Why We Read to Our Children

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By Holly Packiam

It’s autumn here in Colorado, my favorite time of the year. The changing of the leaves from green to yellow creates great anticipation in my heart for what is to come. The brisk, cool air invites me to stop, look, and listen. I start to imagine sitting with my kids on the couch; cuddling together with warm fuzzy blankets, lots of books, and a wood-burning fire in plain sight. 

“Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably.” 
C.S. Lewis

This vision is one I aim to walk out as we settle into the autumn season. Some of our activities are soon winding down and I look ahead envisioning more space to connect with each other and reflect on what the Lord is saying and doing in our lives as we read together.

Although I can feel nostalgic during this time of year, as the weather gets cooler and we’re indoors more, there are more opportunities for me to intentionally choose to read to my kids. So it got me thinking about why we as parents love reading to our children…

We read to our children to give them the gift of a great story. Beautifully written stories have a powerful way of speaking to my kids that can give them a vision for seeing themselves making choices they want to make and a vision for how to avoid pitfalls. Story has a subversive way of allowing our children to think about choices and life trajectory without being overly direct. If our children can see how characters in a story perceive life, deal with difficulty or evil, make decisions and so on, maybe they can see how they too could be a pivotal part of God’s great story here and now. I’m remembering the story of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. This story in one that is easy to drop into in an instant while reading. We can easily imagine walking by Edmund’s side as he contemplates whether or not to follow the White Witch or to trust his siblings’ instinct to join forces with the Old Narnians who follow the great Aslan. One of my favorite scenes is when the witch is laying claim to Edmund after his treason. His future was uncertain…to everyone but Aslan.

“You have a traitor there, Aslan," said the Witch. Of course everyone present knew that she meant Edmund. But Edmund had got past thinking about himself after all he'd been through and after the talk he'd had that morning. He just went on looking at Aslan. It didn't seem to matter what the Witch said.” 

“Fairytales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairytales tell children that dragons can be killed.”
G.K. Chesterton

We read to our children to give them a vision of their callings as Christ’s kingdom-bearers here and now. How can they play a part in defeating evil and bringing His life into the lives of those they encounter? When I drive my kids to church, a class, and activities, we pray…

“Lord, give us eyes to see what you are doing, ears to hear your voice, and a heart willing to obey you.”

I encourage each of them to ask themselves, How can I ‘see’ someone else today? Is there anyone new I can befriend? Does anyone need help? How can I be supportive and encouraging to someone who is learning the ropes of a new class for the first time?  Reading stories about kids who serve and help and extend mercy, and love others well, encourages our kids to do the same. 

We read to our children to help them see that God uses common, ordinary people to take risks and fulfill His plan in the world. My two oldest daughters have been reading historical fiction the past couple years along with reading a couple fiction novels by Andrew Clements. One in particular is about a child who writes a book and hopes to get it published. After reading this book and contemplating the bravery and boldness of the protagonist, they both decided their goal was to write a novel over the summer. To my joy (and surprise), they did just that. The girls spent countless hours wrestling through plot ideas for their stories, researching historical facts, and discerning the larger themes they hoped a reader would reflect on.

We read to our children to create opportunities for them to become more empathetic and compassionate as they learn about the plight of others, especially those who have lived drastically different lives. Reading enables us to step into someone’s else's shoes and see their perspective. Our society seems to be torn apart by people who don’t know how to step into someone else’s shoes, to see things from a different point of view. Stories help us do that. They lift us form our surroundings and make us see the world— even the familiar parts of the world— through someone else’s eyes. We are often taken aback— sometimes in wonder, sometimes in horror— at the way someone’s experience of our same country could be vastly different from ours. This past summer, my girls and one of their cousins read Small Steps by Peg Kehret. They stepped into the shoes of a thirteen year old girl who suffered from polio. This story helped them to have compassion for a child who was paralyzed. 

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. Colossians 3:12-14 (MSG)

We read to our children because we have been given this window of time with them to pour wonderful and inspiring stories into their hearts. We all hear that the days are long, but the years are short. As my children have grown and I almost have a teenager in the house, I realize this to be true. I know my children will not always be at home, and the Lord has given them to my husband and me for this time to show them the ways of the Lord. Through story, we can discuss ideas together about how we sense the Lord is calling us to live. In stories like Harry Potter and The Hobbit, we can talk about how power can be used to bring life and freedom or to take control and ultimately destroy ourselves and others. 

