Monica Wilfred-Sullivan and her husband, Chay, live in a posh mini-mansion on the outskirts of Atlanta. They have no children, but adore their cherished tan and black Norfolk terrier named Toto (after Monica’s favorite movie the Wizard of Oz). Chay is a corporate executive for a major department store, while Monica is a hospital administrator. Time is often spent in offices or at home on conference calls in front of the computer. Quality time for the couple is a quick bit to eat at breakfast and a kiss before they hit the sheets at night. The routine has gone on for so many years that Monica has forgotten when it began. When the holidays roll around, it’s just like any ordinary day. This year, Monica wants something different for Christmas. She is still hyped about her reunion with her family at Thanksgiving and wants to carry that spirit through til….well she just didn’t want it to end. And why should it?
Sitting at her desk at work, Monica gazed out of her office window. The sky looked an eery gray – like rain. She reached into her desk to make sure there’s an umbrella. There was. Monica’s always prepared for the worse. This day’s no different. She rose, but continued to look out of the window. As she looked down, she saw a beat up tan Volvo stationwagon speed up to the emergency entrance. The driver door opened with a frantic man trying to exit, but it appeared that he’s struggling to get loose from his seatbelt. The passenger door opened, and a right leg emerged. Then the left. The occupant was also having a hard time getting out. By this time, the male driver was on the passenger side trying to help. With success, Monica could now see that it’s a pregnant woman. A part of her felt excited for the couple and the birth of a new baby. The other part felt envious.
Monica and Chay tried to have children of their own for two years. Nothing happened. Then they tried a fertility clinic. Nothing happened. They even tried home remedies and old wives tales from the internet. Still nothing happened. The pain of childlessness cut so deep back in those days. Monica thought she had come to grips with it until seeing the couple today. She and Chay talked about adoption or even foster care, but the stigma of children being reclaimed by biological parents put a bad taste in their mouths. Instead, they doted on Toto, but who were they kidding.
Monica stepped away from the window and checked her calendar. Everyday was booked with a meeting, a call, or something that she had to attend….including the day that represented the birth of Christ. She called Chay to find out how his schedule looked. Like hers, it was booked solid. Monica made an appeal to her husband that they both clear their calendars for the holidays. He agreed – pending that the appointments could be rescheduled. After hanging up, she called her assistant in to make the changes, and also to pick her brain about ideas for a last minute Christmas. Several options were thrown out. The one that was most appealing was Christmas at home – decorating the mantles and staircase, trimming the tree, baking cookies, and nuzzling with Chay in front of the fireplace while drinking egg nog, and listening to Christmas tunes. And maybe they could take a walk around the neighborhood to look at all the beautiful lights. Years before, the Sullivans had been one of the few homes that did little to nothing when it came to decorating the exterior for the holidays. This year, Monica would go all out.
After work, Monica visited several home improvement stores for ideas and products. Her basket was full of multi-colored shiny ornaments, green wreaths and garland, crimson bows, and tons of white lights for inside and out. She came across skeletal statues of deer and bears. Not being able to decide on one or the other, she chose both. She went down one aisle then another picking up items. By the time Monica was finished, she had two carts full. Looking down at her impending purchases, Monica’s heart leapt with delight. She hadn’t been this excited about Christmas since she was 7. She zoned out for a moment to remember opening her presents to find a Barbie with tons of outfits, a car, and the Malibu Dreamhouse. The ding of the items being scanned snapped Monica to. After paying, she collected her bags and strolled to the parking lot. By the time she finished loading her Range Rover, there was barely any room for her to drive.
While Monica traveled the streets to her upscale neighborhood, she saw houses adorned with all kinds of Christmas decorations. From string lights to blow-up figures. Some even went as far as to mimic snow in their yards. It was creative, but Monica shuttered at the thought of the cold weather. It made for a great Christmas scene, but in Atlanta it meant everything shut down….literally. As she pulled into her driveway she took stock of her yard. She planned what should go where and envisioned how wonderful it would look. The outside would have big green wreaths with just as big crimson bows. And she always loved the wire deer with white lights. She’d figure out how to mix the bear in later. Monica took a deep breath and then with a big grin, hugged herself with delight and rushed towards the front door.
Entering her home, she went though the same process of assessment. The foyer was massive, so it would be great for a 10 foot tree decked out in winter jewel tone ornaments and bright lights. She bought a star and an angel because she wasn’t sure which would look better. After running the final vision in her mind, she decided on the angel who was beautifully dressed in a flowing winter white chiffon and lace gown with gold trim. Something about this angel welled a bunch of emotions in Monica that caused her body to shake. When she snapped out of the moment, she put the angel down, and returned to her Christmas home overhaul.
