Surprised by God: A Back-Page Pass

If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you probably already know that I published a Christmas-themed picture book a few months ago. But today, I thought it would be fun to give you a special “back page pass” as it were to see how this little book came together, because the story behind the story is one that is full of surprises! And I hope that it might be full of encouragement, as well.

Front Cover - v01

Sometimes there is no super-spiritual “feeling” that comes when God works. Sometimes there is no special “calling.” Sometimes God simply works through you and around you and uses the gifts He’s already given you and you don’t even know that he’s doing anything until he’s done. Sometimes, God Surprises You.

I don’t say this to downplay in any way those times when God calls you specifically to do something. Those moments definitely exist. This… just wasn’t one of them.

When God moved our family to Wisconsin from North Carolina in October of 2015, far away from family or anyone we knew, I was already an author. I had published two fantasy fiction novels and was working on the third. Writing was not a new talent or skill for me. 

When God led us to Chippewa Valley Bible Church in May of 2016, my husband, Derek, joined the media team. Because of this, he got to know our worship director, Jodi. He came home one Thursday after rehearsal and told me enthusiastically that, “Jodi loves fantasy fiction! You should get to know her better.” (He was a little worried about me because I hadn’t made many friends yet… he knows that I am shy and introverted, and so he figured he had found someone that I at least had two things in common with: a love of Jesus, and a love of fantasy).

Jodi and I did become friends after that, and she even read my books!

Throughout my adult life, one of the things I have struggled with at times is a feeling that the gifts God gave me aren’t really needed by the church. 

Reading is my super power… but it’s hard to use that on behalf of others. 

And while God has given me a talent for writing, He’s also given me a deep love of fiction, which isn’t usually something the church generally asks for. So when Jodi contacted me in the spring of 2017 and asked if I might be interested in writing a small skit for Easter, I gladly agreed to do so. It was nice to feel that my talent was wanted.

On September 11 of that same year, Jodi sent me the following email:

Would you have time to write something for our Christmas Eve service? I’d like to have a Christian version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. There are some okay ones online, but they don’t have the same cadence and pattern of the original. Well, either that, or, they’re really downers. 

I’m looking for something that follows the cadence of the original, (so, at some point, has an alternative to On Dasher, On Dancer, etc.) Is that something that would be doable for you?

Just to give you an idea of the service, our theme is Christmas Surprises, and throughout Advent we’ll be looking at the surprising things God did at Christmas. For the Christmas Eve service, I’d like it to be like Christmas through the eyes of a child, with all the wonder and excitement and surprise. And, of course, we’ll focus that towards Jesus, since He is what gives us hope in the season.

Once again, I jumped at the chance to help out, and set about thinking about what I could write. 

It took a while. 

A month later, I was still spinning my wheels… with absolutely no ideas about what I could write.

As I was trying to think of something, at times praying for inspiration, I turned to my husband for help. We often chat about my books and he helps me work through those awful moments of writer’s block. 

Derek asked if I HAD to write it from the perspective of a modern-day child? Which was what I had  been attempting to do, because I knew that was the theme of Jodi’s Christmas song that she had written for the service. He asked, could I perhaps write the story from the perspective of a child who might have been there on that first Christmas Eve night? Maybe a young shepherd, or what if the innkeeper had a child?

I liked the idea, asked Jodi what she thought, and she liked it too!

After that, the story came together in kind of a whirlwind. I wrote all fourteen stanzas in a single afternoon while the kiddos were taking naps. I read what I’d written to Derek later that night and we did a very small amount of tweaking and editing. The next morning, I sent it to Jodi and kind of figured that’d be the end of it.

However, Jodi (and God) weren’t quite done.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, Jodi reached out to another lady in our church that she knew had a talent for painting and drawing and asked if she had time to do a few illustrations for this poem I had written. She said yes, and created four pictures to go with the poem so that they could put them up on the projector while someone read the story to the kids up on stage. Sierra also didn’t really see her painting as a “gift” per se, but rather a hobby that she enjoys and doesn’t get much time for.

