Sometimes I just need help with an Ugly Cry.

The links have begun to pour in. Stories telling me of the importance of diet and of exercise, stories of how to organize the house and my life. Lots of links about bullet journaling, mostly because I am rather obsessed with this right now.

Links about new starts and plans for the new year. I wrote yesterday about my intention to avoid resolutions this year, my intention instead to focus on embracing more how I am wired and figuring out how to make that blossom.

I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Psalm 139:14.   In all my haphazardness and all my inconsistencies, in all the things that spark wonder within me, and all the things that bring life to me…I am fearfully and wonderfully made by a Creative God who has marked me as His own. He has left His Image upon me.

Part of that, I think, is this deep affinity to story.

And that is why, I think, one of the links which continued to pop up in my FaceBook feed caught my attention.

The Wall Street Journal. The Need to Read.

The Need to Read.





Beyond just a tag on to my days, or something that would be nice to fit in to the schedule, there is a need to read. Will Schwalbe writes in the article above that the need to read is tied to a need to be exposed to ideas beyond just our own. We are able to experience and understand different ideas and people through reading. This is such an enormous reason to read.

It is not the only reason.

Right now, as I near 47 years old and parent kids from five to fifteen, I realize more than ever the need for wonder and story. That image of God marked on my soul? Part of it is is this innate affinity to story, this perking of the ears and the heart to a good story. Being drawn in to the characters and the setting, wondering what will come next and how the characters will resolve their challenges. Rejoicing in their successes and feeling that ache of heartbreak over loss and suffering.

In fictional stories.

Yep.

Crying those messy, snotty, tissue-necessary cries at the end of a story that releases our emotions. *

Sometimes we need that release. Because we have had to hold things together in the midst of a world that is stressful and filled with heartbreak. We cannot walk in mourning or anger or fear or sorrow all the time, even though we have valid reason for all those emotions…we have to learn to keep them in check and function with some sense of health in the midst of a crazy world.

Sometimes we need the catharsis of a good cry, the release of getting really ticked off at a villain worthy of our anger. We need our wonder sparked and ignited by the heroism of a fictional, or historical, character. We need our authors to give us a moment to release our emotions in the safety of a story so we can return to our realities of bills and parenting and teaching and health issues and dementia and cancer and fears and hopes and sports and joys and all that makes up our lives. We return with our hearts enlargened and ready to love well, to wonder well and, yes, even to have anger when needed.

Stories give us room to feel. They give us room to listen and to experience beyond our neighborhood. They are not a luxury, they are a necessity.

So, do not take it as a burden, and surely do not add it as a resolution…but go buy a book and read. Something. Ask a friend for a recommendation and find something worth reading.  If you need a place to start, check out this list over at The Rabbit Room.  Or, better yet…tell us in the comments what you are reading to start this new year! Currently I am reading Scarlet Pimpernel and Pride and Prejudice.

*The last book that left me in that state of an ugly cry (messy, tears falling and snotty nosed), was The Warden and the Wolf King…the last book in the Wingfeather Saga. You haven’t read these? Go…now. Read them to your kids, starting tonight!

Fiction to the Rescue…

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I am thankful for good books. Thankful for books which have enlarged my thinking, enlarged my imagination, others introducing me to characters so rich they have become friends through the years. Books I read as a child and return to as an adult, finding the delight of childhood imagination now mixed with the awareness of a depth of wisdom I didn’t even realize was being revealed to me as a child.

I am thankful for boys who like to have books read to them. They have not become overwhelming readers in their own right, unless something truly grabs their attention. That’s alright, the seeds are there and they will grow. I like reading to them, anyway. I love anticipating their reaction as we make our way through Lewis and Tolkien, L’Engle and right now…Rowling.

Yep, we are speeding our way through the Harry Potter series, and thoroughly enjoying the roller-coaster ride.  I love reaching the end of reading time and having them demand another chapter. I love a story that grabs their attention and carries us away.

Sometimes, though, I want a story to grab their attention and carry them away, and then take that attention and somehow speak a deep truth in the moment when they are so alive and awake and caught in the story. Speak about Aslan being not being safe but being good. Or like the moment when Eustace is changed from a dragon back to a boy…only when Aslan tears through the dragon skin. I remember when that story soaked in to my understanding, and the Truth it conveyed made me stop and pay attention.

I watch my boys sometimes as I read and I anticipate these moments, even as I know I cannot force them to happen. Most likely they will happen when they find the books on the shelf and read while tucked away in some cozy spot. I just have to keep them on the shelves.

There is a series I somewhat stumbled upon a few years ago, mostly because I stumbled upon a singer named  Andrew Peterson. He is one of those multi-talented folk who carry themselves in a way that their talent does not diminish those of us who struggle to find one talent. They enlarge our capacities for wonder and imagination, for worship and for celebration. Yep, he is rather unique, but I am sure there is a list running through your mind of those fill this category. Some well known, some known only in our small circles.

I found out about Andrew through a concert he hosts at Christmas time called Behold The Lamb of God. I don’t remember who told us about him or how we found out, but Steve and I so enjoyed that first show and we went again with friends the next year. I have appreciated his music for years and when I found out he was writing books for young readers I was cautiously eager.

Is that possible? Being cautiously eager?

