On Mowing and Marriage and Trying to Be Like Jesus

There’s very little in this life that I like less than mowing grass. Reasons? Oh yeah, I got plenty:

    What a waste of time — I could be gardening, reading, writing, washing dishes, mopping the kitchen floor…
    What a waste of gasoline and added pollution, when we could be growing food, or flowers, or sheep instead of grass…
    Grass has no value whatsoever, unless one is playing golf…
    Why would I want to push a horribly noisy smelly machine that could easily cut off my fingers, or my toes, or throw flying sticks or rocks at my head?

I could go on, but you get the idea.


Usually mowing the grass is Mr. H.C.’s job and I don’t have to think about it. But he’s busy doing the roof while the sun shines. (July in Pennsylvania makes watching the Weather Channel unnecessary; we know what the forecast will be: 90 percent humidity and scattered thunderstorms.) And the grass has to be mowed when the sun is shining too. Plus, the tractor is broken. So I’m being the selfless servant and mowing the grass with the push mower.

Right. Not quite so selfless as one might think…

Today as I started mowing, silently congratulating myself on serving my busy husband, he came down off the roof and waved at me to stop. When I stopped, he bent down and raised the mower deck on me. “You’re cutting it too short,” he said. Then he disappeared back up onto the roof.

Excuse me? If I am cutting the grass I will blimey well cut it at the height I want. The shorter the grass, the less it has to be mowed. I’d just as soon kill the wretched grass anyway. That’s the trouble with it, grass doesn’t die. Its roots live forever and come back to haunt you next year after you’ve planted a lovely flower bed there. But I digress.

I confess to being sweaty, hot, and bothered. Muttering the whole time, two passes later, I stopped the mower and lowered the deck back to where it was. But that still didn’t make me feel any better. Here I was — unselfishly mowing the grass so he wouldn’t have to — and he comes to tell me I’m doing it wrong? What kind of ungrateful man is this anyway?

Oh wretch that I am…

I’ve heard enough sermons in my life to know that this is not what Jesus would do. And I’ve also heard enough John Dorean sermons to know that the goal of every Jesus lover is to grow and be more like him every day. Of course, we fail all the time, but that is the goal…

So when I stopped to take a break and get a cool drink of water, I sat down on  the couch and picked up the book I’ve been reading. Sacred Marriage. (If you know this book, you may laugh here.)

I had a copy of this book once, but we were newly married and I ended up giving it away to someone before I read it, and I never got it back. Since then I’ve read sections of it, and heard sermons from it, and I know the subtitle by heart — What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More than to Make Us Happy?; but I’ve never read it cover to cover.

Turns out, maybe I should have.

I always thought, yeah, yeah, I know what Gary Thomas is going to say. Die to your self. Respect your spouse. Love unconditionally.

And yes, that’s what he says. And yes, it’s hard. And as Thomas says–none of that comes naturally to us.

But as I sat there reading Chapter Six,  “The Cleansing of Marriage: How Marriage Exposes Our Sin” I knew. I knew that those words needed to penetrate my soul. Just as I need to die to my Self a hundred, no, a thousand times a day, I also need to desire humility a hundred, no, a thousand times a day.

Of course, we always see our spouse’s sin; it’s so much easier to see other’s sins, isn’t it? Yes, this specifically refers to taking the log out of our own eye before we take the speck out of someone else’s eye (Matthew  7:3-5). Listen to this:

View marriage as an entryway into sanctification — as a relationship that will reveal your sinful behaviors and attitudes and give you the opportunity to address them before the Lord. But here’s the challenge: Don’t give in to the temptation to resent your partner as your own weaknesses are revealed. Correspondingly give them the freedom and acceptance they need in order to face their own weaknesses as well. In this way, we can use marriage as a leg up, a piercing spiritual mirror, designed for our sanctification and growth in holiness.

I needed to re-read that sentence: Don’t give in to the temptation to resent your partner as your own weaknesses are revealed. There it is: the basic sin of all sins–Pride. Lack of humility. Thinking that I know best, yet knowing in my heart and soul that I do not. It’s ugly, pride is. Later Gary Thomas quotes François  Fenélon who wrote: “…all the saints are convinced that sincere humility is the foundation of all virtues.”

To grow in holiness marriage must be understood as a spiritual discipline, Thomas says. “To do this,” he writes, “we must not enter marriage predominantly to be fulfilled, emotionally satisfied, or romantically charged, but rather to become more like Jesus Christ.”

