The Message of the Bells, Part 5 of 5

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…Continued

Plump white feathers of snow drifted out of the early dark as I approached the house…the only one on the block not gaily lighted and decorated. The gate sagged; the last windstorm had scattered green shingles over the yard. A widow’s house.

Jeremy answered the door.

“Mom’s almost ready,” he said. “I’ll call her.”

“The folks will be by for your mom. I’m walking walking. Want to come?”

“Are you alone?”

“All alone.”

“It’s nice of you.” He looked down at me. “You feel sorry for me, don’t you?”

Did I?

“No,” I decided. “I don’t feel sorry for anybody tonight. There are Christmas lights all over town and it’s snowing. Our house smells of spices and greenery; it’s overflowing with presents and happy people. I’ve never had such a Christmas. I’m full up and need to share it with somebody, and I thought of you.”

Far off, I heard a thin shiver of silver sound.

“You thought of me,” Jeremy said. “I think of you a lot, too.”

His brown eyes, less guarded now, met mine. I looked away. Christmas spirit did not require a loss of decent pride.

“I wouldn’t have guessed it,” I said cheerfully. “Coming?”

He nodded, called to his mother, and found a ski coat. We stepped out into frosty silence; I must have imagined the silver sound.

“For a while, all I thought of was raising the devil,” Jeremy said.

“So I heard.”

“There wasn’t anybody special. If that’s anything.”

We passed the Wilkes house. Lights twinkled on a big blue spruce, reflecting pools of color on the new snow.

“I’ve wanted for a long time to come home,” he said.

“Well, you’re home now.”

“Not quite,” said Jeremy.

Dune McGlasson had spotlighted his hand-hewn crèche. Jeremy’s face was illuminated for a revealing instant. I had overcome my loneliness and longing; I had no defense against his.

“Jerry, I still love you,” I blurted. “If that’s anything.”

The bells began to ring at the Corinthian Cathedral.

Beneath the swelling sound I heard Jeremy breathe my name, on a half-sob. I felt his arms around me.

The bells chimed a shimmering crescendo that must have spoken peace and joy to men of goodwill for miles around.

Unless they were ringing only in my heart.

The End.

 

My sincere thanks to the author, whom I was unable to locate.

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The Message of the Bells, Part 4 of 5

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…Continued

They were married in a quiet ceremony—quiet except for the bells. I don’t know how that was managed, but if any mortal could order the wind, I suppose it would be Henry Velie.

Mother permitted certain minor changes. She still indulged in spates of cooking, but not for pay. Mainly, she went on being herself, to Dad Velie’s apparent satisfaction.

Jimmy started college. I went to Minneapolis. A big-city newsroom is a far cry from a country weekly; I rated slightly lower than the copyboys. But I was learning. Moreover, I shared an apartment with another newspaper-woman, and there were new men in my life. This was living.

I did not return until Christmas weekend. I caught the train after a good hard workday, and dozed most of the way. Then I walked to the club car for a soft drink.

Jeremy Winter sat gazing out a window. He looked thin and tense and extraordinarily tired.

I had not thought of Jeremy in months. It seemed best to leave it that way. I started back to my seat, and heard my name.

Jeremy was on his feet.

“Susan. I’d like to talk to you.”

I went back and joined him, pleased to find myself quite calm.

“I owe you an apology,” he said. “I wanted to explain….”

I felt my cheeks get hot.

“What I said at Dad’s funeral—I hated it, afterward,” he said. “You came up so sweet and sympathetic, and got your little nose bit. I was all wrapped up in myself; I guess it was the first time in my life I had ever done any heavy thinking. What I meant was, you didn’t have anything to regret; you surely never worried your dad.”

“What you said to me wasn’t important,” I said. “Jerry…your father would be proud of you now. Holding a job and making the Dean’s List.”

“How did you know that?”

“Why…your mother told my mother, and she wrote me….”

“my mom did?” Jerry actually flushed with pleasure. “It’s been a long time since Mom’s taken an interest in…anything.”

