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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Christmas Cards (11/06/08)

TITLE: God Unties My Shoe
By Jan Ackerson


I leave for my jog on a clear April morning with the usual thought: Please don’t let her be outside. It isn’t exactly a prayer, because it’s entirely selfish—so call it an appeal to luck. I just don’t want to have to stop and talk to Sharon.

Sharon lives three houses down, in a dingy white house with blue shutters. There’s something wrong with her—I don’t know what it is, exactly, but whatever it is makes me want to avoid her whenever possible. I heard this in church once: you may be the only Jesus some people will ever meet. Sharon is the person that it is hardest for me to be Jesus for.

She’s largely unwashed—her black hair hangs greasily to her shoulders, framing a pasty and blotched face. Some unfortunate hormonal imbalance has peppered her chin with a smattering of dark whiskers. Every time I’ve seen her, she’s worn the same stretch pants, probably once a garish shade of orange but now both faded and stained, a color without a name. They strain over her lumpy stomach and thighs, topped by a graying tee-shirt that may once have been white.

I know what you’re thinking—I hate that I’m so superficial. I think I could handle the grime and the smell, I really do, but Sharon’s impossible to talk to. I can’t understand her; she mutters, and a speech impediment thickens her consonants, and she simply…won’t…stop…babbling. Once cornered by Sharon, I can’t resume my jog for ten minutes or more, until I finally pull away with a forced smile--“Gotta go, Sharon! See you later!”

How does she even know my name? I’ve never been able to figure it out, but it wasn’t long after we moved to this neighborhood that she flagged me for the first time. I’ve spent every morning since then planning my jog times for the least likelihood of a Sharon encounter—and hating myself for being such a lousy Christian.

So here I am—barely thirty strides from home—when I notice an untied shoelace. I stop to remedy the situation, and in the early morning stillness I realize two things: I am in front of Sharon’s house, and someone is crying inside. Oh, no. Oh, no. I have to go in there, don’t I, Lord? I look around for backup—a wandering social worker, perhaps. None appears. Here I go, Lord. You with me?

I tap lightly on the door; Sharon calls out, an unrecognizable syllable that clearly means help. The door swings open, and there she is, on the floor in her stretch pants and tee-shirt, her leg splayed at an alarming angle. My cell phone is in my pocket—I call 911 and then sit on the floor next to Sharon, who is now whimpering pitifully. I’m no medical professional, but her injury looks survivable. I take her hand and say shhhhhh, now and peek around her small living room while we wait for the ambulance.

It’s neater than I’d imagined it, yet sparsely furnished. Plain white walls, unadorned—and then my eyes fall on a Christmas card, taped above the shabby sofa. I sent that card…

…Tom and I had only just moved in, the first weekend of December, and the president of the Neighborhood Association had stopped by with gingerbread cookies, the Homeowners’ Guidelines, and a list of names and addresses. In our eagerness to demonstrate our Christian Hospitality, we’d sent Christmas cards to everyone on the list: Tom’s own design, with the message …and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, signed Love, Tom and Jill Zimmerman…

…And now the card accuses me—but Sharon follows my gaze and smiles a watery smile. “I save dat card, Jill,” she says. “It so pretty. No one never send me no card before. But what dat means, Word became flesh?” She shifts on the floor, grips my hand tighter, and winces.

My breath catches somewhere between my heart and my throat. I can hear a siren coming nearer, nearer, nearer. “Let’s get you to the hospital,” I say. “I’ll come in a few minutes, okay?”

The paramedics help Sharon onto a gurney, and I’m left standing on her faded rag rug. I gently pull the Christmas card from her wall and tuck it into my pocket. The card pokes my leg at every step as I walk home, planning a way to be Jesus for Sharon.

