Raising Arizona: An Appreciation

raising arizona
We’re taking an intermission during our summer reading of Through a Screen Darkly to give folks who’ve fallen behind (or have recently joined) a week to catch up. In the spirit of celebrating movies, however, I’m pleased to present the following guest post from Jonathan Rogers. Jonathan had mentioned in passing that he is a big fan of the movie Raising Arizona. I was curious. If you knew Jonathan, you’d want to hear more as well. He was kind enough to put some thoughts down on paper for us. Enjoy.


* * *


Raising Arizona is one of my favorite movies ever. I make no claims for its greatness, only that I love it. I love my hometown of Warner Robins, Georgia in much the same way: there was a time when I would have tried to argue that Warner Robins (or Raising Arizona) was the greatest. Now I am content to say that it shaped my sensibilities, for better or worse, at the time of life when my sensibilities were ready to be shaped. I almost can’t help but love it.


I had just graduated from high school when I saw Raising Arizona at the movie theater. It was the first time I had ever thought of a movie as a made thing. I knew, of course, that there were moviemakers, but I had never spent one minute wondering what they did. I enjoyed movies well enough, but I was about as passive a consumer of movies as a moviegoer could be. It was only earlier that same year that I had ever thought enough about a movie to dislike it. It was a Sylvester Stallone movie about arm wrestling, a truly terrible movie. I would have never gone if a movie theater employee hadn’t let me in free.*


But I digress. The first five minutes of Raising Arizona grabbed me with its down-market poetry. The language is highly stylized, polished and rhythmic. (Just the name Tempe, Arizona, with its three trochees, has more poetry in it than Ithaca or Xanadu or Elsinore). And yet the language sounds very much like native speech. It reminds you of the musicality that is possible in everyday American language. There’s a visual equivalent in an early shot in which Hi an Ed are sitting in the treeless, grass-less yard just outside their single-wide trailer watching a magnificent sunset beyond desert mountains. The glories of the Western sky are as available to these two trailer-dwellers as to anybody else. Over that very shot, Hi explains why he and Ed wanted a baby so desperately: “there was too much love and beauty for just the two of us,” he says, as the sunset gives way to darkness. I realize that the joke is probably  supposed to be on the rubes in the lawn chairs. But I believe Hi. There is real beauty in this life that the jail-bird and the policewoman are putting together.


Raising Arizona is a movie with certain literary aspirations (if literary is the right word). There’s quite a bit of symbolism in Raising Arizona as in all the Coen Brothers’ movies. I have mixed feelings about symbolism, which is very easy to get wrong. Indeed, even as a seventeen-year-old, I was bothered by some of the ham-fisted symbolism in Raising Arizona (the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse mostly gets on my nerves). But on the other hand, I was delighted to realize that things like symbolism could exist in movies (as to why it hadn’t occur to me many years earlier, I can’t say). I had never thought of a movie as a vehicle for carrying literary freight of any kind. To put my moviegoing experience in perspective, I should mention that at this point in my life I was already enamored of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Nobody does transcendence like Milton. Angels. Demons. Unfallen Eden. War in Heaven. Councils in Hell. I was caught off guard by this funny little low-rent (and occasionally coarse) movie that looked and sounded like something resembling literature.


I am crazy about Hi McDonough. I love any character who is too smart to be so stupid. Hi is a smart guy and something of a poet, but his life circumstances haven’t given him the opportunity to use his gifts in constructive ways. He keeps making stupid choices, but you love him anyway because his heart apparently is in the right place. There’s a lot of Hi in Grady, the narrator and protagonist of my novel, The Charlatan’s Boy.


Finally, I love the way that legitimate, understandable desires on the part of the main characters leads them to do outrageously stupid things. What could be more natural than for two happily married people to want a baby? But, as Hi says, “biology and the prejudices of others conspired to keep us childless.” Their pursuit of their desire leads them into situations in which they are in way over their heads. It’s like Greek tragedy, except that it’s hilarious.


–Bonus reason to love Raising Arizona: When Ed says to the Lone Biker, “Gimme back that baby, you warthog from hell!” she is quoting Flannery O’Connor almost directly. In “Revelation,” the Wellesley student who assaults Ruby Turpin in the doctor’s waiting room says, “Go back to hell where you came from, you old warthog.”


* The same movie theater employee–perhaps to make up for exposing me to such a terrible movie–also gave me a trash bag full of leftover movie popcorn to take on a camping trip to the Okefenokee Swamp. It attracted the attention of a gang of especially nasty raccoons, who scattered the popcorn all over the campgrounds and beyond.


* * *


Jonathan Rogers grew up in Georgia, where he spent many happy hours in the swamps and riverbottoms on which the wild places of The Wilderking Triology and The Charlatan’s Boy (some of our favorite books) are based. He received his undergraduate degree from Furman University in South Carolina and holds a Ph.D. in seventeenth-century English literature from Vanderbilt University. The Rogers clan lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where Jonathan makes a living as a freelance writer. His most recent book is The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O’Connor.


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9/11 – An Invitation


Yesterday, I shared over at Story Warren. Typically, I don’t link to another blog, but this one is different.

I rarely re-read a book (unless it’s Lewis), but I’ve read Refractions by Makoto Fujimura three times. Mako has changed the way I look at life. Please take a few minutes and follow the link to Story Warren here, then make time (it’s worth it, I promise you) to watch (or listen to) the embedded video. For the next four weeks, we’ll be reading and discussing together. Please consider joining us. As always, feel free to let me know if you have any questions.

Grateful to walk alongside you in the journey,

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On Reading Aloud – to the Bigger Kids

Reading with my big kid.