We pulled into Corinth. I forgot Jeremy in the joy of homecoming. Mother, Dad Velie and Jimmy were waiting, radiating love and welcome. Mother, always a great Christmas keeper, had outdone herself.

They had taken a leisurely trip in the fall, driving on back roads to see the leaves and to forage for small treasures, each chosen to gratify the wish of a friend. People kept coming; the laughter and reminiscing inspired by a sackful of butternuts or a McGuffey’s reader were something to warm the heart.

Plans were afoot to shed a bit of light on Clara Winter’s Christmas. The church had been given a fund made up of contributions from Mr. Winter’s company associates. Mrs. Winter had left its disposition to the trustees. The fund, augmented by a large anonymous donation, had gone for handbells. Mother had secretly trained the young musicians. The Winter Memorial Bell Choir would be presented at the Christmas Eve service.

“We’re taking Clara,” Mother said. “I saw Jeremy get off the train…why don’t you invite him?”

“Indeed I won’t.”

Dad Velie’s benign Santa Claus smile vanished in puzzlement.

“Why ever not?”

“We had quite a thing going for a couple of years. He let it die. If he wants anything started, he can take the initiative.”

“My stars,” said Mother. “It would be no more than a courtesy.”

“If a lady is available, she should make it known,” said Dad Velie with a twinkle. “Some things are too important to be left to chance. Think; I’d never have come home again if somebody hadn’t sent me a copy of the Citizen.”

Mother turned pink. “Susan,” she interposed hastily. “Did you ever figure out Henry’s legend of the bells?”

I thought back. The pieces fell into place. Corinthian Cathedral…First Corinthians, Chapter Thirteen. “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor…and have not love, it profiteth me nothing….”

“The bells ring,” I said slowly,” when someone gives out of his abundance…of love.”

“That’s my gal,” said Dad Velie….

To Be Continued…

The Message of the Bells, Part 3 of 5

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…Continued

The next morning after my interview, I hastily polished my story. It was publication day. We put the paper to bed at noon, my story nestling on the front page next to an old engraving of Mr. Velie, moustached and dapper in a portrait made years earlier. We okayed the proofs and took the afternoon off.

Mother was taking fragrant loaves from the oven. “Mmmmm,” she said, with an artist’s appreciation. “Not bad. I think I’ll take a loaf over to Uncle Loren, while it’s hot.”

“How can you make any money if you keep giving away the product?” I objected.

“I baked extra,” Mother said. “Loren hasn’t anything to look forward to but eating, since he retired….Listen!”

“I don’t hear anything.”

“I thought I heard those bells.”

I listened again.

“You heard the doorbell,” I said, and answered it.

It was Henry Velie.

This time he was impeccably groomed and had is valise, apparently ready for his trip back to New York. I glanced from him to Mother in the kitchen doorway, and wished I could have given her time to run upstairs and change. She was flushed from the heat of the stove and her apron had flour on the front.

“Well, henry.”

“Hullo, Lucille.”

“How long? I do declare, more than twenty years.”

“Twenty-two. I believe you’ve taken on a little weight, Lucille.”

“Drat your time, Henry Velie.”

“Now, Lucille. It’s wonderfully becoming.”

“Spoken like a gentleman. Well, come on in, Henry; I’m glad to see you. I’ve a fresh pie and some coffee; I’ll dare a few more calories if you’ll share them.”

“Delighted,” said Henry Velie.

I followed, and soon was absorbed in local color: Depression days in Corinth; the changes wrought by World War II. I heard my brother Jimmy at the door and went to prevent a galumphing interruption.

“Don’t come in hollering, for a change,” I greeted him. “Mother’s entertaining a millionaire in the kitchen.”

“A millionaire?

“Mr. Henry Velie.”

“Gee….Why in the kitchen? Haven’t we got a living room?”

“You know Mother.”

Jimmy made his manners, and went off to play ball. I tried to stay within earshot. Mr. Velie was telling about his life—how exciting and glamorous it sounded! The telephone rang. It was the mayor, wondering whether Henry was ready to be driven to the airport.

