**Congratulations to our winner, Mary Harris Todd! I’ll be in touch to get your address for the publisher!**
I have mentioned before how much my children enjoy Glenys Nellist’s books and it’s time to get one of these fabulous titles into your hands. This giveaway is sponsored by the publisher, Beaming Books, and is open to entrants living in the USA. We have a copy of Wherever You Are for one reader. All you need to do it comment here and you’ll be entered to win. (My very fancy random generator, a.k.a. my kids writing your names, dropping them in a bowl, dumping them on the floor, crumbling a dog biscuit among it all, and pulling the paper that my dog’s nose touches first in his quest for a cookie, will be working Thursday night. Winner announced next Monday, March 20!)
If you do not win, Beaming Books, still has a present for you! They have a lovely activity pack to accompany the book- just click here to download!
I spend a LOT of time with children; reading with them, tying shoes, hiking, cleaning up with them, and answering their questions. I work really hard at being present to answer their questions and talk about what matters to them, but there are times where I’m distracted. I can count on kids to bring me back to what matters with their questions. Why does that frog sound like an alien? Where is it hiding? Can you use a toilet plunger on a sink? If I speak in English into the dryer vent, will it come out in Spanish inside the house? (In case you were wondering the answers to the questions I got on that particular Saturday; that bullfrog has a special way of rubbing its vocal cords together so as to attract a mate, it was hiding under the rock wall at our neighbor’s house, you can use a toilet plunger on a sink, and no, the dryer vent does not act like Google translate and your words remain in the same language you spoke them in.) Sometimes the children ask questions because they want to know the answers, sometimes they want to engage in conversation, and sometimes they want reassurance. You don’t often come across a resource that answers the question, “Where’s God?” in a way that gives the answer, allows for conversation, and provides reassurance, but Glenys Nellist has done that in her newest book, Wherever You Are.
Wherever You Are is a beautiful book that combines simple, engaging text with soft illustrations that allow children to see themselves included in God’s family. A simple rhyme pattern, paired with a gentle cadence allows the story to read like a song. Children (and adults) will memorize the text quickly, providing them with easy responses to the ‘where is God?’ wonderings that pass through a human’s cognizance as they travel through the events of daily life. The text pairs beautifully with the illustrations, and allows readers to settle in for a cozy read. This book has become a favorite addition to my younger set of children’s bedtime routine, and my toddler has already claimed it as his own. (I had to ply him with a slice of cheese in order to wrestle the book out of his hands so I could write the review. He snagged it as soon as it arrived from the publisher, insisting that it was his as soon as he saw it. Love at first sight.)
I’m a person that likes to have tools that perform multiple functions. This book does just that! It’s a great go-to gift for a toddler or elementary aged child. It would be a very meaningful gift for a new baby or a child that has been baptized/dedicated. It definitely belongs in your children’s and family library for borrowing, on the shelf to be read during a Bedtime Stories and Prayers ministry, in a prayground, and in a pew basket. It also belongs in your youth library and adult library. Why? Because sometimes we need to get down to basics and remind ourselves God is wherever you are. Pair this with a study on growing deeper roots in your faith and examine ways that we know that God is with us and what Scripture tells us about this. Everyone can use a booster shot of this type of reassurance. I would also keep a copy around for one of those Sunday mornings where your children’s moment is just not measuring up to what you want it to be and you need to quickly shift gears. This book will enchant everyone and provide lots for all ages to think about. Do you need a copy? Yes, but I would start looking at getting multiples. It’s that good.
Full disclosure: I practice yoga. It is a respite for me, despite the fact that I often have a toddler hanging off my back as I move from down dog to a lunge into warrior one. I appreciate how there is flux in my practice, never moving through the series of poses the same way and experiencing new lengths and pulls depending on how my day has gone. During the pandemic, I was able to use grant money to provide yoga instruction for our local elementary school students via Zoom, allowing them to stretch their minds and bodies as a respite from the uncertainties of their days. However, I could not call the ministry ‘yoga’ and had to use ‘stretching’ instead, as some people had great difficulty with yoga meshing with their understanding of Christianity. I wish I had had Flow; Growing a Spiritual Yoga Practice in Church by Susan W. Springer to refer to as I walked that tightrope of conflict, as this book beautifully lays out how yoga and Christianity are compatible.
