“And it came to pass nigh upon nineteen hundred and sixteen years ago”
This begins Frances Hodgson Burnett’s little book published in 1916 about a rejected, deformed orphan boy who is sent to beg for the cruel woman who keeps him.
One day, hiding in the brush near the road to Bethlehem, he watches a surprising number of families and animals pass by on the road, playful and happy. But Zia falls asleep sobbing in unbearable loneliness.
Yet in the night Zia awakens smiling, feeling an unexplainable calm, without and within. Soon he sees one part of the sky growing lighter, and the sheep nearby suddenly attentive. In the darkness, a weary man walks slowly up the road, leading a donkey which carries a woman. A radiance surrounds her.
Whatever had led Zia to Bethlehem now leads him to find the radiant woman and her husband in the mangers of the cave. The woman invites him to come near to the new born baby.
But he refuses, warning her that he is an unclean leper. Yet she insists. “Draw nigh,” the woman says, “and let his hand rest upon thee!”
Zia obeys. He bows his head to the Holy child and feels the feather light touch of his tiny fingers. Soon Zia is healthy and standing upright for the first time in his life.
Frances Hodgson Burnett, the well-known author of The Secret Garden, Little Lord Fauntleroy, and many other books, writes in a way that immediately engages and grips her reader. Every page of this little book seemed to draw me deeper into Zia’s experiences and emotions. Even though the story is based on the well-known events in the Bible, and the ending is predictable, every compassionate word of this beautiful story is precious.
The intricately drawn illustrations were done by Spencer Baird Nichols and W.T. Benda. I always love it when a book has a beautifully hand-written presentation in the front pages, and this brand-new book was a gift to a Sunday School student for faithful attendance during 1916.
You can buy a printed copy of this sweet book on Amazon, read the Kindle version for free on Amazon, and various versions for free on www.gutenberg.org, www.childrenslibrary.org, and http://www.online-literature.com/burnett/3042/ .
Christmas, to me, is evidence that God wants to be with us—near us—not far away.
That changes everything I used to believe about God being a looming taskmaster whose main purpose was to hand out a list of rules and dire consequences with a warning, “Now don’t mess up!”
Christmas shows the fallacy of a distant, indifferent Higher Being, chuckling and sighing as we struggle on our own to figure out the mysteries of our spiritual path and the secret to happiness and peace.
Christmas is the most visible and tangible expression of God pro-actively coming to live our lives with us—first in Jesus over 2,000 years ago, and ever since then in his Spirit—simply because he loves us. And that reaching for us, pursuing us, walking with us in every experience we have, was not a one-time thing. It has happened since the beginning of humankind, and happens everyday. And if we look with eyes of faith we’ll see it.
That is the good news the angels told of in Bethlehem. “Good”? I would call this great news! No wonder they sang their highest praises to glorify God.
Photos courtesy of Waiting for the Word at Flickr: Good Tidings 08 https://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/6369654687, God the Father 11 https://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/5546445177
A couple of years ago I was having trouble finding the kind of Christmas cards that I wanted in the stores. I was looking for a Biblical scene and Bible verse, and wanted some extraordinary art. It was early in December, so I decided I’d try to make my own cards. For anyone interested in doing the same, it wasn’t really hard, and it was a pleasure looking through all the breathtaking classic art available for free on the internet.
Click HERE to download (pdf file) or just to see how all of them turned out. The first page shows the inside text used for all cards, followed by 7 different images and corresponding back covers (the first 2 are black and white images, the rest are color). If you like them, feel free to use them!
I hope this is useful for you and that it brings to mind the true beauty of this season, and of the gift that God gave us for the taking, the gift of abundant life, knowing him, walking humbly with him.
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Here are the steps I took:
First, as much as I wish otherwise, I could not draw a scene myself. So, I started looking for ideas for images to use on the cover of the card. Initially, I tried taking photos of two manger scenes that I have, and played around with special effects on the photo editing software. That was fun, of course, but in the end I didn’t have anything that I liked. If you are looking for an unusual Nativity scene, you are welcome to these, 10 images in a Word document. The ones at the bottom were my son’s favorites.
