Grace Victorious: The Story of William Wilberforce

Have you ever wondered how you could accomplish something considering your weaknesses and limitations? If so, then you have something in common with the key figure of this story. 

Let’s go back to 1807 in England. That year, Parliament chose to take a stand against one of the greatest evils of the day. In fact, Parliament voted to make that evil illegal even though some people really wanted to keep it going and giving it up meant losing both power and wealth.

That evil was the trafficking of human beings known then as the slave trade.

Through the radio theater drama Grace Victorious: The Story of William Wilberforce, you can meet William Wilberforce. As a young member of Parliament, he has what many people long for – wealth, popularity and position. He chooses to risk it all when careful study brings him from skepticism to personal faith in Jesus Christ. 

Soon he is confronted with the realities of the slave trade – a trade that greatly benefits his country economically and is considered unchangeable. Others are speaking up, but Wilberforce’s gifts and position make him the obvious choice to lead the cause in Parliament. 

After prayer and seeing God work, Wilberforce becomes convinced that taking on the slave trade is something he must do in spite of the cost…

While William has position and a penchant for public speaking, one thing he does not have is good health. Throughout his life, he is plagued by poor eyesight and what may have been ulcerative colitis. (Note: Information on his exact ailments seems to vary.) But he presses on.

Grace Victorious leaves you with the story unfinished, a reality to which we can all relate. After all, that is how our stories are (for anyone reading this blog) – unfinished. We may be facing challenges, questions, unknowns….Just like William Wilberforce when he began his campaign against the slave trade. 

One of William’s last statements in Grace Victorious is,

“I expect a long and arduous fight. But as I lie here, I wonder how I will fight – how this frail and feeble body will ever rise against a mountain of hatred, cruelty and greed.” [1]

The response?

“The only way such things are ever done, William – by the grace of God.”

If we choose to live like William Wilberforce, we may live to see challenges met, questions answered, unknowns discovered. And we may be used in ways we never expected.

After all, it’s unlikely Wilberforce thought someone would be writing about a radio theater drama featuring his story 210 years after the abolition of the British slave trade, much less that the writing would go on a blog accessible to the world at the push of a button. 

[1] Paul McCusker, Grace Victorious: The Story of William Wilberforce, audio CD disc 2, track 8, 6:28.

Aspire to The Heavens: Mount Vernon Love Story

Their love story begins simply but has the makings of a fairy tale. She is a widow with two young children. He is somewhat of a military legend. She shows interest in what is dear to his heart, his home Mount Vernon. He wins the hearts of her son and daughter.

A fairy tale would end there with a “happily ever after”. But their story isn’t make believe.

This is just a taste of Mount Vernon Love Story – A Novel of George and Martha Washington. Within its pages, Mary Higgins Clark presents a personal view of America’s first President and first First Lady. She shares their struggles and heartaches. Whether the story strictly follows the record of history is a subject for further study, but if you read it, you will have the chance to get to know these more distant figures as well as you might know close friends.

You’ll also find that their story illustrates two interesting points.

1) No matter how much two people love each other, they can never love each other perfectly. No matter how well suited two mortals are to each other, they will never be able to meet all the other’s needs nor fulfill all their dreams. 

See, loving perfectly and meeting every desire are God-sized jobs. And, well, God-sized jobs are just too big for mere men and women. Even if those men and women stand among the “greats” of history.

2) As life goes through seasons, so does love, and growing love through those seasons can take intentional effort. For George and Martha in Mount Vernon Love Story, the War for Independence and a personal grief could tear them apart, but they each come to heart-deep realizations and take action. That season gives them the depth they need to lead a nation. 

In I Corinthians 13, we find God’s standard for love. Just like George and Martha, we can’t obtain it for ourselves. But we can look to Jesus, the One Who seeks to lavish it on us, and, as the motto of George’s mother’s family said, “Aspire to the heavens”. 

