For all my loyal blog readers, here's my annual Christmas story:
Christmas Redemption Times Two
by Lena Nelson Dooley
Thursday, December 19
Jessica Laren gritted her teeth and held her head high as she made her way out the front door of Cantalamessa’s Gourmet Pizzas and Pasta restaurant in Euless, Texas. Tears filled her eyes making the landscape look like an impressionist painting. She always hated those when she studied art appreciation the only year she was able to attend college. Art should be realistic and beautiful, not like the terrible mess she’d made of her life.
She was able to restrain the first tear from running down her cheeks until she’d cleared the doorway of the eating establishment. Jessica had wanted to be an actress. That’s what she felt like right now. A terrible actress, who had just bombed out in the reviews. This was lower than she’d ever sunk before.
After getting into her car and slamming the door, she grabbed a tissue. While taking a swipe at each cheek, she turned the mirror toward her and ventured a glance at her reflection. Hideous! Just as she expected, the heavy mascara she’d applied this morning now smeared her cheeks and stained the tissue. More tears fell before she was able to get out of the parking lot. She didn’t want anyone to see her with dark splotches on her face.
At least, her husband had let her keep the Mercedes in the divorce settlement. That and her expensive clothing belied the state of her financial affairs. Ha! She didn’t have enough money to call them financial affairs anymore. She was flat broke. Not enough money in her purse to pay the paltry rent on her apartment next week. An apartment she wouldn’t have even considered visiting two months ago. The rundown building was in one of the worst parts of Grapevine, but at least each of the units had an assigned garage. Otherwise, someone would have probably stolen her car, or at least stripped it until it was undrivable.
After she parked in her garage, she took another tissue and wiped as much of the black off her face as she could. Making sure the door was secure, she entered the building and hurried toward the elevator, hoping she wouldn’t have to share it with anyone. Finally, one thing went right for her today. She stepped out of the now empty elevator and reached down to pull off the five-inch heels.
A man must have invented those things. Yes, they made her legs look sexy, and she enjoyed that part, but her feet had taken a beating today. Carrying the shoes dangling from two fingers of her left hand, she dropped in a chair in the hallway. As she rubbed her feet, she noticed a run in her very last pair of silk pantyhose.
“Does everything have to go wrong today?”
She glanced up and down the hallway to see if anyone heard her lament. Another good thing. No one was there. Most of the people who lived in the building worked long hours just to make ends meet. She gave a harsh laugh. She never dreamed she’d end up worse off than the waitress at the coffee shop down the block. At least, that girl was making money, even if Jessica would have considered the amount to be chump change before this last embarrassing event.
When she entered the depressing space that was her apartment, she went straight to the bedroom and fell across the lumpy mattress. After grabbing one of the expensive pillows she brought with her, she released the torrent of tears she’d dammed up. Sobs and anguish filled her room as the tears soaked through the satin pillowcase.
When she awakened later, not even a single ray of sunshine reached the windows of her apartment. She shivered. The bedroom was so cold. Surely the heat wasn’t off again. She walked across the icy linoleum floor and turned on the light so she could check the thermostat. One of the things that helped her choose this apartment was the central heat, but it had been on again, off again the whole two weeks she’d lived here.
Instead of the warm, cozy 74 degrees where she’d set it, the temperature hovered right above 60. As late as it was right now, she knew there wasn’t any chance it would be fixed tonight. She wanted to throw the lamp against the wall and watch it shatter like her life had, but she didn’t have the money to pay for the damages.
After going through her drawers and the closet, she donned three layers of warm clothing. Grabbing two thin blankets off the bed, she then dragged them into the living room, such as it was. Dropping onto the hard couch, she wrapped up and clicked on the TV. Thank goodness, the complex included some kind of cable with the rent, but the TV that was part of the furnishings was so small she had to move it close to the couch, so she could see what was on. The news depressed her so much she searched for something else to watch. A Christmas movie filled the screen. Something to take her mind off her problems. She stopped clicking through the channels.
Leaning back, she pulled the blankets closer around her. Soon she wanted to throw something at the screen. Even though the characters had problems in their lives, they were so much better off than she was. She clicked off the set. Now her only companions were the words that bombarded her thoughts. Failure ... stupid ... ugly ... worthless ... unloveable ... nobody ... nothing... The words came louder and faster in her mind. With each one, she sank lower and lower. Beaten down with no hope. She fell into a restless slumber, but the continued bombardment lived on in her nightmares.
Jessica awakened to someone pounding on the pipes or something. Hopefully the repairman fixing the heat. The walls were so thin, the sounds of someone working on the heating unit could be heard two floors up in her apartment. When she went into her bathroom to clean up, she tested the hot water. Yes! Now she could take a shower and warm up at the same time.
Afterward as she dressed and put on makeup, she remembered what Malcolm MacGregor had told her several times in the past. “Try going to church.” As if that was some magic answer to her problems.
But now she’d hit rock bottom. It wouldn’t hurt to take his advice. She was desperate, and nothing else had helped her.
After she finished, maybe she’d check at that coffee shop and see if she could be a waitress ... or barista ... or something. If not, she just might starve to death. She had to have money for gas and food right away.
An idea struck her, and she went through the pockets of all her coats and found $16. That would help her get some gas. Then she pulled out all her expensive purses, one at a time, and dumped the contents onto the bed. By the time she was finished, she had another $52 in bills and a small mound of change. It all came to almost $100. She had always been careless with money, and it was a good thing right now. But this money wouldn’t last very long, and she had to pay rent again in a week.
