Stories and Sanctified Imaginations (with S. D. Smith)

stories and sanctified imaginations homeschool conversations podcast Sam S.D. Smith

If the phrase “rabbits with swords” means anything to you or your children, you’re going to be super excited about today’s homeschool conversation with author S. D. (Sam) Smith! Sam and I had a wonderful conversation on the role of story in the life of the Christian, the power of imagination, the goal of art (hint- it’s not self-expression), and more. What a joyful, encouraging conversation!

Be sure to check out all the other interviews in our Homeschool Conversations series!

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stories and sanctified imaginations homeschool conversations podcast S.D. Smith

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Who is S. D. Smith

S. D. Smith is the author of The Green Ember Series, a million-selling adventure saga featuring heroic #RabbitsWithSwords. The Green Ember spent time as the number one bestselling audiobook in the world on Audible. His newest novel, co-authored with his sixteen-year-old son, is a thrilling fantasy called Jack Zulu and the Waylander’s Key. Smith’s stories are captivating readers across the globe who are hungry for “new stories with an old soul.”

Smith is a founder and owner of Story Warren, a publishing, events, and IP development house based in rural West Virginia. Story Warren exists to serve families as “allies in imagination.” 

S. D. Smith lives in Grandview, West Virginia with his wife and four kids.

stories and sanctified imaginations homeschool conversations podcast S.D. Smith

Watch my Homeschool Conversation with S. D. Smith

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Amy Sloan: Hello, friends. As I have mentioned several times in the past on the podcast, I really just started this as an excuse to get to talk with cool people, but sometimes I get an added bonus of impressing my children. My seven year old, his eyes got super big when he heard I was going to be talking to S. D. Smith today. He is the author of the Green Ember Series, a million selling adventure saga featuring heroic rabbits with swords. The Green Ember even spent time as the number one bestselling audiobook in the world on Audible.

His newest novel, co-authored with his 16-year-old son, is a thrilling fantasy called Jack Zulu and the Waylander’s Key. Smith’s stories are captivating readers around the globe who are hungry for new stories with an old soul. He lives in West Virginia with his wife and four kids. Sam, thank you so much for being here today.

Sam Smith: My pleasure, Amy. Thank you for having me on here.

Getting started homeschooling

Amy: Well, here at the beginning, could you tell us just a little bit about yourself, and your family, and how you guys got started homeschooling?

Sam: Sure. I am Sam Smith. My wife is Gina. We have four kids ages from 10-19 now. We have one homeschool graduate. We’re a homeschooling family. We live in rural West Virginia, which I like to say means we live in West Virginia. There aren’t really non-rural parts, but we’re just an ordinary homeschooling family. We’ve always homeschooled from the beginning.

We’re pretty active people in some ways. We’re really involved with our church. We love Jesus. We love our church family and church life and worship, and all the kids are involved in church and worship. Particularly like the music side, the kids really are in that world.

I write, that’s my job. Gina’s a work-at-home mom, or stay-at-home mom. I don’t know what the correct thing to say is these days. We used to say homemaker back when I was alive, and so she’s awesome at that. That’s what we always dreamed that she would do, and that was always her dream.

I was homeschooled for a little while on the mission field. Not too often, or not too much, for not too many years, I should say. Not too often. Not very many days. Some days, but I always thought it was a really cool idea, and Gina came to it a little bit later, but she’s just fully– She’s awesome at it. She does a really great job. She works really hard.

I’m a vision person, a dreamer, which you can probably maybe tell from my job since I professionally pretend all day. She’s a lot more of like a concrete person. She is super creative. She makes beautiful things. She cooks. She does the gardening stuff. She does amazing. She’s a really great designer. She paints. She does a lot of really creative things.

She’s also really one of those people who just like will work, and will do, will implement the vision. She doesn’t want to be around debating stuff all day. She doesn’t want to be thinking, “What are we going to do? Where should we–” She wants like, “Let’s make a decision,” and she’s okay not making a decision but she’s like, “Let’s,” and then she’s, “Let’s do it.” She’s a real hardworker, and so we complement each other in that way. She’s awesome.

I don’t really know what else to say, but that’s– I like cookies. I really, really love chocolate chip cookies. I feel like it’s important that your listeners know that about me.

Amy: Now, crunchy or chewy? I think this is an important distinction when it comes to chocolate chip cookies.

Sam: Oh, I’ve never been asked that in all my years as a famous, very extremely famous, cookie eater. I’ve never been asked that. To me, the answer is both or a good mixture. Gina makes these– There’s two different kinds. I can’t remember where one of them was like a Joanna Gaines’ recipe, and then the other one was from somebody else. I can’t remember, but I think of them is hers now. They are so good. They’re a little bit crunchy on the outside, a little bit, but then they’re really soft on the inside. A little bit of salt. Ooh. How about you? Which do you prefer?

Amy: I prefer a softer, a chewy cookie. If they’re too hard, I feel like I’m eating dog food, so I like it to be nice and chewy, yes.

Sam: If I had to choose, I would go chewy, but I’m thinking of like the store bought, like if you had Famous Amos versus Chips Ahoy chewy. I would probably go with Famous Amos, because it’s something about that artificial chewiness. It feels gross like chemically to me. I think we should drop everything else and just go. Let’s go in deep.


Amy: The philosophy of cookie choices, the kids in the cookie line at church would have a lot to say about that, but we’ll have-

Sam: The cookie line?

