Jonah and The Preschoolers

By Hugh Chapman

In the midst of the crisis, I recalled the conversation that got me into this situation in the first place. That day, my friend had been straightforward in his request. “We need for you to fill in for Mrs. Weaver’s Sunday-School class while she recovers from her surgery,” he said. “But mostly, we need for you to keep an eye on Josh. Can you handle that?”

I knew all about Josh – in actually, we ALL knew all about Josh. Of all the children in our church, he was the most consistent behavioral problem. He was aggressive and loud, rude and hard to control. In fact, by now, many of the adults who had once tried to help him had given up on Josh completely. Yet having lived in this tiny town most of my life, I knew a little about his background, and his situation made the often-annoying antics a bit easier to understand.

His father had left him only weeks after Josh was born, and his mother had dealt with personal problems of her own. These days, in fact, he had been placed in the care of his grandmother who had developed the habit of simply dropping him off each Sunday morning when the church doors opened, then picking him up after the worship service.

Though Josh was the stereotypical over-active child, I anticipated little trouble, and scoffed at the absurdity of my pastor’s suggestion. “Kevin, I’m 6’1 and weigh 220 pounds. I’m reasonably intelligent and I can bench press over 300 pounds. I think I can control a five-year-old.”

Kevin snickered in a way that seemed to suggest that I might not be fully aware of what I was up against, yet I remained firm. “Don’t worry,” I assured. “I’ll have things under control.”

But that initial conversation had been a week ago, and now, in the midst of turmoil, I wasn’t so self-assured. Two of my assigned pre-scholars had earlier escaped, and though it had taken several minutes, I finally rounded them up down the hall near the water fountain. As I held both children, one securely under each arm, they wriggled fiercely in an attempt to get away.

Now, standing in the classroom doorway, I surveyed the carnage. Half-colored cartoon drawings of ‘Jonah and the Whale’ where scattered around the room. A little girl was sitting contentedly at the big table eating paste while two boys wrestled nearby over a broken dump truck. In another area, a kid was throwing broken crayons against a once-white wall, while off in the corner, my assistant, Debi, struggled valiantly to coax a little girl out from behind the piano.

As I entered the room, a quick count revealed only seven children — someone was missing. Suddenly from the edge of the room I heard frantic pounding. My eighth child had locked himself in the toy closet…again. Josh. I gently lowered the two escapees to the floor, then turned to latch the bottom half of the classroom’s Dutch door. Having done that, I hurried to open the closet. Out stepped Josh with a frown, “You need to fix that door, Mr. Huge.”

Across the room, my co-worker Debi, with the help of an Oreo cookie, had finally lured the child from behind the piano. “His name is Mr. Hugh, Josh,” she corrected, “Not Mr. Huge.”  Then, bustling past on her way to confiscate the paste, she advised, “It’s time for the Bible story.”

In the next moment she was cleaning paste from the little girl’s hands and barking out orders to the students. “You kids settle down now — especially you, Josh, because Mr. Hugh is about to tell his story!”

I sighed, wondering how in the world I had gotten into this mess. I was a professional educator with a degree in Business Education. I should have been teaching in a high school with well-behaved college bound students. Yet there had been no jobs available, so I had instead volunteered to help with one of the youth classes here in church. Though pre-school was never what I had in mind, it was the only position they needed help with, and the job should have been a snap. But now, 20 minutes into the task, my head pounded from stress. In dismay I recalled Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous line from ‘Kindergarten Cop,’ “It’s not a too-mar!”

In quiet turmoil, I weighed the wisdom of simply ‘throwing in the towel’ and calling for someone more qualified. Yet I had bragged to Kevin and others about my superior teaching abilities, and now there was a matter of pride at stake.  So with newfound determination, I attempted to regroup. As Debi rallied the troops, I whispered a prayer, “Okay God, I see your point now. Overconfidence is a bad thing. Now, please show me a way out of this mess.”

Then taking my place in front of the crowd, I began the lesson. “This is the story of Jonah,” I said, in a child-like voice. “Jonah was a man who God asked to go into Nineveh.”

Immediately a joyous shout went up from someone in the crowed. It was Josh — again. “Mr. Huge is going to talk about the Nineveh Turtles!”  And with that they were all up again, Raphael and Leonardo, Michaelangelo and Donatello, swashbuckling little pizza-scarfing Ninjas doing battle with imaginary swords. I looked to Debi. “This isn’t going well,” I said.

She nodded in agreement. “The only thing they seem to enjoy is play time.”

It was then that I noticed again the scattered coloring pages on the floor. Picking one up I studied the drawing; it was of Jonah in the boat during a raging storm, with a whale nearby peeking up from of the water. “Playtime,” I said to myself. And suddenly an idea – one surely sent from God — began to formulate. Hurrying back to the coloring table, I slapped my palm three times against the surface. “Okay everybody, hop up into the boat.”

The little Ninjas looked to me in newfound curiosity as I patted the table again, this time with cheerful urgency. “Hurry!  The boat is about to leave.”

Suddenly they scampered toward the table, then stepping upon the tiny chairs each one climbed up to the top. “Careful now,” I warned. “There’s no standing in the boat!”

In a moment they were all aboard, sitting cross-legged and staring attentively in anticipation of my next instruction. Hoping to avoid more trouble, I moved to the end of the table where Josh was just settling in. Then, placing my hands upon his shoulders, I said, “This is Jonah. He’s the fellow I was just telling you about. Jonah is the one who God told to go into Nineveh and preach to the people there. But do you think he wanted to go?”

