Fire in the Fireplace.
The van was icy cold from sitting outside the shelter for several hours. The kids shivered, and complained for Pastor Bruce to turn up the heat.
“I hope Mary’s situation isn’t too complicated.” Pastor Bruce said, trying his best to respond to the loud call from the back seat of the van for more heat. “I’m not too good with these kinds of things. Not too mechanical, you know. Besides, I don’t have any tools in the car. Hopefully we’ll be able to help.”
“Listen, Pastor Bruce.” said Nick. “Don’t worry. I’ve been around fireplaces most of my life. Where I come from, most of the folks know that I’m the one to call if there’s any problem with fireplaces, so relax. This should be a piece of fruit cake…uh…I mean cake.”
“Speaking of cake…Ed and Joy, did you guys get some dessert before we left?” Pastor Bruce yelled toward the back seat, trying to talk over the volume of the heater fan.
“No, dad.” Edward said with a twinge of sadness in his voice.
“We did get some turkey and jello, though!” Joy exclaimed, as the van turned left on West Main.
“Well, Nick. I’m really glad I ran into you tonight. Thanks for offering to help.” Bruce said, turning his attention back to the front seat.
“No problem, sir. Glad to be of service. There was nothing much else on my schedule for tonight,” Nick replied, rolling his eyes as he thought to himself about all that had happened at the North Pole earlier in the evening.
As they traveled down West Main toward the duplex, Pastor Bruce told Nick about how the church had been given this duplex. One businessman who owned lots of property in the community had started coming to the church about a year ago. One day, the businessman invited Pastor Bruce out to lunch. Many times, when a person invites a pastor out to lunch, it means they’re going to complain about something wrong at the church. Much to Pastor Bruce’s surprise however, the businessman said how thrilled he was to see how generous the people of the church were with less fortunate people. The single mom’s ministry was working with about 12 ladies, and just that last Sunday, Pastor Carol was telling the church how they dreamed of having a half-way house to help moms get back on their feet. Well, sir, this businessman asked Pastor Bruce if the church would like to have ownership free and clear of a duplex near the church he was trying to sell. Bruce and Carol were thrilled and now after a few months of prepping and painting the place, the first two moms had just moved in.
Just about the time Pastor Bruce was finishing up the church’s wonderful duplex story, they pulled up in front of Mary’s place. It’s a good thing they left the shelter when they did. Mary was outside waiting at the door on the west side of the duplex, yelling and motioning to Pastor Bruce.
“Hurry up, Pastor!” Mary said with a shrill voice. “Please. The smoke is getting worse, and we can hardly breathe.”
“You stay here in the car, kids.” Pastor Bruce said as he closed the front door to the van. “I’ll keep the engine running so you can stay warm. We’ll be right back…OK?”
Nick and Pastor Bruce moved quickly toward Mary, who was now running from the front door toward them. Mary was coughing and gasping for breath.
“I tried to get the fire out, Pastor.” Mary yelled. “But it was blazing up too hot.”
“Where are Joey and Sarah, Mary?” Pastor Bruce asked. “Let’s get them outside right away and they can sit in our car with Joy and Edward while we take a look.”
Before Pastor Bruce could even finish his instructions to Mary about getting her kids to safety, Nick had already run right into the house. Like a man on a mission, Nick followed the trail of smoke and quickly located the fireplace in the far corner of Mary’s living room.
Lickity split, Nick took a deep breath, looked directly into the fireplace, and then jumped right over the smoldering logs in the fireplace and up the chimney to see what was the matter. No sooner than you can say, ‘Jack Frost’, Nick found the culprit. The flue damper valve was rusted shut. With a wink of an eye, and a twist of the wrist, the fireplace damper magically opened up and immediately all the smoke began flowing up the chimney as it was supposed to.
Nick was back down the chimney and resting comfortably on one of Mary’s easy chairs long before Mary and Pastor Bruce even finished rounding up the kids. By the time Pastor Bruce had deposited Joey and Sarah in the middle seat of his van and come back into the house, the air was already clearing out of the living room.
Mary Willson was overjoyed. Pastor Bruce was perplexed.
“Nick, how in the world did you get that fireplace fixed so quickly?”
“Well, Pastor, I told you.” Nick explained. “Fireplaces and I go way back. Rusted damper valve frozen shut, that’s all it was. No big deal.”
“Hey, this place is real nice.” Nick continued, looking around the room. “Missing a Christmas tree, however. Suppose we could get that problem taken care of pretty easily, don’t you think, Bruce?”
Pastor Bruce was still just a bit shocked to see how quickly Nick had taken care of the fireplace problem and a Christmas tree was one of the last things on his mind at that moment.
