In The Christmas Shoes, young Nathan Andrews was a child who lost his mother to cancer. Now his deepest wish is to become a doctor. When a stranger named Robert gave him the money to buy his mother a pair of shoes for her last Christmas, both Robert and Nathan learned the deepest lessons of love and giving. Now a medical student in his third year, Nathan realizes there are still things to be learned about faith, blessings, and sacrifice. Lessons he will learn from Meghan Sullivan-a young woman born with a hole in her heart that has not kept her from becoming a champion runner. And lessons learned from a young boy named Charlie, who teaches how to live a life of true courage. Together, they will help guide Nathan through the darkest period in his life. The Christmas Blessing is an inspiring about hope existing in the darkest places, and love is always the greatest gift of all.
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Donna VanLiere is a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author. Her much-loved Christmas Hope series includes The Christmas Shoes and The Christmas Blessing, both of which were adapted into movies for CBS Television; The Christmas Secret; The Christmas Journey; and The Christmas Hope, which was adapted into a film by Lifetime. She is also the author of The Angels of Morgan Hill and Finding Grace. VanLiere is the recipient of a Retailer's Choice Award for Fiction, a Dove Award, a Silver Angel Award, an Audie Award for best inspirational fiction, and a nominee for a Gold Medallion Book of the Year. She is a gifted speaker who speaks regularly at conferences. She lives in Franklin, Tennessee, with her husband and their children.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :
All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.
I gunned the engine, pulled the truck out of my parking space, and flew over the speed bumps on my way out of the apartment complex. A young mother grabbed her toddler and gave me a dirty look. I thumped the face of my watch, and the second hand seemed to groan before deciding to move. Too late now, I’ll never make it, I thought, glancing at the clock in my dashboard.
I couldn’t believe it; I was never late. I’d noticed that my watch was having problems a couple days earlier and had been relying on an extra clock in my bathroom to make sure I was showered and out the door on time. As I was shaving I must have accidentally pulled out the cord just enough to stop the clock from running. The tires squealed as I pulled out onto the main road, and the gardener working at the entrance to the complex gave me my second nasty look of the morning, even shaking his head for effect.
If I made all the stoplights through town, I could get to the hospital in fifteen minutes. Turning into the hospital lot, I glanced at the clock-fourteen minutes-a new personal record. There was no time to circle for a spot, so I parked at the far end of the lot and ran for the main entrance. Maybe he hasn’t started yet. Who was I kidding? Dr. Goetz never failed to start on time. I ran faster between the rows of cars.
As part of my third-year medical rotations, the university had placed me under the tutelage of Dr. Crawford Goetz-the best cardiologist in the hospital. Cardiology wasn’t part of a normal rotation block, but the university felt that a rotation in cardiology would only enhance a student’s studies. So, I was stuck for the next four weeks with Dr. Goetz. He was a Harvard and Vanderbilt man, the chief of cardiology, father of four, grandfather of two, and a thorn in my flesh. He specialized in pediatric cardiology, but since the hospital had only a small number of child patients a year, as department head, Dr. Goetz would also oversee the treatment of adult patients.
In each of our rotations, a medical student was part of a team that consisted of an attending physician, three to four students, and an upper-level resident. Peter Vashti was the upper-level resident on Dr. Goetz’s team. My clipboard with the day’s rounds was hanging at the nurses’ station, the last to be picked up. The other students and Peter were already following Dr. Goetz from room to room. I checked the room number for the first patient to be seen and ran to catch up, sneaking in behind William Radcliff, an old friend and fellow student who, to my good fortune, stood six-five. Dr. Goetz was sitting on the patient’s bed, a forty-seven-year-old man recovering from open-heart surgery.
“She’s working like a thirty-year-old’s heart,“ Dr. Goetz said.
“Does that translate to the rest of his body?” the man’s wife asked, cracking a wad of gum. Dr. Goetz laughed. He had a carefree, easy way with his patients and their families; too bad that didn’t translate to his students.
“So everything feels normal?” Dr. Goetz asked, resting his hand on the patient’s shoulder.
“He’s cranky again,“ the wife said, her gum exploding like a firecracker.
“Is that good or bad?”
“I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but for him it’s normal,“ his wife continued.
The patient looked sheepish. Poor guy, no wonder he had heart surgery. She was relentless.
“All right, Jason,“ Dr. Goetz said, smiling. “You’re ready to go home.” The man shook Dr. Goetz’s hand and I could see his eyes fill with tears; he started to speak, then stopped. He didn’t want to get emotional in front of a handful of medical students. He pumped Dr. Goetz’s hand again, nodded, and looked down at the sheet resting on his lap. Dr. Goetz squeezed his shoulder and turned to leave, nodding for us to follow.
