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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Elizabeth's Christmas

I wrote the first chapter of this story as an enclosure for our 2012 Christmas Card.  Then after Christmas I felt there was more to Elizabeth's story that had to be told.  I put "Carol of the Bells" on repeat and sat down at my computer keyboard.  Here is the song for you to listen to as you read....



Chapter 1

The church bells had just finished chiming the midnight hour through the town’s streets.  It was Christmas.  Snow had been falling all evening and now as Elizabeth walked down the church steps she gripped the railing, carefully placing her foot on each step making sure not to slip. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day and she could not afford to fall and bruise herself, or something worse. 

Pastor John’s homily kept running through her mind as she walked the few blocks to her home. He’d said Christ came as a babe and lived among us so that we’d feel he was our friend as well as our Savior.  Elizabeth desperately needed a friend.  She was getting on in years and much of her family was gone now.  She’d never married.  It was just her and her dog and cat in the little house.  But tomorrow she’d have a house-full.  It was the day she opened her home to the people in the Shelter—those who were temporarily without a home for one reason or another.  The Shelter cared for them well enough, but Elizabeth couldn’t bear to think anyone might spend Christmas anywhere but in a real home and so she offered hers for the day.

Turning the key in her front door she turned her face upward for a few moments to take in the night sky.  It was then she noticed the North Star for the first time that evening.  It seemed brighter tonight and she thought about that night long ago in Bethlehem.  How Mary must have felt giving birth in such humble surroundings…away from home.  Elizabeth’s house was humble, but she’d made it into a home and hoped those who came tomorrow—no it was today now—would find comfort and hope to meet the challenges that lay ahead for them.

As Elizabeth lay down in her bed to sleep the few remaining hours of the night she thought about her hopes and dreams.  As a little girl she’d looked forward to growing up and having a family of her own.  Marrying a good man and having as many children as she could were at the base of her dream.  From there she imagined how her life would go with her little family around her….grandchildren eventually as she grew into old age with her husband…..

She awoke with a start!  Elizabeth lay there waiting for her head to clear.  Had she heard a noise?  Is that what woke her?  The curtain was slightly parted and a stream of light found its way across her quilt.  She hadn’t noticed a full moon earlier, so she went to the window to see where the light was coming from.  It was the North Star.  It was even brighter now.  The snow that graced the landscape shimmered in the light as bare branches cast long shadows across the back garden.  Elizabeth’s eyes were drawn to an outline of a child standing there.  Who could be out at this time of night?! 

Before she could move from the window the small figure dissolved before her eyes.  Was she just dreaming?  Dreaming….dreams.  She was reminded of her childhood dream and tears welled up in her eyes.  She blinked causing them to spill out and as one lone tear landed on the sill Elizabeth began to feel a certain hope warm her heart.  She thought about the people who would be arriving in just a few hours.  Some would be children.  They wouldn’t be her children, but she could love them all the same, just as much.

Chapter 2

The morning light came quickly—too quickly for Elizabeth.  She was still tired, yet she looked forward to the day ahead.  She would manage well enough.  She usually did.  She’d have tomorrow to catch up on her lost sleep.  As for today she’d better get up and start preparing for her guests.

After dressing, Elizabeth headed for the kitchen.  She’d usually take a cup of coffee back to bed with her where her pets would join her while she read and meditated on her daily devotionals and then write out her prayer to God.  It was the best part of her day.  Today there’d be no time for that.  Today she was running late.  Charley and Beatrix, her dog and cat, were not happy about their missed time in bed with her.  She promised she’d make it up to them.   They seemed to understand and lay down nearby to await their breakfasts.

It was barely an hour later when the first of the guests arrived.

“Merry Christmas, Toni!,” Elizabeth called out to the woman coming up the walk.  Toni looked up as she negotiated the cleared path to the door and smiled.  Elizabeth was so grateful to her neighbor, Jack, who, without fail, always cleared her walk for her after a snowfall. 

“Merry Christmas to you, too!” Toni called back.  Then Fred appeared at her gate and followed behind Toni.

“Merry Christmas, Fred,” Elizabeth said as she held the door open for both of them. 

“How are you both this fine morning?” Elizabeth asked.

Toni’s smile was bright as she said “Excellent!” but Fred remained quiet.  Elizabeth knew Fred was having a difficult time.  He’d been asked to leave the shelter more than once because of his drinking and he was in danger of being asked a third time.  It was three strikes and you’re out—permanently.   She showed them into the front room.

