I grew up in Gladstone, Ore., which also happened to be the home of arguably the very best Chinese food restaurant ever — Happy Restaurant.

Happy Restaurant was the place that friends and family would gather for just about every occasion. It was our post-Friday night football game hangout, pre-New Year’s party dinner spot, and where we would get all of our to-go orders for just about any family function. It wasn’t just my friends and family who loved Happy’s either, the whole community loved it. Not only was every single thing on that menu Chinese food perfection, but it was a place that changed my life forever.

One evening in 1994, when I was in eighth grade, I was meeting my childhood best friend at Happy Restaurant for dinner. Of course as an eighth grader, I couldn’t drive yet, so I jumped in the car with my mom for the short, four-minute car ride to Happy’s. And although the drive was a quick one, I vividly remember sparking a very heavy conversation on the way there.

We had just pulled out of our driveway onto our street when I abruptly told my mom that I didn’t believe in God anymore. She sadly asked why I felt this way, and my blunt response was that it just didn’t make any sense to me, therefore I was declaring that I no longer believed in God. After four very short minutes, we arrived at Happy’s, I hopped out of the car to join my friend for dinner and waved at my mom as she drove away. My friend was waiting for me inside at the booth we usually sat in, ordering the same No. 4 special we always ordered, from the same waitress who always served us. But just then, something very out of the ordinary happened. Our waitress came back up to our table and handed me a simple blue woven cross. As she handed me the cross she said to me, “I just found this and felt like I needed to give it to you.” Which might have seemed like a nice gesture and maybe even not that big of a deal to the waitress or my friend sitting across the table from me, but what neither of these ladies knew was the conversation that had just taken place in the car with my mom only moments before this. I had chills, tears welled up in my eyes, and I knew in that moment that God was real.

I took that cross home with me that night and told my mom the story of how it came to be mine, and we hung it on the Christmas tree.

Over the years, we had moved out of my childhood home, I got married, and my husband and I bought a house of our own. My mom moved again, downsizing a bit more with each move, and that cross seemed to have disappeared. Christmas after Christmas for more than a decade, we looked for that woven cross in our box of tree ornament decorations, never finding it and sadly assuming that after all of the moves and all of the downsizing, it must have disappeared, leaving us with only the memories of that night at Happy Restaurant.

This past year my mom moved again. I have always been very close with my mom, and my babies absolutely cherish her, and until moving to the coast, we hadn’t ever lived more than 10 minutes from her. So she put her house on the market and moved to Seal Rock to once again be very close by, and we’re sure happy she did. Since we all moved to the Oregon coast, our lives have been enriched beyond our wildest dreams from constant family fun and adventure to new friendships. We even started attending our very first church together as a family, South Beach Church.

This Christmas here on the coast has already been nothing short of magical, with all of us being together as a family (my husband’s parents included, they moved here, too) but something else miraculous happened. My mom found that blue woven cross after all of these years, exactly where it should have been this entire time, in the box of her Christmas tree ornaments, as if that cross was just waiting for another perfect moment to be found.

The moment when all of us, as a family, have accepted Jesus Christ into our lives and now all attend church regularly together.

This time around I will not be packing that cross away with the Christmas tree ornaments at the end of the season. It will be out on full display to enjoy all throughout the year as a constant reminder of all it symbolizes.

Sadly, over the years Happy Restaurant repeatedly found itself on Oregon’s Dirty Dining list and failed to renew its business license in 2017, ultimately closing its doors shortly thereafter. So although I won’t have the opportunity to enjoy the very best fried rice, egg foo young or crab rangoons again, I will always have the gift of that cross and the memory of how one random act of kindness from a waitress completely renewed my faith in God.

These Salmon Rangoons are reminiscent of those decedent crab rangoons they used to serve at Happy Restaurant, but thanks to our constant family fun and adventure here on the coast, which includes ocean fishing for salmon, these are made with some of the salmon we caught just out of Newport this summer.

Salmon Rangoons

Ingredients:

8 ounces canned salmon

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

2 small green onions (whites and greens), finely sliced

Thin wonton wrappers

Directions:

Combine cream cheese, salmon, garlic powder and scallions in a medium bowl and fold with a spoon.

Lay one wonton wrapper out on a cutting board and place a small amount of filling in the center (about 1 1/2 teaspoons).

Moisten the edges with a wet fingertip, then seal by pushing the four edges in towards the center (you can also just fold over to make a triangle shape).

Heat oil to 375 degrees. Carefully add rangoons to the oil, flipping them constantly until crisp and golden brown on all sides, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a rack or paper towel-lined plate to drain, season with salt and additional green onions, and serve immediately with sweet chili sauce.

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