Book Review: Adorning the Dark

When I first heard that Andrew Peterson, a songwriter, recording artist, and fiction-writer, was releasing a non-fiction book titled Adorning the Dark, I pre-ordered it right away because Andrew’s work really resonates.

About 18 months ago, I fell in love with his amazing song “Is He Worthy?” and really his entire album titled Resurrection Letters Volume I. His folksy songwriting style brings to mind Caedmon’s Call, the Ragamuffin Band, and the late Rich Mullins, a very gifted musician whose songs I first heard in college and still enjoy listening to a couple decades later.

Reading Adorning the Dark, I learned that those same artists actually influenced and encouraged Andrew early in his music career. Likewise, Andrew is himself a Barnabas type. He’s committed to encouraging other artists — whether they are musicians, writers, or painters. He’s been doing so for years through his ministry The Rabbit Room, which fosters Christ-centered community and spiritual formation through music, story, and art. And now his book Adorning the Dark extends that ministry in the form of a memoir/handbook.

One big take away from the book is the emphasis not just on writing but also on finishing. Every artist is tempted to slow down or get distracted or quit altogether, and so Andrew reminds his readers, “…it is only by discipline that you’ll finish, and it is only in finishing that you’ll be able to offer up your humble work to those weary souls who may need it.”

Adorning the Dark highlights the need to serve the work and serve the audience, too. Andrew writes, “Those of us who write, who sing, who paint, must remember that to a child a song may glow like a nightlight in a scary bedroom. It may be the only thing holding back the monsters. That story may be the only beautiful, true thing that makes it through all the ugliness of a little girl’s world to rest in her secret heart. May we take that seriously. It is our job, it is our ministry, it is the sword we swing in the Kingdom, to remind children that the good guys win, that the stories are true, and that a fool’s hope may be the best kind.”

If you’re like me and have a few unfinished creative projects gathering dust, Adorning the Dark may be just the encouragement and inspiration you need to carry it on to completion for the sake of adorning this dark world with the light of Christ.

Side note: As I write this during Advent, I am listening to Andrew Peterson’s album Behold the Lamb, which I highly recommend. And I’d be remiss not to suggest that Andrew’s fantasy-adventure series, The Wingfeather Saga, would make an excellent gift for any young readers on your Christmas list. My kids have thoroughly enjoyed the series and are hoping to soon update their personal libraries with the new hardbacks that feature captivating new cover art and illustrations.

 

 

 

Going to Grandma’s House

“Over the river and through the wood, to Grandmother’s house we go! The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the white and drifted snow…”

So begins the famous poem penned by Lydia Maria Child in 1844. I remember no horse-drawn sleigh or drifty snow, but I do remember singing this joyfully with my mama on the way to Grandma’s house.

Nearly everyone likes to share memories of going to Grandma’s house. It’s a noteworthy destination. Like most folks, recollections of my grandma’s house include memories of what she cooked. Savory chicken and dumplings topped the list, followed closely by homemade noodles with roast beef, peanut butter and brown sugar sandwiches, and cherry chocolate cake.

At Grandma’s house, I remember quiet mornings reading through piles of Reader’s Digest or being fitted for pretty Easter dresses and warm winter sweaters Grandma was creating just for me. I remember spending lazy summer afternoons outside playing with a dog named Sue and spinning my big brother plum dizzy on the tree swing. And I remember evenings filled with fiercely competitive games of dominoes or cards — Grandma was always the scorekeeper — sometimes followed by an Eskimo pie for dessert.

But unlike other folks, recollections of my grandma’s house aren’t confined to any one particular house. That’s because my grandparents moved. A lot! It’s a wonder their issues of Reader’s Digest kept coming. I think I counted 10 address changes for my grandma just in my lifetime, including two moves out of state, as well as at least two RVs and a vacation home in Arizona for a while. I vividly remember my mama lamenting about all the times she had moved and had to change schools as a child, mostly before she finished elementary school. And I know Grandma moved several times as a child herself.

Grandma was always moving. And for me, the kid who spent her entire childhood living in the same red brick house on 27th Street, this moving thing was completely foreign. I never even moved bedrooms until I went off to college. I stayed put. And everybody else’s grandma stayed put, it seemed.

But my grandma didn’t stay put. She liked the adventure of moving somewhere new, and her face lit up as she described the rooms of the place she was moving to next. I remember her telling me all about the Coweta house before they moved into it. She told me about its bright sun room with south-facing windows and its sunken dining room with rich red carpet and an arched doorway. With rooms like that, it sounded more like a palace than a house!

