This one is about problem solving. The little boy in question imagines that there is an alligator under his bed, and, of course, his parents will not believe him when tells them that he can’t sleep because the alligator is there. And then the problem solving begins.
There's An Alligator Under My Bed
In keeping with my new-found resolution to only do children’s stories that my family loved for at least a year, I heartily recommend There’s an Alligator Under My Bed. Mercer Mayer who has written over 300 children’s books does a really lovely job with this one. I am 95% sure by the way this is written that Mr. Mayer is very young at heart!
This one is about problem solving. The little boy in question imagines that there is an alligator under his bed, and, of course, his parents will not believe him when tells them that he can’t sleep because the alligator is there. And then the problem solving begins.
The boy decides he is going to trap the alligator. He goes to the fridge to get alligator bait and makes a trail with the food. The trail starts in his room and ends in the garage. The alligator cooperates when he sees all the delicious things the little boy has left out for him. He tumbles down the hallway, downstairs, and out the garage door. Once the alligator is in the garage he slams the door and locks it. He goes back to bed because now he can sleep!
Lying in bed, it occurs to the little boy that he really needs to tell his Dad about the alligator. The next page has the cute spread and three hand-written notes. “DEAR DAD THERE IS AN ALLIGATOR IN THE GURAGGE GARAGE. IF YOU NEED HELP WAKE ME UP”, “WARNING” with a backwards G, and “BE CAREFUL”.
I absolutely loved this story since I have boys. The other two reasons are that it truly is a great story, and it provides of an example of how little people can problem solve through their own challenges in life! I am sure the boy, Mercer Mayer, got a great night of sleep!
I have made an executive decision with the posting of this section of the blog to specialize in really fun and entertaining picture books. I am going to start this off with the Pete the Cat franchise. The book that started it all is called Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons. This won a Dr. Seuss award and deservedly so! You can count down this rocking story that makes counting, colors, and clean humor entertaining for adults and children alike.
We start with a cat and a very cool shirt that has four differently colored buttons. But when one falls off, does Pete cry? Goodness, no! He just keeps on singing his song—after all, what could be groovier than three groovy buttons? Take a gander at this great little book and look the song or the book up on YouTube to consider it's brilliance.
Just to get you started, here is the beginning of the book...
"Pete the Cat put on his favorite shirt with four, big, colorful, round, groovy buttons. He loved his buttons so much he sang this song:
My buttons, my buttons, my four groovy buttons. My buttons, my buttons, my four groovy buttons.
Pop! Oh no! One of the buttons popped off and rolled away. How many buttons are left? Three. 3. 4-1=3. Did Pete cry? Goodness no! Buttons come and buttons go. He kept on singing his song..."
Can you guess what happens at the end of the story? What is left in the end?
i loved this for story for the modeling of handling emotions with young children. The Cat has an unusually positive outlook on life despite losing his buttons. What a great lesson to learn at a really young age!
And I going to look up one of the newer books, Pete the Cat and the Bedtime Blues!
This book is a winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award. Plus the fun never stops—download the free groovin’ song!
Walking on Water
I am re-reading Walking on Water by Madeline L’Engle for inspiration. I have read a number of her books over the years but this one goes down as the all-time favorite. Did you know that she wrote over 50 books of fiction, poetry, autobiography, and non-fiction? I loved A Wrinkle in Time, The Genesis Trilogy, and The Rock that is Higher. She was an amazing writer, and I believe Walking on Water is one of her best.
Here are some highlights from the book that have stayed with me for years.
First, let’s start with stories. “A friend of mine, a fine storyteller, remarked to me, ‘Jesus was not a theologian. He was God who told stories.’ Yes, God told stories. St. Matthew says, ‘And he spoke many things unto them in parables …and without a parable spoke he not unto them.’ When the powers of this world denigrate and deny the value of story, life loses much of its meaning, and for many people in the world today, life has lost its meaning, one reason why every other hospital bed is for someone with a mental, not a physical illness.” (P. 56)
This quote struck me in the midst of the COVID chaos. I know many of us are feeling less than quite whole at the moment. Mentally, I am reading more stories and watching more dramas. I need stories. Any dip into a story is healing for the mind, and our minds definitely need something with all the isolation that has gone on.
