The waves crashed against the side of the cliff as thunder pealed and lightning sent bursts of energy through the dark stormy sky. Sheets of stinging rain poured down in a torrent of wind. A snap of lightning caused Aria to shake in the darkness.
Why was she standing on the edge of the cliff, thinking about diving in? Because it was the only way to get away. Away from life.
She was tired of living with scars. Her sins seemed to scar every moment of her life. She couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t live with guilt. She had been wounded by too many people who she thought loved her, but only turned away when they saw her flaws. Even her physical flaws made people turn in disgust. She no longer wanted anything to do with people or God. She was going to end her life in the waves.
She felt like the walls were closing in. Waves of guilt, fear, and worthlessness crashed over her. She felt like she was drowning. Drowning in a sea of loneliness, with no one to save her. No one to tell she was loved. No one to tell her she was valued, worthy, and forgiven. All she wanted was some one to reach out a hand and pull her out of black hole she was sinking into. The light above seemed to be fading, getting smaller and smaller, as she ran farther and farther from home. All she wanted was for someone to show her the sun that still shown above. Someone to show her the lighthouse in the waves. But after years of trying to measure up, of trying to earn love, she was done. She was giving up. She was fed up with existing in a world where she felt like an accident. She was just a mistake. A worthless, unloved, ugly mistake.
Why didn’t anyone answer her call? Did no one hear her? Or did they just ignore the lonely voice screaming for love? But that didn’t matter now. Aria was done. All the hope she’d ever had was gone. The light had blown out. It was all blackness, all waves, all nothing.
She had to end this now. No more drowning, no more falling. No more hatred. As she worked up the courage to jump into the raging sea she allowed her mind to wonder back to the day this had all started…
Lia groaned, her curly blonde hair clinging to her face. Ryder stood nearby, holding his wife’s hand and whispering words of encouragement in her ear. As a baby’s cry pierced the air, Lia squeezed her eyes shut and collapsed back onto the pillow.
“It’s a girl! A girl Lia!” A small child was placed in Lia’s arms as tears of joy ran down her face. Ryder’s own tears began to flow as he gently kissed his wife’s head and then pressed his lips to the soft hair of his beautiful new daughter.
It had all started out so well. She was loved, innocent and adored. With a doting big brother and parents who smiled at her every move, Aria couldn’t think of anything better.
When Aria was two, her four-year-old brother Zayden got into the matches that were kept on the mantle. Eager to show his little sister how they worked he struggled to light one. He had watched his father do it often, so it only took him a few tries before he had one burning. He shoved it into his sisters face with and exclamation of “Look!”
Poor Zayden didn’t know how much pain and anguish he would cause for his sister in the years to come. Aria’s blue dress caught fire and she immediately screamed. Zayden looked on is astonishment while Aria danced about in panic and pain. Aria could still vividly remember that moment. She could feel the heat burning her skin. The fire crawled up her face to her hair and continued burning. Lia came running at the sound of her beloved daughter’s screams but the damage had already been done. Aria’s face was scarred for life.
Three years later Ryder, Lia and Zayden were killed in a car accident. Aria miraculously survived. Aria often thought back to that day wishing she could join her family in death. Nothing seamed better. None of her grandparents or aunts and uncles wanted her. They already had to many children, or to many other things to do. Besides who wanted a ugly girl with a scar covering the whole left side of her face?
SO Aria had wandered around for years, staying in a orphanage until she was thirteen and then running away. She had sought love everywhere she could think to look, and all the paths she took ended in pain, hurt, and even more guilt. Now at 17, she was done.
Tears pouring out of her bright blue eyes, Aria braced herself for the fall. Her blonde hair whipped around her shoulders as Aria collapsed over the edge of the cliff.
Aria had was ready for this, but she still screamed. Aria screamed with all her might. With all the last life and longing for love she had in her, she screamed.
Aria hit the raging water a few seconds later. She was immediately pulled under. She didn’t want to struggle, she wanted to just let it happen. But being suddenly thrust under ice cold waves startled her. It felt like she was sinking farther down in the water and sudden panic hit her. She was going to die. It wasn’t just something she talked about, it was happening. She was dying. And she suddenly realized she didn’t want to. How could she be so blind? Dying didn’t fix anything. She was still going to be lost. And probably even lonelier then before. All the sermons she had heard as a young girl came flying back to her. She didn’t know Jesus. And that meant she was going to hell. Sheer terror struck and Aria struggled with all her might. But the waves only seemed to push her deeper. Her lungs burned for air, and she knew she only had a few seconds before she couldn’t hold her breath. Suddenly she was flung high on a wave. Gasping for air she was plunged back into the dark sea again. With the little air she had caught she tried to swim to the surface again. Her eyes had been closed every since she had hit the water but she had the sudden urge to open them. Under water, lost in the deep pit of lies, she saw a light. Faintly shining down through the dark ocean was a light. LIGHT!! Aria’s heart soared, but her lungs still burned. Then with a sicking thud her head hit a rock. Everything went black and she knew it was over.
Aria’s eyes slowly opened as a bright light flashed above her. I’m still alive? Aria sat up quickly but yelped and collapsed back on the sand, clutching her head. What happened? The only thing she could remember was a light. There was a light, but where had she seen it? I was in the dark. In a pit maybe? And I couldn’t get out!
The light flashed again and Aria glanced up. She was on a sandy beach, lined with palm trees. The ocean lapped gently at her feet, and oranges hung in trees above her.“Aria.” The voice was so gentle and loving that Aria sat up again despite the pain. A man was walking toward her, surrounded in a beautiful yellow light. He had a kind face and eyes that drew her close. She stared, awed by the man’s loving gaze.
She blinked and then looked away. Everything that had happened, everything she had done came rushing back. Her hand flew to the left side of her face in an attempt to cover her scar.The man reached down and removed her hand, then placed his own hand on her cheek. With his other hand he lifted her chin and made her look into his eyes.
When she did she felt her pain, guilt and fear washed away. Suddenly she knew she was loved. What did it matter if no one else loved her? HE loved her! HE had died for her, and HE was the one that had rescued her!
“Aria! You are my child Aria Rae. I am your lighthouse. When you are drowning, always look to me. I will guide you safely to the shore.”
Aria blinked. There were voices coming from somewhere but they sounded very distant, and she couldn’t understand anything they were saying. Then slowly she came to her senses. The pain in her head intensified and she groaned.
Then a voice became clear. It was a beautiful voice, filled with compassion and love. “There now dear, it’s all right. Your safe now. You almost drowned out there. That was one of the worst storms in history! It’s quite a miracle you survived!”
“Where am I?” Aria opened her eyes to find a motherly face smiling at her. She had brown hair pulled back in a bun and a few strands framed her face. Dimples creased her cheeks and freckles spotted her nose. Her bright blue eyes laughed with joy. Aria guessed she was about the age that her mother would have been.
“You are in the lighthouse dear! My husband found you lying on the rocks two days after the storm! You were barely breathing. He brought you back here and you’ve been in that coma for nearly a week! You’ve got quite the gash on your head. What were you doing out in that storm?”Aria sighed. “I was searching for a lighthouse, and I’ve found one! Two actually. One saved my life and the other saved my soul!”
Aria sat on a cliff, her legs dangling over the side. The calm ocean waters splashed against the shore. Looking up she could see the lighthouse beginning to shine as the sky darkened. Exactly a year ago she had wanted to end her life. Now she wouldn’t even think of that! Now she knew that Jesus loved her, and no matter what anyone else did or thought, she wasn’t worthless! She was loved! And she was forgiven! She knew God had a plan for her life and that she was living for a reason.
She now had a family that loved her. On her eighteenth birthday two months ago, Everett and Kaya had given her some papers. They stated that she was now officially adopted into the Reid family.
God had once again given her a family and this time, not only did she have a big brother again, but she also had three younger sisters and one younger brother. And they all loved her for who she was. It didn’t matter that she had a scar, it didn’t matter what she had done in the past, Jesus had washed her clean. He had died for her and made her beautiful. He had shown her the lighthouse, and he had pulled her out of the pit. Everything she had once thought about herself was a lie. And the whole Reid family had helped her see that.
She wasn’t worthless, she wasn’t ugly, no, Aria Rae was a the daughter of the KING and no one could steal her from his love!
The Christmas Tree in the living room sparkled in the darkness, sending tiny beams of light dancing across the family room. Tamara was lying on her stomach studying the beautiful manger scene that lay under the tree. Her mind wandered back to that silent night when the Savior’s first cry pierced the dark. Warm fuzzes spread over her body as she thought of what a special Christmas this was going to be. Mom was due any day now. Baby #3 would soon join the Clay family. With Christmas only 3 days away, Tamara hoped baby would be born really soon. She wanted Mom home for Christmas.
The clock chimed 6 ‘o clock. Dad would be in Boston by now. Mom was upset that he had a business trip so close to her time. Especially with the large blizzards they got out here in North Dakota. Mom was worried they’d be snowed in and Dad wouldn’t be able to fly back, or she’d be stuck at the house. Right now only a gentle snow fell, but a blizzard could be just around the corner.
While Tamara was relishing the thought of no school, she realized how much she missed her best friend, Reese. Reese was visiting her grandparents in Indiana.
