The Practice of Pondering (by Jean Fleming)

The following full-length article first appeared in Discipleship Journal (a discontinued publication of NavPress). You’ll find a condensed version of this article (with Ann Voskamp’s excellent photography) at Ann’s place today. Don’t miss it!

Giuseppe Momos' double helix spiral staircase in the Vatican
by Jean Fleming

Have you ever sunballousa-ed? If not, you should try it. Our Lord’s mother, Mary, did. It characterized her life.

The word sunballousa is Greek for “placing together for comparison.” In Lk. 2:19, the word is translated “pondered.” The Amplified Bible translates Lk. 2:19 this way: “But Mary was keeping within herself all these things (sayings), weighing and pondering them in her heart.” Later in that chapter, Luke says that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart” (v. 51, emphasis mine).

What things? The words of the angel Gabriel. The words of her cousin Elizabeth. The words of the shepherds. The words of the Old Testament about the coming of the Messiah. Every developing event, every new word, might yield more light to this astonishing unfolding. So she kept adding to her treasure store. She held all that was happening in a precious bundle. Over and over again, she unpacked it and spread it out on the table of her heart. Each time she would arrange the pieces anew, placing the various elements in fresh configurations. Continue reading

Bible Out Loud


Ever since our firstborn’s first day home from the hospital, we’ve been reading out loud to our sons every night. The book we chose to inaugurate this ritual? Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott.

Not your typical bedtime read-aloud book, but for a one-day-old, we figured it was okay. Our main goal was to establish the daily routine early.

Besides, we ourselves wanted to read Ivanhoe. Also, the newborn began to learn and recognize the sound of his parents telling him a story.

After Ivanhoe, we switched to board books and picture books—Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Sandra Boynton’s Moo, Baa, La La La!

Rich & Sabina - storytime

We read them slowly, savoring the words and illustrations. We read them so many times that, even now, I can recite them by memory and tell you when to turn the page: “In the great green room / There was a telephone / And a red balloon / And a picture of— [turn page] the cow jumping over the moon.”

Before my second son started walking, he used to crawl to me, dragging a book in one hand. I remember sitting on the floor (as I often do) with my back against the bookshelves, watching him bring me another Sandra Boynton. Here he comes.

As he crawled into my cross-legged lap, I resolved to stay put and read the book to him no matter how many times he asked.

So when I turned the last page and he said, “Again?” I read it again.

And again.

Through every iteration, I made sure to still read it slowly and enjoy the story. No rushing.


We read that book seven times in a row before he crawled out of my lap. I stayed, waiting to see if he would ask for the eighth.

Of course, we adjusted as our sons grew older. Five or ten minutes of bedtime reading turned into half an hour or more. On weekly library trips, we took home Frog and Toad (Arnold Lobel), Poppleton (Cynthia Rylant), and colorful, well-mannered dinosaurs (Jane Yolen).

Deep and thoughtful discussions became part of bedtime reading as we read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Count of Monte Cristo (all unabridged). Currently, my husband is reading Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper to our nine-year-old, and I’m reading Shelby Foote’s The Civil War (Volume I) to the older two boys.

The initial intent stuck: we established a habit of reading every night, fifteen years and counting. The fun ritual that started with a one-day-old who slept through most of Ivanhoe has become part of our routine, part of our relationship.

Hear the Bible Out Loud

When was the last time someone read aloud to you? When did you recently sit down for nothing but the joy of hearing good words artfully woven together?


How to Listen to Bible Gateway’s Audio Bibles

1. Go to, hover over the “Bible” tab in the upper left, and click on “Audio Bibles.”


2. Choose your preferred audio version. (For a special treat, try one of the versions “by Dramatized”!)


3. Choose the book of the Bible . . .


4. . . . and the chapter.


5. Press play, and hear the story!


Consider it a treat. Someone is reading aloud to you. Like the child who asked for the same book seven times in a row, savor the story and hear it as many times as you want by pressing “play” again and again.


Did you know about International Day of the Bible on November 23, 2015? Check it out.

A portion of the above is excerpted from Behold the Beauty: An Invitation to Bible Reading. For more details, including quotes and the book trailer, visit the book’s web page.

