Saturday, December 22
It was 8 in the morning, and Jeff had already been up for two hours. His brain was full of everything that had happened in the past few days, and he had only been able to grab a few hour reprieve from it last night. Less than twenty minutes ago he had bundled up to face the cold weather and walk the streets in an attempt to forget the things that were bothering him. Last night it had seemed as though he knew exactly what it was that he had to do. He had also been fully prepared to let God take care of the results. They say that clarity comes with the light of day, but for Jeff it had only brought confusion and uncertainty. He still knew what he had to do, knew it in his heart but not in his head. He kept worrying about what would happen and how he could change the outcome.
To escape from the constant worry, he had read the Christmas story. It seemed as though everyone in it had things figured out. They trusted God to help them, and He did. Why couldn't he be more like that? Why did his brain keep playing tricks on him, first letting him think that he had given the results to God and then keeping him awake at night worrying? That was why he was now out for a stroll in weather well below freezing. Though walking usually helped him think, today he was using to the opposite effect: helping him keep his mind off of things.
He didn't really think about where he was going but let his feet carry him down streets at random. He started off in the general direction of the church, but somehow or another he ended up at the opposite end of town, near the nursing home. For several minutes he didn't realize that he had stopped and was staring at one house in particular that he had noted a few days earlier. The rough stable and figurines of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were still the only decorations in the whole yard, but they weren't embarrassing this time. There was a certain fittingness to the rough, non-store bought quality of the scene. Jesus hadn't been born in Wal-Mart, had he? He didn't start a whole line of Christmas decorations that made him rich and prosperous. He had been born in a stable, and stables are often times rough around the edges. He hadn't come in a flashy manner because it wasn't how he came but what he did that mattered.
Everything that Jeff had been learning the last several days slid seamlessly together into understanding. Christmas wasn't about getting things and that also went for the approval of other people. It wasn't about having the best decorations in the world, or putting on the best Christmas play ever. It wasn't even about winning Melisa back. Christmas was about Jesus coming to earth to give humanity the greatest gift of all time. It was about humans praising and thanking Him for the gift and showing our appreciation by helping and serving other people.
Jeff looked at the driveway of the house before him and noticed for the first time that unlike all of the other driveways around, it was not shoveled. The lights inside were off and the garage doors were closed, but a shovel leaned against the service door. It was a short driveway; hopefully he would be done before anyone realized what was happening. Service didn't have to be visiting old people in a nursing home or helping out at a soup kitchen. Sure these were great things to do, but true service lay in the attitude of the action.
With a smile, Jeff crunched up the driveway toward the snow shovel. It would take a long time to truly understand the meaning of Christmas, but he was well on his way to doing so The rest of the day passed quickly for Jeff. Breakfast was the next thing on his list, which he took care of promptly after getting home. It was off to the church, then, to meet with the members of his cast and crew who decided to show up to do service for the community. The turnout was considerably better than he had expected, and they had a blast, going around town and helping people. After shoveling a dozen driveways, they headed to the nursing home to help bring some holiday cheer to the residents. One by one the people left to go home until it was just Jeff and Samuel. They headed over to the soup kitchen at two o'clock with plans to stay there until it closed.
"You realize that there is a good chance that Melisa will be there, right?" Samuel asked when Jeff suggested that they head over to the charity.
"Yeah, I know," Jeff said, "but that's something that I have to deal with anyway. It's either now or later; it doesn't matter much to me."
And so they walked to the middle of town to help the less-fortunate. Despite his outer resolve, Jeff was anxious about what he would say when he actually saw Melisa. He hadn't been this nervous around her since they started dating so many years before. Somehow he knew that this was his only chance to get her back; if he screwed this up, they would be done for good.
Just leave it to God, he kept telling himself. He knows what's good for me better than I do.
The inner dialogue did little to reassure him, and he entered the soup kitchen expecting the worse. He was simultaneously disappointed and relieved to see that Melisa was not present, at least at the moment. The inevitably awkward situation was diverted for a while, but that couldn't last forever. This was something that he needed to do and, to his surprise, wanted to do. He had spent enough time not knowing and it was time to clear the air. He decided that one way or the other, after today he would not be wondering anymore.