Another quote from the book that stands out is from Canon Tallis. “One time I was talking to Canon Tallis, who is my spiritual director as well as friend, and I was deeply grieved about something, and I kept telling him how woefully I had failed someone I loved, failed totally, otherwise that person couldn’t have done the wrong that was so destructive. Finally he looked at me calmly, ‘Who are you to think you are better than our Lord? After all, he was singularly unsuccessful with a great many people.’ That remark, made to me years ago, has stood me in good stead, time and again. I have to try, but I do not have to succeed. Following Christ has nothing to do with success as the world sees success. It has to do with love.” (P. 64)
That one kind of hurt because I could relate to it so well. Lately I have been reflecting on how ineffective I have been in teaching, leading, encouraging, and sharing Christ with others. The good news is that I am not even expected to be effective. I am expected to be faithful. I have expected to love others.
The chapter entitled A Coal in the Hand was also insightful. “We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are, to see through plastic sham to living, breathing reality, and to break down our defenses of self-protection in order to be free to receive and give love … Paul certainly wasn’t qualified to talk about love, Paul who had persecuted so many Christians as ruthlessly as possible; and yet his poem on love in I Corinthians has shattering power. It not a vague, genial sense of well-being that it offers us but a particularly, painful, birth-giving love … It is a listening, unself-conscious love, and many artists who are incapable of this in their daily living are able to find it as they listen to their work, that work which binds our wounds and heals us and helps us toward wholeness.” (P. 71-72)
This is true for me. Writing helps. It binds wounds. It helps me deal with reality. It moves me towards wholeness. It helps me enter the narrow gate of heaven. It shows me I can walk on water.
The last chapter is Feeding the Lake. This last chapter is all about vulnerability. It starts by describing Christ’s vulnerability. “We are, ourselves, as little children, and therefore we are vulnerable. We might paraphrase Descartes to read, ‘I hurt; therefore I am.’ And because of the great affirmation of the Incarnation, we may not give in to despair.” (P. 229)
I hurt; therefore I am? In all honesty, this makes sense. We are all on the winding road called life. We all hurt from something. The question is whether we wallow in it or not.
I may wallow in hurt for a while, but I do eventually pick myself up, dust myself off, and get on with life. I doubt I am making great art, but I know I am working through my pain.
Some of the greatest artists of the past were able to overcome their hurt with their art. Milton wrote Paradise Lost. “Milton could have retreated into passive blindness and self-pity instead of trying to patience of his three dutiful daughters and any visiting friends by insisitng that they write down what he dictated.” (P. 232).
Beethoven was going deaf when he wrote the Ninth Symphony. “Beethoven could have remained in the gloom of silence instead of forging the glorious sounds which he could never hear except in his artist’s imagination.” (P. 232).
What does Madeline L’Engle discover? Over and over, her reflections come back to the fact that she is a Christian. She is an artist, and she is a Christian.
This book invites you to journey into mystery and beauty. She is earthy, passionate, and holy. She is worth following because she followed Jesus. This is so worth the read or re-read!
I am reading Emboldened: A Vision for Empowering Women in Ministry for a class I am taking to become a pastor with the Nazarene Church. This book is was like fine gold dust. Tara Beth Leach is easy to read, there is a lot of biblical substance, and I am enjoying her story of struggling to become who God created her to be. Leach prophetically rallies and cheers us on to a new imagination and hope while refusing to hide the truth or reality that it will be a difficult journey.
Part I sets the stage with a historical overview of courageous women who have paved the way for what is happening right now. Tara Beth also shares her own conversion, her ministry calling, and some interesting stories, like the first time she stopped the car to preach to the cornfields. There are many incredible stories throughout the book, and the one about love and forgiveness for “Joe” really hit me.
Part II contains practical tips and tells how different men and women have effectively emboldened Leach. For example, some female leaders lay aside their own interests giving space and encouragement during formational years.
