TITLE: The Gift of Life
By Marc Smith
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It was a beautiful spring afternoon; Jill’s favorite kind. There was a gentle breeze but not too cold. The sun’s rays were beaming brightly, but not too hot. To top it all off, it was Saturday, and she was on her way to visit with her best friend, Maggie. Jill loved school and did very well in her studies, but spending time with Maggie was very special to her. They had grown up together, and their parents had been friends from well before they were born. She and Maggie were “two peas in a pod” as their moms would say. They were in separable. It was Maggie who helped her get through her fears of starting middle school two years ago. Maggie had always been the brave one.
The two girls lived on the same short narrow street just off the main road that passed through their small town. Their houses were only separated by 10 houses with each house on the street separated by only its own driveway on one side and its neighbor’s driveway on the other. Therefore, Jill’s walk to Maggie’s was extremely short. The proximity of each house in relation to the others made for very tiny yards, so when the girls wanted to let out some energy they had to either go to the school yard or the waterfront park. The park was only a 10 minute walk from their street and was by far their favorite destination. The town was very small and quaint and usually had very few visitors. Every resident of the town knew every other resident, so Jill and Maggie were generally allowed to wander down to the park unattended; given their parents knew that they were going and when to expect them home.
Jill’s pace increased as she approached her friend’s house, with each small little Cape-style home passing faster and faster. Jill’s favorite part of her home was the large covered front porch where her father had installed a bench porch swing. Every other home on her street had the same front porch and nearly every porch had the same swing. In fact the only real difference between the houses, aside from a misplaced window here and there, was the color. Jill didn’t mind though, she loved her house; it didn’t matter if a thousand people had the same type. When she arrived at Maggie’s she bounded up the front steps to the door and rang the bell. As she waited for someone to answer the door she thought to herself how much she adored the color of Maggie’s house. The blue on her house was very pretty, but the shade of yellow that coated Maggie’s was quite cheerful and tended to make one whistle without even knowing why. After a several seconds Maggie’s Mom appeared in the doorway.
“Well, hello there, Jill,” she greeted.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Donaldson,” Jill returned. “Can Maggie come to the park to play with me today?”
“I don’t see why not. We are going to be having dinner in a couple hours so you can’t be too long.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jill answered politely.
“Would you like to stay and have dinner with us when you all get back?” Mrs. Donaldson offered.
“Yes ma’am!” Jill exclaimed excitedly. “I’ll have to ask my Mom if it is alright.”
“I’ll give her a call and let her know. Something tells me she won’t have a problem with it. I’ll go get Maggie.”
Jill knew her mom had called Mrs. Donaldson on her way over to let her know Jill was coming. Mrs. Donaldson had most likely already asked. Maggie came to the door wearing her denim overalls and a solid pink T-shirt. The resemblance between the two girls was so that if you didn’t know them you would think they were sisters. Both were about the same height with the same slender build. Both had straight, dark brown hair that sat just below their shoulders. Both had the biggest, warmest blue eyes imaginable, and, apparently for today, both felt the desire to wear denim overalls and a solid pink T-shirt.
“We match!” Jill squealed.
“Cool!” Maggie responded. “And we didn’t even plan it.”
Maggie turned her head and yelled back in the door, “Mom, were leaving!”
“Please don’t be late for dinner,” a voice from inside the house warned. “Jill do you have a watch?”
“Yes ma’am,” Jill informed.
“Five o’clock, no later please.” Mrs. Donaldson instructed.
“Ok mom,” Maggie replied.
With that, the girls walked down the porch steps and started for the park, side by side.
“Wow, the sun sure is bright today,” Maggie commented lifting her face upward.
“And not a cloud in the sky,” Jill completed.
“What an absolutely wonderful day to spend at the park,” Maggie stated. “I love the warmth of the sun, the feel of the breeze, the fresh scent of the sea, and the sound of the gulls awaiting even the smallest of scraps to be thrown their way.”
