The Old Wooden Frame ~ The Center of our Advent Season

Over the years of having children, we have used the same old wooden window frame to display our homemade family advent calendar. What started out as a piece of junk sitting outside of a friend’s garage, has become a discipleship tool in our home as we share, year after year, the coming of the Christ-child, the prophecy fulfilled. Something discarded and abandoned has become something set apart. Curiously, I wonder, whose house did this window frame once belong, who lived there and what was their story? And did they ever know that their old window pane would one day become a family heirloom that would, year after year, become something almost sacred as it housed the story of a baby’s birth from creation to His visitation? What wonder!

Back in the days when we lived in our first and only purchased home, on a half acre lot with chickens and a garden that was overwhelmingly large for what we could manage, I had painted this frame snow white and hung soft red ribbon. With folded pockets made of fancy Christmas paper and a library stamp for the dates, I enjoyed creating our own family advent tradition. And when its not an Advent calendar, that dear old wooden frame holds pages of our favorite hymns. Through the years I have used different family devotions for the readings and this year I’m doing something a little bit different.

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A year ago, I was trying to find a set of readings that would connect more easily with our kids. When I saw that Sally Lloyd Jones’ Jesus Storybook Bible had a set of printable cards and matching stories and reading set up for an Advent devotional of sorts, I thought this would fit us so well. Our children have heard these stories since our eldest was a year old, its been used in all their Sunday school classes and we still read it to them to this day. Doing Advent with the Jesus Storybook Bible would be such a familiar way to continue to reach the hearts of our children with the gospel story through the advent season (there’s a series of readings for Lent too!)

One of the reasons why we love to do Advent readings as a family is because it is an intentional time of discipleship for our kids. Its a unique season of the year and the kids can’t wait for the frame to be transformed. Taking turns, the children pull out a reading to share with the family. And if I’m super organized (which I’m not always), I may have an activity in the pocket for each day to do as well (making a gingerbread house, christmas play doh, watching a Christmas movie, reading a Christmas book, drinking hot cocoa, driving around to see Christmas lights, etc). Its Dec 1, the first day of our readings and I don’t have activities on the board… yet. Real life in the midst of great ideals! I may or may not get to that list this year, and its okay.

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The daily reading through the gospel story is an intentional way of focusing our children’s eyes on the gospel, that their Creator loved them so much that He set in motion a rescue plan for their own souls. This is one way parents can be intentional this season in creating their own family traditions that mean so much to them and their children as they grow up. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it won’t be. Most years, we have missed many of the readings, sometimes opening up 2 or 3 of them at once or skipping ahead to the day we are on. The point is not to be perfect at it, but to be intentional.

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Today I set up the Advent calendar with my littlest excitedly bouncing around me wanting me to take a picture of the gingerbread house. As he settled down for his nap, I sat down with my Kindergartner to read library books by our hobbit-sized Christmas tree, filled with special ornaments we carry through the years, many now broken so its a little more sparse and enjoying the cozy Christmas quiet while the older two were finishing up at school. Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

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My encouragement is to find your own Advent tradition for your family that will become a special heirloom and memory for your children through the years. If you are not the creative type, there are many on Etsy and other markets that you can easily purchase. Your kids will not remember the days that you missed some readings, and they will not remember that it wasn’t perfect. They will just know that it was theirs and they learned about Jesus, and family, and tradition, and love. And by God’s grace, they will take that same message with them into their families when they are older. From generation to generation, let the mighty acts of God be proclaimed!

One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
and I will declare your greatness.
They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made.
All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
and all your saints shall bless you!
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom
and tell of your power,
to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
Psalm 145:4-13

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Christmas books are being pulled out of the library book basket daily while Mama recovers from a cold…

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Our real live hobbit-sized Christmas tree is up, and just perfect for this Tolkien-loving family. Decorated with our favorite decorations… the ones that haven’t broken yet, plus the homemade ones which I cherish!

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One of my favorite ornaments each year is this little guy…

Blessed Advent to you!
~Jen

Our Redeemer is Writing a Story

It was February 6, 1917 in Orenburg, Ukraine, when a young single woman went into labor and gave birth to a baby girl. She named her Eleanor. Her name meant “sun ray, shining light” and that is what she was. Eleanor brought sunshine and light to a very dark world and a bleak existence. Her birth mother raised her the best she knew how to on the streets of Orenburg. She was what they called a “waif”.

