“I’m picked, Mom……I’m picked!” yelled Samantha as she flew in the back door.
"Don't you track mud on that linoleum, Samantha Stewart," warned her mother, "and leave those galoshes on the porch!" A minute later, regretting her sharpness, she inquired softly, "Picked for what?"
"For the play, Mom...For the school play...the nativity! I'm going to be an...angel!"
“An angel,” her mother repeated, “Think of that.” For a moment, a smile held the corners of her mouth, but the expression faded as grief overtook the suddenly desolate mother. Unbidden and unwelcome, memories of Christmas flooded Elizabeth Stewart’s heart. Nearly a year had passed since Bobby’s accident, but this would be their first Christmas without him. How could Christmas come without his chubby little fingers reaching for the brightest ornaments on the tree? How would she ever get through baking cookies or wrapping presents without his eager assistance? Elizabeth could almost hear him now, “I help you, Mommy....I help you, Mommy...”
Elizabeth willed herself to look up. Sammy’s eyes danced with anticipation. Swallowing hard, her mother made another attempt at a smile. This one caught––and held. “It’s wonderful news, dear, just wonderful. I’ll see what I can do about the costume.”
Sensitive all at once to Elizabeth’s preoccupation, Samantha looked up worriedly. “Are you sad again, Mommy? Are you missing Bobby?”
“Yes, Samantha, I am.”
“Me too,” said the little girl with a face suddenly eclipsed by sorrow. “I miss him too.”
A determined look lit Elizabeth’s face. With a brisk hug, she told her daughter, “You’re going to be the best angel they’ve ever seen at Mountain Crest Elementary...or anywhere else, for that matter! And Dad and I are going to be so proud of you.”
“I know you will,” said Sammy, brightening again, “and I’m going to be proud of me too, because....I get to talk! Only one angel gets to say words, and I’m the one! I get to say, “For unto you is born this day, in the City of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
The next couple of weeks had a renewed sense of purpose as the family prepared for Samantha’s play. In doing so, they were also preparing for a Christmas that seemed unimaginable, a Christmas the counselor had said would be part of their grieving process. It wasn’t easy, but the family was trying to go on, to be grateful for the things they had left in their lives, rather than dwelling on what (or who) was missing. It helped in some way to see Samantha so excited again, and it was clearly going to be a white Christmas. Their little girl was counting the days till Christmas Eve and her debut as an angel.
December 24 dawned cold and blustery. Elizabeth looked over at her husband, Jacob, and knew that he was remembering...reminding himself how life had changed for them. He was so quiet lately, but last night even he had been laughing as Samantha had “flown” over their living room and landed in a heap at his feet, angel wings askew. Elizabeth had to grin at the memory.
“You’d better get out and plow the driveway, dear. Looks like a storm might be coming in, and we can’t take a chance on getting stuck here. Our famous daughter would never forgive us if we made her late.”
“Did you hear that, Sam?” Jacob yelled down the hallway. “Your mom has you signing autographs already.” Sam giggled delightedly as her dad walked out the door. It was good to hear him joking again.
An hour later, as her father quit shoveling the walk, Samantha looked out and saw new snow swirling around him. “Come in and get warm,” her mother called out. “There’s a full scale alert!”
“Can we still get to the school?” Sam asked worriedly.
“I don’t see why not,” was the answer. “We’ve got chains, don’t we?” Jacob smiled.
To his wife, in a voice barely loud enough to hear, he added, “This is one time I wish we didn’t live out quite so far. We could have a rough trip.” Elizabeth nodded, her lips tightening imperceptibly. They HAD to make it.
The family dined early so they could get a good start. Sam’s moment had finally arrived. Down the stairs she glided, a vision in white. Her parents exchanged a misty glance. Sammy was always a beautiful child, but there was a special glow tonight. Something new...different.
“Why, you’re the most beautiful angel I’ve ever seen,” whispered Jacob. Elizabeth just gave her a kiss and a quick hug. How blessed they had been to feel the joy of Christmas in their home this year. She had not expected it, and was reminded of the faith she thought she had lost.
