"Miranda, come and help me!"Alyssa called to her niece, as she raked the leaves and dumped them into bags.
"Maybe we should get a few more people to help us,"Miranda suggested. "I'll call Taylor. She's great at organizing things and enlisting friends to help."
"That sounds like a wonderful idea,"Aunt Alyssa responded.
"Miranda left voice mail for Taylor, and she and her aunt sat down on the deck to rest.
"It's getting a little chilly out here. Maybe we should go inside for a while,"Aunt Alyssa suggested.
Fifteen minutes later, the phone rang. "That's wonderful!"Miranda said.
"Aunt Alyssa, Taylor and several friends will be here in an hour to help us clean up the yard and do anything else you need to get done."
"What kind friends you have!"Alyssa commented gratefully. "I'm going to bake some cookies and make hot spiced tea for everyone."
"I'd love to help you bake. What kind of cookies will we make?"
"How about two dozen oatmeal raisin cookies, two dozen chocolate chip, and two dozen peanut butter fudge cookies?"
"Everyone better get here in a hurry before I eat them all myself!"Miranda laughed.
Soon the kitchen was filled with the relaxing aroma of freshly baked cookies.
"Don't tell my mom that I said this, but you're the best cook in the whole family."
"If you're buttering me up so you can eat a few more cookies, it's working!"
Miranda answered the doorbell and found Taylor, Jordan, Chantelle, Natasha, and Jaden waiting outside.
"We smell cookies!"Taylor commented. "Lead us to them."
"Aunt Alyssa, these are my friends from school. Taylor's the great organizer and motivator. Jordan is the magician who makes work disappear and tells great jokes. Chantelle is the artist; she has an eye for design and can make any room look glamorous. Natasha knows the best way to put things together or take them apart. And Jaden is the athletic muscle man."
After the introductions, Alyssa encouraged everyone to sit down at the kitchen table and feast on cookies and hot spiced tea.
"Mrs. Smolinksy, what do you need help with?"Taylor asked.
"Call me Aunt Alyssa, please,"she responded. "We need to finish raking the leaves and putting them in bags. Then one of you strong boys can put the bags near the curb for tomorrow's pickup."
"Mr. Muscle Man volunteers to carry the bags!"Jaden said in a deep voice.
Jordan lightly punched him in the arm. "If your biceps get any harder they'll turn into rocks!"
"I appreciate the compliment,"Jaden responded.
"Jordan, maybe you could sweep the deck clean,"Alyssa suggested. "And get rid of any cobwebs hanging from the overhead light."
"Your wish is my command, Aunt Alyssa."Jordan made a formal bow.
"Miranda, Taylor, and Chantelle, you can help me organize my basement."
"Natasha, would you mind taking a look at my vacuum cleaner? It's not picking up lint the way it should."
"I'd be happy to, Aunt Alyssa."
"Well, let's all get started,"Alyssa said. "After we're all done I'll have a little surprise for each of you."
As the teens worked diligently, Aunt Alyssa relished the sound of their laughter and excitement.
"So tell me about your aunt, Miranda,"Taylor requested as they bagged some clothing to donate to the local mission.
"My aunt is a very special lady. My uncle was an alcoholic and for many years he made life very difficult for her. She encouraged him to seek help and counseling, to go to church with her, and to ask God to come into his life. But he stubbornly refused. Two years ago, the doctors told him he had liver cancer. As he got sicker and sicker, Aunt Alyssa took care of him. Finally, right before he died, he asked God to forgive his sins--he was especially sorry for the way he had treated his wife--and he accepted Jesus as his Savior."
"How is your aunt coping with his death?"Taylor asked.
"She's doing very well, actually. She's at peace because she knows he's in heaven."Miranda added, "But I know she must get lonely sometimes, so I try to visit often. A few years ago, I asked her how she could continue to be so sweet and loving in spite of how my uncle often treated her."
"What did she say?"
"She told me, 'I remind myself of Abigail. She was married to Nabal, an unkind man who drank and alienated other people. Once when King David requested some food for his men, after having protected Nabal's flocks and shepherds, Nabal insulted David's men and sent them away empty-handed. David and 400 of his men armed themselves and headed for Nabal's camp. When Abigail heard how her husband had treated David's men, she gathered enough food to feed David's army and set out to meet them. Her wisdom and graciousness prevented a war.'"
"That story is in the Bible, isn't it?"Taylor remarked.
"Yes, in 1 Samuel 25,"Miranda replied. "The next morning when Abigail told Nabal what she had done, his heart failed him and 10 days later he dropped dead. When King David heard that Nabal had died he sent for Abigail, and she became his wife."
"So because Abigail had acted rightly in spite of what Nabal did, God provided for her,"Taylor commented.
"Yes, Abigail was a very kind and gracious lady. Aunt Alyssa has always tried to follow her example. She often reminds me, 'You can't help how someone else acts, but you can choose how you will respond.'"
"That's wonderful advice!"Taylor said. "I'll have to remember that."
The rest of the afternoon passed very quickly. With the chores all completed, Aunt Alyssa summoned her helpers to the kitchen and presented a gift-wrapped package to everyone except Jaden and Miranda.
Chantelle opened her package first. "Oh, what a beautiful pearl necklace! Are you sure you want to part with this?"she asked as she fastened it around her neck.
"Absolutely!"Aunt Alyssa said. "It looks lovely on you, Chantelle. Enjoy it!"
Jordan reached into his large gift bag and pulled out a formal top hat. "Wow! Every magician needs one of these! Thank you, Aunt Alyssa."He kissed her lightly on the cheek.
"Jaden, I haven't forgotten you. Your gift is upstairs in the attic. Every kind of exercise machine you could want awaits you upstairs."
"Thanks, Aunt Alyssa,"Jaden said quickly, and then he raced up the stairs two at a time.
Taylor opened her package to find a satin-covered journal. "How pretty!"she squealed in delight.
"While you are organizing and helping everyone else, don't forget to take care of yourself, too,"she advised Taylor. "Write down your dreams in the journal, so you don't lose sight of who you want to be."
Natasha unwrapped the tiny box that Aunt Alyssa had handed her. "It's a key? What does it unlock?"
"My husband had an old motorcycle in the garage that he tinkered with almost every evening. It's yours if you would like to have it."
"Are you sure . . . it might be worth a lot of money,"Natasha said hesitantly.
"I can't ride it, sweetie. Please, you take it and have fun fixing it."
"Thank you so much, Aunt Alyssa."
"Miranda, you must think that I have forgotten you."Alyssa put her arm around her niece. "Your mother and I had a long talk yesterday. I have some business matters from your uncle's estate to resolve next weekend. But when I return, we will look through all my belongings and you may take anything you like."
"Aunt Alyssa, I choose you. I hope to become as loving and gracious a woman as you are someday."
By Nancy A. Stevens