There it is again…to become more like Jesus; and to do that we must put on our robe of humility and not throw it off each time we get hot and bothered. And not only do I agree with Fenélon that humility is the foundation of all virtues, but can I suggest that pride just might be the foundation of all sin?

Today as I was reading an article about the need for us to feel awe before our holy God, I came across the term self-forgetfulness. How I longed for it. The author, Jen Wilkin, cited research that suggests when humans feel awe they are better able to forget themselves and reach out to other people. And I started wondering–what else makes me put on self-forgetfulness?
Blue sky behind gray cloudsDoing something for someone else with no expectations. (Remember mowing the lawn? It went wrong because of my own expectation–that my husband would be pleased and thank me profusely for doing something I hated to do.)
Praying–talking to the Holy God of the Universe — yes, that’s one that definitely gets the mind off oneself.
Thinking about Jesus–whether it is reading the Bible, listening to worship music, or just meditating on how weak and incompetent I am, and how strong and competent Jesus is for me.
So here we have: Go watch a sunset or the clouds or stand on a beach or a mountain; Make dinner for your neighbor; Read your favorite passage in God’s word and thank Him for it; Meditate on the strength of Jesus and your own shortcomings and feel awe that you are so loved.

As I read further in Sacred Marriage, this paragraph jumped out at me:

Don’t run from the struggles of marriage. Embrace them. Grow in them. Draw near to God because of them. Through them you will reflect more of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And thank God that he has placed you in a situation where your spirit can be perfected.

And today, in the sermon I heard this: He loves us where we are at any given moment. Certainly He invites, encourages, challenges us to become more like Christ, but that becoming is not a prerequisite of His love. Can I get an Amen?

white clover

It’s time to mow the grass again…

The tractor is fixed. As Mr. H.C. took it for a mowing spin to see how it was running, he said, “I’m not going to mow the grass very short, because there are lots of bees on the clover, and I don’t want to mow the flowers away.” Yeah, he knows how much I like bees and clover…

I smiled to myself. Thank you God that you have placed me in a situation where my spirit can be perfected.

And thank you God, that the tractor is fixed.

(Part 4) The Librarian’s 29 Favorite Picture Books of all time: to give as gifts, to read over and over, or just to have on your own bookshelves…

And here are the last seven eight — I hope you’ve been reading and enjoying…

Sidney and Norman by Phil Vischer; illustrations by Justin Gerard.

Phil Vischer is the creative genius behind Veggie Tales; Justin Gerard’s wonderful illustrations glow, and together they have written just about the perfect picture book for Christian parents and teachers to read to their kids.  The two pigs are as different as can be: Norman is the perfect pig; Sidney has trouble getting out of bed in the morning. Norman always did well in school and has a good job; Sidney spent many hours in the principal’s office, and he fears his boss now doesn’t like him much either. They are neighbors, though they rarely meet until one day God invites both of them to meet him on Tuesday at noon on Elm Street… Regardless of which pig you identify with, or your child identifies with, God has something interesting to tell them both. Think of it as a modern day Prodigal Pig Parable. Vischer has written a winner–with not only a message, but style, heart, and two darn cute pigs.  Ages 5-Adult

frog and toad

The Frog and Toad Treasury by Arnold Lobel

The Frog and Toad series (along with the Little Bear books by Else Holme Minarik) helped change the style of beginning books for children to read for themselves. First published in 1970, Frog and Toad Are Friends was an instant hit. The two friends are as opposite as Sidney and Norman (see above) and they don’t always get along. They disagree, they hop off in disgust, they do and say embarrassing and wrong things; but at the end of the day, they are still best friends. Each story is an understated golden lesson in friendship that children  everyone need(s) to hear. They need to hear that it isn’t always easy to be a friend, that sometimes we mess up, and that we need to be kind. And that we all need forgiveness and we all need to forgive. The frog and the toad couldn’t be more human. Ages 3-7 to be read to; Ages 5-8 for reading alonefrogandtoadBuy the Treasury — it includes Frog and Toad Are Friends, Frog and Toad Together, and Frog and Toad All Year. (There is one more that is missing in this trilogy — Days with Frog and Toad, published in 1979.) These are technically Beginning Readers, so your first grader will be able to read it, but for goodness sake, sit down and read it with them. You don’t want to miss these great stories and wonderful discussion starters.

