This story is quite different from any other I have ever written. It is a work of fiction filled with love, longing, compassion, and hope, a Christmas and New Year’s story for our hearts.
The Crosses of Hope
Many years ago, when times were hard and lean, there lived a family near the edge of a small town. A town where people greeted each other, helped each other, prayed for each other, and genuinely cared for their neighbors despite the harsh times. The Depression had taken over the country, and even the small town could not escape its cruelty.
Especially hit hard were Ben and Lizzy Thompson and their daughter Beth. They were a good family, a kind family, a family who knew no bounds when their friends needed help. They lived daily by the scripture, encouraging them to help others carry their burdens. However, when circumstances changed, they became quite good at keeping secrets, especially from their neighbors…
Ben was a tall, lanky man with blue eyes that sparkled like frosted ice on a frozen lake and a head of thick dark brown hair streaked with rays of white that reminded one of a lion’s mane.
He was a hard-working man with a great sense of humor and whose love for his family and friends was planted in his heart. He was a carpenter by trade. There wasn’t anything Ben couldn’t build from framing a house to building beautiful furniture. However, Ben had another passion, a unique passion that touched many families in town. Every evening after dinner, he could be found in his workshop carving and whittling two pieces of wood that would eventually become a white cross.
Each time a friend passed away, Ben would carry the cross to the funeral, then waited patiently until the service was over. Then, he and Lizzy walked slowly behind the family towards the cemetery while Ben thought about the life of his dear friend and the word that made him or her special. After everyone left, Lizzy would watch as Ben hammered the white cross into the hard ground. She would tell him when the cross with the whittled design and the carved word was standing tall like a soldier.
Ben kept a notebook in his workshop where he wrote each family’s name in alphabetical order. Written next to each name was one word; a secret word. He considered those words carefully when he worked on each cross. Since the Depression started, Ben worked on the crosses more frequently, making sure to tell a story that would bring peace to the family.
Often times, Ben would take time away from other projects to carve the crosses. Crosses that he never asked a penny for. It was his way of thanking his neighbors for their kindness and friendship.
The last few months had been slow for Ben. Not too many people needed a table built or a house framed. Each day, Ben could be found in his shed, working on his crosses. As the days turned into weeks, Ben began to feel weak. He felt weak in his body and insecure in his faith. Each day he as looked into Lizzy’s darkening eyes, he longed for the good old days when there was plenty of everything, especially hope…
Lizzy was small in frame but courageous in spirit. Her green eyes and wavy auburn hair always touching her shoulders made her seem almost angelic. She loved gardening and put up many a quart of vegetables. Her flower beds were the envy of her neighbors; however, her passions did not end there. Lizzy was always reaching out to help her neighbors in need. When she cooked a meal or baked bread, she always made extra just in case. But that was before the Depression took hold and went on and on until Lizzy barely had enough food to feed her own family. She prayed each day that the Depression would end, and the good times would return. But until God answered, she would be thankful for what she and her family had.
Lizzy determined to keep helping her neighbors always added one extra potato to the pot just in case someone knocked on her door hungry. When a friend or stranger appeared, she and Ben always took less so their guest would have more. In fact, Lizzy once told Ben that she could tell by the rap on the kitchen door when someone needed a meal. Then one day, as Lizzy looked into Ben’s eyes, she saw a man who looked defeated. At that very moment, Lizzy’s faith took a step back, and hope inched its way from her heart…..
Beth was fourteen and the spitting image of her mother. She loved reading and did well in school, and like her mother prayed for better times. Beth also loved to draw. Her mother and father would often find her sitting in the flower garden, sketching the many large beautiful hydrangeas of many colors. Beth knew the hydrangeas were her mother’s favorites. She loved the smile on her face each time she handed her a picture.
She loved to babysit the children in the small town, but since the Depression, many people had lost their jobs, which meant there was no longer a need to sit with anyone.
Beth watched as her parents changed. Her mother didn’t smile quite as much as she use to, and her father’s eyes were becoming dull. Their home, once filled with faith and hope, felt cold and desperate.
Each morning before Beth left for school, she helped her mother make the beds and clean up the kitchen from breakfast. Today was a half-day, and her mother gave her permission to sketch for a while after school. Beth described the corner of the classroom where the tall fat fresh green Christmas tree stood in a gray bucket filled with water and rocks. Beth thought it was the most beautiful tree she had ever seen.
As each day passed, Lizzy and Ben sunk deeper into despair. Although they had very little food, their concern was for their friends who were there when Ben’s elderly father passed and when Lizzy needed surgery and could not work in her garden, and of course for Beth. Although their faith and hope had dwindled, they no longer prayed for themselves but prayed that God would show mercy to their neighbors. Each prayer seemed to go unheard until that December just three weeks before Christmas. As Beth snuggled under her Christmas quilt, she asked God to use her as an instrument of his love and to make a difference.
Her mother and father had gone into the town to buy a small amount of sugar and flour. They told their daughter they would be back in about an hour. Beth was happy for the time alone. She wanted to think about how to help her mother and father find their way back to the hope they once had.
As she looked at her picture of the school Christmas tree, she drew a blank and pleaded with God to help her. Beth looked at her picture, smiled, and put it away. She knew that God worked in mysterious ways, but her image was not one of them, so she went for a walk.
Soon, she was nearing the place where her father’s crosses, stood like angels guarding friends and loved ones. Beth stood for a moment and thanked Jesus for her father’s talent. What a difference her father had made with his crosses. They especially looked beautiful with the greens and fresh holly berries adorning them. Then peace came over her heart, and she knew what she had to do. It was starting to flurry as Beth turned and walked back to where she started.
