Miracle in a Dry Season    Dangerous Passage


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The Advocate


Karen KingsburyKAREN KINGSBURY (Someday, Between Sundays):
My dad started us on a tradition of Christmas caroling when I was eight years old. We’ve carried it through to this day, taking our kids now to the houses of family and friends and caroling a few days before Christmas.

Jerry B. JenkinsJERRY JENKINS (Riven, Midnight Clear):
Birth of son Chad 12/20/77 and receiving black cowboy boots as a 6-year-old . . . not sure why. Just thrilled me.


Sibella GiorelloSIBELLA GIORELLO (The Rivers Runs Dry, The Stones Cry Out):
Our Christmases in Alaska were spent skiing in the mountains. At dusk the sky turned the color lavender, the snow blushed pink, and you felt like you were living inside the perfect Christmas carol.

Deborah RaneyDEBORAH RANEY (Leaving November, Remember to Forget):
I’ve always loved Christmastime, but one memory stands out from all the others. It’s such a simple thing, and I’m not really sure why it’s remained such a clear image in my mind. I grew up on a farm and attended a small country church. Our family’s tradition was to attend the Christmas Eve program and then come home to open our presents. This particular Christmas, when I must have been about seven or eight, we’d had a beautiful snow. Daddy was bringing the car around for us to load up and go to the Christmas Eve service. I got dressed before my four siblings and walked outside to wait for him. The air was still and the snow glistened under the yellow glow of the barnyard light. I looked back at our farmhouse that my great-grandfather had built, and saw the lights from our Christmas tree twinkling in the window. I remember looking up into the starry night sky and seeing one bright, huge star that looked like it could have shone over the Baby Jesus’ manger. I had such a sense of peace and of God’s presence in that moment...and I think I realized for the first time, how very blessed I was to have a loving family, a cozy home, and Jesus living in my heart. It was a magical moment and one I recall nearly every Christmas Eve.

Lisa SamsonLISA SAMSON (Romancing Hollywood Nobody, Embrace Me):
"Believe it or not, one of my favorite Christmases occurred the year my eldest daughter, Ty, was born. 1989. She was five weeks old. My brother and sister couldn't come back home that year so it was only Will and I, the baby, my parents and my aunt. I was sicker than a pop princess after a night on the town. I couldn't eat the crabcakes my mom made, could do little more than lay on the big sectional sofa. But it was warm and cozy, I dozed on and off, the tree lights twinkled and I had this sweet, new, wonderful person to share Christmas with. And when I had to run off to the bathroom, or fell asleep, there wasn't a person in that apartment that wouldn't be delighted to hold her. Both my parents have passed away now, Dad in 1993, Mom in 2001. I think that memory is so special because the day was unique, not blurred in with other more normal Christmases. And I had my parents. And we were celebrating two babies that day.

Karen BallKAREN BALL (What Lies Within, The Breaking Point):
One of our founding church members, Willard Clark, was an orchard manager here in the valley. (Harry and David, the nationally known fruit company—think Fruit-of-the-Month club—is based here in Medford, Oregon. So our valley boasts acre after acre of fruit orchards.) Every Christmas, our church family gathered at Willard and Marie’s home, situated at the base of the mountains. We’d load into a hay-filled trailer hooked to Willard’s CAT, and ride up into the mountain to cut Christmas trees. Then we’d pile the trees in the trailer, and hike back to their home for homemade donuts, cider, and hot chocolate. It was a time of sweet fellowship, laughter, and celebrating the connection we had in God and each other.

Dallas JenkinsDALLAS JENKINS (Midnight Clear):
This isn’t very sentimental (I save that for my movie set on Christmas Eve), but it’s my favorite. One Christmas Eve service at my church, a woman sang “Oh Holy Night,” and we knew right away that she was a bad singer who was going to have a really hard time hitting the big note at the end. My brother was sitting next to me, leaning forward, and when she got to that big note and absolutely butchered it, he simply turned around and quietly said, “That’s a shame,” before turning back. I laughed for an hour.

