This article was originally published in the Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth. It sums up my theology of grief and I hope it gives you encouragement.
I dreamed a dream in times gone by/when hope was high and life worth living/I had a dream my life would be/so different from this misery I’m living/so different now from what it seemed. Now life has killed the dream/I dreamed. These are the famous haunting lyrics of Fantine, a character in the classic novel, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.
The story behind the song is one of lost dreams: a mother (Fantine) wanting to provide for her child but, at every turn, her life unwinding into poverty and spiraling into ruin. The song has one theme: bitterness.
Bitterness at what could have been, but wasn’t, bitterness about the sting of her present circumstances, and bitterness about facing a future she didn’t want. In short: bitterness at the loss of her dream of what life would be like.
Very few of us will stand on the street corner and belt out a song of anguish like Fantina, however the sentiments she expressed may be alive and well in our hearts. Who hasn’t experienced the bitterness of hopes dashes and dreams not realized? Many of us could say: “I had a dream of what life would be like, and this isn’t it.”
There is nothing wrong with dreams or hoping for good things in life. In fact, we are told to make plans, prepare, hope: in essence, “dream”. We can have good and godly dreams: the upbuilding of the church, a healthy family, a life of usefulness, a loving marriage, financial security and meaningful relationships and work.
But since the fall has dashed our purity and communion with God, we and our dreams (as in hopes and plans) are broken, both in essence and their fulfillment. Sometimes it’s in the big things of life: churches can flounder in strife or error, babies are miscarried or born with life threatening conditions, spouses become ill and die or financial disaster happens.
Even if we haven’t had major disappointments, we often have smaller dreams unfulfilled, such as struggling with loneliness while longing for relationship, or the perceived lack of meaningful and fruitful work, etc.
With the loss of any dream, we realize grief and disappointment with an intimacy we never desired. But within every lost dream there is a beckoning, a divine opportunity, even in the midst of your grief and brokenness.
A Divine Opportunity for Unbelievers
For unbelievers, the loss of dreams is a divine opportunity sent to awaken us from the stupor of comfort and the futility of life without Christ. It’s a wild wake-up call from the God of the cosmos to take our eyes off our little dreams and set our eyes on Him.
Our “little” dreams matter, to us and God, but when we are missing Him, they all amount to nothing. And because sin dwells at our core, our dreams are hopelessly bent to serving ourselves and that only. But God is gracious and uses these disappointments as a call to wake up from the mirage of satisfaction with your perceived success and happiness here and a call to drink of the Living Water (Jesus!) in order to bring you to true happiness and success only found in Him.
Look over the past years of your life. Are there areas of loss, disappointment and frustration? They are divine opportunities to come and drink. They are invitations to place your bitter and frustrated heart into the hands of a capable and complete satisfier: the Christ.
A Divine Opportunity for Believers
But what about the loss of dreams for believers? Many of us have had good dreams slip from our grasp and crash into a thousand pieces. And these aren’t hypotheticals, they are real situations that create a painful daily reality for many of us.
In my immediate relationships I can think of at least ten families dealing with the serious loss of dreams. One has lost a husband, a young couple grieves infertility, a father deals with a disabling illness, a marriage broken by sin and on it goes.
Providence woven with the fallen world frustrates the life we dreamed of. No matter how much we intellectually understand that God will work things for our good, when we actually endure the loss of dreams, we grieve. And that is not a lack of faith. It is the natural response to the pain of living in a broken world as broken people.
Grief can make us physically nauseous, emotionally depressed and spiritually dry. It can numb us to the realities of God’s comfort and goodness. Surrounding ourselves with the people of God, immersing ourselves in the preaching of the Word and continuously crying out to God in broken confession and trust are often the remedies for healing the deep wound we feel. In short: commit our broken dreams and grief to Him.
This is the divine opportunity. Even in our losses, He makes us gain in Christ. Here are three ways:
Communion. We’re very short-sighted; it often takes pain for us to lift our eyes off of our little lives and actively seek the Lord in prayer. Not only because we have more need, but because we desire Him more. When our dreams are ripped from our hands, the earth and all it holds becomes small and He becomes everything.
