A Christmas Miracle



By Eryn Grace


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A Christmas Miracle
Copyright © 2013 Eryn Grace
Published by Eryn Grace
www.eryngrace.com

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of Eryn Grace.

This book is a work of fiction and all characters exist solely in the author's imagination. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Any references to places, events or locales are used in a fictitious manner.


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Dedication:

I'd like to dedicate this to all those who feel as if they're at the end of their ropes. There is hope and sometimes, it just takes a little more time to see the light at the end of the tunnel.


*~*~*


Chapter 1

Pastor Nick Olson stood in front of his tiny church, situated southwest of Florissant, Colorado, in the small town of Angel Bluffs. He stood there for an extra moment with his hands on his hips, not believing his eyes, for there before him, lay a small sleeping girl lying in the brightly lit manger for the church's Nativity scene. Usually, the doll baby would be wrapped in swaddling clothes, but the young people in the church insisted on having a regular blanket over Him, and for once Nick was glad they'd gotten their way.

The girl appeared to be younger than five, with her thumb still halfway out of her mouth. Beside her lay a small black and white dog, snoring so loudly, Nick didn't know how the little girl could sleep, but at least she and her dog were mostly covered in the thick blanket.

"Are you okay?" he asked, in almost a whisper. He hated waking her, but the temps had dipped to about sixteen degrees overnight, and she could be in a lot of trouble.

The girl and her dog didn't move.

Nick moved closer, touching her shoulder with his hand. She was cold, no doubt about it. "Hey. Are you okay?"

The girl rubbed her eyes and opened them, looking right up at Nick. His stomach fell and his heart stopped beating, he was certain. This little girl looked just like his deceased daughter, Elizabeth. But she was alive.

He had to keep his wits about him. "Are you okay?"

As she sat up, the blanket fell, her light blonde hair a long tangled mess. "I'm fine, but Momma ain't."

Her soft southern accent told him she wasn't from Colorado. What kind of mother would let her daughter wander outside, though? "Momma?" he asked.

The girl pointed toward the woods across the street. "We had a accident in our truck. She's still in the truck. I tried to wake her, but she was asleep. I need someone to help her. Jack and I came over here to sleep, because Baby Jesus is here."

Nick's gaze moved toward the nativity scene, with the plastic baby lying in straw. "You came to see Baby Jesus?"

"Yes." The girl nodded in determination. "I knew Baby Jesus would keep us safe, because He's keeping my daddy safe in Heaven. He and Daddy are best buddies, Momma told me."

Wow. So the dad was dead and the mom was in a car across the street, probably also dead. He turned to see if he could make out a vehicle in the pre-dawn darkness. "Where's your car?"

"It's a truck." She got to her feet and rubbed her arms. The girl wasn't even wearing a coat, but did have long sleeves and jeans, with holey sneakers.

Nick took off his coat and put it around the girl. It swamped her, but had to be warmer than no coat. "Just point it out to me." He warmed his arms, hoping she'd at least be okay.

The girl pointed, but Nick saw nothing.

"It went down a hill. I climbed up here in the dark, through the snow. Jack helped me."

"How long ago was this?"

"I can't tell time yet. I'm only three. I turn four in two days—the day after Christmas. Daddy said that's the way it should be. Jesus is first and we're second, so Jesus has his birthday first."

He had to act fast for this little girl. "Let's go inside the church and get warm, and I'll get your momma to come over here, too. Then we'll all go out for breakfast."

Her smile covered her face. "Good. I'm hungry and so is Jack." She pointed downward.

Nick looked down at the small Boston terrier, who was shaking in the cold. This was one Christmas he'd never forget, just like two years before.


*~*~*


Chapter 2

Nick took the little girl and her dog into the church and flipped on the lights. The warmth of the church felt good, and he hoped both the girl and the dog would get warm fast. "What's your name?" he asked her.

"Lacy. Daddy said he knew my name as soon as I was borned, because my hair was almost white like lace. Our last name is Claymont. We's from Dallas, but are drivin' up north to see Grandma and Grandpa and Aunt Belinda, since Daddy went to be with Jesus. He was fightin' in some other country."

A military man, no doubt. Even though Nick wanted to cry for this little girl, he had to keep it together. "Well, there's a water fountain down that hallway if you're thirsty, and I'd like it if you kept Jack here in this big room."

"He'll stay here. He don't run around no more. He's old. I think he's four."

Nick bit his lips to stop from laughing. "I'm going to go see your mother and get her some help. You stay here."

Lacy nodded.

Nick backed away, not wanting to take his coat from the girl. She needed to warm up. He'd just find the truck and call for help, and then the mom's body and the little girl would be taken away. He'd just stay in the background, and would, of course, pray for Lacy. But the less he got involved, the better, for his own sanity.