There’s nothing quite like reading picture books to our little ones. They snuggle in tightly, nestle close to the heart, trace pictures with chubby fingers and beg for “one more”. But what happens when the little ones grow into lanky teenagers?

My middle-schooler no longer fits in children’s clothing, but must shop in the men’s department. As his body transitions from that of a child into that of an adult, so does his world. His calendar rivals mine. Discussions of college have begun to pepper our conversation and our planning for the upcoming school year. Conversations about world events have reflected the despair and depravity that are impossible to avoid. And then there is the dreaming together. The discovery. The hope.

I was reminded this week that despite the “necessities” that demand our time – the pivotal conversations, schoolwork, music lessons, sports and the myriad of activities that make up our days – our older children still need us to read aloud to them. Maybe as much or more than they did when they were toddlers.

As a family, we’ve been reading The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom, aloud. There is tremendous power in the story. In the realities presented. In the faith lived out that no human could conjure in his own strength. No doubt, there is great value in reading such a book alone. Yet each time we embark on the adventure of reading as a family, I continue to be surprised. Not so much by the power of the story – I’ve come to anticipate that. But I continued to be amazed at the potency of the conversations that flow from our reading together. I’ve discovered through the years that to “teach” breaks the spell woven by the language and the story. Rather, I’ve learned to guide our conversations – by opening doors of possibility, listening, and doing the hard work of seeing through the children’s eyes. As a result, not only are their souls stirred, but I’m given the indescribable privilege of baring witness to their personhood. It’s holy ground.

To attempt to distill such rich time would be futile – I’m not gifted enough as a writer. Yet I want to share a few snippets of our discussions. If for no other reason than to chronicle for posterity.

As The Hiding Place unfolds, it becomes clear that the most treasured possession is not a vial of precious vitamin oil or the blue sweater from home smuggled under the prison uniform. Rather, the most precious object in the prison camp is the small tattered Bible that hangs around Corrie’s neck. The role of Bible grows in importance through her captivity and practically becomes its own character. One day after we read, a child paused thoughtfully, then asked if I thought it had been “just a regular Bible” to the prisoners before they had entered the concentration camp. I could see his wheels turning. We have several Bibles. Always have. No big deal. Or perhaps it is a bigger deal than we can begin to comprehend.

Items present in our everyday that hold little or no significance take on new meaning. Like bread crumbs guiding Hansel and Gretel, a sparse trail of beauty offer hope in the midst of tragedy. Corrie uses scavenged threads to create a masterpiece of embroidered flowers on her pajamas. The singed remains of tulips offer promise. Color is more than symbolic for life – it infuses life to the deadened imaginations and despairing souls. The book ends with the following words:

“Windowboxes,” I said. “We’ll have them at every window. The barbed wire must come down, of course, and then we’ll need paint. Green paint. Bright yellow-green, the color of things coming up new in the spring.”

As we prepare our questionable garden (not enough sun and relentless dear threaten its success), as the children sketch on lazy summer days, and as we make simple choices to bring beauty into our home, this same trail of hope is offered to us. Our conversation will continue through these everyday observations. “Remember when she wrapped the light with red paper to decorate her cell?” We don’t live in the unthinkable environment of a concentration camp, but our souls are assaulted daily. Just more subtly. We need the same life-saving medicine of beauty.

I first read The Hiding Place as a young adult. I remember the shock and horror, but not much else. This time around, life experience had given me much broader vision through which to take in such a story. My children, although lacking years of experience, bring their own unique perspective to our reading. For them, much of that framework was the result of the myriad of stories they’ve ingested. The prisoners in the concentration camp were referred to only by numbers, not by names. “Mom – that’s just like Les Mis” interjected my son. He’s right. The conversation meandered down a path leading to our interactions with the local refugee community and how hard it was to learn and remember a person’s name. But knowing a name is important. We treat others like numbers everyday when we fail to look into the eyes. To Listen. To develop a posture of curiosity.

As we finished The Hiding Place, the children talked about what they would remember about the book. God’s provision in the midst of a horrible situation. The difference between the kingdom of the world and the Kingdom of Heaven. But the response that stopped me was when one of them said, “It helps us imagine what it looks like to trust God when really hard things happen.” I saw it happen. In my living room. My child is developing what my friend, Sam, calls “Holy imagination.”

Life is full of wonder, adventure, and beauty yet to be discovered. But life can also be ruthless. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and I can’t protect my children from the realities of the world. But I’m grateful that I can do something. I can continue to feed their minds, souls, hearts, and yes – imaginations. So if and when the unimaginable happens, they’re not taken completely off-guard. Through our reading, they’ve witnessed injustice and loss. They’ve practiced empathy, trust, choosing others over self, and belief that in the end, good will undoubtedly triumph over the most heinous evil. In reading as a family and leaving space for discussion, we have the great privilege of offering them a training ground for hope.

There’s nothing quite like reading to older kids. They leave behind their schedules, assignments, and social engagements. If even only for a brief period of time, they hang on every word we say. And if we’re lucky, they still snuggle in tightly and nestle close to the heart.

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The Year in Review: Top Ten Books of 2012


This is so fun – I feel like I’m introducing you to dear friends.

Here are my favorite books of 2012 (in no particular order):

Refractions by Makoto Fujimura
Through a series of essays, Fujimura makes a compelling case for the crucial role of creativity in the midst of a dehumanizing culture. The thread running throughout Refractions is one of hope. Life is full of challenge, disappointment, and at times, great tragedy. Yet we can choose to bring light into darkness, create beauty from ashes, and bring order to chaos. This is an important book with a timely message. I can’t remember reading the same book twice in one year. Until Refractions.

You can find more of Mako’s writing (including additional Refractions essays) at his site here. If you missed reading Refractions with our reading group, I hope to have a reading guide posted on this site in the next few months.