Amy: – to save that for our next conversation. [laughs]

Sam: Wait a second. You can’t just drop the cookie line at church. That sounds like– Where is your church, and how soon can I go to it?

Amy: Well, it’s here in Raleigh, North Carolina, and you’re always welcome. You will have to fight the kids after worship because they make a beeline there to the door that they know is going to open. There, as the music soars, there are the plates of cookies, and they have very good taste between the homemade cookies and the store bought cookies.

Sam: I’m coming. Believe me, kids don’t scare me. I’m 45. I might be in trouble if there was a bunch of men fighting, but I can fight some kids, and that’s no problem, man.

Amy: You can’t take on a six-year-old.

Sam: Yes. Oh, yes.

stories and sanctified imaginations homeschool conversations podcast S.D. Smith

Storytelling, Imagination, and Scripture

Amy: Well, Sam, I was really curious. Here you are writing all of these stories and sharing your love of story now. I was wondering what was your own experience with storytelling in general, or maybe a specific book that captured your imagination as a kid. Were you always captivated by stories, or is this something that’s developed over time?

Sam: I think I have an unusual story for writers, maybe people in my line of work, or even in the homeschooling world. I probably have a little bit of a unique experience in that. I was not a bookworm. I did not read books growing up. That was not a usual thing for me. My mom read to us but independent reading, you think of the kid who wants to become an author someday because they just devour books all the time, that was not me.

That was me at age 15 and beyond. I spent a lot of time catching up at 15. I read a book called Ender’s Game and I just fell in love with reading. I was soon into Tolkien and Lewis and just– Then I was reading Shakespeare, and I just fell in love with English literature in particular. I really always loved like the classics, Ivanhoe, that sort of thing. Jane Austin, just Charles Dickens, I just flew through it and I became an avid reader for the rest of my life.

I was slow getting there, but I always loved stories, and I always loved storytelling. I didn’t know it at the time, but I loved Star Wars, Indiana Jones, all these ’80s action adventure things. I really loved that thing. I loved westerns. I grew up watching The Lone Ranger and that kind, so playing cowboys and Indians, playing army, playing– I was always doing that.

What I didn’t realize then, but what I realize now, is I was really preparing for my vocation as a storyteller. I was always imagining, and it was original stuff. If there were Legos or Lincoln Logs or some kind of a toy, I always loved that stuff, but I would never make the things that were set up to make like, “Oh, you’re supposed to make this kind.” I’ve always want like, “I want to make my own thing.”

Well, how would I make something this? I want to make my own sort. I always loved doing that. We weren’t super wealthy, I’ll say that, and so our toys were somewhat limited. My dad would cut out, he would saw out little like guns and that thing for us to play with. Maybe that’s not politically correct to talk about, but anyway, we played with– We’d make swords out of sticks and that kind of thing.

We would make paper airplanes and paper footballs. We would do paper airplanes, but I would color. My older brother would do this too. We we’d color and design our paper airplanes. I had this whole fleet, and I can remember making this little group of smaller paper airplanes. I knew each of their names and their colors. They were a unit, a special crack unit that would go in and do–

I was always making up stuff like that. People would recognize in my books, this little unit, maybe like The Fowlers, but I was doing that thing as a kid. I describe it as being haunted. I was haunted by the vocation of a storyteller from a pretty young age. Looking back, I can see it, but at that time, I didn’t know other boys that read. It was unusual. The only boys that did read were really, really very, very nerdy guys who were drawing dragons and stuff. It was a little bit outside those guys, but that wasn’t, I was more of like playing sports and that thing as well.

I would fit into all those little groups, but I wasn’t really fully in the people who were playing tabletop games all the time, and drawing, and reading books. That was a little bit outside of what I knew. I became more and more of that kind of a person who really just loved literature. Of course, loving the Bible growing up.

On the mission field when I was about 15 as well, it’s funny things happened around the same time that I really fell in love with the scripture and started reading that like crazy. The whole idea of loving words and seeing the big story of who, what God is doing in the world, that all happened around the same time. Almost the earlier pieces of my life slid into place as far as understanding what my calling might be.

Maybe that was a little slower in happening, I guess, but the clarity of what the person God was making me into, who the character I was becoming, was becoming clear in those years as my discipleship and love of literature happened at the same time and grew along together as I became a man.

Amy: I love this for two particular reasons, because on the one hand, I think sometimes, especially in I think the little microcosm world of homeschooling, there’s this stereotype where we’re all supposed to be raising these kids who just always have their nose in the books, and they’re carrying their books with them everywhere they go. If we have a child who that’s just not their thing, we might feel like, “Oh no, they’re not going to love books one day. They’re not going to love stories. Like, what’s wrong? What have I done wrong?

I think it’s really encouraging to hear that your love of story was developing in some of these other unique ways. Your imagination was developing, and it didn’t have to look like your nose was always in a book, especially when you were a little boy running around, and playing with your swords and your guns, right?

Sam: Yes.

Amy: Then on the flip side too, I think, just that remembering that reading the scripture is actually a really key component of developing our understanding of story, because you have just about every genre of literature imaginable right there. If you can learn to read deeply just from reading the Bible on your own or with your family, or you’re really set up to be able to understand any other story.

Sam: Yes, and vice versa. Really, it’s hard to go to the scripture and say like, “I don’t know anything about poetry, nothing about the world of poetry. I’m going to try to just boldly–” I almost like always a little bit suspicious of a pastor who’s– Not suspicious. Maybe that’s not the right word, but somewhat concerned about someone who never reads anything but theology books, that theology and doctrine which is so good and so important.