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (ESV)


Note: This book doesn’t make it onto the “favorites” list for a reason or two, but was worth sharing because of the above points. 

Not The End of The Story…

All of us have faced or will face chapters in our stories that may seem like they could never bring a happy ending. Elisabeth Elliot and Marjorie Saint both could have felt that way in the second week of January 1956. 

That was the week they found out their husbands had been brutally killed by the men they were trying to reach with love, hope and God’s gift of eternal life.

That was the week they learned that they were now widows and that their children would never see their fathers again. 

But that wasn’t the end of the story as you can learn for yourself in this recent BBC report containing thoughts from Elisabeth’s daughter and Marjorie’s son and through Jungle Pilot and children’s books like The Fate of the Yellow Woodbee and Pilipinto’s Happiness (written by Elisabeth’s daughter, Valerie).

Sometimes we’ll get to see more of the story. Sometimes we may not get to see every chapter. Still, when we face tear-filled times, may we have the grace to remember they are not the end of the story…and it could very well be that the best is yet to come.

A Chance for Change

“Every day of her life and the years she had yet to live people would be changed because of her story. Her life story.” ~Karen Kingsbury, Remember Tuesday Morning

Are stories just for entertainment, not changing anything about how readers live? If the true answer were “Yes”, most writers would lay down their pens and let dust settle on their keyboards. 

Why?

Writers scribble to bring joy, give direction, shed light, build or tear down barriers, cause tears, heal hearts and change cultures. Just ask Dickens, Louisa May Alcott, Steinbeck, C.S. Lewis and Karen Kingsbury if you get the chance. 

Isn’t it remarkable that each real-world life is its own story – a subplot of the grand Tale of Time? And each real-world life is written for change just like the make-believe lives. 

Each life brings a chance for change but not just for itself. It’s a chance to bring change to someone else. Of course, those changes may be harmful or helpful. As we step into this chapter called 2017, let’s ask ourselves, what changes will our life stories bring this year as they intersect with others’ stories?

A kind word well timed?

An offer of grace?

A sacrifice of love?

A safe, warm place?

May we look to the Author and Finisher of our faith – Jesus – and take our cues from Him, asking Him to make the changes in us that need to happen so He can use us to bring good changes to the other stories He is telling this year.

Five Favorite Books from 2016

Here are five favorite books from 2016. If you haven’t read these yet, perhaps you can check them out in 2017. Happy New Year and happy reading! 

Children’s Picture Book: Tea with Lady Sapphire by Carl R. Sams II & Jean Stoick              A children’s picture book full of beautiful photographs and a whimsical yet educational story. Introduce little ones to the feathered friends and other critters of the winter forest with this delightful book. Just the thing for a parent (or grandparent) to share with their wee loved ones!

Middle Reader: The Discovery (Book #1 in the Santa Fe Years) by Nancy Rue                           Will Hutchinson’s world is reeling. Since his father has been fighting in the Pacific theater of WWII, Will and his mom move to Santa Fe. There Will is the only “Anglo” kid in his class at school, meets a Native American girl named Fawn…and discovers something that threatens everything he believed about himself. An engaging way to learn about WWII and Native American life in New Mexico. 

Biography: Jungle Pilot by Russell T. Hitt                                                                                               January 8, 2016, marked the 50th anniversary of the death of five missionaries in the Ecuadorian jungle. Nate Saint was one of those five. Within the pages of this book, you will find his life story, including excerpts from his own letters and journals. You can read more thoughts on Jungle Pilot here.

Novel: As Waters Gone By Cynthia Ruchtia                                                                                         Emmalyn knows her husband will soon be free to come back…from prison. The problem is, she isn’t sure he’ll be coming back to her. With dwindling savings and evaporating hope, Emmalyn heads to Madeline Island where she intends to renovate their hunting cabin into her – or possibly their – new home. What she discovers on this island in Lake Superior will change her life in more ways than she ever expected.

