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For The Strength of Youth

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Little Miss Liberty
    Steven O'Dell
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Most Recent Chapters
The Visitor--an inspirational short story series
    Ch. 58 -- On Wings of Angels
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The Visitor--an inspirational short story series
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The Visitor--an inspirational short story series
    Ch. 59 I Hate Christmas
The Visitor--an inspirational short story series
    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
 
Submitted by Steven ODell on 24 January 2011 - 1:48am. | | | | | | |

"I Hate Christmas"
Steven G. O'Dell (C) 2010
There are some things only Christmas can heal.

"Why won't you come have Christmas with us?"

Widowed Melanie Mortenson was puzzled by Ralph Hansen's response to her simple request to join her family for Christmas. He was alone, as were some of the others in the neighborhood. She was alone, too, except for a daughter and her neighborhood friends. It made sense to her to have a get-together so no one would have to sit alone and mope over the holidays.

"Because I hate Christmas."

Something in his manner belied the words themselves.

"I don't believe you, Ralph."

"What?" He looked stunned.

"You heard me. I don't believe you."

Her hands were on her hips now and she looked genuinely perturbed.

"How can you...."

"Oh, stop it, Ralph! You're just shy, that's all. You don't hate Christmas."
Now it was his turn to appear perturbed.

"How can you know that? If I say I don't like Christmas, then I don't like Christmas; that's all there is to it. Now, if you'll be so kind as to leave me alone...."

He moved as if to suggest he was escorting her to the door, but she made no effort to follow. Her hands were still planted firmly upon her hips.

"Ralph Hansen, I am shocked and disappointed with you. How can you say such things? Didn't anyone ever teach you it's wrong to lie?"

Ralph opened his mouth to speak and abruptly closed it again, not knowing quite how to respond to her last comment.

"Sit down, Ralph. We're going to sort this out once and for all." He didn't sit immediately and she became more insistent, pointing firmly and abruptly to where she expected him to light. "Now!"

That did it. Ralph sat, knowing he would have to listen to whatever tirade Melanie was about to level at him. It was well known she was a strong-minded woman, having necessarily become so upon the death of her husband. There was nothing but to tolerate her lecture and then get on with his life, making some excuse that might be more acceptable to her. He stared at the floor, waiting for the condemnation to come.

"Ralph, you can't expect me to believe you don't like Christmas, let alone hate it. I know better. I've seen you in action."

He shot her a puzzled look.

"Yeah, you've been found out. All year long I see you doing for others. When I brought you brownies, I found you in my front yard a few evenings later, picking some weeds before they got too large for me to deal with. You thought it was too dark to see you."

His face reflected a sheepish embarassment now.

"Then there was the scraping and painting you did for Helen while she was in the hospital. You hoped she wouldn't know who did it."

"You didn't...."

"No, of course not! What kind of person do you take me for?" She shook her head in disbelief. "And I saw you fixing that bicycle for Tommy Nolan. Then you made sure that Dale's paper was off the sidewalk where the boy tossed it and that it was up on the porch so Dale wouldn't have to chance a fall by coming off his porch. You can't tell me I'm wrong about that."

"Well, no, but that has nothing to do with Christmas, now does it?" He did his best to appear stern and resolute.

"Oh, pish-posh! It's the same spirit of kindness all year long and you have it, Ralph Hansen, in great abundance. And don't you deny it. either. I know your heart. There isn't a mean bone in your body. So, what's the real reason you claim to hate Christmas? Tell me." Her voice became suddenly more tender. "And tell me the truth."

Ralph's eyes began to fill with tears and he found it hard to breathe.
"Christmas was the favorite time of year for me and for Jeannie. I haven't been able to stand the reminder since she passed away." And now he broke down and began to cry for real, burying his face in his hands. Melanie stood and placed a hand on his shoulder to comfort him.

"We all loved Jeannie, Ralph. How could we help but love her? Still, what would she think of you sitting here alone on her favorite holiday? Do you really think she would approve? I don't. She was always out seeing neighbors and wishing them happy holidays and singing carols and baking cookies and whatever elese she could think to do to make Christmas the most special time of the year. She would still be doing that if she were alive...and so would you."

He nodded his head in agreement. It was true. Jeannie would be ashamed of him being such a hermit.

"Alright, then, is it settled? You'll join us?" She raised her eyebrows in anticipation.

Ralph started to shake his head gently, but Melanie tilted her head in a disapproving manner and he recanted reluctantly.

"Good. Ralph, you are a good man and it wouldn't be right for you to be miserable on Christmas. Nor would it be right for you to deprive others of your company. Not only do we miss Jeannie, but we miss you, too, ya' know." Her smile told him it was true.

Once Melanie left, Ralph sat for several minutes with his eyes closed in silent prayer. You could hear a pin drop as he thanked his Heavenly Father for such wonderful friends and neighbors. And then he waited patiently for an answer to a question. When it came, he smiled broadly in appreciation and closed his prayer. Then he got up and began to gather the necessary materials from his backyard and garage to make several gift wreaths for his neighbors' doors. He could feel Jeannie's spirit with him and it made him smile all the more. It was time to heal and time to feel again. And what better time to do so than Christmas, Jeannie's favorite holiday?

