Picture Book Reading as a Formational Discipline

There are few things I love more than books. Pecan pie is close. Old books, new books, children’s books, books with illuminations… I love books.

Children’s books have special powers, though. If you don’t believe me, invite a child to snuggle up next to you and read The Nativity by Julie Vivas.

Reading a picture book is formational. Trust me on this one. When I invite a child into my arms and we share an experience, full of art and word, both of us are changed.

All the parts of the person are in engaged in picture book reading. Loving touch is transformative. Children feel safe and wanted when they are sitting on the lap of an adult they trust. Shared space holds a mystery all it’s own. Our mind is engaged through words and pictures. Both halves of the brain are engaged. Together we share sight and sound, even smell. Today if I read The Bugliest Bug by Carol Diggory Shields and illustrated by Scott Nash, my mind returns to the smell of Cherrios mixed with baby shampoo.

If we will allow ourselves, children can lead us to engage with our emotions. Children’s picture books are often written to engage emotions. Long ago most of us adults have learned to stuff our emotions, to keep them hidden. A healthy life includes emotion and children can help us move toward wholeness.

On that note here are a few suggestions, book suggestions. You’ll have to get your own kid.

Close as Breath by Callie Grant (This is a board book, for preschoolers and it’s terrific. She’s got more board books on her site and they are also very good.) http://www.grahamblanchard.com/product/close-as-a-breath

December by Eve Bunting and illustrated by David Diaz

Butterflies Under Our Hats by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso and illustrated by Joani Keller Rothenberg

Psalm Twenty-Three illustrated by Tim Ladwig

The Lord’s Prayer illustrated by Tim Ladwig

To Every Thing There is a Season by Leo and Diane Dillon

Will’s Mammoth by Rafe Martin and Stephen Gammell

Ferdinand by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson

Chrysamthemum by Kevin Henkes

The Napping House by Audrey and Don Wood

King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey and Don Wood

The Blessing of the Beasts by Ethel Pochocki and engravings by Barry Moser

Grandad’s Prayers of the Earth by Douglas Wood illustrated by P.J. Lynch

The Three Questions: based on a story by Leo Tolstoy by Jon J. Muth

Making Heart-Bread by Matthew Linn, Shelia Fabricant Linn, and Dennis Linn illustrated by Francisco Miranda

The Dandelion Seed by Joseph Anthony and illustrated by Cris Arbo

The Circle of Days by Reeve Lindberg and illustrated by Cathie Felstead

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and illustrated by John Schoenherr


I think this is a good starting place.

Which books would you add to the collection?

Share about a time when reading with children has formed you.



“Still Good” Saturday: Guidance Through Incarnation

This blog was originally posted at http://www.Renovare.org

Our child friendly definition of guidance is this: listening to the counsel of God and others who love us.

Each night before I go to bed, I go outside and make a last check of all the animals. Here in the country there are no outside lights. Robert Frost is right, “the woods are lovely dark and deep,” but I would like to add that without a light, they are dangerous. Sometimes my fears are real, like that coyote that I hear howl as I make my rounds, and sometimes they are imagined—the branches that look like monsters ready to pounce. However if I grab a flashlight as I head out the door all things change. I know where I am at all times, wild animals generally run from light, and those imaginary monsters simply don’t exist. Guidance is a light. Often through the scrip­tures God lights our paths, through the advice of others he keeps us safe. This is the receiving end of guidance.

The “dishing it out” side is another story. As a parent and a teacher let me just lay all my cards on the table and say guidance is tough stuff. It requires so much energy! It is messy. And sometimes it’s heartbreaking.

As a teacher I can bark orders and give guidance from a distance. I can keep myself separate by only caring about what goes on at school, issuing assignments and grades like a well oiled machine. But no one actually learns anything of value and the distance is unmistakable.

As a parent I can also bark orders and give guidance from a distance. I can be unmovable, issuing the wages of good and bad behavior, all the while muttering under my breath, “Do as I say, not as I do.” But children won’t “Do as I say, not as I do”; they will do as I do. Children will try an array of creative techniques to fill in the relational space they feel.