Audiobook: Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon, read by John McDonough                  The tale of the beloved Mitford characters continues with Come Rain or Come Shine. The main attraction? Dooley and Lace are tying the knot! They’re doing everything they can to have what they really want – a simple country wedding – but has planning a wedding ever been simple? Full of the heart, hope and hometown feel that Mitford fans love. The voice of John McDonough brings the story and characters to life. 


What were your favorite books from 2016? Leave a comment with your thoughts! 

A Story for Christmas: The Candle in the Window

 Pour yourself a glass of eggnog (or a cup of hot cocoa) and imagine yourself in the Star City Hotel on a snowy Christmas Eve in Kansas. Then listen with me to a story called “The Candle in the Window”[1].

This story takes place in the Smoky – there’s no “e”, honest! – Hill area of Kansas in 1917. (You’ll remember that the world was engulfed in WWI then.) There you will meet characters like a mailman named Tod Witherspoon, a boy named Tully Gabel and a one-room school teacher named Ruth Ravenstow.  

Tod Witherspoon is what we might all wish for in a mailman – helpful, conscientious, and personable. As he says, “Well, there never was a postal regulation against bein’ human ever reached as far as my route.”[2] 

Tully Gabel is inquisitive and intuitive. His nickname “P-like” comes from “play like”, his version of pretending.

And Miss Ruth Ravenstow? Mysterious might be the right word. Not in a bad way exactly. In some ways, she’s normal. Her students love her and learn from her. The enigma of Miss Ravenstow, you see, is that she keeps to herself and never ever smiles. Beyond that, Tod Witherspoon doesn’t get to deliver a single, real letter to her.

When Tod tries to reach out to Miss Ravenstow and shares with her both his favorite childhood Christmas memory of putting a candle in the window on Christmas Eve and a candle for her own window, her response is telling: 

“What will it mean to the world the twenty-fifth of December 1917 The world was never so full of hate before. And who would see my candle if I happened to light one?” [3]

Have you ever felt like Miss Ravenstow or known someone like her? Sometimes the dark scenes of life overwhelm us so much that we may feel that any good we try to do – or even our very selves – go unnoticed.

That is when we need someone like Tod to shed a little truth into our gloomy hearts.

“Well, you can call me an old-style codger, Miss Ravenstow, but may I say that there’s One who always sees. And in a world full of hate, He came to love. He loved us so much He came as a babe and then He gave up His life for us…That’s the love I remember whenever I see a candle in the window.” [4]

Ah, yes, we are never unseen by this God of love. Depending on where you are in life, that may be the most comforting truth in the whole wide world. 

If you continue with the story, you’ll find that Miss Ravenstow does put her candle in the window and that more than the One Someone see it. But how does it all play out and why does Miss Ravenstow never smile? Now what do you think I’m going to say? That’s right…You might just have to listen to the story yourself.  No worries, you’re guaranteed a happy ending; it is a Christmas story after all!

I think the candle in the window represents love and hope. And that’s what I’m wishing and praying for you this Christmas season and New Year – love and hope! Not because life is so good – it isn’t always, is it? – but because God is good. Not because we have everything we want – we don’t always, do we? – but because God gave us His love and grace wrapped up in Baby Jesus. Not because things work out how we want – they don’t always, do they? – but because Jesus is reigning over all and yet knows and shares in the smallest details of our lives. Not because life is without tears – how can it be? – but because as we celebrate Jesus’ first coming to earth, we can also look ahead to when He will wipe away the tears from our eyes.

May the love of Jesus and the hope of Christmas glow in your hearts and reach out to those around you like a candle in the window.


1 Note: The book The Candle in the Window by Margaret Hill McCarter has been adapted into a radio theatre production of the same title by John Fornof. I have enjoyed both versions and have taken quotes from both. 