Submitted by Steven ODell on 5 January 2010 - 2:03am. | | | | | | |

Dec. 24, 2009 -- While saying my prayers last night, I reflected on how I needed to write a Christmas-oriented story for the collection of short stories I am currently writing. The answer, a gift to me, and now to you, came in a flash of insight. "Why not share your own conversion story and the best winter and best Christmas present you ever had?" I knew instantly that was the right answer. There are a few liberties with details, like the meeting with a stranger at the bus stop and the locale being in Michigan, but the rest of the story, regarding my friend Daniel and myself, is completely accurate, and even more amazing than the few details I shared here. The writing was done in one morning, this morning. God is amazing, isn't He? Here is His, and my, Christmas gift to you, before it comes out in the book The Visitor.

The Greatest Christmas Gift Ever

Steven G. O'Dell (C) 2009

"Greater love hath no man than this...."

'I remember the day as if it were just yesterday, although many years have passed.'

Those were the words the old man used. A few years have passed since he and I sat and talked, but I now understand the words and the look in his eye as he spoke.
It was a day about like any other winter day in our area – cold, windy and generally miserable. I wouldn't even have been out in it, had it not been necessary to get a last minute Christmas gift. The last thing I wanted was to die of exposure to the weather in a Michigan winter. And yet, here I was, sitting at a bus stop in the frigid, unfriendly conditions that any sane individual would be avoiding like the plague. That's when he approached and sat on the bench next to me. He was of average height, weight and appearance, but there was a sense of happiness that was disarming in a strange way.

"Hello, young man, how are you this fine day?" He offered his hand, wrapped as it was in glove. A bit surprised, I offered mine in return before I had even processed the thought.
"As good as anyone can be on such a nasty day, I guess." I went back to looking for the bus and wondering if I would need to be thawed before I could get on it.

"Nasty? No, sir. It's a wonderful day to be alive. Any day this side of dirt is a good one."
I have to admit that I thought he might have been a bit addled to be so enthusiastic about such inclement weather conditions, but the world is full of all kinds, after all. We can't all be sane and well-adjusted. Yet, he continued.

"I take it you don't share my enthusiasm." His smile did not fade in the least.
"Well, no, I have never been one to enjoy winter that much. I would rather be inside with a hot cocoa and a good movie or book right now. Instead, I need to get a gift for my niece, if there are even any left when I get there." I snorted and huffed in disgust at the thought of the shelves being picked over or empty.

"I once felt as you do. Not anymore, though." He clapped his gloved hands together and looked about himself as if he were sitting on a park bench in the middle of new spring flowers. There was an unmistakable joy in his gaze and countenance. It made me wish I could share it, yet I could not even understand it. "It all changed one winter, just like this one. That winter was like a gift to me."
"Gifts...." I sniffed. "Well, this winter is no gift to me, that's for sure. I don't expect my last minute search will pay off, so I will have been out in the cold for nothing and my niece will still have no present of any real value."

"Value is in the eye of the beholder, son."
"Well, that may be, but the fact remains that I would rather be inside where it's warm. Why Jesus chose to be born in the middle of winter is beyond me."

At that the old man began to laugh. It was warm and infectious and somehow chased away the cranky feelings I had been expressing so openly to a stranger.
"Well, there is some debate as to the time of year he was born, but let me share a story with you while we wait...if that's alright with you?" He raised his eyebrows in anticipation of my answer.

"Sure, why not. I have nothing else to do until the bus comes." I was being polite. Pleasant or not, I wasn't convinced his story was going to make me feel any better.
"Alright, then. I remember the day as if it were just yesterday, although many years have passed." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly and settled back on the bench as he began to weave his tale. It took only a moment to know that the story was real to him and I was drawn in, like an observer unseen and sitting in the darkness of a theatrical presentation. His words were heartfelt as he continued.

"As I said, it was a winter just like this one – the winter of 1971, as a matter of fact. I was an irresponsible, young rascal of the highest order." He snickered softly and you could sense that he saw again in his mind the scenes of that day. "I was wrapped up in sex, drugs and rock and roll. And I was on the path to eventual destruction, I am sure. And I was not alone in my drive to oblivion, either. Several friends, so-called, were sharing the view with me along that road. We were partiers, all of us. Hard partiers."
Suddenly, it was as if only he and I existed in the world at that moment. There was an utter and complete stillness that enveloped us. No traffic noises, no sounds at all, but for the voice of this one old man. Even my chattering teeth and heavy breathing had ceased to be noticable. I hung on every word this man spoke, unable to pry my attention from him.

"...so there we were, Dan and I, sitting at the kitchen table, high on LSD and rambling about some inane thing that we must have thought to be very clever and insightful at the time. That's when it happened...." He paused in a far-away gaze and sat silent with the hint of a smile on his face.
"What? What happened?" My voice seemed like a noisy intruder in the quiet that surrounded us.