(Note: The James Marshall books about the hippo friends George and Martha were originally on this list as well. But as I read and reread the list, I just felt that these two “Old Classics” shouldn’t both be on the list. So if you love Frog and Toad, make sure you check out the George and Martha series too.

oxcartmanOx-cart Man by Donald Hall; illustrations by Barbara Cooney.

Barbara Cooney’s delicate primitive style illustrations are part of why Ox-cart Man made this list. It was a tough call between this book and Cooney’s own Miss Rumphius. But ultimately I think I chose this one because I love what it represents. On a long-ago New England farm, the family spends the year making what they need and being self-sufficient. Then in late fall, the father packs all the extras that they have made and grown that year into his ox-cart and walks many miles to the town of Portsmouth where he sells it all. Even the cart. Even the ox. With the money he makes, he buys what supplies they will need and small gifts that will please his wife and children. Then he walks back home, and the seasons of making begin again.

The rhythm of country life, satisfaction in craft, industriousness, and learning to make do with what you have — our modern American urbanized children need to hear this over and over. Ox-cart Man won the Caldecott for best picture book in 1979. Ages 5-8

The Empty PotThe Empty Pot by Demi

Ping is a child with a green thumb. The plants and flowers that he tends grow beautifully. The Emperor loves plants too, and when it comes time for him to choose an heir, he gives all the children seeds — with a stipulation: the one who comes back in a year’s time with the most beautiful flower will become emperor. Ping tends his seed every day (for a year!) but nothing grows. And when the day comes to take his empty pot to the emperor, all his friends walk by with the most gorgeous flowers ever growing from their pots…

This is a wonderful picture book on honesty rewarded. Who among us can’t recall a lie that we told as kids? There is no hidden message in this story. It is absolutely right out in the open, where no kid can fail to miss it. Yet it’s beautifully told (and illustrated). It’s a great story about doing the hard thing. Ages 5-Adult

the ant and the elephantThe Ant and the Elephant by Bill Peet.

Bill Peet has such an amazing body of work that it was difficult for me to choose my favorite. My children and I loved Farewell to Shady Glade (an ecological tale told from the animal’s point of view) and No Such Things (a hilarious book filled with crazy, made-up animals). But The Ant and the Elephant is the classic story of the large and the small, with the ant saving the life of the elephant. Kids love it!

This book is filled with other gentle lessons as well. The elephant goes through his day fixing the lives of other animals who have gotten in trouble. None of them are grateful; in fact, this book might be filled with some of the orneriest critters ever drawn. But by the end of the day, the elephant is feeling pretty smug and self-satisfied for helping everyone — and sure enough — then he gets into trouble! Ant comes to the rescue, and all ends well.

Peet was an early illustrator with Disney Studios, and his illustrations are done entirely in colored pencil. They are amazing! (Be sure to have a set of colored pencils handy for your child after reading this book). Ages 5-9

Last Stop on Market Street
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena; pictures by Christian Robinson.

I lied in one of the earlier posts.

I said all the other books in this list had been kid-tested. They had. Until I sat down in the book store the other day with this new book — Last Stop on Market Street. It just won the Newbery Award for 2016. There were several complaints from reviewers on Amazon — Newbery Awards are supposed to be thicker, meatier books for older children. The Newbery Award is given for Words; the Caldecott Award is given for Pictures. So, yes, picture books generally win the Caldecotts. But there are exceptions for exceptional books. And this is one. The pictures are lovely (it also won a Caldecott Honor award) but the words are spectacular. Listen: “She smiled and pointed to the sky. ‘Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.'” Or this: “He wondered how his nana always found beautiful where he never even thought to look.”

CJ and his Nana have been to church, and now they are walking to the bus stop. CJ is full of childish complaints: why do we have to take the bus; why don’t we have a car; why can’t I have an iPod like they do… etc. etc. etc. Nana gently answers each question with patience and wisdom. Oh, that all children could have such a Nana… Ages 4+

Old Black Fly

Old Black Fly  by Jim Aylesworth;  illustrations by Stephen Gammell

This is another book in the  “funnest books ever to read aloud” category. It’s short. It’s exuberant. It rhymes. It’s an alphabet story. And the illustrations are perfect. (Stephen Gammell won a Caldecott Award for The Song and Dance Man — also a delightful read.)