He turned and ran out of the sanctuary, toward his car in the parking lot. It was still rather dark outside, but the sun was trying to rise above the horizon. Since it was Christmas Eve, he had a lot of work to do before the Christmas Eve service at four. But it seemed as if God had other plans for him.

Once he reached his car, he wrenched open the back door in the cold. The light lit, and there, lying on the seat, was an old coat of his. He didn't even remember putting it there, but he must have. He pulled the thing on, the warmth of the Sherpa lining making him feel better immediately. Once he had that on, he searched under the seats and found a flashlight in a box he'd kept in the car since he'd moved to Colorado, almost two years before. He'd come here to make a clean break from the death of his wife and young daughter on Christmas Eve in Oregon, on that ice-covered road. He was a pastor in a big church there, but when he left, he made a promise to himself and to God to reach people who had no other church. And this town of Angel Bluffs was definitely like that.

With thoughts of what might have happened in his life had his wife and daughter lived, he headed toward the woods, praying the entire time. God had given him a new place to thrive, even though his heart ached for Renee, his dead wife, and his young deceased daughter, Elizabeth.

As soon as he got across the rural road, Nick flipped on the flashlight and peered out into the darkness. But he couldn't see anything. He took a step closer, looking down the small hill, and there, behind a tree, he could see the dim outline of a tail light. He wasn't prepared to see a dead body, so he prayed that the woman would be alive. It wasn't good to think only of himself, so he thought of Lacy's angelic face. He knew he had to ask for a future for her, with her mother at her side.

He maneuvered down the hill as fast as he could, but it was steeper than he'd thought. It made him wonder how Lacy and her dog had made it out. She didn't even seem to have any scratches on her. It was a complete miracle.

He finally made his way to the truck, holding onto the side since the snow-covered ground was slippery and steep. The snow hadn't gotten that deep yet, but his socks and shoes were wet.

As he inched closer, he could see the woman's long hair surrounding the headrest. Could he do this? He prayed for help, because he was going to need it.


*~*~*


Chapter 3

Nick braced himself and yanked the driver's side door open. The dome light turned on, and he could see the car seat in the back of the cab. It made him wonder how Lacy had gotten out and how Jack had survived the crash. The passenger's side door was also shut. Would Lacy have done that, too?

But he had to concentrate on the woman. "Ma'am?" he asked. He didn't even know the woman's first name. "Mrs. Claymont. Are you conscious?" What a stupid question. But he had to know. He had to touch her neck to see if he felt a pulse, swallowing past the lump of fear in his throat.

Just as he inched his fingers forward, a moan erupted from her mouth.

"You're alive!" Nick exclaimed. "Praise the Lord." He whipped out his cell phone and dialed 9-1-1, saying a small prayer for thanks.

"A Christian?" the woman muttered. "Figures. My luck is the worst."

Nick's eyebrows rose, but the ringing on the other end of the cell phone made him turn his concentration from the woman to his job.

"Emergency," a woman said, on the other end of the phone.

At least his cell phone worked right now.

"My name's Nick Olson. There's a woman off the road of Wing Street in Angel Bluffs. She's alive and her daughter is at the church across the street."

"Which church?" the woman asked, over the phone.

"Angel Bluffs Church."

"Uh-huh." He heard clicking. "Found it. We'll be there soon. I sent out the call. Tell me the condition of the woman and child."

"The child will be okay, I think. She was asleep in the manger with her dog. I don't know how long she was there, but she wasn't wearing a coat. The woman's in the vehicle." He studied her face. She looked a lot like his dead wife, but he had to put that thought aside. "She woke up briefly, but is now asleep again."

"Or dead?" he heard from the phone.

"I'm afraid to check. I'm not sure what I'm doing. I'm a pastor—"

"We'll figure it out. Don't touch her unless the vehicle's going to blow up."

He stepped away from the truck. "Huh?"

The dispatcher laughed. She must've had a boring night. "It won't blow up," she said. "I was playing with you. It probably would've blown up by now, if the little girl had been asleep for that long. So you see, it's a timing thing."

What a weird phone call.

He took a step closer to the injured woman. "Oh." But he was studying her face. She had blonde hair and a few scratches on her forehead. He looked downward. "Um, you might want to hurry that ambulance. This woman's pregnant and looks like she might have the baby any minute." He looked over at the seatbelt. "She wasn't wearing a seatbelt, and I think she hit her head."

"Is she married?"

"Why would you want to know that?"

"To call next of kin, so they know where she is."

Nick sighed. "No. Her husband died. The little girl told me that much. They were heading west to be with the little girl's grandparents."

"Oh, that's just sad." The woman sniffed. "This is like a soap opera playing out over the phone. Just hold on."

Nick heard sirens getting closer.

"They're almost here, aren't they?" he asked.

"Yep. They're pulling up to the church right now. Where are you? They want to know."

