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.”
“Will you let me be your servant; let me be as Christ to you. Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.” (From The Servant Song, by Richard Gillard)
This is the primary theme of Seven is a Perfect Number. After her recovery from a broken hip, Mrs. Henry refuses to try to get out of her wheelchair and walk. It is Beth Anne, a young girl with Down syndrome, who coaxes her out of the chair and helps her learn to walk with the aid of a walker. When Beth Anne breaks her leg, Mrs. Henry shows up with the same walker and insists that Beth Anne get out of her wheelchair and walk.
Sometimes in life, we are the servants and sometimes we are the served. While both roles can be challenging, from my own personal experience, receiving the service is harder. On the night before he died, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Peter’s first response to this is much like our response when someone wants to do something for us. “I can’t let you do that.” or “No thanks, I can do it myself.” It is much easier to be on the giving end of service than on the receiving end. To receive help from others is to put ourselves in a vulnerable position—one of dependence. And yet that is what Jesus expects us to do. He wants us to depend on him for everything. How hard is it for us to do that when we can’t bring ourselves to depend on others? And yet it is through others that we receive God’s grace.
God does not always call the best among us for the job at hand. Melissa struggles with this concept in my book. When Beth Anne is recognized as a hero for rescuing a little girl who fell in the pond, Melissa is upset that she wasn’t there. After all, Melissa is the best swimmer. She could have performed the rescue easily, and yet it is Beth Anne who gets the praise and reward. Later, when the Handy Helpers are cleaning Mrs. Henry’s house and Beth Anne just sits on the sofa looking at photo albums with Mrs. Henry, Melissa calls her lazy. Melissa’s grandmother uses the story of Martha and Mary from the Bible to help Melissa understand that there are many ways to serve. As her grandmother tells her, “Maybe Mrs. Henry needed someone to talk to more than she needed a clean house.”
In my personal life I have many people who are dependent on me. I am cast in the servant role daily. Yet it is difficult for me to ask for help or accept it when it is offered. Even small requests such as asking my Facebook friends for prayers are often not made by me because I’m too busy trying to hold it all together by myself. I should take a lesson from my own writing. I often wonder why I was called on to write these books when there are so many better writers who are already well known. And yet this is the task I was given. Much as I would be happy at times to relinquish it, I am driven to press on. And so I ask you who are reading this to help me share my message. If these books are intended to reach a child somewhere who desperately needs to hear of God’s infinite love, it is only through you that it will happen.