Partly because she was always moving — but mostly because she was a very intelligent lady, valedictorian of her high school class — Grandma never had trouble with directions. I suppose Grandpa might firmly disagree with me here, particularly if we were discussing the direction from which a vacation photograph was taken. But from my perspective, Grandma always knew which way was north. And she always knew the way to get where she needed to go. She had no trouble tracking down her children and grandchildren, scattered far and wide in various states, long before the days of iPhones or Google maps.

One of Grandma’s favorite Bible verses, which she carefully referenced in the inside cover of the Bible she gave me at age 11 — was Proverbs 3:5-6. It says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.” It’s no wonder Grandma knew the way. She had God giving her directions at every intersection!

Even though she never suffered from being directionally challenged, Grandma endured plenty of trouble in life. She was born in the middle of a fierce March snow storm in western Oklahoma. At a young age, she experienced the loss of her parents’ farm, thanks to a crooked banker. She persisted through the Great Depression and came of age during World War II. She raised chickens and three kids on a farm. And whether she was selling fresh eggs, transcribing business correspondence in shorthand, or posing high school seniors for portraits, Grandma put in many hard hours as a working woman and small business owner. After retiring, she lost her oldest daughter, my mother, to cancer. And in 2006, she lost her beloved husband Lloyd.


In this world Grandma had many joys and sorrows, plenty of work to do, and countless troubles to get through. But now she has left all that behind. She has moved yet again.

Jesus tells us in John 14:2-3, “In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.”

I would love to hear Grandma describe this new house with so many rooms. Is she feasting in a great dining hall with luxurious red carpet? What direction does the front of the house face? And how bright is the Son room where Jesus meets her face to face in all His glory?

The Reverend Billy Graham, who passed away exactly two weeks before Grandma, said this: “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

I wasn’t there for Grandma’s last moments here in this world of troubles, but the one word everyone in my extended family used to describe those moments was “peaceful.” Grandma has gone peacefully into the presence of God. She has changed her address one last time.

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” These words of Jesus, as recorded in John 14:27, give me much peace as I remember and honor my grandma today.

 

Book Review: Winnie’s Great War

It’s a great honor to welcome my youngest daughter as a “guest blogger” for this post. Writing under the nom de plume Elizabeth Paige, she is sharing with you, dear readers, this review of a newly released novel, Winnie’s Great War, published by Little, Brown and Company. Enjoy and please comment below; my 13-year-old will be ever-so grateful!

A Review of Winnie’s Great War

The terrors of World War I brought many sons, husbands, sweethearts and brothers to the front lines, fighting for their homes, families, and the country they loved. As well as young men, it brought animals to the front lines. Billy, a goat, saved the lives of soldiers with his bomb-locating instincts. Cher Ami, an American carrier pigeon, helped troops locate and rescue a lost battalion of soldiers. Stubby, a stray dog, saved soldiers from the harmful gases the Germans attacked with. Lastly, Winnie, the World’s Most Famous Bear, accompanied Lt. Harry Colebourn on his journey from Canada to Britain.

Harry was a veterinarian, doctoring the horses used in battle. Winnie assisted in calming the horses and was known around camp for her renowned tracking abilities. Winnie assisted Harry until he could take her no farther, and she spent the rest of her life happily in the London Zoo.

There’s more to Winnie’s story, however. While at the London Zoo, she received frequent visits from a small boy named Christopher Robin, later inspiring A. A. Milne’s classic stories of Winnie the Pooh.

For lovers of Winnie the Pooh, A Bear in War, and Finding Winnie, comes Lindsay Mattick and Josh Greenhut’s Winnie’s Great War. This novel, released in September of 2018, is an extended version of Mattick’s picture book, Finding Winnie, following Winnie through WWI. Mattick enhances the characters of every animal and person Winnie meets along the way. This book is a good read for most ages, though is mainly geared toward elementary readers. Winnie’s Great War is brought to life with Sophie Blackall’s imaginative single – color illustrations.

I loved Winnie’s Great War because it paints an excellent description of WWI – a historical event rarely represented in fiction – through the innocent eyes of a bear cub. However, I believe it could have touched a little more historically on WWI. Being written from Winnie’s point of view, it’s very simple, and doesn’t really touch a whole lot on the actual history of WWI. For instance, more vivid descriptions on the historical background. Why Harry left Canada, if it was by his own choice, and where Harry was going after he left Winnie, and what he’d do.  But characters such as Dixon, Brodie and Edgett were taken from history, as well as Colebourn’s journal entries, and the photographs of Harry, Winnie and the troops.

