A Carpenter’s Miracle
“Ouch! Son of a—” Zach ground his teeth, bit back the word hovering on the tip of his tongue.
“This looks amazing!”
He spun around to see his sister standing in the doorway.
“Why the scowl?” she asked.
“Oh, I don’t know, could be because I almost nailed my thumb to this blasted crucifix.” He turned back around and pounded his hammer on the rough timber.
Brenda stepped into the shed, her heels clacking across the sawdust-covered floor. “You mean, cross.”
“Cross, crucifix—same thing,” Zach mumbled around the wire nails jutting from his lips.
“There’s a difference,” she said, walking up beside him. “A crucifix is a cross with a figure of Jesus affixed to it.”
“Know it all,” Zach said under his breath.
Brenda leaned in, kissed his cheek. “You’re doing a fantastic job, little brother. The children’s Easter pageant will be spectacular, thanks to your props. The church will enjoy them for years to come.”
Zach shrugged. “Glad to help,” he said, only half meaning it. He was glad he could be there for his sister, family was important to him. The church was a different story.
“What can I do to help?” Brenda asked, picking up a level.
Zach took it from her, hooked it over a nail in the wall. “I’ll finish up the big rock this evening—the stone that seals up the tomb. Tomorrow you can stuff newspaper through the chicken wire and paint it.
“Sounds great. I’ll recruit Maggie to help.”
Zach clenched his jaw. Maggie was so wrapped up in church, she might as well live there. Frustrating thing about it, the woman was gorgeous. Long blonde hair, sky blue eyes and a body that’d turn saint into sinner, just by looking. There wasn’t a baggy sweater or ankle-length skirt invented that could conceal those curves. What a waste. She only had eyes for the Lord.
“Don’t forget your birdfeeders!” Maggie chased after a group of five to ten-year-olds. The paper-plate birdfeeders looped over her arms swayed as she ran.
The kids burst into the parking lot, headed for the church van in a dead run. “I’ll hold them for you until next Sunday. Remember, His eye is on the sparrow!” she called from the foyer, and then turned to walk back to her classroom.
Maggie loved working with kids. She’d been called into children’s ministry when she was just a child herself. As she unwound the red yarn from her wrists, her mind wandered to the little boy she’d seen in at the Loretto Chapel in New Mexico over twenty years ago. He’d been praying, crying as though his heart would break.
In her dreams, she’d seen his face a thousand times. She’d never forgotten how her soul yearned to comfort him that day, to provide him with some type of shelter from the storm that rocked his little world. Even now, that feeling continued to drive her, inspiring her to do what she did best. That little boy had changed her heart forever.
“Hey, Maggie, how was class?” Brenda asked, walking into the room, setting her Bible on the small half-circle table.
“Let me help you with that,” Brenda said, carefully tugging the yarn from Maggie’s wrist. “Zach’s finishing up the props for the Easter pageant. Everything looks terrific. Tomorrow we finally get to help him out.”
“I can’t wait,” Maggie said. “I’ve been dying to see what he’s been doing in that little work shed. I could hear him in there, hard at work again this morning, but didn’t dare peek.”
“Wise decision,” Brenda said. “My brother is a bit of a grouch.”
“I get the feeling he doesn’t like me,” Maggie said, hanging the birdfeeders on the doorknob.
“It’s not you, Maggie, trust me. It’s everyone. Zach has been bitter for most of his life. It gets worse when he’s around church—which is exactly why I ask him to help out with projects around here as often as possible. God is the reason he’s so miserable. Zach knows his heart isn’t right with the Lord, and he’s fighting against that conviction. I’m afraid it’s going to take a lot more of that holy misery for him to realize it’s time to stop struggling and give his anger to God.
“There you are.” Pastor James stepped up to his wife, kissed her cheek. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
“Maggie and I were just finishing up,” Brenda said.
“Thanks for the help.” Maggie grabbed her sweater and followed the pastors from the church.
“Hellfire!” Zach stretched the front of his t-shirt and held it to his throbbing finger. Darned chicken wire had jabbed clean through. This Easter project was going to kill him yet.
He turned his head toward approaching footsteps. The door, propped by an old coffee can, eased open. He glared at the high-heeled shoe forcing its way in.
Maggie stepped inside, arms filled with newspapers. She dropped her gaze to his exposed abdomen then looked away, cheeks reddening. “I’m sorry.”
Zach checked the condition of his finger then yanked his shirt back down into place.
“Uh, Brenda said I could get started on the stone. I thought you’d already left.”
“You thought wrong,” he said, using pliers to bend another length of wire.
Maggie dropped the newspapers with a loud bang. He turned, frowning, expecting to find her scrambling apologetically to the floor.
“What’s your problem?” she asked, hands on her hips.
For the first time he could remember, Zach was speechless.
“You heard me,” she said, daring to step toward him. “I’ve been nothing but nice to you each time we’ve crossed paths, to the point of offering you ice tea and sandwiches.”
He tossed his pliers onto the workbench. “And I don’t recall taking you up on it. So don’t be thinking I owe you anything.”
“That’s exactly my point. Why won’t you let me show you some kindness?”
“Why? So you can chalk up some more winning points for Jaysus? Maybe even ‘win me to Christ,’ as you holy rollers like to say? No thanks.”
“What’s so wrong with someone wanting to help direct you to the Lord?”
Zach crossed his arms. “Okay, how about this. If you really want me to believe in that God of yours, let him know that I want a real live angel to fall down from heaven, straight into my arms and sing Amazing Grace into my left ear. Then, he’ll have my undivided attention.”
Maggie’s lip trembled, splashing a cold bucket of regret all over Zach’s insides. He’d gone too far.
“What about Brenda? Is she nothing but a ‘holy roller’ to you, too?” Her voice shook.
