Tuesday, December 5, 2017

12 Days of Christmas Short Story Part I

Hallie introduced us on that fateful Halloween night, “Merry Noelle Bishop, this is Caleb Steadman, your partner for the evening!”  

I would never have guessed that Caleb Steadman had a masters in theology and had hopes of being a pastor of a small Baptist Church—preferably bi-vocationally so he could still pursue his passion of farming. 

“Hi, Caleb!,” I said to my farmer-partner with a big smile. “It’s so nice to meet you!”  

I had no problem meeting new people—especially someone as good looking as Caleb. I could tell that he probably spent a good deal of time outdoors. After all, he was still in his work jeans and wearing a plaid flannel shirt and a faded baseball cap. I thought maybe he’d just dressed for the part, but as the evening wore on, I concluded he’d come straight from the field. 

Nodding and touching his cap, he smiled a crooked grin and said, “Nice to meet you, too. I hope I don’t embarrass you tonight. I’m not very good at this stuff.”  I laughed and assured him, “I don’t have to win. Let’s just try to have fun, ok?”

Caleb’s best friend, Josh McGyver, sat beside me during the dinner portion of the murder mystery game and spent more time telling me about Caleb’s aspirations than trying to help me solve the murder which had happened in the kitchen with the lamp stand. 

He told me, “Caleb knows God has called him to preach, but he can’t help but get dirt under his fingernails.  He loves the whole process of planting and harvesting.  He also hates being in crowds of people he doesn’t know—which is why I almost didn’t get him here tonight!!”  He scratched his head and said,  “I’m not sure he’s figured out how he’s going to pastor a crowd of people he doesn’t know.”  

Josh & Hallie were our mutual friends who were hosting the Halloween murder mystery party. They’d been married a year and had invited some of their single friends (mixed in with other married couples) in the hopes of making some “divine connections,” they later told us. Caleb didn’t usually go to parties like this—but Josh had twisted his arm. 

“Caleb, you’ve got to come!  We need a farmer and you’re the perfect stand-in for the part!  You won’t even have to change clothes—just come as you are!  You know there will be food.  Besides...wait until you see your partner, Nurse Betty!” 

I was “Nurse Betty” in the game—but I didn’t find out until much later that Josh & Hallie were actually trying to set us up that night. Caleb & I were thrown together throughout the hilarious evening of trying to solve the who-done-it—and I guess it worked. Fourteen months later, Caleb and I were married on Christmas Eve—which is also my birthday. (This explains my parents’  “unique creativity” in giving me a Christmas name—which has only caused me to have to spell my name over and over all my life!)

Merry Noelle Bishop Steadman.  I loved being married! And I knew when I married Caleb that he loved four things:  God, me, preaching, and farming—and in that order—with his cow dog, Max, and a few other animals thrown in there somewhere at the end.  Caleb had found his dream jobs in Sunrise, TX. He’d become the bi-vocational pastor of the 100-member First Baptist Church and he hired out to Jake Leathers as a farmhand. 

“Merry, the two go together,” he said. “Sowing and reaping can be preached in the pulpit as I do it in the field.”  I believed him. 

And as painful as it was for Caleb, he seemed to be overcoming his adversity to crowds as he got to know his church members...one at a time. Of course, I helped where I could by being my extroverted self. Caleb wasn’t just content to know his flocks’ names, he wanted to be involved in their lives—and he told them that. And they seemed happy to have him out and about in the community instead of sitting at a church desk. 

So when widow Katy Brown’s heifer was calving, she called frantically, “Preacher!  I need you over here NOW!”  And he was. He helped pull that new baby calf and stayed until it was nursing. 

And, yes, everyone called him Preacher. 

Or when Pete White’s farmhand broke his leg, Caleb didn’t even think twice—he jumped on that John Deere cotton harvester and helped until the cotton was tarped in the fields. 

Caleb told me often, “I love you, Merry!  You’re everything I’m not—and that God knew I needed.”  He was the kind of guy that when dinner was inedible, he’d say, “I was kind of hungry for a DQ Dude, how about you?”  But really...who ever gets hungry for DQ?  I knew he loved me by the way he cared for me. 

Of course, his first job commitment was to preaching—Sunday mornings to the church and Wednesday nights to the youth. His next obligation was to Jake Leathers. But Caleb would dream as we’d lay in bed at night, “I want to earn enough money working with Jake to save up for our own farm some day.”  It wasn’t going to happen anytime soon at the rate our savings account was growing—even if we did live in the church parsonage. 

Which is why I wanted a job. Plus my husband’s dreams were all being fulfilled. But somehow, I was having a hard time in Sunrise, TX, population 650, to find my dream job. I’d studied business and advertising. The grocery store, hardware store, The Grill, Sunset to Sunrise Motel, the Dairy Queen, nor the gas station needed help with advertising. They were the only game in town and everyone already did their business with them. 

I was also bored. Caleb was working way too many hours—and I didn’t know where I fit in the church. I didn’t know how to play the piano. I was too insecure to teach Women’s Bible Studies to women older than me. And I just couldn’t work in the nursery—it might stir up some premature desires.  The kitchen?  That was out, too. I could barely boil water. I didn’t want to be a complainer—but I was beginning to wonder why God had made me a pastor’s—uh, preacher’s—wife and why He’d set me in Sunrise, TX. My mom had always told me, “Merry Noelle, we expect you to always live up to your name!  God has given you a delightful laugh and a beautiful smile. Use it!”  I was afraid I was about to lose my “merry”—even though Christmas was right around the corner.

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