My Christmas Miracle
Late afternoon that Christmas Eve, I paced from room to room opening and closing closet doors, searching everywhere like a mama dog that had recently lost her pups to adoption.
I don’t know what I was looking for because the only thing I wanted had just driven away with their dad. My sons, Michael and Patrick were spending their first Christmas at his new house. I was spending mine alone.
I wandered into the kitchen to start the tea kettle and noticed our cat in a tangled mess on the hardwood floor. Mittens had knocked down one of the Christmas cards taped to the kitchen door.
She was in a frenzy trying to shake off a small card stuck to her forepaw and the more she jerked and twisted her paw, the more tangled up she became. I sat on the floor murmuring sweet nothings until she stopped flailing and I could help peel away the tape.
The card was from my new pastor, Ruth. I had received it that morning mixed in with Christmas greetings from the gas and electric companies who wished me a joyous season even though I owed them money.
Ruth’s card stood out because it was so simple. The size of a small note card, it was all white except for a tiny detailed etching of a baby in a manger. Below the etching the word love was written in script so fine it looked like a whisper.=
The card was blank inside except for Ruth’s handwritten message.
Merry Christmas, Margaret.
My gift to you is Luke 1:37.
I had no idea what Luke 1:37 was and smiled at her attempt to get me to read the Bible. She had snuck a Bible into my mailbox that summer and wedged it sideways on top of my bills and free offers for a cleaner furnace and a firmer me.
Her yellow sticky note on the cover said, “Read me 15 minutes a day.” It reminded me of Alice in Wonderland’s note, Drink Me, and I wondered what would happen if I read it.
Of course, I didn’t read it. How was I supposed to read the Bible three months after my fifteen year marriage ended? I couldn’t focus enough to read how to microwave a frozen pizza.
I opened Ruth’s card again. My gift to you is Luke 1:37. I couldn’t ask her what it meant because she was working on a mission in Paraguay for the holidays. I closed her card and taped it back on the kitchen door where I had been displaying cards every Christmas for the last 15 years.
This year, all the cards just ticked me off. Cheery Santas and family photos with Labrador retrievers looked fake as a cheap toupee. I stared at all of them trying to find some joy, something that might help me feel less alone and when they began to blur into one giant Christmas card, I realized that for the first time I my life, I didn’t know what to do.
I had been the fixer all my life and I couldn’t fix my marriage.
I knew I’d fall apart if I didn’t get out of my empty house so I rushed to dress for a walk hoping the frigid Minnesota temperatures would numb my pain.
Within 20 minutes, I realized I had underestimated the biting cold which was probably why I hadn’t seen another sole out walking. My fingertips felt like I had dipped them in scalding water. Before frostbite set in I knew I needed to find a place to get warm.
I was grateful to see a few boutiques open for Christmas Eve shoppers and slipped into a renovated bungalow called The Hunt Queens.
An overhead bell chimed as I walked into a Wonderland. Tiny white fairy lights twinkled everywhere like a Christmas forest filled with fireflies. Tables were set with bountiful displays of all the trimmings: heart shaped shortbread cookies piled high on vintage cut glass platters, sterling bowls heaped with pomegranates, gold tipped pine cones nestled in pine boughs.
A stunning blonde woman dressed in a winter white wool pantsuit was humming “O Come All Ye Faithful” along with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Her rich scarlet lipstick was a stark contrast to her white suit. “Merry Christmas!” she exclaimed. “Were you out walking in this?” Her hand flew to her face and I noticed her manicured nails painted the same scarlet red.
I looked like a refugee from Siberia. In my hurry to get out of the house, I had grabbed my son’s woolen ski cap and pulled it down past my eyebrows and wrapped a ratty old scarf around my face to protect my nose.
“I heard it’s almost -32 with the wind chill,” she continued as I peeled away the scarf. I hated looking so crappy at Christmas. I wanted to look as lovely as she did. I wanted to be wearing makeup, a designer suit and killer heels.
“Oh, I just felt like going for a walk with all the activity at my house. My kids have a few friends over playing Nintendo and I needed some quiet.”
A big fat lie.
The same as the ones I told everyone about how happy our marriage was.
She offered me some hot cider which I gratefully took to warm my fingers. I noticed her merchandise, a combination of old and new and felt like I could have been in my own living room. Vintage floral oil paintings, antique crystal chandeliers and mirrors in gilt frames looked similar to my own.
“Have you been in the store before?” she asked.
“No, but, I’ve been hearing about it. I collect antiques and love things that tell a story.” I walked towards a blue painted cabinet filled with lush linens, all shades of white.
“Are you looking for anything in particular?”
I suppressed an urge to ask if she had any husbands for sale in the back room who meant “forever” when they said it.
“Hey, if you like things with a story, you might like this painting I just put out this very morning.”
She turned around to remove it from the wall and held it in both hands to appraise it. “It’s an old watercolor. Reminds me of one of those Home Sweet Home paintings.” She stretched out her arms to examine it at a distance. “Although, I’ve never seen this expression before.”
I sipped my cider and approached her to look at it but she stepped in front of me to grab a dust cloth. She laid the painting on the counter face up. “Apparently, it’s a piece of scripture. I called my business partner this morning and asked her to look it up in her Bible.”
She wiped the glass. “I wasn’t familiar with it, but maybe you are. My partner said it’s from Luke 1:37.”
I put my cup down and held my breath.
I pictured my cat, my card from Ruth.
“Did you say, Luke 1:37?” I sounded like I had laryngitis. I unzipped my jacket and fanned my face with my scarf.
“Yeah, that’s what the painting is.” She turned it to face me. “See?”
I reached out and touched the glass. It was an old watercolor with a soft creamy background stained in a few spots where someone might have spilled tea. About thirty inches wide and ten inches tall, the painting was surrounded by a half-inch wooden frame painted white, chipped and worn on the edges.
The main body of the painting was a tranquil blue sea and if you looked closely to where the sea met the horizon, the artist painted three vertical black lines, a half inch tall, masts of sailboats miles from shore, deadlocked in a windless sea.
Deadlocked. Like me.
And, there it was. Ruth’s Christmas gift. Luke 1:37.
In four inch Gothic letters, the artist had painted:
With God Nothing Shall Be Impossible
I stared at the painting, unbelieving, but believing at the same time. I remembered when a magician pulled the entire Queen of clubs marked with my signature out of his wallet after I had signed it and ripped it into tiny pieces.
I took it out of her hands. I needed to feel its weight to make sure it was real. I barely heard her as she continued. “I almost kept it myself because I like the message, something good to remember, don’t you think?”
I bought it and carried it home.
After searching for an hour, I found the Bible from Ruth at the bottom of my laundry basket. I looked up Luke 1:37 just to be sure. But as I flipped the pages, I knew it would be there exactly like the painting and when I found it, I caressed the words and read them over and over.