Nathan Hurst hated Christmas. For the rest of the world it was a day of joy and celebration; for Nathan it was simply a reminder of the event that destroyed his childhood until a snowstorm, a cancelled flight, and an unexpected meeting with a young mother and her very special son would show him that Christmas is indeed the season of miracles.
From the beloved author of the international bestseller The Christmas Box comes another timeless story of faith, hope, and healing.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 7.10(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Hometown:Salt Lake City, Utah
Date of Birth:October 11, 1962
Place of Birth:Salt Lake City, Utah
Education:B.A., University of Utah, 1984
Read an Excerpt
C H R I S T M A S 2 0 0 6
It's Christmas night. Everyone is asleep in the house but me. From my den window I see it has started snowing, but not in earnest. It seems to me a kind of curtain falling on the day.
There is a tranquillity to the moment that permeates my thoughts. I sit with a pencil and a pad of paper. I am prepared to write a story. This is not a Christmas story. Christmas is nearly over, dying like the fire in my fireplace, sharing the last of its warmth and light. Tomorrow the ornaments and decorations will come down, and we'll put Christmas away in boxes and bins. But first our family will visit a cemetery only a short drive from our house. I'll brush the snow from a headstone, then lay a potted poinsettia plant on its marble table. I'll hold my wife and daughter, and we'll remember a little boy.
Ours will not be the fi rst footprints in the snow or the fi rst flowers left. There will be two bouquets waiting. They're there every year.
You might already know some of our story -- or think you do. Some of it made the news. But what you heard was just a few bars of a song, and badly played at that. Tonight this weighs heavily on my mind. I believe it's time the world knew the whole truth, or at least as much as I can give them. So tonight, I begin to record our story for future generations. I know from the outset that many will not believe it. You may not believe it. No matter. I was there. I knew the boy and what he was capable of. And some things are true whether you want to believe them or not.
I was born with Tourette's syndrome. If you're like most people, you're not sure what Tourette's is but suspect it has something to do with shouting obscenities in public. You'd be about ten percent right.
Tourette's syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, involuntary movements; things that make "normal" people uncomfortable. Some of us, about ten percent, curse in public. Some of us bark or make other animal noises. I have tics. I've had more than twenty different manifestations, from vocal tics like clearing my throat and loud gulping to repeated eye blinking, shrugging, head jerking, and grimacing. My last tic was in my hands, and even though it hurt, I still preferred it to a facial tic, because you can't hide your face in your pocket.
I also have a compulsion to spit in the face of famous people. I've never actually spit in anyone's face, probably because I don't know anyone famous, but the impulse is there. I once saw Tony Danza at a Park City restaurant, and I put my hand over my mouth, just to be safe.
The most peculiar of my symptoms is my need to touch sharp objects. If you were to go through my pockets you would find dollar bills folded into sharp corners. There's linen in paper money, which gives it an especially sharp corner. But anything sharp brings me comfort. On my desk at work there are always a dozen or more highly sharpened pencils.
People sometimes ask if my tics are painful. I invite them to try this experiment: blink sixty times in one minute and see how your eyes feel. Now do that for sixteen hours straight. I remember, as a boy, holding my face at night because I couldn't stop it from moving, and it hurt.
But more painful than the physical hurts were the social ones, like sitting alone in the school cafeteria, because no one wants to sit by someone making funny noises. The panicked look on a girl's face when your own face is doing gymnastics as you ask her out. (Tics are usually exacerbated by anxiety, and if asking a girl out doesn't make you anxious, what does?) Or being surrounded by every kid at summer camp, because they want to see what the freak will do next. There's a reason I learned to keep to myself.
Not surprisingly, I read a lot. Books are the most tolerant of friends. There were great books back then. Old Yeller, Andy Buckram's Tin Men, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Flying Hockey Stick. But my greatest love was comic books. Not the kiddie rags like Archie and Jughead, but the Marvel ones, whose heroes had muscles on muscles, bulging through skin-tight costumes. Characters like Spiderman, Captain America, Ironman, and the Incredible Hulk. I would read my magazines before and after school and long into the night, falling asleep with the lights on. I was always dreaming of being someone special: able to walk through walls (or knock someone through one), to fly, to burst into flames, or to wrap myself in a force field -- safe from whatever the bad guys could throw at me. Tellingly, the power I wanted most of all was to be invisible.
In a way I got my wish when I was eight years old. I became invisible. Not to everyone. Just to those who mattered.
Tourette's wasn't the worst part of my childhood. Five weeks after my eighth birthday, on Christmas Day, a tragedy destroyed my family. Ten months later my parents filed for divorce. But it was never finalized. My father took his life on December twenty-fifth, one year to the day tragedy struck.
My mother was never well after that, physically or emotionally. She spent most of her time in bed. She never again hugged or kissed me. This was about the time my tics began. The month I turned sixteen, I moved out. I dropped out of school, piled everything I owned in the back of a Ford Pinto, and drove to Utah to live with a former schoolmate. I never even told my mother I was leaving. There was no reason to. I was rarely home, and we never spoke when I was.