Surprised by Joy/The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
Surprised by Joy tells the compelling story of Lewis’s early years. I was struck by the pivotal role that disappointment and hardship played in his spiritual formation. Already an admirer of Lewis’s intellect and faith, this book gave me a glimpse of his humanity. The Friendship essay in The Four Loves explores the nature of friendship in a way that was challenging and insightful. It made me think. About why we choose the friends that we do. About the role that friendship plays in society. About what binds us together.

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones
This a devotional packed with deep truths about our Maker and way in which he sees his children.  I continue to be amazed at Sally Lloyd-Jones’s ability to take the most significant, poignant truths and distill them down to a limited number of words. Her writing is the case-in-point for Lewis’s quote, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” This book is the perfect present for everyone – from the newborn to the grandparent.

Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl by N.D. Wilson
N.D. Wilson’s writing has taken permanent residence in our home this year. My son, who is quite a discriminating reader, raved about Wilson’s 100 Cupboard series. After having read Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl, I wasn’t surprised. I can honestly say that Tilt-A-Whirl has had a significant impact on the choices made and life lived out in our home. Here’s a taste:

“This world is beautiful but badly broken . . . I love it as it is, because it is a story, and it isn’t stuck in one place. It is full of conflict and darkness like every good story, a world of surprises and questions to explore. And there’s someone behind it; there are uncomfortable answers to the hows and whys and whats. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through Him were all things made… Welcome to His poem. His play. His novel. Let the pages flick your thumbs.”

I’ve never read anything quite like it.

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
Often cited as J.K. Rowling’s favorite book from childhood, The Little White Horse is a children’s fantasy novel full of rich characters, longing, delight, self-sacrifice and redemption. Goudge is a master at weaving beauty and truth throughout her stories.


Fiddler’s Gun by A.S. Peterson
What’s not to love about an orphan’s adventure with pirates during the American Revolution? Fiddler’s Gun is a delight to read. The story is fast-paced, yet lyrical. The characters are well-developed and highly relatable. It’s a story about choices, consequences, and ultimately grace, yet doesn’t moralize.  Beware – this is one of those books that will keep you up late at night as you have to read “one more chapter.” The sequel, Fiddler’s Green, is on my list to read in 2013.

Culture Making by Andy Crouch
A provocative book to say the least. Culture Making successfully defines  and discusses an ambiguous, but incredibly important, concept. Culture. What is it? How is it made? What is our role and why does it matter? In particular, I was intrigued by Crouch’s observations of the ways in which we examine and interact with our culture (his section on “postures and gestures”). Culture Making is an artful blend of sociology, theology, and philosophy. It inspires and challenges us all to breathe life and goodness into the world in which we live.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I’m not sure how I missed this one in high school. No wonder Lee won the Pulitzer Prize. If you missed it as well, now’s the time.

Telling the Truth by Frederick Buechner
This short book by Buechner offers a unique perspective of the gospel – as tragedy, comedy, and fairy tale. It challenges and encourages us to take an honest look at life. “What is the kingdom of God?… He suggests rather than spells out. He evokes rather than explains. He catches by surprise. He doesn’t let the homiletic seams show. he is sometimes cryptic, sometimes obscure, sometimes irreverent, always provocative. He tells stories.” I’m a Buechner fan, and this may be my favorite of his books.

Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers
This was the first book on the list for our reading group, and I’m not sure that I would have made it through (very effectively) without the insights and camaraderie of the other folks. That being said, it has become one of the most influential books that I’ve read. Sayers redefines the call and boundaries of creativity, walks through an amazing explanation of the nature of evil, and builds a framework through which the creative process can be understood. For our group’s written responses to specific chapters, you can visit here (this is the first week, with links to the following weeks found at the bottom of the page). The Mind of the Maker is well worth the time and energy invested. Highly recommended.

A Tree for Peter by Kate Seredy
A beautiful, thoughtful book illustrating that even the smallest light can push back the darkness. A Tree for Peter has at its core the principles found in Refractions, Mind of the Maker, and Culture Making, yet all wrapped in a beautiful story that was written for children. It is outstanding. You can read more here.

 Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring by Andi Ashworth
In a society where efficiency and technology are held in highest esteem, we find ourselves busy and productive. Yet we are also more lonely and dehumanized as a result. Real Love for Real Life reminds us that at our core, we have all been created to care well for one another. A balanced blend of the philosophical and practical, this book is food for the soul of a people hungry for connection.

For you detail-oriented folks, yes, that was twelve. It’s been a good year.

If you’d like to join the Greener Trees Reading Group, we’ll be starting with The Art of T.S. Eliot by Helen Gardner the week of January 7th.  Consider joining us!

What were your favorite books of the year? 

Happy New Year and happy reading to you!

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From Our Home to Yours – Christmas Favorites

As much as I love Christmas Day, I’ve come to love the weeks leading up to it even more. Through the years, the discovering, enjoying, and sharing treasured music and books has become an integral part of our celebration. As you prepare for this season of Advent, I’d like to share some of our favorites.


Behold The Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson. If you have a chance to see the live show, don’t miss it. We play this cd all year long.


Christmas Songs by Fernando Ortega. His music is as grounding as it is beautiful. Balm for the soul.


Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy by Jason Gray. Jason’s newest CD has quickly become a Christmas favorite around here. Take a minute to read these good words by my friend Jen. What she said.


Christmas by Jill Phillips and Andy Gullahorn. Christmas is deeply profound (I Will Find a Way) while simultaneously clever and fun-hearted (Baby It’s Cold Out There). A delightful blend of hymns, seasonal favorites, and original music.


Songs of Joy & Peace by Yo-Yo Ma. As if Yo-Yo Ma weren’t enough. He’s joined by friends like James Taylor, Alison Krauss, and Dave Brubeck.