The children seemed confused. Some guessed “yes,” but others said “no.”  I took it from there. “He was just like you. Ol’ Jonah wasn’t sure what to do. He wanted to obey God, but he was afraid to go to Nineveh because the people there were all bad, and he was afraid they might hurt him. So instead, Jonah got on this boat headed far away from where God told him to go.”

I looked to the kids. “Do you think that was a good thing?”

“Noooo,” they sang in unison.

“That’s right, because we should always do what God calls us to do,” I said, “And when Jonah didn’t do what God said, here’s what happened.”  I lifted Josh from the table and put him onto the floor, then I said; “Now Jonah, go downstairs, ‘below deck’ and pretend to take a nap.”

The children leaned over the edge of the table and watched as Josh lay on the floor, his eyes tightly closed. Then amid the laughter of the other children, Josh began to snore. I looked to Debi who had begun to laugh, too.

“Do you think God liked what Jonah was doing?” I asked, then quickly answered, “No, he didn’t!  Because Jonah wasn’t doing what God asked. So God caused a big storm to come.”

I hurried over to the wall switch and turned the florescent lights quickly on and off, then excitedly I said, “In this storm there was a lot of lightening, and the people on the boat got very scared because the water started splashing up over the edges.”

As if on cue, Debi rushed to the sink to run some water, then wetting her hand, she hurried back to flip water onto the faces of the children, who ducked, and laughed in their reply.

“Ohhhh,” I said grimly, “those people in the boat got more and more frightened, and pretty soon they grabbed up ol’ Jonah and said, ‘We’re all going to drown!  And it’s all because you’re not doing what God told you to do. Now, get into that water and see if the storm stops.”

I placed my hands under Josh’s arms and lifted him high into the air. Then I twirled him around the room, and as I did, I looked deeply into his expression. It was a happy, laughing, loving face, and it made me consider all the horrible things I had heard about him. He was just a child. One who had been abandoned by his father and neglected by his mother. There was no evil, nor was there hatefulness. He was just a boy trying to make his way in a world he didn’t understand. He just needed love and understanding. I spun him in a circle, once, twice, then three times until finally I placed him softly near a second table, which was covered with a cloth.

“When Jonah left the boat, the storm finally stopped,” I told them. “But God didn’t want Jonah to drown, so he caused a big whale to swim up and swallow him!”  I raised a portion of the tablecloth and put it over Josh’s head and he quickly scooted further beneath the table – into the belly of the whale. I then peeked under the cloth and into Josh’s laughing face. He shrugged happily, sighed, then whispered in a tiny voice—

–“I love you Mis-ter. Huge.”

And suddenly, it became clear to me why God had put me here in this place at this time. Josh needed someone to understand him, someone who could throw a football to him, and who could lift him high into the air. He needed someone to be a buddy to him. His mother had probably tried, and perhaps his grandmother too, and the little ladies from his Sunday-School class as well. But today I finally understood — Josh needed something more.

I looked into his eyes and choked back a feeling of pride. And then — in the way that a father might tell his own son — I whispered my reply, “And I love you, Josh.”

For a minute there was a mutual silence, as Josh and I looked to one another in our newfound friendship. Then, backing away from beneath the table, I turned to the other children, who seemed to wait excitedly for the conclusion of the story. But in my own heart, the important lesson was clear. It’s not up to us to choose what tasks we undertake for God. Rather, we must learn to trust Him. And like Jonah before us, we must learn never to question what we’re told.

I turned to the others in an attempt to put closure to the lesson, as quietly I asked, “Boys and girls, do you know what happened next?”

Yet before anyone could answer, to my dismay, Josh leapt from beneath the tablecloth, and with arms raised in triumph he shouted, “THE WHALE PUKED ME BACK!”

I looked to Debi who cringed in slight embarrassment. “I — guess I told them a little about the story — when you were chasing those kids down the hall.”

I sighed. Nobody said teaching was going to be easy.


Julie, Always Twenty-Six

By Hugh Chapman

I have a memory from thirty years ago that I call up on occasion. I brush away the dust that has gathered, softly sigh and re-live that moment. Then, gently I return the memory to its place within the back pages of my mind. It’s important to me to know that I can still find it when I need to and I suspect that someday, hopefully in many years to come, it will be this scene that I softly replay as I take my final breath. Such is the magnitude of its importance in my life.

I was a banker then, a job I was never particularly well suited for and in all honesty it was a job I only took because I had been unable to find the one I really wanted. That career (one of several in my lifetime) began at a teller’s window but quickly led to my being promoted to a loan officer. Yet the hurried advancement was not because of my superior banking knowledge or skill. As an indicator of such, the joke that went around among my friends was that because I could never balance the money in my teller’s drawer, management was forced to either fire me or promote me to a position that would not allow me to handle actual cash. In truth, my friends were only half joking. I can vividly recall staying late many evenings pouring through receipts trying to discover where I had become out of balance. It was after one of these long extended work sessions that the memory I’ve held dearly for three decades originated.

Besides my adding machine error, that particular day had been miserable in other ways too with mistakes that had put me at odds with at least one customer and more than a few of my co-workers. I remember that during a 15 minute break I found a quiet place away from everyone else. The short period of solitude wasn’t much, but it would have to suffice until my work day was over. As I sat in lonely silence, I found myself wanting only to be home among people who loved me despite my flaws.

