Christmas,  Holidays,  Inspirational Collections,  Short Stories,  Thoughts

Playing Hands Or Praying Hands – A Christmas Story Of Redemption

Grandma always watched westerns at Christmas. For years I didn’t know why, though around ten years old, I started to notice they always made her cry. The funny thing was the tears always came with a smile.

The first year I had noticed, I asked Dad about it on the way home after Christmas. He smiled, and replied that it was a story told as only Grandma could. “I’ll give her a call, she’ll tell you next Christmas.”

I waited a whole year, it passed in and out of my memory several times. Finally it was Christmas Eve, and I was about to bust. Grandma mentioned at dinner she had watched an old Jimmy Stewart western that afternoon.

It was between passing the potatoes and the carrots I asked her. “Grandma why do you watch westerns every Christmas? Why do you cry and smile at the same time?”

She laughed almost immediately. “Tom, your Dad was about ten when he asked my Dad the same question. I let Dad tell it as only he could, until I had my first Grandchild. Then I started telling, but only when one of you asked.”

“Stories can get boring if told too much, and our family can’t allow this one to ever be boring. Dad always started with the cards, but I like to start it this way.” An with that introduction she began a story I’d never forget.

There was blood on the revolver when he handed it to me. I never expected to hold a gun, much less to be in a gunfight. There was still the smell of holly in the air, carried by the winter wind.

Of course I never expected to stop a robbery. To stop a runaway wagon train, or be involved in a card game where the cards were less important than the hands they were in. It was a lot of miles and a lot of tears from Kansas to Montana.

I had been there six months by the time winter hit. I made a name for myself by accident when the stage coach driver had a heart attack. I was the only man on the coach and had to take over. Man, I was barely 19, but the older Garner sisters insisted. Imagine my surprise when a team of horses passed me soon after without a wagon attached.

I caught up to them and routed them in a small canyon. I don’t know where I got the courage to jump down from the coach and calm them down, but I did. By then the scout from the wagon train caught up with us. I helped him get them back to the wagon train, and their doctor tended to the stagecoach driver.

On the way back to town was it’s own adventure. Some drifter tried to rob us, that’s when the Stage Coach driver handed me his revolver, blood and all. The drifter was a worse shot than I was, I think he was drunk. Anyway I aimed for his leg so I wouldn’t accidentally kill him.

Even though I missed and hit him in the arm, he dropped the gun. We rounded him up in the wagon. The Garner sisters held him at gunpoint. I was more scared they’d shoot him by dropping the gun than anything.

We all made it into town late that night. By morning I was being called The Calm Rider, what a joke. I was terrified, truth be told I had been terrified ever since I left Kansas. When you’re running the way I was, you had a right to be scared.

Marshall Hayes found me that next day. “So you’re The Calm Rider huh? Don’t let it get you down, they come up with all sorts of craziness to entertain themselves. At one point they said I shot Wyatt Earp, which is funny since I never met him.”

I laughed, “All I did was what the Garner sisters told me to do. They didn’t give me permission to argue really. Is Mr Martin the driver going to be okay?”

“Yeah, most likely indigestion rather a heart attack, least it has been the last two times before. The drifter was Old Jake, he was drunk so he couldn’t have hit anything. I’ll keep him locked up for a week or two, give him a good scare. Maybe it will help him get sober.”

“Now for the reason I’m here. The winds already rolled in, but no snow yet. That’s a big day here. It will be winter any day, and the first snow in Akins Falls is well unusual.”

I made some remark about every year’s first snowfall being special back home. He shook his head no. “Didn’t say special, said unusual. Every winter a few riders come into town for a card game. It’s my job to make sure it stays friendly, for the good of the town.”

“The guy who hosts the game is Mayor Parley, he saw to it there was a loophole in the town charter. It’s the only legally allowed gambling of the year. Three years ago it didn’t end so well, the town voted I had to be involved since then.”

