Tag Archives: Sunday school lesson

A Rocky Start: Chapter Five


Betty Jenkins’s weather prediction turned out to be correct. The rain started at about five o’clock Saturday evening and continued most of the night. Amber awoke to a soggy Sunday morning. She jumped out of bed and ran to the window to check on the bird family. There she saw the parents huddled together on the nest. The branch the nest was hanging from provided some protection, but the birds had to be getting wet.

“Guess we’ll be taking the car to church this morning,” John said at breakfast.

Melissa and Chris also attended the Community Christian Church. Laura went to the Catholic church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, on the other side of Bluesky. When Amber arrived for Sunday school, Melissa and Chris were already there. Amber took a seat next to Melissa.

“That was kind of fun yesterday, watching the shuffleboard tournament,” Melissa said.

“I thought you said it was boring,” Amber reminded her.

“That was when the boys were there,” Melissa said. “I pretend like everything is boring when boys are around.”

“Why?” Amber asked.

“I just do,” Melissa said. “It’s part of my mystique.”

“What’s that?”

“That’s something the boys have to figure out.”

“You’ve lost me,” Amber sighed. “I can’t figure it out either.”

“We were surprised to see you girls at the shuffleboard tournament yesterday,” Chris said as he walked over to where they were sitting.

“We were surprised to see you there too,” Amber responded. “Do you like volunteering?”

“Actually, it’s a lot of fun.” Chris smiled. “Most of the seniors are pretty cool, especially Gus. He’s a funny guy.”

“How about the other seniors? Are they cool about having you help them?” Melissa asked.

“Most of them,” Chris told her. “Some of the seniors can be grouchy, and they think we’re noisy. But most of them are friendly and happy to see us.”

“Is that why you do it?” Amber asked.

“When we first moved to Bluesky, I was riding my bike past some old guy’s house. I was on the street, not on his property. But he came out and yelled at me. He told me to get away or he’d call the police.”

“That’s awful,” Melissa said. “I’m surprised you want to help them at all.”

“When we started our Boy Scout project, I told my scoutmaster about it. He said that some people think all kids are troublemakers. Of course, that isn’t true. It’s easy to think that all old folks are grouchy. But that isn’t true either.”

After church, while the family was eating lunch, Amber talked about the Sunday school lesson. “There were two brothers. One did everything he was supposed to do. The other brother made a big mistake. He asked his father for his inheritance. Then he went off on his own and wasted it on the wrong kinds of things. When he ran out of money, he was very poor and starving. He decided to go back to his father and beg his father to give him a lowly job. Instead, his father forgave him and threw a big party because his son was home.”

“What do you think the story means?” John asked.

“I think that God is like the father. He forgives us no matter how big a mistake we make, and he is always happy when we come back to him,” Amber answered.

“That’s exactly right,” John said with enthusiasm.

“What about paying his dues for his don’ts?” Amber looked at her mother.

“Did he get his inheritance back?” Mary asked.

“No,” Amber said thoughtfully. “So he paid for his don’ts by losing his inheritance?”

“That’s right,” Mary said. “He had his father’s forgiveness, but there are always consequences when we don’t choose to do what is right.”

“I hope I only make little mistakes,” Amber said.

“Me too,” Mary added. “But remember, you have a family that loves you no matter what mistakes you make. We’ll always be here for you.”

It was still raining a little after lunch. The Snyder family settled down in front of the television to watch a baseball game. Everyone, that is, except Amber. She decided to go up to her room and work on some of her sketches. The colored-pencil set she received for her birthday would come in handy coloring the bird sketches she had made earlier.

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

A Rocky Start: Chapter Two, continued


The girls waved good-bye as they climbed on their bikes and rode away toward the pond. In the Bluesky Chamber of Commerce brochure, the pond is called Holiday Lake, but most of the people in town just call it the pond. After the winter snows have melted up north, the pond has quite a bit of water, but by the middle of summer, it is nothing more than a mudhole. The summer monsoon rains help refill it a little, but it is never large enough to qualify for lake status.

On that particular Saturday, the pond was full, with lush green vegetation around it. The girls liked to catch tadpoles and other “science specimens” that they put into Ziploc bags so they could carry them home. Laura liked to gather crayfish from the little stream that fed the pond. Her mother, who was from Louisiana, used them to make jambalaya. Amber took some home once, but her mother made her throw them away. She said that city girls got their shellfish at Red Lobster. They didn’t fish it out of irrigation ditches.

Amber’s mom liked to call herself a big-city girl because she was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. Amber’s dad lived in Flagstaff from the age of five. He never thought of himself as a big-city guy, and he never wanted to be one. Amber’s parents had met during their college years when they were both counselors at a summer camp in Pinetop. It was a camp for children with disabilities. After her first summer there, Mary thought about becoming a physical therapist, but she had already started on a business degree at a junior college, and she stayed with that. John was working on his degree in business management at Northern Arizona University.

After summer camp, they had a long-distance writing relationship until John finished college and moved to Phoenix. He asked Mary to marry him, and a year later, they were married. A year after that, Kyle was born. At first they had been happy in Phoenix, but John missed the pine trees and being outdoors. He couldn’t get used to the hot summers in the Valley of the Sun. That’s why when Kyle was three years old, the family moved to Flagstaff. John was happy to be back home, but after two unusually harsh winters, Mary convinced him that they needed to find a place with a warmer climate. That was when they moved to Bluesky.