Moreover, the best of stories prepare our children to meet Jesus beyond the page….which reminds me of another of my favorite scenes from the Chronicles of Narnia…

“It isn't Narnia, you know," sobbed Lucy. "It's you. We shan't meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?"
"But you shall meet me, dear one," said Aslan.
"Are -are you there too, Sir?" said Edmund.
"I am," said Aslan. "But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

These of course are just a few of the reasons….what would you add to the list?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Podcast Episode #16 - The Lifegiving Table & Fall Books

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In this episode, Holly Packiam and Jaime Showmaker discuss Sally Clarkson's new book, The Lifegiving Table, and share fall picture book recommendations.

"The soul satisfaction of belonging to one another, the anchor of commonly held traditions, and the understanding that our home was a sanctuary from all the pressure and storms of life - all these knit our hearts together into right bonds that will not easily be broken." ~ Sally Clarkson

Topics include:

  • How to create an environment conducive to discipleship
  • Ideas for discipling your kids at the table (with younger kids and older kids)
  • Fall book recommendations 

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST

 

Books From Today's Show - Storyformed Episode #16 - The Lifegiving Table & Fall Books

100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson- A Review

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I'm not a fan of scary stories. When I was younger, if I happened by chance to see a horror movie at a friend's house, it would stay in my thoughts, terrorizing me, for months (sometimes years). I have never been one to seek to indulge myself with images or tales that made my spine tingle or heart race with fear. When a certain author of young adult horror fiction came into popularity when I was a preteen, my friends would laugh at my absolute refusal to read the latest novel. There is just something about scary stories that makes me want to run screaming...before I even open the book!

That is why, for a few years and in spite of numerous recommendations, I avoided reading 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson. I had heard that it was a wonderful (but scary) book, and I just won't read scary books. Each time I saw it recommended again by a trusted friend or resource, my reaction was something along the lines of "I'm sure it's great. Thank you, but, um, no thank you."

But then, one day, I happened to read one of Wilson's non-fiction books and found that I absolutely loved it. I was captivated by his attention to and appreciation for the ordinary things of this world. His words stirred feelings of wonder and awe in my heart for creation and, more importantly, for the Creator. His wild but reverent love and devotion to the Lord came through with every word. I was enchanted by his perspective and felt as if I was awakened to a whole new world--a world that had been here all along, but that I had been too blind or complacent to see. I remembered then that he was the author of 100 Cupboards and my interest was piqued. How could someone so obviously in love with Christ and Biblical Truth be the author of a juvenile horror story? I know people loved it, but it was...well, scary. And so again, in spite of my curiosity, I left it on the shelf.

A short time later, my husband came home from his commute, raving about a book that he was listening to. It was--you guessed it--100 Cupboards. He absolutely loved it, and it was then that I promised myself that I would read it when I finally made my way to the bottom of my current "to be read" pile. (If you have seen the size of my pile, you know good and well that this was a promise that I never really intended to keep!)

When I realized that there was some real uncertainty among Christians as to whether or not 100 Cupboards was a book worth recommending for children because it was so scary, it was then that I knew it was finally time to read it for myself. And so I did. This past Friday night I pulled it down off of my bookshelf and began reading. And I was finished before noon on Saturday.

Wilson is a master storyteller. I was gripped within the first few pages and read well into the night because I just didn't want to put the book down. It is suspenseful and, yes, a bit creepy, but I was delightfully surprised to find that it didn't really "scare" me at all. But I can also understand how others might see it differently.

The story centers on Henry York, a 12-year-old boy who has been sent cross-country to live on the farm with his aunt and uncle when his parents are suddenly kidnapped.  One night while sleeping in his attic bedroom, a piece of plaster falls on his face. He opens his eyes to discover two doorknobs poking out of the ceiling, and one of them is turning. After some exploration, Henry and his cousin discover that there are 99 cupboards in his secluded bedroom, each leading to a different place. Because there is evil behind some of the cupboard doors, the book is full of suspense as Henry attempts to evade it and then, ultimately, determines how he will face the darkness that has been unleashed.

There were two particular scenes that stood out as potentially too intense for sensitive readers. In one scene, Henry encounters a "haunted" ballroom where horrific events had taken place in the past. The events of the tragic night are recounted. However, the terror of the night is merely implied, not described. The evil takes place off-scene and Henry merely catches the sounds of it (also not gratuitously described) from inside the safety of the cupboard. It is almost a stretch to describe the ballroom as "haunted" because the magic of the cupboard is such that it is merely showing Henry what happened the night that the evil came upon that particular world.

In a second scene (slight spoiler alert!), a witch is introduced. She says that she was able to regain her strength because she was able to sample a small portion of Henry's blood, and she is now seeking more. Although her thirst for blood appears somewhat vampirish in nature, she is clearly not a vampire, but a witch who steals life force from others in order to strengthen her own.  The witch is particularly evil and harms some of the characters, though the descriptions of the injuries are not grotesque; however, the scene may be upsetting to sensitive readers.