Matt BronleeweMATT BRONLEEWE (House of Wolves, Illuminated):
My birthday is December 13, so I sometimes get my memories confused, but I remember when I was young I came out on Christmas morning and my parents are like, “Hey, Dad’s built you something.” We went outside and, he’d built me a go cart from scratch. He’d taken a lawn mower engine, attached it to a frame, and spray painted it bright silver. I remember thinking about how much work this must have taken my dad. It was very meaningful that he knew that I would want something like that. I had a lot of fun driving that thing on the farm.

Christa BanisterCHRISTA BANISTER (Blessed Are the Meddlers, Around the World in 80 Dates):
Since 1990, Christmas has always been a mix of the blessed and the bittersweet for me. After a nearly two-year battle with cancer, my 38-year-old father passed away on Christmas Eve in 1990. Although I knew he'd ultimately received his healing because he was safely with Jesus, I still missed his almost childlike enthusiasm about Christmas. He was the one always shaking the presents, trying to figure out what each one was. He liked singing Christmas carols around the lit-up tree and having my brother, sister and I all join in, no matter how off-key we sounded. He liked watching all the Christmas specials—The Grinch and Charlie Brown—with us. Basically, he was so much fun to be around, and any Christmas with him was always a memorable one.

Tim DownsTIM DOWNS (Less Than Dead, First the Dead):
As a child: After all the presents had been opened, sitting at the ping pong table and spending the day building a plastic model or an electronics kit. Today: just having all my kids come home!

John PerrodinJOHN PERRODIN (Simple Little Words, Seclusion Point):
My favorite memory is of telling our children that “Mommy was going to be having a new baby.” They thought it was the most wonderful Christmas gift ever.

Melanie Wells MELANIE WELLS (My Soul to Keep, Soul Hunter):
I wish I had one of those Courier and Ives memories or something actually having to do with Jesus or angels on high, but my family was more of a Big Chill type of situation, so it wasn't actually the angels who were high. This made for some interesting moments, as you can imagine. When my brother and I were in high school, my mother finally gave up on getting us anything we might actually want for Christmas. We had spent years by that time turning our noses up at her choices (ungrateful brats that we were). But that year, she plotted the perfect revenge.

She went to a local thrift store and bought the most awful clothes she could find. Boots with holes in the soles for my brother, along with a pair of purple velvet pants with most of the velvet worn off (also for my brother). Quiana shirts of questionable hue with stains on them. For me, she purchased a red polyester pantsuit with top-stitching and an orange blouse with a huge bow on it, a lime green formal gown with a hot pink sash and a stained lace skirt. Things of this nature. They were dreadful. Unspeakably ugly. After we'd gotten over our horror and recovered our ability to speak, we discovered that she had stuffed the pockets with cash so we could pick out our own clothes. What a genius move on her part. Is this were I get my twisted sense of humor, possibly??

Travis ThrasherTRAVIS THRASHER (Isolation, Sky Blue):
I moved around so much during my youth that it's hard to think of some sort of tradition--we didn't have any (except moving). Spending Christmas days with my family of cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents in Greenville, South Carolina has to be my favorite childhood memory. My grandmother's macaroni pie was amazing. My favorite Christmas to date has to be last year, when my wife and I celebrated Christ's birthday with our own baby who was just a month old.

Donna FleisherDONNA FLEISHER (Standing Strong, Wounded Healer):
My best Christmas memory ... is rattling around in my brainpan somewhere, but I can't seem to find it. Maybe the new sleds and toboggans we used to get every Christmas? No, that's not it. Maybe the heavy Pennsylvanian snow that used to dump all over us every winter? Maybe. I do miss all that snow. Maybe the popcorn we used to string and then hang on the tree, and then after Christmas hang on the bushes outside so the birds could finish it off? Close. That was always fun, except when I'd poke my finger with the needle. Maybe all the Christmas dinners, the trees, the gifts, the decorations ... no. The friends and family who shared the special day with us? Yeah, that's probably it. My grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins and mom and dad and brother ... yep, every single one. Celebrating the birth of our Savior and Lord, knowing I was His even as a seven-year-old no-nothing kid. Yeah. That's definitely it. I mean, what else matters? Oh, yeah, and all the Barbies. I'll never forget all the Barbies.