“Need five deputies, each for a player, I watch the Mayor. I get to arrest him if I catch him cheating. It’s a dream of mine, hadn’t happened yet though. Pay for one night is 75 dollars a man for five hours work, what do you say?”

I turned him down flat. I had never really used a gun in my life before this trip, and wasn’t anxious to be involved. The Marshall nodded, turned, and left. By noon I had forgotten it, until the first of the riders rode in.

Each of them were characters to be sure, but that first one. He was dressed in a black suit and blue vest. His hair was dirty gray, and his eyes matched. Everything including his horse looked dingy and dirty, except the two revolvers on his hips.

I found out he was a gambler and gunfighter they called Seven Aces. Half the town said it was cause he never lost, the other half that it meant he cheated a lot. His real name was J D Corrigan but he would always be Seven Aces to me.

Mayor Parley met him, though he didn’t seem happy to see him. The Mayor was a short, round man in a fancy suit. He looked like what Dad called a spit shine, meaning there was gloss on the outside only.

Another man joined him. The hotel clerk told me they called him King Roscoe. He was the local cattle baron. He was tall, seemed sharp, and intimidating. I wouldn’t meet the other players until later, but for some reason this game started to intrigue me.

A couple days later I found myself in the Marshall’s office, I had talked myself into accepting the Marshall’s offer. He laughed, “Curiosity or need always win out. Here’s half the money now, you’ll get the other half after the game. You look like you need to eat.”

He was right, I was running out of money. When I explained to him I didn’t know how to use a gun he smiled. “I’ll give you an empty rifle, you’ll follow King Roscoe. He’s got too much money to cheat, you’ll be fine.”

He could tell from my face I was uneasy. “Relax kid. He’s lived through every gunfight he’s ever been in, and there have been plenty. If there’s shooting, stay behind him. If he wasn’t in the game I’d deputize him.”

My nerves quieted, I went straight for a meal at the hotel. Sitting on the other side of the table was Corrigan. He nodded and so did I. I was taught be friendly, but not loud, so I waited for him to speak.

I think he was about to when a man walked in. I learned later he was a Welshman, named Michael Charles. He was another member of the game. “Evening gentlemen. I hear the food is still good.”

Corrigan nodded, said “It will do til January. You’ll excuse me Charles, I’m off to bed.” Then he looked at me. “I hear you go by Rider, pleased to meet you. Don’t let this old sinner tell you too tall a tale.”

With that he was gone, as the Welshman laughed long and hard. “Rider, that man saved my life once. He tried to kill me two days later, then rescued me again a week after. I deserved the bullet, not the rescue.”

Charles liked to tell stories, but they never seemed to be from start to finish. He would start one, stop in the middle, and start another. Occasionally he would return and finish one, but that was rare. He was likable enough, but I didn’t know if any of them were true.

Corrigan, Mayor Parley, King Roscoe, and now Michael Charles, I had met four of the six. My mind couldn’t help but wonder who the other two were. I think I stared at every new arrival in town, wondering if these were the remaining two.

I was so focused on watching for strangers that I forgot to watch out for anyone else. That’s why I think I failed to run when Dad rode into town. He saw me near the stable. The last town he caught up to me in I ran to my horse, and galloped away. This time I froze, and he walked up to me.

I don’t know what I was expecting. When he hugged me, I broke into tears. I think we both shook for a couple of minutes. I had seen my Daddy cry before, but each time it did something to me.

“How are you son? Have you been eating? How’s your horse? Your Mother says I love you. It took the rest of the kids to convince her not to come with me.”

After answering his questions, I had one. “When do we leave? How long do I have?”

“Originally I promised the Marshall I’d get you back by New Year’s. Your Mother begged me to get you home by Christmas. Have you met the Sheriff in this town?”

I nodded, without going into detail. “The jail’s over there. Might as well get this over with.”

