Nic continues to pursue his ultimate goal of leading people everywhere to realize that we can transform the human condition through sharing our resources wisely. As Nic and Sara raise their family, they continue to spread the spirit of sharing, developing a global child relief agency. And yet, while it is true that Nic is the hero of Maximum Joy, he’s also his own chief obstacle. Eventually Nic hits a wall as his family runs out of money. He doubts what suddenly seems like a crazy ambition to become Santa Claus, and begins to falter in his faith in the mission—until an unexpected supernatural gift turns it all around in a culmination that will thrill and inspire readers of every age.
|Publisher:||Origin Press CA|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.70(d)|
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Joy is strength
— Mother Teres
"What am I doing here?"
Nic mumbled to himself as he began to cross the intersection. He could barely breathe. Sweat rolled down his face and dripped into a sea of human despair. He paused on the curb and stood motionless amid the chaos. His throat felt scratchy from the soot kicked up from the trucks and buses. Enormous bulls sauntered through as if they were royalty. The streets were so crowded it was hard for Nic to see even a few feet ahead. Fam ilies squatted in little pockets along the sidewalk. Nic could see a child vomiting near him and heard a woman giving birth just a couple of steps away, but what he saw directly in front of him stopped him in his tracks.
God, this can't be real!
Nic beheld a screaming, naked newborn lying alone in the middle of the busy intersection. Unfazed, a large white Brahman bull stepped over the child, almost crushing it. He felt a tug on his sleeve. It was Carlos, his host in India.
"Nic, what's wrong?"
Nic lifted an unsteady finger. He pointed to the baby.
Carlos spotted the baby and placed a consoling hand on Nic's shoulder. "It's all right Nic, stay here. I'll be right back."
Nic wasn't listening to Carlos. Nic was already working his way to the infant, dodging the crowd like a skilled football player making his way to the end zone. Taking off his shirt, Nic stooped and gently wrapped the baby. He made his way back to Carlos.
"Nic, there is an orphanage just two blocks away. Follow me."
Nic bounced back to reality. He looked at the tiny baby in his arms. "Who is this?" he asked as he cooed to the infant. "Why did they leave her there?"
Carlos responded, "It doesn't do us much good to ask why. We must only ask what we can do about it."
They turned into an alley ending with a large gate and a wall surrounding a tall building. Carlos rang the bell. An elderly woman emerged from the building and opened the gate promptly, greeting the unexpected guests. "Carlos, what have you been blessed with?"
Nic handed over the bundle and retrieved his shirt.
"We just found her. Actually, Nic did."
The woman smiled at Nic. "Thank you, young man. I hope you realize the importance of what you have done. You have saved a life today." She noticed Nic's pale face and trembling hands. "You've never been here before, have you?" Nic nervously shook his head. The woman smiled at the baby and looked back at Nic. "Welcome to Calcutta."
* * *
Nic woke up the next morning and rolled over on his thin, lumpy mattress. He was staying at a university with Carlos, who was in charge of the leprosy colonies that an American charity had established far from Calcutta in a rural area of the state of Bihar. Carlos was a longtime friend of Nic's family and had been working in India since 1972, rarely leaving India for the past eleven years. He had invited Nic to join his newly assembled 1983 team of volunteers, knowing Nic would be a good fit.
Nic could hear the noisy crowd that hadn't left the streets all night. He shuddered as the vision of the bull stepping around the helpless infant flashed through his mind.
Just a few weeks ago, Nic's surroundings had been far different. He was working on his Master of Divinity degree at a large American university. Although Nic's spiritual connection was deep and his aspiration to be a preacher and teacher was strong, his desire to minister to those who were suffering was even stronger. He was tired of second-hand theology; he wanted to actually serve others in need.
Nic sat up, trying to shake off a stinging sensation in his arm that had woken him. As he rubbed his hand across his swollen arm, he jumped out of bed in panic. Large red welts covered it from his elbow to his wrist. Great. he thought to himself. First night here and I've already caught some kind of disease.
"You don't have a disease. And there are other things you should be focused on."
Nic jumped, startled. He spun around, expecting to see Carlos. No one else was in his room. Wonderful, now this disease is making me hear things.
Nic still didn't see anyone. It seemed like the voice was coming from the far corner of the room. He squinted into the darkness. "Hello?
Is someone here?"
"Of course there is. I'm always here."
Nic gasped in astonishment as a tall, stately man stepped out of the shadows, making Nic forget his arm. Spellbound, Nic noticed his long, golden hair, striking blue eyes, and rugged face. The mystery man radiated strength, poise, and peacefulness. He wore a long crimson and blue robe that seemed to wave and flow slowly as if it were under water. Nic had never seen him before, but he had an odd feeling the man wasn't exactly a stranger. "Who who are you? Did Carlos send you?" Nic blinked a few times hoping it would clear his mind, but the figure was still there. Am I hallucinating?
