A Strangling Christmas Hug

BLOG #52, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
A STRANGLING CHRISTMAS HUG
December 24, 2014

Every Christmas, I read stories aloud to many different groups. When I put a collection together, rarely do I think much about which ones will be the read-aloud winners for the season. But once a new Christmas in My Heart® collection comes out, then I begin trying stories out on various audiences.

At a recent Christmas vespers, after I was through, completely out of the blue, a little girl of about eight rushed at me, gave me a strangling hug, then ran off—all without a word. Obviously, one of the stories I read so touched her heart that she just had to tell me about it – in her case, in a fierce hug rather than in words.

Every year now, for more than twenty years, Janet Parshall has interviewed me about the new Christmas book, on her syndicated Moody Radio show, “Janet Parshall’s America.” On the December 17, 2014 broadcast, she asked me this question: “You’ve pointed out that for every story that makes it into a collection, you routinely pass over 100 – 300 stories that do not. What makes the difference?”

I told her that though I have no formula for defining the difference between winners and losers, one thing I do know: the ones that make it in slam into me [much like the little girl in the second paragraph] and demand to be included. And they burrow into my subconscious and imbed themselves like velcro—impossible to get rid of them.

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And oftentimes, it is the simplest stories that win out over the more complex one. For instance, the one I read on the broadcast, “The Christmas Doll,” by Jeanne Bottrop, an old story written during the Great Depression of the 1930s, why did I include it, given that it is such a simple little story written by an author few people have ever heard of? I told her, I did it because children do not internalize abstractions; they internalize story. Children today are so buried in gifts from so many directions, from so many people, that they find it extremely difficult to empathize with those less fortunate than they. But if they hear a story like this one: of an eight-year-old girl, mother having died when the little girl was three, a father who rarely came to see her, so poor she had only one patched coat, forced to work as hard as adults, who considered a single orange to be a Christmas gift of such value that she’d make it last for weeks, or months. A girl loved by no one who yearned for a doll she could love with every atom of her starved little heart. Might not such a story make a real difference?

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I’ve also read another story, Bruce R. Coston’s “The Gift” (from Christmas in My Heart® 23) a number of times this season. It is a simple little story of a little girl who longed for a kitten, parents who weren’t at all interested in getting her one, a tender-hearted veterinarian [Dr. Coston], and a kitten brought to the vet so that he could put it to sleep. “It was flea ridden and suffered from an upper respiratory infection that left her eyes crusted and red and her nose running. Her ears were filled with mites and her intestines with worms, but she was playful and endearing. She didn’t need a painless death! She needed someone who would afford her a painless life–someone who really cared. Amy came to mind.”

That, in essence, is the simple story—yet, regardless of age, it has deeply moved audience after audience I’ve read it to this Christmas season.

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Yes, just simple little stories. Yet compare them to the inanities filling the air-waves today. Which type of story is more likely to help instill positive character traits in listeners, cause them to be kinder, more empathetic?

These are the kinds of stories that are worth their weight in gold. Such stories are the real reason the series has defied the odds by still being alive 23 years after it was first launched.

Stories likely to elicit strangling hugs.

Christmas In My Heart Turns Twenty!!!

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

 

CHRISTMAS IN MY HEART® TURNS TWENTY

 

For Dec. 7, 2011

 

In this strange journey we call “life,” certain years loom larger than others—2011 is one of those for Connie and me.  Mainly because of an event we never saw coming.  Not with that first book of Christmas stories in 1992, for none of us ever expected there to be another—why, there was not even a number printed on that horizontal trade paper book, with a Currier & Ives cover and woodcut illustrations for the stories inside.      But miracle of miracle, four years later the series had its fifth birthday.  Not only was that not the end, but five years later, here came its tenth birthday.  Each of those anniversaries, we’d inwardly wonder, Is this the end?  And then came its fifteenth birthday—and it was still alive.  One year later, Review and Herald® signed off after sixteen wonderful years; serendipitously, in only hours, Pacific Press picked up the torch—and here we are at twenty, still under full steam.