If you don’t understand poetry, or even storytelling at all, or narrative, you’re going to have a little bit of a hard time understanding the scripture, because it’s just — what percentage of it is poetry and songs? Massive, massive, massive parts! So if you have no concept? So actually reading other kinds of books helps out.

Your point, I totally take your point, that there’s different stages and different– and some kids are going to be slower. I was slow. I was a late talker and a late reader, and that thing. I know there’s some concern, “Oh my goodness, this kid’s not developing the right way.

Yes, there’s different times for people. The word is to be patient and to focus on some of the things that are strong, and what’s happening there, that the unique calling, that’s the cool thing. That’s a super cool thing about homeschooling, is being able to give kids room to breathe instead of immediately slamming them into “Well, you are not with this age group.”

Even the difference between boys and girls, boys and girls are so different. Different boys are different than different girls. It’s different, but the coming to maturity at different times, capacity to sit still, capacity to focus and concentrate, need for movement all those things are different. I love that about homeschooling, that we can facilitate and accommodate in the right ways, still challenge, still say, “Hey, grow up. Learn to sit still. Learn to listen,” but to treat them like human beings. I love that about homeschooling.

Amy: Yes, they’re really not machines, right? They’re not just little robots. They’re their own image-bearers.

Sam: Yes.

stories and sanctified imaginations homeschool conversations podcast S.D. Smith

Encouraging a sanctified imagination in our homeschool children

Amy: Well, one of the things you mentioned, I’ve seen this on your website, at Story Warren. I’ve seen this. You use this term, “wanting to be our allies and imagination,” so I really wanted to explore this idea. What do you mean exactly by this? What is a Christian perspective on imagination, and how can we encourage and nurture a sanctified imagination in our children?

Sam: Well, I’m a big– I like how you used that word, because it’s not enough just to cultivate an imagination. I think we say things like, “Oh, you have a big imagination. You have a great imagination.” Well, I can think of a lot of despots, and tyrants, and very wicked men throughout history and women who had a great imagination, had a very big imagination, very, very full.

I think the most wicked things start in our imagination. Imagination is not neutral. It isn’t automatically neutral. It’s a capacity, so it’s like our intellect. Lewis talked about the intellect being the organ of truth and the imagination is the organ of meaning . I love that.

Again, going back to the scriptures, you’re talking about the stories of scripture. You have these true faithful stories that because they’re stories, you don’t lose the truth, you don’t subtract truth from them, but you add meaning. You get meaning from stories, and you get meaning, I think from imagination. I think it’s a capacity that we all have. Clay Clarkson talks about how we all have it.

And we could say I have a creative kid, or I have a imaginative kid, and then this one’s more of my concrete thinker. That’s not really true. I know what we mean when we say that, but the truth is we all have [imagination]. It’s a capacity we all have. We all have imagination, and it’s important, I think, I think to cultivate and grow a holy imagination, an imagination that will be submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ, just like every other area of our life because our imagination will serve Satan, self, or God.

It’ll be a capacity and I’m not saying we’ll never fail. We will fail in that area. Jesus very specifically addresses that the imagination is connected to sin, and we will, and we need forgiveness for that. Cultivating that, it’s almost like saying just cultivating your inner life. I mean faith is imagination. It’s seeing what we can’t see but is very real. It’s what people say. It’s like faith is seeing something that’s not there, not real. It’s more real.

If you’re talking about the kingdom of God for instance, anticipating the kingdom of God, which is what Jesus invites us, commands us to do, to seek first the kingdom of God and to pray, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. That’s what we’re praying for, so that’s a real thing, and that has a real power that’s more real than actually the political structure or whatever of our current where whatever we’re living in right now. To have an imagination that can see that.

Can I see the kingdom of God? Can I see and long before I anticipate this kingdom that’s coming with my heart. It’s not just facts. Facts won’t just won’t get us there. It’s important to believe true things and to turn away from falsehood. There’s so much of what we love and who we are, what we have to be, “What Should I Do?”  Alasdair MacIntyre says, “I can only answer the question, what am I to do if I answer the first question of what story or stories am I a part?”

We have to know what story we’re in. I think the imagination gives us the tools to do that like nothing else does. There’s no substitute for it. Maybe that’s why the Bible is full of stories, and that takes nothing away from the commands. The Bible has lots of commands. It’s not just an Old Testament thing where they used to have commands and now it’s all about love.

It’s all about love and all the commands are about love. Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus has lots of commands, and he tells us to do the things that he’s commanded us, but it’s rooted in a narrative of who he is and what he did in the gospels. The gospels come first, and so I just feel like there’s no replacing the power of imagination in story.

I think cultivating it and cultivating it in a holy way, which doesn’t just mean offense. I think it mostly means offense as far as going, and taking, and eating, for partaking of the good, the true, the beautiful. I think there isn’t a defensive element like, “Hey, don’t– Guard your heart.” That’s a big element of it, so I’m not a person who’s like, “I’ll just read. It’s all just to read. He’s a reader. He’s got a big imagination.”

That’s not enough. Stories do impact us. Christians who are a little bit more fearful like, “I’m afraid what my” — I sympathize with that to the extent that stories are powerful. They will move us. They will shape our affections, so it is a powerful capacity that I think we have to pay attention to. I’m a little bit afraid that most of us don’t, as much as we should.

