August 28 2013

How is that for a mouthful of a title?

It was still dark when my alarm clock shattered my dreams that morning of August 14, two weeks ago. I was out the door of the Grey House high on Conifer Mountain by 5:20. By 6:30, I could see the castle with its red-lighted beacon silhouetted against a cloudy dawn. As I approached the Westminister destination, I stopped, got out of my SUV, and unlimbered my legs so I’d be ready to sit down for the two-hour broadcast.

Afterwards, as I walked up the time-weathered steps, dawn’s gilding paintbrush gave the castle an otherworldly glow. Inside, all was already in progress for “The Breakfast Table Show: table-in-the-round, headphones and mikes, cups of steaming coffee, Roy Hanschke and Gordon Scott,–glaringly absent: Denise Washington Blomberg—, and an empty chair for me. How often, over the years had I thus joined this precious circle!

Fortunately, Denise would be back; but I gained a renewed sense of the fragility of life when Roy later shared with me the story of the dark days and nights when cancer came way too close to ending his part of the morning broadcast.

I thought back to the day in March when the station celebrated 85 years of broadcasting of KPOF Denver. 85 years under the same ministry ownership sharing the same gospel message.

What a milestone!

My thoughts drifted back even further, as I looked out the turret windows, to the days when the castle was a stagecoach stop. Yet here it still was, an anachronism when compared to the steel and glass skyscrapers just waking up to our southeast.

My reveries were abruptly terminated by a motion from Roy: In seconds, the commercial would end, and we’d be on the air. Ah the magic of radio! Still magical even in this age of nano-technology-driven instant obsolescence.

Once again, I was introduced to the listening audience–only, for the very first time, I was not here to talk about my latest Christmas in My Heart® book, but rather about my just-out Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories (Howard/Simon & Schuster). It was also announced that, periodically during the two-hour broadcast, we’d be giving away copies of the book to listeners who called in when invited to do so.

And, it was noted to listeners that I’d be sharing several stories with them each hour.

Denise’s empty chair reminded me each time we missed her effervescent presence–which was every time we looked in the direction of that chair–how irreplaceable each of us is. For each of us is a one-of-a-kind: in eternity itself, there has never been, nor ever will be, another Denise, another Roy, another Gordy, another me, another you.

Even without her, the old electricity re-ignited, having flared again and again during years past. What one didn’t think of, another did: thus there were no awkward pauses, but rather a continuous flow of Abraham Lincoln, the gentle giant who still rules over our hearts–both in America and around the world.

Every so many minutes, just before a commercial break, it would be announced that next, I’d be reading a story from the book–and so the conversational flow would stop: for “How Lincoln Paid for His First Book,” “Only a Mother,” “Tenderness in a Ruined City,” and “The Heart of Lincoln,” four of the shortest stories in the collection, yet each simple little story deeply moving in a unique way. Each revealing another dimension of America’s only Servant President: accessible to all, be it a broken-hearted little boy, a shy little girl pleading for her brother’s life, a dying young man in a makeshift hospital, or a young Confederate wife and baby in the still burning city of Richmond who apprehensively opened her front door, only to see a tall gaunt figure standing there, who, to her stunned exclamation, “The President!” simply responded, “No, ma’am; no, ma’am; just Abraham Lincoln, George’s old friend.” [“George,” being the now near immortal general, George Pickett, who led the greatest charge in our history, Pickett’s Charge, in a losing cause at Gettysburg].

We could all hear the voices of listeners as they called in, overjoyed that I’d be personally inscribing their books. We’d also hear the voices of those whose calls were relayed in from the switchboard during commercial breaks. More often than not, calls from those who were deeply troubled about illness, privation, inner torment, each asking for intercessory prayers.

It was at such times that I became more fully aware that this was not merely a commercial radio station, but rather a group of dedicated prayer warriors, each, from station manager, Jack Pelon, on down, committed to selfless service to all God’s sheep who looked to those inhabiting the Castle on the Hill as undershepherds to the Great Shepherd. All across the great city of Denver, they were listening to every word we spoke.

I thought too, both then and later, about the station’s 85-years of daily struggling to remain alive in an increasingly secular age, especially in recent years when Christianity and those who believe in God are openly mocked by a society that has apparently lost its spiritual moorings.

Every so many minutes, it would be announced that I’d be signing the Lincoln book at two locations that week: downtown Denver’s Barnes & Noble on Friday and Mardel’s Christian Bookstore on Wadsworth on Saturday.

