In Loving memory of my father, James A. Sparacino…Today, December 12, 2011, marks the 24th anniversary of his death. I dedicate this story to him. He is perpetually loved and missed.
Jim hung his head in sadness and tears filled his eyes. He was ashamed to be crying, but he knew the family had all gone to bed and would not see this pathetic scene. His hand held a half empty glass of wine, and next to it, on the table, sat the empty bottle.
He knew that his faith had been defeated. It cut him deeply, as his empty heart and soul recounted his life.
He grew up in a rather poor family, back in the Appalachian area of Tennessee. His mom had 8 children, all girls and he being the middle child and only son. They were very spiritual and went to church every Sunday, no matter what the conditions were. If it was snowing, they’d wrap up and walk a mile and a half to get there. Edna and Lee, his mother and father, taught their children that God came first, and to never forget it. For with God, all things are possible. God provided and met needs.
When Jim reached his young adulthood, he moved to Pittsburg to find work. There he met his wife Linda, and began raising their own family of 6. They had 4 girls and 2 boys.
As he reached the tally of his life, he took his final sip of wine, rubbed his eyes and shouted out “Lord, what have I done to offend you?” He sat there, with tears rolling down his face, leaning sideways in his chair as to make an effort to hold himself up.
See, it was Christmastime, and some of Jim’s children were now at the ages that they would be able to sense hard times. Susan, who was 16 now and able to drive, would love to have her very own car; Jennifer, 15, would be happy with a cell phone. Bobby, 13, wanted concert tickets so he could go with his friends to see their favorite group perform. Little Johnny, not so little anymore at the big age of 10, wanted model cars, he loved to sit for hours and piece them together. He wanted to grow up and work on cars and maybe even one day design one. Sarah was 8. She had big blue eyes, and a heart full of gold. All she wanted were clothes. She liked glittery colorful hats & scarfs, and also loved shoes. She enjoyed playing dress up and would perform fashion shows for the rest of the family on special evenings. The baby, Madeline, they called her Maddy for short, was now turning 3. She didn’t ask for much at this age, just enjoyed being read to, and playing with her toys.
What he could not bear to the family was that he had been laid off that very day, Friday Dec. 9th, after 20 years with the company. He would not be receiving retirement as they laid him off before he was entitled to it, and only sent him home with a handful of severance pay. Jim had suspected as much, but kept his strong faith in God and didn’t let it weigh him down over the holidays. But now, it had come to fruition, and he knew that he and Linda had not been able to save money over the years, so were not far, at this point, from losing everything and being homeless. Christmas, this year, only 2 weeks away, would be like none other, it would NOT be.
“God!” he cried, “Why me? Why me?” He didn’t ever want to question GOD, but the depression and wine got the best of him.
Jim put his glass down on the table, leaned back and sank deeper into his chair. He closed his eyes. It was then he heard singing…like faint hymns coming from the distance. He opened his eyes and much to his surprise he saw that the room was full of angels.
Amidst all the angelic singing of praises, came an angel of light, the light was radiating all around her, she came close to Jim, laid her arm of ‘light’ upon him and said,
“Do you not know that when our sweet Lord closes a window, He also opens a bigger and better door? Do you also not know that the Lord knows best?”
Jim could not speak, and tears poured down his face as his heart opened up and he could now understand that it wasn’t the Lord that abandoned him but it was just the opposite, he had abandoned his Lord. He wept as he knew how much he had hurt God. Jim had loved the Lord all his life, why had he chosen now to doubt? Now, when his faith had to be its strongest!
“I’m sorry, forgive me” he shouted out, as he fell out of the chair and onto his knees on the floor. The angel spoke softly,
“The LORD has not forgotten you, he knows your needs better than you do. He is saddened that you left your faith behind and doubted Him. But He also knows that you love Him. God knows your heart, and He has sent me to tell you to call out to Him now, but this time with all your might, and all your faith. For your faith is there, but you have allowed it to be pushed aside and covered up by worldly worries.”
Jim, overcome with emotions, and not quite sure if this was all a dream or if it could possibly be a visit from heaven, once again cried out…”Lord, I hear you! How shameful to be a man of little faith. I am not worthy Lord, only say the word, and my soul shall be healed!”
Jim fell prostrate on the floor, lying in complete stillness and humility. When his eyes opened, he was alone in the room.
He slowly got up, and sat back down in the chair. He continued to talk to God in his head, and it was hours before he finally got into his bed.
The next morning, not letting his family on to what his fortune had delivered the previous day, Jim came to the breakfast table happier than his family had seen him in a long time. “Honey!” Linda said, “you look like you’ve seen an angel! You’re glowing and you’re whistling, and you’re actually dancing around! Surely you have embraced the spirit of Christmas!”
Maddy came up and squeezed her daddy’s leg and said “hold me daddy, hold me!” Jim grabbed Maddy and swung her around, tickling her tummy and making her giggle.
The other kids, one by one, came into the kitchen and dining room areas, as they do each Saturday morning, knowing that this day they will all sit down together, as a family, and enjoy a spectacular breakfast, homemade by mom. Immediately they sensed happiness in the air, and all questioned at the same time “What’s going on? Did we miss something? What’s all the excitement?”