Although there were other elements throughout the book that I would describe as "creepy" or "suspenseful," outside of those two particular instances, I personally would not describe the book as "scary," though I am cognizant of how subjective that adjective can be. I personally did not find the books to be as scary as the Harry Potter series, or even Lord of the Rings. There were scenes in Ember Falls and the Wingfeather Saga that were much more intense than what I felt I encountered at any point in 100 Cupboards.

Wilson has a very specific philosophy about writing scary stories for juvenile readers (his books are geared towards ages 9-12 and older). "They are scary because the world is scary. This is a scary place...you want to read about people who are facing intense challenges, who are moving forward and standing where they stand because it's right, not because they might win." Wilson's books are published by a secular publishing house, but he definitely developed his philosophy (and writes) from a very intentional biblical worldview. In reading 100 Cupboards, this really stood out to me in two distinct ways. Although there is very real evil in the book, there is also courage, love, goodness, and sacrifice. And despite the fact that the characters are in real peril throughout much of the story, they ultimately demonstrate virtue and, in the end, good wins out. Wilson writes about very real (and, yes, sometimes scary) evil in order to highlight the Good, the True, and the Beautiful that exists in the world that God has created--the world in which we actually live. "When you talk about evil," Wilson says, "the level of the evil really tells you the level of the righteousness, the courage, the justice required."

Although he writes fantasy, he intentionally mimics the way that real evil exists in our world, as displayed daily for us to see, but also in the way that it was recorded in the Bible. "In God's world it's not about, 'are you flexing power?', it's about 'do you have the authority to do it? Have you been given the authority?' And when you see men trying to steal and grasp power and control that which was not given to them, you have villains. When guys are going after manipulation, control, power-grabbing, they're the bad guys. When you see people who are given power, they're the good guys. "

But Wilson's biblical worldview is not only evident in his portrayal of good and evil in 100 Cupboards, but also in his gratitude for world that God has created for us and given us to steward. Henry does not find the magic in the cupboards until he is awakened to the magic around him within his own world. He learns to appreciate farm life, starlight, baseball, and the joys of community in his own place, before he ever discovers a single portal to another one.  Perhaps it is because I read Wilson's nonfiction before encountering 100 Cupboards that I could see the influence of his biblical worldview--how we are made in the image of God and we are instructed to steward the world He has given us and bring His Kingdom to bear on earth--everywhere in his fiction.

Although 100 Cupboards is not an overtly Christian story, Wilson's biblical worldview was evident enough for me to embrace the "scariness" because the goodness shines so brightly. I empathize with and support Wilson's mission to nourish children on stories that prepare them for the spiritual battles that they currently face and will most certainly face in the future.

"I think stories are soul food. Stories are catechisms. I think they're catechisms for the imagination; they're catechisms for loyalties; catechisms to shape what kind of character you want to be yourself." -N.D. Wilson

(All quotes are taken from an interview with N.D. Wilson on DRTV Above The Paygrade, which can be viewed here.)

Podcast Episode #15 - Favorite Books for Boys (A Conversation with Heidi Scovel)

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'Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.' ~ Mary Oliver

In this episode, Holly Packiam and Jaime Showmaker have the special privilege of talking with Heidi Scovel. Heidi shares with Holly and Jaime about some of her favorite books for boys. We think your girls may like them just as much as your boys!

Heidi is the happy wife of Russ, blessed mom of three rambunctious boys and an audacious little girl, book collector, home educator, photographer, lazy control-freak, sentence diagrammer, occasional decorator, house-cleaning avoider, long-time blogger, curator of randomness, and lover of the little things.  At Mt. Hope, Heidi chronicles her journey of living lovely. She shares, in words and pictures, how she fill her days with learning, creating, nurturing, encouraging, celebrating, and exploring. She writes at www.mthopechronicles.com.  Please check out her lovely blog! 

Topics include:

  • Favorite books for boys
  • Choosing books for boys at various ages and developmental stages
  • Cultivating a reading culture in your home
  • Ideas for encouraging reluctant readers
  • Advice on how to start a book club for adults or kids

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST

 

Books From Today's Show - Storyformed Episode #15 - Favorite Books for Boys (A Conversation with Heidi Scovel)

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Podcast Episode #14 -Back to School: Cultivating Rhythms of Reading

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In this episode, Holly Packiam and Jaime Showmaker, discuss the struggle they feel as they seek to find new reading rhythms in their homes at the start of a new school year. If you're struggling to find consistent windows of time to read with your kids, listen and you'll hear some new ideas to make time for what matters most. 

