Christmas,  Holidays,  Inspirational Collections,  Motivational,  Thoughts

The Innkeeper’s Portrait – A Christmas Story

Merry Christmas to all of our readers from PruittWrites, we hope this time of year and festive holiday season find you well. We would like to share a Christmas story about Faith that was inspired by our Pastor, Pastor Denny Livingston, a week before Christmas. We hope you enjoy The Innkeeper’s Portrait.

The artist Glen Fife had been commissioned to produce a special piece, perhaps the most important painting he had ever received an order for. As most artists, he would start out with a sketch, and they’d go from there. Time was not an issue originally, having been given a little over a year to produce it.

Yet, not one for procrastinating, Glen found himself less than thirty days out from the due date, without as much as a canvas to show for it. Thankfully, the recipient didn’t know that, he wasn’t the one who commissioned it. Unfortunately the person who had ordered it was very well aware, as he was married to her.

“Glen, you’ve got to come up with something, it’s almost time.” Mae would say every morning, just after breakfast. The first week of December, they were kind little suggestions, but with every day the tone shifted slightly, and who could blame her.

The painting was for a very special person, their son Tom. Tom Fife was the Pastor of Albertstown Church, and they were to have a huge Christmas program. The center of it would be the Christmas sermon. Tom prayed so hard every year to make Christmas more than just a holiday to the people.

All this was running in Glen’s mind that tenth of December, as he walked into his studio. He turned up the gas knob on the little fireplace, and picked up his sketchbook. Glen had made a hundred sketches over the last few months.

He had tried to capture every aspect of Christmas he could, but somehow none of them seemed just the right image. “How do you sketch Christmas, and do it justice?” Glen would ask no one in particular as he worked.

That morning, it was as if the dust cleared, or rather the blizzard stopped. Why not talk to Tom? If anyone could give him ideas, surely he could. Glen couldn’t tell his son about his Mother’s surprise obviously, but he could ask about the Sermon.

He decided he had better first get the okay from Mae, for safety reasons, mostly his own. Reluctantly she agreed, after stressing that he mustn’t know anything about it over and over. Mae was a sweet woman, but this was her baby boy’s gift they were talking about.

Glen did murmur something about him being his son too, but he knew that wasn’t really relevant over this. Other than making him feel a little less nervous about asking the boy he had taught to pray, how to define Christmas.

Yes, that’s the way to frame it he thought. It should be mentioned, Glen was no stranger to a Christmas sermon, he had been the Pastor before Tom took over. For him though, it was easier to share his passion for Christmas from the pulpit than it was the easel.

That’s understandable, because from the pulpit you’re conveying conviction, with a painting you’re attempting to reflect it. “Light shared is far more powerful than light shown” Glen had told the congregation almost every Christmas. He had stressed that beyond the decorations, there must be substance.

All of this is why this painting weighed so heavily on him. It was a subject Glen knew a great deal about, was passionate for, and had spoken of to others for decades, he knew that’s why he was having such a challenge with it. This was not some meaningless portrait, this was a visual means of conveying a spiritual truth.

“How’s the Sermon preparation going son? Do you know where your taking your text from this year? How’s Kate and the boys?” Glen listened intently to the answer of every question, but he still didn’t get the answer that he needed yet.

It was a good conversation though, Glen always enjoyed talking to his son. The Bishop, and professional painter found himself en route to his studio once the conversation was over, but he never made it there. Instead, he found himself back at his desk in the bedroom, where he prayed every morning.

Having had no success with his own ideas, Glen decided to ask the source for the answer. He could almost imagine a whisper in his ear as he began, “Twelve months and you’re asking now?”, but that was Glen’s thought, not The Lord. God was far less sarcastic than Glen, especially over this.

Glen had asked God concerning it, for help with the project. For Divine insight into it, and for understanding as to why it had been so challenging. It was not that he hadn’t received an answer either, when asked, the words time and season always came to his mind.

