Category Archives: Kids

Harry Potter and the Mother Who Grew Up in the Church in the ’90s.

Thirteen months ago, my children and I embarked upon a literary journey. I was encouraged by some and strongly warned by others, but with careful consideration and willing hearts, in June of 2020 we stepped onto Platform 9 ¾ with curiosity in hand, and boarded the express train bound for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I can still remember when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone first made its way controversially into the bookstores of the United States. I was a college student and everywhere I turned, I heard the cries of woe from my circle of influence. The Christian community at large was loathe to accept a book that we were told embraced and encouraged witchcraft, that cheered on and delighted in blatant acts of sorcery, and that surely would set its readers, particularly children and young adults, on a slippery slope bound straight for the depths of hell by way of the occult.

This is not an exaggeration, as you may be old enough to recall. Pastors and prominent leaders throughout the American Church were terrified of the effects that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone would have on impressionable young minds. Families would be torn apart while children were quickly swept away from God and into the clutches of dark magic. The End Times would be ushered in with Harry Potter himself at the helm as the Antichrist.  With all the fear and drama surrounding this story, there was only one thing for a young 20-something-year-old college sophomore like me to do. I borrowed a copy from the library and read it. 

Armed with my helmet of salvation and my breastplate of righteousness, my sword of the Spirit at the ready, I opened the first pages of the book, steadied against the powers of Satan that were bound between the haunting covers of wicked British middle-grade literature.  But as I journeyed my way through each chapter, I discovered, to my utter astonishment, that I was finding the story not to be vile and corrupt, but actually quite delightful. It was funny. Clever, even. The characters were endearing. The plot was captivating. I kept my armor on so as not to be caught off guard, but by the end of the book, I was enraptured.

Nearly twenty-five years passed from the time I read that first book. I expected I would read the rest of the series, but life happened and, for a multitude of unimportant reasons, I lost interest in my pursuit of the Harry Potter hype. I did, however, know dozens, if not hundreds of people who read the entire series, and I duly noted the fact that none of them ever joined the occult or became Wiccan. The Church still complained now and then, but not nearly as loudly, and I even came to notice that quite a number of Christian friends and trusted heroes of mine applauded the books. 

This is why I decided last summer to embark on the Harry Potter adventure with my own children, this time not through the lens of a naive college student, but with the wisdom of a critically-thinking mother. With the exception of The Hobbit, we read only those books during our read-aloud time for the next thirteen months. (Eventually I gave up reading them myself and passed the torch to Jim Dale’s audio version – highly recommended, by the way.) Jeremy, who had already read the first five books on his own years ago, caught up with us so that we could finish the last few chapters of the series together as a family. This past Saturday morning we sat in the living room, hanging on to the last details of the final scenes, nearly breathless as the last pieces of the puzzle fell into place. It was a family moment I won’t soon forget. 

When I choose books for my family to read, I always look for themes of goodness, truth, and beauty. I look for classic tales of good vs evil, characters devoted to one another in friendship and loyalty, and love prevailing over hate, or at the very least, the truth of love’s power prevailing in the heart of the story’s main theme. As writer N.D. Wilson would say, I want to “feed them narratives that love the lovely and honor the honorable.” Did I find these truths in Harry Potter? I did; in fact, I found them to be far more prevalent than I had ever anticipated. 

I recognize that I’m late to the game in terms of offering a review of Harry Potter. But I do still know a number of people who never read the books when they were younger (many are my age and, like me, thought they were too old to be reading “kids’ books” when they first came out), but now they have children who are old enough to begin reading them, and they’re concerned. Many heard the same warnings and still have the same trepidation that I did when I was a young college student. I wanted to take the time to offer up my take-aways from this story for those of you who find yourself in my place in life and unsure of how to navigate the world of Harry Potter with your family.

(Mild thematic spoilers ahead.)

The plot began to weave a familiar story of good vs. evil, but the evil I had been warned about wasn’t what I had expected. The characters, other than the fact that they had the ability to perform magic, were no different than the characters I remembered from those that had been  given places of honor in the Christian faith: Lucy, Susan, Peter, Edmund, Frodo, Sam, even Gandalf in a sense. The evil was there, to be sure. But it was identifiable evil, not cloaked in righteousness so as to cause young minds to stray from the knowledge of truth. It was White Witch evil. Sauron evil. Maleficent evil. And it was clear from the very beginning that such darkness must hold no place of honor. The prophet Isaiah warns us in scripture, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness…” (Isaiah 5:20). In the Harry Potter series, evil is clearly named and is clothed in deceit, hatred, and malice. There is nothing attractive about it.

