Grandparents Day

Grandparents Day is September 10th! Here are some ideas of how to celebrate and make it a “storyful” day. (Think of the acronym T.E.L.L.) 

  1. Take time to be together. This may look like reading a picture book together or it may look like talking over cups of coffee or chatting over the phone. A truth is time is one gift none of us can ever get back or get more of and so when we share it with someone, we are, in a sense, sharing one of our most valuable treasures.
  2. Enjoy something yummy together. What’s your favorite treat? Chocolate chip cookies? Ice cream? Whatever it is, enjoy it together. The smells and tastes of our favorite foods are often connected to sweet memories that make for great stories. 
  3. Look back at the past together. Grandparents are a living connection to history, a real gift to grandchildren. Why not look back over family photo albums, visit a local historical site, or watch a history-focused show together? However you do it, ask questions, share stories and listen. Sometimes grandparents are shy of talking about the past. We obviously don’t need to know or share everything and can let some topics stay silent. But an encouragement for grandparents is that their stories may be just what a grandchild needs to be inspired and connected. Many of us these days need new connections, not only to people but also to hope. And stories from previous generations about overcoming struggles, seeing how life’s pieces came together and learning lessons may be the best way to give those connections. 
  4. Laugh together. It’s been said that “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22, NIV), so in your “storyful” day silly stories and jokes are welcome! 

May you have a blessed and “storyful” day!

P.S. What if you don’t have grandparents with whom to celebrate? Well, like Andrew in My Own Grandpa by Leone Castell Anderson you may find an older person who needs a “grandchild”, too.

For a few recommended children’s books about life with the elderly, see this post

Photo credit: Adobe Stock. 

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.

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 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)

Stepping into the Story – Madeline Island & As Waters Gone By

Madeline Island. 

Sophia smiled as she tweaked the sun-shimmer on a wave with her brush. The oil paint, the canvas, the brush in her hand – she had loved them ever since they first came into her life when she was thirteen years old.

It wasn’t until a month ago that she loved the subject of this painting: Madeline Island rising out of the Superior waves.

As-Waters-Gone-ByOn the coffee table nearby sat the book that started it all. Sophia had won the book in a silent-auction gift basket. When she finally cracked the cover, she was delighted. By the end, she knew she had to do one thing. She simply had to visit this place called Madeline Island. 

So that’s what she did.

She sat in her car on the ferry – the closest her car would ever get to driving on water – with her bike stashed on the rack. Once on land, she drove past the historic homes and all around the fourteen-mile-long island. She noted the itty-bitty library, the school, and the School of the Arts with its red and white buildings. She biked where she could see sparkling Superior. She snapped photos for later use. Then she returned to LaPoint for ice cream, meandered in and out of shops and even sketched. The sun came and went with the clouds.

Now back at home with her easel and brushes and the island captured on canvas, Sophia smiled. What was it about the book that made her so want to be there – to step into the story? The whimsical, relatable characters? The descriptions of the natural beauty? The heartwarming sayings that she wanted to paint on the walls of her dining room? The meals the characters enjoyed that made her tastebuds dance? Those all had something to do with with it, but…

It had to be the hope that flickered on like the flame of her candle (purchased on the island). Maybe it was also the refreshing reminder that God uses peculiar people to do His work – people who are willing to do the works He has prepared for them. 

Yes.

That’s why she was here, doing this peculiar business of spreading color on canvas. Her work was to capture the beauty of the Master Artist, to inspire others to pause and wonder, to share what she saw so that others might see Whom she sought.

Or something like that. She was a painter after all, not a writer. 

 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;  Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.”  ~I Peter 2:9-10 (KJV)

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” ~Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

 

“Step inside the Mystery” – Canary Island Song

The Canary Islands are a land of mystery with their blend of cultures, breathtaking landscapes and storied past.

But Caroline has another mystery to deal with.

She has no explanation for the tragic death of her husband. After seven years, she feels she has never gotten an answer to her heartwrending why? 

That why? has worn on her soul.

Surrounded by the “women of the Canaries” and an unexpected friend, Caroline hears words that carry refreshment for her soul like the island breezes’ touch on her skin.

“Some things in life will never make sense…They float around in a swirl of mystery. I wanted God to explain all that mystery to me before I agreed to trust him. But I discovered it doesn’t work that way. He is God, and He doesn’t have to explain anything. When I understood that, then I could surrender to Christ and step inside the mystery instead of stand back and resist.”  ~Bryan Spencer, Canary Island Song by Robin Jones Gunn, (Recorded Books, 25:50-26:31)

“Step inside the mystery.” Maybe it sounds good, but I think no one would say it is easy. Come to think of it, what good things are easy? 

Have you been standing in the mystery or resisting? While I haven’t experienced anything as painful as Caroline in Canary Island Song, just like everyone else, I have mysteries to live with – mysteries like my vision issues or empty chairs. Sometimes those vision problems get in the way of things I think I want to do or the emptinesses fill up with heartaches. Sometmes it would be nice to know the why?