“Tammy!!!!!” Tamara’s older brother Darren shook her out of her thoughts. She looked up quickly. “Come quick! Somethings wrong with Mom!”
Fear leapt into Tamara’s heart. She followed her brother up the stairs and raced into Mom’s room. She froze in horror as her hand went to her mouth in a little gasp. “Mom!” Tamara’s voice was quiet as her eyes widened. Her mother lay on her bed, blood covered the sheets and her nightgown. Her mother’s face was covered with sweat and her eyes were closed tightly as she rocked in pain. Her beautiful long eyelashes flickered and her lovely ebony curls where pressed against her forehead. Tamara rushed to her side and grabbed her hand. “Mom?” Her mother groaned. Tamara turned to Darren and noticed the fear in his own eyes. “Call the ambulance!” Darren turned quickly and practically jumped down the stairs. Tamara looked back at her mother. “Mom?” she asked again. Her mother replied with another groan. Tears began to spill down Tamara’s cheeks as she knelt by her mother’s bed. “Please Jesus,” she sobbed, “Save my Mom!”
Tamara sobbed silently as a tiny little bundle was placed in her arms. The kind nurse wrapped an arm around her shoulders in an apologetic hug. “I’m so sorry about your mother, dear.” Tamara’s tears fell onto the soft pink blanket. “She said the baby’s name is Makayla Skye. She is such a beautiful little thing.” Tamara nodded, but she couldn’t say anything. Darren sat slouched in the chair next to her, trying to hold back his own tears.
The nurse left and the room was filled with terrible silence. Tamara ran her finger over Makayla’s cheek, surprised at how soft it was. More tears fell, clouding her vision. Mom is gone?
“Dad should be here soon.” Darren broke the silence, his voice thick.
“She has Mom’s eyelashes.” Tamara half smiled.
“Look at her. She really does look like Mom.” Tamara’s voice broke.
Darren sat up straighter. “Can I hold her?”
As Tamara placed Makayla in her brother’s arms, the door opened, and Shawn Clay stepped into the room, his eyes red. “Daddy!” With a small cry, Tamara rushed into her father’s arms.
Dad’s embrace was just what she needed. “She’s gone Daddy,” Tamara sobbed.
“I know, honey.” Dad smoothed her hair. “But we can get through this. We just need to cry out to Jesus.”
Tamara sat on the couch holding baby Makayla. As she watched Makayla sleeping peacefully she felt her own eyes drifting shut. It was Christmas Eve. Katherine Clay’s funeral had been early that morning, because her father wanted it over before Christmas. The tears once again rolled down Tamara’s cheeks, tracing their well worn paths. Tamara looked around the room, the candles on the mantle above the fireplace, the twinkling lights on the Christmas Tree, the manger scene; they all reminded her of her shattered dreams.
Grandma sat down next to Tamara and pulled her close. “This was supposed to be the happiest Christmas ever!” Tamara wept.
“Ah, I know, dear.” Grandma’s voice was soothing, but sad. “But God has a plan for this.”
Grandma smiled. “People have said that a lot today, I assume. Tammy, God often puts hard things in our life to make us stronger and to make us depend on him more.
“Your father told me something special this morning,” Grandma continued. “When your mother was in the hospital, the doctors told her that they would be able to save her life, if they killed the baby. But your mother wouldn’t hear of it. “ Grandma wiped away her own tears. “No, your mother told them to do everything they could to make sure baby Makayla lived. Your mother died so her daughter could have life.”
Tamara looked down at Makayla in wonder. “Mom gave her life for Makayla?”
“Yes she did. She knew that God has a story for Makayla, and she was willing to die so that Makayla can live that out. I know how hard it is Tammy. This is probably one of the hardest things you will ever have to go through. But God has a story written for you too. And you need to fall into his arms and let him carry you through it.”
The snow was falling gently as Tamara ran out into the brisk cold. Christmas morning. Tamara’s boots crunched on the ground, and with each crunch she felt her heart get heavier. The tears fell once again, the wind freezing them on her face. She felt so mad! Why did God let this happen? If only her mother was still here, things would be perfect. They could still have a perfect Christmas with baby Makayla. She ran as fast as she could until she couldn’t take a step farther. Her breath blew puffs of air into the frosty morning. She collapsed on the cold snow, far from the house. Breathing hard she stared up at the sky. The tears rolled faster. “Why God?” She whispered. “Why?” Sobbing, she screamed at the sky, “God why did you take Mom?” For what felt like hours Tamara lay crying in the snow. The cold felt refreshing against her hot face. As she was sobbing she suddenly felt a very real peace wash over her. She sat up quickly and wiped away her tears. She could sense God’s presence there with her.
“I’m so sorry Jesus,” Tamara prayed. “I’m sorry for not trusting you. I know you love me, and you want what is best for me.” Tamara let out a long sigh. “It’s just really hard right now!!! My whole world just shattered and there doesn’t seem to be any reason why you couldn’t fix things. Can’t you just make this broken life perfect? Why do some many people have to go through hard times. I just don’t understand.” Tamara looked up at the sky pleadingly. “But I do want to trust. Jesus, please help me to trust you.”
After watching the snow fall for a few minutes, Tamara stood shakily. The sun was just coming up over the horizon, lighting the sky with a beautiful pink hue. Tamara smiled, as a sudden burst of courage rose in her heart. Jesus would help her face this day, and maybe, in some miraculous way, this could be the best Christmas yet.
The Promised Key
Written in Early 2019
The dark trees seemed to be reaching out to grasp her as a thousand unknown eyes stared at her through the underbrush. Raven shivered. Even with her two brothers by her side and her faithful horse under her, nothing seemed to shake the feeling that they were being watched.
They were on a mission! The KING’s mission! Years ago the land of Cordria had rejected the KING, their creator, and now, while it was held under the iron hand of Queen Laraline, it was Ari and Aderyn’s job to deliver the message of the KING’s love to the Cordrian people.
The fifteen-year-old patted the pouch at her side, making sure the special scrolls were still there.Ari and Aderyn were Raven’s parents, but just one month ago they had been caught and killed by the evil Queen herself. Now Raven, Hawk and Falcon secretly ride out at night to continue their parents’ important job. Meanwhile, the evil Laraline tries desperately to stop them.
Suddenly Hawk reined in his horse and held up his hand to his younger siblings. The ominous clop, clop, clop of another’s horse drew steadily closer. Hawk’s sharp eyes scanned the dark forest carefully and then all too suddenly four horses galloped into view. Raven caught her breath as the Queen’s guards pulled up their horses. One guard, looked them over and smiled evily, “Ahhh. Caught at last! Isn’t it a little late to be riding alone in the woods? Dismount.”
Hawk hesitated but then slipped off his horse. He motioned to the others to do the same. Raven slowly swung her leg over to the other side of her horse and jumped down.
“Please KING, help us!” Raven whispered and lifted her eyes to the clouded sky. Immediately after she spoke the moon broke out behind the clouds and a beam of moonlight shot down on the courageous smugglers. Raven looked over at Falcon and smiled, a smile that assured her younger brother, the KING was with them!The moonlight disappeared as a guard jumped down and walked over to her horse. Yanking the precious pouch from the saddle he tipped it upside down. He picked up a scroll and opened it just a crack.
“Ahhh, so you are the criminal’s kids! I knew it.” the leader mounted his horse again. “Get them!”
The other three guards grabbed them, clamping hands over their mouths and forcing their arms behind their backs.
A tear dripped down Raven’s cheek. What will happen to us now?
The door clanked shut as the three were pushed into a dark cell. Sitting up Raven pushed herself against the freezing stone wall. The cold felt good against her burning back, which stung painfully from the beating they had received.
Raven leaned her head back against the wall and closed her eyes. “KING, please get us out of here!” she whispered.
Falcon sat down beside her and sighed. “We are probably going be killed just like Father and Mother.”“Don’t say that.” Raven put her arm around his shoulders. “The KING is still with us, even if we are locked in a castle cell and surrounded by walls. Besides I managed to sneak this in.” Raven winked and pulled a scroll out of the hidden pocket in her dress. “Reading the KING’s promises will encourage us to stay strong!”Hawk shook his head and sighed. “I just don’t see the point of reading about the KING’s promises to keep us safe when he’s already let us get caught and beaten.”
Raven frowned. “We’ve only been in here for a few minutes and you are already giving up hope? Father and Mother stayed hopeful and true to the KING even though Queen Laraline took over the world. They believed the KING was still in control even when things looked bleak. We could yet be rescued or set free. Can’t you keep trusting for at least a few days?”
Hawk scowled and turned away.
Raven sighed. Hawk had changed drastically in the past hour. Raven pulled her knees up and hugged them close. She prayed fervently until she finally slipped into a restless sleep.
The sunlight burned brightly on Raven’s face as she opened her eyes. Surprised, Raven squinted and stood up quickly. As she looked at her surroundings she realized she must be dreaming. But it was the most vivid dream Raven had ever been in.
Raven stood on top of a very high mountain and stretched out below her was the whole world of Cordria. She seemed to be seeing miles farther then anyone could ever see. Yet, each house, each tree, each blade of grass and speck of sand was a clear as if it was right in front of her eyes.
A voice as loud as thunder, and yet as gentle as a lamb’s bleat, spoke from the sky. It seemed to be everywhere, all around her and yet right beside her at the same time.
