One Man’s Trash is Another’s Treasure

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by Peter van Gorder

 

When we lack faith, we miss miracles that are trying to be delivered to us. Life is a lot about having the faith to see possibilities that others might overlook. Take apple seeds for example.  Most people throw away the core and seeds as worthless, but someone with faith as small as that seed might see in them a world of opportunity.

 

When His disciples were frustrated that they were unable to get rid of a bad spirit, Jesus told them that they were ineffectual because of their unbelief. When they asked Him to increase their faith He told them, “Verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as an apple seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” Matthew 17:20.

 

“Hey, wait a minute!” some of you Bible scholars out there might complain, “Jesus said mustard seed, not apple seed.” Right, excuse me for taking liberties, but the point he was trying to make was that if we just have a little bit of faith we can accomplish a lot – even move mountains!  And that was before the invention of dynamite or huge dumper trucks to blast and haul mountains.  I mention apple seeds I guess because I haven’t seen many mustard trees growing.

 

Behind my house though is an old and venerable apple tree. Come August the grass below is full of apples – most of them with a worm or two squiggling about, as we don’t use pesticides. The majority are only fit for the compost, but cut out the bad bits before the worm has gotten too comfortable, slice and chop them and you can make a fantastic apple pie.

 

This brings me to one of my favorite examples of a man who had a lot of faith to see opportunities in small possibilities. I am talking about John Chapman, affectionately known as Johnny Appleseed. Much legend abounds concerning this American folk hero, but there is enough truth about his life to warrant a whopping good tale!

 

Johnny Appleseed lived from 1774 – 1845 and came from the area of my home town- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He collected the discarded apple seeds from the apple cider mills, then cleaned and dried them in preparation for planting. He would put them in a pouch and set off to the pioneer areas out west that were just being settled at that time. He planted apple nurseries with his seeds and nurtured them until they were saplings; big enough to sell or barter for clothes and other items. I suppose this was the reason his clothes always looked way too big for him.

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With a pot on his head, this barefoot Bible Believer was a welcome blessing to the settlers he visited. They invited him into their homes, glad to hear news from the places Johnny had just been to and the stories he had to tell. He also was a kind of mobile lending library because he had his Bible divided up into sections and would leave one book with a settler home and then exchange it for another book when he passed through that same way again.

 

Friends with the Native Americans who lived in that area, Johnny tried to be an ambassador of goodwill and a peacemaker, but when he heard that an attack was planned, he ran 30 miles to the pioneer settlement to warn them, thereby saving many lives.

 

Though apple trees grown from seeds are seldom sweet, the apples Johnny grew were in much demand for apple cider, to mark land boundaries, and as a food preservative.

 

Like Johnny we can grab ahold of the opportunities that come our way. When the doors or windows of possibilities open to us, we can enter in and partake of the blessings that God has for us and in the lives of others that we touch. Realizing an opportunity is just the first step and then comes all the steps that follow to bring that possibility to fruition – not unlike the many challenges Johnny faced nurturing apple trees from seeds.

 

 

 

 

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Christmas with Johnny

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by Curtis Peter van Gorder

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A few hundred meters from their log cabin, four-year-old Beth and her older sister, Patience, were playing on the bank of the Ohio River. Beth was throwing rocks into the river, enjoying the sound they made as they plopped into the water. Patience was trying to float the little wooden boat that her father had carved for her.

“Lookie! Lookie!” Beth suddenly exclaimed, pointing to a canoe coming into view. Patience stood up and peered into the distance, trying to see who the approaching visitor could be. As it neared, she noticed that it was actually two canoes tied together to accommodate a large bundle.

Who could it be? Patience wondered.

She had heard many stories of isolated settlers being raided, and her family’s farmstead was miles from the nearest large settlement. However, as the craft came closer, her fears were allayed.

“Howdy, Mr. Johnny!” Patience called out.

“And howdy-do to you too!”

“Let’s go tell Pa and Ma he’s here,” Patience said.

The two sisters took off running, but Patience slowed down to let her younger sister reach the house first and share the news.

“The seed man is comin’!” Beth exclaimed as she burst through the door. “I see’d ‘m first!”

“Who, dear?” Ma asked, puzzled. “Catch your breath and then tell me.”