The doorbell chimed and Elizabeth excused herself.  The rest of her guests were arriving.  Molly and Agnes, who were sisters, Thomas Kincaid and his wife Betty and their seven-year-old daughter, Cheryl, and Paul.  Paul, a bit reclusive, was quite a character.  He’d spent most of the last decade at the Shelter.  He’d find a job, move out, but then be back by winter each year.  The Kincaids were new this year.  They’d only been at the shelter a few weeks.  Molly and Agnes were older than Elizabeth—both had never married and had fallen on hard times.  Elizabeth was grateful she had savings to rely on when she retired.  Being frugal, she’d been careful with every penny she made. 

“Make yourselves comfortable in the front room,” she said to everyone, “while I finish up in the kitchen.  There are some refreshments in there.  Help yourselves.”  Elizabeth looked up at the clock.  It was already 9:00.  The Jett family hadn’t arrived with their five little ones.  She’d just seen them at the shelter at Thanksgiving and they were on the list she’d requested a couple weeks ago so she’d know who to have gifts for.  Maybe this meant Evan had found a job and been able to move his family to an apartment. 

When Elizabeth reappeared in the front room she noticed the conversation had suddenly stopped.  As she glanced around the room she saw the anxiety in everyone’s eyes.  Stepping forward she asked, “Is something wrong?”

Everyone lowered their eyes except Agnes who spoke up.  “Elizabeth, we have some bad news and we just don’t know how to tell you.”  Elizabeth sat down on the arm of the nearest chair and waited.

After a long silence Thomas finally took the lead.  “It seems Evan has been arrested.”

“Oh dear!” Elizabeth murmured under her breath as she stood up.

“…..and Susan is in the hospital.  She took sick after the arrest.   They think it’s pneumonia….”

Then Molly added, “ And the children have been put in foster care.”

Elizabeth sat down on the arm of the chair again.  Everyone knew how she felt about those children and how she’d be feeling about their being separated into foster homes.

They all began speaking at once trying to offer her some encouraging thoughts about the situation….how Susan would get well, the foster homes are better now…..

“But it’s Christmas!” Elizabeth exclaimed.  Why didn’t someone tell me about this sooner.  They won’t be spending Christmas together!”

Everyone looked down at their laps again and grimaced.

“We’ll go with you,” Paul said in his soft voice.  He knew Elizabeth would want to do something about it.  Elizabeth looked up suddenly.  Everyone else did, too.  Toni and then Fred added their agreement.  Then everyone else did, too. 

Chapter 3

Elizabeth looked around the room.  “I don’t want to spoil your Christmas.”

“This will be the best Christmas ever!!” little Cheryl said.  All eyes turned to her.  “We’ll take Christmas to the little children and then we’ll all go to the hospital to visit Mrs. Jett so she can have Christmas, too!”

But first, Elizabeth had to find out where the children were.  It was Christmas morning and Social Services would not be open.  She hoped the Shelter would know.

“OK, then.  Everyone get your coats on!  We’re heading back down to the Shelter to see if we can get some information.  Will the ladies help me pack up the food and the guys carry the presents to my minivan.”  The Shelter was within walking distance, but they’d need to arrange rides to the hospital—and if necessary, to the foster homes to pick up the children.  It was going to be a long day, but Elizabeth felt more energized than ever now.

Soon they were marching single file into the Shelter and were met with a surprised and questioning expression on the Director’s face.  He’d just been getting ready to head home for his own Christmas celebration.   The staff had been given the day off since everyone was to be at Elizabeth’s until bedtime.  Now they were all standing in the foyer again.

“Ah, Elizabeth, what has happened?” Mr. Pritchard asked.

“Why didn’t you tell me about the Jett family?!”  Before he could answer, Elizabeth continued, “We’re hoping you can tell us where the children are so we can collect them and take them to the hospital to visit their mother at least.   I assume they can’t, or probably shouldn’t, visit their father in jail just yet.”

Mr. Pritchard hesitated.  He wasn’t supposed to give out that kind of information but as he looked at the eager and concerned faces…..well, it was Christmas, after all.  “Come with me.” Everyone started to follow.  “No, just Elizabeth!” he said a little louder than called for.  Paul could tell Mr. Pritchard wasn’t happy about being put on the spot like this, but he also knew Mr. Pritchard could be depended on to do the right thing.

As Elizabeth entered his office he turned to her and said, “You know I can’t give you that information.”  Elizabeth’s face fell.  “But I can call the foster homes myself and ask them if it would be all right to come round to collect the child for the day.”