More than that, though, Harry Potter is a coming-of-age story of friendship that is exceedingly loyal and of courage and bravery that kids can cling to when facing their own times of trial and adversity. Within the page of this story, the reader will quickly come to recognize the power of heroism in the hearts of the unlikeliest heroes; unconditional love in the most unsuspecting places; sacrificial love in its purest form, and the harsh truth that even those we admire the most are, at best, flawed and fallen people in need of forgiveness. While this is not a story rooted in scripture, the truth of God’s word is evident throughout its pages:

There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community. Proverbs 6:16-19

The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps. Proverbs 13:15.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. Proverbs 17:17

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:12-13

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15:26

Sometimes these truths were displayed subtly, as in quick decisions made by the characters. Other times, they were displayed as overtly as tombstone epitaphs. But throughout each book, Harry, Ron, Hermione and others had tough decisions to make: choices of right vs wrong, selfishness vs. sacrifice, safety vs. courage, preservation of dignity vs. humility, and choosing truth from lies. They didn’t always make the right decisions, but each time the author reminded her readers that while her characters were free to make their own decisions, they were not free from the consequences of those decisions. 

Is this story perfect? No. Yes, there’s witchcraft and wizardry, and yes, the Bible warns us about real satanic sorcery. But while it’s true that the good guys don’t call upon the power of God to save them from the enemy, neither do the bad guys call upon the power of Satan to do their bidding. The world of Hogwarts magic is its own world, a power that one is born with, not one that can be conjured from the depths of hell. Readers aren’t taught how to perform spells (but one could argue that they are taught a little Latin and Greek etymology). To my knowledge, no muggle (that’s us) has ever learned to apparate or been able to turn the kitchen lights on by themselves, no matter how loudly or confidently they shout, “Lumos!” At its heart, Harry Potter is nothing more than a fairy tale, and the magic created therein is as benign and powerless within the confines of reality as opening the motion-sensored doors at Target by using the Force.

As Christians, we don’t have to demonize all magic. The Wizard of Oz, practically every Disney movie, and the darlings of Christian novels, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, all contain magic, witches and/or wizards. Scripture certainly warns us about the evils of those who perform dark magic and, as I mentioned earlier, calling that which is evil good. Harry Potter does an impressive job in its own right of warning of the dangers of dark magic, and students at Hogwarts are taught the very real perils of aligning oneself with it and the tragic consequences it brings. But if we make the blanket statement that all magic is evil because the Bible says so, then we must be willing to collectively throw Professor McGonagall, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Mary Poppins out with the bathwater. Instead, we must be critical thinkers and acknowledge that there is indeed a line to draw when it comes to magic, but we also don’t want to miss out on that which is good, true, and lovely because we’re too focused on the trees to see the beauty of the forest. 

One of my favorite quotes from G.K. Chesterton says, “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.” We live in a world where dragons do exist, in the figurative sense, anyway. As parents, it’s important that we equip our children to face a world of darkness, where true evil does lurk in the shadows. I read my children stories of scripture to remind them that Jesus has won the victory over Satan once and for all and that they need not be afraid. That they can stand and defeat Goliath because the battle isn’t really theirs to fight, but it’s the Lord’s. In a similar sense, a worthy fairy tale equips children with stories of characters, most of whom are their age, who display courage, valor, adversity, strength of character, loyalty, self-sacrifice, and trustworthiness, and who remind us with each new tale that they can stand boldly in the face of darkness because evil can and has been overcome. Harry Potter reminds us over and over again that, not only can dragons be killed, but also that there is no power greater than true and abiding love, which always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Always.

I Don’t Want to Read That Book

I mentioned a few months ago on my personal Facebook page that I was ready to introduce Aiden to the first book in Andrew Peterson‘s Wingfeather Saga, entitled On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.  As it is in my top three book series of all time (really, my top two), I had anxiously waited years for this read-aloud experience and was so excited when it became apparent to me that he was ready.  What I had not anticipated was his reaction to what I felt was an epic milestone:

Image result for on the edge of the dark sea of darkness

”I don’t want to read that book,” he remarked dismissively.
“What??  Why not?!?” I asked, perplexed.
He offered up his most well-thought-out 10-year-old answer: “I just don’t.”

After several days of letting the book linger conspicuously on the coffee table, I tried again.

