A Christmas Prayer
By Timothy W. Tron
The small child lay pale and cold beneath the covers. The color all but washed from her face; she brought tears to her father’s eyes as he sat patiently beside the bed holding her tiny little hand. She was the youngest of seven children that he and his dear wife had brought into this world. But this one, little Mary, was more precious than all the others. To see her suffer was almost more than he could bare. A few months earlier, the darkness descended upon his life when he lost his Molly in childbirth. Now, helpless to do anything, he watched the last part of Molly seemingly slipping from his grasp – a feeling of despair unlike any other.
One hand lay upon the infant’s bed, while the other was across the well-worn pages of the family Bible on his lap. Michael could barely read, but the words that his fingers now caressed spoke into his heart, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
Outside their meager cabin on the edge of Beech Mountain, the snow continued to fall. Only a couple of days before Christmas, it had been weeks since the temperature had dipped below freezing and remained. Michael Trivette’s livelihood was working the timber. He was a lumberjack by trade, but since the ice had been on the trees, there had been no work. Without income, he was slowly watching the cupboard diminish. The other children, some old enough to help out, were all aware of their father’s broken spirit. Doing their best, they continued the farm chores, but without the primary source of family sustenance, all were beginning to realize something had to be done. Patiently and with as much care as possible, the eldest son, Seth, came to his father’s side. Gently putting his arm around him, he tried rousing him to no avail.
“Pa.” There was no response. The empty green eyes stared back at him. He grabbed both shoulders, gently turning him so he could look into his eyes, and softly shook him as if trying to ease one back from a deep sleep.
“Pa, come back to us,” the eyes blinked once, twice, and then again. Then, finally, a focus slowly returned, and his expression changed. Michael realized his son’s concern and was now thankful that he was aware of his presence.
“I… I’m sorry, son, it’s just that….” The words choked off deep in his throat as moisture gathered in his red, swollen eyes.
“It’s okay. We all understand.”
Michael’s countenance fell, his head bowed down, facing the rough wood floor. By then, a couple more of Seth’s sisters, two of the oldest, joined him by his side, Evelyn and Annabelle. They had their mother’s auburn hair, which fell across their shoulders, one in braids, the other in natural ringlets. They nodded in agreement with their brother, smiling sheepishly, but crossed eyebrows implied a deep concern.
“You need to rest, Pa,” Evelyn said, “We can take care of Mary. You haven’t slept in days. We can’t afford to lose you too.” The last she said as she placed her hand upon his shoulder.
Realizing the gravity of her statement, Michael understood and, with their help, being weary from lack of sleep, made it to his bed. The last thing he remembered was seeing his eldest daughter pulling the covers up to his bearded chin and kissing him gently on the forehead. “Sleep well, pa, we love you,” Annabelle said with a voice that beckoned from her mother. Then as he slept, she knelt beside his bed and prayed over him. “Dear God, we are but a poor, humble family. We ain’t got much in this world, but God, we know our momma is up there with you looking down on us all. We miss her more than we could have ever imagined.” There was a pause as the tears began to arise in her throat. Then, as the tiny bits of moisture ran down her rose-colored cheeks, the words continued, “We ask you, Father, to heal our little sister Mary. Pa can’t stand to see her suffer, and we’re afraid he will fall into the grave with her should she die. So, God, please heal her and give us back our pa, for we will all surely die without him.” A hand touched her shoulder, and she looked up to see Seth standing over her, head also bowed in prayer.
“Go on, sis.”
She turned back toward the bed and continued, “In Jesus Holy name we pray,” Their voices spoke in unison, “Amen.”
Later that night, by the light of a full moon, Eustace Sloop was awakened by a loud knock at his cabin door. The howling winds foretold of a coming storm, but the light from the window cast a brilliant blue radiance across the floor. It was not uncommon. Too often, someone with a grave illness would arrive at his door at the most uncommon hour. Eustace and his wife, Mary, had settled in this little mountain village only a year before. Word quickly spread of their welcoming demeanor, serving the community as healers and educators. Their door was always open. The bitter winds that blew outside only spoke of another desperate soul seeking his medical attention. Mary lay sound asleep. The noise had yet to wake her.
The knock came again before he could grab the nearest lantern and make his way to the door. “I’m on my way,” he spoke softly, hoping not to wake his wife before it was necessary. As the door opened, the yellow lamp light fell upon the bundled-up figure of Seth Trivette, almost unrecognizable if it were not for his radiant red hair that fell from beneath his woodman’s hat.
“Dr. Sloop, we need you badly. Baby Mary is dying.”
“Come in, my boy, come in,” Eustace said, gesturing the boy inside. The wind gusted, almost taking the light with it, as snow blew in, remnants of all which remained on the ground from previous storms. “Step into the kitchen area, and let’s get you a hot cup of coffee.”