Topics include:

  • The importance of reading regularly
  • Barriers to creating rhythms of reading
  • How a daily practice of reading gives opportunity for discipleship around the table with our kids
  • Practical ideas for creating space to read daily

     

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Books & Links From Today's Show - Storyformed Episode #14 - Back to School: Cultivating Rhythms of Reading 

 

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Cheaper By The Dozen- A Book Review

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“Dad himself used to tell a story about one time when Mother went off to fill a lecture engagement and left him in charge at home. When Mother returned, she asked him if everything had run smoothly. ‘Didn't have any trouble except with that one over there,' he replied. 'But a spanking brought him into line.'  Mother could handle any crisis without losing her composure. ‘That's not one of ours, dear,' she said. 'He belongs next door.’”

I grew up in an average sized family. I had a sister who was three years my junior and then, when I was fourteen, I gained an even younger stepsister. Although we had our share of sibling spats, our house of three girls was generally quiet, orderly, and…well, average. I didn’t know anyone with a particularly large family and had no experience with the nuances of large family dynamics.  As a result, when I picked up the book Cheaper By The Dozen by Frank Gilbreth, Jr and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, I was particularly eager to take a peek at their account of large family life. What I did not expect, however, was to find a hilarious and beautiful tribute to a unique father and husband, and a nostalgic picture of typical turn-of-the-century life for an atypical American family.

Frank Gilbreth and his wife Lillie were world-famous efficiency experts in pre-WWI America--who also happened to have a dozen children.  They were an unusual family, not just because of their size, but because of the career and vibrant personality of their patriarch. In this delightful memoir, two of the twelve children recount in various tales the ways in which their father worked out his theories and practices regarding motion study and education in their bustling home. A fascinating and fun read, Cheaper By The Dozen paints a picture of what it was like to grow up with Frank Gilbreth as a father.

Despite the fact that he believed that a family could (and should) run like an efficient factory, Frank Gilbreth doted on his children and filled the home with warmth and love. The book chronicles how he was as quick to pull out a surprise present from his pocket as he was to administer discipline or correction for wrong doing. A jokester, he filled the house with laughter and antics that had the Gilbreth family (and the reader) in stitches. His pioneer work in the field of motion study was fascinating, and he carried out experiments and documented theories with his children in ways that were equally gripping and hilarious. A staunch proponent of education, Gilbreth took every opportunity to act as teacher and mentor to his twelve children, from painting Morse code and astronomical diagrams on the walls, to performing quick math drills and tricks at the dinner table.

Although the book focuses primarily on the father, his love for his wife and children is portrayed in a way that paints a beautiful portrait of family life. Despite occasional squabbles, the siblings genuinely love each other and defend one another. The parents are generally honored and respected. Extended family is cherished and revered. And Mr. and Mrs. Gilbreth model a marriage that is loving, cooperative, complementary, and traditional. In other words, this book is a quiet and effective defense of the traditional family.  It is also staunchly pro-life.  Gilbreth’s love for all of his children, born and yet unborn, is highlighted, as is his family’s adoration of children in every season of life. From cooing at his newborn to chaperoning his teenaged daughters’ dates, Gilbreth’s devotion to and concern for all of his children is heartwarming.

Because the book takes place in the early Twentieth Century, many of the nuances of life during that time are chronicled, including childhood illnesses, technological advances, and societal customs, including discipline. Some of Frank Gilbreth’s parenting choices and disciplinary practices may be offensive to some readers; corporal punishment is used, but there is absolutely no instances of abuse implied. Also, although this is a generally wholesome and clean book, there are a few swear words, including a couple of instances in which the Lord’s name is taken in vain. Cautious parents may want to be aware of the fact that there is a hilarious chapter in which the parents play a joke on a woman advocating for birth control. Further, Mr Gilbreth is not religious and talks somewhat insultingly about preachers in a particular context.

Despite these few mildly objectionable instances, I found Cheaper By The Dozen to be a delightful, hilarious, nostalgic, inspiring, and family-oriented novel that is perfect for a family read aloud.

A note about the movies: the original 1950 movie with Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy is generally faithful to the book. The 2003 version with Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt has absolutely no resemblance to the book or original movie.

Podcast Episode #13 - Favorite Chapter Books for 9 - 12 Year Olds

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In this episode, Holly Packiam and her daughter Sophia Packiam, discuss their favorite chapter books for 9-12 year olds. This is a perfect episode for parents and children to listen to together! The next time you're all in the car together, on maybe even during an evening at home, be inspired together.

