Let my Jesus go (enough is enough)

As you may have heard, a recent poll found that American Christians are more likely to support torture than non-religious Americans. The poll, conducted by Washington Post/ABC found that 69 percent of white evangelical Americans “believe the CIA treatment was justified.”

Are we surprised. I’m not. I wish I was surprised. But it’s par for the evangelical course in this country.

But my gosh, enough is enough. Right?

Hasn’t ENOUGH been ENOUGH for many many years?

I mean, like so many of you, I’ve long been tired of watching Jesus get dragged through America’s evangelical mud. And for some reason, 2014 has felt more exhausting than most. I mean, how far are America’s evangelicals willing to take Jesus in order to maintain (or keep safe) their cozy straight white American middle-to-upper-class lives? American evangelicals hate when other groups poke fun or mock Jesus in the public square, all the while crucifying Jesus themselves with their beliefs, fears, and actions.

How far will they go, friends?

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of American evangelicals owning the copyright on Jesus in America. I’m tired of them treating Jesus however the hell they want to.

Way too long ago, they confiscated Jesus, stealing him away into their camps to use him as a foundation on which to stand up for or stand up against whatever best fits their own needs, their own desires, their own worldviews, and their own economic gain.

How long are they going to hold Jesus hostage in their theopolitical clutches?

How long are they going to abuse Jesus with their intolerance?

How long are they going to speak with their lips of Jesus being a healer and then use him as a weapon against the poorest Americans?

How long, friends?

So to the American evangelicals who believe that Jesus would support the unrestrained use of torture on those that they or the American government deem our enemies, I say, let my Jesus go.

To the American evangelicals who have long mixed Jesus into every aspect of their political agendas, I say, let my Jesus go.

To the American evangelicals who think Jesus would approve of their church’s sexist bylaws and the misogynistic culture they protect, I say, let my Jesus go.

To the American evangelicals who think Jesus would promote, honor, give two cents about their right to own guns, I say, let my Jesus go.

To the American evangelicals who use Jesus as an excuses to be racist and refuse to listen to the stories of people whose lives/experiences don’t line up with theirs, I say, let my Jesus go.

To the American evangelicals who downright homophobic, just a little bit homophobic, or think they’re homophobia isn’t homophobia, I say, let my Jesus go.

To the American evangelicals who use Jesus as a foundation on which to promote financial gain, financial prosperity, or so-called financial peace, I say, let my Jesus go.

To the American evangelicals who believe Jesus loves illegal immigrants but would send them home in a New York minute, I say, let my Jesus go.

To the American evangelicals who use Jesus as an excuse to harbor abusers and silence victims, I say, let my Jesus go.

To the American evangelicals who think Jesus has ordained America’s earthly power as sovereign and without boundaries all in the name of keeping us safe, I say, let my Jesus go.

To the American evangelicals who make Jesus into a bag of unbelievable magic tricks and spiritual hocus-pocus, I say, let my Jesus go!

To the American evangelicals who still believe in the war on Christmas, think Left Behind is a biblical concept, and share those terrible Christian memes on Facebook because they think Jesus would be proud, I say, let my Jesus go.

You’ve enslaved my Jesus for too long. You’ve used my Jesus for your agendas for too long. You’ve mixed my Jesus with your hateful platforms for too long.

Let my Jesus go.
Let my Jesus go.

My Elfin’ Problem: An ‘Elf on the Shelf’ Confession

Apparently a lot of people who are parents hate Elf on the Shelf. And trust me, I get it. Or at least, I got it.

In 2009, I hated Elf on the Shelf, too. Heck, two weeks ago I sort-of-kind-of still hated Elf on the Shelf. I didn’t really hate the idea, I just made fun of it when my kids weren’t around.

In fact, when Jessica informed me that we were joining what I thought was the godforsaken elfing craze, I rolled my eyes and voiced with unmeasured passion my displeasure in the idea.