Filing back into the hallway, we could hear Jason’s wife get an early start on what could be heart attack number two. “What do you mean you’re not going to wear the piece? Just because your heart’s working again doesn’t mean your hair’s going to grow back. Put this on. Put this on, or I’m not walking out these doors with you, I mean it. I will not walk out these doors.” For the sake of his heart, I hoped his head would shine like the new dawn as he left the hospital.
“Who’s our next patient,“ Dr. Goetz asked, scribbling something onto Jason’s chart. “Andrews?”
I looked down at the chart in my hands. “The patient in room 2201.”
“Mr. Andrews,“ he said, as if giving a speech to a room of five hundred. “Just as you were not given a number at birth, but a name, you will find that your patients came into the world in the exact same manner. Learn who they are, not where they’re located.”
I could feel sweat break out on my upper lip. I never intended to seem demeaning toward the patient. “I didn’t mean it that...” I began, but it was too late. Dr. Goetz had already learned the name of the patient and was leading the students through the halls.
“And Mr. Andrews, as a reminder, your rotation begins at six A.M. Not six eighteen.” I felt my chest tighten. I should have known that Dr. Goetz would pick up on my tardiness.
During a break in rounds, I retreated to the lounge and sank into the sofa. I leaned my head against the wall and rubbed my temples. If I’d known there was going to be someone like Dr. Goetz in my future, I never would have signed up for medical school in the first place. I glanced at my watch and noticed it had stopped running again. I tapped the face, but the second hand wouldn’t budge. I took the watch off and flipped it over to thump the battery casing. I ran my finger over the inscription: With all the love in the world, Mom.
My mother died about a year after she stood with me on the hill overlooking the valley. Maybe she knew she’d never see me grow up; perhaps she was preparing me for the long valley I would go through without her, or maybe preparing her family and herself for death was the final step of faith she would take.
I remember my father coming into my room during the early morning hours of that Christmas. He said that my mother had stepped into Heaven. He let my sister Rachel sleep; she was much too young to understand what was happening anyway. I ran to the living room, where my mother lay still on the hospital bed; my grandmother was holding her hand, weeping. I watched my mother for the longest time, praying she’d move again, that she’d reach for me and say, You need to get back into bed, Little Man, but she couldn’t reach for me, and I knew it. She was thirty-four years old.
Wilson’s Department Store was about to close on that Christmas Eve as I ran from one department to the next looking for the perfect gift until the shoes caught my eye on a sales rack. I ran them to the front register and pulled a crumpled wad of bills and loose change out of my jeans pocket. When the clerk told me I didn’t have enough money, I was heartbroken. I just had to buy those shoes for my mother. I turned to a man behind me, and, before I knew what was happening, he paid for the shoes, and I ran out the door for home. When I helped my mother unwrap the shoes, she held them to her chest and made me feel as if I’d just handed her Heaven itself. We buried her in them. I started leaving shoes on her tombstone again when I was sixteen. The owner of Wilson’s somehow found a similar pair every year and ordered them for me.
During the last weeks of her life, my mother wrote a series of letters to my sister Rachel and me. In one addressed to me she wrote,
Dear Nathan, I have had many joys in my life but none that have compared to you and Rachel. I always want you to know that I fell more in love with you every day. Please don’t ever dread Christmas, Nathan, but remember to look for the miracles instead. It may be hard to see them at times but they will always be there because Christmas is the season for miracles.
She finished the letter and signed it, With all the love in the world, Mom.
I was helping my mother string lights on the shrubs outside our home the winter before she got sick when she first told me about the miracles of Christmas. “Jesus was born at Christmas,“ she said, wrapping a long strand around a juniper yew. “He left Heaven to live here.” She bent over the back of the yew and tugged at the lights, stuck on a low branch. I pulled along with her, and together we continued wrapping the bush. “That’s kind of like us becoming a worm and living in the dirt,“ she said, wiping her nose. “Love came down on Christmas, Nathan. That’s the greatest miracle of all. That’s the true blessing of Christmas and why it will always be the season for miracles.” She stood back and admired her work, frowning at the tangled mess. “It’ll look better when the lights are on.” She dug into the box and pulled out another jumbled string, talking as she worked. “If you get too busy, you won’t see the miracles that are taking place right in front of you,“ she said, replacing a blown light.
Before she died, my mother bought special gifts for Rachel and me; she wanted my father to give them to us on our sixteenth birthdays. Rachel got a gold locket and I got this watch-a flat, gold-faced Timex with a simple black band. The inscription was a reminder of something I’d always ...
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