Some Christians are afraid to be transparent about feelings of disappointment, grief and perplexity in these times. But God doesn’t need us to bolster up a false cheerfulness or an it’s-all-for-the-best attitude. Instead God comes near, and compels us to turn to Him in our grief.
We can confess our wrong attitudes, ask for forgiveness, grace and help. He is not a distant, uninvolved Father. He takes your tears and puts them in a bottle, and invites you to take refuge in Him. He reminds you of His everlasting arms when it feels like the loss has struck you so low you can scarcely face another day. He doesn’t gloss over your grief and actually binds you to Himself as you walk through valleys.
Sanctification. Holiness is not a boring state of being, it is a life of new obedience to Christ. In that there is a growing intensity and closeness with the Triune God. By His power, He actually transforms us into His likeness and into the fellowship of His love. Often this isn’t accomplished in gentle or comfortable ways. There is pain involved–the chipping away of our desires, our pride, our entitlements. The stripping of dreams we thought we deserved. And a surrender. A surrender to follow Christ no matter what; without reserve or contingencies.
New Dreams. Nothing will replace the dreams we’ve lost. There is no “get-out-of-grief” card when you suffer great loss. But we are not left with the ash of broken dreams and no hope for the future. We are offered a “new and living hope”. Jesus.
Even when our dreams may have been good dreams, He gives us better and richer dreams. He takes our dreams for a comfortable normal life and gives us dreams for an increasing life with Christ. He trades our dreams of pleasing ourselves into dreams of living for Him.
Losing our dreams can free our hearts to embrace Him and a kingdom dream. Just recently I witnessed an older lady come to faith and a life of service after being converted during a valley of grief. Out of the wastelands of our lives He can grow such beauty, hope and life.
Ash or Him
Grief and loss are murky and often unpredictable experiences. But no matter how we are affected, we all face similar temptations in them. Our grief can turn us from God, instead of towards Him. We can nurse the incredible pain and let it fester into life-long bitterness and anger. We can settle for ashes and miss the divine opportunity extended to us in grief: come to Him and live.
C.S. Lewis said this about our dreams (favorite wishes): “Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death to your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” (Mere Christianity, 226-227)
The story of Fantine’s life is not a happy one. She was without Christ and laid low by broken dreams and had no living hope. She died a miserable painful death, holding only the ashes of dreams and a bitter heart.
Your circumstances are different, but maybe your life is also at a point so low, a place where every dream has been lost. Don’t settle for clinging to ashes. Turn with your lost dreams to Jesus, for the first time or as your life-long posture. He is holding more than a dream; He is offering the reality of a life in Him that can never be lost.
His head is tilted back in his chair. His mouth hangs slightly open as he breathes quietly, his body heaving in once more and then out again. Chronic lung disease is no joke.
An inch below the surface his lungs continue their struggle: battling fluid that tries to fill every air sac, tube and pocket of space. His will fights hard and he breathes in again, forcing oxygen into fluid saturated pockets. Oxygen rushes in and then, with concerted effort, his exhale squeezes air out. He gets relief until the next breath.
Sometimes being seven and war-torn go together.
War torn because each breath is a battle, fought 40 times a minute. Some days are better than others.
It’s no wonder his head is tilted back in exhaustion. Still a grin, that lopsided knowing smile that can change his face in an instant. He listens in on the chatter drifting from the dining room. Noah and Evie don’t realize they’ve got a third player as they build imaginary worlds with blocks and figures.
His eyes look in the direction of their noise, looking for them, only to be greeted with more black. Or maybe, as Dr. Geddie surmised, he catches a patch of sight, like peering through swiss cheese.
His smile widens and his legs stiffen out straight in front of him. He’s smart, trying to manipulate tone to get his body to move. But it doesn’t, so instead a happy call rises above the gurgle in his throat. Then he relaxes back into his chair, making up for the effort and catching his breath again.
His eyelids flutter and his eyes roll back slightly into his head, obviously tired from this small effort. But giving up is not in his playbook.
His bedroom lies adjacent to the kitchen. Each morning as I move about measuring coffee, pouring water and washing leftover dishes from the night before, he calls me.
