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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Christmas Gifts (11/13/08)

TITLE: Who Would Have Thought?
By Deborah Engle


Owen watched his 13 year-old son collect several duffel bags and head inside. Tony’s subdued attitude reminded Owen of his own grief. Facing this first Christmas without his wife, Sherry, would have been unbearable in their own home. Anywhere else, the inescapable carols, decorations, and celebrations only intensified their pain. Coming here to his brother’s cabin would be a welcome reprieve.

Exceptionally mild temperatures made their exploration quite pleasant as they later walked about the property. A trail leading into the woods looked inviting, and they turned in. Beams of sunshine seemed to follow them, illuminating the whiteness of the birch trees, the soft green of the spruce boughs and the mingled colors of the fallen leaves. Their hurting hearts were not able to acknowledge the beauty, but their thirsty spirits welcomed the tranquil scene.

Finding a stick that appealed to him, Tony idly carried it with him as he led the way. It was only a short distance until the trail opened up again, revealing a small lake. A fallen log beckoned to them and they sat, enjoying the view and listening to the subtle sounds of nature all around them.

“It’s easy to see why Uncle Warren fell in love with this place,” Owen commented.

Tony agreed. “I like it.”

The distant tolling of a church bell took them by surprise. “Oh yeah, Warren did mention something about church bells.” Once they looked, it wasn’t hard to spot the white church with the steeple across the lake. Soon, the tolling changed to music and the notes of a familiar song gradually became clear. Tony froze, then slowly stood up, dropped his stick, and retreated back up the path.

Several minutes later, a miserable Owen stepped inside the cabin. Through the bedroom door, the muffled sobs of his son tore at his heart, and he cried out to God. How can I help him when I’m barely hanging on myself?

An hour later, Tony emerged from his room. They ate a quiet supper, then endured an awkward gift exchange.

“Thanks for the MP3 player, Dad. It’s just like the one my friend Joe has.”

“Good. He’ll be able to show you how to use it …haha. …and thank you for the wallet. I needed a new one.”

They called it a night soon afterwards.

The next morning, Owen was startled awake by the slamming of the door, and the stomping of boots, accompanied by “Dad, get up. You gotta see this!”

“What’s wrong?” Owen called as he threw back the covers.

“You won’t believe it. You gotta see!”

As soon as Owen opened his door, Tony pointed him to the window. Rubbing a clear spot on the frost-covered glass, Owen was amazed to see a foot of bright white snow on the ground.

“And guess what else! There’s cross-country skis in the shed. Let’s go!

Owen, still confused by the drastic changes confronting him, was overwhelmed by the joy and excitement exuding from his son. Laughing, he said, “Sure, but maybe I should get dressed first.”

Three hours later, two thoroughly chilled skiers returned to the cabin. Within a few minutes they were both settled in front of the fire. Owen looked at his son and saw more than the exhilaration and fatigue of their adventure. Something else had changed. He had to find out.

“It’s good to see you enjoying this. After last night, I didn’t know…”

Tony’s expression grew serious. “Last night…that song…Mom’s favorite hymn-especially after she got sick. It made me sad. Later though, I remembered some of the words…’when I rise to that City of peace…peace, peace, wonderful peace…sweep over my spirit…billows of love.”

His eyes were deep pools as he worked to express his thoughts. “Well, that’s what she did-she went to heaven-the City of peace. She’s up there pain-free, surrounded by clouds of love and peace. Those are all good things. I can’t bring her back, but I can accept that she’s gone to a better place.”

Tears rolled down Owen’s face unchecked. Such simple words, but somehow his spirit was touched. He could see Sherry’s face, peaceful and beaming. He could hear her voice, softly singing the chorus of this very song. and he felt his grief fade away to be replaced with peace-wonderful peace.

Christmas day-the holiday he had dreaded all year. Who would have thought it would be the day he received the very thing that had eluded him for months? Peace, the best gift of all.

Wonderful Peace Copyright, 1920, by W.G. Cooper. Renewal. Hope Publishing Co., owner

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This article has been read 609 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Marita Vandertogt11/21/08
This flowed well... I like how the dialogue between the two carried the story to a hope filled ending. Good job.
Joanne Sher 11/22/08
Excellent job on the interaction between the two men. You did a wonderful job of showing the emotion they were experiencing, and the truth they came to know through that wonderful song.
Verna Cole Mitchell 11/22/08
This is a masterfully written story. I couldn't wait to read each new line and was rewarded with a wonderful conclusion.
Teresa Lee Rainey11/26/08
For me, this was not too depressing at all. I truly developed empathy for your characters and appreciated the story from beginning to end.
Loren T. Lowery11/26/08
As someone who recently lost their mother, this comes at a very special time. This piece is beautifully and respectfully written and it brings up not just one perfect gift of the season, but two. One being perfect peace, the other hope and the gratitude to those who share its promise.
Catrina Bradley 11/26/08
A well-told story. The emotions are genuine - you choked me up, especially toward the end when Tony reveals his feelings of hope to his dad. No, not too depressing at all. One of my faves this week.