“Ding-dong, Ding-dong,” the church bells became louder as she regained her normal awake mode. It wasn’t Sunday, so why all the fuss?
She had chosen this locality last Spring, it being free of children’s screams or loud snoring of close neighbors. She could tolerate church bells once a week, especially since she arose early that day anyway to walk to the city, taking advantage of the surplus foraging available. People were generous on Sundays, their piety urging their thoughts to the needy.
It was winter, when the hardened cold ground seeped through her thin mattress. She was proud of her ingenuity at THAT find—a lucky break when a mattress factory had dumped the “imperfects” in an outdoor bin. It was a chore balancing the twin size form on her rickety wagon, but it had been worth it.
“Chime, CHIME, chime, CHIME!”
Her curiosity overwhelmed her learned sense of caution. She HAD to travel back into the city on this sleety morning. She hadn’t been there for two months, instead searching more convenient haunts for discarded food and bare necessities.
Bertie exited her cardboard dwelling, careful to hide her laundry-bagged possessions in a an old hollow log crevice. The sun’s rays were a gift, warming her on the journey. Reminiscing while she walked, her rickety wagon trailing behind her, Bertie daydreamt about an incident from her “first” life, when she had pulled her young children through a snowy pine forest to find the perfect Christmas tree, singing and giggling and prattling about Santa. She allowed herself the luxury of this memory only momentarily, knowing the pain of her present life’s return to reality would otherwise be unbearable.
Her eyes darting around, she scoped the landscape, not wanting to miss an opportune discovery. She began thinking about the warm luncheon that awaited her at the Mission Soup Kitchen, where she would catch up on the latest news from fellow peers.
Perspiring under her multi-layered clothing, Bertie was glad to see the red roof of the popular rescue kitchen. Strange; usually she could see a line of bedraggled humanity waiting for the open door to promised refuge. Trudging up to the building, she noticed a Christmas-lit wreath hanging on the doorknob with a handwritten placard underneath:
“CLOSED CHRISTMAS DAY. FREE meals at Happy Grove Church.”
Bertie noticed multi-colored lights on every building in sight. She thought it very scenic, snow-covered peaks and decorations and the church with stained glass windows winking reflections while the spire bell, ringing away, sported a huge red bow with streamers gently moving as the chimes began anew.
The last time she had set foot in a church was at Sue Ellen and Chris’ funeral, the twins’ airplane having crashed during a fatal storm. She shivered as the scenes flooded back through her soul. The caskets, the scents of floral arrangements, relatives and friends and other mourners, and two still bodies lying peacefully in repose. Sue Ellen and Chris, the joys of her past life. Her husband left soon after, not able to tolerate Bertie’s erratic behaviors that grew worse each successive year, and still today she could not blame him. She turned away from God then, and, unable to cope with financial woes, moved onto the streets, the exercises of survival shutting out the past’s realities.
Feeling forlorn, worthless and desperate, Bertie joined the line at the wreath-donned side door to the church, where she could already smell the roasted turkey, while her imagination conjured up the mouth-watering side dishes. She determined to eat and leave. Once inside, other street friends joined her at a simply decorated table. While they were eating and talking, a man took the empty seat beside her. She appraised him out of the corner of her eye. He APPEARED to be one of them, but there was something different . . .
After they had eaten, their bellies full to overflowing, the man introduced himself as “Friend Dan” and stood up to make an announcement to the crowd:
“We would like to thank you for sharing your Christmas Day with us. If you enjoyed this repast, I ask you to all come into the church sanctuary to give God thanks.”
That began the growing experience of Bertie’s third life on earth, because as she listened to the simple story of Jesus’ birth, a great conviction filled her of God’s love and protection flowing through her, finally melting the pain and grief away.
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