After spending over 2 hours figuring out what should go where, Monica was feeling tired. She sat down on the sofa and turned on the TV. She clicked through channels and wound up on the Wizard of Oz. Being that this was one of her favorite movies, she was glued. That is…until the Sandman started to tap dance on her eyeballs. She tried her best to stay awake, but the Sandman won.
In a blink of an eye, Monica went from the comfort of her living room to a Winter Wonderland. She looked all around. Snow and icicles everywhere. Light poles were decorated with big fluffy green wreaths with red bows. People were dressed like the old time carolers where women had on long dresses with shaws and bonnets, and men wore suits with funny ties and top hats. Clearly she’s been kidnapped and placed in a Charles Dickens story or an old-time Hallmark card. She blinked her eyes several times and pinched herself to make sure it’s real…..it was. But how did she get here?
Looking left and right, Monica saw little shops dressed in Christmas colors and lights. Shopkeepers waved from their windows with gleeful smiles. The scene reminded her of the train display her parents used to take her to when she was a girl. The ensemble included not only a train with a whistle and blowing smoke, but also a village with little people and a Christmas scene much like the landscape before her. While caught up in thought, Monica stepped off the curb and almost in the line of a horse and buggy. She jumped back just in time, but not before catching a glimpse of herself in a store window. She recognized the face, but couldn’t believe it. She was a kid again – pigtails, mittens, and all. Every bit of 7 years old, but somehow with the mind of her 30-something self. This was weird.
Walking down the street, Monica saw a skating rink in the middle of the town square. Excitement leapt in her heart. She ran over to observe the skaters. Then, she felt a tap on the shoulder. An older man greeted her and offered a cup of hot cocoa. Monica hesitated at first, but something about him gave her ease. She accepted the cup and began to sip. He introduced himself as Gabe. Monica lost her manners and did not do the same. She nodded instead. Gabe began to outline things from Monica’s life that only the good Lord would know. She dropped the cup and stared at Gabe in amazement. He told her not to be afraid, and that he was there to help her.
Gabe would go on to tell Monica about how she had strayed in her belief. He added that when struggles came or desires were unmet, her modus operandi was to turn towards work or something tangible to find answers or fulfillment. He looked in her eyes and told how God had not forgotten her. At that moment he began to glow so brilliantly.
When Monica startled awake, she opened her eyes. Chay was standing over her with a puzzled look on his face. He mentioned that she had been mumbling. Once she collected herself, she told her husband about the Winter Wonderland and that she had met an angel named Gabe. She was talking so fast and skipping over parts that Chay could hardly follow. Getting frustrated with his lack of understanding, Monica stopped talking, took a deep breath, and then tried to give Chay the moral of the story. She believed that the angel was telling her that her faith was lacking and that blessings may be hindered as a result. She correlated this to their wanting to expand the family due to the child in the dream looking like her. Chay not sure what to say, sat next to Monica and looked at her with unbelievable amazement. He doesn’t know what to really think, but leaned more towards it being just a dream.
The next day, Monica and Chay began decorating the yard. A man walking by, stopped in front of their home. He took in the scenery with a quizzical gaze – cocking his head to the left then the right. Monica and Chay looked at each other not sure what to make of him. Chay asked if he could help the man. In response, the man remarked about how nice and festive the home and yard looked. Walking slowly into the yard, he introduced himself as Mike while extending his hand. The Sullivans exchanged names and pleasantries, and after several minutes of conversing, Mike invited Monica and Chay to his church’s Christmas pageant. Not wanting to be rude, Chay said that they would think about it. Mike smiled and then left just as he came.
While continuing to decorate the yard, Monica dropped the string of lights just as Chay was about to hook them. She pondered over the angel she held earlier in the foyer, the man in the dream named Gabe, and then the man in their yard, Mike. The gears in her mind were churning at lightning speed. Chay was making a fuss at having to string the rest of the lights on his own. Monica with a blank stare, but mouth beginning to move told Chay that they had been visited by a real-life angel and that maybe they should go to the Christmas pageant afterall. Chay not completely sold on the idea, reconsidered because he’d never seen his wife like this. Obviously something was going on. He felt more curious to find out than anything else. And with that, he agreed to go.
