I should have been happier.
It was three days before Christmas and I was driving alone on a country road in our small mountain community delivering home-baked cookies to shut-ins.
I had spent the last couple of days with church friends, mixing dough, shaping date balls, melting chocolate, baking dozens and dozens of several varieties of Christmas cookies. We had covered every surface in my kitchen with cookies, laughing uproariously at our own jokes, singing off-key.
I was having a conversation with my Lord about the death of my mother four months earlier. We had had this conversation before and each time the Lord had provided a measure of peace. And yet, they surfaced again and again; the same questions over and over and over:
"Why did my saintly mother have to endure so many years of mind-numbing pain before her death? Why don't I have peace about where she is at this moment? Why, Lord, why?"
I delivered all the cookies that were assigned to me, warmly greeting the shut-ins who had no inclination of the battle being waged within me.
At my final stop, a lady, accepting a box of cookies, kissed me on the cheek and whispered "You're an angel, do you know that?"
I was hardly an angel and I knew it.
Back in the car, I drove a short distance, then pulled over next to an old, weathered split-rail fence and parked. No farmhouses were in view. I laid my head down on the steering wheel and wept.
I missed my mother.
This was my first Christmas season without her.
I had no peace in my heart about where she was.
I knew well the verse, "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." Still, I wept alone on that country road, unable to accept the peace that God was so willing to give me.
Finally, in desperation, and with no thought of Biblical precedent, I asked the Lord for a sign. A sign that He cared; a sign that He heard me; a sign that He loved me.
Wiping my eyes, I returned to our country home where I quietly prepared dinner for my husband. We were alone; our sons were married and living in another part of the state.
The next morning, while dressing for church, my husband turned quickly to me in surprise and asked, "Where on earth did you find it?"
"Find what?" I asked, straightening my skirt before the mirror.
"The ruby!" he replied. "Is that your ruby there on the bedspread?"
I rushed to the bed, picked up the ruby, held it close to my breast and began to weep.
A year earlier, my husband and I had celebrated an important wedding anniversary. My siblings, pooling their resources, had presented me with a lovely ruby on a simple gold chain.
The next week, the stone had inexplicably come loose from its setting and was never found, leaving me distraught beyond reason.
I had searched for nearly a year, combing the carpets, checking our closets, looking in the most unlikely places for this ruby which had lovingly tied me to my siblings with umbilical strength.
And now, on this Sunday morning, the ruby appeared from nowhere in the center of our bedspread. More curiously, the bed had been made less than a half-hour before.
My husband, sensing my suspicion, placed his hands firmly on my shoulders and assured me that, as a Christian, he could affirm that he knew nothing about the ruby's whereabouts or how it ended up on our bedspread. Looking deeply into his eyes, I believed him.
I turned the precious stone over and over in the palm of my hand. How like God! He knew my flawed faith. He surprised me with joy.
There could be no other explanation.
And I sought none.Copyright © 2006 Mariane Holbrook
Mariane Holbrook is a retired teacher, an author of two books, a musician and artist. She lives with her husband on coastal North Carolina.
Enjoy A Collection of Christmas and Holiday Stories