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Authors: Richard Paul Evans

Grace

BOOK: Grace
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ALSO BY RICHARD PAUL EVANS

The Gift

Finding Noel

The Sunflower

A Perfect Day

The Last Promise

The Christmas Box Miracle

The Carousel

The Looking Glass

The Locket

The Letter

Timepiece

The Christmas Box

For Children

The Dance

The Christmas Candle

The Spyglass

The Tower

The Light of Christmas

Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2008 by Richard Paul Evans

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Simon & Schuster Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

SIMON & SCHUSTER
and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-9439-0
ISBN-10: 1-4165-9439-6

Visit us on the World Wide Web:
http://www.SimonSays.com

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

T
he writing of Grace has been a remarkable journey. I would like to thank my fellow sojourners. First, my friends at Simon & Schuster: Carolyn Reidy, David Rosenthal, Sydny Miner, and Gypsy da Silva.

Also, my agent, Laurie Liss. (Unbelievably, I still love you after all these years.)

My writing assistant, Karen Berg-Roylance. Thank you for your unending enthusiasm and inspiration. My friends, Jean Nielsen and Barbara Thompson—thank you for sparking the idea.

Thank you to my staff: Miche “Captain” Barbosa (Lee), Heather McVey (James), Karen Christopherson (Al), Chrystal Hodges (Collin), Barry Evans (Brenda), and Meagen Bunten (James).

Thank you to the Christmas Box International staff: Lisa McDonald, Sherri Engar, Patty Rose, Elisabeth Williams, Jean Krisle, Doug Smith, and Jenna Evans Welch. Also, Rick Larsen, Dennis Webb, Bob Gay, and our friends at Operation Kids for assisting us with the Christmas Box Initiative.

As always, thank you to my family: Keri Lyn, Jenna & David, Allyson, Abi, McKenna, Michael, and Bello. I am proud of you all and grateful for your support. You are my home, my heart, and my reason for living.

Most of all, thank you to my loyal, dear readers who share my stories. Without you, none of this happens. Have a blessed Holiday season.

To Barry

AUTHOR'S NOTE

In the summer of 1874, Mary Ellen Wilson, a nine-year-old girl from New York City, was the most talked about child in America. The event that created a national media frenzy back then wouldn't make the back page of a rural newspaper today: Mary Ellen was abused by her parents.

The abuse was so severe that Mary Ellen likely would have died if she hadn't been rescued by Etta Wheeler, a Methodist missionary working in the girl's neighborhood.

Ms. Wheeler's initial efforts to help the child were fruitless. No one wanted to believe that child abuse existed, or even that it
could
exist. Because of this, there were no laws on the books prohibiting cruelty to children.

There were, however, laws prohibiting cruelty to animals. After repeated failures in her efforts to seek justice for Mary Ellen, the determined Wheeler took her case to Henry Bergh, the founder of the ASPCA, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Bergh and his organization won protection for Mary Ellen by arguing that a child was, in fact, a member of the animal kingdom, worthy of the same protection under law as a dog.

Despite national outrage over the case, the commotion quickly died down and people once again closed their eyes to the problem.

Shortly after the turn of the century, public recognition of child abuse faced another setback when renowned psychologist Sigmund Freud publicly theorized that his patients' claims of childhood sexual abuse were merely repressed fantasies.

It wasn't until the early 1960s, nearly a century after the Wilson case, that the medical profession formally agreed upon the existence of child abuse.

While the world debated whether or not child abuse existed, thousands of children carried horrible secrets and scars, both physical and emotional; because no one would believe or protect them. Many of them ran away from home.

Grace is the story of one of those children.

“It were better for him that a millstone were hanged
about his neck, and he cast into the sea,
than that he should offend one of these little ones.”

LUKE
17:2

Grace
THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL
By Hans Christian Andersen

It was Christmas Eve, and from the brightly lit windows of the town square came the sound of laughter and singing as people celebrated the holiday. Outside, the snow-covered streets were deserted except for the poor little match seller who sat alone beside a frozen fountain. Her ragged dress and worn shawl did little to protect her from the cold. She hadn't sold one box of matches all day and she was frightened to go home, for her father would certainly punish her. She was so cold.
If only she could light a match,
she thought, but she knew her father would beat her for wasting.

She resisted until it was too cold to bear any longer. She took out a match and lit it. She magically saw in its light a large stone hearth with a brilliant fire. Beyond the hearth was a fine table laden with food. As she reached out towards the table, the match went out and the magic faded. Her eyes filled with tears.

She struck another match and an even more wonderful vision appeared. Before her was a Christmas tree hung with hundreds of candles, glittering with tinsel and colored balls.

“Oh, how lovely!” she exclaimed. Then, the flame flickered out. The light from the Christmas candles rose higher and higher. Then one of the lights fell, leaving a trail behind it. “Someone is dying,” said the little girl, remembering what her beloved Grandmother used to say: “When a star falls, a heart stops beating!”

The little match seller lit another match. This time, she saw her grandmother.

“Grandma, stay with me! I'm cold and alone!” She lit one match after the other, so that her grandmother would not disappear like all the other visions. When she was down to her last match, she cried out, “Grandma, take me away with you!” Her Grandmother smiled and opened her arms to the girl.

Christmas morning dawned, and a pale sun shone down on the frozen town square. On the snowy ground near the base of a fountain lay the lifeless body of a little girl surrounded by spent matches.

“Poor little thing,” said a passerby. “She was trying to keep warm.”

But by that time, the little match girl was far away where there is no cold, hunger nor pain.

CHAPTER
One

My memory of her has grown on my soul
like ivy climbing a home until it begins to tear and
tug at the very brick and mortar itself.

ERIC WELCH'S DIARY

DECEMBER
25, 2006

It's Christmas day. There is Christmas music playing from the radio in the other room. Mitch Miller's “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” It's a little late, I think; Santa's come and gone, as have our children and grandchildren. They've left an impressive mess in their wake, but I don't care. As I get older I've come to treasure any evidence of family. Snow is falling outside and all is peaceful and still. In such moments it is possible to believe that the world could still be good.

Something profound happened to me today. It started innocently enough—as most life-changing experiences do—with a request from my grandchildren to read them a Christmas story, “The Little Match Girl.” I've never been a fan of the tale, but, like most grandparents, I'm not one to deny my grandchildren. As I read to them, something happened to me; by the end of the story I was crying. Four-year-old Ebony Brooke tried to console me. “It's okay, Grandpa,” she said. “It's just a story.”

It's not just a story, there really was a little match girl and she changed my life in ways I'm still trying to understand. Even the grandchildren sitting before me wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her. As important as she is to me, I've never shared her story. It's finally time that I did.

My memory, like my eyesight, has waned with age and I pray I can get the story right. Still, there are things that become clearer to me as I grow older. This much I know: too many things were kept secret in those days. Things that never should have been hidden. And things that should have.

Who was she? She was my first love. My first kiss. She was a little match girl who could see the future in the flame of a candle. She was a runaway who taught me more about life than anyone has before or since. And when she was gone my innocence left with her.

There is pain in bringing out these memories. I suppose I don't really know why I feel compelled to write at this time, only that I am. Maybe I want those closest to me to finally know what has driven me for all these years. Why, every Christmas, I occasionally slip away into my thoughts to someplace else. Or maybe it's just that I still love her and wonder, after all this time, if I can still find grace.

BOOK: Grace
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