If I had the authority to bestow a title upon anyone, I’d be quick to dub Marty Machowski “The King of Devotionals.” We are reading or have read through several of his books, and each one looks closely at its subject—whether a particular book of the Bible, the entire Bible, one testament of the Bible, or systematic theology—studying it from this angle and that, and inviting the readers into a discussion that gets hands gesturing and minds pondering.
Prepare Him Room is no exception. Machowski uses a fictional story to stitch together an engaging fabric of Scripture reading, hymns, crafts*, and discussion questions. When we read through this book together last year, I found that that combination worked like magic on everyone from my ten year old to my two year old. (Bonus: Putting the accompanying album on after we finished reading made for excellent Christmas-themed dance parties.)
*Do you have to do all of the crafts? Of course not! We didn’t. (I honestly can’t recall us doing any of them. Unless baking cookies was one? We did that.)
The way I used to feel about the new dELiA*s catalog: that’s how Lydia feels about the catalog from Lamplighter Books. Before it hits the kitchen counter, she whisks it away, and when I find it next, there are stars in the margins by the titles she most wants to read.
And thus, she deserves credit for discovering today’s series. After her starring and dog-earing spree, she spent the better part of her savings on the Tales of the Kingdom trilogy. The day it arrived was the first day I found a box of books on the porch that wasn’t addressed to me. Calling her down to check the mail felt like the passing of some torch.
In the catalog blurb, Lamplighter Books compares Tales of the Kingdom, favorably, to Pilgrim’s Progress and The Chronicles of Narnia—an ambitious comparison, certainly, but not unwarranted. This series has the allegorical feel of both classics, and a similar knack for inviting deep truths in the side door while you’re distracted by a wonderful story. I do not think I will summarize the plot for you, because I enjoyed diving into this series equipped only with the Lamplighter blurb and Lydia’s endorsement. But know that this is a delightful set of stories, and I can’t stop thinking about them.
The Tales of the Kingdom books are pricey, but they’re worth it. They’re a little dated, but in this era of ’80s nostalgia, that’s pardonable. These are stories that I savored when I read them alone and that now hold all four of my daughters rapt at the table after school when we read them together. And I am so grateful to Lydia for introducing me to them.
I encourage you to purchase these through Lamplighter Books rather than Amazon, because Lamplighter is a company worth supporting! But used copies do crop up on ThriftBooks from time to time, so you might be able to save some money by purchasing through ThriftBooks.
A note to three-year-olds everywhere: if your parents buy you this book for your birthday, they are almost certainly hinting that it is time to start sleeping through the night. (We were when we bought this for Josie.)
Lisa Tawn Bergren’s God Gave Us series is lovely and I’ve reviewed a few of them here. But none have garnered as dedicated a following in our home as this one: for a time God Gave Us Sleep was Josie’s favorite pre-nap read. She flipped through it after I put her to bed, and I often found it on the floor beside her when she woke up, as though it had slipped out of her hands when she drifted off.
And it is a book worth reading and re-reading. Bergren explores sleep and why it matters; through the story, she shows what happens and how we feel when we don’t sleep well, and she reminds readers that sleep is not a punishment or an inconvenience but a gift from our loving God. Exhausted parents know this. Three-year-olds don’t always, so I’m thankful for a book that gently explains it.
Josie has finally started sleeping through the night, though she will sometimes come quietly into our room and wait for us to wake up and take her to the bathroom. She never tells us she’s there, but lets us become gradually aware of her presence by singing “Happy Birthday” softly to herself. That’s so much better than how she used to wake us that we don’t even mind.
Our kids keep getting bigger. It’s the weirdest thing. I remember the ladies who gazed at Lydia asleep in my arms and cooed, “Oh, it just goes by so fast!” I knew they weren’t talking about my child, who was all of two weeks old, but about their own children, whose babies played sax in the jazz band and goalie for the JV soccer team. And I thought, the way we do, that it would be different for me. I wouldn’t let the passage of time catch me by surprise. Time has only been marching forward since, well, time first began.
And yet. Lydia is almost as tall as I am and is occasionally, from a distance and by people who don’t know us well, mistaken for me. There are times when I hear her speaking in the living room and think, “Whoa! Is another adult here?” before I realize that it’s my daughter talking. Sarah just turned nine, which means that she’s halfwaytoeighteen, which means that I suddenly need to sit down.
And then there’s Phoebe, who just started kindergarten and is so okay with it. She told me over her snack, “Mom? Today a girl in my class cried ’cause she wanted her mom,” like it was this bizarre thing she’d never considered that someone might, you know, miss their mom on their third day of kindergarten*. And Josie, the baby who is not a baby anymore except sometimes I forget and just need to smell her hair.
It turns out that those old ladies knew their stuff—life really does go by quickly, even when you’re paying attention. But if I miss the things we’ve passed by, I also love the things happening now. One of my favorite aspects of having these new older kids (besides carrying a diaper-free purse and having enough people to make card games legitimately fun) is the level of conversation we get to have on a daily basis.