The man grinned. "Carlos wasn't the one who sent me." He pointed to Nic's swollen arm. "You are complaining about your arm."
Nic quickly looked down at the blistering welts. "Uh, yeah. I just arrived, and I'm sure I have some kind of disease. Part of me knew I shouldn't have come here."
The man raised an eyebrow. "And what about the other part?"
Nic sensed that the stranger knew what he was about to say. "The other part of me needed to come here."
Nic quickly realized he still had no idea who he was talking to. "You never answered my question. Who exactly are you?"
"My name is Michael. Your name is Nic."
"How do you know my name?"
Michael clasped his hands together. "Nic, I know everything about you. I am an archangel."
"An archangel? Really?" He didn't look like an angel to Nic.
"If you're an archangel, then I'm Santa Claus," Nic said sarcastically.
"Agreed," nodded Michael with a friendly smirk.
The pain in Nic's arm had vanished. Nic was riveted on this outlandish figure who claimed to be an archangel. He was amazed and curious, but somehow not afraid. Michael exuded an exalted serenity that filled the room and calmed Nic.
Michael continued. "I have been assigned to you since before you were born. You, Nic, have been given two great gifts: the ability to see me, plus my availability to assist you. Even when you don't see me, I am right there beside you to guide you along your way. I support you in your special life mission along with the aid of other angelic helpers, including your two guardian seraphim who attend to the details of your everyday life. Nic, the Creator needs your help to rekindle the spirit of sharing in humankind."
Nic was flabbergasted. "My special life mission? The Creator? Help rekindle the spirit of sharing?" Nic repeated Michael's words skeptically. "What do you mean? What makes me so special?"
Michael knelt down and gingerly took Nic's swollen arm. "You are concerned about your survival, yet you have food to eat, and you live in comfort and safety."
"But my arm," Nic said quietly. Michael's gentle touch soothed him. "This is not what I signed up for."
"Ah, but it is," hummed Michael.
Nic looked up at the man. He still couldn't believe his eyes, but Nic was becoming intrigued by this talk of a supposed mission. "It would be great if I could rekindle the spirit of sharing, but how would I do that? How could anyone do that?"
Nic thought about the chaotic world of suffering beyond the fence surrounding the university. He flashed back to the image of the baby left alone in the street. If humankind allowed something like that to happen, maybe humankind couldn't be helped. Maybe the world can't be fixed. Maybe it doesn't want to be. Deep in thought, Nic considered for a moment how his theological training had been futile. "Maybe God should just give up on us."
Michael's eyes widened with surprise. "Do you really think the Creator would give up on the very children he made?" "After seeing what I did yesterday, I probably would," Nic responded, shrugging his shoulders and feeling befuddled.
Nic watched as Michael knelt to the floor. The majestic archangel bent over and began to slowly trace a large circle on the floor, following his finger with his eyes. "What are you doing?" asked Nic as his eyes became fixed on a circle Michael was drawing.
Michael ignored Nic's question. The circling finger began to leave a trail of sparkling dust. Nic was mesmerized. A hologram shot up and magically came to life inside the circle on the ground before him. Nic watched in awe as a colorful sequence of scenes unfolded before him as Michael began to speak again.
"From the depths of Paradise and since the dawn of time, God our Creator has shared His gifts of life and love throughout all creation. The Creator has always dwelled in eternity with the high beings of Paradise who reside in the eternal central universe, but His infinite love moved Him to set into motion the material worlds and all the precious creatures that live on these whirling spheres of time and space."
Michael's voice now took on a tone of authority and grandeur. Nic listened and watched the stream of moving images, awestruck.
"The Creator's spirit-filled breath also poured forth to create the planet Earth. It all began as virgin stars collapsed and erupted into supernovas. From this raw material a plentitude of increasingly complex forms of matter condensed and became the stars of our galaxy. These elements eventually formed every mineral, plant, and animal that arose on Earth. And, it was all very good."
A tear came to Nic's eye as Nic caught Michael's allusion to the biblical creation story, but now updated with the language of science.
"Out of the wondrous diversity of life that arose on Earth, a species of incomparable worth arose that was endowed with the Creator's own image and spirit." Nick was breathless as he watched the procession of images that led up to a beautiful couple standing beside a primeval river. It reminded Nic of Adam and Eve.
"This special creation is, of course, humanity — God's only creatures with the ability to determine their own eternal destiny by making those personal choices that contribute to the growth of an immortal soul."
Michael paused and glanced at Nic. Nic's eyes were fixed on an image of the interior anatomy of a human figure, showing points of light. The archangel continued.
"As a child of God, every man and woman possesses within them an actual fragment of their Creator, a pure spark of God's own essence, a spirit that guides them and fosters the evolution of their soul. Impulses to love, share, and care for others flow forth from this divine spark into each human mind. Its inspirations can lead them to have faith in the Creator."
Now the scene changed and became a profusion of unique geometric patterns that seemed to descend from on high, like a swarm of divine snowflakes.
