Kneeling at the tomb, Isaac tells the story of finding the Christ Child in the manager to his son.
Kneeling in the garden, I gazed at the tomb, which now lay open. All that I had seen as a boy flashed within my mind, reminding me of the knowledge God had given to me and the other shepherds. I turned to my son. “Now He has risen, the boy I once saw lying in a manager.”
“Abba,” my son’s curious gaze fell upon me. “You really saw Him as a babe?”
The winds swept past our feet that night, the cool breeze causing us to build small fires. Like most nights, I stared into the flames, the warm amber tinted with reds and blues. Drawing upwards, they danced with the air currents, the dry wood popping beneath them.
“Isaac, she peeks at you again.” My father tapped my foot with his staff. “You should say hello.”
Though I refused to shift my eyes to the pretty daughter of my father’s partner, Benjamin, I couldn’t help the small upward curve of my lips. Attention from such a pretty and smart girl would make any boy’s ears tingle with excitement.
I winked at my son, who plucked a flower from the ground. Nearing the age I had been then, he too, had a young maiden who peered at him with longing in her eyes.
“Abba, the story. Speak of Liza another day.”
“But such a pretty young thing, humor me, my son. Your mother once made me pluck flowers from the ground.” I chuckled and clasped his shoulder with my hand, squeezing lightly.
I prodded the coals, forming a place for our pot to warm the evening stew. Then a warm sensation from somewhere other than the fire entered my heart. Light brighter than the flames soon surrounded us. The sheep, though usually suspicious of change in the environment, remained still. My father stood beside me. I had never seen such brightness at night, and I shielded my eyes as I searched for the source. When my gaze discovered a man dressed in white floating above the ground, I joined my father and the shepherds of the field and we stumbled backward, frightened, until the being spoke.
“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”
The warm sensation, which had entered my heart earlier, pushed outward, and I felt none of the coolness of the breeze, nor did fear remain within me.
The incredulous look in my son’s eye reminded me of myself before the experience that night. It reminded me of some of the looks strangers gave me when I told them my story, too.
“Son, we kneel at the edge of the tomb for one who is no longer there. Do you question my words?”
“A man floating above the ground? Was it a dream?”
“No, not a dream. An angel of the Lord.”
He raised his hands outward and said, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
“Where?” my father questioned.
“How will we know Him?” Benjamin asked.
“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
The angel who had spoken dropped his arms as hundreds more joined him. Each heavenly host sang an anthem. The notes are a soft memory, but the words remain fully ingrained in my mind. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
“Christ the Lord, my son. We had heard the stories—read from Isaiah in the synagogues, but dare we believe? Dare we hope? The Saviour of the world. How much could He do for us? Some believed He would save us from bondage as Moses once had. But my father taught He would save us from something far greater.”
I nodded. “Our sins. Temporal and spiritual death.” I studied his eyes hoping to see understanding. “Without Jesus, we would be lost to everlasting darkness. Only He could pave our way to God. With His birth came hope.”
“So what did you do?”
None of us would wait to find the Christ Child. Gathering together, the men decided to trust the flocks to the dogs. If the Son of God was born, then certainly, the Father would watch over our flocks as we went to worship at His Child’s feet.
With haste, both man and woman, boy and girl left the fields, rushing into the town of Bethlehem. Inn after inn, we searched the stables. Families, there to be counted for the tax, crowded into each dwelling, but the stables held no Christ Child.
Forlorn, I looked toward the sky. A star shone toward the earth, brighter than any I’d seen before. Following its gleaming light, I took a step forward. Then another. In our search, we’d missed perhaps the most humble dwelling of them all, a small inn, hidden in the shadows of the rock.
I heard my father’s footsteps first, then the rest as they trailed behind me. Entering the inn, I asked the question we had asked so many times before.
“Does a new child wrapped in swaddling clothes reside in your stable?” The owner peered at me, his eyes widening in wonder as he nodded and showed us the way.
“My son, the dreary stable, carved out of rock held sheep, donkeys, cattle, and all that one usually finds in such places. As you might imagine, it was no place for a babe. But He lay there, in a stone manager, with nothing but loose linen, swaddling clothes, to keep him warm.”
“How did you know it was the Christ, Abba?”
We immediately fell to our knees as the mother and her husband welcomed us into the single corner of the stable. The Babe’s eyes fluttered opened and He studied us as we gazed at Him. The animals made no sound. And the warmth I had experienced as the angel spoke reentered my heart, telling me we had found the Christ Child. The one who would save us.
His mother was Mary, who named the child Immanuel—God is with us—Jesus. We had read Isaiah, and we knew the rumors of a Joseph who had wed an expectant woman claiming to have known no man. We could not deny what we had seen and heard in the fields. The prophesies were true. Before us, lay the child prophets had proclaimed would come.
There, in that stable, I knelt next to the same pretty, young girl my father had teased me about and gave her little thought. I only wondered at the child foretold to carry the weight of the world on His shoulders. None of us really grasped what that meant, but we knew it meant something beyond anyone’s understanding—except God’s.
As we left the stable, my heart still soared. I couldn’t stop myself from telling everyone what had happened. Those who knew me well, they listened and wondered. We watched together as the child grew. He grew as most any other child—first babbling, then forming sentences. But once taught a rule, He never, ever broke it. As perfect as I thought I was, I soon learned differently.
I chuckled as my son smirked at the thought of my perfection. We both knew better.
“I think Eema plays a part in your perfect, Abba.”
“Perhaps.” I grinned wryly.
The stick I used to draw in the soil stilled, and I dropped it. Grasping my son’s hands I held them tightly. “All these years, your mother and I have watched Jesus and have seen proof of what the angel told us while in the fields. His works. The healings He performed. You witnessed five loaves of bread and two fishes feed a multitude of five-thousand people at His hand. We all listened to His words of peace and love.
