"Dede's Walk With God"

My Best Christmas
Pa never had much compassion for the lazy or those who
squandered their means and then never had enough for the
necessities. But for those who were genuinely in need, his
heart was as big as all outdoors. It was from him that I learned
the greatest joy in life comes from giving, not from receiving.
It was Christmas Eve, 1881. I was fifteen years old and feeling
like the world had caved in on me because there just hadn't
been enough money to buy me the rifle that I had wanted for
Christmas. We did the chores early that night for some reason.
I just figured Pa wanted a little extra time so we could read in
the Bible.
After  supper was over I took my boots off and stretched out
in front of the fireplace and waited for Pa to get down the old
Bible. I was still feeling sorry for myself and, to be honest I
wasn't in much of a mood to read Scriptures. But Pa didn't
get the Bible, instead he bundled up again and went outside.
I couldn't figure it out because we had already done all the
chores. I didn't worry about it long though, I was too busy
wallowing in self-pity.
Soon Pa came back in. It was a cold clear night out and there
was ice in his beard. "Come on, Matt," he said. "Bundle up good,
it's cold out tonight." I was really upset then. Not only wasn't
I getting the rifle for Christmas, now Pa was dragging me out
in the cold, and for no earthly reason that I could see. We'd
already done all the chores and I couldn't think of anything else
that needed doing, especially not on a night like this.
But I knew Pa was not very patient at one dragging one's feet
when he'd told them to do something, so I got up and put my
 boots back on and got my cap, coat and mittens. Ma gave me
a mysterious smile as I opened the door to leave the house.
Something was up, but Ii didn't know what.
Outside I became even more dismayed. There in front of
the house was the work team, already hitched to the big sled.
Whatever it was we were going to do wasn't going to be a
short, quick little job. I could tell. We never hitched up this
sled unless we were going to haul a  big  load.
Pa was already on the seat, reins in hand. I reluctantly
climbed up beside him. The cold was already biting at me.
I wasn't happy. When I was on, Pa pulled the sled around
the house and stopped in front of the woodshed. He got off
and I followed. "I think we'll put on the high sideboards, " 
he said. "Here, help me." The high sideboards! It had been a
bigger job than I wanted to do with just the low sideboards
on, but whatever it was we were going to do would be a lot
bigger with the sideboards on.
After we had exchanged the sideboards, Pa went into the
woodshed and came out with an armload of wood--the wood
I'd spent all Summer hauling down from the mountain, and
then all Fall sawing into blocks and splitting. What was he
doing? Finally I said something. "Pa," I asked, "What are
you doing?" "You been by the Widow Jensen's lately?"
he asked. The Widow Jensen lived about two miles down
the road. Her husband had died a year or so before and left
her with three children, the oldest being eight. Sure, I'd been
by, but so what? "Yeah," I said, "Why?" "I rode by just
today," Pa said. "Little Jakey was out digging around in
the woodpile trying to find a few chips. They're out of wood,
That was all he said and then he turned and went back
 into the woodshed for another armload of wood. I  followed
him. We loaded the sled so high that I begin to wonder if
the horses would be able to pull it. Finally, Pa called a halt
to our loading, then we went to the smoke house and Pa
took down a big ham and a side of bacon. He handed them
to me and told me to put them in the sled and wait.
When he returned he was carrying a sack of flour over his
right shoulder and a smaller sack of something in his left
hand. "What's in the little sack?" I asked. "Shoes. They're
out of shoes. Little Jakey just had gunny sacks wrapped
around his feet when he was out in the woodpile this
morning. I got the children a little candy too. It wouldn't
be Christmas without a little candy."
We rode the  two miles to Widow Jensen's pretty much
in silence. I tried to think through what Pa was doing. We
didn't have much by worldly standards. Of course, we did
 have a big woodpile, though most of what was left was still
in the form of logs that I would have to saw into blocks and
split before we could use it. We also had meat and flour, so
 we could spare that, but I knew we didn't have any money,
so why was Pa buying them shoes and candy?
Really, why was he doing any of this? Widow Jensen had
closer neighbors than us; it shouldn't have been our
concern. We came in from the blind side of the Jensen
house and unloaded the wood as quietly as possible, then
we took the meat and flour and shoes to the door. We
knocked. The door opened a crack and a timid voice said,
 "Who is it?" Lucas Miles, Ma'am, and my son, Matt.