I don’t mean that in like you should be scared and you’re doing everything wrong, but I think sometimes we’re just a little bit like it’s okay that they’re just reading and maybe we’re so exhausted, like it’s okay, I’ll just put them in front of the TV or whatever. Again, I don’t want to have to be afraid of everything all the time, but I would say like curating that experience for your kids is a powerful skill and to encourage parents who are worried about that. You don’t have to be the expert all the time. We live in an incredible era of resources for that. I think, I’m sure you’re a part of and sharing those resources.

It’s an awesome time to be able to be connected and easily find the other allies in imagination. Again, just going back to, I’m talking forever, but wrapping up this long, long sermon.

I will say that I do feel like my job is to be an ally, in my storytelling is to be an ally to parents. I feel like they are doing the important work with these kids that I want to love and serve. I feel like I’m a guerilla, like I’m running guns to the revolutionaries. I’m like I’m supplying, like I’m an arms dealer, like a secret. I’m going out to the front lines and, “Hey, here you go. Here you go,” and they’re doing this amazing work with these kids, and we’re allies. We’re doing it together, but they’re the real heroes. I want to support them. I want to love them. We really want to love these kids and bless them, because I do feel like there are so many, particularly maybe in our age, there’s a lot of toxic, a lot of inhospitable, all the way to predatory stuff that just horrific treatment of kids, and taking advantage of kids. I hate that very deeply.

I love the kids very deeply, and so I want to be an ally to anybody who’s wanting to love and serve these kids and give them truth, goodness, beauty be generous to them, to be hospitable to them. To cultivate this holy imagination I feel is really, really important. I want to have a part in it.

Amy: Well, I love that you emphasized how powerful stories are, and how that’s not neutral, right?

Sam: Yes.

Amy: You can have a story that is a powerful lion that is seeking whom it may devour. We don’t want to just throw our children in the path of the lion, right?

Sam: Yes.

What ought we to think about fantasy literature as Christian parents?

Amy: You have other stories that are also very powerful, but that are powerful weapons for good, and for training our children to love what is lovely, and to believe what is true. With that, I think I had a specific question about fantasy literature and what role it plays in particular in this bigger idea of stories as a way to teach our children, or to help them cultivate their affections, because I think that is a genre that a lot of parents are in particular maybe afraid of, or worried about. If you think there are any misconceptions maybe about fantasy literature, or what place you see it has in this project adventure we’re on.

Sam: Yes, I do. I don’t usually think about myself as a fantasy author though I guess that’s what I am. My stories are pretty low fantasy for the most part. They’re more Robin Hood than they are just major sword and sorcery adventures. Those are usually the ones I love. I take your point.

There are a lot of parents who are, I think, concerned because they don’t feel like it’s truthful, or they feel like there’s a back door to witchcraft or this kind of thing. Sometimes there’s a front door to it.

I get that concern. I would acknowledge and validate a lot of the concerns, that there are concerns about fantasy literature that I think that are legitimate, that if you’re serious about the Bible, and you care about the truth, then you’re like, “I don’t want things that are going to goof up my kids with this.” I will say also that–

I don’t know. Chesterton has this beautiful– in his book Orthodoxy, chapter four, I think. Is it chapter four? I think it’s chapter four. It’s the Ethics of Elfland. He talks about the power of fairy stories, and it’s just the best. It’s so good. I would recommend anybody who has concerns to read that. He talks about the truth, how much truth there is in fairy stories, and almost like they’re uniquely suited to tell the truth in a way that a lot of other genres aren’t.

If you just have a wholesale rejection because you have legitimate concerns about witchcraft, sorcery, or something like that, things that are really clearly defined as being evil in the Bible, and I say, “Wait a second, this use is good.” Then I would just say I would– I validate those concerns, but also say that if you have a blanket like, “Well, we will do no fantasy. We will have no fantasy in this house.” I think you’re missing an awful lot.

In fact, my concern would be that some of those standards would really exclude the Bible from being able to be read, because you have some pretty clear– What do you want to call it? Magic or miracle, that kind of thing? You have some supernatural things going on and you have the other things like the intellect, like a gun, like a car, like a kiss, you have things that can be used rightly and used in things that can be used wrongly.

It’s a capacity, it’s a thing that exists in the world, this supernatural, miraculous. You see Jesus doing this in a way that you might argue is a restoration of what the true new world should, it should be. He’s fixing things that are– so it’s in accordance with nature in this way. That’s actually in the Lord of the Rings. You have this very, very soft magic but through Gandalf, it’s very much in service. It’s under authority. It’s a lot more like Moses and Aaron doing things then it is like an all powerful wizard who has no consequences.

Those are not very truthful stories, but you have someone like Gandalf who looks a lot like an Elijah or like a Moses and then you– In the story of the Exodus, you have the plagues and you have the wizards, the magicians of Pharaoh’s court doing all of the early plague miracles or magic things. They’re changing water into blood. They’re doing those early things. At some point, it gets to the point where they can no longer match what Yahweh is doing through these men.

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He’s really defeating the gods of Egypt. He’s doing a lot of amazing things. Just like– if some of our standards would not allow us to read that story. I just think if that’s true, then you got to ask yourself some questions. There obviously is a way to represent, and those are true stories. People say, “well, if it’s in fiction, or well, why can’t you tell a fiction story that’s in harmony with the way that scripture handles these matters?” I, for one, would be an advocate for being in harmony with the way that the scriptures handle that.