I tuck the wet dish towel back in the rack and head down the hallway to his room. The machines rumble, his lungs crackle and two little arms shoot up eager. They’re bent at an odd angle but I don’t care. All is see is invitation, so I offer my cheek for his kiss. The dry chapped lips find me and his arms rest on my shoulders.
I can hear the crackling and whistling in his lungs as he alternates between deep sighs of contentment and sounds of joy.
A life of exhaustion.
A life of battles that will never win the war of chronic lung, but they do win him time. And that seems worth the price to him.
A life of joy.
A new day breaks and again he calls from the room: Come in and love me, mom! It’s a new day.
He has learned to fight the battles well.
He’s learned contentment.
He’s found love is enough.
It’s a good thing my kids don’t read my blog; they’d find out their Christmas gifts if they did! I know it’s hard to find good devotional material for kids to read in addition to their Bibles, so I’m going to share some of my finds this year. Maybe it will give you some new ideas too.
Life doesn’t leave me a lot of time to go out and about to the stores, so between Amazon and the local bookstore I have my shopping covered! This year each kiddo is getting a Lego set and a new devotional. It’s always a little challenging to find new (good) material because my kids burn through books! Here is what I’ve found for this year:
I chose this book for Violet and Calvin but I have a good feeling even the parents will be enjoying this! The art is gorgeous and the overview of the redemptive theme of the Bible clear on every every page. I think this will be a treasure in our home.
“The Bible is full of exciting stories that fill children with awe and wonder. But kids need to know how all those classic stories connect to Scripture’s overarching message about God’s glorious plan to redeem his rebellious people.
In The Biggest Story, Kevin DeYoung—a best-selling author and father of six—leads kids and parents alike on an exciting journey through the Bible, connecting the dots from the garden of Eden to Christ’s death on the cross to the new heaven and new earth.
With powerful illustrations by award-winning artist Don Clark, this imaginative retelling of the Bible’s core message—how the Snake Crusher brings us back to the garden—will draw children into the biblical story, teaching them that God’s promises are even bigger and better than we think.”
There are four books in this great series of Spurgeon stories for kids. This fourth one will be wrapped up for Evelyn this year.
“This fourth book began, as did the previous three, as a series of children s talks based on Spurgeon s life. Some stories and sad and some are funny, but each one teaches a particular truth from the Bible. Spurgeon himself had a great love for children, and his desire for them was that they should come to trust, love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ in their young years. Spurgeon is here no longer, but the Lord is still at work drawing all kinds of people to Himself. My hope and prayer is that children may be led to find salvation in Christ, and learn truths from the Bible that will help them to live for His glory.”
It’s always a bit of a risk to buy a book sight unseen, but the endorsers on the back pushed me over the edge on this one (Michael Horton, John Frame). I know Noah will pour over this book at night. It’s less devotional and more of a survey book touching on all sorts of topics that cover the foundation of faith and the way it works out in our lives. The book is written by a middle school teacher and father. I’m looking forward to reading this along with Noah.
“The Radical Book for Kids is a fun-filled explorer’s guide to the Bible, church history, and life for boys and girls age 8 and up. Along with examining some of the most exciting realities in the universe, the handbook is vibrantly illustrated and chock-full of fun facts and ideas. Deep truths are communicated to elementary and middle-school aged kids while stimulating their curiosity and sense of adventure within a gospel-centered framework.”
This book has 74 devotions based on history; suitable for middle school or high school. This is going to Sophie.
“History is like a large, beautiful cake. We can cut it into wonderful slices of providence, feast on them piece by piece and be fed. The stories within this book are such slices. Using brief episodes from the past, Christine Farenhorst takes the reader on journeys in which the almighty and ever-present power of God is felt; journeys through which it becomes clear that all things come about not by chance but are ordained by the Father’s hand. Each chapter finishes with “Food for thought” consisting of two questions which help hearts contemplate the events portrayed, questions designed for personal application and insight. Consequently, a smorgasbord is presented with food for a family, or a homeschool group, leading to healthy discussions.”