Angela HuntANGELA HUNT (She Always Wore Red, The Elevator):
My most unforgettable, and favorite, Christmas memory occurred in 1983. My husband and I had just become parents of a seven-month-old baby girl we adopted from Korea, and I felt completely ill-equipped to handle motherhood. Taryn came home in November, so in December, I decorated the Christmas tree and set the presents beneath it, desperately happy that we finally had a child to make our Christmas complete.

One day I left the baby by the tree and I ran into the kitchen to answer the phone. A moment later I heard the sound of ripping paper--not that big a deal--and a few minutes later my daughter began to wail. I ran into the living room and lay her on the carpet, desperately searching for signs of damage, bleeding cuts, whatever. Taryn's mouth was open wide because she was screaming in earnest, and I glimpsed the roof of her mouth--oh, my! Red stripes, white scratches, blue blobs--I'd heard of strep throat, but this had to be some kind of foreign disease I'd never imagined!

I picked her up and tried to comfort her, but she wouldn't be comforted. Finally I grabbed the phone and lay her on the carpet again, determined to get a good look so I could describe her mottled mouth to an emergency doctor--and then I remembered the ripping paper sound I'd heard earlier.

On a hunch, I slipped my finger between her gums and and gently scraped the roof of her mouth. Her palate wasn't mottled--it was covered in holiday gift wrap.

And that's the day I began to relax as a parent.

Merry Christmas!

Justin LookadooJUSTIN LOOKADOO (Chat Room Chatter, Dateable):
The time my father was in charge of wrapping our gifts and all of the gifts were placed in feed buckets with wrapping paper on top.

Amy WallaceAMY WALLACE (Healing Promises, Ransomed Dreams):
My favorite Christmas memory was watching my kids blast down the stairs and stop at the edge of the living room in open mouthed wonder. Then they ran over to the tree and flopped on their huge stuffed horse floor pillows, exclaiming in unison (okay almost in unison), “Oh, thank you! This is exactly what I’ve always wanted!”


"My Favorite Christmas Memory"

31 Authors Share Theirs

by C.J. Darlington

"I suppose in a sense I celebrate Christmas every day, because I'm continually grateful for the One who came to deliver us from sorrow and sin and even death. On the original Christmas morning, Eternal Life was born in a manger."
-- Ann Tatlock

Lights. Trees. Good food. Giving gifts. Christmas is a special time of year for all of us. But most importantly it's a time to celebrate the greatest gift of all--Jesus. You can bet some of your favorite authors have stories to tell about their Christmas memories.

Here, in no particular order, 31 of them share here with you those special moments they'll never forget.

Liz Curtis HiggsLIZ CURTIS HIGGS (The Pine Tree Parable, Bookends):

Sacred music is the heartbeat of Christmas for me. In the church of my childhood, the Lititz Moravian Congregation in eastern Pennsylvania, our Christmas Eve Vigil featured a glorious hour of orchestral and choral music, often sung in German, accompanied by twinkling beeswax candles and sugar-dusted rolls passed along the pews in cloth-lined baskets. More years than not, my family and I emerged from the evening service to find snow dusting the pine branches and swirling around the street lamps. It's an idyllic small-town scene, worthy of Norman Rockwell. And the music...ah, the music. Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!

James Scott BellJAMES SCOTT BELL (Try Darkness, The Whole Truth):
My earliest memory of Christmas is me, at three or four, sleeping in the same room with my two older brothers on Christmas Eve. Just before I nodded off my brother Bob, who is 7 years ahead of me, said, "I just saw a hoof!"

Looking back, he was no doubt pulling my little leg. But I so wanted to believe, I still have burned in my imagination the image of a reindeer on our roof, which I could clearly see out the window.

Thanks be to God that we do not need to see to believe, and be blessed (John 20:29).

Merry Christmas to all.

F.P. LioneF.P. LIONE (Clear Blue Sky, Skells):
For Frank it was locking up a perp dressed as a nun outside of Macy’s. She had the bowl to collect the money and was ringing the bell while she held onto stolen goods her paesano’s were pilfering out of Macy’s. For Pam, Rockefeller Center, (Complete with the stoned out Grinch you met in our novel The Crossroads, He hangs out there!) FAO Schwartz with our kids, and then off to Tony’s for dinner.

