You may never see what’s on the other side of your kindness and obedience. Be kind and obey anyway.
Celeste sat quietly in the pew about halfway to the back of the church sanctuary, basking in the soft glow of candlelight and the peaceful aura that surrounded her. The Christmas Eve service was one of her favorites of the year; the story of the baby’s birth in Bethlehem and what it had been like for his mother and her husband always brought a thoughtful tear to her eyes.
With no one at home, no presents to wrap or cooking to do, she sat patiently waiting while her pastor spoke to several of her fellow congregants. The least she could do was share a word of encouragement at how much she had enjoyed the music and his message.
The pastor saw her sitting there alone. He knew she was waiting for him; as one of his most faithful members, he knew her to be friendly and generous with praise. He also knew that with her son and daughter in law on the mission field overseas and her husband having gone to heaven several years back, this was likely a difficult time for her. It would be uplifting for both if he spent a moment with her.
She rose in her pew as she saw him finish and start toward her.
“Merry Christmas, Celeste.” He greeted.
“Merry Christmas, Pastor.” Her smile came warm, bright, and genuine. “What a beautiful service. I enjoyed your message so much. Everything was just breathtaking and perfect.”
“I’m so glad. This is my favorite time of year.”
“Mine too.” She replied. “Always has been.”
“How’s your son doing?”
“I talked with him and Mai Li just this afternoon. They’re thriving and happy.”
“Good. Give them my best next time you speak to him.”
“Will do.” She nodded decisively and grinned. “New Year’s Day.”
He nodded in return.
“Well, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it tonight.” She declared, starting for the door. “I know you have a family to get home to.”
Celeste turned. “Enjoy your holidays.”
Pastor nodded in reply. He wasn’t sure exactly how it was for her, so it felt wrong to echo her words. Lord, he prayed. Bring her some joy this season.
Clear and crisp, with her house so close to the church, she had chosen to walk rather than drive. As she passed the empty lot beside the church and began to walk across the front of the parking lot of the convenience store, she heard a noise. It sounded like whimpering. She quickened her pace. God only knew what might be going on in that dark space behind the dumpster. Shivering, when she heard it again, it stopped her.
That wasn’t the noise of some clandestine activity. Either a wounded animal, or worse, it sounded like someone who needed help.
Hesitating there, she struggled with what to do. Without knowing what was there, she could be making a grave mistake. Creeping closer, she listened.
The whimpering came again. It didn’t sound like an animal.
She couldn’t see anything, so she called tentatively. “Is someone there? Do you need help?”
In response, the voice cried out, clearly in pain.
Celeste pulled her phone out of her purse. “I can call 911, if you need assistance.”
“No!” Came the cry of what sounded like a young woman.
“Are you hurt?”
The reply was another cry.
Compassion took over and without another thought, she charged around the dumpster to see what was happening.
Crouched in a ball on her side, a young woman clutched at her belly, obviously in pain. She rasped. “Go away. Just leave me alone.”
Celeste moved closer. She could see the girl, who couldn’t have been more than a teenager, was very pregnant and must be in labor. Going into action mode, she began gathering the girl’s things.
“What are you doing?” The girl demanded. “Leave me alone!”
“Why are you out here in this alley? And having a baby all alone?”
“None of your business.”
“Listen, I want to help you. Talk or I’m calling the authorities.”
“Where are your parents?”
“They kicked me out.” She said, breathing heavily. “I… I want to keep my baby.”
With an exasperated sigh, Celeste nodded. “What about the baby’s father?”
“He wants to help but… We’re both… underage… no job… no money.”
“Okay.” She had finished gathering the girl’s things. “Come on.”
“What? What are you…?”
“My house is just around the corner. I’ll take you there.”
The girl looked at her strangely.
“I used to be a nurse. I can help you through this.”
“Why… would you… help me?”
Celeste smiled. “Because you need it… and I can.”
The girl, clearly confused, stared in disbelief, and didn’t move.
She spoke firmly. “Do you want to have this baby in a comfortable bed, safe, dry and warm? Or do you want to have it in this cold, hard, dirty alley?”
“Are you going to call my parents? Or… or the police or somebody? You won’t take my baby away, will you?”
“Of course not.” She sighed, extending a hand. “I can’t carry you but we’re going to have to walk. It’s just around the corner. Can you make it?”
“Why? Why are you helping me?”
“I told you. Because I can.”
“We can talk more after you’ve had the baby, but without examining you, I have no idea how much time we have. We need to go. Now trust me. I won’t hurt you or the baby and after that, we’ll talk. Okay?”
She only thought another moment before taking her hand and struggling to her feet.
The two of them hobbled together, stopping every time a contraction came.
“By the way, my name is Celeste. What’s yours?”
“Ok. Lindy. It’s just up here.”
They moved slowly but finally arrived at the house.
Celeste guided her through the foyer and stopped at the foot of the stairs that led to the second floor. “Can you climb the stairs?”
Lindy nodded, crouched over but bravely forging ahead.
In the guest room, Celeste turned down the bed. “I’m going to examine you and then we’ll get you cleaned up a bit, okay?”
With a forlorn look at the soft, downy comforter, she nodded. “I’m sorry…”
“Don’t be silly.” Celeste assured, laying a hand on her arm. “We likely have a little time before the baby comes and I want you to be as comfortable as possible.”
