I have a confession to make… I’m a terrible host. I’ve never liked cooking that much, and when we have more than two people to entertain, I’m a nervous wreck. I cannot imagine how Martha must have felt as she busied herself for the arrival of Jesus and his disciples. It’s my idea of the ultimate nightmare.
I mean, Jesus is coming to dinner. For me, that would be like entertaining the Queen of England. Wouldn’t you want your place to be perfect and your baking top-notch if the Son of God was coming to your eat at your house? Hospitality was an important social requirement of the times. No-one can blame Martha for wanting everything to be perfect. Just imagine all the jobs she’d already done in preparation…
And then, the big moment arrives.
Slip into Martha’s sandals for a moment and put yourself in her position…
Oh Glenys… this is the phone call you never wanted.
I hear the tremor in my brother’s voice. He’s 4000 long miles away, and I say a prayer in my head.
God, whatever this is, give me strength.
Dad is dying.
I can hear those three words like it was yesterday. My heart is beating fast and I kneel by my front window like I always do when I don’t know what else to do.
That was one year ago today.
My little grandsons are running around the house. There’s Christmas music playing. I’m setting the table with a cheery red cloth, preparing for a party. And then the next day, I’m on a plane, England bound, where I get to kiss my dad for the last time as he lies with his eyes closed and his hands folded in that quiet, quiet room, with a stuffed dog at his feet and an acorn tucked in his pocket.
Please, God, let me know you are real.
Let my dad be living in heaven.
Let my faith not be in vain.
Let my words, let my words that I write for children, be true.
Because sometimes, just sometimes, there’s this little nagging doubt that creeps up inside me and I wonder what life is all about, and if I really will get to see my dad again, like I told him with absolute certainty on my knees that day in front of my window.
I love you Dad, and I WILL see you again.
I could hear his breathing.
My voice was strong, and in that moment, I was convinced, just like Paul, that NOTHING,not even death itself, can ever separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
But today, I’m not strong. I’m not convinced. And I’m trying hard to hold on to my faith, my God, like I’m drowning in the ocean and it’s my only life-line, my only hope and it’s slipping fast through my fingers.
But what is faith? What is hope, the writer of Romans said, if it can be seen?
The day after I kissed my dad goodbye, as he lay in that simple wooden box, I stood in the street just a few doors down the road, while my sister and nieces played Christmas carols in the brass band. The icy wind blew my sister’s hair, and the rain in Wigan was cold. I wondered if my dad could hear them play his favorite carol, as he lay there, all alone.
Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”
I know my dad has been raised. I know my dad has gained that second birth. I just miss him terribly, and there’s this big, empty hole in my heart that no one can fill.
And so as my family gather in England today to celebrate and remember the life of the most Christ-like man I have ever known, the one I was utterly, utterly privileged to call Dad, I will take a walk in these Michigan wintry woods, and I’ll admire the splendid trees, all covered in soft snow, and I’ll listen for the birds he loved so much, and I’ll thank God that my dad, my wonderful dad, is in heaven.
I remember when my mum discovered ‘catalogs’… the perfect, stress-free way to shop for Christmas for all eight of us. We would pore over the pages, and then she would order what we wanted.
One year was a big disappointment. It must only have been a few days before Christmas when she broke the devastating news to an expectant ten year old:
Glenys, I’m sorry, but your pogo stick didn’t arrive.You’ll have to choose something else.
I didn’t want anything else. I wanted a pogo stick so I could boing up and down the driveway to my heart’s content. I don’t even remember what I chose as an alternative.
But what I DO remember is coming downstairs that Christmas morning, waiting patiently outside the living room for all my siblings to line up, and then opening the door to see…
a POGO STICK!
It had arrived after all, and my dad had dutifully hidden it away in the back of his wardrobe so it wouldn’t be seen. (He’d also forgotten to tell my mum). How excited she must have been to be able to surprise me with that gift after all.
I was a happy little girl, and spent the next several months boinging away happily to my heart’s content, up and down the drive. It was the best surprise ever.
It wouldn’t be Christmas without surprises. A little baby, in a manger, who would grow up to be King of the Whole World… what could be more surprising than that?
Traci Smith, a Presbyterian pastor in San Antonio, has a Christmas surprise for her two young sons. She wrapped up 25 books and beginning December 1st, they’ll open one book a day until the 25th.