The booming voice whispered something Raven recognized as a verse from the scroll – one of the KING’s promises. “When you pass through the floods, I will be with you; when you stand in the fire, you shall not be scorched; and when you cry in the darkness, I will hear you; and when you are beaten in prison, I will protect you.”
As the voice spoke Raven felt like she was being wrapped up in a warm hug from her mother. She remembered sitting on her father’s lap on a warm summer night, watching the stars, as he taught her about the KING, and helped her memorize HIS promises. She looked up toward the sky as her eyes glistened with tears. A parchment floated down and she lifted her hand to catch it. Again the voice sounded, repeating the promise. The parchment in Raven’s hand transformed into a small golden key. Etched across the key were the words PROMISE.
With a start, Raven sat up, wincing at the pain that shot through her body from sleeping on such a hard floor. The moonlight poured through the grated window at the top of the cell. Pulling out her scroll she stepped over the sleeping bodies of her brothers and stood in the moonlight. Smiling at the happy, white moon shining on her face she quietly offered a prayer to the KING and then recited the promise. Just as in her dream, the scroll turned into the golden key of PROMISE.
With a little laugh of excitement she quickly shook her brothers awake. “Hawk! Falcon! Look!”
Groaning, Hawk sat up, while Falcon sighed and rolled over to sleep again. Raven eagerly held out the key toward her older brother. “See! Didn’t I say the KING was watching out for us? Try it in the door.”
Instantly awake, Hawk smiled at his always hopeful little sister and taking the key, pushed it into the lock. With a warning to not wake the guards, he turned the key and pushed the door open. Raven, trying hard to control her excitement, again woke Falcon up and the three smugglers slipped out of their prison.
Every door they came to was easily unlocked by the key of PROMISE, but as soon as they stepped out of the dungeon and into the frosty morning air, Hawk was once again holding a scroll.
As soon as they were safely away from the palace the siblings grabbed hands and knelt in the grass. As the sun peeked out from behind the distant blue mountains the courageous messengers thanked the KING for his promise.
The Perfect Nativity
Written Christmas 2020
The little girls mother looked at Azalea with a half panicked expression. “I am soo sorry, I will pay for that! Can I help clean it up?”
Azalea shook her head. “No, this is my job.” She forced a smile at the little girl, whose eyes were as big as golf balls as she stared at the glass on the floor. Azalea hurried to the back of the restaurant and grabbed a brush and pan. She swept up all the glass shards, gave the little girl a pat on the hand and a “It’s okay, no harm done.” and then dumped the glass into the waste bin in the back. As she heard a customer yell angrily for his food, she couldn’t help but be reminded of her own life. It was just like that glass. Broken. Shattered on the cold, unforgiving floor of anger and selfishness. She could never hide. Forcing back tears, she turned back to the kitchen and grabbed a plate of pizza to take to a customer.
Azalea waved at her friend and smiled warmly as she stepped out of the car. Walking towards her house she hoped with all her heart that her father wouldn’t be home.
As she stepped onto the porch the door flew open and out he came, her mother right behind him. He turned to yell yet another accusation at her and gave her shove when she stepped closer. Azalea wanted to run. To run and hide somewhere and never come out again. Her father pushed his way past her without an acknowledgement and slammed the door of his car as he drove off. The thought that she wouldn’t mind if he were to crash and die startled her and another wave of hopelessness swept over her.
“Come inside sweetie, its cold out here.” Her mother tried to give her a smile as the noise of her husbands car fade, “It looks like its gonna snow too. I’ll make you some hot chocolate.”
Azalea looked up at the sky as snow flakes began to fall softly on her face. Pulling her coat closer, she forced back the tears that threatened to fall with the flakes and stepped inside.
Her house was decorated beautifully for the coming holiday. Her mother always made sure things were just right. A beautiful evergreen tree stood tall in the corner of the family room, bright red balls and little gingerbread men with green bow ties dancing from it’s branches. There were so many presents under the tree, you couldn’t even see the snow skirt. Wreaths hung from every door. Holly branches and pine boughs covered the fireplace mantel, the tops of the kitchen cupboards and hung beautifully around the tops of the walls. The mantel was also home to a special glass nativity set with a perfect little sleeping baby, one hand clutching the finger of his perfect mother. Joseph stood, a hand resting protectively on Mary’s shoulder, looking down on his baby son with such love that made Azalea just scoff. It was too perfect. The shepherds had neat, tidy and clean robes, the wisemen had such kingly faces and beautiful gifts, Mary had such a wise face and lovely blue dress, and all the sheep crowded in to see the baby with a halo around his head.
Azalea’s mother was the talk of all the women in the town. Tarryn was the one that had it all perfect. All the young mothers would stress over not having a perfect family like Tarryn did. She had it together. She had a perfect Christmas tree, a perfect house, perfect kids and not to mention, a husband who made enough money to buy each of her three kids everything they could ever want. But little did the envious neighbors know, that inside the house with lights in every tree and another perfect little nativity scene on the front lawn, was a family whose lives were a utter mess.
Azalea flopped across her bed with a sigh and pulled out her phone. Texting her friends always helped her forget her broken life and escape for a little. But not 5 minutes later her older sister Jasmine burst in with a exasperated look on her face.
“Azalea!” She scolded, “Where’s my red sweater?”
Azalea frowned. “You didn’t knock.”
“Where is it?!”
“I don’t know, I didn’t take it.” Azalea turned back to her phone.
“Lier!” Jasmine pounced on Azalea’s bed and grabbed her phone. “You’d better tell me where it is! I can’t go the party tomorrow wearing my ugly green one!”
“I don’t now Jaz!” Azalea cried, “Give me my phone back!”
“Girls!” The girls looked up to see there mother standing in the doorway. “Jasmine! Stop hitting your sister and give her phone back!”
“Mom she stole my sweater!” Jasmine pouted and crossed her arms. Azalea scooted far away from Jasmine and hugged her knees to her chest, rubbing her arm.
“It’s in the washer. I thought you would want to wear it, but it was dirty from last week.” Tarryn turned to leave the room.
Jasmine walked out after their mother, throwing a look of disgust at Azalea. She tossed her phone onto the bed and slammed the door behind her. Azalea felt like crying again. Her phone dinged.
Dahlia: HEY girl!! I forgot to mention that our church is having a Christmas Eve service tomorrow night. And the forecast says it’s gonna snow! Wanna come? Please!!
Azalea sighed. Her parents said they were Christians, but never talked about God or Jesus, or anything. They just fought and screamed at each other. Dahlia, her friend from work always invited her to go to church with her family, but Azalea always found an excuse. Dahlia was a sweet friend, but Azalea always supposed the Jesus thing was just an act. She probably had a horrid family too. Azalea wanted nothing to do with God. He didn’t seem to change anybody like everyone said He did.
A knock sounded on her door and her older brother Alex called, “Supper’s ready.” Azalea slipped her phone in her pocket, happy to have a distraction to keep her from responding to Dahlia’s message.
After a quiet supper, which Azalea preferred over one where all the talking was yelling, Azalea cleared and wiped the table quickly and escaped to her room. Just as she slipped into her comfy Christmas pj’s the phone started ringing. Dahlia’s profile pic of her with an arm around a sister and laughing made Azalea cringe. But she hit the green button and put the phone to her ear.
“Hi Lia,” Azalea said with little feeling.
“Did you get my message?”
“Yeah, sorry I didn’t get a chance to respond.”
“So does it work for you? Pleeeeeeease say it does!!”
“Well I don’t know… My family always does something special Christmas Eve, I don’t think my parents would want me to miss that.” Azalea lied.
“Oh. I thought Jaz was going to the school party?”
Azalea caught her breath. “Umm, I don’t know.”
“Oh come on!! Please come! I’d really really be disappointed if you said no!”
Azalea didn’t say anything.
“I’ll pick you up….”
Azalea gave a big sigh. Maybe this would solidify her dislike towards Christians. And didn’t really want to disappoint Dahlia. “Okay, I’ll come. What time?”
The snow was falling softly as Azalea climbed into Dahlia’s warm car. Her friend gave her a big smile and reached over to give here hand a squeeze.
“Thanks so much for coming Zal! I promise it will be worth. My family’s going to meet us at the church.”
Azalea just nodded and said “Okay.”
Even though Azalea didn’t feel like saying much Dahlia’s humorous personality soon had her laughing and having fun. When they arrived at the church Dahlia introduced her to her parents, her older sister and her husband and two kids, and her three younger brothers. Everyone welcomed Azalea to their group with eaze and they all walked into the church together. A couple greeted them all and handed each one candles, which they lit from a large candle in the aisle as they walked to a pew. Dahlia’s dad held her mom’s hand when they sat very close on the bench. The rest of the family piled around them, greeting the people in the benches behind them and in front of them, and talking and laughing with each other in such a heartwarming way. Azalea wondered if this was all real or if these people were just on their best behavior. They probably actually hated each other. But Azalea found that theory weakening as she watched everyone in the church giving hugs and laughing and enjoying each other. Many of the girls that looked about her age also came up and extended their kindness and told her how glad they were that she had come. Azalea didn’t know any of them, but they made here feel like a long-time friend.