Guidance through incarnation looks completely different. Jesus gives us the perfect picture.  Jesus says, “Do as I do,” and then he takes it even further, “Do as I do… and here, let me help you.” And with that he stepped forever into humanity with hands on guidance. He gave us proximity.

Incarnation is God stepping into humanity, and a result is presence—proximity. “The Kingdom of God is here,” is a declaration of proximity.  Jesus declares proximity without pretension. We are still free to shun his guidance, but he won’t leave, he won’t abandon. Our sensibilities may be dulled to this gift of proximity, but he is always there.

As parents we can participate in incarnation through our presence. Like Jesus we offer our presence, even when our guidance is rejected. We cannot do it without the strength of the Spirit. We need this incarnation as well as offer it.

Today, how is God calling you to guide your children through incarnation?

the Law of Kindness

I appreciate the vocabulary my son is gaining from our Good Dirt devotions. We’ve been in conversation a lot recently about living God’s Way and the idea of turning the other cheek causes eyes to open wider and wheels to turn in the brain. There are many times when such conversations end in ways I wish they didn’t – “No, mom, I don’t do that”. But I know that each and every conversation works in his heart and they’re all important.

Kingdom Living – Lord, teach me Your ways. I want to walk in Your Truth.

Our son’s favourite questions at the end of the day are the ones that ask “When did you feel joy or sorrow today?” For some reason, these speak his language and capture his attention. All the other questions are “hard questions”. One night after brushing his teeth he asked, “Ok, mom, is it time for when you have joy?” It took me a second to understand but the cool thing about that question is that the answer is always “yes, son”. Even in the midst of sorrow, there can be joy. The answer is always “yes”.

Kingdom Living – Lord, let Your joy remain in me so that my joy may be full.

Living life as an expat offers plenty of opportunity for us to show kindness when we don’t feel like it. Perhaps those opportunities abound regardless of circumstance or situation. But it feels amplified out here as a foreigner. I have more conversations with my son about showing kindness than any other thing. Multiple conversations – daily. His enemy: Grandmas (Halmoni). They travel in armies and they all want to touch his sweet face and ask him how old he is. Many of them don’t know kindness the way we would expect the elderly to know kindness and so I feel it is important to share what we have in our heart through our smiles and bows. Oh, but it’s hard when you really don’t want to!

Is kindness required of us whether we want to show it or not!?

This week, kindness was the main topic of conversation during devotions because we kept being asked what Jesus’ life was showing us about His Kingdom. Ah, Kindness. Finally, my son, still fighting the battle in his mind about when kindness is warranted, says “Kindness fills you right up and makes all the bad in you go away.” The selfishness. The need to be right. The need to ‘have enough’. Kindness causes us to share and to give of ourselves. Oh sweet boy, you’ve given me something to think about for a while. Thank you.

Lil3 933

Kindgom Living – Lord, let Your Kindness dwell in my heart so that I may have the Law of Kindness on my tongue


Conflict: A Story of Transformation

Dealing with conflict has been a weak spot for the majority of my life.  Conflict mostly occurs when my will is called into question. Whether what I want is for the good of others or the good of me; conflict happens when what I want done is questioned or not carried out.  Explaining conflict as a proverbial “run in with a bull”, the first two and a half decades of my life could be characterized as “shooting the bull.” My parents were also were bull shooters.* They didn’t just take the bull by the horns; they resorted to shooting the bull; domineering a situation and/or persons until their way or will was the only one present. This was my way.

I do possess Empathy, which doesn’t mean I actually feel the same feelings as someone else, it means I often know what others are thinking and feeling. Not in a creepy mind reader sort of way, but quite practically, when your parents are bull shooters, you learn to read body language, tone of voice, and nuance like reading a book, because in fact you don’t want to be shot. However this “strength” can also be used against people, knowing (or having a pretty good hunch) what other people are thinking or feeling can be used to manipulate for my own good, not the good of another.  In my own way I learned to shoot the bull.

In the third decade-ish of my life two things changed my approach. 1. I learned that shooting the bull didn’t exactly work. 2. I began to realize how I had hurt people. I wanted to be like Jesus and I found out I wasn’t. So under the counsel of some well meaning ladies; I was taught that a godly woman always submits in conflict. I call this period, “being run over by the bull.”