Topics include:

  • The characteristics of a good book
  • Books that include characters worth emulating or ones that lead a child to explore the tensions and complexities lying in the human heart.
  • Favorite Chapter Book Titles for 9-12 year olds

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Books & Links From Today's Show - Storyformed Episode #13 - Favorite Chapter Books for 9-12 Year Olds

WWII Books for Children

Podcast Episode #12 - Encouraging a Love of Art Through Stories

In this episode Holly Packiam and Jaime Showmaker encourage and inspire listeners to cultivate a love of art through stories. The ability to participate in God's presence through viewing beautiful works is a gift of being created in His image.

We are grateful that artists over the centuries have used their gifts to create magnificent paintings and sculptures that express His nature. By showing our kids great art, we are not only leading them to know what is beautiful as a part of a great feast, but we’re also helping them to tap into their own creativity.

Enjoying art is an expression of the divine image because God both appreciates beauty -- He called His creation good --and IS beauty--He sets the standard for what is beautiful. 

“The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. (There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot possibly find out.)” - C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

Topics include:

  • The value of putting great works of art before our childrens’ eyes
  • Practical ways to capture our childrens' (from toddlers to teens) interest in art
  • The importance of presenting a feast of art to our children
  • Books to inspire a love of art 

Click below to hear the podcast

 

Books & Links From Today's Show - Storyformed Episode #12 - Encouraging A Love of Art Through Stories

The Story of the World's Best Luck

Perhaps the best-read book of all time is the Bible. But what kind of book is the Bible? Among many things, the Bible is a story—the Greatest and Truest Story of all. There are many ways of narrating this Story, but I love the way my husband, Glenn Packiam, did in one of his books, Lucky. Here’s an adapted excerpt. 

In the beginning, God. A good God made the world, and He called it good. This is how the Story begins. Man and woman were made to be God’s image-bearers, the ones who would rule over creation and care for it in God’s name and as God would, the ones who would most fully reflect Him. They were to multiply, producing other image-bearers who would reflect and reveal God, and in doing so would cover the earth with His glory.

But the image-bearers were not content to be with God; they wanted to be like Him. More than bearing His image they wanted His power, His autonomy, His unbounded freedom. For the creature to seek freedom from the Creator, to desire to be the Creator, is to say “I don’t need You. I am better without You.” It is an affront to the Creator, the ultimate insult. This rebellion was the beginning of evil in the creature and the end of perfectly bearing the image of the Creator. From that moment on, the image was marred, stained, tainted by the rebellion.

Because we are still bearers of God’s image we have some idea of how things should be, how the song should go, what the painting should look like. And yet because that image in us has been tainted by our sin, we recognize when there is injustice, we know that the song is being sung out of tune, that the painting has been smeared, that all is not as it should be.

Most religious stories get their shape by a human search for God. A prophet wanders off in the wilderness in search of God. Or a wise philosopher climbs the mountain to ponder truth. Or the old sage begins a quest for truth. But this Story does not begin with a man or woman searching for God. When the image-bearers realize that their attempt at living independently of their Creator has left them frail and vulnerable, they hide. Man and woman are not searching for God; they are hoping to avoid Him altogether. It is God then who says to Adam, “Where are you?”

From the beginning, God. God who is calling, God who is choosing, God who is blessing. Adam had been blessed by God, commissioned to multiply, to fill the earth with other image-bearers so that the world would be filled with the glory of God. Adam chose to attempt autonomy instead. Adam’s descendants are a mixed garden of grass and weeds; there are those who listened to God’s call, some with remarkable intimacy like Enoch, and those who ignored it, some with astounding audacity like Cain. 

The rebellion of the image-bearers reached a condensation point, and the sky became heavy with God’s judgment. It rained and rained and rained. When Noah and his family, singled out by God to survive these torrents, set foot on a land ready to bloom with new life, God re-issued His blessing: multiply, cover the earth with men and women who know God and reflect His image. Noah filled the earth, but with more fallen image-bearers. If God was going to show the world what He was like, it had to begin slowly, with one family, a family through whom all other families could be blessed. 

So God blessed Abraham. Abraham’s blessing was special. It wasn’t simply to re-create, to multiply. It was a call to carry the blessing to the world. To be clear about His plan, God didn’t stop with blessing Abraham; He blessed Abraham’s son, Isaac, and He blessed the son who got Isaac’s blessing, Jacob, through the man who wrestled with him until daybreak. The ones who received this blessing are forever remembered when this God is named. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 

As the seed of Abraham multiplied, it is they who did the blessing, passing on what Yahweh had given them. They were not merely fallen image-bearers; they were to be luck-bearers. They carried God’s blessing, and they were to bring it to the world.