Many of these conversations stem from—wait for it—books, and lately, specifically, from biographies. Even though the girls are back in school, we still do one day of studying at home, and I’ve commandeered a good portion of that day for read-alouds. A good portion of that time, I’ve dedicated to reading biographies. So I am always keeping an eye out for good biographies, and Empowered is one of my favorite finds yet.
Empowered is an anthology of biographies—each one readable in a long sitting or two or three shorter ones—of Christian women from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances. Catherine Parks shows how each woman’s story displays God’s glory and power, emphasizing that the things the women accomplished were not the product of mere grit, but of God’s strength made manifest through them. He is a God who equips us to do far more than we could do alone, and each of these stories demonstrates that.
The anthology format allows Parks to share that good news not just once, but eleven times through the lives of eleven very different women. Though we read about women from all over the world living at different points throughout history, Parks makes it clear who the story is really about: God’s hand in each woman’s life becomes the unifying thread that holds story to story.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention Breezy Brookshire’s illustrations—they were the reason I purchased the book. Her beautiful pencil and ink drawings make each women seem like someone you’d like to know, someone who is glad to see you.
We read about Joni Erickson Tada first, and that led naturally to looking at her paintings and listening to one of her talks (because you can take the mom out the homeschool, but . . . ). And this led naturally to more of those fabulous big kid conversations: deep reflections from the eleven-year-old, questions about quadriplegia from the nine-year-old, and, from the five-year-old: “Mom? Why don’t skeletons have ears?” Josie had wandered off somewhere, probably looking for the cat.
* The novelty of new colored pencils and cozy reading rugs has worn off, and now Phoebe fully understands how someone might miss her mom while at school.
Catherine Parks has also written a companion book for boys, titled Strong. I own it but haven’t read it yet, though my hopes for it are high.
Twist and turns: this year has been full of them! The most recent twist came as a surprise even to us, though we ended up being the ones to make the decision. Here is how it went:
We have loved homeschooling our girls, and we fully intended to keep doing it. I bought bins full of books for the coming school year and read through them with the vigor some folks bring to a buffet: the periodic table, ancient civilizations, the construction of pyramids, biographies—I heaped my plate with them and ate quickly so I could go back for more.
But as I tinkered with spreadsheets and lesson plans, something peculiar happened: I felt enthusiasm for the coming year—but no peace. I felt ill at ease, as though something wasn’t fitting the way it was meant to. I tweaked plans, I prayed about it, and yet still I felt restless. When I finally loosened my grip on the problem enough to mention it to Mitch, he took the news as though I’d put words to something that had nagged him for a while.
That night I hardly slept, and when I did sleep I skimmed the surface fretfully, dreaming my way through the problem still. By the next afternoon, my brain was overheating, I was exhausted, and yet, peace softened the line of the horizon ahead: by that evening, we knew what we needed to do.
At this point, we didn’t know if it was possible for our girls to return to school—the school the girls had attended before has grown and classes have filled up. We doubted they’d have openings for all three of our school-aged girls (Phoebe started kindergarten this year!), but we needed to give it a try. That was what we knew.
Then: emails and waiting. And further considering. What had changed, we asked ourselves and each other. Why home school for just two years and then return to school? The single biggest change, we realized, was that we are now attending the church that launched the school, and a number of the teachers, students, and board members are now not just friends but church family as well. We wanted them to be a meaningful part of our daughters’ lives, and we wanted to get to know their kids. There were other factors, but that was the biggest one. So, we waited.
And behold! The school had openings for each of our girls, and I abruptly shifted gears from planning out a year’s worth of history readings to measuring kids and shopping for uniforms. It seems that we are going back to where we started—but we aren’t. Our home addition was made possible by the those two years of homeschooling, and the relationship the girls have with one another and with Josie (two years is two-thirds of her life, after all) was worth the detour into unstructured afternoons and time spent around the table, feasting and reading Shakespeare together.
There are things I miss about homeschooling—and things I don’t miss. There are things I felt apprehensive about returning to school—but they were few. There are many more things I am enjoying, not because I think school is a shortcut to perfect kids, but because it is right where we need to be right now. I am excited to see what God will do through this.
When our eldest daughter was a toddler, my mom dropped a heavy box off at our house. “Your books,” she said. “From when you were a kid.”
I had no idea what a wonderful thing she’d done until I took the lid off the box, and two dozen or more picture book spines looked back at me: books I’d forgotten completely were there, tucked alongside old favorites, and many bore handwritten notes from my mom, marking the birthdays and Christmases of my childhood.
Those books now live on our family shelves. The gift of those childhood books was so powerful that I have made it a tradition for every birthday, Easter and Christmas since to buy a new and beautiful theological book for each of our daughters and to inscribe them with a short note. I’m looking forward to the day when I can drop off a box of books with each of them and help establish their picture book libraries.