Next I looked on my clipart and Bible DVD’s for various images and photographs, and found 3 that had possibilities. Then I Googled “copyright free nativity images” and I hit the jackpot: THANK YOU, reusableart.com! I found exactly what I was looking for, and more. (They have over 3,000 beautiful public domain images from old books and magazines that go far beyond holidays to birds, animals, children, seascapes, buildings, trees, flowers, patterns–a feast for the eyes!)
Then I figured out what card size I needed. I’d bought a ton of red greeting card envelopes in the summer when the dollar store had them on sale (for 5 cents each!), so I had to make my cards so they fit in the envelopes. I decided on a card stock size of 6” x 9″, which would fold to 4.5” x 6” to fit in a 5” x 7” envelope.
MAKING THE CARD ON THE COMPUTER
I used Open Office Impress (free presentation software) and started with a blank slide. On the Format/Page menu, I selected a custom-sized page and set it to 6×9 inches landscape. Then I inserted the image on the right side, and a text box full of text on the left, which, after folding in the middle, would make the front and back. One more similar slide with text on the left and right sides made the inside of the card. (I am sure that that there are easy templates available online, and if you’re smart you’ll avoid the “custom” card size that I did–I won’t do it that way next time!)
Customize yours for exactly what is special and meaningful to you and your loved ones!
For the inside left side text, I chose the lyrics from the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah, a piece of music that I have loved ever since we sang it in choir in college. For the inside right side text, I just wrote a short sentiment from the heart.
In the back cover text, I listed the title of the painting and the artist information, as well as a blurb about Handel and his work.
I saved my final files as pdf’s that would print on 8-1/2 x 11” card stock or paper, with the intention of using a paper cutter to trim the side and bottom to 6 x 9”.
My plan was to print onto my own card stock at the self-serve copy/print department of the office supply store, but I wasn’t allowed to do card stock on self-serve. They had to do it themselves with their own very high quality expensive card stock, and it would be at least a week before they had time to do mine.
So I printed the black and white inside of the card at home on my laser printer, then printed the color sheets at the office supply store on regular white paper, and trimmed them using their paper cutter. I attached the color pages to the outside of the cards with double-sided tape.
I hope this gives you some great ideas and the joy of making your own personalized cards!
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This was originally posted December 18, 2012
Perhaps you are looking for a unique present to send electronically to someone dear and far away…? How about this for an idea!
Fair’s Fair is my favorite used book store in Calgary, actually a “chain”, with 5 locations around the city. They are a joy to browse because they are organized, neat, well-lit, clean, well-labelled and full of near-new books (that is, except for their wonderful vintage books!). The staff at all locations are friendly and helpful.
A few weeks ago, I bought a gift for a friend, encouraged in the baby shower invitation to bring a gently used favorite book, signed, in place of a card. What a sweet idea! I had borrowed The Rosie Project through my library, and found it at Fair’s Fair’s central location. This is where they have their warehouse, an enormous facility with endless shelves going up to the ceiling. I especially appreciated their shelves set aside for award-winning books, like Pulitzer Prize winners.
As I went to buy the book, the children’s shelf caught my eye, one sweet little board book in particular, Guess How Much I Love You. I bought that one, too. (Guess how much they cost—only $15! And a week later as I was buying baby clothes, I amazingly ran across a cute little pink Guess How Much I Love You outfit.)
Recently I had the privilege of browsing the vintage children’s books at the Mount Royal (17th Avenue SW) store. It was breathtaking. I’ve never seen so many beautiful classic books for young adults and children in one place. All the usual books and collections were represented there, including Nancy Drew, Elsie Dinsmore, school readers, fairy tales, classics like Alice in Wonderland and Bambi, Mother Goose, the My Book House series, Dr. Seuss, Winnie the Pooh, and the Journeys through Bookland series.