I went back in time to hear Mother say we were managing quite well, actually; her cheeks were more than ordinarily flushed. I guessed we had been offered a share of Mr. Velie’s abundance…maybe an offer to lend Jimmy money for college?

Anyway, my announcement cut the discussion short. Mr. Velie departed, genial and friendly. If Mother had rejected some kind offer, she had managed it without offense.

In my story, I had taken pains to play up Mr. Velie’s intriguing legend of the bells. Corinth picked it up and bandied it about. Mr. Flynt held that it was some of Henry’s nonsense, and why not? If Henry wanted to perpetrate a spoof on Corinth, he’d certainly earned the right. Mr. Schurtz, the sociology teacher, called it a piece of capitalistic arrogance. Dunc McGlasson, a dedicated tither, declared he knew exactly what Henry had in mind.

Meanwhile, Community Chest boosters changed their slogan from “Give ‘til it Hurts” to “Give ‘til the Bells Ring” and Mr. Velie’s legend was woven into the tapestry of our town.

Pete Slade came home for the holidays and gave me a little rush. It was a welcome break in routine, though Corinth offered few prospects for rushing. Pete was not as creative about this as Jeremy had been, I thought as we sat before the fire munching Mother’s cookies. Jeremy had found an aged sleigh in someone’s barn that last winter, starting a rage for sleighing.

“How’s Jeremy these days?” I dared to ask, carefully casual.

“I don’t see much of old Jerry,” Pete said. “He runs with a wealthy crowd; they’ve all got wheels and go places for weekends. I can’t keep up.”

“How’d you like to go to college with a car and fancy wardrobe and run with the smart set?” Mother asked me.

“You could dude me up out of all recognition, and I’d still not fit in with the smart set, “I said.

“At your age, you could probably adapt,” Mother said.

“Man, I’d make a heroic effort to adapt,” Pete said. We exchanged a grin. Neither of us was likely to have the problem.

Later I heard Mrs. Slade telling Mother some details Pete had loyally failed to mention. Jerry’s crowd had held a wild soiree at a ski lodge and very nearly wrecked the place. The parents had stepped in, paid for damages and persuaded the Dean to let the youths stay in school, on probation. Even before the scrape, Jerry had been under a cloud, with warning notices in two subjects. Clara and George Winter were frantic.

Jeremy had been a good student and I had admired him for it. The story took off some of the shine, which was just as well.

Our town settled in for the winter, smothered in snow, badgered by biting winds. I scrounged for news and dreamed of the day when I would work for a big city newspaper. A distant dream. Not that Mr. Flynt, with his connections, couldn’t get the job. He had promised as much. But Mother needed my board money, and would all the more with Jimmy in college.

March brought shocking news. Jeremy’s father had been killed in a freeway accident.

They brought Mr. Winter to Corinth for burial. Mrs. Winter said they had lived in Corinth longer than in any place since their marriage, and it seemed like home.

Jeremy came for the service, shaken and sober. Impulsively, I went up to him, remembering how it had been when we lost Daddy.

“I’m so sorry, Jerry. I know how you feel….”

“You couldn’t possibly,” he said harshly.

I turned quickly away. A snub from Jeremy could still hurt.

He left the same day. And of all things, Mother brought Mrs. Winter home to stay with us.

She was in a terrible state, bitter and frightened at the prospect of assuming the responsibilities of widowhood. There would be financial pressure…they had let their children go through their savings. The insurance and company annuities wouldn’t begin to support the standard of living they had back East. Not that she wanted to go back. She dreaded the impersonal neighborhood, the empty house….

So Mrs. Winter stayed on, leaving financial arrangements to her lawyer and the closing of her home in the East to a married daughter.

“A small town is better for a widow,” Mother approved.

I couldn’t help thinking of the expense.

“Now, Susan,” Mother reproved. “We have the room and plenty to eat, by the grace of God. Who else could help Clara through this first awful adjustment period? Takes somebody who’s been over the road.”