"They need more mashed potatoes out on the serving line," Steve yelled to Jeff. As explained in a very hurried fashion by Steve, business picked in the few days before Christmas both in terms of the number of poor that came to be served and the number of people who volunteered to help. The place was packed with people of both kinds, and the noise level had risen to a din.
Jeff didn't even bother answering except with a nod. He grabbed a large dish of potatoes from a heating unit and wove his way across the kitchen, almost crashing into people several times. Suddenly the adage "Too many cooks spoil the soup" made a lot more sense. He turned to hit the swinging doors with his back and crashed through into the serving area. If the kitchen had been crowded, the dining room was a hundred times worse. The noise was close to deafening and the smell was quite strong. While the homeless didn't smell bad as an all-encompassing rule, this many bodies in one place was bound to give off a distinct odor. After working in the hot kitchen for several hours, Jeff had a feeling that he didn't smell incredibly great either.
"More mashed potatoes," he told a server's back. The person squeezed to the side and removed the empty dish from the heating unit. Jeff placed the new potatoes in the now vacant space and turned to take the empty dish from the volunteer. In all of the hustle and bustle he hadn't seen her come in, but now Melisa stood right in front of him, a hair net on her head, her sleeves rolled up to the elbows, and a serving spoon in her hand.
Jeff's heart almost stopped, he was so shocked. He had known that with the building being so crowded, this could easily happen, but nothing could prepare him for it. He almost froze where he was but had enough presence of mind to take the empty dish from her and go back to the kitchen, not quite at a run. He dropped the empty dish by the sink on his way through the kitchen and out the back door. He didn't stop to grab his coat as he rushed out into the alley, and the cold air hit him like a wall, cutting straight through his shirt and sweater. He was already half-way down the alley by the time he realized what he was doing. Slowly he turned, walked to the back steps, and sat down. So much for his resolve and his big speech that he was planning on giving to Melisa. All that was gone at the first sight of her.
The back door opened, but Jeff didn't even look up. No doubt it was Samuel coming to check on him and make sure that he was alright. Jeff's guess couldn't have been further from reality a fact made abundantly clear to him when he heard the words that he had secretly been dreading for so long.
"Jeff, we need to talk."
Jeff rose to his feet and he turned to face the Melisa. She had taken the time to get her coat from the rack by the door before she came outside. Clearly she was smarter than he was. Or at least she had it together more than he did.
"It's never good when you hear those words," Jeff commented. He tried to keep his tone light but had a bad feeling that he was failing.
"Talking is something that you have to do to make a relationship work," Melisa said. A small flame of hope danced to life in Jeff's soul.
"I would agree," Jeff said, "but I don't know what we're supposed to talk about this time."
"Does it have to be anything specific?" Melisa asked.
"Based on your tone, yes it does," Jeff answered. "It's something very specific, and I don't even know what it is."
"If you don't know, I'm not going to tell you!" Melisa said. Jeff almost panicked. If he was going to make this work it would be now, but he was losing her already.
"Look, Mel," he said and reached out to take her hands. He half expected her to jerk them away, but she didn't. "I understand that you're angry with me, but I don't know why. Please, I need to know what is wrong before I can fix it."
"Maybe you can't fix it," Melisa said and crossed her arms. "Maybe it's too late for that. Besides, why do you even care? You've been avoiding me for the past week and a half."
"Because," Jeff began but his voice caught and he had to start over. "Because my relationship with you is the most important thing in this world to me. I've been an idiot about it, and it took me a while to realize it, but it's true." His voice cracked again, but he kept talking, afraid that if he stopped, he wouldn't be able to start again. "I love you, and if I lose you, I don't know what I'll do."
He looked at Melisa, cursing the tears that were forcing their way to his eyes. He would have wiped them away, but he was still holding Melisa's hand and wasn't about to break that connection, especially not right now. She glared back at him for a long moment, and though his heart clung to hope, he knew that they were done. For what seemed like an eternity she glared at him, making him pay for every day that he hadn't called her, hadn't come to visit. Then, just as he was about to turn away so that she didn't see him cry and think him a baby, she broke down. She collapsed again him and he held her tightly as she spilled tears all over his shoulder.
"Don't ever do that again," she whispered through her tears. "Never pretend like you don't care."
He promised that he wouldn't and knew that it was true. It had seemed like hell at the time, but he had finally figured out what mattered to him, and he would never let it go.