“I think you’ll really love this book, Aiden.”
“Okay son, you HAVE to give me a reason.”
“I just don’t want to read about a dark sea of darkness.  It sounds scary.”
“Ahhhh, well, why didn’t you say so?!  You see, it’s not really about the Dark Sea.  It’s about the incredible adventure that happens on the EDGE of the dark sea.  Actually, I think it’s a pretty clever and funny title. How about you let me read you the first two chapters, and if you don’t like it after that, we’ll put it away for a while.”
{Deep sigh} “Fine.”

After the first two chapters, he had no choice but to maintain his skepticism.  He had worked so hard to build up his disdain born out of complete and total ignorance that he couldn’t drop the act too soon.  He was like Fred Savage’s character in The Princess Bride: “I guess you can read another chapter. If you want to.” Insert eye roll.

But just as I suspected, eye rolls quickly turned to eyes entranced.  The mouth that had been complaining just days before turned into the mouth gaping open, listening in complete silence.  It wasn’t long until both he and his little sister, (who wasn’t about to miss out on something that her mama had played up so dramatically), were absolutely enraptured by the story of the three Igiby children and the unusual village in which they lived.  When they weren’t rolling on the floor with laughter they were sitting close to me on the couch, every muscle in their bodies tense with anxious anticipation of what would happen next. And how I wish I could have captured the looks on their faces whenever Peet the Sock Man would make his entrance!  It was better than Christmas morning.

The other day the same boy who just weeks ago refused to like this book said to me, “Hey Mama, I know what we should do this summer.  We should take turns between reading the rest of The Wingfeather Saga and the rest of The Chronicles of Narnia” (of which we’re currently reading book four.  In the order in which they were written. The way God intended them to be read). The fact that my 10-year-old boy wants to spend his summer hanging out with his mom, reading together her two very favorite book series…well…could it make me any happier?  

I’ll give you a hint.  No.

I don’t know how many more years I have left of my son delighting in spending time with me during the summer months.  In six years he’ll be driving, and I’m wise enough now to know that six kid years equates to about ten minutes in parent years.  I have made this read-aloud time such a priority in our family life, and to see it reaping a harvest of reward is an incredible joy for me, and I just had to share it with someone.  

Parents who read aloud to your children every day, don’t stop when they are old enough to read for themselves.  Take the journey to Aerwiar and Narnia and Middle Earth with them. Share in the tragedy and triumph of Meg Murry, Mary Lenox, Frodo Baggins, and Charlie Bucket.  It will pay off dividends, both academically and relationally. I promise. Just be sure to steer clear of toothy cows along the way.

The Gospel According to Natalie

An old Facebook story, but one of my favorites:

Natalie is my independent soul. At age three, she’s big on doing things herself. Lately, her biggest obstacle to overcome is opening packages of string cheese. As she pulls it out of the fridge I ask her, for the sixty-seventh time, if she would like me to help her with it.

“No,” she says.  “I can do it.”

She can’t do it.  As proven by yesterday.  And the day before that.  But she’s determined.  So she tries it again.

She wrestles with the package, knowing that, if she just tries a little harder, or pulls it this way instead of that way, she’ll succeed in her endeavor. She tries, just as every day before, to be strong enough, independent enough, to prove to the world that she doesn’t need anybody. She can do it herself.

Eventually, after much tiresome struggle, she realizes.  She can’t do it, not by her own will.  No matter how independent she is, her strength is not sufficient.  She needs help.  So she comes to me.

“Mom, will you open dis for me?”

Essentially, she says, “Help! I’m in need! Who will save me from this wretched package of cellophane so that I may eat and be filled?” And I respond, not with shouts of “I told you you couldn’t do it! I told you you were too weak!” I don’t tell her she’s not good enough. Or strong enough. I don’t tell her to try harder. Instead, I quietly open the package for her and say, “Here you go, my love.” She is saved from the evils of the child-proof processed food container! In essence, I rescue her from what she’s incapable of doing on her own. And I do it, not with guilt or put-downs, but with grace and love. And I will do it again tomorrow. Because she is my child, and I love her more than anything in this world.

In other words, it’s the Gospel.  According to Natalie.

On Wrestling: An Open Letter to My Son

Dear Aiden,

Do you know what one of my favorite things to watch you do is?  I love to watch you wrestle with your Daddy.  I love how the two of you like to try to beat each other to a pulp and laugh together as you’re doing so.  I love how, even though he’s nearly twice your height and three times your weight, you come at him as though you truly believe you can conquer him.  And what’s funny is that the more he proves to you that he is the mightier opponent, the more you seem to enjoy it.  But sometimes, in his mercy, he offers you the illusion that you have the upper hand.  It’s what gives you the adrenaline to keep coming back for more, I think.