I knew I was fighting a losing battle considering my wife’s face was bursting with an uncanny amount of excitement, a kind that is a fortress to my negativity.

“Our kids will love it,” she said. “And it’ll be fun.”

It’s likely that I rolled my eyes one more time right before going on small rant about the concept being silly, shallow, and too popular and the toy and book being ridiculously expensive. Jessica just smiled and said, “it’s cute and fun and you just wait and see, mister…”

A few weeks later on the first of December, Elias was introduced to Sam, our elf on the shelf. He was only 3 and a bit of a doubter at the time, but soon, he was seemingly enjoying Sam’s daily antics. And though I kicked and screamed a little bit (sometimes a lot), I eventually participated in the nightly “moving Sam around our house,” helping to convince my son (and in the years that followed, Adeline, too) that Sam their elf was magically traveling 3313 miles to the North Pole each night, informing Santa about who in our house was being naughty and who was being nice.

God only knows what Sam has told Santa about me over these past several years. Though I’ve gone along with the whole elf routine, chances are, Santa puts me on his naughty list because I’ve long been a cynical jerk about the elf.

But last Monday—December 1—that changed. Last Monday I became a huge fan of #ElfOnTheShelf, a diehard advocate for our little Sam. Why? Because of what happened that morning when Elias darted from his bed, down the stairs, in hot pursuit of finding Sam. In the days leading up the first of December, as Jessica reminded Elias and Adeline of Sam’s soon-coming arrival, both of them became overwhelmed with excitement. But especially Elias—every time somebody mentioned Sam, his 6-year-old face lit up like the Christmas tree section at Target.

As he hunted for Sam on that first morning, I witnessed Elias’s imagination—pure and untouched by cynicism and/or reality—run wildly around our house. Then, when he discovered Sam sitting on our dining room table with a note addressed to him and Adeline, he shouted in delight, “He’s here! He’s really here!! Come see!!” The expression on his face was so filled up with belief and joy, it almost appeared unnatural.

I have to confess that his childlike wonder brought tears to my eyes. Partly because he’s my kid and I adore him, but also because I haven’t felt that kind of unbelievable joy since I was a kid and it was a glorious sight to behold.

Nothing washes away cynicism like seeing childlike wonderment. I mean, it’s a kind of redemption that is unexplainable until you experience it and it washes your soul clean of what ails you. And that’s what happened. I fell in love with Sam. I’ve started looking forward to moving him around after the kids go to bed. And I delight each morning in hearing Elias and Adeline search the house until they find their little elf.

This morning Adeline came downstairs and said, “You wanna hear the big news, Daddy?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Sam was in my room! And guess what he was doing?”

“Tell me.”

“He was hugging on my Cinderella doll. He’s so funny.”

“He is funny, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, I love Sam being here.”

Is Elf on the Shelf a cheesy popular holiday trend that’s possibly shallow and sometimes annoying? Sure. But it’s also just toy elf with a made-up story that inspires the imaginations of my kids… and I’d never want my grownup cynicism to harm my kids’ spirits.

As their daddy, I want to be a champion of their imaginations, an inspirer of their creativity, and a proponent of their childlike joy-filled delight.

 

A second typhoon: the Philippines needs our help

On November 8, I walked the streets of Tacloban City in the Philippines, photographing a candlelight vigil to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan’s deadly rage. With more than 100,000 people participating in the memorial, it was an emotional experience to behold.

For some, the citywide memorial of the tragedy that had happened a year before was a somber experience, one that focused on the thousands of people lost in the storm; for others, lining their streets with candles that night was a celebration of hope and restoration, one that focused on their city’s survival and determination to rebuild.

But today, as yet another massive typhoon roars toward the Philippine Islands, those who mourned and those who cheered are likely united in fear of the monster that’s coming to their shorelines today.

Forecasters predict that Typhoon Hagupit (known locally as Typhoon Ruby) will make landfall sometime late Saturday. What they don’t know is whether or not the storm will hit the islands as a category 3, 4 or 5.