I kept my Empathy strength to myself, and avoided conflict like the plague.  While for certain Christians are called to submit, this was at the cost of my true self.  Total submission in conflict (squashing my true self) was far from peaceful. Resentment and anger were just below the surface, and sometimes would break the surface in a manner unfortunate to behold.

In decade number four-ish, I began to wonder if there was another way.

About seven years ago through some teachings on love and conflict I began to think about the definition of love being “to will the good of another.”(Dallas Willard)

Everyone knows the passages in 1 Cor. 13 and 1 John 4 on love, and of course the fruit (evidence) of the Spirit is love Gal. 5, but I never thought to meditate upon them in light of conflict and with the definition that love is “to will the good of another.” Over the course of a few years I started to reflect on this before responding, when faced with a conflict.

Sometimes the very best good of another is to engage in the conflict in the most loving manner I can.

Sometimes loving another means making space for the will of another, submission.

Conflict is becoming a way to know the will of another (because listening is perhaps the most important step). It is also becoming a practice in discernment (listening to the Spirit), knowing if I am to lay my own will down, or if I should indeed, pick it up. I am learning that even if I have a loving intention doesn’t mean things will work out.

I am learning to accept that I will be misunderstood, Jesus was. I have to let that go.  I am not in charge of outcomes.

This process for me is an exercise in the converging of my emotional life (exposed by conflict) and a contemplative (listening, reflecting) approach that is melding into life transformation.

What about you? How do you approach conflict? How we handle conflict in the intimate setting of our families is formational, for good or ill. What does conflict look like in your home?


* I want to add that my parents have also been transformed by a life with Christ and they no longer are “bull shooters.” In fact one reason I believe that we can be changed by Christ is because I have witnessed it in my parents.

I can’t do it all.

I’m asked pretty frequently, “How do you do it all?”

It is true, I am a DMIN student at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. It is true, I homeschool my two daughters. orchestra, piano, violin, soccer practice, yes.  It is true I serve as a spiritual director with children. Yep, I garden, yep, we’ve got some chickens, yep, I do some writing, and some speaking. That is all true. Mostly when I hear this I want to say, “You don’t have the whole story.”

The whole story is that I don’t do it all. The whole story has at least two more parts. One is that I have learned to say, “No.” The tasks I am engaged in are things I have thought about and prayed about. I do not do them because I have been manipulated into doing them. I do not do them because I feel some sort of external or internal pressure to do them.  I am not climbing ladders, and I am not trying to please the crowd. And in fact I am not overly busy. I have time to enjoy a glass of port almost every evening. I have time to have at least one long chat with my Dad everyday. I have learned to say “No” to TV, “No” to hours on social media, and “No” to time sucking gossip.  Granted the tasks that make up my day are not all unicorns and rainbows, but they are ones I have discerned where  I can work in sync with the Kingdom with effectiveness and joy.  When I am asked to add another “to do”, I pass the invitation through this lens. It has helped me to remember that just because I have the skills or an open space of time does not warrant saying, “Yes.”

The second part is that I do not do any of these things alone. I am not a one woman band. I have a fleet of excellent professors and advisers at George Fox, they believe I can do this and they support me along the way. My husband is one of the smartest men I know, he takes the hard math and science questions. Over the years my parents have become tremendous support.  I am a member of a small group that has been meeting for two years, we are multigenerational and the sustenance we offer one another is paramount. It was for certain paramount last Sunday, when they gently reminded me that I cannot do it all and further I’m not even expected to.  I constantly draw insight and intelligence from my spiritual direction with children colleagues. I meet with a spiritual director regularly. Really this list could go on for days.

My confession is that sometimes I do feel overwhelmed.  I, now, understand that when I feel this way; it is time to take a look at my life.  It’s time to take a break and discern if I have bought into the lie that I can do it all.

The truth of the matter is that life is better lived intentionally. Prevalent joy in our work, even difficult work, can be had when we are intentional.  A “boot strap” life is lonely and frankly I could never pull it off. (Think about that a minute.) As I grow older I much prefer the “Birkenstock life*.” Indulge me here…I can’t run in Birkenstocks. If I try they will fly off and hit the nearest child.  Just saying. Further, when walking in Birkenstocks on a dirt road, rocks frequently sneak into my shoes, just to get me to stop and look around a bit.  But if I need a shoe that will help me walk a steady, intentional, no frills, pace with others, this is a good choice.