She cocked her head, with a listening air.

“That crazy Henry and his bells,” she added obscurely.

In a few weeks, Mrs. Winter’s tenants found another house. She sent for her furniture, and moved in. As time passed Mother and the other good women of Corinth drew Mrs. Winter into the Ladies Aid, the Literary Society and the Wednesday Card Club. She needed the diversion, for Jeremy did not come home that summer.

“He has a job. He can make more back there,” Mrs. Winter said grimly. “A good thing, too. Things have changed for us.”

Jimmy’s preparations for college made me more restless than ever. I tried not to show it, but I sometimes felt Mother’s gaze and realized I’d been uncharacteristically snappish.

“You could go to college, too,” she said one day.

“How, in heaven’s name” We just barely get by as it is.”

“Mr. Velie would send you. Lend you the money, or whatever.”

“So that was it. Well, I don’t want to be sent, or lent money by a perfect stranger. Don’t you know what I really want? I want to work for a newspaper in Minneapolis. As soon as Jimmy’s through college, I mean to shake the dust of Corinth from my feet.”

“Four years,” Mother sighed. “Susan, I guess I’ve done the wrong thing.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well…Henry asked me to marry him.”

I stared at her.

“I refused,” she said quietly.

“Henry Velie? Proposed? You mean…when he was here?”

“No…he thought it over, and wrote. Oh, Susan. Can you picture me presiding in elegant idleness over a rich man’s penthouse? Hobnobbing with celebrities? I don’t mean I’d feel inferior. No, indeed! But to fit into that kind of life, you’d need to start younger. So I said no. And now I find I’m a burden to my daughter.”

“I didn’t say that, I didn’t mean that, and I’m sorry I opened my mouth! I’m only twenty; it won’t hurt me to wait…Anyway, you shouldn’t marry someone you don’t love, under any circumstances.”

Mother looked past me; her eyes full of memories.

“I used to fancy myself in love with Henry, long ago,” she said. “Not that he took it all that seriously then. Your daddy, thought, never looked to right nor left after he set his heart on me.”

Suddenly I remembered Mr. Velie reminiscing at the office. “Mother,” I breathed. “Could you be the girl who didn’t wait?”

The big gray eyes snapped back to the present.

“What do you mean? Did Henry tell you that?”

I summoned the exact words.

Mother sat for some time in unaccustomed idleness, wearing a look of gentle wonder. Finally she said with a sigh, “Even so, it just wouldn’t do.”

Some time later, I came across an item in the state paper we scanned daily at the Citizen to avoid the expense of a wire serve. Mr. Henry Velie had turned active management of his corporation over to Mr. So-and-so. He would continue as chairman of the board….

This news was hardly cold before Mr. Henry Velie arrived, rented a suite at the Corinth Hotel and laid siege to our house.

Mother said there was no use getting in a dither; nothing could come of it. Nevertheless, she rolled her hair nightly and put on girdle and hose the first thing each morning, which for Mother was a considerable dither.

Henry Velie sat in our kitchen puffing his pipe and watching Mother do her daily baking. He discussed his plans.

He could see to everything quite well from Corinth, he said, with only an occasional flying trip East. He had intended to retire here; why wait until he was a doddering old man? He had made up his mind to relax and enjoy life.

“I’ve had about everything this world offers, Miss Susan,” he said, for Mother’s ears. “Everything except a real home. That’s what your mother could give me. No other woman on earth could.”

Mother turned from the stove with a face like a prairie sunrise.

“Henry,” she said faintly, “I do believe I hear them.”

“You should have, all along.”

“I didn’t think I had that much to offer.”

“You have everything,” said Henry Velie.

He was on his feet; Mother opened her arms. I left, but nobody noticed….

To Be Continued…

The Message of the Bells, Part 2 of 5

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…Continued

Not long afterward, a rumpled, gray-haired man strolled into the Citizen office so casually I thought it was one o f my boss’s Rotary cronies, and didn’t look up until I heard Mr. Flynt’s cry of recognition, followed by a round of glad-handing and reminiscing.