But in many ways, the storm’s numbers are unimportant. One-to-two-hundred mile-per-hour gusts are a huge threat to Tacloban; indeed, a cyclonic storm of any size hitting this city and its surrounding areas right now, amid a community that’s still healing, still rebuilding, is devastating.

Thankfully, unlike in the days leading up to Haiyan’s arrival, those living in the most unstable areas are heeding the warnings and evacuating. Some reports suggest that 500,000-plus people have left their coastal communities for higher and safer ground, the country’s largest peace-time evacuation in recorded history.

But as I witnessed firsthand in November, these are a people in process. Many of them are living in homes still under construction. Others have yet to begin rebuilding because they are still out of work and can’t afford a new home. On Leyte Island, which includes Tacloban City, many residents lost their farms and businesses to the storm and, as of last month, were still trying to figure out what their next venture will be.

Though the Filipino people are brave, hardworking survivors, Typhoon Hagupit will no doubt make their road to rebuilding more difficult and put their future sustainability in question.

Which is why I’m writing: because the people of the Philippines need our help. For the last year, World Vision has spearheaded the relief and recovery efforts in Tacloban, and will continue to do so. But this forthcoming typhoon is a major setback, a large and costly wrench in the process to rebuild and restore.

With Hagupit bearing down on the Philippines, World Vision staff have pre-positioned enough food and hygiene kits to provide immediate aid for 5,000 people. Other supplies, including tarps, water purifiers, and solar lamps are also stockpiled.

Would you please consider helping us by donating to our Philippines Disaster Relief Fund? Your gift will help us ensure that we have the necessary resources to continue the rebuilding processes for those hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan.

Together we can show God’s generous and unconditional love to the Filipino people, and graciously help renew their spirits and rebuild their lives.

Click here to help.

Can Jesus Heal America’s Racist White Evangelicals… Maybe?

Late Monday night, author Jen Hatmaker posted about Ferguson on her Facebook page:

What happened in the comment section of this post is mind boggling. As Jen’s audience–a gathering of mostly evangelical white women, many of whom seem to walk a line between conservative and progressive thinking–engaged in a cultural and spiritual debate about race, the conversation attracted a wide variety of opinions, many of which showcase just how ignorant some Christians are about their own racism.

The debate started okay, with a handful of reasonable comments.

But then Elaine decided to ask this: Do you for one second truly believe that officer Wilson shot michael brown because he was black? Apparently she wasn’t the only one who thought that was a valid inquiry–at last count the comment had 79 likes.

And then Jill chimed in: Perhaps we should listen to the precious mother (that I know personally) of an officer that has been shipped to St. Louis for this very moment. Your lack of wisdom in intentionally enflaming (sic) an already bad situation is devestating (sic) …simply devestating (sic again).

And Brenda: And how about the Caucasian population that is continually having to pay for mistakes our ancestors made years ago. Drop the race card. It is a weak, lame, and OLD excuse.

This comment by Rachel had, as of this posting, 40 likes: Ferguson isn’t about race. It’s about a thug attacking an officer of the law. End of story. Why don’t you put yourself in the shoes of the families of law enforcement officials? Because the fear they feel is just as real…

And then Einsteins offered a sexist plea to Jen’s husband, Brandon: Brandon please save Jen from herself! She is way over her head and digs only deeper! I like you Jen I do! Take heed and listen to wise council. Delete all your posts and tell us your kids stole your phone as a joke and posted these Crazy comments

And Brandi… It’s the black people in the community that made this about black and white

Gina: This is not about race. Most of the witness’s that testified were African American!! This is about a kid who did not respect authority and was a thug.

Melanie: Until the black American community takes ownership of their problems, nothing will change. How about this- don’t steal and don’t commit violent crimes. That would be a start.

Brian: This was never a racial issue. The people of the Ferguson community made it a racial issue…

And it goes on and on for a 1000 comments. Some of the comments left on Jen’s post make these comments above read like Hallmark greeting cards. But it’s always there, sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant, the racism is littered throughout.