Take a hot summer day and a pesky fly who bothers everyone — he even bothered the baby and made her cry. Shoo Fly, Shoo Fly, Shoo, Shoo, Shoo. So. Much. Fun. And it’s about a nasty old villainous fly. Who goes the way all pesky flies should go: Z-Z-Z-Z-Splat! (An alphabet book, remember?) Ages 2-6

And now I’ve come to Number 29…

I’ve dithered very much about this last book — some have come on the list and gone off the list at least three times… But now, there’s no hesitation. This might be the only book on this list that isn’t easily obtainable. I know because I don’t have it, and I can’t get it (unless I want to pay $150 for a new hardback copy.)

MoonstruckMoonstruck: the true story of the cow who jumped over the moon by Gennifer Choldenko; illustrated by Paul Yalowitz. (Paul Yalowitz also illustrated Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch — on Part 2 of this list.)

The horse narrates this satirically funny take on the cow who jumped over the moon. And he thinks Mother Goose did a terrible disservice to the cow by relegating her to just one line in the nursery rhyme. After all, it was no mean feat to jump over the moon! Especially a cow! As he notes, horses have been jumping over the moon for thousands of years, but horses are born to jump — cows are most certainly not jumpers. (Note: Your child needs to be familiar with nursery rhymes to get a lot of jokes in this book. But, ahem, all children should know nursery rhymes anyway… go get them one). These two are the best:

Moonstruck is hilariously understated; it has great wordplay, funny puns, and a good lesson — if at first you don’t succeed, practice. And if you practice, practice, practice, you might just be able to jump over the moon! Even if you’re a cow. Ages 5-9

shelf of books


My worst fear in making these lists and writing these posts is that I will have forgotten one of my very favorites that I haven’t read for awhile and isn’t in my personal collection. Knowing how forgetful I am, it is bound to happen…

But there are also five books which didn’t make the cut — Honorable Mention, as it were — that I feel I just can’t leave off the list — no review, but they are wonderful just the same:

  1. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A Wolf (Jon Scieszka);
  2. Edward and the Pirates by David McPhail ;
  3. Borreguita and the Coyote by Verna Aardema ;
  4. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney; and
  5. The Red Thread, an adoption fairy tale by Grace Lin.

I have also intentionally left off non-fiction and poetry. They might have their own lists later…

How about you? Do you have a favorite picture book of all time? Or twenty-nine?

(Part 3) The Librarian’s 29 Favorite Picture Books of all time: to give as gifts, to read over and over, or just to have on your own bookshelves…

This is the third part of the list. For the first fourteen, see Part One and Part Two.

A Visitor for Bear A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker; illustrations by Kady MacDonald Denton.

This is another favorite about unlikely friends — Bear has a sign on his front door that says No Visitors Allowed! But little Mouse just keeps ignoring the sign and popping up at the most inopportune moments in the most inopportune places. (Hmmm…Just like real life!) When Mouse finally shows up in the teapot and begs to have tea with Bear, Bear relents — mostly because he is just tired of being badgered (moused?).

But amazingly enough, he discovers that he actually likes little mouse’s company. Becker has written a just right book for cuddling and laughing and perhaps having a tea party together… Ages 3-7

48481 The King’s Equal by Katherine Paterson; illustrated by Vladimir Vasilʹevich Vagin.

Katherine Patterson is famous in the children’s literary world for winning the Newbery Award twice — Bridge to Terabithia in 1978 and Jacob Have I Loved in 1981. She didn’t write very many picture books — most of her books are for older children — and this selection is longer than the traditional picture book; indeed, this is best as a family read-aloud, for everyone in the family (older than six) will enjoy it. (And if you’ve got a little princess, you could probably stretch the age to four — depending on her sitting-still span.)

An original “fairy-tale” The King’s Equal tells the story of Prince Raphael, the arrogant, prideful son of the beloved King. Alas, the old king knows his son’s character — on his death bed he tells the Prince that he may reign as king, but he can never wear the crown until he weds someone who is his equal in beauty, intelligence, and wealth.

Of course, Raphael has to be humbled before that person can be found, and this wonderful book is the story of how he finds humility — and his queen. Ages 6+

mufaro's beautful daughtersMufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe.

Another story of pride, this beloved book is often called an African Cinderella story. All the daughters in the land are called to the city, where the king will choose a wife. Two sisters — one gentle and humble, the other prideful and selfish — go their own way to the city, meeting the same people and the same situations along the way. The King, however, knows their temperaments because he has met both of them before… Ages 6+

the christmas miracle of jonathan toomeyThe Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojieczowski; illustrations by P.J. Lynch.