Overall, Winnie’s Great War is a perfect family read aloud, especially if you are looking for a novel covering WWI. Winnie’s admirable qualities mixed with the real-life narration of her and Harry’s stories perfect this narrative of hope, love and perseverance.

About the author: A homeschooled 7th grader, Elizabeth Paige delights in performing on stage as an actress, pianist, and pre-professional level dancer. Off stage, she treasures every free moment for reading or listening to audiobooks while sipping hot tea.

Meantime, Back in Greenwich

With the switch to Daylight Savings Time coming soon, it seems timely to revisit Greenwich, England.

You’ve heard of Greenwich Mean Time. Folks here seem to have invented time itself. Well, to be more accurate, they invented how to measure time, and I am thankful for that.

Clocks, antique timekeepers, and all sorts of devices for astronomy and navigation are featured throughout the Royal Observatory here, which was founded by Charles II in 1675.

The Great Equatorial Telescope (1863) is impressive.

To fully appreciate what’s on display at the Royal Observatory, you have to realize the problem of being lost at sea and the problem of longitude.

Back in the 1700s, longitude was an urgent problem, especially for sea-going nations involved in international trade. The precious lives of sailors and the valuable cargoes their ships carried made navigation at sea a matter of life and death. Skilled sailors, out of sight of land, could only find their north-south position (latitude). They had no methods or instruments to accurately calculate their east-west position (longitude). They did not know where they were!

Unfortunately, mapping the night sky and trying to predict the complex motion of the Moon does not work so well on cloudy days at sea. So after lots of trial an error and a big invention competition, the problem was solved by the development of a portable clock that could keep accurate time on board ships.

John Harrison, an 18th century clockmaker, made the first practical marine timekeeper, a monumental development in navigation.

Way back in 1775, Harrison claimed that his clocks were a hundred times better than those made by his contemporaries.  And a few years ago, this clock, titled “Burgess Clock B,” set a Guinness World Record for being the most accurate mechanical pendulum timekeeper of its type. It uses a radical theory proposed by Harrison, and it varied by only half a second in 100 days, finally proving in 2015 that Harrison’s claim was correct.

If you have time to read it, the book Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time tells all about Harrison and how important longitude is to navigation. My sailor husband highly recommends it.

The biggest tourist draw at the Royal Observatory is not the clocks, though. It’s the Prime Meridian of the World. That’s zero degrees longitude, where the eastern hemisphere and western hemisphere meet.

And it’s a prime spot to stand in line outside to take a selfie.

The Prime Meridian covers 12,427 miles from pole to pole, but most of that is an imaginary line that doesn’t show up in a selfie.

Inside and away from the crowd, I couldn’t resist standing with one foot and one daughter in each hemisphere.

Learning about longitude and time made me ponder it for a while. How do we know where we are? Where does time go? Why does it disappear faster and faster the older we get?

Frequently in motherhood, when I see my kids growing taller and notice the years flying by so quickly, I want to panic like a sailor lost at sea. It’s easy to feel like time is running out and I don’t know where in the world I am. It’s easy to wish for some way to stop the clock or maybe even turn back the hands on the clock.

But I don’t truly want to go back in time. Not really.

One of my favorite authors, Ann Voskamp, writes: “I watch the hands move grace on the clock face. I’m growing older. These children are growing up. But time is not running out. This day is not a sieve, losing time. With each passing minute, each passing year, there’s this deepening awareness that I am filling time, gaining time. We stand on the brink of eternity.”

Likewise, author Elizabeth Foss writes: “No, I don’t really want to stop time. But I do want to fill it. I want to fill it with gratitude and grace worthy of the days I trade for them… I want to take each one of these days…and really live the story [God] intends. I don’t want time to stand still, but I do want to still my soul and fill the time with His blessings.”

The idea of filling time with gratitude and stilling my soul encourages me.

My prayer is that God would teach me to number my days so that I gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12). My prayer is that, as I count the days, that I make the days count. And my prayer is that I would walk carefully and wisely, making the best use of my time and understanding God’s will for me (Ephesians 5:15-17).

 

 

 

 

 

5 Picture Books to Brighten Your Winter Days

Dumping more than a foot of snow in a 12-hour period, the blizzard Minnesotans endured a few days ago went into the books as the biggest snowstorm in seven years. Travel was nearly halted and schools closed early, but lots of folks rejoiced heartily as they shoveled. Snow!

