A Gift to Last: Can This Be Christmas?\Shirley, Goodness and Mercy

A Gift to Last: Can This Be Christmas?\Shirley, Goodness and Mercy

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by Debbie Macomber

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The best gifts are the ones that don't come wrapped! Gifts of home, of family and friends, of love…

Can This Be Christmas?

On December 24, a crowded train is taking holiday travelers home for Christmas. But because of a snowstorm, this group of strangers ends up spending Christmas Eve together, stranded in a small New Hampshire station


The best gifts are the ones that don't come wrapped! Gifts of home, of family and friends, of love…

Can This Be Christmas?

On December 24, a crowded train is taking holiday travelers home for Christmas. But because of a snowstorm, this group of strangers ends up spending Christmas Eve together, stranded in a small New Hampshire station. Despite the cold and discomfort, they create an impromptu celebration that reminds them all what Christmas really means.

Shirley, Goodness and Mercy

Greg Bennett hates Christmas. Divorced, virtually friendless and about to lose his business, he has no time for what he considers sentimental nonsense. It takes three wacky angels to show him the truth. Shirley, Goodness and Mercy shall follow him…until he learns what Christmas is all about!

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A robust version of "Little Drummer Boy" played in the background as Len Dawber glanced at his watch—for at least the tenth time in five minutes. He looked around the depot impatiently, hardly noticing the Christmas decorations on the windows and walls—the cardboard Santa's sleigh, the drooping garland and blinking lights.

Len was waiting with a herd of other holiday travelers to board the train that would take him to Boston. The snowstorm that had started last evening meant his early-morning flight out of Bangor, Maine, had been canceled and the airport closed. Although the airlines couldn't be blamed for the weather, they'd done everything possible to arrange transportation out of Maine. Len suspected more than a few strings had been pulled to get seats on the already full midmorn-ing train. Maybe some of the original passengers canceled, he thought with faint hope.

Because, unfortunately, that crowded train was his only chance of making it to Boston in time to connect with his flight home for Christmas.

Len got to his feet, relinquishing his place on the hard station bench to a tired-looking man. He walked quickly to the door and stepped outside. He lifted his gaze toward the sky. Huge flakes of snow swirled in the wind, obscuring his view. His shoulder muscles tensed with frustration until he could no longer remain still. This was exactly what he'd feared would happen when he'd awakened that morning. Even then the clouds had been dark and ominous, threatening his plans and his dreams of a reunion with Amy.

Despite the snow that stung his eyes and dampened his hair, Len began to pace back and forth along the platform, peering down the tracks every few seconds. No train yet. Damn it! Stuck in New England on Christmas Eve.

This was supposed to be the season of joy, but there was little evidence of that in the faces around him. Most people were burdened with luggage and armfuls of Christmas packages. Some of the gift wrap was torn, the bows limp and tattered. The children, sensing their parents' anxiety, were cranky and restless. The younger ones whined and clung to their mothers.

Worry weighed on Len's heart. He had to catch the Boston flight, otherwise he wouldn't make it home to Rawhide, Texas, today. He'd miss his date with Amy and the family's Christmas Eve celebration. Part of his precious leave would be squandered because of the snowstorm.

There was another reason he yearned for home. Len didn't intend this to be an ordinary Christmas. No, this Christmas would be one of the best in his entire life. It had everything to do with Amy—and the engagement ring burning a hole in his uniform pocket.

Len had enlisted in the navy following high-school graduation and taken his submarine training in New London, Connecticut. Afterward, he'd been assigned to the sub base in Bangor, Maine. He thoroughly enjoyed life on the East Coast, so different from anything he'd known in Texas, and wondered if Amy would like it, too….

Len was proud to serve his country and seriously considered making the navy his career, but that decision depended on a number of things. Amy's answer, for one.

A real drawback of military life was this separation from his family. On his most recent trip home last September, he'd come to realize how much he loved Amy Brent. In the weeks since, he'd decided to ask her to marry him. They planned to be together that very night, Christmas Eve—the most wonderful night of the year. Once they were alone, away from family and friends, Len intended to propose.