Springer, an Episcopal priest and rector, began practicing yoga in her midlife years. She notes in the introduction that as she began to help her body unfold into the yoga asanas in the practice, she simultaneously began to help her mind unfold into the understanding of the complimentary practices in Christianity and yoga. Whereas she (and I, too) heard that yoga would shift one’s focus from what we are as Christians, Springer found that the two not only complimented, but augmented one another. Her book is laid out into five sections; explaining how yoga can enhance the ministries of a congregation, how yogic and Christian teachings can parallel and enhance each other, a pathway for how to launch and root a yoga ministry in your church, and potential issues to address before they become problems. Written by Springer, but peppered with practical advice and other contributions from Sirena Dudgeon, Springer’s instructor who honors her Roman Catholic background while she practices yoga. If only I had this resource a few years ago, I could have easily helped hesitant congregants with understanding how the teachings and practices can bring about a deeper understanding of one’s faith. I could have seen some of the potential pitfalls before I hit them.
Are you a congregation that is critically examining how to be in effective ministry in your current setting? This book will help you see what we usually consider ‘of this world’ through new lenses. Are you looking to establish a yoga ministry? This resource will be quite valuable as you vision. Are you someone that is concerned about how yoga and Christianity mesh? This book will help you discern truth. Do you want to read something that will help you stretch your mind? This book will do so. There are many possibilities for use of this resource; I’m thankful the publisher sent me a copy!
Twenty years ago, I served as the director of Christian Education in a congregation in the town where I lived. Whenever the kids would see me out at the grocery store, the library, or playground, they would get all flustered because they thought I actually lived at the church. I even invited them to my home for an ice cream party and they could not compute that I actually lived there. It was the first, and only time, I ever had a whole group of children that were so convinced that my life was the church. Perhaps the pandemic and use of Zoom has helped smooth that over, perhaps that’s made it harder? I know that the children I work with now know that I do not live in the church, but still struggle with the knowledge that I also wash laundry, have a sink full of dirty dishes to clean, and sleep in a bed with a blanket and pillow. It can be hard to connect with people and live authentically when people don’t relate to you in all of your humanness. When Professional Christian by Sarah Bereza arrived on my doorstep from the publisher, I was rather pleased to have a resource that could help me navigate this phenomena.
This resource is written for church professionals seeking to to serve faithfully and authentically while living lives with integrity. This is a difficult balance to strike, and the author brings over two decades of experience as a church musician to the table to help the reader. The book includes interviews with fifty church leaders from a variety of denominations and settings, helping to add more insight and clarity to the ways church professionals can live out their callings in all the pathways of their lives. Organized by chapters on complications of professional ministries, authenticity, communication, sharing portions vs. complete pieces of life, maintaining privacy and confidentiality, and being fully oneself in a variety of situations, each section is woven with real life experiences from others that have served/are serving as church professionals in various capacities. I found myself nodding along in several places, especially about how sharing fully in one slice of one’s life permits for connections with congregants and privacy for loved ones. Each chapter closes with discussion questions, allowing the readers more ways to process what they have read and what they have experienced.
This book is a valuable resource for those of us who wrestle with living authentically while in the constant view of the congregation and public. It can sometimes be a lonely situation; shouldering the emotional needs of the congregation amidst your own (that you cannot always share), keeping the work professional when tension and stress cannot be shared, all while serving the needs of a congregation and community as God has sent you to do. If you need advice, this book is for you. If you need affirmation, this book is for you. If you need real life examples of how others in your shoes have handled this, this book is for you. If you are part of the leadership of a congregation, this book is for you so that you know how you can better support your leaders. This book is a powerful tool and a comforting balm for those who lovingly labor as church professionals; add it to your ‘to be read’ pile.
I spend a lot of time with children. In fact, it would be fair to state that I binge-watch kids. I love to hear about what matters to them, I love to be involved in their wonderings, I love watching them gain new skills and develop into the humans God created them to be. I am always honored when they share what is on their minds and how they are feeling. I keep a stash of comfort items that get pulled out when someone needs something tangible to help them find some peace, and that collection includes a few special books. When My Elephant Is Blue by Melinda Szymanik and Vasanti Unka came across my desk from the publisher, I was incredibly happy to find that I now had a new title to add to my comfort stash.
My Elephant is Blue is a soft, endearing story written about a small child coping with the sudden onset of heavy feelings. Written as allegory, the child rises one morning with large, heavy blue elephant on their chest. Through interactions with their family, the child tries several strategies to move the elephant off of their body, with little success. The elephant stuck around for quite some time, despite the parents trying to read all they could on the topic and speaking with an elephant specialist, their sister trying to push the elephant away, and suggesting that smiling and cheering up would improve the situation. Eventually, the elephant shifts a bit, allowing the child to go for a walk and then allowing the family to head out for a picnic together. The elephant never leaves the child, but it does ease its pressure. The illustrations are soft and vibrant, gently drawing the reader into the story. The simple sentences allow room for conversation about what the child must feel like, how the family is supportive, how everyone is affected by the presence of the elephant, and strategies they found together to help the situation.