So how about you? What’s your current shoe choice? (metaphorically speaking) What does this say about your life? Time to take a discerning look at your life, your use of time, your commitments?


*Birkenstocks is the metaphor I’m using for the “going slowly and intentionally life.”


I learn best through metaphor… so bear with me.

I live in Colorado where our lives are governed by seasons. We pray for winter snows to water our desert land where we plant crops in the spring to harvest in the summer and fall. Our crops freeze a lot of the time. Not only is there nothing we can do about it, we have to wait later in the year for the fruits of our labor or “borrow” someone else’s.  We have a dry season, a tourist season, a slow season, a harvest season, an apple season, monsoon season, yard sale season, fire season, color season, hunting season, calving/lambing season, football/basketball/baseball/soccer season, wildflower season… I could go on and on.

Each of these seasons have emotion attached to them. We anticipate the tourist season so we can pay our bills without sweat and tears. We fear fire season and its destructiveness. We wait ever so impatiently for monsoon season where we revel in 12% humidity during the rain storm.  We love calving/ lambing season as we watch the newborn babies learn to play but fear that there is still so much cold left until spring. We turn our tv satellite service on for football season and fiercely proclaim our allegiance to the Broncos. We yell and coach and try to rest up for our kids sports seasons. We love wildflower and color season as the colors are so vibrant and creative. Again, I could go on and on. As with all things natural I try to apply it to my spiritual journey.

As I dread the coming of winter in my physical self I feel myself dread the winter in my spirit too. But as I have learned to see beauty in cute boots and new snow I am training myself to see beauty in spiritual winter too. Learning to breathe with the seasons of the church has helped in this. The ordinary time does not mean God is far away. It means He is in the ordinary just as actively as He is in the celebrations. In my winter season I use more of the contemplative disciplines to practice his presence. I read. I meditate. I am quiet (yes during winter basketball season when I am the crazy coaching parent in the stands it is hard to visualize this…haha). It is this season where I love “Yard sale” season of the soul. I take something of someone else’s and make it my treasure. During the “monsoon” season of the soul I take in the rain from heaven and store it away. For me this looks like worship services or retreats etc. Where I am immersed in God for a period of time.

There are some seasons I am in now and I keep thinking “will this ever change?” or “I hope this never changes!”. I remind myself that God is always faithful to bring the next season. Winter always follows fall. But spring ALWAYS follows winter. This season too will pass. I will soon look back and say “that wasn’t so bad and went so quickly”. I take great solace in Ecclesiastes 3… There is a season for everything under the sun.  I recently saw a quote that read “The difference between a good [season] and a bad [season] is your attitude.” I am praying that my seasonal attitude will be to see Jesus in all seasons!

Rotten Apples in this Basket

When we were waiting for our son to come along, my husband and I agreed that we wouldn’t immerse ourselves in all the parenting books that are available out there. We didn’t want the confusion that is inevitable with so much conflicting advice and felt that our time would be better spent elsewhere. Looking back, I’m really grateful for that intentional move because I’m quite heavily influenced by what I read. And recently our Good Dirt devotions have been cutting me to the quick.


You know how parents are told to make sure to shape their child’s attitude so that their behavior is just right so that their lives will turn out perfectly? (Even in Kingdom Living, we find ourselves losing track and aiming for ‘perfect’, so bear with me here) And you know how no matter what you say to your child, what you do is about the only thing they’ll actually pick up? Well, I’ve been doing my math lately and concluded that my poor son has little hope of ever being perfect. Not because of his attitude or behavior……but because of mine.


We came across some evening questions recently that went something like this: “How did you work with God today? What kind of good did you spread?” Good Dirt – Kingdomtide


I had allowed a dark cloud to remain over my head the whole day that affected every behavior and decision. So would you believe, I actually skipped over those questions and didn’t ask them? I didn’t ask them because I didn’t want to answer them. I didn’t want to consider them. The very thought of examining my own attitude and trying to answer how I (hadn’t) worked with God that day made me feel narcoleptic. Sleeping is an effective way of hiding. I really wanted to just sleep it off and wake up to a new day. In fact, I did. And of course I found that the new day required the same humility and repentance of me.


