When I first bumped into Rachel several years ago, we connected in a way that storytellers often do: with a whoop and a holler . . . because sometimes words just fail us. Warm and funny, Rachel brings down-to-earth charm and a love for Jesus together in her work as an artist and writer. She’s written a new book especially for kids, Flash the Donkey Makes New Friends. It’s a grace to welcome my brilliant friend, Rachel, to the farm’s front porch today…
The living room lights were dimmed, except for a lamp next to my chair and a small spotlight illuminating the book in my hand.
A dozen pajama-clad children were strewn about the floor in all directions like matchsticks: some on their tummies, propped on elbows for a better view, while others snuggled next to a friend or nestled against their mothers’ knees.
Each had picked a pillow from an enormous pile, to accompany their own special blanket brought from home.
“I’m hungry!” one boy said in a loud whisper, his eyes on the cupcakes waiting to be devoured later.
“Shhhh!” his mom hushed from the back of the room and gave a finger twirl in the air to indicate that it was time to turn around and listen.
With a last look at the snacks, he sank into his pillow, hands behind his head, and stretched his legs out in front of him. He flopped a foot over the other.
Wiggly bodies stilled in anticipation of the story to come.
I waited a moment, then opened my book wide so all could see the colorful picture of a donkey in overalls.
“Some adventures begin with ‘Once upon a time . . .’” my voice read. “But mine begins with an old blue wagon and a good idea.”
I turned the page slowly and looked at my audience of pint-size people, their expressions engaged and oh so cute. I couldn’t help but smile.
That night, inside our old 1970s barn-style home, all felt right with the world. Energetic kids and tired moms shared the experience of storytelling, games, and treats, while time seemed to puddle into the space and linger, unhurried.
We talked and laughed and acted silly . . . just because we could.
We were safe and warm and happy, and full of cupcakes with sprinkles on top.
Only after the last guest had left for the night did I turn on the television news.
Instantly I learned that an unsavory incident had blasted across every channel in nonstop coverage all evening long. As I took in the news, I realized that our own little group had been blissfully unaware of the raging reports; instead we’d been cocooned in a simple story about kindness, friendship, and belonging.
That night, two realities had taken place, and the contrast between them could not have been more evident.
There was the sweet reality we’d experienced together by lamplight, and then there was the other: sordid, clamoring outside the door to get in—in all its ugliness.
Each parent would be given the unwelcome task of filtering or blocking the news in the coming days, in ways that would be appropriate for their children.
Sadly, as parents we don’t have much control over what happens in the wider culture. But I was vividly reminded that we are often given the opportunity to create the realities our children experience within it.
We are the ones who provide our people with tools to grow, and narratives to make sense of a world that can be hostile and frightening.
But what can we really do to make this world feel safe? Less frantic and overwhelming? How can we make it more beautiful and loving for the people entrusted to us?
Of course, there is no single answer.
But often we overlook one simple thing that’s easily within our grasp, perhaps because we underestimate its power.
It’s the power of stories.
Good stories have the ability to transform realities, ignite imaginations, and help people find their place in the world.
It’s the stories we tell of heroes with obstacles to overcome, and of kindness and courage that win the day.
Stories that ask questions and inspire conversation.
Stories that entertain us and make us laugh.
Stories that open our minds to color, texture, nuance, and big ideas.
Whether picture books read aloud, family tales told around the table, or chapter books marked with dog-ears to pick up where we left off, stories bring us together through shared moments and experiences.
They feed our children’s roots and nourish their souls.
It’s no secret that it’s always been this way.
I imagine children of long ago, sitting under a starry sky near a crackling fire, and a mother giving her child The Look. Her finger twirls the air. Time to turn around, her eyes say.
There is a pause as everyone settles in, and then a familiar story is once again recounted:
“In the beginning . . .”
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” A woven blanket is hitched up over a shoulder, and a little head rests against a father’s chest as the words fill the night.
“And God saw that it was good . . .”
An ember pops and sparks drift upward, imaginations filling with wonder. Roots curling deeper.
No matter what is happening in the world beyond, this is still real and true and good.
This is what tells us who we are and why we are here.
That time can just puddle up and linger as long as we want it to.
And that courage and kindness will always win the day.
The warmth of this ritual and its circle of care are all that matter.
Because telling a story is really something more than just reading words on a page.
It’s communicating to our people in so many ways, You are safe.
And you are loved.
Let’s keep telling stories.
Rachel Anne Ridge is a writer, artist, and speaker in Texas. When she wrote and illustrated Flash the Donkey Makes New Friends, she wanted to give children a memorable story with adorable characters that they’d love while learning the value of true friendship and what it means to be a good friend to others.
Her colorful new book provides parents and kids with inspiration for conversation long after the last page is turned. Of course, she picked a donkey as the main character because a real-life donkey had made such an impact on her that she’d written a memoir about it. Flash: The Homeless Donkey Who Taught Me about Life, Faith, and Second Chances was named a Best Summer Book of 2015 by Publishers Weekly. Rachel knows from experience that animals can tell stories, and teach lessons, in unique and charming ways. Kids will fall in love with this endearing donkey as they learn to appreciate the value of true friendship — and who doesn’t need that these days?
[ Our humble thanks to Tyndale for their partnership in today’s devotion ]