Jennifer Sienes

The Brightest Light

In another life, the sight of the twinkle lights that lined the Piggly Wiggly would’ve had Madeline Harris belting out praises to baby Jesus. “Silent Night” and “Little Town of Bethlehem” were her favorites. But now, staring through the foggy gloom, there was no joy to be found in the Christmas lights or brightly painted windows.

“I’m cold, Mama.” Amelia climbed from her car seat to scoot closer to Maddie.

“I know baby doll. Mama’s workin’ on a plan.” Or she would, once she could get past the stone-cold fear. She wrapped an arm around Amelia and pulled her close, inhaling her blond curls. The scent of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo tickled her nose even as tears burned at the back of her eyes. Her nana was forever saying, “You’ve gotta have an attitude of gratitude, little girl.” But the last ten months had just plain beaten the gratitude clear out of her.

Was it just last Christmas life seemed so full of possibilities, she couldn’t have foreseen another dreary day? That was before Conner’s car accident and death, the medical bills, and Nana’s passing. Before the darkness came.

And now here she sat in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly, the old truck refusing to start. Her last ten dollars went to food that would have to last until she could find a job and childcare. And how would she do that without a working vehicle? Or a place to live? Evicted from her apartment, and her baby girl cold and hungry. No way to get to a homeless shelter, if one was even available.

If it were just her, she’d sleep right here until Jesus came to take her home. But just the thought of Amelia, her precious child… It was enough to make a body do all manner of crazy things. Her eyes filled, and she swallowed back the worthless tears. They’d only scare her baby.

Lord, where are You? You promised never to leave me or forsake me, but I gotta say, I’m feeling pretty forsaken right about now. What had praying gotten her over the last several months except false hope? She reached around Amelia and placed her fingers on the key still in the ignition. Maybe it’d start this time. Please, if You’re there, I’m in need of a miracle something fierce.

Movement from the corner of her eye caught her attention, kicking her heart rate up a touch. An old man stood at her window and tapped it with a gloved knuckle. She glanced out the windshield to be sure there were still shoppers within yelling distance if need be before lowering the window slightly.

“Are ya all right, miss?” His bushy white brows stood out like caterpillars just below the rim of his knit cap. Gray whiskers covered his cheeks and chin.

She was about to blurt an automatic, “Yes sir,” but blew out a weary breath instead. She was so far from ‘all right’ they weren’t even in the same state. She might’ve been here in Tennessee, but ‘all right’ was most likely clear to Florida.

“I don’t mean to frighten you none, young lady. I couldn’t help but notice you been sittin’ in the cold for a right long time. You havin’ trouble gettin’ your truck to start?”

Amelia scrambled over Maddie and patted the window with a chubby hand. “Mama’s workin’ on a plan.”

“You need to get yourself back into your car seat, Amelia.” Maddie guided her to the passenger side of the truck with a gentle hand. Three years old, and she was taking charge already. Just like her daddy. “Let me tend to this, baby, you hear?”


Maddie turned back to the good Samaritan, desperate enough to be truthful. “I’m afraid this ol’ truck might’ve breathed its last.”

“Can I give you a lift home?”

Pride tangled with her tongue. How could she ask this sweet old man to take her to a homeless shelter? What kind of a mother would he think her? Couldn’t be any worse than she was thinking of herself.

“Miss?” He rapped on the window again. “I know in this day and age, it’s hard to trust a stranger. My wife Betty and me’ve lived in this here community since the day we was born. Denton, manager of the Piggly Wiggly, can vouch for me. The name’s Sam Whitton.”

Tears nearly blinded Maddie as she rolled the window all the way down. “It’s not that I don’t trust you.” Although, she was feeling some better learning his history. “There’s nowhere you can take me, unless you know of a homeless shelter that might could be available.”

Sam tilted his head. “I think I can do you one better. Betty’s got a pot of soup on the stove for supper and a couple guest rooms just waitin’ for you and the little one.”

Despite the cold, Maddie’s face heated. “Oh, we can’t impose like that. We’ll be fine in a shelter.”

“And what about tomorrow?” He frowned. “Everyone needs a hand up now and again. The good Lord has blessed Betty and me beyond measure. We’re happy to pass on a little of what’s His.

“If’n you want, I can have my neighbor Cal come down tomorrow to look at your truck. He’s the best mechanic around. I’d give him a call now, but I ain’t got one of those newfangled phones everyone seems to have attached to their hands these days.”

Could it be God had heard Maddie’s prayers and sent Sam in His stead?

