Never Too Late

By Jennifer Lynn Cary

Never Too Late

“We’re too late.”

One glance at my daughter’s face and I knew she mirrored my own feelings. “Hold on, hon. There has to be something we can do.”

“No, look, the tree is gone and no one is at the tables.” Meg pointed to where only yesterday the Christmas Angel Tree had invited mall passersby to spread Christmas joy to those less fortunate. “We’ve broken the tradition, Mom. Christmas is ruined.”

Christmas ruined? When had the Angel Tree tradition become the most important part of Christmas to my young teen? True, we’d kept the tradition, the two of us, since her Brownie troop wrapped gifts one year. Back then, money had been tight, but we still contributed by making the gifts look festive. The next year we planned ahead and chose a child’s name from the tree. We’d imagine the little one and carefully pick the gifts. It became a special time I spent only with my youngest, and I looked forward to it.

I didn’t know how much our tradition meant to her, though, or that would I have to wait until so near to Christmas to be able to pay for the gift. I should have known that a Christmas Eve payday would cut it too close. And now, as she told me once more, we were “too late.”

Meg sighed and turned away, her disappointment deepening my own. What could we do?

I’d like to say I prayed and the heavens opened as an angel swooped down with an idea. Instead, a nebulous thought worked its way through my burgeoning pity party. “You know, there are others who need to be remembered.”

Meg turned around. “Like who?” Not sassy. Interested.

“I can’t think of anyone at the moment. But I’m sure there’s a child who needs our help. Let’s go see if anything jumps out at us.”

We wandered into the children’s department. I don’t know what I was thinking. Clothes for boys and girls of all ages surrounded us. I should have kept my thoughts to myself. “We can’t buy for everyone.”

“What do we do?” Meg looked so hopeful when we entered. I couldn’t disappoint her again. “Let’s pray about it.” We needed guidance or we’d be overwhelmed. Moving to a corner of the store, we said a quick prayer. Then we waited. And listened.

“I think we need something for an eighteen month little girl.”

My head snapped up. I hadn’t sensed anything like that – or anything at all for that matter – but Meg looked sure. So, we picked out warm pajamas and cute outfits for an eighteen month-old baby girl. At the checkout, Meg slipped off. When she returned she had a large rag doll in her arms. “She needs this, too.”

I checked the price tag. The budget could stretch that much more. Our items were totaled, bagged and paid for before either of us realized we still had no clue who was to be the recipient. We had it gift wrapped and left the mall. Though we didn’t speak the whole way to the car, I knew we had the same thought – now what?

Behind the wheel I sent up a silent prayer, two questions really. Who needs all this? And how do we get it to her?

I started the ignition and pointed homeward. All through the carols ringing in the radio’s speakers, I heard peace. It really was there, resounding in the music, telling me the answer would come at the right time. Meg must have sensed it, too, because she didn’t ask until I turned in a direction she didn’t expect. “Where are you going, Mom?”

“There’s a church up here, honey. I think that is where we need to take the gifts.”

“That’s not our church.”

“I know. Still…”

She nodded a quiet okay.

I turned into the church parking lot, barely noting the other cars pulling in. Gathering packages, we walked up the steps to the building. A man holding bulletins smiled. “Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas to you, too. Is there a pastor available?”

He slipped into the building, returning with a pretty lady in a scarlet dress suit. She held out her hand. “Hi, I’m Pastor Lisa Walker. What can I do to help you?”

I shook her hand, wondering if she’d believe me. She listened, her smile never changing, as I told of our tradition and how we’d missed out on our angel. When I got to the part about shopping for an eighteen-month-old little girl, her eyes grew bright. “We had no idea who we were shopping for or what to do with the gifts until I remembered your church. I believe we’re supposed to bring them here. Do you know someone who could use this?” We held out the packages.

She blinked several times and accepted the gifts, her lashes glistening. “I might.”

“Good, Merry Christmas.” We turned to go.

“Do you want to come in? You are welcome.”

“Thank you, no. We’ve got to get ready for services at our church.”

We left, but I noticed she stayed to watch us go. She waved, and I waved back.

This time in the car there were no doubts. Thinking of what just transpired sent waves of excitement throughout the vehicle. Every time Meg or I looked at each other, we giggled. I love remembering that Christmas. We weren’t too late. We were right on time. We never did learn who received the presents, and I don’t think either of us ever really wanted to. It was a gift to us to know what God had done.

Several years have passed since that Christmas Eve. Meg is now a young woman living on her own. I still make sure to get at least one angel off the Angel Tree each year. So does she. We haven’t been late even once since that Christmas Eve. However, should we ever be late again, we’ll know to just wait for the plan.

About this writer

  • Jennifer Lynn Cary Jennifer Lynn Cary has written for various anthologies including The One Year Life Verse Devotional and Christmas Miracles. She and her husband still live in Phoenix and are now grandparents.

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