Redwall | Brian Jacques

Redwall. Now she knew why creatures talked of it with such reverence; it appeared to blend with the surrounding Mossflower country as a haven of rest and tranquility, in harmony with all nature, like some gentle giant of a mother, sheltering and protecting her children.

– Mariel of Redwall 

I encountered Redwall Abbey in my early twenties. I was wandering then, in need of a refuge, and I found one within the grounds of Redwall. Evil was clear-cut there, easy to see and to fight—unlike the sin that seeps and simmers in our adult lives. Reading about the peaceful creatures of Redwall battling the rat Cluny, and feasting on good things like woodland salad and maple cordial fortified me for my own battle.

A good story can do that.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

But when I handed my battered copy over to Lydia a few weeks ago, I didn’t expect her to love it. I even cautioned her that she may not love it yet, and that if she didn’t fall for it immediately she should withhold judgement and try again in a few years. Cluny is really scary, and I wasn’t sure she was ready to meet him.

She was ready to meet him. She came downstairs a few hours later, shining-eyed and wondering if there were more books in the series.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

Lydia was in luck: Redwall is one of twenty-two books (meaty, full-length, well-written books) about the Abbey and its inhabitants. The inhabitants change from book to book, as the stories generally take place at different points along a timeline.

Think Chronicles of Narnia or Star Wars: you grow to love one batch of characters in a book, and then pick up the next book to find a batch of brand new characters to love, with, perhaps, a few cameos from old favorites in the new story. The mischievous Dibbun of one book may be the elderly Abbot of the next book. It’s great fun.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

Lydia was so taken with these books that she’s begun working industriously around the house, doing chores and setting up lemonade stands in order to fund her growing collection of Redwall books. She has out-paced me in the series, so I’ve been taking recommendations from her on what to read next. She is the true Redwall authority in our home now, so I asked her to share her thoughts on the series with you. Here is why Lydia thinks your family will love these books:

I love these books! I can’t believe that the first time I read Redwall, I wasn’t sure I would like it. Girls will like it because there are beautiful girls who are very brave, too, and boys will like it because there are lots of battles. There are hilarious hungry hares, beautiful young maidens, old abbots and abbesses, brave young warriors (who are sometimes girls!), cute little Dibbuns, strong badger lords (and a badger lady), very bad vermin, big brave Skippers, odd-speaking moles, argumentative Guosim shrews and much more! Dive into the world between the covers of a Redwall book!

I think she summed up the series quite nicely! I can really only add a few grown-up thoughts to that.

On Villains

The evil in these books is shocking, and I think it’s meant to be.

The villains in these stories war amongst themselves, kill innocent creatures, and go to terrible ends to achieve their goals. They are brutal, but they are rarely funny and never glorified. When the story transitions from the villain’s stronghold, where he slays his friends out of vengeance, pride, or boredom, to the Abbey orchard, where strangers and friends feast together, the reader can’t help but love the lovelier scene.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

As my daughter and I have discussed these books, I’ve been struck by how well they help shape her affections. She has been quick to notice the way that the creatures of Redwall serve one another, while the villains serve only themselves, or to notice how the Redwall soldiers honor their fallen while their enemies simply leave their dead behind. And that contrast is, I think, the point: there is no moral ambiguity to this story, no anti-hero. The bad guys are very bad; the heroes aren’t perfect, but they are still very good.

Jacques was a child in England during WWII, and I wonder how his experiences shaped the portrayal of evil in these stories. If your child is a sensitive reader, I will give you two warnings: Be ready for graphic battle scenes and very bad bad guys, but don’t let those turn you away from the story. Jacques does a great job of making the stories feel safe, even when they’re at their scariest.

On Dialect

Jacques was fond of writing in dialect. In the case of the hares, who sound like characters from a P.G. Wodehouse novel, this is delightful. But in the case of the moles, who are meant to sound (I think) like operating drills, the dialogue can be a bit trickier to decipher. If you’re reading aloud, you might familiarize yourself with the dialogue before reading to your kids so you don’t get sucked into a whirlpool of zzzs and rrrs.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

On Feasts

The food. Oh, the food.