Minnesotans seem to find plenty of ways to take advantage of the snow and ice. Downhill skiing, ice skating, ice fishing, sledding, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing all help fill our long winters with merriment and outdoor exercise.

As amusing as those activities are, though, my favorite winter pastime is admiring the bright snow outside while reading aloud indoors. Ideally, I am reading beside a crackling fire, snuggled under a cozy blanket, and within arm’s reach of a steamy cup of hot tea. Or hot chocolate. That’s because admiring the magically snowy landscapes in beautifully illustrated picture books helps me keep my eyes open to the wonder of God’s wintry creation in real life. It feeds my imagination. And it helps me resist the temptation to grumble about my nose and toes being cold or about how quickly the mudroom fills up with snow boot tracks and soggy mittens.

Well, sometimes it helps.

A few years ago I put together this list of 10 Books for Winter Read-Alouds, and now I have some new picture books to recommend. So whether you are fighting the winter blues or just feeling annoyed with the zipper that keeps getting stuck on your 4-year-old’s coat, here are five picture books about winter that may cheer you up a bit.

Waiting for Winter by Sebastian Meschenmoser is truly laugh-out-loud funny. The illustrations are clever and induce lots of giggles, and the concise text relays the story about a squirrel, a hedgehog and a bear eagerly awaiting winter’s arrival. Meschenmoser’s book Mr. Squirrel and the Moon is also quite humorous, and I am looking forward to reading It’s Springtime, Mr. Squirrel, which comes out next month. Also, I am mesmerized by the enchanting watercolor and oil painting illustrations Meschenmoser created for the recently published version of Kenneth Grahame’s classic The Wind in the Willows.

In First Snow by Bomi Park, striking black and white illustrations — with just the right amount of bold red splashed in for a dramatic effect — capture the colorlessness of winter so creatively. The result is magical, and the story itself is sweet. Featuring very simple text, this is an ideal book for some beginning readers to try reading aloud to mom or dad.

Kate Messner’s Over and Under the Snow offers a fascinating nature study about the “secret kingdom under the snow” while intertwining the story of a father-daughter cross-country ski adventure. The author keeps the story rather brief as she alternates between what is happening over the snow and what is going on under the snow. The nature and animal illustrations are done well, but the somewhat flat illustrations of the father and daughter left me slightly disappointed in the artwork.

Similar to First Snow, the illustrations in The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi masterfully use splashes of red and yellow to brighten the primarily black and white artwork in this imaginative tale.  The story captured my affection with the woodland creatures serving tea, and the beginning reminds me of another favorite: Brave Irene by William Steig, which I reviewed in my original list of winter picture books.    

How delightful to read (or sing!) Walking in a Winter Wonderland in a book with such charming illustrations by Tim Hopgood. Don’t worry; the text of this giant picture book stays true to the lyrics of the classic song we all know as sung by Peggy Lee and composed by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith. Even if your littlest listeners don’t yet know the song, this is a fantastic way to introduce it. And when winter is over, don’t miss Hopgood’s other equally delightful works: Singing in the Rain and What a Wonderful World.

Boatloads of Tea

What warms me up while a Minnesota blizzard rages outside my door? Hot tea. Fireside Spice from TeaSource is one of my winter favorites, but usually any steamy cup of black tea with a bit of fruity sweetness will do.

Not surprisingly, January is officially known as “National Hot Tea Month.” And with French lessons and ballet lessons cancelled this afternoon because of white-out driving conditions, it’s a perfect time to thank God for the gift of hot tea and to reminisce about a warm day last July when we explored a boatload of tea in Greenwich, England.

To know our family well is to know that we collect loose-leaf tea and sailboats. I adore tea partying as much as my husband adores boating. So what else could we do to escape London’s crowded sidewalks? We climbed aboard a “river bus” at Westminster Pier and headed down the Thames River to Greenwich to see the historic Cutty Sark, one of the fastest tea clippers ever built.

On the boat, the girls enjoyed munching on black currant Skittles candies. (American Skittles don’t offer this flavor, you know.)

Traveling by river turned out to be our favorite way to see London. The air is much fresher than what you breathe in the Underground, and the sightseeing is fantastic. Plus, traffic and weather are not so much of a concern.

The river bus dropped us off right at Greenwich Pier, just a few steps from the Cutty Sark, which has been dry-docked and restored. It was raised and converted into a museum of sorts that opened in 2014.