Elizabeth gave him her brightest smile, “Oh thank you, thank you, Bob.  I knew I could count on you to make all this happen today.  How is Mrs. Jett doing?  Have you heard?”

“It really doesn’t look good.  It may actually be TB now.  They were going to test her the last I heard.”

Mr. Pritchard made the calls while Elizabeth sat quietly, silently praying for the miracle they’d need to make it all happen.  Soon Mr. Pritchard had gotten the consent from all four families. The twins had been placed in the same home.  “I’ll have to see if any of the volunteers are available to help drive this crew to the homes and then on to the hospital.  But first, let’s see what the hospital says.”

Mr. Pritchard hung up the phone.  “What’s wrong?!” Elizabeth could see the distress in his face.

“She’s in intensive care so she can’t have any visitors.”

“Well.  Then, we’ll collect the children and all go back to my house,” Elizabeth said.

Chapter 4

Mr. Pritchard called a volunteer who had a large van and went with him to collect the children and deliver them to Elizabeth’s.   Everyone else had walked back to Elizabeth’s, the gifts brought back in, and the food set back out on the table.

Molly sat down at the piano and began playing Christmas carols.  Before long most everyone was joining their voices to the chorus of voices in the room.  Little Cheryl was dancing about the room showing her dimples to anyone who admired her sweet voice. 

♫Fa-la-la-la La-la-la La La La♫ was in the background as Elizabeth opened the door to Mr. Pritchard.  “Here they are.  I’ll be round to collect them at 7:00.” 

The four girls and one boy filed into Elizabeth’s front room rather shyly.  Ranging in age from two to eight, numbers two and three were six-year-old twins.  The boy was the youngest.  So much had happened in the last week to unsettle their lives.  First, the police had come to the Shelter and arrested their papa.  Then their mother was taken away to the hospital, and they were taken to another building where they spent the night.  The next day they’d been shuffled off to foster homes and hardly settled in there when Mr. Pritchard came and got them this morning.

“I expect you’re very hungry,” Elizabeth said with that knowing look in her eye that children always could see. 

All five nodded yes.  “Well then, let’s eat!  Everyone form a line.  I’ll help your plates.  Each of the adults took a child in hand and offered their assistance.  Even Paul.  He’d gravitated to the little boy, who was the quietest in the bunch.  Betty helped Elizabeth serve.  Soon everyone had found a place to sit as they balanced their plates on their laps.

“As soon as we’re done eating we’ll open gifts,” Elizabeth announced.  This elicited smiles, finally, from the children’s faces. 

Cheryl scooted over to eight-year-old Emily and asked, “What did you ask Santa for this year?” Emily bit her lower lip.  Then Cheryl remembered where Emily’s parents were.  “Oh, sorry, I forgot for a minute….I’m sorry.  It’s just I remember when Santa visited the Shelter you went up to see him.”  Emily closed her eyes remembering her request—an American Girl doll.  Now it seemed so frivolous to have wanted something so badly.  Not that it mattered.  Santa hadn’t come this morning.  The family she was with didn’t celebrate Christmas.  Being here at Elizabeth’s was a surprise and very nice, but it didn’t take the heartache away.  Not even an American Girl doll could do that now.

Across the room the twins, Shelley and Melody, were chatting back and forth about the pretty Christmas tree.  Their foster family had a tree and they’d each received two small gifts—slippers and some knitted gloves.  They were comparing the decorations. 

Four-year-old Rebecca was laughing at Toni and Fred who were trying to entertain her by making faces.

Two-year-old Trey was sitting on Paul’s lap while Paul helped him with his food.  Trey was wide-eyed as he took in the room between bites.  These people were familiar, but he wanted his mama.

Elizabeth surveyed the room, her heart heavy for the children.  Was it only just last night she’d felt her sorrow over not having children of her own and vowed to love the children that were in her life…..these children?  At least until their mother was well or their father was out of jail.

Elizabeth made everyone wait until the dishes were done before the gift opening commenced. This was the part she loved most.   Every year right after Christmas she started saving once again for next year’s gifts.  She took great pains to learn what each recipient liked so she could surprise them.  None of this picking-something-from-a-list for Elizabeth.  As for the children, she had an inside source—Santa himself.  She could hardly wait for Emily to open her gift.  Elizabeth always scoured the yard sales throughout the year for gifts that a child might want—items that looked brand new—that she stored in her guest room.  But Emily had asked for a specific kind of doll. Now she knew why she’d been drawn to the American Girl doll that summer and had bought it even though it was a little above her budget for a doll.  It had even come with a book and an extra outfit.  When she learned that Emily had requested such a doll, Elizabeth was beyond excited. She’d been eagerly awaiting the surprised look on Emily’s face!  So she wasn’t prepared for the child to burst into tears and run from the room.

