When JourneyForth approached me about writing a Christmas picture book, I jumped at the chance. What could be more enjoyable? I loved writing, I loved the poetic possibilities of the picture book genre, and I loved Christmas. Of course, this was something I wanted to do.
But as I tossed around ideas for the project over the next several weeks, I couldn’t seem to settle on anything. What could possibly be said about Christmas that hadn’t already been said? Or perhaps the better question was how the age-old truth about the meaning of Christmas could be presented in a fresh way. I began to pore over the accounts of Christ’s birth in Scripture, and then I turned to mining my own experience.
The year before, my mother had become ill suddenly and unexpectedly. At Christmastime she had been a healthy, fun-loving woman in her sixties, still full of energy and zest for life. Then in May we learned that a form of cancer she had battled years before had recurred. I was able to spend only one last week with my mom before she entered the Lord’s presence on June 1, 2008. During the busy days following her death, I was a little numb, and I knew that God’s grace was carrying our family. But when the visits and cards of faithful friends stopped coming and life returned to a semblance of “normal,” I struggled with an emotion I had not expected to feel. I was afraid. I feared that the hollow feeling inside would never go away. I worried that others in our family would develop the same kind of cancer. I was afraid of experiencing more loss.
Gradually in those painful months, I came to realize that my problem was not caused by externals. My fear did not arise from my circumstances. It came instead from a fundamental problem between myself and God. I was afraid to trust the Lord who had redeemed me, written my name on His hands, and proven Himself to me over and over again. He was asking me to trust Him alone—with my past, with my present, with my earthly and eternal future, and with the future of those I loved. After all, He is utterly trustworthy. He can never be or do anything other than good.
When I looked back on all God had taught me over that year before the writing assignment, I knew that my Christmas story had to include both grief and fear. The problem Benjamin the shepherd boy faces is very similar to the one I dealt with. He has experienced loss, and he is afraid to trust. The solution to the problem is the truth of the gospel. Jesus Christ was born to abolish death forever for those who trust Him. He can be utterly trusted. Once I knew what must happen in Benjamin’s heart, his story seemed to write itself. It’s my story. And I hope that it’s your story too.
Read Cosette’s review of Benjamin’s Sling.