Soon everyone grew silent as the lights dimmed and a man walked up to the front and lead everyone in the most beautiful acapella singing Azalea had ever heard. Everyone around her was singing with all their hearts, lifting their candles, and pouring out their love for their Savior. Azalea realized these people were serious. No one could fake the emotion and love they were expressing at that moment. Azalea felt a few tears drip down her cheeks as she listened to the singing.
After a few more Christmas songs everyone sat down and the pastor began to speak.
“Would you like to come and have some hot cholate and cookies at our house, Azalea? We’d be happy to have you!” Grace, Dahlia’s mother, asked as they walked out of the church and back into the biting wind. A blanket of snow covered the ground, just so deep enough to hide the blades of grass. Zach, Dahlia’s dad, said it would stay all night and they’d probably even get a fresh coating Christmas morning.
“I guess,” Azalea agreed, not wanting to leave the the warmth of this family. “My family won’t miss me.”
Grace looked a little concerned but didn’t say anything. “Dahlia, some of the boys wanted to ride with you, is that okay?”
“Sure! Fine with me! Zal?”
Azalea nodded. She thought Dahlia’s little brother were quite fun and entertaining, unlike her annoying, always angry, older brother.
The ride home was quiet, as everyone seemed to be thinking about the pastor’s sermon. He had preached on the Christmas Story and the way he spoke about it had brought a new light to Azalea’s eyes. He said the real Nativity wasn’t like those we set on our mantles and front lawns. The real Nativity wasn’t perfect. Jesus didn’t have a halo, and he had slept in a feeding trough. All he had for clothes was a few rags. Mary and Joseph were probably dirty, cold and scared. The shepherds were smelly. It wasn’t perfect or beautiful. It was messy. Jesus came into a messy world to save messy people. That’s how great his love was.
After lots of laughter, hot chocolate, cookies, and a game, Dahlia and Azalea climbed in her car to go home. When they pulled into her driveway, Azalea paused before climbing out. “Thank you for inviting me. It was really special. I always thought the Christmas story was one big joke. It was too perfect to be real. But I think I’m beginning to understand that that’s not true.”
Dahlia smiled. “I’m so glad! Jesus loves Azalea,” She reached over and squeezed her hand, “And I’m going to be praying for you and your family!”
“Thank you.” Azalea smiled back. She hesitated then continued slowly, “I might be willing to give church a try. Do you think I could come with you on Sunday?”
The Weary World Rejoices
Written Christmas 2021
The snow crunched softly under Kaylee’s fur-lined snow boots as she trudged home. Fresh snow was coming to rest on her bright red hat, but Kaylee was so caught up in her own miseries that she failed to notice the beauty around her.
Arriving at her lonely apartment, Kaylee pushed past the wreath that decorated her front door and into the bare interior. Her house reminded her of herself. Something beautiful on the outside to give the impression of Christmas cheer, yet lonely and desolate inside. In the same way, Kaylee would wear a brilliant smile for everyone who walked through those double hospital doors, while inwardly she felt like she was alone in a desert with now water in sight.
“Really a horrid analogy, Kay.” She mumbled to herself as she set her purse on the counter and began to rummage in the cupboard for a snack. “There’s snow on the ground and you’re thinking about deserts. What a wonderful way to put on Christmas cheer.”
She sank onto the couch with a granola bar and closed her eyes. “What are you doing with your life, anyway? You sit in a chair all day, staring at a computer. Oh, and you get to be the first person to see dozens of gaping wounds and blood covered clothing that no sane girl would want to see one of. I suppose that’s something.” She groaned and curled into a ball, pulling the pillow over her head.
Her buzzing phone started her out of a snooze a few minutes later. Mom.
“Hello!” Kaylee put on her best happy voice.
“Hey Sweetie, how did your day go?”
Kaylee shrugged, then remembered her Mom couldn’t see that. “It was normal.”
“Mm. Hey, so, Christmas.”
“Yes?” Kaylee’s Mom was the queen of assuming everyone automatically just knew what she was insinuating.
“It’s tomorrow. You are going to come over right? Shane’s bringing the whole family, and I think it would be good for you to spend Christmas with your family again.”
Kaylee sighed. It sure would feel good to be with the family again. And she hadn’t seen her nieces and nephews in nearly four months. “I’m sorry Mom, but I was scheduled to work then. A lot of the other girls have families of their own, so they try to give them off first. I guess a single girl seemed like a good option to schedule for Christmas morning. I’m really sorry.”
Mom’s sigh boarded on a sob. “Single girls have family too.” She took a deep breath. “I understand, Kaylee. But you don’t work the whole day, do you? Can you come for supper at least?”
“Umm..” Kaylee whispered.
“There’s something else?”
“Yeah,” Kaylee toyed with her fingernails in nervousness.
“What’s wrong?” Mom’s voice was fringed with worry.
“My car – it’s not working.”
“Oh, well did you take it to the shop?
“So, are they fixing it?” Mom asked hopefully.
“No.” Kaylee mumbled.
“Kaylee, stop it! Tell me what’s wrong.” Mom’s voice had that firm commander sound to it.
“The engine.” Kaylee whispered. She heard her Mom groan on the other end. “I have to get a new car.”
“Are you looking?”
“Look Mom,” Kaylee cut in, “I don’t really want to talk about it. I just don’t think I’ll be able to make it at all on Christmas. I’m really sorry. Maybe next year?”
“Okay,” The voice on the other end was trying desperately to hold it together. “Okay, sweetie. I love you.”
“Love you too, Mom.”
The other end clicked off and Kaylee dropped her phone with a sigh.
“God, things are really tough right now.” She knew she hadn’t been praying like she used to. She’d slowly let her devotional time each morning slip, and before she knew it, she wasn’t praying much either. “I just don’t know what to do. I don’t really like my job, I desperately need a new car, and I really want to see my family again. I just feel really lost. Like what I do doesn’t help anyone.” The tears fell in her desperation. “I don’t feel like I’m making a difference for anyone.” Kaylee buried her face in a pillow and let her frustration soak it through.
Kaylee woke with a start. The room was dark. Feeling her way around, she lifted herself off the couch and searched for the light switch, realizing how hungry she was. She glanced toward the stove to see the time, but it just blinked 12:00.
“No,no,” She moaned, then tried the light switch. Nothing. Kaylee stumbled back to the couch and turned the flashlight of her phone on. Shuffling through the mail on the coffee table, she found it. She had missed several months of payment and she had a week to pay up or the electricity would be turned off. It was postmarked ten days ago.
“Ugh. This is not going well.” Her phone read 8:46. “Okay, Kaylee. There’s some milk in the fridge, and some cereal in the cupboard. She yanked open the fridge door and with a sinking feeling realized it wasn’t running. “Oh right, stupid. The fridge runs on electricity too. So does your water, your toilet, the heat, the stove, -” her phone blinked. 15% battery. “- oh yes, and your phone charger too.”
She sank her head into her hands and leaned against the counter.
“Okay, we can do this. The milk will still be fine for tonight, and with no heat in the house, it’ll probably be okay for tomorrow morning too. Then all that stuff will have to go. I can live on granola bars…” Kaylee nodded to herself. “And I can go a day without a shower. The toilet can go un-flushed for now. You get a paycheck Monday. You can survive till then, right?” Kaylee paused. “Oh, but water. Umm, I get unlimited bottled water when I’m working. If I get a bottle every half an hour, I can stock up and bring some home.”
Determined to make things work out, she poured herself some cereal and sat down to eat it. She set her phone to battery-saver mode and turned it off for the night. On second thought she turned it back on and set an alarm for the next morning. Using her phone’s flashlight, Kaylee trekked up the stairs and collected all her blankets from her bed. It had been a tradition in her younger years to sleep downstairs on Christmas Eve, and she still hadn’t broken it. She snuggled into the couch and snapped a goofy selfie to send to her Mom. Forcing herself to put aside her present worries, she tried to recall several of her favorite Christmas memories. Soon she drifted into a peaceful sleep.
Kaylee woke the next morning shivering. Feeling groggy and disoriented she pulled the blankets over her head. Then her phone’s ringing reached her ears and she jumped off the couch, the former day’s events rushing back all at once. Scrambling to change and wash up her face, she was soon eating more cereal and heading out the door for her long walk to the hospital. She was trying desperately to be positive on Christmas morning, but seeing her car sitting idle in the driveway buried her efforts just like a snow drift had buried her front steps. It looked like several more inches of rain had fallen overnight. The snow plow hadn’t come through yet, so she trudged along on what she thought was the sidewalk, carefully avoiding any places where the snow dipped dangerously.
Looking back and seeing her tracks alone in the brilliant white snow reminded her of when she and Shane would run through the snow and make paths for their little brother Chanse to follow. But his legs were so much shorter than theirs that he would hop from one print to the next, landing with both feet in each.
A rumbling truck came around the corner, and she looked up, hoping it would be the snow plow. Her legs were tiring from walking in eight inches of snow. But sadly it was just a normal truck. She dropped her eyes back to the snow in front of her and pushed her hands farther into her coat pockets, balling them into fists to try to warm them. But the truck didn’t go past, instead it stopped beside her and a man hopped out.
“Hey, you okay?” he called.
Kaylee looked up in disbelief, “Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Where are you heading? I can give you a ride if you like.”