She sees beyond the justice aspect and goes right into the missional part. “This, then, is not merely a justice issue: it’s a mission issue.” I had to think through this, and I think she is right. Leach is not using the traditional feminist arguments based on social justice and human rights as theological arguments for egalitarianism are not the focus here. She is passionate and motivated to get the job done. I like her approach to change because she intentionally steers us in a very different direction that is countercultural. Leach's values are more in line with the Sermon on the Mount, a cruciform life of discipleship that includes love and non-violence.
Emboldened is an incredible buffet of ideas courageously rolled out to help provide women a place at the table. It is rooted in Scripture and delivered by a pastor whose heart is passionately in love with Jesus and the church. Whatever your age, status or gender, whether you are a leader, educator or lay person, Emboldened empowers us to enlarge our vision. She believes it takes all kind to change and the world. EVERYONE can join and participate in God’s mission.
Leach concludes that an emboldened church is a wonder. "..in a world that suppresses and sidelines women, that sees women as sex objects, that unfairly pays women, and that unfairly criticizes women, the church has an opportunity to be a witness, to be a sign and a wonder in all of this. We have an opportunity to be a drastic alternative - to be a light."
Tara Beth Leach is gifted, and she is a leader. And she knows how to embolden women to break stereotypes, overcome opposition, and to invite women to step into their God-given giftedness as leaders for Christ’s mission.
Another great aspect of the book is her knowledge and love for the Bible. Although she never uses the phrase, “spiritual intimacy,” almost every page of her book breathes a palpable, authentic, and intimate journey of an evangelical woman’s response to the call of God in her life to full time pastoring. All the way from a teenager to her present love, a Nazarene Church in Pasadena California, "PazNaz".
She's a trailblazer. In her words, "I have never seen a female senior pastor lead." Great point, what does that look like?
We get a peek into her first few months of being a senior pastor at PazNaz where she faced some difficult conversations about gender issues. We get an inside look into her particular struggles as she yearns to become her unique self in the presence of significant others.
Spiritual intimacy is appropriate because we see page after page her love for Christ, her love for her husband, her love for her children, her love for Christ’s church. And, yes, her current particular love for her church, PazNaz. She nurtures a desire for us to want to see Christ through all these loves.
I have no doubt that other gifted women will see themselves in these struggles because of abounding and embedded stereotypes about female leaders in ministry.
This is book that fills a huge void. I highly recommend it.
The Wonder of the Greatest Gift
This lovely little Christmas tree has become a part of our Christmas traditions. Ann Voskamp wrote this book of devotions in response to requests from customers about The Greatest Gift, which I wrote about last week as a poem. The customers wanted something interactive for their children and shorter. This is what she came up with.
When you open it, the tree pops up. The little Christmas tree ornaments all correspond to the story told in the devotions.This is a must-have if you like Jesse tree traditions. These traditions tell the story of Jesus from the Old Testament into the New Testament. Each and every story relates to Jesus and his coming to earth as the greatest gift.
And this is how it starts:
"This is the most amazing story ever told about a family - about Jesus' family. The family includes a king named David - and it includes your family too! This is a story about a family that was big like a tree, with branches that reached to the sky!
But this family got into trouble. (You'll be surprised!) This family didn't always love God. (You'll see). And when that happened, it was like their family tree kind of crashed, leaving only a stump.
But guess what? The most fabulous, marvelous, miraculous thing happened. A Baby was born into that family - a Baby who like a teeny, tiny leaf that grew out of that tree stump that looked dead. And Jesus like the biggest tree full of love you've ever seen! This was God's great plan all along. He wanted to wrap you in the warmest, most amazing love, like the biggest hug you can imagine.
But sometimes miracles don't start big, like a humungous tree. Sometimes miracles start out small, like a new life - or a tiny baby.
That's how it was with the miracle of God's son. Jesus comes to our little-yet-big miracles. He makes himself small - so small He can fit inside our own hearts.
His love is all around us. Can you feel it?
His miracles are all around us. Can you see them?
His love goes down deep into our hearts, like roots. Can you even believe it?
Dear Jesus, thank you for the miracles all around me. Thank you for bringing good things out of things that look dead. Most of all, thank you for you unstoppable love for me! Amen."