Silver & Gold by Sufjan Stevens. Because you get to sing along to Christmas Unicorn.


Christmastime by David Benoit. The most amazing Carol of the Bells to be found.


Advent Volume 2 by The Brilliance. This band is my favorite musical find of the year. Advent Volume 2 was released this week. Spread the word.


Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration A twist on a classic.


A Slugs & Bugs Christmas Super fun music for the entire family.


For a list of our favorite Christmas books that will be read and re-read through the years, you can visit The Twelve Books of Christmas. Here are a few books we’ll be reading this year:


Preparing for Jesus by Walter Wangerin Jr. Wangerin has quickly become a favorite author. I savored his Lenten devotional and am looking forward to reading Preparing for Jesus on my own this Advent season. Wangerin communicates truth in a way that often catches my head and my heart by surprise.


Behold the Lamb of God by Russ Ramsey. A very personal narrative through the story of God’s provision for us all. Last year, I read this on my own. This year, I’m looking forward to reading with the family. Listen to Ramsey reading It Was Not a Silent Night and you’ll know why. Buy several to give a way. It’s a treasure.


Watch for The Light – Readings for Advent and Christmas. Selections from C.S. Lewis, Phillip Yancey, Henri Nouwen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others.


The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. We read the JSBB throughout the year, and it has become my husband’s Bible of choice to read Christmas Eve. I was grateful to find this Advent reading plan that maps out one story everyday during December until Christmas. I can’t imagine a better way to prepare our hearts for Christmas Day.


I Saw Three Ships by Elizabeth Goudge. This will be a new book for us this year, but anything by Goudge is well worth reading.


Truth in the Tinsel – an ebook including short devotionals and patterns for beautiful handmade ornaments. We decided last year that in order to relieve the pressure of creating an ornament everyday, we’d do what we could and fill in the gaps this year. If your kids are older and don’t require as much help, consider having each of them make a set that they can keep and enjoy with their own families. My friend, Heather, has some beautiful pictures of her children’s creations from Truth in Tinsel.


Jesse Tree – Ornaments and daily devotional by A Holy Experience. This will be our first year receiving the daily devotional and corresponding ornament via email. This set will be equally enjoyed by young or old, single folks or a family.

Wishing you an Advent season full of peace, joy, and great expectation!  

For the benefit of others, please share some of your Christmas favorites. (I’m having some technical trouble with the comments section. If you leave one, it may not show up right away, but we’re working on getting that fixed!)

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Big Rocks and Veggie Tales

The asker-of-wise-questions at his first movie.
I’m pretty sure that Dad is looking out for the big fish.

We’ve made some changes around here.

Given that our oldest (at home) is quickly approaching high school, we’re coming to the end of an era. We’ve been homeschooling for the past nine years, and it has been a sweet time for our family. Very possibly, some subset or all three children will attend ‘school in a building’ in the next few years. Within a decade, they will be in college. Their days at home have always been numbered, but I’m beginning to see the point at the end of the number line approaching more quickly than I’d prefer. As that reality became more, well… more real, a question began to haunt me.

What if this were to be our last year?

What would I do differently? What would I want to make sure we experienced? Read? Played?

The truth is, for all of us, this could be the last year. The last year working at a particular job. The last year living in the current city or neighborhood. The last year that any given person will be in my life. If I knew in advance that the current situation were about to change, what would I do differently?

I don’t want to live a life of regret. “What if this were to be our last year?” has become the banner under which decisions are made. Not with a spirit of fear, but with a focused, expectant intentionality.

Early in my corporate career, I was introduced to Stephen Covey and his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the most memorable illustrations from Covey’s teachings is the Big Rock principle. I’m a visual learner. In the spirit of tackling ‘first things first’, I trotted off to Michael’s craft store and brought home the components of our life lesson.

big rocks

Jars – Signify the hours in a day. Their capacity is finite. Twenty-four hours is all we get.

Big rocks – The most important priorities. These are the nonnegotiables.

Small rocks – The activities we enjoy and want to do more often. Good things but not crucial.

Sand – Less significant.  Not to be confused with Sabbath rest and reflection, sand represents those not-so-constructive activities we use to “check out.” I have a few. And I bet you do as well.

If we fill our days with sand, we run out of room for the big rocks. The reality of our daily lives doesn’t embody our stated priorities. When this happens, I end up feeling frustrated, disappointed, and on the worst days, despair.

Yet if we start with the big rocks – structure our choices around that which we deem most important, well, you get the picture.

As we were plunking rocks and pouring sand, I couldn’t help but to feel some relief. Surely this conversation would bolster my case for working hard, getting chores accomplished cheerfully and quickly, and developing unselfish, joyful relationships between siblings. Yes. I had found the perfect illustration to support my case. Until one of my children, as does frequently happen, asked the question.

“Mom, if we’re supposed to want what God wants, don’t you think some other things are really more important?”

More important than mastering your Latin declensions, obeying your parents, and cleaning your room? Really? Hmm. Good point.

I realized that I had hoped this exercise would reinforce my priorities. But that was the problem. It was my agenda.  Not that the things I want for my children aren’t valuable and important – I believe that they are. But are they really THE big rocks? What exactly do we value most?

Hard work?
Academic excellence?


“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.” Mark 12:30


THAT is the big rock.
Pursuing God.
Or more specifically, allowing Him to pursue me.
That’s where we start.
Everything else must follow.

In Me, Myself, & Bob, Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales, tells the story of the rise and fall of his company, Big Idea. The business case he unfolds is fascinating, particularly for a former banker. I’m like a kid in a candy story when discussing marketing and strategic planning. Although captivated by both the personal drama and business details in the book, I was stopped by his personal reflection at the end. Vischer had wanted good things for God. He wanted to further the Kingdom. Yet this admirable dream was plucked out of his hardworking, persevering, highly-creative hands. What happened?