When she had determined her progress, she said. “I’m going to get some towels and things we’ll need for the birth and make some phone calls. I’ll be right back.”
Something like panic filled her face. “Phone calls? But…”
“Don’t worry.” She soothed. “It’s just that it’s Christmas Eve and I want to have some formula and diapers on hand before everything closes.”
“Oh. Okay.” Lindy replied sheepishly. “I just… I guess… you must think…”
“Lindy, I’m not here to judge. I told you, I just want to help. So, relax and let’s bring this baby into the world.” She went out quickly.
Strong and healthy, Lindy braved the worst parts of labor courageously and the baby was born without complication. Relieved and exhausted, she collapsed back onto the pillows. “The baby…”
Celeste smiled as she held the child in a clean towel, moved to the basin and began to wash the tiny form. “Your son is perfect.”
“A boy.” Lindy breathed. “Joshua David.”
“What a wonderful name.” She finished with him and laid him in his mother’s arms.
Struggling to sit up, she frowned. “We should go.”
“Don’t you dare!” Celeste commanded firmly. “It’s a miserable night out there and you need to rest. I have plenty of room and it’s Christmas… Day now, since it’s after midnight.”
“My only family is on the other side of the world. I’d be grateful for the company.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Well,” Celeste began, taking a seat on the edge of the bed and straightening the blanket. “Let me tell you a story.”
Lindy settled back on a pillow.
“Many years ago, there was a young woman who became pregnant before she was married. The man she was engaged to, who knew the child wasn’t his, being a decent and honorable man, decided to quietly end their engagement rather than expose her.”
With a frown, Lindy shook her head. “He couldn’t forgive her?”
Celeste smiled patiently. “Back then, being pregnant out of wedlock was a huge deal. A disgrace. It would affect not only her future, but his, if he married her. And with severe consequences.”
“I can’t imagine… wow.”
Sometimes Celeste forgot how much the culture had changed. “Anyhow, he had a dream that told him she had been chosen by God and to go ahead and marry her. So, he did.”
“God? Seriously?” Then a knowing expression crossed her face. “Oh, you’re talking about the Christmas story. I’ve heard this one before.”
“Maybe.” Celeste acknowledged. “But you may not have considered it like this.”
“Well, what if Joseph had gone through with his plan to break their engagement?” She asked. “It was the law that a young woman pregnant outside of marriage be stoned to death. What if the Jewish leaders had discovered her condition and stoned her?”
“Would God have let that happen?”
“I can’t say for sure what may have happened. Certainly, he would have found a way to bring forth the Messiah, but many of his plans have been hindered by the evil actions of ungodly men.”
“So, Joseph married her. Then, again in God’s plan, a census was announced, and the citizens of Israel had to travel to their ancestral homes to be registered. Joseph, being of David’s lineage, had to travel to Bethlehem. You see, ancient prophecy declared the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.”
Her expression ponderous, she appeared to be taking it in.
“They had to travel slowly because Mary was close to her delivery. So, by the time they arrived, all the inns were full.” She grinned at the thought. “A kindly innkeeper offered them a place in a nearby stable. Again, in fulfillment of prophecy.”
“What do you mean? I thought they were there because they were poor.”
“No, Joseph had a successful business. He could have rented a room but there weren’t any. So, they went to the stable — one where the sacrificial lambs for worship in the temple were raised. Lambs were wrapped tightly — in swaddling clothes – to keep them from injury, because they had to be perfect to be eligible for offering.”
“The sinless, spotless Lamb of God was born just as God had spoken through His prophets years before. In that stable, under the same protection the natural offerings were kept.”
“Right. Wow.” She patted Lindy’s arm. “You asked me why I’m helping you. That’s why.”
“What do you think would have happened if Joseph had chosen to ignore his dream? Or if the innkeeper had been indifferent to the young couple who needed a room and turned them out into the street without offering to help?”
“I don’t know.”
“No one does for sure. But it most certainly would have affected the outcome. What if the Messiah hadn’t been born the way and in the time God had said? Who knows how it might have changed things?”
“But what’s that got to do with me?”
“It’s a brave thing you did, Lindy. Choosing to keep your baby, despite the pressure to do otherwise.”
“There’s no telling what plans God has for your son. How could I just harden my heart and refuse to help you?”
“Oh.” It was clear the light had dawned. She gazed into the face of her sleeping child and nodded. “Thanks.”
“I want you to think about something.”
“If you can’t work things out with your parents, and until you and the baby’s father can make whatever plans you’re going to, I’d like you to consider staying here.”
“What?” Lindy’s head snapped up, her expression disbelieving. “But I…”
“Need to finish school. Need a stable environment for your child.” She hadn’t even considered it when she’d offered to help or the rest of the story she’d shared. “I’m retired, Lindy, and with no worries about money. I’d be happy to help you and the baby while you work things out. Longer if need be.”
“Seriously? Why would you want to help me?”
“Because that baby, the one born in that manger? Became the savior of the whole world, me included. Who’s to say what your child is destined to become and to do? He could change the world.”
She stared again into the baby’s sleeping face.
“I’d like to think that, like that innkeeper, I had a small part to play in the grand plan God has for this child and for you.” Celeste stood. “Just think about. And rest now.”
Just before she got out the door, Lindy said. “I’ll stay, Celeste. Who knows if maybe this isn’t part of the plan for you, too?”
Turning to face her, she replied. “You know, Lindy, you might just be right about that.”