Built in 1869, the three-masted Victorian sailing vessel could make the tea run from Britain to China and back in eight months, carrying enough black tea to make 200 million cups of tea!

That actually might be enough cups of tea for me, Queen Victoria and C.S. Lewis.

Maybe.

Clearly, the British are passionate about their tea. And that all began in 1662 when Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese royal, married King Charles II and became Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland. Crates of Chinese black tea were part of her dowry. And because drinking tea was already a custom among the Portuguese nobility, she introduced it to the British court and made it the fashionable thing to drink.

Thank you, Queen Catherine.

According to best-selling author Steven Johnson, the mass adoption of tea as Britain’s national beverage coincided with population growth in the early part of the 18th century because drinking tea helps ward off waterborne diseases like cholera. In his book The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, Johnson explains that brewed tea possesses several crucial antibacterial properties. The steeping process releases tannic acid, which kills off bacteria that have survived the boiling of the water.

“The explosion of tea drinking in the late 1700s was, from the bacteria’s point of view, a microbial holocaust,” he writes.

Dysentery and child mortality dropped dramatically, physicians noted, and thus England’s population grew.

That’s yet another reason to adore tea: It could save your life!

But let’s get back to the ship.

The Cutty Sark’s main deck boasts lots of rope, a nifty wooden ship’s wheel and a brass bell.

Its copper hull is impressive to see from the café area built right below it.

And who could resist having afternoon tea (with scones) beneath the hull of the world’s only remaining tea clipper?

Also below the hull is the world’s largest collection of Merchant Navy figureheads.

My girls kept asking me to photograph close-ups of these colorful figures so that they could draw them later. Many portray historic characters such as Florence Nightingale, William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln.

I was surprised by how much our family enjoyed this unusual collection, which originally belonged to a gentleman who wore an eye-patch and assumed the nickname Captain Long John Silver.

So that’s all from the Cutty Sark. Up next time is another key stop in Greenwich: the Royal Observatory. Until then, I’m off to sip another cup of hot tea.

Happy National Tea Month!

 

 

 

 

A Kingdom of Glorious Splendor

The fresh, woodsy scent of balsam fir fragranced the living room as I hung three new ornaments on our tall, skinny tree. Each ornament came from a royal palace – two in England and one in France. All three were souvenirs of our family’s first summer vacation in Europe – a trip somehow squeezed in between frequent jaunts to the dance studio, the orthodontist and the library.

Visiting a palace is a humbling experience.

Even before you set foot inside, the high gates, uniformed guards and long “cues” remind you that you are one of many foreign tourists, not really a guest.

Inside, massive collections of fine art and treasured possessions join with expensive décor to offer an impressive glimpse into the personal lives of the kings, queens, princes and princesses you read about in history books. Looking at Queen Victoria’s own doll house as we stood in her childhood bedroom, the very room where she was born, was a memorable moment.

In London, Kensington Palace is now home to Prince William and his growing family. And Buckingham Palace is still home to Queen Elizabeth II. But in France, despite its glittery gold gates, grandiose Baroque architecture and expansive gardens, the Palace of Versailles is no longer home to any royalty.

Long gone are King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. Both were beheaded in 1793 when the monarchy was abolished in the French Revolution.

It’s strange indeed to gaze at the king and queen’s magnificently grand lifestyle knowing how terribly their reign ended. The kingdoms of this earth totter and fall.

While touring the homes of kings and queens was fascinating, at some point, no matter how old or fancy it is or who once owned it, stuff is just stuff. No matter how rich or powerful a ruler is, eventually he passes away and leaves it all behind.

This realization could make life seem rather meaningless. But by God’s grace, it instead reinforced for me what is meaningful and made me long for God’s eternal kingdom.

Can I tell you about the glorious splendor of God’s kingdom? First Timothy 6:15 says our God is the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords. Psalm 145 says God’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion endures through all generations. And 1 Peter 2:9 says we who are God’s children are His special possession, chosen and royal.

One glad day the King of kings will welcome His children into His holy palace not as tourists or guests but as adopted sons and daughters. Members of His royal family!

As King David prayed in 1 Chronicles 29:10-13: “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is Yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and You are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all. In Your hand are power and might, and in Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank You, our God, and praise Your glorious name.”

I pray this gives you hope and joy this Christmas. And I pray that God draws you ever closer to Him in 2018. Merry Christmas!

-Diana