Dad didn’t introduce his credentials right away. When he shook hands with the Sheriff he simply said he was my Dad. “I’m George Conrad, Tom’s father.”

“Tom huh, I knew Calm Rider would share his name eventually. He’s a local hero you know. He stirred up the imagination of the town practically before riding into it.”

The Sheriff told what happened, but made me sound a lot better than I was. Then he told me about hiring me as a Deputy. He told him about the poker game. I tried to look at Dad’s reaction out of the corner of my eye.

I figured it may be better if I didn’t make it awkward for Dad, so I spoke first. “There’s a problem Marshall. I’m afraid now I can’t, I’m going to have to go back with Dad, to stand trial.”

I expected a lot of things, but I didn’t expect for Dad to burst out into laughter. The Sheriff was confused too, until he handed the Sheriff my wanted poster, and something else. The Sheriff frowned at the poster, then chuckled at the telegram.

The two of them laughed for a couple of minutes before handing it to me. I was so happy I couldn’t laugh, I would have cried, but didn’t want to do that in front of the Sheriff. I was able to stifle it when the Sherriff asked what happened, I wanted to hear myself.

Dad was good at telling things, it’s one thing I always loved about his sermons. “There’s a man in our town, Oscar Crenshaw. He’s the richest, most powerful man in town. He’s also the hardest to deal with. Tom fell in love with his daughter Iris.”

“Maude Crenshaw, Oscar’s wife, Iris’ Mother goes to the Church I Pastor. I’ve known Iris since she was born, her and her Mother are good people. Still, we discouraged the courtship, we knew Oscar was not in favor of it.”

“The kids were too much in love to understand, and they started sneaking to see each other. We tried again, and again, but nothing was working. Oscar paid me a visit. He told me he had plans to marry Iris to one of his rich friend’s sons, and if I couldn’t stop this, he would.”

“I tried again, but it still wasn’t working. The next time Tom ran off to the Crenshaw place, there was a shot fired. Oscar was shot in the leg. He claimed that Tom had shot him in an argument, and stolen fifty dollars from him.”

“He demanded the Sheriff go after Tom, who had ran off after the fight. I’d been a lawman before being a Minister. I convinced the Sheriff to deputize me and to bring Tom back.”

The Sheriff smiled. “You’d bring Tom back because of honor, and the Sheriff would work on Crenshaw’s story. Which happened first, Crenshaw cracked, or the Sheriff found the fifty?”

“A pair of praying Moms happened, and Oscar couldn’t stand it. He confessed to the Sheriff how he shot himself in the leg, a flesh wound, and handed him the fifty. It happened about a week before I caught up with Tom the first time.”

“He ran before I could tell him he didn’t have to run. Now, he’s a free man, and we can both go home. I understand though he’s obligated himself, so I guess my wife will have to be content with us being gone a little longer.”

I was doing better until that sentence. I was still a Momma’s boy, and I couldn’t wait to get home. Now with all this, I’d have too.

That night Dad joined me at the hotel. Charles was more talkative than he had even been previously. I was so glad to have Dad with me, under much better circumstances now. I was more talkative too. I introduced Dad as a Pastor when Corrigan walked in.

“Pastor! Your Mother finally won did she? How are you doing you old sinner? It’s been a long, long time.”

I thought the words were harsh, but Seven Aces was smiling, so was Dad. The two gave each other a hearty handshake. The two old soldiers asked each other about their injuries. It was an entertaining dinner that night.

After a few reminiscing stories about the Civil War I hadn’t heard, Corrigan finally asked Dad the question he’d had on his mind. “When did it happen, the Church? Mrs. Conrad always said her boy would be, ‘a soldier of the cross she said’, what caught you?”

Dad smiled, and looked at me. “Mom never gave up, but then your Mom didn’t either. After the war I settled down to be a Sheriff in a little town. Things were going good, until an accident happened. Tom has always been an adventurous boy.”