2 Margaret Hill McCarter, The Candle in the Window (Lamplighter Publishing, 2013)pg. 21.

3 Ibid., pg. 44

4 John Fornof, “The Candle in the Window (Lamplighter Radio Theatre, 2013)

A Bookshelf Full of Thanksgiving

Amy stood in Scrooby, England, in the very chapel where 400 years ago many of the men, women and children who sailed on the Mayflower met to worship God. She saw Scrooby Manor where they planned their journey to Holland. She understood that the little band knew the venture risked both their lives and their fortunes and  yet would allow them to keep their sacred honor.

From childhood, stories of the Pilgrims flitted through Amy’s imagination. She dreamt of what it would be like to talk with William Bradford or Squanto. She admired their courage, she learned from their sacrifice, and she wanted their faith. 

Then here she stood where their feet once trod, sat in the pew where (supposedly) William Bradford once sat, and sang a Psalm that the Scrooby congregation may have sung all those years ago. 

Her Plymouth day was over all too soon. 


How did these people whose lives are so distant from Amy’s become real to her? Through stories, of course. Historical fiction, radio drama and even video may play a role in giving personality to names like Bradford, Brewster and Squanto. 

Here are several of my favorite stories. Many of them are for younger readers (not that older readers aren’t allowed to enjoy them!), but there in one tome on the list sure to satisfy the most sophisticated bookworm.

Problems in Plymouth (AIO Imagination Station Books) by Marianne Hering and Marshal YoungerFueled by a mystery, this chapter book may be just the thing to get a young reader interested in these people called Pilgrims. 

The Mayflower Adventure (The American Adventure Series #1) by Colleen L. ReeseThis was perhaps the first historical fiction book I read about the Pilgrims’ journey to America. You can time-travel all the way through WWII if you read the entire series.

“Stepping Stones – Parts I&II” by Paul McCusker: A pull-you-into-the-story audio drama for children that shares the story behind the Pilgrims coming to America and what it took for them to get here – a story many schoolchildren may miss out on today.

The Legend of Squanto (Radio Theatre) by Paul McCusker: Take a different look at the story of the First Thanksgiving as you step into the life of Tesquantum (or Squanto) narrated by Massasoit. If heroes are measured by how they respond to challenges, Squanto could be among the greatest.

Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford: I haven’t actually read all three-hundred-plus pages of this book, but I’ve read some and am rather fond of it because Grandma liked it. I believe she actually said it was “fascinating”. Beyond that, as any student of history knows, primary sources are the best if you want to get the real picture.

I hope you enjoy these stories and that you have a richly blessed Thanksgiving full of sweet times with those you love. However, as a recent conversation reminded me, sometimes we get so caught up in the “doing” of holidays, we can forget the point. For this holiday, the main thing is Thanksgiving.

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! – Psalm 118:1 (ESV)

 

Of Plums, Poland and Possessions

“Lord,” Papa said loud enough for the angels, “we do not understand what you did to your plums, but that is your business. For the food before us and your blessings, we thank you.”
…And Papa, who had just lost at least half of his income overnight, had never looked more like jolly old Saint Nicholas
.[1]

I recently read Eva Underground by Dandi Daley MacKall. While I wouldn’t put it on my most-recommended list, I learned a lot from it about life in 1970s Communist Poland.

Eva, an American teenager, moves to Poland with her father. While he teaches with an underground education movement, she witnesses the suppression of free speech, the fear of government displeasure, the limited food supply, the isolation from the world, the cost of seeking freedom…

Amidst all that, Eva meets Papa Muchowieckis who is thankful and trusts the Lord even when he has so little and half his plum crop is destroyed by an ice storm.

A book like this can really make you look around and realize how much you have, wonder if you need half the things you own, recognize more blessings for which to be thankful than you may have ever seen, and reflect on who really owns what you have.

“Lord,” Papa said loud enough for the angels, “we do not understand what you did to your plums, but that is your business.”

