Friday, two days before Christmas, was a busy day at the hospital. Many patients were discharged, and others were moved to different floors as the hospital prepared to staff down over the holidays. Stephanie's floor was to be closed with the exception of Stephanie's room. The nurses told her that she would be monitored by a nurses' station on the floor below. Stephanie assured the nurses that she would be OK by herself, but that wasn't what she really felt. She thought of her parents. They would never allow her to be left all alone on a hospital floor. She wished that she could spend Christmas at their graveside with bouquets of fresh flowers.
Stephanie thought of a question Libby had asked her when they first met. Was her breakup with Sonny so traumatic that she couldn't cry? She felt like a good cry at the moment, but tears wouldn't come. Instead of tearful sadness, she felt a numbing emptiness—an emptiness that an ocean of tears couldn't wash away. The short day and evening shadows added to the dreariness. Stephanie could hear the lone sound of the cart coming to take away her supper tray.
"Hello, Stephanie." It was Mrs. Anderson pushing a cart with two large steaming stainless-steel containers.
"Mrs. Anderson, I'm so glad to see you!"
"We thought someone might like some hot cider or hot chocolate."
Stephanie saw Libby and Tameka in the doorway with a Christmas tree and heard what sounded like a marching army coming out of the stairwell and down the hall. Girls with loud-clapping heels were walking almost in step. Stephanie looked out her window and saw two church buses in the parking lot.
As the girls approached the room, one pair of feet ran ahead of the others. A cry rang out, "Stop running, Pixie!" An older girl entered the room with a younger girl in hand. Libby introduced them to Stephanie. "This is Betsy Miller. She's one of our sorority moms."
Betsy rolled her eyes, "I'm a 'big sister.' If all eight-year-olds are like Pixie, I'll never be a mom."
Pixie ignored Betsy's comment and gripped her hand. Her bright eyes and big smile showed that she was delighted to be Betsy's little sister. Betsy warmed when she looked at Pixie's beaming face and gave her a hug.
"This is Pixie Russell," Libby continued. "She's one of our pledges. Our eight-year-old members are pledges until they turn nine. Each pledge has a big sister."
Outside the doorway a sea of faces peered in. The once empty hall was filled with sixty girls, all members of the ALIVE sorority. Libby and Tameka decorated the tree, while the girls filed by one at a time to meet Stephanie. Each girl presented Stephanie with a card and small gift. The floor under the Christmas tree was soon piled high with presents. Stephanie tried hard to remember each girl's name and face. She wanted never to forget them.
"We thought we would have our sorority meeting here with you," Libby explained. "It's a shame to waste this much space. Here we have a whole floor to ourselves."
Libby called the meeting to order from the doorway, with half the girls in the hall and half in Stephanie's large room. She and Tameka raised their right hands to heaven and bowed their heads. "Heavenly Father, we thank You…"
"FOR LIFE!" the girls responded.
"We thank You…"
"We thank You…"
"FOR OUR FAMILIES!"
"We thank You…"
"FOR WAKING US UP TO SEE ANOTHER DAY!" A loud cheer followed, and Mrs. Anderson began passing out cups of hot cider and hot chocolate. Once the drinks were passed out, the Christmas carols began. For the next hour the girls sang every Christmas song they knew.
Stephanie's emptiness was replaced by a sense of family. The girls seemed excited to meet her, and she was thrilled to meet them. It was the best Christmas experience she could remember since her parents had passed. Then it came to her: she too was an orphan. This was her adoptive family. These were her sisters; she was one of them. ALIVE was her sorority.
Christmas was usually the most depressing day of the year for Stephanie, but not this Christmas. Libby and Tameka had completely decorated her room. A nativity scene was placed on a shelf by her bed and stockings filled with treats were hung below.
Libby and Tameka arrived after church early Christmas afternoon with a present. Stephanie gave each a brightly wrapped package. Libby opened her gift to find a cross-stitch work with the words I Love Libby—She's My Type surrounded by floral designs, reminiscent of Libby's favorite herbal shampoo, and set in a matching frame. Tameka's gift was a cross-stitch pattern with roses and the words, A Friend Loves At All Times.
Libby was moved to tears. "This is beautiful!"
"Mine is too!" Tameka said. "Thanks."
"There's not much else to do in this hospital room. Keeping these hidden for the last three weeks was a challenge. Not many things here escape notice."
"What she means," Tameka translated, "is that we are such snoops."
"They're just perfect." Libby studied her cross-stitch. "And they're even more special because you cared enough to make them, even though you were sick. Now we have something for you."
Libby pulled what looked like a hat box from her shopping bag. It was beautifully wrapped with a large bow on top.
Stephanie carefully unwrapped the box so as not to tear the paper. "How nice." She expected to find a hat inside to cover her balding head. But instead there was a wig--one that looked identical to the hair she'd lost.
"Libby! Tameka! This is too expensive. I can't accept a gift that costs this much."
Libby spoke up. "Don't worry. The owner of a wig and hat shop heard us praying for you at prayer meeting. He asked if he could do anything to help. That's where we found the perfect wig. It's a gift from all of us."
Libby took the wig out of its box and placed it on Stephanie's head. She brushed it a little here and there and brought Stephanie a mirror.
"It's beautiful. I look ten years younger."
"No, you look like you did before chemotherapy took your hair," Libby replied.
In the following days Stephanie looked forward to getting ready in the morning and wearing her wig.
Taken from "A Scent of Jasmine" by David Dockery (OakTara, www.oaktara.com). The entire novel is available from amazon.com, christianbook.com or barnesandnoble.com. Used by permission of the author and publisher. David Dockery is a Mississippi geologist and member of Pocahontas Baptist Church near Jackson. To read the first chapter of Baptist Press' serialization of "A Scent of Jasmine" by David Dockery, go to http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=34444. For subsequent chapters, go to BP's "Search Stories" tab and search by date.
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