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John Thornton Allen – self-made man, multi-millionaire, darling of the press, proud and egotistical – certainly appeared a man to be envied. But, John wasn’t happy. Though rich and prosperous, he’d become cynical of everything around him and angry, so angry at something he couldn’t see or identify. Who could possibly understand that he, John Allen, could be desperately unhappy? How could he explain a darkness inside that even he couldn’t understand?

He was returning from a late December hunting trip, another attempt to find a happiness once so important to him. However, despite the success of the hunt, the darkness remained.

A powerful gust whipped a cloud of snow and sleet across the road. What was he doing driving in conditions like this? His flight had been canceled, the four-lane blocked halfway home; eighteen wheelers strewed like jackstraws across the icy highway. Luckily he’d been near an exit and even though he should have stayed at a motel, he was struggling to drive home on secondary roads in hilly terrain. Why?

On a steep downgrade he lost traction, slid ever faster down the hill and spun crazily, plunging over the steep embankment into the creek. The impact was tremendous, the airbag went off, the seatbelt wrenching his body, the world swirling crazily.

Things suddenly were a blur: strong hands helping him out of the truck, a mixture of sounds, no cell service, roads closed, rushing water, children’s voices, someone asking if he was OK. He was wet, freezing, disoriented and barely walking. Slipping on the slick road, then he was lead up a rutted driveway toward bright lights, a porch and blast of hot air, the smell of delicious food. Someone was changing him out of wet clothes, touching his head, and he felt a slight sting. Then he was placed in a soft, reclining chair and left alone to fall into darkness.

He suddenly awoke and winced in pain, but his mind was clear now. An enclosed fireplace glowed in front of him, bright flames dancing, and the pungent odor of fresh cut pine cleansing the air. Christmas decorations sat on the mantel and stockings hung expectantly.

A small girl and boy were watching him and shouted excitedly that the stranger was awake. They stared shamelessly, their small faces serious.

A lean, bearded young man and attractive young woman hurried over and introduced themselves; Tom and Tasha. Tom nodded at his young son, James, and told John he owed his life to the boy who’d seen his spinning headlights. Soaked and barely conscious, John would never have lasted the night in weather like this. Was he able to stand?

Other than cuts, aches and pains too numerous to mention, John seemed OK. It was dinner time, and Tasha asked if would he care to join them. Much to his surprise, John was starving. When lead to a beautiful wooden table, he discovered Tom had crafted the furniture himself from various native woods. The handcrafted chairs were also intricate and ornate.

Everyone filled their plate, and John grabbed knife and fork. Tom cleared his throat and John saw all with folded hands.

“Would you join us in blessing the food?”

How long had it been since John said grace? He was embarrassed and nodded. “Of course.”

“Can I?” Young James asked eagerly and his Mom nodded, smiling at him with affection.

“Heavenly Father; I’m glad you made me look out the window to see what happened; John was hurt bad and it was good to help him. Bless this food, especially the cookies. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

James grinned impishly at his mother who frowned slightly at the cookie reference. His dad looked at him gravely, but couldn’t help smiling. John felt a lump in his throat.

A home-cooked meal! John couldn’t believe how good it was, and conversation flowed smoothly. Tom tapped his glass. “I want to tell you kids something. Do you want to know when I first knew I loved your Mom?”

Two heads nodded, eyes shining.

“Your mother used to walk her dog everyday, and I thought she was beautiful as she passed by our home,” Tom said. “One day, my dad just shoved me in the back and ordered me to stop gawking like a ninny and talk to her. She saw me coming and waited. It never dawned on me she could have walked her dog anywhere.”

Tasha looked down at the table as if embarrassed her little secret had to come to light, her cheeks flushing.

“I was pretty shy, but managed to introduce myself,” Tom continued. “When she said my name, something about her voice touched my heart. I knew instantly I loved her. It was a voice somehow I’d always known I loved.”

Glancing at the ring on John’s hand Tom asked if he would tell them about his wife and when he first knew.      

John remembered that special day so clearly now, the tenderness, purity of emotion and devotion he’d felt. She was the mother of his children and he was letting that all slip away, in fact so many encouraged him in pursuits he knew were so wrong. Somehow, he’d shoved her selfishly aside.

Tears gushed from his eyes, and sobs racked his body. No wonder he was so miserable, he’d become a cheat and liar.

“Look how much he loves his wife!” Tasha said; compassion filling her face and the knife twisted still deeper.

And so it was that a storm, a near-fatal accident and a single request lead John back on the road to self-respect, real happiness and a love he’d nearly squandered.

Some might say it was merely chance, but John felt it happened as the angels sang glad tidings.  

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