I think a lot of that has to do with authority. Rebellion is the sin of witchcraft. Those two things go together. If you have miracles being done under authority or great signs, great wonders, however you want to use it, there is certainly some way that that’s happened throughout history in a way that is pleasing to God and is under authority. I love that stuff. I think that it’s– and also going back to Chesterton, what Chesterton helps us see is the magic or the fantasy of the real world. That our world is already a fantasy world.

I think that some of our concerns come from more of the enlightenment than they do from scripture. They come from this super rational world where we’re heads on a stick and we’re just brains that– and we’re not really fully embodied human beings. Some of the concerns are not rooted in actual orthodoxy or actual biblical doctrine. They’re rooted in a recent trend of philosophy that’s very influential. I reject a little bit of that.

I just say the world’s already a fantasy world. We already, we get food out of the ground and off of trees. We have babies this way. It’s already a crazy amazing fantasy world. You literally have two people come together and love each other and kiss and say, “Man and wife,” and, “I do,” and they have a new world. Then people come out of that, human beings. That’s how we get people. Try explaining that to an alien or something. It’s super, super duper weird. We plant these little seeds and we have these things where just water just runs through our land. You could go swim in it, you can get it. It’s already a miracle. It’s already a wonderful world.

I think the best authors, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, others show us that and give us more than just the explanation of it, but the reality of that.

I think if you cut off all fantasy, I think you’re missing a big part of what it means to be human. I validate your concerns, and I would ivite an exploration that’s curated for you and your kids, because I think you’ll find some things there that you can’t get anywhere else. I’ll close this sermon with the– For me, my own experience, a person who loves the Bible, loves studying scripture, likes reading Spirit. The last two books I’ve read on my own have been books about theology and the Bible.

I will say that no book has made me love God and the Bible truth more than reading the Lord of the Rings. Nothing. No, not Francis Schaeffer, not Tim Keller, not any, no other book has influenced me the way that has. I would be surprised if that wasn’t the case for a lot of people.

Amy: Oh my goodness, my teen son would agree with you on that. He has listened and/or read the Lord of the Rings on constant repeat since he was about four years old, and continues to go deeper. In fact, I’ll have to tell a story about my teen daughter, who early on in their childhood, little sibling discussions, she decided since her brother liked Tolkien, she wasn’t going to Tolkien. That was the attitude in which she came to her first reading of The Lord of the Rings.

As you can imagine, that worked out really well for her because she could decide it already, it wasn’t any good. She in her humility now as a 15 year old has decided, “I should probably reread that. That was probably not the book. That was probably me.” She was just talking to me this week. She’s like, “it’s just so beautiful because it’s the most– There’s so much lost and grief from the moment, the beginning of the story, to the end. It’s filled with just things ending and things not being right, and yet it does it in such a way that it’s also hopeful. That’s the most Christian view of the whole world because that’s this world under the sun.”

Anyway, yes, I would also go with you on the Chesterton. I love how he talks about the old stories where you would have an ordinary person who had really odd things happen to them.

Modern realistic stories, which have a very odd person to whom ordinary things happen, is really not a very biblical perspective on who we are as humans and what our life is like.

Sam: Oh, so true. We’ll, he’s so brilliant with that. We could talk about him all day. What a genius?

Amy: Yes, I would love to have somebody who’s like an expert on Chesterton on the podcast sometime. When I was in high school, I loved him so much. My friends called me Mrs. Chesterton, butt I figured it was okay because he was dead. It was all fine. Love Chesterton.

stories and sanctified imaginations homeschool conversations podcast S.D. Smith

It’s not too late!

Well, do you have any advice for a family who maybe is wanting to reclaim this story idea? Maybe that wasn’t really how they lived their life as a family when their children were younger. They’re wanting to reclaim this for their older children. Maybe it’s a family who is listening and they’ve got lots of little kids and they’re, “All right, how do we do it all right?” Because that terrible lie we hear, “Oh, we got to do it all right.”. What would you say to these families who are wanting to take these ideas and make them a reality in their life?

Sam: Well, I think it’s your message. It’s not too late. That’s so important. The old proverb of when’s the best time to plant a tree? It’s 40 years ago. When’s the best time? When’s the second best time today? It isn’t too late to start.

It doesn’t matter what’s gone before; we are not beings with a real expiration date either. We’re going to live a long time, we are going to die in a way, for sure but there’s this resurrection that’s coming and our story is far from over. It’s never, never, never too late to start anything, I think going in the right direction. I think I love how you’re wording it. You don’t have to get it right. You don’t have to become a family that you admire on Instagram immediately. You don’t have to become like my family or your family, Amy. Like the people listening, you do it like you do it and humbly start small.

Start Small. It’s just the old, “How do you eat an elephant?” One bite at a time. Take a little bite. Do one thing, one thing. It’s just like caring about health or fitness. You cannot become an Ironman athlete in one day. It’s like do five pushups. That’s where I am. I’d love to be able to run Ironman or something, but it’s like, can I do five push ups? Maybe so. It’s small things, introducing one little vegetable. Same thing here. Habits are so powerful. One little habit will be so transformational.

What is his name? John Dryden said, “We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.” One little habit, and there are some natural times to draft on that you can get behind. There’s one thing, bedtime, is such an– Why do you have so many people telling stories at bedtime? It’s so natural. Trying that, trying one, reading a story together at bedtime it’s not easy actually. It’s the thing you don’t have to do it every single night but building some habit, having some a commitment, some challenge for yourself, your family, one little thing because that’s better than just equipping them, because it’s modeling and it’s enjoying together.

