Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Town of Whiney-Oaks

Let's face it..those of us who live in the Midwestern section of the United States of America are probably complaining about the cold right now. And it IS cold. Tonight's temperature will be somewhere around -8 degrees F here in Omaha, NE. Burr. And some of my Australian/New Zealand friends are probably complaining about the heat. Go figure. Isn't it human nature to complain about the weather?

The Town of Whiney-Oaks

In the town of Whiney-Oaks,
Lives a passel of whiney folks,
They gripe, complain all day long,
Singing their silly, whiney-day song.

“When it’s cold, we want it hot.
When it’s rainy, we want it not.
When it’s sunny, it shouldn’t be.
We love to live in our misery.”

In the midst of these whiney blokes,
Lives a wee boy of different strokes.
Perry-boy likes all sorts of weather:
The rain, the sleet, it doesn’t matter.

When others gripe about the snow,
This dear, young lad will gladly go
Outside to skate and to play,
Having fun on a wintry day.

Not once will Perry-boy ever sing,
That song of woe in the spring,
While others whine about pollen from flowers,
He will sniff them for hours and hours.

On a hot, summery noon,
When other Whinies begin to swoon,
Perry-boy laughs with utter glee,
Swimming and biking joyfully.

Colorful leaves falling from the tree,
Makes his heart sing quite merrily,
While others gripe about the work,
Which most Whinies would rather shirk.

“Perry-boy,” others like to say,
“How can you enjoy this lousy day?
Come join us in our poor misery,
For this is the way it ought to be.”

“No, dear Whinies, I cannot be,
This thing you are asking of me,
I can’t sing your sad, silly song,
Not now nor my whole-life long.”

“Boy, what makes you not want to sing,
The song that means most everything,
To all the other Whiney blokes,
Who live in the town of Whiney-Oaks?”

“Folks, I’m glad you truly want to know,
The secret I found some time ago,
In the holy Book of books indeed,
There is a truth that has set me free.

You see, today I choose to rejoice,
It is truly a much finer choice,
To know that this is a special day,
God has given me to enjoy and play.

For today, I choose what is true,
What is noble for me and for you.
I choose on this day to gladly see,
What is pure and ever-so lovely.

My life isn’t always so grand,
Some days don’t go the way that I plan.
Yet, when I dwell on my Lord’s grace,
He gives me strength for the trials I face.

When I choose to thank the Lord,
To rejoice in His faithful Word,
It helps me to open my heart and see
That each day is a blessing to me.”

All the Whinies began shaking their heads,
Not quite understanding all he had said,
Each one went his whiney-filled way,
Ready to face another whiney-filled day.

Perry-boy felt a tug on his shirt,
Turning he smiled at Peggy and Burt,
Two little Whinies from Perry-boy’s school,
They thought what he said was ever-so cool.

“Can we play?” they hopefully asked,
“We don’t want to whine like in the past,
We want to rejoice in the Lord above,
We want to feel His grace and His love.”

Perry-boy was grinning from ear to ear,
Thankful for his new friends standing there,
“The three of us is a good start!”
He sang with an ever-grateful heart.

Over the years as the word was spread,
Others chose to live by what he had said,
Enjoying the season whether cold or hot,
Praising the Lord in good times and not.

The truth of God’s Word is plain to see,
Rejoice in Him always, and always you’ll be
Content no matter what life brings your way,
Enjoying the best in each blessed day.

Reflection Page:  “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.”  Philippians 4:4-8 (NIV)


Friday, January 1, 2016

Finding the Perfect Home

I would like to publish this as a children's picture book using water colors for the illustrations. I wish I had the talent to illustrate the book but, alas, it wasn't a skill that the Lord blessed me with. I pray the story will encourage you. Enjoy.

The Adventures of Mr. & Mrs. Elf Owl
Finding the Perfect Home
       "Oh dear," sighed Mrs. Elf Owl. "I don't think I'm going to make it. The eggs aren't going to wait too much longer. And I'm so tired."
       Being nocturnal, daytime was usually for sleeping. Her wings moved slowly up and down and her tired eyes struggled to stay open. She barely had enough strength left in them to lift herself off the branch where she was perched. Mr. & Mrs. Elf Owl had flown south to Mexico for the winter where the insects they ate were more available. They had just returned from their migration. Now it was time for her to lay eggs.
       "By the way, where is my husband?" she asked as she looked around for him.
       At that moment, Mr. Elf was quite busy. He knew they must find a home soon before the eggs came into the world. He peeked into the hole of an oak tree.
     "Sorry ma'am, didn't mean to disturb you," Mr. Elf Owl said to a startled woodpecker. "The missus and I are desperate to find ourselves a home before our eggs are laid."
     "Well, this tree is taken," snapped Mrs. Woodpecker. "Next time be careful where you stick that beak of yours." Ruffling her feathers she settled deeper on her nest of eggs.
     Mrs. Elf Owl had hoped her husband would be able to find a home in the foothills of the Rincon Mountains. The summer temperatures were cooler and the Riparian Forest would provide needed shelter and water. Unfortunately, many other birds and animals had the same idea. There wasn't an empty oak tree to be found.
       When her belly tightened, Mrs. Elf Owl moaned. "You know, we wouldn't be in this mess, if you hadn't decided to try a new route home. At the border all you had to do was ask for directions but you said you knew exactly where we were the whole time."

       "Yes, dear," answered Mr. Elf Owl. He knew his sweet wife wasn't too happy with him because he really did get lost. He couldn't really blame her for being upset.

       "She may only be 4 1/2 inches tall and may only weigh a little over an ounce," he chuckled, "yet I believe in her desperation, she's quite capable of taking care of herself."

       Mr. Elf Owl thought about what to do next. "I know where there are some sycamore trees. The tall trees will provide protection from snakes, coyotes and bobcats. Hopefully, we can find a deserted one that's been pecked out by a woodpecker."

       Mrs. Elf Owl looked down at her big belly. How much longer do I have? she thought. I'm sure it won't be much longer now.

       They would have to find a place with an old nest because they didn't have time to make one of their own. After an hour's flight, they spied the grove of sycamore trees on the slopes of a large hill. The air was more arid and there wasn't as much foliage and brush.

       "Excuse me, is anyone home?" asked Mr. Elf Owl at a tree on the back edge of the grove. All the other trees seemed to be occupied already. This was their only hope.

       "I say there, you startled me," answered Mr. Sparrow. He stuck his head out of the hole to get a better look at his visitors. "How may I help you?"

       After they had shared their troubles with him, Mr. Sparrow shook his head. "Sorry, but this grove is full. Fairly close to the water supply, you know. There is still one more place you could try. On the Sonora desert floor, the saguaros would make a nice home."

       "Oh Elfie, not the desert," Mrs. Elf Owl cried. "It's horribly hot there. Please, not the desert." Mrs. Elf Owl shuddered at the thought of living in such a place.

       "My dear, I don't think we have a choice," Mr. Elf Owl said kindly as he stroked his wife's feathers. "I do believe, though, if the good Lord can take care of that sparrow family, He will provide for us too."

       Two exhausted elf owls flew to the desert right before darkness settled over the area. They found a deserted saguaro cactus with an old nest and settled in for a long, busy night. It was indeed time.

       Mr. and Mrs. Elf Owls' hearts were full of thanksgiving as the sun rose over the desert floor. "Oh, Elfie, it's lovely. I had no idea how beautiful it was here," Mrs. Elf Owl declared.