This is just one conversation. But I think it’s a telling conversation, one that offers us a glimpse as to how people who identify as Christian engage the topic of race.

With fear?

Without compassion?

With seemingly no ability to see that what’s happening in Ferguson is just one part of a much bigger story/problem, one that’s been a part of the American story for many many years…

Without humility?

Honestly, evangelicals have been engaging the topic of race with and without a lot things for a very long time.

But this comment thread might also showcase reasons why Sundays are still so segregated. And also show why evangelicals are some of the worst champions for racial reconciliation. To be honest, we might be the least equipped community of people in America to talk about race or help with reconciliation. Because we still haven’t learned equality and reconciliation in our own churches, communities.

Even those of us who are open to the concept or desire to see it happen don’t really know how to make it happen.

And I think that’s because, from this country’s beginnings, evangelicals have been a part of the problem when it comes to America and racial reconciliation–perhaps the biggest part of the problem. If you think I’m exaggerating, go study your American history.

At best, we’ve been two-faced about this issue. In my book, Our Great Big American God, I write a good bit about this topic.

America’s God was a grand participant, a reason to fight for equality, and an excuse to fight for the right to own slaves. God aided both sides. Leading up to the Civil War , America’s God was a two-faced deity working with both the North and the South. God was for slavery. And God was against slavery. God’s name was praised among the slaves. And God’s name was praised among the owners of slaves. God was pro-equality. And God was a complete and utter racist. God helped preachers and politicians in the South form messages and rhetoric that suggested slavery was good. And God helped countless slaves find passageways toward freedom.

Like the terrible and unnecessary death of Michael Brown is just one thread to a much bigger cultural problem in the United States, I think the comment thread on Jen Hatmaker’s Facebook wall is also a small thread to a much bigger evangelical problem when it comes to race.

Like we have for a 150+ years, many of us continue to stand in the way of racial reconciliation, fighting it at every turn.

Like we have for a 150+ years, many of us refuse to listen to the stories of the black community–really listen.

In her post, Jen wrote: We are a part of an important generation, one who might be ready to start listening humbly and maybe even move beyond to something more like racial healing and justice. Generations before us have done this hard and brave work in other arenas, and now it is our chance. What important work lies in front of us.

And she’s right. There’s much work to be done.

But I fear that many of us are far too evangelical to do what truly needs to be done in order to change.

Can Jesus heal these evangelicals’ racism? Maybe. But not as long as he’s a part of the excuse for being racist.

Rebuilding After a Monster Typhoon: One Year Later

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The Filipino people are survivors.

That’s what they want you to remember, that they are surviving the hell that Typhoon Haiyan (known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines) brought to their shores one year ago.

Philippines one-year laterThe Philippine Islands are no strangers to cyclonic storms. Every season the archipelago is hit—sometimes many times over—with ungodly weather-related terror. But Haiyan was no ordinary typhoon. According to meteorologists, the category-5 beast that Mother Nature resurrected in the days leading up to November 8, 2013, was one of the strongest, fiercest, deadliest storms (on record) to ever make landfall.

The super typhoon roared ashore at 5 a.m. and for the next several hours, the city of Tacloban and its surrounding areas became the backdrop for a real-life horror, as the lives of millions of people became subject to a monster, one possessing 170 mph winds (gusts up to 235 mph) and a catastrophic 20-plus high wall of water (storm surge).

Haiyan’s fury—most specifically, its unprecedented storm surge, which was a factor not thoroughly understood or experienced by most Filipinos—killed more than 6,400 people, displaced 4.1 million, and damaged or destroyed more than 11 million homes. One humanitarian worker described Haiyan’s aftermath “to look like a bomb had gone off.”

