Tag: lent (page 1 of 6)

Something Better Coming

I have written recently, in a few different places, about the loss of a very good friend and about her legacy. My daughters didn’t get to meet her, but they love her because she loved them—Leslie always asked about them, and even sent the occasional birthday gift their way, so she was a sweet presence to my girls even though she lived on the other side of the country.

The other day, my daughter asked about Leslie’s birthday. “We have to celebrate it,” she said. But when I opened my contacts to double-check the date of Leslie’s birthday, my daughter grew suddenly still. “You mean,” she said quietly, “you used to text her, but now—you can’t anymore?”

And then she slipped her arms around my waist and squeezed hard.

My friend has been gone for almost a year, but somehow that was the thing that made her death real—and suddenly, acutely wrong—for my daughter. That realization that, though my friend lives still, in a newer, better way, no message I can send her now will reach her.

“Oh death, where is your sting?” Scripture proclaims (1 Cor. 15:55). And yet, we feel the sting of death around us all the time—as it claims those we love, or in any number of endings that are woven into our daily lives. Things aren’t what they should be, and even our children know it on a bone-deep level.

And so I’m grateful for the season of Lent, where we expose that undercurrent of dis-ease for a bit and put it in its proper place, by reminding ourselves and one another that it will not always be this way. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, death will truly—and forever—lose its sting.

Megan Saben’s book Something Better Coming shows beautifully the hope and anticipation we have, in Christ, as we lean toward Easter. By telling the stories of the resurrections Jesus performed, each one building upon the previous one and pointing toward the next one with the refrain “There’s something better coming,” she gives readers a sense of culmination and completion through the story of Jesus’s resurrection.

This is a glorious way to read the Easter story. We see, through the building tension, that his resurrection was not a single event, disconnected from Scripture, but one woven seamlessly into it—a grand disruption, yes, but one that was promised and foreshadowed through a series of smaller resurrections sewn all throughout the Bible and, specifically, the Gospels.

I am deeply grateful for the truth of the resurrection and for its assurance that, though death stings now, there’s something better coming. I’m glad for that truth when I squeeze my daughter back and assure her that it won’t always be this way—there’s something better coming.


Something Better Coming
Megan Saben; Ryan Flanders (2022)


Though I did receive a free copy of this book for review, I am not being paid to promote it. My enthusiasm for this book is abundant and purely voluntary!

Bare Tree & Little Wind

A few weeks ago I gave my pilea—a peppy little houseplant, with leaves that seem to float in the air like lilypads—a trim. By which I mean, I cut it down, all but an inch-high stem. (It was leggy and discolored, and this was a desperate last act to save it from the compost pile.) I watered that stump well and placed it in a sunny window, back by the washing machine, where looking at it every day wouldn’t make me sad.

And guess what? Less than a week later, I spotted a fur of green on the stump, little specks here and there. A few days later, those specks were freckles; a few days after that, they were clearly infant leaves sprung from a stump I’d almost despaired of saving.

That, dear readers, is Easter. Sometimes you have to sit with the dead stump and wonder how God could bring life out of anything so decayed. And sometimes you get to clap with delight and proclaim, “Life! Life!” It goes on whether we’re ready for it or not.

Bare Tree and Little Wind, by Mitali Perkins | Little Book, Big Story

Mitali Perkins’s beautiful new Easter book shows life surviving in the unlikely, burned-out places, only to bear fruit long after new fruit seemed possible. Through the characters Bare Tree and Little Wind, Perkins tells the story of Holy Week. But she doesn’t stop at the resurrection: as Little Wind travels through Jerusalem, visiting his favorite trees and witnessing Jesus’ death and resurrection, he visits, too, with Bare Tree—a palm whose fronds, seeds, and dates have been so thoroughly harvested that all that’s left of her is a stump. But when soldiers burn the beautiful palms of Jerusalem in the years after Jesus’ resurrection, Bare Tree’s apparent barrenness becomes a hidden blessing.

Bare Tree and Little Wind, by Mitali Perkins | Little Book, Big Story

Mitali Perkins (Forward Me Back to You) has swiftly become one of my favorite authors, and this book shows exactly why. It reads like a folk tale—but different. Like a traditional Easter story—but not quite. She brings a voice and perspective all her own to the story and invites us to see Jesus’ death and resurrection through the eyes of God’s creation.