It would be at Mardel’s where I’d fully realize the power of KPOF’s spiritual ministry to the people of Colorado: All day they came, all but two there because they’d heard Wednesday’s broadcast, they loved Lincoln and yearned to learn more about him in the new book and in my earlier biography, Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage–, but mainly, they were there because they trusted those dear folk in the Castle they listened to so faithfully, day in and day out; spring, summer, autumn, and winter, year after year. And, because they’d heard me before, heard my voice breaking in deeply moving stories, they opened up their hearts to me, considering me also to be another undershepherd. What greater honor could there be? Furthermore, they were at Mardel’s because it was one of that dying-breed: an overtly Christian bookstore, courageously day by day fighting the forces of secularism determined to eradicate such spiritual holdouts as this one.

After we’d sold out all the Lincoln books early, I debriefed with Dana Oswalt, long-time Mardel’s bookstore manager, about all I’d experienced. Since she’d tuned in to the broadcast herself, she knew they’d be coming. She now confessed how deeply moved she’d been by what she’d seen and heard at my booksigning table.

* * * * *

But back to the Castle. All too soon, we took off our headphones, breathed giant sighs of relief that we’d made it through the two hours without a glitch–even without Denise. But mainly, we were almost incapable of speech because of the intensity of it all. Then G.M. Jack Pelon came in to thank us. Which led to some needed semi-comic relief. “Have you seen our owls?” His office, it turns out, is full of owl photographs he’s taken. Serendipitously, even though it was now day, several of the owls, high up the castle wall, blearingly peered down at us–but their owlet babies were evidently taking a nap so never got to see them.

It is said that owls are wise birds. Judging by this family of owls that condescends to share their castle with its human inhabitants, it appears that they too can sense the calming, peaceful, yet energizing presence of the Great God of Us All in the rooms below.

A Lincoln Civil War Stories                                                                                                                                                                                          Scan_Pic0049

Grace Livingston Hill’s “Happiness Hill”

BLOG # 34, SERIES #4
August 21, 2013

Yes, another summer is giving way to autumn, and here in the Colorado high country, on serpentine Conifer Mountain Drive, splotches of yellow in the aspens signal the coming autumn.

For several weeks now, ever since I first turned the calendar page from July to August, I’ve wrestled with our August book. Since so many of you have told me you’ve faithfully sought out and purchased each of the 21 previous titles in the series, I take each new selection seriously. Which brings me to you: what are your responses to the series, based as they are on my own favorite books? I’d like to know.

August. It’s a lazy month. For the young, at the end of it is that dreaded yet longed-for thing called school. For the older, it’s “back to the grindstone.” In Europe half the continent can be found on the beaches during magical August.

So it isn’t the month for a heavy read – but a light one. But for me, the hanging question has been, “How light?” So I searched through my library, trying to find a book that while light still held within its pages something enduring, meaningful, heart-tugging, worthy of the last days of summer. Took me three separate reads before I found it.

copy of two books.

First I read Emilie Loring’s Give Me One Summer. I read it because the lighthouse/seashore cover promised summer romance. It was a good read, but in the end, it left me empty. Perhaps because the romance seemed so superficial. Next, I turned to another seacoast novel, Grace Livingston Hill’s Rainbow Cottage. I liked it very much for it featured wonderful seacoast and floral imagery. Plenty of suspense. But its over-the-top preachiness bothered me some; but what bothered me even more was the protagonists’ lack of growth at the end: just float on old money and live in a castle in Ireland. In short, it was little more than a Christian fairytale. All the female protagonist did was be beautiful and genteel and be taken care of by a virile young man who also lived on old money.

So I turned to Happiness Hill. Grace Livingston Hill’s Christian romances have always intrigued me. For one reason, perhaps because for more than a hundred years now, Christian parents have considered them a safe “Sabbath read” for their children. Grace Livingston Hill (1866 – 1947) was born in Wellsville, New York to Presbyterian minister Charles Montgomery Livingston and his wife, Marcia Macdonald Livingston, both of them being writers; as was Grace’s aunt, Isabella Macdonald Alden, who became a famous writer for children writing under the pseudonym, Pansy.


Wikipedia describes Hill’s novels as “quite simplistic in nature: good versus evil. As Hill believed the Bible was very clear about what was good and evil in life, she reflected that cut-and-dried design in her own works. She wrote about a variety of different subjects, almost always with a romance worked into the message and often essential to the return to grace on the part of one or several characters. . . . A secondary subject would always be God’s ability to restore. Hill aimed for a happy, or at least satisfactory, ending to any situation, often focusing on characters’ new or renewed faith as impetus for resolution.”

In my own escape-reading (after I read serious, heavy reading, her books are just that to me) I think that what weakened the power of her books, at least in my eyes, is how stereotypical and formulaic most of her plots are: in essence, at the end of much travail and torment, the Christian and the wealthy protagonist walk off into the sunset hand-in-hand, into a happily-ever-after existence, all their troubles left behind. Clearly, Hill’s noblesse oblige plots worked, for millions of her books have sold down through the years. Almost always, too, her books contain one or two almost unbelievably nasty and cruel villains.