I’ll never forget the thrill of writing the dedication in my first book.
This book is dedicated to the oldest and youngest members of my family…. I wrote.
To my dad, Harry Hughes, who first told me the wonderful Story of Jesus. And to my grandchildren, Xander, Sam, and Brixham, who are just beginning to hear the wonderful Story for themselves.
When I penned those words I was nervous. I wasn’t sure whether my dad, frail at 90, would ever be able to hold that book, or turn its pages, or see that it was dedicated to him, or even remember that his daughter was the author. But he did. I have the photographto prove it:
And how glad I was, because he never did get to hold my second book. He died while it was in the mail on its way to him, all wrapped up in Christmas paper, on route over the wide sea from Michigan to England.
If he could have opened it, he would have seen that I dedicated that book to my first granddaughter, newly arrived into the world.
For Colette, my first granddaughter, I wrote. How my dad would have loved to meet her, and lift her high onto his shoulder. But it wasn’t to be.
There is a time for everything, Solomon wrote, a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to weep and a time to laugh.
Isn’t that true?
When the time came for the third title in the series, Christmas Love Letters from God, I was ready when my editor asked, Who would you like to dedicate this book to?
I knew, straight away, whose name would be printed in the front of this book, and why. And so when Laura Sassi, children’s book author, welcomed me to her blog, and asked me to share the story behind its dedication, I was happy to do so.
Do you know who I dedicated Christmas Love letters from God to?
Somehow, when I wasn’t looking, this first grandson of mine managed to turn five years old, swiffed his blonde hair to one side, and knocked on the doors of kindergarten.
Gone are the days of painting at grandma’s and singing songs at the library together. Gone are the alphabet rhymes and the sensory bags filled with birdseed and pasta. My boy is grown up.
I picked him up from after-school for the first time just yesterday. I was there when the doors swung open and he jumped down from the yellow school bus, laughing and jostling and chatting with his little kindergarten buddies. I watched him swing his back pack onto his shoulder, his laces all undone and his blonde hair blowing in the wind.
He didn’t see me for a few minutes as I glimpsed into his new world. But then, his eye caught mine… and there he was after all, my little grandson running, running, and squealing with joy.
Gandma!!! he squeals in delight.
(Yes, that’s right… I didn’t mis-spell that word. He still calls me Gandma sometimes).
And I swing him high into the air, back-pack and all, and hug him close. All is not lost. This little boy still loves to see me, and he’s not embarrassed to show it… yet.
This is my Gandma Glenys, he announces loudly and proudly to all his friends, and hugs me tight around the legs as if I might escape. But where would I go… if not with him?
I tuck him into bed that night, and I tell him:
I love you to the moon and back.
He thinks for a minute, before he responds: I love you to… (a little pause here) the mountains and back.
How did he fill my heart like that? I kiss that little blonde head as he snuggles under the covers and closes his eyes.
And I think to myself, seize this time Gandma. Hold on to it like it’s the last thing you’ll ever have, because that gorgeous autumn tree, that one you took a photo of just the other day? It’s leaves are almost all gone.
And if I could hold on to a season, I surely would… before the ground is covered with what was once so lovely.
I’m only about six or seven years old, but already I know that I love to write. I love to read too.
My brother and I, we sneak into my dad’s study and pull the big heavy book from the shelf. We huddle together and turn the pages. Already we’re giggling.
It doesn’t take long to find what we’re looking for… a photograph of a fat bird with a huge, puffed out red chest protruding from under its chin like a ball. The Apple Bird we used to call it. It seemed to us that this strange bird must have swallowed an apple and the gigantic fruit had somehow made its way outside the bird’s skin. We couldn’t believe that such an exotic creature existed… it was so unlike the tiny red-breasted English robin who hopped around our front garden, waiting for my dad to feed it.
This big book of wonder was only one treasure in a room containing many. The shelves in my dad’s study were bulging with encyclopedias and classics and poetry books and bibles.
And something else….
In a tiny corner, in the smallest of spaces, sat a little desk… containing notebooks and paper and pencils. And a chair. It was my desk. And it was all I needed.
I think it may have been at this desk, surrounded by my father’s books and bibles, that I began to write poems. And even though I inherited my dad’s passion for poetry and his love for God’s Word, I never, ever would have thought that fifty years later, I might be able to combine the two in Snuggle Time Psalms.
