Glowing Author: Lena Nelson Dooley

Glowing Author #23

Today’s Glowing Author post is the Christmas gift of a short story from noted author Lena Nelson Dooley.  Enjoy!

Christmas Eve at Joe’s Diner

  Muriel Stone needlessly wiped down the counter while she stared into the whirling snowflakes that curtained the inky night beyond the reach of the lights in the tiny parking lot in front of the diner. She turned toward the pass-through opening to the kitchen. “Joe, why don’t we just close up and go home before the weather gets too bad?”

The older man with a white cap on his head leaned close to the opening. “Can’t do that, Muriel. This stretch of road is long and lonely. What if someone who doesn’t know about how really far apart the towns are needs some place to light for a while?”

She tossed the white rag on the shelf under the counter. “I guess you’re right, but we haven’t had a customer for three hours.”

He gave her an encouraging smile. “You can go home if you want. I can hold down the fort alone.”

Muriel gave her head a swift shake, and one curly lock fell from the bun at the back of her head. It tickled her neck. “I said I’d work tonight, and I will.”

After all, she really needed the extra money Joe always paid for holiday work. She still owed the hospital $5,000 on her deceased husband’s last bill. It had taken her over two years to get it down that low. On the tips she had been receiving lately, it might take another couple to finally pay them off. What a dismal forecast for her future.

The brass bell over the door jingled, and she looked up. An older couple, bundled up against the cold, made their way to the booth that was farthest from the door. Probably to keep from feeling the wintry wind in case someone else came in. Muriel filled two glasses. After sticking menus under one arm, she picked up the water and headed around the counter.

“How can I help you folks?” The smile she painted on her face felt as fake as a three dollar bill.

The woman pulled a cap from her tumbled white curls and looked up at Muriel. “I need something hot and nourishing. What do you suggest?”

Her companion silently watched the exchange with a grin on his face.

“Joe had a delicious pot of stew going, and his cornbread muffins melt in your mouth.” Muriel poised her pencil over the small green pad.

A look of deep understanding passed between her customers before the man ordered. “That sounds fine to us. My wife and I would like coffee while we wait for you to bring the food.”

Muriel didn’t need to write that down. She walked to the pass-through where Joe waited expectantly. “These people want some of the stew and cornbread.”

He nodded and set to work. The steaming food appeared in the window by the time she finished pouring the coffee. After serving the bowls of stew, Muriel returned with the hot bread and butter.

With a twinkle in her eyes, the woman gently touched Muriel’s arm. “Since you’re not too busy with customers, could you sit with us while we eat?”

Muriel glanced from her to her husband, who nodded his agreement. Why not? It had been a boring afternoon and evening. She was good at her job, because she like talking to people. “Hey Joe, I’m going visit with these people unless someone else comes in.”

He gave a wave from the kitchen, and she knew he didn’t mind.

They talked for over an hour. These people fascinated Muriel, telling her about being retired, the family scattered all over the country, the far-flung places they had visited in their travels. Jesse and Martin Hamilton expressed an interest in her life, and she found herself telling them more than she had ever shared with anyone, except Paul when he was alive.

Muriel couldn’t remember exactly what led up to it, but eventually they talked about God as if He were their personal friend. She had never heard anything like it. Since she hadn’t come from a religious family, she’d never heard the things they shared with her. Somehow she soon felt her heart yearn for the kind of peace that radiated from them. If only it were possible for her to experience it.

 As soon as that thought entered her mind, Jesse reached toward her and took her hand. “We didn’t just happen to drive by tonight. God told us to come here to this diner to talk to you. He loves you and wants you to know Him the same way we do.”

As coincidental as that seemed, Muriel’s heartbeat quickened at that statement. She wanted to know this God they spoke about. “So how do I get to know Him?”

Martin reached into the seat beside him and pulled out a Bible. She’d seen them before, but had never felt drawn toward them as she was now. He pushed it across the table toward his wife. Jesse opened it and started reading. The words came alive in Muriel’s heart.

After the woman shared several passages from the book, Martin asked if Muriel wanted to accept Jesus as her Savior. When she nodded, they prayed over her, then helped her know the words to pray for herself.

If anyone had ever told her something like this would change her, Muriel would have thought the person was crazy. She was still a waitress in a small diner in the middle of nowhere. She had debts hanging over her head and missed her husband. But something inside her had come alive. For the first time in her life, she really understood what Christmas was all about.

Muriel looked at her new friends and smiled through her happy tears. “Thank you for coming here and sharing this with me.”

“We were glad to do it.” Martin took the Bible Jesse handed to him.

Somehow Muriel would have to save the money to buy one for herself. Not a leather one like they had. She knew there were other kinds. If she had to, she’d just get a paperback.

Jesse pulled open the large tote bag she carried. “The Lord told us to bring you a gift, but we don’t want you to open it until we are gone.”

Muriel, who really liked getting presents but didn’t get very many, only gave the gaily wrapped box a cursory glance. “Are you leaving anytime soon?”

Martin scooted out of his side of the booth. “We have to be on our way. We’re going to visit our newest grandson for the first time.”  

After jumping up from beside Jesse, Muriel looked from one of her new friends to the other. “I hope I haven’t held you up too long.”

He smiled into her eyes. “This was the most important part of our journey.”

Muriel clutched the present as she walked to the front door with them. When she turned back, Joe was standing behind the counter.

“So what happened out here.” His words sounded cheerful.

“The strangest thing.” She told him all about it. “I’ve never felt like this before.”

Joe nodded. “I’ve been praying for you a long time.”

“You’re a Christian, too?”

“Yeah, but I guess I’m not as good a one as I should be if the Lord had to send someone else to tell you about Himself.” Joe poured both of them cups of coffee. “So open your present.”

Muriel took the stool beside him and tore off the paper. The box contained a leather Bible with her name on the front in gold. How could that be?

“Did you have anything to do with this?”

Joe shook his head and took another drink from his cup.

When Muriel picked up the book and caressed the smooth blue cover, she noticed five envelopes lined up in the box. She opened each one and found ten $100 bills. In the last one she opened there was also a note.

God told us to bring this to you. He even told us your name. This money must seem like a treasure to you, but just remember your greatest treasure is the one we showed you before we gave you this present.

 Copyright Lena Nelson Dooley

Lena Nelson Dooley, author of Love Finds You in Golden, New Mexico, and Family Secrets (releasing October 2011)

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