A portion of the above first appeared in one of my articles for Charity Singleton Craig’s How to Bring Words to Life Column, 5 Reasons to Go to Storytime (even if you don’t have children).


Photo credits:

Elliot Margolies, via Flickr Creative Commons

Alexander N, via Flickr Creative Commons

For quote image: denise carrasco, via Flickr Creative Commons

Silver, Gold, and . . . Paper (Guest Post for Dena Dyer)

Do me a favour Project 365(2) Day 269

You know the 25th anniversary is Silver and the 50th is Gold. Do you know what anniversary is Paper (my favorite)? Did you know the 21st is Brass?

I’m delighted and honored to be a guest writer for Dena Dyer. Click over to read my piece on wedding anniversaries.


Photo credit: Keith Williamson, via Flickr Creative Commons

Carrying Weight

We spread out two nights’ worth of backpacking, covering the entire lower level of our home with sleeping bags, Therma-Rest pads, two tents, freeze-dried dinners, rain gear, S’mores ingredients, fishing lures, flashlights . . . did we forget anything? We roll, fold, stuff, tie, pack, and squeeze the air out. We’re able to confine our shelter, food, clothing, and every need into five packs, compact and tight.

Our backpacking preparation always culminates with the same ritual: we weigh each pack before the trip. Tense and unmoving, we watch the scale until its numbers settle. Then comes a trumpet accolade and the announcements:

Charles: 51 pounds!
Monica: 28 pounds!
Derek: 15 pounds!
Titus: 10 pounds!
Byron: 3 pounds!

The packs weigh more than they did the last trip, and our faces beam.


At the trailhead I shoulder my load, taking pride in every pound. I keep track of how much I carry. I am proud of the weight on my back.

It is my own weight, mine, and I carry it alone. My strong legs take the trail and its 1,000-foot elevation gain. I can do it.

Self-sufficiency is an illusion, and I fall for it again. As a result, anxiety hovers close by, ready to swoop down on me. I am now a clear and easy target, having marked myself with pride.

But anxiety’s deadly talons never reach me. God’s Word has come between.

So, humble yourselves under God’s strong hand, and in his own good time he will lift you up. You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.

– 1 Peter 5:6-7 (Phillips)

Father, I don’t want to hoard my worries from You. Protect me from thinking that I operate on my own strength. I recognize that without You I can do nothing. Teach me (again) humility, which is an anti-worry shield. Show me how to shed pride and transfer the weight from my shoulders to Yours. I want to labor for You, but only by taking the yoke of Jesus. With this yoke upon me, may I learn from You and find rest.

When we humble ourselves each morning by casting all our cares on the Lord, we will start the day free of care. The humble are genuinely care free.

I’ve discovered how true that is about myself and my soul. Where there’s worry, where there’s anxiousness, pride is at the root of it. When I am experiencing anxiety, the root issue is that I’m trying to be self-sufficient. I’m acting independent of God.

– C.J. Mahaney, in Humility: True Greatness


It has been six years since I wrote the above, and backpacking is different now. Instead of going twice a year, I go once. Each son’s pack is heavier than mine.

I don’t feel strong nowadays. Instead of taking pride in the number of pounds in my pack, I gladly transfer as much weight to my husband’s and sons’ packs as they will take.

When people asked, “How far do you go on a backpack?” I used to say, “As far as the youngest hiker.” Now I answer, “As far as I can go.”

Yet the temptation to self-sufficiency can still be strong, and I need humility now more than ever.


To read 1 Peter 5 (entire chapter) in the Phillips translation, visit

What If (Guest Post by Jill Case Brown)

You’ve read about my friend Jill Case Brown before, when I posted a review of her YA novel Safe. Now I’m delighted and honored to host Jill for a guest post. Funny and witty, humble and wise, Jill is also an excellent writer. I’m glad my readers can get to know her a little.

From the “About” page on Jill’s blog:

The big picture: living vibrantly when part of life is hard. This blog will mostly be about how life changed for both of us when my husband, David, broke his neck in a 2009 bicycle accident. Spinal cord injury, or SCI, makes things harder—but it doesn’t have to make them worse. It can even make some things better.

I also invite you to check out her Facebook page: Jill Case Brown Author


by Jill Case Brown

Our refrigerator was to blame. It really was. Sometimes I stand in front of it and say, “You know, I could hate you.”