I had brought in books to trade, and they gave me credit half of them (which is actually quite good, as they are picky). I turned right around and used that credit for these gems…
(I’ll post more about these three soon!)
So remember that if you live in the Calgary area, or are passing through, Fair’s Fair is worth a visit!
Great news! Standard Publishing will be publishing one of my stories in their teen publication, ENCOUNTER—The Magazine! This is a special thrill because it is one of my favorites.
This story grew out of a fun assignment for a writing course with the Institute of Children’s Literature. The instructions were to go to a public place to observe children or teens, and make notes on their conversations. I went to my local library, where there were two teenage boys playing chess with the huge chess pieces. I had so much fun taking notes and enjoying their laughter, competitiveness and bravado. Eventually, for another assignment, I conjured up a story with a character based on one of the boys.
Before I submitted it for publication, I took this story to my writing critique group. They gave me a lot of suggestions, which I incorporated. I sent it to a magazine for pre-teens, but they rejected it, and a year later I submitted it to a contest, which I did not hear back from.
Recently I found information about ENCOUNTER—The Magazine in a weekly newsletter called Children’s Writers eNews. I re-read the teen story I’d written a year or so before, and found it a bit confusing. I decided to submit my original story, written for the ICL class—and it was accepted!
That was an educational experience. Although I still think it is smart to get feedback and critiques on my writing, I’ll probably trust my own judgment more!
Standard Publishing is a 150-year-old organization. If you are interested in submitting to ENCOUNTER—The Magazine, or Standard Publishing’s other periodicals, you can find their writer guidelines here and here.
[Chess photo courtesy of Wikipedia, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4d/Large_chess_set.JPG%5D
I’m back working at school and this summer is officially over tomorrow morning, so this is a good time for a round-up of what I’ve been reading during the long, lazy days of the holiday.
Lately, I have been reading and writing about old books, serious books. But browsing through the library feeling the full freedom of being on vacation inspired me to indulge myself in piles and piles of kids’ books! I found award winners, picked up some surprises in Grab Bags, found some brand new titles and authors, and revisited old ones. Here are the best:
No wonder the Pippi books stayed in my mind all these forty-some years! Pippi lives my own childhood fantasies of having exotic animals, traveling the world, living in dangerous jungles, spending most of the time outdoors, and enjoying complete independence. Her thoughts have no logical order but are creative and free, and Pippi—thanks to a supply of gold coins—can give gifts to everyone she meets. She talks to her hat, loves stepping in full gutters, and makes up “facts” out of her wild imagination. This story sails along with nothing but spontaneity, surprises, and laughter, until Pippi’s pirate-dad returns from the sea to take her back with him. But will her love of the tossing waves make up for the loss of her friends?
Dewey: There’s a Cat in the Library by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter, illustrated by Steve James
I’m so glad there is a children’s version of the adult book that is so precious. It’s uncanny how much Dewey the cat’s habits and personality are so much like my cat Ginger’s. The illustrator provided perfect drawings to endear kids to the story of the famous library pet.
Caldecott award winner The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes
There is something gentle, rhythmical, predictable and comforting about poems with cumulative patterns. This book takes us through a dark but friendly and peaceful journey out the window, all around and back again. I was in awe when I read that all the intricate drawings were done on scratchboard. According to the author’s fascinating note at the end, the inspiration for this book came from a 1955 nursery rhyme book.
Caldecott award winner A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
The whimsical drawings in this book set the tone, and they pleasantly remind me of many of the books I read as a child in the 1960’s. With one look at his ever-present grin, we are drawn into Amos’s simple daily life as he cares for animals of all personalities who have needs we wouldn’t have noticed unless we were as observant and considerate as he is.