Kaylee started to shake her head. Her parents had drilled the stranger danger rules into her at a very young age. But then she noticed his clothes. “Do you work for the hospital?” She asked with a small voice.
The man grinned and nodded for a moment, then his brow creased. “You need to go there?”
“Yes, but not because I need it. I work there.”
“Oh, well then jump in! I’ll have you there in no time.” The man climbed back into his truck as Kaylee came up and hopped in the passenger side, sighing at finally being in a warm place.
“I’m Conor,” the man smiled, reaching a hand across the console.
“Kaylee,” she shook his hand. Seeing him up close, she realized he was a lot younger than she first thought, probably a year or two older than her. She turned her gaze back the road as the truck started forward, plowing through the snow with little effort.
“Are you a nurse?” Conor asked, glancing at her briefly.
Kaylee shook her head. “Unit Secretary. Pretty boring.”
“But important nonetheless.”
Kaylee shrugged. “What do you do? You’re probably some brain surgeon right?”
Conor laughed. “Not quite. I’m an EMT.”
Kaylee bit back the sigh that threatened. Yep, everyone else did have a more important job than her.
“They’re making you work on Christmas?” Conor obviously figured that awkward small talk was better than awkward silence.
Kaylee shifted. “Yeah. My Mom wasn’t too happy about that, but I don’t have a working car to get home anyway.” Kaylee stopped, wondering why she was telling him all this. A short ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer would have been fine.
“Mm, sorry about that. I know a little about cars. I could take a look at it for you.”
Kaylee shook her head. “Thanks, but I already had it looked at. I need a new one.”
“Oof, that’s never fun.”
They were pulling into the hospital now and Kaylee hoped Conor wouldn’t pry for more information. He pulled up to the ER entry and stopped.
“Thanks for the ride,” Kaylee opened the door and jumped out, turning to give a smile to Conor.
“No problem. My Mom would be horrified to find out her son let a fellow hero trudge through the snow by herself on Christmas morning,” He grinned.
“A hero?” She scoffed as she turned and walked through the hospital doors. “Yeah, right.”
The day passed in peace. A few people came in, but for the most part, there was nobody with serious injuries. Then precisely at the time she was scheduled for replacement the ambulance came screaming in and stopped by the front doors. Kaylee watched as a woman writhing in pain on the stretcher was lifted out. With a start she realized she was pregnant, and likely the writhing was from labor pains. Jumping out of her chair Kaylee ran to open the doors as Conor and his team shuffled the poor girl in. With another screech, the girl grasped Kaylee’s hand in an un-human-like strength that nearly took her breath away.
“Someone get the doctor!”
Kaylee had realized she was the only female in the room and took it upon herself to be the one to help the girl. “There’s no time. The baby’s crowning.” A minute later she was holding a screaming baby girl in her arms. For a second she just stared in wonderment at the child, the miracle of a new life overwhelming her. Then the child was gently taken from her arms and given to her mother, who was now crying and laughing with joy. Kaylee nearly laughed with glee, but tears blurred her eyes.
The young mother smiled up at Kaylee and whispered, “Thank you, nurse.”
Kaylee shook her head but stepped back as real nurses came to take care of the newborn. Realizing her hands were covered in blood, she escaped to the bathroom to wash up.
“Oh you just didn’t, Kaylee,” She whispered to her reflection. The joy bubbled up in her, and she let out a little laugh. “You seriously just delivered a baby. A real, live baby!”
The girl’s husband had arrived in a panic ten minutes later, distressed that he had missed his first child’s birth. Kaylee stuck around for another hour, waiting to hear how the young family was. Her replacement was already at work, so she sank into a chair in the waiting room and turned on her phone. Nothing happened. With a little laugh she realized it was dead. But no electricity, no car, and no phone, wasn’t about to steal the joy that witnessing a new life take its first breath had given her.
A while later, Conor slipped into the seat beside her, running a hand through his hair with a sigh. “Well, this sure earns the award for craziest Christmas ever.”
Kaylee laughed. “And maybe the best Christmas ever.”
“Yeah, I noticed you can’t wipe that grin off your face.”
“I’ve been trying for the last hour, but it’s not leaving. My jaw is starting to hurt.” Kaylee rubbed her face, trying to message the smile away.
“She wants you to come see her now. She’s in room one twenty three.”
“Umm, you’re gonna have to show me, I don’t have any clue where that is.”
Conor led her down a hallway and stopped by a door decorated with three pink balloons tied to the handle.
Kaylee stepped in quietly and her smile widened to see the small child, sleeping peacefully in her mother’s arms.
The girl’s eyes brightened when Kaylee walked in and she motioned her closer and spoke to her husband. “This is the nurse who delivered our baby.”
Kaylee shook her head firmly, “No, I’m not a nurse. I’m just a secretary.”
The girl’s eyes widened in astonishment. She laughed a little, her eyes glistening with fresh tears. “I couldn’t have been in better hands, even if I had a midwife. What’s your name?”
“Kaylee Eaton.” Kaylee whispered.
“A beautiful name.” The girl glanced at her husband and he nodded. “I told my husband that unless you have a really ugly name, I wanted to name my sweet girl after you.”
Kaylee’s eyes began to blur with tears.
The girl lifted the child toward Kaylee and laid her in her arms. “Kaylee Eaton, meet your namesake, Kaylee Belle Lounds.”
Kaylee bit back a sob. “Kaylee Belle,” she whispered, running a finger over the child’s soft hair. “She’s so beautiful.” The child stretched in Kaylee’s arms and cooed. Kaylee giggled as she watched the baby’s face. “Kaylee Belle, you’ve made my day. It’s been the best Christmas ever.” She placed a kiss on the baby’s forehead.
“Kaylee,” Conor leaned into the doorway, grinning. “You have some visitors in the lobby.”
Kaylee gently laid the baby back in her mother’s arms. “Merry Christmas, Kaylee Belle,” she whispered. She followed Conor back to the waiting room, still feeling dazed over the evening’s events.
“They named her after me,” She found herself saying.
Conor chuckled. “You deserve it,” He nodded firmly at Kaylee’s skeptical glance. “You did good.”
“Auntie Kay!” A voice screeched as she entered the lobby. There stood her parents, her older brother and his wife, and her little brother. And her nephew and nieces racing across the room to launch themselves on Kaylee all at once.
“Rory!” Kaylee dropped to her knees to gather all three of them in her arms. “Ivy, Maisie! What are you all doing here?”
“We came to see you!” Ivy piped up wisely.
“Maisie, did you come to see Auntie Kay too?” Kaylee squeezed the two-year-old tightly.
“No, no!” The little girl pointed out the window.
“No?” Kaylee asked, looking to Rory for an answer.
“Snow,” The eight-year-old offered.
“Oh, yes, beautiful snow! Did you get to play in it?”
Maisie nodded, her auburn curls bouncing.
Kaylee stood to greet the rest of the family, who had followed the children over in a more mature, yet no less excited manner.
“Kaylee dear, it makes a mother’s heart proud to see her beautiful daughter’s face again.”
“Aww, Mom,” She wished she could stay in her mother’s warm embrace forever, but her Dad was just as eager to hug his little girl.
“What are you doing here, Daddy?” She asked as he hugged her.
“Well, we figured if you can’t come to us, we’d come to you.”
“But when we got to your house, all the lights were out and no one answered the door,” Shane continued, “So we figured you must still be working, and came here.”
Kaylee wiped away several tears with a laugh. “Yeah, I kind of had a crazy day.”
Conor, who had been standing off the side, watching the reunion with a smile, stepped in, “Yep. She delivered a baby all by herself.”
“Kaylee!” Mom and Abby, Shane’s wife, exclaimed at the same time.
Kaylee laughed, “Well, yeah, I guess I kinda did.”
“Where is this child? Can we meet it?” Mom was always eager to get her hands on a newborn.
Kaylee glanced at Conor but he just shrugged. “I’ll go ask. But you’ll have to get signed in at the front desk. Hannah can help you.” Kaylee nodded to the frizzy-haired girl at the front desk. She started to leave the lobby but Conor stopped her.
“Are you sure you can find your way?” He grinned.
Kaylee rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I think so.”
“My shift is over, I’m gonna head out. Thanks again for your help.”
Kaylee smiled. “I wouldn’t trade today for anything.”
“If you ever need a ride again, I think I drive past your place. I could pick you up.” Conor offered.
“That won’t be necessary,” Kaylee’s brother Chanse piped up. Kaylee turned to look at him, a blush tinting her ears. Chanse tossed something at Kaylee and she caught it with both hands. Keys.
“What are these?” Kaylee stared at them, then back at her brother.
“What do they look like?” He grinned. “Keys to your new car.”
Kaylee tried to say something, but found she couldn’t speak through the sudden emotion that rose.
Chanse laughed. “Well, I mean, it’s not new, but it is new for you. Oof, careful!”
Just a Girl
Written Christmas 2020
The sun scorched Mary’s face as she skipped along the dusty path. Her bare feet barely touched the ground and her hair flew out behind her. A happy smile stretched across her face. Lifting her hand, she waved to her friend, Salome. The merry fifteen-year-old was on her way home from taking food to her brothers, who were out in the fields, and she always made a little detour to run past her friends house and say hello.
Mary lived a comfy and easy life in Nazareth. Her father always made enough to pay taxes, and the Romans never bothered them. She had several brothers and sisters and lots of friends and she never once gave thought for food or safety.