Michael Landon Jr.MICHAEL LANDON JR. (One More Sunrise):
I know this is going to seem very shallow, but it’s hard to beat that coming around the corner and seeing all the presents under the tree. That one for a kid, man! I wish I could tell you some beautiful song or something that was said, but no, it’s those darn presents! Stretch Armstrong was huge! Until I was trying to throw Stretch up into the second floor balcony, and he didn’t make it and ended up hitting the top of the Christmas tree and then slowly bouncing down each branch, knocking all my mother’s precious ornaments off. That might be one of my worst memories. Stretch was my buddy, my pal. We stretched together and he took out all the ornaments.

Rebeca SeitzREBECA SEITZ (Coming Unglued, Sisters, Ink.):
My favorite Christmas memory is two-fold. Every year, we gather at my parents’ house around 5 o’clock on Christmas Eve. We eat a little bit, get reacquainted with family members we may not have seen lately, then pile into vehicles for the short drive to my parents’ church for Vespers Service. Our family--my grandfather, grandmother, aunt, cousins, sister, brother-in-law, niece, nephew, mother, dad, husband, and son--fill up an entire pew these days. We sit there in the darkened sanctuary in our Christmas finery and I feel the Truth of this season begin to settle into my bones. Red taper candles line the altar, standing at attention in their brass holders. Their glow of light dances around the room. Soft organ music covers the rustle of other families nestling into their pews, shaking the cold from their hair, scrunching in close together. Every year, it’s at this moment that the bustle of the season comes to a standstill in my soul. I realize that, years ago, all of creation held its breath for just this moment. The Creator was about to open the fabric of the cosmos and step into earth in human form. I feel, in the deepest part of me, the power of all my Christian family stopping on this day in this country to remember and honor His birth.

That powerful Truth stays with me as we sing carols, consume the holy supper, and exit the sanctuary in silence. My heart is too full to let my lips speak. When we arrive back at Mother and Daddy’s house, Daddy settles into his recliner and doffs his reading glasses. Someone hands him his Bible--whose margins are covered in notes he’s jotted as he’s studied The Word--and he turns to that sacred story. My nephew hands out the nativity pieces to each family member and my daddy reads from scripture. As our characters come into play, we each rise from our seat and place the nativity piece where it belongs. Inevitably, my nephew has christened me a cow or sheep--one special year I got to place the Mary piece! When the story is over and my soul settles into the peace that comes every single year, then--and only then--do we engage in the gift-giving among family members. With my spiritual self full to overflowing, my earthly self responds in kind and I laugh while family members rip into the gifts I spent so much time choosing and wrapping and, sometimes, making.

I adore this time of year. It’s a time of extravagance on every front--the extravagance of my Savior who gave up majesty to endure pain and make a way for my salvation, the extravagance of presents heaped so far out from the Christmas tree that barely an inch of floor space is left, the extravagance of food full of rich sweets and salty savors. The extravagance of a family whose love for each other is eclipsed only by each member’s love for the Savior. I love the extravagance of Christmas.

Roxanne HenkeROXANNE HENKE (Learning to Fly, The Secret of Us):
What's my most memorable Christmas memory, you ask? I suppose it would have to be the year I got a wrapped up Brillo scrub pad (yes, the curly metal kind) for a gift instead of the silver Timex watch I had my heart set on. It's a long story involving me mistaking the store wrapping around the metal pad as my watch-sized gift, and my mom going along with it and playing a joke on me. I certainly did NOT think it was funny on Christmas Eve night...but forty-some years later I think it's hilarious!

Jenny B. JonesJENNY B. JONES (The Big Picture, In Between):
I remember the year I woke up and Santa Claus had brought me my first bicycle. I was probably five or six. It was beautiful. It had a banana seat, plastic streamers coming out of the handle bars, and a white fake-wicker basket with colored daisies. I loved that bike. I would ride it all over the place and force my cat to sit in the basket as I navigated the yard. That cat eventually ran away. And we all celebrated when I got my training wheels off--about five Christmases later.