In Frederick Buechner’s novel of Jacob’s life, he describes the moment that Jacob realizes the significance of his children, born from four different mothers, but of the same seed:

I was like a man caught out in a storm with the wind squalling, the sand flailing me across the eyes, the chilled rain pelting me. The children were the storm, I thought, until one day, right in the thick of it, I saw the truth of what the children were…

…They were the dust that would cover the earth. The great people would spring from their scrawny loins. Kicking and howling and crowing and pissing and slobbering food all over their faces, they were the world’s best luck.

The world’s best luck. The world’s best chance of being renewed, of being restored with their Creator, would come through this nation, this people, Israel.

But this people chosen to carry luck to the world failed to keep listening to the Creator. There were glimmers of remarkable radiance, when they were a light unto the nations. Yet they set up golden calves, images borrowed from their pagan neighbors, and called them Yahweh. They forgot that when God told them to have no other gods He was telling them that He was enough for the. By using other gods to secure their wishes and control their outcomes, they were repeating the sin of their first Father and Mother: they were becoming a god unto themselves. 

Before the beginning, God. God, the Three in One, who sees the end from the beginning. God, who decided before the foundations of the world that Christ the Son would be the Lamb of God, slain for the sin of the world. 

God was not caught off guard by Adam’s sin. He knew His first image-bearers would taint His image in them by their own rebellion. He knew the people He chose to be His luck-bearers would instead become self-absorbed and syncretistic. He knew they would become a curse, a byword among the nations instead of a blessing to all peoples. He knew their eventual exile out of the Promise Land, like Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden, would only underscore the plight of all creation: a luckless world waiting for redemption, a redemption that could only come from beyond itself. 

And so He came. 

Christ entered into the luckless, joyless, lifeless world. He was born to the unlikeliest of people, a Jewish carpenter and his ordinary wife. Yet even His arrival in her womb elevated her. Because of Him, she, the scandal of her town, the subject of scornful whispers and smirking eyes, was called by an angel “highly favored among women.” She was blessed. Though they did not know it yet, the luckless had become lucky. 

At His birth, vagabond shepherds, rootless wanderers, were visited by a choral constellation of angels announcing good news. Like Abraham the nomadic shepherd that God had visited thousands of years earlier, like Moses the shepherd in Midian tending his father-in-law’s flock who saw a bush on fire yet not consumed, like David the king God crowned while he was hidden in the valley tending his father’s sheep, God came again to shepherds. Something about them must remind Him of Himself. Dirty and stained, His image in them stills shimmers in the light of His glorious eyes.

Jesus, from His conception and birth, began bringing blessing to the world. This was the fulfillment of what God had promised Abraham. This was Abraham’s seed, the Chosen One, the One who would perfectly fulfill the call to reveal God to the world and to rescue and restore all created things. He is the perfect Image-Bearer for He is the “image of the invisible God”. 

Not only is Jesus the Perfect Image-Bearer, He is also the ultimate Luck-Bearer. Through His life, death and resurrection, humanity will be redeemed and creation will be restored. Humanity had been wasting away since the first man, by his disobedience, brought death into the world. But now, through this “one Man’s obedience”, life—unexpected, undeserved, abundant, overflowing Life, the Life of the age to come!—wouldcome to all (Romans 5). 

Walking the shores of Galilee, the God who called Adam out of hiding and Abraham from his father’s house began calling people out of their small, self-destructing lives. “Stop this attempt at autonomy. Stop trying to be better, do better, on your own. Stop casting your nets and toiling all night and hoping for different results. It is futile. You cannot live without Me. You were not made to. Come. Follow Me.”

As He healed the sick and drove out demons, He was signaling the arrival of His Kingdom. It was an invasion. But not an invasion of a foreign army; rather, more like the arrival of Creation’s rightful King. His rule was undoing the infection of evil. With every miracle He was announcing that the jig was up, the time had come. History was now turning on a hinge.

Isaiah’s vision of Messiah hundreds of years earlier was of one who by His own wounds would heal the fractures: in Israel, the nation torn apart by idolatry and sin; in the world, who had fallen into a constant state of war with one another; in humanity, who found itself irreparably distant from God. Messiah would lead to swords being beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks; war would be retired forever. Beasts and humans would live in harmony. The prophets tell of a Messiah who would take this world, sick and broken and fractured and fallen, and make it whole, set it right. 

In His death and resurrection, Jesus did just that. At the cross Jesus carried upon Himself every sin, every rebellion of the entire race of image-bearers. And in doing so, He redeemed not only them but the whole cosmos they had knocked out of kilter. By taking the full weight of sin unto death and then rising up from the grave, He defeated sin and reversed the curse of death. He set creation on a new trajectory, one that creation itself “longs for”, one bound for renewal: a new heaven and a new earth. 