He loved Amy; he had no doubts about that. He wasn't a man who gave his heart easily, and he'd made sure, in his own mind at least, that marriage was what he truly wanted. In the weeks since their last meeting, he'd come to see that loving her was for real and for always.

They hadn't talked about marriage, not the way some couples did, but he was confident she loved him, too. He paused for a moment and held in a sigh as the doubts came at him, thick as the falling snow. Lately Len had noticed that Amy seemed less like her normal self. They hadn't talked much, not with him saving to buy the diamond. And it was difficult for Amy to call him at the base. So they'd exchanged letters—light newsy letters with little mention of feelings. He had to admit he found their letters enjoyable to read—and even to write—and the cost of stamps was a lot more manageable than some of his phone bills had been. The truth was, he couldn't afford to spend money on long-distance calls anymore, not the way he had in previous months. His airfare home hadn't been cheap, either.

It wasn't as if he'd put off traveling until the last minute, which Amy seemed to suspect. He'd been on duty until the wee hours of this morning; he'd explained all that in a letter he'd mailed earlier in the week, when he'd sent her his flight information. Although Amy hadn't come right out and said it, he knew she'd been disappointed he couldn't arrive earlier, but that was navy life.

He hadn't received a letter from her in ten days, which was unusual. Then again, perhaps not. After all, they'd be seeing each other soon. Amy and his parents were scheduled to pick him up in Dallas, and together they'd drive home to Rawhide. He closed his eyes and pictured their reunion, hoping the mental image would help calm his jangled nerves. It did soothe him, but not for long.

He had to get home for Christmas. He just had to.

This was Cathy Norris's first Christmas without Ron, and she refused to spend it in Maine. She'd buried her husband of forty-one years that October; her grief hadn't even begun to abate. The thought of waking up Christmas morning without him had prompted her to accept her daughter's invitation. She'd be joining Madeline and her young family in Boston for the holidays.

Cathy had postponed the decision until last week for a number of reasons. To begin with, she wasn't a good traveler and tended to stay close to home. Ron, on the other hand, had adored adventure and loved trekking through the woods and camping and fishing with his friends. Cathy was more of a homebody. She'd never flown or taken the train by herself be-fore—but then, she was learning, now, to do a great many unfamiliar things on her own. In the past Ron had always been with her, seeing to their tickets, their luggage and any unforeseen problems. He had been such a dear husband, so thoughtful and generous.

The battle with cancer had been waged for a year. Ron had put up a gallant fight, but in the end he'd been ready to die, far more ready than she was to let him go. Trivial as it seemed now, she realized that subconsciously she'd wanted him to live until after the holidays.

Naturally she'd never said anything. How could she, when such a request was purely selfish? It wasn't as if Ron could choose when he would die. Nevertheless, she'd clung to him emotionally far longer than she should have—until she'd painfully acknowledged that her fears were denying her husband a peaceful exit from life. Then with an agony that had all but crippled her, she'd kissed him one final time. Holding his limp hand between her own, she'd sat by his bedside, loving him with her entire being, and waited until he'd breathed his last.

Ron's death clouded what would otherwise have been her favorite month of the year. She found it devastating to be around others celebrating the season while she struggled to shake her all-consuming grief. She'd accepted Madeline's invitation as part of a concerted effort to survive the season of peace and goodwill.

Charting a new course for herself at this age was more of a challenge than she wanted. Life, however, had seen fit to make her a widow one month, then thrust her into the holiday season the next.

She was doing her best, trying to cope with her grief, finding the courage to smile now and again for her children's sake. They realized how difficult the holidays were for her of course, but her daughters were grieving, too.

This snowstorm had been an unwelcome hitch in her careful plans. Madeline had urged her to come sooner, but Cathy had foolishly resisted, not wanting to overstay her welcome. She'd agreed to visit until the twenty-seventh. Ron had always said that company, like fish, began to smell after three days.

"Mom," Madeline had said when she'd phoned early that morning, "I heard on the news there's a huge snowstorm headed your way."

"I'm afraid it arrived last night." The wind had moaned audibly outside her window as she spoke.

"What are you going to do?" Madeline, her youngest, tended to worry; unfortunately she'd inherited that trait from her mother.