I have never been comfortable with the claim that only certain people are selected by God for salvation and holiness. I believe that God wants all of us to believe, be saved, and become holy. Responsible Grace: Exploring John Wesley’s Theology is one of those books that explains John Wesley’s thought but does not polarize the views on this, a rarity in academic circles.
I am taking a class entitled “Exploring John Wesley’s Theology” with Nazarene Bible College and we are required to read Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology. I read most of this book last week and I have to say that it is very good and very balanced. John Wesley was astute as finding a middle way between polarized views. This author, Randy L. Maddox, is also great at describing the different viewpoints and then describing Wesley’s viewpoint as somewhere between the two. Maddox has his own middle way, perhaps influenced by Wesley's thought.
The book covers views a myriad of topics that all deserve exploration. It starts by going relating human knowledge and Wesley’s quadrilateral thought of scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. The second chapter explains the nature of God and Wesley’s view on God as Creator/Sustainer, provider, governor, physician, and judge. The third chapter is entitled Humanity’s Need and God’s Initial Restoring Grace. This chapter is the heart of John Wesley’s thought.
"Wesley's most fundamental conviction about human life was that we are created and dependent beings. Our very existence and all of our faculties are gifts of God's grace" (p. 67). It all begins with God, but we are responsible to respond to this grace. I do not believe we can do this perfectly, but we are called by him to respond.
The fourth chapter is about Christ - The Iniative of Responsible Grace. It talks of Wesley’s view of Christ as atonement for sin, and explains Christ as a priest, a prophet, and a king or physician. This also touches on Christ’s nature. Other chapters include Wesley’s view on the Holy Spirit, grace and human response, how human response to grace builds on itself, the means of grace and response, and the triumph of responsible grace.
As previously stated, I find that Dr. Maddox is very adept at avoiding predetermined positions and relating things as he finds them - a rare attribute that comes across openly and honestly. This book is a definite essential for those who would understand the real value of holiness doctrine and theology - and not be disheartened by those who simply dismiss it with cryptic shots from the hip after expounding their own views.
This is probably the only textbook I would recommend to the general public. Go ahead and pick up the classic work on John Wesley's theology.
When Stars Are Scattered
When Stars Are Scattered is one of those books that restores faith in humanity. It was a Goodreads-award nominee of 2020 for graphic novels/comics and deservedly so. It tells the story of adult Omar, now living in Arizona, of the FIFTEEN years he and his disabled brother Hassan spent in Dadaab, a refugee camp for Somali families displaced by the civil wars in their country in the nineties. Their farm burned down, their father was killed, and they never knew what happened to their mother. That is more than enough heartache right there.
This book was a recommendation from Sarah Mackenzie’s Read-Aloud-Revival website. It had been sitting on my bedside table for quite a while before I picked it up and started to read. I had been feeling sorry for myself. I was reading to escape my own reality and found myself in Omar’s reality in Somalia.
The two little boys, Omar and Hassan, lived alone in the UN-sponsored camp in a hut, taken care of by a woman who "fostered" them. Omar was fortunate enought to be chosen to go to school and they were after many, many years of the very, very few who were chosen to be emigrated to the U.S.. Omar wanted to tell this story from his perspective as a boy growing up there. He is Muslim, so we learn of separate girls and boys cultural and religious experiences. We learn of constant hunger, terrible heat, and occasional good luck. Omar does not quit going to school, doing his chores, and putting one foot in front of the other, even when he didn't have high hopes that anything in his life would ever change.I recognized a story that is moving and hopeful, sad and frustrating, and is laced with both gentle humor and unflinching honesty.
And by the time this book ended, I was left with the sadness of knowing that there are people who have been separated from their homes and their families, who had even lost them to death. Whose lives have been on hold for many years. Waiting.
Waiting is a theme in life. Waiting. But I knew all this before. It just became more personal. Personal, as knowing and seeing the ill- treatment of the men, women, and children at our own boarders.