During this time, laws were almost non-existent and adoption was a much easier process. At some point during the next few years, a Christian couple adopted her as their own. They also adopted a son. I’m sure Eleanor’s birth mom was relieved and thankful that her daughter would be provided for, with food, a safe and warm home, a chance at education, and a better life. As her daughter left with her new family, this young woman knew she would probably never see her again. And Eleanor would never know her father or see her mother again. But she would know what it was to be adopted, what it was to be loved, and what it was to have the narrative of her life story take a very miraculous turn.

Who is the author and finisher of my faith, my redemption, my adoption as a beloved child of God? It is Christ, full of self-sacrifical love poured out for me, for you. His Word is His message, given in love for you. The Holy Spirit is your comforter sent to seal you, walk with you, and bring truth to your mind and heart.

Your story began before the foundation of the world when you were chosen to become adopted as sons and daughters of God. Your story is intertwined with God’s narrative through the Old Testament, through the 400 silent years between the prophets of God and the coming of Christ, the Prophet, Priest and King. Laced through all these generations is the promise that your Redeemer is coming. He was coming for a people. He was coming for you. If you are in Christ, you are a part of that people.

Our life stories are filled with brokenness and sin, of our own doing and the doings of others. Wounded by words, actions, and inaction, or struggling with sickness and disease, we at times feel like our lives are a narrative we’re simply trying to survive. We fight for joy and we fight the lies of the enemy. A million types of pain, suffering, and brokenness around the world threaten to undo us.

What will it look like when we get to the other side, where the lion will lay down with the lamb, and where we can rest under the shade of the tree of life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations? You will hear the ending of your story, your final opus. And guess who will be speaking.

The Way, the Truth and the Life will be speaking. Jesus, Himself, the One with nail scars in His hands will speak restoration into the broken pieces of your story. Your past is not who you are and your wounds are not your identity. If you are in Christ, your identity has been bestowed upon you from the Giver of Grace.

“We will feast in the house of Zion, we will sing with our hearts restored.” -Sandra McCracken

Your finished story will include a redemption so complete, so whole, every wound healed, every false and hurtful word erased, every disease vanished… our hearts restored. Every false assumption or accusation will fall powerless to the ground. Every mocking voice of judgement will be silenced, every misunderstanding brought to the light… our hearts restored.

This hope of future glory should shape the way we live in community today. Hope helps us to dwell in the land of the living because it points us to a future reality where we will love perfectly and be loved perfectly by others. It helps us to have grace and forgiveness for others, because we know they too will be made whole, if they are in Christ, and their stories will have redeeming love written across them, as well.

I long for that day, when I see Jesus face to face. I’ve daydreamed about it over and over these past forty years. For now, I pray and I long. My grandmother, Eleanor, is with Christ, in His presence. Her beginning was filled with brokenness and without hope in this world, but the Redeemer came and rewrote her story. As she lay on her bed in her final hours, her grown children, Christ-followers, surrounded her bed and sang hymns of worship to our Redeemer as she breathed her last and went home to be with the Lord. Her heart restored. Our confident hope as Christians is that one day, He will hold each of our faces in his wounded hands. He will look into our eyes. Our Redeemer will write the end of the story… and it will be only the beginning.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:1-5

Lilias Trotter: Soul Into Blossom {Deeply Rooted Magazine}

Over a year ago, I wrote a piece describing my journey of delight in learning about and researching the life and work of missionary and artist, Lilias Trotter.

When I first met missionary and artist, Lilias Trotter, it was in the pages of a book given to me by a dear friend who is now, herself, a missionary to Ireland. This book, Faithful Women and their Extraordinary God, is written by Noel Piper and is a collection of short stories about the lives of five women and how God used them in their unique circumstances, giftings, and callings. With a love for Christian biographies, I dove into this book ten years ago to learn the life stories of these five women. One of them was Lilias.” Read the rest of the post here.

When I write, I pray that God will use my writing to bless the people He wants to bless with my words. Like dandelion seeds blown from the palm of my hand, those seeds go out into the world and I pray the Lord will cause those seeds to land on the soil He desires. He also determines how He will cause the growth. We have only to be faithful with the gifts He has given us to steward.

