When I finally returned to the small town in which I'd grown up, it had become a large town, some might even say a small city. According to the phone book, my mother still lived in the home I grew up in, no surprise considering her rigid ways.
My stomach churned as I drove toward the old neighborhood, but dropped utterly as I approached, finding an ambulance in front, a stretcher fully covered by a sheet being carried toward it, and a young woman with an infant in her arms weeping desolately. If she noticed me at all, she probably assumed that I was the average curious driver passing such a scene. Numb, I returned to my hotel.
What if it wasn't as I presumed? How could I find out? If I was right, the irony of returning after thirty-five years only to be too late nearly squeezed in to a dead lump of clay the heart God had so recently softened and tenderly shaped.
I hadn't kept in touch with anyone, not even my closest girlfriend, Fay. Might she still live in town? Her family name was not listed, so I decided to call my childhood church to see if they knew what had become of her. My plan imploded, though, when I heard the elderly voice on the other end of the line.
"Good morning. Good News Church--this is Mrs. Caldwell."
I had figured she would have retired years ago. My lips moved, but nothing came out.
"M-Mrs. Caldwell, this is Sharon Petersen." There was a long silence.
"Goodness, my dear, it has been a long time."
"yes--I--um--God finally got hold of me, and I needed to come home--but I saw an ambulance..."
"Oh, Sharon," her voice cracked. "Your mom did go home to the Lord just this morning."
"I had hope, somehow, that I was wrong..."
"Please come over to the church, dear."
"I don't know... Perhaps it would be better if I just returned to Chicago."
"No, Sharon, God didn't bring you to this point, at this time, just to turn around and leave."
The warmth and assurance in her voice touched me, and I headed for the church.
After a long hug, Mrs. Caldwell turned and introduced me to the same young woman with the infant that I had seen at the house. "This is Mandy James and her son Marcus. Mandy, this is Esther's daughter, Sharon."
Hello, Mandy. Are you a neighbor?"
"No... I guess you could say that we were taking care of each other. New Hope Pregnancy Center introduced me to your mom when I thought my only choice was..." Mandy shuttered as she looked down at her son. "She made it possible for me to have the hope that saved Marcus' life, but she also needed someone..."
My eyes brimmed. "I hadn't found a "New Hope" when Jack abandoned me in Chicago in 1973."
"please come back to the house. We have a lot of things to share, I think."
Crossing the threshold was like stepping out of time. Little had changed, just faded. As I tried to get comfortable on the lumpy sofa, Mandy brought me a tall glass of iced tea, and an old shoe box. "I need to put Marcus down for a nap, but this is for you."
I removed the lid. Inside, tied in a pink ribbon, was a thick stack of what looked to be greeting cards. The one on top simply had "1973" on the envelope. With trembling fingers, I slipped it out of the ribbon and slid a Christmas card out of the envelope. On the inside left was a hand-written note.
I had hoped that you might have forgiven my harsh and disappointed words and at least sent me an address to write to. I would so love to see a photograph of you, even Jack, and my first grandchild. I pray that your little family has gotten settled somewhere, and that God is providing all of your needs."
Without thinking, my hand reached for the end table, returning with the tissue I knew I would find there. They piled up as I read of my mom's burgeoning outreach to other rejected daughters, through thirty-five years of unsent Christmas cards. The love I'd missed hiding behind her angry words finally reached me.
When Mandy returned, I gave her a big hug. "My family has grown. I hope you'll introduce me to some of my other sisters, nieces and nephews."
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