“He got himself trapped in a mine shaft at seven. He fell, and broke his arm. We tried to find him a couple of days, and couldn’t. I had a conversation with someone I hadn’t in a long time. I didn’t make any promises, did a lot of repenting, but I asked if God would some way help us to find Tom.”

“JD, I didn’t hear a voice, but as soon as the words left my mouth, I knew where he was. A lot of people thought I was crazy, til right before we pulled him out. Like I said, I didn’t make any promises, but I think that’s why I couldn’t walk away.”

“God didn’t answer a bargain, or win a bet. He gave me what I needed without any conditions. That’s why I couldn’t go back to the way things were. I didn’t know much, but I started praying. Eventually that led to a job in a store, and helping with a little Church.”

“One day they needed a Pastor, and I found myself agreeing to serve temporarily. A couple years later it became permanent. That was a long time ago now.”

Corrigan looked at me. It was as if he was trying to figure out what to say. There was a mixture of a smile and sadness on his face. “Don’t play cards with God kid. He holds the winning hand.” After that he nodded at us all, and walked out.

I had almost forgot Charles was there, until after Corrigan left. “Well that was the first time I ever saw Seven Aces leave a table. Usually he doesn’t walk out until the last hand.”

I got the feeling that Dad didn’t care for Mr Charles too much. Dad was never rude, or unkind, but he had a way of dealing with people. When he responded to him, it sounded a lot like the way he talked to Mr. Crenshaw.

“JD is a good man, and a good card player. He saved my life a couple of times. I can tell you this much Mr. Charles, if I were a gambler, I wouldn’t play cards with either of them. Have a good night.”

The next few days seemed pretty forgettable to me. Of course I spent most of the time dreaming of seeing the family again, and Iris. I just had to find a way to marry her. There were also a few things that I was trying desperately not to think about.

Dad spent the next few days talking to Corrigan a lot. I thought they were reliving old adventures. A few times Corrigan seemed happy, and a few nights he seemed sad. The night before the game, the hotel had a party.

It was fun, the Sheriff and most of the town were there. Corrigan took a chair beside of Dad. They talked for a while, until Corrigan seemed angry. He got up and walked out. Dad followed, I waited a minute and followed, from a distance.

“Didn’t mean to upset you John, but things don’t have to be the way they are. There’s still time, there was for me. You don’t have to let things stay the way they are.”

“I’m not mad at you George, but I am angry, mostly at myself. I had potential, at one point I considered doing what you do, but I made too many mistakes. All that was left for me was to try and win a few hands while I was at the table. Now, I take the cards I get, and try to forget. Seeing you, makes that a lot harder, but I’m not mad at you.”

Dad smiled. “The funny thing about playing cards with a great poker player is, you don’t really know what you’re holding, til you find out what they are. I think John you may find, He’s a lot better at playing His cards, than you are playing yours.”

Corrigan laughed. “Maybe, Mom always said I’d end up a Minister. I never will forget the last time I saw her. She said, ‘You’ll end up preaching, I just pray it isn’t the last thing you ever do.’ It didn’t make a lot of sense, but I wasn’t about to argue.”

“I could be wrong John, but I think you’re too valuable to only use once. God doesn’t throw us away, even when we don’t see much value, He does.” With that Dad said goodnight.

I hightailed it up to bed, and acted like I was a sleep. He took his vest off before he sat down on my bed, and pulled the cover back. “That trick hasn’t worked since you were eleven. You want to talk about it?”

I sighed. “Dad, I’m not giving up on Iris. I love her. I want to marry her, Mr Crenshaw or no Mr Crenshaw.”

Dad didn’t get mad at Mr. Corrigan, and he didn’t get mad at me, but was he ever annoyed. “I’m not talking about Iris or Oscar Crenshaw. After the stunt he pulled all you have to do is ask Maude for Iris’ hand. He’s in too much trouble to say anything.”