“Oh, dear…,” Elizabeth said out loud as she started to follow Emily.  But Cheryl, who was standing next to Elizabeth, reached out and grabbed her dress.  Elizabeth turned to see who held onto her.  Cheryl said, “Miss Elizabeth, I think I know what’s wrong with Emily.”  Elizabeth bent down and asked, “You do?”

“Oh, yes.  She feels bad about asking Santa for a doll when her mama and papa aren’t here.”

“I see,” Elizabeth said.  “Thank you for telling me.”

“Does everyone mind waiting before we open any more gifts until I speak with Emily?”

“Of course not,” everyone said in unison.  Molly went back to the piano and started playing. Soon the strains of The First Noel could be heard wafting from the front room as Elizabeth went in search of Emily.  She found her sitting on the bottom step of the staircase.

“Emily,” she said, “May I sit next to you?”  Emily nodded her consent.  “Do you want to tell me why you’re upset about your gift?”  Emily shook her head.  Elizabeth sat in silence for a while, then said, “I can only imagine how much you wish your papa and mama to be here with you and your sisters and brother….” Emily nodded.  “And I’m sure they wished they were, too.  As soon as the doctors say it’s all right I’ll take you to see your mother.  OK?”  Emily nodded again. Elizabeth took her hand.  “Sometimes we worry that if we want something very badly and then get it, we won’t be allowed to have anything else.”  Emily nodded again.  “But I want you to know that’s not how God works.  If you’re meant to have something, He’ll see that you get it…..but that doesn’t mean we’ll get everything we ask for.  Sometimes things happen that get in the way and are out of our control.  And even God won’t step in to change things because he gave us what they call free will.  It’s when we’re allowed to do anything we want, but at the same time there are consequences.  You know what consequences are don’t you…like if you don’t do your homework you get a bad grade and sometimes, if it happens too much, get sent to the Principal’s office. Right?”  Emily shrugged.  “No, I guess you don’t have that problem, do you.  You always do your homework, right?”  Emily smiled and Elizabeth gave a little chuckle.  She took hold of Emily’s hand and said, “I don’t know what the future holds for your mama and papa, but you can depend on God to see that you get taken care of….and that means giving you the gift you asked Santa for.”  Emily looked up into Elizabeth’s eyes and saw that knowing look again. A soft “thank you” fell from Emily’s lips. 

“Shall we go back to the party?  Everyone else is waiting to open their gifts!” 

Chapter 5

Cheryl held out the doll to Emily as she entered the room.  “I was just keeping her company until you returned,” she said.

Emily reached for the doll and cradled her in her arms, “Thank you.”

Rebecca brought her gift, a baby doll, over to Emily.  “Do you want to hold my baby, too?” she asked.  Emily smiled at her little sister.

“No, that’s OK.  She needs you to take care of her.”

The gift opening resumed at a frenzied pace.  Everyone was excited to see what Elizabeth had given him or her.  Toni received a frilly apron, which Elizabeth had made.  Toni helped out in the Shelter’s kitchen every day and the feminine-looking apron was an improvement on the institutional ones the Shelter had.  Fred was one of the odd jobs helpers so Elizabeth had found a tool belt for him at a yard sale. Molly often provided music in the evening for the residents so she’d gotten a book of piano music.  Agnes helped with the mending so she received a small sewing basket.  Tom and Betty hadn’t been at the Shelter long enough yet to be assigned jobs, so Elizabeth got them nice smelling after-shave cologne and perfume.  For Cheryl she made a dress for the doll she’d brought with her.  Paul was the hardest to shop for.  She finally decided a journal and fancy-looking pen might be just the thing.  As for the twins, Shelley and Melody, they got a board game they’d been wanting.  Two-year-old Trey was the easiest—anything with wheels on it—so she’d given him a “worker man” bull dozer, as he called it.

After every one had opened their gifts, it was Toni who stood up and said, “And we all have something for you Elizabeth.”  Elizabeth certainly never expected to get a gift from the group. How could they afford it?  Seeing the happiness in their faces was enough of a gift for her.

Toni continued, “While you were out of the room, we all realized there were no gifts for you under the tree.  Frankly, we were all quite embarrassed and ashamed that none of us had thought to bring a gift with us.” 