"The Creator also endowed each one of his children with a unique personality that gives them the power of free will and the ability to seek union with God. So important is humanity to our Creator that he created angels and other celestial entities who invisibly guide and teach each man and woman on Earth."
The peaceful series of scenes of celestial beings came to a halt, and the picture darkened. A different set of images paraded before Nic.
"But throughout the millennia, as humanity has exercised its gift of free will, things have not always gone well. Outside influences corrupted them. All too often, humans were misguided to make choices to please their own selfish egos while ignoring their subtle inner nature that quietly urges them to love one another. As a result, wars have raged, and hatred and greed have dominated Earth for eons. The Creator was greatly moved, so he sent a Son to heal and teach us. And, Christ's superb teachings and his matchless life brought a great light of hope and salvation to the world. Humankind has progressed quickly ever since, in fits and starts, but it still has a long way to go."
Nic nodded in full agreement.
"Today, because of fear and greed combined with poorly made decisions, your world's problems are becoming overwhelming and it is time for a new intervention from on high. Far too often, women, men, and children suffer from preventable disease and starvation. Climate change is becoming ominous, and there are wars and rumors of war. Refugees are flooding across borders in many places. A powerful few own almost everything, and billions live in dire poverty."
Nic stood up quickly. He felt like running from the tragic scenes Michael was displaying in the hologram, but he couldn't remove his gaze from the circle as the intensity grew.
"But now the end of this age is occurring." The chaotic series of events on Earth melded into a swirling image of our galaxy as if seen from above. Michael continued, his voice elevating with each word. "It is time to turn selfishness into selflessness and redirect this world towards its destiny in light and life. So, the all-merciful Creator has issued the mandate to begin what the angels call the 'Correcting Time,' the divine plan to rekindle the spirit of love and sharing on Earth. This is the very same spirit that Jesus brought to Earth two thousand years ago. But now it must be refashioned to suit the needs of your scientific age."
Michael's finger stopped. Nic found himself standing next to Michael in a wide-open space. He could see nothing but soothing white light all around them. Nic was filled with an indescribable peace. "Where are we?" questioned Nic softly.
Michael responded, "Do you know who Saint Nicholas is, Nic?" "Yes," replied Nic confidently. "He is the first Santa Claus. My mother named me after him because I was born on December 6th, Saint Nicholas Day. When I was young, she told me that she believed I was destined to be a bearer of many gifts just like Nicholas." Nic smiled at the memory. "I was so excited when she told me that if God wills it, and if I work hard enough, I could grow up to become a great gift giver, a true Santa Claus."
"You are right, Nic. Nicholas is the original Santa Claus, but he was, and is, so much more."
Michael walked slowly into the source of the light and Nic followed him closely. "What do you mean?"
"Nicholas was a noble teacher of God who lived on Earth many centuries ago. He was very disappointed in the selfishness of humanity. During his life on your world, Nicholas was graced with the ability to embrace the spirit of our Creator, offering God's love and care to all he met by sharing all he had. Now he looks down upon Earth from the afterlife as an ascending spirit, sadly observing the strife and suffering that has continued down through the centuries on his world of origin."
Nic couldn't begin to imagine how difficult it must have been for Nicholas to watch so much travail for such a long time. What he had seen in Calcutta and in the brief holographic history that Michael had just shown him was disturbing enough.
"Nicholas was deeply concerned and even heartbroken," Michael continued, "so he enthusiastically joined with the angels and many other ascending humans like himself as a minister and teacher of the Correcting Time. And he was assigned a special task."
"What did the Creator ask Nicholas to do?"
"He was invited to form a singular mission in his mind, one in which he would probe the hearts of humanity, searching for those individuals gifted with the desire to serve through sharing. The Creator led Nicholas to envision a time when the right leaders would step forth, together, to become a powerful force in the building of the Kingdom of the Most High on Earth."
Michael paused. In the distance Nic could see a cloaked silhouette looking up into the light.
"Who is that?" Nic asked. "What is he doing?"
"You don't recognize him?"
Nic looked again. The figure had his arms outstretched, reaching up towards a blazing light. A red velvet cloak draped over his head and arms. Something about him seemed very familiar, but Nic could not see his face. "No. Should I?"
"That is who you are named after."
Nic's eyes widened with excitement. "That's Nicholas?" Michael nodded.
"What's he doing?"
"Nicholas is boldly approaching the Creator with the details of his special mission idea, a plan that will foster the spirit of sharing and caring for those less fortunate."
Nicholas started to bellow towards the light. "It is time to release celestial teachers from the higher worlds to recruit those humans ready to accept the call to correction and transformation. I am ready to take up my own role within the Correcting Time as the Creator wills it to be."
Suddenly Nic felt the loving and awesome presence of the Creator. He was overwhelmed, and wept.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Maximum Joy"
Copyright © 2020 Bonnie and Rich Vannucci.
Excerpted by permission of Origin Press.
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