Jacques has said that his lavish descriptions of Redwall feasts sprung from his memory of rationing during the war, when he fantasized about the dishes in his mother’s cookbook. His descriptions of food are so mouth-watering that they have inspired a whole cookbook and have inspired us to throw our own Redwall feast. There are so many dishes in there that sound wonderful, even if I have no idea what they are: meadowcream trifle, buttercup cordial, mushroom and leek pasty with gravy. I want comfort food—and a lot of it—when I’m reading these books.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

Sarah, my photography assistant

In fact, that was the second caution I offered Lydia when I gave her the book: you might not like it yet, and it will probably make you hungry. I am so glad I was wrong about the first one, and so glad I was right about the second.

Brian Jacques (1986-2011)

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10 Living Books About Church History

My father used to read to me from The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. He read it in answer to some question I had about my homework, some question that probably did not involve the Romans, and he read it at length.

I know now that that was an awesome thing to do—take my homework question and place it in context by linking it to the historical moment that preceded it—but as a teenager eager to finish that assignment so I could get back to living life, i.e. watching MTV while I waited for my hair color to set, I didn’t appreciate what my father was trying to do.

I appreciate it now: just as we can’t pull Leviticus out of context and expect to understand its laws and commands, we can’t pull our point in history out of context and expect to understand how we got here, what we must do to change, where we are headed—any of it.

History is our broader context: from the decisions our parents made that shape our lives now, to the decisions some emperor made hundreds of years ago that shape the structure of our cities, we need to have at least a passing familiarity with them in order to understand our own roles and responsibilities now. When we isolate our particular moment in time, it seems absurd—at times even insane (and yes, I’m thinking of the election as I write)—because we do not see the series of events large and small that brought us to this point.

10 Living Books About Church History | Little Book, Big Story

Despite my father’s best efforts, I didn’t even begin to appreciate this fact until a few years ago, when I dipped my toes into the vast and lovely sea of historical narratives. I began to discover many interesting things about our world and about the God who made it, and my way in to each new subject came, in most cases, in the form of a children’s book.

I have compiled a list of some of my favorite books about church history here, and while they’re technically recommendations for your children, I hope you will enjoy them too. And if you find that after reading them, you’re hungry for further study, I have included, wherever possible, recommendations for you.

The Church History ABCs, by Stephen J. Nichols

The Church History ABCs | Little Book, Big Story

What better way to learn the alphabet than by using key figures of church history to illustrate each letter? No, I’m kidding. This isn’t an alphabet primer, but a biography sampler: A is for Augustine, Z for Ulrich Zwingli. This is, and probably always will be, my favorite picture book about church history. (Read the full review.)

The History Lives Series, by Mindy and Brandon Withrow

History Lives Series, by Brandon and Mindy Withrow | Little Book, Big Story

This series offers a great introduction to church history for kids or adults (confession: my husband and I both read these. For ourselves, not for the kids). Spread over five volumes, History Lives tells the story of the church from the first century to today, by introducing a new key figure each chapter and telling a slightly fictionalized story about some moment in their life. I use these in conjunction with our history curriculum and my daughter loves them. They’re a bit like Story of the World, but about church history rather than world history. (Read the full review.)

For Grown-Ups

Church History in Plain Languageby Bruce Shelley


Lily, The Girl Who Could See, by Sally Oxley

Lily: The Girl Who Could See, by Sally Oxley | Little Book, Big Story

This simple, lovely biography of missionary Lilias Trotter is a keeper: a great fly-over view of a woman who loved and served God, no matter what the cost. And while many missionaries are wonderful to read about but hard to relate to, Lilias’s story resonates with me. Not many of us here are called to be martyrs, but we’re all called to lay down our lives and desires to serve the Lord whole-heartedly. Lilias Trotter, who set aside an opportunity to become “the greatest artist of her generation” in order to place her gifts in the service of the Lord,  is a beautiful example for child and parent alike. (Read the full review.)

For Grown-Ups

A Passion for the Impossible, by Miriam Huffman Rockness


Stories of the Saints, by Joyce Denham

Stories of the Saints, by Joyce Denham | Little Book, Big Story

This collection introduces readers to a handful of saints from the early days of the church. Joyce Denhem’s beautiful language pairs nicely with the illustrations, which suggest stained glass windows, but the most beautiful part of the stories is the way they glorify not the saints themselves but the God they served. (Read the full review.)