Philippines one-year later
People here say they were prepared for the damage that the wind might bring, but when the warnings about the storm surge started to come in, a majority of Tacloban residents had no idea what “storm surge” even meant, and didn’t evacuate. The waters rose. The waves raged. The current morphed into a force that many could not (and did not) make it through. More than one thousand souls are still noted as “missing,” believed to have become victims of an angry San Pedro Bay.

Yesterday, on the anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan’s arrival, I walked among Tacloban’s three mass graves, two parks and the front lawn of a church that, out of necessity, became makeshift tombs for many of those who were lost amid the storm.

Philippines one-year later

one year later

Philippines one-year later

The stories told by the survivors are horrendous tales, with details that most of us only experience in nightmares—stories of loved ones drowning, children being swept away by the surging waters, and stories about friends being hit by flying palm trees and coconuts. And then there are the stories about how those still with us survived the monster.

one year later

One woman, a mother of three small kids—two of whom are World Vision sponsored children—told me that she and her family braved the storm in her church’s sanctuary.

Philippines one-year later“But then the winds ripped the roof off the church and smashed in the windows.”

Amid flying glass, debris, and torrential rain, she huddled her little ones together and darted for the floor beneath the altar’s communion table where they weathered the remainder of the storm. While holding tightly to her kids, she said that they just “cried and prayed—that’s all we could do—and hope we’d be okay.”

And she and her little ones were indeed okay.

But then, when the winds died down and the waters began to recede and those who survived the terror began emerging from their hideouts, they realized quickly that their nightmare was just beginning. Their homes, their crops, their livelihoods, their roads, their ways of life—gone, stolen from them in just hours.

one year later

“But we are rebuilding!” That’s one of the first things that an employee of World Vision said to me. A wide smile across her face, she said, “We are a strong people and we are rebuilding more quickly than anybody expected.”

And that’s true. A year later, though the signs of the monster’s presence still linger, they no longer define the Tacloban communities.

From day one, because of a long-lasting and thriving child sponsorship program with the Philippines, World Vision was at Haiyan’s ground zero, putting into action their vast strategy for relief, a plan that started with food, clean water, temporary shelter, and organization.

Philippines one-year later

Child sponsorship isn’t only about community development, it’s also the lifeblood of relief efforts when tragedy strikes. And because of people like you and me, people who sacrifice a portion of their wealth to sponsor a child, the surviving victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines did not engage the nightmare alone.

Philippines one-year later

Philippines one-year later

Filipinos are a beautiful, kind and grateful people. They are, by all accounts, not simply surviving the tragic events of November 8, 2013, they are rebuilding their lives to become better than what was true before Haiyan.

But they cannot do it alone. They need our help to thrive.

Would you please consider sponsoring a World Vision child from the Philippines? Your gift will help World Vision continue to bring hope and aid to not only the victims of Typhoon Haiyan but to those who will need help long after the emergency relief efforts are finished.

We survive when we help others survive.

**Click here to sponsor a child through World Vision**

The Story Behind God Made Light’s Artwork: 4 Interesting Details About Illustrating Matthew Paul Turner’s Children’s Book

**The following post is written by Matthew Paul Mewhorter, the illustrator for my new children’s book, God Made Light**

My name is Matthew Paul Mewhorter, and I had the sincere pleasure of illustrating God Made Light.

I’m writing this at the end of a mind-blowing opening week of God Made Light. In its peak, the book ranked #231 on Amazon and #2 in Christian children’s books.

The author of this overnight success and my good friend, Matthew Paul Turner, garnered a ton of well-deserved praise for his amazing writing style and beautiful message. But Matthew didn’t ask me to write about him. He wanted me to write about the other crucial piece of the book: the illustration.

So here are 4 things about the illustrating process of this book that you might find interesting or surprising.

1) Sometimes I was terrified of illustrating it

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After reading Matthew’s original manuscript, I was left breathless with how beautiful it was. I also felt an enormous responsibility to do this book justice. I mean, it’s about…light. Not a person or place, but LIGHT, and how it not only takes form physically, but also in the spirits of children!