       Beautiful white flowers, with large centers as bright as the sun, had blossomed overnight on the hundreds of cacti which surrounded them. The arms of the cacti stretched upward toward the sky as if in praise to their Creator. As they enjoyed the beauty of the desert, they rejoiced in God's goodness.

     "You did good Momma. Real good," bragged Mr. Elf Owl.

       Safely tucked away in the nest of the saguaro cactus was a tiny egg with the promise of more to come in the next couple of days. With weary, but thankful hearts, they closed their eyes for a well-deserved sleep.

       Reflection Page:  Even though this is a pretend story, there really are birds called elf owls and they really do live in the saguaro cacti in the Sonora Desert. Look on a map and find the Sonora Desert in the state of Arizona. And there really is a God who cares about sparrows and woodpeckers and tiny little elf owls. Just think, if He cares about the birds how much more He cares about you... someone who is created in His image. God has a perfect plan for your life, including where you should live, who your parents and siblings are, and where you should go to school. You can't always see what's best for yourself but God knows. Always.

       "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"  Matthew 6:26 (NIV)

       "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."  Isaiah 55:9 (NIV)

       Can you think of a husband and wife (the wife was going to have a baby) in the Bible who had trouble finding a place to spend the night? God had it all under control and that baby was born right where God wanted Him to be born. (Hint:  The baby's name is Jesus.)

Monday, December 28, 2015

Next - Picture Books

Next Project
Picture Books
     Now that Christmas Still Came is finished I'll take a breather for a few days. After that, I'll share some children's picture books I've written. They're not chapter books and are quick reads. I wish I was an artist to capture the stories but, alas, that talent was not handed out to me by the Lord. Stay tuned...

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Still Came - Chapter Eleven and Epilogue

Christmas Still Came
Chapter Eleven
     The early hours of Christmas morning found Melissa wide awake. She tossed and turned so much it was difficult to keep the blanket on the cot. She was confused and somewhat surprised by her family's reaction at the church earlier in the evening. She didn't understand all that happened but one thing she did know - they were changed. She could see it in their faces and in the new life that sparkled in their eyes.
     I don't get it. Why turn to a God who seems unfair and distant. If God truly loves us, why did all the bad stuff happen to us in the first place?
     The events from the church flashed over and over in her mind. The words to Christmas carols floated around her thoughts. The message of the program played itself continually. The Holy Spirit was busy in those wee hours doing a powerful work in Melissa's heart.
     She pulled her pillow over her face. Go to sleep, girl. What's wrong with you anyway?
     She tried to tune out the images from the program but it was impossible. The Spirit of God was wooing her young heart. She whispered her resolve time and time again. "There will be no Christmas. Christmas will not come to the Conner home."
     The words of scripture floated through her thoughts. They reminded her she was loved by a God who was willing to send His Son. She plugged her ears in an attempt to drown out the verses. "I couldn't, I shouldn't, I won't celebrate. I won't. I won't. I won't. No one can make me." She tried to convince herself that was still the best solution.
     She remembered part of a verse she heard, "For God so loved the world that He gave..."*
     "There will be no Christmas. There will be no Christmas," she repeated. In frustration, she punched her pillow with both fists.
     A song they had sung slipped into her mind, "Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm, all is bright."
     "All is NOT calm. All is NOT bright. At least not in this cabin. I will not celebrate. Beside, all of this for baby? That's crazy."
     Melissa recalled parts of some verses the pastor had read about the baby being named Jesus. He said it was in a book called Luke, I think. I wish I had paid better attention. Her curiosity finally kicked in.
     Quietly getting up from her bed she went in search of the new Bible they had given her parents at the church. She found it on the kitchen table and took it back to her cot. Moonlight shone through her window giving her ample light. It took her several minutes to figure out how to use the Bible and to find the verses.
     She read, "And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David."**
     Melissa arose from her cot and tiptoed to the window. She looked out the window while trying to sort out her confused thoughts about the One named Jesus. How could a loving God desert her family in their time of need? How could she love or trust such a God? Did God really care about her? So much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to earth? Why worship a baby? 
     Melissa noticed a star that shone brighter than all the others. The star seemed to increase in intensity as it hung high in the sky. A star - she remembered hearing something about a star...there was a star shining...and there were shepherds, and angels who frightened them...and it had to do with baby Jesus.
     As she continued to stare at the bright star, Melissa was startled by what she saw. She blinked her eyes then rubbed them. No way, it can't be. That's it. I'm totally crazy. It's gotta be a hallucination.
     But he was still there. She must have fallen asleep. "A dream. This is all a stupid dream," she whispered. "Yeah, like this stuff really does happen in real life."
     However, the pain from the pinch on her arm told she was very much awake. God was at work performing one of His powerful miracles. It was His greatest desire that Melissa come to know Him personally and He had the means to move heaven and earth to lead her to Him.
     An angel of the Lord appeared to Melissa just like in the story. He didn't say a word, he simply stood there. And she was terrified just like the shepherds. She fled back to her cot and hid under the covers for several minutes. When she did find the courage to peak out the angel was gone. She picked up the Bible and began to read again.
     "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people."***
     Which shall be to all people...and suddenly Melissa knew that included her. In that moment, God opened Melissa's understanding and she understood the scriptures. She understood that she could not stop Christmas. Christmas still came. For Christmas was not wrapped up in presents or stuffed in stockings. No one could stop it from coming for Christmas was in the hearts of believers. It was about the Son of God who willed himself to become man. Christmas was about a loving Savior who could forgive and heal the discouraged heart of a hurting child.
     She knelt in front of that rickety old window which kept out very little cold and kept in very little heat. Melissa confessed her sins and gave her heart to the Lord Jesus Christ. Not to the baby Jesus in the manger but to the One who grew up to die for her. She didn't understand everything that was happening to her but she knew it was a glorious beginning and she began to cry.
     Her excitement and commotion woke the family. They rejoiced with their daughter as she told them about her crazy middle of the night experiences and of her decision to follow Christ.
     Melissa finally drifted off into a peaceful sleep. It began to snow. It was a perfect snow that lay powdery in the boughs of the trees. It was a snow that blanketed everything and hugged the valley in a strong embrace. The sort of snow that brings a peaceful hush and that "all is well with the world" kind of feeling.
     For indeed, all was well with the world. Well, at least in these woods running by the creek over in the hollow at the Conner cabin.
*John 3:16
**Luke 1:31-32
***Luke 2:8-10
Chapter Twelve
     I wish I could tell you that the Conner family lived happily ever after but that wouldn't be real life. They still had their ups and downs. It took a while for Father to completely regain his health and start working full-time again. Eventually, he did and they were able to move out of the cabin and into a small home which nicely suited them.

     I wish I could tell you that Melissa and Heather Anne immediately became best friends but that also wouldn't be real life. They still had their battles but eventually they did become...well, actually I'll save that story for another time. Johnny, as well, is in for an adventure or two of his own.

     Melissa was changed in the early hours of that Christmas morning. She never regretted giving her heart to Jesus. "It was totally worth going through those trials," she would often say. "If it wasn't for that little cabin in the woods I may never have heard the good news of Jesus."

     I'm sure God would have provided another way for her and her family to hear about His Son but His plans and directions don't always line up with ours. Thank goodness. If that was His way of bringing the Conner family to Him, then so be it. It was absolutely worth it. At least they think so.

     How about you? Are you facing difficult times right now? Are you questioning why bad things seem to happen to you? I'm sorry for the trials you're facing. I truly am. Wouldn't it be nice if everything was sunny and rosy all the time? But again, that isn't real life, is it?