Well, I wanted these books to be good. I wanted to have something I could read to the kids that spoke to them in the ways so many authors have spoken to me. I wanted them to be drawn in and have their imagination excited; I wanted them to have those moments when the truth grasps them in the midst of the story and they realize the Truth is greater than any imagination.

I wanted them to be mad when the book was closed each night, demanding more chapters.

I love that.

More than that though, I wanted this person they had heard singing about a Gospel they knew, singing about a God they are beginning to catch glimpses of, I wanted him to come through. He was more of a reality to them than C.S. Lewis and Tolkien and some of the other authors we read, because they had actually heard his voice.

Here’s the great thing: He came through.

We read the first book, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, when our boys were 8, 6 and 3. Just before we finished the first book I was able to take Zach to see Andrew in a small concert setting. After the show I was so pleased to see the genuine excitement as Andrew and his children asked Zachary what he thought the “Jewels of Anniera” were, and how they encouraged him with being so close to the end of the book.  That sealed our love of the series.

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We anticipated each new book in the series.

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Now the final book has been released. We have waited for it eagerly…with no caution.  We are zipping through Harry Potter and enjoying the ride and the fun, but I want to revisit the beginnings of the Wingfeather saga before we open the final chapter. Nate and Sammy were too young to remember the beginning of the story, so we will begin again.

And we will not zip.

 

There are great things about much fiction that takes us on a ride and teaches us a bit along the way. I’m thankful for the Harry Potter stories and Eragon, for 39 Clues and others that draw my children into reading. I am all the more thankful, though, for an author who understands not only a wonderful adventure story and the joy of children, but who also understands the deep pain of brokenness. More than that, I am thankful for an author who is caught up in the wonder of the Gospel in a way that informs and enlivens the story he has created.

There is conflict and fear alongside great courage and hope in Warden and the Wolf King. I simply cannot tell  you much in detail because I won’t give away any spoilers. It is enough to say I am glad I read the final chapters alone before reading them to the boys. I am thankful I have some time for the ending to soak in with me as we revisit the first books before I present the ending to the boys.

I might be blubbering and whooping too much to read if I didn’t know in advance.

There are moments when life is simply overwhelming and times when the reality of our Creator can evade us in the midst of dirty dishes and broken-down cars. There are moments when the grey around us clouds everything. Those moments stories can carry us out of the fog, alongside music, in a way almost nothing else can. If you are looking for a series to read to your children, or a series for your kids to read…The Wingfeather Saga will not disappoint.

Or if you are caught up in too much of the mundane and the weariness of life…grab a cup of coffee and start the saga. I never said it had to be only for the kids!

Bedtime Stories as a Discipline

I am reading a bit of a horror story at the moment.  The real horror is that it is not fiction. A Train In Winter tells the story of a group of women from France who were resisters and who ultimately arrive in Auschwitz. They had hidden Jews, had helped others escape, had printed newspapers that urged resistance. They had taken a bold stand, and they pay a horrendous price.

There are moments of humor, moments of grace and moments of terror.

I just finished reading a different story to the boys at night. That story is about three children and their mother and their grandfather. They face terrors of their own, including a reptilian army of bad guys called Fangs of Dang who are under the rule of Gnag the Nameless. There are moments of escape, moments of terror, moments of captivity and fear and lots of humor.  But this story is not true and so we are able to hear it and not be as afraid.

I think and feel strongly that it is important to expose the kids to stories. Lots of stories. Sometimes they will be better written than other times, but each story we have read has expanded their imagination and their thinking. Most have led to discussions about God and about hope and faith.

There will be a time when they will realize that there are real terrors and there are those who are deeply evil. There will be a time when they will know that there are horror stories that are not fiction.

They will have a foundation, though. The best stories have suspense and have a mixture of fear and hope…they capture our attention and show us that there are choices to be made and there is courage to be grasped.  The story we’ve just finished up was the third in the Wingfeather Saga, written by Andrew Peterson. So far this series has been the favorite of the boys, and we eagerly anticipate the last book in the series coming out this Fall. Andrew is a Christian and he weaves deeper truths throughout the story…hints of a greater story.

And that is where I’m headed. I want my kids to have an expanded imagination that gives them groundwork for imagining the impossible. Three children fleeing from an army of lizard-men…facing crazy, imagination filled obstacles. Their eyes light up as we read and they never want me to stop because they are engaged deeply.

One of the things that I love about my faith is that it is based so richly in story. We are called to imagine the impossible…God becoming man and saving us.  Better than that: God creating everything out of nothing. Everything. Grass that is not only amazing shades of grey, but fragrant. The colors of the rainbow and the sunrise and the sunset and the mountains. Ostriches and pufferfish.

God has laced our lives with imagination that created reality. We serve a Creator.

And so when the horrors come, and they will…there is story to hear and to give understanding. Story of Falls and of sin and of brokenness. Stories still of redemption and of hope and of salvation.

Stories.
They require us to be patient and hear how they will play out. As we are three books into this series the boys have had to learn that not everything will be explained in the first pages of a book. Wait and see what answer might unfold.

Reading to them and teaching them to listen well and pay attention is not just a bedtime routine. It is a discipline that is foundation…listen well and pay attention is the key to making it through this life.

Listen well and pay attention. Part of the mark of our Maker is in our stories and in our imaginations. Pay attention. Don’t rush to the last page because you’ll miss too much…be patient and listen to the Story.