But I don’t. It’s a good refrigerator, and I like it. We’re not getting rid of it.

David and I bought this old house when the previous owner gave up her plan of opening it as a bed & breakfast. She’d already done the big work, like electricity, plumbing, heat and air conditioning, remodeled bathrooms and kitchen.

I especially love our kitchen. It glows with morning sun and is beautifully designed, the most workable kitchen I’ve ever had. But the only space for a refrigerator snugs up against a cabinet, and the one that came with the house was an enormous side-by-side. Instead of opening all the way, the freezer door thunked to a stop at a ninety-degree angle.

After a couple of months, I was fed up with blindly slithering my arm into the freezer and coming out with surprises. I’m not a great cook anyway, and this didn’t help.

“I give up,” I told David, waving a package of frozen peas that was supposed to be a chicken. “Let’s replace this monster.”

So we did. We chose a smaller one, with doors that open away from the cabinet and can swing wide.

The new refrigerator was to arrive early Tuesday morning. David and I planned to get it settled in, then drive to work together for a meeting. But—surprise, surprise—time for us to leave, and still no delivery guys. At the last minute, David took off on his bicycle. He’d wanted the car, since he also had a lunch appointment that would require travel, but I still hoped to make it to our meeting if the guys brought the refrigerator in time. (They didn’t.)

A common experience. Who hasn’t had one like it?

This time, though, the consequences went deep. On his way home from work that afternoon, David skidded on gravel and launched off his bicycle, onto a rock and into his new life as a quadriplegic.

As you can imagine, that leaves me with a whole list of what-ifs. They start broad and fairly painless: What if we hadn’t moved here? What if we’d bought a different house? What if the previous owner had left a more appropriate refrigerator? What if the delivery guys had been on schedule? What if David hadn’t wanted to save money by downsizing to just one car?

Then the items get sharper: What if I hadn’t fussed about the old refrigerator? What if I hadn’t pushed to buy a new one? What if I’d told David to take the car that day instead of keeping it for myself?

That last one really pierces. After cycling to and from his lunch appointment, he was probably tired and less able to avoid the accident. If he’d had the car . . . if I hadn’t been so selfish . . .

I’m aware that what-ifs serve no purpose except to scourge the soul. I’ve been that route before, and it never takes you where you need to go. So the third time I caught myself standing in front of the refrigerator, running the list through my mind, I said aloud, “Can’t go there.”

Hard things happen. That’s just life. And whenever the urge to what-if comes up for this particular hard thing, I know exactly what to do with it.

Blame the refrigerator. It doesn’t mind.


Photo credit: Kevin Marsh via Flickr Creative Commons

Guest Post on Bible Reading at Soul Stops


I’m delighted and honored to be a guest writer at Many thanks to Dolly Lee!

Why do I compare Bible reading to the Saturn V rocket, and what do I call the moon? I invite you to read my article at Soul Stops.

Open Letter to the Generations Before Me

The following is for the blog tour of Emily Wierenga’s memoir Making It Home. Did you know Emily has provided blog prompts?

Here are Emily’s blog prompts 14 and 15:

14. How would you encourage a woman who feels unnoticed, left out, or no longer relevant as she grows older?

15. How can the older generation encourage the younger generation to stay focused on God’s peace, identity and purpose through multiple life changes and seasons?


Dear Christ followers of the generations before me:

I once overheard someone ask a woman in her twenties, “Are you going to the women’s mini-retreat?”

“Nah,” the twenty-something replied, “It’s just going to be a bunch of old ladies.”

This young woman came to church dressed in classy leather boots and neatly arranged, fashionable clothing. Her hair was expertly highlighted and curled, her makeup applied with a model’s know-how. Her dad was an influential leader in the church. When she threw a party, all the other young and younger ladies wanted an invitation. She landed a go-getter job that could easily extend into a prestigious career. She volunteered in the children’s ministry and was popular with kids and teens.

These are the girls and teens who heard her say, essentially, that she’s too cool to hang with the old ladies.