Darkness came quickly that afternoon as she hurried home. Beth saw the lights as she burst through the back door with the squeaky screen. Her mother looked up from the kitchen stove and said, ” Let me guess, time got away from you?” Beth just smiled and said she was sorry. Dad looked up from an old carpenter’s magazine and gave her a little wink. Then he asked her to go out to the work shed and bring in his notebook.
Knowing she had to make up for being late, Beth lost no time running to the shed. As she raced in the door, she quickly turned on the light and headed to Dad’s desk and grabbed the notebook. No sooner had she touched it, it dropped. As she picked it up, her finger separated the cover to the first page with a big ” A” at the very top. Beth stood for a few minutes before she understood what her father had done. She tucked the book inside her jacket and smiled, and at that very moment, she felt at peace. Beth smiled as she looked up and said, ” Thank you.” She had a plan but would need to keep it a secret from her parents.
The next morning was Saturday, Beth got up early, did her chores, and headed out the door to sketch before the storm hit. A big snowstorm was coming, and Beth had a lot of work to do. She ran to the cemetery, laid the green wool blanket on the ground, and started sketching. Beth sketched until the snowflakes started meandering down her cheeks. She quickly gathered up her supplies, rolled up her blanket, and ran home as soon as she could, singing Joy to the World at the top of her lungs.
That night, her mother made potato soup for dinner with lots of water, two potatoes, half an onion, and a dab of butter. They were out of milk, but her mother had a way of making everything taste delicious. After dinner, Beth cleaned up the kitchen and spent the rest of the night in her room, working on her picture of the cemetery filled with crosses. As she took out the tin of old watercolors, Beth prayed that her plan would work.
The next day, Beth finished her painting. As she pushed it under her bed to dry, Beth heard a knock on her door. It was her mother with a cup of tea and half of a butter cookie. They sat together on her bed, and as Beth ate the cookie and sipped her tea, her mother sang Silent Night. It sounded beautiful to Beth’s ears. She hugged her mother tightly as she felt a tear touch her cheek. Beth looked up and said, ” It will be okay, Mom. I promise.” She smiled as her mother got up and left the room. Beth finished her tea and got back to work. Tomorrow she would walk into town with her father’s notebook, march right up to the front door, of where the letter ” A” lived and share her plan.
The next day the sun shone brightly as Beth quickly ate a piece of bread with elderberry jam. She thought about what she had to do and what she would say to Mr. A.
Beth was gone all day. She finished every letter in her father’s notebook. Now it was up to those letters A through Z to decide if her plan would work.
Two weeks before Christmas and not a word from town. Beth’s plan had failed. She looked up to heaven with a heavy heart, then went to help her mother.
One week before Christmas, another big storm hit the little town, and those who thought they were crippled by the Depression believed that God had really forgotten them, especially Ben and Lizzy. Beth’s heart broke as she saw her parents cry together. Why had God forsaken them?
Then three days after Christmas, a knock came on Ben and Lizzy’s front door. Beth ran to open it, and there stood Mr. Allen. He smiled as he asked Ben and Lizzy to go into town for an after Christmas dinner. Mr. Allen winked at Beth. She smiled, ran to her room, and pulled out her picture of the cemetery. Beth was so excited as she blew a kiss towards heaven.
She held the picture behind her back and ran back out to grab her coat. Lizzy and Ben already had their coats on as they all headed out the door.
It was a beautiful day with blue sky and white fluffy clouds. It was a day when the air was fresh, and the snow sparkled like diamonds. As Ben, Lizzy, Beth, and John Allen walked the half-mile to town, they heard music that sounded like a chorus of angels singing. John smiled at Beth as they cleared the pine trees and saw the whole village, standing in groups in front of spruce trees. As soon as the townspeople saw the small group of friends coming towards them, they sang louder. Even Lizzy, Ben, and Beth joined in the singing. When the angelic voices stopped, the wind swirled around them as if the winter cold was showing its approval. What happened next changed everything.
Mr. Miller stepped up and told Ben and Lizzy, that they could always count on each person in town to help them even in the tough times. Ben started to talk, but Mr. Miller put his finger up to his mouth before Ben got one word out. He asked Ben and Lizzy to come into his barn to get warm. The group of singers had already started walking the short distance to the rustic looking barn with the two large doors. Like Mr. Miller, Lizzy, Ben and Beth reached the door, Jim Walters and George Ziegler pushed the two doors open, and there stood many of the townspeople smiling. Even people were sitting on hay up high on the loft floor. Mr. Miller walked with Lizzy and Ben through the people. As they turned to face their friends, Ben could not believe his eyes. There, right in front of the couple, were baskets with red bows tied to the handles. There were fifteen medium baskets filled with canned vegetables, macaroni, potatoes, flour, bread, sugar, tea, and two cans of coffee and two small, buckets one filled with fresh brown eggs and one with two dozen sugar cookies. Lizzy placed her hand on her heart as the tears filled her eyes. Ben was speechless.
Just then, Pastor Clark told the story of Beth’s plan. How she painted a picture of the town’s cemetery with the crosses. He continued sharing that although everyone saw the crosses each time they passed by the graveyard, they never really saw the meaning of each cross until Beth’s picture. They never really understood the story being told. Then as their pastor took a breath, the townspeople stepped aside, and there in the rear of the barn stood twenty-six trees decorated with white hearts. The trees had a large letter at the top of the tree written on a star attached to a white cross. The first tree had the letter A decorated with dried flowers, the last tree had a large Z with a blue butterfly in each of the points.
Each heart had one word written on it, a word that helped tell a story about Lizzy and Ben. Beth smiled as she saw her parents smile with tears glistening in their eyes. She knew that God had answered her prayer.
The gratitude of the townspeople, her father and mother, had found what they had lost; their hope.