At this point, Elizabeth broke in and said, “You all should know I would never expect any of you to give me a gift in your circumstances.  In fact, you ARE my gift….to be able to do this for you.” Tears welled up in her eyes.  “In truth, I’d be alone if you didn’t come spend this day with me.”  Elizabeth hated having to admit that, but she didn’t want anyone to feel badly that they couldn’t buy her something.

“Well, be that as it may,” Fred was speaking now, “but we all agreed we still want to give you something for all your gracious hospitality.  We’ve decided to spend a day helping you with whatever odds jobs you have that need doing.  We’ll wash windows, fix broken things….Thomas is a veritable handyman according to Betty.”  Cheryl piped up, “And I can dust!  I do it all the time at home….I mean, I used to do it all the time when we had a home,” her voice trailing off as she looked to see if her mother was upset.

At that point, Elizabeth burst into tears.  She couldn’t hold them back anymore.  Here, all these people without homes of their own were offering to come help her fix up hers.  She didn’t think her heart could hold anymore love for them than it did already.

Toni hopped up first to put her arms around Elizabeth.  Soon everyone was crowded around offering her their “There, there it’s all right,” with worried faces.  Elizabeth smiled, blew her nose after someone had found a tissue for her, and announced, “It’s time to go caroling in the neighborhood.”

This was the exciting part of the day for Elizabeth because some of her neighbors would invite the crowd in for cookies and even old Mrs. Burnett would have hot chocolate on hand for them. Elizabeth always made sure Mrs. Burnett’s was mid-point in their caroling so that could warm up a bit.  Afterwards they’d all head back to her house and have hot cider and more cookies.

Chapter 6

Their first stop was in front of the Baileys who always opened their door and stood there to listen, but never invited them in.  Elizabeth wondered if they were just too sensitive about their small house because they always seemed to enjoy the caroling and would even applaud and wish everyone a merry Christmas.  She made a mental note to invite Thelma Bailey over for tea soon.

Next was the O’Donald house.  Elizabeth could depend on them to invite everyone in for cookies and punch.  They usually had a fire going in their fireplace and everyone would crowd into the room and sing their carol there. 

Then it was up to the next block where Elizabeth didn’t know everyone.  There were some neighbors that kept to themselves and she’d never gotten past their front door when she welcomed them into the neighborhood with her special carrot muffins.  She steered everyone to these houses and sang anyway even though the front doors never opened to them.  Soon they were back on her block and at Mrs. Burnett’s.  The hot chocolate was most welcomed by this time.  Mrs. Burnett could be seen peeking through the curtains as they approached her house. She’d been waiting and had the chocolate good and hot.  She plied everyone with cookies. Elizabeth was sure she was trying to prolong their visit.  She’d have to make an extra effort to have Mrs. Burnett over during the week for tea more often, poor soul. 

Fred had noticed Mrs. Burnett’s front door knob wobbled when he’d closed the door behind him.  “Mrs. Burnett, I’d be glad to fix that wobble in your door knob if you have a screw driver handy.” 

“Oh, would you?!” she exclaimed in her high-pitched voice.  It was almost lyrical Fred had noticed, so he wasn’t surprised when she mouthed the words of the carol they sung before they left.  He wondered why she hadn’t sung along with them and mentioned it to Elizabeth as they walked along the sidewalk to the next house.

“You noticed that did you?” Elizabeth said.  “Mrs. Burnett use to be an Opera singer in her younger days, but her voice is not the same and I think she’s embarrassed now to let others hear how it’s deteriorated.”

Fred said, “That’s a shame.  She obviously loves to sing.  I wonder how we could draw her out.” That gave Elizabeth an idea.  She’d have to make the suggestion to Mr. Pritchard.   Perhaps she could get Mrs. Burnett to give some simple voice lessons to the residents.  And Molly could play the piano!  That was an excellent idea, she thought.

They’d reach the house of the elderly gentleman known in the neighborhood as Old Mr. Grump. This wasn’t Elizabeth’s name for him, but the neighbors’s name since no one knew his real name.  She’s tried to befriend him, but he’d never answer her knock.  She had even left muffins on his doorstep, only to return the next day and find the empty basket.  She always wondered if he took them, or some stray animal had gotten them.  The song Elizabeth chose for the group to sing in front of Old Mr. Grump’s house was “God Bless Ye Merry Gentleman”.  It was her way of telling Mr. Grump that he might want to consider being a little more merry and a little less grumpy!  As they filed back down his walk to the sidewalk, Cheryl tugged on Elizabeth’s dress again.  “Why didn’t he open the door for us?”

Elizabeth said, “Maybe he wasn’t home.”