“Mr. Johnny, who came by last spring planting apples, is coming here in a canoe—two of them actually.”

“Johnny? Johnny Appleseed coming here? Well, I’ll be…! That’s good news for sure!”

Pa came in from chopping wood from out back. “What’s all the ruckus?”

“It’s Johnny Appleseed … he’s comin’ this-a way!”

“Well, let’s not waste time squawking. Let’s be civil and go down and give Johnny a right-proper pioneer welcome.”

The family made their way to the river with Pa leading the way. They arrived as Johnny was pulling his birch canoes up onto the shore and unloading his leathern bags brimming with apple seeds he had acquired from the cider mills upstream.

Johnny was of medium height, but his strong, lanky frame made him appear tall. His brilliant, grey eyes seemed to bore into your soul, and his long light-brown hair blew about as wild as the wind. He cut a peculiar figure in that his clothes were many sizes too big for him, having received them as payment from some settlers for planting several apple trees for them. Underneath his threadbare coat, he wore some used coffee sacks that he had cut holes in for his head and arms. His face hadn’t seen a razor for many a day, resulting in a scant beard. On his head rested a tin dipper that served double duty as his cooking pot.

“Well, if it ain’t Johnny Chapman himself!” Pa exclaimed. “Welcome! Good to see ya’ again!”

“Why thank ya’, Zebediah.” Johnny paused to look at the beaming faces of the two young girls. “My, my, look at your young’ns—growing faster than an apple tree, I reckon! And the missus—pleased to see you, ma’am—looking as radiant as always. Must be all this frontier living that’s working its magic on you. Yes, sir, Zeb, I can see you’ve been busy receiving God’s blessing a-plenty!”

“Right you are ‘bout that, Johnny, but no need us exchanging pleasantries here when Ma’s got some fine vittles fixed up at the cabin.”

“I wouldn’t want to put you out none, now, Zeb. Go right on ahead with your meal and pay me no mind. I got some of my favorite mush, and raspberries to boot. That’s plenty good for me.”

Ma stepped up and gave Johnny a friendly scolding. “Now, Johnny Chapman, I’ll have none of that talk of your mush when I got a Christmas dinner in the makin’. If I didn’t know you better, I’d be thinkin’ you don’t like my cooking.”

“Oh, I do, ma’am. The last time I tasted your cooking it was truly a touch of paradise. It’s just that…”

Pa interjected. “It’s Christmas Eve, and you know how our young’ns love your stories. Besides, you wouldn’t want Ma’s good vittles to go to waste, now would ya’?”

“Well, if you’re sure you have enough.”

“Sure as shootin’ we have! Besides, there’s a nasty storm a brewin’. I can feel it in my bones, and my bones have never lied to me yet about the weather.”

“But, Pa,” Tom, his son, interjected, “there were a few times that your bones didn’t lie, but maybe they got their days mixed up—like the time that you said it was sure to rain, but it…”

“Never you mind about that! That was a fluke of nature, that’s all,” Pa said cheerily.

Johnny smiled. “Well, now, I’d love to join you. It would be a joyful experience.”

“Now that’s more like it!”

“Just let me stow this here bundle of apple seeds away. Think you got some place in your barn for ‘em?”

“Of course. Just put them in the same place you did last time.”

“That’s mighty neighborly of you, Zeb. After that, if you don’t mind, I’ll tend to the seedlings I planted nearby. Got to mend the fence and make sure all is right. Then I got to mosey over to your neighbor, Daniel, down the way. I got some business to attend to with him, and after that, I’ll be around your place ‘bout sundown.”

“You do that and we’ll be looking for you then.”

Everyone said goodbye to Johnny, who was soon tramping off into the forest on his way to the clearing where he had previously planted his apple trees.

* * *

It was getting dark and Johnny Chapman had not returned to the pioneer home.

“Maybe Mr. Johnny won’t come,” Patience said with a note of disappointment as she stared out of the window at the snowflakes whipping round the house and the wind blowing away anything that wasn’t fastened down.

“Maybe he got waylaid by Indians or robbers on his way comin’ here,” Tom said.

“Now, Tom, don’t let your imagination get the better of ya’,” Pa said. “Besides, Johnny is friends with some of them Indian folk, and if Johnny says he’ll be here, then he’ll be true to his word—unless some Divine intervention prevented him, of course.”