Jim exclaimed “I’ll tell you what all the excitement is! We are going to begin the celebration of Christmas this morning. Not by opening presents, but in the true meaning of serving those less fortunate than us. We are going to the homeless shelter this afternoon, and we are going to deliver all those bags of clothes we’ve had sitting out in the garage for months, and we will also go through our pantry and fill bags full of food to hand out to the less fortunate!”
After a long & busy, but most of all fulfilling day, Jim and his family gathered at home around their Christmas tree, and talked about the many blessings that they had received that day. Their almsgiving not only brought gifts to the poor, but brought the blessing of joy to their very own hearts and souls. They would remember this day for all their lives and wanted to do it again very soon.
After singing some Christmas carols, and having a late night snack of hot chocolate and gingerbread cookies, Linda put the younger kids to bed, and Susan and Jennifer soon followed.
Jim and Linda, alone finally, embraced each other in a warm and loving hug. Jim looked at Linda, and said “I need to tell you something honey.” He held her hand and led her to the couch, and as they both sat down, Linda asked in a concerned voice “is everything alright dear?”
“I was laid off yesterday,” but before he could continue on, she broke down into tears. She knew their financial situation and she too, as Jim had, suspected this was coming; yet just didn’t foresee it being now at Christmastime. “What are we going to do? What will we tell the children?”
Jim smiled, for he had no worries, and his faith had been graciously restored by the heavenly angels who had come to deliver God’s message of hope and truth to him. “Honey, we are both from backgrounds of strong faith, and we have raised our family the same. Why would we doubt God now, when it’s in times like these that God is present and holds us even nearer to him, with his protection and loving hands covering us?”
Linda sat there quietly, as no words would come to her lips. She was processing the news yet at the same time, her husband’s words of faith were simultaneously filling her saddened and broken heart. She took a deep breath, looked him in the eyes, rubbed his hands with hers, and began to softly speak out loud the words from Psalms 23:1
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; Beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul; He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil, for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.
They stayed up a while longer as they discussed the options at hand. Linda could try to get a job, although it had been ages since her last one. Of course Jim could contact an employment agency, or try reaching out to some friends. They decided to sleep on it, and tomorrow would be a new day. They slept very peacefully that night. Sunday morning came in a blink of an eye.
This Sunday was the third week of Advent, and it was a busy morning as Sundays usually are. The older kids were getting ready, as Jim & Linda assisted the younger ones, while also attempting to get themselves ready. As always, they were punctual and sat in their usual pew.
Susan’s mind was wandering all over the place, fantasizing about a new car. Jennifer and Bobby were looking around the church as they normally do, seeing if they could see any of their friends from school. Johnny held his toy car in his hand, thinking of the car he would one day design. Sarah sat upright pretending to be listening, but glancing every now and then at her pretty shiny shoes; and Maddy turned the pages of her book, making up her own story in her head.
As for Jim and Linda, they were delivered a message of hope. In the reading of Isaiah, the prophet rejoices because the Lord has sent Him to proclaim glad tidings to the poor, & to heal the broken-hearted. In his letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul reminds us to rejoice ALWAYS! We are also to proclaim and to use our many God-given talents to help others recognize the many good things God does for us.
Jim and Linda looked at each other as if this message was hand delivered to them, from the almighty HAND of God.
After mass, while congregating in fellowship outside of church, Jim’s buddy Matt came up to him and asked if Jim had a minute. Jim excused himself from Linda and the kids, and walked with Matt over through the garden alongside the big Christmas tree. “Jim, I hope you don’t mind but Susan, your co-worker, called me last night and was very concerned about you. She told me that you were abruptly laid off. I’m really sorry to hear that.”
Jim was surprised that the news had started to travel already, but smiled and what more could he say other than, “Yes, that is correct. Sad, but true.”
Matt went on to say that the Lord works in mysterious ways. Jim felt a sermon coming on, but was surprised to find out otherwise. Matt was not about to give a sermon, he was about to plead for Jim’s help. Matt lost his number one employee this past week, who had to move across country to care for his aging mother. Matt explained the situation and made Jim an offer on the spot. Jim took a deep breath and with a sigh of relief, tears puddled in his eyes. He gave Matt a strong, but warm embrace. Matt was unknowing of just how big a role he was playing in God’s plan for this situation; Matt had become the new door that opened as the old window closed.
Monday morning came, and as if nothing had ever happened, Jim found himself getting ready to go to his new job.
As a family, the heartfelt memory of this weekend was the joy they experienced in helping to serve others in need. They had lived out the truth and beauty in the words of Matthew 25:40 “I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me.”
Although the children were never aware of the power that was working behind the scenes, on their behalf, they did experience the miracle of giving.
We never know on what day, or hour, we may become the one in need.
The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of distress, They trust in you who cherish your name, for you forsake not those who seek you, O Lord.
God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in distress.
Therefore we fear not, though the earth be shaken and mountains plunge into the depths of the sea;
Though its waters rage and foam and the mountains quake at its surging.
The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
Thanks to Father John Bonavitacola from Our Lady Of Mt. Carmel parish in Tempe, AZ, for giving a great sermon today!