Jesus, the Son of God, Creation’s rightful King and the world’s true Lord, had broken the stain of the rebellion, ended the luckless night that had fallen upon Earth, and with His resurrection awakened a new dawn, giving us hope for the fullness of Day that will come when He returns and all things will be made new and the cosmos set right.

As in the beginning, so in the end, God.

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Podcast Episode #11 - Pursuing Wisdom for Life

In this episode, Holly Packiam and Jaime Showmaker discuss our quest as Christians to be lifelong learners and carriers of wisdom. They share from their own journey as children of God, moms, and parents what it looks like to pursue wisdom for a lifetime. 

Topics include:

  • The understanding of a disciple of Christ as a learner
  • The characteristics of a lifelong learner
  • The importance of modeling a lifestyle of learning to our children
  • Practical ways to pursue wisdom
  • Books to inspire lifelong learning

Click below to hear the podcast

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Books From Today's Show - Storyformed Episode #11 - Pursuing Wisdom for Life

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A Wholehearted Booklist

One of the requests we get most frequently here at Storyformed is for book lists. We love to give recommendations and, while we are always working behind the scenes to curate the very best books for you and your family, today we thought that we would point you to a list that our lovely founder, Sarah Clarkson, compiled.

Storyformed is an arm of Whole Heart Ministries, founded by Clay and Sally Clarkson. The mission of Whole Heart is "to encourage and equip Christian parents to raise wholehearted children for Christ." As part of that mission, Sarah has frequently spoken at conferences about the impact of story in the discipleship process. She created this list of recommended children's literature in response to requests for book recommendations from her talks. We hope that you will enjoy this resource and then take some time to look around at all of the other resources that Whole Heart Ministries has to offer as you and your family live a story worth telling.

Sarah Clarkson's List of Recommended Children's Literature

Planting Shade Trees Through Story

Jaime Showmaker

It's funny that I don't even remember the man's name.  It was a Sunday night, and my husband and I had gone to church for an evening program with a Christian comedian.  Really, it was a rather ordinary day, ending with our regular Sunday evening church attendance. When we walked through the doors that evening,  I had expected to laugh.  What I did not expect, however, was to be hit to the heart with a vision that would become the mission of the rest of my life.

In between the jokes about choir bus tours and fellowship meals, the comedian became suddenly serious.  He began to tell a tale of his family history--immigrant great-grandparents who had to make their way in this vast, new land called America by the sweat of their brow.  And, considering that they settled in Texas, they sweat A LOT.  He spoke about the bush trees in West Texas, how they don't provide much relief from the sweltering Texas sun.  One day, when his great-grandfather was still a very young man, a neighboring farmer saw him out in front of the family home, meticulously burying dozens of acorns.  The farmer approached the grandfather, laughing, and asked, "what in the WORLD are you doing?"

"I'm planting shade trees," the grandfather quietly replied as he continued dropping seeds into the warm soil.

"Shade trees?" the farmer exclaimed, "Don't you know it will take YEARS before these things are big enough to provide any shade? You'll be long gone before then!" he stated smugly.  The grandfather continued planting--determined.

"I'm not planting them for me," he said patiently, "I'm planting them for my grandchildren."

That's when my heart skipped a beat, and God took the words of a comedian I don't even remember and began to reveal to me His plan for the rest of my life: PLANT SHADE TREES.

The comedian revealed that he had heard that particular story about his great-grandfather while sitting under some cool, refreshing trees during a Texas summer--the very trees planted decades before by an ancestor he hardly knew.  Before that night, I never even had a concept of a multi-generational view of family.  My own immediate family was no longer in tact; my parents divorced when I was nine.  The brokenness from that affected me profoundly.  Because of that, I knew that I wanted to do things differently with my own family, but I never thought beyond that or, specifically, HOW I wanted to do that. When God, through that comedian, gave me a vision of planting shade trees, I began to seek out ways that I could be intentional about planting seeds of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty--seeds of the Gospel--into my own heart and the hearts of my children. I wanted everything I did to one day bear fruit for the Kingdom.  And one of the ways that I found that I could do that most effectively was through story.

I began to see stories as "shade trees" one day when I realized how much the stories I read had (and still were) shaping me. I had decided to make the switch from reading the popular best-sellers to reading books more intentionally. I was deliberately seeking out various stories that were edifying, or convicting, or just filled my heart and soul with beauty and life.  And the stories were changing me. I realized that there were several ways stories were acting as "shade trees" in my own life, and I knew the same effect would be true in the lives of my children.