“Now we kneel where His body was laid, and it is gone. Peter said He has risen.” I paused searching my son’s eyes, looking for the spark I knew he held within. “The faith and hope your mother and I discovered that night as we knelt next to a stone manager in a rock stable… I cannot question it. I’ve seen so much more. You asked if I saw Him. I did. Son, I did, and so did your mother.”
My son’s hands tightened their grip on mine. “The hope you had at His birth is fulfilled. Now we celebrate His life.”
Grayson can’t wait to eat his warm chocolate chip cookies, but his mom’s and sister’s sadness make doing so difficult.
Sturdy legs pumped underneath Grayson as he rushed home from school. Swerving around the other laughing children, he ran harder. Nothing could keep him from getting home first. If he didn’t beat his sister home, Mom would make him share his treat, and warm chocolate chip cookies were his favorite.
The scrumptious treat cradled carefully in his backpack were the last two remaining cookies from his class Christmas party. Missy’s mom brought them in hot and wrapped in foil. Maybe if they were cold, he’d share, but no way would he share warm cookies. Not even with Mom, and she was his favorite person in the whole world.
Cutting through his yard and bounding down the path through the hedge that lined the walkway to the front door, he threw the door open. It thudded against the wall, but he barely noticed, leaving it open. He stopped. Mom slumped in a chair, leaning against the dining room table with her hand covering her face.
“Hi, honey. How was school? Did you enjoy your Christmas party?”
Mom’s voice sounded weird. Her eyes, which normal sparkled, dulled, accenting the reddened skin around them. Grayson closed the door.
“Yeah. Missy’s mom brought hot chocolate chip cookies!”
His hands landed on the top of the table. Why wasn’t mom smiling? Mom’s were supposed to smile. The aroma of the cookies in his backpack caught up to him. Warm chocolate chips dotted each one. They were baked to perfection—a chewy middle and crisped edges. It almost seemed to touch his tongue. He paused, then reached up and patted Mom’s shoulder. “Why are you sad?”
“Oh, it’s nothing you need to worry about.” She gathered the half-empty mug in front of her and made her way to the kitchen.
Grayson watched as she placed the mug in the sink. She lifted her hand and wiped at her face. Every minute he waited to eat the cookies they cooled down. Waiting much longer and the chocolate would harden. He glanced back at Mom. “But you’re crying.”
“It’s just been a hard day. I’m okay, sweetheart, you go play.”
Hard days made Grayson cry too. The last hard day he had, Dad took away his Mega Nerf Blaster because he kept shooting his sister. But he only shot her like that because she took the TV remote. He cried a lot that day.
Following his mom to the living room, Grayson gazed at the Christmas tree lights. White lights reflected of shiny ornaments. His eyes fell to the nativity on the table next to it.
Sunday School usually meant an hour of sitting in a metal chair kicking his feet and being told to stop talking. But in the back of his mind, Grayson seemed to remember Sister Ross saying the baby Jesus suffered for everyone’s pain.
Grayson walked to the nativity and picked up the baby Jesus. “Mom, why doesn’t Jesus make you happy?”
After helping Grayson remove his backpack, she placed her hands on his shoulders. “He does. But he also lets us feel some sadness so we can know what happiness is.”
“Oh. Don’t you know what happiness is?”
“You make me happy.”
The front door rammed into the wall harder than it had when Grayson got home, interrupting their conversation.
“Mom, I hate school and boys!” Kayla stomped into the room, throwing her bag to the floor and herself onto the cushy chair.
He wouldn’t fight her for it today. He wasn’t getting himself beat up.
Mom’s shoulders dipped a bit lower. “I like some boys.”
She winked at Grayson, but her eyes still looked sad.
“I like school.” He did, but he was glad for the two-week break, too. Telling Kayla that seemed like a waste.
His sister rolled her teary eyes at him. “Go away. Mom, make him leave.”
“I don’t want to leave.” He picked up the remote and turned on the TV then stuck his tongue out at Kayla when Mom wasn’t looking.
Mom reached over and shut the TV off. “Grayson, can you take your backpack to your room and play in there for a little while?”
How had he forgotten so quickly? Lunging for his backpack, he ran to his room. The zipper screeched as he opened the bag, and the air filled with the aroma of freshly baked cookies. The outside of the foil warmed his fingertips, raising the corners of Grayson’s lips. Missy’s mom wrapped them real good. Cookies never stayed warm that long.
As he started to unwrap the delectable treat, he heard Kayla scream at her mom. “He said that in front of the whole class! That I’m dumb!”
Grayson frowned. A lot of times, Kayla made him angry, but she still took care of him, and she wasn’t dumb. She cooked all his favorite foods, and sometimes she helped him with his homework. Dumb people couldn’t do his homework—it was hard! He wondered when Jesus would take away Kayla’s pain. Mom probably still hurt too.
Unwrapping the cookies, he lifted the first one to his mouth, but couldn’t take a bite. Kayla and Mom like cookies too. If Jesus wasn’t going to help them be happy, maybe the cookies would.
He stared at the gooey desserts, each one perfectly round and perfectly golden. Soft in the middle, crispy on the edges, and the chocolate shined. All the other kids ate at the party, but he hadn’t.
Jacob had fallen at recess, and Grayson talked to him about the scratches he’d had after his own fall. After that, there wasn’t time to eat the cookies.
Chocolate chip cookies.
Giving away snickerdoodles or oatmeal raisin never hurt, but chocolate chip was his favorite.
The door creaked as he cracked it open to see where Mom and his sister were. Music from Kayla’s stereo filled the hall. She liked it loud. He knocked.
He blew out his breath and inhaled courageously. “I have something for you.”
“Open the door.”
She swung the door open. “What?”
Grayson offered Kayla the cookie.
“Where’d you get that?”
She shifted on her feet before taking the treat. “Thanks.”
“You’re not dumb.”
Kayla rolled her eyes, but smiled. “Yeah, neither are you.”
The door closed and Grayson’s feet shuffled down the tiled hall to the kitchen, but Mom wasn’t there. Turning around, he headed back to her bedroom. Walking through the open door, he saw her leaning over one of her favorite blouses, which now had a large hole where a pocket had been.