It is probably better to think of this book not as a children’s book but as a religious experience, one of faith, love and hope. It is perfectly done for the middle school crowd (ages 9-12) on up, creating a better understanding of people who lived completely differently lives than we did, filling the reader up with empathy, and inspiring them to always keep dreaming while doing the work to catch those dreams.
It is important to consider that there are people (LOTS of people) actually living long-term in refugee camps. Whole lives. So this book was incredibly eye-opening to me and it deserves a wide audience. It's written with a lot of heart and it's just an unforgettable story.
This is the kind of book that stays with you, and I'm so glad it ended up in my hands. I found it an engaging and inspiring story of brotherhood, friendship, foster families, education, perseverance, and hope.
The Dot and the Line
The Dot and the Line by Norton Juster is one of those books that you keep coming back to. It is just so wonderfully written, funny, and it does get to the point as the line does eventually romance the dot.
Here we go…
Once upon a time there was a sensible straight line who was hopelessly in love with a beautiful dot. But the dot, though perfect in every way, only had eyes for a wild and unkempt squiggle. All of the line's romantic dreams were in vain, until he reimagines himself.
He reimagines himself a celebrated daredevil.
He reimagines himself as leader in world affairs.
He reimagines himself as a fearless law enforcement agent.
He reimagines himself as potent force in the world of art.
He reimagines himself as an international sportsman.
But he grows tired of the self deception. And then he discovers...angles!
Now, with newfound self-expression, he can be anything he wants to be--a square, a triangle, a parallelogram....And that's just the beginning!
He becomes mysterious, clever, dazzling.
He becomes profound, complex, erudite.
He becomes eloquent, versatile, and enigmatic.
And the dot starts to notice how he has changed.
The dot realizes that what she thought she had with the squiggle was freedom was actually something else. She sees the squiggle as untidy and graceless. She sees anarchy and sloth were there once was love.
She goes to be with the line.
"Do the one with all the funny curves again, honey," she cooes softly as they softly stroll away.
And they lived if not happy ever after at least reasonably.
This book is a gem. Norton Jester has won the Caldecott Medal. This story is hilarious and his others books are definitely going to make you smile! Check your local bookstore to pick it up.
The Lord Words
This absolute treasure of a book follows Sarah's Clarkson "This Beautiful Truth", which I wrote about last month. Sarah was writing about the problem of pain and how God's goodness can break into our darkness. Contemplating beautiful things, like this book, is just one way that God can break in and give some light to those of us who feel things a little too heavily.
I also connected to this book because it is celebrating something lost within a language, a form of linguistic revival that I find very effective.
Robert McFarlane, a professor from Cambridge, wrote this book when he found that the people who were compiling the Oxford English Dictionary were replacing words like acorn and adder with more computer related terms. It's a celebration of words that are no longer alive in the world of children.
It is filled with absolutely gorgeous illustrations of the lost word and an acrostic poem. Here are a few samples to get us started. This is the picture of the kingfisher.
And this is the text in the page beside the kingfisher...
Kingfisher: the colour-giver, fire-bringer, flame-flicker, river's quiver.
Ink-black bill, orange throat, and a quick blue back-gleaming feather-stream.
Neat and still it still on the snag of a stick, until with ...
Gold-flare, wing-fan, whipcrack the kingfisher - zingfisher, singfisher! -
Flashes down too fast to follow, quick and quicker carves its hollow
In the water, slings its arrow superswif to swallow
Stickleback or shrimp or minnow.
Halycon is its other name - also ripple-calmer, water nester,
Evening Angler, weather-teller, rainbringer and
Rainbow bird - that sets the stream alight with burn and glitter.
Let's try another. Here is a picture of a dandelion.
And here is the accompanying text for dandelion...
Dazzle me, little sun-of-the-grass!
And spin me, tiny time-machine! (Tick-tock, sun clock, thistle & dock)
Now no longer known as
Dent-de-Lion, Lion's Toothe or Windblow, (Tick-tock, sun clock, thistle & dock)
Evening Glow, Milkwitch or Parachute, so
Let new names take root, thrive and grow, (Tick-tock, sun clock, rattle & dock)
I would make you some, such as Bane of Lawn Perfectionists
Or Fallen Star of the Football Pitch or Scatterseed, but
Never would I call you only, merely, simply, 'weed'. (Tick-tock, sun clock, clover & dock)
It's a beautiful book illustrated by Jackie Morris. I would recommend this as a pick-me-up after a stress-filled day or as something to look at with young children. Children do look with awe and wonder and this book deserves that kind of attention!