“Seagulls?!” Jill responded puzzled. "There’s nothing wonderful about seagulls. Yuck.”
“Are you ever in a bad mood Maggie? You have changed so much ever since the accident….” Jill’s words trailed off as she realized what she had just said.
“Why should I be?” Maggie answered matter-of-factly. “God showed me how precious life is threw that accident. Doctor Quinton said it was the worse bike accident he had ever seen. He said if I wouldn’t have been wearing my helmet I would have died for sure. I never even saw that car coming. I am blessed to still be here. After that you even learn to appreciate seagulls.”
Both girls giggled.
“It is so incredible that you can joke about it even after only a couple of years.”
“Yeah, it’s amazing the grace God gives to accept the things you cannot change and the ability to get on with life through the pain.”
Jill and Maggie may have only been born 10 days apart, but in many ways Maggie was much older. They had both grown up going to the same church, but Jill wasn’t nearly as mature in her Christian walk as Maggie. Sure she had prayed to accept Jesus at a fairly early age, but it had never really changed the way she lived. It was nothing like the way Maggie had changed. In some ways she had still felt like the same old Jill.
“I wish I had your view of life, Maggie,” Jill stated.
“It’s not my view, Jill, it is God’s view. Only he can give you true joy. Trust him for it and he will give it to you.”
“Wow, I wish some of the adult members of our church had your kind of faith, young lady.”
The compliment came in the form of a deep male voice that originated behind where Maggie was standing. She didn’t even need to turn around to know who that voice belonged to. Somewhere in the course of their conversation the girls had unknowingly stopped right in front of Mr. Roberts’ bakery. Mr. Roberts was a very tall, thin man in his early fifties whose deep voice by no means matched his slender frame. He was a very kind and generous man who was also an active member in the church Jill and Maggie attended. Mr. Roberts was wearing his normal baker’s outfit comprised of a white button down shirt, old khaki pants both of which were partially covered by a full length white apron and all completely covered by a good layer of flour. He had just stepped outside to get some fresh air, and to shake off some of the flour, when he overheard the girl’s conversation.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Roberts,” the girls greeted simultaneously.
“Good afternoon, ladies,” he returned. “And where are we off to on such a fine weekend day?”
“We’re going down to the waterfront park,” Maggie answered turning to face him.
“Ah. What a splendid idea. And such glorious weather for just that occasion. Of course I would suspect that you girls my need some energy for this little expedition, no?”
“I suppose we would,” Jill agreed.
“It just so happens that I just finished a fresh batch of cookies with a new recipe I wanted to try. I am looking for a couple of subjects who would be interested in taste testing them for me. Would you happen to know anyone who would be interested?”
“Yes sir!” shouted Maggie, raising her hand high in the air.
Mr. Roberts chuckled, “Well then, right this way ladies.”
The two girls followed the baker into his cozy little shop. There were very few modern conveniences in his bakery. His grandparents had established the tiny store when they had first come to America from England. Mr. Roberts wanted to preserve as much of the historical value of the shop for the sake of his family. In the main area directly across from the entrance were two small brick ovens behind an old rugged wooden preparation table. On the plain white plaster wall directly next two the ovens hung two very long, original wooden bread oars his grandparents had used to remove the loaves from the ovens. Running along the wall to the right was a modest display counter with all of the day’s fresh breads, cakes, cookies, and pastries for sale to his patrons which doubled as an eating counter where the customers could consume their tasty treats. Behind this counter were various coffee and espresso machines for his “eat-in” customers who preferred a hot beverage along with their selection. In the open are that comprised the remainder of the store front were two small wooden tables covered with red and white checked tablecloths, each surrounded by four newly refurbished chairs. The floor was completely brick, and although it was constantly swept it gave that rustic, old fashioned feel to the bakery.
The aroma of freshly baked bread and cookies filled the room so that the girls practically had to swim to the back table which held an unusually large plate of golden brown cookies just recently pulled from the lower baking oven still red with heat.