“What do you need Grayson?”
“Nothing, I just figured if Jesus won’t help you be happy, maybe this cookie will.”
Mom grinned and started crying again. “It certainly smells good.” She took the cookie and broke it in half, handing some back to Grayson. “You should have some too.”
Mom pulled him against her side. “Grayson, today you helped Jesus make me happy.”
“I did?” He scrunched up his nose and looked at Mom.
“Yup. Most of the time, Jesus makes us happy through the actions of others.”
“He does. Not every miracle comes with lightning flashes. Most come in everyday ways.”
Grayson grinned. “Like sharing my cookie?”
Mom gathered Grayson into her arms and planted a kiss on top of his head. “Like sharing your cookie.”
Sarah daydreams about the Resurrected Christ and the multitude and discovers her own miracle.
Sarah, holding her mother’s hand, stared at the marble Christus. The hands spread wide, welcoming her closer, the facial expression gentle. Her tight curls bounced across her head as she leaned back and gazed at the large statue. She wondered at the shiny white surface. Sunday school stories of Jesus calling for the children, children like her, sowed a simple peace in her heart. Her mother squeezed her hand.
“I’m going to look at the pictures on that wall. Stay in this room.”
Sarah nodded, resting her hands at her side, careful not to touch the velvet rope that separated her from the Christ. Her focus landed on the soft hands, where carved marks of the nails rested, then to his feet and side. Her heart thrummed in her chest, soft but apparent, as she wondered what it was like for Thomas to feel the nail prints in his hands and the sword print in his side.
As she focused on the statue’s palm, the marble appeared to change, white darkened, a warm golden tone taking its place. Sarah’s eyes widened, but recognizing the signs of a daydream, she remained in place.
Seconds later, she discovered herself surrounded by people. Children rested on fathers’ shoulders. Babes cooed in mothers’ arms. Clothing of every color blurred as it pushed past her, yet happiness and peace filled her soul. Those around her fell to their knees, heads bowed. But she remained, staring into the soft eyes.
With his finger and a wink, he motioned Sarah toward him. Her slippered feet carried her closer. His strong arms ensconced her, bringing her face to his eye level. He smiled. After the gentle hug, he held his hand in front of her, and she reached her fingers toward it. Pulling back slightly, she eyed him from the side.
The mark swallowed her finger as she lightly caressed it. The softness of the skin nothing like the hardness of the nails that had pierced it.
“You could have stopped it, saved yourself?”
He nodded, a twinkle in his eye.
“But you didn’t.”
He leaned toward her ear and whispered more. A smile rushed across her face, and she wrapped her arms around his neck before he placed her back on the ground. Moments later, she joined the crowd, the cool ground contrasting the warm feeling coursing through her.
The Savior called for the people to come forward, and Sarah watched as, one by one, men and women, the young and old got to their feet and stepped forward. A warm smile and welcoming arms greeted each one as they received the personal time they desired with the Savior, just as she had. Their fingers touched his hands, feet, and side. Some women cried as they kissed his feet, wiping away tears with the hems of dresses. Men unabashedly wept as they embraced him.
Time passed slowly, but children never fought and babes never cried. Adults talked of miracles and knelt in prayer. No one pushed or shoved to the front. Patience and love intervened, the procession one of reverence.
When the last returned, the Savior called the sick, disabled, and those otherwise in need of healing. The man standing next to her lifted a woman in his arms and carried her forward. Standing with his arms outstretched, Jesus motioned all the afflicted forward.
Pebbles poked at her knees as Sarah knelt on the ground, and she brushed them away. She suffered no ill but thought of her father, who lay in a hospital room ravaged by cancer. Even as young as she was, she knew the harsh treatment he received left him weak for days at a time. Just as he felt a little strength return, it was always time for another round. Prayer after prayer had been said on his behalf. Her mother wept every night for his relief. For her own, too. Tears came to her eyes as she watched the Savior lay his hands on the afflicted, healing them one by one.
As the last of the afflicted leaped from his bed, Jesus instructed the people to pray. Together, they bowed their heads and lifted their voices as he knelt a distance away.
“Hosanna, blessed be the name of the Most High God,” cried the people.
Tears streamed down Sarah’s face as she joined them. Though people often assumed age affected one’s ability to recognize God, she knew the truth. She might not understand everything, but she understood he loved her. She understood he loved those who hung him on a cross. She even understood he loved that mean guy who lived down the street and shouted at her every time she stopped to look at his pretty flowers.
When the Savior returned, warmth from her heart rippled through her arms as he spoke to the crowd. The day had passed, and the people still focused on him, but their eyes appeared tired, and their shoulders drooped with similar strains. Tears filled his eyes as he scanned their faces.
“You’re tired. Rest.”
No one moved. Sarah’s own heartbeat strengthened. She didn’t want to leave either. It couldn’t be time.
Brushing a tear from his eye, Jesus called for the little children. Parents carrying babies and holding the hands of their little ones helped them forward. Boys and girls sat on his lap, and he held a babe in each arm. Sarah’s lip quivered when he called her to join the others.
As she stepped forward, a bright light opened above him. People dressed in white, as beautiful as the Savior, surrounded the children, blessing them. One took her by the hand and walked with her.
“Child, you do not have a wish for yourself, do you?”
Sarah shook her head, eyes wide.
“But Jesus whispered to you. What did he say?”
“Not to worry. That everything would be okay.”
“Have you been worrying?”
Sarah nodded, her lip quivering again. “My daddy’s sick.”
“Do you know who Jesus is?”
“Can you tell me what he did for you?”
“He helps my sins go away, and he died for me so I can return to Heavenly Father.”
“Do you think he can heal your daddy?”
Sarah bowed her head and studied her feet.
The angel squeezed her hand, then lifted her chin, encouraging her to answer.
“If it’s the best thing he can. Mama says it depends on God’s will.”