     The one thing I want you to know right now is that you don't have to go through the tough times alone. You don't have to face these difficulties in your own strength. Jesus can be there with you every step of the way. He can be your strength, your hope, your peace. I would like to pray for you.

     Father, I pray for my special friend reading this right now. I don't know what their life is like in this moment but You do. I thank You for the good times and for Your blessings in their life. Your blessings are like basking in the warmth of the sunshine. But sometimes, Father, the sun doesn't shine. There are times when we all face hardships and sorrows; where the winds of life toss us about. If the storm clouds have gathered overwhelming my friend, I pray You will be their courage and strength. Open their eyes to see they aren't walking through this alone. You are with them every step of the way. I pray that in this moment, they will be consumed with Your love. May they feel Your presence and sense how much You love them, and may they know You are totally there for them. Things probably won't improve overnight, maybe never, but at least their trust in You will see them through. Be their hope and comfort, their safe shelter and protector, their peace and strength. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

     If you would like to know more about Jesus, please contact me at the following email address: I would be happy to send you a free booklet telling you more about my Savior, Jesus Christ.




Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Still Came - Chapter Ten

A Christmas Miracle
Chapter Ten
     Christmas Eve was beautiful. The woods were bright with the reflection of the moon on the snow. The air was cold so the walk from the cabin to the town's church was refreshing. During their stroll through God's creation, it wasn't too difficult even for the Conner family to believe in a God who cared and loved. At least, they hoped so.
     What a wonderful evening. Everyone sang carols with lots of enthusiasm and noise as they rejoiced in the Son of God being born in a manger. The Christmas program was simple and yet it carried a powerful message of hope and love. The children knew most of their lines, although there were missed cues and forgotten words here and there.
     "Look at the sheep," giggled Max. "They're eatin' the hay in that box."
     "I know. Sure hope they don't eat that baby doll," Matt said.
     "Ew, gross!" the boys said when one of the shepherds got stage fright, ran off stage and threw up into a poinsettia plant right by their pew.

    An angel tripped over her heavenly robe landing in the manger on top of Baby Jesus which then scared off the sheep. Joseph and Mary, played by an embarrassed Johnny and his cousin, thought it was totally weird to play husband and wife. The play with all its misadventures brought laughter to all. It was an evening beautifully planned by the Heavenly Father.
     And yet two unappreciated girls pouted through the entire performance, angry because their parents forced them, not only to go, but to sit together.
     "Excuse me," Heather Anne whispered sarcastically to Melissa, "Move over. You're sitting too close to my space."
     "Oh yeah, well I can feel your smelly breath on my neck. You move over." Melissa poked Heather Anne in the ribs.
     "Hush girls," two mothers scolded.
    "Let's get this thing over," Heather Anne whined. She didn't even try to hide her misery. "At least at my house there are stockings full of goodies and presents," she whispered into Melissa's ear.
     Slumping down into the pew, Melissa's mood was as dark as Heather Anne's. "I will not celebrate Christmas!" she fumed. "I won't celebrate and no one can make me."
     The Holy Spirit's presence went unnoticed by the girls. The singing of the Christmas carols didn't get them into the holiday spirit. The children's program didn't even bring smiles to their faces. The preaching of God's Words down right irritated them.
     The rest of the Conner family, however, was moved to tears by the special Christmas Eve service. It was the first time they had heard the truth of the Christmas Story. It was the first time they had heard of a caring Savior who came down from His heavenly throne to become man and yet was still God. Such love! And He did it for them.
    Toward the end of the service, Father and Mother got up from their pew when an invitation to pray was given.
     "I don't know about you, Liz," Father said, "but this is what I've been longing for."

     "I'm with you, dear." Mother wiped tears away from her face.

      They walked to the front of the church and knelt down at the altar surrendering their hearts to the Heavenly Father. That night sin, anxiety and hopelessness were replaced with salvation, peace and hope as they prayed. They willingly gave their hearts to a loving Savior. Even Max and Matt, as best as four-year-old boys could grasp it all, gave their little hearts to Jesus.

     "I don't get it," Melissa said when her parents shared their new-found faith with their daughter, "I just don't get it."

     "We don't understand all of it ourselves," Father said. "We have so much to learn but we do know Jesus lives in us. Things may never be okay again, and yet, we're okay with whatever happens."

     They were right with God and for now that was the important thing. Father and Mother walked home arm-in-arm sharing with each other what it meant for them to give their hearts to Jesus. All Melissa could do was shake her head in frustration.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Still Came - Chapter Nine

A Glimmer of Hope
Chapter Nine
     Christmas Eve Day dawned crisp and clear. Another powdery snow had fallen over night adding several new inches to the scenery. In times like these it was difficult to deny the power of an Almighty Creator, a special Someone who had control of His beautiful creation. And that's exactly Who Melissa's parents were discussing at the kitchen table when she awoke. She snuggled in bed and quietly listened to their conversation.
     "Maybe you're right, Liz. Maybe it's time to think about God." Father drummed his fingers on the table as he thought about what they should do next. After he few minutes of silence he added, "We've tried everything else and it's failed. Seems we've made a mess of things trying to do it ourselves."
     Mother and Father were quiet again. They reflected on the hardships of the past two and half years. Finally, Mother rose from her chair and wrapped her shawl tightly around her shoulders. "Should we accept the Holmes' invitation to attend the Christmas Eve service at their church?" she asked.
     The parents looked at each other nodding their heads in agreement. Father took a bite of eggs. "Yes, going to church seems the most hopeful thing we can do right now."
     "It will be an interesting experience," Mother laughed, "since neither one of us can even remember the last time we were in church. I was probably about Melissa's age. Strange that neither one of our families took up the habit since it seems most folks do go to church."
     Father slapped his hand on the table. "It's settled then. We'll accept the Holmes' invitation. I'll run over to their house this morning to let them know we're going."
     Still snuggled in her blanket, Melissa heard every word her parents said. She covered her head with the blanket. We're going to church? With Heather Anne? My Tuesday isn't starting out very good. Can things get any worse?
     The boys marched around the cabin singing, "We're going to church. We're going to church." Max stopped. "Hey Matt, what do they do at church?"
     Matt's shoulders went up and down. "I don't know. But we're going." They resumed their march. Melissa moaned at their antics.
     Going to church with the Holmes' was just too much for Melissa to take in. It sickened her to think she would have to sit near Heather Anne. Her face heated up thinking about Heather Anne and her friends. They'll probably snicker and make fun of me. Again.
     "Please, do we have to go?" Melissa asked her mother.
     "I don't think it's a matter that we have to go," Mother answered. "It's a matter that we want to go."
     "Please, don't make me go. Please, let me stay home. You can all go and I'll keep the cabin company while you're gone."
     "Melissa, you're going and that's final," Father said.
     She clinched her hands into a tight ball. She looked Father straight in the eyes. "Fine! You may make me go to church tonight but I don't have to enjoy myself. Not one bit."
     Later that morning, after Father left the Holmes' estate, Mr. Holmes lifted his wife in the air. He spun her around several times in the foyer. "Wonderful news, indeed," he yelled.
     "Oh Edward, maybe our prayers for John, Liz and their family will soon be answered." Mrs. Holmes wrapped her arms around her husband's neck and gave a big squeeze.
     Edward and Mary Holmes were thankful for the opportunity to help the Conners; after all, they were very distant relatives, although none of them could quite figure out the connection. Neither Melissa nor Heather Anne were even aware there was a connection. No matter how distant they were, family was still family. They had even offered to have the Conner family live temporarily at the mansion but John had refused. He was a proud man and determined to take care of his own. It was his idea they move into the cabin on land owned by Edward Holmes.
     However, there was one person at the Holmes' estate who agreed with Melissa. Heather Anne felt that church was a total waste of time. On more than one occasion she had asked, "Why does everything in this family have to be 'God this and God that'?"
     Her bitter attitude showed a heart that wasn't satisfied with life. Even with all she had there was an empty spot which neither money nor things could fill. The problem was she really didn't know what her heart wanted. She did know she didn't want the answer to be God. She didn't quite understand He was indeed what she needed more than anything else.
     As the family enjoyed the warmth of the library's fireplace, Father made the announcement to Heather Anne that the Connor family would join them that evening. "I don't want to go to church, especially with that girl. My friends will make fun of me, if they see us together. Besides, why do we always have to go on Christmas Eve? Why can't we just stay home like normal people?"
     "Because dear, most normal people do go to church on Christmas Eve," her mother replied. "And we will go as well."
     Heather Anne stomped her feet as she ran to her room, and for the third time in less than a week, a child slammed the door hard enough to rattle the windows. She walked back and forth across her rich carpeted floor. She fumed. "They may make me go to church tonight but I don't have to like it."
     For once the two girls agreed about something. God smiled. Everything was going exactly the way He had planned for it to go.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Christmas Still Came - Chapter Eight