It was cold and dark that early winter evening as I finally parked my car and trudged up the driveway of our little home. But as I opened the front door a whole new and brighter world unfolded around me. Immediately wafted the smell of fried chicken mixed with just a hint of woodsmoke from the little corner fireplace we often used to take away the chill during those lean early years of our marriage. I knew then that only a few steps down the narrow hallway would take me my favorite place in the world.

As I stepped into the family room, my six year old son leaped from his place on the floor where he had been watching Inspector Gadget while working on a Bernstein Bear coloring and sticker book. He ran to me and jumped into my arms and I, in turn, closed my eyes and held tightly to him. Opening my eyes again as if from a dream, I saw my 14 month old daughter in red footie pajamas sitting in a high chair. She looked to me in laughter as she kicked her feet and rocked back and forth, her toothless but teething mouth and hands covered in a beautiful mess of baby slobber and graham crackers. Then behind her near the stove in an aroma filled kitchen stood the woman I had fallen deeply in love with ten years earlier and who, over the next 30 years, would grace my life in a thousand different ways.

Julie was standing in flannel and denim, spatula in hand, her long auburn hair draped softly over slender shoulders. From somewhere behind me I could hear Inspector Gadget solving yet another crime, but all I could see that evening was my beautiful wife, twenty-six years old, looking at me with hazel eyes that sparkled beneath a simple kitchen light. Yet on that winter’s night, in that cozy little home, among these people who I loved the most, it took no more than Julie’s smile to warm and brighten my life in a way that my words can never convey. I loved her more at that moment than I ever had before, and I have grown to love her a hundred times more with each passing day.

But those days have moved on and much too quickly, growing hurriedly into months, then years, then decades, and finally into a lifetime; a lifetime filled with love and honor, of support and care, of understanding and acceptance. With each of our forty years together, Julie has provided everything I could possibly have hoped for. More than a wife, she has been my best friend and together we’ve lived our lives to the fullest. We’ve brought children into the world and raised them into productive young men and women, and together we’ve shared the joy of holding our grandchildren and known the sorrow of saying goodbye to those we’ve loved. We’ve seen mountain vistas and sun rises over the oceans. We’ve walked hand in hand through valleys and hills, through sunshine and rain, in snow and in sand. We’ve traveled to places that we’ll always remember, and we’ve made friends, some of whom have remained while others have simply faded from our lives, but always we have had each other.

This morning beneath a darkened Ozark sky I watched drops of rain gather on a window before making their solemn pathway to the muddy soil below. Some traveled alone, windswept and wavering, while others seemed to stand still, quivering in the darkened morning until another drop fumbled its way toward them. Then stronger together they continued along their pathway to whatever awaited them below.

I can’t tell you why God brings some people together in a union that he has so obviously blessed, while others, either by choice or by circumstances make their way alone. But I know that of all the ways God has blessed my life, my wife has been the most important and my world would never have been complete without the love that God sent my way all those years ago.

In six months I’ll have reached my sixtieth year while Julie is closing in on 59. What a pair we make, with Julie beginning to lose her sight to a disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa while I, just as quickly, am losing my hearing. No longer do we walk hand in hand as when we were younger. Rather, she stands closer and wraps her arms around mine as I lead her to wherever we’re bound. Then when we arrive she helps me to communicate more effectively, leaning in and repeating words she knows I haven’t heard.

Throughout the years our lives have taken many turns, and we continue to change with each passing day. But always in my memory is that winter’s evening long ago when my family turned the cold into warm and the darkness into light. And always in my mind is Julie’s gentle smile and as long as I can hold on to that special memory, she will always be twenty-six.



The Star Searchers

By Hugh Chapman

Earlier this week I came home to find that my wife had put up beautiful Christmas decorations throughout the house. That evening as darkness spilled into our front room I had the chance to sit quietly and fully enjoy the twinkling of lights on the tree as I awaited the arrival of our grandchildren. Julie and I would be babysitting while my daughter and son-in-law took care of some pressing Christmastime business. It was an honor that we both held dearly and I couldn’t wait for Brayden and Avery to arrive.

Living in the Arkansas Ozarks, it’s not hard to find a tree. To find the perfect Christmas tree, however, is a more difficult matter. I believe this year, though, we had done exactly that. The tree was a full seven feet tall and with only a minimal amount of trimming the shape was nearly perfect. It was full and circular at the bottom then gently narrowing as it moved upward toward it’s flawless peak. And yes friends, as you may already have guessed, the perfect tree for the Chapman’s this Christmas had been ordered from Amazon.

But artificial or not, the tree was beautiful and the Star of Bethlehem that my wife had lovingly placed at the top had seemed to make it uniquely our own. That evening I sat in the quiet of winter darkness that was peacefully interrupted only by the glistening twinkle of Christmas lights reflecting from the various ornaments we had personalized throughout the years. There was one to commemorate our engagement many years before, and one we had found the following year to celebrate our marriage. Then there was one for Mom, one for Dad, one for Avery and one for Brayden. Then others for Nana and PooPah, Aunt Susan, and for good ol’ Uncle Bugs. Julie had recovered them all from the packed away crates in our attic and she had strategically placed the ones representing our family around the bottom of our tree so that they would be eye level to our grandchildren.