I was sure Mr. Flynt would get my story, and very likely he would have, but for Mr. Velie.

“I was to see a Miss Susan Todd,” he said presently, glancing in my direction.

My boss looked startled, then pleased. He admires enterprise; I had won my job by bringing in unsolicited news items and “personals” while still in high school.

Mr. Flynt introduced Mr. Velie, who rendered a slight bow and charming smile, and who then sat down and proceeded to interview me.

“Are you Will and Lucille Todd’s girl?”

“Yes….”

“How are your parents?”

“Mother is fine. My dad died three years ago.”

“Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t hear. Three years ago…must have been in Australia. I don’t keep up on Corinth so well, now Mother’s gone.”

I saw my opportunity and snatched it.

“How did you happen to hear about the fire?”

“Somebody sent me a copy of the Citizen.

“Who?”

“I don’t know. Somebody who guessed I’d be interested…my best memories of Corinth are centered around that church. Used to sing in the choir. So did your mother and dad.”

“Mother still does.”

“You favor her, Miss Susan…You’re not going to college?”

“Working for Mr. Flynt is my college; I want to write for newspapers. My brother Jimmy will go. He gets good grades in everything, so he’s a cinch for a scholarship. I was a social promotion in math and science.”

I was led into a discussion of Jimmy, of our family life, and finally into a recital of my own dreams and ambitions…

“What, no young man?” wondered Mr. Velie. “All that Rapunzel hair, big gray eyes and dimples, and no young man?”

There had been a young man…Jeremy….

“Nobody in particular,” I said. To match his teasing air, I added: “I shall go out into the world and seek my fortune.”

“That’s what I said at your age,” Mr. Velie chuckled. “There was a young lady, though. I was the poorest boy in town, but I was going to make a fortune and then lay it at her feet.”

Here was something new. Mr. Velie was, by reputation, a sought-after but elusive bachelor.

“What happened?” I prompted.

“By the time I made my fortune, it was too late.”

“She didn’t wait!”

“Actually, she waited quite a while, bless her heart. I should have realized she wasn’t all that anxious for a fortune. She married the next-to-the-poorest boy in town.”

I tried to cast Mr. Velie in the role of broken-hearted suitor, keeping faith with a lost young love. The idea had appeal, but it didn’t fit the man who faced me. He looked much too pink and prosperous, taking his ease in the boss’s swivel chair, drawing pleasurably on his pipe and studying me with blue eyes that were both shrewd and merry under bristly gray brows. He was obviously a man who had found life good and expected more of the same.

Mr. Velie now came obligingly to the point.

“What do you think of our Corinthian Cathedral?” he asked.

He confirmed what I already knew, until I got to the bells.

“Wind, indeed,” snorted Mr. Velie. “DuBois has it all wrong. It has nothing to do with the wind. Those are miraculous bells.”

“Miraculous bells?” I reached for my pencil. A bit of fantasy would be fun.

“Miraculous bells,” Mr. Velie intoned solemnly. “They ring only when someone gives out of his abundance.”

I started to write, then stopped.

“But that’s not…I mean, isn’t giving out of abundance sort of opposite from the usual tradition?”

“Exactly. This is a Corinthian cathedral.”

“Well…this is Corinth. I don’t quite see…”

“Do your homework, young lady. First Corinthians, Chapter Thirteen.”

A group of local businessmen burst into the office; in my annoyance, I forgot Mr. Velie’s advice. Mayor Wilkes and the others buzzed around like flies at a honeypot. I wondered sourly whether Henry Velie had known he was leaving behind so many friends when he fled Coring a penniless youth…anyway, it ended my interview.

I arrived home to the usual heavenly cooking odors; my mother baked goodies on order. I reported to the kitchen, accepted hot cookies and told Mother about the miraculous bells which rang when someone gave out of his abundance.

“Sounds just like Henry Velie,” Mother said with an odd little smile.