I guess it gets down to trust. Do we trust God – the omnipotent, ominpresent, omniscient, steadfast-love-forever God enough to let Him direct the mysteries of our lives? 

Something to ponder today. And if you’re struggling with a mystery, maybe joining Caroline on her trip to the Canary Islands will refresh your soul. 

 

From Potter’s House: A Little of What I Carry with Me

Potter’s House, Guatemala City

I’d like to share with you a bit of this place that is part of my story. Would you stop by for a moment?

When you think of a “potter’s house” you might think of a potter sitting at his potter’s wheel, turning cool, soft clay into pots, mugs, bowls and other useful treasures.

Sometimes you might see him reworking vessels that started to go wrong. He refashions them carefully and then – ta-da! – the piece of artwork is ready for service. 

Just like in Jeremiah 18:1-4 (ESV) – 
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:
“Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.”

Well, at this Potter’s House, there is no wheel and there are no newly-made pots. But you can still see the work of the Great Potter turning clay into useful treasures. He has many helpers who work hard themselves, but when it comes down to it, they stand in awe of the Great Potter’s handiwork.

You’ve figured out, right? The Great Potter is the Lord God, and at Potter’s House in Guatemala City He is in the business of forming and shaping lives – even reworking lives that were getting bent out of shape. His people are His vessels of clay as well as His treasures.

If you want to read more about the story and work of Potter’s House, you can at www.pottershouse.org.gt. The site does an excellent job of explaining more about the ministry.

What I want to share with you is a little of what I carry with me from Potter’s House

1) There are no social barriers to God. The people Potter’s House serves work and live in the garbage dump. They don’t have wealth, position or possessions to make them “valuable”. Yet God cares about them as His special creation. He cares about them as much as He does middle-class and wealthy people. (Vice versa, God cares about wealthy and middle class people as much as He does poor people.) One story that’s been told at Potter’s House is about two little girls who prayed for a long time for three people. Those three people were a) an alcoholic from the garbage dump, b) one of the Guatemalan leaders of Potter’s House – for his English to improve especially; and c) for a particular President of the United States! Talk about stretching across social boundaries!

2) No one is out of God’s reach. Those people in the garbage dump may feel forgotten at times, but thanks to the work at Potter’s House, for thirty years they have had an opportunity to see that God has not forgotten them. Remember the alcoholic those two little girls prayed for? What were the “chances” of him ever giving up drinking there along the edge of Guatemala City’s garbage dump? It certainly couldn’t be said that he had a great support network. However, the Great Potter touched his life and made him a new vessel in His hands!

3) When God’s people see His work, it’s awesome. Have you ever been astounded by the skill of a craftsman as he works? That’s how I (and others) have felt as we’ve watched the Great Potter reshape lives at Potter’s House. Like I mentioned, the Great Potter has quite a few workers there who work hard and well, but – if we have our thinking straight – we know that God is directing everything. We, too, are only vessels in His hands. Of course, we know God is working all the time, but we don’t always feel like we can see it. I think this is especially true for the Americans who visit Potter’s House. In a way, Potter’s House ministers to these Americans just as much as to the Guatemalans because it is a place where they get to see the Great Potter at work. They come away with a sense of awe…and maybe with the clay of their lives reshaped a little! That’s why I say “when God’s people see His work, it’s awesome.”

There you go, my friends, that’s a little of what I carry with me from the Potter’s House in Guatemala City. There is so much more I could say and so many stories I’d like to share, but this is a start, and I’ll save the rest for another time.

Until then, I hope you know the thrill of seeing the Great Potter at work and feeling His hand on your life.

Perfect Timing

As we say “adios” to 2015, I’ve been thinking about timing. Did you get to do everything you wanted to do this year? Did things happen according to your schedule? If your year went anything like mine, not much happened in your timeframe. You still might be waiting for an event or wishing some things hadn’t gone by so fast. Perhaps you are actually scurrying to keep up with a whirlwind of new direction. On the other hand, the timing of other things might have been as sweet as the best Christmas surprise.

As much as we try, there are simply many things about our lives that we cannot control. The passage of time and the timing of so much are not subject to our wishes. However, time is subject to the King of Kings.

Life happens in God’s timing. And I think His timing is mysterious.

That’s how it was with the first Christmas. God’s people waited for generations – for thousands of years – for the prophecies to be fulfilled about the expected Savior. When it happened, all the pieces came together in a flurry. Now as God’s people look back to that day, generations are again waiting for Jesus – in a new way but with the same level of unknowns.

Why did the Lord choose that time in history to unfold such a pivotal scene in His story? Why not sooner or later? What was it like for the generations waiting? Was it anything like us waiting for God to give us the answers, direction or things that we’d like?