And when the children finally arrived that evening their expressions seemed to confirm the majesty of the tree. “So Pretty!” shouted Avery as she scrambled to the couch where I was resting and then settled quickly into my lap so that together she and I could take in the beauty that her Nana had created all around the room. I quietly held my granddaughter while her brother Brayden fiddled with an I-Pad looking for the Christmas music his parents had allowed him to download just that afternoon. Then moments later as Brayden hurried into the kitchen to help his Nana with fresh baked cookies, the happy sound of John Denver and the Muppets began to fill the house with joy in much the same way it had done when my own children had first listened many years earlier. As I watched, listened and held tightly to my grandchild, I realized again the special magic that children always brought to the season.

And I recalled my mother.

She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and often in winter her condition would be aggravated by the cold and damp. Yet the pain of that disease never diminished her love for Christmastime. I can recall a Christmas of long ago when she had rested in a rocking chair and held me in her arms on a snowy winter night. As her chair rocked softly to and fro, my youthful eyes moved from the colorful lights of the tree to the darkened snow banked windows of our tiny southeast Missouri home. I had listened that night as she told strange stories of wise men and stables, of shepherds and of animals, and of a sleeping child lying in a feeding trough whose mother had carried him for many miles but then could go no further. Even at such an early age I recognized the passion within her voice and knew the night she spoke of was true, and that it was special for reasons much more important than the gifts I was certain my sister and I would soon receive.

It was my mother who taught us to honor our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, not just at Christmastime, but each and every day. And it was she who taught us the importance of loving our family and to always be there for one another in our times of need. For my mother, these were not separate issues for she believed that if we as children were taught to love Jesus, then just as surely we would make our respect and love for one another a priority in our day to day lives.

It was from these thoughts that I was suddenly jostled as my Granddaughter squirmed from my embrace and moved purposely toward the tree. I looked on with curiosity as Avery began carefully taking our special family ornaments, two at a time, from the bottom of the tree and laying them gently in a pile. Then when they had all been removed, she took the first one from the stack and stood on tipped toes, reaching as high as she could in an attempt to re-hang the decoration nearer the top of the tree.

“Sweetheart,” I finally asked, “what are you doing?”

She stopped playing her decorating game and looked back over her shoulder without offering an explanation. I stood, then moved toward her. “Avery, Nana worked hard decorating the tree for us and it looks so nice.” I took an ornament from her hand and returned it to its proper place along the bottom of the tree. Avery stood silently, her golden hair beautifully illuminated by the soft glow of Christmas lights. “There,” I said, “It’s right back where it should be. Now let’s put all the others back where Nana had them before she comes in and sees that we’ve messed up all of her good work.”

In the softness of a December evening, surrounded by the happy sounds of Muppets singing carols and the lovely scent of fresh cut pine, I hurriedly returned each of the ornaments. Then finally as I replaced the very last one to the place where Julie had intended for it to be, I turned back to Avery and for the first time I could see the glisten of a tear that had formed in her eye.

Kneeling in the floor I leaned in and kissed Avery’s cheek and gently wiped away the tear with my finger. “I’m sorry sweetheart. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I guess I just don’t understand why you wanted to move Nana’s Christmas ornaments. Didn’t you think they were pretty the way they were?

My four-year-old granddaughter looked quietly at the hardwood floor, then slowly raised her head and spoke so softly that I had to lean in to hear her. “I wanted us to move toward the star, Poopaw,” she finally whispered. “I wanted us to be like the wise men who searched to find Jesus.”

And suddenly her purpose became clear, and like a hundred times before, I felt foolish in the presence of my wiser and infinitely more perceptive grandchildren. The tree had all the beauty that Avery’s grandmother could provide, but it needed one thing more. It needed the heart of a child to make the picture complete.

I wrapped my arms around Avery for a hug, then leaning back I smiled and said, “Well Sweetheart, now I understand.” Then standing up, I put my hand on her tiny shoulder and together we looked toward the tree. “And do you know what Avery Grace?” I said, “I believe you are absolutely right. And if you want me to, I’ll lift you up real high so you can put our ornaments as close to Jesus’s star as you want to.”

Then for the next few minutes we worked together, with Avery gathering the ornaments from the floor and with me lifting her to the highest branches of our little tree. In short order, the tree was again complete and just the way Avery had envisioned it. Then hand in hand we stood back and admired the tree that now reflected our good work. Though pretty much bare around the bottom, the top near the star was full and bright.

It was then that Nana and Brayden walked into our room with a full tray of freshly baked cookies. “Hey,” Julie said in mock surprise. “Who’s been in here messing around with my tree decorations?”

But before either Avery or I could answer, her brother Brayden shouted in excitement. “Look Nana,” he said. “They’ve moved our special ornaments to the top so we can be closer to Jesus. But look what else! There’s not as much room at the top of our tree, so the further we move up and toward Jesus’s star, the closer we move together!”

Suddenly the words my mother had spoken all those years ago seemed to convey a deeper and more powerful message than ever before. If as a group, whether it be as a family or as a church, we truly seek to draw closer to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we will most certainly grow closer to one another in the process. And perhaps that’s the most accurate meaning of Christmas.

I’ve come to believe that whenever and wherever we as believers seek to know Jesus Christ, whether it be the wise men and shepherds of old, or the generations of families that have followed, the shared love for Jesus will continue to bring us together in the light of His love, just as it had done on that Holy night in Bethlehem.

Merry Christmas Brayden and Avery Grace.

And Merry Christmas to those everywhere who continue to seek Jesus.


The Branch of Life

By Hugh Chapman

 As a nine-year-old, from our neighborhood tree house I used to marvel at the world that lay below.  It was only in later years that I learned to feel even more deeply for the world above.

