Pa never had much
compassion for the lazy or those who squandered their means
and then never had enough for the
necessities. But for those who were genuinely in need, his
heart was as big as all outdoors. It was from him that I
learned the greatest joy in life comes from giving, not from
It was Christmas Eve 1881. I was fifteen years old
and feeling like the world had caved in on me because there
just hadn't been enough money to buy me the rifle that I'd
wanted for Christmas.
We did the chores early that night for some reason. I
just figured Pa wanted a little extra time so we could read
in the Bible. After supper was over I took my boots off and
stretched out in front of the fireplace and waited for Pa to
get down the old Bible.
I was still feeling sorry for myself and, to be
honest, I wasn't in much of a mood to read Scriptures. But
Pa didn't get the Bible, instead he bundled up again and
went outside. I couldn't figure it out because we had
already done all the chores. I didn't worry about it long
though, I was too busy wallowing in self-pity.
Soon Pa came back in It was a cold clear night out and
there was ice in his beard. "Come on, Matt," he said.
"Bundle up good, it's cold out tonight."
I was really upset
then. Not only wasn't I getting the rifle for Christmas, now
Pa was dragging me out in the cold, and for no earthly
reason that I could see. We'd already done all the chores,
and I couldn't think of anything else that needed doing,
especially not on a night like this. But I knew Pa was not
very patient at one dragging one's feet when he'd told them
to do something, so I got up and put my boots back on and
got my cap, coat, and mittens. Ma gave me a mysterious
smile as I opened the door to leave the house. Something
was up, but I didn't know what...
Outside, I became even more dismayed. There in front of
the house was the work team, already hitched to the big
sled. Whatever it was we were going to do wasn't going to
be a short, quick, little job. I could tell. We never
hitched up this sled unless we were going to haul a big
load. Pa was already up on the seat, reins in hand. I
reluctantly climbed up beside him.
The cold was already
biting at me. I wasn't happy. When I was on, Pa pulled the
sled around the house and stopped in front of the woodshed.
He got off and I followed. "I think we'll put on the high
sideboards," he said. "Here, help me." The high
sideboards! It had been a bigger job than I wanted to do
with just the low sideboards on, but whatever it was we were
going to do would be a lot bigger with the high side boards
After we had exchanged the sideboards, Pa went into the
woodshed and came out with an armload of wood - the wood I'd
spent all summer hauling down from the mountain, and then
all fall sawing into blocks and splitting. What was he
doing? Finally I said something. "Pa," I asked, "what are
You been by the Widow Jensen's lately?" he
asked The Widow Jensen lived about two miles down the road.
Her husband had died a year or so before and left her with
three children, the oldest being eight. Sure, I'd been by,
but so what?
Yeah," I said, "Why?"
"I rode by just today," Pa said. "Little Jakey was out
digging around in the woodpile trying to find a few chips.
They're out of wood, Matt." That was all he said and then
he turned and went back into the woodshed for another
armload of wood. I followed him. We loaded the sled so high
that I began to wonder if the horses would be able to pull
it. Finally, Pa called a halt to our loading, then we went
to the smoke house and Pa took down a big ham and a side of
bacon. He handed them to me and told me to put them in the
sled and wait. When he returned he was carrying a sack of
flour over his right shoulder and a smaller sack of
something in his left hand.
"What's in the little sack?" I asked.
out of shoes. Little Jakey just had gunny sacks wrapped
around his feet when he was out in the woodpile this
morning. I got the children a little candy too. It just
wouldn't be Christmas without a little candy."
We rode the two miles to Widow Jensen's pretty much in
silence. I tried to think through what Pa was doing. We
didn't have much by worldly standards. Of course, we did
have a big woodpile, though most of what was left now was
still in the form of logs that I would have to saw into
blocks and split before we could use it. We also had meat
and flour, so we could spare that, but I knew we didn't have
any money, so why was Pa buying them shoes and candy?
Really, why was he doing any of this? Widow Jensen had
closer neighbors than us; it shouldn't have been our
We came in from the blind side of the Jensen house and
unloaded the wood as quietly as possible, then we took the
meat and flour and shoes to the door. We knocked. The door
opened a crack and a timid voice said, "Who is it?" "Lucas
Miles, Ma'am, and my son, Matt, could we come in for a bit?"