"Do?" Cathy repeated as if a fierce winter blizzard was of little concern. "I'm taking the train to Boston to join you, Brian and the children for Christmas. What else is there to do?"

"But how will you get to the station?"

Cathy had already worked that out. "I've phoned for a taxi."

"But, Mom—"

"I'm sure everything will be fine," Cathy said firmly, hoping she sounded confident even though she was an emotional wreck. She felt as though her life was caving in around her. Stuck in Bangor over Christmas, grieving for Ron—that would have been more than Cathy could handle. If spending the holiday with family meant taking her chances in the middle of a snowstorm, then so be it.

The first hurdle had been successfully breached. Listening to Andy Williams crooning a Christmas ballad, Cathy stood in line at the Bangor train depot, along with half the town, it seemed. The taxi fare had been exorbitant, but at least she was here, safe and sound. She'd packed light, leaving plenty of room in her suitcase for gifts for her two youngest granddaughters. Shopping had been a chore this year, so she'd decided simply to give Madeline and Brian a check and leave it at that, but she couldn't give money to her grandchildren. They were much too young for that. The best gifts she could think to bring them were books, plus a toy each.

Madeline had consented to let Lindsay and Angela, aged three and five, open their presents that evening following church services. Then the children could climb onto Cathy's lap and she'd read them to sleep. The thought of holding her grandchildren close helped ease the ache in her heart.

Everything would be all right now that she was at the depot, she reassured herself. Soon she'd be with her family. The train might be late, but it would get there eventually.

All her worries had been for nothing.

Matthew McHugh hated Christmas. And he didn't have a problem expressing that opinion. As for the season of goodwill—what a laugh. Especially now, when he was stuck in an overcrowded train depot, waiting for the next train to Boston where he'd catch the flight into LAX. The timing of this snowstorm had been impeccable. Every seat in the station was taken, and people who weren't sitting nervously paced the confined area, waiting for the train, which was already fifteen minutes late. Some, like that guy in the navy uniform, were even prowling the plat-form—as though that would make the train come any faster.

Christmas Eve, and the airports, train depots and bus stations were jammed. Everyone was in a rush to get somewhere, him included. As a sales rep for a Los Angeles-based software company, Matt was a seasoned traveler. And he figured anyone who spent a lot of time in airports would agree: Christmas was the worst. Crying babies, little old ladies, cranky kids—he'd endured it all. Most of it with ill grace.

His boss, Ruth Shroeder, who'd been promoted over him, had handed him this assignment early in the week. She'd purposely sent him to the other side of the country just so he'd know she was in charge.

Rub his face in it, so to speak. This could easily have been a wasted trip; no one bought computer software three days before Christmas. Fortunately he'd outfoxed her and made the sale. By rights, he should be celebrating, but he experienced little satisfaction and no sense of triumph.

Ruth had been expecting him to make a fuss, demand that the assignment go to one of the junior sales reps. Matt had merely smiled and reached for the plane tickets. He'd sold the software, but was left feeling that although he'd won the battle, he was destined to lose the war.

And a whole lot more.

Pam, his wife of fifteen years, hadn't been the least bit understanding about this trip. If ever he'd needed her support it was now, but all she'd done was add to his burden. "Christmas, Matt? You're leaving three days before Christmas?"

What irritated him most was her complete and total lack of appreciation for his feelings. It wasn't like he'd asked for this trip or wanted to be away from the family. The fact that Pam had chosen the evening of his departure to start an argument revealed how little she recognized the stress he'd been under since the promotions were announced.

Meet the Author

Debbie Macomber, with more than 100 million copies of her books sold worldwide, is one of today's most popular authors. The #1 New York Times bestselling author is best known for her ability to create compelling characters and bring their stories to life in her books. Debbie is a regular resident on numerous bestseller lists, including the New York Times (70 times and counting), USA TODAY (currently 67 times) and Publishers Weekly (47 times). Visit her at www.DebbieMacomber.com.