The tree house was a shoddily built structure assembled a decade earlier with scrap lumber and rusted nails by a group of older kids who had moved on to bigger and better things.  But to my friends and me, the rickety floors provided a refuge from the humdrum days of our youth.  Looking back, I now understand that if we could only have known then what we so plainly see now, we would have treasured every mundane moment.

The earliest days in the tree house were filled with laughter and excitement.  My two best friends, Buddy and Skinner, had salvaged a pair of inner tubes from an old broken bicycle.  We tied the two tubes together and made one long rubber band which we then draped over a tree branch to make a giant bungie-type escape hatch.  We thought, at the time, that the device was ingenious.

By club rule, the escape hatch was only for emergencies — for instance, in case the tree was to catch fire or if angry timber-dwelling gorillas attacked us.  We soon found, however, that emergencies were rare. But just to be safe we reasoned that it might be better to keep in practice.

So for three days, Buddy, Skinner, and I would take turns gripping the bottom of the loop then leaping from the tree where we would bounce a few times then drop to the ground.  And though the tree never caught fire, the practice was a hoot — that is, until the day the strap broke.

That day, Skinner did a belly flop onto the sandy Southeast Missouri dirt below.  Of all the rotten luck: for the first time we were facing true emergency and Buddy and I had to get down by way of the ladder.

Luckily, Skinner didn’t break any bones but the scare was enough to deter all of us from our alternate plan, a big umbrella that we had dug out of Buddy’s parent’s storage room.  We were going to use it as a Mary Poppins style parachute but by now nobody much wanted to volunteer for the first jump.

We were fifth-graders that year and one afternoon the local Gideons showed up at our school to hand out pocket-sized bibles with red leather covers.  I guess I must have been impressed with the gentleman who gave me my testament because I still recall his words.  He said, “Son, this Bible is red on the outside, and it should be read on the inside.”

In fact, I probably did try to read from the book a time or two.  But I wasn’t the greatest of readers and a lot of the words left me confused.  I’m sure I must have half-heartedly thumbed through the little book a few times, but then like most of the other items of my youth, I eventually left it lying on the dresser where my mother likely picked it up and tucked it away in drawer.  And there it must have rested, among all the marbles, slingshots, bottle caps and assorted baseball cards that a nine-year-old boy thinks are important.

But it was one of those Bibles — not mine, but Skinner’s – that eventually ushered in an important moment of my life.  I was climbing the tree house ladder behind my friends when I noticed the red cover sticking out of Skinner’s hip pocket.

When we finally reached the tree house I asked about it.

“Hey Skinner, what are you doing carrying around that book that you got from them old men at school?”

Skinner took the book from his pocket and looked me in the eye.  “I read from it sometimes.” he told me.  Then with a scowl he asked, “Don’t you read yours?”

I stepped back a minute and scratched my head, “Well, Skinner,” I hesitantly began, “I did try to read it, but those words were just too hard for me and I couldn’t understand what they were saying.”

Skinner looked thoughtful for a minute then said, “Well, I guess I have the same kind of problem sometimes.”  Then he brightly added, “but one of those fellows showed me a part that I think I do understand.”

Then Skinner found a place in the center of our little tree house and sat cross-legged on the floor as Buddy looked over one shoulder and I the other.  In a moment, Skinner seemed to have found the place he had been looking for.  And then with a loud and clear voice he began to read the words that remain in my heart even today ~

For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believe in Him should not parish but have everlasting life. 

*        *        *

Psychologists tell us that early adolescence is a time of great cognitive development.  It represents a time where, for the first time, a child begins to fully understand such abstract terms as ‘everlasting’ and ‘eternal’.  I can remember how, on long summer evenings, my friends and I would lie beneath God’s velvet skies and gaze toward a million stars, which, like diamonds strewn across a darkened canvas, twinkled above.  We’d marvel then, at the idea that God’s Heavens went on forever, and that his love, too was equally as vast.  During one of those evenings, I shared with my friends the words I had heard recently from our Pastor at the little church in the shady Grove, a man named Robert Creed who filled in one morning for our Sunday School teacher.  “As many stars in the heavens as there are sands on the shores,” he told us then.  “Imagine that number, boys and then compare it to Eternity…and you won’t have even begun to know.”

I have no way of knowing the number of testaments that the Gideons distribute each year, nor could I even begin to estimate the percentage of those that end up, like mine, buried in some nearly-forgotten household drawer.  But I do know this—

Within three weeks of that summer day in our little tree-house, David Skinner gave his life to Jesus Christ.  Then, strengthened by my friend’s example, inspired by the words of John 3:16, and witnessed to by my mother, I was able to make the same decision only a few months later.  Our younger friend, Buddy (Gil) Taylor, made his own decision a year or so after that.

Now those days have long since passed and having moved far beyond that little community I seldom get a chance to return to the place of my childhood.  But once, several years ago, circumstances took me back to my little hometown.  That day I took the opportunity to walk down the pathways of my youth and to stand in the area where my friends and I used to play.  Though the rickety old boards have long ago been removed, the old oak tree still remains.  And as was the case during those magic days of my youth the aged branches hold strong and they point reverently toward God’s Heaven–

–  just as they did for me on a ‘gloriously humdrum’ day many years before.

I’ve come to realize that rubber bands break, old boards rot away, and even the strongest of trees must eventually die; and all the while young boys play, dream, live and all too quickly, grow old.