“That’s right. It’s time…”
The daydream faded at the sound of her mother’s voice.
“Sarah. It’s time to go.”
One more glance at the Christus in front of her and Sarah hurried to her mother.
“Where are we going?”
“To the hospital. Daddy had a scan today, and he wants us to hear the results with him.”
“What’s a scan?”
“The scan tells us whether or not the cancer is gone.”
She tugged on her mother’s arm, trying to run faster. “It is. It’s gone.”
Her mother pulled her back and crouched beside her. “We don’t know that Sarah. Most of the scans haven’t been great.”
“He’s better. I know it.”
“I hope you’re right, but if you’re not, it’s okay. God will take care of us and Daddy.”
“I know. He already has.”
Biting her lip, her mother rose from the ground and clasped Sarah’s hand. Tears floated in her eyes.
The quick drive to the hospital soon delivered Sarah and her mother, and they hurried to her father’s room.
“Where’s the doctor?” Sarah eased onto the foot of the bed with her mom’s help and stared at her dad.
“I’m right here.”
She turned in time to see the doctor walk into the room.
“My daddy’s better right?”
The doctor raised a brow, then quickly furrowed them. “Well. Let’s take a look. The last scan showed an increase, correct?”
Her parents both nodded.
A picture of her dad’s insides appeared on a lighted board, and the doctor pointed here and there, talking to her parents. Their faces crumpled, and Sarah stared from one to the other.
“He’s better, right?” A little butterfly entered her belly even though she’d been so sure.
Arms wrapped around her as her mother picked her up and swung her in a circle. “He’s better!”
She eyed her daddy. “You feel better, right?”
The room broke out with laughter.
“No, pretty, I don’t feel better yet. Cancer and my treatments hurt me a lot, but the doctor says my cancer has gone away.”
“I know that.”
Lifting her to stand next to her dad, Sarah’s mother met her gaze. “How did you know?”
“Jesus told me not to worry.”
“He did, did he?”
Her father poked her side, and she giggled.
“When did he tell you that?” her mother asked.
Sarah looked at her. “Today, at his statue.”
Tears swept into her mother’s eyes. “She stood by the Christus the whole time.”
Danielle wants nothing more than to win the Young Composers Competition, but at what cost?
The eraser gouged the paper, bits of dirty white scoring joining the rubber crumbs on Danielle’s lap. Another measure that hadn’t worked the way she’d intended. Notes—full chords—flew off the page faster than they landed. Only the piece’s title space remained empty on the entry form. Two thousand dollars would go a long way toward next semester’s supplies. She had to win, but she still had no entry.
Ignoring Abigail as she slid into the chair across from her, Danielle ran her fingers over the tiny keyboard used to compose her assignments and supposedly her piece for the Young Composers Competition, a university-run contest. A raucous chord pelted her eardrums, and she dropped her hand to her side as her head hit the table.
“It can’t be that bad.” Abigail scooted her chair around and gazed at the crumpled staff paper. “They really should make gentler erasers.”
Danielle stared at her friend, who crinkled her nose.
Abigail shifted in her chair. “Don’t feel like it. Besides, I’m not as good as you think.”
“Sure. Tell you what,” Danielle pushed the keyboard to the right, “I’m gonna give this to you, and you can write mine.”
“No. You’re doing great, but you should try an F instead of an E.”
Danielle’s cheek dropped to her waiting fist as she returned to the keyboard, a dull pencil between her teeth. If she could come up with a melody, the rest might fall into place, but her mind, usually filled with unwritten melodies, continued to fail her. It wasn’t empty. It was a traitor, filled with Bach, Mozart, and the chiming notes of NBC. If only no one recognized My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean. She might have a chance then.
As she plucked notes, Abigail would call out composers. Ritter, Beebe, Wolfe. Contempt churned within Danielle, and she struggled to keep her eyes from narrowing. “I wrote that.”
Abigail alto voice intoned the next few notes, and a visceral growl howled from Danielle’s throat.
“Maybe you should take a break.”
“No time. I need a melody.”
Abigail stood up. “I have conducting class. Will you be here a while? Watch my other books?”
“Sure, why not?”
Abigail patted Danielle’s shoulder as she sauntered out of the room.
Danielle glared at her third piece of destroyed staff paper and pulled out another sheet. When the staves started dancing, she pressed her forefinger and thumb against the corners of her eyes. The blank page with ten groups of five straight lines taunted her. Of course. Beethoven’s Fifth.
Danielle flung her head backward and stared at the fluorescent light above. Two thousand dollars slipping through her fingers because the only melodies floating through her head weren’t her own. She needed some kind of inspiration. Something never heard before to help set her mind at ease.
Her gaze fell on Abigail’s books. Underneath Vocal Solos for the Intermediate Singer and Music Theory III, was the notebook Danielle had seen her friend scribbling melodies in day after day. A peek wouldn’t hurt. The carpet massaged the bottoms of her bare feet as she shuffled to the other side of the table and opened the notebook. Flipping through the pages, she landed on one and grabbed the keyboard. She played through the eight-bar melody and shrugged. It wasn’t bad. One after another, she played through Abigail’s scribbled notations. Some had been for Music Theory, others appeared to be for herself.
Another page turned, and Danielle’s eyebrows crumpled as she worked to decipher the notations under the giant X. Carefully, she placed her hand on the tiny keyboard and played the first few measures. A warmth eased into her chest, and she continued. In the middle of the page, a line from Handel’s Messiah entwined with Abigail’s melody. I Know That My Redeemer Liveth. The famous oratorio’s line had often been used in other pieces, but not like this. Danielle closed the notebook.
Nothing spoke to her as much as what Abigail had written. The notes had floated off the page into the air with such tenderness. Sure there were a few rough patches, but not many. She eased the book open again.