The Perfect Day
Chapter Eight
     Monday was bitterly cold even though the sun shone. The freezing temperatures made it impossible to keep the cabin warm. Father stoked the fire in the wood-burning stove. "It's a little nippy in here but it could be a lot worse. At least the wind isn't howling."
     "No, things can't get any worse," Melissa said under her breath. "Wish I could just stay in bed forever."
     She wore pajamas and two pair of socks, along with one of her father's work shirts like a robe. She started to get out of bed but jumped under the covers as soon as her feet touched the floor. Wrapped tightly in her blanket like a cocoon, she felt safe and snug.
     "It'll warm up quickly now that the fire is going good," Father said. "You'll soon feel its warmth."
     "I'm not getting out of bed until spring," she said through chattering teeth. "Maybe never."
     By late morning, Melissa changed her mind about her vow to stay in bed forever. The small shack closed in on her and she needed to escape. Besides, it was difficult to lick the wounds of a broken heart with two cooped up four-year-old boys playing cowboys and Indians.
     "Stop it. No, I don't want to be a fair Indian princess," she snapped at Max and Matt. "That's it, I'm going outside." The sun had warmed up the temperatures enough that she decided to take a short walk in the woods.
     "I wanna go too!" yelled Max.
     "Me too!" yelled Matt.
     Mother looked up from sweeping the floor. "That's a wonderful idea. Please take the boys outside for awhile. You all could use some fresh air."
     "But Mother..."
     "Don't argue," Father scolded. "We don't ask you to help out with the boys very often. Now, all of you scoot. Enjoy the day."
    Melissa was surprised that she actually had fun with her brothers. They built a snowman and had a rousing game of tag. Melissa was about ready to throw a snowball at the back of Max's head when she heard horses' hooves coming down the dirt road.
     "Hey, Father, stop!" Johnny shouted from the back of a farm wagon. "Could Melissa join us for a ride? Wanna come? Your brothers can come too."
     The snowball was still raised in Melissa's hand. She quickly lowered it embarrassed someone caught her in the act of pelting her brother.
     "I don't know. I don't want to interfere with your plans."
     "Don't be silly," Mr. Johnson said. "The more the merrier. We're going to look for the perfect Christmas tree. The more eyes we have the quicker we'll be able to find one."
     Mother gave her permission for the children to go with the Johnson family. They quickly climbed into the back up the wagon. Mrs. Johnson tucked them under blankets for the ride to a hillside where evergreen trees grew. Once the wagon stopped everyone ran in different directions to seek out the perfect tree.
     Within a couple minutes, Max and Matt began to yell, "Over here. Over here. We've found the bestest tree."
     Mr. Johnson gave a long, low whistle. "Whoa, boys. That certainly is a beauty of a tree, for sure. But a forty foot one just won't fit into our farm house. We need one just a little smaller, maybe one about my height."
     Melissa and Johnny stared at the huge tree. "Your brothers are funny," Johnny said. "I wish I had a brother or sister. Being an only child can get boring sometimes."
      "Yeah, I suppose so," Melissa shrugged. "I love them even though they get on my nerves. But I'll tell you what, you can borrow them anytime you want."

     "Deal!" Johnny said. He hit Max's arm. "Tag, you're it." The small boys were off on their second game of tag that day.

     Once a tree was chosen the group headed to the frozen pond, a favorite winter hangout of the children. Several were already skating.  Mr. Johnson took Max and Matt to find wood while his wife prepared sausage and potatoes to be cooked over the open fire. She also brought along a pan of milk to heat up. The milk would warm their bellies and the fire would warm their bodies.

     "Mrs. Johnson, is there anything I can do to help?" Melissa asked.

     "Thanks dear, but it's all under control for now. Why don't you and Johnny go play? Have some fun."

     "Wish I had skates," Melissa sighed as she watched the other children. "That does look like fun."

     "Skates? Who needs skates?" Johnny asked. "Come on, let's go." He grabbed Melissa's hand and pulled her out onto the ice.

     They had a great time sliding on the ice. Their clothes were soaked from so many tumbles, but they had enough fun that the cold didn't really bother them too much. At one point, Johnny rounded up all the kids for a game of snap the whip. Melissa found herself at the end of the whip.

     "Watch out, Johnny. I can't stop," Melissa yelled as her end came around way too fast. She barreled into him sending, not only Johnny, but several other kids into the air. They all came down in a heap with Melissa at the bottom of the pile.

     Once the pile was removed, Johnny tried to help Melissa up off the ice but they laughed too hard. "Ow! That's the third time you've dropped me," she said. "Stop laughing or I'll never get off the ice."

     Finally it was time for the perfect day to end. With arms wrapped around herself, Melissa watched the wagon disappear down the dirt road away from the cabin. "That. Was. Wonderful." she sighed.

     Giggles escaped from behind a nearby bush, "Johnny 'n Melissa, sittin' in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G," sang Heather Anne. Several girls jumped out of the bush and ran down the road.

     "Nice try, Heather Anne, but even you can't get to me today," Melissa laughed. Christmas might be ruined but not even Heather Anne could ruin this day.



Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas Still Came - Changes Coming

Changes Coming
     Nope, this isn't the next chapter of Christmas Still Came. I'm working on it and it will be posted either today or tomorrow. I need to work faster, though, since Christmas is almost here.
     There is a reason for the interruption of the story. I submitted the first two chapters of the book in a contest and I received back my critique yesterday. To be honest, writers love their stories and they want everyone else to love them too. Well, the judges liked my book but didn't love it. I got a "good" rating which is mediocre. My friend, Deb, who sent the critique made some wonderful suggestions to help turn the book into one with a more "wow" factor. She's qualified to make these suggestions because she owns a publishing company and, therefore, has pretty good insight into what is an excellent book.
     I'm not going to make the changes now - that will come later. I will continue to use the same format and voice that you have been reading. Just know that if you see this story again sometime in the future, it will probably read somewhat different then it does now.
     For example, Deb said to be more specific about the era of the book...give it a specific date in time. Also, she said it sounded too modern and probably confused the reader. For example, the father owned an advertising agency before he lost it...I know they existed then because I did my homework...but it still sounds a bit modern. And the school sounds a little too modern as well...although I did research and found these three-story buildings did exist at the end of the 19th century in the United States (one within a couple miles of our house) still feels more current. Also, drop the narrative and have the point of view be from Melissa's voice only. She felt that the conversation was too jarring going from narrative to active. And drop the God reference at the end of each gives too much away. Let the story unfold on its own.
     Great advice that I will be implementing into the story. So, here's to revision #240 or is it revision #500? I have lost count but that's okay. Now that we're on the subject of revising, I'm very open to your suggestions as well. As a reader, what do you like or don't like about the story? You won't hurt my feelings. This is a "good" book but my goal is to make it an "excellent" book. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas Still Came - Chapter Seven

I Should Have Known
Chapter Seven
     The butler opened the door. "Hello, Miss. How may I help you?"

    He peered over his glasses at whom he assumed was a poor beggar girl looking for a hand out. "The servants' entrance is at the rear of the house. You will find the cook there. She'll provide you with some bread and a fresh apple. Good day, miss." The butler began to shut the door.
     "Please sir, wait. You don't understand. You see, I'm Melissa Conner and I'm here for Heather Anne's Christmas party."
     The butler recognized her as the handyman's daughter. "Now you see here, young lady. You're mistaken. It's only 2:00 p.m. The party doesn't begin for another two hours."
     Surprised she was early Melissa pulled the note from her pocket and reread what she already knew by heart. "No sir, I'm not mistaken. I don't mean to seem rude but right here is the note in Heather Anne's own handwriting." She gave the note to him.
     "Very well, please come in. May I take your, uh, coat, miss?" The butler held her jacket at arm's length to ward off any sickly germs. To his horror he realized the dust rags used by the maids were in better shape than the jacket. His opinion of Melissa softened as pity began to replace disgust in his heart.
     All of this went unnoticed by the house guest. She was far too amazed at the beauty of the foyer. She stared at the most fabulous Christmas tree she had ever seen. "Oh my," she whispered.
     Her brown eyes got wider and her eyebrows raised higher as her head went up and up until she could see the top of the tree. An angel topped the tree some thirty feet up.  She turned in a complete circle to take in the grand tree and decorations. The richness of the foyer reminded her that the Conner's Christmas was bleak.
     Melissa also sensed something was wrong, very wrong indeed. It was too quiet for a party unless that party was dull and lifeless. She knew the party hostess was anything but that. She rubbed her churning stomach as she realized she was probably about to experience another Christmas disappointment.
     Something tells me I should have stayed home cuz' nothing good can come from this. She backed slowly toward the door. Her goal was to get out of the house as quickly as possible; but for some reason she stopped when her arrival was announced by the butler.
     "Miss Heather Anne, a Miss Melissa Conner is in the foyer," he declared somewhere in the mansion. "It seems she is here for your party."
     "My party? I don't think so," snapped Heather Anne. "What a dunce. She totally misunderstood why I invited her here."
     Heather Anne ran to the foyer. "You're here for my party? Are you serious? What makes you think I would want you at my party?"
     Melissa resumed her retreat towards the door. "Then why did you invite me here?" she asked.
     Heather Anne threw her head back in a fit of laughter. It was her turn to clutch her stomach. The more she tried to explain the situation, the harder she laughed. And the more confused Melissa became. Heather Anne calmed down enough to shove a book into her hand.

     "Here's the book I borrowed from you for my book report. The Christmas Carol was way too hard to understand. You can have the dumb book back."

     "Yesterday, why didn't you just give the book to my father?" Melissa demanded.

     Heather Anne raised her arms, "And have you miss all of this? I wanted you to see what a real Christmas looks like."

     Heather Anne began to laugh again. "You really thought I invited you to my party? That's hilarious. I can't wait to tell everyone. They won't believe you could possibly be this stupid," the rude girl said. She bent over gasping for air.

     Shocked, Melissa replied, "You're right, I am stupid. I should have known that it was impossible for you to be nice."

     As her eyes flooded in hot tears, Melissa stomped her foot. Now she was mad at herself "Oh, all I do is cry anymore."

    Not waiting for her rag of a jacket, she took off out the door. With a heart crushed beyond repair without a miracle to restore it, Melissa had taken enough. All the way home she ran and cried and died on the inside. There was nothing left to take from Melissa. As far as she was concerned she had lost it all.

     "No Christmas! I must remember there is to be no Christmas. I shouldn't, I couldn't, I won't celebrate it."

     Melissa's tiny space at the rear of the cabin offered no privacy. The old cot offered no comfort, yet upon this miserable bed she lay.  "Please leave me alone," Melissa said when her parents tried to talk with her. She threw a pillow at the twins when they peaked around the hung sheet. "What part of leave me alone do you not understand?"

     She was inconsolable. No words from her parents could soothe the hurts. Father and Mother sat at the kitchen table completely devastated by what happened.

     Mother took a sip of coffee. "Well, I guess I was wrong about Heather Anne. She is that mean. I feel like I sent our daughter into the lion's den."

     Father slumped down in the kitchen chair. "How can I help her when I don't even understand myself what is happening to our family? How can I comfort her when I have none to give?"

     It was a sad, lonely family who went to bed that night. Yet they were not alone. God faithfully watched over this family and He had a plan. A marvelous plan, actually. One day they would recognize the presence of God which powerfully filled their sorrowful shack during the night.

    "Soon," God whispered, "you will truly be mine. You will know my love and my grace." He sent the Holy Spirit to minister His love to them. "Soon enough you will recognize the Comforter." And God smiled.



Friday, December 11, 2015

Christmas Still Came - Chapter Six

Party Day
Chapter Six
     Melissa tossed and turned most of the night. Her first-thing-in-the-morning hairdo gave evidence to how restless her sleep truly was. She staggered into the kitchen and put her head down on the table. She moaned since it was time to get up and help prepare breakfast.
     "I really think you should go the party, dear," her mother said. She stopped buttering the toast to look at her daughter. "I'm sure once it's all said and done you'll be glad you went."
     Melissa acted like she was too busy setting mismatched dishes on the table to hear what her mother had said.
     "It will be good for you to get out and make some new friends. You're always cooped up here at the cabin. Why don't you want to you?" Mother continued as she waved a knife in the air.
     "It's hard to explain," Melissa said with a shrug. "I would like to go to the party but I just don't trust Heather Anne. She's up to something, I just know it. Besides, I don't have anything to wear."
     "Now sweetie, I'm sure she's not that mean. Come and eat some breakfast and then let's take a look at your wardrobe. We'll come up with something. Your momma is fairly creative, you know."
     "Are you a miracle worker?" Melissa asked. She ate breakfast in silence.
     Finally, Melissa gave in and decided to attend Heather Anne's party. All morning they worked on a red dress belonging to her mother. Mother did indeed work a miracle taking in the dress in all the right places. A hand-sewn pinafore cut from a white kitchen curtain made the dress quite festive. By the time she was ready to leave, with Melissa's shiny chestnut hair and the natural blush on her cheeks created by all the excitement, she look quite lovely.

     "Ah, Cinderella. I have no coach to offer you but it would be an honor to escort you to the ball," Father said with a bow.

     "Oh, Daddy," Melissa said. Her face turned red and laughter escaped somewhere from the depths of her soul. Mother and Father looked at each other with smiles on their faces. It had been a long time since they had heard their oldest child laugh and it was music to their ears.