But God’s love, as do the stars above, rolls on forever




Tags: Christian, Christian Short Stories, Jesus, God, Love, Bible, Family, Hope, Salvation, Treehouse


The Nail Scarred Hands

By Hugh Chapman

My son and I stood at a busy intersection in Springfield Missouri, with me holding tightly to a bag of bicycle parts that we had just purchased. We had already made our plan. If I could successfully repair my old ten-speed, then with Dusty on his new red Schwinn we’d soon undertake our next adventure. It would be a 30-mile ride through the Arkansas Ozarks to a neighboring town’s campground where we would sleep beneath the stars. Dusty had been excited about the prospects of the two of us spending time together, and I was optimistic that I might finally be able to stick to a fitness plan.

As we waited for Dusty’s mother at the intersection, an elderly woman walking a small dog approached. I nodded cordially in her direction, and she replied with a smile, “Good morning gentlemen, it’s a glorious day.”

I smiled, quietly impressed by the rarity of her words and realized that the term she had chosen was the perfect description of this particular morning. With joyful enthusiasm, I returned the greeting, “Yes ma’am. It is a glorious day.”

Dusty and I watched as she made her way down the city sidewalk and then disappeared around a corner. It was then that Dusty, quite unexpectedly, reached up to take my hand.

I should explain, at this point, that my son was not a baby anymore. In fact, the bicycle he planed to ride had been a gift for his tenth birthday less than a week earlier. Furthermore, we were well up on the sidewalk, so there was no imminent danger that I could see, of being struck by a passing car. The fact was, there was really no reason for him to have held my hand that day. None, that is, except for one, and when I considered that reason, I found myself struggling to choke back a tear. On that morning, I realized that my son had simply wanted to say, in his quiet and unspoken way, “I love you Dad.”  With the holding of my hand, he found the perfect means.

I breathed a sigh as I thought of all the wonderful ways in which God had blessed my family. And there on that corner, my mind drifted back to the day I had first seen my son, and had first held his hand.

It had been in a little hospital in Salem, Arkansas. I recall the nurse bringing my newborn son into the room, where through misty eyes I looked lovingly at God’s wondrous creation. Reaching softly to him, I had placed my hand near his, where to my surprise, Dusty’s tiny hand softly grasped my finger. It was a feeling of joy so intense that I’ve kept it hidden away within the depths of my heart, and I will carry it there for the rest of my life.

As Dusty grew, he and I became the very best of friends. I recall times when he and I would make late night runs to the corner Convenience Store for a bottle of soda pop and perhaps a candy bar. Together we’d laugh and tell of funny things that had happened during the day, and we’d sing songs like, “The Big Yellow School Bus,” and “Jesus Loves Me This I Know.”  He was truly my very best friend, and we’d find joy in just being together. I recall reaching across the car seat to take his hand in mine. That simple contact would seem to put me at peace with the outside world, and the troubles that so often surrounded me then. He was my only son, and during that part of his life, I was his hero. And there, for those few magical years, his world seemingly revolved around the time when I would arrive home from work, and we could be together again.

As my mind leafed through the pages of the fleeting moments of his childhood, I paused again to consider another time, when a few short years later I had reluctantly driven him to his first day of school. That morning, I had tightly held to his hand as together we made our way down the walkways that led to the big double doors in the front of the building. It was there that my heart began to ache as his hand softly pulled away from mine. Slowly, he made his way toward the entrance, but then turned with a brave smile. “I’ll be all right, now, Dad. I’ll see you later on, okay?”

And though we did see each other again late that afternoon, his first day at school marked the beginning of his ever-increasing independence of me. And though sometimes I would desperately try to cling to the past, I was forced to face the realization. Though he would be my son forever, he would be my little boy for only a very short time — for such was God’s plan.

As I pondered this, my thoughts were suddenly jostled by a couple of young boys, around the age of eleven or twelve, who on skateboards had wheeled noisily past our street-corner. As they stopped nearby, one of them looked to Dusty and slightly laughed. Then, as he nudged his friend, there was more snickering as the two made their way hastily into a nearby video store. Alone again, Dusty and I stood watching the traffic, but in a moment I felt what I had feared might happen. Dusty’s hand loosened its grip and slowly slipped away — as though he had realized that perhaps he was a little too old, now, to be holding his dad’s hand.

I wanted to say something, to try to reassure him. I wanted to tell him that it was okay to keep contact with those we love, despite what the others might think. After all, few and far between are the families that are as close as ours had been. I wanted to explain that what might have seemed silly to others might be fine for us. It was all a matter of how you looked at things.

Those are the things that I wanted to say; instead I remained silent, settling for the contentment that I found just in sharing the morning with him.

And so we stood there — on our little corner of the street — father and son, side by side, on an April Springfield morning. In my hand, I held to a package of bicycle parts, as in his heart Dusty must have held to his dreams of an upcoming father and son adventure. But perhaps in a deeper and even more real sense, Dusty and I were both struggling desperately to simply hold on to one another.

Saddened by the very passage of time, I tried to understand. Then, closing my eyes, I breathed a silent prayer, “God, help me to accept what I know must eventually come to be.”

When I looked back to Dusty, I saw my son again, but this time it was in a new light. He was not a baby anymore. The pudgy round-faced boy I once knew was now quickly turning into a fine young man. He was growing tall, lean, strong, and no longer did he look to me for approval in everything he did. He was developing his own vision of how his life should be, and with it came his own thoughts, his own feelings, his own dreams…

It was there at that street corner in Springfield that God reminded me of yet another set of hands, which, over the course of Dusty’s lifetime had come to mean so much to me — the nail scarred hands of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

You see, for the first time, it occurred to me that morning that those hands — those nail scarred hands — were the same hands that have shaped and molded the lives of hundreds of millions throughout the years. They were hands that have healed the sick and brought sight to the blind; fed the multitudes and have allowed the lame to walk. They are the hands of life, the hands that have dried the tears, and comforted the souls of men, women and children throughout the course of time. They represent the hands of God, and they are the hands that are working in our lives even today, if only we allow them.