Like shade trees, stories give us roots Stories connect us to the world and show us what it's like to be human. When we read of those who have gone before,  who have struggled or wrestled or hurt, we know we aren't alone. The effect is that we can feel less isolated and can grow in empathy for other people, but it's also more profound than that. Stories give us glimpses into the human heart and help us to recognize that we all are affected by the same condition, and we all fall short. When we read the stories that were born out of the hearts of our fellow human beings, we know that Paul was right when he told us in Romans that "there is no one righteous, not even one."  Sometimes we are able to see this truth more clearly through stories than anywhere else.

But stories also remind us of the hope we have in the Gospel. The story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection is the most important and greatest story ever told. Biblical stories and stories of church history that tell of lives transformed by Christ help us stay rooted in our faith and connect us to the Church.

Other stories, like family histories and local lore, can also ground us in our sense of self, place, and community.  I don't know a child who doesn't love to hear the story of his/her birth. Family stories remind us that we might have our grandmother's spunk, or our grandfather's wit. They can explain the origin of family customs or traditions. ("And that is the reason why, every single year, each child picks a new angel for the top of the Christmas tree." And every Christmas, as that story is told again, the family unit that was fledgling and very fragile when the original story took place, now decades later, is woven together a bit more tightly.) Stories knit our hearts to the hearts and minds of other people. It is through stories that my boys will understand what connects them to generations before, and that we do things that way simply because we are Showmakers.

Like shade trees, stories inspire us to great heights. Occasionally my boys and I will take a blanket outside and lie on our backs, attempting to look straight through the tops of the majestic oak trees, trying to see bits of blue sky through the vibrant green leaves and the dappled sunlight. We always marvel at how tall the highest branches are, and we wonder what the world looks like from the very top. Stories inspire us with the same sense of wonder and imagination. It is through story that we can catch a vision of all that is possible in our amazing world. We read of heroes, inventors, explorers, creators, and we began to think, "if he can do that, maybe I can too!" Our imaginations come alive and creativity flourishes. We begin to imagine ourselves within a story--our life story--and we want to live an epic adventure. "What kind of hero will you be?" we ask ourselves and our children, as a result of the inspiring stories that we encounter.

Like shade trees, stories offer protection. When we hear tales of tragic choices or misguided decisions and see the disastrous consequences, those lessons are stored up in our hearts and minds and, hopefully, keep us from making similar mistakes. A child who knows very well the story of Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader will think twice before allowing greed to rule him. The one who is familiar with the tale of Beauty and the Beast will hesitate before judging a book (or a person) by its cover.  One whose cup has been filled brimful with biblical stories knows the ramifications of sin and is encouraged to chose the right path.

Stories also offer protection in the way that they form and restore our souls. Tales abound of people who survive difficult situations and circumstances because they called on the power of stories in the midst of their trials to sustain their hope. Corrie Ten Boom, in her book The Hiding Place, tells about how, night after night, the Biblical stories sustained her and her fellow prisoners in the concentration camps. I recently heard a speaker, who had been intentional about filling her sons' hearts with stories every morning, tell of how her son had recited a beloved poem over and over in the midst of war, and it sustained him.

Like shade trees, stories yield fruit. The purpose of planting stories as shade trees in the hearts and minds of ourselves and our children is so that, ultimately, the seeds come to fruition. I want to surround my children with wonderful stories to cultivate wisdom and virtue. I want them to grow up to be human beings who reflect God's glory, proclaim his gospel, and bring his kingdom to bear here on earth.

"Storyformed children grow to adulthood understanding that they have been specially formed by a loving God, destined for his kingdom, specially crafted to love, create, and conquer. They have reason to respond to their parents' training, to work and learn, hope and know, because stories assure them that right choices and brave actions are the force behind happy endings."   -Sarah Clarkson, Caught up in a Story

The fruits of the immigrant great-grandfather's diligent work of planting shade trees were enjoyed by his descendants for generations. But he planted more than physical trees that day. He told a story, and that story made its way to me in that wooden pew 1000 miles and three generations away, on an ordinary Sunday evening. And a spiritual seed was sown in my heart that continues to grow to this day. He never saw the fruits of his labors. He never enjoyed the relief from the oppressive Texas heat. He never even knew that one day a woman in North Carolina would catch a lifelong vision as a result of his tale. But the fruit remains. Like him, as parents we may never see the fruits of our labors as we diligently work to surround our children with the very best stories, in hopes that the stories will shape them. 

Plant anyway. 

Blessed is the one...[whose] delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1)