Last night I woke up at 3 am to Calvin’s crying on the monitor. I found him in bed burning up and having seizures which left him trembling from head to toe and largely unable to respond to me. I wasn’t shocked, the past week he’d been struggling with respiratory issues but it seemed like the antibiotics were “keeping the lid” on it.
After giving rescue seizure meds, Tylenol and a good old momma hug he finally settled in again around 5 am. Today he’s pale, has low oxygen levels and spent most of the day sleeping (seizures wipe him out).
Even though this isn’t anything new, the call to renew my trust in God and his care is a daily call to faith. It’s much easier to believe we’re alone, forgotten by God and have every reason to despair when we look at what we see.
It’s easy to listen to whispers of despair telling us our faith is useless, that our so-called God is a fantasy and that our hope of redemption is just a way to plug through the pain.
And it’s exactly in these whispers of despair that God calls us to walk by faith. Circumstances are real, but just part of the story. The bigger story is God’s forever promises to his people, secured by Jesus:
He will never leave me or forsake me.
He is transforming me from one glory to another.
When I go through deep water, he is with me.
He intends goodness and mercy all the days of my life, even when he uses sorrow and pain to make that a reality.
For most of us, our struggles are private, confined to the walls of our homes or our hearts. We’re called to a simple, quiet obedience in God. It honors him, his word and grows our faith.
However, there are times when God pulls back the curtain of the everyday and gives tangible testimony to his presence and care. He allows faith to be sight, even for a moment, reminding us to renew our faith and trust in him.
Two weeks ago that happened. God pulled back the murky curtain of uncertain circumstances and gave us a sweeping view of his provision.
Carly and I had spent a lot of time researching options for the van, measuring his wheelchair and trying to figure out creative alternatives. Most people use wheelchair accessible minivans but with five kids, they were out for us. Our next options were a shuttle bus (the kids thought this would be the coolest thing ever) or a Ford Transit.
What we didn’t realize was the Transit comes in different roof sizes, low and mid roof. After talking with the mobility center, we realized we wouldn’t be able to install the lift in the low roof van. We headed back to the dealership and found one mid-roof passenger van. Our hearts sank when we realized the price was 8-10 thousand more than what we had.
We went home not sure what the next step was going to be. The mid-roof Ford Transit is hard to find, after searching online we found only a few in the US for sale in other states. Most customers get them made to order, they aren’t just sitting around on a dealer’s lot. Used ones are hard to come by since they just started making them in 2015.
About an hour after we got home, Carly got a call from Aaron at Tony Betten Ford.
“You’re not going to believe this,” he said. “We’ve got a truck here, unloading around 8 mid-roof Ford Transits. And they’re all passenger vans, not cargo.”
We went back. Sure enough, lined up in the lot were 8 of the exact vehicles we needed. Every color and option was available.
But the price. That was still an impossibility.
“Yeah, it’s kinda crazy,” Aaron said, “these are actually brand-new vans but we’re selling them as used. They were sitting on another lot and apparently they were damaged by a hailstorm so we’re selling them at a much lower price. We’ll take out all the dents, you won’t even notice.”
So let me get that straight. An hour after we left, 8 vans of the exact type we needed, were dropped off unexpectedly at that exact car lot. All of them passenger vans with an extended base for a wheelchair lift. All of them happened to be in a hailstorm which happened to reduce the price to what we had planned on.
It was excessive, undeserved. But then again, that’s what grace always is.
“You know that what happened is pretty crazy, right?” Aaron said as we signed the papers a week later. “I haven’t had those things on my lot for a year and a half. Then, an hour after you left, I’ve got eight.”
It’s not every day that God sends these tangible reminders of his care and provision. But when he does, it is a grace that gives boldness to our steps and a fresh reminder of his presence during weary nights and lonely roads.
So these days, we are thanking God for his provision through an unlikely source: a hailstorm. In September.
This is our super helpful and proficient salesman, Aaron Powers, who got to witness the “crazy” with us.
This is one of Calvin’s nurses, Roxanne. In tears. Like every other nurse has been when they found out about this gift. What a testimony of God’s grace this van has been.
Calvin was already not feeling well in this picture, but his cousins and siblings took care of making it an exciting experience for him :).