“My sister knows where I stand,” he said, yanking his jacket from the sawhorse, shrugging it on.
“Oh, and just where is that? On the threshold of hell?”
Zach couldn’t believe she’d said it. He flicked his gaze over her angry face. Newspaper print darkened the tip of her button nose, causing her to resemble a bunny. Adorable. He knew it wasn’t the look she was going for. He’d like to lick his thumb and rub it off, plant a kiss she’d never forget on those trembling lips…
No! What was he thinking? This girl was a Jesus-freak. A miracle chaser, just like all the other church-goers. Just like his mother had been.
Maggie turned and left, slamming the shed door behind her. The coffee can rolled, scattering rusty nails across the floor.
Maggie gripped the steering wheel, her breath tearing in and out. “I’m sorry, God. Oh, I’m so sorry. I’ve really blown it.”
How could she let him get the best of her like that? Let him make her so angry? She’d worked with children for as long as she could remember, without once losing her temper. Yet, there she’d been, less than five minutes ago in the church’s work shed, acting like a child herself. Worse than a child. Children had an excuse to throw tantrums. After all, they were children. She, on the other hand, was a grown woman. Christian woman, she reminded herself, wiping a tear. What she should’ve spoken softly in love, she’d shouted in anger.
She pulled into the driveway. For several moments, she sat in silence debating whether she should drive back to the church and apologize. Too embarrassed—or perhaps too proud—she just couldn’t do it. She slid from behind the wheel and walked slowly to her front door.
“You can’t quit, the pageant is tomorrow night!” Brenda narrowed her eyes at Zach, an expression he hadn’t seen since they were kids.
“I just did. Look, everything is finished.” He swept his arms around the shed. “Surely that husband of yours can drag it all over to the sanctuary and assemble it. Unless he’s afraid of getting a splinter in his bible-thumping hand.”
Brenda stiffened. “How dare you say that about James. He’s bent over backwards to be kind to you since the day you first met.”
“Maybe I don’t want people to be kind to me. Maybe I’m sick of it. Ever thought of that?”
“No. You’re uncomfortable with it, little brother. There’s a big difference. The day Mom died, you turned your back on the world. Worse, you turned your back on God.”
Zach crossed his arms. “With good reason.”
“Good reason—” Brenda let her head fall back, gazed at the ceiling. “Zach, when Mom got sick, she took us to the Loretto Chapel to help strengthen your faith, not turn you against God.”
“She promised, Brenda. You heard her. She said if we only prayed hard enough, we’d receive a miracle. I believed her. I prayed and prayed and prayed. Until my voice was hoarse, until my shirt was drenched with sweat and tears, until my freaking eyes were swollen shut, I prayed!” Zach clenched his shaking hands. “And still, she died.”
Brenda wrapped her arms around her brother’s hitching shoulders, held him close. “I know, I know. But have you ever thought, maybe Mom living wasn’t the miracle God had in mind? I got a miracle that day at the Loretto Chapel, Zach. A miracle of a different sort. Right there, beneath that miraculous stairway, I received Christ.”
Zach took a ragged breath, released his sister. “That only proves God loves you more. He locked me out of heaven the very same day he let you in.”
“That’s ridiculous, little brother. He loved you then, and he loves you now.” She kissed his cheek. “Will you please stay? Just until the pageant is over. I want you to see how great the set looks. Besides—do you really trust James to put everything together correctly? Remember the time he helped you assemble the swing set in the children’s play area?”
Zach scrubbed a hand over his forehead. “Okay. But as soon as that stone rolls away, so do I.”
“Johnny, please don’t do this now.” Maggie placed her hands on the ten-year-old boy’s already broad shoulders, turned him toward her.
“Everyone will laugh,” he grumbled.
“No, they won’t. We’ve been over this. I even showed you in the Bible, remember? Many angels were big, strong males.”
“I won’t do it. You can’t make me!” Johnny threw the angel costume at Maggie’s feet and darted down the hallway, past the other children.
She picked up the robe, held it to her shoulders. The costume would drag the floor on any of the other children. She could picture one of them tripping over it and falling down onstage. Too late to pin up the hem, there was only one thing left to do. She sighed and pulled the robe over her head. “Rosie, will you please fasten my wings?” she asked the six year-old standing beside her.
Rosie giggled as Maggie dropped to her knees so that the little girl could snap the elastic straps over her shoulders.
The set turned out pretty good, if Zach did say so himself. Everything looked authentic. He was glad Brenda had talked him into staying. No way it would’ve turned out that good if James had set the stage.
The church was packed. He didn’t see an empty seat anywhere. Then again, nothing drew a crowd like kids acting out Bible stories.
He leaned on the wall, close to the platform. Finally, the thing was drawing to a close. He’d been uncomfortable for the duration—even turned his head and pretended to examine an air conditioning vent as the Roman soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross.
“And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.” The narrator’s deep voice boomed through the loudspeakers, sounding like God himself.
Zach looked up to see the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen—a real live angel—perched on his stone of newspaper and chicken wire. He blinked up at the bright stage lighting, unable to believe the vision.
Maggie looked down at him, eyes like sapphires, blonde hair streaming around her angelic features.
His heart melted.
Just then the stone, which had already been rolled away, began to roll some more. Maggie let out a little yelp as the giant boulder pitched forward, bucking her over the platform.
Zach lunged, caught her in his arms then zagged to the side, narrowly avoiding the monstrous stone that rolled down the center aisle like something from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.” Maggie sang softly, and then placed a tender kiss on Zach’s left ear. “As a boy, did you ever visit the Loretto Chapel?” she whispered.
He set her gently down beside the altar, and then kneeled.
Please tune in tomorrow for another miraculous tale of faith!