Oh and Did You Know…
The clouds that day were extremely gray - or at least it seemed to be that way for a certain young man who was walking down the street, head bent over into the wind with his hands shoved into his pockets. There was only a few snowflakes falling and only a small layer of snow lay on the ground that would swoop and dance in the strong wind. Mostly it was ice, and that is what an Atlanta winter was, the wind is what made it miserable, it cut through every layer of clothing and somehow instead of getting duller it got sharper. Brandon ignored it; he ignored everything, his mission was to numb his mind so that the hurt that was inside would go away.
He knew he shouldn’t have done it… and every Christmas Eve it haunted him. No, he couldn’t undo it… he had run away from home, the only thing he had kept were the memories, the one thing he wished to be rid of. Two long years had passed since he had run away, four since the horrible accident.
Brandon kicked at a can on the sidewalk wishing to get the anger boiling up inside of him out somehow. Instead he ended up with a bruised toe…the can and the soda still in it was frozen solid. Brandon cursed under his breath as his toe which had been numb before now ached. He just wanted to be numb, to forget everything he had ever done and just to go on with life without having to think about all of his mistakes.
He kept walking to where he thought was nowhere, just putting one foot out in front of the other, but Someone was guiding him, even if he didn’t know it.
After several minutes of pointless wandering, Brandon found himself facing a small coffee shop. It was bright and cozy and the smell of coffee and baked cookies, cakes, and pies filled him to his toes. The bright light seemed to beckon him to come in and to get away from the horrors of the cold. He hesitated before entering, he wouldn’t fit in with such a cheery place, but the wind pushed him in as if he had no choice.
“Can I get you anything sir?” A young lady’s voice rang in his ears. He turned to see the question had been directed towards him. Her uncanny smile unnerved him, his clear grey eyes stunned her, but he collected his wits and nodded as he fished for his wallet. His eyes darted toward the menu on the wall as he walked up to the counter.
“Um yeah, can I just have some hot coca and a cinnamon bun?” He asked. The younger girl smiled and nodded as she turned around to get his order, but not before he read her name tag. Amber - pretty name. She was small, really almost petite but rather firm Brandon guessed. When she turned back around with his hot cocoa she set it on the counter and pulled out some whipped cream and swirled a little onto the hot beverage.
As she got the cinnamon bun onto a plate she asked, “would you like this heated up?” Brandon nodded.
“Yeah, sure, that would be nice.” Brandon replied. She quickly placed the roll in a microwave and set the timer. As soon as it was done she handed it to him with another smile.
“Is that all for today?” She asked sweetly. Brandon nodded and paid for the roll and beverage. After he turned around he eyed a small unoccupied table rather close to the door. He sat down, got comfortable and slowly began to sip his cocoa.
He had finished his cinnamon roll and was almost done with his hot chocolate when a young couple walked in the door, a cold gust of wind following them. They walked up to the counter, when Amber saw them instead of asking what they needed she exclaimed.
“Jayce! Kyle! I thought you guys were out of town, what are you doing here?” The two names pierced Brandon right through his heart, but his thoughts didn’t seem possible so he just watched.
The young girl, Jayce shook her head her beautiful voice turned on memories inside Brandon’s mind. “No, mom had another attack of that really bad cold so we decided to post pone the trip.” She was smiling but her eyes showed her disappointment.
“Oh, well I’ll keep praying for her, I do hope she gets better, but really I am glad you guys will be at the Christmas production tonight.” Amber replied with a soft smile, letting them know she was sympathetic. They chatted for a bit all the while Brandon grew more and more certain of who they were. Suddenly Amber asked.
“So, no word from Brandon huh?” Kyle shook his head forlornly while Jayce sighed. “Hey, cheer up guys, it’s Christmas Eve and you both don’t need to be depressed.” Kyle gave a lopsided smile and apologized.
“Sorry Amber, how ‘bout we get two vanilla lattes then we’ll wait around for half an hour so we can give you a ride after you’re done?” Amber’s laughter filled the room.
“Deal.” She said shaking Kyle’s hand. “Take a seat and I’ll bring it to you.” Kyle turned around looking for a table. Seeing none unoccupied his eyes turned to Brandon’s table, it had enough room for three.
Brandon’s heart leapt with fright as he saw his big brother coming towards him. He kept his eyes down as he focused on the tablecloth.
“Hey buddy, would you mind sharing your table?” He asked. Kyle had always been bold. Brandon nodded but he still kept his head down. “Thanks man.” Kyle said as he and Jayce sat down. “My name’s Kyle.” He put out his hand. Brandon looked up for the first time and smiled slightly to himself as Kyle showed no signs of recognition.