Running in through the door into her families small house, Mary stopped short and drew a sharp breath. Her father and mother stood looking at her with serious faces, and behind them stood a young man.
Mary raced through the fields, the tall green wheat swishing as she ran, tears blinding her eyes. At last she reached her haven, panting from her quick escape, and collapsed under the flowing branches of the olive tree. For several moments she lay there, staring up at the sturdy trunk, hand on her heart, hardly daring to let herself think.
Betrothed. Fresh tears came to her eyes. How could this happen to me? I’m just a girl! Her mother had always prepared her for betrothal, reminding her every night that it could happen anytime. She was fifteen already! Her mother had been betrothed at an even younger age. But Mary never took her mother’s words to heart. She never expected this day would come so soon. She was so young. She never thought anyone would want a girl. She wasn’t like all the other married women she knew. They were all grown up, they were real women. Beautiful. She was just… just Mary. She had always thought Joseph was a nice young man, but had never dreamed he would want her. Mary sat up so fast her head began to spin, as more and more realization of what this was going to mean hit her. No more freedom. No more skipping down the dusty paths, no more running through the fields to dream under this tree. No more laughing and singing with her friends. She was considered a women now. She would have to learn to cook and keep a home. She would have to behave like a women. And in a year she would have her own home. She would be married and living all alone, without her mother, or father or siblings. In two years, she would probably have a child. Mary buried her face in her knees as it all overwhelmed her. She was just a girl ten minutes ago, but now. Now she was… betrothed. Why had this happened to her?
Mary walked slowly down the path to the village well, her mind wandering. It had been a long month. She watched as the women holding young children walked past and waved to her. She had always wanted to be a mother and have children, but now that it was upon her she felt small and scared. She had been getting used to the idea of marriage and she could see herself having a happy life with Joseph, but the thought that she would never be able to run through the fields and be by herself, and act like a little girl, made her feel empty, like something was missing.
After filling her mothers jars with water, she took them back to the house and before her mother could tell her something else to do, she hurried back out and began running toward her olive tree. She wasn’t married yet, and till she was she was going to act as much like a girl as possible.
Laying beneath the olive tree she looked up at the sturdy branches and cluster of olives still hard and green. Suddenly she snapped upright as a bright light flashed in front of her.
What had just happened? Mary drew a deep breath, but it caught in her throat. The angel was gone. The full weight of what was happening had not yet settle on her but the little she felt was heavy as a grindstone. The Son of God? She would give birth to the Messiah? But, if she became pregnant, what would happen to her. No one would believe her. She could be stoned. Everyone would think she had been unfaithful. Joseph would know it wasn’t his son. He wouldn’t believe that it wasn’t anyone else’s either! She felt a strange sense of peace and yet everything in her cried out fear and doubt! Elizabeth. The angel said she was pregnant, and yet she was so old. Maybe she would understand! Maybe she would believe. I have to go see her. Mary jumped up and began to run back towards the house, but suddenly stopped when she remembered the angel’s words. It didn’t seem right to run if she was carrying a child. Her freedom was being whittled away even sooner then she suspected.
Mary hurried through the gate and into the bright and spacious courtyard. “Elizabeth? Are you home?
The door opened and Elizabeth rushed out, her stomach large with her baby of six months. “Mary!!!” Mary ran into her outspread arms and Elizabeth held her tightly. “Oh you dear girl! Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the baby in your womb!”
Mary looked at Elizabeth in astonishment, “How do you know?”
Elizabeth rested a hand on Mary’s cheek. “When I heard your greeting the baby within me leapt for joy. Who am I that the mother of the Savior would come visit me?”
Tears began pouring down Mary’s face. “Oh Elizabeth! Why is it me? My soul glorifies the Lord that he should choose me to be His servant, and I am humbled at the mercy he has shown, but I don’t feel worthy!”
Elizabeth smiled, “No one ever feels worthy of what Yahweh has called them too. We just simply believe and follow as He has commanded. He gives the strength we need. I can see in your eyes that He has given you peace. I can tell that you believe.”
“I do believe in my heart, but by mind is trying everything to let all the doubts and fears in!”
“Ahh, yes. You must just keep pushing them away. Come inside dear, We will continue talking, but I’m sure you are quite famished, you must eat for two you know!” Elizabeth laughed and pulled Mary inside.
The fire blazed bright and warm by the river. Mary sat staring ponderingly into it, slowly munching on her supper. Joseph tied up their donkey on a bush a few yards away and then came and sat down beside her.
It had been almost 6 months since Mary had returned to Nazareth and told her family and Joseph of the angels visit. Joseph had been upset, which she expected. All the way home she kept wondering how Yahweh would save His Son, since she would most certainly be stoned. Her parents were mad. They didn’t believe her. Joseph didn’t seem to either but after a moment of thinking he said he couldn’t stand to see her stoned. He decided to just divorce her without anyone knowing. Mary was grateful, but was also wondering how she would raise the Son of Yahweh on her own.
The next morning she was helping her mother prepare supper when Joseph burst through the door. His hair was ruffled and he looked as if he hadn’t slept all night. With wide eyes, he told her that an angel had visited him in a dream and told him that the baby within her was indeed conceived by the Holy Spirit and that the angel told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. They had married a week later. It was a small, family-only wedding, unlike the wedding Mary and her mother had been planning when she first learned of her betrothal. But it was a meaningful and special day, and Mary could see that Joseph truly loved her and was willing to do anything to care for her and her baby. She knew what his would mean for his reputation. People would only look on them with shame. Joseph was an honorable man, well thought of by everyone in Nazareth. But now, he would be the one everyone pointed to and said, “Don’t be like him.”
Only a few days ago, Romans had rode into town and told everyone that they would have to travel to their hometown – Caesar was taking a census. Joseph had been born in Bethlehem, which meant that they would have to travel to Bethlehem. Mary’s parents begged them to wait until the baby was born, but everyone knew they would get in trouble if they didn’t go soon. Mary had agreed to go, knowing Joseph and Yahweh would take good care of her. They had left Nazareth early that morning and were finally camping for the night.
Joseph pointed toward a small town just down the next mountain. “That’s Bethlehem!” He looked back at his wife and asked compassionately, “How are you feeling?”
They had been traveling slowly for over a week, and the journey had been tiring and painful for one so late in pregnancy. “I think I can make that far. But I think the baby will come tonight.” Mary felt apprehension and anticipation at the same time.
Joseph nodded. “Pray we can find a room in an inn. They are probably near full.
Mary cried out in pain. The Savior was coming. Holding her stomach and breathing deeply as Elizabeth had taught her, she laid her head on Joseph’s shoulder as he helped her off the donkey. Joseph carried her into the dark cave and tried to find the softest place for her to lay. He prayed that Yahweh would give him the strength to help his wife through the long night ahead. He thanked the innkeeper for the torch and blankets. He placed the torch in a holder nearby and sat down beside Mary, letting her squeeze his hand as another contraction came. He wrapped his arm around her and together they cried out to Yahweh for strength.
Mary stared in wonder as Joseph laid the tiny bundle in her arms. A feeling of unfathomable wonder swept over her. He was here. This screaming child was the One who would save the world. And she had just given birth to Him. The tears poured down her cheeks in rivers. She felt Joseph squeeze her hand and looked up into his kind face, seeing the tears that filled his own eyes. She realized how much she had come to rely on the Joseph for strength. She saw now why Yahweh had allowed her to be betrothed. He knew she would need Joseph. Yahweh’s plan was always best. And yet even holding the Savior in her arms, she could still feel the doubts creeping in. Could she… could they… really raise the Son of Yahweh? She still didn’t understand why they had been chosen, but she felt a overwhelming sense of peace. Yahweh had bestowed on them a very special privilege, and even though she would never fell worthy and always continue to wonder why, she would never question Yahweh’s faithfulness.
Leaning against Joseph’s shoulder as he wrapped an arm around her, Joseph and Mary watched their sleeping child in Mary’s arms. Mary brushed her hand across Jesus’ cheek and whispered, “The Savior.” The awe overwhelmed her again and fresh tears rolled down her face.
Joseph’s voice choked with emotion as he whispered back with equal awe, “He’s here.”
Mary closed her eyes and sighed, the joy almost to much for her. “And me,” A smile crossed her face, “His mother. I will never understand Yahweh’s ways.”
Joseph nodded, looking out the cave into the night sky. One star shone brighter than all the others, casting it’s soft light down on the young couple. Looking down at the baby he touched the Savior’s soft hair. “What a miracle.”
Love is an Action
Written February 2022
“Here Zal, grab this side for me would you?”
Azalea nodded silently and reached down from her perch on a wobbly bar stool to take the greenery her friend held out to her.
“Santo cielo! Goodness gracious!” Valerie, owner of Val’s Coffee Corner, hurried out from the back, rubbing her hands on her dusty apron. She paused and threw her hands into the air, spinning in a circle to take in the whole decorated cafe.
“I love it!” Valerie’s beautiful olive face lit up with a brilliant smile. “Perfection!”
Azalea pinned the final rose on the greenery above the front counter and hopped down from the bar stool, relieved to have finished her job without any broken bones.
“The last of the cornettos and cinnamon rolls, for those who don’t appreciate true Italian cooking, are in the oven. All my girls are scheduled to be here at 4:30 sharp, and this place.” She gave another spin. “Is simply gorgeous.”
She clasped her hands together and gave a girlish squeal that was quite uncharacteristic for her grandmotherly age, but not an uncommon occurrence.
Azalea and her friend shared a grin as they watched their over-enthusiastic boss.
“And you two girls. Just sit yourself down over in that corner right there by the window and I’ll bring you some coffee and fresh cornettos.”
Val shooed them toward the table and returned to her kitchen.
Dahlia laughed and slid into the chair closest to the wall.
Azalea sank into the chair across from her with a sigh and pulled out her phone. Nearly ten o’ clock.
“Zal, are you okay?”
Azalea glanced up into her friends’ concerned blue eyes and gave a strained smile. “Yeah, just tired.”
But Dahlia’s searching eyes didn’t leave her. “I don’t believe you.”
Azalea lifted her cap and pushed back locks of her blonde hair that had fallen from their rightful place. “You don’t believe I’m tired?”
Dahlia grinned. “Oh, I believe you’re tired.” Here she grew serious again. “But I don’t believe that’s all of it. There’s something else.”
“Here you are, cari.” Val placed a steaming mug of coffee in front of each and set a plate of two sugar dusted cornettos in between them. “Eat slowly and enjoy. I’ll be in the back waiting for the last batch. Just pop in with your dishes before you leave. You two are wonderful. Thank you so much for spending your Sunday evening helping me. It means alot.”
“Thank you, Zia.” Dahlia’s eyes lit up at the sight of her favorite pastry.
Valerie insisted all her baristas call her Zia, the Italian word for aunt.
Azalea nodded her thanks as she bit into the warm delicacy.
“Aren’t you so excited for tomorrow?” Dahlia’s eyes glowed. “Valentine’s Day is always so fun. I just love how Zia decorates her shop. It’s so cute and lovely and I just adore watching all the cute couples that come in here.”
Azalea set her coffee back down on the table. “That’s what’s wrong,” she groaned.
Dahlia’s forehead wrinkled and she cocked her head. “What do you mean?”
“I hate Valentine’s Day and I hate watching all the cute couples.” Azalea stared into the cream heart that decorated the top of her coffee. “It makes me feel so lonely.”
Dahlia’s eyes softened. “Ahh, I see. I used to be the same way.”
Azalea snorted. “Really? What’s the magic cure?”
She was mocking but she did long for a cure.
Dahlia looked out towards the bright city lights with a faraway look in her eyes.
“I realized I don’t need a man’s love when I have God’s love.”
Here, Azalea actually laughed. “I’m not sure what I believe about that.”
“About God’s love?” Dahlia questioned. “You’ve been going to church with me nearly every Sunday since Christmas, have you learned anything about His love?”
Azalea shrugged. “Well your pastor sure talks about it alot, but that doesn’t mean I understand it.”
Dahlia smiled. “Yeah, I don’t fully understand it either. His love is so full.” She shook her head. “There’s just no way to describe it.”
Azalea took another sip of coffee and toyed with the cup in her hands.
“You do know that couples are more likely to break up in the week before or after Valentine’s Day than any other time of the year.” Dahlia finished her cornetto and licked off her fingers with a satisfied smile.
“Yeah, I’ve heard that.”
“It’s because their love is based on feelings and expectations. If your boyfriend doesn’t meet your expectations with a special Valentine’s gift or date, then he must not love you. So many expectations are left unmet on Valentine’s day, so people just choose to dump their better half. That’s how shallow their love is.”
Dahlia was bringing up her worst fears. She’d seen that shallow love firsthand in her parent’s marriage. And she’d caught a glimpse of the divorce papers in Mom’s hand before she could hide them.
She knew everything Dahlia said was right and she hated it.
“So what’s the point?” Azalea picked at her peeling nail polish. “Why celebrate love?”
Dahlia smiled. “Because there is real love. A kind of love that sacrifices and loves unconditionally – always, forever, no matter what.”
“I know where you’re going with this.” Azalea leaned back and rolled her eyes.
Dahlia’s eyes filled with tears. She laid a hand on her friend’s arm. “You may not understand God’s love. You may even scoff at it, but it’s real. It may seem cliche but it’s true! He loved you so much He was willing to die for you. Imagine someone pointing a gun at your head. And Jesus steps between you and the gun and says, ‘Shoot me.’ Azalea, only someone who truly loves you would die for you. True love is an action. Love isn’t about what you can get, it’s about what you can give.”
Dahlia’s face glowed as she spoke. Azalea felt like there was a treasure she didn’t have that Dahlia was trying to share with her.
Azalea downed the last of her coffee and shook her head. Dahlia could try all night, but that wouldn’t make her understand anymore.
“Let’s go home, Lia.”
Dahlia’s face fell slightly but she nodded and gathered up their plates and cups.
Azalea followed Dahlia to the back and tossed her apron on a hook.
Valerie stood with her arms plunged deep into a sink full of soap suds.
Dahlia set her armful on the counter. “We’re heading out now.”
Valerie gave an award winning smile. “Thank you, dearie. You two were lifesavers. Oh, Azalea, dear, can you pull those out?” She added as the oven timer beeped.
With a nod, Azalea grabbed a nearby hot pad and slid the fresh cornettos out of the oven, basking in the lovely smell that wafted over her. She tossed a towel over the pan so they wouldn’t lose their freshness and transferred them to counter with the warming light.
“Thank you much.” Valerie nodded. “You two get out of here and get some sleep. I expect to see you bright and early tomorrow!”
“Thanks, Stay warm!” Azalea closed the car door and headed up the walk toward her house, stepping carefully to avoid patches of ice. A light was still on in the kitchen, and she paused before pulling open the door. She could faintly hear her parents’ voices and they didn’t sound happy.
Azalea looked up toward the night sky where a few stars burst through the city fog and twinkled down at her.
“Love is an action.” She watched her breath puff in the winter air and furrowed her brow as she tried to understand what Dahlia had meant. “An action?”
She yanked open the door.
Her mother sat on a bar stool at the island, watching angrily as her father paced back and forth across the kitchen, voice raised in frustration.
Mom rubbed her temples. Azalea knew Mom’s headache was a minor inconvenience compared to the heartache Dad had caused her over the years. Mom shook her head apologetically as her daughter dumped her coat and work cap on the island.
Supper? She mouthed.
Azalea shook her head and escaped to the stairs.
All she wanted to do was take a shower and collapse into bed. She pushed open her door and tossed her phone on her bed. Kneeling down, she rifled through her dresser drawers, searching for her favorite pjs.
“Jaz!” She growled.
She had no desire to spend the last of her energy getting her clothes back from her sister, but if that’s what it took, so be it.
Azalea jumped to her feet and turned to see her brother blocking the door.
“Alex, get out.” She gave him a shove but he didn’t move.
“Where were you tonight?”
Azalea stepped back and huffed. “Work, tomorrow’s our biggest day.”
“Yeah? Well you left all the chores to us.”
Azalea rolled her eyes.
A door slammed and her older sister appeared behind Alex, wearing Azalea’s pjs.
“Would you two be quiet, already? Zal, you’re doing my dishes tomorrow.”
“Jasmine!” Azalea pointed at her. “Those are mine.”
Jasmine rolled her eyes and turned to walk back toward her room. “Whatever.”
Azalea groaned and shoved past her brother, darting after Jasmine.
“Jaz, seriously, you always take my things.”
Jasmine tossed her golden locks over her shoulder hauntily. “That’s what big sisters are for.”
“That’s what big sisters are for.” Alex wined from the doorway. “Jaz, stop taking her stuff.”
Jasmine whirled on Alex. “Oh, so now you’re taking her side are you. How come I’m always the one who you both attack?”
“I don’t know.” Azalea jumped in. “Maybe because you’re the meanest?”
“I’m the!” Jasmine gaped. “You’re the one who’s causing all this mess. Dad never used to fight with Mom until you were born.”
Jasmine pointed an accusing finger. “It’s all your fault!”
Azalea stumbled back against the wall as Jasmine slammed her bedroom door. “My fault?” She whispered.
“She is right though.” Alex taunted. “The fighting started when you arrived.”
Azalea’s eyes flashed angrily, and she pushed past him. “Just shut up!” She slammed the door behind her and collapsed onto her bed sobbing.
“So you’ll do my chores tomorrow right?” Alex banged on the door.
Azalea sat up and tossed a shoe at the door, wishing it would go right through and knock him out. “Go away!”
“Good morning, bello!” Valerie smiled warmly as Azalea stepped into the warmth of the cafe kitchen.
“Morning.” She could smell the coffee and cornettos and a wave of happiness washed over her.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!” Dahlia squealed as she stepped in behind Azalea.
A few of the other girls tossed her looks of exasperation over their full coffee mugs.
Valerie laughed. “You two just grab some coffee and wake yourselves up. We have a big day!!”
The girls poured themselves some fresh coffee and joined the group of baristas at a table in the dining area.
After a few moments of silent drinking, Valerie came out with a broad smile on her face.
“Alrighty, my cari!” She threw her hands into the air. “What a wonderful day to be alive, eh?”
Dahlia gave a cheer that faded as no one joined her. “Come on, people, wake up!”