     When it was time to leave, Melissa threw her arms around Mother. "Thank you, thank you, thank you," she cried.

     "You're welcome. But stop those tears, silly girl, before they stain your lovely dress."

     Father proudly walked Melissa through the forest. It was a pleasant stroll among the trees they had come to cherish. At least Mother and Father love them, thought Melissa. I suppose I could learn to love them too if I weren't so busy missing the city.

     Today Father and daughter enjoyed the tranquility of the woods. The serenity and comfort offered here was in contrast to the turmoil the family had endured. The peaceful hush gave hope that perhaps one could believe that all could be well with the world. They walked arm-in-arm into town and up the hill to the Holmes' estate.

     "I'll be back to get you in three hours," Father said giving her a quick hug. "Remember to mind your manners and..."

     "...and be on your best behavior. Make me proud!" Melissa said mimicking her father. "Don't worry, Daddy. I will."

     Melissa turned toward Heather Anne's home. The mansion was a regal, three-story, red brick building with white columns placed along the front of the building leading up the steps to a huge main entrance. Second and third story verandas with wrought-iron railings ran the full length of the house. One could only imagine how many bedrooms, bathrooms, fireplaces and sitting rooms this mansion held.

     A low whistle came from Melissa's lips. "Now THIS is a house. If ever I'm going to feel like  Cinderella, this has to be the moment. Uh, I think." She stepped back and looked up at the mansion.

     Unexpectedly, Melissa became nervous and intimidated by the vastness of the Holmes' estate. She picked at imagined dirt and lint from her tattered jacket. Even the pretty dress seemed drab compared to the richness of these surroundings. Her poorness contrasted greatly with the grandness of the place. Melissa finally found her courage and clanged a bell attached to a post next to the door.

     "It sure is quiet around here for a party. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all," she whispered. She turned to walk back down the steps but it was too late. The door slowly opened.



Thursday, December 10, 2015

Christmas Still Came - Chapter Five

The Invitation
Chapter Five
      Throughout most of Saturday Melissa kept her promise not to celebrate Christmas. After her run-in with Heather Anne at school and her family's Christmas tree escapade, she was thankful for a quiet day. Well, as quiet as it could possibly be with two younger siblings under foot.
     Mother did keep Melissa busy with chores but even that seemed better than her experiences from the previous day. At lunch time she noticed Father wasn't home. Mother told her he had been blessed with several neighborly chores and would be gone until late. Once lunch was over it was time to do the weekly laundry.
     "Yuck. Laundry is probably my least favorite chore," she said to her mother. She blew a long strand of hair that wouldn't stay put. It hung down and tickled her nose.

     Mother agreed, "I won't argue with you there. Bending over a scrub board is not my idea of a good time."
     Her mother had the soapy wash bucket and  Melissa had the rinse bucket. Even her brothers got in on the action. Their job was to hang the clothes on two low ropes strung from the kitchen table to the sink.
     After supper, Melissa asked to be excused to her room. She was tired and, besides, she would be free to read. She loved to read. She had been allowed to keep several of her precious books when her family had lost everything else. She was grateful for these books for they had become dear to her...comfortable friends who told her of distant lands...grand places far away from this cabin and these hard times.
    Melissa was so completely lost in her book that she didn't even notice when Father came home from a long work day. Mother immediately noticed his excitement though.
     "Hey Princess, can you come here for a minute," Father yelled to her. Melissa jumped at the sound of his voice. "I've got something you're going to want to see."
     "What is it?" she called back. "I'm in a really good part of Little Women."
     "Actually, I think you'll want to see this," Father said.
     "Oh, all right. What's so important that it couldn't wait until after I find out if Beth survives scarlet fever?" Melissa asked. She sat down hard in a kitchen chair.
     "For one thing, you already know what happens," he said waving a piece of paper above his head. "And for a second thing, this invitation can't wait."
     Melissa snatched the invitation from his hand. She read out loud to the family what was in the note. "Your presence is requested at my home at precisely 2:00 p.m. tomorrow. Please do not be late. Sincerely, Heather Anne Holmes."
     Melissa scrunched up her nose. "Huh?" was all she said for several seconds. Finally, she asked, "How did you get this invitation?"
     Father had been at the Holmes' estate chopping wood most of the afternoon and evening. Heather Anne had asked him to deliver the note to Melissa.
     "Truth-be-told, it was more she demanded I give you the note," he said. "Is she always that bossy?"
     "You have no idea," Melissa responded still staring at the paper. "Do you think it's an actual invitation to her party? I know it's planned for tomorrow. Miss Merriweather talked with her after school. Maybe she got through to her."

     Mother laid the sock she was darning in her lap. "Why else would she send you the note?"

     Melissa walked back to the cot with the invitation still in her hand. She laid on her bed with the paper raised above her. She read the words several more times. Did she dare to raise her hopes? Was she actually being invited to Heather Anne's party? Of course, it really didn't matter because there was to be no Christmas this year as far as Melissa was concerned.

     "Hang on to that resolve girl. Don't let go because if you do, you will be disappointed once again. But what if it turns out to be a lot of fun? What if I finally make some new friends? What if..." Melissa whispered as she drifted off to sleep.

    Her dreams were filled with sleigh rides, Christmas carols, cocoa, laughter and new friendships.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Christmas Still Came - Chapter Four

The Bestest Tree Ever
Chapter Four
     Melissa was relieved to be home from school. Now it was her turn to slam the door hard enough to rattle the windows, along with dishes on the counter.
     "Melissa Jo, how many times do I have to tell you not to bang the door?" Mother yelled from the kitchen.
     "Sorry, Momma," she said in response to her mother's rebuke. The smell in the air caused her to stop in her tracks. "Whoa, popcorn. I don't even remember the last time we had some. What's the occasion?" she asked.
     In answer to her question, she spotted a small evergreen tree in the corner of the cramped sitting room. She walked over and touched a branch. "What's this?" she demanded. "I thought we weren't going to celebrate Christmas?"
     "Now, sweetie, we never said we wouldn't celebrate Christmas. We said we wouldn't do it in our usual way," Mother replied. She gave her daughter a quick hug. "Besides, it didn't cost anything to cut down a small tree in the woods. Come on, we're ready to string some popcorn and berries to decorate it with."
     Melissa joined Mother, Father and her four-year old twin brothers, Max and Matt, at the kitchen table. Her brothers were already happily at work stringing the goodies.
     "Do I have to do this? The tree looks, well, kinda puny," Melissa said.
     "Yes, you do have to do this," Father answered. She knew the tone of his voice didn't give her any say in the matter.
     She pouted for a few minutes but couldn't resist her brothers' contagious excitement.  With childish laughter and the sweet innocence of small ones who didn't understand what was missing from Christmas this year, the boys eagerly strung berries picked from bushes and popcorn popped from a small stash Mother had saved for such a special occasion as this.
     Running a needle through a kernel of popcorn and then a red berry, hopeful thoughts began to swirl in Melissa's head. Maybe the tree won't look too bad after the decorations are hung. Maybe, just maybe, Christmas will turn out all right. The room does smell yummy with spruce and berries and popcorn all mixed together. Just maybe...
     In an atmosphere of love, the Conner family laughed together, sang Christmas carols together and created together. After the tree was strung and homemade ornaments made from pine cones were hung, the family stepped back to enjoy the rewards of their labor - a lovely, even if ever-so-small Christmas tree.
     The boys ran around the small sitting area. They jumped up and down. They clapped their hands in excitement. Breathlessly, Max said, "Daddy! Mommy! This the bestest tree."
     Matt chimed in, "Yeh, it's the bestest Christmas tree ever."