“You’ve gotten new chairs,” Maggie noticed, running her hand over the back of one of the newly covered chairs.
“No, I just had them refinished last week and had them add some padding and coverings as well. I figure the more comfortable I keep my customers the longer they will stay and the more coffee and cake they will consume,” He explained with a grin. “But let’s just keep that between us shall we?” he added.
The two girls laughed at Mr. Roberts’s quirky sense of humor. He was a very funny man who had a knack for making people laugh. Mr. Roberts, much like Maggie, was almost always cheerful.
“Now, how bout you two testing these cookies before they get cold.”
The girls hurried to the table each grabbing a cookie from the plate, their mouths watering in anticipation of the sweetness they were about to consume.
“So? What do you think?” Mr. Roberts asked.
“These are wonderful! I don’t think I have tasted anything so good in all my life!” Jill complimented.
“Well, thank you. We won’t let that get back to your mom though,” Mr. Roberts replied with a wink.
“I agree. These are great!” Maggie responded smacking her lips together to get a better taste of the cookie. “Let’s see. You have added cinnamon and extra nutmeg to your recipe.”
“Wow. Impressive. I can’t get anything past you, Ms. Maggie,” Mr. Roberts jested.
“Well, you are very good. Now each of you take one more for the road and get moving. I don’t want to take up any more of your time than I already have.”
“Yes sir, Mr. Roberts. Thank you very much for the cookies,” Jill thanked.
“Yes, thank you,” Maggie echoed.
“No no. It is I who should be thanking you. You have helped me make a very important business decision today. Now run along. Oh, and here are some day old scraps for you to feed the gulls.”
Jill grabbed the plastic bag and swung it over her wrist. Then, she and Maggie skipped energetically down the walk toward the park.
The remainder of the journey to the park was as exciting as ever. Jill absolutely adored Maggie, and spending time with her was precious. They were so alike in personality that everything they did was the others favorite thing to do. Taking in the entirety of their small fishing/boating village was one of their favorite pastimes. The trip to the park was almost more fun than the time they spent at the park. Clarkton was a small unnoticed town located on the coast, but it had a long and proud history. Most of the families who resided in the town were descended from the original founders of the town. Although the industry that had financed the building of the town had slowed considerably, there was more at stake than the money so the residents didn’t think twice about staying put. Sure there was less money, and some of the town was in desperate need of repair, but in Clarkton it was all about the people and the heritage. Jill loved the sights, smells, and sounds of her home town and had no desire to live anywhere else. Because it had never been a particularly successful area, the town hadn’t changed much in its nearly hundred year existence. Life was simple and peaceful, and the population of Clarkton wouldn’t have it any other way.
As if she were reading Jill’s thoughts, Maggie broke the verbal silence. “I love this town. It is so simple and so complex at the same time. I can’t believe that there is another place on earth with this kind of atmosphere.”
Jill stared at Maggie in awe. How does she do it? Ever since her accident she has been the most cheerful person alive when she had every right to be the most bitter. Jill and Maggie often talked about Maggie’s change in her outlook on life.
"How do you know you are saved?” Jill would ask. “You just seem so secure in that fact now. I have prayed to Jesus and I don’t have your confidence.”
Maggie would reply with, “It’s not about saying a prayer or reciting a verse. It’s a change in the way you think, the way you act, and the way you live. It is a change of who you are. If the way you live isn’t any different, if the way you think and act isn’t any different, if you question whether or not you are; odds are you are not. Christianity isn’t something you “get”, it is something you become. It is unmistakable. God gets hold of your life and changes it forever.”
“I want to have your confidence about my salvation, Maggie.” Jill expressed, verbally continuing the conversation she had been playing out in her head.
“You can, Jill. Your interest and desire in that fact means that God has already started the work. It doesn’t happen for everyone like it did for me. Don’t let it take a tragic accident for God to get your attention. Read your Bible and pray as much as you can. My mom and I make time to do that as much as possible. It really really helps.”