And then I saw this on the opposite page: “Tell about a time today when it was difficult to tell the truth.” (Stop it! Just stop!)


Isn’t it such a wonderful thing that bad attitudes and a refusal to work with God are redeemed at the cross?

“Lord, my heart turns toward you in repentance. Please transform my indignant attitude into a flexible one – one that works with You. Help my eyes to remain focused on You and not to look for an alternative goal. Thank you for drawing me to Yourself. I rejoice in You!”


If you need some time to reflect on the Grace and pursuing Love of God, take a long, quiet moment to read through Psalm 139. I’m writing that here so I can remember where to go when I need to turn my attitude around tomorrow. I’m glad I’m heavily influenced by what I read.



Margin Making

This summer I have been about the work of making margin. My life was feeling overstuffed. Like a balloon that had too much air; like when you know in your soul that one more puff of air would be one too many.  And you know what they say, “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.” (My husband also says, “Your nose is not a pocket,” but that’s for another discussion.)

Since there are only so many hours in a day, I had to let go of some things. I began to write in my journal each evening, recording those things that were sucking the life out of me. Not the things that left me tired, but the things that gave me little life. After a month of listening here’s my partial list. (I only share it because you might find these things on your list, too.)

I’m letting go of the work of managing my image. Trying to manage what people think of me is exhausting. (And truly it’s a facade, people are not things, they can’t be managed. They can be loved, but won’t put up with management for long.)

I’m letting go of worry. If the very worst I can imagine actually happens; still I am never abandoned. I am never alone. God is with me and his resources are endless. As Dallas Willard used to say, “The universe is a perfectly safe place to be,” and this is true because God is always with me. I have nothing to fear.

I’m letting go of outcomes. It’s a humble act to do so, and I’m growing into it. To release outcomes is to admit the limit of my reach, the end of strength and influence. It’s to actually rely on the Holy Spirit and put a stop to the smoke and mirrors of perceived control.

None of these things can be released by sheer will. But they can be replaced with things that create space instead of fill it. Here’s a short practical list of replacements that were helpful for me.

  • Add a time of silent prayer with no agenda. Once when I wake up, and once before I go to bed. Just be in God’s Presence. Bring my attention to him and smile. For a few minutes– smile, and know with certainty he smiles back. (The key to this is longevity. Benefit is found in taking the long road. Do this everyday for a month and then “see how it’s going.”)
  • Listen to my children and spouse, completely, all the way through to the end of what they have to say. Take a deep breath, and breath a prayer before I answer. I have heard it said that “Who we are at home is– who we are.”
  • Give up media (especially FB) for a set period of time.  At the end, reflect on how it made me feel. I asked the people who live with me how it changed my behavior. (I refuse to tell you what they said.)
  • Reflect on my motives behind my commitments. (This one required courage.) Ask why I (examples are not all are applicable to me)– teach Sunday School, serve on the school board, parent a certain way, read my Bible…) Bring my motives to God. Then I try to be honest and look and see if the source was image management, worry or concern with outcomes.

I have been about this work before and I’m awfully glad to enter in intentionally this summer, again. But I suspect I will be about this work for the rest of my life.

Making margin has yielded big wide open spaces. I have stepped away from some things, found the courage to change others. I have found space enough to love my neighbors in practical ways when they need it. Space enough to listen to my daughter’s concerns about adulthood. Space enough to throw a baseball with my ten-year old who desperately wants to learn to pitch. Space enough to cry with a friend through past hurts. Space enough to confront my sin. Space enough to hear God smile and smile back.

How are you making margin these days?



*The book Margin Richard A. Swenson, M.D. has been a great help.

*Lastly, I struggled with the transparency of this post. Letting readers in on a little bit of my own “crazy” is risky. I’m drawing courage from one of my favorite Saints. It is said of Columcille (also known as Saint Columba of Iona) that he “is the archetype of the ‘peregrinatus’,the wandered or pilgrim who abandons security for a journey which is extremely costly, and yet whose reward is ultimately everlasting life.” -taken from the Wisdom of Saint Columba of Iona