     The boys began to chant "It's the bestest Christmas tree ever" as they marched around the cabin.

     Melissa's resolve to not celebrate stopped her cold. She gasped from the ache of it all. For she knew her brothers were wrong. She looked past all the love which went into creating their sweet little Christmas tree, beyond to other Christmases. She pictured the beautiful trees once displayed in their grand home.

     "Don't say that!" Melissa yelled. "It's simply not true. It isn't the best tree ever."

     The boys quit their celebration march. Their eyes were wide as they stared at their sister. She had never yelled at them like that before. Father took her by the shoulders and turned her around to face him. He looked at her eye-to-eye. Father firmly replied, "You are to stop your pity-party right this minute, young lady. I will not let you spoil this for your brothers."

     "I'm sorry, Daddy," she said wrapping her arms around his waist. "I don't want to ruin it for them. Honest. It's just that all of this is so hard. I don't want to feel this way but it's just not fair."

     "I know, princess," Father said. He held her close. "In many ways it really isn't fair. But it is what it is and we must make the best of it."

     She gave him one more squeeze before she went to her corner of the cabin. In an attempt to give her some privacy, a sheet was hung to separate her cot from that of her brothers' cots. Sitting on her bed, she looked out the window at the woods. Tears ran down her face onto her dress. Melissa couldn't help herself as she daydreamed about Christmases past.

     "No Christmas," she said under her breath. "Christmas will not come to the Conner's this year. What was I thinking?"

     For the most part she was not a spoiled, selfish child. Not really. There had been too many disappointments for this eleven-year-old to bear. And Christmas was the greatest disappointment of all.

     God didn't approve of Melissa's behavior. A deliberate, rebellious heart such as hers was indeed sinful and in need of a Savior. However, even though God didn't approve of her attitude, He understood her pain and He loved her with a Father's love.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Christmas Still Came - Chapter Three

The Never-Ending Day
Chapter Three
     Safely tucked away at a table in the small lunchroom, Melissa was lost in one of her favorite books. She jumped when a voice interrupted her reading.
     "Can I sit with you?" Johnny asked. Not waiting for an answer he pulled out a chair and sat down. "I have two sandwiches. Do you want one?"
     Melissa didn't say a word. She watched Johnny pull the food from his lunch bucket. She licked her lips staring at the feast he called lunch. There were two ham sandwiches, cheese, an apple, an orange, and two sugar cookies.
     "Here, really, you can have a sandwich. My mom always packs way more food than I can eat. I'll just throw it away anyway," Johnny said. He pushed a sandwich, an apple and a cookie in her direction.
     Melissa's face had a huge smile on it for the first time all day as she reached for the food. She chewed slowly counting to twenty with each bite. It would last longer that way; besides, she didn't want Johnny to know just how hungry she was.
     "Thanks", she said through a mouthful of food. "Ham is my favorite."
     "Yeh. My mother bakes the best bread ever but wait until you taste the cookie. You'll think you died and went to heaven." He held up a cookie, took a big bite and moaned.
     Not able to stop the giggles, Melissa put her hand to her mouth. It was fun watching Johnny enjoy his momma's cooking.

     Heather Anne, along with some of her friends, noisily entered the room. They caused a loud commotion.

     "Oh no, this can't be good," Melissa said in between bites of food. She put the sandwich down bracing herself for the worst.

     "Well, what do we have here?" Heather Anne asked. "It looks like two love birds to me." She leaned on the back of Melissa's chair and sang, "Johnny and Melissa sittin' in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage."

     Johnny jumped to his feet. "Oh, grow up Heather Anne. She's just a friend."  Putting his hand on Heather Anne's shoulder, he moved her out of the way. His footsteps echoed throughout the lunchroom. For good measure, he made sure windows rattled when he slammed the door.

     Melissa's face was red and beads of sweat formed on her forehead. Her face warmed. Turning her back to the girls, she buried her face in the book. Will this day ever end? she thought. I don't know how much more of this I can take.

     Mercifully, Mr. Robinson, the principal, rang his hand bell. Lunch break was over. Melissa arose and slowly walked back to her classroom. Three more long subjects to go before school would be over. Towards the end of the never-ending school day, Melissa did perk up a bit when she overheard talk about a Christmas party.

     "Miss Merriweather," Heather Anne said shortly before the dismissal bell. "May I hand out party invitations? On Sunday afternoon I'm having a party. We're going to have horse-drawn sleigh rides, sledding, caroling and lots of games."

     "Why yes, Heather Anne, that sounds delightful," Miss Merriweather answered. "I expect there is an invitation for each one of your classmates."

     Melissa's promise not to celebrate Christmas began to loosen its grip the closer Heather Anne got to her desk. With eyes narrowed and a turned up nose, her foe walked past without handing her an invitation. It was apparent to everyone she had been snubbed.

     "Poor Melissa," her classmates thought. They held their invitations close to their chests, grateful it wasn't one of them who sat there with his or her head bent down. "Poor, poor Melissa."

     An uncomfortable silence filled the room. Miss Merriweather stood with her hands on her hips. She pointed her index finger at Heather Anne. "Up here! Now, young lady."

     Mr. Robinson's bell could be heard through the halls dismissing school for the next few days. Melissa ran out the door. Her resolve not to celebrate began to increase its grip once again. Running through the woods, Melissa screamed into the air, "Go ahead to your stupid ol' party. See if I care. There will be no room in my heart for Christmas. Absolutely no room at all."



Sunday, November 29, 2015

Christmas Still Came - Chapter Two

Christmas Plans
Chapter Two

   Before Miss Merriweather called the class to order, Melissa found the room filled with chatter about all the wonderful holiday plans of her classmates. There were trips to be taken, gifts to purchase, trees to decorate, carols to sing, and parties to attend. Most of the students huddled around Heather Ann Holmes' desk, the most popular girl in the class.
     "As soon as school's out, my family is going to my grandparents' house," Suzy squealed. She clapped her hands together like a two-year-old. "My grandma makes the best desserts ever!"
     "We're going to the big city tomorrow to shop in some of the fancy stores," Heather Anne said.  She grabbed the edges of her skirt bowing to her friends. "I will look absolutely divine in my new Christmas gown."

     Billy Bob ran up to the group, "Too bad Christmas break lasts only a few days...wouldn't it be awesome if we could have two or three weeks off?"

     "Like that would ever happen. Maybe in your dreams," laughed Heather Anne.
     Johnny joined in the conversation. "We're going to hitch our horses to the farm wagon and go look for the biggest tree we can find in the forest. After that, we're going ice skating." The others laughed when Johnny pretended to skid across the imaginary ice. For special effect he fell to the floor with a thud.
     On this morning school was a-buzz, not with the activity of learning, but with the Christmas hopes, dreams and plans of each child; each teacher too, for that matter. In the middle of all the excitement, Melissa sat at her desk with her head down. She was quiet and withdrawn. She tried to act like she wasn't the least bit interested in the holiday plans of her classmates.
     The other students couldn't help but notice her mood and the hankie she used to dab her eyes. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't keep the tears hidden. Several children glanced over at her with concern on their faces.

     "What's wrong with Miss Sour Puss today?" Heather Anne sneered. "She sure knows how to spoil all our fun."