“Oh, but I saw him peek through the blinds as we were leaving.”  Elizabeth just smiled and gave Cheryl that knowing look of hers.

Before long they were back at her house drinking the hot cider.  No one wanted any cookies, except the children, of course.  Cheryl’s mother had told her “no,” but with no parent to tell the other children “no,” she relented when she saw they were all delving into the cookie plate.

Chapter 7

Elizabeth looked around the room.  Toni was talking to Betty while Tom was talking to Fred.  She wondered if Toni and Fred might have a liking for each other.  They seemed to be in each other’s company whenever she saw them both.  It must really be hard for Fred to get his life in order. The alcohol had become such a part of his life for so long.  To function without it was more than he could manage at times.  Any time he tried to live outside the Shelter it wasn’t long before he was back, after having “dried out” in the town’s clinic.  The two times he’d shown up drunk at the Shelter had been unfortunate.  It meant he was now on probation and would not be given another chance.  He had to get it right this time.  Elizabeth hoped that Toni would be good for him—give him a reason for not slipping again.

She noticed Paul was still playing with Trey.  They were both making bulldozing noises as Trey scooted the toy along the floor and Paul put little obstacles of chocolate kisses in his way that Elizabeth always had in little dishes about the room.  She didn’t know Paul’s story, just that he had difficulty holding down a job.  He seemed fit enough to do manual labor or work in a store if he didn’t have a particular skill.  She wondered if his problem might be more mental than physical.  He was too quiet in her opinion.  Maybe he has a problem with social skills, she thought.

The sisters, Molly and Agnes, were probably too old to employ.  Elizabeth didn’t know why they weren’t receiving social security to support them.  Another story she wasn’t privy to. 

She knew the Kincaids’s story.  Too much debt and no job.  They’d filed for bankruptcy, lost their house, then their jobs and were living in their one car when Social Services saw them with Cheryl and suggested they contact the Shelter if they wanted to keep their daughter.  It was very lowering to Thomas, especially, because of his daughter.  He’d let her down.  He couldn’t provide for his wife and child.  He and his mother had been abandoned by his father when he was younger than Cheryl and had vowed he’d do better by his family when he became a father.

It weighed heavily on Elizabeth’s heart—each person’s story.  She thought about the people they’d visited that afternoon and wondered if there was a way to bring everyone together in a way that might help everyone.  She knew that God’s love was capable of working miracles in people’s lives.  She didn’t want to lose the moment so she cleared her throat and stepped forward.

“I’ve been thinking,” she said as everyone stopped talking and turned toward her.  “I’ve been thinking about all the gifts—the talents—in this room.  I know some of you feel you might not have something to offer—that you’re the one in need.  I agree.  When everyone looked startled at her boldness she hastily added, “Let me clarify.”  Elizabeth smiled.  “What I mean to say, is we all are in need at one time or another.  Right?  But that doesn’t mean we can’t at the same time help to meet someone else’s need with what we do have.  What you all have right now in abundance is time.  Won’t you agree?”  Everyone relaxed a little and nodded.  “Well, I propose we put that to good use.  You all saw some of the needs in the neighborhood.”  Again everyone nodded.  Cheryl spoke up, “Old Mr. Grump needs someone to cheer him up!”

“That’s right, Cheryl,” Elizabeth said smiling her knowing look into the little girl’s eyes.

“And Mrs. Burnett has a bunch of things that need fixing around her house!” Cheryl said with enthusiasm.  “And I can dust her house, too.”

This time Elizabeth chuckled, “Right again.”  She told everyone her plan to ask Mrs. Burnett if she’d like to give voice lessons at the shelter after she spoke to Mr. Pritchard.

Cheryl once again was the first to speak, “And that way she’ll feel needed too, right?”

Everyone chuckled this time.  “Out of the mouths of babes,” someone in the back of the room said.  It was Paul.  Trey was holding up the bulldozer to him.  Paul looked embarrassed to have everyone’s attention, so he looked back down at Trey and put more chocolate kisses on the floor.

Elizabeth was heartened by the response she was getting.  “I think we all have something to offer each other even if it’s just a kind smile, a listening ear, a warm touch.  We all have our troubles, yes, but we mustn’t let them define who we are.  Troubles come and go, but who we really are,” she said as she laid her hand over her heart, “is here, inside.”  She noticed some of her guests’ eyes were shining with tears now.  She had to choke back her own tears.  “So I’m hoping when we all part tonight, on this very special night, when God sent His Son down here to earth to show us the way back to Him, we’ll all take an honest look at ourselves to see where we’ve been holding back.” 