As Seth sat at the table, his hands shaking from the freezing temperatures outside, he told of how Mary had started to come down with the chills and then gone into a deep sleep. Listening intently to the boy’s description, it was clear to Doc Sloop that the child needed his immediate care. “And Doc, don’t think we ain’t got the means to pay.” At this, the boy pulled around the pack he had carried in with him and pulled out a bundle. The outer wrappings were burlap tied with cotton string bindings. He opened the package and revealed a beautifully hand-stitched quilt with a note attached that he gently lay upon the kitchen table before them. We ain’t got no money, but this is the most valuable thing my family owns. It was the last quilt my momma sewed. She was going to give it to my pa this Christmas. He don’t know nothing about it cause she died before she could give it to him. So us kids were keeping it a secret for him. But..” His voice trailed off as he choked back emotions. Eustace put his hand on the boy’s shoulder as tears rose in the young man’s eyes.
“Don’t worry, my boy, don’t you worry,” he said as he draped his arm around the lad’s strong, firm shoulders. Already at a young age, Seth was nearly a grown man. The struggles of the mountain folk made them hard people, and early on, they would be forced into adulthood long before their childhood had ended. “God will surely provide, but first, let’s get you warmed up before we head out.”
Hours later, in the dead of night, the fury of the winter storm was fully upon them. Closing the cabin door behind him, Doc Sloop had done all that was humanly possible. The rest was up to God.
The snow was coming down in sheets as he pulled up his overcoat around his neck. He knew the Elk River would be up, making it difficult, if not treacherous, to cross at this hour. The pale light from the cabin window barely penetrated the wall of white fury before him. To Eustace, Mary’s advanced stage of pneumonia was evident. He had applied the salve, then bound her snuggly in the crib where she lay. At such a tender age, no medicine was available to treat her condition safely. The antiserum was too risky for an infant. As a medically trained physician, he feared the worse. As he tried to prepare to step into the squall, the door opened behind him. Annabelle emerged.
“Doc, we want to thank you for coming out in such dreadful weather. We can’t ever repay you for what you’ve done.”
“I haven’t done anything yet,” he thought to himself. The whisper of his fear crept back into his mind. He knew only by God’s will that little Mary would live or die. With all the strength to keep his voice from cracking from the emotion, he responded with, “My child, it is why I’m here.”
“I wanted to pray for you before you leave.”
“Sure,” he paused, removing his wide-brimmed hat.
As Annabelle lifted Eustace in prayer, the lights from the lantern inside flickered. The wind calmed ever slightly, and as the doctor mounted his horse, barely visible in the gale of blinding whiteness, nobody on this side of Glory knew what would become of the deathly ill babe inside.
Just after midnight, in the wee hours of the morning, Mary Sloop realized Eustace had not come home. Outside in the darkness, the snow was already a foot or more. Bundled up, she made her way by lantern light to the barn to see if the horse was in the barn. To her surprise, the horse stood in the stall, with Eustace still mounted, sound asleep. His feet were still frozen in the stirrups. He had passed out from exhaustion. Lovingly and with as much care as possible, she freed him from his frozen prison and helped him inside. As she gently helped Eustace into the warm bed, his hand on her shoulder for balance, he whispered in a strained voice, “Mary, please…please pray for the little Trivette baby and the family. It doesn’t look good for the child. But we know it’s all in God’s hands.”
“No worries, my dear, I’ve already done the likes, and for you as well.” He smiled at this, looking into her bright eyes.
“And here, I almost forgot. Get this note to Preacher McCrae as soon as possible. He will know what to do.” Eustace pulled the small slip of folded paper from his shirt pocket, placing it in Mary’s palm.
“Don’t you fret. Now you lay yourself down and get some rest. These mountain folk need their good doctor. It’s your turn to get some pampering. Besides, we got to take care of that frostbite. How will you perform surgery if you don’t have any fingers to work with?”
He grinned broadly at this as she left the room, softly pulling the door behind her. She was so direct sometimes, but her truth was as light to his soul. The last thing he could see as his mind succumbed to the fatigue that overtook his body was the precious face of that tiny baby girl. Her countenance was so pure, so innocent. Eustace then realized it had been as if he had looked upon the face of an angel. The words to his favorite Psalm came to mind as he drifted off, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth….”