Which brings us to Happiness Hill. In it I found what I’ve too often missed in Hill’s novels: a strong work ethic coupled with a strong family with character being a constant. Thus, in this novel, Hill managed to create a heroine who belatedly realizes that only as she anchors her ship of life on one side, with the anchor of a strong loving family; and, on the other side, with the enduring anchor of a personal relationship with God, will her ship not founder. For if all one has is a line from one’s ship with an open loop on either end, then that romance is no stronger than a flip of the loop on either end.

And this, my dear friends, is what makes Happiness Hill enduring, lasting, and a joy to both read and re-read—for it contains two very strong such anchors.

* * *

You shouldn’t have any trouble finding a copy of this book, either in hardback or paper. But let me encourage you to spend a little extra effort and time searching out one with a dust-jacket such as the evocative one depicted in this blog.

August 14, 2013

Often parents ask me what they ought to do to encourage their children to fall in love with reading.  When the Child Study Book Committee was requested to come up with answers, this is their response:

1.    Choose books related to the child’s personal interests.

2.    Offer books with appealing illustrations.

3.    Offer several choices without imposing your own preferences.

4.    Invite children’s opinions on books they have liked or disliked.

5.    Read aloud or read together an interesting part of a book.

6.    Help child-readers to choose books within their reading range, abilities, and comprehension level.

7.    Encourage a child to choose a book to read aloud to someone else.

8.    Broaden children’s horizons by helping them select from a wide range of subjects.

9     Encourage children to memorize things they really enjoy.

10.    Celebrate reading and instill pride of ownership by giving them books on special occasions.


Published in: on August 14, 2013 at 5:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Make Memories While You Still Can

August 7, 2013

It has been said that when each of nears the end of our earthly journey and looks back, almost always the one thing we won’t regret is making memories.  As we get older, invariably we begin to downsize; in the process, ruefully discovering that out of all of our multitudinous possessions, other than family heirlooms, there is little our children want.

When someone dear to us dies, how often we say to ourselves, while we sadly travel to the funeral site, Oh how I wish we’d spent more time with Dad—or Mom—while they still lived.  Now it’s too late!  Too late to ask them to identify people in old photos; and now some faces will never be identified.  Too late to spend more time with them—time the folks yearned for, begged for.

But always we were too busy.  Time enough to be with them later on.  But suddenly—there is no “later on.”

Which brings me to a discussion Connie and I had at a family get-together last weekend.  It was triggered by a question: “Does anyone remember when Grandma had that terrible stroke”?  Since no one was certain of the date, I rummaged around in old journals until I discovered it.  Which brought us to the next question: “When was it we took both sets of parents on that memorable trip through New England?”  Once I found the journal entries that answered that question, my how the memories flooded back!

It was early in 1989, when we were living on the banks of that serene Severn River just a couple of miles west of the Annapolis Naval Academy.  I’d asked Connie if she could take time off work for ten days in late spring, in order to travel through New England with me as I investigated hotel sites for the fall New England Study Tour I co-directed at what was then Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, Maryland.  Once she’d cleared those dates with her boss, we began fleshing out our proposed trip itinerary.

Then came an epiphany: Both my folks and Connie’s folks love traveling, but for one reason or another they don’t get out much any more.  Wonder if they’d like to go along with us?

We phoned them, and while my folks leaped at the opportunity, Connie’s folks did not.  As the academic year wound down, everything began to fall in place for the trip.  Then that phone call from Connie’s folks who’d begun to feel left out: “That New England trip you invited us to take with you….is it….is it too late for us to go along too?”  Of course it wasn’t, and so it was that my folks flew in from Oregon and Connie’s folks drove from Texas, and we caravanned out early Friday morning, May 26 of 1989.  We’d rented a burgundy Mercury Sable in order to give us more room than our Toyota Supra or Celica; Connie’s folks followed in their blue Honda.

As I re-read my journal entries, those days all came vividly back to me.  That Friday, we’d stopped at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, followed by a tour through the Hancock Shaker Village, then on through Rutland to Killington, Vermont.

Next day proved especially unforgettable to my minister father, for we joined a small congregation in the Washington, New Hampshire Adventist Church.  When the presiding elder discovered who Dad was, he asked if he’d be willing to preach.  Dad agreed.  I sat on the platform with Dad.  None of the foursome had ever been there before.  As Dad stood, his mind time-traveled back almost a century and a half to his great great grandfather Frederick Wheeler, a Methodist circuit-riding pastor who’d been convinced by the now famous William Miller that Christ would return in 1844.  Those who agreed with Miller’s biblically-based reasoning were called Millerites.  Historians call that time-period when Christ failed to come, “The Great Disappointment.”

