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I’m a freak, a misfit, an odd end.
Until he shows up.
Gorgeous, expensive, and all man.
His intentions are hidden.
What he promises feels too good to be true…
It’s too easy.
What’s the catch?
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Freedom Mountain Church—December 25, 1999
Pastor Joe drones on about God’s plan. Everything happens for a reason. Life is a series of tests put before you by the Lord. Perhaps five years ago, I would’ve bought into this whole excuse. But I don’t. Because it’s just that—an excuse. A reason to explain away the bad. God isn’t watching over us and testing us. He’s playing games with our hearts.
A shriek interrupts the service and several of the church members glance my way. As a deacon and long-time member, certain things are expected of me. And this? This is one of those things I have to take care of. Normally, I’d be rising with a sigh brushing past my lips and a heavy heart. This Sunday evening, I’m eager.
I want to get away.
Show God I don’t like his plan and that I’ll dictate my own.
I quietly excuse myself and scoot past several women who conveniently sit near me every Sunday. As if I’m on the prowl. Maggie’s only been dead a year. I’ll probably never be on the prowl again. God’s plan was to take her. And no matter how much scripture I read, I can’t quite understand why.
Another shriek has me quickening my step.
I rush from the sanctuary into the lobby. I’m about to head right toward the offices and church nursery when the sound beckons me from my left. Just outside the doors. With a frown of confusion, I stride outside.
Tonight, it’s snowing—fitting that it’s Christmas Day. For me, it’s a reminder I need to drive carefully later. I’ll have precious cargo in tow. Icy snowflakes hit my face as a gust of wind swirls around me. Since I didn’t grab my coat, I shiver in my bright red Christmas vest and white dress shirt. I scan the side of the church and the parking lot that’s jam-packed with cars. Most of these people only come once a year. As though the birth of Jesus is a momentous event, but the other three hundred sixty-four days are unimportant. Next Sunday, it’ll be business as usual with the normal two hundred plus congregation.
The shrieking resumes and I stare dumfounded at the enlarged nativity scene outside the church. I’m frozen, as if the chilly air has already gotten to me, and don’t budge an inch until I see movement.
Tiny and fierce.
The voice in the back of my head sounds so much like Maggie’s I nearly collapse. My knees quake and my heart aches, but I start forward.
There’s a baby—real and alive—lying in the manger.
I shake away my daze and hurry over to the nativity scene. When I fall to my knees in the snow that now blankets the earth a couple of inches in thickness, my heart threatens to crack wide-open. Inside the manger is a baby shaking uncontrollably from the cold. The infant is swaddled messily in a ratty blanket. A tiny bluish fist waves in the air at me as though the child also wants to know what God’s plan is that led it to being abandoned in the snow in front of a church. A note sits beneath a sandwich bag full of pennies and flutters in the wind.
I tug the note out and read the crudely scrawled writing.
Her name is Casey.
This is all I have.
Please take care of her because I can’t.
Sickness roils in my belly and I almost vomit up the feast we had earlier in the fellowship hall. What kind of sick monster leaves a child like this? Quickly, I pull the baby into my arms to try and warm it. It shakes violently. I jerk up to my feet and rush toward the building, all the while the baby squawking in my arms. As soon as I make it inside, away from the bone-chilling cold, I tug away the blanket to look at the baby properly.
It stops wailing and stares at me.
Pale blue eyes.
So much life in a little one’s expression.
I swallow down the emotion and the thoughts begging me to claim this infant as my own. If Maggie were here, she’d already be on the phone trying to figure out how we can adopt the baby girl. Pain slices through me.
Maggie isn’t here.
Maggie is gone.
She was always the stronger half. Without her, I’m a ghost of a person. Certainly, not strong enough for this too. I can barely manage what I’ve got.
“I’m sorry, little one.” I hug her to me and push through the sanctuary doors. “Joe, call nine-one-one. I found a baby.”
The baby starts crying again and I refuse to look at her eyes again.
She’ll go to a home. A loving home. With two adoring parents. Babies are adopted every day and she’ll be no different.
It just won’t be by me.
Because I don’t have my Maggie.
And without her, this child would never have what she deserves.