And Khoa Le’s illustrations? They are gorgeous! Just as Little Wind seems to soar from one corner of the page to another, so the illustrations seem to lead one into another so that the whole book feels beautifully arranged and organically whole. Even the saddest parts of the story seem to promise life and hope. Which is true even today: our God is continually bringing life out of death and unfurling little leaves in the unlikeliest places.


This post is part of my “Hooray! We’re launching a book!” blog series, celebrating the April 19 release of Wild Things & Castles in the Skya book I both contributed to and, alongside Leslie & Carey Bustard, helped edit. Today’s post features an author who graced us with a powerful interview for Wild Things.


Bare Tree and Little Wind: A Story for Holy Week
Mitali Perkins; Khoa Le (2022)

Darkest Night Brightest Day

Does any holiday capture both light and darkness the way Easter does? It is a study in contrasts: the deepest depth of all human history, followed three days later by the brightest light. But I’ve noticed, in my extensive research on Easter books for children, that many Easter books tend to favor the light over the dark. The hope over the despair. And considering the audience, I think that’s appropriate.

But Good Friday has its place in the story, and rushing through it year after year can make it easy for us to forget what Jesus truly did, what he suffered, on our behalf. And so, I’m deeply smitten with Marty Machowski’s new book, Darkest Night Brightest Day, which—get this!—is really two books in one. The book’s format means that we can’t speed through the sad parts of the story to the happy ending: we have to read Darkest Night slowly, one day and a time during Holy Week. Then we pause. And then, we physically flip the book over and begin a new story—Brightest Day—that takes us from the Resurrection to Pentecost.

Darkest Night Brightest Day, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

I love this. I cannot tell you enough how I love it.

Our old pastor once sent us home from a Good Friday service with the injunction to forget the end of the story, just for that Saturday. Think what it would have been like for the disciples, who didn’t know yet what would happen on Sunday, to bury Jesus and walk away from that tomb. To reconcile, for many of them, with the fact that they had abandoned him and now had no opportunity to seek forgiveness. Machowski’s book gives us room to stop. To close the book. To wonder, whether we mean to or not, What if that was the end of the story?

Darkest Night Brightest Day, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

But it isn’t, and that’s the beauty of Easter. Jesus didn’t stay dead; the sun rose. The brightest day followed the darkest night, and we have hope in Christ that we will rise with him one day. What joy! And because this book takes the Easter story all the way through Pentecost, we are reminded of the hope we have through his Spirit—we are part of his continuing work. The dark night broke before the light of day.


This post is part of my “Hooray! We’re launching a book!” blog series, celebrating the upcoming release of Wild Things & Castles in the Skya book I both contributed to and, alongside Leslie & Carey Bustard, helped edit. Today’s post features an author whose books are warmly recommended in Wild Things.


Darkest Night Brightest Day: A Family Devotional for the Easter Season
Marty Machowski; Phil Schorr (2022)

Jesus Rose for Me

In the decade or so since we bought our house, I have planted many things: rhubarb, periwinkle, strawberries, summer after summer of vegetables, even a few forsythia bushes. But a few weeks ago, I planted our first tree—the first living thing that may outgrow and outlive us.

I named him Pevensie, in honor of the apple orchard in Prince Caspian, and settled him into a pit in our backyard while two houses away roofers cussed theatrically over the thock, thock, thock of their hammers. It was all very romantic.

But planting a seed is always an act of hope, or at the very least of wishful thinking. We scatter wildflower seeds each year for the bees, and every fall we shake the poppy seed pods all over our flower beds (and driveway—our little ones mean well). We plant seeds in the hope that they will emerge in the spring, having bided their time and done battle with birds and rocks and frost. We plant an apple tree—which is, at this point, basically a large stick harvested from a very kind friend’s yard—and hope that it will weather not one winter but dozens. May it survive not a handful of birds but a hundred, coming year after year to bear its fruit away.

And so it is with Easter: a season of hope, in which all creation seems to participate, when the brambles and bare branches that seemed dead only a few weeks ago start running with sap and putting on buds. Outside and in, this is a time of transformation. So it is, also, with parenting: all these little conversations are like seeds sown in our children’s hearts that will, Lord willing, blossom and bear fruit years from now.