"I'm down the hill across from the church. The little girl and her dog are in the church and she's wearing my coat."

"You're outside without a coat?" the woman asked.

"No. I seemed to have a spare in my car. Tell them to look for my flashlight. I'm staying with the truck and this woman." He couldn't help but smile, just from the angelic look on Mrs. Claymont's face. "I wish I knew her first name."

"It's Jennifer," the injured woman said. "Where's Lacy?"

Nick leaned closer. "She's fine and safe in the church across the street. She's with Jack. Some EMTs will be here any minute. They're probably taking care of her right now."

"Good," Jennifer whispered. "I'm really tired. Can you keep Lacy for me until I'm better? I don't have anyone to help."

"What about Lacy's grandparents and her aunt?"

"They can't help me right now. My parents are in a nursing home and my dead husband's parents are also dead. I was going home to see what I could do to help them and to see my sister, who is Lacy's aunt." She groaned. "I hurt all over."

"I'm sure you do. We'll help you, Jennifer. I'll find some people in our church to take care of Lacy."

She reached out and grabbed his arm, opening her eyes for the first time. They were so blue, he couldn't believe how striking they were. "No. You. I want you to help me and take care of Lacy. I trust only you. I need help and you're elected."

He put the phone back up to his ear. "Tell them to hurry, please?"

"I heard that conversation," the dispatcher said. "I'm telling the guys, too. You're now a foster parent. Good luck with that."

God had a plan for Nick, but he wasn't sure he could do as asked.


*~*~*


Chapter 4

Nick sat in the hospital cafeteria, listening to Lacy tell him story after story. He'd taken the dog to a parishioner's home, who had many other dogs for this dog to feel accepted. But he had to take care of Lacy.

"And then the doctor asked me if I had blue ears." Lacy laughed. "Who has blue ears, anyway?"

She was hilarious, telling about how the E.R. doctor had checked her health after the harrowing night.

Lacy continued. "I think Jack's ears might be blue, but they're more black. The nurse and I just laughed. That doctor was crazy."

"So you're okay?" Nick watched Lacy eat some of the eggs in front of her.

"Yep. They said I might get a cold, but I'm fine." She shoved some more eggs into her mouth. "I was really hungry."

"When did you eat last?"

"About a day ago, I think. Momma didn't want to stop much so we could get to see Grandma and Grandpa and Aunt Belinda. Momma said just to sleep and before long, we'd be in California."

"California, from Dallas? Why did she take this route?" He watched her face. "You may not know."

"But I do know. Momma said she and Daddy went to Colorado Springs once, and she wanted to see it one last time. They drove out this way and she had to see the mountains."

One last time? The thought hit Nick hard, right in the heart. It sounded like Jennifer was stuck, going to California, because she never thought she'd get out. What would keep her in California? Her parents or her sister?

"But Momma said this baby would be her last, too. It's a boy, you know." Lacy drank some juice. "How would she know it would be her last? She also told me she was going to miss me once we got to California."

Now Nick was even more confused, but he didn't even know how to ask about Jennifer's plans. He had to use a different tactic. "Was there a reason you were going to California, other than to see your grandparents?"

Lacy nodded. "She said something about someone taking my brother and me." She stared at him with innocent eyes. "Do you think they'll have toys for us?"

Jennifer was giving up her children? But why in California?

A nurse approached them. "Mrs. Claymont is asking for both of you."

"Me, too?" Nick asked.

The woman nodded. "She wants to talk to you about something important."

He could tell when he was going to be used and this one was huge.


*~*~*


Chapter 5

A man entered the room, holding onto Lacy's hand. Since Jennifer was in bed, she couldn't get up to shake his hand, to thank him. She kind of recognized him, but didn't even know his name. But his brown hair and beautiful blue eyes, with rugged features looked so familiar. Even though he was good looking, Jennifer's attention was suddenly drawn to Lacy, her little girl with the giant smile. Tears filled Jennifer's eyes because this might be the last time she'd ever see Lacy. Her sister was on her way from California to take Lacy and Jennifer's unborn child, as soon as he was born. Then Jennifer could do as she wished, which wasn't anything good. But she had nothing else to live for.

When Drew died, she lost everything but Lacy and this little baby whom she wanted to name Andrew, after his father. Considering Jennifer had nothing else, no job, and no money, she couldn't raise these children on her own. Paired with the bouts of depression, some days she couldn't even get out of bed. Lacy had been a huge help, but she wasn't even four years old yet. It wasn't fair to subject her to living on the streets, which was where they were headed.

The good-looking man reached out his hand and shook hers. The warmth of his touch surprised Jennifer, but she wasn't sure why.

"I'm Pastor Nick Olson," he said. "You crashed your truck across the street from my church."

