Sunny Marie Hackman of Lakewood, Colo., tries to stay organized, since she’s a popular speaker, writer, traveler, volunteer and hostess. But each year as Christmas approaches, even she feels overwhelmed by all the extra activities. That’s why, a few Novembers ago, Sunny Marie concluded that she could indeed “handle it all” if her family agreed to one condition. “No extra people here on Christmas Eve,” she warned her husband and three kids. “I want just our family, Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle Bill and Aunt Mickey—something low-key and relaxing.”
Sunny Marie planned every detail of their Christmas Eve feast. That evening the table sparkled, and wonderful aromas drifted through the house. All the cameras were loaded and musical instruments tuned, in case anyone wanted to pick out a song. It was going to be perfect as soon as Victor, their college-age son, arrived. Then the phone rang.
“Mom.” It was Victor. “Is it okay if I bring home a guy I met on the bus?”
Sunny Marie wanted to scream. Hadn’t everyone promised to let her have one evening just the way she wanted it? The stranger was probably down and out, someone who would cast a grim shadow on her happy plans.
But it was Christmas Eve. “Bring him home,” she told Victor, sighing.
John was in his mid-forties, nondescript and shy. Conversation was a little stiff, at first, Sunny Marie admits. Hardly the warm and intimate evening she’d planned. But when dinner ended, John went over to the guitar and played a few Christmas carols. Then he switched to the piano and began a medley of “Jesus Loves Me,” and “Amazing Grace,” done with a sweetness she had never heard. Slowly the realization dawned. She had done the right thing tonight, making room for John. But there had been no love in her heart. And wasn’t love the meaning of Christmas?
She looked up and John’s eyes met her’s. In his gaze was everything—awareness, tenderness, yes and forgiveness, too. He knew, she realized. But how?
The song ended, and John stood. “That was my gift to you,” he told her quietly, and picked up his jacket.
John smiled. “You can, if you want to,” he said, “but they won’t turn out.”
Sunny Marie understood. She had been given a glimpse of Christmas in another place, and it could never be the same again. “I think I’ve seen an angel, “she told her husband later that evening, still in awe.
He wasn’t sure she was right. But later, when everyone’s photos were developed —and John’s image did not appear in any of them—he had to agree.