I ran into a hitch this year, though. Lydia was suddenly harder to shop for: the only Christian books I found at her reading level were missionary biographies, and while she has a few of those already, she doesn’t seem particularly enchanted with them yet. So I wanted to get her something different—but what?
Enter The Radical Book for Kids, by Champ Thornton. Part encyclopedia of the Christian faith, part Dangerous Book for Girls (or Boys), The Radical Book for Kids is full of so many wonderful things that I’m finding it hard to improve upon the publisher’s description of the book. So I’ll just quote it here:
This power-packed book is “radical” in more ways than you might think! It is “radical” in the sense of the original meaning of the word, “going to the root or origin.” The Radical Book for Kids will take children on a fascinating journey into the ancient roots of the Christian faith. But it’s also “radical” in the more modern sense of being revolutionary. Kids read about men and women who learned to trust Jesus and stand for him—displaying radical faith—even when everything seemed against them.
But The Radical Book for Kids is also “radical”—meaning fun or cool—in the eyes of a child. Kids read about ancient weapons (and how to make one), learn about jewels, create pottery, discover ancient languages, use secret codes, locate stars, tell time using the sun, play a board game that’s 3,000 years old—and more.
This is the sort of book that I pull out after the kids go to bed and get lost in: the material in it is deep yet engaging, and every page is beautiful. I have a hunch that Lydia will disappear into it, too, and emerge full of interesting facts about ancient Hebrew, Lottie Moon, and handmade slings. And my hope is that, when she finds The Radical Book for Kids in a box of childhood favorites, years from now, her eyes will light up and she’ll say, “Oh, I loved this one!”
Last fall, our church of thirteen years dissolved. I wrote briefly (very briefly) about it here, but that acknowledgement only hints at how acutely I felt that dissolution.
About a month passed between the first twinge and our final service, and that month came during our remodel, when we were already displaced and presuming upon the hospitality of friends and family. We thought that move would be the year’s Big Event, but it was only the backdrop against which this much bigger displacement occurred—the breaking of our church fellowship.
In her book Keeping Place, Jen Pollock Michel writes, “Surely one evidence of the world’s fallenness from grace is its failure to provide stability. To lose our places is to lose our place.”
We lost our place. And that loss was a lot to process.
So one night, in the thick of things, I started writing. I had no intention of writing an article but wanted both to tidy my own mind and to make a gift for our weary church body—something that might help us lift our eyes above the horizon line of our church’s closure and to see God’s glory written in the heavens overhead.
This is a big thing, I wanted to say. But it isn’t an ultimate thing. God’s faithfulness doesn’t end here.
That thought eventually became a song that I wrote and sang at our closing party. But those ideas continued to simmer, and I kept lifting the lid and adding words to the pot. The soup gradually took on flavor, enough so that when I learned that the next issue of Deeply Rooted centered on the topic of the Church, I understood that I was, in fact, working on both an open letter to our church and a publishable essay.
But I also want to write about it because I have a little distance from the dissolution and I want to share that, too. We thought we had lost our place; we felt a wrenching, a breaking, an undoing, and we are still, in some ways, recovering from that.
Yet God’s kindness to us began long before this fall—or the Fall. He ordained for our good not that one church, now deceased, but The Church, a living body with members who carry the gospel to the world’s cities, villages, and camps; who translate the Bible so that others may know God’s Word in their own language; and who welcomed us in during those tender first months at our new church.
We have heard people express a desire to rest from church, but what we needed in the months after the final service was to rest in the church. To lose our old church one Sunday and the next Sunday step into the foyer of a new one and feel a continuity between the services, a familiarity in the love and generosity of the people there—the Church has never seemed so radiant to me as it does now, and I have never felt so privileged to be a part of it.
The New City Catechism answers its first question—”What is our only hope in life and death?”—with what has become a refrain for me in the past six months: “That we are not our own but belong body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.”
We are not our own but belong to Him. The Church is His; our church was His. We did not lose our place at all, for we are His, and there is no greater comfort in this world than to belong to Him. We are still learning the habits of our new church, but at the heart of it is the same command we strove to follow at our old one: love the Lord and love one another. He has given us new people to love, but our God remains wonderfully unchanged.
Lead me safely on to the eternal kingdom, not asking whether the road be rough or smooth. I request only to see the face of him I love, to be content with bread to eat, with raiment to put on, if I can be brought to thy house in peace.
“Weaknesses,” The Valley of Vision
If you’ve read this far—thank you. If you want to read further, consider this Part II of the story. The Deeply Rooted article is Part I, and you can read it here.
If you want to read further still (and I highly recommend that you do), you can read Deeply Rooted’s full issue on the Church. Of all the issues we’ve published in the last five years, this one is my favorite, because it looks at the Church from several perspectives and elicits a wonder and awe that I find thrilling. God’s plan for His people! It’s so stunning!