The Tinker’s Daughter, by Wendy Lawton

The Tinker's Daughter, or "Why is it so hard to find strong Christian characters in fiction?" | Little Book, Big Story

Lawton’s exploration of the life of Mary Bunyan, John’s daughter, is lovely. This is historical fiction at its best, and it’s one of a series of books about young Christian girls throughout history. (Read the full review.)

For Grown-Ups

Pilgrim’s Progressby John Bunyan


MOSESby Carole Boston Weatherford

Moses, by Carole Weatherford | Little Book, Big Story

Through an imagined conversation between Harriet Tubman and the Lord, Carole Boston Weatherford paints a portrait of a woman who relied upon the Lord for every step of that first journey from slavery to freedom. The illustrations are moving, depicting Tubman’s travel in a way that captures both the beauty and the hardship of that first flight. Knowing how difficult that first trip was makes the knowledge that she went back (many times) to rescue others from bondage even more amazing.

The Light Keepers Series, by Irene Howat

The Light Keepers Series, by Irene Howat | Little Book, Big Story

This series is like a sampler platter of Christian biographies. There’s a set of biographies about men, and a set about women, with five volumes apiece. I’d be willing to bet that your favorite historical figure is in here somewhere. (Read the full review.)

For Grown-Ups

Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God, by Noel Piper



Martin Luther, by Paul L. Maier | Little Book, Big Story

This is a powerful, detailed biography of Martin Luther. It is a picture book (and a beautifully illustrated one), but the text is weighty and rich: more suited for independent reading than for reading aloud.  Maier writes about not just who Luther was, but about why his work still matters today.

For Grown-Ups

Luther on the Christian Life, by Carl R. Trueman


What is the Church?, by Mandy Groce and Bill Bell

What is the Church? | Little Book, Big Story

Through a sweet rhyme and simple illustrations, the authors explain not just what the church is, but who. This book is great for young readers, but it’s also a nice, succinct look at the church itself for older kids and even adults. (Read the full review.)

Saint Valentine, by Robert Sabuda

Saint Valentine | Little Book, Big Story

This beautifully illustrated, moving story about Saint Valentine is my favorite Valentine’s Day read. Yes, we eat chocolate hearts while we read it, but Valentine’s story reminds us why we give each other notes and gifts on the holiday while painting a picture of sacrificial love given at a great cost. (Read the full review.)

Which books about church history would you add to the list?
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Long Story Short | Marty Machowski

Our family started reading this book when our oldest two daughters were small. We loved everything about it: the short Bible studies, the chronological walk through Scripture, the way each story points to Jesus.

What we didn’t love was trying to discuss these stories with a four year old while trying to intercept the two-year-old’s plate before it hit the floor. After a few months of failing to convince reality to conform to our vision of happy dinnertime devotions, we shelved Long Story Short and went back to reading The Jesus Storybook Bible at bedtime, when everyone was pajamaed and cuddled up with a quieting cup of milk.

Long Story Short, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

But this year, I came across Long Story Short while gathering books for our home school year and decided to give it another try. We still have a two year old (just a different one), but we also have an eight year old and a six year old, so I tucked this book into our reading basket in the hope that maybe, just maybe, we might be ready for it.

The first few weeks of the school year were studded with tantrums and protests about reading the Bible, yes, but also about wearing shoes, eating snacks and everything else under the sun (I don’t know what the first few weeks of school are like at your house, but at our house, they are rough).

Long Story Short, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

Eventually we settled into a routine. And Long Story Short has been a beautiful part of that routine: the way our older girls see the world has already made from some rich and rewarding discussion, and because we read on the living room floor now, where puzzles and blocks occupy the toddler, it’s actually gone pretty smoothly so far.

Long Story Short is meant to be read five days a week, for about ten minutes a day. Each week has a focus passage, but on any given day, Machowski may send us off into other corners of Scripture to read passages that point the week’s story back to Jesus.