When this book was published in 1995, my children were past the picture book stage. But too bad, I made them listen to this every Christmas anyway… In our house, it supplemented The Christmas Carol. It is longer than an average picture book, but oh my, it is SO worth it! Each Christmas season I scour the new releases hoping that there will be another Christmas book that equals this one. So far I haven’t found it. P.J. Lynch’s illustrations are magnificent! (And whatever you do, don’t pay any attention to the movie that was made with the same title…).


This is the story of Jonathan Toomey, the best woodcarver in the valley, who carries a terrible grief that has made him withdraw from society. But the widow and her young son have lost their beloved nativity set in their move, and they come asking him to carve them another, hoping it will be done in time for Christmas. They shower love and acceptance and simple gifts upon him — even though he is a reluctant receiver.

Oh, such transformations love can accomplish! Ages 6-Adult

sylvester and the magic pebbleSylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig.

When I was researching the books on this list, I was astonished to find that Sylvester and the Magic Pebble was on the Banned Books List! How can that be? I wondered. It’s such a fantastic book AND it won the Caldecott Medal in 1970. When I discovered why it was banned, I burst out laughing. Any guesses? (Answer is at the bottom of this post…)

If you’ve lived under a rock and have never heard of this book (sorry, I couldn’t resist!) it is the story of a young donkey who finds a lovely magic pebble;  he discovers accidentally that it is magic, and he has a few minutes of terrific excitement,thinking  how this wish-granting pebble will change his life.


Then disaster strikes. To get away from the mean, hungry lion who appears out of nowhere, he panics and makes a bad decision. He wishes himself into a rock. “And there was Sylvester, a rock on Strawberry Hill, with the magic pebble lying right beside him on the ground, and he was unable to pick it up.”

Everyone in town searches for young Sylvester, but no one thinks to go to Strawberry Hill and look for a rock… It’s a wonderfully happy ending though, with his parents actually doing the finding. (And you will give your child an extra big hug when you finish reading it.) Ages 5-9

Just a couple of asides about the author — he also wrote Dr. DeSoto, which is absolutely recommended, as well as the book Shrek, which is forgettable. (This is one case out of a million in which the movie is actually better than the book.) Before Steig was a children’s writer he was famous as a cartoonist for the New Yorker; he didn’t start writing children’s books until he was 61.

Cloudy with a chance of meatballsCloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi and Ron Barrett

My (adult) kids would probably disown me if I left this off the list. We read this over and over. We owned a copy and when that copy fell apart, we bought a hard-cover edition. And we wore that one out too… I’ve heard that this book was ruined by a movie made into a movie also, but I would never go see it…

How can anybody resist the story of the weather bringing food? Tomato tornadoes? A giant jello setting in the west? Or storms of hamburgers becoming heavy at times? Ages 5-9

Chicken SundayChicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco.

It was tough picking my favorite Patricia Polacco book. I’m not sure why she has been shunned by awards committees, for her illustrations and her stories are almost always favorites.  I also really like Just Plain Fancy, and Thunder Cake, but Chicken Sunday wins out for several reasons.

It is a story of unselfconscious inter-racial friendship and love that is heartwarming. Young Tricia hangs out with Stewart and Winston; their gramma, Miss Eula, often cooks dinner for all of them. The three kids are running through the neighborhood one day and get falsely accused of throwing eggs at Mr. Kodinski’s hat shop. Gramma looks at them sternly when they deny throwing the eggs and then decides to believe them. But, she says, Mr. Kodinski thinks you threw those eggs, so you’ll have to do something to make up to him, so he will know that you are good children.

The three were hatching a plan to buy Miss Eula her favorite hat for Easter (from Mr. Kodinski’s Hat shop!) so they decide to be brave and try it. Courageously they march into the hat shop with handmade Pysanky eggs (made with the help of Tricia’s mother). Mr. Kodinski is instantly transported back to his homeland at the sight of the Russian eggs. He is impressed by the children’s chutzpah and a friendship begins.


As always, Polacco’s water colors glow with warmth and color and light. And you can just hear Miss Eula’s voice that “sounded like slow thunder and sweet rain…” Ages 6-12

The last seven books will come next week, with one extra for leap year…

Unknown***Sylvester and the Magic Pebble was banned in some places because the police officers were depicted as pigs.