Ember Rising Review And An Exciting Announcement

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By Jaime Showmaker

“Get outta my way! My name’s Picket and I’m gonna get you, Redeye Garlackson,” I hear him shriek as I make my way down the basement steps. I round the corner in time to see my 6-year-old leap from the toy chest, wielding his wooden sword in the air, blanket-cape flying behind him. As he lands roughly on a stuffed animal, he looks up and smiles. “Oh, hi Mommy! I was playing Green Ember.”

As he collects himself out of the heap on the floor and runs off, calling behind him “‘til the Green Ember rises or the end of the world,” I cannot help but smile, my heart overflowing with gratitude.

Story.

Stories have the power to shape lives and form souls. Stories give us glimpses of all that is possible within us. They tell of things that have been and hint of things that could be. Stories caution us, inspire us, instruct us, and mold us. And one of the goals of my life as a mom is to fill my children’s hearts and souls brimful with stories. I want them to feast on heroic tales and daring adventures. I want them to bear witness to difficulty and suffering, sacrificial love and profound beauty. Through the power of stories, I want them to understand what it means to be human and to hope in ultimate restoration and redemption.

And that is why I am so sincerely grateful for those who share that vision.

If you have been a follower of the Storyformed blog or listened to the podcast for any length of time, you know that we are HUGE fans of The Green Ember Series by S.D. Smith. Often called “new stories with an old soul,” Smith’s books have the unique quality of conveying timeless truths while addressing the challenges that confront the modern reader. The first two books in the main series are favorites of all of my boys, and I am thrilled that I can now share with them the third installment, Ember Rising.

From the moment I began reading, I was swept away in the non-stop adventure that fills Ember Rising. I was breathless--engrossed in the daring escapades of our beloved sword-bearing rabbits. Like Smith’s prior four novels, Ember Rising is chock full of spectacular action, but the intensity and stakes have increased. Courage, fortitude, duty, innovation, and sacrifice are all required. The journey is perilous and the outcome uncertain. But, like all of Smith’s stories, Ember Rising echoes with an undercurrent of beauty, goodness, and purity that nourishes the deepest parts of the soul--the part that longs for hope in the midst of darkness.

In my opinion, it is Smith’s best novel yet. The plot has thickened; the characters are even more richly drawn; and the writing is succinct yet beautiful. Fans of the series will be happy to discover answers to questions they have held since the first book, even as twists in the story develop and new questions arise. Ember Rising is a book that is deeply satisfying on its own, yet it begs for more, as the adventures of the inhabitants of Natalia and the Longtreader family continue.

Although I had the privilege of pre-reading the book before it’s official Spring 2018 release, I have great news! The Kickstarter for Ember Rising is now LIVE! This means that if you support the printing of the book by pledging during the Kickstarter campaign, you can also receive a copy of Ember Rising before its public release. Also, by supporting S.D. Smith in the launch of his newest book, you can not only be one of the first to get a copy of Ember Rising, but you will be an integral part of bringing more of these beautiful, wholesome stories into the world for our children.

Click HERE to back the project and get an early copy of Ember Rising (or an audiobook copy, narrated by Joel Clarkson), as well as lots of Green Ember swag!  But hurry, as this is a time-sensitive campaign!

“May these stories be a spark in your heart to ignite flames that fight fiercely against the darkness.” S.D. Smith

 

The Green Ember Series Recommended Reading Order:

The Green Ember (See our review here)

The Black Star of Kingston (a prequel)

Ember Falls (See our review here)

The Last Archer (a side novella)

Ember Rising

 

Also, click here to hear our Storyformed podcast with special guest S.D. Smith

My First Five Reads of 2018

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By Holly Packiam

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I received this one as a Christmas gift from my husband. It became a joke amongst the family that he must believe I really needed help learning to 'think'! We all had a grand laugh about this, but I would actually agree! In fact, I actually asked for the book. I do want to think more and to think more deeply. I hope, as Christians, we all desire this. I started 'How to Think' this month and just finished last night. The author, Alan Jacobs says, 'How to Think' is a "contrarian treatise on why we're not as good at thinking as we assume, and how recovering this lost art can rescue our inner lives from the chaos of modern life."

It challenges us to contemplate whether surrounding ourselves in homogeneous communities only reinforces what we already believe.  I know its very easy for me to do this. Who doesn't like a friend or acquaintance to agree with your view especially if its stated in a compelling way? Since social belonging-- or the desire to belong in a particular group-- only makes us more reluctant to engage in critical thinking. After finishing, I am encouraged to consider how I might be willing to gently challenge another's view on an issue and how I might engage in conversations with others who aren't just like me. Jacobs does spend a fair bit of time drawing applications for public discourse-- like conversations about politics on Facebook and Twitter. Even if that is less interesting to you (it was for me!), it's worth reflecting on how those lessons may apply in our own contexts-- specifically in our homes with our children. 

