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It’s a Wonderful Movie

Christmas stories and movies are full of hope. This family turned on a classic to give them a little inspiration.

It's A Wonderful Life is one of many inspiring Christmas stories

“Joy to the world!” rang from the radio on the kitchen counter, but I wasn’t feeling it. Not this year. I opened the freezer and took out some hamburger to defrost for dinner. My husband, Dale, wandered in from the office he’d set up in our bedroom and peeked over my shoulder. “Not hamburger again!” he groaned.

“Yes, hamburger. Again.” He looked so tired. “Take a break, honey,” I said, kissing him on the cheek. “Dinner will be ready soon.”

For the past year, my husband had been struggling to keep his new business going—a magazine called California Diving News. But despite all his hard work, we were barely keeping our heads above water. That phrase “keeping our heads above water” used to be our little joke, since the magazine was about scuba, but it wasn’t so funny anymore.

“Let me place those last ads,” Dale said, heading back to his computer. “If we don’t sell a few more before we go to press… ” He didn’t have to finish the thought. Just that morning we’d looked into his wallet and commiserated about the lonely “mama dollar and papa dollar.” That was a line from our favorite movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.

I’d introduced Dale to the holiday classic back when we were dating. It tells the story of George Bailey, a big-hearted man in the small town of Bedford Falls. He runs the Bailey Building and Loan and would do anything for his customers, but some serious financial setbacks hit. It looks like his business will fail. He sinks into despair and wishes he’d never been born. Enter the angel Clarence.

Clarence shows George how many people he has touched and helped. In the end everyone in town returns the favor and comes to George’s aid. Even his guardian angel leaves him a gift in the final scene, an inscribed copy of George’s favorite book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

“Hey, let’s watch It’s a Wonderful Life with the boys after dinner,” I suggested. Maybe it could cure our blues, at least for a while, and kick-start my holiday spirit.

The movie coaxed a smile out of Dale, but it couldn’t change the facts. Christmas was coming and we were broke. I tucked the boys in, hoping they wouldn’t mind getting homemade gifts. Dale and I had agreed not to get presents for each other.

Dale was sitting up in bed. “Honey, I ran the numbers again,” he said. “I just don’t know how much longer we can keep the business going.” Long after Dale fell asleep I lay awake, praying. God, please give Dale courage and direction, and show me how to help him.

The whole week before Christmas, Dale worked even longer hours at the tiny desk in the corner of our bedroom, and I kept praying for courage. For hope. One day I was in the boys’ bedroom helping them make presents for their dad. I wished I could give Dale a gift too, something that would lift him from despair. Then I noticed a book lying on the floor: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Dale had bought it for the boys a couple years back. At once I thought of that final scene in our favorite movie and an idea formed in my mind.

On Christmas Day, Mom and Dad, my brother and sister and their families appeared at our door. “Merry Christmas!” they shouted, their arms filled with gifts. Before we knew it, several of our friends had filed in too. Dale and I watched in gratitude and awe as presents piled up under our tree. When the last gift was opened, our oldest son, Christopher, said, “What’s that in the tree?” He reached into the branches and brought out the copy of Tom Sawyer.

“Give it to Daddy,” I said. Dale took it. He looked at me, puzzled. “Take a look at the first page,” I said.

Dale opened it and read, “Remember—no man is a failure who has friends.” The same message the angel Clarence had left for George Bailey. Dale sat for a moment, then walked across the room and took me in his arms. We held each other tight. We knew we would get through this difficult time. We had hope now.

It took a while, but our business did become a success. We have been publishing California Diving News for 25 years now.

When I was younger, my mom read that Jimmy Stewart’s wife had died. My family sent him letters of condolence. We were delighted to receive a handwritten note back: “To the Reed family, with my thanks and my very best wishes. God bless you. Jimmy Stewart.”

We’ve been blessed indeed. With loving friends and family, a thriving business and a wonderful movie that reminds us there’s always hope, especially at Christmas.

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