To her surprise Agnes spoke up now.  “I read once that our lives are given to us by God and what we do with our lives is our gift back to Him, or something like that.  I can never remember the exact wording of things I want to remember!” she said with some consternation.

“Those are excellent words, Agnes,” Elizabeth said.  “We get the drift of it.  God created us in His image and we all have the potential to be and do great things because God is great.  We just need to be who God made us to be.”

Elizabeth could see Fred’s face.  He seemed distraught.  Guilt was a heavy burden that alcoholics had to deal with before they could get well.  She didn’t think Fred had won that battle yet.  Her heart went out to him as she prayed a silent pray for help to say the right thing. 

“Life can get in the way, though.  Sometimes our parents make bad choices and we don’t get off on the right foot, so to speak.  Other times we make the wrong choices, but as they say, you can’t say you’ve failed as long as you keep trying.  It just takes longer for some things to turn out the way we want them to.”  Elizabeth felt a pang in her spirit at that point.  Who was she kidding; sometimes things never turn out the way you want them to.  She looked around the room at the faces staring at her.  Here was a group of people who could attest to that.  They didn’t have the basics of life—a home.  Some didn’t have any family to speak of—at least any who acknowledged them.  And then there were the Jett children…..

Elizabeth cleared her tear-clogged throat, “What I should have said is the verse in the Bible I often cling to when things don’t make sense to me.  It’s Romans 8:28…”  Paul was mumbling again in the back of the room, “All things work together for good to those who love God.”  Shivers went through Elizabeth.  It was as though God was speaking to her now—through Paul—quiet, anti-social Paul.  The room was quiet for a few moments.  Even Trey had stopped his “putt-putt-putting” with his bulldozer. 

A soft strain of ♫Away in the Manager♫ could be heard on the other side of the room.  It was Emily singing to her doll.  Emily looked up and smiled. 

It was getting dark now.  The afternoon was just about over.  Elizabeth thought she’d better put out the sandwiches for those who were hungry.  The children would be picked up at 7:00.  The others would walk along the lighted sidewalks back to the Center at 8:00 when the staff would have returned.  She wished she could put them all up in her house.  She wished she could keep the children.  She wondered if it would be possible.  Not tonight, of course.  She’d have to go through the legal procedure with Social Services.  She had no idea how long that would take. Would she be told not even to bother because their mother would probably be well by then and they’d be returned to her.  But even so, without their father they’d still be at the shelter more than likely.  Maybe, though, there was something she could do.

Chapter 8

The house was quiet now.  Elizabeth had stood at her window for a while like she had the night before looking out onto her garden.  Everyone had thanked her several times.  There’d been a few tears on everyone’s part.  Elizabeth had hugged each person—the children a little longer so she could whisper, “God loves you and so do I” in their little ears.  Trey had giggled because it’d tickled his ear.  His sisters had asked him what she’d said to him, thinking it was something different.  He just giggled more.  Elizabeth had just smiled at their questioning eyes, returning one of her knowing looks. 

Elizabeth closed her eyes and leaned her head against the windowpane.  It felt cool.  She raised her head, opening her eyes to see the North Star still hung high in the sky sending out its beacon.  Did she have what it would take to care for five young children?  She felt so old sometimes.  No, she’d not let doubts creep in now.  The children needed someone—someone who could keep them together as a family. 

Family….her heart felt the heaviness of her own childhood—how she’d longed to be a part of a family even though she’d technically had one—a mother, a father, even a younger sister and brother.  But they were anything but a family as far as Elizabeth was concerned.  Families were supposed to be there for you giving you support.  Not the other way around.  Elizabeth pushed the bad feelings away.  Not tonight.  No, she couldn’t do anything about those long ago hurts and fears.  She only had now—and the future—in which to make a difference. 

She turned to Charley and Beatrix, “I think we should be getting to bed, don’t you think?” Charley lay down on his pillow next to the bed.  Beatrix leapt up to find her spot on the pillow next to Elizabeth’s.  Elizabeth slid off her slippers, quickly sliding her feet under the covers.  “All things work together….,” were the last words Elizabeth murmured as she said her prayers.  Soon she was asleep.

© 2012 Cathy Gilleylen Schultz

Elizabeth’s Special Carrot Muffins

 1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
 1 teaspoon baking soda
 1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup oil
 1 (8-oz.) can crushed pineapple in unsweetened juice, undrained
 1 egg
 1 cup shredded carrots
½ cup raisins
½ cup chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 375°F. Grease bottoms only of 18 muffin cups or line with paper baking cups. In large bowl, combine all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well.

