Me: How is the card making going?
Prodigal: That sweet young thing is as green as summer grass.
Me: It is the heart that counts!
Prodigal: Especially when it comes to card making!
This is from the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories of Faith by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen
A young minister had been called to serve at an old church that at one time had been a magnificent edifice in a wealthy part of town. Now the area was in a state of decline and the church was in bad shape. Nevertheless, the pastor and his wife were thrilled with the church and believed they could restore it to its magnificence.
When the minster took charge of the church early in October 1948, he and his wife immediately went to work painting, repairing and attempting to restore it. Their goal was to have the old edifice looking its best for Christmas Eve services.
Just two days before Christmas, however, a storm swept through the area, dumping more than an inch of rain. The roof of the old church sprung a leak just behind the altar. The plaster soaked up the water as if it were a sponge and then crumbled, leaving a gaping hole in the wall.
Dejected, the pastor and his wife looked at the defaced wall. There was obviously no chance to repair the damage before Christmas. Nearly three months of hard work had been washed away. Yet the young couple accepted the damage as God’s will and set about cleaning up the damp debris.
It was depressed minister and his wife who attended a benefit auction for the church youth group that afternoon. One of the items put up for bid was an old gold-and-ivory-colored lace tablecloth, nearly fifteen feet long.
Seized with an inspiration, the pastor was the high bidder at $6.50. His idea was to hang the ornate cloth behind the altar to cover the ragged hole in the wall.
On the day before Christmas, snowflakes mingled wit the howling wind. As the pastor unlocked the church doors, he noticed an older woman standing at the nearby bus stop. He knew the bus wouldn’t be there for at least half an hour, so he invited her inside to keep warm.
She wasn’t from the neighborhood, she explained. She had been in the area to be interviewed for a job as a governess to the children of a well-known wealthy family. She had been a war refuge, her English was poor and she didn’t get the job.
Head bowed in prayer, she sat in a pew near the back of the church. She paid no attention to the pastor, who was hanging the tablecloth across the unsightly hole. When the woman looked up and saw the cloth, she rushed to the altar.
“It’s mine!” she exclaimed. “It’s my banquet cloth!”
Excitedly she told the surprised minister its history and even showed him her initials embroidered in one corner.
She had her husband had lived in Vienna, Austria, and had opposed the Nazis before the Second World War. They decided to flee to Switzerland, but her husband said they must go separately. She left first. Later she heard that the had died in a concentration camp.
Touched by her story, the minister insisted she take the cloth. She thought about it for a moment but said no, she didn’t need it any longer, and it did look pretty hanging behind the altar. Then she said goodbye and left.
In the candlelight of the Christmas Eve services, the tablecloth looked even more magnificent. The white lace seemed dazzling in the flickering light of the candles, and the golden threads woven through it were like the brilliant rays of a new dawn.
As members of the congregation left the church, they complimented the pastor on the services and on how beautiful the church looked.
One older gentleman lingered, admiring the tablecloth, and as he was leaving he said to the minister:
“It’s strange. Many years ago my wife-God rest her –and I owned such a tablecloth. She used it on very special occasions. But we lived in Vienna then.”
The night air was freezing, but the goosebumps on the pastor’s skin weren’t caused by the weather. As calmly as he could, he told the man about the woman who had been to the church that very afternoon.
“Can it be,” gasped the old man, tears streaming down his cheeks, “that she is alive? How can I find her?”
The pastor remembered the name of the family who had interviewed the woman. With the trembling old man at his side, he telephoned the family and learned her name and address.
In the pastor’s old car they drove to her home on the other side of town. Together they knocked on her apartment door. When she opened it, the pastor witnessed the tearful, joyful and thrilling reunion of husband and wife.
The thing that hath been , it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and that is no new thing under the sun.
Jennifer Van Allen