An illustrator spends crazy amounts of hours in isolation. What many people may not understand about doing something as insane as illustrating an entire book is that I never felt 100% certain that it was going to work, but I was determined to make it work. Sounds silly now that I have so much positive feedback about the art, but try convincing me of that with every revision and ink-splat at 1:30 in the morning.

Deep down, I knew it would be great (and for the record, I’m very happy with it), but I had to contend with the chance that it could fail miserably until this opening week.

2) The signature swirly-light style wasn’t created for the book (at first).

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It was a happy accident, really, with a dash of artistic control. My daughter’s 1st year photographs were coming up, and I felt this (somewhat selfish) need to add artwork to her photographs. It was a Twinkle Twinkle Little Star theme, and I really wanted to add a personal touch, so I sketched something quick and sent it to the photographer. Then she sent me this:

Matthew Paul Turner and I were still in the early phases of design for the book when I sketched the swirls. When he saw the design posted on facebook, he and his wife Jessica were thrilled. Unexpectedly, it became the backbone for the theme and design of the entire book. It was the missing piece of the puzzle in connecting children to such a complex idea like light.

3) There were at least 6 major steps for each page of God Made Light.

Creating finished work for a children’s book is not the same as sketching a drawing in a sketchbook. It takes deliberate and careful construction, similar to designing blueprints for a building. Renowned artist Wayne White calls the process “ditch-digging”. It’s not as exciting as a spontaneous sketch while constructing it.

Each page or 2-page spread, from doodle to print, took anywhere between 8 and 30 hours of work to complete, depending on complexity, mistakes, and revision work. Every illustrator must decide the process in which he or she must work, and here was mine:

1) I drew 2-3 rough thumbnails to get the right idea.

2) A rough was created that was sized for the page for final approval before final work.

3) I traced the final rough with a col-erase blue pencil.

4) I inked the pencil using my own special pen/brush combo.

5) I scanned the image and did the tedious work of coloring the page, adding textures, effects, and color holds.

6) I then had to ensure that the copy was able to be fit onto the page, so here is a test run.

**And of course, 7, 8, 9, etc. were more revisions…

4) Talent and hard work made the pictures good, but criticism made them great.

Criticism is very hard for artists of all types. This is why few artists actually step out and attempt to make anything; why, despite having all the talent, end up doing anything but what they love.

That said, I absolutely hit the jackpot in getting to work with Matthew and Jessica, who are, by far, some of the most thoughtful, gracious and encouraging people I’ve ever known. Their feedback was done carefully, and I learned they even discussed, debated prayed together for hours before issuing any criticism. They understand the delicacy of critiquing an artist’s work, but moreover, understand the power of thoughtful and constructive criticism.

And wow, I am so glad that I welcomed the criticisms. Did I agree with every point? No. Was every criticism helpful? Absolutely. While I strongly advised to keep a few original images, I made nearly all of the requested edits. Here are a few examples:

After hours of careful development, I was thrilled to present this very first 2-page spread. And as I pushed send on the email, I thought, Get ready for your mind to be blown, Matthew!

Then the feedback came, and there were (gasp!) ways it could be improved. I had my little moment of deflated ego, then I sucked it up and went back to work. I changed some outfits, made the kids look happier, adjusted colors, gave the kids larger pupils, and readjusted my jumping boys legs until I had this:

This picture just went from good to GREAT!

And one more example. This was another spread I was anxious to show off, and I learned that my colors and use of the moon and sun were crowding the picture and confusing and a little off-putting to our focus group.

And this was the result after making the changes:

All in all this has a been fantastic experience for me as an artist. The hours, the careful steps, and the valuable feedback took my abilities to new heights. Doing this kind of work never really feels like work.

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Now, I welcome new opportunities. Upon the release of this book, I officially opened myself up for freelance work so I can continue to do what I love. For more of my work and what I do, please check out www.idcreativestudios.com or you can email me at matthewpaulmewhorter@gmail.com.