Tuesday, December 24
Eric Summerfield arrived at Way of Life Church on Christmas Eve. He hadn’t attended a Candlelight and Carols service since he started college. Last Thursday, something happened that reminded him of his Christian upbringing. His best friend’s father, Maxwell MacGregor, called and asked for help unloading several trucks of toys for children of single-parent families. So he agreed to meet the MacGregor and Cantalamessa families for the service tonight.
He knew how big this church was. He got here early, so he wouldn’t miss them when they arrived. He chose a spot at the far end of the parking lot so less agile people could park closer. He enjoyed the cold weather when the brisk wind died down, and he whistled as he approached the front of the church.
A red Mercedes pulled into a parking space close to the building. A blonde woman stepped out of the car, but he only gave her a passing glance as he continued toward the doors.
“Eric Summerfield, is that you?” The feminine voice sounded vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t place it.
He stopped and turned around. “Jessica?”
She sure didn’t look the way Malcolm described her when she approached him at the restaurant a few days ago. Evidently, something had happened to her in the meantime.
When she reached him, he held out his elbow to escort her inside. “How are things going?”
She smiled at him. “Lots better. I’ve been having a rather hard time. Then I remembered Malcolm told me several times that I should try church. I thought that was just so much religious mumbo jumbo. But I decided to take his advice. I came here Sunday. After the service, I really didn’t understand everything that happened, but somehow I felt a sense of hope, and I met an older single lady who offered me a job as live-in help for her. I came back for the Christmas Eve service to see if I could learn more about where this hope came from.”
He held the front door open for her. “I’m sure you will.”
This story is about two of the minor characters in my Christmas novel The 12 Gifts of Christmas
. These events don’t appear in the novel.
© Copyright 2018, Lena Nelson Dooley
Here's out Christmas letter"
Dooley Doings - 2018
Dear Family and Special Friends,
2018 has been a busy year with lots of ups and a few downs in it. I am truly sorry if you received this after Christmas. I intended to get it out before the first of December.
James and I are doing good for our ages. He turned 79 in August, and I was 76 in November. We’re active and enjoying life. He’s still volunteering both at 6 Stones ministry and at the church. He’s a greeter at the campus where we attend church almost every Sunday. And he greets at the main campus two Saturdays of the month.
When school started this fall, Holden, Marissa and Jac’s oldest son, started Pre-K. The family members help by picking him up after school each day, so he won’t have to go to daycare. James picks him up one day.
A while back, his grandmother Jennifer made a video of her asking Holden questions. She likes to do that, because you never know what his answers will be. She asked him what’s his favorite thing about school. He told her it was Tuesdays. She thought he didn’t understand so she asked him another time or two. He kept saying Tuesdays. She asked him why and he told her it was because Grandpa James picks him up. James always takes him to Chick-fil-a. When he’s finished eating, he gets to have something chocolate. Then he and James watch kid’s TV programs. He’s pretty tired from playing in the Chick-fil-a playground before they come home.
I also volunteer at church. I lead a ladies’ mentoring group and volunteer in the church bookstore at the main campus two Saturdays per month. In January, I was the speaker for a Christian Writers group in Woodway, which is beside Waco. It was the best speaking engagement I’ve had. I spoke twice and they bought almost every book I took to sell. I knew they were videoing the sessions, but I didn’t realize that they would be professional quality. So I have videos available for anyone who wants to hear some of my teaching.
Last year, I only wrote one book and had one book release. This year, I wrote three books between January 1 and the end of July. The books released in September and November.
Jennifer and Eric went on a cruise in the Caribbean in October to celebrate their anniversary. They had a good time.
This year, Jac and Marissa have added another ornament on the Dooley family tree. Actually, Everly was born on May 2, and she stole everyone’s heart that day.
Marissa's brother Austin is driving for Grubhub.
Amanda just returned from New Hampshire where she met her boyfriend’s family for the first time. I hope she saw snow. You know we don’t get much of that where we live.
Early in the year, Roger had stomach bypass surgery, and he recovered quickly. Within the first few days he was able to go off a lot of his medicines for diabetes. Now he has lost about 80 pounds, and he’s looking good.
Back in late May and early June, Roger and the rest of the family were scared when Marilyn passed out at work. She was in the hospital four times in about three and a half weeks before they found out what was causing her problems. Praise the Lord, she’s fully recovered from that.
Tim and Katie will present us with the next precious blessing either late this month or early in January. We are eagerly awaiting the birth of their son. The tribe is growing.
I talked to my friend, Rita Booth, in early December right after the Leadership Christmas Party at the church campus where we attend. She said I should put this in my Christmas letter.
Last year and this year, they’ve had a Wacky Tacky party. Last year, a number of people dressed up, but James and I only put on some Christmas things. This year, we both dressed up much more. He wanted to win an award for his costume. He chose a Christmas one-piece pajama that looked like a chimney, with a fireplace on the front. The lights surrounding the fireplace blinked. And there were stockings and tinsel on the mantel. There were a lot of surprised faces when we entered the building. It seemed out of character to many people. But he did win the Holiday Haberdashery 2018 Award along with a sash and a crown.
We wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous 2019.
Another gift for you is the link to a Christmas special in New York City: