Sammy’s stomach ached with hunger. He was used to that feeling, the hollow emptiness in the pit of his stomach, but today it seemed worse. An icy wind whipped down the street, sending a chill down his spine and rattling broken window panes in abandoned houses not yet boarded up. He pulled his thin jacket tighter around himself and hurried home.
His mother was in the kitchen holding her hands near the stove as she waited for their meager supper to warm. Sammy didn’t have to look to know that the skin on her hands was bleeding and cracked again.
She dumped the watery soup into two bowls and Sammy joined her at the table. Performing the ritual of bowing his head as his mother prayed, he inwardly felt that if God gave his mother half the attention she gave Him, she’d at least have a pair of gloves. Though she worked long hours as a dishwasher, the pay barely made ends meet, and the work left her hands dry and chapped.
The next morning, while his mother was at work, Sammy decided to walk around the neighborhood in an attempt to keep warm. But try as he might, he couldn’t keep the snow from drifting into the ripped soles of his sneakers and desperately tried to ignore the burning pain in his toes. He entered a store just to get warm, but couldn’t help staring at a can of beef stew. His mother taught him never to steal, but the clerk wasn’t looking, and he could always tell his mother he’d found some money on the street.
Sammy’s heart pounded but the growling in his stomach outweighed his conscience. He grabbed the can and started for the door. He heard the clerk yell and broke into a run, but collided with a man entering the store.
“What seems to be the hurry?” the man laughed.
The clerk grabbed Sammy’s arm. “He’s a thief, that’s his hurry!”
The man saw the fear in the Sammy’s eyes, the taunt skin stretched over his thin face, and the can of beef stew clasped in his hand. “Well, it’s not stealing if I pay for it, now is it?” he said.
Sammy held his breath. The thought of the hurt and disappointment in his mother’s eyes crippled his soul. He swayed slightly, the store was getting blurry, and he cursed himself for exerting the energy to run.
“Are you all right, son?”
The man’s words broke through Sammy’s consciousness. They were standing outside. The cold air seemed to have revived him. Sammy nodded.
“Why don’t you come with me,” the man said. “I’m the pastor of a church not far from here. I was about to eat lunch and I hate eating alone.”
The thought of food was too much for Sammy to resist and he followed the pastor to the little church. A Christmas tree decorated the sanctuary and above it was a sign that read: Tree of Giving.
“What’s a Tree of Giving?” Sammy asked.
“Well, people write something on a card, drop it in the box, and after our Christmas Eve service, receive a gift from under the tree.”
“Oh,” Sammy stared wistfully at the tree.
Sammy winced as he walked up to the tree. His toes were so cold that each step was wrenched in agony. How he wished for a pair of new sneakers. He scrawled on the card and dropped it in the box.
“Mom, can we go to church on Christmas Eve?” Sammy asked when his mother returned from work.
His mother’s tired face broke into a smile and Sammy felt a twinge of guilt at his motives.
Though he could barely contain his excitement at the prospect of opening gifts afterwards, Sammy listened to the sermon. The Pastor spoke of how 2000 years earlier, Jesus had hung on a cross -the ultimate Tree of Giving- to pay the price for sin. Sammy had heard the story before, but this time it made sense, reminding him of how the Pastor had paid for the can of stew that he’d stolen. At the end of the message, when the Pastor invited anyone to recite the sinner’s prayer, Sammy prayed along.
Finally, the time to open gifts arrived and Sammy hurried forward. He found the package he was looking for and raced back to his mother.
His mother looked at him in surprise. Tears welled up in her eyes as she discovered a pair of gloves.
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