When Jonathan’s father takes a job pastoring a church outside Detroit, his whole family is uprooted—transported from Memphis, Tennessee, where Jonathan had just made the soccer team, where things their church was new and beautiful, and Jonathan knew where he fit. But his family’s new church is nothing like their gleaming Memphis church: attendance is small and the building feeble and rickety.
Jonathan’s parents assure him, though, that their Memphis church looked just that humble when they’d moved there, and that his father had been hired not just to shepherd the congregation but to repair and rebuild their Detroit church as he had their church in Memphis. And so the family sets to work restoring the old church in the hope that it will be ready for their Christmas services.
And everything goes swimmingly—they’re going to make it! Until a snow storm damages the churches and sets a chain of surprising events in motion.
This is a classic Christmas miracle story, and it’s one that touches on something we’ve talked a lot about in our house this year. When things don’t go the way we expect them to, it’s tempting to look at the circumstances and protest, like Jonathan, “But how? How can God use this for good?” Even as an adult who has seen firsthand how God’s goodness to us often comes through suffering, it still sometimes sounds trite to my ears to hear that God is working all things for good when I can’t see with my eyes how he’s doing it.
But this story is a beautiful reminder that the goodness God works is often disproportionate to our suffering: Jonathan’s family labored over their church, and the damage done to it is costly, difficult to fix, and bitterly disappointing. These are real losses, and Jonathan feels them acutely. And yet the blessing God works through those very hardships is abundant and overflowing—the sort of goodness that makes the heart squeeze a bit and that makes the quick-to-cry among us lose our composure as we struggle to read it aloud. Like the gospel itself, this story sounds almost too good to be true. (And maybe this one is: it is based upon stories author and illustrator Patricia Polacco had heard told, so though she has reimagined it, there is likely some kernel of truth in this story.)
And that is part of what makes this book, like many of Patricia Polacco’s books, so beautiful: it rings true. God does work in this way—he uses the run-down and overlooked to remind us that he is always working, drawing us together and to him.
One thing to note: this book does mention the Holocaust. It is not graphic or detailed, but you may wish to read this one first and determine if it’s a good fit for your younger readers.
The Christmas Tapestry
Patricia Polacco (2002)