"The Holy Ghost, son. Suddenly we were not alone anymore. We both knew it, too. There was no denying it for either of us. One moment we were just two stoned idiots sitting there talking and the next we had our minds blown totally by the presence of God." He chuckled again. "LSD is a powerful drug, but this...oh, this...this was something neither of us had ever experienced in our short and impetuous lives. It was every bit like a Klieg light in total darkness. It was as if someone had snapped on a switch and suddenly we were in a different realm, you know?"
Of course I didn't. There was no way I could, but I nodded and he continued. The strange thing is, I no longer thought him crazy. I should have, with a tale such as he was relating to me at the moment, but he was genuine in his belief that it had happened and, for some unknown and unexplainable reason, I could not disbelieve it either.

"God never takes away your personal moral agency, son. The question implied that night was, 'is it revelation or is it hallucination?' We both knew the answer to that one immediately. There was no denying that we both were experiencing the same event. No drug, no matter how powerful, does that. And this.....this was so much more powerful than the drug ever could have been. It eclipsed any drug-induced experience I or any man had ever had in the history of the world, I assure you. The feeling of pure and utter love was tangible, so thick you could cut it with a knife. It was like a big hug from someone you have a mutual love with." He stared off into space for a moment in private reverie before proceeding.
"The next several hours were spent in receiving revelation. If you have never felt pure intelligence pour into you, you have no concept of the exhilaration and joy that it brings. It was as if we were plugged into the great cosmic switchboard and suddenly knew things we had never even conceived of before. Just suddenly knew them to be true. And later they proved to be so, too."

He went on to relate how he and his friend, Dan, had sat there at that same table for hours more, each being alternately used by the Holy Ghost as a mouthpiece to teach these principles to one another. Things they never knew were being taught to them even as they spoke the words. I have to admit that if anyone but this man had been telling me the story, that is all I would have thought it to be -- a fanciful story, and nothing more. But this was not your average story, nor, it seemed, your average man.
"We then took a walk, as we were unable to sleep after such an event, as you can imagine. We saw the world in an entirely new and unique way that night. The snow on the ground and the ice that we stepped on. It was like the world was one huge ball of crystal and mankind was scratching and chipping it with his every step and movement...desecrating this Urim and Thummim the Lord had formed for our use."

The terms were unfamiliar to me, but I did not interrupt. I would look them up later. Surely, they had to be in the Bible or a dictionary. He proceeded.
"And then we were led back to the apartment we had so recently departed from. That was when the most amazing thing happened."

More amazing than anything yet? I did not interrupt this time. I didn't want to hear my own voice intruding in the midst of such a wondrous tale as I was hearing.
"We had been listening to many LP records when we visited that apartment. Some we had heard many times, but I have to tell you, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, things can take on a totally different meaning than you think them to be. And that is what happened that night to Dan and I. The LP was by a group called FREE and the title was Fire And Water. Do you see the analogy in that? The sense of humor God has?"

He waited but a second for my reply and I nodded my agreement.
"Oh, yes, he has a wonderful sense of humor, but he loves his children, too, and he showed us that night the error of our ways and the right path. We were instructed to place the needle on the record...you knew that they didn't always have CD's, right?" He grinned as I smiled back at the thought.

"The song was Heavy Load. It had this plodding, sad and heavy piano back-beat that was for all the world reminiscent of a man under the weight of sin and grief, dragging himself along a lonely and dismal road, with no companion but God, to whom he makes his complaint that he can go no further down, recognizing he has taken the wrong road in his life. As the song opens, Dan and I are suddenly pressed down under the unseen weight of our own sins and find ourselves lieing on the floor, sobbing with great, heaving gasps. As the last strains die out, the weight lifts and we are again free of that crushing pressure. We are allowed a short time to discuss the experience and are instructed to again repeat the song, with the same result. And a third time we are told to do the same thing. Each time it is the same. The same crushing weight of sin, the same crying in desperation and sorrow for our shortcomings. The same grief over our choices in life."
That this was not your average story was more than apparent now. It was the most engaging and intriguing story I had ever heard in my life. I could not help but believe it, regardless of how improbable and far-fetched it was. The man told it as any man would after living it personally. There was no denying the truth of it, even as a listener.

"I went from being missing from home a week or more at a time, to being home every night and reading the Bible. You can imagine how perplexed my parents must have been." Again he grinned and chuckled. "There had been a miraculous change in Dan and I. One minute neither of us knew if there was a God and the next minute we couldn't deny it. No, sir. Not for one second since that time. Personally, I believe God saved my life that night."
I was suddenly aware that I was no longer shivering from the cold. It was as if a warm blanket, fresh from the dryer, had been laid over me.

"Son, I learned that winter that there were more important things about Christmas than getting stoned and 'oooh-ing and ahhh-ing' over the pretty lights or laughing about silly and un-fulfilling frivolities. I learned that the greatest gift of all was given by God himself. He knew we had to have a way to get back to him, that we were in a fallen and unworthy state, but he loves us so much that he made the ultimate sacrifice. His own son paid a price that only a God could pay -- to buy us back from death and sin, if we would only accept the payment in our behalf and then live right." At this point, the old man turned to me and looked into my eyes with an intensity that almost burned.
"How would you feel if you knew someone had given his own life to save yours?"

