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. 

Changing Seasons

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…” – Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV)

If you’ve ever lived in a part of the world where there aren’t four seasons, you may have a different appreciation for the change of seasons than those who have walked through life with spring, summer, autumn and winter as perennial companions. Some parts of the world have two seasons – the muddy season and the dusty season. While these places have their own unique (and appreciated) beauties, some people may miss the gentle falling snow that melts into flower beds that are warmed by summer sun and covered by crunchy, color-coated leaves.

The seasons not only add beauty and variety to our lives but also remind us that life has seasons.

Sometimes we step into a new life season smiling. Other times we drag our feet and hold onto the vestiges of yesterday like an oak tree keeping its leaves while all the other trees let theirs fly.

I’m doing a little of both right now. However, the truth remains:

There is a season for posting to one’s blog routinely, and there is a season for rearranging goals to make room for new things.

I think I need to transition into that rearranging season, so I may be posting a couple of times a month in this new season instead of every week. It’s not that I lost my love for sharing ideas or have run out of ideas. I especially still love getting good notes from readers. Beyond that, the thought of missing a week after (I think) 83 consecutive weeks is rather deflating. But life is fuller with other things these days. I hope you’ll still keep up with “A Storyful Life” in this new season. Who knows? Maybe I’ll surprise myself and get a post up most weeks anyway. 🙂

Labor of Love

A year ago, I met one of my favorite authors. The evening involved driving in rain so torrential I prayed a good part of the way home. However, it also involved showers of blessings.

Me and one of my favorite authors, Robin Jones Gunn

Me and one of my favorite authors,                       Robin Jones Gunn

For a story-loving heart, what could be better than stories of how God is using stories to change lives and – we hope and pray – those lives to change communities and those communities to change nations? The evening also included shared time with a special friend, international yummies, and, yes, oh, yes, a sweet little conversation with that favorite author of mine.

Now today I’m preparing a little note to post in the mail to that author. When it reaches her after a journey of thousands of miles, I hope she gets a smile on her face and a little glimmer of a reward for her labor of love.

Labor of love. Something I’ve learned from my Christian writer friends is that what they do is a labor of love. Love for words. Love for their characters. And even more, love for Christ and His truth and love for the millions of readers out there who need a little love. 

These loves fuel these writers through the sleep-short days, the pouring out of themselves on paper that may sit on an acquisitions editor’s desk for months, the reading for work not pleasure, the struggling for just the right word, the cutting out of the beloved scenes that don’t serve the story, the researching for accuracy, the aching of rejection, the perusing of contracts, the downsides of success, the handling of budgets. 

Yes, all of this – all of this for love. 

In a glass-dimly way this may reflect for us the love that God showed His children by sending His Son Jesus to earth and that He continues to show us each and every day.

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!

What wondrous love is this, O my soul!

What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss

to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,

to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?

~”What Wondrous Love Is This?” (Anonymous)


Apparently, National Author Day (US) isn’t until November 1, but considering what authors go through to craft the stories we enjoy, why not take a few minutes this weekend and send a snail-mail note, email or Facebook message to one of your favorite authors. Thank them for their work and let them know what you love about their stories. Maybe your encouragement will lead to a whole new tale…

If you would like to learn about the work of Media Associates International and how you can help train writers around the world to share God’s love and truth, visit their website

A Story to Share

As the seasons begin to change, my family is stepping into another sort of new season.

The simple truth? We have too much “stuff”. Instead of helping us do what we love (or what we’re called to do) better, our possessions are holding us back. So. Not. Good.

There’s been a fair amount of organizing and sorting going at our house lately, inspired by the above realization. Why have we been holding onto all these unnecessary items? There could be a dozen reasons, but someone in my family recently made an interesting observation: We may have been keeping things because we liked the idea that they had a story behind them.

Ah, yes, a story behind them. Ok, some items definitely could (even should) be kept because of the story behind them. I’m all for that! But other things…Well, it’s time to tell them “thank you” and let them go to a new home. It’s not that we don’t value the objects’ stories anymore; we’ve simply come to value other stories more.

Maybe  we’ve realized that while our “treasures” have tales to tell, we have our own stories to share. Stories about Guatemala. Stories of how we’ve seen God work. Stories of our family. The story God is writing around us. The kinds of stories the above painting helps us tell. 

Those are the stories we’d like to be sharing more. And if this “stuff” is holding us back, we’ve (finally) admitted it’s high time to say “adiós”. Even if that includes the books on the bookshelves…(gasp).

Another confession: It’s actually freeing to live a little lighter! (Not to mention cleaning is easier!) Who knew? We’ll see how it goes from here. If you have any tips of 1) how to whittle down your stuff or 2) how to keep from accumulating excess again, I’m all ears! 

A School of Her Own: Bringing History and Heart Together

I gazed around the room one more time. The teacher’s bell, the hooks for hanging lunch pails, the well-used desks and the well-loved McGuffeys. Even though I was heading toward new adventures, it was hard to say goodbye.

We had shared quite a bit of history, this room and I. Once I was a little girl who sat at a little desk and used a slate pencil. Back then, I thought it would be pretty awesome to be a teacher with a school just like this. Why not? I had read about it in books like the Little House series or the Boxcar Children’s Schoolhouse Mystery. But there was a problem: I was in a century that wasn’t very one-room school friendly.

Then, in a snap and a whirl, I grew up and found myself behind the teacher’s desk of that place of childhood dreams. And a roomful of students gazed back at me!