“Oh, look!” said Ma, who was also looking through the window. “Here comes someone now.”

“It couldn’t be Johnny because he’s riding a horse,” Patience said.

“Well, maybe he’s seen Johnny. I’ll go out and ask him,” said Pa.

As he trudged down the path, Pa noticed something peculiar about the approaching rider. Only one man I know would be ridin’ a horse barefoot in a snowstorm.

“Howdy-do again, Zeb.”

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“Howdy, Johnny. We were worried that you’d never make it through this storm. Come on in out of this blizzard ‘fore you catch your death of cold.”

“No need to worry ‘bout me! The good Lord has looked out for me again—must be He needs someone to plant apple trees on this Earth more than He needs another gardener in Heaven.”

“Where’d you get that horse?” Pa asked, as they walked toward the barn.

“When I was at Daniel’s place, he told me he had a horse he was going to put out to pasture. ‘Course, not much pasture this time of year, so it likely be the end of that horse. So the fellow gave her to me, and I’m lookin’ for a new home for her to spend out her days. I reckoned that maybe your young’ns would like to ride on her and take care of her.”

“Why, sure, Johnny. They’d love to have her.”

“Mighty grateful to you, Zeb. Somebody’s got to look out for God’s creatures, you know.”

“You do enough lookin’ out for them creatures for all of us, Johnny. God bless ya’.”

“Well, somehow it didn’t seem fit to let her out to pasture after all the hard work and faithful service she done gave. I’m just trying to live up to the Good Book. One of the wisest men in the Bible—King Solomon—said in Proverbs 12:10, ‘A righteous man regards the life of his beast’.”

“Them sounds like wise words to me. Let’s bring her in here out of the cold,” said Pa, as he took the horse’s reins.

“The door’s been jammed on account of the winds that been blowin’,” he remarked after encountering some difficulty opening the barn door. He then made his way into the back of the barn and lit a lantern. Soon he’d rustled up a bed of hay for the horse.

Johnny had been busy looking around at the scattered tools and scraps of wood.

“Zeb, I just got a sudden inspiration.”

“And what would that be?”

“Do you mind if I tinker around here with your tools and these pieces of wood? I might be able to fix your door and even make something nice for you and the children. My pa was a carpenter, you know, and he taught me a few things. Consider it my way of repaying your hospitality.”

“Now, no need to repay a thing, but if you have a hankering to make something, I wouldn’t deprive you of the pleasure. I was going to use the wood for kindling, but I’m sure you’ll put it to some better use.”

“Well, sir, you know how I hate to waste anything.”

“That I do, Johnny. But speaking of waste, we’d better get up to the cabin quick like, or we’ll be wasting a fine Christmas dinner Ma’s been preparing.”

Johnny and Pa were soon at the cabin, brushing snow off their clothes. To Johnny’s delight, Beth, Patience, and Tom greeted him with hugs and excitement at having him join them.

Ma seated everyone at the table, and being the guest of honor, Johnny agreed to say grace.

“Thank You, Lord, for the goodness of Your bounty. You did it again, with the Missus’ help, of course, and we’re mighty thankful for it. This Christmas meal that we be eatin’ on the night before Your birthday is like a little taste of Heaven right smack dab on Earth, and we be plenty thankful for this good food and such fine friends to share it with. Amen.”

They then enjoyed a scrumptious meal, with plenty of apple cider and blackberry, apple, and rhubarb pies for dessert.

“Hope you like the cider, Johnny. ‘Specially made from the very trees that you planted.”

Johnny took a swig and swished it around in his mouth to savor it fully as if he was tasting the finest wine.

“Mighty fine, Zeb! Thank you kindly.”

Once the dinner had come to an end, Ma cleared the dishes. She then set a stack of clothes topped with a leather bag on a chair. Pa explained to Johnny that it was the rest of the payment for the apple trees.

“Hope you don’t mind it took so long,” he added.

Johnny nodded in thanks. “Much obliged to you, Zeb. I hope it’s no inconvenience to you.”

“Not at all. Them apples were the best investment I ever made. No chance of my folk going hungry with those fine trees growing nearby!”

Ma motioned to the children to stand. “The young’ns would like to sing a Christmas song that they’ve been practicing for you.”

