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Advent day 16 - Merry Stahel

Today we have Merry Stahel. Her new novel is releasing on Dec 19th

Dea Lacey is on the run. Scared and alone, she has to protect her endangered nephew. If she can find Garrett's father, perhaps he'll keep the boy safe and learn to love the child she'd trade her life to keep.

Jesse McTavish has lost his family. Abandoning his faith, the seeds of destruction are sown. As he struggles with grief, the last thing he needs is a woman showing up with a child who's the mirror image of his dead son. But he can neither ignore nor reject the woman and child who threaten to break through the protective shield he's built around his heart.

Through the ensuing storm of pain and loss, Christmas teaches Dea and Jesse about faith and forgiveness.

Sanctuary may be what we ask for, but God gives us so much more.

A second chance.

Aunt Amelia was aware of Dea’s life crumbling away. How had the woman known they weren’t safe? How many people had seen and known and felt pity?

And now Dea felt nothing. Well, almost nothing. Fear ate at her daily and was a constant companion. But with Aunt Amelia’s legacy, maybe the fear would go away.

A Christmas present. Dea remembered Christmases with Aunt Amelia when her own parents were alive. But not here. Uncle Owen was a minister, and they’d lived other places while Dea was growing up. They’d shared every Christmas since Dea could remember. Owen and Dea’s father were twins and the two women they’d married were sisters. But now they were all gone.

“Mommy can I go look outside?” Garrett’s happy tone dissolved her depressing thoughts.

“Yes, you can.” Dea looked at her little son, seeing the bright smile and feeling the knife twist in her gut.
What kind of mother let her son live in fear?

Her kind.

Dea stopped the thought. No more self-pity. No more recriminations. Life was starting over now. Garrett could be happy. He could play outside without fear.

“I like this place, Mommy,” Garrett said shyly. “Is it really all ours?”

“It’s really all ours.” Dea took a shaky breath. “You stay away from the road, OK? And just do a little exploring. It’s getting dark. I’ll start unpacking the car and see about dinner.”

“OK!” Garrett punched the air and shot out the door.

Dea looked around one more time and then sent a small thought up to Aunt Amelia and God.

Keep us safe.

She was on the fourth trip from the car when Garrett popped into the kitchen.

“There’s a donkey in the graveyard.”

“They buried a donkey in the cemetery?” Dea looked him in consternation. “And how do you know it’s a donkey?”

“No!” Garrett started laughing.

Dea looked on in shocked amazement. Garrett hadn’t given that belly-rolling-from-the-gut laugh in over a year.

“It’s a live donkey,” Garrett finally sputtered.

“A live donkey?” Dea let the bewilderment wash over her. Was he getting sick again? Delusional? Was he talking to his imaginary friend Alex and making up stories again?

“Yes.” He nodded. “He’s nice.”

“How do you know?”

“I petted him.” Garrett smiled, and Dea shook herself mentally. It was a real smile. The delight in his eyes sparkled. She’d not seen it in quite a while.

“The chicken wouldn’t let me pet her, though.”

“The chicken?” She said it faintly, sure now he was getting sick. She couldn’t afford a doctor right now. Or medications. The ever-present fear clawed in her brain.

“Yes. Her name is Mary.”

OK. Time out.

Garrett had obviously eaten something that did not agree with his delicate system. Her six-year-old son was delusional enough to believe someone named chickens. She wondered if there was a doctor in David, Oklahoma, population 457.

“I named her that because she’s riding on the donkey’s back.”

That did it. She’d make the doctor look at Garrett, and she’d figure out the payments later. Fear was blooming again. She couldn’t lose Garrett. He was too precious.

“The donkey’s name is Nat…handle.”

“Garrett, I think maybe we better go see the doctor.” Dea put a hand to his forehead. She wasn’t sure if she should pray he was delusional because of a fever, or not. Maybe the stress of the last year had caused Garrett’s mind to finally snap. With an imaginary friend, some doctors thought Garrett already had a form of mental illness.

“OK, but will you come see the donkey first?”


“Please, Mommy?”

He rarely appealed to her for anything; Dea’s heart caved.


Dea stood there with her mouth hanging open.

There was a donkey in the graveyard.

With a chicken on its back.

The donkey was chomping placidly on the grass near a leaning headstone. It was totally unconcerned that the little brown hen was settled as if she was in a nest getting ready to lay an egg.

Of course. Mary had ridden on a donkey, and Garrett had remembered the Christmas story.

The donkey had a leather halter and Dea looked at the tooling on the side. Nathaniel. The donkey’s name was Nathaniel.

“Nat. Come here,” Garrett said.

The donkey looked up. The animal stared deep into Dea’s eyes and seemed to weigh something in his mind.
Finally, he looked at Garrett, and Dea swore there was a slight smile on that donkey’s face. He ambled over to her son and leaned down to get stroked.

“See?” Garrett giggled as Nathaniel ran his velvet lips over the boy’s fingers. “I told you he was nice.”

“He must belong around here somewhere.”

“He belongs right here,” Garrett said firmly.

“How do you know?” Dea hoped they’d not have a battle over keeping a donkey. And a chicken. She had spent the last of her money on food for herself and Garrett. She couldn’t afford another mouth to feed.

“He just does.”

And that was another wonder. She’d not heard that stubborn tone from Garrett in a long time. The one that said he would get his way no matter what.

Dea decided to stave off the argument for another day. “We need to go eat dinner,”
Maybe Nathaniel and Mary’s owner would show up and take them away before she had to tell Garrett he didn’t own a donkey. And a chicken.

You can buy it here.

releases on the 19th Dec

Merry Stahel lives in a little house in the woods of the Midwest, surrounded by wild animals. Owned by three dogs and three cats, she sings for her church's Praise Team, and dabbles in quilting and sewing. Occasionally, she packs up and takes trips with her husband of thirty-three years to parts unknown, just for the adventure. You can reach her at


Laura Briggs said…
Love the excerpt, Merry. Congrats on your release!
LoRee Peery said…
I so enjoy second chance stories, and I look forward to this one!
Donna B said…
I love the excerpt!!! A donkey...and a chicken LOL precious!

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