There are several ways I plan on using this in ministry. Yes, it belongs on the shelves of your children’s library. Children will see themselves in this story on many different levels. Families will appreciate having a book that can assist in conversation about the heaviness of feelings and strategies that can help. A copy will be in my comfort stash, as sometimes you just need a book to bring some peace. I would recommend that the title gets passed around among those that are working with the children, youth, and families in your congregation. It can provide a good understanding of what some are going through and some gentle ways to help support them. It also quietly, but effectively, can point out some ways that are NOT helpful. If you are a congregation that has a sitting area, I would put a copy of this book out for people to peruse while they sip a hot beverage. (I subscribe to the philosophy of ‘strewing’; leaving interesting titles around where people cannot miss them, will pick them up, and leaf through them.) There are many ways this book will enhance your ability to be in effective ministry with and for those going through emotionally charged times. I would highly recommend snagging a copy of this title.
Have you ever hedgehogged a book? Put so many sticky notes and bookmarks in it that there are pieces of paper sticking out in every direction, akin to the quills on a hedgehog? That’s how my copy of The Purpose Gap; Empowering Communities of Color to Find Meaning and Thrive by Patrick Reyes looks. It arrived from the publisher a few months ago and I have enjoyed a long, slow read of it, placing markers all over with sentences and passages that I continue to return to, think about, and pray over.
The Purpose Gap seeks to empower the Black and Brown communities, call on and equip white communities to see why and how to dismantle systems that enable the purpose gap to exist, and unite all readers behind the need to close the purpose gap so that all of God’s children can live into the lives they are called to lead. But what is this purpose gap? Dr. Reyes expertly describes it as the unpaved distance between a person’s discerned purpose in this world and the opportunities needed in order to live into that purpose. He describes how systems exist that maintain that gap and how communities and networks come into play to help bridge that gap. Through personal experiences, family stories, and practical advice for moving forward to bridge the purpose gap, Dr. Reyes brings a resource that equips a new level of understanding and action.
What did I hedgehog, you may be wondering. The passage in chapter four that describes the author’s experience with Walter Wink and the meaning of ‘turning the other cheek’ has deeply affected me. I have re-read that at least once a week since I first read it and continue to chew on all that I can learn from it. (Please read this. It’s powerful.) The author’s discussion of the hero’s journey and what it means for retelling the story of purpose in chapter two still has me thinking and reframing how I discuss literature. (I am a homeschooling mother of seven and we spend the first year of high school examining the arc of various traditional heroes’ journeys. We always approached the conversations through the lens of calling, but Dr. Reyes has refocused my thoughts. Please read this chapter of the book, too. Again, it is powerful.) Each chapter is punctuated with reflection opportunities, and these, too, are bookmarked. I like to return to them on Sunday evenings as I plan out the upcoming week, adding one to my planner page so I continue to process and reflect. I have seven other color flags sticking out of my book, marking other passages of importance to me, and I can honestly say that if I were granted three wishes right now, I would love to use one of them to ask the author to help me put together a literature list of books he and his family enjoy and refer back to time and again. The notes section with corresponding references is exhaustive (in the best possible way). Thankfully, I am married to a librarian who will track these things down for me so I can read further and has no issue with me reading late into the night and strewing our bedroom floor with titles he’s brought home for me.
Are you someone who wants to know more about what it means to be the community? To be a part of networks for change? To know more about systems that need to be addressed and broken down? To know more about systems that need to be built? This book is for you. Do you enjoy looking at what you have seen through new lenses? This book is for you. Do you want to be challenged to see how you can better be part of a system that includes all of God’s children? This book is for you. I’d lend you my copy, but let me be honest, you will want your own to hedgehog.
I think it’s fair to say that everyone has a subtle rhythm to their households, myriad little practices that flow into one another that help us make room for what matters, equip us to get the small tasks that make up the flow of our lives completed. I am hearing over and over again from fellow parents that we are running into the wall of ‘I have more to do than I have time to do it in’ and that essentials are carefully protected and prioritized. Habits of the Household; Practicing The Story of God In Everyday Family Rhythms by Justin Whitmel Earley was published in 2021; one year into pandemic life and all the truths that it exposed. I have seen much chatter about the book in various circles that I’m in, coupled with all the conversation I am blessed to have with children’s ministers and parents across the country, I was curious to see what Mr. Earley had to say. When the book arrived from the publisher, I very eagerly dived in and found this to be one of those ‘unputdownables’, a special term my family has for books that cause you to drop and ignore everything in order to finish it.