And all I can think, when I leaf through its pages, is how much my dad would chuckle to see it, and how much he would love it so.
And maybe one day, there’ll be two little children, who will lift it from the shelf, and giggle over it together, and wonder at our great God, who made Apple Birds and English robins, and brothers and sisters, and all things good.
It was this time last year, when the sun shone hot over the water and the family of geese floated by. That’s when it happened.. something so ridiculous that only God could have done it.
We’re standing in the back yard, my husband and I. We’re not alone. There are others here too, perusing the papers passed to them by the realtor. They’re doing what we’re doing – trying to imagine themselves living in this home, this little home on the lake. But it is little. Cute… but would we have room for our family when they come to visit from England?
I blame the Fletters. It was that family, among others, who made us fall in love with the ridiculous idea of lake-living when we came to live in the United States. Fifteen long years ago it was when they took us to that lovely lake home where we were first introduced to the fun of tubing, and the crazy idea of swimming in a lake.
No-one in England swims in a lake. I can remember saying incredulously. They’re freezing!
But not in Michigan. In Michigan they are warm, and welcoming. And people live on them.
But not us. I remember thinking. We’ll never live on a lake, because we live in parsonages. We go where God sends, and that means a home I’ll never get to choose myself.
But who knows what God has in store? Not me.
So this time last year, the unimaginable is about to happen. And we’re thinking about this little home. We’re standing on the grass that looks and feels like a luxurious sponge, and we’re looking out over the water to where kayakers float effortlessly and two white swans drift by. And my husband turns around to look at the neighbor’s house. It’s much bigger. It has a lovely deck. And a cute little beach. And for some ridiculous reason, there’s an ‘Open House’ sign hanging there too.
Now that’s a lake home Glenys. He says. Look at next door! Look at that lovely deck! That’s a home big enough to share with our family from England. Let’s go and peek inside.
I remember saying it clearly:
Don’t be ridiculous.
And twelve months later, when those same white swans are drifting by, and the sun is sinking in a pool of red over the lake, that lovely deck is the one from which I write. That lovely home is the one we’re sharing right now with our family from England.
And all the thanks and praise goes to God, who whispers crazy things like:
Just hold your staff over the water Moses, and see what happens.
(Can’t you just hear Moses saying, Don’t be ridiculous!)
Or: Just march around those massive walls Joshua, and see what happens.
(Can’t you just hear Joshua saying, Don’t be ridiculous!)
Or: Just wait three days Mary …you will see me again.
(Can’t you just hear Mary saying, Don’t be ridiculous!)
But that’s our ridiculous God… who does the impossible, who whispers the incredible, who resurrects fifteen year old dreams and breathes them back to life.
A wonderful surprise plopped onto my doorstep recently. It was four copies of Love Letters from God….in Korean.
I tore away the packaging and eagerly opened the book. Of course, I couldn’t understand a word. But on the other hand, I knew everything it said.
My Korean translator is called JongRak Hong. He diligently pored over this book and spent hours translating it into his native language.
Last year, I got an email from him. It was very polite. It went like this:
May I ask you a question? Don’t worry. It’s a very simple question.
In Acknowledgments, you say thanks to your brother Trevor.
Is he your elder brother or younger brother?
Because In Korean, there are different words for calling elder/younger brother and sister.
His message made me smile. Here was I, thinking that a computer would be translating my book, when all the while, JongRak was poring over its pages, working diligently to make sure every single word was translated correctly.
Trevor is my older brother, I told him. (The one who first saw the potential in the pages of this book, the one who is a wonderful writer himself….but I didn’t tell JongRak that.)
It was several months later when that amazing package arrived at my door. I tried to find the name of my brother, Trevor. It’s hard, but I know it’s somewhere near the top of this page:
My name looks like this:
And this is the name of God:
And while I’m turning the pages in the USA, struggling to make sense of the words, I know there’s someone on the other side of the world, perhaps a mom, or a dad, or a grandma, or a grandpa, cuddling their little Korean child on their lap, who’s also turning these pages and smiling as they read God’s love letters to them. And every word makes complete sense.
Go into all the world, Jesus told his disciples, and preach the good news to all nations. Wow…perhaps I’m a tiny part of that, and so is JongRak Hong.
It was sitting quietly in the mailbox one misty morning. Waiting for me to find it. I knew what it was before I opened the envelope.
International Special Delivery, the important stamp said. I normally love mail from England… it’s always family-sent. But this one was different.
I opened it slowly and pulled out the contents. An impressive logo announced, ‘Zurich Bank’. So here it was…. the check I never wanted.
Dear Mrs Nellist, Paying the claim on your father’s Adaptable Life Plan, the words said in bold.
Your. father’s. Adaptable. Life. Plan.
I had to read those words three times and still I didn’t want to believe them. Is that myfather? The one with a twinkle in his eye and a love for life?
The one who taught me how to swim, and played badminton with me on holiday?
The one who walked with me through the woods, and taught me how to spot glow worms in the dark?
The one who held my hand when I was in the dentist chair, and read books to me every night?
The one who taught me the name of every insect and every tree?
The one who happily gave away everything he owned, and the only things he ever saved for himself were acorns in his pocket?
Do you mean my father? Surely not.
Because if you do, then I don’t want this check.
What I want is for my wonderful dad to see what I’m seeing… which is a fiercely protective robin, who labored long to build a scraggly nest in a ladder outside my front door; who carefully laid four little blue eggs in there; who chases away every naughty chipmunk that dares to go near her home; who sits on those eggs every minute so that her young can have the very best future possible.
Who, when those babies are born, will watch over them, and love them, and feed them, and nurture them, and teach them everything they need to know about the world….
just like my wonderful dad did for me.
And if I could hug him again, and laugh with him again, and walk with him again, and show him the robin building her nest, I would gladly rip this check to pieces.
But it’s his way, my wonderful father’s way, of caring for me, even though he’s gone.
Her name was Isabella. She hated it, and preferred to be called Isabel. But she hated that too. She thought it old-fashioned.
I wish she knew now how popular that sweet name is, and how, when I meet that little girl called Bella, she always makes me think of her. But there’s a lot I wish she knew now.
I wish she knew that I married David, whom she adored.
I wish she knew that he became a pastor…how surprised and thrilled she would have been!
I wish she knew that I had four wonderful sons, that my family has grown to welcome three daughters-in-law, and four adorable grandchildren.
I wish she knew that I went into teaching, and eventually became a children’s book author.
Because it’s really due to her.
Those who know me well would never, ever believe that I was a naughty girl at school. But I was. My poor parents were constantly hauled into the headmaster’s office, as he tried to rein in my unruly behavior.
I remember one of those occasions more than most.
I’m sitting in his office, while he glowers at me from behind his big important desk. His black gown is as dark as his mood. I’m sure I deserve to be there. I probably deserve to be shouted at too, but I can’t remember what I’ve done. Perhaps I got caught smoking again, or perhaps it was the time when I nicked someone’s bike from the bike shed and rode off down the road with my best friend. But we had only sneaked away from boring science class to get some fish and chips… what’s wrong with that?
Whatever it was, I’m upset. And that’s unusual too… because I’m a bit of a rebel, and I have a hard exterior. But the headmaster in the black cloak has no hope at all for my future; in fact, he thinks I’m heading for failure.
And perhaps I was.
But that’s when I hear Mum come to my defense. To be honest, I can’t remember her exact words, but they went something like this:
But did you know, Mr Ellis, that she is SO very good and patient with children? I wish you could see Glenys at home.She takes her little niece, stands her on a chair, and they bake dozens of wonderful fairy cakes together. They line them all up on the kitchen table, and fill them with custard and jam. Glenys is so good with her! I just know she’s meant to work with children.
Mum didn’t know that she had just sowed a seed in my heart, that I would one day become a teacher, and out of that, my love for writing for children would grow.
She didn’t know because she took her last breath the day I sat my final exam at college. She never saw me wear the cap and gown, or pick up the pen to write Love Letters from God.
Mum has been walking those gold-paved streets for thirty-five long years. This month, I will turn fifty-seven, the age she was when that cruel illness stole her from us.
I wish she knew how thankful I am, what a privilege it was to be raised in that wonderful home, a place full of laughter, and busyness, and song.
A place where a hard-working lady called Isabel did her best to raise eight children, and saw the good in them when others couldn’t.