In response, Phil Vischer offers the hard, hopeful insight:

“The impact God has planned for us doesn’t occur when we’re pursuing impact. It occurs when we’re pursuing God.”


That’s the big rock.
Not my agenda.
Not my dreams.
Not the good things I can do to further His Kingdom.

I’m grateful to share that I’ll be hearing from Phil Vischer this weekend. He’ll be speaking at Hutchmoot, a gathering of folks occurring in Nashville. This is an uber-talented group, of which many earn a livelihood creating for the common good. They have a great deal to give. I find it fitting that the speaker won’t be offering a talk on “The Five Keys to Building a Successful Business ” or “Effective Marketing Techniques to Grow Your Platform.” Phil Vischer achieved those goals. He had great impact. But the years were eventually marked by loss and heartache – which resulted in a deep well of wisdom. And from that wisdom flows the most valuable lesson of all. One that has been taught over and over through the ages to a people who are slow to learn.


“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. . . You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” Revelation 2:2-4


Yes, we need to make some changes around here. I want to lay down my big rocks of personal agenda, control, and self-reliance. Daily, I’ve allowed good dreams to usurp that which is best.

I’m guilty.

I’m forgiven.

I’m beloved.

I’m grateful.







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Books for Boys: A Show and Tell (updated)

Finding a great book is like striking gold, yet discovering such a treasure rarely happens by accident. We need a plan. Take a few minutes to read the “why” behind the plan – Books for Boys: Why it Matters. Happy mining.


Picture Books

Mr. Small (series) by Lois Lenski
The Little Airplane
The Little Fire Engine 

Leonardo da Vinci by Paolo Cardoni – Stories of unusual children who changed the world.
Pablo Picasso
Amadeus Mozart
Albert Einstein 

Sam’s Cookie (series) by Barbro Lindgren – One of my personal favorites for my Sam. If a two-year-old could write books about his life, this would be the product.

Dr. De Soto by William Steig – So very fun and clever – for grownups as well.
Yellow and Pink 
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
The Amazing Bone 

Billy and Blaze (series) by C. W. Anderson – A boy and his adventures with his horse. Beautiful illustrations.

Alphie and Annie Rose (series) by Shirley Hughes – Everyday life of a little boy and his toddler sister.

Giants, Indeed! by Virginia Kahl

King Arthur (series of 3) by Michael Talbot

The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame

Sammy and The Dinosaurs by Ian Whybrow

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton

Andy and the Lion by James Daugherty

The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Owl Moonby Jane Yolen


Early Readers

A note about books for those new to (or hesitant to) reading:  Reading fluently and confidently takes practice. For those who are hesitant, the goal is to build familiarity with the characters and storyline, so the child doesn’t feel overwhelmed.  

The early books in this series have big pictures and few words
From a later book – Dan Frontier Goes to Congress. Words become smaller and reading difficulty increases.

Dan Frontier by William Hurley- Probably the most iconic books from my boys’ early years. Although out of print, they are worth the hunt. The first book in the series, Dan Frontier, is written with few words and a large illustration on each page. As the series continues, there is a slow progression to smaller (and more) words on each page, and fewer illustrations. Readers become familiar with the characters and storyline, so they are less intimidated as the reading becomes more challenging. I should note that my son read a rather comprehensive biography on Daniel Boone, and Dan Frontier had strikingly similar friends and adventures. The Dan Frontier series provides plenty of exciting adventure and action. It may be my favorite.

Jim Forest by John and Nancy Rambeau – A close second to Dan Frontier in our house. Titles like Jim Forest and the Bandit and Jim Forest and Dead Man’s Peak live up to their adventurous names.

A Tree for Peter by Kate Seredy – I was hesitant to add this book to the list because it is out of print and hard to find (and yes, expensive). But in the event that you stumble upon A Tree for Peter at a used book store or on ebay, by all means, purchase at once. If you’re familiar with the writings of Makoto Fujimura or Andy Crouch, Kate Seredy distills their messages on “Culture Care” and “Common Good” into a beautiful, poignant picture book. (As an aside, I highly recommend Refractions and Culture Making as significant reading for parents.)

Cowboy Sam (series) by Edna W. Chandler

The Deep Sea Adventure Series by Coleman, Berres, Hewett and Briscoe

The Sword in the Tree by Clyde Robert Bulla
A Lion to Guard Us
Viking Adventure
Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims

Animal Stories by Thorton Burgess

Little Eddie (series – early chapter books) by Carolyn Haywood

Many of the Early Readers listed are out of print. However, you can find them fairly easily at addall.com, which is a virtual clearinghouse for used books. I’ve also stumbled upon great finds at ebay.


Chapter Books


Rick Brandt Electronic Adventures (series) by John Blaine – For your techno-boys.

Match Wits with Sherlock Holmes (series) adapted by Murray Shaw

The Book of Dragons by Edith Nesbit – One of our favorites. Everything by Nesbit is worthy of reading, and of reading aloud as a family. She was the first author to bring fantasy into the everyday life of children (rather than children leaving our world to escape into fantasy). Incredibly well written and delightful stories. A favorite of C.S. Lewis.
The Enchanted Castle
Five Children and It

100 Cupboards (series) by N.D. Wilson – I was significantly influenced by Wilson’s book, Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl (if you haven’t read it yet, you should), and was delighted to learn that he had a series of books that my boys’ could read. Wilson masterfully explores the nature of good and evil throughout his books (I’m holding off on my 9-year-old reading them until she’s a bit older) – ancient truths wrapped in great story. We’ve become bona fide N.D. Wilson fans.

