Podcast Episode #19 - Following Jesus Through Advent (A Conversation with Glenn Packiam)


In this episode, Holly Packiam and her husband, Glenn Packiam, talk about the meaning of Advent. As a dad, pastor, and theology doctoral student, Glenn shares his perspective on how to celebrate Advent with your family as well as in your church community. 

Glenn Packiam is the lead pastor of new life DOWNTOWN, a congregation of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he also serves as associate senior pastor and on the Eldership. He is the author of four books, the most recent of which is Discover the Mystery of Faith (David C. Cook, 2013. Glenn was also one of the founding leaders and songwriters for the Desperation Band and has been featured on several Desperation Band and NewLifeWorship recordings. As a signed songwriter with Integrity Music, he has had the honor of writing and co-writing several well-loved worship songs, like “Your Name” and “My Savior Lives", and has released three albums with Integrity Music. Glenn holds a BA in Theological/Historical Studies, a Masters in Management, and, after doing two years of graduate work at Fuller Theological Seminary, is now a Doctoral researcher at Durham University in the UK. 

You can read his current reflections on his blog -  www.mysteryoffaithblog.com.  

Topics include:

  • How the Church Calendar can be an invitation into discipleship
  • What Advent is really about
  • How keeping Advent can help keep our focus on Jesus through the busy and commercialized holiday season
  • How Advent gives voice to our longings and leads us to be the answer to someone else's longing
  • Practical ideas for participating in Advent in your home
  • Advent Resources 

If you are enjoying listening to the podcasts, please leave us a star review and rating HERE


Links From Today's Show - Storyformed Episode #19 - Following Jesus through Advent (A Conversation with Glenn Packiam)

for More Advent Resources - www.keepingadvent.com

Ember Falls- A Book Review

Ember Falls Display.jpg

“To bear the flame means more than only holding on to the fire kindled in the Green Ember’s rising. It means to bear the fatal flames of the enemy, to bear up under the scorching heat of these hateful days.”


Turn on the news for even just a few seconds and it is hard to deny that we are living in perilous times. Sometimes, especially when I think about my children and the world they are inheriting, I can tend to despair and lose hope. Often, it just feels like too much. When I get lost in those moments of hopelessness and fear, it is usually because I have briefly forgotten a vitally important truth: we are living in the middle of the story. As a Christian, I have a very real faith that all will be restored and set right. I hope in Christ and trust that, because of His life, death, and resurrection, evil will be defeated and true justice and mercy will ultimately prevail. This world, these headlines, this darkness surrounding us—it is not the end. We are in the middle of the story.

The middle of the story is hard—in real life and in fiction. And that is what I was thinking when I first read Ember Falls, the second book in The Green Ember series by S.D. Smith.  Our hero and heroine, siblings Pickett and Heather Longtreader, are in the middle of their story. They have seen many victories, but the ultimate victory—the Mended Wood--still eludes them. War is upon them. They face hardship and wrestle with betrayal. They must decide if they will fight on, despite the seeming hopelessness of their situation, or if they will surrender to the enclosing darkness.  It looks, in fact, very much like where we seem to be in our own story, which is why I think that Ember Falls is one of the most important books I have read recently.

Just like The Green Ember before it, Ember Falls is a story that nourishes the moral imagination and fills the soul with Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. The Green Ember has been called “a new story with an old soul,” and this installment is that as well. It is timeless, but it is also very much a book for our times. 

In spite of the fact that the main characters are rabbits, Ember Falls is very much a story about what it means to be human. Their struggles, their fears, their hopes, their loves—they all echo the cries of our own hearts in these darkening times. They have the same kinds of choices to make as we have. Some choose sacrifice, loyalty, and courage. Others choose selfishness, betrayal, and alliance with the darkness ravaging the land. The consequences of those choices are very real and very hard. Some wrestle with remorse or forgiveness. Their victories--and their pains--resonate with us and are stored up in the deepest parts of our souls.

Our children need this book.  It is not just a good book. Although, it is a very good book. Smith’s writing is beautiful and succinct. Like its predecessor, it is full of adventure and action. (There are still lots of rabbits with swords!) It is also shocking and includes some exciting surprises and plot twists.  But our children need this book because it points them to Truth. It echoes the moment of the story that they are currently living, the one being written by the Great Storyteller. This is just the middle of the story.  And as Heather and Picket and the other characters in Ember Falls live out the middle of their story, they give us and our children courage to take heart too, knowing with full confidence that “it will not be so in the Mended Wood,” and that they, too, can

“Bear the Flame.”

Storyformed's Favorite Children’s Books by James Herriot


I was born in rural Iowa and spent many years growing up on a family farm, home to my parents, my sister, me, and a host of animal friends-- a dog named Spot, wild and free barn cats, (truly) free-range chickens, and a herd of Red Angus cattle. Although my surroundings were the Midwestern plains and not the Dales of England, I find myself at home in James Herriot’s stories about rural life in England. Herriot was a country veterinarian who lived through many quotidian days, but he remembered a myriad of moments where particular stories stayed in his memory for years to come. His stories are a feast set before us with rich language and descriptive images. Readers also receive the gift of learning about the geographical landscape of England and English farm life. Herriot’s most popular stories are included in a collection, James Herriot’s Treasury for Children which includes eight stories. I’m highlighting four of my favorites in this list!


