Cindy Woodsmall is a New York Times best-selling author of the Sisters of the Quilt series and her newest novel, The Hope of Refuge. The Sound of Sleigh Bells hits store shelves October 6, and it is a heartwarming Christmas novella where lack and abundance inside an Amish community has power for good when it’s tucked inside love. The Sound of Sleigh Bells is not based on the story “Blind Hope.” Cindy’s ability to authentically capture the heart of her characters comes from her real-life connections with Plain Mennonite and Old Order Amish families. Cindy is the mother of three sons and two daughters-in-law, and she and her husband reside in Georgia. Visit her Web site at www.cindywoodsmall.com
Years ago an Amish man and his wife spent their days struggling against poverty. They had four children under the age of five. Even with both Dad and Mom doing all they could, they were barely able to keep food on the table and a roof over the family’s heads.
Then the man’s wife became sick. As she grew weaker, she could no longer take care of the baby while her husband worked. After weeks of prayer, they knew what they needed to do. A suitable Amish family lived in the district who needed the love of a baby to ease their own recent loss.
With tears of sorrow and sacrifice, the couple agreed to relinquish their six-month-old daughter to their care.
While the other children waited in the horse-drawn carriage, the dad helped his wife carry their precious infant to the front doorstep, where the grateful couple waited with both anticipation and compassion. The infant cooed blissfully as she was passed from one woman’s arms to the other’s.
The mothers embraced, gently pressing the baby girl between them. “When your health returns,” the neighbor said, “we will bring her back to you.”
But the mother did not get well. Some months after this painful parting, she passed away.
As the bereaved father struggled through his grief, he continued working hard to keep his three older children fed, clothed, and housed.
After more than five years had slipped by, the youngest one began attending school with all her siblings in the one-room schoolhouse. That year, as Thanksgiving drew close, the older children approached their dad and asked if the youngest could return home to live and if they could all be together for Christmas.
They’d always seen her on church Sundays and ate the district-wide meal with her after those services, but bringing her home had not been possible. “I would love nothing more,” he said. “And I know she doesn’t need a sitter during the day since she began school, but even then, how can I make enough money to provide for her?”
His children gathered around. “We can all help,” the eldest said. She fingered the sleeve of her frayed coat, which was already too small for her. “This could last one more winter. And I don’t need a new pair of gloves for Christmas like I asked for. I can patch the ones I have.”
Her sister took Dad’s hand. “I can alter Mom’s old dresses instead of getting new material to make clothes for next year.”
“And I’ll eat only one slice of bread at dinner instead of three,” the young boy said. The family laughed.
Touched by his children’s sacrificial offers, the father thought of more ideas for making extra money. “With a bit more help from you girls, we could expand the garden so we would have more produce to sell during the summer months.” He turned to his son. “If you could help me add stalls to the barn, we can rent parts of the building to our neighbors. They’re looking for space to raise their new calves.”
The children eagerly agreed to the plans. Their hearts soared with hope.
The father and his excited children clambered into the carriage and headed for the home of the couple who’d been taking care of their baby sister. When the horse stopped at the front gate, they saw the young girl playing in the yard. Even though the dad spent time with her on church Sundays and at district-wide events, she seemed like such a big girl that day. In spite of holding her a couple of times each month since giving her to this family, the father’s heart ached over the years he’d missed with his littlest daughter. He wondered how she and her new parents would feel about her returning to her family.
The couple emerged from the house and embraced the father and his children. The woman called to the little girl, and she came toward them.
“She will be thrilled to be going home with you,” the woman said. “We’ve always told her this day would come.”
After the dad asked his little girl if she’d like to come to his home to live, she jumped into his arms. The older children surrounded them.
The father told the couple about the plans they had made that would help them provide for the youngest one. Both families rejoiced over the little girl returning home.
In the days that followed, the father and his children continued to fight against poverty, but in the midst of it they bonded with one another and found joy in the little things life offered. A beautiful sunrise, building snowmen, walking together to school and to the home where church would be held, sledding down the backyard hill, silently praying at the dinner table, always knowing they had one another.
A week before Christmas, the dad received a hundred dollars in the mail. None of the family knew where the money came from, but they each had ideas how it could be spent.
“Food,” suggested the son, smacking his lips and rubbing his belly.
“New winter clothing,” the middle daughter said, her eyes aglow.
“Perhaps,” added the oldest girl, “we could get fresh prayer Kapps so we’re not dishonoring God by wearing tattered ones.”
The father turned to his youngest girl, who had so recently been reunited with them. “I think we should let her decide.” He brought the little one onto his lap. “What do you think we should do with the money?”
Her face lit up with a bright smile. “I think we should help someone who is poor.”
The family looked at one another. Didn’t she realize they were poor?
After a moment, the oldest daughter mentioned a non-Amish man who lived down the road. “He is poorer than anybody I know. I’ve heard that he doesn’t have any family either.”
They all heartily agreed to take every penny of that hundred dollars to the man.
They rode in a carriage to the old man’s house. Dad knocked on the door. After several moments, it creaked open.
“Merry Christmas,” the father said as he handed him the cash.
The old man’s body shook and tears soon rolled down his face.
He invited them into his home, walking stiffly. He told them he’d injured his back at work months ago, and he was unable to return to work for a while yet. “I’m afraid I have nothing to offer you in return.” The old man sat with a groan. “This winter has been the worst of them all. I’ve been sitting here alone, thinking that no one cared about me. Not even God.”
The old man looked into each of his visitors’ eyes. “Because of what you’ve given me, I’ll be able to keep food on the table until I return to work. I don’t know how to thank you.”
After helping the old man with a few jobs around the house and yard, the family hugged him and said good-bye. As they rode home in their horse-drawn buggy, they held hands and sang carols, basking in the warmth of Christmas joy.
A few years have passed since then, and the dad and children continue to work hard, but poverty has released its awful grip, leaving few signs behind that it had once lived with them. Perhaps the true spirit of the Christmas season is most often found inside of hope that does not have to see help to know it is coming. Blind hope has the power to get us through our toughest times and it continually nudges us onward until we can embrace a better tomorrow.
Behatz Sei Hoffning (“Embrace His Hope”).