The minister knew that, just because you don’t understand the answer, doesn’t make the answer any less real. Each time, after prayer, Glen realized everything would come together in time, he was just hoping that the answer would come in time for the paint to be dry.

It’s a funny thing about us humans, we tend to look at things through human eyes. No matter how many times the answer showed up right on time, we can get a little impatient. One Pastor said it well, “We set our watch by minutes, and God measures by centuries.”

Almost as soon as Glen finished praying, there was a knock at the door. It was his neighbor Ralph Wallace. Ralph and he had been friends for probably twenty years, even if Ralph never agreed to go to Church with him. Glen hadn’t stopped asking, just became more strategic about the when and where of the question.

Glen didn’t rightly know why Ralph didn’t want to find time for Church. He had asked, but Ralph always made excuses. Glen didn’t bring any of this up when Ralph walked in, but it all had flashed through his mind as he walked through the door.

“Glen, I need your help. Leah’s been in an accident. My car’s in the shop, can you take me to the hospital?”

Glen grabbed his coat, hat, and keys and headed out the door behind Ralph. “Thanks Glen, she was doing some last minute shopping for the grand kids, and some prep for the Christmas service. Joseph is going to be in the Christmas play at your son’s Church.”

Glen decided it best to ignore the last sentence. “Did they say how she’s doing? Is there anything we can help with?”

Ralph smiled. “You’re doing it. Thankfully they said she’s okay except, her leg is broken. I know that’s big, but I got to tell you, I was so thankful to hear her complaining to me about it messing up her favorite shoes.”

Both husbands laughed heartily. It was not only funny, but a release of nerves. Each man knew how much their spouses meant to them. Glen was glad to hear Leah would be okay.

It took about twenty minutes to get there, and about an hour later Ralph was helping Leah into Ralph’s van. “They could have sent me home thirty minutes ago, but Dan Mahoney was on break. The boy may be a doctor, but he’s still the same student who was always late in my English class in tenth grade.”

Glen thought, Leah was as feisty as ever, she was going to be just fine. Ralph was brave enough to say, “Now honey, be nice. We’ll get you home and get you rest.”

Leah was too fired up to settle down just yet. “There’s no time to settle down. I’ve got Christmas to host. Ralph you’ll have to help me cook this year, there’s just no way around it. You’ll have to be my legs, I need your help?”

Glen didn’t know exactly what it was, but the last sentence sounded different. She went from statements to a leading question. He figured this was about something other than getting the turkey out of the oven, but it wasn’t his business.

He made small talk, helped them inside, and went home. Ralph and Leah weren’t ones for loud arguments, but like all couples they had disagreements. Usually Glen found out about it when Ralph knocked on his door suggesting a game of chess, and a cup of coffee. That meant he was letting the dust settle before going back.

Glen did something similar with Ralph, but they usually played checkers at his house. That afternoon, Glen heard just enough as the storm door closed behind him to have the chess board ready. Ralph saw when he walked back over and smiled. “Leah’s napping, time for a game?”

Rather than talk about the argument, Glen brought up his own predicament about the painting he was supposed to do. “Ralph, I’ve been a professional artist for twenty years. I’ve been a Minister longer than that. I don’t know why it’s so hard, but I can’t for the life of me figure out the best way to sketch Christmas to get this painting started.”

Ralph made a few suggestions, but they seemed half hearted. Finally he turned serious. “I guess you heard Leah was upset as you walked down the front steps. She’s determined not to miss that service at your son’s Church. The grandkids and Ned and Sally started going there in the spring, and the grandkids are in the pageant.”

“Leah knew I wouldn’t go before, so she didn’t ask. Now she knows I have to help her just get ready, and she wasn’t taking no for an answer. If I don’t go, I doubt Christmas will be very happy this year.”

Glen smiled. “Would it really hurt so badly to go? You could pretend you’re just at a Christmas play?”

Ralph smiled, then looked out the window. “I doubt I have much choice really. I wish I did.”