Today, tourists from around the world visit this particular small wooden church where the Methodist-driven [though other Christian denominations were well represented in the movement, Methodists were the most numerous] belief that Christ was coming in 1844 was preached by Frederick Wheeler, a man who later became the first Seventh-day Adventist ordained minister in this same church.

Well, you can imagine the thoughts running through my father’s mind as he stared out at this perfectly-preserved century-and-a-half old church, with its original biblical end-time charts still on the wall, his hands resting on the very pulpit his great great grandfather ( a man he never knew) preached from.  Everyone could see how deeply moved Dad was.  Especially me, sitting right behind him.  In the afternoon, we visited the William Miller home near Hampton, New York.

By the following morning, Connie’s folks had rebelled at missing all the conversations taking place in the Mercury Sable; so they left their blue Honda at the Killington hotel, and all six of us henceforth rode together.  It was a stunningly perfect day at Newport, Rhode Island, where we were guided through the famed “Breakers,” the palace constructed for the Vanderbilts on the ocean-front.  Eerily appropriate to the setting, our guide was more than a little snippy.  That night, the folks reveled in their oceanside hotel rooms.

By Monday morning the foursome was so excited by all they were seeing and experiencing that when Connie and I opened our door, there the foursome would be in the hallway, some sitting on their suitcases, having been there since 6 a.m., wondering what took us so long to get up and get going.  That pattern continued for the for the rest of the trip.  They were a close-knit bunch—always had been, for being childhood friends, Connie’s father had sung at my parents’ wedding.  That morning, the folks experienced living Colonial history on board the reconstructed “Mayflower II” and then in the rebuilt Plymouth Settlement.  From there, on to Walden Pond, made famous by Thoreau; and then to the Alcott House in Concord.  That evening, we can never forget the shrieks of joy that came from both our mothers as they entered their Bass Rocks motel rooms in Gloucester, and looked out the windows at the Atlantic Ocean waves crashing in on the rocks.  And then the sunset view of the ocean at dinner from the Best Western Twin Towers Restaurant.

Next day, it was on to Whittier’s home.  My mother, an elocutionist stage-performer who had memorized thousands of pages of short stories, poems, and readings—some penned by Whittier—was ecstatic at seeing the place where so many of Whittier’s poems were written.  Afterwards, everyone reveled in the Robert Frost home and farm in Derry, N.H.; then on to Portland, Maine’s iconic lighthouse and rapidly becoming iconic L. L. Bean, before moving on to Camden and Bar Harbor.  By now, my Mom was beginning to feel her son walked on water, for each night we stayed in beautiful (and generally expensive) lodgings, where our rates were either extremely low or comp (because of my yearly visits with a busload of students).  Both sets of parents, having always lived frugally, felt they were traveling in fairyland.  We stayed in Bar Harbor’s grandest hotel that night. And that night the tide (being near the Bay of Fundy) dropped almost fifty feet).

Next day, in the rain, we drove up to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the East Coast.  Then it was on into the heart of New England, including stops along the way at Scotland by the Yard and Merrill Farms.

June 1 was the Palmer folks’ 55th wedding anniversary, much of which was spent on the road, for a special reason: There, near West Monroe in western New York, we finally found Frederick Wheeler’s weathered gravestone.  Dad was struggling to keep tears from running down his cheeks, for coming here had been a lifelong dream for him.  That night we stayed in Buffalo.

June 2, we all experienced “The Maid of the Mist” at Niagara Falls on the Canadian border.  We breakfasted in Canada, then it was on through Michigan to Berrien Springs, where we stayed with Connie’s sister Marla and husband Gary Marsh for the weekend.  Here we were joined by our own son, Greg, and our daughter, Michelle, who were then students at Andrews University.

June 5, en route back to Annapolis, we stopped at The Limberlost State Historic Site in Geneva, Indiana.  Mom, having always loved Gene Stratton Porter’s nature romances, was in her element.

Then, we reached home, exhausted, at 2:15 a.m.

* * * * *


How incredibly appreciative our parents were for our making the time and effort to take them on this “wonderful” trip.  But, ever so apropos to this blog, only four months after our New England trip, Mom Palmer was crippled by a terrible stroke, and not long afterwards, my father died, followed by my heartbroken mother escaping into dementia.  Connie and I had thus, unwittingly, picked the last possible time when we could have brought such joy and fulfillment into the lives of our parents.

So…, when you have an opportunity to make memories with your dear ones – make them!  while there’s still time.

Published in: on August 7, 2013 at 5:00 am  Comments (4)