You might assume that I was the victim of whatever bad thing happened. But you'd be wrong. It was something that I did. I suppose that's why I don't really blame my mother for how she treated me. Or my father for taking the back door out of life. It was my fault my life was such a mess. And Christmas was just another day on the calendar. I never believed it could be otherwise until I met Addison, Elizabeth, and Collin.
The Bible says that God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. My story is about one of God's weak things. His name is Collin, a frail, beautiful little boy with a very special gift.
Copyright © 2007 by Richard Paul Evans
Reading Group Guide
Richard Paul Evans
Questions and Topics For Discussion
- At the beginning of the book, there’s an author’s note, letting the reader know that he, like the protagonist has Tourette’s. Why do you think the author does this and what, if any, effect does it have on your reading of the story? As Nathan is cured of Tourette’s early in the novel, why do you think Nathan himself finds it so important to tell us at the beginning that he suffers from Tourette’s?
- Nathan is haunted by his childhood. In what ways does his past affect his present life? For example, what effect does it have on his choice of profession or on his relationships with women and why? Are there any other characters in the novel haunted by their past and, if so, who and how?
- Nathan writes about how he’s always been able to attract relationships but that they never seem to last. To what do you attribute this? He also says that Addison has a “maternal quality” and that in the past he has tended to attract the opposite type. In your opinion, why is it that this time Nathan has attracted a “maternal” woman like Addison?
- Nathan writes about his very dysfunctional family, while Addison portrays her family relationships as filled with love. What do you think brings these two characters together? What do they have to teach each other? And what do they have to learn from each other?
- Stealing and giving are both major themes in The Gift. What are some of the different types of stealing portrayed in the novel? What are some of the different gifts or ways of giving? Discuss the relationship between stealing and giving as developed in the story.
- The healing power of love is one of the strongest themes in the novel. That power is stated in the quote: “There’s no hurt so great that love can’t heal it.” What is “love” in the world of The Gift? How does love heal Addison, Nathan, Collin, and Miche? Is there anyone in the story who can’t be healed by love? Did you find reading the novel in itself healing? If yes, how?
- Although Collin is able to restore to life people who have died, when he does so it makes him sick. If healing is a gift, why should it hurt the giver? Why shouldn’t “giving” which seems like a good thing, make the giver stronger and not weaker? Why might the author have created Collin this way? What might Evans be trying to say about the relationship between healing and sacrifice? Are there other examples in the novel where healing and sacrifice go hand in hand? Explain.
- In The Gift, the morality of whether or not someone should heal another person or bring them back from the dead is examined. Pastor Tim makes reference to the fact that some people may see what Collin is doing as the devil’s work. Do you think Collin is interfering with someone’s fate or God’s plan? If so, why or why not? Are Collin and Addison playing God by deciding who should be healed? To what do you think the gift in the title is referring?
- The story also raises an interesting ethical question. Addison believes that Collin shouldn’t save “bad” people or save people for profit, as her husband Steve believes. What do you think about Addison and/or Collin’s decision to heal some people but not others? What makes Collin’s healing different from a doctor's work? Would you let yourself be “miraculously” brought back from death if you could? Why or why not?
- One of the most interesting things about Collin is that he can’t heal himself. Why would the author, or God, make this so? Does anyone in the story heal him- or herself? If so, who, and how? If not, why not?
- There are many ironies in The Gift. For instance, it’s through sickness and Collin’s suffering that Addison and Nathan are brought together in love. What other ironies can you detect? Why might the author choose to use irony in The Gift? What effect does it have on the story and on you, the reader?
- Nathan writes, “Collin became the canvas on which we painted our souls: in brilliance or darkness. . .” Explain what this means within the context of the novel.
- Death and rebirth are part of the world of The Gift. Discuss how this is played out in the lives of the different characters. How, if at all, has your perception of death changed after reading the book and why?
- The nature of children, childhood, and mothering are all explored in The Gift. Why might the author choose to give so much attention to these subjects? How is each of these related to the main theme of healing?
- Nathan says that he believed that Collin “changed our world.” How did Collin change their world? How did Collin give Nathan back his soul?
- The last words we hear from Collin are to his sister Elizabeth in her dream. He says, “Don’t cry so much. In the end, love wins.” If love wins, what does it win out over?
- Nathan writes at the beginning that his story is not a Christmas story, but in the end, he thinks perhaps that it is. Is it the story that has changed or is it the narrator? How, if at all, did Nathan change over the course of the story? Discuss why The Gift might be considered a Christian allegory.
TIPS TO ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
- For further information on Paul Richard Evans and a look at his many bestselling books, visit his Web site at: www.richardpaulevans.com.
- Your group might want to make a study, comparing different visions of life after death. The following books could help you begin:
On Life After Death and Tunnel and the Light: Essential Insights on Living and Dying, both by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D.
Secrets & Mysteries of the World by Sylvia Browne
The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda
- Learn more about Tourette’s syndrome at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tourette_syndrome