“That would be pure pleasure!” said Johnny with eyes twinkling.

The children formed a line from tallest to shortest, and Beth announced their song. “Hope you like it, ‘cause we practiced a fair bit. It’s called ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas,’ and if you like, you can sing along too.”

The children sang with gusto, and each one took their turns to deliver the next verse.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Pa, Ma, and Johnny joined in. When all the days of Christmas had been sung, the children took a bow to an enthusiastic applause.

Pa pulled out his fiddle and began to croon out some delightful foot-stamping music, and everyone began clapping along. Tom made more room by pushing the tables and chairs to the side, and Johnny asked Ma to dance.

While the blizzard raged outside, inside it was cozy with the fire blazing and the air full of the happy strains of Pa’s cheery music. Patience, Beth, and Tom swayed and clapped their hands as they watched Ma and Johnny dancing about the cabin, miraculously missing furniture and any other obstacles in their way.

By the time Pa’s repertoire was exhausted, the dancers were also. Everyone applauded and Johnny announced, “I guess it’s my turn to give you some entertainment, if you like. Come on, gather ‘round.”

The children eagerly pulled up their chairs around the fireplace where Johnny was seated in the rocking chair.

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“Well, I’m just bustin’ out with stories. Why, I got more stories than a porcupine got quills, a bird feathers, or a river fish—but you got to find the right one.

“I figure stories are a bit like clothing. They got to fit the person who is listenin’, or it might feel a bit peculiar.” Johnny pulled out the edges of his shirt to show how it fell to his knees and the children giggled at his funny expressions. “Look at me, if you want an illustration of ill-fittin’ clothin’!

“So, why don’t you ask me some questions, and the good Lord willing, we’ll spark a fire to blazin’.”

The children nodded in agreement, but Johnny caught himself. “‘Fore we get a paddlin’ we best push our canoe into the water with prayer.

“Lord, quicken to me the stories You want me to be tellin’. Bring them to life for these precious young’ns. Amen.”

Beth was the first one to timidly ask, “Why do you plant apple trees?”

“That’s a mighty fine question to get me goin’,” he said as he pulled some apple seeds from his bag. “I got a vision that I’m workin’ for.”

“A vision?” Patience asked.

“A picture inside your head and heart that’s tellin’ you what needs doin’, and that just eats you up until you get movin’ to do it,” Johnny answered. “The young prophet Jeremiah said it was like a fire in his bones that had to bust out and burn.

“You see, apples are wonderful creations, because you do so many things with ‘em. And I figure there’s lots more yet to be revealed. You can slice ‘em, chop ‘em, stew ‘em, brew ‘em, juice ‘em, pickle ‘em, roast ‘em, and much more. Some people are wondering ‘bout the secret of the universe when a marvel is sittin’ right smack dab before them just waitin’ to be discovered.”

Johnny reached into his bag and pulled out a handful of seeds for the children to look at. He held one between his fingers.

“Just plant this here seed in dark rich soil—all it needs is rain and sun—and in a few years you have a grand apple tree for generations to enjoy!

“If the Creator can work such a miracle through such a tiny seed, just think of what miracles He can work in each of our lives, if we let Him.

“We are all a bit like seeds in a way—we can lie useless and never grow a bit, or we can grow and sprout blossoms of delight, grow leaves of kindness and caring, and then give to the world apples of love and joy. From the seeds within us, we can plant countless seeds of peace and happiness that will continue to grow in the souls of others for years to come. The gift of an apple tree keeps on giving, and that, my friends, is why I plant apple trees!”

With this Johnny put his precious seeds back in his bag, and then took a healthy swig of cider.

“But how do you know where to plant your trees?” Tom asked.

“It’s like you hear a still, small heavenly voice inside ya’ tellin’ you where to turn—which fork in the river or path in the forest to take, like an angel would whisper into your ear. I get led to plant ‘em near where folks will benefit from and mind them, and when I’ve been obedient to the heavenly voice, I’ve never gone wrong.”

“One time, I almost fell off a cliff, but I felt a nudge that kept me from fallin’. Maybe ‘twere an angel, too!” said Patience, eyes bright.

“Could have very well been,” Johnny said.