Widow Jensen opened the door and let us in. She had a
blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The children were
wrapped in another and were sitting in front of the
fireplace by a very small fire that hardly gave off any heat
at all. Widow Jensen fumbled with a match and finally lit
"We brought you a few things, Ma'am," Pa said and set
down the sack of flour. I put the meat on the table. Then
Pa handed her the sack that had the shoes in it. She opened
it hesitantly and took the shoes out one pair at a time.
There was a pair for her and one for each of the children -
sturdy shoes, the best, shoes that would last. I watched
her carefully. She bit her lower lip to keep it from
trembling and then tears filled her eyes and started running
down her cheeks. She looked up at Pa like she wanted to say
something, but it wouldn't come out.
"We brought a load of wood too, Ma'am," Pa said. He
turned to me and said, "Matt, go bring in enough to last
awhile. Let's get that fire up to size and heat this place
I wasn't the same person when I went back out to bring
in the wood. I had a big lump in my throat and as much as I
hate to admit it, there were tears in my eyes too. In my
mind I kept seeing those three kids huddled around the
fireplace and their mother standing there with tears running
down her cheeks with so much gratitude in her heart that she
couldn't speak. My heart swelled within me and a joy that
I'd never known before, filled my soul. I had given at
Christmas many times before, but never when it had made so
much difference. I could see we were literally saving the
lives of these people.
I soon had the fire blazing and everyone's spirits
soared. The kids started giggling when Pa handed them each
a piece of candy and Widow Jensen looked on with a smile
that probably hadn't crossed her face for a long time. She
finally turned to us. "God bless you," she said. "I know the
Lord has sent you. The children and I have been praying
that he would send one of his angels to spare us."
In spite of myself, the lump returned to my throat and
the tears welled up in my eyes again. I'd never thought of
Pa in those exact terms before, but after Widow Jensen
mentioned it I could see that it was probably true. I was
sure that a better man than Pa had never walked the earth.
I started remembering all the times he had gone out of his
way for Ma and me, and many others. The list seemed endless
as I thought on it.
Pa insisted that everyone try on the shoes before we
left. I was amazed when they all fit and I wondered how he
had known what sizes to get. Then I guessed that if he was
on an errand for the Lord that the Lord would make sure he
got the right sizes.
Tears were running down Widow Jensen's face again when
we stood up to leave. Pa took each of the kids in his big
arms and gave them a hug. They clung to him and didn't want
us to go. I could see that they missed their Pa, and I was
glad that I still had mine.
At the door Pa turned to Widow Jensen and said, "The
Mrs. wanted me to invite you and the children over for
Christmas dinner tomorrow. The turkey will be more than the
three of us can eat, and a man can get cantankerous if he
has to eat turkey for too many meals. We'll be by to get
you about eleven. It'll be nice to have some little ones
around again. Matt, here, hasn't been little for quite a
spell." I was the youngest. My two brothers and two
sisters had all married and had moved away.
Widow Jensen nodded and said, "Thank you, Brother
Miles. I don't have to say, May the Lord bless you, I know
for certain that He will.
Out on the sled I felt a warmth that came from deep
within and I didn't even notice the cold. When we had gone
a ways, Pa turned to me and said,
"Matt, I want you to know
something. Your ma and me have been tucking a little money
away here and there all year so we could buy that rifle for
you, but we didn't have quite enough. Then yesterday a man
who owed me a little money from years back came by to make
things square. Your ma and me were real excited, thinking
that now we could get you that rifle, and I started into
town this morning to do just that, but on the way I saw
little Jakey out scratching in the woodpile with his feet
wrapped in those gunny sacks and I knew what I had to do.
Son, I spent the money for shoes and a little candy for
those children. I hope you understand."
I understood, and my eyes became wet with tears again.
I understood very well, and I was so glad Pa had done it.
Now the rifle seemed very low on my list of priorities. Pa
had given me a lot more. He had given me the look on Widow
Jensen's face and the radiant smiles of her three children.
For the rest of my life, Whenever I saw any of the Jensens,
or split a block of wood, I remembered, and remembering
brought back that same joy I felt riding home beside Pa that
night. Pa had given me much more than a rifle that night, he
had given me the best Christmas of my life.
And a Blessed Christmas to one and all!
“My sheep hear My
voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give
them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall
anyone snatch them out of My hand." John 10:27-28
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