As the gray light of dawn was still finding its way into the deep crevices of the mountains the next day, Christmas morning, Michael Trivette was in a far distant land. The battle raged around him. Helplessly he watched; his brothers-in-arms lay about him. Their corpses lay as logs in the woods, fallen, grey and cold. He was on his knees, his body too weak to continue. The armored warrior stood before him, sword in hand, ready to make the last swing that would sever his head from his body. Just as the demon lifted its blade to make the momentous arc downward, it stopped. With the demon’s helmet shield open, Michael could see the expression of surprise and fear written on his tormentor’s face as the last vestiges of life passed from its lips. As the dark force fell to the ground, he could clearly see who had saved his life – standing before him was the image of his Lord and Savior. His face shone like radiance, too bright to look upon. With his outstretched arms, he beckoned Michael to rise. As he did, he felt a renewed strength surge through his body. A sense of peace so warm, so loving, it made his heart begin to weep.
Michael awoke with tears running down his cheeks as his second youngest, little Micah, tugged at his bed shirt.
“Pa Pa,” she said with a huge smile as her other brothers and sisters stood behind her. “Pa, Pa, come look. Jesus has come.”
Michael rose from the bed. No longer saddened, he felt renewed, even if it was just a dream. The children took him over to the crib of little Mary. There smiling, looking back up at them, was his precious baby girl. Reaching down, he picked her up, still wrapped in the blanket that Doc Sloop had wrapped her in. Crying in the embrace, a note silently slipped, almost unnoticed, from between the folds of the material and fell at Michael’s feet. “Look, Pa, a note fell out of the blanket,” little Micah exclaimed as she reached down, picked it up, and handed it to her pa.
“You got to read it to us, …please?”
“What, what’s this,” Michael said, carrying Mary and the note over to the rocking chair beside the hearth. The fire felt warm already. Seth knelt, feeding more wood into it as he watched his pa pause, looking solemnly at the note.
He began reading “Dearest Michael.” The children watched, their hearts matching their father’s, his lips trembling as he slowly rocked the baby in his arms. Then, looking back at the note, he continued, “I know we don’t have much in this world but each other.” He stopped rocking and looked up at the ceiling. Then after a long pause continued, “I hope this quilt will keep us as warm together as our hearts are for each other until the end of time. Love your dearest, Molly.”
Michael looked up from the note at his young family. Tears streamed down his face, but he didn’t mind. He had suddenly realized the blanket wrapped around his little Mary was a gift around a gift, the beauty therein too precious to behold. The children, then knowing the time was right, gathered around their dear father and embraced as one. For a moment, the ice on the trees, the lack of food on the table, or even the loss of their momma seemed to hurt a little less. They could have remained in that huddle of love forever had it not been interrupted by the sound of a horse whinnying and hoofbeats tearing away.
Seth bounded toward the door, grabbed the rifle, and threw on his coat in almost one motion. He threw open the door and froze. A burst of cold air and snow blew in as he stood staring.
“What is it, son,” Michael said from beside the fireplace, having stood with Mary still in his arms.
For a long moment, he didn’t speak. Then when he could finally bring the words forth, they were cracked and muted with emotion. “There, there’s stuff all over the porch.”
“What stuff, son?” “Snow?”
They all hurried over to the now-ajar door and peeked out.
There, covering the entire porch, were crates and feed bags full of food, preserves, dried beans, pintos, taters, and more. In addition, a sizeable smoked ham hung from a rope around the beam on the porch, with a big red bow tied across it. A note hung from the ham with the words “Merry Christmas” written in big letters.
Michael looked down at Mary, the quilt, then back at the porch. There weren’t words to describe the moment. But he knew in his heart that somehow the Lord had provided. Before closing the door, he looked up to the heavens, smiled, and mouthed a silent, “Thank you, Jesus.”
As the little Trivette family drifted off to a peaceful sleep later that evening, their thoughts would turn to gratitude. None of them would ever forget the Christmas when God answered their prayers and gave them back little Mary and their Pa. Their mother’s quilt would become a treasured family heirloom. After everyone was put to bed, Michael lay just looking up at the ceiling for a long time, but his thoughts were far beyond those rough-hewn rafters. He couldn’t help but think God had been there for them through it all. He thought of dear Molly one more time, and before he slipped into a peaceful slumber, he softly spoke the words, “Thanks be to God.”.
Timothy W. Tron lives in Collettsville, NC. with his family. He is currently the Systems Administrator for the Computer Science Department at App. State. Timothy is the former Director of the Trail of Faith in Valdese, where he still volunteers and helps with tours. He is the author of a new Christian series, “Children of the Light”, with the first book being, “Bruecke to Heaven”, revised as “Bridge to Heaven”, and his recent book, being the second, “The Light in the Darkness”. He is an active blogger, artist, and musician. Timothy also has a BSEE from UF, and is a Lay Speaker. He is currently acting as the Faculty/Staff Liaison for the Ratio Christi campus ministry at App. State. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org You can visit his website at //www.timothywtron.com/ or see more of his writings HERE