Eric WilsonERIC WILSON (Flywheel, Field of Blood):
After my parents broke up, my mom, brother, and I moved to southern California. It was 80 degrees the first Christmas Day I spent there, and I got sunburned. Not very Christmasy! We bought a palm tree, decorated it in our living room. Had pizza delivered. Then went down to the beach and opened presents in the moonlight. We lit the wrapping paper on fire and let it float out on the waves (not very environmentally friendly, but hey...we were grieving our family's first Christmas apart). By the end of the night, it ended up being a memorable time, with my brother, mom, and I all coming to a deeper understanding of Jesus' place in our hearts no matter what life threw our way. I've now celebrated many Christmas' with my father and enjoyed a fully restored relationship. My parents never got back together, but my brother, sister, and I all continue to follow Jesus.

Linda Leigh HargroveLINDA LEIGH HARGROVE (Loving Cece Johnson, The Making of Isaac Hunt):
Christmas in the Leigh household meant baking stuff. Mama didn't bake much any other time of year. But at Christmastime. Man, she pulled out all the stops. Sweet potato pies. Chocolate cakes. The nuttiest nut breads. Buttery tea cakes. And of course, fruit cake.

But I'm not talking ordinary fruit cake like the kind we used to get in the charity basket. This fruit cake would take hours to prepare and hours to cook. I have two older sisters. Mama would have one of us cracking pecans and walnuts with a hammer on cutting board. One of us would be cutting up candied fruit, raisins, sugar-crusted dates, and red Maraschino cherries. There were all manner of treats that we only saw once a year. Oh, I can still feel the sticky goodness on my fingers.

One of us girls would be sifting flour, measuring spices and molasses, and stirring forever. Across the crowded kitchen table, Mama would be stirring up a nut bread or some other treat while Daddy would be hovering in the background. Waiting for his moment. His contribution usually amounted to supervising nut cracking. Supervising involved a lot of tasting.

I'd nibble here and there too (it was hard not to) but my favorite of all the ingredients was mincemeat. In my little girl mind, mincemeat was heaven. I would steal a lick when Mama wasn't looking. There was meat in that sweet dark spicy concoction, right? And meat was good for me.

After all the mixing, Mama would grease and flour her baking pans and line them with pieces of brown paper bags, cut to fit. Then into the oven to bake and bake and bake.

Of all my Christmas memories, this is my favorite. It reminds me that Christmas is a time of rich smells and warmth. In those days when we didn't have much in terms of material things, my parents made Christmas a blessed time with the sacrifices they made. One of which I saw in the very ingredients that went into the fruitcake.

It would have been an easy just to be satisfied with the fruit cake from charity. We only got that once a year too, right? Funny thing is, no one ever ate that store-bought fruit cake. Not when there were bright shiny cherries, real butter, and meaty pecans. And, of course, lots of mincemeat.

Virginia SmithVIRGINIA SMITH (Stuck in the Middle, Sincerely Mayla):
My parents divorced when I was young. That first Christmas after they split was difficult, as you can imagine. My mom wanted to make it special for my sister and me. It was a time to start building new traditions, and to show us that we should look beyond our own circumstances to others whose needs were greater than ours. She worked in a state mental hospital, and several of the kids there didn’t have any family with whom to spend Christmas. So Mom invited three mentally disabled boys to our house for a Christmas Eve celebration.

I remember that Christmas Eve well. I was eight. The boys were all older than I, but mentally they were much younger. Their table manners weren’t very good, but they sure did enjoy the big traditional Christmas dinner Mom fixed. I had fun playing with them and seeing the joy shining in their faces when they opened the presents Mom had let us pick out for them.

Then came a special moment Mom had been planning. She placed a cake in the center of the kitchen table. It was Angel Food with whipped cream icing. On the top, amid a fluffy cloud of white cotton foam, rested a delicate angel surrounded by candles – one for every century since the birth of the baby Jesus. She explained to all of us children that Christmas was the day we celebrate the birthday of Jesus (and I remember thinking smugly, “I knew that!), so we were going to sing to Him. She lit the candles, and we all held hands in a circle around the table and began singing.

