Category Archives: SHORT STORIES

Dad’s Best Sermon


Flowers in woods

Spring Wildflowers*

My dad was a Quaker (Friends) minister. He pastored small churches (30-50 congregants) in Western Indiana and Eastern Illinois during his 50-year ministry. His churches were not big but his ministry was respected in the area. In his later years, he was the preacher that non-church goers turned to when they lost a family member.  On the Sunday that he passed on, he spent part of the afternoon looking through a shoebox filled with memorial folders from the funerals he had preached. 

That evening, in the Number 11 Mission where he had given his life to Christ, he sat surrounded by his wife  and brothers and sisters. As they prepared to start the service, my mother and one of Dad’s brothers noticed Dad was intently watching a corner of the ceiling of the sanctuary. They looked but saw nothing. A few minutes later, the pianist looked back at the congregation and gasped. Dad had apparently died. Twenty years have passed since that spring evening.

I grew up hearing his sermons, but the one that I remember best was spoken as we walked through the woods when I was about nine years old. The first wildflowers were poking up through brown leaves. He stooped and picked a flower and held it between his thumb and forefinger. “Look, Mart,” he said as he traced the lines in the petals with his little finger, “look at those tiny little lines in this flower. Look at all the little perfect parts to this flower. How could anyone believe there is no God?” 

In Memory of Gleason J. Hawn

Martha Hawn VanCise©2013
*Photo by Dorothy Endicott



Valentines From God

God supplies all of our needs

A Valentine from God

Another Short Story…

Several years ago, on a Saturday evening in early February , I tried to focus on the Sunday school lesson I was to teach in the morning. My attention, however, was on the bulging file of unpaid bills that lay on the desk. A recession was bankrupting our construction business. Loan officers had been calling about the car and mortgage payments.

With determination, I forced myself to read the lesson about Joshua. After crossing the Jordan into Canaan, Joshua had admonished the Israelites to keep telling the story of God’s deliverance to future generations. The lesson plan suggested that each person relate personal or family stories of faith to the class, then go home and tell the story to a child or grandchild.

I knew that God had answered many prayers for me through the years, but I could think of nothing very dramatic to repeat to the class or to my eleven‑year‑old daughter, Meribeth. I finally decided to tell the story my Dad had often repeated, “The Tomato Juice Story.”

Meribeth listened politely to the story of how my college-student parents had nothing to eat but a quart of tomato juice that turned out to be spoiled. Dad and Mom had prayed for food at 10:00 in the morning and at noon friends, who lived several hours away, had arrived with bags of groceries. Although I tried to show how God had supplied my parents’ need, I had the impression that the forty‑year‑old event seemed irrelevant to Meribeth. When she left the room, I felt that I had failed to communicate God’s faithfulness to her. I thought, “I wish she could see God at work in her generation.”

The weekend passed. Monday, I drained our bank accounts in order to keep the phone from being disconnected. Although we had a couple contracts that would provide future income, our only hope of immediate income was from one unanswered job proposal.

Late that afternoon, after using our last five dollars to buy milk and bread, I drove home through drizzling rain. In the kitchen, I placed the small bag of groceries on the table and picked up the pile of mail. It was all bills except one item ‑ the rejected job proposal.

When my husband, Dave, went out later to talk to a prospective client, I added the new bills to the overflowing file. Sitting in a daze, I wondered, “How can God ever bring good out of a situation like this?”

Meribeth tiptoed in and said, “I forgot to tell you, Mom, I need valentines for school.”

Pulling her to my side, I said, “I haven’t wanted to worry you, but you need to know. We have no money.”

“Get some at the bank,” she said.

“You don’t understand, Meribeth, we are out of money. We don’t have any in the bank. We have one dollar. We don’t even have money for food.”

She looked shocked and a little terrified then offered the coins in her piggy bank.

“We are going to pray about this,” I told her. “We aren’t going to tell anyone that we need money, except God. We’re going to ask for food and valentines.”

“Is this like the ‘Tomato Juice Story’?” she asked.

“Yes, this is like the ‘Tomato Juice Story.'”  After we prayed that night, she went to bed and I waited for Dave. He came home with good news about a future contract, but no deposit money. I didn’t tell him about Meribeth’s need for valentines or our prayer.

The next morning, when Meribeth walked out the front door to catch the school bus, Dave and I were both in the living room entry. She stepped back into the house and held out a large brown-paper grocery bag, “What’s this, Dad?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he said, taking it from her. “It’s light. Maybe someone’s playing a joke on us.”

Cautiously, he opened the bag and pulled out a white envelope. He peeked in it and gasped, then gasped again. He pulled a thin slip of white paper from the envelope and read, “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory.” And then he pulled out a single one-hundred-dollar bill, and then a second one-hundred-dollar bill. Meribeth looked stunned for a minute. Then she said, “It’s like the ‘Tomato Juice Story’ isn’t it?”

A horn sounded and as she raced to catch the bus, she called back, “Can you get a box of valentines, today?”

We never discovered who left the bag at our door, but the money provided valentines and food until we had income. With time, we recovered financially, and many unpleasant memories of that recession faded. For a long time I wondered if Meribeth recognized the dramatic way in which God had shown faithfulness to her generation.

Several years later, after Meribeth had graduated from high school, she attended a home Bible study with me. The leader asked us to relate personal accounts of God’s miraculous answers to prayer. Meribeth whispered to me, “Should I tell about the valentines?”

Martha Hawn VanCise ©2014


Quilt Template

I can still remember how pathetic my little valentine looked. Freddie, who sat next to me in the third grade, had created a masterpiece but my heart-shaped valentine was lopsided and I had pressed on the red crayon so hard that the color looked like scales on the valentine. I would like to say that I got better at crafts, but that has never been one of the abilities I have acquired.

A few years ago my sister decided that she could teach me to quilt. After all, women came from near and far to learn quilting techniques from her. “It’s really simple,” she told me as she handed me a Ziploc bag with material and step-by-step instructions on how to piece one quilt block.

Three years later I finished the quilt block and proudly presented it for her inspection. “You made beautiful, little stitches,” she said. “But, Mart! It’s a star pattern. Look! The points are supposed to spin in one direction. You’ve turned some the other way.” She shook her head in disbelief that I could mess up one quilt block when her instructions had been detailed and specific. She was kind, though, and said, “Well, I guess you made a Jacob’s Ladder design.”  

I know that she thought her teaching was in vain and that I didn’t learn a thing, but she taught me a life lesson. She said, “When you cut quilt squares, always use a template.” She explained that if you cut squares and then use the squares that you cut as patterns your pieces will gradually become lopsided and unevenly shaped. “Always go back to the template,” she had emphasized. “The template never changes but the pieces of cloth will vary due to the texture or weight of the cloth, or being cut on the bias.”

As God has shaped my life, I’ve often struggled with keeping my eyes on the never-changing template of Christ and the Word of God. It seems so much easier to pattern my life after people I admire or with whom I associate. Those around me, though, have been shaped by weighty burdens and biases that affect their shape. Paul said it is unwise to use each other as a standard of measure (II Cor.10:12). As time and events cut through the fabric of my days I must constantly look to God’s template for my life-shape rather than to my friends, culture, or even my church.

Martha Hawn VanCise ©2013