If you are in the middle of being at the mercy of God’s timing or if you’ve been there done that a time or two, you can relate to Christy and Todd in Forever with You the first installment in the series “Christy & Todd: The Married Years” by Robin Jones Gunn.

Like many young couples, especially those in ministry, these two are surfing their life-wave when the ocean gets messy. As breaker after breaker rolls over them, they can’t help wondering what in the world God is doing as they wait, wait, wait for Him to bring some solutions to their very-present problems.

Yeah, I’ve been there, too. The waiting is not so fun.

Happily for Christy and Todd (and any readers), they figure out how to keep trusting God amidst their stormy seas. Then they get to watch God bring all the elements together at just the right time…like He did on the first Christmas. As in real life, not all of their problems get tied up with a bow – besides it is the first book in a series – but the ending is sufficiently wrapped up with these words from Todd:

“To the King and His kingdom! We praise you, Father, for Your mysterious ways and Your perfect timing.” (pg. 265)

Yes, someday the mystery will be gone, and we’ll be able to see God’s timing as perfect.

May we be able to face 2016 with the same spirit even with the waiting, “whirlwind-ing”, and wondering. And if you’re looking for a little encouragement along the way, you might want to pick up a copy of Forever with You.

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 hope of Christmas and the love of Jesus 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)

Worth the Tears: The Story of a Struggling Reader

 As Katie stared at the bold black letters on the page, tears dripped down her cheeks. Her teacher wasn’t surprised. This was the daily routine.

Every day they worked on reading together. It seemed like it was never going to get easier. Katie wondered why her teacher couldn’t just read to her; she liked listening to stories! Learning to read on her own, however, seemed just painful. 

It wasn’t that Katie’s teacher hadn’t laid a good foundation. They had gone over phonics thoroughly.  Still, only three-letter words seemed hard. Katie’s dramatic emotions didn’t help. She even declared that she didn’t want to read. And every day the tears came.

Thankfully, Katie’s teacher could see beyond the surface. Katie’s conflict ran deeper than letters and sounds. Unlike some children, Katie’s greater struggle to read wasn’t brought on by letters moving backwards in her head or a non-verbal bent. A big part of Katie’s struggle was that she couldn’t see. The letters blurred together, not just because of her tears and even with the best glasses she could get. Along with that, Katie was learning a lesson even harder than reading: Because of her vision issues, she was different from other kids her age. While they might fight to remember when an e is silent, she might fight to simply see that it was an e and not a c. That realization hurt. Of course, the fact that she could see at all was something to be thankful for, but a six-year-old’s life isn’t always governed by logic. (Actually, no one’s is…)

Knowing all that, her teacher did battle with her and those BOB books. Sure, she probably pulled out her hair a few times and even shed a few frustrated tears of her own, but she wanted Katie to read normal print books if she ever could.

Mercifully, the teacher got a little help. A gentleman read to Katie on a regular basis. She had been read to before – that’s how she knew she liked hearing stories –  but as the days went by she slowly discovered that books were her ticket to adventures and the places and people she wanted to learn about. She just had to take hold of it.

Months of tedium and tears continued. Then one day, all the pieces came together. Katie decided she wanted to take hold of her ticket to adventure and board the train herself. There were so many people and places she wanted to learn about! She also figured out that if she could get up early and snuggle into her favorite blue chair, she had the perfect place to read. There was no one to mind that she held the book two inches away from her nose. She read books like the Little House series that she had loved listening to and new mysteries She felt rather satisfied when she read a biography of Daniel Boone that had hundreds of pages. Lessons in Braille fed her new-found love for letters, even though she continued to read mostly with her eyes

And she kept reading. Through two international moves, junior high, high school, and right on through college when she gained her BA. By this time Katie knew that she relished stories. Even more than that, she knew that she loved God’s story.

You see, Katie had been given a key to not only escapades and faraway places but also to God’s Word, another book she read for herself. Within those pages, she learned that God doesn’t make mistakes and that even if we don’t understand why He gives us certain circumstances and life may be just plain hard, He is worthy of our trust. Stories from history that she read gave her hope that God can use even the challenges in our lives for good purposes.

Now Katie still reads – though not as much as she might like – and contacts help her see better, but she also seeks to share stories with others to give them at least a glimpse of the hope she’s been given. 

Maybe not every struggling reader will be like Katie. Maybe God has other stories to tell in some of their lives. But, for all of you who are or will be traipsing through tedium and tears this school year, I hope it’s an encouragement. Teaching a child to read – to whatever extent he or she is able – is a great gift. You never know what God might have in store for your student. I think Katie and her teacher decided it was worth the tears, don’t you?

And just who was Katie’s teacher? Of all the people in the whole wide world, it was her mom. And the gentleman who read to her? He was her dad. 

I should know because I am Katie. Funny how a girl by any other name can be-one-and-the-same, isn’t it? And, yes, I’d say it was worth the tears. I’m thankful Mom and Dad thought so, too.