Long Story Short, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

The book takes us through Scripture chronologically, but it also treats the Bible as a whole, with themes that spread across books and bring Jesus back to the forefront of the story again and again. Reading Scripture this way makes it hard to believe that God’s Word exists to comfort or serve us; it reminds us rather that the Bible exists to help us know the One who is our comfort and strength.

When the toddler melts down and another child goes limp at the mere thought of doing schoolwork and the teapot is empty, I’m so glad that Scripture isn’t full of beautiful but empty verses that remind me to buck up and do better. I’m thankful, rather, that they tell me that I am not enough—but that the one who is enough has adopted us as his children. That is news worth sharing with my daughters.

Long Story Short
Marty Machowski (2010)

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The One O’Clock Miracle | Alison Mitchell

At the start of the year, I knew nothing of the series “Tales that Tell the Truth.” I had never seen Catalina Echeverri’s artwork, nor heard of Alison Mitchell or Carl Laferton.

But that changed when I read The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross. Not long after reading that book, I found The Storm that Stopped, and felt a sudden conviction that our family must own these books. All of them. Immediately. These books are beautifully told, truthful, well made, and worth reading dozens of times. We needed them.

The One O’Clock Miracle was the next to join our collection:

The One O'Clock Miracle, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

The One O’Clock Miracle tells of the young boy Jesus healed, through the perspective of his father, who walked miles and miles to meet Jesus, only to hear the words, “Go. Your Son will live.”

But Alison Mitchell isn’t content to simply retell the biblical story. Instead, she uses the story as a lens through with readers can view Jesus: the sub-title, “A True Story About Trusting the Words of Jesus is the perfect summary of her purpose here. The story is fun to read, but by the end the end of the book, it shows us something new about trusting Jesus, something we hadn’t seen before.

The One O'Clock Miracle, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

Catalina Echeverri’s illustrations are, again, full of energy and charm. And I’m pleased to report that, though our collection is growing, there are still more “Tales That Tell the Truth” out there for our family to collect.

And collect them we will.

The One O’Clock Miracle
Alison Mitchell, Catalina Echeverri (2015)

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Ember Falls (Giveaway!) | SD Smith

Ember Falls landed on our porch in a box full of goodies from SD Smith’s Kickstarter campaign. Oh, I thought. Yay! Lydia will like this.

I admired the cover.

I flipped it open to read the dust jacket.

I came to twenty-four hours later, starry-eyed, having finished the book.

Ember Falls, by SD Smith | Little Book, Big Story

In Ember Falls, S.D. Smith continues the story of Heather and Picket, who are no longer the young, lost rabbits of The Green Ember’s opening pages. Picket is a well-trained warrior; Heather is . . . well. I’ll let you read that part for yourself. But that development was one of many that I met with a satisfied, “Oh, yes. Of course.”

S.D. Smith has written a sequel that feels inevitable, as though the story developed itself. Nothing feels forced; nothing feels cheap. His characters work hard and suffer for their victories, and those victories are deeply satisfying.

Ember Falls, by SD Smith | Little Book, Big Story

S.D. Smith’s vision of hope in this series is potent, reaching beyond the pages of his books and into our lives as we read: as the characters fix their eyes on the Mended Wood, so we fix our eyes on a Better City. When my eyes stray from that City to the brokenness of this world, when I am tempted to believe that the brokenness is all there is or ever will be, then I am grateful for the faithful rabbits who remind me that we must go on fighting.

We must hope.

We must bear the flame.

Every book in this series is better than the last, which makes Ember Falls the best yet. And Ember Falls brought my eldest daughter into the fold: finally ready for the series, she read all three books in a week and now wears her “Bear the Flame” necklace proudly. (Even Sarah, who hasn’t read the series yet, adores her necklace. “It’s like Heather’s!” she tells everyone—even strangers at the grocery store. Then, confidentially, “Heather is a bunny.”)

Ember Falls, by SD Smith (necklace) | Little Book, Big Story

Now, ordinarily, I would hustle you off the Story Warren shop with a link and nudge and a “What are you waiting for? Go read it!” But this week, I have a treat for you: S.D. Smith has graciously offered to send a set of all three books to one of you, plus your choice of either a “Bear the Flame” necklace or a set of stickers*.