“You’re talkin’ about hearin’ a heavenly voice,” said Tom. “Do you hear it out loud? Who is it that’s speaking to ya’? Do you think angels are real?”

“Whoa, that’s a heap of questions, young fella’. Let’s see, where do I start? I know angels are real, ‘cause I’ve got two of them that tramp ‘round with me at all times.”

“Really? How do you know?” Patience asked.

“I feel their presence with me. Few times, I even got a glimpse of ‘em appearing majestic and radiant like. One of them told me her name was Blossom. She’s tall with flowin’ red hair and wears a blue robe, clear as the sky on a spring day. Her companion is named Seed. She has blonde hair and a smile that could melt a snowdrift. I couldn’t make out what she was wearing as it was a bit dazzling for my eyes, but I tell you it suited her just fine. Anyways, they are both mighty pretty and elegant and full of light, like a dawn comin’ up on a misty lake.

“I reckon the wild animals don’t hurt me none because they must see them and that’s what calms them down. I know they wouldn’t harm me for the world with angels like that walking with me.”

Johnny had propped his feet up near the fire, and Beth, who had been quiet up till now, said with a giggle, “Mr. Johnny you have funny feet!”

“Oh, these two friends!” said Johnny, as he proudly twiddled his toes. “Most folks ask me how come I don’t wear shoes. I tried wearin’ ‘em, but my feet didn’t take kindly to ‘em. To tell you the truth, I like nothin’ ‘tween me and God’s good earth. Shoes kinda get in the way of that. After all these years my feet have become as tough and hardy as shoes. Why, one time, I was jes’ strollin’ along when a venomous snake jumped out at me and sunk his fangs into my heel. I guess he didn’t get a good look at my two angels I was tellin’ you ‘bout. That snake hung in there with all his might ‘til I shook him loose. But, thank the Lord, He took the sting right out of the snake’s bite.”

Johnny pointed out the white scar that was on his heel.

“Another time I used these here feet to silence a preacher who was gettin’ a bit uppity and so longwinded. He was judgmental of folk, which the good Lord never was. He was yellin’ and hollerin’ like he was fightin’ bees. ‘Cept weren’t no bees to be found.

“That preacher said, ‘There ain’t no one alive today who lives like the early disciples. You frontier folk are losing your religion. Why, I hear tell, some of you are startin’ to buy such vain things as calico* for your dresses and store-bought tea. Is there a man alive today who is like the primitive Christians, traveling to Heaven bare-footed and clad in coarse raiment?’ [*calico: a coarse cotton cloth with a bright printed pattern]

“He kept on asking and asking the same question, ‘till he got my guff up. So, I just plunked these two beauties down on the tree stump, which he was hollerin’ from, and said, ‘Here’s your primitive Christians!’

“He was a bit embarrassed so he called the meetin’ to a quick end.”

The cabin rang with laughter and when it quieted down, Ma asked, “Johnny, being as it’s Christmas Eve, you reckon you might have a Christmas story for us?”

“Let’s see…,” said Johnny as he ruffled his scraggly beard. “Oh, I know just the one! There once was an ass named…” Johnny brayed out the donkey’s name. “Hee Haw.”

Beth giggled. “Funny name!”

“Hee Haw was called that because that was the only word he could say—’Hee Haw.’ If you asked him, ‘What’s your name?’ he’d say, ‘Hee Haw’ Or ‘Where do you live?’ or ‘What do you like to eat?’ he’d say, ‘Hee Haw.’

“You may be wondering as I was, what’s the difference between an ass and a donkey? Well, the short answer is, there isn’t any—’cept a donkey is a domesticated ass.”

“What’s domes … ticklated?” Beth asked, and Tom and Patience chuckled at her attempt at a grown-up word.

“‘Domesticated’ means that people use that animal for work or as a pet. Domesticated critters are tame and accustomed to living with people.”

“What is the long answer?” Tom wanted to know.

Johnny pulled a book from his bag and thumbed through the pages until he found what he was looking for. He put on the expression of a stuffy schoolmaster and began to read, “Ah, here it is—’ass: any of a number of horse-like perissodactylous mammals (in the horse family, Equidae) having long ears and a short mane, especially the common wild ass (Equus asinus) of Africa. Donkeys and burros are domesticated asses. In fables the ass is represented as stubborn and stupid.’