The question hit like a ton of bricks. I was speechless at the thought. If I had done something so wrong and so heinous as to be punishable by death, or if I were in such perils as to need rescuing, how would I feel if my rescuer lost his life in saving mine? I would be devastated, thinking that another family was altered forever because of me. I would want to reach out and take care of their every need, in gratitude, in a feeling of indebtedness for the gift I had been given of my own life. How could I waste it from then on in selfish pursuits? And that's when it hit me; the true meaning of what the old man meant by his question. And that's also when I began to cry, with that same sobbing he had spoken of – that sense of despair and feeling of unworthiness, knowing that the Son of God had been given as a sacrifice for me, for my measly and insignificant life. For my self-centered, egotistical and so far meaningless existence.

The old man put a hand on my shoulder to comfort me. I was still crying like a baby, face in hands. It seemed forever until I could regather my composure. And when I looked at him again, dusk had passed, the street lights had come on and there was what appeared to be a halo around the man. To this day, I would not doubt he was an angel. Maybe not in the supernatural sense, but a messenger from God, nonetheless.

"Here's your bus, son. God bless you and have the best Christmas you ever had, alright?"

"Aren't you waiting for the bus, too?"

"Nope. I was waiting for you. That's my Christmas present."

I didn't know if he meant this had been his present to me or if sharing with me was like a present to him. It didn't matter. I thanked him and made as if to shake his hand when, without warning, he gave me a big bear hug and said, "God bless you, son. I love you and your Father in Heaven loves you." I swear I knew at that moment that this total stranger truly loved me for who I was. I knew it was a pure love, even as God has for me – for all his children.

'I remember the day as if it were just yesterday, although many years have passed.'

I find myself saying these same words to my children and grandchildren, even to total strangers, to this day. And I always smile when I think of the man who said them first to me. I know that God sent that man out on that cold winter night to fix a heart that was twisted and broken; to set a lost wanderer onto the right road again. I have been led by that same Spirit many times myself since then. It never ceases to amaze me or to bring joy to my heart when I follow those promptings and see the miraculous change in others, for I know that I am helping God to bring peace to the world, one person at a time – one child of God, one brother or sister of mine that I never knew before then. There is no greater love than that which Christ gave for mankind those two millenia ago; no greater sacrifice. It is indeed the greatest Christmas gift ever.
=======================
God bless you all and may this Christmas be filled with the true meaning for you and your loved ones, that you may speak of it for years to come, as do I.

Here is a link to the song referred to in the story. Yes, it is a real song and it really was used by God to change my life. I hope you understand the message of it. I was like the prodigal son and so is the man in the song, except we never know if he is able to return from the choices he has made in life. Thanks to divine intervention, I was able to return to a Father who loves me.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Quyn6vwvBho&feature;=related

Submitted by Steven ODell on 25 December 2009 - 11:17am. | | | | | |

Dec. 24, 2009 -- While saying my prayers last night, I reflected on how I needed to write a Christmas-oriented story for the collection of short stories I am currently writing. The answer, a gift to me, and now to you, came in a flash of insight. "Why not share your own conversion story and the best winter and best Christmas present you ever had?" I knew instantly that was the right answer. There are a few liberties with details, like the meeting with a stranger at the bus stop and the locale being in Michigan, but the rest of the story, regarding my friend Daniel and myself, is completely accurate, and even more amazing than the few details I shared here. The writing was done in one morning, this morning. God is amazing, isn't He? Here is His, and my, Christmas gift to you, before it comes out in the book The Visitor.

The Greatest Christmas Gift Ever

Steven G. O'Dell (C) 2009

"Greater love hath no man than this...."

'I remember the day as if it were just yesterday, although many years have passed.'

Those were the words the old man used. A few years have passed since he and I sat and talked, but I now understand the words and the look in his eye as he spoke.

It was a day about like any other winter day in our area – cold, windy and generally miserable. I wouldn't even have been out in it, had it not been necessary to get a last minute Christmas gift. The last thing I wanted was to die of exposure to the weather in a Michigan winter. And yet, here I was, sitting at a bus stop in the frigid, unfriendly conditions that any sane individual would be avoiding like the plague. That's when he approached and sat on the bench next to me. He was of average height, weight and appearance, but there was a sense of happiness that was disarming in a strange way.

"Hello, young man, how are you this fine day?"

He offered his hand, wrapped as it was in glove. A bit surprised, I offered mine in return before I had even processed the thought.

"As good as anyone can be on such a nasty day, I guess." I went back to looking for the bus and wondering if I would need to be thawed before I could get on it.

"Nasty? No, sir. It's a wonderful day to be alive. Any day this side of dirt is a good one."

I have to admit that I thought he might have been a bit addled to be so enthusiastic about such inclement weather conditions, but the world is full of all kinds, after all. We can't all be sane and well-adjusted. Yet, he continued.