God often brings good out of something I think is a total loss.
A month ago, when our van was broken down on the side of the road, we had a minor disaster on our hands. I was in the car with all five kids on the way back from camping, temperatures were soaring and my van was spewing smoke and refusing to move another inch. Calvin’s temperature started climbing, Violet wanted more crackers (because, of course that’s the most important thing even if the world is falling apart), and the kids took turns freaking out about being a few feet away from cars zooming by on the highway.
Calvin’s set-up camping–everything but the kitchen sink!
We all arrived home safely due to the help of Darryl swinging back and coming to our rescue and my sister Kristin loading kids in her van. A van broken down is not a major disaster, but it was one more major expense to the long list of realities that have a way of sapping the spring from your step. We debated at night what to do, pour more money into our van that was already high on miles and soon wouldn’t work for Calvin? It seemed like the only option we had.
The next morning my sisters called me up to say they were starting a van fund for Calvin. They reasoned Calvin was maxing his car seat and becoming more difficult to transport anywhere from our home, so why not start a fund now? The idea was ignited by visions of our smoking van and the fact that Calvin loves to go places.
In no time they were planning fall festival events, a cook out, and even contacting the president himself (ok, not really, but they were determined). I took the role of the sheepish doubter on the sidelines. I wasn’t sure what made me more uncomfortable, the fact of asking people to give actual dollars and cents or the amount of the dollars needed for a van. One seemed horribly awkward and assuming and the other, downright impossible.
I thought we should pack away this crazy talk, but…Calvin. What if people wanted to show their love for him? What if people wanted to give back to him the way he has given to his community? What if we were just standing in the way?
A few days later my sister started Calvin on the Move and gave the opportunity for people to give. The next three weeks blew us away as the goal was exceeded.*
Darryl and I have felt some embarrassment with the fund, but when I run into people who are so genuinely excited for this project, we tuck our pride away. It’s not about us. Or even about Calvin. It’s about the community coming around a boy, defenseless and unable to provide for himself, and saying:
You have value.
You are loved.
We care about you.
We want to help you.
And this, this is the beauty of God’s love. He takes the heartbreak of disease and terminal diagnosis and intermingles hands and hearts so this is no longer a story of just a boy. Or a boy and his family. It’s that and more.
It’s a story of God providing abundantly for a little boy who couldn’t even ask.
It’s the story of God encouraging and equipping a family often tired and defeated by the endless needs and lack of progress.
It’s the story of a community witnessing to the goodness of God and reflecting that to each other. It’s the story of people being moved, impacted and changed from someone you’d least expect.
We don’t know how to say thank you for such a gift. We want to tuck away a little embarrassed (admittedly difficult in a mini-bus), but I think instead we’ll drive that van remembering the tangible love of the Lord and His care for the most vulnerable. We’ll remember on days we might feel entirely alone, you surround us. We will remember that even though loss is real and heartbreaking, God brings forth beauty out of the most painful parts of our lives.
And for all this, we give thanks.
Test drive: Noah isn’t excited at all 😉
(*all money raised over the goal will be used to make our home accessible)
I wrote this piece three years ago for the Christian Pundit.
Writing about God’s provisions is two-sided for me. On one hand, it is a way to point others to our great God and say “Look! Look what He can do! He is faithful, He is constant, He is your provider. Let me tell you what He’s done for me!” But I’ve been in a place where stories of God’s provisions for others taunted me. They were like bitter drops on my thirsty soul–a soul that was feeling left out on the line, parched, forgotten by God. A detail forgotten in the Great Care Plan, providence.
My husband, Darryl, and I had experienced the close and gracious hand of God in unique way as we served in mission positions in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for five years. But when the Lord gave a unique gift in our fourth child, Calvin Luke, it seemed like His hand of provision drifted away and instead began a very painful process of stripping us down to the bare, raw parts of life and soul. Calvin was born in Bangkok, Thailand with microcephaly (small head) and severe brain damage. Today Calvin is nearing three years of age. He’s nearly blind and cannot roll, hold a toy, lift his head, or perform any sort of purposeful movement (except for opening his mouth to kiss us, sweet eh?). He cannot eat by mouth and has trouble with an airway that collapses under stress. We are now living in the United States so he can receive proper medical care.