Habits of the Household; Practicing the Story of God in Everyday Family Rhythms, after a short introduction, breaks the adult life, particularly the adult parenting of young children while tending to the responsibilities of outside employment, into ten spheres. Picking up where he began in his book The Common Rule, the author dives into ways that he prioritizes healthy habits in the rhythms surrounding waking, mealtime, discipline, screentime, family devotions, marriage, work, play, conversation, and bedtime. The author provides commentary on how we can intentionally prioritize habits that keep our salt flavoring in the world, which allow us to push aside the maladaptive behaviors that creep in to crowd out our healthy rhythms. He demonstrates how he and his wife find practical ways to keep what is essential at the forefront. There is a practical balance between useful family liturgy and real life situations that sap your energy/could potentially derail the whole desire to remain grounded in God. The author gives sound examples from his own life, but without the presupposition that this is how you also live. There is room for you to take what you need, leave what doesn’t fit, and add/swap what else is useful for you to be able to make what matters to you come first.
There are so many ways that this book can be used in your ministry. Yes, the most obvious is as a short term book club offering for young parents. This book is ripe with conversational topics, situations for parental bonding, and practical ideas that would allow parents to tweak their daily rhythms to ones that are more supportive of what matters most to them. I wouldn’t stop with that group. This is a must read for church leadership. The pandemic has forced us to look at all the changes that were peeking out at us prior to 2020. This book can help congregations get a glimpse at what families with young children are experiencing daily. It can provide you with ways to understand, question, and plan effective ministry with and for these families. This book is also ripe with possible multigenerational and family retreat ideas. Choose a section from the book, create two workshop centers from the habits section at the end of each chapter, add in time to socialize and enjoy food together, and you’ve got over a year’s worth of dedicated ministry for and with families. I would definitely find money in the budget to snag a copy of this book, read it, pass it around, and use it!
I am blessed to receive texts from friends and friends of friends who are looking for information to help the children in their lives. Sometimes the texts are simple, like what’s your favorite sneaker to get for my kid in leg braces. Sometimes the questions are more involved, like how can I help my child as their grandparent is in hospice care. I have a small shelf of books that I like to recommend, and when Grandpa’s Window by Laura Gehl arrived on my doorstep from the publisher, I eagerly snapped it up and settled in to read it. It is a lovely resource to share with children as they experience the loss of a loved one.
Grandpa’s Window is a book that gently unfolds. We meet Daria who is helping to take care of her grandfather. We learn how they have spent time on the beach together throughout Daria’s childhood, and hear as Daria plans for them to fly kites, look for rainbows, and build sandcastles together again. As the book progresses, we see how Grandpa becomes weaker and how it affects Daria and her parents. There are several wordless pages of beautiful, soft, but raw emotional reactions by Daria and her parents to the passing of Grandpa. Time and space is given for mourning and gentle words return to the pages to help describe how Daria and her parents ease back into life. Grandpa is not forgotten and is included in the family’s life through meaningful remembrances.
In a world that will often tell children to smile, not to cry, and not to be sad, it is refreshing to have a book that allows children and adults to feel their emotions. The author and illustrator together take great care to show the range of feelings and different ways this family travels through their grief. We meet the family at the hospital, through various stages of the grandfather’s illness (which is portrayed gently but authentically), as they learn of the grandfather’s passing, traveling though the funeral, and even bringing the grandfather’s personal items home. Children will be able to see themselves in the story, identify with the emotions, and recognize the different stages of the loss. This will be a valuable addition to my resource shelf for those experiencing loss. It’s not just for children; it can help adults process how they can travel through grief and they help their children do the same. Additionally, this book has come in handy for me to use with my adult sister with Down Syndrome. She has had many questions lately about losses of friends and family members and this book has been a gentle way of remaining in conversation about these concerns. Do you need a copy? Yes, yes you do.
When I begin working on a new concept with a class of learners, I like to spend time connecting what they already know about to what we are about to learn. Basically, using what one already knows and understands bolsters a person’s comprehension of a new topic. When Lent In Plain Sight; A Devotion Through Ten Objectsby Jill Duffield arrived on my doorstep from the publisher, I eagerly dived in to see what goodies were in store. Lent is a season that often confuses many adults, so connecting a combination of everyday objects to Scripture, devotions, and prayers in order to help them dive more deeply into the events of Jesus’ ministry certainly speaks to me.
