Growing up with few books on an Oregon farm, the first author whose name I recall hearing was that of Madeleine L’Engle. I was at CFO, a Christian summer camp, on the coast with my mom and older brother. There was a table of books for sale. Mom said I could pick one – any one I wanted! – to read at rest time. A rare treat! If it wasn’t from Goodwill or a garage sale, we hardly ever bought anything. What to pick? An almost impossible dilemma for a young child. Was I seven? Or eight? Someone – My mom? – recommended A Wrinkle in Time.
One reward of attending the Christopher Awards in New York this spring was coming home with a bag full of books from other award winners, stories of hope and friendship and of overcoming great obstacles to do great good. Only, one story I wasn’t sure I wanted to read. It is the story of Dr. Edith Eva Eger, among the few remaining Holocaust survivors who was sent to Auschwitz with her parents and sister.
I don’t read many parenting books. When I sit down to read, it is more often to escape the realities of parenting than to learn about them. Just seeing the cover of author Catherine McNiel’s debut devotional, Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress, 2017), made me want to grab a box of hand wipes and flee. On it, a smartly dressed woman in a crisp yellow dress carries a toddler whose muddy hands leave a smear of dirt across her mother’s back.
When my 18-year-old son recently had his wisdom teeth removed, I joked that this was his rite of passage. “Some people fast on mountains or get covered in fire ants,” I said, recalling documentaries I’ve seen about how other cultures initiate adolescents into the world of adults. “We take out wisdom teeth.” For most in our contemporary, Western culture, there is no rite of passage between youth and young adulthood. Getting a driver’s license might count, or going to college. But what if parents intentionally set out to create a series of challenges and experiences to not only mark but prepare young people for this significant passage? That’s what author Beth Bruno did with her 12-year-old daughter, Ella, a journey she chronicles in her new memoir, A Voice Becoming, a Yearlong Mother-Daughter journey into Passionate, Purposed Living (Faith Words, 2018).
As a young adult, my New Year’s resolutions often involved reading through the Bible in a year or praying for a prescribed number of minutes or hours – Yes, hours! – per day. Inevitably, I fell short, as did my resolutions to drop a certain number of pounds, exercise for a certain number of hours, or finish writing a certain-length manuscript. As lofty as such goals are, they typically run hard into reality, and reality usually wins.
The Bible is a big book, written in ancient languages to people living long before contemporary culture. For folks unfamiliar with the people and practices it contains, it can also be confusing. It helps to read such words along with a commentary, designed to explain perplexing passages, or with a devotional, which tend to highlight one short passage at a time. One inspiring new devotional, which does just that, is Ordinary Graces: Word Gifts for any Season (Abingdon Press, 2017), by Connecticut author and speaker Lucinda Secrest McDowell.