       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Along the way, other publishers bought into the series:

Doubleday/Random House with seven hardback collections—they it was who insisted we trademark the title.  We’re grateful; otherwise, several years ago, we’d have lost control of the brand.  RiverOak/David C. Cook published one hardback.  Focus on the Family and Tyndale House published one vertical trade paper and seven hardbacks.  And, more recently, Howard/Simon & Schuster published three hardbacks.  All told: 38 books bearing that series title.  And the manuscript for Christmas in My Heart® #21 was just sent in to Pacific Press to launch our third decade.

We’ve never felt the series to be our own for it was born over my protests; we didn’t become pro-active rather than re-active until two years later.  And again and again, during the years that followed, we’ve seen a Higher Power step in and keep it going against what appeared to be overwhelming odds.  A number of them having to do with my own body, that all but shut down on me twice; a head-on accident that should have ended everything; and several others so close a call that it was clear God was preserving my life, for what He considered to be “an unfinished task.”

            THE 20TH CELEBRATION

It has been an eventful year: Last Christmas I was on Hope TV’s “My Story, My Song,” reading Christmas stories each of the fourteen days leading up to Christmas.  Four months later, Don Schneider’s “Really Living” hour-long interview was broadcast by Hope TV.  Several months ago, Jim Gilley’s hour-long interview was broadcast on 3 ABN-TV.  All three were world-wide.  Just a couple of days ago I recorded several Christmas stories for a Focus on the Family podcast.  Only a week ago, for the 21st year in a row, I was interviewed by Dr. Gerry Fuller on “Breakaway” on WGTS-FM (the second most powerful Christian radio station in America) for an hour.  On Dec. 13, I’ll be privileged to join Janet Parshall on her syndicated radio program, “Janet Parshall’s America” (a yearly tradition going clear back to the beginning of Christmas in My Heart®).  I’ve had so many book-signings lately, I’ve begun to feel like a wind-up doll.  Miraculously, God has so far preserved me from carpal tunnel, a miracle given that I’ve often signed for eight to twelve hours at a stretch. But I consider it an honor to have been invited into so many thousands of households over the years.  I take great care to make each of my book inscriptions a work of art.  I tell people the real reason: “Fifty years from now one of your descendants may find this book in a musty old attic trunk, dust it off, look inside, and say, ‘Look!  This was given to Grandma when she was young half a century ago!”  Then family members would almost kill for this book, considering it to be a cherished artifact of family history.

Each of our now 75 books (60 being story anthologies) has its own distinctive inscription, each of which I must remember whenever I do a book-signing.  Many, no small thanks to the worldwide web, Facebook, my website and weekly blogs and daily tweets, take place at home as people everywhere ask for that scarcest of commodities in our digital age: a personalized inscription to a book.  We never charge for these..

CHRISTMASAHOLIC COMPLETISTS

Just a week ago, in marathon East Coast signings, I came across a new phenomenon: completists.  People who have all twenty of the Christmas in My Heart® series.  They’ll stand in line for hours waiting for me to get to them and their stacks of books.  Almost invariably they’ll have a big stack of books for me to inscribe to their families and friends.  One lady in the Northwest gives away over 200 a year, to her nursing staff.

It is deeply humbling to me to be thus assured that so many cherish every last book in this series.  Reasons completists give: that they’re spiritually based, you can’t read them without reaching for the Kleenex® box, the values incorporated are worth living by, they are very difficult to put down, they run through the entire gamut of emotions, they feature authors whose work deserves to live on [many are virtually unknown today], and taken in their entirety, they add up to the greatest treasure box of such stories—perhaps in the world.

If you have not yet discovered this series, I invite you to join our world-wide family of Christmasaholics—for us, Christmas lasts all year long!

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Next week, we’ll move back to the journey through our Southwest national parks.