A Storyformed Identity

Hello! We are overwhelmed by your support in the re-launch of Storyformed! Thank you, thank you for sharing with friends personally and on social media.

We have WINNERS to announce!! The winners of the drawing are posted at the bottom of this blog. If you are a winner, please leave a message with your 2 book choices (any 2 books  the Clarkson's have authored) and your address on our Storyformed Facebook page. 

But first, please read an incredible and inspiring article from Jaime.

Jaime Showmaker

The year that I turned ten, my dad built me a playhouse. It was a smallish house, only about six feet square and very quaint, but it had a window cut out and a door that latched and I absolutely adored it. Although he never got around to painting it, I had grand plans for my little house. One of my favorite pastimes when I finished my school work early was to sit at my desk and draw elaborate blueprints for its expansion, with additional rooms and window boxes full of flowers.  I suspect that my teacher eventually grew impatient with all of my drawing because one rainy morning in the Spring, she suggested that, instead of doodling while my peers finished their math worksheets, I should peruse the bookshelf in the back of the room. Ever the obedient child, I put away my papers and began to examine the tattered, colorful spines lined up on the wall. Almost immediately a book popped out at me. On its cover was a little cottage, with a thatched roof and a picket fence, surrounded by grasses and flowers growing with wild abandon. Something about it made me think of my dreams for my own little house and I was immediately intrigued.

I remember well that afternoon, sitting on the damp roof of my playhouse under the sweet-smelling boughs of the Carolina pines and reading Mandy by Julie Edwards in its entirety.  I was captivated by the story of the young orphan girl who, like me, was also ten years old and longing for a place to call her own. My own heart beat with elated anticipation as Mandy discovered an abandoned cottage on an estate adjacent to the orphanage, and I dreamed with her as she set about to clean it, care for it, and make it her own. Even today, decades later, my heart warms as I think of little Mandy sweeping the dirt off of the old floor and washing the old dusty curtains in the nearby stream. Edwards' sweet story gave me a vision, not just for my own little playhouse, but a vision of stewardship, industry, home, and beauty that still resonates with me today.

"Stories are the lifeblood of existence. They are the heartbeat that pumps vision into a child's developing imagination and hope into his or her soul."

Sarah Clarkson, Caught Up In A Story

It's raining again this Spring afternoon as I dwell on the memory of my playhouse and sweet little Mandy, and I am struck with the realization of how much that story shaped me. There is so much of my own identity that I can trace back to that very book, where the seeds were first planted that, over time, grew into so much of who I have become. And now, as a mother of three young boys, I recognize the power of stories to form them in unique and profound ways.

Stories form our character. Every story turns on conflict, and the ways in which the characters in the story react to that conflict determine whether that character ultimately becomes the narrative's hero or its villain. We too are living a story so, of course, the same is true for us. Our children are going to be confronted with conflict. What better way to equip them to face that conflict than to fill their arsenal with great tales of heroes who chose well?

"As children set out to beat their dragons, stories stand beside them as comrades in arms, filling their mind with a host of people who made the right choices, who fought the good fight, and became the overcomers who shaped their worlds."

Sarah Clarkson, Caught Up In A Story

Children will call to mind heroes like Janner from Andrew Peterson's Wingfeather Saga, or the Pevensie children from C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, and they will remember what it looks like to take courage.  They can recall Laura Ingalls Wilder's tale of visiting Indians and recognize with acute clarity the importance of obedience. But not only do stories paint a picture of heroic choices, they can also reveal the disastrous consequences of poor choices. Who of us doesn't grieve when Edmund sneaks out of the Beavers' warm home to betray his siblings to the White Witch? I still remember Mandy and how her deception broke the heart of her friend Sue each time I am tempted to put my own introverted needs and desires above those of my friends.

Stories form our affections.  As a mom, one of my roles is to help my children learn to love what they ought. In the same way that I labor to help them have an appetite for healthy food instead of sweets, I must labor to give them an appetite for what is True, Good, and Beautiful.

I recall verses such as "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it" (Proverbs 4:23) and "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things" (Philippians 4:8).

Good stories help me fill my children's hearts and minds with God's truths about the world in which they live. They reveal God's goodness and reflect God's beauty, and the more that our children encounter them, the more their appetites are formed by them.  My love for close family relationships was formed in part by the picture that Louisa May Alcott painted of the March family in Little Women.  When I read of her desire for a home that she could love and care for, my heart echoed Mandy's cry. I read Gene Stratton-Porter's tales of the Limberlost forest and learned to love the beauty of the natural world that God has created and called "good." Even as an adult, the tale of Cloud Mountain in S.D. Smith's The Green Ember series stirs up a longing in my own soul and spurs me on to love and create beauty through my vocation and in my own little corner of the world.

Stories form our imaginations. There are few things that make us more "human" than the faculty of imagination. As ones made in the image of God, we also have the ability to picture something that we cannot see and to create something that does not yet exist. It is also through imagination that we are able to perceive Truth and, ultimately, believe it. Great stories give children a place where their God-given imaginations can flourish and grow.

"In a materialistic, hedonistic culture that flattens reality to the physical, the temporary, and the material, children's literature evokes an original Paradise before Pandora opened the box and a country at the back of the North Wind which children visit in their dreams." (Mitchell Kalpakgian, The Mysteries of Life in Children's Literature)

This is particularly important in the formation of our children's faith. It is only through imagination that we are able to grasp the reality of the Kingdom of God, since we cannot yet see it with our eyes. I didn't know it at the time, but when I read about a benevolent guardian and gift-giver, watching over Mandy's labor of love in her cottage, my imagination was sparked and the garden of my soul was being tended to accept the Truth that there is a God who loves me, watches over me, is the giver of all good gifts, and is preparing a place for me as well. And it is through our imaginations that we reflect the Divine Image, as we picture worlds that do not exist and bring them into being. Literature, art, music, architecture, and all invention begins with imagination, and stories help kindle that imaginative fire in our children. When they read stories like Barbara Cooney's Roxaboxen or Johann David Wyss' Swiss Family Robinson, they are  inspired to create worlds of their own.

Although the dreams for my little playhouse never came to fruition, the dreams I learned to dream from reading Edwards' Mandy atop it that wet Spring afternoon remain with me to this day. In fact, all of the stories I read in my childhood had a profound influence in the person that I became in a way that no reading has been able to do as effectively since. Good stories are vital in the formation of our children's identities. It is our hope that, as we continue to expand the Storyformed website and podcast, that you will encounter a treasure trove of resources that will inspire heroism and virtue, shape affections for that which is Good, True, and Beautiful, and kindle imaginations to live out our own great stories.

We are so happy that you are joining us on this grand adventure. Until next time, new friends, read on.

Drumroll......And the four winners of the Storyformed re-launch drawing are:

Teresa Poore

Brandy Higgins

Kimberly Kamer

Amanda Layman