Lazy Tinka by Kate Seredy

The Wheel on the School by Meindert Dejong
Journey from Peppermint Street 

Tom Swift (series) by Victor Appleton – Imagine James Bond – 007 written for children. Swift uses science, technology and adventure to save the day.

Sneaky Uses for Everyday Things by Cy Tymony – Amazing, really. Many a contraption in my house was conceived here.

Mini Weapons or Mass Destruction by John Austin – Learn to build Shoelace Darts, Clothespin Catapult, Penny Bombs, Airsoft Pen Poppers, Ping Pong Zookas, and more.

Wingfeather Series by Andrew Peterson – Love.  My son’s review is found here.

Just David by Eleanor Porter – A poignant read-aloud for fathers and sons. You can download for free here.

Teddy’s Button by Amy Le Feuvre – Perhaps the best explanation of the battle between good and evil that rages within all of us. Powerful message for adults as well as children. Grace embodied.

Freddy the Pig (series) by Water Brooks – One of my favorite series. Great to read aloud as a family or individually. Freddy the Detective is at the top of our list.

Little Britches (series) by Ralph Moody – If you’re looking for a father/son read-aloud, look no further. My husband has read through most of this series with the boys, and he’s enjoyed them as much (or more) than they have.

Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald – Don’t let the title fool you – great for boys. We’ll read this one again and again in the years to come.

Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan – True story from WW2

A Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli

The Winged Watchman by Hilda Van Stockum

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

The Wonder Clock by Howard Pyle
Otto of the Silver Hand 

When the Tripods Came (series) by Lloyd Christopher

The Wonderful Flight of the Mushroom Planet (series) by Eleanor Cameron

Swallows and Amazons (series) by Arthur Ransome

Homer Price by Robert McCloskey

The Bark of the Bog Owl Trilogy & The Charlatan’s Boy by Jonathan Rogers – The trilogy is a great read-aloud for younger children or independent reading for older kids. The Charlatan’s Boy was one of my personal favorite books read last year. The characters have become ingrained in our family culture. If anything goes wrong or missing – a feechie did it for sure. Here are a few important lessons learned from our reading:

The Bark of the Bog Owl Trilogy is currently out of print, but you’re likely to find the books in your local library. Stay tuned for news of their 2nd printing later this year. You can find other great books by Jonathan Rogers here.

Chapter Books ages 13 +

Fiddler’s Gun and Fiddler’s Green by A.S. Peterson – Fiddler’s Gun has been one of my favorite reads this summer – full of adventure and heart. Due to the accurate portrayal of life, events, and language that took place during the Revolutionary War (and on pirate ships), these books are recommended for those over thirteen. Book club information including special pricing and discussion guide can be found here.

Auralia’s Colors (series) by Jeffrey Overstreet – We just discovered this series, and my son insisted that it be added to the list. He described the books as “a cross between the Susan Cooper and Lloyd Alexander novels.” You can read Overstreet’s thoughts on “Christian” fantasy here.  I couldn’t agree more.

Seven Men: And Their Secret of Greatness by Eric Metaxas
I’m so grateful for this book. Eric Metaxas, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, explores the lives of seven influential men. Their stories are different, yet each man’s life is marked by heroic, sacrificial service on behalf of others. If we want to fill our boys’ minds with stories that inspire, Seven Men is a great start. This is a perfect gift for sons, dads, and grandfathers.

Father Brown: The Essential Tales by GK Chesterton

At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald
One of my personal favorites. This is our family read aloud this summer. It gets better every time.

The Yearling by Marjorie Rawlings

The Dark is Rising (series) by Susan Cooper


You may have noticed that some of your favorite books (and some of ours, like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit) don’t appear on this list. Rather, I’ve attempted to include titles which are somewhat “off the beaten path.” The majority of the list was compiled with the help of my boys. They love their books.  

For your own spelunking:

Visit Living Books Library for their “Top Picks for Boys” list. Take time to browse through the website. It is a goldmine for book lists, information about books, and authors.

Bethlehem Books is a great place to find historical fiction.

Trailblazer Books by Dave and Neta Jackson are historical novels which introduce heroes of the Christian faith. The website provides a map, timeline, and various other resources corresponding to the books. The Bandit of Ashley Downs (introducing George Muller) had a tremendous impact on my life, as well as many of the others Trailblazer books that we’ve read.

Heroes: Then and Now published by YWAM has an extensive list of Heroes of History and Christian Heroes: Then and Now. The books about C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Boenhoeffer, Corrie ten Boom, and Eric Liddell are a few we’ve enjoyed. These are excellent resources.

The “We Were There” series is full of action and adventure. Historical events are retold through the eyes of children. Although out of print, they are fairly easy to find. For a complete book list, visit here.

A list of resources about children’s literature (including many of the “maps” I used to find these gems) is found here.



Once again, I thank those who have graciously shared their knowledge of, and more importantly delight in, great books with me. I’m eternally grateful for you. You know who you are. (More on that part of my journey here.)

For the benefit of others, please share some of your favorite books for boys in the comments section.



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And It Was Good

It’s an honor to share this guest post, written by Emily Cottrill, with you.  Emily is an oil painter, avid reader, and daily cow-milker. She teaches art and is the author of the Simply Charlotte Mason Picture Study Portfolios (of which I’m a big fan).  Emily and her mother run Living Books Library, a private lending library with thousands of out-of-print living books on their fledgling farm in southwest Virginia.


In today’s culture, we have easy access to all kinds of images, information, words, music. In what seems like a constant bombardment of media we can lose sight of an objective criteria to help us sift through the bad and mediocre to find the worthy. Have you ever seen a stunning piece of art, read a wonderful story, heard an exquisite piece of music, had a flash of insight while listening to a gifted teacher, and said, that is Good? Genesis 1 GOOD?