I came to know, on that day, that time rolls on, and with it our lives are forever altered. Our children grow up, and in the process, they gain their independence from us. Though we may have once been the center of their world, as the years of their lives flash by, we are destined to become only occasional and often minor players in their existence. On that day, through God’s grace, I came to know of all these things, and I’ve since come to accept them as being a part of God’s great plan.

Still, it occurs to me that if we take the time to teach our children in the way that God would surely have us to, then our life’s work will be finally complete. If our children learn to live according to God’s will, then we will soon find that the more they move away from our often fallible hands, the closer they move toward the perfect guidance of those “nail scarred hands.”  And if that’s the case, then we as parents can rest easily knowing we’ve done what God has asked, and for that we will find joy enough to last a lifetime.

It’s been said that our time on earth flows swiftly, like the currents of a raging river. Though it hardly seems possible, a dozen years have passed since that hopeful morning in Springfield. As a brief follow-up; yes, we did take our bike trip together; no, I didn’t stick to my fitness program; and looking back, I realize that that warm morning in Springfield would mark the last time that Dusty and I ever held hands.

Time marches on and our world is ever changing. My son has grown into a fine young man, and with it, he has grown strong in his Christian faith. I see him now, on the occasional weekend that he returns home from college for a visit.

Though I have no way of knowing what time may bring, I pray that, if it is in God’s will, Dusty will one day marry and experience the wonderful joy of having children of his own.

If that time should come, I hope that God allows me the opportunity to stand at my son’s side as the nurse presents to him, for the first time, an infant son of his own. And there, from my distant stance, I’ll proudly look on, as my son takes the hand of his child, and in his quiet unspoken way that I learned of so long ago, he’ll convey the message of his heart…

“I love you, Son.”   

And indeed, it will be a glorious day.







Tags: Father and Son, Christian, Christian Short Stories, Jesus, God, Love, Bible, Family, Hope, Salvation


You’re Not The Boss of My Pretend

By Hugh Chapman

My Granddaughter will be four years old next month and I’ve begun to make a conscious effort to learn how to effectively deal with a child of that age. The resource I’ve been using is a book called “Yardsticks” by Chip Woods, in which the author states, “Four year olds learn best through their own play, by being read to, by acting out stories and fairy tales, and by manipulating clay, paint brushes, finger paints, building blocks and math materials.” While trying to picture how these things could work for four-years-olds, I realized they would work even better for adults.

At the risk of sounding ridicules, I’m going to admit that at the age of 59 I believe that on some subconscious level I must be planning to be the hero of a fairy tale someday. Consider this. I work out in the gym to become stronger, I bicycle to become more fit and I pour over important books to be more knowledgeable and resourceful. Yet if you were to ask me why I want to be stronger, fitter and smarter, I’d be hard pressed to give you a reasonable answer.

I seldom do the kind of physical labor, anymore, that would necessitate more strength, I have no need to run or ride a bicycle faster than I already do because I have a jeep that takes me wherever I want to go. And learning more stuff seems a little wasteful, too, since I’ll be entering the ranks of the retired in less than 6 months and will no longer need to bulk up on excess knowledge. All of which leads me to believe that because I still strive to master these apparently unnecessary accomplishments, it must be because my subconscious is leading me toward becoming a hero (should a need ever arise.)

Now, you may think that’s silly, but even as I write, I’m reminded that this past year while in Seaside, Florida over summer break, I actually did gallop in on a white steed to rescue a beautiful princes.  Okay—the white horse was technically a red bicycle, and the beautiful princess was a 73 year old woman in a Buick with a flat tire. But as my friend Ricky from Blytheville used to say when we were six, “It doesn’t matter what you think because you’re not the boss of my pretend!”  

By the way, the princess that I rescued that day was quite beautiful, with sparkling eyes and a grateful smile. And for a while I think I truly was a hero.

My little book also tells me that four year olds learn best from acting out stories. But don’t we all?  It was from acting out stories that I learned, at fourteen, to entertain my friends with funny jokes and at sixteen, to construct plausible excuses to give to my parents when I didn’t get home on time.

And it was through acting that I learned to converse (at least somewhat intelligently) with girls. Then at nineteen I used the same skills to write my first short stories, and at 21 I used my rehearsal experience to practice asking my wife to marry me—the beginning of a fairy tale love story that has played out now for nearly forty years.

As a father, I helped my son pretend to be a big league ball player until he realized that academics was the better course for him and he adjusted his sights to become an attorney. Similarly, my daughter began taking dancing lessons at a very early age and she pretended to be a dancer right up to the moment that she no longer needed to pretend because she had evolved into a real dancer, graceful in motion and beautiful in poise.

Even more recently I’ve pretended to be the guest of honor at my granddaughter’s tea party where I wore a purple flowered hat whilst sitting on a tiny stool across the table from a huge sock monkey and a stuffed polar bear. And with my grandson in a three man dome tent I have pretended to be a storm trooper from a galaxy far away. (Well, I think I was a storm trooper. I’m not as well versed in Star Wars lore as some.)