Your plums? Your business? Don’t we often think of the things we work for as ours, as belonging to us? The question, of course, is do they really belong to us? If we read the Bible, we will come to the conclusion that all we “own” ultimately comes from and belongs to God. Along with this, the success of our endeavors – whether our college studies or our plum crop – ultimately comes from God as well. It really is His business. if it’s not, then maybe God isn’t the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God we claim Him to be.

Agreeing with Papa Muchowieckis that it is God’s business brings both peace and a sense of joy that Papa portrays. However, this peace and joy demand great faith. Do any of us have this faith? Maybe this is the kind of faith that grows from a life pruned by hardships and persecution.

[1] Dandi Daley MacKall, Eva Underground (Harcourt Books: Chicago, IL, 2006) pg. 148-149.

Four Redheads for Redhead Day

Happy National Redhead Day! In honor of the day, here are four characters who have found their way into readers hearts…and who are, of course, redheads.

The Sugar Creak Gang series by Paul Hutchens
Redheaded girls often steal the show when it comes to literature, but here is a series starring a redheaded boy worth knowing. Young Bill Collins recounts the adventures he and his friends have in Sugar Creek and even places like Chicago and Mexico as they put their detective skills to the test. Since Bill wants to be a doctor when he grows up, you can expect some medical details to pop up.


Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
You know from previous posts that I am a fan of this adventurous, big-hearted pioneer girl named Caddie Woodlawn. She represents some of the best virtues redheads are known for. Read a snippet of her story here.


At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon
He moves in with his grandpa when the rest of his siblings are more-or-less scattered to the wind. That’s how redhead Dooley Barlow comes to Mitford. There he meets Father Tim and the giant dog Barnabas, rides a horse…and learns about life and love. You can follow Dooley’s story all the way through the Mitford series until the latest addition Come Raine or Come Shine.


Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery                                                                                          
Last but definitely not least, here is perhaps the most famous redhead in literature: Anne Shirley also known as “Carrots”. This sensitive, imaginative, bright orphan girl teaches Marilla Cuthbert and others around her deep lessons of life and brings joy to empty hearts just as some of other inhabitants of Prince Edward Island do the same for her. Be prepared to laugh and cry along the way.

Happy reading! And if you don’t have red hair, well, there’s always a box of coloring! Although I hear that it doesn’t necessarily work well for blonde hair! Pink ponytail, anyone?) Or you can just enjoy your non-red locks. Afterall, there may be more scope for the imagination in that.


Who’s your favorite redhead, fictional or otherwise? I’d love to hear stories or any book recommendations! Please leave a comment or drop me a note..

A Tale for October 31st

The Haunted Room. As we look ahead to October 31st, a night when much of the world wants to think of goblins, ghosts and other ghoulish notions, what better title for those seeking extra intrigue? (Read by flashlight or dancing fire flame for added effect!)

Yes, this story presents its fair share (or more!) of mystery, but even before you get into the action there is something engaging about this book. 

Right after the “Contents”, you’ll find a letter from the author, A.L.O.E. – A Lady of England as she was known when her suspenseful tale first hit the presses in 1889. Here is a snippet:

“It is under peculiar circumstances that A.L.O.E. sends forth this little volume. As it is passing through the press its author is preparing to enter on a new field of labour in the East, as an honorary member of the Zenana Mission in India…”

Ah, the Zenana Mission brings to mind another lady of England. Amy Carmichael went to India with the Zenana Mission in 1895 and stayed there until her death in 1951. Amidst her efforts to rescue girls and boys sold into such horrors as temple prostitution, Amy was also a writer though not of fiction (to my knowledge) like A.L.O.E. and a reader. Did A.L.O.E. and Amy ever read each other’s books? Did they ever meet, either in the British Isles or in India?

Such speculations aside, it seems safe to say that Amy would have approved of The Haunted Room if she had read it.

Shed some light on the subject and see (or listen!) for yourself as we move toward October 31st.