A copy wouldn’t hurt. She only wanted to consider it as she worked on her own composition. Abigail wouldn’t mind that at all. Pencil in hand, she copied the melody onto her blank page. The dancing lines disappeared, and countermelodies with harmonies drifted through her mind. She left them off the paper but mentally grasped at them, noting the ones she liked, and the ones that scratched painfully at her ears.
The paper slipped into her folder as Abigail swayed into the room humming the waltz the classes used to practice conducting. Danielle joined in the humming for a moment, then smiled.
“I take it things are better now.” Abigail gathered her books.
“They will be. I hope you don’t mind, I looked at some of your melodies.”
“They’re not much to look at.”
“That’s not true, but it was hard to ignore the big X across the one.”
Abigail groaned. “That was a bad day.”
“I guess so.”
That night, Danielle lay on her bed with her personal keyboard. Full-sized keys made such a difference. Still, the only song in her head was Abigail’s. Unwritten vocal parts now added more warmth. Ignoring it was impossible.
Several sheets of staff paper fell to the mattress as she prepared for what was unavoidable. Chord after chord soon adorned the page. Eraser marks wore some areas thin, but only a few. It was as if the song had always existed in her mind, just without the melody. She worked through the night, unable to rest. Once she finished it, she could put it away and work on her own piece.
When her roommate came in, she donned a set of earbuds and continued her work. Complaints of the annoying light eventually sounded, and she switched to the softer flashlight on her phone. She’d heard of composers finding themselves unable to stop but never imagined it happening to her. By morning, dark circles had formed under her eyes, and her hand, now stiff, cried out in pain with every movement. But she held a choral piece worthy of at least some sort of accolade. She had to show it to Abigail. Maybe they could enter the Young Composers Competition together.
A hurried frenzy ensued as Danielle grabbed clothes from the basket of unfolded laundry near the end of her bed. The only item given care as she got ready for the day: the composition. With her backpack strapped to her bike, she pedaled toward the music building. She and Abigail both had Class Piano—the perfect class to show her what she’d done with the melody.
The soft clacking of students practicing on the digital pianos while wearing headphones welcomed her to the room, and she looked for Abigail. Where was she? Abigail never missed class, and not a single tardy bone existed in her body. It didn’t matter today, but entries for the Young Composers Competition were due at the end of the week. Danielle shrugged. She’d be back in time.
When Abigail didn’t show up the next day, Danielle started inputting the song into the computer. While some notation software worked with a keyboard, recognizing notes and rhythms, hers didn’t. Mouse click by torturous mouse click, she prepared the manuscript. By the second day, simple words that fit with the line from the Messiah accompanied musical notations.
It was due.
If Abigail didn’t show up today, Danielle would lose her chance. She’d already adjusted to losing a thousand dollars of the prize money by entering with Abigail. Something about that didn’t seem fair since she’d done all the work except the melody—the melody Abigail described as a bad day. But what happened if her friend didn’t appear? In three days, she hadn’t answered phone calls, texts, or emails. Danielle had tried everything to contact her. If she didn’t come…
Abigail’s seat in choir remained empty for the fourth day in a row. Scores were due by 3:00 PM. Ten minutes. Danielle’s chest tightened painfully. She couldn’t let this opportunity pass her by. She pulled out a pen and froze, holding it above the co-composer line. In the process of writing the harmonies and countermelodies, some of the original had changed, and Danielle had done all of that plus the words. Two thousand dollars. She could win. Abigail showed no interest. Setting the pen down, Danielle slid the composition and the entry form into the manila envelope.
The older gentleman looked up from his desk and held out his hand. Danielle placed the envelope in his palm but didn’t let go.
“Are you planning to keep it, or to enter?” He asked pointedly.
She swallowed as she released the pages. “Enter.”
“Consider it done.”
She exited the theory professor’s office and leaned against the wall, clenching her eyes shut. Air rushed into her lungs, her eyes flying open, and she dashed out the door to her bike. She needed to tell Abigail what she’d done, but what would she say? No, she couldn’t tell Abigail. She’d left her name off the entry form. What did it matter? She probably wouldn’t win anyway, then no one would know.
The winners would be announced in three weeks. The week of Easter. How fitting that her composition accompanied such a holiday. She tried to swallow, but her muscles refused. If she won and Abigail heard the song, Danielle had no hope of absolution. The thought of expulsion struck her. Was that in the rules? She pushed the thoughts from her mind. Abigail didn’t care about the contest. She had no interest in it, or she would have entered. She’d said as much herself.
Three weeks had never dragged on so slowly for Danielle. Each day the clouds surrounding her darkened, especially when Abigail’s pleasant smile greeted her with kindness. Time after time, Danielle attempted to tell her friend of her iniquity—her plagiarism. But a lump always formed in her throat, and she bit her lip until the opportunity passed. Shared classes with Abigail attacked her senses; fiery darts clung to her soul. Finally, the day came, and Danielle rushed to the theater.
Most of her classmates had already entered the auditorium, and Danielle scanned the room for Abigail but didn’t see her. As others settled into their seats, she thought about the process. Judges invited a small group of students to learn the winning compositions, which could be choral or instrumental.
When Dr. Caltrez approached the microphone, Danielle took her seat and exhaled. She didn’t see Abigail anywhere.
“Welcome, students and faculty to the annual Young Composers Competition. We received over two hundred entries this year. Our judges, comprising Joseph Goodwin with the Mountain Madrigals, Judy Houston with the Littlemonte Orchestra, local composer Venice Royce, and myself, have poured over your work and are quite impressed.” He cleared his throat. “But, as must happen every year, we’ve narrowed it down to three winners.”
The third-place winner was announced.
Danielle swallowed, but her mouth felt dry, leaving her throat without relief. Her hands slid around her middle as she tried desperately to still her shaking body. The work she’d put into the project had to count for something, but… She couldn’t think about that. She had to focus on the present, not the past. Not her theft. She rocked back and forth. Some people clapped. Most copied her swaying motion with their fingers crossed.
Abigail isn’t here. Abigail isn’t here.