"Your church." She stared up at his blue eyes, realization hitting her. "I remember you now. I also remember staring at the white steeple, wondering why God hated me. I must've hit some ice. We were lost. I took a wrong turn and wanted to get back onto the highway. I remember that now."

He pulled up two chairs and helped Lacy sit in one. "Well, your daughter and her dog were asleep in the manger. That's how I found you. She told me the truck went off the road. Someone from our church is keeping Jack and Lacy will stay with them tonight. They're grandparents and have dogs. Jack loves it there, and I know Lacy will have a great time with their grandkids who are coming over for Christmas. They'll play and laugh. They have one granddaughter Lacy's age, too. Her name's Melissa." He smiled. "I just wanted you to know everything will be okay. Lacy and Jack are doing great." He glanced at Lacy. "Right?"

She nodded and smiled, but seemed concerned for Jennifer.

"Thank you," Jennifer said to the man. "Can you thank the people keeping Jack and Lacy, too?"

"Sure. They're on their way to get Lacy, so she can meet everyone." He leaned closer. "I think they even have some Christmas presents for her, if that's okay with you."

"Sure." Jennifer felt like a horrible mother. However, she couldn't do anything about it.

"Momma?" Lacy asked. "Is you okay?"

Jennifer smiled. "I'll be fine. Nothing's broken but I did hit my head. The doctor said I'm fine and they're doing tests on little Andrew. They might deliver him early."

Lacy smiled, but Jennifer was worried. The doctor said they'd do a C-section as soon as they could set it up, within the next hour or less. However, she didn't want Lacy to worry about Andrew.

A knock at the door had them all turning.

"There they are," Pastor Olson said, and stood up. "Jane and Bill Denning, I'd like you to meet Jennifer and Lacy." He pointed toward her and Lacy. The people looked very loving.

A little dark-haired girl peeked out from around the woman. "Oh, and Melissa," the pastor said, leaning down. "How are you today?"

"I'm good." She pointed toward Lacy. "Is you my new friend?"

Lacy nodded. "I'd like to be."

Melissa took a step closer and gave Lacy a hug. "Momma said you needed a hug, because you've been sleeping outside. We love Jack. He's funny."

Lacy backed away and laughed. "He is funny."

"We can take Lacy to our house, if that's okay," Jane said. "You can call any time if you want to talk to her, too." She stepped closer and put a piece of paper with a phone number on it.

Jennifer tried not to cry but couldn't hold back the tears. "Thank you."

Jane leaned closer and gave Jennifer a hug. "Hang in there. We're all praying for you, your baby, and your family. When you get out of here, come to our place. We'll have fun."

Jennifer backed away and stared the woman in the eyes. "Really?"

Jane nodded. "Yep. We hear tell your husband died. We're all sorry to hear that, but we'll help you get back on your feet somehow."

Jennifer nodded. "Yes. Drew died two months ago. He was in the Navy and died on a classified mission. I don't even know how he died, but they sent his body back to me and refused to let me see him until the funeral." Tears choked back her voice. "I miss him a lot."

Jane wiped her own eye. "I'm sure you do. Anyway, we'll help you somehow, at least with Lacy and Jack. That's a promise, too."

"You can take that to the bank," Bill said. "I was a Navy man myself and might be able to help with the paperwork to see if there are any funds for you."

Jennifer couldn't believe it. Complete strangers willing to help her out? "Thank you both. We don't want to be a bother, though."

"No problem." Jane glanced over at the pastor and then back at Jennifer. "We might even have a suitor for you, too."

"Who me?" Nick asked, pointing at himself. "I'm married to my work."

"And it's time for you to date again, too." Bill put his hand on Nick's shoulder. "We'll talk."

Nick gave Jennifer a 'help me' stare, making her laugh.

"We'll take Lacy," Jane said. "We have an extra car seat or two, and you can see her when you get out. We can also bring her in here to see you whenever you want." She looked over at the two girls who were whispering and laughing. "This is a blessing. Melissa doesn't have anyone to play with, because her cousins and siblings are all boys. I think we need to have a few tea parties." Jane chuckled. "I can't wait. Bill will be our guest."

Bill laughed. "Yeah. Just don't do my nails."

"Have fun," Jennifer said. "And thank you."

"You're welcome. All our kids are home, so the more the merrier." She turned toward Lacy. "Ready to go see Jack?"

"Yes," Lacy said. "Is that okay, Momma?"

Jennifer nodded. "More than okay. You be nice and respectful."

"Yes, Momma."

They said goodbye and left, but the pastor stayed behind and sat back in his seat.

Jennifer was more than interested in his story. "Why is it time for you to date again?"

The pastor sighed and turned his attention to the window. "That's a long story." He turned back toward her. "I want to know why you think God hates you."