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This article has been read 1272 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Sally Hanan11/13/08
You pegged me way too easily...that description alone of Sharon should win you placement.
Debbie Roome 11/13/08
This really touched my heart. What a powerful message and a reminder to not avoid the Sharons in our lives.
Leigh MacKelvey11/13/08
Your description of Sharon reminded me of so many people
who may not look exactly like her, but who are just as misplaced in this world of "perfection". And just like the MC we want to avoid
them becuase we feel so uncomfortable. I. too, was touched by Sharon and her single christmas card.I could feel so much emotion reading the words that showed us the picture of that card taped in her house for all those years. Great writing and a creative story.
Sharlyn Guthrie11/14/08
Convicted! Superb writing, engaging story and timely message.
Joanne Sher 11/15/08
So poignant, and such an incredible wakeup call to those of us afraid of those "untouchables." Excellent characterization and descriptions.
Angela M. Baker-Bridge11/16/08
This story begins with a perfect title and never lets the reader down. Well done!
Lynda Schultz 11/17/08
Can't we all identify with this? Well done.
LauraLee Shaw11/17/08
Oh my goodness, this story stands to accuse ME! Wow. This has got to be a favorite of mine ever. REally hit me in all the right places, because I think my mom may have been that person to some. AND, I can think of someone I know who reminds me almost exactly of Sharon as well. Wow.
Carole Robishaw 11/17/08
There isn't really anything more I can add. This was very convicting. An excellent job.
Dianne Janak11/18/08
Oh wow... the Sharon in my life is actually a Sharon... thanks for this. Conviction has set in.. the takeaway from this story probably won't ever GO away! AND that's a good thing... ! :)
Marijo Phelps11/18/08
Very real and a struggle we have all had. I am sure Sharon is thanking God for you and the Lord giving you an open door.
Diana Dart 11/18/08
Yowsa, this was good. The descriptions were.... vivid to say the least. Love the line "my breath catches somewhere between my heart and my throat"... did I say vivid? The tense work well too - makes the whole story more real to the reader.
Celeste Ammirata11/18/08
Great descriptions of Sharon and of the guilty turmoil of the MC. A message we would all do well as Christians to heed. Wonderful!
Betty Castleberry11/18/08
This is so touching. I really felt sympathy for Sharon.

One thing I didn't understand...why did your MC remove the card at the end?
Maybe I'm just dense.

Anyway, it is an expertly written story, and very enjoyable. Buncha stars from me.
Laury Hubrich 11/19/08
Oh wow. I love this! Awesome story. I love your description of this woman, too. Excellent writing.
Marlene Austin11/19/08
Beautiful piece. Expertly written. :)
Dee Yoder 11/19/08
Oh man, this is awesome, Jan. Such right and true descriptions. Wow.
Catrina Bradley 11/19/08
I can so relate to your MC; I've had similar thought and whispered similar selfish prayers. She appears to actually be the only Jesus Sharon has met, just like the MC had heard. A very convicting story.
Loren T. Lowery11/19/08
It was a prayer, Sharon's prayer answered by God. Even though I don't know her, I wanted to reach out and help, too. This was simply beautiful and shows how God can convict us in the most amazing ways.
Chrissi Dunn11/19/08
Brilliant descriptions. I could just picture Sharon. The verse on the card said it all - We're called to act as examples of Jesus whilst dwelling among people such as these.
Verna Cole Mitchell 11/19/08
Jan, this poignantly convicting story is too good not to be published.
Connie Dixon11/19/08
Really great story. I'm sure we've all had some 'Sharons' in our lives. It's interesting that it's sometimes those people who bring us closer to God. Thanks for this awesome entry.
Pamela Kliewer11/19/08
Jan, thank you. Your story is superb and did bring conviction. I agree, this needs to be published.
Leah Nichols 11/20/08
Ouch! That one hurts! Of course, that's cause it hits me right where I need to be poked....Excellent story. Definitely a winner. :)
Anne Linington11/20/08
This relates so much to my work with Adults with learning disabilities; but as I seek to be Christ for them, I am often knocked back by finding they reveal Christ to me. "inasmuch as you did/ did not do it for one of the least of these brothers of mine you did/ did not do it to me" Matthew 25v31 onwards- this Sunday's lectionary reading.
Yvette Roelofse11/21/08
A compelling, evocative story that make so many of wince a little. Wonderful writing.
Debra Martinez11/23/08
I have yet to read a story you have written without wishing I had your skills and heart. I had grown weary of trying, but I think I'll get back up on that horse one more time. Thank you for a wonderful blessing of a story. Great job.