“Well, it must be true. If they rang for the widow’s mite, we’d have heard them Sunday when I put in my collection envelope.”

“I guess it’s a good philosophy—from where he stands,” I said. “Only a rich man’s gift would count.”

“I doubt that’s what Henry meant,” Mother said mildly.

I went to my room to think, not of magic bells but of broken romances. Maybe Mr. Velie’s ladylove had given up the waiting because she thought it was no use. Like me. Perhaps I was giving up too easily. Still, a year of silence!

Jeremy’s long rangy form rose before me. A lovable clown’s face, big-toothed grin and stand-out ears…the mouth sweet and sensitive in repose. A rambling, loose-jointed gait, big feet and hands…beautiful hands. Why did I remember every foolish detail?

Jeremy Winter had come to Coringth when his father was made manager of our local branch plant, a rung of a mighty corporate ladder. Like all up-and-coming managers, Mr. Winter was soon promoted. The family moved East the summer after our high school graduation. Bad luck for me. But probably I’d have lost Jeremy anyway.

In retrospect, it seemed strange that he had singled me out. He was a swinger by any standards; I was considered square even in Corinth. Jerry thought so, too. He teased and cajoled and sometimes fought with me about it. But he kept coming back.

They had left behind one tenuous root. Mrs. Winter, greatly taken with Corinth’s shaded brick streets and American Gothic ways, had refused to sell their house. In a fit of rebellion against corporate nomadism, she rented it, and vowed to return.

Jeremy’s best friend, Pete Slade, attended the same college, and brought Jerry home the first summer. Things were the same for us: Jeremy amusing, appealing and annoying, constantly testing the limits of my conventionality.

“Hey, Susie Squaresville. You’re not going anywhere.”

“Yes, I am. It’s late…Jerry! Jeremy Winter, if you don’t turn me loose this instant, I’ll lean on the horn and make a scene.”

“Susan. Look, no hands.” Hands in the air, in surrender. Holding me with his eyes, warm brown eyes, now soft and serious. “Don’t ever change, Susan. I love you just as you are. And don’t go away. Wait for me.”

I suppose he meant it then; not everyone has my Old Dog Trey temperament. But I heard less and less from him. The second summer, Pete returned alone. He began dating me, carefully avoiding the subject of Jeremy. Plainly, it was time to stop waiting….

To Be Continued…

The Message of the Bells, Part 1 of 5

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The Message of the Bells

By Helene Lewis Coffer, Good Housekeeping, December 1968

The year Mr. Velie built his cathedral, I was still living in Corinth with my mother and younger brother.

As the star (and only) reporter for the weekly Citizen; I wrote a great deal about the cathedral and its bells. But my heart wasn’t in it. Out in the wide world, wonderful things could happen to a girl of twenty. But this was Corinth, too small and dull, too full of memories.

If Mr. Velie’s cathedral held any special magic, I did not sense it. If the bells rang, I didn’t hear them. Not then…not until that Christmas when I found my love and he found me.

Of course, the Community Church of Corinth, Minnesota, isn’t a real cathedral. Mr. Velie isn’t that rich. The styling is Gothic, but the scale is small. Mr. Velie called it a cathedral when he started the legend.

Henry Velie was, of course, something of a legend himself: a bona fide Horatio Alger hero. The son of a mean-tempered ne’er-do-well, he had worked his way through school, gone East to start a business, and succeeded in time to rescue his gentle mother from poverty. He stopped coming home after she died, but the town followed his rise in the world with satisfaction.

By the time our pioneer church burned, Mr. Velie was a Power. No one knew how he learned of the tragedy; the story would hardly have found its way into the New York papers. Nevertheless, the board of elders had Mr. Velie’s generous offer by wire within the week.

Soon a city construction firm and an architect personally commissioned by Mr. Velie arrived in Corinth. The architect furnished progress reports, alerting us as to the arrival of imported stained-glass windows, of fine wood paneling, of handsome alter appointments, and finally, of the bells.

