I wrote this story in high school. The director of the mission spoke at our church today and every time I see him, he tells me how much this story still means to him. So I thought I would share it with you all today; I hope you enjoy it!
I had never known Christmas the way most people in America do. My parents always told me the true meaning of Christmas, but I thought it was an excuse, since they couldn’t afford all of the holiday trimmings.
We didn’t have money for fancy decorations, let alone gifts. The one decoration we had was a small, old table top tree, reminiscent of better years.
Christmas always seemed to just pass me by leaving me more numb than the year before. Until, the one year when everything changed.
It was a cold, blustery December night. As I walked down the street, observing the decorations and the people bustling around buying gifts, I felt a familiar coldness entering my heart. After years of disappointment, I no longer anticipated or enjoyed the Christmas season. Continuing to walk, I felt as though every smiling passerby taunted me. I looked up at the sky and snow met my upturned nose, as if to say, it too was out to make me miserable. I hurried down the street, going as fast as I could without slipping on the icy sidewalk. I felt as though a million ghosts of Christmas past were chasing me. I raced for the safety of my home.
Slamming the door, I breathed a sigh of relief. Surely, this was the one place I could escape the rest of the world and its Christmas cheer. I longed for the end of the holiday season, so that I could once again get on with my life. I rushed to my room and flung myself on my bed. Tears reached my pillow faster than I could stop them. “If only my life were different,” I whispered to the walls, “if only for once in my life I could experience a Christmas as most people do.” As sobs racked my body, I fell into a restless sleep.
I awoke the next morning with a faint memory of the awful dreams I had the night before. Attempting to shake off the feeling of uneasiness, I made my way quickly about the house, getting ready for work. Since it was Christmas break, I was off from school for the next two weeks. I took advantage of this time and requested more hours at the bookstore where I worked. I loved my job, and even though it was tough at times during the holiday rush, it was familiar and comforting for me.
The day flew by in a flutter of gifts being bought, exchanged, and returned. I said my goodbyes and slowly stepped out into the frigid night air. I rounded the corner and made my way towards my favorite pastry shop. As I opened the door, a rush of warm air and fragrant aromas hit my face, instantly warming me all the way to my insides. How I loved this shop! The owner met me with her typical greeting, “Bonjour mon petite amie.” (Hello, my little friend) She was a pleasant woman, a bit round in the face, always with a genuine smile, and a heart willing to love. It was our daily routine for her to greet me at the door and then bring me whatever was fresh from the oven. She made the best pastries; I especially loved her Praline Rivieras. On days when she wasn’t too busy, she would come over and have a cup of raspberry tea with me. We would talk about anything and everything. Madeline was one of my dearest friends. I was glad to see that the shop wasn’t too busy today. Madeline came over with a little pot of raspberry tea and sat down across from me.
“Mon amie, what is troubling you?” Madeline said, “You look distressed.”
I answered, “Oh, Madeline. I cannot stand this time of year.”
“Why is that?” Madeline asked.
“I’ve never had a normal Christmas. My parents don’t buy me mounds of gifts, we don’t have decorations, and we don’t even have a real Christmas tree!”
“Oh, mon amie. Do you not know the true meaning of Christmas? There is so much more to the holiday than presents under a tree.”
“I know, I know. I’ve heard it all before. Please don’t lecture me.”
“All right, I will not lecture you. But I have something to ask you. I made extra pastries and I have to deliver them tonight. Would you mind helping me?”
“Well …sure, I guess. Where are we delivering them to?”
“Ah, you will have to wait and see.”
Madeline and I began to box up the pastries. There were dozens upon dozens; chocolate éclairs, fruit pudding, coffee puffs, raspberry tarts, Napoleon squares, and of course, my favorite, Praline Rivieras. We got into Madeline’s car and began to drive down the decorated streets. A soft snow began to dance its way from the sky, leaving a dusting of fluff everywhere you looked. Madeline turned up the radio as “Mary Did You Know?” came on. I sighed, hoping we weren’t too far from our destination. I was not in the mood to listen to silly Christmas carols.
“Mon amie, have you ever paid attention to the words of this song?” Madeline asked me.
“Well, I don’t know … I guess not. It’s just another Christmas song, who cares?”
“I think you would enjoy this song if you truly listened.”
I sat back and decided to try and listen to the song. As I let the words sink in my mind, I was shocked at how simple, yet profound the lyrics were. I was just about to ask Madeline to tell me a little more about the story the song told, when she told me we had arrived at our destination. I looked around me, in dismay. She must be mistaken! We were parked in front of the City Rescue Mission. Why on earth would Madeline want to deliver her precious pastries to such a place?
“Madeline, what are we doing here? Surely you do not wish to give your pastries to these people. They don’t deserve such treats! And they could never repay you. Come on; let’s deliver these to people who will appreciate such delicacies.”
