Warmth spread throughout the room as the logs on the grate crackled and popped, chasing away the chill brought on by frigid temperatures and two feet of snow outside. Anne grew comfortable and tossed the paper aside. She picked up her white zinfandel and sipped it while reflecting on past holidays.
She always considered her life was full and blessed…until the diagnosis. Daniel never smoked a day in his life. How did he end up with throat cancer? Surely there were plenty of murderers or child molesters God could punish. Why her husband? He was the epitome of everything good.
Tears trickled down her cheeks, and she took a tissue from a nearby box and blotted her face. Hell couldn’t be any worse than watching Daniel waste away, suffering with every breath. The radiation and chemotherapy burned his throat and made it impossible for him to speak. Seemed an eternity had passed since he flashed that smile she loved so much.
This was the first time in their married life she’d picked out and put up a Christmas tree without him. The anger festering inside made her want to rip it down, burn the gifts, and rant at the Lord for the unfairness, but…
A blast of cold air blew into the room as the door opened. “Hey, Mom, sorry, I’m late, but I stayed after school to finish up a science project.”
A smaller version of her mother, fourteen-year-old Casey slugged inside, stamping her feet on the rug in the foyer to clear the flakes from her boots. Peeling off her coat, she tackled the layer of sweaters beneath. “Boy, it is freezing out there.”
Anne took a sip of wine to hide a grimace. “I know, dear. I just haven’t been in the mood this year.” She looked at her daughter and sighed. Casey was the only reason Anne hadn’t cracked under the stress.
Casey crossed the room and perched on the chair’s arm. “I can help put up the lights, Mom. All we need is a ladder. Dad left the little hooks up from last year.”
Anne shook her head. “We’ll do just fine without lights, Casey. Besides…” She stared into her lap, her eyes blurred with unbidden tears.
“Dad’s going to get better and come home, so why are you acting like he’s gone?” Casey stood and pulled her lips into pout. “You know how much he enjoys the holidays.” Her chocolate eyes glistened in the firelight, her tone demanded an answer.
Anne rose, walked to the mantle and picked up a filigreed picture frame. Looking upon Daniel’s smiling face sent pain stabbing at her heart. The photograph had been taken the year they went to Maui. Now thin and gaunt, he barely resembled the man she saw. It’d been weeks since he’d even acknowledged her presence in the hospital room.
She put the photo back and turned to her daughter. “Casey, I just can’t muster up any Christmas spirit. Your dad isn’t doing very well and I don’t feel very festive.” She returned to her chair and downed the rest of her wine, hoping it would numb her worried mind.
Casey peered down at her. “I know if Dad was standing here, he’d be disappointed that you’ve lost faith. Why have we gone to church all these years if you can’t trust God to take care of things?” She spun and stomped out of the room.
Anne pondered the question. Why couldn’t she trust God? The answer was easy. He’d allowed Dan to get sick in the first place. She stood and wandered into the kitchen, her wine glass in hand. After pouring a re-fill, she gazed out the window over the sink at the drifts of snow in the backyard. The old tire swing Casey used to love still hung from a giant branch now devoid of leaves. The setting sun was lost behind a gray wintry haze, and everything looked frozen. While her mind questioned God’s motives, Anne watched until the last trace of daylight disappeared and darkness fell.
She picked up her goblet and started to turn from the window, but a flash of light caught her eye. Too bright at first, it soon softened, and Anne blinked in disbelief.
The shimmering outline of an angel, dressed all in white, appeared just outside the glass. A glowing halo shone brightly above her head, and the assuring smile on her face sent a peaceful feeling coursing through Anne’s body.
The entity raised her arms, and as if by magic, an orb of light floated from her hands and rose into the heavens. Anne’s gaze followed the star’s trail as it climbed higher, illuminating the yard, the trees, the swing, and the old storage shed in the corner where Dan kept the gardening tools. Anne thought to call her daughter to witness the scene, but couldn’t find the voice to do it. She stood rooted to the spot, her eyes fixed on the wonder outside.
The heavenly creature floated a few feet above the ground and gestured toward the sky. The gray haze was gone and a canopy of stars twinkled above. One stood out above the rest, sending a blaze of light flashing to the ground. In the snowdrift just beyond the trees, Anne beheld another wonder. Unveiled one letter at a time, an invisible hand seemed to etch the glowing word ‘believe’ into the blanket of white. Anne gasped, trying to call out for Casey, but the image, along with the angel, vanished as quickly as they’d appeared. The stars still twinkled brightly overhead, but the yard turned dark again. Her mouth agape, Anne marveled at lightness in her heart.
Casey sat at the desk in her room. Christmas music played softly on her radio, and she struggled to concentrate on her homework. How could she possibly focus on school when things at home were so depressing? She couldn’t bear to think of life without her dad, and it hurt that her mother had all but given up on his getting better.
With a sigh, Casey stood and walked to the bookshelf across the room. She searched the shelves until she found her Bible. She thumbed through the index, looking for verses pertaining to hope and found Proverbs 3:3-4. Turning to the passage, she read:
Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.She’d barely finished when she heard a strange noise coming from downstairs—a heavy thumping sound. Her put her Bible back in its place and tilted her ear to listen. She heard it again. Casey opened her door and the sound became louder. “Mom, what is that,” she called out.
When she received no answer, Casey went to investigate. The noise had stopped but she couldn’t find her mom. She walked through the entire house only to find it empty. A half-filled wine glass sat near the easy chair, but no sight of her mother.
The thumping began again—close and right outside. The porch light cast a strange-looking shadow on the front window. Casey grasped the knob and opened the door just a crack. She saw a ladder and a pair of legs from the knees down. She recognized the fur-lined boots.
“Mom, what are you doing up there?” Casey walked to the edge of the porch and peered up.
Bundled against the weather, her mother hammered at the wooden eave. “I’m putting up Christmas lights. Some of the hooks are loose and I’m tightening them. How about if you get a coat on and check the bulbs in the next strand while I finish hanging these.”
“But… I thought…” Forgetting the cold, Casey picked up a coiled cord and began unraveling it.
“I know, I know. I lost faith for a while,” her mother glanced down and nodded,” but for some strange reason, I’ve found it again. I have a strong feeling that Dad is coming home and we need to be ready.”
Casey smiled up at her mother. “Let me get my coat and I’ll be right back. Tomorrow we can put up the manger scene in the yard.”
“Good idea.” Anne went back to pounding.
Casey paused for a moment and looked to heaven. Her mind wandered to her last week's Sunday School lesson. Make A JoyfulNoise Unto the Lord - Psalm 100. "Who would've thought hammering could qualify?" she muttered, then smiled. Humming “Silent Night,” she headed for the coat closet. For the first time in weeks, she enjoyed feeling a sense of peace that magnified the joy of the holiday. Faith would bind their family together; love would sustain them.