This devotional is organized by ten everyday objects; dust, bread, a cross, coins, shoes, oil, coats, towels, thorns, and stones. The readings begin on Ash Wednesday, continue throughout the season of Lent, and conclude on Easter Sunday. Each day features Scripture, a page and a half devotion, wrapped up with reflection questions and a prayer. From Ash Wednesday through the day before Palm Sunday, each week focuses on one everyday object, how it is referenced through Scripture, and different ways of considering its significance to our spiritual development. Holy Week brings a quicker succession of objects, but the reading pattern remains the same. This is laid out accessibly in an easy-to-hold book (an e-book option is also available) and utilizes a time frame that is comfortable for most adult’s attention spans.
This resource has much potential for use in adult faith formation. The price is not prohibitive, so using it as the spine for an adult Lenten care package would be lovely. Include the book, a handheld frame from a photo booth, and a small blank notebook, along with a sticky note that has a congregation-wide hashtag (e.g. #lentinplainsight). Have everyone read along daily, snapping photos on their phones that feature that week’s everyday object and uploading it to your church’s Instagram page with the hashtag. It gives everyone something to do individually and corporately. This is laid out simply enough for a young parents small group to use together. Busy parents of young children can still make time for these readings, especially if you opt for the ebook option. You could also use this as the focus of an adult faith formation class for Lent. Create a group mural of photos of the objects as you meet each week and discuss a few of the questions included that week. Mature youth could also benefit from this devotional, and I would then use it as a powerful springboard to a Lenten mission project. You could collect some of the everyday items (e.g. towels, coats, and shoes) for donation to local organizations that connect people with items they need. You could have a loose change offering during each session (connecting with the coins) that would benefit an organization or mission of your choosing. If you’re ready for a fresh way to approach this season and make connections with what people already know so they can grow deeper roots in their faith, give this resource a gander. It may be just what you are looking for.
If someone were collecting data on the most common answers to the question of how one is doing, certainly one of the top three answers would be busy. People, especially as they emerge from the pandemic with new responsibilities on their shoulders, have extra obligations as partners and caregivers, extra tasks at work, extra steps to take in order to keep up with the demands of everyday life. In fact, so many people will comment that they need an extra hour in the day or extra day in the week just to keep up. The effects of busy-ness can be crushing; general overwhelm, exhaustion, health concerns, and unhappiness are just a few. Alan Fadling first published An Unhurried Life; Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest in 2014, revising it in 2020 with new material to help us as we travel through the lessons learned in the pandemic. When a copy of this arrived from the publisher, I dived in, eager to uncover what was in the pages.
An Unhurried Life is centered around the belief that unhurrrying oneself is key to a fruitful spiritual development. Mr. Fadling leads the reader through how Jesus’ relaxed and unhurried state of being can be adopted and effective for current day disciples. Chapters point out to readers how an unhurried state isn’t laziness and can effect more productivity, how an unhurried state can equip a person to resist temptation, and how an unhurried state can allow a person to care and pray more deeply. He also spends time helping the reader explore how rest, suffering, and maturity all require a different level of unhurrying and how they all can be important in the development of a whole human. (The section in chapter 9 on dry farming and its allegorical application to ministry has been rolling around in my mind for a while now. This book is peppered with many similar analogies that cause the reader to stop and think.) The book closes with a chapter on spiritual practices and how an unhurried life can augment one’s development. Each chapter has meaty questions for the reader’s contemplation, and a guide at the end of the book for those wishing to read this in a group.
This resource has several possibilities for your ministries. There are many adults who would enjoy reading this in a book club/faith formation setting. This could be a solid offering for a three month session; 1 chapter per week for 11 weeks plus an extra week to do a resource review from the notes. As the book already includes questions at the end of each chapter, plus a guide from the author on how to use this in a group, it would be a good choice for a group that doesn’t have a set leader; people could take a chapter to facilitate. The conversation would continue to flow even if everyone did not keep up with the readings. In fact, the conversation questions will spur people to flip back and re-read the material. This could also be a powerful read for a congregation’s leadership team. What would the congregation look like if an unhurried, deliberate discernment period were taken to assess all the lessons learned throughout the pandemic? Personally, I could see using chapters of this book in parent groups and in faith formation teacher groups. Both are comprised of people that are in heightened states of busy-ness and are constantly telling me that they could use a chance to slow down. This would also be an excellent addition to your church’s lending library of resources. Maybe pop some of the resources in the notes on the same shelf and see what happens!