"Figures I'd have an accident right near a church." She sighed. "It doesn't matter. I didn't want Lacy to know, but they're going to do a C-section for this baby as soon as they could set it up. They'll be here any minute." She stopped, but really had to ask. "Would you go with me into the operating room? I've never had a C-section before and want to know that someone's there for me, in case…" She stopped when she felt the sadness fill her. "In case anything happens." Her voice was strained as she tried not to cry. But the tears filling her eyes told him volumes, she was certain.


*~*~*


Chapter 6

A cesarean section, just like what Renee went through with Elizabeth. Could he do this again? He wanted to say no, but when he looked at Jennifer, who was trying to be strong while fighting tears, he couldn't deny her. Why did she have to look just like Renee?

Since he could see the fear in her eyes, he said a brief prayer in his head before replying. "I'll try, but know I'm not that great in the O.R."

"You've been there before?"

He nodded. "It's a long story."

But before he could explain, a nurse entered the room. "We're ready for you."

"I want him there with me," she said, pointing at Nick. "Is that okay?"

The nurse nodded. "Sure. Whatever you want." She turned her attention to Nick. "No passing out."

"No, ma'am. Been there, done this before."

"You have?" She looked over at Jennifer. "Did you have a C-section before?"

"No."

Nick had to explain. "Uh, I was married before and my daughter was born by C-section. They both died in a car accident in Oregon, exactly two years ago tonight." He looked downward, not wanting them to see the sadness he felt.

"Hey," Jennifer said. "I didn't know. You don't have to—"

"No." He lifted his eyes. "I said I'd do it, and I will. Just know it's going to be tough for me, so if you see me cry, you'll know why."

"I'll be crying, so we can cry together." Her smile cheered him for some reason.

"Well, we're ready," the nurse said. "We'll wheel you into the O.R. It won't take long after that, and you'll have your little boy by your side."

"Thanks," Jennifer said. The orderlies came into the room and Nick stepped out. He waited for them to wheel Jennifer out, and then followed them,

"Pastor Olson," Jennifer said. "Would you talk to me when they're doing this?"

"Yes, I will," he said. "And I'll pray for you. Call me Nick. We're kind of on a more intimate basis than I am with most of my parishioners." He chuckled. "And here, I thought I'd have a boring day."

"No," she said. "Not boring and I'm sorry about that."

He ran up beside her as she was being wheeled down the hallway, and took her hand. "Don't be sorry. There's a reason for this, I'm sure. God will take care of all of it."

"Uh-huh."

But he could tell she wasn't a believer. However, she'd probably grown up in the faith, so he had to get her back to her life.

The nurse pulled him aside and Jennifer was taking into an operating room. While Jennifer was getting prepped for the C-section, the nurse helped him into scrubs. The memories of doing just that came back to him from five years before. He tried to keep it together, reminding himself this wasn't his child, and was a boy instead of looking like Elizabeth when she was born.

The nurse finally took him into the operating room, where Jennifer lay on a table. A curtain was draped in front of her face and she appeared to be crying, wiping her eyes. But when she looked over at Nick, she laughed aloud.

He put his arms out to the side. "What? I'm not fashionable?" He glanced upward. "It's the hat, right?"

She just laughed and wiped her eyes. "This is hilarious. You remind me so much of Andrew—" She stopped talking and began to cry. "I miss him so much."

Nick sat beside her and took her hand. "I know. I miss Renee, too. But we have to move on to let everyone know about them. Deal?"

"Not really, but that's another issue."

"Mrs. Claymont?" a woman said. "I'm the doctor. Ready to have this baby?"

Nick couldn't believe his eyes, hoping the doctor didn't recognize him. But she didn't seem to notice.

Jennifer nodded at the doctor. "Yes. My sister will be flying in to take him and my daughter."

"Why is that?" Nick asked, leaning closer. "Are you giving them up?"

"Yes. My sister has six kids and her husband just left her. If she gets more children to watch over, she'll get more welfare money. So I'm sending Lacy and Andrew back to California with Belinda, so she can keep her home afloat."

Nick didn't know what to say. It didn't sound like a good situation for Lacy or Andrew. "Where will you go?"

"Um…" She bit her lips. "Don't worry about me."

He leaned up toward her ear. "Where? I promise not to tell."

"I won't be around for anyone to find me, so it doesn't matter."

And with those words, Nick knew his mission. He had to save this family and Jennifer but had no idea what he'd do.


*~*~*


Chapter 7

The baby finally cried, after a few minutes of the doctor trying to deliver him. Jennifer felt such sadness, knowing she wouldn't see Lacy or Andrew grow up. She just hoped and prayed her sister would love them as much as she did. She bit back tears, but when she glanced over at Nick, she couldn't contain it any longer. He wrapped his arms around her and leaned up to her ear. "God's with you and I promise nothing bad is going to happen. Whatever you're planning, I want you to rethink it. I'll help you. You don't have to give up these kids, because we'll find a way you can keep them and have a happy life. God doesn't want you to be unhappy."