There’s really nothing like that. You can choose a short book, a short book to begin. You don’t have to start with the Lord of the Rings, if that feels intimidating to you, or even The Hobbit. The Narnia books, if that feels intimidating to you, it really shouldn’t. Those are pretty simple stories. They’re pretty easy. You could start with a Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. You could just read that. It wouldn’t take very long. You do a chapter a night or that a thing. I think what we find is that we’d all be enjoying that together if we do that. When you read a story together out loud, there’s something magical that happens because it’s a real event. It’s not–

If you make that trip with the Pevensie kids in The Chronicles of Narnia, the first book, The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe, you do that together. It happened to you. Part of it’s your imagination, but you’re doing it together. You’re really sharing an adventure in a way. Because the power of books is a little different than the passivity of watching a movie or a show where everything is being done for you because you’re working, your mind is working, someone’s mom or dad, or somebody’s reading out loud, that’s a little bit of work, but everybody’s working together to form images that actually you’re engaged in this really powerful way.

I would just do a very, very small baby step, very, very small baby step. Then think about the power, like you just said, your son with the Lord of the Rings, listening to– The power of audiobooks is incredible, a trip. Get a book for– Go to the Read Aloud Revival and find some short book that’s recommended. An easy intro book. I don’t know if you have some resources like this at your blog. You probably do, Amy, but you start with something. Get a little help with your curation. There are so many things that are just like pretty much a hit. I haven’t ran into too many families who are like, “Yes, we really hated The Chronicles of Narnia.” It’s 99% foolproof a thing.

Modeling that, doing it together, use the power of technology in your favor with the audiobook thing, but also maybe trying to do a little bit of the read aloud. Just really small baby steps. You don’t have to be a brilliant storyteller, “I’ll come up with this original story.” You don’t have to do that. I did that. That’s where The Green Ember came from originally. Everybody doesn’t have to do that. Everybody’s not equipped that way. You just don’t have to, there’s stuff out there you can draft behind that.

You can also draft behind traditions. You can draft behind natural times, like bed times or trips. You can also draft behind traditions. There’s like the Advent season or Christmas season. It’s a natural time where people are sitting around together.

You can do a little story. You can find a Christmas story, even watching a Christmas movie together. These kind of things where you can cultivate storytelling and the power of it, even baby steps into it. I think that it’s so important what you said. Youis start where you are and it’s okay. If you just start one little habit of introducing good curated storytelling into your family life, it’s so transformational and such a powerful thing that I think it’s going to be addictive for you. You’ll be surprised at how powerful that can be. Those little baby steps can have an exponential power.

I just encourage you, don’t believe those lies that you can’t do it. Don’t believe those lies that’s different. Other people who have their stuff together, they could do it, but not me. That is a lie. That is a lie, lie, lie. Do not believe it. Refuse to believe it and take humble baby steps in the right direction.

Amy: I think it was Cindy Rollins, I heard her say, that she’ll talk to moms who are desperately trying to find the perfect booklist and figure out the perfect time to do reading. She says, “Just stop. I want you to pick up a book, whatever book is closest to you, and just open it and read it to your kids,” because it’s not about finding the perfect booklist or just the right time, it’s not about having two hours a day to sit and read together. It’s those little tiny moments that we spend together.

With five kids with a big age range, and lots of commitments in different directions, we don’t have two hours a day to read aloud together, but every morning in our morning time routine, I’ll read just one short chapter. Really over the course of time, you realize you’ve read through several books together, and that counts and it adds up. If we waited until we had like three hours, that would never happen. We would never read anything.

Sam: I love it. That’s awesome. That’s such good advice. Way to go. Why are you asking me questions? I should be asking you questions. This is is dumb.

Amy: It’s a conversation.

Sam: I’m talking too much in this conversation.

stories and sanctified imaginations homeschool conversations podcast S.D. Smith

How can we nourish our children as writers?

Amy: Well, I have another question for you, changing gears a little bit because last fall you published a book with your son, which must have just been a surreal and super exciting experience. I wanted to ask what advice? Obviously, not all of us are going to sit and write a book with our children, although that would be cool. If anyone does, please let me know, and I will have you on the podcast.

How can we help our children just in general develop their own unique authorial voice just in their writing, and nourish their desire to write and that skill, especially thinking of this homeschool audience?

Sam: Well, like we were talking about earlier, it’s such a cool time to be alive. I know it’s easy to look around and, “Oh really,” and be pessimistic because there’s just the outrage machines are so effective and so powerful now. Also, there’s really tough stuff in the world. There has been before as well, but it is easy to be really pessimistic. There’s lots of cool things. There are resources that are really available that are awesome for kids. Again, you don’t have to go it alone. You don’t have to be like, “Oh, my goodness, I’ve got a kid that’s creative, that literally loves storytelling. How do I do it? I’m not equipped for that.”

Yes, maybe not, maybe not all the way, but you’re not that far away, I would say. I mean, the most powerful thing for writers, young writers, and all writers, is to read and write. You read a lot and write a lot, because there’s more that’s caught than taught, I think so. Getting, it’s like a– Imagine a basketball player who’s just studying film all the time, studying games, watching, reading books about it.

Oh, doing all that. You could get a lot of information about what it’s like to be a basketball player, but you’d be way better if you did none of that, and played a lot of basketball.

I think writing is really, really important. You can just write, just read a lot and write, and you’ll be developing a habit of writing. Now you’re in like an insanely small percentage of writers, because most writers don’t write, or most people who want to be writers don’t write because it’s a lot easier to want to be a writer or want to seem like a writer or want to seem artistic or want to seem cool in that way.