"I take it you don't share my enthusiasm." His smile did not fade in the least.

"Well, no, I have never been one to enjoy winter that much. I would rather be inside with a hot cocoa and a good movie or book right now. Instead, I need to get a gift for my niece, if there are even any left when I get there." I snorted and huffed in disgust at the thought of the shelves being picked over or empty.

"I once felt as you do. Not anymore, though." He clapped his gloved hands together and looked about himself as if he were sitting on a park bench in the middle of new spring flowers. There was an unmistakable joy in his gaze and countenance. It made me wish I could share it, yet I could not even understand it.

"It all changed one winter, just like this one. That winter was like a gift to me."

"Gifts...." I sniffed. "Well, this winter is no gift to me, that's for sure. I don't expect my last minute search will pay off, so I will have been out in the cold for nothing and my niece will still have no present of any real value."

"Value is in the eye of the beholder, son."

"Well, that may be, but the fact remains that I would rather be inside where it's warm. Why Jesus chose to be born in the middle of winter is beyond me."

At that the old man began to laugh. It was warm and infectious and somehow chased away the cranky feelings I had been expressing so openly to a stranger.

"Well, there is some debate as to the time of year he was born, but let me share a story with you while we wait...if that's alright with you?" He raised his eyebrows in anticipation of my answer.

"Sure, why not. I have nothing else to do until the bus comes." I was being polite. Pleasant or not, I wasn't convinced his story was going to make me feel any better.

"Alright, then. I remember the day as if it were just yesterday, although many years have passed." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly and settled back on the bench as he began to weave his tale. It took only a moment to know that the story was real to him and I was drawn in, like an observer unseen and sitting in the darkness of a theatrical presentation. His words were heartfelt as he continued.

"As I said, it was a winter just like this one – the winter of 1971, as a matter of fact. I was an irresponsible, young rascal of the highest order."

He snickered softly and you could sense that he saw again in his mind the scenes of that day.

"I was wrapped up in sex, drugs and rock and roll. And I was on the path to eventual destruction, I am sure. And I was not alone in my drive to oblivion, either. Several friends, so-called, were sharing the view with me along that road. We were partiers, all of us. Hard partiers."

Suddenly, it was as if only he and I existed in the world at that moment. There was an utter and complete stillness that enveloped us. No traffic noises, no sounds at all, but for the voice of this one old man. Even my chattering teeth and heavy breathing had ceased to be noticeable. I hung on every word this man spoke, unable to pry my attention from him.

"...so there we were, Dan and I, sitting at the kitchen table, high on LSD and rambling about some inane thing that we must have thought to be very clever and insightful at the time. That's when it happened...."

He paused in a far-away gaze and sat silent with the hint of a smile on his face.

"What? What happened?" My voice seemed like a noisy intruder in the quiet that surrounded us.

"The Holy Ghost, son. Suddenly we were not alone anymore. We both knew it, too. There was no denying it for either of us. One moment we were just two stoned idiots sitting there talking and the next we had our minds blown totally by the presence of God." He chuckled again.

"LSD is a powerful drug, but this...oh, this...this was something neither of us had ever experienced in our short and impetuous lives. It was every bit like a Klieg light in total darkness. It was as if someone had snapped on a switch and suddenly we were in a different realm, you know?"

Of course I didn't. There was no way I could, but I nodded and he continued. The strange thing is, I no longer thought him crazy. I should have, with a tale such as he was relating to me at the moment, but he was genuine in his belief that it had happened and, for some unknown and unexplainable reason, I could not disbelieve it either.

"God never takes away your personal moral agency, son. The question implied that night was, 'is it revelation or is it hallucination?' We both knew the answer to that one immediately. There was no denying that we both were experiencing the same event. No drug, no matter how powerful, does that. And this.....this was so much more powerful than the drug ever could have been. It eclipsed any drug-induced experience I or any man had ever had in the history of the world, I assure you. The feeling of pure and utter love was tangible, so thick you could cut it with a knife. It was like a big hug from someone you have a mutual love with."

He stared off into space for a moment in private reverie before proceeding.

"The next several hours were spent in receiving revelation. If you have never felt pure intelligence pour into you, you have no concept of the exhilaration and joy that it brings. It was as if we were plugged into the great cosmic switchboard and suddenly knew things we had never even conceived of before. Just suddenly knew them to be true. And later they proved to be so, too."

He went on to relate how he and his friend, Dan, had sat there at that same table for hours more, each being alternately used by the Holy Ghost as a mouthpiece to teach these principles to one another. Things they never knew were being taught to them even as they spoke the words. I have to admit that if anyone but this man had been telling me the story, that is all I would have thought it to be -- a fanciful story, and nothing more. But this was not your average story, nor, it seemed, your average man.

"We then took a walk, as we were unable to sleep after such an event, as you can imagine. We saw the world in an entirely new and unique way that night. The snow on the ground and the ice that we stepped on. It was like the world was one huge ball of crystal and mankind was scratching and chipping it with his every step and movement...desecrating this Urim and Thummim the Lord had formed for our use."

