Recovering from a painful divorce, Pat Dygart wondered if she’d be able to celebrate the approaching holidays. She had stored Christmas decorations and other memorabilia in the basement of her new house, hesitant to unpack them because of the hurtful memories they would evoke. However, she decided to set up her cherished Nativity scene. The beautiful statues always put her in a festive mood.
As she came home from work, Dygart smelled something burning. “Probably the hamburger I just cooked,” her son Jamie reassured her.
Dyart checked the stove. Everything seemed normal. Jamie left, and she lay down for a quick nap.
Sometime later, Dygart awakened to a mist hanging in the air. No, it was smoke, black clouds billowing from around the basement door! Frantically, she dialed 911.
As the trucks approached, Dygart ran in and out of the house, grabbing anything she could find–her photographs, gifts, the figurine collection. How could she save it all?
Suddenly, a blanket of calm seemed to wrap itself around her. Dygart stopped her desperate scurrying and stretched out her hands. “God,” she heard herself saying, “I don’t understand. But if there is a reason I should lose all this, I give it all to you.” Quietly, she left the house. A moment later, the basement windows blew out.
The Dygarts moved in with her mother, and visitors streamed in and out to comfort her. But although she tried to stay serene, her heart was heavy. “I worked so hard to start a new life,” she wept with a friend, “and now everything is ruined.” How could she survive yet another tragedy?
A few days after the fire, when she went into the basement, her remaining hope disintegrated. Horrified, she and Jamie stood in wreckage far worse than she had imagined—black soot on every surface, melted furniture, charred belongings, water and ashes… “Oh Jamie,” Dygart wept again, “you know what I feel saddest about? My Nativity scene. How can Christmas come without it?”
Dygart worked all week, digging through the debris, painfully bagging the ruined pieces of her life for the garbage heap. On Sunday, as she and Jamie attended church, Dygart realized that they had forgotten the annual ornament swap. Traditionally, whoever took a family’s ornament would pray for that family all year. Dygart noticed there were only a few left on the tree. “Let’s take one,” she whispered to Jamie. “We need to pray for someone else.”
After church, they went up to the tree and chose the nearest bauble. “Mom, look!” Jamie stared at it. The ornament was a replica of a creche. And, the stable had been made with burnt matches.
What did it mean? Dygart wondered as they walked back to her mother’s house. Was God trying to tell her something? But when she entered the kitchen, she stopped short. On the table stood the 12 figures in her Nativity scene. Clean. Unbroken. Perfect.
“I went to your basement and found them in the middle of the debris,” Dygart’s mother told them, astonished. “The box wasn’t even dirty.”
They were her statues—Dygart saw familiar marks on them. But they hadn’t been anywhere in the basement. She’d looked, again and again.
Awestruck, she touched the figure of the Christ Child. And, suddenly, joyfully, she knew. From the moment she had stood in her smoky house and surrendered her life to God, He had begun to heal her, to bring her—like the figures—safely from the ashes of an old life. A rocky road still lay ahead of her, but she wouldn’t travel it alone. He had sent His Son to tell her so.
Joan’s new book Where Angels Walk is the 25th Anniversary Edition, available now at Loyola Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.