The time between birth and the present have the closest misery to hell we’ve ever experienced. Our Father saw fit to take away our life in Cambodia. A life we were thriving in and a ministry bearing fruit. He stripped us of a job and income. He stripped me of the ability to mother my other three young children, they were largely underfoot and ignored as we struggled to keep our youngest alive. He stripped my illusion that God would keep my children safe from harm (especially felt when our other son, Noah, had to undergo major open heart surgery in the midst of all this). He withheld his deliverance and pressed us harder and harder until it felt easier to die than face another day.
Stories of provision stung in that place. Stories of God giving fulness when my plate was empty and my soul so hungry and my body so weary. “Just a crumb, Lord, just a crumb?” I’d plead. Did God love other believers better than me? Why was His hand so hard, why did He return our confident prayers with a staggering blow? Mercy, show me mercy. I became bosom friends with David, and met with him in the Psalms. He gave words to my pain and frustration: “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear O Lord and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper” (Psalm 30:8-10).
David wrestled with God, argued or made a case to God for His provision while David was in an undelivered state. And this became our pattern in pleading for our heavenly Father’s provision with our souls and material needs. When I began to question if the Lord was really hearing or if the Lord was there at all: “Keep me Lord, I am full of unbelief and doubt and anger. I will wander far from You if you do not keep me.” When we’d wake to another morning of seizures and felt too weary to lift a foot from bed: “Where is the joy that comes in the morning? Give us the morning, Lord, put an end to this long night.” When my soul would drown in sorrow and be threatened by strong unbelief: “Lord you’ve said that we can cast our burden on you and you will sustain us! Sustain then Lord, my feet are slipping. Take this burden.”
We would preach God’s very words of truth and provision to ourselves constantly. We were standing in the desert and knew He could make an oasis in the soul-searing pain. We’d remind each other that there would come an end to this, even if we never knew God’s deliverance on this side of the grave, there would be an eternal provision, an eternal restoration: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10). When we were pressed hard by cold providence we reminded each other of the Lord’s love and tenderness of us: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not graciously give us all things?” When prayer seemed pointless: “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us” (Psalm 62:8).
Do you see how He has already made every provision for our souls in his Word? It waits for faith to be made alive and real and comforting to the soul. The very words we would remind ourselves of were works of His hands to draw us closer and closer as we looked over our shoulders to unbelief and fear. He kept our souls. He is keeping our souls. Yesterday’s provisions are not enough for today. I need fresh provision each and every day. My soul wilts and my heart feels heavy as I look at circumstances but His word places exuberant joy and praise in my heart. It gives me life each day. This is His provision. He has turned the painful realities into real places of spirit-work. Places where we can meet Him more clearly with the layers of distraction peeled away. He has made our broken jars of clay alive with the light within. This is His provision.
I could tell you stories of the “rain of mercy” God gave to our family after that dry hard time. I could tell you about the checks that came in the mail so we could pay rent, buy groceries, and get hair-cuts. I could tell you about the check that came from a stranger that refilled the savings account which had completely emptied from medical bills–the exact amount we had to start with. I could tell you about the first house that came up in our budget, how it had a handicap room on the main floor and a playground across the street–two things I’d specifically been praying for. I could tell you about house-hunting and how God gave us the house we are now living in–the very house we’d been renting. But I wonder if you too are in that dry place–the place where no material provisions have been made. I wonder if you too feel strung out and left to dry. Would these stories be salt in your wounds?
Take heart my friend. Open His Word, there is provision for you too. It’s better provision than money or houses or health. It’s soul provision–real live, spirit-accompanied soul provision. Wrestle with God for it. He can and will saturate the thirsty soul with His provision. “But may all who see you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the Lord!” As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God”
We may not be taking big vacations and I may often be distracted with Calvin’s care BUT reading out loud together carries us on many adventures, gives us invaluable experiences and discussions together, and glues us together in formative ways. Here’s what we’ve been reading in the evenings…our golden time.