The second place winner was announced. She let out a little sigh. Two down. Abigail isn’t here.
“Before we announce the first place winner, I want to tell you why this composition won. This piece includes a countermelody that functions beautifully within it, and the harmonies entwine with each other as if individual melodies, each voice standing alone, yet supporting one another.”
It was hers. Danielle knew it; it was hers. And her countermelody and harmonies were the reason. She deserved…
“But this composition works well because of how the melody integrates rhythm and the known with the unknown. “He raised his eyes and scanned the crowd, his gaze falling on her. “Our first place winner is My Redeemer by Danielle Needles.”
A painful thumping beat against her sternum as the curtains opened. She’d won. No, Abigail had won. It was Abigail’s melody, her rhythm, her use of Handel. But Abigail didn’t know. Besides, Danielle reminded herself, she’d changed some of the melody, making it her own.
The piano played the short introduction, and Danielle closed her eyes, focusing on the harmonies. As the altos took over the melody, her eyes opened. That voice. Abigail stood on stage, tears running down her face as she focused on Danielle.
Danielle sank further into her seat as nausea set in. Not only did Abigail stand on the stage with knowledge of her depravity, but she’d known for days and said nothing. She’d attended rehearsals, learned the music, and had every opportunity to turn Danielle in, yet she hadn’t. The tears running down her friend’s face proved she cared. Why hadn’t she made an accusation? The pit in Danielle’s stomach deepened.
As the song ended, and the room erupted in applause, Dr. Caltrez invited Danielle onto the stage to accept a plaque. Each step promised to throw her to the ground. Her mind collapsed inward as she considered her unworthiness. Nothing could make this better. The pain of her fraud beat in her chest, her feet, her mind. Who would carry her when she fell?
Dr. Caltrez held out his hand, but she kept hers by her side, her head bowed.
“I can’t accept this.”
The aging professor leaned closer. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.”
A rhythmic tapping sounded on the black floor of the stage, and Abigail appeared beside Danielle. Her friend grasped her hand with a smile. “Dani, take the award.”
The words were soft, but they echoed through Danielle’s mind as if shouted.
She met Abigail’s gaze. “I can’t.”
“You can. I want you to. Accept it.”
Tears pooled in Danielle’s eyes, then fell to her feet, and she reached out and shook Dr. Caltrez’s hand, thanking him. Turning, she flung her arms around Abigail, hugging her.
They walked off the stage together, and in the wings, Danielle clasped both of Abigail’s hands as tears traced lines down her own face. “The money’s yours. The whole award should be yours.”
“No. You took a piece of me and created what I couldn’t.”
“But I stole it.”
Danielle shook her head. “I could have added your name.”
She nodded again.
“I didn’t. Abby, why aren’t you mad?”
Abigail met Danielle’s eyes with a steady gaze. “How can I be forgiven, if I don’t forgive?”
“What forgiveness do you need? You did nothing wrong.”
“Maybe not this time.” She smiled softly. “Just don’t do it again, okay?”
Later that night, Danielle marveled at her friend’s grace, trying to understand her kindness. She’d provided mercy without thought of justice. Dust floated off the book as Danielle blew on it, then took it in her hand and turned to the marked chapter. Only one person had lived capable of honoring both justice and mercy. He’d chosen to serve both. Slipping to her knees, Danielle uttered the words prodding her heart: Though unworthy, he will forgive me. I know that my Redeemer liveth.
Meagan attends church every week, but hasn’t liked attending Easter services for years.
The flowing, deep green grass carpeted the landscape in front of the church, and the white steeple hadn’t changed since last week. Birds still sang, and fragrant purple flowers drooped from the top of the Mountain Texas Laurel planted near the doors. Meagan breathed deeply, hoping the sweet grape-scented aroma would find its way through the car’s vents and into her lungs to help her racing heart slow. It didn’t.
She watched as Palo Verde blossoms floated on the gentle breeze and rained down on young girls, wearing full skirts with ribbons at their waists, as they passed. Meagan wore bright white hats for such days when she was a child. Now she donned a simple dress she’d purchased several months previously. Comfort played a considerably larger role in her life than it had then.
As the digital clock on her dash flickered to 8:58, Meagan pushed her door open and laboriously climbed out of her car. Another beautiful Easter morning. But enjoying Easter had been difficult for many years. That was the day Pastor Seth focused on forgiveness of sin, and her—their responsibility to also show mercy.
Some things were just too hard to excuse. Why imperfect beings had to forgive made sense, but she didn’t want to listen to it again. Not this year, or the year before, or three years before that. Yet, each year, Meagan lumbered out of bed, got dressed, and drove to the church. Several families appeared only for Easter services. Not her. She attended every week, and couldn’t bring herself to skip the one Sunday a year she wanted to.
She shook her head as she reached for the door handle and stepped inside. It wasn’t as if she’d suffered abuse or lost everything at the hands of someone else. No one had destroyed her reputation. But she still struggled. Peeking into the chapel, she eased into the back corner where escape was more manageable. A few stragglers stepped into the room behind her, and she studied her hands as the passersby waved at others in the congregation. The prelude swelled then slowed to a final chord as Pastor Seth stood. Meagan exhaled and lifted her head.
“What a glorious Easter! Brothers and sisters, today we come to worship Jesus Christ and his resurrection. On such a day, communion becomes that much more important, but before we partake of that sacrament, I want to share a poem I recently discovered by Joseph L. Townsend.”
Rev’rently and meekly now,
Let thy head most humbly bow.
Think of me, thou ransomed one;
Think what I for thee have done.
With my blood that dripped like rain,
Sweat in agony of pain,
With my body on the tree
I have ransomed even thee.
As the pastor’s calming voice intoned the poem, Meagan willed the words to flow over her. Jesus had suffered, not only on the cross, but during his entire ministry. All kinds of people followed him, but only a few listened. Many followed to deride him and spew hate. Thoughts of the five thousand swirled in her mind. The crowds gathered, trailing him after he learned of John the Baptist’s death. But instead of sending them away, he turned to them, healing their sick and afflicted, then feeding them. His prayers to the Father waited until he’d finally found himself alone.