Glen did hear a whisper in his mind this time. “Time and season. Ask him.” Glen’s mouth was open before he even knew what he was going to say. “Ralph, we’ve been friends a long time, could you give me the reason, the real reason you don’t want to go?”

He expected an argument, or some vague answer, but not this time. “Glen, you never met my Dad did you? He passed on before you moved to town.”

Glen shook his head, and Ralph continued. “My Dad’s name was John, and he was the local Santa Claus at Christmas time. Mr. Christmas they called him. He was an insurance salesman the rest of the year, but not at Christmas. During the holidays, he was the first to decorate, the most generous to give, and the loudest laugh.”

“I was fifteen when he had his second heart attack. He was so young, but it triggered a stroke. Dad was around for about five months after that, but he was already pretty much gone.”

“We never went to Church, but I sure prayed during that five months. I just never got an answer, and well, I determined I’d never try again, since it didn’t work. No offense intended, but that’s what I decided at fifteen.”

Glen wasn’t offended, he had heard this argument before. People tried to make sense of their problems, and somehow God became The One they blamed for them. Glen had some good responses for this, but for Ralph, only a question came to mind? “Ralph, you love your family very much don’t you? Is it that you don’t believe God is real, or that you don’t believe He cares?”

Ralph looked at him thoughtfully. “Well, I guess I have to believe that He’s real, or I wouldn’t have prayed for five months. A month maybe out of desperation, but I prayed every day. I guess it’s the second one.”

Glen looked at his friend, asking as kindly as he could. “Then if you love your wife enough to be considering doing something that you said you’d never do, and your human, how can you believe God doesn’t care? An if He cares, don’t you think He cared about your Dad?”

Ralph was instantly angry, but Glen was his friend. He didn’t say anything, just stared at him. Glen stepped lightly with his next question, but it had to be asked. “Do you remember when I asked for your help with that old Ford I had? The one you called a disaster?”

Ralph softened just a little. “That thing was the worst car on the road. I told you to get rid of it the day the fuel pump went out, but you held on to the thing for ten years. I never could figure out why.”

Glen smiled. “Because it was the car we had when we brought Tom home from the hospital. It was a horrible car, but every time I got into it, I could smell the baby lotion from that first trip home. I just couldn’t walk away from it. Even though it made no sense to anyone else, it made sense to me.”

Ralph looked at his friend. “What’s your point? I’ve heard most of the arguments before from Leah. Unless you can give me something new, I’m not interested.”

Glen just laughed. “Time and season”. He motioned for Ralph to follow him to his studio, and bring the coffee. Glen grabbed his sketchbook and sketched a very rough outline, then started to paint. “Do me a favor Ralph, set there and let me paint you. I need an innkeeper.”

Ralph didn’t understand, but happy that the conversation had shifted, agreed. Being a smart man, he knew the conversation wasn’t over, but it was either fight with Glen or fight with Leah. Truth be told, Ralph was a little curious now at what Glen was up to.

When he was finished, about two hours later, Glen asked Ralph to look. “It’s not done yet, but you can see the general idea. Ralph expected a Manger scene, or the Wisemen traveling, or something, but short of Glen’s reference to the Innkeeper, he didn’t expect what he saw.

It was outside of the stable as day was just breaking, the innkeeper had come to the stable with a lantern in one hand, and some straw in the other. Full of his own interest, he seemed to have forgotten that he had let a very pregnant couple stay in his barn. All this was conveyed by the look on the innkeeper’s face, as his eyes met with the Baby in the manger.

Glen hadn’t defined the face of The Christ child, rather he had positioned him so that you would see the top of the manger, and the keyhole view of the innkeeper at the door. “The man was so busy with his own issues, he had missed something pretty important Ralph. The most important event in the history of the world, when God did something old and something new.”

“I’ve been so busy looking for a way to sketch Christmas, that I missed a lot. My guess is you have too. You see, when man sinned, God lost a family member too. He worked very hard to make a way to give everyone an opportunity to get back what they had lost. So much so, He became something He had never been to communicate with us.”