“Ahh…Nick…ahh,” Pastor Bruce sputtered, “I suppose we could arrange for Mary to get a tree in here maybe next year, for sure. But right now…ahh…let me go get the kids from the car and we’ll see if they’re ok.”
Still in a bit of shock, Pastor Bruce ran out into the cold, gathered up the four children and brought them quickly into the duplex. Everyone was just a bit shell-shocked from the whole situation, so as they all took off their coats, Pastor Bruce moved the kids into Mary’s living room. Finding a seat, everyone just sat there for a moment, staring at Nick, who was relaxing in the easy chair, saying nothing. After about five minutes of silence, Joy and Edward walked into the Willson’s dining room and picked out some of the kid’s toys and started playing with them. Joey and Sarah were just fine, and now that Mary was finally calming down, no one seemed any worse for the wear. Mary looked intently over at Nick, who by now was quite comfortable reclining on Mary’s sofa.
I don’t know how to thank you both, Pastor Bruce and ahh…” Mary hesitated. “I’m afraid I don’t know your name.”
“Nick, ma’am. Nick’s the name.” continuing without a breath, Nick said looking over to Pastor Bruce. “Yes Pastor, I really do envision a nice Christmas tree over there by that picture window, don’t you?”
Pastor Bruce quickly changed the subject and began to ask Mary how her new job was coming along down at the hospital. Mary had struggled finding and keeping a job until Pastor Bruce called a friend at Mercy Hospital. Turns out they needed some additional help in the cafeteria there and Mary had a real knack for making something special out of just a few basic foods. Nick leaned back on the couch, listening quietly to the conversation. He quickly observed the calming effect Pastor Bruce and his kids had on Mary and her children.
As the conversation between Pastor Bruce and Mary continued, Nick gazed around the room and remembered visiting this exact home nearly two decades ago. Back in the late 80’s (1980’s that is) a nice family named the Websters lived here with their three small children, Bobby, Linda, and Katie. It was a full house back then, not a duplex, and Nick remembered a big Christmas tree that always stood over by the picture window. Nick smiled to himself as he remembered the tree. The fact is, however, that in ‘92 (1992 that is), when the Webster family moved out, the home was abandoned. Nick was really glad to see that this old house was now coming back to life again, but he sure missed not seeing a big Christmas tree over by the front window.
“Can I get you some coffee?” Mary asked politely.
Nick waved his hand, shaking his head as he replied, “No, no, no.”
“Thank you, Mary, for the offer, but the kids and I need to get ourselves over to the church.” Pastor Bruce explained as he looked at his watch. “We have an eight o’clock band rehearsal. Carol and I need to set up for the Christmas Eve service as well. If you need anything more, just give us a call.”
“Hopefully,” Pastor Bruce continued with a warm smile, “we’ll see you tomorrow morning at the church for Christmas morning services. It’s always so meaningful when Christmas comes on Sundays.”
Pastor Bruce picked up some of the toys, returning them to the dining room. With a wave, he motioned the kids to get their coats and gloves. As they moved toward the front door, Nick politely smiled to Sarah and Joey with a whimsical look in his eyes.
“Yes, Pastor.” Mary smiled. “Joey and Sarah and I will see you and the kids then. God bless you. And God bless you, Nick for coming to our rescue.”
“Good night, ma’am, and Merry Christmas.” Nick replied as he slowly got up from the couch and began moving toward the front door.
As they all walked back to the Dodson van, Nick turned to Pastor Bruce and said, “You know, Pastor, that’s one great thing you’re doing there, helping that nice lady and her children out.”
“Well, Nick.” Pastor Bruce said with a smile. “Hopefully that’s what Christmas is all about, huh?”
“Guess you’re right.” Nick said with an uncomfortable look on his face.
“Say Pastor.” Nick continued. You said you’re going over to the church for a band rehearsal. Mind if I tag along. I’m curious about a church that has a band rehearsal. I don’t think I’ve been to a church down here that does that.”
“Well, sure Nick. You can come along. It’s not a big thing. We just have a four piece band that leads our music on Sundays. We’re practicing a few Christmas carols for tonight’s candle light service. Nothing too special, but you’re welcome to sit in.”
“Sounds good to me.” Nick replied.
Pastor Bruce strapped Joy into her car seat while Edward buckled himself in. The van was still a bit warm, so no one asked if Nick was cold without a coat to keep him warm.
As we celebrate the Advent season, I’d like to share with you one of my personal favorites, a Christmas-time short story I call…Joy Comes in the Morning: A Short Story for Christmas-Time Reading. You might want to bookmark our homepage to keep the whole story in one place! Enjoy!
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