“I’m talking about you, and what you’re really running from.” With that, he sighed, and collected his words a little before continuing. “Son, I never tried to push you into being a Preacher. I never expected to be one myself, much less to make you one. I didn’t make myself one, God did that.”

“He did though, He called me, and He’s calling you isn’t He? The question is, are you going to stop running like I did, or keep running like John Corrigan?”

I didn’t realize Dad knew, but he was right. I had been feeling it for a couple of years, but was scared to death. I barely knew how to be a Preacher’s son, much less a Minister.

Anyway, rather than admit that Dad was right, I asked him how long Corrigan had been running from it. He smiled, and looked in my direction, but he wasn’t looking at me.

Hilda Corrigan and your Grandmother Ann each loved God very much. Each had trouble having a child, and each promised their first child to God. Prayers don’t die son. You can run from them, you can fight them, you can even try to prove them wrong, but you can’t outrun them.

Your Grandmother got to see her prayer’s answer long after she prayed it, but before she changed shores. Hilda didn’t get to see it here, but I suspect she’s still watching, who knows? As for you though, I’ve heard your Momma pray, you have some pretty strong horses at your heels.”

He kissed me on the head, and went to bed himself. I’m glad he could sleep, I was up all night. I didn’t make a bargain with God, I had heard too many sermons to try that, but I did make a couple of requests. I think I finally fell asleep a little before sunlight.

Finally the day of the game rolled around, and with it the other two players. They were brothers, troublemakers the Sheriff said, Harry and Bruce Parker. They were a couple of years apart, tall, strong, and mean looking pretty much sums it up.

I had never watched a card game. I had heard stories, but the truth is, it seemed pretty boring the first few hands. The Mayor opened up big, I think because the Sheriff said later, a lot of his constituents watch the first part of the game, then drift away.

The Mayor won the first hand or two, which made him extremely happy. King Roscoe seemed even happier the third hand when the Mayor thought he had won again, but the rancher had the upper hand. It didn’t last though as Mr. Charles beat him the next time.

Things were up and down for the first couple of hours, until the Mayor started loosing, and badly. He hid it well at first, but after four or five losses, even he was starting to sweat. Throughout the game, five of the six players seemed to thrive then fall back.

Seven Aces never lost a hand, but never seemed to win one either. Honestly I think Dad being there unnerved him a little. Now I’d never seen my Dad walk into a saloon, and I never had intended to be in one myself. Dad said if his son was even going to be in potential danger, he was going to be there.

What was odd was that Dad kept watching, not the game, but the door. I wanted to ask him, but the Sheriff had been given strict orders, the deputies were not to speak unless the game broke, or something happened. About five hours in, I was completely surprised to see my brother walk through the door.

As he did so, the first break in the game happened, and five of the six stretched their legs. Seven Aces didn’t move, I started to go to my brother, but the Sheriff motioned for me to come over.

As I was getting some instructions from the Sheriff over something he had seen, I could see but not hear what was happening. Mark handed something to my Dad, and he walked over to Corrigan. He leaned down to the man called Seven Aces, whispered, and placed a letter in his hand.

Corrigan’s eyes widened as he read it, then they began to be filled with tears. It seemed like a thousand different looks crossed his face. I was so engaged in what I was seeing that only half of what the Sheriff was saying registered until we set back down.

“Tom, listen, watch King Roscoe’s hand the next few rounds. I think, I can’t prove it yet, but I think I finally caught the Mayor cheating. I need to know who’s helping him lose on purpose. He had a winning hand most of the time he lost, but folded each time. If I could catch him…”

I was to tip my hat if King Roscoe any time his hand was better than what was announced as the winning hand. My guess is the other deputies were instructed to do the same.

It didn’t happen right away, but after another hour or so, round by round, deputies began tipping their hats. I never did, that meant that King Roscoe wasn’t cheating, but others were. I thought the deputies were subtle, but apparently not subtle enough.