Yes, I had become the one-room school teacher at the living history museum. Children came by the busload to learn about life in bygone days. You can imagine the fun of ringing the bell as various-sized students propelled themselves in my direction. 

However, there would be no running into my school “like a herd of pigs headed for the trough.”[1] At my instruction, the students lined up with girls on one side and boys on the other. Then they walked in, took their seats,
and we began our lessons. IMG_9295

Looking back, I felt quite a bit like Mabel O’Dell welcoming students in A School of Her Own. At eighteen, Mabel finds herself teaching in a one-room school in Michigan, dodging a vicious goat, grading papers, getting lost in a blizzard, dealing with the challenges that come with a classroom and a small town, and learning about the Lord. Inspired by the life of and stories from the author’s grandmother, this book brings history and heart together.

What is the point of bringing history and heart together? It’s about making history alive with real people who faced real problems and had real stories. It takes the facts (which are important) and goes beyond them to the relationships. I think that sums up what I hoped to share with my students in my one-room school. With the groups, I had only fifteen minutes (or less) to do it. Talk about a challenge! My history manual and older folks who had attended one-room schools or taught in them were my best resources for true stories to put a sparkle on the facts. Sometimes I think I may have shared more of the fun stories – like the skiing to school and the recess games – and given a somewhat sunshiny picture of life back then. However, I know I tried to communicate facts like how school children really had to work hard to help their families. A School of Her Own  balances the fun with the realities that people were still sinners and life definitely had its hard moments in the 19th century just like in the 21st. 

So there I stood in my school, admiring all the familiar details. To think I had come so very close to being a real one-room school teacher! While I hadn’t faced life-changing decisions with surprising answers quite like Mabel, I had learned, as I suppose many teachers do, as much as I had taught in that room. It was now part of my history, and it was definitely part of my heart. I hope sharing the story brings it to others’ hearts as well, maybe even yours. 

If you’d like to read all about Mabel O’Dell’s escapades and learn about life for a one-room school teacher, check out A School of Her Own by Arleta Richardson. Perhaps you’ll even decide to visit a one-room school! Whether you read or visit, I’d love to hear your thoughts on bringing history and heart together. Note: As I mentioned, the book does touch on some of the more complicated issues of life. Parents may want to check it over before handing it to young readers. 

Special thanks to my childhood friends Katie and Ann S. who, I think, introduced me to Arleta Richardson’s books. I guess you never know what a book recommendation might bring about! 

1 Arleta Richardson, A School of Her OwnGrandma’s Attic Novels (Colorado Springs: Cook Communications Ministries, 1986), 49. 

A Back-to-School Picnic: Helping Girls Thrive in the Coming School Year

It was the last picnic before school started. Elena sat munching her burger and daydreaming about decorating her locker. However, her thoughts soon turned to her list of concerns that was almost as long as the list of her school supplies. Eighth grade! Are kids going to tease me like last year? Should I really do advanced math and Spanish club or should I do drama like the cool people? Will the other girls make fun of my hair? What if I do something really embarrassing on the first day and end up with a nickname for the whole year like that one girl last year? It would be totally worse if it happened in front of a cute boy! Will I even have one good friend? She put down her burger and moved her salad around on her plate.

_____

As much of the world is heading back to school, many kids might be excited, but quite a few will be lugging around some weighty worries like Elena’s in their mental backpacks.

Girls in Elena’s shoes need to move to a different picnic blanket and meet a friend like Connie Kendall. In fact, they need to have a laughter-filled, candid conversation with her.

Happy news: Girls anywhere can do just that! In Candid Conversations with Connie, Vol. 2  (by Kathy Buchanan) fictitious-but-much-loved Connie Kendall* shares stories from her own life and gets advice from friends to help girls handle the tricky and sticky situations of growing up – all within the context of a picnic! From making it through melt-into-the-floor moments to facing “frenemies”, evaluating erratic emotions and balancing run-ins with bullies and forming friendships with boys, Connie and the girls on her picnic blanket open their mental backpacks and go through their back-to-school stresses. Connie’s upbeat and understanding tone makes the book a fun read. Questions and quizzes provide moments of refection. Even someone as old as I am found the questions thought provoking! With that in mind, this would be an awesome book for a mother-daughter time or even a junior-high girls’ study.

What’s the best thing about this book? Well, the third best thing is that Connie speaks sensitively to issues that may be different in different families/situations (e.g. dating). The second best thing is that she helps girls figure out who they are. I think this is a huge part of dealing with the negative peer pressures (like disobeying important rules, smoking and drinking alcohol – which are discussed in the book) that happen in public schools, private schools, home schools or boarding schools. Knowing what you’re about is also a vital part of being an agent of positive peer pressure. (There really is such a thing! Just read the book if you doubt it.) But the really best thing? Throughout the book, Connie points the girls to Jesus, the one Friend Who will be right there with them in junior high, high school, college and beyond (Matthew 28:20). That’s right – Elena doesn’t have to worry about not having a single friend after all!

So come on over to Connie’s roomy picnic blanket, grab a sandwich and be ready to think, share, laugh (and maybe even cry) together as the girls learn not only how to survive but also how to thrive in this school year!

Candid Conversations Vol2 pic
*Connie Kendall is a character in the popular radio drama series Adventures in Odyssey. But no worries! A girl doesn’t have to be an Odyssey expert or even a regular listener to enjoy this book.