The terms were unfamiliar to me, but I did not interrupt. I would look them up later. Surely, they had to be in the Bible or a dictionary. He proceeded.

"And then we were led back to the apartment we had so recently departed from. That was when the most amazing thing happened."

More amazing than anything yet? I did not interrupt this time. I didn't want to hear my own voice intruding in the midst of such a wondrous tale as I was hearing.

"We had been listening to many LP records when we visited that apartment. Some we had heard many times, but I have to tell you, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, things can take on a totally different meaning than you think them to be. And that is what happened that night to Dan and I. The LP was by a group called FREE and the title was Fire And Water. Do you see the analogy in that? The sense of humor God has?"

He waited but a second for my reply and I nodded my agreement.

"Oh, yes, he has a wonderful sense of humor, but he loves his children, too, and he showed us that night the error of our ways and the right path. We were instructed to place the needle on the record...you knew that they didn't always have CD's, right?" He grinned as I smiled back at the thought.

"The song was Heavy Load. It had this plodding, sad and heavy piano back-beat that was, for all the world, reminiscent of a man under the weight of sin and grief, dragging himself along a lonely and dismal road, with no companion but God, to whom he makes his complaint that he can go no further down, recognizing he has taken the wrong road in his life. As the song opens, Dan and I are suddenly pressed down under the unseen weight of our own sins and find ourselves lieing on the floor, sobbing with great, heaving gasps. As the last strains die out, the weight lifts and we are again free of that crushing pressure. We are allowed a short time to discuss the experience and are instructed to again repeat the song, with the same result. And a third time we are told to do the same thing. Each time it is the same. The same crushing weight of sin, the same crying in desperation and sorrow for our shortcomings. The same grief over our choices in life."

That this was not your average story was more than apparent now. It was the most engaging and intriguing story I had ever heard in my life. I could not help but believe it, regardless of how improbable and far-fetched it was. The man told it as any man would after living it personally. There was no denying the truth of it, even as a listener.

"I went from being missing from home a week or more at a time, to being home every night and reading the Bible. You can imagine how perplexed my parents must have been." Again he grinned and chuckled.

"There had been a miraculous change in Dan and I. One minute neither of us knew if there was a God and the next minute, we couldn't deny it. No, sir. Not for one second since that time. Personally, I believe God saved my life that night."

I was suddenly aware that I was no longer shivering from the cold. It was as if a warm blanket, fresh from the dryer, had been laid over me.

"Son, I learned that winter that there were more important things about Christmas than getting stoned and 'oooh-ing and ahhh-ing' over the pretty lights or laughing about silly and un-fulfilling frivolities. I learned that the greatest gift of all was given by God himself. He knew we had to have a way to get back to him, that we were in a fallen and unworthy state, but he loves us so much that he made the ultimate sacrifice. His own son paid a price that only a God could pay -- to buy us back from death and sin, if we would only accept the payment in our behalf and then live right." At this point, the old man turned to me and looked into my eyes with an intensity that almost burned.

"How would you feel if you knew someone had given his own life to save yours?"

The question hit like a ton of bricks. I was speechless at the thought. If I had done something so wrong and so heinous as to be punishable by death, or if I were in such perils as to need rescuing, how would I feel if my rescuer lost his life in saving mine? I would be devastated, thinking that another family was altered forever because of me. I would want to reach out and take care of their every need, in gratitude, in a feeling of indebtedness for the gift I had been given of my own life. How could I waste it from then on in selfish pursuits? And that's when it hit me; the true meaning of what the old man meant by his question. And that's also when I began to cry, with that same sobbing he had spoken of – that sense of despair and feeling of unworthiness, knowing that the Son of God had been given as a sacrifice for me, for my measly and insignificant life. For my self-centered, egotistical and so far meaningless existence.

The old man put a hand on my shoulder to comfort me. I was still crying like a baby, face in hands. It seemed forever until I could regather my composure. And when I looked at him again, dusk had passed, the street lights had come on and there was what appeared to be a halo around the man. To this day, I would not doubt he was an angel. Maybe not in the supernatural sense, but a messenger from God, nonetheless.

"Here's your bus, son. God bless you and have the best Christmas you ever had, alright?"

"Aren't you waiting for the bus, too?"

"Nope. I was waiting for you. That's my Christmas present."

I didn't know if he meant this had been his present to me or if sharing with me was like a present to him. It didn't matter. I thanked him and made as if to shake his hand when, without warning, he gave me a big bear hug and said, "God bless you, son. I love you and your Father in Heaven loves you."

I swear I knew at that moment that this total stranger truly loved me for who I was. I knew it was a pure love, even as God has for me – for all his children.

'I remember the day as if it were just yesterday, although many years have passed.'