It’s a lot easier to want to do that than to actually do it. Developing a habit is really powerful. All those things that you do at home that help develop good habits, you can apply them to a creative life. All the things that you’re like, you got to brush your teeth every day, you got to clean your room, you got to write all these other things that we require if there’s chores, if there’s these, I would just say those are good.

Don’t let a creative kid off the hook on those things for one thing because a lot of times creative, the message that a lot of so-called creative kids or people get, is the rules don’t apply to you, that you’re special because you’re interesting and weird and quirky. If you’re like don’t want to do this, if you’re too shy or you’re too introverted or whatever, but there’s not a different moral code for creative people.

We still have to love our neighbors. We’re still invited to love and serve people. I think it’s better to take that ethic into the creative storytelling. Like I’m a person who’s meant not just to express myself because I’m such a exciting, brilliant, weird, amazing person and people just need to gather around and let me express myself. No, I need to love and serve other people by my work.

I’m going to give a gift. I want to do a good job for other people. It’s not different than other Christian vocations in that sense. At the same time, it’s very magical, it’s very wonderful, it’s miraculous, it’s beautiful, it’s glorious. I love it. You got to hold those in both. I try to hold those in one hand. Oh, it’s amazing, it’s magical. I love it. It’s brilliant. On the other hand, I hold the, hey, it’s an ordinary job where you’re serving people just like every other job.

It has the same dignity. I think of myself more like a line cook than I do like a gloriously winged fairy who’s dropping dust on the world with my brilliance. I think if kids are hungry, I want to feed them. I’m a cook. I think it’s important to have to develop those habits that can actually set you up to succeed, to actually create something that’s worthwhile instead of just dreaming about it or sitting around.

All those habits that we help to form, and I think that includes habits of work, economic sense, learning about that, because you can come out in being this really brilliant poet or writer and be like, “Oh, how do I make money?” Learning about economics is powerful.

Spiritual disciplines are really, really important to keep you rooted in Christ, to keep you rooted in your identity of who you are, and so that you’re not thinking like, “Oh, the audience tells me who I am, or it depends on the reviews,” or, “Oh, now I’m the worst person in the world because I didn’t succeed at this.

No, I’m rooted in Christ. That’s where my identity comes from. Whether or not I fail, I give it my best shot. I’m going to give it to him.” Probably what I would say is probably a lot of the things you’re already doing are super valuable and I would say keep doing them. Don’t not do them because this is a creative kid and I’ve got to treat this person completely different.

I think loving them uniquely is great, and equipping them uniquely is awesome. It’s an awesome opportunity, but don’t freak out about it, in my opinion. A lot of the things you’re doing are probably great. If you’re just encouraging them to read and write, encouraging them to develop their own standards of what they’re going to do, hey, I’m going to do 100 words a day, or I’m going to do 100 words five days a week.

Like, hey, making that– if kids start doing that pretty early, you’re going to be crushing it. You’re just going to be crushing it. You can’t be stopped if you have the habit. The habit is so powerful. That’s more important than going, but there are other things.

I’ve got a course called the Green Writer Course, which people can check out if they want to. I’d like that. That’s my answer to the 10,000 questions I’ve gotten from kids saying, “Hey, I want to do what you do. How do I do it?” It’s a first-step thing.

I recommend the Young Writer Workshop. Is fantastic for kids. Really, really good for homeschooling people. It’s got the heart. I really jive with them. I work with them. I do office hours with them, talk to the kids that are in the program. It’s really wonderful for kids who are thinking, taking a little more seriously, but really there’s no replacing. Read a lot, write a lot, and don’t forget who you are.

Keep that identity rooted in Christ. I think that’s almost– Well, I think it is more important, and I think the craft will come as you work at it and have the habits, but the identity thing, man, that’s the root that can– If you get poisoned at the root, then the fruit’s going to be bad. We don’t want that. We want to give a gift with our art. We want our creativity to be under the lordship of Jesus Christ and for the good of other people, because we’re commanded to love each other, so we got to love each other through our work.

Amy: I love thinking about writing as any other vocation or skill or tool that we have that it is there for service. It’s not there to serve ourselves, but it’s to serve those around us. I loved how you were emphasizing that over and over. I think that is something that might be– It’s not going to just take the one time where you sit down and give a lecture to your kid like, “This writing is for Jesus. This writing is for loving your neighbor.”

Okay, that will probably go over their head. Having a family dynamic where we talk about all the things we do– My husband is a bridge engineer ,and he often is talking about what he’s doing as a way of serving people and honoring the Lord with his talents. It’s not just something that he does to be cool, although he is cool. Same thing for what I do as a homemaker thinking about these things the way we talk about any ordinary vocation that we have. Our kids are absorbing that too. Now I’m going to have to go repent of complaining about the laundry.

Sam: Well, a robust view of the doctrine of vocation, the value of different vocation is, I think, such a liberating concept. I’d like to say love and service is better than fame and self-expression. That self-expression isn’t the end of art, it’s barely the beginning. I think getting some of those, those are hooks for me about who I am, and I have these identity words that I want to focus on with my writing as a generosity, hospitality, these kinds of things, holding onto those anchor ideas.

Like you said, they apply all across the board, that the bridge engineer is an incredible gift. When people don’t fall to their deaths in bridges all the time, which is would be pretty normal. Like if I was making a bridge, that’s what would happen all the time. That’s awesome. It’s incredible. It’s such a gift and it’s amazing. Yes, I am with you.