A favorite encounter with this kind of Good work in my life, at least in the world of literature, was one I met with in the pages of a children’s book. Perhaps the best I’ve ever read. When I picked up a fairly thin, unassuming beige volume with a green fir tree embossed on the cover, I had no clue what I was in for. I started reading it one night, knowing absolutely nothing about it beforehand, and I couldn’t stop until I had finished the last page. A Tree for Peter by Kate Seredy stopped me in my tracks.

I’m not being overly dramatic to say I cried myself to sleep that night. The story did have some sad elements, but it was hopeful, it was beautiful, it was GOOD. That ache of joy I felt encountering such sorrowful beauty caused me not only to weep but to consider, to mull over, to remember, to share, and to act. The idea of the book, working on me through the right words crafted together and accompanied by hand-drawn sepia-toned illustrations changed me—compelled me to respond.

But what is it that makes a piece of work good? Dorothy Sayers has given us a model of understanding creativity in that it reflects the Holy Trinity with three distinct, yet unified parts—the Idea (the Father), the Material Form (the Son), the Power of Response (the Holy Ghost). When a creative work seems good these three elements are in harmony, perfect balance.

Unfortunately, the state of our fallen world is off-kilter, imbalanced, or, as Sayers says, scalene. The old image of a three legged stool wobbles if one of the legs in the creative trinity is longer than the others. This is not, usually, an insurmountable problem. Slight imbalances still yield good work. But when the three are in complete balance, then something Good results.

A Tree for Peter not only demonstrates to me how an artistic work in itself can exhibit a balanced creative trinity, but the theme of the book itself is illustrative of balanced Idea-Form-Power.

Peter, a small, lame boy, lives in a slum. Spending every day alone as his widowed mother goes out to work—toiling longer than the sun—in a laundry, Peter’s world is full of fear and despair. The buildings decaying around him reflect the hopeless lives of those who seek shelter within their drafty walls. The meager interiors shrink from the light dimmed by broken and grimy glass just as their occupants slink away and return under darkness to hide their shame. Fearful Peter is a lonely shell just like the dilapidated houses around him. Rough boys, a noisy policeman, and wild dogs add to the chaos.

But one day…one day hope finds him in the form of a cheerful tune whistled by a new friend.

With this hope an idea is planted in Peter’s heart, one he doesn’t even know how to name, living as he has for so long in brokenness and ugliness. Hope…that one day this slum could be…beautiful. But Peter knows he needs tools, materials to work with. His ephemeral friend supplies all that is necessary—one small spade.

A toy really, a red spade. And that one tool changed the world.

Working diligently, yet in secret, as a surprise for his mother, Peter clears away debris and begins to prepare a place for a garden. Saying his hope out loud—that he longs for a tree to bring beauty to this barren patch of earth—Peter’s friend promises to bring him one, but he must do the work, get his hands dirty, prepare the soil, and dig the hole. He must work with the materials around him, working in faith, and then his idea will be brought into existence. So he does. Hard as it is for him with his lame leg, his frail frame, Peter toils for months.

And then…a cheerful tune carried through the chinks in the walls by the whistling wind draws Peter and his mother out on a snowy night. There, in the place prepared by the small boy stands a tree, its evergreen branches lit with candles, beckoning not just the lonely pair, but slowly, one by one, all the inhabitants of Shantytown.

For Beauty must be shared.

This work, born as an Idea, manifested in the earthy Material wrought by a small creator, called a community out of their loneliness and shame. They began to have Ideas of their own; through honest, patient work men and women brought beauty back to a place everyone tried to ignore. The work begun by a small boy with one small spade was powerful, evoking response first from those nearest, growing in Power until an entire city was impacted.

This is Good work.

But Peter did not accomplish this work alone. His redemption began when one man spoke Truth into his fearful soul. Hope for a better life blossomed the moment he learned to trust his new friend, someone other men overlooked. This friend taught Peter to see with new eyes, with his new vision our hero was able to embrace the broken, fallen, mess of material reality around him, to see through it, to re-create it into beauty.

We are not perfect Creators yet. Human creators are necessarily skewed to one aspect or another of the trinity, weaker in one and stronger in another. But we are still creators, capable of good work. And we are not left alone without hope. We too have a Friend, one who is constantly interceding for us before the Throne. As Sayers reminds us,

“The son works simultaneously in heaven and on earth, this needs to be unceasingly reaffirmed, artistically as well as theologically. He is in perpetual communion both with the Father-Idea and with all matter. Not just with some particular sort of etherealized and refined matter—with things enskied and sainted—but with all matter; with flesh and blood and lath-and-plaster, as well as with words and thoughts.” (pg. 166)


So we must go about our own lives—our daily work, whatever it may be—rooted in the Idea that we are creating, every single day, building a kingdom here on earth that speaks of and brings glory to our Creator. As we craft beauty and order from our earthly Materials we must have faith that the Spirit will work in Power. And the results will be Good.



For more from The Mind of the Maker reading group:

Thoughts from week 1 found here
Thoughts from week 2 found here
Thoughts from week 3 found here
Thoughts from week 4 found here
Thoughts from week 5 found here


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Bach, Legos and Andrew Peterson

This is the story…
behind the video…
behind the book review…
behind the coveted Wingfeather picture…

Our family spent the better part of last year studying the life and music of Johann Sebastian Bach.  Together, we journeyed through his childhood, his family, his character, and his music.  We discovered that his family was so well-known that it was common to be said of excellent musicians, “He’s quite a Bach.”  Branding at it’s best in the 1800’s.