King Roscoe asked for a pause in the game to walk outside. A little after I heard a whistle and the Sheriff walked out too. I saw them talking from the doors, and made it over close enough to here.

“Don’t con me Sheriff, I’ve been in things enough to know what the deputies are doing. Who’s cheating? Is it Charles or the Parkers? Maybe I should just fold and get out now.”

“You can’t do that King, I need you to stay in til I can draw out what’s happening. I need to know what’s going on. I’m used to people cheating to win, but so far people are cheating to lose. It doesn’t make sense.”

The rancher nodded, and went back inside. It was getting late, and Mr. Charles started to win again. At first it was a round here and there, then every other round. Finally he won two in a row, and it seemed like he was trying very hard not to smile.

Corrigan had been in the game, but it seemed like just barely. I wasn’t sure he was all there after whatever happened with Dad and Mark, until he dropped his cards. He pulled out something from his pocket, and put it on the table. It was the letter.

“It’s only happened once that I remember. I was in Tucson at the time. A fancy card game, a lot bigger than this one. The same thing happened there that’s been happening here.”

“Folks started calling it the Liar’s hand. All of the players were great players, famous locally, but one emerged after a few hours as the winner. He was by far not the best player, and a lot of people called it luck. I knew different, I was in the game, and the only one that didn’t lose a hand until near the end.”

“There was a pause in the game called, and two of the players met me outside. One was an enemy, the other was a friend. The enemy threatened me, and hit me in the stomach when I wasn’t ready. The friend picked me up, and begged me to fold.”

“ ‘Strident has something on each of us. We agreed to pay, but he said he couldn’t just be given the money, people would ask questions. We had to agree to lose to him a certain amount in the game. The house holds the purse til the end, and the one who wins last, wins everything.’ ‘

“I had a choice, expose the man, and expose all the men’s secrets, or get on my horse and ride out of town. I couldn’t bring myself to lose, or to get back into the game. It’s funny what comes to your mind in a situation like that. My Mother was a praying woman, and a scripture she had quoted came to mind.”

“It was in Psalms, something about ‘The strangers shall fade away…’ I was a stranger to most of them there, so I rode out of Tucson. I heard later there was a gunfight a little after, and most of the men died. I was glad to be alive, but I felt like a coward leaving.”

“I hated myself for that, but that wasn’t new. I hated myself for a lot of things. I stayed alive partially for Mom at first, then because I was too scared to die. I thought maybe I might have one good deed in me, til The Calm Rider’s Daddy gave me a letter.”

“It was one that my Mom had written his Mom a long time ago. I won’t read it all, but there was one part I’ll tell you. She said, ‘John has done some bad things, but that doesn’t mean he can’t do good. Man isn’t a lot of bad and a little good. By ourselves, we’re all pretty bad, but with Jesus, all of us can change, and for the better.’ ‘

“Mom believed that I could change. That one mistake, or several, didn’t mean I had to gamble the one life I had a way. The same is true for each of you, no matter what you did. There’s a higher court than this town, or even this world we all will meet one day.”

“Anyway, I promised myself I’d never leave a place the way I left Tucson again. Funny thing is, seems like something similar’s going on tonight. There’s a difference though, not all the men at the table are in on it. Plus there’s help in the room. We’ve got the law here.”

He waited a minute before speaking, to let it set in. “Gentlemen, I don’t know what Mr. Charles has on you, but I can tell you, cheating is a dangerous thing in this state. It’s my guess that the Welshman won’t see his country again for a long time. He can’t spend his money in jail.”

Mr. Charles seemed genuinely angry and started protesting. “I’ve got a Royal Flush, and I didn’t have to cheat. You sir are a liar!” Boy he laid it on thick. I think he was trying to bait Corrigan into pulling his gun. He didn’t move, all Seven Aces did was speak.

“I don’t have to draw. People may not think much of my testimony, but the King here is well respected, they’ll believe him. I suspect Mr. Charles you’ve played your last hand.”