Jesus Rose For Me, by Jared Kennedy | Little Book, Big Story

Jared Kennedy’s Jesus Rose For Me is an excellent little Easter-seed, meant for the soil of the tiniest hearts. Kennedy has slowly and quietly become one of my favorite current authors for children, as he writes in a way that explains tricky concepts so beautifully (more on his Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible in a separate post!). But this book is the Easter book I was looking for, all those Easters I spent years searching for a great book about the Resurrection for toddlers—not too graphic, you know, but not too fluffy either.

Jesus Rose For Me, by Jared Kennedy | Little Book, Big Story

Jesus Rose For Me begins with Palm Sunday and ends with the Resurrection, and invites readers into the story of Holy Week. Trish Mahoney’s illustrations, too, are rapidly filling our bookshelves, as she brings a bright simplicity to each story and captures so beautifully some of the more abstract portions of Scripture with symbols that just make sense to toddlers. I believe this book is comprised of excepts from Kennedy’s story Bible, and each one ends with a discussion question. Those questions are, I think, where the tilling comes in: Josie loves these questions, and I love hearing her answers. As she talks, I can almost see the seedlings sprout.


Jesus Rose for Me
Jared Kennedy; Trish Mahoney (2020)

Resurrection iWitness

When I was a senior in high school, a friend of mine started attending a Christian college just over the Canadian border. She came back jazzed, sparkling. “It is so exciting,” she tried to explain to me. “All of these things have answers! I’ve always believed, but now I’m starting to understand what I believe.”

I was a brand new Christian then, maybe one or two years in. I don’t know why this bothered me, but it did; I pushed back against her enthusiasm. Was I afraid that she—a friend I admired and looked up to—would outgrow me? That somehow this new knowledge would build a barrier between us? Maybe. I don’t remember what I thought or said, only that this idea raised my hackles, and that I was less kind than I should have been. I regret that.

Because now, looking back, I think I know what she meant. At the time, both she and I were part of a church that, as I remember it, didn’t emphasize doctrine, but tended to value our feelings about and experiences of God. When, in my twenties, I finally encountered for myself the idea that the things we believe have roots—old roots; roots nourished by present-day discoveries and understanding—I felt like I’d been trying to shelter a little candle and keep it burning, only to be confronted by the rising sun.

Resurrection iWitness, by Doug Powell | Little Book, Big Story

I learned then that Christianity involves our minds as well as our hearts. The whole of us is transformed by its tenets; no question sits outside its scope. I wish I had delighted with my friend in her discovery that the Christian faith isn’t disconnected from the natural world, or from the big questions we all have about existence (why are we here? Why does evil exist?), but that it is entwined throughout every aspect of our lives. That the history recorded in the Bible is largely supported by archeological findings; that Christianity meets some of life’s toughest philosophical questions with answers no other religion adequately supplies; that nature testifies to the hand of an artist at work behind it—these are revelations that eventually deepened and shaped my own faith, and that I now revel in sharing with my daughters.

And that is why, amid our beautiful and beautifully-written picture books of the Easter story, we also have Doug Powell’s Resurrection iWitness, which asks and then examines the question, “How can we know that Jesus rose from the dead?” The book is styled like a dossier full of documents, photos, and paintings, and explores the most common objections to the claims that Jesus rose from the dead. Was his body really stolen? Did the disciples substitute a body double? Perhaps Jesus never truly died, but only swooned? Powell sets these claims under the microscope and examines each one logically, asking if each claim could account for the lives the disciples lived after the crucifixion, or for the empty tomb.

Resurrection iWitness, by Doug Powell | Little Book, Big Story

This is a book aimed for older readers (I plan to let our twelve-year-old read it, but, because some of the paintings of the crucifixion are fairly graphic, I doubt I’ll put it out for the younger girls yet) who have started asking questions of their faith. Can it withstand this? Or this? What about this? We cannot base our faith on these arguments alone, because just as Christianity isn’t a purely emotional endeavor, it isn’t a purely intellectual one either. But seeing how the events of Scripture stand unmoved by the cultural mood of the moment can bolster and strengthen our faith and remind us that Jesus did not live and die in a kingdom far, far away, but here—in the world we know, at a particular time, among a particular group of people. His story may sound like the stuff of fairy tales (a prince disguises himself as a peasant in order to rescue his wayward love?), yet his story is true—and it is our story, too.


Resurrection iWitness
Doug Powell (2012)