I find myself saying these same words to my children and grandchildren, even to total strangers, to this day. And I always smile when I think of the man who said them first to me. I know that God sent that man out on that cold winter night to fix a heart that was twisted and broken; to set a lost wanderer onto the right road again. I have been led by that same Spirit many times myself since then. It never ceases to amaze me or to bring joy to my heart when I follow those promptings and see the miraculous change in others, for I know that I am helping God to bring peace to the world, one person at a time – one child of God, one brother or sister of mine that I never knew before then. There is no greater love than that which Christ gave for mankind those two millennia ago; no greater sacrifice. It is indeed the greatest Christmas gift ever.
=======================
God bless you all and may this Christmas be filled with the true meaning for you and your loved ones, that you may speak of it for years to come, as do I.

Here is a link to the song referred to in the story. Yes, it is a real song and it really was used by God to change my life. I hope you understand the message of it. I was like the prodigal son and so is the man in the song, except we never know if he is able to return from the choices he has made in life. Thanks to divine intervention, I was able to return to a Father who loves me.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0L8lCu1Z4w&feature=related

Submitted by kerry blair on 13 December 2006 - 9:09am. | | | |

I’ve seen Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” at least a dozen times, but I’d never experienced a holiday miracle of my own until one dark December night a few years ago. On that almost-Christmas eve I encountered an angel—a couple of them, in fact—and learned a lesson in faith, prayer, and God's love that I will never forget.

This is a true story. Only the names have been changed—and not all of them!

Angels Bending Near the Earth

“It’s Christmas,” I reminded myself under my breath. “Peace on earth. Goodwill to men.” Supposing the heavenly exhortation extended to children as well, I looped the piece of cloth around a little shepherd’s head instead of tying it around his mouth as I’d have liked to.

It was already December twenty-something, and I had yet to bake a tray of cookies or wrap a single gift. Instead I’d spent most of the month writing a Christmas pageant, assigning parts, sewing and refurbishing costumes, building a stable, affixing a star in the cultural hall firmament, and directing twenty-some kids who were all now sugar-filled and giddy at the thought of Santa’s imminent arrival.

Despite being a nervous wreck I was pleased. It was our night of nights at last and we were ready. By the time the bishop stood to welcome the audience and announce the opening prayer, the set was decorated, the choir assembled, and the characters in place. Everyone and everything looked wonderful—if I did say so myself.

Having just completed my last task—shoving a crown on a wise guy’s little head for the umpteenth time—I slumped against the wall in the back of the cultural hall to enjoy the fruits of my labors. Just then a door flew open and an excited, windblown little girl ran into the room and grabbed my hand with her icy fingers. It was Earlene. As if the name alone wasn’t enough for a ten-year-old to contend with, this little girl was painfully thin, wore thick glasses, and had incredibly prominent teeth. She also had one of the strongest, sweetest personalities I’d ever encountered. I wondered if that was the reason she’d been sent to the family she had—one that seemed to have more than their share of trials in life.

“How do I look?” she asked breathlessly. “Where do I go for my part?”

She looked like she’d just tumbled off a hayride, but I didn’t tell her that. Nor did I mention that she might have known what was going on if she’d made it to even one practice.

After assuring Earlene she looked beautiful, I nudged her toward a children’s choir that was assembled around the piano. At least I tried to nudge her. She wouldn’t move.

“No!” she cried, pushing her heavy glasses back up the bridge of her nose. “I’m an angel!”

People in the last few rows forgot that Brother Crawford was now pronouncing a blessing upon the proceedings and turned to look at us instead.

“You’re not an angel,” I whispered. I had no idea where she got the idea in the first place. Then I added encouragingly, “But you’re a very important part of the choir.” Never mind that she wouldn’t know any of the songs since she attended Primary too seldom to learn them.

I’d dragged her about six inches closer to the choir before she yanked her hand from mine. “You said!” she insisted. “You said in church that I’m supposed to be an angel!”

My mouth opened, but no words came out of it. I was trying to remember just what I’d said to her and when. I seemed to recall speaking to Earlene in the hallway a couple of weeks previously. I’d been in a rush to get to Sunday School before my students and had practically knocked her into a wall. Whatever I said had said then had been an apology . . . and perhaps a platitude.

“You said I’m an angel!” Earlene wailed.

The audience uttered a resounding, “Amen!” I hoped it was in response to the end of the prayer.

I looked down into two myopic little eyes and knew it was possible—probable, even—that I had called Earlene an angel. But I certainly hadn’t meant she was a Christmas-pageant angel. I’d meant she was a . . . well, you know.

Earlene didn’t know. She knew only that as director of the pageant, God had given me the right to appoint little girls to be His heavenly messengers for ten or fifteen minutes in that particular ward on that particular night. Clearly, being chosen as an angel for the Christmas pageant—or believing that she had been—was the best thing that had ever happened in her short and surely difficult life.

Earlene clasped my hand again with both of hers and her eyes shone. “I’ve asked Heavenly Father every night to help me be a perfect angel in His pageant. He will help me. I know He will.”

The thought of Earlene’s sweet, fervent prayers brought tears to my eyes, but there was nothing I could do. The pageant would begin any second. I prayed for words to explain to the little girl that she had misunderstood, but there were no words in any language that could fix this. No matter what I said, Earlene would still believe in her heart that God had handpicked her to be an angel.