I wish that twenty-something woman and those girls and teens would be intentional about getting to know you. I wish they knew Amelia Sorensen, the woman in her eighties who taught my husband’s Sunday school when he was in first grade and invited families with teenagers over for a home-cooked meal. I wish they knew Hal DeMooy, the man who modeled daily Bible reading and encouraged the young to do the same—or Jim Downing, the Pearl Harbor survivor who, at age 102 and counting, is mentoring teens. I wish they knew the python-slaying Egelers.

I wish they knew the value of interacting with you, the generations who came before. Because if they don’t, they miss out on a chance to be rich—like passing by a cave of precious metals and walking away without mining it.

Get all the advice and instruction you can,
so you will be wise the rest of your life.

(Proverbs 19:20)

Your white hair and wrinkles represent decades refined and lived out under God’s grace, like nuggets and flakes of gold. You have the advantageous perspective of looking back on the same years and experiences younger generations still look forward to. You have already seen, perhaps multiple times, the same struggles and blessings I am experiencing right now.

I once sat on a panel to answer a local MOPS group’s questions about parenting. The young moms asked questions like, “What can you do when the kids don’t eat?” and “What if you and your husband don’t agree on the kids’ discipline?” and “How do you educate the child about ‘stranger danger’ and still encourage them to treat strangers kindly?” All of the questions were narrowed down to one person’s specific situation.

It occurred to me that a single answer could address every concern brought to the table:


You are the answer that would provide a custom solution not only for every young mom but even for that individual’s pinpointed question at that Q&A.

So I encouraged those moms leaning forward and eagerly asking questions of the panel before them:

Find a mentor. Or several mentors.

Then I told them I get together with Jill once a month and Jean once a week. My senior year in college, when I was a newlywed navigating the new relationship with my husband’s parents, I pursued Mary to ask about her in-law relationships. I call Linda when I’m having a parenting crisis. When I was a new mom, I turned to Miriam, the Byrnes, Paula, and others. One day a few years ago I called Dorothy and asked, “I need help with marriage. Could I come over?”

“Sure, dear. When would you like to come?”

“What time do you get up in the morning?” I asked. I was there at seven a.m. the next day.

Richard Peck, Newbery-winning YA author and former high school teacher, agrees with me that we need you. He makes sure an elderly character appears in each of his novels:

I need them. Young readers need them more. The old folks are there in the novels as counterbalances. They provide wisdom and seasoning won only through long lifetimes, and compassion unavailable from the peer group. They offer alternatives in the accelerating battle between parents and children, and glimpses of the problems and sorrows of old age for a young generation fixated on their own.

– Richard Peck, Invitations to the World (New York: Dial Books, 2002), 26-27

We need you, and we need to pursue relationships with you. I’ve asked myself, How could I draw out wisdom from the older women around me? How do I mine wisdom from the quiet ones? What questions should I ask? What steps of relationship should I take? More than once, I’ve started by asking you for a recipe in hopes that it will lead to deeper friendship.

Though good advice lies deep within the heart,
a person with understanding will draw it out.

(Proverbs 20:5)

And then you remind me that every person is both young and old, so I ask myself questions as an older woman, too: What young person could I reach out to today? How can I be winsome and inviting to the young? What can I learn from the young?

Thank you for welcoming me into your lives. What would we do without you who have gone before?

With deep gratitude and appreciation,

5 Steps to Make a Sentence Curve (or Vary Your Sentence Length)

life ends

Do a quick internet search and you’ll find several articles advising you to vary sentence length in your writing. I’m simply offering a visual tool to help writers implement that advice.

Read my article, 5 Steps to Make a Sentence Curve, at Charity Singleton Craig’s column How to Bring Words to Life.

Photo credit: see bottom of the article at How to Bring Words to Life

Why the Copyright Page Is One of the Best in My Book

[November 16, 2015 UPDATE: Paperback now available.]

Today is launch day for my book, Behold the Beauty: An Invitation to Bible Reading!

Saturn V Launch!

To celebrate launch day, I would like to feature the book’s . . .

[drum roll]

. . . copyright page.

Check out Amazon’s “Look inside” preview, and here’s what you’ll see on the copyright page:

“For information about special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact Fistbump Media Special Sales at”

When the print version becomes available [UPDATE: paperback now available!], perhaps you or your pastor, small group leader, or other ministry leader would like to have multiple copies. It’s a little book (< 100 pages) and therefore might be ideal for church newcomer packets or gift bags, church libraries, small group studies, Sunday school classes, or other ministry handouts.