Twenty minutes later, Sam parked his car in front of a quaint, farm-style house set back from the road. Maddie, in the passenger seat, looked through the windshield with wonder. White Christmas lights were strung across the roofline and more twinkled from a tree that sat in the front window, proud as could be. The porch light revealed wide wooden steps leading up to the door, which was adorned with a beribboned wreath.

After climbing out of the car, Maddie unlatched Amelia from her car seat in the back and lifted her to the ground. Before their feet hit the first tread, the front door flew open, and a woman looking sweet as Maddie’s nana stood in the doorway.

“Welcome home, y’all. Come on out of the cold and let’s get you comfortable. I’m Sam’s wife, Betty.”

Maddie’s breath caught and her mouth dropped open. It’s like she expected them. Sam couldn’t have called; he’d said he didn’t have a phone.

Betty waved Maddie and Amelia into the house while Sam followed.

“We surely appreciate your kindness, Miss Betty. I’m Maddie, and this here is Amelia.” Maddie slipped an arm around Amelia’s shoulders to keep her close. Everything looked so pretty, she feared her daughter would touch things she shouldn’t.

“It’s surely a pleasure to meet ya both.”

A fire blazed beneath a mantle decked out with greenery and four colorful stockings. The Christmas tree, filled to bursting with ornaments, was more wonderous from inside than it’d looked from the porch. The air smelled of pine and cinnamon. Just like Nana used to do it. In the background “Come All Ye Faithful” played, completing the scene.

“It looks like Christmas, Mama,” Amelia said, eyes wide as supper plates as they took in what must’ve seemed like a little girl’s fantasy. A big girl’s, too.

Betty bent down to eye-level with Amelia. “How old are you, sweetheart?”

Amelia held up three fingers. “I’m three.”

“Well, ain’t you adorable. I want you to make yourself to home, Amelia. We’re gonna get you settled in and fed right quick.”

The knot that’d sat in Maddie’s belly for days unfurled and warmth spread through her like she’d been filled with sunshine. “I hope we’re not gonna be in the way. Sam insisted it was all right.”

“It’s more than all right, child.” With a wave of her hand, Betty ushered them into the dining room where four places were set at the table. “I was expectin’ you.”

“But”—Maddie looked at Sam—“How?”

“I stopped questionin’ Betty’s uncanny ability to hear the Lord speak a long time ago.” He winked. “She’s never heard wrong yet.”

It was then Maddie knew. God had seen her every tear and had taken each prayer to heart. He’d just been waiting for the perfect time to shine His light on her life.


Susan K. Beatty

Doing What God’s Called You to Do

I’ve been writing almost my entire life. As a young girl scribbling stories, high school and college journalism, and even before I graduated from college, I worked as a journalist. Then I was a tech writer, magazine article writer, magazine editor, how-to book author/editor. So, it shouldn’t have come as a big surprise when I started writing fiction that writing was hard work.

But it did. It is very hard work. But it’s what God has called me to do.

There is a big difference (to me anyway) between writing non-fiction and fiction, and as a newbie, I’ve had to do a lot of studying the craft, practicing my writing, working with a critique group. If what I’ve heard from multi-published authors is accurate, I’ll have to continue learning my craft as long as I write.

I’m not complaining. I love every minute of it, and the rewards can’t be beat.

Knowing that I’m doing what the Lord has called me to do, evidenced by the doors that have been opened to me, is my number one reward. He’s led me to write stories of courage in everyday life so that others can be encouraged.

So many other rewards come to mind: seeing characters come alive, watching a plot come together, receiving “atta-girls” from my critique group (sprinkled with “it might work better if you … “), signing my first contract (a real biggie!), getting a new book cover, holding in your hands the real book with your name on it for the first time.

Then there are the nice reviews (I’m too much of a newbie to have gotten any bad reviews, but I know they are inevitable, so I’ll be ready and learn from them—I hope), the notes from readers, hearing a reader understood what I was trying to say, and sometimes pointing out something pithy that I didn’t even know was there. (So it had to be a God thing.)

There are surprising little bonuses like a friend telling me she bought a copy for each of her adult children and one for the church library.

Writer or not, whatever we’re called to do, no matter how difficult, we should look for the rewards, first from the Lord and the little or not so little blessings He gives us along the way. And we can’t let the enemy distract us by telling us we’re not up to it, or it’s too hard, or lure us down a rabbit trail. He’ll tell us lies. We can’t listen.

Let’s keep reminding ourselves: “I am doing important work and cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3 CSB)