She could only cry. It sounded like Drew's voice in her ear. He should be here instead of Nick, but Nick was a nice stand-in.

"Thank you," she whispered.

"I want to talk to you about this a bit more. Do you give me permission to set up a few things?"

She backed away and stared at his face. "What kind of things?"

"Things to get you back on your feet. I have resources here like you wouldn't believe." His eyes were so blue and his expression so caring.

She was confused. "You're acting like I'm staying here."

"Think about it." He turned to look toward the baby. "I think he's ready for you."

The nurse handed Andrew to her, all wrapped in a small blanket. She held him on her chest, feeling a mixture of emotions. She was happy he was okay, but sad that she might have to give him to her sister.

"We need to take him," the nurse finally said. "He needs to be checked out."

"I understand," Jennifer said. "Take good care of my son." She bit her lips, trying not to cry.

As soon as they took away her baby, she looked over at Nick. He held onto her hand with his head bowed. She could only imagine he was praying for her. He was wasting his energy, because God didn't want her around. He'd taken Drew from her and now, she was just a throwaway person.

Nick opened his eyes and smiled at her. "Do I have permission?"

"I don't know what to say. My sister is teaching her oldest kid, Nate, how to watch over her other kids so she can travel here to get Lacy and Andrew. Nate's sixteen."

Nick watched her for a moment. "Do you really want your children to grow up like that? Would you want to grow up like that?"

"Well, no. But I don't have a lot of choice in the matter."

"There's always another choice, somehow." He put his other hand over the one holding her hand. "Pray about it, Jennifer, and I mean it. God wants you back. He wants to hear what's going on so He can help you."

"Uh-huh."

He shot her a knowing smile. "We'll work on that. Want me to call Lacy for you?"

"No. I'll tell her." But she had no intention to tell Lacy she was a big sister. The less she knew, the better, for now.

Nick stood up and patted her hand. "I'll talk to you later."

She knew he would, too, unfortunately.


*~*~*


Chapter 8

Nick sat in the waiting room on the phone. "Yes, Jane. Let me know if she calls you. I suspect we might need to have a few good listeners in here for her."

"Does she need professional counseling? I'd love to talk to her."

"Probably. But you'd have to talk to her doctor, and I don't know how that'd go over."

"Who's the doctor?"

Nick chuckled. "Your family's friend. But I didn't tell you."

Jane laughed aloud. "I'll have Jason do it. He's going to ask her to marry him at Christmas, but that's a secret."

"I know nothing about anything. Don't ask me." He had to laugh. "Good luck with that conversation. A future daughter-in-law would probably want to make her mother-in-law happy."

"That's the plan."

They ended the call and Nick sat back, not able to believe what had happened to him. It was nearly two in the afternoon and he had to get to the church. But the sermon tonight had to change. Something fantastic had happened that day, and he knew it could be the start of something big, for the church to feel more connected by helping others.

He went to Jennifer's room and knocked on the door.

"Come in," she said.

He walked inside, pulled up a chair, and sat down. "So, do I have your permission? I hate to bug you, but I really need an answer. Do I have permission to help you?"

"What exactly does that mean? Would I feel more down about things and stuck in a place, alone, like what happened in Texas?"

Nick tried not to smile, knowing his congregation. "I can guarantee you'd have an instant family. If you'd like to talk to Jane about it, that might help. She's not from around here and loves anyone who moves here from out of town."

She closed her eyes briefly. "Right now, I'm dealing with life, one moment at a time." She looked over at him. "Are you staying here for me?"

He checked his watch. "I actually have to go. Tonight are the Christmas Eve services. But I don't want you to be alone and would love for you to talk to some people from our church. I promise they won't be pushy, but would make you feel loved." He leaned closer. "They might get in trouble for making noise, but it'd be fun noise. Want some visitors?"

"They'd realize I'm on pain killers, right?"

He nodded. "They're moms."

"Send them in. I'd really like someone to talk to. Can Jane come too? Is someone around to watch Lacy?"

"Yes. Her children are all married but one. And he's engaged to your doctor. I didn't know she was your doctor until I went into that operating room. At least she didn't recognize me."

"Wait. Jane's son's engaged to Dr. Flynn?"

Nick nodded. "His name's Jason. He's a lawyer and a nice guy, too."

"Wow. Yeah. Send Jane in. I want to talk to her, too. I need to find out more about my doctor, at least."

Nick patted her hand. "Good. Operation Jennifer's Christmas of Possibilities is now in effect." He stood up and walked toward the door, throwing her a wink before he left. This was his type of mission and he couldn't wait to get Jennifer the help she needed.