She looked from me to the softly-lit stage and back again, wondering when I’d produce that white robe and silver garland worn by the other pageant angels.

Any minute the welling in my eyes was going to run down my cheeks. There was no doubt in my mind that this misunderstanding would drive her parents even further from the Church. Worse, might the awful disappointment cause Earlene to wonder if God heard her prayers? To wonder, if He did hear them, why He would ignore her hopes and happiness—and at Christmas?

Despite my fears of a family’s impending apostasy and a child’s crisis of faith, I simply didn’t have an angel costume—or any way to come up with one in two minutes or less. My thoughts raced. Earlene wore a dirty orange sweatshirt and tattered blue jeans. No way could I slip her onstage with the robe-clad girls without evoking stares and giggles that would break her heart. I looked frantically around the room, hoping to spot a shirt or a sweater or anything white that I could strip off an unsuspecting ward member. While everybody looked festive, nobody looked angelic.

The Relief Society room was locked or I would have ripped the tablecloth out from under their pot of poinsettias and improvised. At that point I might have considered packing Earlene in snow but we were in Arizona, so I didn’t have any of that either.

Heedless of Longfellow’s bells tolling despair back here in the corner, the pianist broke into “Joy to the World” and the first narrator entered. The play had begun.

An awful understanding began to creep onto Earlene’s face. The census was going forth from Caesar Augustus and she was going nowhere. “Hurry!” she said. “I need my costume now! I have to go be with the angels!”

I wanted to “go be with the angels” too, but my wish was metaphorical. I simply wanted to die before I had to witness Earlene’s heart shatter.

Just then Sue McGurr appeared in a doorway not six feet from where Earlene and I stood. If she had been the Angel Moroni materializing with a golden trump in hand I couldn't have been more surprised. In her hand was a hanger, and on the hanger was a clean, white angel costume that was exactly Earlene’s size.

Earlene had her shoes off, her jeans rolled to the knees, and the robe on before I managed to draw a single breath. With a dazzling smile on her face, she raced across the room and hoisted herself onto the stage. Although clearly surprised at her sudden arrival, one of the “regular” angels ripped half the garland from her own belt and used it to adorn Earlene’s long, hopelessly-tangled hair.

Angels are like that. Bless their little hearts.

When the program ended, I was still standing in the same spot and I was crying in earnest. It was the best Christmas pageant ever. Mary and Joseph had made it all the way to Bethlehem without bickering as they had done in every rehearsal. The shepherds had neither dueled with their staffs nor played keep-away with their stuffed sheep. The wise men had found their way from the East without a detour to the drinking fountain. And above them all stood the angels—beautiful, bright, beatific—with Earlene in the very front. You don’t have to believe this final line if you don’t want to, but I will always believe there was a surreal glow—and maybe an extra angel or two—around her.

When I could speak again I sought out Sister McGurr. Sue had no idea she’d just pulled off the biggest Christmas miracle since Clarence earned his wings. When I asked her where she’d come up with the costume she reminded me that I’d given it to her daughter the year before. Only then did I remember being impressed to let the little girl keep the robe when she begged, but I also remembered that I'd never expected to see it again.

Several times during the year, Sue told me, she’d almost thrown away the angel costume, but “something” made her stuff it back in the closet instead dropping it into the wastebasket. The same something had urged her to find it after dress rehearsal and wash and press it. In the end, she’d left it behind in her haste to get her children to the church on time, but that stubborn, blessed “something” intervened one last time. Sue had got up out of her seat, hurried home to grab the costume, and then returned just as the pageant began.

I was awe-struck at the heavenly machinations. I had been prompted to give away a costume I wanted to keep. Sue had been impressed to keep a costume she didn’t want. These minor miracles, set in place hundreds of days before, wouldn’t impact the world. They were all for the benefit of one little girl—a child who loved her Heavenly Father and put her trust in Him. Because of her prayers, Earlene was a perfect angel that night. Or at least she was a pageant angel . . . with perfect faith.

The real miracle, of course, is the one of which prophets and apostles testify: the infinite love God has for each of His children. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “I do not know exactly how He does it, but I testify to you that He knows us and loves us individually and that He hears our prayers. My testimony is that nothing in this universe is more important to Him than your hopes and happiness.”

I gained this testimony firsthand one beautiful, blessed near-Christmas night. Our Father—who loved us all enough to send His Son—loved odd, little Earlene enough to send her an angel robe. He had known her prayers months and months before she uttered them and had set in motion a plan to reward her innocent faith before she exercised it.

And so it is with us. Each year when children sing, “Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay close by me forever, and love me, I pray” I feel the warm, prickling confirmation of the Spirit and think of Earlene. I don’t know where she is now, but I suspect that she is still a perfect angel, still close to her Heavenly Father, and still looked over and loved by He who blesses each of us so perfectly.

I like to think that she still has her white robe. I gave it to her, of course. It’s all she asked Santa for that night when she sat upon his lap. Besides, “something” told me that angel costume had been made and preserved and protected just for her.

Just like her.

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