A year later, during our summer trip to the Pacific Northwest, I was invited to write an article for Deeply Rooted Magazine on the life and work of Lilias Trotter. At the time, I was researching even more about her through Miriam Huffman Rockness’ biography, A Passion for the Impossible. At the beginning of the summer, I asked the Lord to guide me to the books He wanted me to read this summer. As we packed for our summer in the Northwest, I picked up this biography and stuffed it into my backpack along with several children’s books, journals, and my Bible.

When asked to write this piece, I was overjoyed to see how the Lord orchestrated all these threads into one woven tapestry, and to have the opportunity to reach so many women around the world in an effort to continue to share Lilias’ legacy of art and ministry in Northern Africa. Below is an excerpt from this biographical piece.

When the Lord calls a soul to Himself, there is an unmistakable dying that occurs at the same time as there is a supernatural giving of life into union with Christ. At this point of receiving that resurrection life and power, the new child of God begins a life-long journey of hearing the continuous call in God’s Word, through the Holy Spirit, to die daily to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). That call of God demands a response. The question then becomes, how will you respond to this Christ-life dwelling within you? This is an account of a young woman who responded to that call with great sacrifice and with a passion for the impossible.

The young Lily became a woman with a way of seeing in regards to spiritual matters, the natural world, and human relationships. Much of this can be attributed to her mother and father, Isabella and Alexander Trotter. The Trotters were an influential and economically prosperous family in mid 19th century England. A dynamic couple, they each possessed a love of nature, adventure, travel and most importantly a love for Christ. In their travels, Lilias’ mother was known for her prayers and evangelism both in England and across the ocean in the New World of America. Their fascination with various subjects, peoples and cultures, prepared Lilias for her future ministry working with people who lived in very different circumstances and contexts than she was accustomed to.

Lilias grew up during an era of celebrated writers, theologians, poets, and artists including the likes of George MacDonald, Bishop Wilberforce, Christina Rossetti and famed art critic, John Ruskin. Perhaps the most spiritually influential of these voices were those of Dwight L. Moody and Hannah Whitall Smith whose writings, devotional material, and evangelistic meetings became for Lilias a source of discipleship that would develop the inward journey of her soul to a deep and abiding surrender to God, and propel her outward as she prepared for a life of serving others.

-Jennifer Harris, Soul Into Blossom: The Life and Work of Lilias Trotter, Deeply Rooted Magazine – Issue 12 The Calling, pg 37

To read the rest of this biographical sketch and savor the artistic talent on display in Lilias’ watercolor paintings, you can purchase Issue 12 – The Calling at Deeply Rooted Magazine.

With joy and delight,
Jen

God With Us

As summer greens fade into Autumn oranges, brilliant yellows, and crimson reds, what was hidden is revealed and what was not known becomes known. So preoccupied with the glories of long summer days and so accustomed to the green foliage that surrounds, I forget the greater beauty that awaits us in Autumn, just under the chlorophyll that sustains the leaves hanging stealthily from branches and limbs until their season is complete.

We are currently in a season of waiting as we discern God’s next call for us. I’m reminded of the changing seasons, wondering what design of beauty sits just under the green of the leaves, waiting to be revealed in its time. I sweep the leaves that have fallen from the tree outside our patio. I clear the weeds from our garden boxes and leave a box filled with stunted corn, herbs that have gone to seed, a seashell brought home from the coast, and a clay flower pot we are hoping provides shelter for some of our woodland friends. Our bird feeder is filled and the squirrel has not stolen food for ages, but contentedly runs past our hollow every day, gathering nuts and food from some other source, I suppose.

Meanwhile, we share life together. Making meals, taking classes, rejoicing with friends in the birth of their children, assisting some in their labors, creating and being recreated daily, and reading to our children so many books, that our eyes hurt. There are plane rides, and illnesses, dentist appointments and field trips. There is laughter and tears. There is faith and there is fear. And above all, there is God with us.

Immanuel, God with us.  This truth pervades everything in our existence. God is with us in our struggles. He grieves with us in our pain and sickness. He walks with us through our confusion, our trials, and our woundedness. He knows what it is like to walk in this broken world filled with misunderstandings, rejection, and no home to call his own. He is familiar with it all and understands more than we can comprehend. Yet, he did not set out to prove himself. He faithfully walked in His calling and entrusted Himself to the Father. He didn’t deny His own grief, but let the tears bleed red upon the ground He created.

