The Heart of the Book
What prompted you to write The Promises of God Storybook Bible?
After teaching Sunday school for almost 20 years and editing (truly) millions of published words, I knew it was probably inevitable that content would start forming in my head. So, several years ago I kept catching myself writing Bible stories in my mind. I had also developed a story sequence for a Bible storybook around the theme I’d found the most consistently sticky for the kids I’d taught—the thread that 3 and 4-year-olds could hold onto through the whole Bible with it being tangible enough for them to understand. But if the thought of actually starting to type came to mind, I resisted. I didn’t tell anyone. I had worked in publishing for 12 years at the time and had always asserted I would never publish, so I dismissed the notion and just kept teaching.
Then God brought Job, a little blond haired, blue-eyed boy to my story rug. He was four months from turning 4 when our class year started, and at first I thought he was shy. He was quiet, would initially play independently, and gave short answers during snack time. But that changed, and not because the class was full of games and fun. It changed because of what God did each week as he would take his spot on the story carpet and listen.
I remember a lot of conversations with that sweet, funny, mature boy, but what I mostly remember is the nonverbal conversations we’d have as I taught. It only took a few weeks for me to be able to tell he was retaining and internalizing a lot more than most children I’d taught at his age, so he became my meter for the whole group. I noticed that he’d sometimes tilt his head to the side while sort of slanting his eyes when I covered some element of a story. And then once storytime was over, he’d ask me individually about that element. After a few rounds of this I knew that if Job tilted his head, then I needed to back up because I had likely lost the whole group!
I didn’t know his parents well at the time, but I did know they were godly and that Job adored them. One day, around Christmas, within a week of his fourth birthday I believe, I was prying the snack cracker carton out of the cabinet after storytime. Job was still sitting on the carpet after a lesson in which we had taken a break from the Old Testament curriculum for a series of lessons on the birth of Jesus.
Job asked if Jesus had made Adam and Eve. He was still sitting in his storytime spot, staring at a drawing of Adam and Eve with the forbidden tree. When I saw where he was staring, I ultimately realized he was trying to wrap his mind around the Trinity and the preincarnate existence of Jesus. I had taught grown women the Bible, including women decades older and way godlier than me, but I had never been asked this question.
I explained it to him as well as I could, with him asking a few follow-up questions and me fearing that I was going to create an accidental heretic by my lame teaching abilities! Ultimately that day he was satisfied when I told him that there are things about God that he lets us understand all the way and other things that he’s made like a mystery to us. That’s because He’s God and knows what is best, and when we trust Him, even though we can’t understand it all, He works in our hearts to make them softer toward Him.
He said, “Oh, yeah,” as though that absolutely settled it and got up for snack time! But from that point forward, he would regularly ask questions not about the stories I had taught or even the promises reflected through the stories, but rather questions about the nature and character of the God who could be central to these stories, while also making and keeping such grand promises to His people. I would often find myself on websites I had accessed for research in seminary on Sunday afternoons, digging to see if I’d answered Job’s questions as accurately as possible or if there was some model I could use to more concretely define things for him the following week. I knew God had his hand on Job through the deep seeds of trust and faith I saw in an unprecedented way through this thoughtful, giggly little boy. Yet, what I hoped that meant was not what God ultimately demonstrated . . . although the seeds of faith and trust proved to be far more powerful than I could have imagined.
About 13 months after Job graduated from my Sunday School class, I replayed that moment of him asking me about Jesus creating Adam, along with memories of his giggles when he quoted movie lines that were so laughter-filled I never once understood what he said, and how he would do the hand motions with great enthusiasm as we memorized Psalm 121. That’s what I was thinking about while I sat in his memorial service in our church chapel.
I was sick, broken, overwhelmed with anger toward God and trying to figure out if I could accept the mystery of a God so powerful to make and keep promises, but who would have us in that room for that purpose at that time. Although my life had definitely not been without suffering, this was different. This was a 5 year old who was cherished by his family and who I had anticipated God using in mighty ways for a long, long time. I knew this world was broken, but I wasn’t sure I could accept the mystery of God’s goodness within that brokenness in that moment as easily as Job had accepted it when I had explained it to him just over a year and a half before then.
I was also grappling with the realization that although having taught for years, I had never ever stood in front of a 3-year-old and considered that I may be one of the only a few Bible teachers he would ever have. And then, as I felt the weight of that reality coupled with my doubts, Job’s dad began to proclaim Psalm 103 from beginning to end. Days from both his 30th birthday and losing his son, he was blessing the Lord and proclaiming that God cares for us as a father cares for his children. And at that moment, on that verse (Psalm 103:13), I suddenly thought, “God’s promises are real. God’s promises are what establish us. God’s promises sustain us. I need to write the book.” I most definitely had not been thinking about Bible story sequencing, the book thread, or writing in those moments, days, or even weeks. I still didn’t want to publish and wasn’t sure I really would, but I knew that it was impressed upon me in that moment from God because nothing in me had that level of faith and commitment right then.
I didn’t leave that chapel that night and begin writing. In fact, it was another three months before I did, as I continued to wrestle with grief that felt both sacred and disproportionate since I had just been his Sunday school teacher for a year and barely knew his parents. Was I just being emotional? Well, that same year, Job’s equally giggly and definitely more wiggly, little sister was in my class. And each week I stood in front of that rug and taught her the same stories I’d taught her big brother. She shared a lot with her brother, but styles of learning was not one of those things, which was a huge piece of how I realized that I wasn’t driven by emotion. I was driven by conviction that God used emotion to put into action. Because those two oldest kiddos in their family were different learners through and through, but the promises of God was a thread that clicked with them both.
All that being said, I’d give this book, any fruit that comes from it, my career—and honestly my life—in a heartbeat if I could somehow change the mind of God on his plan for Job’s life. I’m thankful his parents want people to know about Job and hopeful that my sharing about not only the work of God through losing him, but even more what God displayed through Job’s faith and what that taught me, will lead people of all ages to be as curious about God as Job was.
While I trust God is keeping all his promises to Job right now—and can’t wait for the day when I get to be reunited with Job and hope that heaven works in such a way that he will get to be the one to tell me all the things I got wrong explaining the Trinity—I really just wish he were playing with his younger siblings and having dinner with his mom and dad. Yet even so, along with his mom and dad, I bless the Lord who is good and who does keep His promises.