“I will”, Jill promised. “Now what should we do first?”
“Wow, we are here already?” Maggie asked in amazement.
“Yep, time flies when you are having fun,” Jill returned.
“Let’s go dance around the center green in our bare feet,” Maggie suggested.
“Sounds great. I wish we could play ball again,” Jill complained in a sober tone.
“Oh, come on now, Jill, let’s not start this. We’ve been through it enough. I just can’t do that anymore.”
“I know, but you were so good at it. If it hadn’t had been for that stupid driver…”
“Then I wouldn’t be who I am today,” Maggie interrupted. “It was all part of God’s plan for me. I have accepted that, you need to do the same. Now, let’s go dance. It’s too nice a day to darken with all this nonsense talk.”
That is exactly what they did. They danced and twirled and fell down and laughed and then danced some more. Their joy was so infectious that passers by couldn’t help but smile and let out a small laugh at the sight of them. After their exhausting exercise in the center green the girls decided to take some time to feed the gulls from the pier with the scraps given to them by Mr. Roberts. On the way back from their interactions with the birds Maggie suggested they stop by for a quick paddle boat ride.
“I don’t know Maggie. It’s getting kind of late. We told your mom we would be home by five o’clock. I don’t want to be late. Besides neither of us brought any money and remember you can’t swim too well,” Jill argued.
“Oh, please. I love being on the water. Especially on a gorgeous day like today. Just for a few minutes. We won’t be late. Mr. Jack should be working today and you know he loves to find ways to give us free rides and I promise I will were my life jacket this time,” Maggie smiled convincingly.
“Alright,” Jill agreed reluctantly. “But it’s not my fault if we are late.”
“Agreed,” Maggie accepted.
As Maggie had stated, Mr. Jack was working the paddle boats, and as she predicted, he found a way to give the girls a free ride. Apparently he had just finished repairing the paddles under one of the boats and since he was the only one working he needed someone to test it before he could start to rent it out again. Jill and Maggie willingly agreed to try it out for him.
They were out off shore a bit enjoying the warmth of the late afternoon sun coupled with the cool gentle sea breeze when an ever so faint voice echoed across the water.
“Uh oh,” Maggie warned. “I know that voice.”
“What voic…,” Jill’s reply stopped suddenly as she turned to face the shore only to spot a not so happy mother standing next to Mr. Jack.
“What time is it Jill?” Maggie asked quickly.
“Quarter after five,” Jill answered. “Uh-oh is right.”
They were late. And that after both of them agreed to be home on time for dinner. The girls turned the paddle boat around and headed for shore as fast as their middle school legs could peddle. Each of them preparing themselves for the inevitable tongue lashing they were about to receive.
“What are you two doing?” Mrs. Donaldson grilled. “Do you know what time it is?”
“Quarter after five,” Maggie answered as repentantly as she could.
“And what time did I say to be home?” Mrs. Donaldson asked seemingly unphased by the tone of her daughter’s response.
“Five o’clock,” Jill chimed in.
“Exactly. And dinner has been sitting on the table since then waiting for you two to get home”, Mrs. Donaldson reprimanded. “Now tie up that boat and let’s go.”
“Yes ma’am,” the girls answered.
As they were walking back to the car Mrs. Donaldson noticed Maggie was missing something.
“Maggie, where is your walking stick? Did you leave it back in the boat?”
“No ma’am,” Jill replied knowingly. “I left it at home today. But Jill was guiding me the whole way”
“You did what? What if something had happened to Jill? What would you have done then? How would you have gone for help? Seriously child sometimes I think you’d forget your head if it weren’t attached. I know you don’t feel like you are blind, but the fact is you are. You need to remember the walking stick.”
The reckless driver may not have taken Maggie’s life that day two years ago, but he did take her sight. However, in Jill’s mind she knew that Maggie had better vision than anyone else she had ever known.
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