Click here to buy God Made Light.

Click here to download FREE God Made Light activity pages.

Click here to see/buy the DaySpring exclusive product line inspired by God Made Light.

This is what happens when 11 publishers say ‘No’…

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Fatherhood changes me. More often than I imagined, Elias and Adeline (and soon, our new baby boy) affect how I see and experience life. I suspected this would happen but I didn’t know to what degree their lives would impact my own. But almost immediately, as soon as the midwife put Elias in my arms, his tiny 8-pound presence began shaping what I believe to be important, enjoyable, and true.

Still, even though he’s 6 and has already started calling me “Dad” on occasion, watching him grow up (and Adeline, too!) continues to mold who I am and who I want to be.

Some of my favorite moments as a father happen right before their bedtime (some of my most challenging moments also happen right before their bedtime). But whether they are acting like angels or trolls, bedtime can often create the opportunity or space for good stories to get told, for deep and curious wonderings to get said out loud, for the most hilarious moments to occur, and for important lessons and ideas to get talked about.

And often these amazing moments are sparked by a book. While I knew that my kids would likely love being read to, I didn’t have a clue to what extent my kids and I would fall in love with certain books. But that’s exactly what happened. Somehow, while snuggling in a warm bed and reading books like Where the Wild Things Are or Goodnight Moon or Llama Llama Red Pajamas or one of the many Dr. Seuse classics helped to create some of the most enjoyable or funny or sincere moments with my kids.

But one thing I noticed early on while reading to Elias was that there seemed to be a shortage of fun, easy-to-read, creative, and age-appropriate books about God. Oh, we read lots of books about God. But out of those that we read, so many of them failed to inspire the same moments that wockets and pockets or llamas or quirky odes to the moon seemed to inspire. For whatever reason, most of the books that even hinted about God (and let’s face it, most of them do far more than hint), none of them became Elias’s favorites or the kind of book that he’d request over and over.

I don’t know why this was true. Maybe it was me. Or maybe it was Elias. Or perhaps the books that we engaged simply lacked the “magic” that other books possessed.

I certainly didn’t dwell on this too much. However, I do remember that shortly after Adeline’s birth (Elias was 3) that somewhere in the back of my mind, an idea began to evolve. Like most ideas, it started as a question: is it possible to write a children’s book about God that was fun and inspiring and might develop the same bond with kids that so many of other books seem to do? And if so, what would that kind of book look like? What would it sound like? What would it be about? And if a children’s book like that were possible, would I even have the chops to write it?

Eventually, my questions sparked a couple of conversations with Jessica about children’s books and about whether or not she thought I should invest time and creativity into developing an idea. Without hesitation, Jessica looked at me and said, “You’re a writer—a good writer. And from the moment I knew that I was pregnant, I’ve always pictured you writing a children’s book.”

A few days later I was sitting at Starbucks, laptop open, brainstorming ideas. After a handful of bad concepts—a couple of them terrible—I decided on a theme: creation or Creation.

Now, don’t laugh, but here are the very first lines that I wrote:

God made this.
God made that.
God made them both in no time flat
This is big and that is small
Still, God made them, size and all.

God made these.
God made those.
Those are red. These have toes.
Fast things, slow things, things that crawl.
These and those, God made them all.

Okay, you can laugh. Eventually, I narrowed the concept to God making light. Light is easy to comprehend. It’s both practical and magical, a simple enough concept that’s layered with mystery and symbolism. And too, as a person of faith, I not only believe that everything started with light but that Jesus said that we are also light. So as a theme, “light” provided a wide array of ideas and imagery in which to work with.

For three months, off and on, I worked on the verse for a children’s book, attempting to capture with words what it might have been like when God created light. As I developed the concept, I let numerous people read it. I gave them permission to tell me what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what they believed worked and didn’t work. And then I worked on it some more…

Let there be light!
That’s what God said.
And light began shining and then started to spread.