     "Oh come on, Heather Anne, be nice for a change. It's almost Christmas," Johnny said. He had reached out in friendship a couple times to the quiet, shy girl. She always answered his questions and seemed rather nice.

     Many of the students thought it was odd how Melissa usually spent her school days by herself. She was the "new kid" and it was sometimes difficult for new students to fit in since most of these children grew up together. To make matters worse, not only was she the new kid, she was a poor one.

     Heather Anne leaned into the group of kids and whispered, although loud enough for everyone in the room to hear, "Take a look at what she's wearing. Ew. I wouldn't be caught dead in that rag she calls a sweater. And her shoes have holes in them."

     "Knock it off," Johnny snapped. "She can't help it."

     "Hello, people. I can hear you, you know!" Melissa said. "I may be poor but I'm not deaf."

     She stood and looked out the second floor classroom window with her back turned to the others. A light snow was falling. In the distant she could see a massive mansion on a hill which Heather Anne called home.

     The children stared at Melissa from across the room. They weren't being cruel, not really. Well, maybe with the exception of Heather Anne. The children simply weren't aware they judged their new classmate by her appearance. It was much easier to keep her at a distance than to try to understand such a sad, troubled girl.

     Twins Eric and Rachel shook their heads. "Poor, Melissa," they said to each other. "Poor, poor Melissa. We wish there was something we could do to help her."

     Once the Christmas chatter began again, Melissa sat down at her desk listening to more plans being made. Her resolve not to get caught up in their Christmas excitement grew stronger by the minute.
     Who cares about Christmas? Who cares about what they have planned for the holiday? Melissa thought. I don't care, that's for sure. I shouldn't, I couldn't, I won't celebrate Christmas.

     And so she sat miserably alone at her desk - the untouchable poor girl with the saddest brown eyes the other students had ever seen.

     Now it's true the children judged Melissa by her outward appearance. However, even though Melissa wasn't aware of it yet, God didn't see her as they saw her. Others may have looked at her outward appearance but God looked at her heart...her broken heart which held over two years worth of disappointments and heartaches. God's care and concern for Melissa was great. His heart was full of love and compassion for her.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Christmas Still Came - Chapter One

Christmas Still Came
     I wrote the first rough draft of Christmas Still Came at least fifteen years ago. I had several people read it and then shelved it for years. A couple years ago I dusted it off and began the rewriting process. Even after a dozen or more drafts, it still needs polishing...that's okay since I'm not looking for a perfect product but for a story which will bring glory to the Lord. May God use this book to remind all of us of the true meaning of Christmas.

     Although not specifically stated in the book, the story takes place towards the end of the 19th century when rural and town began to grow closer together, although there was still plenty of rural to be enjoyed. The idea for the story actually came from two distinct old school building (two-stories)is located in what used to be Millard, NE and the other building (three stories) is in a small town located in northeast Iowa. Both schools were built in the latter half of the 19th century. It surprised me to learn this because I always imagined one room schools during that time in history. The thought intrigued me as to the variety of children who would have attended such schools. There would have been a mixture of rural, farm and town. The thought grew into a story.

Christmas Still Came
Lollie Hofer
There Will Be No Christmas
Chapter One
      These woods are the most beautiful woods in the valley and it is quite a vast valley to be sure. A person can stand on the peak of the highest hill and not see the other side of the valley. Thick trunks with proud branches stand shoulder to shoulder for miles. A permanent carpet of old leaves cover the ground in all seasons creating an aroma of damp musk.

     These wood are always beautiful after a snowfall which is exactly what happened last night. At daylight, the fresh snow is pure and untouched, not even small creatures have marred it with their footprints. As the sun rises, crystals sparkle in the early morning light. It is a fluffy snow lying powdery in the boughs of the trees. White mounds blanket everything and hug the valley in a strong embrace. It is the kind of snow which brings a peaceful hush and that "all is well with the world" kind of feeling.

     Unfortunately, all is not well with the world; at least not in these woods near the creek running by the hollow. In contrast to its beautiful surroundings, there is an old log cabin. It is a rickety old cabin which, at first glance, you wouldn't think anyone could possibly live there. On second glance you know you are wrong. You don't have to get too close to see the light protruding from the cracks in the walls. A thin wisp of smoke escapes from the chimney. This is the Conner place. And all is not well with the Conner family.

     "And so children, as much as it saddens me to tell you this, there will be no fancy presents for Christmas this year," Father said. He ran his hand through dark, thick hair, stopping long enough to compose himself. It wasn't easy as he looked into three sets of sad, brown eyes. He took a deep breath before he continued.

     "Don't get me wrong, we will still celebrate Christmas. I mean, it will still come but without the usual presents and Christmas day feast."

     Eleven year old Melissa couldn't believe what she heard. She just knew he had to be teasing them. Looking at her father's face and then at her mother's tears, Melissa knew it wasn't a joke. She wiped wet streaks from her own face. Her four-year-old twin brothers weren't doing any better than she.

     "Daddy, what are you saying? No presents? No stockings filled with treats? No ham dinner? No Christmas this year?" she asked.

     "Oh yes, we will do our best to celebrate Christmas, just not in our normal way," Father said as he stroked Melissa's long, brown hair. Pulling away from her father's touch, Melissa ran from the room, out the door and into the snow.

     Not knowing what to do with her emotions, she hit a tree trunk until her hands were raw and her energy spent. Melissa leaned against the tree. The jagged rise and fall of her chest caused puffs of steam to float into the air. "It's not fair," she yelled at the trees. "It's. Just. Not. Fair."

     Melissa didn't mean to be selfish. She knew it had been a difficult couple of years for her family. Two and half years ago Melissa's father had been stricken with an illness which kept him in bed for months. The doctors called it consumption. Since he was sick for so long, he lost his advertising business. His customers went elsewhere when they realized he wouldn't get better any time soon.

     The Conner family sold their lovely home and all their precious personal belongings. The only place they could afford to live was in this run down cabin. On more than one occasion, Melissa missed city life. The woods and even the small town nearby were foreign to her. Now the family was nearly broke.

     Father tried to provide for his family but could only do simple chores for a few hours each day. He constantly sought work from their new neighbors and Melissa knew that he did far more than he should. It did put morsels of food on the table and provided a few of the essentials they needed.

     "Yeah morsels, but not enough to provide a good ol' ham dinner," Melissa sighed.

     Melissa jumped up and down to keep warm in the brisk air. She thought about what her father had said. This had to be the worst setback of these horrid two and half years.

     "How could Father say we will still celebrate Christmas, if there is to be no presents or tree or stockings or dinner?" Melissa asked through lips which trembled more from her pain than from the cold.

     "I will not celebrate Christmas this year," Melissa fumed while she kicked at a pile of snow. The powdery snow flew into the air covering her pajamas. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself in an effort to bring warmth and comfort.

     "I shouldn't be expected to celebrate Christmas without all our usual fun," she declared to the trees. She paced for a few more minutes in front of the cabin. "I've decided there will be no Christmas. I shouldn't, I couldn't, I simply won't celebrate Christmas at all."

     Melissa blew her breath into red, chapped hands. She headed back into the cabin to get ready for a long Friday at school...the last day before a short Christmas break. She made a stubborn vow not to even acknowledge the holiday season. These were still her thoughts as she walked to school located at the edge of town.

     God looked down on Melissa that day and he saw her anger. He also saw her family's difficult life and her discouraged heart. Even though Melissa wasn't aware of it yet, God loved her very much.