'Hello, my name's Mindy Patterson.”
'I'm Crystal Jeffrey. My daughter, Narissa, and I took Jazzy to the mall on Tuesday after school. She's a wonderful girl.”
'Thank you, Crystal,” Mindy replied politely. 'It's nice to meet you.”
Mindy glanced at her daughter and noted that Jazzy's normally rosy cheeks had turned pale and her face had taken on a greenish tint.
'I understand that you're a single parent, too,” Crystal stated. 'Maybe you and I could get together sometime and compare notes. It's not easy raising a child on your own these days.”
Jazzy looked on incredulously as Mindy and Crystal exchanged phone numbers. I don't believe this! What's wrong with my mother? Mrs. Jeffrey is a witch!
'I'd better take my daughter home,” Mindy explained. 'She's feeling a little under the weather.”
'You do look pale, Jazzy,” Crystal commented. 'Get some rest and take care of yourself.”
'Hi, Jazzy!” Narissa said cheerily as she joined them.
'Narissa, this is Mrs. Patterson, Jazzy's mother. But we don't want to detain them, honey, because Jazzy's not feeling well.”
'Nice to meet you, Mrs. Patterson. Hope you get to feeling better, Jazzy.”
'You must be ill,” Mindy noted after parking the car in the garage. 'You didn't say one word all the way home. Let me take your temperature.”
Jazzy obediently held the thermometer in her mouth. As upset as I am right now, my temperature's probably 110 degrees!
'Well, you're not running a fever,” Mindy noted. 'Tell me how you feel.”
'Mom, after everything I told you about Mrs. Jeffrey, how could you stand there and talk to her?”
'What did you expect me to do? Run away?”
'But you gave her our phone number!” Jazzy said angrily.
'Jazzy, I was being polite. The Bible teaches us to treat everyone with respect—”
'Yeah, but what if she calls you and wants to get together? You'll say no, right?”
'She probably won't call. And if she does, then I'll do whatever I feel the Lord wants me to do. I pray every day for her and Narissa.”
'Mom, be careful. You can't trust her. You never know what she's saying about you behind your back!”
Several weeks passed, and Jazzy did her best to keep Mrs. Jeffrey off her mind. However, it proved difficult because Narissa suddenly seemed to view Jazzy as her best friend. She'd sit next to her at lunch and insert herself into any conversation Jazzy was having with someone else. The other girls avoided Narissa.
She was so popular a few weeks ago! I wonder what happened.
Jazzy and Cariella often went to each other's house to study after school. Cariella's mom and dad also attended Pastor Daniels' church.
One warm Sunday in October the two families decided to meet at the park for a picnic after the morning service. Narissa must have overheard their plans. Just as the two families finished saying grace, Narissa and her mother showed up with a picnic basket!
'Uh, . . . hello, Crystal and Narissa,” said Mindy.
As the two families watched in amazement, Crystal and Narissa sat down at the table as if someone had invited them to do so.
'I hope you like potato salad,” Crystal stated. 'I just picked up five pounds of it at the deli. Here, pass it around. . . . And I brought two bottles of ice-cold soda pop.”
Trying to be hospitable, Cariella's mom and dad cut their sandwiches in half and offered two of the halves to Crystal and Narissa. Mindy passed a small container of cole slaw to the Jeffreys.
As the families ate, conversation seemed strained and awkward; the pleasant atmosphere had changed to uneasiness.
Finally, Crystal announced, 'I want to invite you all to my house on Saturday afternoon. We're having a barbecue at one o'clock. I'm sorry we can't stay any longer, but Narissa and I need to leave. I look forward to seeing you on Saturday.”
As Narissa got up and followed her mother to the car, she looked over her shoulder, 'See you tomorrow, Jazzy! Bye, Cariella!”
That's amazing! Jazzy noted. A few weeks ago Narissa was criticizing Cariella and didn't want anything to do with her. Now we're all invited to Narissa's house! This is too weird!
No one said a word about the Jeffreys, and the two families enjoyed a pleasant afternoon together.
'Cariella, are you and your parents going to Narissa's house on Saturday?” Jazzy asked her friend as they studied after school the next day.
'Yeah, my parents think that we should go. Narissa and her mother have no friends anymore. Mrs. Jeffrey said unkind things about a lot of people behind their backs, and when they found out about it, they wanted nothing to do with her.”
'My mother decided that we should go, too,” Jazzy replied. 'But I'm not looking forward to it.”
'Wow! That was some storm last night,” Jazzy remarked to Cariella as she walked with her to class on Friday morning.
Toward the end of the day, Cariella mentioned, 'I haven't seen Narissa today, have you?”
'No, I haven't either,” Jazzy replied. 'I guess I'll see you tomorrow at Narissa's house.”
When Jazzy got home, she went to the kitchen to fix herself a snack, and turned on the radio.
'The national weather service has confirmed that two homes in our city were hit by a tornado last night,” a reporter announced. 'One was only slightly damaged. The other one, however, was totally destroyed. A neighbor found the mother and daughter lying in the rubble this morning. They were taken to St. Mark's Hospital for treatment. Crystal Jeffrey is stable, but in serious condition. Her daughter, Narissa, suffered a broken leg and a concussion, but is expected to make a full recovery. In view of the complete destruction of the home, the doctors say it's a miracle that the mother and daughter were found alive.”
Jazzy grabbed the phone. 'Mom, I just heard on the radio that Narissa and Mrs. Jeffrey were hit by a tornado last night. Their house was destroyed and they're both in St. Mark's Hospital.” Jazzy closed her eyes and silently prayed along with her mother. 'Okay, I will, Mom.”
Jazzy dialed another number, 'Cariella, call your parents and tell them that Narissa and her mother were hit by a tornado last night. Their house was totaled and they're in the hospital. Pass this information on to everyone you know.”
Mindy contacted Pastor Daniels. A few hours later, he visited Crystal and Narissa, who were now sharing a room at the hospital. After praying with them and assuring them that many others were also praying, he contacted several church members.
A deacon and his wife visited Crystal and Narissa and offered them a place to stay. 'We'll try to have the apartment furnished by the time you leave the hospital. I'm sure people will donate items, and we'll pick up some from the thrift store. You can stay in the apartment rent-free for six months.”
With tears streaming down her bruised face, Crystal whispered, 'Thank you so much. I can't believe you're willing to help me after the nasty things I said about you. I'm so sorry.”
'Jesus forgives, and so we must also,” the deacon's wife replied. 'We're just doing what He would do.”
When Jazzy and Mindy visited the next day, Cariella was sitting on Narissa's bed, while her parents talked with Crystal.
Jazzy tied some 'Get Well” balloons to Narissa's bed and placed a basket of flowers on the nightstand.
'Oh, thanks, Jazzy! That's so sweet of you!” Narissa pointed to a spot on the bed. 'Come, sit down.”
'Look! Cariella brought me some of her clothes!” Narissa said gratefully.
Crystal tearfully confessed to Mindy and Cariella's parents, 'Ever since my husband divorced me, I've been filled with bitterness. I've said nasty, unkind things about people behind their backs.” Crystal paused to blow her nose. 'But instead of treating me the way I deserve, they have forgiven me and shown me such love and kindness.”
'We care about you, Crystal,” Mindy said as she gently kissed Crystal's bruised hand.
Crystal sobbed. 'I want to change . . . and with God's help, and your help . . . I promise I will. I want to spend the rest of my life sharing God's love and kindness with others, just as you have done for me. That's what really matters.”