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This is another book I received as a gift this Christmas. One of our Christmas Eve traditions is that everyone in the family opens one present that night and the gift is always a book. I purchased books for the family this year and decided to go ahead and order one for myself too! This was my pick. I'm excited to delve into this trilogy of novels by Flora Thompson, published between 1939 and 1943. Lark Rise to Candleford has also become a British drama series, adapted by the BBC based on the semi-autobiographical novels about English country life. I've recently discovered that Thompson, like the protagonist, worked as a post-office clerk from the age of fourteen in Oxfordshire and then in post offices all over England. She writes about how the 'old ways' of living off the land are from a bygone era and many families are looking to more modern ways of existing. Does this sound familiar? I'm hoping this pick will fit int the category of a lighthearted fiction read.

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I've decided this will be a year of more theological reading for me. And so my theologian husband, Glenn, was happy to give me some recommendations. His first is this pick by Robert Jenson. I've heard Jenson speak on a podcast (just before his passing in 2017), but this will my first attempt to delve into his writing.  Glenn says: "A Theology in Outline, is more or less the transcript of his lectures to a group of undergrads on 'basic Christian theology'. But in Jenson’s artful hands, it is so much more than basic; it is narrative, it is comprehensive, and it is captivating. Like N.T. Wright, Jenson knows his (initial) audience may be mostly liberal (read: not Creedal per se), yet presents confessional articles of Christianity in clear and elegant prose. I see what all the fuss is about now." I've taken on a couple N.T. Wright books in past years. Now I ready to dig into Jenson. 

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The first Dickens novel I read was The Christmas Carol and who isn't delighted by this story. Last year, I went on to read Great Expectations with a group of friends. I was so grateful for the accountability because I'm not sure how quickly I would read classics without reading in community. So now, I'm moving on to David Copperfield which I have heard is a favorite amongst Dickens' fans. If you have been around Whole Heart Ministries for awhile, you have probably heard Sally Clarkson or Sarah Clarkson recommend this book! It's one of their families' favorites. 

David Copperfield, a comedy and a tragedy, is about a man who pursues the path of leaving behind his bleak childhood and his journey to uncover his purpose as a novelist. Dickens described David Copperfield as his 'favourite child'. I'm compelled to put this one at the top of my list based on all the recommendations I've received and that Dickens himself called it a favorite!

 

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I've had a desire to read Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton for a few years and always seem to get scared to try. I've been exposed to his detective stories about Father Brown which are highly interesting and entertaining, but I've wanted something bitesize, yet thoughtful from Chesterton. In this collection of essays, Chesterton writes about a wide variety of topics including: cheese, rain, fireworks, architects, juries, barbarians, and mystics. He also writes about authors such as T.S Eliot, George MacDonald, Shakepeare, Dickens, and Jane Austen.

My Storyformed partner, Jaime Showmaker, recommended this pick to me. She has mentioned how she reads an essay every morning after reading the Bible to give her something to 'chew on' all day. If you have wanted to read Chesterton but haven't known where to start, try reading these essays with me. 

Developing a 'Rule of Life' in the New Year

By Holly Packiam

'What story has God called me to live out and what life rhythms will help me to enter and embody this story?'

As each year comes to a close, my husband and I set aside two or three days to get away to pray and plan for the upcoming year. Our time way was a bit shorter this year than in previous year, but nonetheless, we got some praying and planning accomplished! One of my favorite parts of the retreat is the opportunity to revisit my 'Rule of Life'.

A simple description of a 'Rule of Life' is a pattern of practices which center us on Christ and help us love others well. Sometimes the word 'rule' has a negative connotation and for those of you who don't identify as 'rule followers' may want to stop reading now. But the word 'rule' is from the Latin 'regula', which is about a pattern not a law. The Rule of Life is not a new idea, but one developed by Christian monastic communities dating back to the 6th century. The most well-known rule was created by St. Benedict. The intent was to give the community a model for freedom, a path towards connection to the love of God.

I've realized as I get to know myself better, that I highly value freedom. I am drawn to being involved in projects and jobs where I am given a large amount of freedom to develop a vision and mission and to see it come to fruition in the way I most see fit. On the flip side, I've also realized that I actually need daily rhythms and structure to get the things accomplished in life I desire to. So, I actually try to create an intentional daily rhythm within the structure of each day so I can work for the Lord with all He has given me. I am prone to wander and daydream, so the Rule of Life has been a grace-empowered way for me to follow the Lord in the repetitive demands that life throws my way. 

