Saving Grace, the only Christian bookstore is Middletown, has significantly reduced its hours while owner Sheila Williams focuses her thoughts and prayers on recovering from breast cancer, with the help of her faith and her assistant Dawn McSurdy.

The Christmas shopping season is usually the busiest time of the year for most local businesses.

For the past two winters, that's certainly been the case at Saving Grace Christian Bookstore in Middletown, where local Christians typically go to find gifts such as inspirational books, Christian-themed jewelry, candles, Christmas decorations and church supplies.

But this year, the town's only Christian bookstore has significantly reduced its hours while owner Sheila Williams focuses her thoughts and prayers on something bigger than sales.

"I was diagnosed with breast cancer in August and underwent a lumpectomy in October," Williams explained this week. "Unfortunately, I've had to all but close the doors at Saving Grace while I recuperate. Lately, my customers have been stopping by the store and leaving messages asking when we're going to be open, so I just want to let them know what's been going on."

A resident of Wilmington, Williams has been staying in the room above the bookstore at 109 W. Main St., while she undergoes chemotherapy every three weeks.

And thanks to help and encouragement from assistant manager Dawn McSurdy, a former nurse at Middletown Family Care Associates, she's been able to open the store a few times a week when she's feeling up to it.

"I've put the flag out front when I'm open and there's a piece of paper on the book asking customers to knock if the door's locked, because I didn't want to let anybody down," she said. "The hardest part of all this has been realizing I'm not the person I was before, but keeping busy when I can gives me hope that I might eventually be the person I used to be again."

Williams first opened the non-denominational Christian bookstore in 2010, after she retired from the New York State Comptroller's Office as an auditor.

"I just always enjoyed Christian bookstores in New York and the warm, fun, fuzzy feeling they gave me," she said. "I'm a very faith-oriented person and I just know there is somebody up there orchestrating this life that we live, so this made sense to me."

She soon joined the congregation at Holy Hill Worship Center on Cochran Street, and began inviting small church groups and book clubs to meet in a small room off her 1,500-square-foot bookstore.

It was in the bookstore that she met McSurdy, who first came in last year to find a book that could help her daughter get through the grief of losing her grandfather.

"As soon as I walked in, I just felt comfortable here," McSurdy said. "Something said this is where I need to be, and I've sort of been here ever since."

McSurdy was even with Williams when she received her cancer diagnosis.

"You know, denial kicks in right away, but Dawn looked me right in the eye and said, 'You're going to get through this,'" Williams said. "It wasn't long after that I heard the voice tell me that I'm going to be alright, that we're all much stronger than we give ourselves credit for."

Since then McSurdy has taken Williams to chemotherapy appointments, talked her through the medical jargon and helped console her during her most difficult days.

Together, the two women also have drawn strength from their shared faith that God will carry Williams through her ordeal.

"I don't care how dark or difficult things look, He never leaves us," Williams said. "My faith has catapulted me through this and God has truly been my saving grace."

Williams said she believes the worst is now behind her and she's hoping to re-open Saving Grace for longer hours with storewide clearance sales from Dec. 18 to Jan. 1.

While she might not be able to maintain the store's usual hours from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, customers can schedule appointments by calling (302) 376-6161.