*~*~*


Chapter 9

"You know," Nick said, addressing the congregation. "Sometimes life throws you a curve ball. I hoped to talk about Jesus' birth today, but I have to tell you what happened today, first. And I called to get permission to tell this story, so I won't be sued." He looked over at Jason who nodded and smiled.

Nick continued. "I came to church early this morning, to find a 3-year-old little girl sleeping with her dog in the manger, outside. Her name's Lacy and her Boston terrier is Jack. Her mom had been driving from Texas to California, and went off the road. Lacy tried to wake up her mom, Jennifer, but Jennifer was unconscious. I took Lacy and Jack inside this sanctuary, and then went to find Jennifer. I was certain she hadn't made it, but she was alive…and very pregnant. It reminded me of the story of Jesus' birth. Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem for the census and ended up staying in a manger, with no room for them anywhere. Jennifer didn't feel like there was room for her back in Texas, so she was traveling to California to give her children to her sister. But something made Jennifer take a wrong turn and end up here. She had the baby about an hour or so ago. His name is Andrew, and Lacy's at the hospital right now, visiting with her new baby brother. We need to show a lot of compassion to Jennifer. She needs a lot and has given me permission to set up a new life for her."

The congregation began mumbling.

He had to get this on the right track, hoping and praying the group would be receptive. "Now, I know it's almost Christmas, but this gets right to the spirit of the season. Jesus gave His life for us, and we need to help others to pass on His love for us. Jennifer needs everything. Her husband was killed, two months ago, in a confidential mission for the military. Who can help her?"

No hands lifted and Nick couldn't believe it.

"No one can help? Are we that selfish a group of people that we can't help this poor woman in her hour of need? What if it was one of our own? Would we help someone we knew? Of course we would. I got to know Jennifer, and she's in a very tough spot. Who can help?"

No one raised their hands. Nick sighed.

Finally, a little old woman by the name of Evelyn stood up in the back. "I'll help her. She can have my home. I'm leaving tomorrow for a nursing home, because I can't get around much more. I don't have use for the home and I'd be happy to just give it to her. It's furnished, too. I had it all redone two years ago."

Nick's eyebrows rose. "You don't want payment?"

Evelyn laughed. "No. She's actually helping me. I don't have anyone to give it to, and my nursing home is paid for by my late husband. He set it all up and we have no kids. So take it. I'm just glad I don't have to pay taxes on it."

The congregation laughed, but Nick was happy to have one thing checked off.

"Okay, a home. A job? A babysitter?"

Another woman stood up. "My friends and I wanted to start a free babysitting service for practice. We'll help." She lifted her cell phone to show the congregation. "I just called some of them and they'd love to help. We're all teachers or nurses and just got our qualifications to start a daycare. But we wanted to start small with babysitting."

"Great," Nick said. "A job? I don't know what Jennifer's background's in, but—"

Harry, a man who ran a snow blowing and lawn service, stood up. "I can use someone to answer phones and do some light office work. Tell her to give me a call and I'll hire her on the spot. I have too much to do and don't have time to sit in the office. She can even bring her baby with her, for between calls, until he can get into the daycare. I don't mind."

"Thank you," Nick said with a smile. "That helps a lot. Now, next, I want to give them a Christmas to remember. We don't have a lot of time and I don't think they have anything. I know Lacy said she hadn't eaten for a day when I found her."

Sighs of sadness filled the room and suddenly, people began offering so many things, Nick couldn't write them all down. It was a miracle. It was Operation Jennifer's Christmas of Miracles and not just possibilities anymore.


*~*~*


Chapter 10

Jennifer was discharged early, because she had no money, no permanent address, and limited insurance. It was Christmas day, and she had nowhere to go, with no one to pick her up. She signed all the paperwork, and lifted the phone to call a cab. But where would she go?

A knock at the door made her look upward. "Come in."

The door opened and Nick walked inside, wearing a coat. "I'm here to take you home."

"Home? But I have no home."

He smiled. "We have to go see Lacy. Is Andrew ready to go?"

"Yes. He's doing great, too."

"Good." He turned toward the door and motioned. "Dr. Flynn, we're ready."

Jennifer's doctor walked into the room, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, pushing a wheelchair. A nurse carried Andrew, behind Dr. Flynn, and after helping Jennifer put on her coat, wheeled her to the elevator, down to the first floor, and out to the curb. Jane, Bill, and Lacy were in a van, waiting for her. They helped Jennifer get into the van and put Andrew into a new car seat.

"What's going on?" Jennifer asked from the middle seat.

Jane turned from the front seat. "Just wait. I promise it'll be okay."

"Yes, Momma," Lacy said. "We have a surprise for you."

Jane turned toward Lacy and put her finger on her lips. Lacy giggled and covered her mouth.

A surprise? Jennifer couldn't imagine what it might be, but didn't want to ruin the surprise.

