My wife Carol and I recently drove 3,500 miles from our home in Austin, TX, to visit my publisher at Ave Maria Press on the beautiful campus of Notre Dame. We then drove on to the Cleveland, OH, area to visit two of my children and three granddaughters. We came back by way of Branson, MO, where we took in some wonderful shows, including the “lovely Lennon sisters,” (I got to meet Janet, my favorite from when I was a youngster); Bobby Vinton, who had a terrific show, which also featured his two beautiful daughters and talented son; and the incomparable Andy Williams and his Christmas show. Besides the great shows in Branson, three things are memorable from this trip.
The first was driving through this beautiful country of ours and taking in the magnificent Fall colors, especially in southern Illinois. Our gracious Lord paints his colors on the landscape, manifesting his beauty in nature and in all God’s creatures. God’s goodness is reinforced in Effingham, IL, at the intersection of I-70 and I-57 when you see from the road the magnificent Cross standing by the interstates, reminding us of the Messiah who gave his all for us.
My next fond memory is of the fantastic people I met at Ave Maria Press, which has published my books since 1976. I wish you could all work with such a talented and loving group of people like Mike Amodei, Bob Hamma, Cathy Odell, Peter Gehred, Karey Welde, Tom Grady, Keri Suarez, and so many others. These folks are simply the best in the business, so affirming, so devoted to spreading the Gospel. I thank the dear Lord that I am associated with AMP.
Finally, my granddaughters! I was telling a former student recently (he’s now a senior in college) that being a father is quite miraculous. But being a grandfather—it is beyond description! On this trip, I bonded in a special way with my oldest granddaughter, Natalie Louise (age 3 on November 19). I think it is because I told her stories, just like I used to do for my own children when they were little. After she would crawl up on my lap, I would start the story. It was always about me (Pop-Pop) and her (“Puddin’”). We would go into the woods and be confronted by a big bug, and then to a river where we would meet an alligator, then on to a desert where we would be dying of thirst, then on to a waterfall where we would have our thirst quenched. After a series of further adventures, where our lives were in danger—but I would always rescue her or she me—we would eventually make it back home, safe and sound.
Natalie loved the stories and asked me to retell them time and again, making sure I got all the details right. She even asked my wife to tell her the story that Pop-Pop told her and “be sure to tell about the big bugs.” Of course, Carol didn’t hear the story, so I had to coach her on the details.
In reflecting on why Natalie wanted me to tell the same story over and over again, I came to the conclusion that kids—in fact, all of us—like to hear happy endings. We don’t mind the scary parts as long as there is a good outcome. We also like stories where we can picture ourselves being in it.
This makes me think of the Nativity story (also the title of a new movie). Do we ever tire of hearing about and celebrating the beginning of “the greatest story ever told”? Don’t we imagine ourselves in the Holy Land, journeying with Mary and Joseph, picturing the inn, the stable, the shepherds, the Magi? Christmas is a time for children (and grandchildren), but also a time to recall God’s great gift to us—the Messiah. Perhaps this coming Advent season, we could plan some special projects with our students and children. Don't know what to do? Here are some good ideas.
And let us not forget Thanksgiving, recalling that Eucharist means “thanksgiving.” When we thank someone we express our gratitude and appreciation. We acknowledge what has been done for us. Can we ever thank God enough for the gift of life, for the gift of salvation, for the gift of grandchildren? Thank God for the Eucharist where we can certainly try to acknowledge God’s goodness. Another question: Can authors ever adequately thank their readers for reading their books? Probably not, but I would like to try by personally thanking each of you for your interest in my work and the other wonderful books and products that Ave Maria Press publishes.
Finally, please check out one of my favorite web sources, well worth investigating.
May our dear Lord bless and keep you.