At first I thought this would be a rather dry book but I still popped it into my library bag. Often it’s the books you least expect to be good that capture the whole family! The story is about Charlotte, a 13-year-old upperclass girl, who travels from England to Providence, Rhode Island. She starts the journey under rather mysterious circumstances and begin a voyage that will indeed bring her to Providence but will change her completely. Be ready to feel the wind in your face, smell the stench of the brigg, and make friends with a salty crew. Full of intrigue, mystery and surprise, even your boys will love it.
Conversation Starters: At the end of the book there is a conversation waiting to be had about culture shock, how it changes us when our perspective broadens and how we react when we are misunderstood. Even if you’ve never travelled, your kids will feel the change in Charlotte, the difficulty in transition, and seeking to be understood.
It’s a book that challenges perceptions of race and class and identifying with people “like” us. It brings up a discussion of authority–“How did Charlotte react in the end? Why? What do you think about it?”
The entire family listened but I think my kids from ages 8-13 and the adults benefited most. There was lots of lively discussion along the way!
This was a wonderfully creative story filled with a bit of science-fiction, strong morals and surprise. As a parent, I usually only carry on with big thick books that are interesting. I often wanted to read ahead on my own after I’d tucked the kids in. The character development was so clever and the plot-line kept us guessing.
When a peculiar ad for gifted children appears in the newspaper, dozens of children enroll to take a series of mysterious, mind-bending tests. (And you, dear reader, can test your wits right alongside them.) But in the end just four very special children will succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and resourceful children could complete. To accomplish it they will have to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where the only rule is that there are no rules.
As our heroes face physical and mental trials beyond their wildest imaginations, they have no choice but to turn to each other for support. But with their newfound friendship at stake, will they be able to pass the most important test of all?
Conversation Starters: Most of the time the kids only wanted to talk about which character they were like. After each of them deciding they were a mix of one or two we were able to get on other topics, but to them this was the most important discussion 😉
Some major themes that came up for us were the discussion of evil being portrayed as “good” and how most people doing evil often have convinced themselves they are doing it for the greater good. Which naturally led into a talk of communism (thanks Darryl), government structures and the use of power.
There was a lot of fun that went along with trying to solve the puzzles along with the heroes in the book. It’s a great time to talk about the way each of the characters have strengths and flaws and do a bit of self-reflection.
Again, this was perfect for my kids ages 8-13. They cannot stop talking about it!
Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a larger family like ours or perhaps it’s the way Birdsall makes the characters so alive and relatable, whatever it is–we love this series!
We stumbled upon it at the library at proceeded to go through every book together. We feel like we know the Penderwick family; my kids will frequently say things like: “Stop being so dramatic, you’re being like Jane” or “I am like Skye, I DON’T like girly things.” And on and on it goes.
The everyday mishaps, hilarity and sadness feel so real. So ordinary in the most precious way. The family is not a Christian family and you might need to guide some discussions when boyfriends come on the scene in later books, but the tried and true themes of loyalty, family bonds and the life of a sibling made the series a gem.
Conversation Starters: There are so MANY. You’ll undoubtedly start talking together about personalities (and yes, of course kids pick up the discussion of which character they most relate too), the responsibilities of older kids, the frustration and hilarity of toddlers, and how we deal with hard emotions like anger, sadness and feelings of failure. Overall, the book portrays the value of family and what it means to be a family…and there’s no end to discussion there.
This is easier reading. I’d suggest reading it to kids as young as five up to adults!
I sat in the folding chair at my kid’s school today, grinning at my son and daughter up on the stage. It was the annual Mother’s Day program and my heart overflowed watching them—my son staring at me unwavering and my daughter sneaking shy glances my way.
Next to me my other son, Calvin, sat in his wheelchair, listening to the kid’s voices fill the gym. He grinned his signature side-smile at the songs and tried to join in, vocalizing over his trach.
I felt so much joy and sorrow in one moment; joy in what is and sorrow at what’s been lost. How can a simple holiday feel so complicated?
I reached over and held his hand, letting him know I was there. And then I looked up and locked eyes with my kids on the stage, gave a big thumbs up, and let them know too, I’m here—I’m always here for you.
That’s what we do as mothers, we carry on bravely, even when our hearts feel like they might break.