What would the disciples have heard if they’d been able to stay awake as he prayed in Gethsemane? Luke said he’d suffered in agony, an angel strengthening him. And the sweat—physical agony racked his body then, too, not just mental strife.
Bid thine heart all strife to cease; With thy brethren be at peace. Oh, forgive as thou wouldst be E’en forgiven now by me. In the solemn faith of prayer
Her head shot up at the mention of forgiveness. Was this Pastor Seth’s ploy? Again. What did it matter if she forgave? The women who had destroyed her daughter’s self-esteem, who snickered as she walked by, who taught their children to despise hers, they weren’t around anymore. Each of them had moved away. Her daughter’s broken heart elicited no effect on their lives. Emma, alone, endured the all-encompassing sting they’d inflicted. Meagan’s skin crawled every time she thought about it. Emma spread only joy, but even her smile buckled when the girls pointed at her wide eyes and large lips and laughed. In time, Meagan stopped bringing her to church—the one place she should have felt safe.
Still, the words hung in her mind. Forgive as thou wouldst be e’en forgiven now by me. What effect did her sins have on Christ?
Yet, he suffered. He chose to suffer for the sake of her salvation. The decision to forgive her came from him as he strove to do the Father’s will. Only he could do it, and he could have walked away. But he didn’t. He forgave her. He forgave everyone willing to follow him.
At the throne I intercede;
For thee ever do I plead.
I have loved thee as thy friend,
With a love that cannot end.
Be obedient, I implore,
Prayerful, watchful evermore,
And be constant unto me,
That thy Savior I may be.
Tears rolled down Meagan’s cheeks. How had she never considered the sliver of similarity between forgiving these women and the Savior’s forgiveness of her? He forgave her with no other reason than her happiness.
Tormented thoughts returned. Her forgiveness of those mothers, who called Emma names and encouraged their children to do the same, had no bearing on anyone.
She dropped her head.
“Today I want to focus on the second stanza. Bid thy heart all strife to cease, with thy brethren be at peace.” Pastor Seth drummed his fingers on the podium. “What does that have to do with Christ’s sacrifice?”
Silence pervaded the room. Children quieted, perhaps with help from their parents.
“All strife to cease…be at peace. Was the sacrifice only for our sins? I don’t believe so. In the third stanza, he called us his friends. What would you do for your friend? For your children?”
She’d done all she could. Called the mothers, written letters, begged the late Pastor Greg for help. Nothing worked. Miracle described her continued church attendance. If they had taunted her, she might have laughed with them, but Emma?
Pastor Seth’s glance passed by Meagan and the strength of his words filled her whole being.
“Forgive as thou wouldst be e’en forgiven now by me. These are words following statements of peace. I ask you, brothers and sisters, one thing: Do you feel peace after forgiving your offender?”
Meagan rose to her feet and wandered toward the door as the congregation finished singing There is a Green Hill Far Away.
Oh, dearly, dearly has he loved!
And we must love him too,
And trust in his redeeming blood,
And try his works to do.
Could she trust in his redeeming blood? Was that the missing piece to forgiving those women? She’d held onto the grief and pain for her daughter for so long. What if she allowed Christ to heal her? Could she forgive then? She’d never experienced a more hurtful situation. Most of the time forgiveness came easily because everyone made mistakes and usually the offense wasn’t intended. Those women had acted purposefully. But did they care?
Her daughter’s precious, little soul cried for weeks, months. And understanding wasn’t something she possessed. Sure, she’d forgotten and moved on, but Meagan hadn’t. Her heart pounded wildly in her chest each time a memory of sitting on Emma’s bed and holding her after such attacks appeared. The acidic misery she’d uncovered within herself when Emma announced the new nickname the children had given her still ran through her blood in roiling waves.
Maybe it didn’t matter if anyone else cared. Didn’t forgiveness mean setting aside the anger? If she gave up the anger, would the pain and anguish dissipate, too? The thoughts stayed with her as she drove home where Emma greeted her with a giant smile.
“Mama. I drew a picture.”
“You did? Let me see.”
Emma held out a picture, two people hugging each other. “That’s Jesus. He loves me.”
“Yes, he does. Is that you?”
“No. That’s you. Jesus saw you cry today.”
Meagan wrapped her arms around her daughter, now an adult. “Thank you for sharing your picture with me, Emma.”
The next week, Meagan jumped from the car, her feet leaving trails in the tiny yellow flowers still falling from the trees as she rounded the car and clasped Emma’s hand.
“I can make friends?”
“You can make lots of friends.”
“I like friends.”
Meagan stared at the steeple, bright and white, pure, like Jesus. Her heart had started to mend. The process continued, but she’d let go of some of the rage caused by Emma’s attackers. Now she watched, as her daughter walked through the same doors she had once before. No tears, no worry, just a big smile at the thought of making new friends. And she would, Meagan knew it.
After a devastating accident Martha isn’t sure her anger can subside, but with a little help, she’s willing to make a change.
arkness surrounded Martha for a long time before she heard the voices. Gentle hands touched her, and a bright light flashed in each of her eyes. She couldn’t close them. What held them open?
Darkness surrounded Martha for a long time before she heard the voices. Gentle hands touched her, and a bright light flashed in each of her eyes. She couldn’t close them. What held them open?
“What h-happened?” The words, so strong in her mind, barely slurred past her lips. Everything hurt, yet only confusion coursed through her.
“You’ve been in an accident. Can you tell me your name?”
Name? What was her name? “M-Martha.”
Questions continued, but Martha’s brain remained sluggish. A thought pounded in the back of her consciousness, refusing to manifest. Where had she been that night?
“John. Where’s my husband? John?”
