Each Christmas we are given a promise from heaven. And each year on earth we make promises to each other. This is a story about how a promise from one person to another shows us the true meaning of faith, remembrance, and love.
Seven years ago Gloria endured a family tragedy that almost shook her faith entirely. Each Christmas she places a card in an envelope on her tree, restating a promise she made to her husband before he died. Now, having moved from her small town and all the painful memories it held, she is building a life by caring for people in need. Whether it's a young mother who can't pay her electric bill or a family who needs some extra food, Gloria always finds a way.
Miriam is a thorn in Gloria's side. Miriam is a constantly critical, disapproving neighbor who looks with suspicion at all the good things Gloria does. When a twist of fate makes them roommates instead of neighbors, it's the ultimate test of patience and faith.
Chaz has a good job as head of security at Wilson's Department Store, but each night he returns home to an empty apartment. He longs for a wife and family of his own but realizes that the life choices he's made have alienated him. He befriends a young boy whose mother has fallen on hard times, giving him a chance to have a life he thought impossible.
In The Christmas Promise, the lives of these characters collide and we learn that even as we move ahead, the past is never far behind. And when we are forgiven much, we love much. In this warmly humorous and deeply poignant story, we are reminded that the Christmas Promise is the promise of second chances.
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Donna VanLiere is a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author. Her much-loved Christmas Hope series includes The Christmas Shoes and The Christmas Blessing, both of which were adapted into movies for CBS Television; The Christmas Secret; The Christmas Journey; and The Christmas Hope, which was adapted into a film by Lifetime. She is also the author of The Angels of Morgan Hill and Finding Grace. VanLiere is the recipient of a Retailer's Choice Award for Fiction, a Dove Award, a Silver Angel Award, an Audie Award for best inspirational fiction, and a nominee for a Gold Medallion Book of the Year. She is a gifted speaker who speaks regularly at conferences. She lives in Franklin, Tennessee, with her husband and their children.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I peeked through the kitchen drapes that morning and rushed to grab a bucket and rag. Looks like a nice one, I said to myself, straining to see out the window. Someone had left a refrigerator in my driveway. I squeezed dishwashing liquid into the bottom of the bucket and filled it with warm water, splashing my hand till it disappeared in suds. I tied up my running shoes—the sassy pink neon ones with the green stripes—and slipped a bottle of household cleaner into my coat pocket. A blown porch light stopped me on the steps and I looked up at it. “Good grief. That bulb didn’t last very long. I need to get one of those bulbs that last a year.” I stepped into the kitchen and reached to the top shelf of the utility closet. Back on the porch, I unscrewed the old bulb from the bottom of the light casing. “There you go,” I said, screwing in the new one.
I turned to the refrigerator in the driveway, sizing it up. “Not too big. Twenty cubic feet, I’d guess.” I opened the door and backed away, holding my hand over my nose. “I’ll have you cleaned and find a new home for you by lunchtime,” I said, slipping on a pair of bright yellow latex gloves. I was used to talking to myself; I’d been a widow for seven years. I was never concerned about talking to myself; what worried me is how I answered myself, and I was really troubled when I argued with myself! I pulled out one shelf after another, soaking my rag and scrubbing at unrecognizable globs of petrified food. I sprayed down the inside and tackled the back wall with a vengeance.
“There is a junk law, you know!” I cringed at hearing that familiar voice and closed my eyes. Maybe if I couldn’t see her she wouldn’t actually be there. “The city has mandated codes.” I scrubbed harder. “Gloria Bailey, I’m talking to you.”
How I despised that tone. I took a breath and lifted my head to see my neighbor standing on the other side of her fence. “Good morning, Miriam.”
“Gloria, does anyone ever bother to let you know that they’re dropping this rubbish off?”
I shoved my head inside the fridge, scrubbing at the walls. I once told my friend Heddy that there wasn’t enough room in the cosmos for Miriam’s ego. Her affected British accent was as real as her blond hair and her name. Miriam Lloyd Davies. Come on! “It’ll be gone by noon, Miriam,” I said, wringing out the rag.
“I doubt it, by the looks of it,” Miriam said. “But if it’s not gone I’ll need to have it hauled out of here. I don’t pay taxes to live next to a junkyard.”
It’s amazing how perfect your posture becomes when you’ve been insulted. Every vertebra in my back straightened to supreme alignment as I walked up the driveway. “I don’t pay taxes to live next to a junkyard!” I said, whispering.
When I moved into my home six years ago a lovely young couple with two small children lived in the house next door. They were always polite, smiling and waving each day, even leaving a present on my doorstep each Christmas. If my work annoyed them, they never showed it. Miriam moved in three years ago when the young couple found themselves expecting a third child and in need of a larger home. She was graceful and statuesque—fitting for a stage actress and professor’s wife—but I found her to be cold and distant, although her husband, Lynn, was always gracious and warm. Lynn died a year after moving into the home. I tried on several occasions to befriend Miriam, assuming our widow status would assure some sort of bond between us, but just because someone is plopped into your life doesn’t mean a friendship will be forged.