Ember Falls, by SD Smith (giveaway prizes) | Little Book, Big Story

The books are a great prize. Definitely. But my favorite part of opening a package from a beloved author was watching my kids make the connection that S.D. Smith is, you know, a human. A human who sends mail. And writes books.

They both immediately declared their intent to become authors and took up residence at the kitchen table with stacks of paper, pencils and erasers (and for writers, those erasers are super important). They may be writing fan fiction about their favorite series at this point, but that’s just a few degrees away from writing the next classic, right?

Enter the Giveaway

To enter, fill in as many options as you like in the widget below. The giveaway closes on Tuesday, Sept. 27 (I’m going to get it right this time, I really am). After that, a winner will be randomly selected and notified by email.

Game on!

*The actual stickers to show up in the winner’s mailbox may not look just like the ones pictured.
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8 Books That Bring the World to Your Child

We don’t get out much. I would blame it on the fourth baby or on this “hectic” season of life, but I can’t really. Even before we had kids, we didn’t get out much. We just like staying home.

When I opened my Instagram account a few months ago and started seeing all the amazing places my friends take their kids, I began to feel a little guilty about that, like maybe we should be putting our kids in backpacks and trekking up mountains and stuff. And maybe we will once, just so they know what it’s like. But I grew up doing things like that and somehow, it never took. I’d just rather be at home, having dinner with the neighbors and harvesting tomatoes until my hands smell like tomato plants, putting the kids to bed on time and then watching The Clone Wars with my husband.

8 Books That Bring the World to Your Child | Little Book, Big Story

We don’t see ourselves as a family who will travel a lot, at least not for the sake of exploration. We would like to show our kids some parts of the world, yes. That sounds pretty cool. But we have always had a clear vision of our home as a place of refuge, a place our children return to when they are grown and need a rest from their travels, and shaping that refuge (wherever it eventually is) is a daily work that we find it hard to walk away from.

Just because we may not take our children around the world ourselves, though, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t know what’s out there. I find myself looking for more and more ways to broaden their borders so that they grow up grounded but not sheltered: we have dinner with friends from other countries and host foreign exchange students (okay, we did that once, before we filled our house to capacity with babies. But it was a wonderful experience for all of us). We look up every little thing on Google Earth, and bring home stacks of library books about life in other countries.

8 Books That Bring the World to Your Child | Little Book, Big Story

Many of the books on this list came to my attention through Jamie C. Martin’s beautiful book, Give Your Child the World. If anything on this list whets your appetite, then please: read her book first. It’ll fill your cart with incredible titles and your heart with stories of life around the world. The rest of the books on this list are family favorites.


All The Colors of the Earth, by Sheila Hamanaka | Little Book, Big Story

This books describes children not as “black” or “white,” but as “cinnamon, walnut, wheat” and more. Hamanaka uses both her words and her illustrations to celebrate the many different ways children can look. (Read my full review.)

PAPA, DO YOU LOVE ME?By Barbara M. Joosse

Papa, Do You Love Me? | Little Book, Big Story

Set in the Maasai culture of Africa, Papa, Do You Love Me? follows the questioning of a young child as he asks his father, “What would you do if I was cold? If I was hungry? If I did wrong?” The papa’s patient and generous answers show that the love of a father for is child is truly cross-cultural. (Read the full review.)

BEGINby Philip & Erin Ulrich

The Growly Books: Begin, by Philip and Erin Ulrich | Little Book, Big Story

A book about a talking bear may seem like an unlikely choice for this list, but I loved the way that the authors present Growly’s exchanges with other animals: as he runs into cultural differences and language barriers, he meets them with humility and respect. This is a lovely story about a young bear whose world is much larger than he originally thought.

PEOPLE, by Peter Spier

People, by Peter Spier | Little Book, Big Story

This book is an impressive, “big picture” look at people: the many ways they can look, the things they do, the places they live, and more. It’s a fun one to read together or to study alone (the illustrations are incredibly detailed). By looking at the many ways we differ and the few things we have in common, Spier creates a fascinating portrait of the human race.