I get it.  

Okay, I don’t.

This male bonding experience that you two share – it’s odd to me.  We girls don’t typically do such barbaric things.  We would much rather bond over tea and cookies and Jane Austen movies.  But even though I don’t understand your masculine inclination to fight each other like wild savages, I do understand the value of such behavior.  The joy you both seem to share when embracing each other in headlocks and trying to throw each other to the ground seems to create a strange connection that only men and boys can truly comprehend.  It’s a special love language you share; and even though it looks as though it’s causing you both great pain, I can see in your faces that it’s joining your hearts together in some secret manly ritual of love and intimacy.

Last night I was watching you wrestle with the most important man in your life – you in your robot pajamas and him with the smell of an evening brushfire ruminating from his thermal shirt and blue jeans.  I hated to bring it to an end, but bedtime was beckoning, ruining your fun as it does every evening.

This morning as I sat down with a cup of coffee for a few minutes of uninterrupted reading before the day called me to action, I read something that brought to mind the story of Jacob in the Bible, and it made me think of you.  Jacob was a man whose life wasn’t going the way he had hoped because of some bad decisions he had made.  He had cheated his brother out of his birthright and ran away from home.  His relationship with his father-in-law was built on dishonesty and deceit.  The women in his life were chock full of drama.  His life was a mess.  Eventually God told him to return home to his family, where the brother he had wronged so many years earlier still lived.

On his return journey he found himself awake in the middle of the night, alone with his fears, not knowing whether his brother would forgive him or try to kill him.  Out of nowhere he came face-to-face with the God of the universe.  With Jacob’s heart burdened by the series of unfortunate events in his life, God came to him – not to talk, not to lecture, not to criticize – but to wrestle.  Man to man.  All night they scuffled like wolves until Jacob eventually had the upper hand.  When daybreak arrived the Lord asked Jacob to let him go.  “Not until you bless me,” Jacob demanded.  The scriptures don’t offer us any insight into God’s body language in this scene, but I imagine He smiled a little at Jacob’s audacity.  It was this request that changed history as we know it.  It was here where God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which is thought to mean “he struggles with God,” and Jacob’s life was forever transformed.

God could have chosen numerous ways to communicate to Jacob in this scenario.  Why do you think He wrestled with him?  Was it because He was angry with Jacob? I don’t think so.  Was it because He wanted to hurt him?  Not exactly.  Did Jacob have the upper hand in the match because he was stronger than God?  No one’s stronger than God.  Did God know that Jacob was going to ask for a blessing?  God knows everything.  Was it part of His plan all along?  Undoubtedly.  I don’t know exactly why God chose a wrestling match to touch Jacob’s heart, but I do know that it was exactly what Jacob needed, and God showed Himself faithful to this scared, angry man in the midst of a tumultuous time in his young life.

Aiden, the point I want to make to you is this: you don’t know it now, but there will be many times in your life where you will question God.  You will question His reasons, His faithfulness, His wisdom, perhaps even His very existence.  Like Jacob, you will be angry, scared, alone.  When those times come, don’t be afraid to wrestle with God.  Fight with Him.  Ask the hard questions.  Come at Him with every ounce of force you can muster.  Yell, scream if you have to.  Don’t be afraid of Him.  He welcomes and delights in the audacity of your fortitude.  But whatever you do, son, don’t let Him go.  Hold tight with all of your might until He gives you the answers you seek.

God knows your thoughts before you even speak them.  As He did with Jacob, your heavenly Father knows the struggles you will have, the lies you will have told, the pain you have felt, the fears you are building up the courage to face.  He knows your questions, and He has the answers.  He’s big enough to hear your accusations and He’s wise and gentle enough to give you a tender answer.  “Ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking,” and He will give you what you need, for He withholds no good thing from us.

Just like with Daddy, be bold enough to wrestle with a God who can’t be beaten.  Bond with him in that secret manly ritual of love and intimacy.  And refuse to let go until you receive your blessing.

Broken Dishes

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on my personal Facebook page in April, 2014.

15 years ago I was given a complete set of hand-me-down dishes from my dear friends, Alf and Margaret Beth.  They were a sweet gesture, one I was truly appreciative of.  But honestly, the dishes themselves weren’t really all that fantastic.  They weren’t exactly my style.  Some of them were even already chipped.  But I took them with much gratitude, thinking, “These will come in handy when I have kids, so that we can teach them to eat from “real” dishes instead of plastic ones, and we won’t have to worry about them breaking our nice dishes.”  (Jeremy and I were engaged at the time.)  Plus, I loved my friends and I appreciated their offer to a young couple just starting out.