This Beautiful Truth
This book is destined to become a classic like The Return of the King (Tolkien), Placemaker (Purifoy), and A Gift from The Sea (Lindbergh). It's a well-written, grand treatise on the problem of pain from a sweet, kindred soul.
Sarah Clarkson considers beauty as a means of grace, a gift from the God who loves and pursues broken souls. For her, she is thinking about it in terms of her own unusual form of the mental illness, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Her vulnerability shines through along with her beautiful prose, and she draws the reader into her journey through brokenness. She works through doubt and moves into restored faith.
I love what she wrote about theodicy, a theological term for how to defend God's goodness in a world filled with evil and suffering.
"The first books of theodicy I read offered arguments that felt like lawyers' briefs. I felt that God was their client, in need of legal protection against the anguished accusations of those in pain" (p. 35).
"... I struggled through works on sovereignty and determinism, trying to understand theories in which God never loses control of any aspect of the world and yet cannot be blamed for its evil" (p. 35).
I, too, have felt that God allows one to suffer and have wondered if it was necessary for the plot of His (Jesus') story.
And she brings up Job, that Old Testament hero that had questions for God on his own suffering.
"Job is a drama of questions, a story that echoes with honest anguish. Yet answers are never given in the listed, scientific way we think they ought to be in the modern world" (p. 36).
"God breaks into Job's darkness by actually allowing himself to be summoned by Job's cries for justice. He allows Job to question and grieve, to yearn and weep. But what he offers is not an explanation but an encounter. For Job is summoned to behold God's goodness in the staggering pageant of creation, one so mighty in its loveliness that at its end, Job considers himself answered" (p. 37).
There are other quotes that I fell in love with. Here is one.
"The visions set forth in the books (and paintings and songs) we turn to for hope are offerings of love, given in the recognition that we truly are members of one another. We all bear the same hunger for eternity. We all walk forward in the dark of doubt, reaching for something we can’t quite name. We all walk blind and grieved in our suffering. We yearn to discover who we are meant to become, what it is we hunger to find in those midnight hours when our hearts will not be sated. But the artists and storytellers and makers of song offer the inner vision they have known as a sign of hope to the hungering world. They invite us into the sacred, inmost rooms of their minds and let us stand at the windows of their own imaginations where we glimpse, ah, wonders we might never have dreamed alone” (p. 187-188).
She also writes of homemaking. A friend offers clues to healing.
“She taught me the pleasure of taking the spaces we have (not the ones we wish we had) and making them beautiful, for room by room she made that little old house the work of her artistry. I watched her design a stained-glass window and save for it for weeks. And plan a room of built-in bookshelves and oversee their building for months…
‘I guess this is beauty enough for me,’ she said. And I think that was the orientation of her heart, to open herself so wholly to receive the goodness of God in whatever place she found herself that there was no such thing as limitation or lack. There was just her willing heart, sated by the beauty God gave. I know there must have been darkness—moments when her burdens must have weighed like lead upon her shoulders—yet those did not define her story” (p. 197-198).
Theology, story, music, photography, and people are all a means of grace. Her story, her craftsmanship, is exquisite.
Her strength lies in her knowledge of books, art, and music where she has found the beauty of God. The bottom line is that profound suffering can make God seem distant, even absent, to our souls, and that can shackle our ability to engage the Bible directly, soulfully, and personally. That said, all the beauties of art, music, creation, story, liturgy, and human love are but shadows of that truest beauty and most beautiful truth.
I would recommend this artful read to those interested in Christianity, to those touched by mental illness, to Christians suffering other kinds of "dark nights of the soul" that make the Bible feel like someone else's love letter, and to her followers who appreciate her. On Instagram she is @sarahwanders and you can appreciate the beauty in her life through her pictures.