By Patricia Backora, author of the book
Tough Love in Christ's Millennium
Which you can order online from: http://www.publishamerica.com
Tina’s knuckles were tight against the steering wheel as she circled round the vast parking lot of Super Dooper Toy Mart. Mustering her last ounce of patience, she patiently waited as a huge SUV inched ever so slowly backwards out of a tight parking space. But before she could snag the spot for herself, a blue pickup truck scooted backwards from the empty space opposite it. Tina honked and shouted at two bird dogs chained up in the truck bed. They had no idea what the fuss was all about. After another ten minutes, Tina finally got parked at the far end of the lot, during which time a furious rainstorm commenced. Her tears mingled with the rain as she grabbed a newspaper to cover her hair, grabbed her bag and raced to the store to grab one of the very last Macho Monsters Games for her seven-year-old son.
She flew through the aisles, dodging bulky bodies and whining kids in carts. There they were…or had been, on a big table display. Tina wove her way through the groaning, sweating mass of shoppers bogged down with bulging bags. One left…. Tina's hand shot through a tangle of arms and grabbed the coveted game. But a big beefy hand grabbed the opposite end of the cardboard box and a husky voice shouted: "I saw it first!"
"Oh, no you didn't!" Tina shouted. "It's MINE!" She looked up at a towering hulk of a woman who looked like a sumo wrestler. "But Travis was expecting this special gift, and surely Santa wouldn't disappoint him.
"Give it here!" the bigger woman cried.
"Not on your life!" Tina shouted. "Here…I'll give you fifty bucks to go choose something else. Let's don't fight over it."
"Make that a hundred," said the other woman. "My husband's here to protect me so you'd better not pick a fight with me."
Grumbling, Tina forked over the money and went to pay for the toy. When she got back to her car, she found a flat tire where she'd driven over a broken bottle. It took an hour to sort that situation out.
She went home and boiled some hot dogs for a quick and easy Christmas Eve meal. It was her turn to host the annual feed for the whole clan. Tina was way too worn out from stress and work to cook from scratch so they would provide a big Christmas feast purchased from their supermarket deli. By the time Tina had wrapped countless gifts for relatives and her own household and done multitudinous other boring chores, she was dead tired and collapsed in her bed.
Next morning the relatives began to troop into the house, bringing their cards and gifts and waiting to be fed and watered. Ned got up out of his favorite recliner and let Uncle Harry take a load off his feet. Ned let the older man have the remote. Immediately Uncle Harry shut out the world and tuned in to the Regional Pool Tournament. The whispered commentaries and gentle knocks of the pool cues soothed Harry to sleep…until he was woken up by the racket of excited children ripping open big boxes of toys and games. Tina held her breath. Travis was opening THE game, the one she had sacrificed and suffered so much to get.
"Hey, this ain't the one I wanted!" Travis cried. "This is the old Macho Monster from last year! I wanted The Macho Monster Mutant!"
Tina got in such a tiff with little Travis that Uncle Harry snapped to attention and said in his day a kid would have gotten belted for sassing a grown-up. Travis stomped on the monster game and Tina ordered him up to his room for time-out till dinner. The other children were banished outside while Harry dozed and the adults chattered over fruit cake and brandy.
Ned could feel the tension in the air. His mother sat on one side of the living room and Tina on the other. He noticed that intermittently Tina would suck in her cheeks as she talked or square her shoulders, hoping everyone would notice she had lost seven whole pounds since last year. Ned always told Tina he liked her the way she was, all curvy and vivacious. And who was his mother to talk anyway? She was no fashion model herself. Why did women have to be so vain anyway? Uncle Harry was a big comatose bump-on-a-log who just laid back in a chair and expected to be fed and entertained by the womenfolk, but at least he didn't have the energy to stir up strife and contention.
Presently somebody tapped on the door. Harry muttered: "Whozzat?"
Tina showed two ladies in. "Hello, we're from the Fire and Light Church and we'd like to leave these brochures with you. Do you know Jesus as Savior?"
Still in a fog Harry muttered: "Whozzat?"
The two women explained that Jesus had come to save sinners and explained to Uncle Harry that there was a heaven to be won and a hell to be avoided.
"If you gals wanna see hell," Uncle Harry laconically said, "just stick around till dinnertime."
"Just pray for this rowdy bunch," Tina told them as she showed them the door. "Christmas always brings out the worst in us."
Time for the grown-ups to swap gifts. Uncle Harry kept on snoring to the knock of cue balls as Sue, his wife, opened yet another pair of socks for him, yet another bottle of overpowering after shave. Ned's mother opened her gift from Tina…a set of sharp kitchen knives. She gave her daughter-in-law a vinegary smile, especially when Tina proceeded to open her carefully chosen gift.
Tina gritted her teeth as she announced: "Just what I've always wanted and needed, a copy of The Lettuce Lover's Diet! Oh, Mother Agnes, how very thoughtful of you!"
"It's supposed to take off ten pounds in two weeks," her mother-in-law primly replied.
It was the same at the dinner table. No sense bothering Uncle Harry to get up and join the fun. He just laid in front of the TV in the recliner, watching his pool tournament and chowing down on turkey with the works, washed down with beer. He knew better than to get within twenty feet of that dining table.
"Please pass the mashed potatoes," Tina whispered to Ned, ever so discreetly.
"What are you trying to do, turn your wife into the Goodyear Blimp?" his mother asked.
"Will you shut up, mother!" Ned said, exasperated. "Just eat your turkey."
"I can't, it's so tough you could throw a saddle on it and ride it."
"Well, blame Dipsey Doodle Supermarket!" Tina retorted. "And you're a fine one to talk about being fat." When she saw the hurt in Ned's eyes she cut herself short.
Another battle was raging. There were three little kids fighting over two drumsticks. Tina got so mad at them she took both drumsticks out to Uncle Harry and told them to shut up or they wouldn't get any dessert.
"This stuffing tastes like dry cardboard," little Travis moaned.
"And the potatoes are all lumpy," little Susie complained.
"Just eat, kids," Uncle Raymond admonished. "There's kids who are lucky to get one bowl of rice a day to eat."
"But they don't live in our neighborhood," Travis said.
Out came the desserts…mincemeat pie and pumpkin pie. "That doesn't look homemade, dear," said Tina's mother-in-law.
"I could say something, but I won't," Tina replied. "If I didn't love Ned so much, I'd sit here and reminisce over all the bombs that came out of your oven."
Ned rose from the table and began to shout: "I've had it up to here with you two sniping at each other! Mom, you don't have to cut Tina down to keep my love. It only makes me NOT love you! And Tina, who gives a flip what my mom says? If she isn't mature enough to be a loving person instead of a mean mother-in-law stereotype, you shouldn't pay any more attention to her than what a two-year-old says! Even if you weighed ninety pounds Mom would still call you fat and criticize your cooking! Now I'm drawing a line in the sand. Unless we all make this a table of love and keep it a table of love, I'm never again going to allow family get-togethers at this table ever again!"
"Why bother anyway?" Ned's sister-in-law asked. "Every year we go through the same old hassle with the traffic jams, massive credit card debt, knock-down-drag-outs at the dinner table…it's supposed to be all about Jesus, isn't it?"
"Whozzat?" little Travis said.
• * * * *
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