We held onto them for nine years before we even had kids, then another five before we started actually using them.  They’ve been moved to seven different homes in three different cities across Tennessee.  Each time I see them I think of my friends and how much I love and miss them.  It wasn’t until sometime early last year that we finally pulled them out of the storage closet for our kids to use.

When I first took them, I had no idea how much they would come to mean to me.  I haven’t seen my friends in…I don’t know…ten years?  But for 15 years, a part of them has lived somewhere in my home, and I’ve carried their memories with me all this time.  And because I love my friends, I’ve come to love those dishes as well.

Early this afternoon one of the plates broke.  The second from the set to meet its demise, actually.  Natalie came from the dining room table into the laundry room where I was, bottom lip quivering, trying not to cry.  But it had frightened her, and after a few seconds of trying hard, she could no longer hold it in.  As anyone who knows my daughter well will tell you, there’s nothing more powerful than fear and embarrassment to make her sob deep, heaving sobs.  Knowing this, I did my best to comfort her quickly.

As I sat and held her and reassured her, I didn’t get upset that one of the dishes I loved was broken.  Instead, I remembered its purpose.  I was thankful that we had chosen to tote around cheap, fragile dishes for 15 years.  I was thankful my little girl wasn’t hurt.  As I cleaned up the mess, I was thankful for my friends, and I was compelled to pray for them.  I was also thankful for the reminder that such is the Body of Christ.
We are weak and fragile.  Easily broken.  We’re all chipped in places.  Some of us aren’t as fancy or as well-known as others.  But we have so much value to Him who loves us, who has carried us and called us His own since before the beginning of time.

And He made us, each and every one of us, for a unique purpose.  It may be simple.  It may be mundane.  It may be unworthy of worldly recognition.  We may spend our entire lives sitting in a dark drawer while others get the privilege of being displayed proudly in a glass cabinet.  But to the One who knows our names, our life is meaningful.  Our worth is invaluable.  His love for us is deep and profoundly significant.  Not because of who we are or what we do.  Not because of any value the world has placed on us.  But because of Him and what He has done for us.  Even to those of us who, like my dishes, are made to do nothing more than to provide a loaf of bread or a cup of cold water to a small child, we have been bought with a price.  And the value of that cannot be measured in human terms.

I love those dishes.  Perhaps now even moreso.

Lessons From the Ziploc Bag

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on my personal Facebook page in February, 2014.

Today inadvertently presented itself with a great object lesson in faith. It was a beautiful day, so after Aiden got his book work done for school, we went outside armed with baking soda, vinegar and a plastic sandwich bag. It was a good day to blow stuff up. I told the kids to stand in a particular spot in the driveway while I daringly loaded the ammunition. They stood. I loaded. I turned back around. They were gone.

They had run up to the top of the hill behind our house, as far away as they could get from the perilous Ziploc bag. Fortunately, the experiment went awry. Not enough vinegar (or baking soda, I’m not sure which). So I tried again, this time adding more of both. I told the kids, “Don’t run away this time! Stand HERE. Trust. Me.” They stood. I loaded. I turned back around. They were gone.

I halted the experiment and had them come down from hiding. We chatted (I’m hormonal today, so I may have chatted loudly. On second thought, firmly sounds better. Let’s say firmly). “Guys! This is a really cool experiment, and you’re missing it because you’re not trusting that where I have you is safe! You’re trusting in your fear and you’re running away from something that’s meant to be fun! Your fear of what might happen is stronger than your trust in me!”


I got quieter.

“Hey, kids, you know what? It’s exactly the same with us and God. He has great plans for us! Really, really cool things in store for our lives! And He promises us that if we just trust in Him, He will be with us, and He will care for us. But too often, instead of trusting in Him, we get afraid of what might happen. We worry that maybe He doesn’t know as much as we do or that He doesn’t really have everything under control. And so, we run away from the good things He has for us because our fear is stronger than our faith. And we end up missing out on some amazing things in life!”

I don’t know if they got it or not. But man, I sure did.

We tried again. The kids didn’t run away this time. Well, Natalie still backed up quite a bit (nobody asked her opinion about this gig in the first place).

The experiment worked. The bag exploded. Aiden was ecstatic.

And my heart was full.