“People call me Blaze.” Brandon replied using his gangster name as he shook Kyle’s hand firmly. He noticed that Kyle was slightly taken aback.
“Well, this is my sister Jayce.” Kyle said introducing their sister. Jayce smiled and held out her hand. This time seeing no sings of recognition hurt, but Brandon just smiled and quickly shook her hand.
“So, what part of town do you two come from?” Brandon asked after a few seconds of somewhat uneasy silence.
“We live on Jackson Street about 4 blocks from here.” Brandon looked surprised and blurted out without thinking.
“When did you guys move?” He quickly added “I haven’t seen you ‘round here.”
“A few months ago, it was tough but we felt that’s what God wanted.” Jayce explained taking a sip of her latte which Amber had just served.
“Heard your mom was sick…how is she?” Bandon’s voice cracked a little when he mentioned mom. Just then he realized how much he missed her. Kyle shrugged off the surprise and answered.
“She’s doing okay but she’s…” Kyle stopped but continued after collecting himself. “She’s still grieving about someone who she never got to say goodbye to.” Brandon nodded, understanding more then they thought.
They all sipped at their beverages soaking in the comfort and warmth it brought. Brandon was just about to say something about having to go when Jayce started another conversation.
“So, um…Blaze, are you doing anything tonight?” Brandon slowly shook his head as a sick feeling filled his stomach as he thought of all the other people who had asked the same question before that had led to bad business. This was a much different invitation. “Well can I give you an invitation to a small Christmas eve service at our church we’re having this evening?” Jayce gracefully handed him a small card like note. Carefully Brandon took it and quickly breezed through it, taking interest in it which was a little surprising since he had never liked anything to do with church.
“Yeah, I might be busy tonight.” Brandon said knowing full well that there was nothing going on. “But if I’m free I might stop in.” Jayce smiled.
“We’ve got free food and drinks… non alcoholic.” She added with a laugh. This girl knew how to persuade someone. Brandon just nodded his head and stood up.
“Well thanks for yo company, it was… nice.” Brandon said almost hesitantly.
“See you around…Blaze.” Kyle replied holding out his hand. This time Brandon looked right into Kyle’s eyes and firmly shook his hand. There was a faint glimmer in Kyle’s eyes but before anything else happened Brandon walked out the door, back into the cold.
Brandon walked away from the coffee shop still shook up about the meeting with his brother and sister. It almost affected him more then when Flames his former gang leader had died. Jayce had grown so much, probably 15 or 16 now. Kyle was 20, probably in college. Mom… why had he hurt her? Why did he never say goodbye or even let her know he was okay? Pain burned like fire in his heart and tears blurred his vision.
He wanted to see them so bad, and the answer to that was right in his hand. Should he go tonight? He thought about it a long time and he wondered if it was even a good idea. The wind picked up but Brandon didn’t feel it, he was numb, inside and out. He just kept walking with his eyes on the ground. He wandered aimlessly down one street up the next. He agonized on whether or not he should go to the production. The sound of traffic and people were zoned out of Brandon’s mind as he thought. The simple yet difficult question, should he or shouldn’t he go?
Before long he shoved his hands in his pockets to keep them warm. He felt around for the invitation that Jayce had given him pulling it out once more. He flipped it over to the back to read the directions. The church was about 20 minutes away from where he stood; depending on the traffic detours and the driver. For some unknown reason a feeling inside washed over him. He had to go.
In less then ten minutes he found a taxi and quickly gave him the directions and the correct amount of cash. He was warm and toasty in the small cab and soon he found himself nodding to sleep. When he awoke he found that the taxi driver had stopped and parked the car. Brandon mumbled his thanks and quickly flung himself out into the cold. It was 6:20 pm and in another ten minutes the production was supposed to start. Five minutes was probably how long it would take for him to get to the church. Brandon looked at the invitation once more to make sure was headed in the right way and then set off.
It actually took him seven minutes instead of five, but when he walked a few steps onto a small lift and looked inside there were still people talking and laughing, he could hear them even from outside. A couple walked in the building as a young man from inside held open the door and gave them a bulletin. The door shut behind them leaving the cold air outside where it belonged.
After a few more seconds of contemplating whether or not he should really go inside he finally stepped up to one of the doors to walk in. This time a girl was there to greet him.
“Good evening and welcome to our Christmas Eve production my name is Lauren.” Her smile was true and authentic as she handed him a bulletin. Brandon nodded.
“My name’s… um, Brandon.” She didn’t seem to notice his stuttering but instead told him where he could find some food if he wanted or the auditorium which was right in the door across from them. Brandon being a guy (plus a teenager) immediately went to the refreshments. There were mostly cookies, but also candy and some chips and salsas. He piled his plate high and went to stand in a place where there weren’t so many people.