Send an e-mail to for more info on discounted bulk orders!

Would you share this information with your pastor, church leader, small group, MOPS, campus ministry, other ministry leaders, and your local library? Most importantly, would you please pray that Behold the Beauty readers would grow in knowing God better and hungering for His Word?


Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson, via Flickr Creative Commons

Behold the Beauty Facebook page

Launch Day for Behold the Beauty: Oct. 13, 2015

My book, Behold the Beauty: An Invitation to Bible Reading, releases on October 13. That’s this Tuesday!


I will be sharing more information soon. For now, I invite you to take a look at the book’s Facebook page.

Sign-ups for my monthly newsletter will also be available soon. This will include book updates, free subscriber-only resources, and thoughts on the writing life.

Some details:

– Published by BibleDude Press

– Endorsed by Cynthia Hyle Bezek, Jennifer Dukes Lee, and John Blase

– Discounts for bulk orders available

Thank you for the support and encouragement you have shown! More coming soon.

How Crossbeams Values Every Person

Crossbeams Building Toy

In real-world engineering, there is no MVP. A team isn’t a true team if one “best” worker shoulders 80 percent of the load, leaving others’ work optional, insignificant, or less influential.


Teamwork means no one is the star player (“It’s all hanging on me”) whose sole performance makes or breaks a project. Real teamwork means the project depends on every team member. Similarly, real teamwork means no one can claim to be irrelevant—no excuses for flaking out or disengaging (“I don’t need to do much. I’m not needed here anyway.”).

True teamwork means every member’s contribution is not only helpful but necessary. The game hangs on everyone’s play.

Two misconceptions about teamwork and community:

Falsehood #1: “I’m more important than the others. We can do without them.”

. . . and the flipside:

Falsehood #2: “I’m less important than the others. They can do without me.”

In Christian community, too, there is no MVP.

It’s easy to see how putting others down can damage a team. But putting yourself down is just as damaging. In fact, the Bible addresses that issue first.

Antidote for Falsehood #2:

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. . . . Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body?

– 1 Corinthians 12:12-16, NLT (emphasis added)

Antidote for Falsehood #1:

If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary.

– 1 Corinthians 12:12-21, NLT (emphasis added)

You are needed. You . . . and you . . . and you . . . are needed.

Crossbeams teaches this.


Charles Sharman, Crossbeams inventor, created a Team Build concept for several large designs.


Last week, members of the local library’s MiniMasterminds STEM club accomplished the Crossbeams Team Build for the Saturn V (pronounced “Saturn Five”), the rocket that took us to the moon.

Each child built one of twelve modules.




We collected the completed rocket sections . . .


. . . and connected all twelve modules. Once the builders (and the adults who accompanied them!) realized how big the finished rocket would be, you could hear the room stirring in increasing excitement.

“Wow, do you realize how huge this thing is going to be?!”

“I told you this was going to be really cool!”

“This is gonna be taller than I am!”

“Taller than the tallest person here!”







The end result was seven and a half feet tall.


It takes the fastest Crossbeams builder about two and a half hours to build the Saturn V by himself. But in this Team Build, twelve beginners who had never seen Crossbeams before finished it in 75 minutes.

Discussion questions concluded the event. Some were:

Q: How can beginners beat the fastest Crossbeams builder?

“We all did it together!”

Q: How did your own part look compared the completed rocket?

“Mine was pretty big, and looked pretty cool, but it was way cooler to see the full rocket at the end.”

Q: How important was your part in building the rocket?

“Very important. . . . The rocket wouldn’t have worked without every part.”

Team Builds by Crossbeams, made by a company named after the Golden Rule, emphasize teamwork, the importance of everyone, and a well-engineered end-product everyone can be proud of.


For further reading:

The Crossbeams Team Build Concept (includes Team Builds Instructor’s Guide)

Seven:Twelve Engineering, the company behind Crossbeams

A summary of a previous Team Build event: Eiffel Tower (includes video)

The Story Behind Crossbeams

What sets Crossbeams apart?


Photo credits for the Saturn V Team Build event: Pikes Peak Library District, Rockrimmon Branch