Could we come in for a bit?"
Widow Jensen opened the door and let us in. She had a
blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The children were
wrapped in another and were sitting in front of the fireplace
by a very small fire that hardly gave off any heat at all.
Widow Jensen fumbled with a match and finally lit the lamp.
"We brought you a few things, Ma'am," Pa said and sit down
the sack of flour. I put the meat on the table. Then Pa
handed her the sack that had the shoes in it.
She opened it hesitantly and took the shoes out one pair
at a time. There was a pair for her and one for each of the
children---sturdy shoes, the best , shoes that would last. I
watched her carefully. She bit her lower lip to keep it from
trembling and then tears filled her eyes and started running
down her cheeks. She looked up at Pa like she wanted to
say something, but it wouldn't come out.
"We brought you a load of wood too, Ma'am," Pa said. He
turned to me and said, "Matt, go bring in enough to last
awhile. Let's get that fire up to size and heat this place up."
I wasn't the same person when I went back out to bring in
the wood. I had a big lump in my throat  and as much as I
hate to admit it , there were tears in my eyes too.
In my mind I kept seeing those three kids huddled
around the fireplace and their mother standing there and
tears running down her cheeks with so much gratitude
in her heart that she couldn't speak. My heart swelled
within me and a joy that I'd never known before, filled my
soul. I had given at Christmas many times before, but
never when it had made so much difference. I could see
we were literally saving the lives of these people.
I soon had the fire blazing and everyone's spirits soared.
The kids started giggling when Pa handed them each a
piece of candy and Widow Jensen looked on with a smile
that probable hadn't crossed her face for a long time. She
finally turned to us. "God bless you," she said. "I know the
Lord has sent you. The children and I have been praying
that He would send one of his angels to spare us."
In spite of myself, the lump returned to my throat and
the tears welled up in my eyes again. I'd never thought
of Pa in those exact terms before, but after Widow Jensen
mentioned it I could see that it was probably true. I was
sure that a better man than Pa had never walked the
earth. I started remembering all the times he had gone
out of his way for Ma and me, and many others. The
list seemed endless as I thought on it.
Pa insisted that everyone try on the shoes before we
left. I was amazed when they all fit and I wondered
how he had known what sizes to get. Then I guessed that
 if he was on an errand for the Lord that the Lord would
make sure he got the right sizes.
Tears were running down Widow Jensen's face again
when we stood up to leave. Pa took each of the kids in
his big arms and gave them a hug. They clung to him and
didn't want us to go. I could see that they missed their Pa,
and I was glad that I still had mine.
At the door Pa turned to Widow Jensen and said,
"The Mrs. wanted me to invite you and the children over
for Christmas dinner tomorrow. The turkey will be
 more than the three of us can eat, and a man can get
cantankerous if he has to eat turkey for too many meals.
We'll be by to get you about eleven. It'll be nice to have
some little ones around again. Matt, here, hasn't been
little for quite a spell." I was the youngest. My two
brothers and two sisters had all married and had moved
away. Widow Jensen nodded and said, "Thank you,
Brother Miles. I don't have to say, "May the Lord bless
you,' I know for certain that He will."
Out on the sled I felt a warmth that came from deep
within and I didn't even notice the cold. When we had
gone a ways, Pa turned to me and said, "Matt, I want
you to know something. Your Ma and me have been
tucking a little money away here and there all year
so we could buy that rifle for you, but we didn't have
quite enough.
Then yesterday a man who owed me a little money from
years back came by to make things square. Your Ma and
me were real excited, thinking that now we could buy you
that rifle, so I started into town this morning to do just that.
But on the way I saw little Jakey out scratching in the
woodpile with his feet wrapped in those gunny sacks and
I knew what I had to do. Son, I spent the money for
shoes and a little candy for those children. I hope you
I understood and my eyes become wet with tears
again. I understood very well, and I was so glad Pa had
done I. Now the rifle seemed very low  on my list of
priorities. Pa had given me a lot more. He had given me
the look on Widow Jensen's face and the radiant smiles
of her three children.
For the rest of my life, whenever I saw any of the
Jensens or split a block of wood, I remembered and
remembering brought back the same joy I felt riding
home beside Pa that night. Pa had given me much more
than a rifle that night, he had given me the best
Christmas of my life. 

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