Everybody who saw him smiled and some came up and introduced themselves but there seemed to be so many people that it was hard to keep track. Suddenly there was a loud voice coming from the auditorium.
“If everyone could come and take their seats we’ll be starting in just a minute.” There was a murmur of enthusiasm as everyone began making there way to the auditorium. Brandon threw away his plate and walked with the flow. The auditorium sloped down just a little bit and there was a stage at the end that lifted up.
Brandon began looking for an open seat that was somewhat by itself, but to no avail. He saw a group of teens, probably his age sitting in the third row back from the front. There were a couple of seats empty next to them so Brandon went down to where they were laughing and chatting. When Brandon approached a young man who was sitting on the end looked up.
“Hey, do you need a seat?” Brandon nodded surprised at the young man’s friendliness. “My name’s Zac what’s yours?” He said introducing himself as he stood up and shook Brandon’s hand.
“Coolness, take a seat man.” He said ushering him to sit next to him and another person. “Alright guys, this is Brandon, Brandon this right here is Rebecca, or ‘becca’ as we like to call her.” He said pointing to the girl Brandon was sitting next to. Brandon smiled and nodded, she did the same with a little ‘hi’.
“This is Jeff, then Cameron and on the end is Sara who we call ‘tears’ which is kind of stupid because when she was little she would cry easy, so someone kept calling her ‘tears’ and it kind of stuck around.
“Hey Tears.” Brandon said looking over at her, seeing how much she had changed since he had nick named her ‘tears’.
“Hey Brandon.” No sign of recognition … the pain inside shot through him. Brandon sat back mournfully. They had been best friends when they had been neighbors and other then the few arguments about religion they had gotten along great! The aching subsided a little however when the group began to talk with him and with each other.
Brandon found himself looking around at all the different people that surrounded him. He had never been a fan of crowds…mostly because he didn’t know all of the people well enough to trust any of them. But in this crowd he was actually looking for someone. Mom. He didn’t find her or Kyle and Jayce. Disappointment flowed through him like an icy cold river. He shouldn’t have come.
Brandon turned to Becca who wasn’t in the conversation right at the moment. “Hey Becca.” Immediately he got her attention. When someone just meets a girl they seem to like it when they remember to call them by their name or nickname. “Do you know a girl named Jayce?” Becca laughed and replied.
“Everyone knows Jayce. Why do you ask?”
“Well, it was her that invited me to come tonight. I was hoping that I would see her and her brother…” He was going to say something about mom but he didn’t.
“Oh, well Jayce is behind stage because she’s singing tonight and Kyle’s running the sound board and lights up there behind all the seats.” She pointed behind them, but he didn’t catch any signs of Kyle.
“Oh ok, I was hoping they didn’t have to stay home because their mom was sicker or something.” Becca smiled again.
“Well their mom is here too.” Brandon glanced side ways at her then turned to look at her.
“I thought…I thought she was sick.” Brandon stated trying to look calm. “I just assumed she wasn’t coming.” Brandon’s heart began to beat a little faster.
“On no, she’s here,” Becca said as she pointed up and behind them. “Do you see the lady with the brown somewhat curly hair; she’s got a blanket around her.” Brandon saw her. It was mom, but she was so frail, it almost made him want to go up there and take her in his arms and just let her know that he would take care of her. But he stayed right where he was and pushed down all the raging emotions inside of him.
“We’re about to start, you two be quiet!” Zac said teasingly to Becca and Brandon.
“Sorry.” Becca replied smiling a little bit. A man who was probably in his late thirties or early forties took the stage. Brandon assumed it was the pastor.
“Hey everyone glad to see all of you here tonight! Well, I’m not going to do a whole lot of talking since you’ve already used up 10 minutes of my announcing time talking to each other.” A ripple of laughter stirred in the crowd. “So, for all of you visitors my name is Jason Benedict and I am the pastor of this church and I would just like you to know how excited we are to see you and if this is your first time visiting our church would you please just raise your hand? Not to embarrass you but to welcome you, also we would like to give you a small packet of information about our church and inside there is a small card and if you could fill that out and give it to the ushers at the end of the service or you can give it to a friend they’ll take care of it. Can all the first time visitors raise their hand?”
Brandon reluctantly put up one hand to signify that he was a first time visitor. There was about a half dozen others but all were decently spread out.
“Let’s give our guests a round of applause.” Mr. Benedict said just as one of the ushers handed Brandon a packet. Brandon ignored the clapping and quickly drew the card of information and looked over it. As his name he simply put ‘Brandon’ and for address he put a line. When he was finished he handed it to Zac who smiled and knowingly nodded. Brandon directed his gaze back to the stage.