Moses the Kitten

Of all Herriot’s stories, this might be my favorite! We find Herriot driving on a chilly day to a neighboring farm in his heaterless car. As he comes to the farm’s entrance, he notices a nearly lifeless black kitten along the roadside. Upon arriving at the farm, Herriot handed it over to the farmer’s wife. She brought the kitten back to life with the help of a kitchen fireside oven. (I wish I had one of these.) Noting his toughness and recalling his discovery among the rushes, the farmer’s wife decided to name him Moses. Ignoring his own mik bowl, Moses quickly adapted to farm life by settling in with Bertha, a sow, who had just had a litter of piglets. Moses quickly got comfortable in the pig pen, and snuggled right in with piglets to nurse. It was quite the sight! Herriot and the farmer and never seen anything like it! Even after the piglets were weaned, Moses spent most of his time with Bertha and never strayed far from ‘his first warm home.’



Only One Woof

This charming and humorous book is well-loved among the Packiam children! Peter Barrett’s wonderful illustrations draw you in from the start. At the Wilkin farm, two sheepdog puppies, Gyp and Sweep, were going to be trained someday for the sheepdog trials. As the puppies grew, Mr. Wilkin made an interesting observation about Gyp. He never barked at all.  He was completely silent. The brothers were soon separated when Sweep was sold to a sheepdog trainer. Over a year later, the two brothers found themselves at the same dog racing trial, Sweep as a competitor and Gyp as an audience member. Near the end of the trial, Sweep accomplished the final task given by Mr. Wilkin. A ‘single loud bark’ came from Gyp. The Wilkin’s were astounded to hear a woof come from their dog whom had never made a single noise before. Gyp didn’t seem to notice he had done anything unusual and went on to play around with his brother as they once did. Herriot learned that Gyp never made a sound after that day. “Poor old lad, eight years and only one woof.”



The Christmas Day Kitten

This heartfelt story is making it’s way onto our Christmas reading list.  “Christmas can never go by without my remembering a certain little cat.” says Herriot. The British veterinarian comes one day to check on one of Mrs. Pickering’s bassett hounds. During his visit, he meets a stray cat, Debbie. Never staying long, the cat ventures in and out of her home. One day, the cat came in carrying a fragile kitten in her mouth. “Isn’t it strange-- Debbie knew she was dying so she brought her kitten here. And on Christmas Day.” In this sweet story, Mrs. Pickering finds a place in her heart for a cat she named Buster, whom she never knew she needed or wanted. It’s also a story about Buster becoming a ‘retriever-cat’ fitting right in with her three bassett hounds. Mrs. Pickering often recalled the day Buster was born, “The best Christmas present I’ve ever had.”



Smudge the Little Lost Lamb

This endearing story reminds me of Jesus’s parable of the lost lamb. We can all relate to the lamb who finds himself lost and longs to be home. Harry receives the gift of an adorable lamb named Smudge, who lives in Farmer Cobb's farmyard. Smudge longed to see the world outside Farmer Cobb's fence, and finds himself on a grand adventure. He gazes upon cattle, Dale ponies, and even ancient castle ruins. He has so much fun! After an hour, Smudge sees his mother and sister on the other side of the fence-- and he can’t find a way back in. Smudge’s journey to find his way is home is just beginning, and I won’t give away the ending!

If you are interested in hearing more about James Herriot and his stories, sign up for the Cultivating Life with Sally membership site. In 2018, we’ll be recording a podcast on James Herriot as part of the Storyformed Bonus content.

I’ve named a few of my favorite James Herriot stories. What is your favorite?











Storyformed Podcast Episode #17 - A Conversation with S.D. Smith, Author of the Green Ember Series


In this episode, Holly Packiam and Jaime Showmaker talk with the popular children's book author, Sam Smith. Sam is a deep well and also quite the jokester as you will observe by how much we laughed throughout the entire podcast! 

The Green Ember was his debut novel and The Black Star of Kingston is a prequel. Smith’s newest book is the highly-anticipated sequel to The Green Ember, Ember Falls (The Green Ember: Book II).

Sam has been a runner-up for the West Virginia Fiction Award, World Magazine’s Children’s Book of the Year, and Audible’s Kids Audiobook of the Year. He has also lost every other literary award ever given over the entire course of human history. 

Sam is a co-founder of Story Warren, a site for parents and others dedicated to helping foster holy imagination in children. He is passionate about kindling 'Imagination for Kingdom Anticipation', about how stories and play can train us for a richer faith and more intentional lives.

Sam has spoken at conferences and classrooms across the country. He enjoys soccer, West Virginia sports, reading, eating chocolate chip cookies, getting letters from readers, and spending time with his family.

Topics include:

  • Sam's recent decision to quite his current job to become a full-time author
  • How we can see ourselves as characters in God’s grand narrative, and see God as the ultimate hero of the story.
  • How to be a creator or a curator versus a critic.

If you want to support Sam in his new endeavor as a full-time author, please consider joining this new campaign, Gimme 5. Check out this video to hear all about it!

Why We Read to Our Children


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


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 



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

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

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. 

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.

The Story of the World's Best Luck

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.

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

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.