If my children remember one thing from our study, I hope that it is the signature with which Bach signed his music.  “Soli Deo Gloria” To the Glory of God Alone.”  My youngest used the phrase for copywork.  We all memorized it, and spent a fair amount of time discussing how those words translate into everyday life.  For each child, there was a thoughtful application.  I’d like to share with you what it meant for one child in particular.  And then I invite you to consider what it may mean in your life.

Will, my 12-year-old, has always been an old soul.  He read The Chronicles of Narnia at a young age, and was eager to explain that the books were “really about God and Jesus in a fun way.”  His interests are distinctive.  Will devours books, often spends his hard-earned money on beakers (and copper wire, pvc pipe, you get the picture) for science experiments, has the mind of an engineer and the heart of a musician.  It’s quite a combination.

Last spring, the majority of his energies were focused on learning, practicing, and perfecting 3 pieces of Bach to be played at his sister’s wedding.  Quite an undertaking and somewhat of a stretch.  In the early, somewhat painful, stages of learning the music, he was convinced that he couldn’t do it.  Too much, too hard, too little time.  We pressed on, cheering “Soli Deo Gloria.”  Real world translation:

Perfect performance isn’t the goal.

Pouring out our talents and gifting for God’s glory is.

We’re called to humility in giving rather than pride in accomplishment.

In addition to the world of Bach, Will spends a fair amount of time in the world of Legos.  Stop-motion videos, to be precise.  I wish that I had the attention to detail and patience that are required to produce a 2 minute stop-motion video.  I don’t.  But Will has spent numerous hours in perfecting his technique.  Scenes from Star Wars, the Wilderking Trilogy, and various robberies have been immortalized in the form of Lego videos.  Soli Deo Gloria… how in the world does this phrase apply here?  It feels like a stretch at best.  Not quite of the magnitude of a shepherd boy spending years perfecting his shot with a sling…  but a stretch.

Then came the Andrew Peterson’s unexpected announcement that there would be a contest for bloggers reviewing his latest book, The Monster in the Hollows.  Let me admit that we’re serious fans, and that the children have been indoctrinated accordingly.  So knowing that the contest would most likely be entered by adults who were “real writers”, we chose to believe that it was true, regardless of the outcome:

Soli Deo Gloria. 

God doesn’t call us to be like others. 

He calls us to use our individual gifting to His glory.

When the reviews came pouring in, I allowed Will to read through a few.  “I can’t do that” was his response.  No, he couldn’t.  But he could give out of what he had.  He mustered up the courage to hope, and days later, he had created a video for The Monster in the Hollows.  He then wrote a review that came straight from his heart.  To my knowledge, he was the only child who entered the contest among many adults.

Weeks later, the big day came.  The announcement was made.  The family celebrated.  Will’s younger brother literally jumped up and down while he cheered, and his little sister threw her arms around his neck and rewarded him with her infectious kiss.  The coveted award to the winner was an original Wingfeather Saga drawing.   Will was able to choose his favorite character or scene from the book, and Andrew would get to work drawing.

After months of anticipation, I’m grateful to report that Andrew delivered the drawing and it will soon take up permanent residency in our home.  The jury is still out regarding its chosen location – either in our family library or in the boys’ room.  Here’s a peek:

On the back of the picture is the following inscription:


As summer fades into fall, and months compound into years, the excitement of winning the contest may lose some of its luster.  My hope is that as we continue to enjoy the drawing so generously crafted for Will, it will be a tangible memorial stone for our family.  It will serve as a reminder that yes, it is true:

When we offer our gifting, passions and desires back to the Great Creator to use for His glory, He can and will use anything to accomplish that purpose. 

Even little boys who likes to read clever books and create with Legos.

The Great Library at Ban Rona in it’s most likely spot – over Will’s library.

Soli Deo Gloria.



For more on the Wingfeather Saga (including Andrew’s upcoming book, The Warden and the Wolf King) visit here.

You can read Will’s review and watch the video here.

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Wedding Planners

We’ve been wedding planning, my eight year old and I. The flowers were the perfect shades of pink, the dessert carefully chosen (not too sweet, but with a hint of almond), the music just right, and then there were the words. Beautiful, powerful words that snuck up on me and made me cry through my smile. It was a perfect moment in time, when all was right with the world. The agenda that had seemed so important earlier in the day had evaporated as vapor. The list of to-dos and waiting laundry, so recently weighing down my soul, were  briskly plucked from their unrightful place of power. The urgency of that which is temporal had been replaced, if only for a moment, with that which is beautiful, truthful, and eternal.

We conspired together, my beautiful girl and I, on the back porch. The boys were away and the house was quiet. With excited anticipation, we had talked of this moment for the last several weeks. The time had finally come to finish our book, and it was bittersweet. As we read the last chapter, I was surprised by my tears. I had been touched down deep in a place that was typically reserved for grown-up, real-life situations. But this little girls’ book, so full of life and laughter, struck a tender spot in my heart, and I could hardly finish.

We sipped our tea and nibbled our scones, my sweet girl smiling her toothy grin and chuckling at her mom. We ate, we drank, we listened, we felt deeply.  We experienced a taste of joy. It was sacred ground. For this, we were made.  We are wedding planners.

“What would happen if we did invite our children into our theology, to dance, to improvise, to play and to draw beautifully?  You see, it does have to do with the Gospel, in our true identity as the heirs of Christ, as princes and princesses of the Great King.  The Feast is to come, the Wedding about to start.

A wedding is planned:  and it will require all of our senses, and all of the arts.  What wedding have you attended that did not include all of the arts:  dance, poetry, design, fashion, culinary crafts?  By advocating for the arts, we are planning for the Cosmic Wedding to come.  Christians are wedding planners.”       Makoto Fujimura


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