Then there was a small play done by the kids who were 5-11. It was a play on the birth of Christ. Brandon looked in his bulletin to see what kids were playing what parts. He didn’t know any of them except one. The kid who was playing as Joseph - Nick Dawson, he had been a little kid last time he had seen him. Brandon chuckled under his breathe - he’d always been a good actor. The play ended with a song called ‘Adoration.’ As the kids exited Mr. Benedict came back onto the stage.
“Thank God for His love to send his only son. We cannot comprehend it.” There was a nod of agreement among most people. Brandon was stone. “Now to end the service Jayce is going to sing a song that was written for this particular service. Please let’s welcome Jayce.” There was a thunderous applause as Jayce took the stage. Her brown hair was down in ringlets; her blue green eyes glowed. Brandon smiled a little; she got her looks from their mom. Jayce smiled and nodded, music immediately flooded the auditorium. Jayce lifted the mic. to her mouth as she began to sing in a clear sweet soft voice.
“Oh and did you know
That so many years ago
There was a star placed in the sky
To show the way to the baby
Who for our sins would one day die?
Oh so long ago
The story is now so old
But again it will be told
Of how the king to whom I sing
Loved us so much that He
Came and died for you and me
Oh and did you know
That so long ago
He was born to die for us
To take away our sin
So in Him we could trust
Oh so long ago
The story is now so old
But again it will be told
Of how the King to whom I sing
Loved us so much that He
Came and died for you… and me
So please come and believe
This Savior loves you and me
Oh and did you know
That this Christmas Eve
He loves you and me?”
She ended the song looking right at Bandon, she smiled slightly and Brandon thought it looked like she gave a slight nod. Brandon had not cried since the Christmas Eve of the horrible accident. He gritted his teeth and grasped the arm rest with all of his strength.
The music silently played in the background as Jayce once again brought the mic. to her mouth.
“I’m here to tell you a story of what my life has looked like and how God has met me. Four years ago to this day, I lost my father and one of my older brothers in a terrible car accident. I’ll never forget the look on my older brother Brandon’s face when we swerved off the road or the feeling of terror in my stomach. For Christmas that year I learned that my dad and brother Trevor had passed away during the crash. It was the scariest thing that ever happened to me. It was the hardest thing that I ever had to deal with, and I tried doing it all alone by my own strength. Then two years later Brandon left and ran away from home, no one has heard from him since and my heart broke. It was during that time of fear and worry that God found me in my weakness. I was clinging to life only by my strength and I knew I was going to slip any second. He intervened and pulled me into my arms. He became my Father, my brother; I realized that I could live life fully in His care without fear of being hurt again without comfort.
“I’m telling you this story because I know what it’s like to be hurt. But what I also know is that God is always there because he was born - lived - died and came back to life. This song was written by my other brother Kyle and I, we know what it’s like to be hurt, but we also know that God loves us and in ways we cannot imagine. We were all sinners, worthy of eternity in Hell, yet He came and was born and died for each and every one of our sins. He took our punishment, and for that each one of us should seek to glorify Him forever in everything we do. And it’s not because we love Him that we do these things.” She stopped as she scanned the crowd, her eyes rested on Brandon. “It’s because He loves you.” She said softly tears brimming in her eyes. “Thank you.” She exited the stage gracefully as applause followed her.
The music continued as Mr. Benedict took the stage, again he took the mic.
“Thank you so much Jayce and Kyle. We have been incredibly blessed! And it is true… the Savior we believe in is alive, He was born, and He lived a perfect life with no sin and then became sin, so that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God! I pray that you all would go home with a fresh understanding of what Jesus did for us when He was born on that Christmas day so long ago! Thank you all for coming. If you have any questions please either come to me or another here, they would be more then happy to answer your questions.
“Well we have refreshments in the lobby please stick around and fellowship! Merry Christmas!”
Brandon leaned back in his seat utterly shaken by what had happened. When he looked up he saw Jayce coming down off the stage, Kyle was approaching her. Brandon jumped up and made his way to the two of them.
When he was two steps from them Jayce looked up, her smile was wide as she saw him. Without thinking Brandon enclosed her in a hug. He bit his lip to stop it from quavering. When he pulled away he had his hand on her shoulders and looked her in the eyes.
“Jayce, I’m so sorry for not being there for you… for running away.” Brandon’s voice choked. Jayce suddenly looked at him differently.
“Brandon?” She asked incredulously. Brandon nodded, tears streaming down his face.
“Yeah…” He looked at Kyle but what he noticed was a woman next to him. Mom. Tears were streaming down her face. Her hand reached out and brushed way his tears, ignoring her own.
“Brandon…” Brandon embraced her in a huge hug, one he hadn’t had for over four years. He held her fragile body close to his own regretting everything that had kept him away from her.
“I love you mom.”
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