Jennifer and Josephine written and illustrated by Bill Peet
I barely missed Bill Peet growing up, but my own sons were lucky enough to enjoy him and requested his first book, Hubert’s Hair-Raising Adventure, over and over. In this one, the two main characters are an old, abandoned car and a scrawny homeless cat, whose many emotions are perfectly depicted in the author’s illustrations. Bill Peet worked for Walt Disney as a sketch artist, helping to produce early films such as Fantasia, 101 Dalmations and Peter Pan.
During the extra-busy weeks at the end of my school year, one of my co-workers sent out a link where we could wish Robert Munsch a Happy 50th Birthday. That inspired me to catch up on all of his books I’ve missed since my kids stopped reading them. The illustrations by Michael Martchenko made me laugh almost as much as the words!
I love how the Robert Munsch picks up ideas as he travels to schools all around North America, talking to his young readers and finding out what makes them happy, mad, or frustrated, and then dedicates the book to them!
It was so much fun spending several weeks with kids’ books! If you’re looking for some smiles and heart-warmers to brighten your child’s—or your—reading times, you could start with these!
The life of a writer can be an isolated one, and a writer’s group can be an encouraging and educational help. I joined Inscribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship several years ago in order to find writing tips and a supportive community of likeminded wordsmiths, and to grow in my faith.
One of my first experiences as a member was attending a fall conference in Edmonton, where I was excited to meet a well-known Christian historical novelist whom I greatly admired, Jane Kirkpatrick. (I not only got to meet her, I happened to sit beside her for an entire workshop and get a powerful dose of her humor and expertise, along with her command to never listen to the discouraging gremlins on my shoulder!)
Over the years I have enjoyed participating as one of the monthly writers of the Inscribe Writers Blog, where I have attempted to share my own wisdom, inspiration and experiences. But my greatest benefit from volunteering to write for the blog has been the immense amount of information, help and support I receive from readers the other members’ posts.
Now much of that excellent writing advice has been published in an anthology entitled 7 Essential Habits of Christian Writers. Inside are articles, poetry, short stories, photographs and art to inspire writers in:
- Time with God
- Healthy Living
- Time Management
- Honing Writing Skills
- Crafting a Masterpiece
Here is a sample from the book.
As I read through the book, I enjoyed the feeling of sitting and chatting with the authors, as they do what they do best, tell stories of how they have found success in their writing careers, and been drawn ever closer to God.
For the past year or two I have been working at de-busying my life and my concerns, in order to focus my energies and quiet my mind. This includes weeding out the unnecessary activities and commitments. I have a tendency to want to say “yes” when I am aware of a need that I can help with, or when I am directly or indirectly asked to help, but now I’m saying “maybe”, to give myself time to consider the impact it will have on my goals.
This book by Susie Larson, Your Sacred Yes, parallels the kind of thoughts and decisions I’ve been considering.
Now, maybe it would be simpler to just say “no” to certain requests for our time (even when the request comes from ourselves!). However, Susie Larson looks at it a bit differently. Considering our “yes’s” to be sacred, means to take time beforehand to prioritize what is most important in our lives, which is a valuable activity. “What do our yeses lead to?” she asks.
She cautions us against overcommitment and exhaustion, which can have surprising consequences. The solution, she says, is in trusting our loving God for wisdom and guidance, and understanding that more rests on his broad shoulders than ours. No, it is not our responsibility (or in our power) to fix the world and everyone in it. And our decisions are never going to have the approval of everyone else. The result of adjusting our schedules and attitudes this way is that our lives become more fruitful, calm, confident, joyful and content, and less competitive.
When I requested this book, I thought it would be something of a practical list of types of activities, volunteer work and even mindsets that we should gravitate toward or cultivate. I was partially right. Some chapters strayed off the main message and confused me, but I took a lot of notes nevertheless. There is a lot of excellent material written about the innate value of every single person as a creation of God.
I kept getting the feeling that the author was repeating herself, and perhaps this was because some messages need repeating. I prefer a simpler more logical, linear and focused style of reading, with less emotion and jargon, but many will no doubt appreciate the personable chatty style of this intelligent, accomplished radio talk show host, author and national speaker.