The whole family piled into the car and began singing Christmas carols. The sky was dark and threatening, but their hearts were light. Neither parent had ever seen Sam so excited. She was beside herself with enthusiasm for the part she would play and had practiced her lines until she knew every word backwards and forwards. Samantha was ready.
The singing continued right up until the moment disaster struck. Suddenly the car skidded and swerved off the road, into a large drift of newly fallen snow. At first they were frightened, but once the initial commotion was over, the mood shifted. No one was hurt, thank heavens, but Samantha’s dream was definitely in jeopardy. If they couldn’t get out, she was going to be heartbroken...and so were her parents.
“Are we still going to get there, Daddy?” she wailed.
“We’re sure going to try,” he answered, and jumped out to see what he could do. A couple of times it almost seemed as if the wheels were going to catch and lift them out of there, but 45 minutes later, they were still stuck.
“Old Ben’ll probably be by before long,” Elizabeth said hopefully.
“Yea,” said Jacob, “unless he’s at the school play.” That made everyone quiet.
As minutes passed, and as realization and finality set in, Samantha’s eyes filled with tears. “I’m not going to be the angel,” she cried. “I’m not going to be the angel at all. And no one knows my part except Sarah Johnson, so she’ll get to be it - And she got to do it last year.” Choking on a sob, Samantha put down her head and wept. By now, her parents were ready to join her. How could it all have turned out so wrong?
Praying for immediate help, Elizabeth looked up at the stars. The night was cold, but the snow had finally stopped, and the sky was as clear as she could remember seeing it. In that moment, looking up in the heavens for strength, her mind and spirit cleared too. It was as if they were somehow suspended in time, caught between the joy that could have been and the sorrow that was, the life that had been lost and the life that remained. Sad thoughts, and yet, there was a stillness too...a deep, comforting peace she’d been longing for... praying for. What were those words in John she’d been reading the other day? “I will not leave you comfortless,” the Savior had promised. I will come to you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” Old words took on new meaning as the message pierced her heart. With a slow spin, Elizabeth’s world righted itself. Things were going to be okay. In fact, they already were.
“You know what, Sam?” Elizabeth spoke reverently. “We’re out in the fields, just like the shepherds were when angels came to tell them about Christ’s birth. I’ve been imagining how they must have felt that night, way out in the middle of nowhere, just like we are. Maybe it was dark and quiet and cold, like it is here. Maybe they were even afraid, or sad, or really disappointed. But then, something happened...That one bright star...A miracle, it must have seemed. Do you think they noticed it right away? Were they marveling at its brilliance....wondering what made it stand out from all the rest? Could they tell that night was special...different from any other? Did they fall on their knees when they saw angels on high and heard them singing? I have to believe they did--And you know what, Sammy? When I close my eyes, I can almost hear them myself: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men.”
For a few moments, no one said anything. It was as if the entire Stewart family were holding its breath, waiting (like the shepherds had so long ago) for something to happen. Then, the silence was broken, as one very small angel stood up on the seat of the car and said, in a voice deepened by new understanding, “For unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
Elizabeth caught her breath as Jacob reached over and took her hand. She had never felt Christmas so deeply, and a rush of joy filled her very soul. “We’re going to be all right,” she thought. Samantha, Jacob, and (yes...she knew it now ...) Bobby, too. Bobby was safe...and warm...and waiting.
Lovingly, Elizabeth pulled Samantha into her arms and looked deeply into her eyes. “Thank you, Sam,” she whispered. “We HAVE seen an angel tonight. You couldn’t have done it more beautifully.” Jacob nodded his agreement.
It wasn’t long before old Ben came by and pulled their station wagon out of the snow. “You missed a first-rate nativity,” he said. “Too bad.” And it should have been too bad, but the Stewarts just couldn’t help smiling at one another. It was almost like having a secret, because something had changed for them that night...something they hadn’t counted on. I guess you could say those Stewarts found out something pretty important....or maybe they just remembered. You see, it wasn’t being in the Christmas play that brought peace and happiness back to their home. It was being in the Christmas spirit.