Will Christmas really be all right? I wondered as I knocked on the battered door.
A disheveled young woman answered my knock. "Thank the Lord you came back. I was afraid you wouldn't." Over her shoulder she called, "I told you kids Santa wouldn't forget ya."
As my son, David, and I stepped into the dismal clutter, seven shabby children lined up in front of a ragged couch. Hands clasped, rigid as if they faced a firing squad, they watched the floor.
My heart ached for them, especially when the dark-eyed nine-year-old whispered, "Ma, there ain't such a thing as Santa Claus." He was too young to have grown beyond pretending.
We'd met him when we came to investigate the family's urgent needs; a day that had been a turning point in David's life. Now I prayed that tonight might be a turning point for the boy.
"Chris," I said gently. "Santa lives in the spirit of giving, a symbol of the gifts the Magi brought when Christ was born. If he doesn't exist, where did we get a bike with your name on it?"
Chris ducked his head to hide the smile he couldn't control. I knew he wanted to believe.
"My son will be bringing in your gifts, children," I said. "Maybe you'd like to help him?"
Ramrod stiff, eyes wary, they stood their ground.
David's smile was wonderful as he tried to put them at ease. "Nah," he said. "You guys stay in where it's warm. I'll get the stuff."
A month ago it had taken threats to get David inside this rundown house in the slums. Now he hurried to the car to bring Christmas to the children. His rich new baritone glorified the snowy night as he sang, "Joy to the World." This was the same boy who had hated me for most of the past year.