With us…

Jesus remained faithful to the Call. And for the joy that was set before Him, He continued to walk into all that the Father had for Him to do. So, for the joy set before us, we wake up to a new day, seeking to live faithfully in this waiting, as we complete the next seven months of our current season. Watching the leaves fall off the trees and become barren, we are reminded of the shedding of former seasons. With the certain hope of spring, we’re reminded of how God is forming us for a new work, one that is yet unknown, unseen. Like new buds, and fresh growth ready to appear in its time, it will surely come. What I’ve learned about seasons is that you cannot rush them or force them to change as much as wearing my Fall sweaters doesn’t cause the temperatures to cool down and wearing my rain boots won’t bring one single drop of water from the clear blue mid-western skies.

Our garden boxes are cleared now. They are ready for the cold, the rain, and the promised snowfalls of the approaching winter. The weather has cooled and it rains outside my window in the dark of night as the children fall asleep. A baby was born last week and one is due shortly. There are meals to prepare, requests for prayer, and fellowship shared. There are applications and evaluation forms to fill out, job opportunities to consider. There are bikes to be ridden and books to be savored, Lego to build and laundry to fold. There is laughter and tears. There is faith and there is fear. But above all, there is God with us… Immanuel. This is the truest truth that speeds the darkness away and brings shalom to my soul, for it is a peace that is eternal.

 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
 ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).
Matthew 1:22-23 ESV

Little Book, Big Story: An Interview

{Photo credit: Felicia Marie Photography}

About four years ago, my dear friend, Thea, and her family came to visit us in the desert valley of central Washington. Our children enjoyed the reunion of friendship and fun, playing in their toddler ways, enjoying the nearby old city park and playground, and, us parents, enjoyed the familiarity of good and true conversation about all sorts of things. And whether they were deep theological thoughts, recollections of days gone by, or the tantalizing sharing of book titles and wine, we were content and happy. On a visit to the nearby Franklin Park, sitting on the grass, my friend shared with me something that had been on her heart. “Hey Jen, so… I started a new blog!” Now, to rewind the cassette tape just a few years, my friend and I both love to write, we’ve both had several blogs already, trying our hand at social media, the ups and downs of what we are really after in our writing, and the constant submission to the Lord as He develops our respective writing habits. Little did we know, we would one day share space in Deeply Rooted Magazine together, and that has been one of the sweetest fruits of our labors together, thus far.

Visiting her new blog, a children’s book review website, I saw the familiar favorites listed in her beginning posts, the likes of Winnie-the-Pooh and The Chronicles of Narnia! Delightful, engaging, and inspiring. Over the years, I have shared her blog with many others. Isn’t it great when you can trust someone’s recommendation of a certain book, and because they say its wonderful, it gives you the confidence to try it out for yourself?

Below is a brief interview with my friend, Thea, because I would love to introduce you to her. So sit back with your cup of tea or coffee and see what beautiful things may come!


{Photo: Ten Books About God for Toddlers}

Thea, thank you for being willing to join in this interview! I know you have had several interviews in the past, mostly for your years in music, so this might be a blast from the past! But this time, it is about books, stories, and the One big story it all points to.

To start out, what is the background story behind the title of your blog, Little Book, Big Story and what inspired you to begin this work?

Thank you, Jen! I am so grateful for our cross-country, almost decade-long(!) friendship, and I love reading your beautiful blog posts. It’s a treat to have the chance to visit with your readers (who are, I suspect, kindred spirits).

I have always loved reading children’s books and started building a library for our family when our oldest daughter was a baby. I wanted beautiful books—well-written and creatively illustrated by artists striving to glorify God—but what I found, instead, was that many Christian books had a lukewarm quality to them: too-cute rhymes, bland illustrations, and no Gospel. Reading those books to my daughter was like trying to drink tepid lemonade: I could do it, but it didn’t satisfy.

Around that same time, a friend introduced us to The Jesus Storybook Bible, thereby restoring my hope for our home library and for the Christian publishing industry in general. If there were books like that available, I needed to find them! I did find them—many of them—and I began urging my favorites on close friends at playdates, Bible studies, dinners. (It could have been awkward, but I have really patient friends.)

By the time I started my blog, we had two more daughters and a library that spilled into every room of our house. The blog became a sort of vent for my enthusiasm—a way to share our favorite books with everyone, all at once. The name Little Book, Big Story came from the idea that these “little,” underestimated picture books written for “little,” sometimes overlooked people often convey the big story of the Gospel with a simplicity and clarity that can be hard to find in books written for grown-ups.