Each chapter ends with a prayer, several questions as personal reflections for the reader to contemplate and write about, a wise word (a quote), several questions for group discussion starters, and a “faith declaration” to help us remember what is true.
This is an energetic book filled with examples of people who have made good and bad choices, and includes the voices of many other wise leaders in the Christian faith. It contains an abundance of references to Biblical truths. I recommend it as one that can help explain our motivation to make commitments we don’t really want to make, and how to bring order and peace to our entire lives by trusting in the power of God, which comes to us through our faith in him.
[I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.]
While on holiday visiting relatives in the Denver area, I decided to check the yellow pages for used bookstores, just in case I had some time to visit them. And I lucked out and got to go to three of them!
The Bookworm in Boulder, Colorado
This bookstore came highly recommended by a friend of our family who lives up in the mountains west of Boulder, an earthy town northwest of Denver. This was originally just to be a place for me to meet another dear friend, and what a great choice that turned out to be, since I got way more browsing time than expected. Clean, well-lit, organized, stocked with a huge supply of books, nicely labelled categories, and staffed by pleasant people, this was a dream of a used bookstore. After browsing my favorite sections (writing, children, fiction, religion) for over an hour, I wandered close to the cash register area and hit the mother lode of old books. Many of their antique books had been shelved along with the newer books, so I was surprised to see one large section (surrounding a desk) completely filled with books published fifty or more years ago. I found this at just the time that my friend was planning to pick me up, and as I awaited her text, I hoped she’d be delayed just a bit longer.
After being assured by staff that I was allowed to snoop through these shelves and the boxes on the floor, I kneeled down on the floor and pulled some books out that were hidden behind a stack of boxes. One of them, I discovered, was a Bible published in 1865. After researching its value, the lovely manager of the store said, “I’m sorry, but this is quite expensive.” It was worth $75 U.S.–more than I wanted to pay. But in her hands were three other old children’s books that she thought I might like, which was a very sweet gesture. I ended up buying two old school readers for $3 each, and the Mere Christianity Journal for $6 in perfect condition. (The idea of using this journal to “dialogue with” C.S. Lewis about his thoughts is thrilling!)
Red Letter Books in Boulder, Colorado
After a fantastic lunch of fish tacos, my friend wanted to browse around another book store–happy dance!–so we went to Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall to one recommended by the sweet manager at Bookworm for its many old and rare books. Red Letter Books was a different type of store, smaller, crowded, not as organized and tidy, but with a bigger selection of interesting books. Outside on the sidewalk were its $1 sale books, and I snatched up a hardcover of Gilead, the Pulitzer Prize’ winner by Marilynne Robinson, for my friend. She in turn bought me Watership Down, which has twice been recommended to me by my pastor. (Now is apparently the time for me to read it, so in spite of the two other books I have on the go, I started reading it immediately!)
I came away with 5 additional books from Red Letter Books, most between $5 and $10: the two books I was missing from my set of 1950’s Winnie the Pooh books, a 1904 romance novel called God’s Good Man, and two other children’s books, Child Rhymes, and Stepping Stones to Literature, both published in the early twentieth century.
Capital Hill Books in Denver
While wandering around and taking pictures in Denver of the gold-domed state capital, the spires of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, and the Molly Brown House, I stopped in Capital Hill books. A small but bright and orderly used book store, it has various notes and communications around the store that give it a cheerful personality.
It is arranged and labelled well, and although it has few old children’s books, I couldn’t resist a 1905 edition of my all-time favorite children’s book, A Childs’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. I also have a 1950’s version of this beautiful book, which I bought with my allowance money in 1965, as well as a more recent large edition that I bought because of the gorgeous illustrations
In a way, I’m surprised at how these stores are apparently thriving while many other new book stores are failing. I am so grateful to the owners, and all the other used book lovers that help keep them going!