About the time we got to the third “Happy Birthday to You,” the fluffy cloud caught fire. I don’t know what it was made out of, but that stuff ignited like a gasoline-soaked torch. Before our very wide eyes, the angel was burned at the stake, our own private version of Joan of Arc. It made quite an impression on all of us.

Though that first angel did not survive, the tradition did. In the forty years since, a birthday cake to Jesus has become an integral and cherished part of our family’s Christmas Eve celebration. Though now we make sure to pick a flame-resistant angel.

Ann TatlockANN TATLOCK (Every Secret Thing, Things We Once Held Dear):
My grandfather died of a heart attack on December 20, 1969. As a 10-year-old, I had been eagerly looking forward to Christmas, but now everything changed. Instead of celebrating the holidays at home, we packed our bags into the station wagon and drove to Ohio for the funeral.
Though my grandparents had lived hundreds of miles away from us all my life, I had always had a special relationship with Grandpa. Even now I can vividly remember sitting on his lap while he told me stories, the scent of cigars clinging to his clothes like old cologne. I remember the time he crafted me a boat out of a plastic milk jug; we took it to the lake and sailed it along the shore on the end of a string. I remember the many toe tickles, the tractor rides with my sisters and cousins, the tiny pond where we’d go fishing on his small Ohio farm.

He was the first person in my life to die, and we buried him on Christmas Eve day.
It was a strange meeting of festivities and funeral, this Christmas burial. We stayed at Cousin Virginia’s home, which was decorated with the usual Christmas tree and trimmings. Extended family was there, including my young rambunctious cousins, so the house was full of laughter as well as tears. Carols played on the radio and spoke of the joy of the Savior, even as we dressed for the trip to Rose Hill cemetery.

I knew who the Savior was and I knew in my young heart that Grandpa was in heaven, but still it was hard to let him go.

Instead of waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve, I lay in an unfamiliar bed and cried. My mother, who always seemed to know when we needed her, came and sat beside me. Without saying a word, she simply caressed my cheek, wiping away my tears and comforting me. She stayed until I fell asleep.

Fifteen years later, Mom died of cancer in the summer of 1985. I was an adult now, on my own, living far away from the rest of my family. One morning, still deep in grief, I awoke to a strong but gentle breeze coming through the open window, lifting the curtains, blowing over my cheek--the same cheek my mother had touched those years before at my grandfather’s funeral. But now it seemed to be the hand of God Himself, there to comfort me, and to assure me of the realness of a heaven that can’t physically be seen from earth.

By now of course I know that this is what life is--two strands braided together, one of sorrow, the other of hope. And the hope is in this: Emmanuel, God with us. I suppose in a sense I celebrate Christmas every day, because I’m continually grateful for the One who came to deliver us from sorrow and sin and even death. On the original Christmas morning, Eternal Life was born in a manger.

Susan WalesSUSAN WALES (The Candidate, The Replacement):

Hailey’s Gift

Every Christmas Eve, the women in our family enjoy a most unusual tradition . . . over the river and through the woods to the shopping mall we go! Inside the mall, we join hundreds of frantic shoppers; all who are hoping to snag a treasure or find a gift for a forgotten someone.

Some of you must wonder, ‘who of sound mind, would actually choose to go the mall on Christmas Eve?’ I admit it sounds irrational, especially since our shopping is usually completed, but we love the feeling of Christmas in the air. Famously penned by lyricist Ray Brown with composer Ray Livingston, Silver Bells describes it best. (I’m listing a few words of the famous song as a special tribute to Mr. Brown who died earlier this year at the age of 94!)


City sidewalks, busy sidewalks.
Dressed in holiday style
In the air
There's a feeling of Christmas
Children laughing
People passing
Meeting smile after smile
And on ev'ry street corner you'll hear

Silver bells, silver bells
It's Christmas time in the city
Ring-a-ling, hear them ring
Soon it will be Christmas day!

A few years ago, God gave us a special gift during our Christmas Eve shopping trip. My granddaughter Hailey had just turned two, and like any toddler, she grew restless during our annual holiday mall excursion. My mother Mimi offered to take the toddler to a bench in the center of the mall so the rest of us could shop for some last minute treasures that had been marked down.