“Mon amie, I assure you, this is exactly where I intend to deliver my pastries. Now come and help an old woman with these boxes.”
I climbed out of the car in a trance. When I agreed to help Madeline, I did not sign up for mission work! Oh, how had I gotten myself into this? The people would probably all be a mess and smell funny. They would all greedily reach for the precious treats and stuff them in their mouths, not even taking the time to savor their delicious taste. I braced myself as we walked through the front door, mentally preparing for what was about to ensue. But as I stepped into the entrance way, I was pleasantly surprised. The building was neat and smelled of fresh linens. The director of the Mission greeted Madeline warmly.
Madeline put her arm around me and said, “Mr. Jones, I would like you to meet my dear friend, Amelia. Amelia, this is Mr. Perry Jones, director of the City Rescue Mission.”
Mr. Jones reached over and shook my hand warmly. He said, “Nice to meet you, Amelia. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you and Madeline for bringing over these special treats. I know people will be touched that you cared enough to bring them these delicious desserts. And, it will not only fill their stomachs, but it will also bring a little holiday cheer.”
Mr. Jones turned towards Madeline and asked her a question. I didn’t hear what they said, as I was looking around the building intently. Allowing my eyes to draw in all of the decorations and the smiling workers, I was amazed. This was not at all what I had expected! I jerked back to reality as I felt Madeline tapping my shoulder.
“Come Amelia, we are going to help Mr. Jones pass out the pastries.”
We walked down the hall a ways and then went into a large room where dozens of tables with green and red tablecloths were set up. Along the right wall was a row of long tables, covered with all kinds of holiday foods. There was turkey, stuffing, corn, green beans, and mashed potatoes with gravy. Around the tables there were people of all different shapes and sizes seated, enjoying the wonderful feast.
“Amelia, would you like to help distribute the pastries?” Mr. Jones asked me.
“Okay,” I replied, a bit unsure of myself.
As Madeline, Mr. Jones, and I went around passing out desserts to the homeless people, I felt my heart begin to swell. I looked into these men, women, and children’s grateful, smiling faces and I was overwhelmed.
After I finished passing out all of the desserts I had, I stood back and looked at all the people in the room. I marveled at how these homeless people could look so happy. They had nothing! They probably would receive nothing for Christmas outside of this meal and the pastries from Madeline. Why weren’t they miserable? I was pondering these thoughts when a little girl and her mother came over to me. With tears in her eyes, the mother nudged her daughter forward.
“Go on, Becky; tell the nice girl what you wanted to say.”
“Thank you for the pastries,” the young girl said, “they were yummy. You made my Christmas extra special.”
I knelt down besides my new little friend and as I searched for just the right words to say, I felt a tear trickle down my cheek.
“Mon petite amie, do not thank me. I should be thanking you. For today, you have taught me a very important lesson. You have given me the gift of seeing the world through new eyes and for that, I am truly grateful.”
Becky and her mother smiled and walked away. To see that I could make someone else happy made me happy. I never imagined that I would find joy in reaching out to others, but I did.
I turned back to see what was going on in the room. It appeared all of the pastries had been passed out and people were beginning to file out of the room. Madeline approached me and asked if I was ready to go. Unable to speak, I just nodded.
As soon as Madeline closed her car door, I let my tears flow freely.
“Amelia, what is wrong?” Madeline questioned.
“Oh, Madeline, I have been so selfish. Those people have so much less than I do, yet they are still thankful. I have wasted so many years being ungrateful and wallowing in my self-pity. Please, oh please, will you tell me the true Christmas story? I want to know more.”
“Oh, mon amie, I would be happy to. Once, long, long ago, an angel came to Mary and told her she would have a child, and she was to name him Jesus …”
As Madeline told me the story of Jesus’ birth, I felt my life being forever changed. I listened closely as Madeline was finishing the story.
“Amelia, just as the men, women, and children at the Mission may not have deserved our gift of pastries; we did not deserve the gift of Jesus. But God loved us so much that he gave his Son for us, while we were still sinners. Because Christ first loved us, now we can love.”
Looking back on that Christmas so many years ago still brings tears to my eyes. The impact that night had on my life is indescribable. Not only have my Christmases been different, but my whole life now has purpose.
A lot has changed since that day. I am now married and have two children of my own. Ever since they were little, I instilled in them the true meaning of Christmas. And every year, I bring them to the Mission to minister to the homeless.
As for Madeline; she passed away four years ago, a week before Christmas. But I will forever remember her, not only for the way she helped to change my life, but also because she left me her pastry shop. The letter she left me with her will read:
“Mon petite amie,
Thank you for being one of my dearest friends. I always looked forward to our daily talk and pastry. You may be wondering why I am leaving you my shop … I know when you were growing up; you never received gifts at Christmas. This is my gift to you. I hope you will enjoy it. You blessed me and I hope this blesses you. Always remember that first night you served at the Mission and the true meaning of Christmas.”