In Flagstaff, John had been a department manager in the large Discount Mart. A smaller mart was being built in Bluesky, and he had the chance to be its manager. Mary was just getting her insurance license, and she was invited to join a new agency in Bluesky. With cooler summers than Phoenix and warmer winters than Flagstaff, Bluesky seemed like the perfect place to live. Before Kyle was ready to start kindergarten, the family made its move. Amber was born in Bluesky and never wanted to live anywhere else.

Bluesky sits in the middle of a large valley, almost completely surrounded by mountains. As its name suggests, the sky is a brilliant blue, interrupted occasionally by a few wisps of white cirrus clouds. Early in the morning, the sun, on its way up, tints the horizon with muted shades of lavender and apricot. In the evening, the setting sun brushes the sky with vivid reds and oranges, leaving just a hint of the colors after it drops behind the mountains. Bluesky is a small town with plenty of room to grow, though most of the people in town are happy with things just the way they are.

The water in the stream was a little cool, so the girls looked for creatures in the water without wading in as they usually did. After a while, they were tired of the pond and decided to ride their bikes around the park. When they reached the playground, they stopped to play on the swings and slides. Laura’s mom owned a ballet school where she taught gymnastics. Laura had been doing gymnastics since she was three years old, so she showed her friends some tricks she could do on the monkey bars. Amber and Melissa followed her lead as best they could. After that, they played a game of tag with some other children at the park.

The sun was high overhead when they decided it was time to go home for lunch. Amber said good-bye to her friends as they continued past her house on their bikes. She found her dad asleep in front of the television and her mom working on some paperwork in her office.

Amber’s mom looked up from her desk. “It must be time for lunch. How about tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches?”

“My favorite,” Amber answered back.

“What did you girls do this morning?” Mrs. Snyder asked as they ate lunch.

Amber filled her in on their visit to Mrs. Jenkins’s house and their adventures at the park.

“There are a lot of older people in Bluesky,” her mom said thoughtfully. “It must be hard for them to do the things they need to do. That was very nice of you to help Mrs. Jenkins.”

“She makes cookies that have a secret ingredient,” Amber told her. “We tried to guess what it was, but she wouldn’t tell us.”

“Maybe she will when she gets to know you better.”

“I don’t think so,” Amber said. “I don’t think she ever tells anyone.”

“Do you have any homework?” Mary asked her daughter.

“I have some math,” Amber said with disgust.

“If you finish it this afternoon, we can have a picnic after church tomorrow. How does that sound?”

“Can we grill hamburgers?” Amber wanted to know. She loved hamburgers better than just about anything.

“That sounds like a good idea.”

Amber took out her homework. It was fractions, which were hard for her, but she thought she remembered what her teacher told her about adding fractions. They had to have the same denominator. She looked at the example and started to work. In half an hour, she was finished.

Since she was doing homework, Amber decided to read her Sunday school homework. It was about finishing what you started. Amber knew she needed to work on that. It wasn’t that she meant to quit on things before she was finished, but sometimes she just got distracted. At the top of the page, she saw a Bible scripture from Galatians 6:9, “Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest.” Amber hoped her harvest wouldn’t be spinach.

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

I Write the Stories–Jesus Adds the Message.

IMG_0792 (2)I have put off writing about this subject, partly because it’s personal, but mostly because some readers might think I’m weird–okay weirder than they thought.

When I first envisioned the Handy Helpers books–before I even knew what they would be called–I never considered including a Christian element, at least not to the extent that I eventually did. In A Rocky Start, the Snyders are a Christian family that has dinner together, plays board games on Friday nights and walks to church every Sunday. That could have been enough, but it wasn’t.  I needed a Sunday school lesson, so I looked on the internet for some fourth-grade Sunday school topics.  I randomly selected the story of the prodigal son. After hearing about it in Sunday school, Amber relates the story to her parents and they discuss its meaning. That could have been enough, but it wasn’t.  Near the end of the book, Amber is feeling very guilty about some things she’s done. She tells her dad, “I’m like the son in the Bible who wasted his inheritance. I’ve wasted my chance to help seniors.” Her father uses the story of the prodigal son to show Amber how she has already been forgiven. All she needs to do is forgive herself. He goes on to explain to her about God’s mercy. Had I chosen a different Sunday school lesson, the book might have ended in a similar way. I believe I was directed to choose that Sunday school lesson so that the message of God’s love and mercy could be the primary message of the book.

As I planned the second book, Seven is a Perfect Number, I knew it would include an explanation of why seven is God’s perfect number. But there were lots of surprises in store for me as I wrote that book. One surprise was The Servant Song that Beth Anne and her grandmother sing on the way to Phoenix. We sang that song once in church and I thought it was a very nice song. I wondered if there was some way that I could use it in the book. Every week at mass, I would turn to that song in the hymnal and read the words. More and more I began to feel like it needed to be part of the book. Words from the song appear in the book four times and it is crucial to the story. Beth Anne sings it to Mrs. Henry when she is trying to cheer her up. Later, when Beth Anne is alone in the dark on a hillside, she imagines Mrs. Henry singing it to her. Finally, when Mrs. Henry is sitting with Beth Anne in the hospital, she sings the song and Beth Anne wakes up to hear it.

As I said, we sang The Servant Song once at mass. We did sing it a second time a few months after Seven is a Perfect Number was published. I was feeling  discouraged and disappointed that my books weren’t selling as well as I had hoped. In my morning devotions, I talked to God about it, feeling that maybe this wasn’t what I was being called to do. I asked for a sign, some way that I would know that I should continue with the Handy Helpers project. We were in the middle of mass and I needed to go to the restroom. I decided to go during the offertory. Just as I stood to leave, the choir began to sing–The Servant Song. Immediately, I sat down and joined in the singing. I had my sign.”