gift of salvation through Christ Jesus.

Also, if you would give your friend the gift before, you should want them to have the gift from Christ as well. So you should tell your friends.

If salvation is as simple as accepting Christ into your life, what are you waiting for?

I know it can be scary to think about a life change, but if you have Someone that can see the future and will watch over you eternally for just trusting in Him, there can’t be a better life change! There are more details to being a Christ-follower, but you will pick those up along the way. They aren’t scary!

If you want to accept Christ and don’t know how or where to start, I would love to help you with starting your journey. Just message me through my page and I will help you with what to pray to receive salvation.

Following Christ is an exciting journey, and I would be happy to help you through it.

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