Valerie laughed. “I know a lot of you are probably exhausted just thinking about all we have to do today, but this is our biggest day of the year, so let’s give it our best! We are all in this together and we make a great team!” Valerie winked. “And I’ve placed some special chocolate behind the counter, so munch while you work!”
This time everyone joined in Dahlia’s cheer.
The day was busier than Azalea expected. She manned the cash register, plastering a fake smile across her face. But with each, ‘Enjoy your coffee!’ her heart sank lower. While helping new customers she watched others out of the corner of her eye. Some couples were holding hands across the table, others were sitting close, with arms around each other. And all were smiling and laughing and looking at one another like they were the only person in the world.
Dahlia’s words drifted back to her. “I don’t need a man’s love when I have God’s love.”
She also kept an eye on the door. She’d told her Mom about the specials they had and how famous Val’s cornettos were, but when the last customer exited the door sometime after midnight, Azalea heaved a sigh. Her parents had not shown up. They had truly given up on their marriage.
Valerie marched from the prep area, a row of flour-coated and coffee-splashed girls behind her. She lifted a key above her head and then with a flourish pushed it into the door lock and twisted.
A weary cheer rose from the exhausted baristas.
Azalea powered off the tablet and turned from the register. The clock said 1:24am.
She glanced at the other two register girls and gave a triumphant smile.
“Leave the dishes, cari! Go home and get some sleep, I expect you fully revived and recovered by nine tomorrow!”
Valerie laid a hand on Azalea’s arm as she grabbed her coat off the hook. “You seem a little down and out, bello. And not from the long day. I noticed it when you came in this morning.”
Valerie’s grandmotherly face was creased with sympathy and loving concern.
Azalea smiled weakly. She wanted to brush it aside but even the newest employees at Val’s Coffee Corner knew nothing but complete honesty with Val would be accepted.
“I guess I’m just struggling to understand this whole love thing. All I see to love is flowers and coffee and chocolates and gushy feelings, and all that leads to is fighting and -” Her voice quieted and she pulled her coat closer. “Divorce.”
“Aww, child.” Valerie pulled Azalea into a hug and patted her back.
Valerie’s eyes glistened with tears when she stepped back, hands still on Azalea’s shoulders.
“Coraggio! Take heart, Azalea, someday you will understand real love. God’s love. A good place to start is by asking Him.”
Azalea nodded. “Thanks, Zia.”
Valerie smiled and pushed her toward the door. “You go home and get some sleep. Drive safe now, the roads may be icy.”
Azalea stepped into the dark night and drew a sharp breath as the cold hit her. She hurried to Dahlia’s car and slid into the warmth.
Dahlia lifted her head from the steering wheel and yawned. “Ready?”
“If you fall asleep and crash, my Mom’s gonna kill you.”
“Than I’ll just have to hope I’m killed in the crash so they don’t have to”
Azalea huffed. “Don’t talk like that.”
“You started it!” Dahlia protested with a smile. “Just keep me awake and we’ll be fine.”
Azalea pulled her coat closer and stared out the window.
Azalea grinned. “Sorry, I’m legitimately tired this time.”
“Did our talk last night help any?”
“It got me thinking. But I went home and had a nasty fight with Alex and Jasmine. Now they blame me for Dad and Mom.”
“That’s silly, you don’t believe them do you?” Dahlia glanced at her friend.
Azalea shrugged and watched the city lights rush past. “They said Dad and Mom never fought before I was born.”
Dahlia was quiet for a few minutes. “Even if that is true, that doesn’t make it your fault. These things often boil under the surface before exploding. And not to be insensitive or anything, but they’ve been fighting for sixteen years and are only now getting a divorce?”
Azalea shrugged. “It’s been on and off over the years. I think they’ve tried to make it work because of us kids. Counseling helped for a while, and for a few years things were fine.”
Azalea lifted her eyes to the bridge they were about to cross. “I miss those years.”
Dahlia nodded. “I’m sure it’s tough, dear.”
Her eyes went wide and Azalea felt the car slip.
“Ice!” Dahlia squeaked. “I can’t – steer!”
Azalea gripped the dash, everything in her screaming as the car spun toward the side of the bridge. But her scream caught in her throat and she stared silently as the car plunged toward the darkness.
Mom’s gonna murder me.
Time seemed to freeze and Dahlia’s cry was distant. Something jerked and shook and a hand grabbed hers. Azalea gripped the hand as a sob rose in her throat.
We’re dead. It’s over.
But the dreaded splash never came.
Azalea dared a glance at Dahlia and leaned back in her seat. The car shook and wobbled and she let out a squeak.
Dahlia stared frozen at the blackness below them. She started shaking.
“Zal.” Her voice was barely audible. “We’re hanging on the side of the bridge.”
Azalea didn’t say anything. She was too afraid to move. To breathe.
Something creaked and the car slid forward another inch.
Tears were racing down Dahlia’s face. “Zal, we don’t have much time. Climb into the back. It’ll help balance out the weight.”
“But what if the movement -”
“Do it, Zal!”
Azalea stared at her friend for a moment and then unbuckled her seatbelt with shaking fingers.
“Jesus, help us.” Dahlia fumbled for her phone, which sat in the center console.
Azalea scrambled into the back seat and clamped her eyes shut in terror as the car rocked more and slid forward.
“I can’t.” Dahlia sobbed.
Azalea watched Dahlia try to dial 9-1-1 but with shaking hands.
The car groaned.
Tears rolled down her friend’s face. “Jesus, I’m so scared. But you have promised to be with me. If I die today.” She drew a shaking breath. “I’m ready.”
Dahlia punched the numbers into her phone and hit call.
Azalea half listened as Dahlia squeaked out their predicament through sobs.
God, I’m not ready to die.
She clawed at the seat, desperate.
The car moved.
Dahlia laid the phone down, still on. Looking straight ahead she spoke with a calm assurance.
“Zal, if you break the rear windshield, you can crawl out.”
“What?” Azalea stared at her friend. The car rocked. “Lia, if I do that, my weight won’t be there to balance anymore.” Her voice shook. “You-”
She couldn’t – wouldn’t – say it.
Dahlia was so calm. So peaceful.
“Azalea, we don’t have much time. Do it!”
“How?” Azalea looked at the window above her. “How do I break it?”
“The crowbar. At your feet. Hit it hard enough and the whole thing should shatter. Just be careful, it’ll shatter over you.”
Azalea fumbled for the crowbar. Her hands tightened around the cold metal.
“Do it, Zal!”
Azalea closed her eyes and slammed the crowbar into the windshield. The glass shattered and collapsed around her. A piercing wind tore into her face.
Azalea turned back to her friend. “Dahlia, please.”
Dahlia twisted slightly in her seat. “Listen, Zal, you are my friend and I love you. You’re not ready to die yet, and I’m not going to let you. Get out. For me.”
Her heart felt shattered, like the windshield.
“I love you, Lia.”
She stood to her feet and scrambled out onto the trunk. The car wobbled and shook. She stared at the icy bridge before her. All she had to do was jump. And when she did the car would completely give way. Dahlia would plunge to her death.
“No!” She screamed into the night. She couldn’t.
Dahlia’s voice came from inside, desperate. “Azalea, go! You have to!”
Azalea sobbed. The heartbreak was too much.
“God, this is awful. Do something please!”
The distant wail of a siren reached her ears.
“Dahlia, help is coming!”
The car slid and Azalea clutched the nearest handhold she could get to – a shard of glass still in the window. She yanked her hand back and pressed it against her coat, hiding the wound from the nipping wind.
“Azalea, please just jump. Leave me, I’ll be fine. Go!”
“But help is right there!”
A police car skidded to the stop just before the bridge and two men jumped out. An ambulance was right behind them.
Azalea waved her arms in the air. “Help!”
The officers saw her and ran across toward her, careful not to slip on the sheet of ice that coated the road.
The next few minutes were a blur to Azalea. Some men jumped on the back of the car, stopping it’s forward tilt. Azalea was pulled off the trunk and guided toward the ambulance.
She distantly remembered yelling for them to help Dahlia, to save her friend. A blanket was placed around her shoulders and someone bandaged her hand. Time seemed to freeze for her, but the people around her raced by at blurry speeds.
A distant splash brought her to her feet as a scream caught in her throat. Dahlia!
There she was – being led away from the edge of the bridge, an officer on either side of her, supporting her shaking form.
A wave of relief rushed over her, leaving her lightheaded.
“Careful, there.” Someone held out a hand to steady her.
Azalea waited until Dahlia had been guided over the ambulance and then she stepped forward and engulfed her in a hug. Tears of relief flooded down both of their faces.
“Dahlia!” Was all she could choke out.
Dahlia’s arms tightened around her. “Oh, Zal, you’re okay. Thank you, Jesus.”
Something tugged at Azalea’s heart. She pulled back and gripped Dahlia’s hand. “Dahlia, you could have died!”
Dahlia nodded, the flashing red and blue lights lighting up her face. “I know. But I was ready.”
“But you- you were willing to give your life for me. Why?”
Dahlia smiled. “Love is an action, Azalea.”
Azalea looked toward the crumpled barrier where their car had torn through. “I think I’m beginning to understand.”
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
1 John 3:16
2 thoughts on “My Stories”
Nice work! I love your stories!
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Aww thank you!
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