We smile and tell our kids that everything will be okay, even when our world feels upside down.
We reach over and hug our child, letting them feel joy and love and save our tears for the shower.
We learn to delight in what is and let go of what illness and disability has robbed us and our kids.
We’ve learned behavioral interventions, tracheotomy care, g-tube care and have become therapists in our own right.
We stay up countless nights comforting our child through seizures, illnesses, and hospital stays.
We’ve persevered even when we wanted to run the other way.
We’ve discovered value and beauty that takes our breath away, while the world passes by.
We’ve wrestled with God in dark places and experienced grace that’s changed us.
We’ve grown through things we never thought we’d survive.
We’ve been stretched to the point we’re afraid we’ll break.
We’ve seen joy come in the morning after sorrow’s long night.
We hurt deeply.
We love deeply.
Mother’s Day; it reminds me just how complicated, lovely and rich my life is.
Are you a special needs parent?
The Grief Workshop is an opportunity for you to tell your story and embrace the joy and loss of it all–and it’s starting next week (May 16)!
Write Your Grief is a 3-week, online workshop, designed to guide you in exploring loss in a healing way. Led by Kara Dedert, you will experience the power of creative ways of expressing grief and create your own treasured compilation that tells your story. Join a dynamic group of parents of kids with special needs, dedicated to telling their story and embracing all that it holds. Learn more and register here.
Tonight found me in one of my most favorite places– in my living room, with my mom and I on opposite couches.
It’s been a comforting rhythm in my life, these talks and time with my mom. I can remember one “couch session” six years ago: I rocked Calvin in my arms and bawled my eyes out to my mom. I couldn’t bear the pain of the life Calvin was going to live. I couldn’t see over the mountain of his losses. I felt sick and didn’t see how life would be worth living if you could never express yourself, reach out for a hug or let your feet carry you on adventures. My mom sat in the pain with me.
Tonight was so different. We sat on the couches and Calvin was again in my arms. Well, sort of. His head was on the armrest and the rest of him stretched across my lap and onto the couch. He’s grown. We’ve grown.
On top of devastating loss, I feel gain too. And not because everything turned out fine; actually all of our worst fears came true. But what time and grace had to show me was the value and joy Calvin’s life holds despite severe disabilities. I perceived basic abilities equalled happiness. In some ways it does, but Calvin has so many other unexpected abilities that bring a totally different type of joy.
Our families and friends have come together and heaped out love on us and Calvin, it’s shown us the depth of their loyalty and love. God used Calvin to show us this beautiful gift.
I would do anything to hear him say, “Mom!” or to have him reach up and hug me. But he’s shown us unconditional love and joy in who we are with wide, warm eyes, affectionate kisses, and legs that jerk in unrestrained excitement. His love has been so pure and whole-hearted, it’s made me grasp just a little bit more the nature of God’s love.
Every night, Calvin and his sister are snuggled up tight. She told me, “I don’t know why I always hold his hand, I think it’s because he makes me feel safe.” Funny, isn’t it? The most defenseless person in our house makes the most strong-spirited one feel safe.
There are so many more, but for tonight this is what comes to mind. I thought I was dealing with wreckage that could never be salvaged into one ounce of good. But there is so much beauty here in the brokenness and the hurt of it all, I’m a little stunned with it all.
I don’t think of loss and joy as two separate categories with tally marks in each leaving us to figure out which one is greater. Instead, I see them as two lines that follow our storyline, both very real and both very much a part of us.
As Calvin’s disease progresses, we’re making changes in his life. Loss continues to be a part of our story, Calvin’s story. But today, all I feel is overwhelming thankfulness for the gift of his life.
Write Your Grief is a 3-week, online workshop, designed to guide you in exploring loss in a healing way. Led by Kara Dedert, you will experience the power of using creative ways to express grief and create your own treasured compilation that tells your story. Join a dynamic group of parents of kids with special needs, dedicated to telling their story and embracing all that it holds. Learn more and register here.
dusk in the sonoran desert // karadedert
No matter how much time
Like a shooting star
it’s what I fear
You will see
us – pain
But today I stare