The Anna Hibiscus Booksby Atinuke

The Anna Hibiscus books, by Atinuke | Little Book, Big Story

Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa, amazing Africa, and Atinuke celebrates that by exploring her daily life in Africa through Anna’s charming perspective. These are early chapter books and heavily illustrated, so they’re perfect for sharing with a beginning reader. In fact, my beginning reader likes to follow me around while I do housework, reading aloud from them like she is my own private audio book. (Read the full review.)

Children Just Like Meby Anabel and Barnabas Kindersley

Children Just Like Me | Little Book, Big Story

My girls found this book enchanting. Dozens of countries appear in its pages, represented by one or two children who give a glimpse into their daily lives. We found ways in which those lives differed dramatically from our own, of course, but we also found many things that our families have in common. If People is a big picture look at humanity, this is a close-up detail shot that focuses on one child at a time.


To Everything There is a Season | Little Book, Big Story

Jude Daly uses the familiar passage from Ecclesiastes 3 for the book’s text, but places her illustrations in South Africa. By having one family enact the different “times” described, she gives a fascinating portrait of life in the South African countryside. (Read my full review.)


Give Your Child The World, by Jamie C. Martin | Little Book, Big Story

Jamie C. Martin makes a compelling case for why we should read things that expand our children’s understanding of the world. She isn’t bossy about it, though: she makes her case quietly, by sharing what has worked for her own multi-cultural family and describing their favorite books so enthusiastically that I found myself filling an Amazon cart as I read (oops . . . ).

What are your favorite books about life outside your own community?
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Lily, The Girl Who Could See | Sally Oxley

I did not grow up on a steady diet of missionary biographies. A steady diet of Goosebumps: yes. But the missionaries that have been childhood friends for many of you are new acquaintances to me. I met Corrie ten Boom, Elisabeth Elliot, Amy Carmichael and more only after reaching adulthood, but in the few years since I first read their works, their stories have challenged me and shaped my faith. And of all the stories I’ve read, either on my own or while curating a collection of biographies for my daughters, few stand out as brightly to me as the story of Lilias Trotter.

Lily, the Girl Who Could See, by Sally Oxley | Little Book, Big Story

Trotter left home and family behind to follow the Lord wherever he sent her, but she sacrificed something else as well: Lilias Trotter was an unusually gifted painter, a woman able to “see” what made a flower a flower or a face a face and capture that essence with her brush. She trained under a renowned instructor who saw in her the makings of a great artist. But when her dedication to art seemed to come in conflict with her work among London’s poor, Lilias Trotter sought the Lord’s counsel and strove to bring everything—her service, her love for him, and her gifts—under his authority. The result was a life lived beautifully, a work of art in its own right.

Lily, the Girl Who Could See, by Sally Oxley | Little Book, Big Story

This is a subject dear to me because I talk to many mothers who are worried that, in laying down a gift that God has given them in order to raise children, they are, perhaps, giving up too much. But I have seen in my own life the way that the Lord often asks us to give up the very gifts that seem to come from him, only to give them back to us later, transformed by his touch. For me, this was music (I wrote at length about this for Deeply Rooted Magazine, Issue 7: Legacy). For some, it is teaching. Or accounting. Or even serving within the church.

The story of Lilias Trotter beautifully captures the struggle of a Christian who is torn between two good gifts, but who chooses instead to serve the Lord who gives the gifts—whatever the cost. The book’s language is simple; Tim Ladwig’s watercolors, gorgeous (he’s quickly becoming one of my favorite illustrators). This picture book is a lovely introduction to the life of Lilias Trotter, and one that gives a powerful example of a Christian laying down their life in the service of the Lord and yet receiving back, in this life, what they lost one hundredfold.

Lily, the Girl Who Could See, by Sally Oxley | Little Book, Big Story

If you would like to learn more about Lilias Trotter, you can find her story in Noel Piper’s excellent book, Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God (that’s where I first met her). And I just started reading the biography that Lily, The Girl Who Could See is based on: A Passion for the Impossible, by Miriam Huffman Rockness. So far, it’s lovely.

Which missionary should I meet next?

Lily: The Girl Who Could See
Sally Oxley, Tim Ladwig (2015)

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