“Well, that gets right back to my story, ‘cause Hee Haw was also a bit stubborn, and well, … stupid sometimes.

“When Hee Haw’s master tried to put something on Hee Haw’s back or get him to carry a cart, Hee Haw would kick and bray until he was almost hoarse.”

“Hee Haw almost became a horse?” Beth asked.

Tom corrected her. “No, h-o-a-r-s-e, not h-o-r-s-e. It means he almost lost his voice.”

“If he lost it, did he find it again?” Beth asked.

“Yes, he did get his voice back,” Johnny assured her. “But Hee Haw’s master couldn’t get him to do any work whatsoever, and consequently, decided to sell him. One day, a carpenter named Joseph happened to walk by the market where Hee Haw was being sold. Joseph felt sorry for Hee Haw and bargained for the donkey and bought him very cheaply.

“At first the donkey kicked and brayed in protest. He didn’t want to do anything more for his new master than he had for his other masters. But Joseph showed him a lot of patience and talked kindly to Hee Haw. Whenever he did something good, which wasn’t very often at first, Joseph rewarded Hee Haw with an apple. When Hee Haw was bad, which at first was very often, he talked to him sternly and Hee Haw didn’t get an apple at all for dinner—just dry straw. After a few months, Hee Haw became a more obedient donkey.

“One day, Joseph talked seriously to Hee Haw as he stroked his long ears.

“‘Now, Hee Haw, we have a very important job for you.’

“Hee Haw brayed and nodded.

“‘Mary and I have to go to Bethlehem—that’s where I came from—to register for our taxes. It is a long way—about 100 miles of bumps and rough roads. Mary is about to have a baby, so you will need to make her ride as smooth as possible. This baby is going to be a very special baby—the angels told us so. Johnny 3Please do this for Mary and me.’

“Then Joseph placed a blanket on his back. Hee Haw was nervous, as he knew he had an important job and it would be a long trip.

“Soon, they were on their way. With one hand Joseph led the donkey, with the other he steadied Mary, making sure she did not fall off Hee Haw’s back when going down the steep slopes which led from Nazareth’s height.

“After five full days of a long and difficult journey, the trio arrived in Bethlehem.

“It was nighttime when they entered the crowded village. Joseph was desperate to find a place for Mary, as she was soon to have the baby. He knocked and knocked on an inn door but no one answered. Mary put her hand on her round tummy and cried out as she felt the baby wanting to get out. Hee Haw, feeling the excitement of the moment began to bray loudly. From an upper window, the innkeeper’s head poked out.

“‘I am sorry, but we have no room,’”

“‘But, kind sir, my wife is very close to giving birth and we really need…’

“‘I wish I could help, but there’s really not a single room that is free,’” said the innkeeper. “Do you have relatives here that you can stay with?’

Joseph shook his head.

“At this, Hee Haw began to bray as loud as he could, which was very loud from all of that practice of being stubborn.

“‘People are sleeping! Can you not keep your animal quiet?’

“But Hee Haw took no heed and kept on braying louder than ever.

“Joseph looked over at Hee Haw and had an idea. He turned to the innkeeper and yelled over the donkey’s noise, ‘I am sorry, but you see, this donkey desperately needs some fresh hay and some water!’

“‘Well, perhaps you and your donkey can stay in the stable out back, if you don’t mind,’ said the innkeeper.

“‘Thank you, sir!’ Joseph said as he stroked Hee Haw’s long ears. Hee Haw sensing that all would be right fell silent. Joseph then led Mary and Hee Haw into a wooden structure built onto the opening of a cave behind the inn.

“As Joseph helped Mary off the donkey’s back, Mary said with difficulty, ‘Joseph, I think the baby’s coming now.’

“Careful to keep it from catching the straw on fire, Joseph brought in a lamp lit from a fire outside and hung it on a post. He laid some blankets on the stable floor and helped Mary to lie down on the straw-bedded ground. Then he cleaned out the manger and filled the trough with fresh hay, which he carefully covered with a cloth.

“Hee Haw realized how tired he was and looked around for a place to rest. He noticed other animals there, and he befriended them. Presently, Hee Haw heard a delighted cry, and turned to see that Mary had given birth to a baby boy. It was a wonderful sight!