Brief Biography

Port Orchard, Washington
Date of Birth:
October 22, 1948
Place of Birth:
Yakima, Washington
Graduated from high school in 1966; attended community college

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Gift to Last: Can This Be Christmas?/Shirley, Goodness and Mercy 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Another couple of good, clean stories in the famous style of Debbie Macomber. Nobody does them better...too bad so few try. These stories reminded me of some of the simpler joys of Christmas. Thanks.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found the book to be wonderful. I love the angels characters. They are so filled with love and try so hard to be good but just fall a little short. It makes them all the more lovable. I wished the book had another 100 pages because I just didn't want it to end.
WritermomHB More than 1 year ago
A combination of Debbie's books: Can This Be Christmas? This book is the first in a collection of two that make up A Gift to Last. It is written as a slice of life. Several strangers are stranded on Christmas Eve, prevented from arriving at their destinations. In telling this story, the author writes each person’s situation and thoughts prior to and during the time they are delayed. Usually, I enjoy Debbie’s writing very much. She tells a great story, dipping deeply into problems and solving them in a very strong Christian way without becoming “sappy” with improbable answers. However, I felt very much that this book was very “sappy”. Each character had adult problems and issues, but the solutions were “sappy”. I never knew anyone like these people. I just felt that their responses and behaviors were very unrealistic, but then, I live in South Florida. Maybe people do behave like this elsewhere. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book to anyone, unless they just want a lesson in how to present a “slice of life” form of writing and some character development. Shirley, Goodness and Mercy This book was written after the previous one, and the two were combined and released as A Gift to Last. This one brings three angels to earth to help some people solve some serious problems they have in relationships. It is different from Can This Be Christmas?, yet in some ways it is similar. The characters could easily be people we all know. They struggle with character flaws with which many of us also struggle. The events fall together so that, as is typical in Debbie’s early books, the ending is usually happy. This one leaves the reader hungry for a better solution in one case, though. The reader will have to wait for another story to find a more satisfying ending there. I would recommend this book for light reading. There are some serious issues covered but the angels bring a lighter touch to the story. And, of course, it is good Christian reading.
MEMECN More than 1 year ago
love the book. takes you away from everyday madness.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
2 wonderful Christmas stories...great reading for any time of the year.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well i got the sample and ut only showed me the first paragra of the first chapter. It was realy weird.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
jbarr5 More than 1 year ago
A Gift To Last by Debbie Macomber 2 stories about Christmas time. Can this be Christmas? A handful of people have been rerouted from a plane to a train to get from Maine to Boston. They made it as far as New Hampshire and the train no longer can go further. Rather than telling you about all the people involved I think this book is more about how the all come together and make the celebration a good one. How they can take just the bare essentials and make them glorious. Not only do they each step up but the community come to the rescue as well as all of them are not going to make it home for the holiday. The time also gives them each the hours they need to think things through to make changes in their lives, once they are back home. Love how this story really happened, in a different location to Debbie's parent. I know Snoqualmie area and I can see this happening. Glad she can write such a touching story. Love the knitting connections. . Shirley, Goodness and Mercy by Debbie Macomber Greg Bennett had to get a loan or he'd have to lay off his employees at the vineyard. Sherry Adams meets him at the bar and he buys her a drink but she doesn't want to spend more time with him. He ends up at church so he can think about his empty life. He had others who needed him but he had walked away. He may need to go see his brother and talk things over, apologize even, to get money he needed. He's treated his 3 wives terribly and the angels think they need to show him what christmas is all about. He sees one of his ex wives and finds out he has a son but her husband has adopted Eddie. He now plans to meet him. The angels also have to deal with a child that has leukemia. Others come to his aid trying to get others to donate blood to see if they are a donor match. Other relatives of Greg need help and some of them can give help to Greg. It's up to the angels to make it all happen.
suzzieqNJ More than 1 year ago
another one of my favorites - love these books - takes away so much stress - like a hot bubble bath of the mind to relax and refresh
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I usually really enjoy Debbie Macomber's books. But this one was truly inspiring. It shows us that even though we are so caught up in our daily lives, we all have the ability and desire to be a good and generous person, to make a difference in someone's life. We just need to feel needed. This book sets the example in an extreme situation. This story shows us that being forced to dig deep into our inner being to find the real person and letting go of everyday issues, to help someone else, can bring out the best in each of us. You will come away from this story with a heart-felt smile, and true Christmas spirit.
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