{Photo: Ten Chapter Books to Read Aloud with your Daughter}

When did you become a reader, or book lover, and which books whetted your appetite in those early years as a child and young reader?

I read a lot as a child, but I remember only a handful of books that shaped me in a favorable way: A Wrinkle in Time. Matilda. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I’m sure there were others that I’ve since forgotten.

But when I was in college, I started collecting books to read after graduation (when I would be a free woman, able to assign my own reading list!). I found myself accumulating lots and lots of classics, because—despite majoring in creative writing—I just wasn’t being assigned them in school. David Sedaris: yes. Dostoevsky: alas! No.

After graduation, I submerged myself in Russian novels—and classic children’s books. That is when my appetite for reading really awoke. (It hasn’t slumbered since.)

What are you looking for when setting out to find new titles to review?

I love this question! Because I only review books that I absolutely love on my blog, my criteria for what gets a review and what doesn’t is pretty subjective. I look for moments of truth in a story, moments that hit the string in my heart that rings with the Gospel. I look for beauty and for originality, too, in the way a book was written, illustrated, and constructed.

I look for books by Christian authors, because I want to save families the work of reading those “tepid lemonade” books and guide them, like a trusty librarian, to true and beautiful Christian books. But many of the books I review are not explicitly Christian in content. These books may present a clear picture of a character loving the outcast at a great cost, or of a character reaching the end of his own strength and appealing for outside help. Or they may just be so delightful that I must share them.

When I choose titles to feature on my blog, my hope is that each one will help families build the sort of library that nurtures, in children and parents alike, a love of the Great Author.

Which children’s book author has become your favorite and why?

Sally Lloyd-Jones. There are many truly gifted authors out there, but I say Sally Lloyd-Jones without hesitation because she writes to kids with humor (but no cuteness), grace (but no mush), and honesty (but no cynicism). She clearly respects the kids she writes for, and she writes wonderful, Gospel-rich stories.

You list various age categories for books on your website, if you could pick, which is your favorite age-related book category and why?

I love middle-grade novels (typically for readers ages 8-11). I read them on my own for years before I had kids, so many of my own favorite books fall in this window (A Wrinkle in Time, Anne of Green Gables, The Chronicles of Narnia). When my oldest daughter reached this age and we were able to start reading these books together, it was a big moment for me.


{Photo: Ten Chapter Books to Read Aloud with your Son}

What is currently on your “night stand”, literally or figuratively?

Middlemarch. I am a bit compulsive about finishing books, but I put this one down last year when it hit a particularly dry stretch—I was sleep-deprived and just couldn’t do it. When I picked it up again this summer, I still came perilously close to stopping (right around that same dry stretch), but this time I pressed on and I’m so glad I did! I’m only about halfway through the book, but so far, I love the story, the characters, and that bit of sass that comes through in George Eliot’s writing. (I may never leave a book unfinished again.)

I remember in one of your blog posts, you wrote about the need to find time to read. At times, you read while cooking, or out in the yard while the kids are playing or early in the morning. As a mother of four children too, I know how intentional one has to be to carve out time to pursue habits such as reading, music, crafts, or even exercise. How has your reading time developed over the years and how do you fit that into your daily life?

Even before having kids, I read at bus stops and in waiting rooms—I’ve always been an opportunistic reader. These days, it is harder for me to find time to get lost in a story or follow a book’s complex argument, but we have instituted a whole-family quiet time in the afternoons while our youngest daughters nap. That is often (but not always!) my chance to sit out on the front porch and read, underline, and mark passages in my notebook.

When can we expect to see one of your own stories in print? I fully expect to be purchasing children’s books by Thea Rosenburg one day! 

Ha! I would love to write books for children. As I’m sure you can imagine, I’m not in a stage to pursue that right now, but I do scribble on scraps of paper and paint tiny paintings and read a lot of great books in the hope that, if that’s something God calls me to as my children grow older, I’ll be ready!

You can follow Thea and Little Book, Big Story on Instagram: @thearosenburg and at her blog www.littlebookbigstory.com

{Click here for the Little Book, Big Story Book List!!!}

(All photography featured here is from Little Book, Big Story.)