“Holding the baby in her arms, Mary said to Hee Haw, ‘Thank you, my friend. You have helped us find a place for my child to be born.’

“And that is the story of how Hee Haw, the stubborn and sometimes stupid donkey, was used by God,” said Johnny as the story about Hee Haw came to a close. “So if God can use a critter as stubborn as he was, just imagine what He can do with us!”

“Although the story of Hee Haw is just something that came to me, there’s lots more to the true story of the first Christmas, which you can read in the Good Book—visits by angels in dreams to give guidance and warnings, shepherds with their sheep to give praise, and wise men with their camels to give gifts.”

“Well, Johnny, that sure was lovely,” said Ma. “But I believe we’d better put the young’ns to sleep now. They must be plumb tuckered after all the excitement of the day.”

“Aw, Ma, can’t we hear just one more story?” Tom pleaded.

“Best mind your Ma, Tom. Besides, if it’s more stories you want, you’ll find ‘em in the Good Book. … But if it be all right with Ma, I’d be obliged if you young’ns would sing me another of your Christmas tunes.”

“That would be a fittin’ end to a beautiful evening,” Ma said with a smile. “I reckon that would be just fine.”

Patience and Tom decided that “Silent Night” was appropriate and as they sang, their voices blending in beautiful harmony, the snow continued to fall outside and truly all seemed at peace.

After the song was over, the children took their leave of Johnny, with hugs and kisses on the cheek.

“Thanks for making our Christmas special,” Patience said.

Johnny smiled. “Well, then, I got to say the same to you—special it was.”

The children climbed the ladder that led to the loft where their beds were, and Ma and Pa also said their goodnights to Johnny and retired to their bedroom.

After putting another log onto the fire to keep it blazing for the rest of the night, Johnny curled up under a blanket on the floor with his feet pointed toward the flames. By and by, the little cottage itself seemed to fall into a deep sleep, as snow covered it in a white blanket.

* * *

Before dawn, Johnny had made his way through the snowdrifts to the barn to keep his promise about fixing the door. While he was at it, he was able to work with those odd pieces of wood that had earlier caught his eye.

Some time later the children descending the ladder awoke Pa. Ma was making blueberry flapjacks with maple syrup for Christmas breakfast.

Patience looked curiously around the room. “Where’s Mr. Johnny?”

“I believe he left ‘fore I awoke,” said Ma.

“Left? Where’d he go?” Tom asked.

“I don’t rightly know, but I noticed he left something for you young’ns.”

“Whop-dee-doo!” Beth exclaimed.

The children soon found their presents: a newly made snow sled that Johnny had fashioned from the extra pieces of wood, and pieces of calico for Ma to make dresses, bags, and ribbons for Beth and Patience.

After the children admired their gifts, Patience thought out loud. “We need to find Mr. Johnny and thank him.”

“Mighty mysterious he’d just up and leave like that without a word,” Pa said.

“Oh, look here!” Ma exclaimed, as she took a paper that was on the mantelpiece. “It’s a letter from Johnny!”

Thank you kindly all for your wonderful hospitality. The Good Book says, “Some have entertained angels unawares.” Now, I for sure ain’t no angel, but I got a few on my shoulder looking out for me, as I know they do for you.

Jesus said that if you give even a cup of cold water to someone in need, you won’t lose your reward, so your reward must be pretty grand with that tasty apple cider of yours.

Tom, you’ve got a big imagination and that’s plenty good for a man to have. You’ve got to have lots of vision and gumption and get up and go to do anything in this here world.

Patience, you sure sing and read very pretty.

Beth, you be the youngest right now, but that just means you have a lot of growin’ to do, and that’s a wonderful thing to look forward to.

Ma, your pies were truly a taste of Heaven on Earth. Thank you kindly for being a wonderful mother for us all.

Pa, you have a fine fruitful crop there with your family that you are tending to with the Lord’s help. Like the Good Book says, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life and he that wins souls is wise.”

May you all grow and be fruitful as an apple orchard in bloom. Here is a promise for you about that very thing from the book of Psalms: “And you shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bring forth your fruit in your season; your leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever you do shall prosper!” (Psalms 1:3).

Have a wonderful Christmas!

Sincerely,
Johnny Chapman (December 25th, 1832)