You may be wondering how this works. My husband and I have a friend, Rich Villodas,  pastor of New Life Fellowship in Queens, New York who writes and teaches about the Rule of Life on a regular basis. We have been encouraged by his articulation of it. 

A Rule of life can encompass four broad areas of your life: Work, Rest, Prayer, & Relationships.

Here are some suggestions from Rich on how to start your own Rule of life. (If you want to hear more from Rich, click HERE to reach him on Twitter.

Step 1
Write down everything you currently do (or hope to do) that nurtures your spirit and fills you with delight (e.g. people, places, activities). Normally, when we think of spiritual activities, we limit ourselves to things such as prayer, going to church, worship, and Bible reading. Don't censor yourself. Your list may include gardening, walking the dog, being in nature, talking with close friends, cooking, painting, jumping out of airplanes, or any number of other possibilities. List them all!  

Step 2
Write down the activities you need to avoid, limit or eliminate that pull you away from remaining anchored in Christ. This refers to avoiding certain things that impact your spirit negatively - such as violent movies, excessive social media involvement, being harried, and going beyond your limits. The list that you create, whether you know it or not, is your unconscious way of life.

Step 3
What are the challenging “have to’s” in this season of your life that are impacting your rhythms? (e.g. caring for aging parents, a special needs child, a demanding season at work, parenting small children, an illness, etc.)

Step 4
Fill in the Rule of Life worksheet.  

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Here are some additional questions that may help in looking at each specific area on the worksheet.

Work - What are the gifts, passions, and burdens within that God wants you to express for the blessing of others?

Rest - What are the practices of self-care you need in this season of life to support you on your journey?

Prayer - What are the spiritual disciplines you need to anchor you in a life with God?

Relationships - What core relationships do you need in this season of life to support you on your journey? 

Step 5 - Share your Rule with someone as a means of helping you utilize it to order your life in the way of Jesus.

I encourage you to give this exercise a try.  I hope you'll be encouraged by pursuing these rhythms as I have been. Happy New Year! 

 

Merry Christmas

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"He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation...all things were created through him and for him." Colossians 1:13-17

From all of us here at Storyformed, we express our deepest gratitude that you have invited us into your hearts and homes this past year. We pray that as you celebrate the birth of the Savior, you rejoice in the knowledge that the greatest story that has ever been told is TRUE. 

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." John 1:14

We wish you and your family the Merriest Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Speaking of Imagination

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By Clay Clarkson

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. Henry David Thoreau

There is a language of imagination. Let’s call it imaginationish.

It’s not actually a language, but more of a universal dialect. It is using words to describe things that the eye does not see, the ear does not hear, the senses do not sense.

We always knew when our children were speaking imaginationish. They would hear a symphony and begin to describe a forest teeming with life and mystery. They would look at a painting and walk into its colors and lines as they narrated a story of their journey. They would watch a movie and begin to think out loud about the deeper spiritual meanings of scenes and symbols.

We never sat down and created a plan to make our children imaginative and creative. We did, though, deliberately create an atmosphere in our home that was rich in spoken and printed words—reading lots of books, discussing lots of topics, experiencing many forms of art and creativity. It was the air they breathed in our home—they inhaled it to fill their curious lungs, it oxygenated the verbal blood that fed their creative brains, and they exhaled it as the language of imagination. Call it immersion learning, I guess.

If there is such a thing as imaginationish, it isn’t learned from a workbook. It is grown and cultivated at home in a print-rich environment and verbally-enriched atmosphere, and it is fed with abundant and nutritious words. God—who is the Word, and created us to be people of his Word and of words—has given parents the privilege to create that creative ecosystem. It all starts with words.

Vocabulary is critical to an active imagination. A child’s ability to imagine things beyond their own senses is directly related to the depth and breadth of their vocabulary. It takes little imagination to realize the limitations of limited vocabulary on creativity, or on believing spiritual truths for that matter. However, the more words your child has with which to express himself, the greater will be the scope and intensity of what he can imagine. The stronger your child’s grasp of language, the richer will be her own creativity and ability to wonder about things beyond her five senses.

To paraphrase Thoreau, your children naturally know how to look at things, but you can give them the supernatural ability to truly see beyond the material world. You can give them the language of imaginationish. But you’ve got to be speaking it first. Filling the air of your home with words, reading books that take the power of language seriously, and feasting on all the arts—paintings, music, poetry, and more. If you do, then you can sit back and watch the seeds of imagination that you plant and cultivate in your children blossom into fruitful vines of creativity. Your imaginative children will help the world not just look at, but see the God who created us all.

 

Happy Thanksgiving

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"Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever." Psalm 106:1

From all of us here at Storyformed, we would like to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. As you gather, we pray that this day will be a wonderful chapter in your family's story and in the ongoing story of God's love and faithfulness. Have a blessed day.