“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned….For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given…and He will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:2,6) (NIV, NKJV).
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey became a favorite almost immediately. Maybe it was because it was introduced to me by the author herself. Susan Wojciechowski visited the school where I was teaching. A former librarian in the Rochester area, she had a wonderful backstory to this amazing children’s book. But, let me say, it is not just for children. Susan wanted to write a story about the light of Christmas but to come at it from a unique perspective. Sitting at her computer, God gave her the inspiration that she needed. She shared that she sat there, typing away, and without stopping wrote the whole story. This story did not even need editing to go to publication (or at least very little!). It was truly a Christmas gift from God to her and then to the countless others that have read it. This backstory and the story itself have been gifts to me, and I have given this book as a gift numerous times.
Jonathan Toomey, an excellent woodcarver, is known as Mr. Gloomy because of his sadness and the distance he puts between people. He especially does not like Christmas. Thomas and his mother, the widow McDowell, enter the story when they want him to carve a nativity scene. Their connection grows as he carves each figure. You will have to read the story to see how it all plays out!
For me, it is a story of how God can change our darkness into light. My story is not the same as Mr. Toomey’s or the widow McDowell and Thomas,’ but just the same, I experience times of darkness, grief, and loneliness like most people do. I love how the author interwove the Christmas story into the characters’ lives. It reminds me that the coming of Jesus means that we can be transformed. I find that the illustrations are also instrumental in bringing this meaning to my heart. Just as in this story, transformation is not always immediate. Jonathan Toomey was experiencing the message of Christmas through his carving of the figures along with the kindnesses of the widow and Thomas. Whenever I read this story, especially out loud, I get choked up. It always touches something deep inside of me reminding me of Jesus’ love and light.
It has also been a gift to me to grow in understanding of others’ darkness and brokenness, especially as it relates to deep grief. Although each and every person’s experience is different, this story teaches me to remember that grieving is a process. It can’t be forced or put on a timetable. The healing can fluctuate from growth back to despair and then more growth. Small kindnesses and spending time with someone can help bring bits of light to their darkness, each time allowing the light of Jesus to do a healing work. But as in this story, it is God’s love through Jesus that ultimately brings the deepest healing.
Many times when friends and family had young children, I gave the families this book. Often I would read it out loud to them. My hope has always been that it would be a spiritual gift to them along with the actual physical book. Maybe at that point they were too young to fully grasp some of the things that I shared above, but I believe that they still connected to the unique way of looking at the Nativity scene as described while Mr. Toomey was carving the figures. Kids love animals and within this story we can see things from their perspective. The boy, Thomas, is important to the meaning of this story, so again they have a point to connect to. Sometimes a familiar story can be gone over quickly. This story helps us to stop and think about Jesus’ birth in a different way.
When I have given this book to people, I include this note below and explain how I met the author at my school. Knowing how an author wrote a story increases its meaning and connection. I think it expresses my thoughts behind the gift:
Mrs. Wojciechowski shared that she barely recalls writing this book because it was inspired by God; the words just flowed out of her without her having to think about them. Although publishers always have the authors make many, many changes, this time they didn’t have her make hardly any at all. This is very unusual. She also told us that she had been wanting to write a Christmas story, not one about Mary and Joseph specifically, but a story about how Jesus came to make a difference. You will notice that in the pictures at the beginning of the story Mr. Toomey is in the darkness. At the end of the story he is pictured in brilliant light. Mrs. Wojciechowski wanted her story to remind us that Jesus came to be the Light of the World for us. You will notice many other changes as well as she weaves the story of Christmas into her characters’ lives. I hope that you will read this book many times and that it will become one of your favorites. Learn from it and remember that Jesus is here to help you. I pray that you will show kindness to others especially when they are sad.
I always love stories where characters go through inner transformation. Think about classics like A Christmas Carol and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. While all three of these stories are very different, in each one the characters’ hearts are changed. Their darkness is turned into light. Their sorrow is turned into joy. Their loneliness is turned into connection. I hope you will read The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey and experience how Mr. Toomey’s life went from darkness to light because of God’s love.
“In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5) (NIV).