The Promise

By Dianne Marie Andre

There once was a bookstore owner whose wife decked the shop identical every Christmas. She placed three pole lanterns a few feet inside the door. Everyone who entered stopped to gaze at the extraordinary glow.

Regular customers—bookworms the shop owner knew well—would pause in remembrance, and then mosey off to their favorite section.

Tourists couldn’t pass the lanterns without first smiling at the golden lights. Some would say, “How charming and quaint,” then they’d wander through the musty aisles for treasured words in new and used books.

The wooden floor creaked underfoot. Books towered so high one needed a ladder just to read the spines. Sporadic book towers served as endcap displays. No one dared to remove a single volume for fear they’d all tumble like a game of Jenga.

The locals knew the pole lanterns’ history. Strangers didn’t think to ask what they represented. Why would they? The lanterns appeared to be a part of the season’s adornment.

Then, one day, a young couple entered the bookstore. Something drew them beside the three lanterns longer than most customers. The man took the woman’s hand and said, “What is it about these lights that make me feel hopeful when I’ve lost all hope?”

“I don’t know,” replied the woman, “but somehow they seem special.”

A few of the regulars at a nearby wooden table looked up, surprised by the couple’s words. The bookstore owner couldn’t help overhear. He rounded the counter and introduced himself. “Those represent the gift of joy and hope. You see, thousands of years ago, a child was born to save the world. His name was Jesus. He grew up and promised eternal life to those who believe in Him. If we do this, He promises us joy and in joy there’s hope. I believe that is what you felt. Joy and hope. But I’m guessing by your comment, you know how difficult this is at times.”

A wave of sadness crossed the couples’ faces. “Our baby girl was stillborn.” The woman said with trembling lips.

The owner shook his head. “I’m very sorry.” He looked at the lanterns for a moment. “The tallest of the lanterns represents the child my wife and I had lost in a car accident many years ago, just before Christmas. We too felt there was no hope. Not only because of our significant loss, but my wife couldn’t conceive more children. It wasn’t easy, but we trusted Jesus to somehow fulfill our lives. When we bought this building, my wife found the lanterns in the back. That Christmas, she put the tallest one up to honor our precious child. From then on, we began celebrating her life with the hope that we’d be with her again someday.

Two years later, my wife gave birth to twins. What a miracle! Jesus had doubled our joy. That year, we decided to honor Jesus for the two little miracles entrusted to us. Each Christmas since, I bring out all three lanterns.” The owner glanced at the extraordinary glow.

“Before you leave, I want to give something to you. Be sure to look for me if I’m not at the cash register.”

The couple went about their shopping thinking the owner intended to give them a couple of bookmarks or maybe one of the mugs with the store’s name on it. After they paid for their selections, the owner said, “Is that your pick up by the curb? I saw you park before coming in.”

“Yes, that’s our pick-up.” The man’s brows creased.

“Wait here, please.”

A few minutes later, he returned with the tallest lantern, the one presenting his deceased child. “It’s only three feet so it should fit in your truck bed.”

The couple stared, puzzled by his words.

“I want you to have it as a reminder of the true Light of joy and hope in your lives.”

 “Oh, no. We couldn’t possibly take your lantern.” The man said.

“My husband is right.”

“During the past fifty Christmases, you’re the first couple to sense its purpose. Before my wife had passed last year, she said ‘the lantern belongs to someone special. When the time comes, you’ll know who.’ I need your help to keep my promise to her.

”The couple hesitated then thanked him, unsure if they should have accepted the lantern.

The following Christmas, they returned to the bookstore. As they stood before the two lanterns, a voice from behind said, “Can I help you find something?”

They turned around. This time, the woman held a beautiful baby adorned in pink.

The bookstore owner’s face lit up. “Welcome back. It looks as if life has been good to you.” He brought his palms together with a joyful clap. “And who do we have here?”

“This is Kindle Hope. We wanted you to meet her.”

“Kindle!” His eyes widened.

 The child let out a squeal and jubilantly flapped her arms.

“That’s a fitting name for such a beautiful, bright face.” The owner said. “Kindle means light. I guess you know that. But I don’t think I told you it was my deceased daughter’s name.”

The man and woman glanced at one another. “No, you didn’t tell us.” The man said.

“Indeed, the lantern went to someone special, just as my wife said it should.” He paused, swallowed the lump in his throat, and then said, “Thank you for coming back to share the Light in your lives. For helping me to keep the promise I made to my beloved wife.”

Note: Dianne Marie Andre was inspired to write this fictional story after taking the photo of the three lanterns at a local bookstore.