The Wednesday before Christmas, I was at church helping with AWANA, when Jodi came over to me with a huge, excited smile on her face and handed me something. 

It was a book. 

She had taken the words and the illustrations and gotten them printed and bound at Walmart so that the person reading the story on stage later that week could have something to hold and make it feel more like “storytime” for the kids.

As I held the book and showed it to Derek, the thought suddenly struck me that, “I’ve just written a children’s book!”

That was a surprise!

Writing a children’s book is something I’ve always wanted to do, but hadn’t because I have zero artistic talent when it comes to drawing or painting. And that’s kind of important if you’re going to write a picture book, since, in my opinion, most children’s picture books rely heavily on the actual PICTURES.

Derek and I knew that if we wanted to actually turn it into a children’s book, we would need a few more illustrations, and I had no idea if that was something Sierra would be interested in. I also… wasn’t exactly sure how to go about walking up to this person I didn’t really know to broach the subject of publishing a book together. So I kind of hemmed and hawed my way about, sort of trying to work up the courage to talk to her about it.

But God took care of that, too.

After the book was read up on stage during the service, Sierra and Jodi both had numerous people come up to them and ask where they could purchase the book. At the time, that was not possible, since we hadn’t actually published the book yet and getting it printed at Walmart was pricey. Sierra actually approached ME and asked if I had any interest in publishing the book, and told me that she had no idea how to go about that (she didn’t know that I had already published books, so it was a surprise to her that I already had that aspect of things pretty much figured out). She agreed to do five more illustrations for the book, and we set out to put the book together.

Honestly, the road to get this picture book written and published has been one I know I can take absolutely no credit for. 

Hindsight being 20/20 and all that, I can definitely look back now and see God’s hand in every step of the design. 

From moving us across the country to Wisconsin (which was an answer to prayer in and of itself), to helping me find a friend, to planting the idea for the story itself in my husband’s mind…. I can’t even claim that he sent the inspiration directly to me! 

Jodi’s original idea, my words, Sierra’s beautiful paintings, and my husband’s hours spent on graphic design and figuring out how to turn all the pieces into one single file we could upload and send to the printer… every single piece of the puzzle has been perfectly fitted together to result in this picture book being created. 

You may not know what your gift is, or how it can be useful to others. But 1 Peter 4:10-11 has become a key verse for both Sierra and myself throughout this process and I hope that you can find encouragement in it, as well:

10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Usually, when you write a book, you sit down with the intent to do just that. I should know. I’ve written rather a few of them. But this one… for me, will always mark the year that God gave me a special Christmas Surprise all my own.

You see, I may have written the words, but God authored the whole event.

~ jenelle


Deborah O'Carroll

Jenelle! This is so beautiful! It made me tear up. Thank you so much for sharing this back page pass behind the picture book! I love the story behind it! That’s so beautiful! Thank you for sharing with us. :) :)

Allan James

So happy to hear this story. I think “Grampaw” in “The Red Fern” would say…….”you have indeed done your part”……….and thus…………..well….you know the rest!


Our pastor just shared this statement this past Sunday: “God gives His best to those who leave the choice to Him.” That’s what I see here in your experience! I LOVE it when God surprises us this way! <3
Thanks for the "back page pass!" I enjoyed the "tour." :)


This was SUCH a beautiful story!!! And an absolutely wonderful reminder how God is always working through things. From big to small, His hand is always in it. He is so good!

This was just absolutely precious. I LOVED getting to read how it all unfolded. Thank you so much for sharing with us! <3

DJ Edwardson

What an encouraging account. And that verse is so wonderful. I know exactly how you feel about wondering if your gifts are really appreciated.

This story also gives great insight into the fact that all books are really an ensemble effort, but I especially love how you give the glory to God. I think if we had that perspective more, we would see his hand is really at the source of all that we do, but it was a blessing that this time He made it a little more obvious.

Thank you for sharing this!


I love hearing from you, dear Reader!