They drove to an adorable little one-story cottage near the church. Jennifer didn't remember seeing the little home, but there were cars everywhere around the place.

Bill parked in the driveway and turned toward Jennifer. "Let us know if this is too much for you to handle. We're also getting your truck fixed for when you can drive again. So if you need to go anywhere, we have a bunch of people ready to help you."

"Why are you doing this?" Jennifer asked.

"Because Jesus first loved us. We're paying it back," Jane said. "And, because we want to. You have no idea what you've done for us." She pointed toward the home. "Let's go inside. Pastor Nick will explain it all." She looked out the back window. "He's here now, too."

Weird, but Jennifer had to see what was going on. From the conversation with the women from the day before, she knew she could fit in here, but didn't know how to ask.

They got out of the van, and Jane lifted Andrew into her arms. Bill took Lacy's hand while Nick approached Jennifer. "I want you to have an open mind," Nick said, his hand going to her shoulder. "Let me know if this is overwhelming. I know about postpartum stuff because Renee had it. So let me know."

"No problem," Jennifer said. "Just tell me where we are?"

He smiled, but said nothing as he ushered her inside. Once Jennifer walked through the door, a bunch of people stood inside, holding a banner that said, 'Welcome Home.'

"Home?" Jennifer said. "This isn't my home."

A little old woman stepped forward. "It is now." She handed Jennifer the key. "I don't need it anymore and I want you to have it."

"It's your home?"

"Yes. But it's yours now. We'll finalize it after Christmas." She hugged Jennifer. "Just love it like I loved it. I'm so happy to give it to you, furnishings and all."

Jennifer backed away in awe and looked around the place. It was beautiful, done in tan, brown, and gold. "I want to pay you for it."

The woman patted Jennifer's hand. "Not necessary. I'm off to a nursing home in about an hour and can't wait." She chuckled. "My new rich boyfriend lives there." She headed for the door. "Thank you!"

"Come back to visit me?" Jennifer said.

"Oh, I will. I'd love to see how you like the place." And with that, the woman left.

"I have a home?" Jennifer asked Nick.

"Yes." He motioned toward a man. "This is Harry."

Jennifer shook his hand. "Hello, Harry."

"I'd like to offer you a job for whenever you're able. I need someone to do light office work. You can bring your baby with you until he can get into daycare."

"Are you sure?" she asked. "I used to be a secretary but haven't done that work for about five years now."

"You're exactly what I need." He grinned. "Welcome to my snow plow and landscaping business."

A woman stepped forward with six other women. "We're starting a daycare but need babysitting experience. We want to help you with Lacy and Andrew. We're all grandmas, and used to be teachers or nurses. Can we help you, free?"

"Free? But—"

"Yes, she wants help," Nick said. "Thank you. We'll finalize everything in a bit. But first, I want to take Jennifer to the kitchen."

"What for?" Jennifer asked.

"You'll see." He ushered her into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, the standalone freezer and pantries, showing her all the food filling every single nook and cranny.

"I have food?" she whispered. She couldn't believe it. "But why? I'm a stranger to all of you."

"You're one of us," Jane said. "When is your sister due in town?"

"She called me this morning and can't get away. I'm to drive out there."

"Stay here," Jane said. "See how you like it." She grabbed Nick's arm and pulled him closer. "You have a date tonight."

"A date?" Jennifer asked.

Nick chuckled. "If you'll go out with me. It was part of the deal."

"Deal?"

"Yes." He glanced over at Jane. "Someone wants me to practice dating and said you'd be perfect, or she'd make sure I'd be harassed every day for a year. But she didn't know I wanted to ask you out anyway, to see how you're doing. No pressure, no dating rules, but just friends."

Jennifer bit her lips to stop from laughing. "You've been roped into this?"

"Under my own will." He turned toward the other people. "It's time."

The group broke out into the song 'Joy to the World' and ushered Jennifer to a Christmas tree in the living room. The decorations were beautiful and tons of presents lay underneath the three.

"Those are for you, Andrew, and Lacy," Nick said, leaning closer, as the group kept singing.

Jennifer waited for the singing to stop, turned, and smiled at everyone. "Thank you so much. I can't thank you enough. The reason I thought God hated me was because none of my friends helped me back in Texas. They all turned their backs on me and I thought God had, too. But you've all shown me amazing love for a stranger. Thank you. God is real and wanted me to be here, after taking a wrong turn. Now I know why."

And so, Jennifer and her kids lived in Angel Bluffs. A year later, Nick proposed marriage and the young family still lives in the home Evelyn gave to Jennifer, since Evelyn is now touring the world with her newest husband, the millionaire Ernest D'Mangerio.

Jesus gave it all to us, to forgive our sins. In return, we can love others and help them in their journeys.


*** The End ***


 






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