All in all, I feel as if I’ve done a pretty good job of pretending and that I’ve continued to do as much on a fairly regular basis. It’s was no great task, for instance, to fool a six month old in a game of peep-eye, but my grandson is of exceptional intelligence and by nine months he had caught on and was fooling me. That’s when I knew it was time to find a new game.


My book also tells me that four year olds learn from playing with clay and blocks and through manipulating math materials. Yet in my adult life the parallels are uncanny; similar to what a four year old might do, I have used clay to mix mortar for the rock wall around my driveway. I’ve used brushes to repaint my garage and ‘building block’ engineering to construct a deck just beyond the living room window of my first house.

In my career I teach high school kids, but I think the lessons of a four year old can be applied to students of any age if the mind is willing to stretch a bit. Stories and games in classrooms can be a great thing if they can be effectively tied into a lesson. I’ve learned that the more vivid the illustration, the more the information is likely to stay with the student until test time. Or maybe even a lifetime?

In observing my wife, who is the best teacher I know, interact with my grandchildren, I’ve seen that children learn best from playtime and fairy tales, from building blocks and finger paint. But think how much better our world might be if we should all discover that our lifetime is our playtime.

Ok, so maybe this all still sounds silly, right? But that’s ok because as Rick used to say, “You’re not the boss of my pretend.” 

Gosh, I wonder if this is why they never give me books to read~





Tags: School, Friends, Grandchildren, Middle School, High School, learning,

Avery’s Christmas Bicycle

By Hugh Chapman

My granddaughter and I have a special relationship. For those of you who may not know, my grandchildren call me PooPah. Though I can’t recall where the rather unique name originated, I can tell you it has brought a lot of laughter to our home and it has helped greatly to develop my four-year-old Granddaughter’s sense of humor. Just recently she told me her favorite new joke. “Guess what PooPah! Girls can grow up to be cow girls, boys can grow up to be cow boys, and PooPah’s can grow up to be cow poop!”

I told you it was a special relationship~

Today I was honored to buy Avery her very first bicycle! Well, I suppose I should explain. I really didn’t buy the bicycle for her. My daughter had phoned me on my way to buy groceries at the local big-box store and asked if I would pick up the bike and then hide it in my garage until Christmas. My daughter and her husband had already determined the one they wanted, but because both of their children had been with them the evening they first saw the bike, they had been unable to sneak it out of the store.

“It’s the smallest bike they have, Daddy,” my daughter explained over the phone. “It’s pink with white wheels and has some of the Disney Princesses decaled on it. And it has a little plastic seat on the back so she can strap her dolls on and take them with her when she rides. It will cost fifty-nine dollars. Can you pay for it please? And I’ll pay you back later?”

The description she gave reminded me of a time only a few years earlier when I bought my own daughter her first bicycle, and yes, as I write this I do realize it was more than a “few” years ago. Closer to thirty years, I’m afraid, but those years have passed so quickly.

That evening long ago Danielle had been even more excited as she described the one she wanted. “It’s pink and white, Daddy,” she had said. “It has two big wheels, one on the front and one on the back, and it has two more little wheels on the back so I don’t fall over when I ride. And it has some colorful stringy things hanging from the end of the handlebars and a little bell I can ring. Oh and best of all, there’s a bucket tied right on the front so I can carry all my things with me when I ride.”

As a father, that evening was one of the happiest moments for me of Danielle’s childhood, and now as a PooPaw I had the opportunity to relive the joy one more time. And as I happily made my way to the back of the store where the bicycles could be found I couldn’t help but remember a time as a child when my Grandfather, RB McCord, had bought me a bike.

My Grandfather had thirteen grandchildren, eight boys and five girls. While I don’t recall what gift he gave the girls, I can tell you that on our twelfth birthday each of the boys got new bikes. They were never the first bikes we had, of course, but they were always the best! Mine was a big old Western Flyer with a headlight on front, a red taillight on the back and a battery operated horn that honked. Several of the other kids in my neighborhood had those new spider bikes with the extended forks, banana seats, high rise handlebars and a sissy bar in back. To the cool kids, my bike must have seemed pretty old fashioned, but no one loved their bike more than I loved mine.

It was not so much the bike itself, rather it was the idea that my Granddaddy made a point to pick out the best one he could find, buy it for me and then deliver it to my house on the morning of my birthday.

And as you might expect, this morning, as I proudly carried what would soon be my Granddaughter’s first bike from the back of our local Wal-Mart, I felt the way my Grandfather must have felt each time he bought his special gift for one of us. It was a joy I had known twice before, first when I was twelve and my grandfather drove up on a sunny June morning with the Western Flyer in his trunk, then again when I had given my daughter the pink bike with the bucket on front. But somehow, this time as a Grandpa the joy seemed even greater. Maybe it was because it will likely be the last time I’ll be able to take part in what has become such a joyous family ritual.

I had to laugh at the checkout line when a nice lady asked me how I was doing. “It’s hard not to be happy,” I told her, “when you’re buying your granddaughter her first bike.”  But then silently to myself I had to acknowledge that the gift wasn’t really from me, it was actually from my Granddaughter’s parents.

“Oh well,” I found myself musing.  “Maybe I’ll be lucky and they’ll forget to pay me back the 59 dollars!” Avery will never know the difference, but I’ll find joy in secretly knowing I had a small part.

A PooPah can only hope!




Tags: Grandparents, Grand daughter, Christmas, Gifts, Christian, Christian Short Stories, Jesus, God, Love, Bible, Family, Hope, Salvation