The story that follows is only one-half of this article. Please stick around for some background and a little discussion on whether preachers should use such stories.
As I recall the story, here’s what happened….
During the Second World War, John Blanchard was stationed at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. One Sunday afternoon, he walked down to the base library and checked out several books. He took them back to his room and lay on the bunk flipping through them. One was a book of poetry.
Blanchard quickly decided the poetry was not very good, but what made the book special was the previous owner–clearly a woman, with wonderful flowing handwriting in green ink–had written in the margins. Her notes, Blanchard saw, were better than the poetry. He devoured the book and her comments. For the next couple of days, his mind kept going back to what he had read.
Blanchard noticed that the owner’s name was in the front of the book. Miss Hollis Maydell of New York City. He did a little sleuthing and found an address for her, then wrote a letter telling of finding the book and how he was fascinated by her comments. He invited her to correspond with him.
A few days later, Blanchard received a letter from Miss Maydell. He wrote back. She answered him. It soon became obvious they were connecting on a deeper level and becoming soul mates. He sent her a photograph of himself. She replied that she would not be sending him a picture, that she felt too much attention was put on the externals these days.
Blanchard was shipped overseas during the war. They continued to correspond and the relationship grew deeper and stronger.
After a year, Blanchard received a furlough and was arriving in New York City on this evening. They agreed to meet at 7 pm under the clock in Grand Central Station. She would know him by his photo. He would know her because she would be wearing a red rose on her lapel.
Seven o’clock came and Blanchard, standing under the clock, nervously looked in every direction. Could it be this one? or that one? And then he spotted her.
Coming toward him was a lovely blonde woman in a green dress, a vision of loveliness. And then his heart dropped. She was not wearing a rose.
But coming up behind her a woman was.
Miss Hollis Maydell was on the high side of 40, near the age of his mother. She was slightly plump and beginning to go grey at the temples. She wore a cloth coat and flat shoes.
Not at all what he had expected.
At that moment, the blonde went by. “Going my way, sailor?” she said. For a split second, Blanchard thought of turning and going with her.
But John Blanchard was a man of integrity. And even though he began to realize this relationship may not be what he had envisioned, this was a special lady he had come to know and treasure. He would go forward.
John walked up to her and saluted. “Lieutenant John Blanchard at your service, Miss Maydell. I would be honored if you would have dinner with me tonight.”
The woman said, “I don’t know what this is all about, son.”
“But the lady in the green dress pinned this rose on my lapel. She said if you invited me to dinner, to tell you she would be waiting for you in the restaurant across the street, that this was some kind of a test.”
That’s the story.
Max Lucado tells that and says, “Anyone would have loved the Lord Jesus Christ in all the glory and majesty of Heaven. But He laid it all aside. Scripture says He emptied Himself, and came to earth as a human, a baby, born to poor Jewish parents. He lived life as a carpenter and then an itinerant preacher before being executed on a Roman cross. And we should think of it as some kind of a test.” (Note: This is not intended as a direct quote from Lucado; I’m going by memory here.)
Okay. Still with me?
I have told that story on numerous occasions. It goes over well in Valentine banquets.
A little research reveals the history of the story. Max Lucado included it in his 1992 book “And the Angels Were Silent.”
The story, however, is fictional. Collier’s magazine ran the short story by S. I. Kishor under the title “Appointment With Love” in 1943, in the very middle of World War 2. Kishor named his characters John Blandford and Miss Hollis Meynell. He tells how she encouraged him in wartime with thoughts on the 23rd Psalm. And instead of a book of poetry, the book Blandford was reading that day in his room with the unforgettable notes was “Of Human Bondage” by Maugham.
But, if it’s fiction, the details hardly matter, do they? Give it your own spin when telling it, I suppose.
Jack Canfield included the story in his 1996 collection “Chicken Soup for the Soul and Stories for the Heart.”
The TBN Network’s website lists a Christian film by the title “The Book and the Rose.” The description says: “Based on a short story by the popular Christian author Max Lucado, Jeffrey Bemiss’ ‘The Book and the Rose’ follows a young man (Chris Kennedy) who finds intriguing notes in an old book and begins a meaningful, inspirational exchange of letters with their author.”
So, now Lucado gets credit for Kishor’s story. Oh well. Welcome to the real world.
All right. The question is:
Should a preacher use that story in a sermon?
There are a number of problems with the story as I see it.
One. It implies that women in their 40s who are a little overweight and turning grey must take a back seat to the slim young blondes in flowing green dresses. So, it’s discriminatory in some ways.
Don’t mature women have a right to love also?
Two. The male in me resents certain aspects of the story.
Miss Maydell was so intent on making sure John was not attracted to her for her beauty, she manipulated the woman in the terminal and delivered a sucker punch to John
In my mind’s eye, I can see him thanking the woman in the terminal, then crossing the street to the restaurant. He enters and finds the lady in green at a booth, who sits there waiting for him. I have no idea whether she looked up and smiled at him or what. But I know what I wish he had done.
“That was a cruel thing to do, Miss Maydell. Obviously, I had you figured all wrong. I thought of you as a person of great character. Please forgive me for thinking you and I might have some kind of future together. Have a good evening.”
And walk away.
Now, that would be satisfying. Wonder how she would take it? (And worse, wonder what this reveals about me. Please don’t write with your analysis of me. Leave me with my illusions. Smiley-face here.)
Three. Pastors should be wary of using any stories that are show-stoppers.
A “show-stopper” is a story which snags the attention of the audience and will not release it. The pastor makes his point about the story and goes forward. However, the audience is stuck back there at Miss Hollis Maydell playing that little trick on Lt. John Blanchard. They sit there wondering how they would have felt at that moment and whether Miss Maydell did a good thing or a mean-spirited thing.
No sermon needs this kind of illustration.
Four. In the same way, pastors should be cautious in using such stories with dubious histories, even knowing they are fictional. That’s not to say you cannot use the story at all. I may still tell it in a banquet situation. It could even be included in a book. But I would not give Max Lucado credit any more than you should give me credit. He merely passed along one version of the story, whereas I passed along all the versions as I know them.
I still happen to enjoy the story. But mostly , I think I’d like to put the beauty queen in her place. (But then, maybe she would tearfully apologize and we would make up and live happily ever after. And we could invite the fat lady in the railroad station to our wedding. Who knows?)