I often felt pasted together, compared to Miriam’s refined look. I looked my age (sixty and proud of it) while Miriam denied hers (fifty and holding). I’ve never been what you could call fashionable, but I take pride in my appearance. I like my clothes to match and am most comfortable in cotton and jersey (but no belts). I don’t wear anything that hurts! Miriam preferred slacks with a designer blouse or cashmere sweater and she was always neat, nothing disheveled about her. Her hair was the color of golden honey and framed her face in a chic bob. She promptly made her next appointment at the beauty salon for five weeks to the date of her last cut and coloring. My hair was salt and pepper (more salt than pepper) and hung in soft, or rather, annoying curls around my face. When it got too long I simply bobby-pinned it back until I found the time to give myself a trim.
I walked into the kitchen and dialed a number on the phone, listening as it rang in my ear. I was about to hang up when the line clicked on the other end. “Hello! Heddy?” I said. “I’ve got a fridge. Can you look through the list and see who needs what?”
I heard Heddy rustling through papers. Dalton Gregory was the retired school superintendent and his wife, Heddy, was a nurse at the hospital who was on duty when I had my gallbladder taken out four years ago. We’ve been taking stuff from you ever since, Heddy once said. I couldn’t do my work without them. They had the organizational skills that I sorely lacked. I relied on sticky notes and miscellaneous paper scraps to remind myself of appointments or calls, and my idea of filing was stacking things on the kitchen table. Dalton and Heddy kept everything on computer and could pull it up with the touch of a finger. I still wasn’t entirely sure how to turn on a computer.
“A family with three children called yesterday,” Heddy said. “Their refrigerator broke four days ago and the father is in the hospital. The mother hasn’t had any time to look for a new one.”
I peered through the drapes and watched Miriam nosing around the refrigerator. I shook my head, watching her. “Can Dalton come pick it up and deliver it?” I rapped on the window and Miriam jumped, making me laugh. She threw her nose in the air and marched to her own yard. “Sooner than later, Heddy. Miriam Lloyd Snooty Face is riding her broom again.”Years earlier, I had been driving home late one winter night when, near the downtown bridge, I noticed a homeless man with a red hat who wasn’t wearing socks with his shoes. I couldn’t get the image of the man out of my mind. What if that had been my own son? Would anyone have helped? Days later I walked into Wilson’s Department Store and found socks for ninety-nine cents a pair in a discount bin at the back of the store. “What would it cost if I bought the whole bin?” I had asked owner Marshall Wilson.
“Tell you what,” Marshall had said. “I’ll donate all these and hats and scarves to your cause.” I hadn’t realized I was championing a “cause,” but when I delivered the clothes out of the back of my trunk I knew that the cause had found me. People needed help right in my own backyard. I had been slumping around and feeling sorry for myself long enough and needed to do something about it.
“Thank you, Miss Glory,” the man with the red hat had said. The name Miss Glory stuck. Since that time I’d taken in whatever I could get my hands on and given it out to the homeless and families in need, especially young single mothers with children. My husband and I had four children and I couldn’t imagine having raised them by myself.
I taught cooking in my home along with simple classes like how to make a budget and basic child care. Dalton taught computer and job interviewing courses, but all our classes were small. I didn’t have the space in my house for large groups.“He’ll be there in a bit,” Heddy said. “Then Miriam won’t have anything to complain about.”
“I doubt that,” I said.
“Gloria?” Heddy’s voice changed and I wondered what was wrong. “We got word that Rikki Huffman was charged with drug possession last night.”
I fell into a chair at the kitchen table. Rikki was a single mom I’d been working with for the last two years who seemed to be getting her feet on the ground. “No! She was doing so great. Where is she?”
“They have her at County.” Heddy was quiet. “She’ll spend time in jail with this offense, Gloria.” I assumed that, but still hoped Heddy would say something else. “Are you all right?”
“Not really,” I said, rubbing my head. “Who has her kids?”
“DFS. The Department of Family Services will place them. Maybe they already have. You’ve done everything you could for Rikki. You know that, right?”
I sighed. “My mind knows that, sure.”
“Rikki just can’t break the cycle,” Heddy said. I was quiet. “Gloria? Gloria!”
I jumped at her voice. “Yes.”
“Don’t blame yourself.” That always proved to be easier said than done for me. “You can’t save everyone. It’s not your job.”
I hung up the phone and sat at the table, thinking about Rikki for the longest time. I nursed a cup of coffee before heading back outside.
“I’m going on holiday for five days, Gloria.”
I turned to see Miriam behind the fence. That sounded wonderful to me. After learning about Rikki’s arrest I wasn’t in the mood to have Miriam breathing down my neck at every turn. “That’s great,” I said. “It’s always good for you to go away.” That didn’t come out right. “I mean, good for you to leave.” I was making it worse, and put on the most sincere fake smile I could muster.
“It’s my birthday,” she said. “My daughter and her family have asked me to celebrate with them. One only turns...
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