“God knows what loss is like, and how painful it is. When we pray, we want the answer to be exactly what we want, and sometimes it isn’t, but can I ask you a question? Did you ever think that God gave you those last few months with your Dad? Yes, it was hard for him, and for you, but wouldn’t have been a lot harder to loose him without the time?”

Ralph looked at his friend, looked at the inn keeper that was based on his own face, and the Manger. “I can’t see Him in your painting. I couldn’t see Him when I was fifteen, maybe I just wasn’t looking in the right direction. Still, I’m an old man now Glen. Why change now, and why wait til I am an old man to ask?”

Glen looked at him with a little friendly sarcasm. “Come on Ralph, how many years have we been friends? How many times have we talked about Church? It’s not that He hasn’t taken time to ask, it’s that you were a little too busy with the inn to listen.”

“What could one service hurt? Take a little time, enjoy the season, you might even enjoy the service. Plus, it’ll keep you out of trouble with Leah.”

Ralph agreed to think about it. “Now can we get back to the chess game? I was winning before you started you know.”

No, it wasn’t Earth shattering, and to be truthful it wasn’t the most powerful conversation Glen had ever had. It was a conversation between two friends, and one that Glen was hopeful he had said the right things in.

That night, in prayer at his desk, he was asking The Lord to forgive him if he had missed something, or left something out. He could hear that whisper again, this time with some Divine sarcasm thrown in. “Time and season. Do you think I sent the wrong man to talk to him after all these years? By the way, the paint will be dry in time.”

Glen smiled, and finished his prayer. The next day, he put the finishing touches on the painting. The night of the service, Mae presented it to Tom as a gift. He smiled, and quickly ask his Dad for an easel. They got to the house and back just in time. It was setting up on the platform when Ralph wheeled Leah through the door.

He shook hands with Glen, muttered something about laying it on thick, and sat down. The Christmas program went beautifully. Glen and Ralph were both surprised to learn Joseph’s brother little Ralph, was playing the innkeeper.

Ralph expected to squirm all the way through Tom’s Sermon when it was time for it. What he hadn’t expected was to actually like it. I think it was the beginning that grabbed him.

“Time and season. Christmas time is here, as the song says, but it comes this time every year. What makes it so special? What’s so wonderful about a season with giving, and business, and extra bills? I mean, every season has people who give in it. Every season is busy, and there are always plenty of bills.”

“What makes this time and season so special, let me answer it this way. For the same reason that you worked an extra shift when you were exhausted, or skipped lunch for a week to buy that new toy for your child. For your child, that’s why He did it, that’s why He came.”

“God came to Bethlehem, because He wanted a family, not a perfect family, but a family. A family that at times find themselves busy, and exhausted, and with issues. Jesus didn’t come to open a present Christmas Day, He came to give one every day, not just the good days, not just the happy ones.”

“Christ came to hold us when we cry. To help us with the pain of today, the hurt of yesterday, and to give us a better future. Jesus came to spend time with us, and to share every season of our lives, both the good, and the bad.”

Tom’s Sermon wasn’t long, but it was powerful. Ralph listened intently, as he stared at the face of the innkeeper. Glen had not been kind in his illustration, every wrinkle was there, every line. Yet, there was something on his face that had been missing from Ralph’s, the wonder of it all.

Tom’s alter call was awkward, or at least Ralph felt that way. Decades said to stay in his seat. He thought of every reason not to go, but none of them seemed good enough. When Ralph stepped to the Altar, Leah went with him, not that she had much choice, he pushed her down there in front of him, then knelt beside her. While he prayed, he felt a friend’s hand on his arm, and heard a familiar voice praying beside him.

A Christmas present doesn’t always arrive on Christmas Day, at times it may arrive later than you expect, and often it comes much sooner than December 25. Like the gifts we put together for our children, some things take time, but rest assured, Our Heavenly Father is putting things together for the right time, and a wonderful Christmas season.

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