On the way to the church, Monica and Chay sat in silence as they listened to Christmas songs and carols on satellite radio. Every now and then a song would spark a special memory. They would revel in it and then return to the festive ambiance of the Range Rover. Upon arriving at the church, the pair encountered golden gates adorned with majestic lights in the shape of angels blowing trumpets. The driveway was also lined with lights that led the way to the church parking lot.
Chay was the first to exit the vehicle. Monica was having some trouble. There was a slight uneasiness in her gut. Unsure of where it was coming from, she took a deep breath and then got out. Chay checked on her to ensure that she was ok. With a wave of her hand, she dismissed it as being nerves since she had not been to church in quite some time. Chay expressed the same concern.
The Sullivans walked towards the church entrance hand-in-hand. They were greeted warmly by ushers and members alike. They took their seats and settled in. Monica looked around for Mike, but did not see him. She glanced at the pageant bulletin looking for a Mike or Michael listed, but does not find one. In her mind, she is convinced that Mike was an angel. She whispered to Chay about her findings. He whispered back that Mike must be there somewhere and not to get caught up in daydreams.
Once again, Monica took a deep breath to help set her mind at ease. She looked around at the decorations. Red poinsettias lined the steps to the pulpit which doubled as a nativity scene. Stained glass windows told the story of Christ’s birth to His resurrection. Below were window sills with lush green garland, pine cones, and candles of white with gold trim. Soft spiritual Christmas songs played in the background, helping to set a reverent, joyous tone. Members quietly chatted amongst themselves or sat with smiles on their faces while giving a friendly wave to those they had not seen since their last service. Monica felt welcomed, yet somehow out of place. Chay sensed this. He slipped her hand in his as he gazed at her. She looked up at him, and for a split second saw a gleam in his eye that she never saw before. A calm overcame her and all was well.
The pageant began. The children recited their speeches, sang songs, and re-enacted the birth of Jesus. Truly a beautiful sight to behold. Then Monica saw Mike standing at the altar. He beckoned all that wanted prayer to come forward. Chay whispered to Monica that he knew Mike would show up. She smiled and then stood, reaching for Chay to join her. The Sullivans walked the aisle to the altar and knelt down. Mike began to pray over them. In that moment, Chay and Monica were caught up in the spirit as if no one was there but them. At the conclusion of the prayer, the couple had tears streaming down their faces. Mike grabbed their hands to help them rise, and then hugged them both. He told them God saw their struggle, and that it had been overcome because they took a step out on faith – not knowing what was in store at the pageant. Monica cried that much more because she felt it confirmed her dream about Gabe.
On the eve of Christmas, Monica and Chay settled in front of the fireplace, drinking egg nog, and listening to songs as they flipped through physical and virtual photo albums of Christmases past. They laughed about old hairstyles and outfits, and cried when they crossed pictures of family members no longer among the living. They told of the gifts that made the best memories and ones that they either re-gifted or gave to Goodwill. They rehashed the events of the pageant, and all of a sudden Monica started to feel queasy. She raced to the bathroom. Leaning over the toilet, she hoped for a release that would not come. Then she began to feel faint. She slowly rose to her feet and gripped the sink. She splashed cool water on her face, then dried off. Chay entered to check on her. She nodded, then sat on the side of the bathtub. It hit her. Could she be pregnant? She rushed Chay to get her cell phone. She swiped quickly through the dates of her calendar. According to today, she is 2 weeks late. How could she overlook this? Maybe because it’s happened before. Those times were hurtful when she would get excited, only to have her hopes dashed.
Monica told Chay of her suspicions and urged him to go the drugstore, but before she could get it all out of her mouth, he had already grabbed his coat and keys. As Monica sat holding herself, she tried to keep calm and not become overwhelmed with emotion. Then it finally hit her. She made it just in time to throw up. Maybe there was cause to believe this time. She stood up and then washed her face again. After staring at herself for a few moments in the mirror, she could have sworn that Gabe was behind her. When she turned, there was no one there. Monica got on bended knees and began to pray. She didn’t ask for a child or even to feel better. Instead she asked God to increase her faith as well as Chay’s.
Chay returned with a bag full of pregnancy tests. After the first, the answer was positive. The next yielded the same results. No matter how many she took or what brand she tried, the answer was the same. Chay dropped to his knees and began to praise God with tears and thanksgiving. Monica knelt beside him doing the same. The miracle that they thought would never come, was now before them. God had delivered like He said he would and in turn also answered Monica’s bathroom prayer. And this Christmas
will be is a very special Christmas.
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