Nobody moved for a minute or two. Finally the Mayor spoke, “Sheriff, if you’ll be kind enough to arrest Mr. Charles, I’ll testify. As my last act as Mayor, I’m authorizing his arrest, and mine. I can’t speak for everyone else.”

It was then Mr. Charles dropped his hand. The Parkers looked at each other, and at the Sheriff. “We’ve got a few things to say too Sheriff.” The Sheriff and two of the deputies escorted most of the group over to the jail. I stayed behind with Dad, Corrigan, and King Roscoe.

The King stood up and shook Corrigan’s hand. “That was a fine piece of work Corrigan. You told that story well, had a ring to it. If you care to stay around, this city seems like it may need you.” With that, he thanked us all and left.

When it was just the three of us, Corrigan spoke again. “I never thought I’d use a verse at a card table George. Do you think God or Mom will mind just this once?”

Dad smiled. “I think in this case they were both very happy you did John. I suspect the next time you use a verse, the object in front of you will be quite different.”

Corrigan laughed. “I’m not sure about that George, I’ve made so many mistakes. I’m threw with cards, and with this life. If God will have me, I’ll do whatever He wants me to do, but I can’t see Him wanting me behind a pulpit, not after running so many years.”

Dad smiled again. “He took me. We don’t get to decide who He asks John, all we get to do is answer. If The King wants you, no one is going to beat Him, not me, not you, or a scoundrel like that character they took out of here. After all Charles had a Royal Flush, but The King beat him, He held Seven Aces in His hand.”

We all laughed heartily and happily at that one. That was two Christmases ago. Almost a year to the day John Corrigan preached his first sermon. He used the same text, but he added the verse before it.

Psalms 18:44-45 (KJV)

44 As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me: the strangers shall submit themselves unto me.

45 The strangers shall fade away, and be afraid out of their close places.

”Christ knew what it felt like to be a stranger, He came into the world He made as a stranger to most. Strangers, I definitely was one when I came to this town, but I wasn’t a stranger to Him.”

“Oh I ran a long time. I ran a long ways, but the funny thing about God is, you can’t outrun Him. You also can’t get so bad He won’t try to welcome you home, believe me, I know.”

As for me, I figured if someone who had ran as long as Seven Aces had, and couldn’t outrun God, I couldn’t either. I went back with Dad, and a little over two years later, I preached my first message about a month after getting married.

We had a Christmas wedding, which Mom and Mother Crenshaw loved. Even Mr. Crenshaw seemed happy the way everything turned out. Dad called it a Christmas miracle, and I figure he should know.

“Grandma, at the beginning you said he stopped a robbery. Did you mean that gunfight, or Mr. Charles taking those men’s money? Or did you mean there was something you left out?’

“Yes, in a way to both. There was the gunfight with the driver. Then Tom’s being there did help stop those men paying the blackmailer, but it also stopped some men who made some mistakes from making more. Instead of remaining on the wrong road, each of those men turned their lives around.”

“I left out the part about the men’s mistakes because we don’t know what they were. Jesus doesn’t advertise our sins, only our salvation. He doesn’t remind us how far we’ve fallen, only how far He’s enabled us to live now.”

“I love this story because, it’s a story of redemption. People who were not perfect found the true meaning of Christmas. They did so in the most unlikeliest of places, which is not very different from when Christmas began. No one expected to find hope in a stable to begin with.”

“In many ways Bethlehem was like the old west. There was very little to indicate this world had a chance. Just as the men in the story, there are a lot of broken and very human people today. All of us needed hope to travel somewhere it had never been before.”

“This is why I watch westerns during this time of year. There was a hero Who rode into a dark town, and brought hope, light, and reminded all of us life isn’t a game to be won or lost. It’s an opportunity to change our lives, and those around us for the better. We get to point them to The One Who holds not just the cards, but all of us in His hands.”

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