In flickers and flashes,
In spills and in splashes,
Shine began shining across nothing but blackness.

Light glared and glimmered.
It flared and sparked.
And wherever light shined,
Dark stopped being dark.

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Working with rhyme and meter took me back to my roots in writing, to my middle school days when everywhere I went required that I carry a notebook with me just in case I was inspired to write a poem or song.

Several months after I finished, I presented the idea to my literary agent, Greg Daniel. He loved it. We began working on a book proposal, which was honestly a new concept for me. Though I’d written more than 16 books, I’d actually never needed to write a proposal before. I mean, I wrote a short summary of my idea a time or two. But a full blown proposal? Never.

Greg and I (with a little help from my wife, Jessica) put together a fantastic proposal for the book that we were now calling God Made Light. Not only did the proposal outline in detail the concept, but it also contained pre-endorsements from people like Ann Voskamp, Sandi Patty, Angie Smith, and a variety of others who were happy to add their name and support to the idea.

Because everybody I shared the idea with loved it. I mean, they really loved it.

Greg sent the proposal to 11 publishers. The immediate response from acquisition editors was excitement! I mean, it was almost odd how positive the reaction was. Every single editor except one took the concept to their pub boards. Every single pub board loved the idea. However, over the next six months (one editor took the book to her pub board twice), we received 11 declines. Some publishers said no because of budget reasons. Others said no because the children’s book industry was difficult to break into. And a couple publishers said no because I was the book’s author. That last one stung a bit.

We received the final no three days before Christmas. We were on our way to the airport when Greg called. I tried to be positive. But I was fighting tears.

Jessica grabbed my hand. “Matthew,” she said, “I believe in you, baby. And I believe in this book. We’ll publish it ourselves.”

However, at the time, we couldn’t afford to publish it ourselves. We didn’t have any debt except our mortgage. And we certainly weren’t struggling. But we also knew that, unlike self-publishing regular books, self-publishing a children’s book was expensive. To do it really well was a lot more expensive.

Almost 2 years later, Jessica said, “Let’s do this.”

I knew exactly who I wanted to ask to illustrate the book, my longtime friend, Matthew Paul Mewhorter! (Yes, that’s his real name.) Matthew and I have worked together before and so I was hopeful that he’d be up for doing it again.

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Almost immediately, Matthew began working on sketches for the book. After a few rounds of proofing the storyboard, Matthew began drawing, inking, editing, and all of the other things that artists do and redo, etc.

Contact Matthew Paul Mewhorter here.

Matthew’s artwork in God Made Light is beyond my expectations. It’s gorgeous, a brilliant display of color, movement. No doubt his talent brought my words alive.

Meanwhile, after seeing some of the initial artwork, DaySpring (the faith division of Hallmark) started working on a product line to go along with the book. That blew me away! I mean, what? A product line?! Are you kidding me?

The God Made Light product line by DaySpring includes a floor puzzle, a nightlight, and a collection of encouragement notes for kids. You can see all of it here or by clicking on the image below.

The final product is beautiful. Holding God Made Light for the first time was surreal.

But I’m also nervous. Because to do this well did not come cheap. But despite my slight anxiety, I believe in it.

Did I create a book about God that, like all of our favorite children’s books, might inspire beautiful moments and memories between parents and kids? I’ll let you and your kids decide that. But I’m hopeful that this book will accomplish that for many.

Every word in this book is intentional. Every detail in the artwork is there on purpose. Because I wanted to create a book about God that was enjoyable to read, both for parents and kids.  I wanted to create a book that tells our little ones that God delights in who they are. I wanted to create a book that reminded all of us that we are created to shine brightly.

And I wanted that book to be simple, fun, rhythmic, and full of color. And that’s why I released God Made Light.

For our kids. For us.

For a little more light to shine brightly in this world.

You can buy God Made Light at Amazon.com (and yes, it is Amazon Prime approved).

And please, would you consider sharing this book and products with your family and friends? I would be most grateful.