Amy: Well, I’m going to include a link in the show notes to the Green Writer and the Young Writer. Is that what you said the other one was?

Sam: Yes, Young Writer Workshop. They call it Y Dubs, YWW. It’s really a good program.

stories and sanctified imaginations homeschool conversations podcast S.D. Smith

What Sam is reading lately

Amy: I’ll include links to those in the show notes. Here at the end, I need to ask you the questions that I ask all of my guests. I’m very curious because you alluded to some books you’ve been reading recently. The first one is just, what are you personally reading lately?

Sam: Cool. On the spot. Now I have to remember the name of this book. I just read Andy Crouch’s The Life We All— Oh my goodness, The Life We All Long For, The Life We’re Looking For.

Amy: We’ll find it and we’ll add it in.

Sam: Andy Crouch’s new book’s really good. That’s a good book. Then that’s for nonfiction. Then a fiction book I’m reading is called Dark Fire. It’s this Matthew Shardlake. I don’t think it’s probably for kids, but it’s set during the Henry VIII period. It follows Thomas Cromwell, a guy, a lawyer, this hunchbacked lawyer who’s working for him during that period.

I love history, I love England, I love English history. Anything around there, I love Jane Austen, Napoleonic era. I love a lot of the naval stories that come out of there with Patrick O’Brien. This one’s like it’s pretty neat. It’s a cool way to explore that time period, but definitely, more of a grown-up book for sure. I’m trying to think of a family-friendly book that I’ve read lately and I can’t–

Amy: Is your family reading anything aloud these days?

Sam: They are. They’re actually. The youngest kids are reading The Hobbit. Gina is reading The Hobbit to them in our morning time, and they’re really enjoying that. I read The Hobbit out loud to the older kids, the older two. Maybe the third one was a little young to retracking with it at the time, but now the younger ones are reading it. Like you guys, we’ve always got audiobooks going crazy, and everybody’s reading a lot in our family.

Amy: The Hobbit was our last family read-aloud. We had read several depressing ones in a row, like Animal Farm and stuff like that. He was just like, “Can we read something happy this time?” [laughs]

Sam: Have you guys read any of Gary D. Schmidt?

Amy: Yes, I have read The Wednesday Wars. I laughed and cried. I walked down the stairs and handed it to my children like, “You must read this beautiful book.” Then they went on and read. My older two went on and read several other books by Gary Schmidt. I’m almost afraid to read any more. I don’t know. I loved The Wednesday Wars so much I’m afraid to read his other books, but people keep telling me, “You don’t have to be afraid. He’s amazing all the way through.”

Sam: Yes. Okay for now. It’s just incredible. I had the opposite experience. My kids were like, “You have to read The Wednesday Wars.” My oldest two were just like, “You got to read it. It’s so great.” I was like, “Okay, I’ll read it.” Finally did. Oh my goodness, this dude makes me want to give up writing. He is so good. Just beautiful, absolutely beautiful. Yes, I love it.

My son, I just thought it, because my oldest son, Josiah, who co-wrote the Jack Zulu book together, he was just telling me he just read Gary’s newest book. He said it was just another incredible experience. Yes, that’s definitely one I could recommend to anyone like The Wednesday Wars and Okay For Now. Just absolutely beautiful.

Amy: Yes, definitely worth adding to your large-to-be-read stack. If everybody is like me, you have like 27 books backlogged along with the 10 you’re currently reading.

Sam: Totally. Yes, absolutely.

Best tip for helping the homeschool day run smoothly?

Amy: Oh, the final question is just what would be your best tip for helping the homeschool day run smoothly?

Sam: Stay out of the way, for me. [laughs] Gina’s like, “I know you want to come in and take a walk with the kids, but you can be a disruptive force.” Actually, we– It’s a tip. Okay, so I think you alluded to earlier, but that whole Morning Time thing is incredible for our family. It’s such a great organizing thing, prioritizing. There’s a doxological element to that that’s so powerful for sure shaping who we are and how we’re going to spend our day.

I think that’s– If I was like– and I’m not a homeschooler. My wife is the expert there, but if I’m looking from a near observer, I would say if there’s something that a habit that’s more powerful than maybe anything else, it would be that Morning Time and just taking those baby steps of having a devotional element, creative element, and this is our common story thing together. That would be from me, have a good morning time.

Amy: Yes, it’s really foundational in, I think, bringing us together across all of the different ages and personalities. I see it as a time to be together, have those relationships at the core of homeschooling, which we always say homeschooling is about relationships, and then sometimes we’re all scattered to the wind. It brings us all in every day.

Sam: Shout out to Pam Barnhill.

Amy: Yes. I call Pam my big sister of Morning Time. She’s been a guest on the podcast a couple times. She’s awesome.

Sam: Yes, she’s a good pal. Yes. I think she’s the one that introduced that to our family, so yes. Great. She’s awesome.

Heather Tully Pam Barnhill Gather Book Homeschool Conversations Morning Basket Morning Time Gathering

Find Sam (S. D. Smith) online

Amy: Well, Sam, where can people find you all around the internet?

Sam: I am lurking behind every website. I am there ready to pounce at any moment. Now, I’m, is where you can find me. That’s the easy place,

Amy: All right. I will have that linked up in the show notes for this episode at Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. This has been really fun.

Sam: It was my pleasure. Next time, you have to talk more.

Amy: Okay. I’m happy to talk anytime.

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