In small bowl, combine oil, pineapple and egg; blend well. Add to flour mixture; stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in carrots, raisins and walnuts. Fill greased muffin cups 3/4 full.

Bake at 375°F. for 18 to 22 minutes or until muffins are light brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes; remove from pan. 

© 2012 Pillsbury

Wishing you all an inspired, joy-filled Advent season as we prepare our hearts for the celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ, the Light Who overcomes the darkness in the world.


  1. Oh Cathy, your story touched my heart this evening. I've been feeling so down and here through our Heavenly Father your story reminded me of His truth. Thank you....♥

    1. I am sorry to hear that you have been feeling down, Martha Ellen. I trust that all will be made right eventually. It warms my heart to know my story touched your heart as it did mine as I wrote it down. ❤️

  2. You've written a beautiful and heartfelt story for this blessed time of year. Wishing you a joyous Christmas holiday. Pat ๐ŸŽ„

    1. Wishing you a joyous Christmas as well Pat! ❤️

  3. What a joy to read through your beautiful story. You have a way with words that has filled my heart. God bless.

  4. Wonderful story Cathy! I had to keep reading all the way through even though it turned out to be longer than I expected - I just HAD to find out what happened! Now you know to HAVE to illustrate it! Hope you get this comment - it's the 5th attempt I've made this weekend to leave one. I don't know what's going on. I don't have this problem on any other things I follow [not that there are many]. But yours have been quirky for a few months now. I'm trying this via Firefox since you mentioned that Safari given you some trouble recently. Anyway, hope you get this and again, terrific story! Peace. ��

    1. Hi Janet! As you see, I finally got your comment, but I just saw now that MY comment back to you did not post when I replied the other day. I'm so pleased that you and at least 3 others found my story worthy of reading all the way through. If I am to pursue my writing, as I dearly would love to do, I need to know I'm hitting my target! Thank you to you and the others who have left me a comment. I have spent this year trying to decide whether to continue blogging or not....and whether to continue drawing/painting. I've left Facebook and have finally, just this morning, decided to leave Twitter--though I will keep my account in case I keep blogging and want to use it to notify my followers about a new blog post. May you experience the Joy and Wonder of Christmas ❤️

  5. It's such a lovely, old-fashioned Christmas story. I was sad when it ended, Cathy. Thank you for sharing your gift.

    1. Thank you, Elaine....maybe there is more to the story! ❤️

  6. I really really really hope you decide to continue to blog, because everytime I finish reading one of your posts, I find myself thinking "I wish Cathy would post more often - more than once a month or so..." Personally I'd vote for more news about your travels, holiday & seasonal activities, the garden, your photography, what Poetry & Gabriel are up to, the Take Joy ladies trips etc. But you are tired of it or need something new or whatever, you should not think twice about stopping. Or at least, taking a sabbatical. Have a wonderful holiday season with the family - I imagine the grandkids are more fun than anything at Christmas now - everyone must be walking by now & getting into everything!! Peace.

    PS - glad you left Facebook. I never joined b/c way back when I first learned about it it gave me a very apprehensive feeling. And after all the news it's been making lately, I'm feeling very vindicated about that feeling. So good for you!! While it can do a lot of good, like everything else it needs regulation - and Facebook itself can't be deciding what kind of regulation that is. ๐ŸŒŸ

    1. How can I refuse such a lovely plea?! I feel as though I'm coming out of the funk I've been in for the past two years, so hopefully I'll feel inspired to journal more about things. I hope to finally start a new Poetry & Gabriel story. Our family celebrated Christmas together already last weekend and this weekend we have Alejandro and then see him and his family off to Mexico for 2 months, so I will have more time to devote to writing and hopefully get back to drawing/painting.

  7. Dear Cathy - what a wonderful story. You are such a blessing sharing your wonderful gift. Thanks for making my Monday extra special. Merry Christmas!

    1. Debbie, you are a dear for letting me know the story made your day extra special ๐Ÿ˜Š

  8. Wonderful words and music, hope you and your family Cathy had a wonderful Christmas. Sarah x

    1. Thank you, Sarah. I hope yours was wonderful as well.

  9. Hello dear Cathy! It was a wondrous time, wasn't it! May our faith carry us through 2019 and shine. Thank you so much for coming to visit me!

    1. It was indeed in a very special way for us. Our 30-year-old son went into the hospital on the 17th and received a new heart yesterday after only being on the transplant list for one week. For everything to come together as it did was beyond any human doing alone.


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