Just as Hailey and Mimi settled on a bench, the exuberant two-year-old called out, to a surprised passerby, ‘Merry Christmas’! Pausing momentarily, the elderly lady looked back at the waving child, but quickly turned back around and continued down the mall. Undaunted by the cool reception, Hailey wiggled away from Mimi and scampered after the stranger. By the time Mimi reached her, Hailey was holding her arms up to the elderly lady.

Now, turning toward Mimi, the elderly lady timidly asked, “May I hold the little girl?” At first Mimi was unsure, but after catching the pleading look in the woman’s eyes, Mimi smiled warmly and nodded yes.

The tattered hem of the woman’s dark blue coat formed a circle around her as she painstakingly knelt down on one knee and opened her arms to the child. Hailey didn’t hesitate. She snuggled close, laying her head on the woman’s shoulder. With silent tears settling in the creases of face, the woman rocked back and forth as though keeping time with a distant lullaby.

“The baby sure likes you,” Mimi observed. “You must be a very special grandmother.”

Before the lady could respond, Hailey reached up and with her pudgy hand, she stroked the woman’s cheek.

Huskily, as though still choking by tears, the stranger replied, “No, I never got to be a grandmother.” Then with the sadness lifting for a moment, she smiled. “But today God gave me a gift I’ve always longed for . . . to hold a baby in my arms.”

On the drive home, tears glistened beneath Mimi’s lashes as she described the encounter with their elderly friend. I surveyed the piles of frivolous purchases in the car, I realized that God had already given us the real gifts . . . a baby born in a a manager long ago, and today, a babe held in a stranger’s arm. That Christmas, Hailey’s gift changed us all!

As soon as we returned home that afternoon, we joined the men in the family for yet another family tradition— communion at the church I had grown up in and first learned of God’s love. As we knelt at the altar, I thanked God for Hailey’s gift that afternoon and the gift of his son, born on that Christmas Eve long ago.

Every Christmas since, we have prayed for another divine appointment like Hailey’s gift to us. This Christmas, have your family ask God “is there a stranger amongst us this Christmas who needs Christ love?” You will surely be blessed!

EDITOR'S NOTE: You will find a longer version of this story and several other heartwarming Christmas stories in A Keepsake Christmas that Susan co-authored with bestselling author Alice Gray, who wrote the popular Stories of the Heart series. A Christmas Keepsake offers several inspiring ways for families to keep Christ in the Christmas season.

Kathryn CushmanKATHRYN CUSHMAN (Waiting for Daybreak, A Promise to Remember):
We always went to my grandmother's house for Christmas lunch. Mama Griffin had been a sharecropper all her life, so she didn't have much in the way of material things, but she gave new meaning to the cliché "rich in love." She would spend days making the world's best yeast rolls, even in her later years when she was nearly blind and on a walker full time. She had a little artificial Christmas tree that sat on an end table, with a little angel tree topper. This angel had blinking lights inside it, and her arms were each made of a red blinking bulb. We kids referred to her as "the ray-gun angel." Every child, grandchild, and great-grandchild could find her name on a present somewhere around that table (I think the women usually got something like pantyhose-- which always made me really glad to be a kid!) There was nothing fancy about Christmas at Mama Griffin's, but oh was it lovely!


Nikki AranaNIKKI ARANA (As I Have Loved You, Winds of Sonoma):
My favorite Christmas memory is of Christmas Eve 2004. My son and his wife came to visit. Though they lived nearby, we hadn’t seen much of them in the months before. They smiled and laughed, and we were all so happy to be together. I had decided to tell the Christmas story. I had small bottles of frankincense and myrrh. I read the story from the Bible and then went around the room anointing each member of the family who had come; on the forehead with frankincense, on the hand with myrrh. For some reason, my daughter-in-law, a newborn Christian, was in awe of the scents. She asked lots of questions about the story and asked to smell the scents from the bottles over and over. Somehow drawn to the newborn Jesus. Such a lovely evening of laughter and love. A beautiful, precious Christmas memory made especially for my family. Our daughter-in-law died two days later from an illness she had quietly battled, hidden from us. How precious the memories of that Christmas. I will cherish them forever.

C.J. DarlingtonC.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.