Now the architect became eloquent. Here was something new: a set of mellifluous and fine-toned small instruments so designed as to shower sweet chimes on the prairie air with the slightest play of the wind.

No so, said Henry Velie.

The exquisite little church was no sooner completed than Mr. Velie’s plane set down at our small airport. The news reached town before his taxi, and I left a message at the hotel begging an interview.

To Be Continued…

 

A Season of Abundance

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As the season of gift-giving and celebrations of light and rebirth is here once again, the challenges of materialism and commercialism come to light in rather obvious ways. Many friends of mine express concern as to how to gracefully navigate this season with awareness, conscientiousness,  integrity, and love, while avoiding cynicism and bitterness that can so easily creep in.

How does one address abundance, giving, and receiving without falling into the trap of greed and self-centeredness?

When I was a kid, I lived in Malawi, East Africa. My parents were conservative Christians and my father was dedicated to missionary work…as had been his father and his father’s father. Being a missionary and sacrificing everything for “God’s Work” was the highest calling one could have, according to both the denominational teaching and my father’s family. Their pride in our family’s sacrifice was evident.

As a missionary kid, I was taught that “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.” So giving, then, was an obligation. It was expected…not only as Christians, but as Christian missionaries. To have any material wealth was shameful, and to have more than the natives of the host country was even more so. And yet, whenever we went on furloughs, it was so painfully obvious to me that however wealthy we were in Malawi, we were quite poor by U.S. standards. The desire for more was definitely there, but I felt horribly guilty for those desires. I knew that ultimately, no matter how hard I worked and how much I made or accumulated, I would be required to give it away. Sacrifice is greater than love.

While living in Malawi had wonderful and beautiful aspects, some parts were challenging, to say the least. There weren’t a lot of amenities on our mission when we arrived…the tap  water wasn’t drinkable, the phone system was crackly at best, and thunderstorms usually meant that the electricity would go out. All media was censored…including personal mail. Women were not allowed to wear pants, and all skirts must be long enough to cover the knees. Men couldn’t have facial hair or hair below the top of their shirt collar. Television didn’t exist unless you owned a large satellite dish…which we didn’t.

Even still, we had more than most…more than some other missions, who only had electricity by generator for 3-4 hours each night. We had clean air, close friendships, many adventures, opportunities for cross-cultural experiences through travel and friendships with people of other nationalities, and most importantly, participating in the culture of Malawi itself. I learned many skills that are invaluable to me…creative problem-solving, home arts such as cooking, baking, and sewing, I learned to play musical instruments, entertain and host guests at a moment’s notice, and adapt to wherever I happened to be.

My father being a printer, allowed us easy access to books. All of us love a good story, so the lack of amenities provided a hidden blessing: evenings at my house were spent in the living room in front of the fireplace…my sister and I doing crafts or building with blocks or Legos while my mom read out loud to us. Every night. When the Christmas season arrived, we set aside our regular book and pulled out her tan folder of Christmas stories…stories she had torn out of magazines over the years. We all had our favorites and often requested them multiple times during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

While at the time I didn’t understand why I loved this particular story, I do now. I didn’t consciously notice that this story contradicted the idea of giving out of sacrifice. Yet, the seeds were planted, and over the years, the value and importance of this story and its teaching on abundance has increased exponentially…to the point that it has become an integral part of who I am and my philosophy of life. Abundance doesn’t mean that I have to sacrifice anything for myself in order to help another…nor does it mean that it’s shameful to have a lot of a particular resource (love, money, time, health etc.) Abundance means that because I have a lot of a particular resource, my needs have been met first and now I have extra to share with another…with gratitude and joy…freely and willingly…because I don’t need anything more. To wish for abundance, is to wish to share.

This year, I realized that this story also teaches the most beautiful aspect of the Sacred Feminine through the character of the mother: the art and gift of being who you are. Even though I no longer consider myself Christian, the truths in this story are universal to all beings. I hope you are blessed this holiday season, no matter what tradition you celebrate.

To Be Continued…