No one answered. Had the words crossed her lips? Someone sat next to her, holding her hand. John? She couldn’t see him, but he was there. John? Understanding of his death overwhelmed her. Chaos enveloped her as paramedics loaded her into the ambulance. John stayed with her. Annoying utterances called out commands and occasional questions at her. He prompted her answers.
At the hospital, doctors discovered internal bleeding, severe bruising, and a mangled limb. Blurriness clouded her vision then all went black. Passed out or anesthetized, she wasn’t sure, but the pain subsided for a short period. Then she woke up.
Christmas included celebrations with strangers and an extended visit from her adult son, which brought her joy. But with John’s hand no longer holding hers, emptiness and anger oozed from her heart, polluting her body’s ability to heal.
Struck by a drunk driver, missing a leg, and the death of her husband—no one condemned her rage. How could they? But as the physical healing sluggishly began, the hatred still festered.
She’d known the boy for months, a student at the school where she taught. Fourth row, fifth seat, until she’d moved him up. Sixteen and drinking—he received nothing more than a few hours in jail. He’d faced manslaughter charges, but they were soon dismissed. That left her with weeks in the hospital and a stump that suffered endless agony while he hung out with friends.
The following year, Martha shuffled to her car from her church’s Christmas program. The prosthesis rubbed at her skin, despite the sock, but she walked. Stopping to rest, her gaze lifted to the lights and displays that celebrated the Savior’s birth.
In front of her, the worn nativity, placed on the lawn each year, called her forward. Vandalized several times, some plastic figures had spots of splotchy paint and dents. Joseph suffered a crack on his side. She stared at the figure in the manager, a small doll with a mature look.
Though she considered leaving, something kept her there. And her numb fingers clutched the insides of her pockets as warmth swelled within her chest. The shabby doll, one eye a lighter shade than the other, represented the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who walked the earth teaching his gospel of forgiveness. His greatest miracle and example apparent when he suffered for the sins of all men. In return, he asked only that man believe in him and keep his commandments. The scriptures said he sweat great drops of blood. As much pain as Martha had experienced, imagining the misery of bleeding from every pore still eluded her. A softness entered her mind, speaking to her. Focusing, she swept the words forward: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
Forgive who? The salty tears of knowledge soon welled in her eyes. “I can’t,” she whispered.
A hand rested on her shoulder, but Martha stood alone. He’d been gone for so long. A warming peace surrounded her—strength overpowering fear and anger.
“Why are you here?” She asked John.
To help you.
“You’re not really here.”
Lighten your burden. Forgive.
“Is it that easy?”
Christ’s burden is light; let him carry yours.
The touch at her shoulder faded, but the warmth remained. On the way home, Christmas lights strung on the eaves of homes pricked at her understanding. Over the last year, she’d spent countless months in physical torment. Emotional agony crashed down on her every time memories of that night gained her attention. But remembrances of John had become almost more sweet than painful, a blessing she’d begged to receive from the Lord. The pain from the accident might never go completely away, but if Jesus took the sins of the world upon himself, and blessed her to remember John without crying, he would remove her anger. Wouldn’t he?
As her front door opened, Martha’s eyes found the porcelain nativity sitting on her coffee table. White lights from the Christmas tree reflected off each piece. The babe, sent to earth by his Father, died for her. Had he not done the same for the boy who sat in the fourth row, fifth seat?
She knew his name: Jay. She hadn’t allowed it to touch her lips since the accident. Doing so reminded her of his smile and his ridiculous sense of humor.
She sank to the couch. “Father, thank you for sending thy Son, Jesus Christ, and helping me through losing my leg and J-John. I’ve been so angry. Wilt thou forgive my anger and take it from me that I might forgive Jay?”
Thoughts and prayers swirled inside Martha’s head for weeks. Scriptures read by the light of the Christmas tree and prayers uttered from wherever she was helped her learn to trust the lord, and the anger faded. Wanting to put her forgiveness to the test, she devised a plan.
Christmas morning, Martha rose and entered the kitchen. Ingredient after ingredient found its way onto the counter, and she mixed a special treat. Fudge brownies covered with a delicious mint frosting.
Singing along to Christmas music, she focused on the memories she had of Jay in class. She hadn’t moved him from the rear to the front because he talked too much. Another student needed help with his math, and Jay agreed to tutor him. A popular kid, she’d seen Jay say hi to students from various social groups.
She didn’t know why he chose to drink or why he’d climbed in the car and attempted to drive. And although it affected her significantly, she didn’t have to live with the pain. Christ provided a way for her to give it all away if she’d forgive.
The aroma from the warm pan of brownies in the seat next to her soon floated on the air. Hands shaking, she steered the car to the side of the road and parked in front of Jay’s house. Closing her eyes, she waited as a warmth surrounded her. Her hands trembled for a moment as she gathered the dessert and stepped to the door. No hatred clutched her. She rang the bell.
Jay’s mother answered the door and stared at Martha, eyes wide. “May I help you?”
“Hello. I’ve come to see Jay if he’s available.”
The woman’s jaw dropped, her gaze frozen.
“I want to wish him a Merry Christmas.”
“Of course… Jay, door.” She turned back to Martha, “Please come in.”
Jay walked toward the entryway and stopped when he saw Martha. His mother scooted his sisters and father to the other room.
The boy stayed where he was, rigid.
“I wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas.” Martha stepped closer to him.
Her single leg twitched. “I’ve been thinking about you and how much I enjoyed having you in my class.”
His brows furrowed. “That’s it?”
“For today it is.”
“You’re not mad?”
“Mad about what?” She lifted an eyebrow.
His head bowed, and Martha saw a tear fall to the floor.
“I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I haven’t had a drink since then and never will. That’s a promise I made to myself.”
Martha nodded, surprised by her sincere smile. “I know you won’t. You messed up pretty bad, but it’s time we both let it go.”
His tear-stained face raised, and he met her gaze. “How?”
“Well, if your parents allow it, I’d like to tell you.”
Read more Christmas and other short stories at KameoMonson.com, where you can also download your free copy of Sometimes a Bird Has to Fly.