Episode 169: Betsy Childs Howard Interview and Discipling through Stories

In this episode we chat with Betsy Childs Howard about her books, her work with the Gospel Coalition, and discipleship. Why and how can we use stories with our kids? Why and how does God use waiting in our lives? Come join the conversation. 

Our Guest: Betsy Childs Howard

I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. I graduated from Wheaton College near Chicago with a degree in English literature and Beeson Divinity School with a Masters of Theological Studies.

In 2015, Bernard Nicholas Howard swept me off my feet, married me, and brought me to New York City. We planted Good Shepherd Anglican Church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in March 2017, and in 2023 we moved to Alabama where Bernard is the pastor of Grace Birmingham. We have two young sons, and I work as an editor for The Gospel Coalition.

I’m the author of Seasons of Waiting: Walking by Faith When Dreams Are Delayed , Arlo and the Great Big Cover-UpPolly and the Screen Time Overload as well as several other children’s books.

I’ve been walking with Jesus since I was a small child, and I trust that by his grace, I will walk with him until the end.

You can follow me on Twitter @betsychoward

Show Notes:

00:10 – Introduction and Welcome
00:34 – Polly and the Screen Time Overload
03:12 – Arlo and the Great Big Coverup
05:06 – The Boy Who Cried Over Everything
             The Girl Who Got Out Of Bed
             Why Can’t I Have a Cupcake
06:10 – Seasons of Waiting
09:30 – The Gospel Coalition
12:00 – Meg is Not Alone
             Lucy and the Saturday Surprise

             Charlie in the Preschool Prodigal
13:34 – Wherever You Go, I Want You to Know
14:18 – Closing
              BetsyHoward.com
              TGC.org
              TerrieHellardBrown.com

Books Discussed in This Episode:

Transcript:

Terrie:

Welcome to “Books That Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that help us with everyday discipleship every day, sparking important conversations with the children in our lives. Well, I’m so glad to introduce you to our guest today. Her name is Betsy Childs Howard. Betsy, thank you so much for joining us today.

Betsy:

Thank you for having me, Terrie.

Terrie:

I’ve really been looking forward to talking with you. I have loved your book Arlo and the Great Big Coverup for quite a while and just am excited to get a chance to hear your side of what led you to write these stories, and then also to talk about the Gospel Coalition a little bit. I love their blogs and all of the things that they have available as far as resources. I have a lot I want to talk about. So let’s jump in. Let’s first start with your children’s books. Tell us about your newer one, Polly and the Screen Time Overload,

Betsy:

Right. As you said, Polly and the Screen Time Overload. Polly is about a little girl who goes to her grandparents’ farm where she loves to feed their animals and ride horses, but she gets a tablet device right when she gets there for her birthday. So she doesn’t do all the things that she loves to do while she’s there because she’s glued to her screen. At the end, her grandparents help her see that while technology isn’t bad, spending too much time on a screen can keep you from doing other things that you enjoy. So my goal is to start talking to children about technology really, really early before they’re making their own decisions about how much is too much and help them see, through a story they can relate to, that while playing a game on a tablet isn’t a sinful thing to do, if you do that too much, it might make you lose your delight in doing all the other things you enjoy, like playing with your cousins in a barn or the things that Polly sees. So I tried to make it clear that the tablet is very desirable to Polly, and the games that she plays are lots of fun. I wanted to be realistic about that, but also there’s so many other wonderful things in God’s world to do, and we miss out on those when all we do is have screen time.

Terrie:

Yeah, and I love the scripture at the beginning of the book. It’s such a perfect one for the topic that things can be good, they just may not be the best at the time or something that we want to give all our time to, and I really love the story. It’s really cute, and I think it’s very timely, like you said, to get this in kids’ hands before they’re making their own decisions about technology and all of that. I wish I’d had this when my kids were young.

Betsy:

Right? As you disciple children, talking about things before they’re actually facing those decisions is really helpful. And having their imagination caught with a story is a way to kind of embed some principles deep in their minds so that hopefully later on, if they have a phone or if they have more discretion, whether or not they act on that discretion, they’ll at least know why it’s not good for them to be gluttonous when it comes to technology.

Terrie:

Oh, that’s a good way to put it. Okay. And tell us about Arlo.

Betsy:

Arlo and the Great Big Coverup. It’s kind of a basic gospel message in the sense that the message is that cleaned up is better than covered up. Arlo is a little boy. He’s having quiet rest time on his bed, and he draws on the wall with a marker, which he knows he’s not supposed to do. Then he decides he’s got to cover it up before his mom comes to get him up from his rest time. So he goes to great lengths piling up toys on his bed, and he is miserable as he does this, and that’s what I hope that children will see. That while he was covering up his sin from his mother, he was really unhappy. And when she comes in, at first he doesn’t want to tell the truth, but then she discovers the truth, and he tells the truth, and he feels great relief. And I hope that children will see that covering up our sin doesn’t really bring any joy. It might temporarily postpone punishment, but it impedes the relationship that we have, whether it’s with our parents or with the Lord. So I hope that that will be something that they might learn at an early age as it relates to their parents not covering up what they do wrong that will, in years to come, help them not try to conceal their sin from the Lord.

Terrie:

Yeah, and I love that you have him hide under the bed when the mom comes in the room. I thought it just reminded me of Genesis when Adam and Eve were trying to hide.

Betsy:

Right? There’s supposed to be some echoes of Adam and Eve. Even the name Arlo is sort of the four letter word starting with “a” kind of like Adam. I really was hoping it would bring home some of that theology from Genesis.

Terrie:

Yeah, it’s such a great book, and I actually found that book because of such great reviews that I saw for it, and I thought, oh my goodness, I’ve got to see this book. So that’s how I found it.

Betsy:

Arlo is going to be making a reappearance and a sequel that will be out in 2024.

Terrie:

Oh, wonderful.

Betsy:

Yeah, I’m excited about that.

Terrie:

Cool. Well I can’t wait to see that one. We’ll have to have you back on if possible, and have you talk about it. That’d be great. Okay. And you have some other books now. I have not read the other children’s books you have, but you do have a few other children’s books. Would you like to share about those?

Betsy:

Sure. Those are actually books that I self-published years ago with my brother-in-Law. He illustrated them, and I wrote them, and they are not explicitly Christian books, but hopefully they’ll just help parents with general parenting issues. One is called The Boy Who Cried Over Everything. I have used that one with my son who sometimes cries when it’s not necessary. One is The Girl Who Got Out Of Bed, which I highly recommend to people whose children have trouble getting out of bed. I don’t recommend it if your child has not gotten out of bed because you don’t want to plant that idea, and then there’s one called Why Can’t I Have a Cupcake about food allergies. So that has been a fun project that I did. But those I wrote quite a few years ago.

Terrie:

Okay. I love that you wrote about food sensitivities. We deal with that in our family a lot, and I thought, oh, here’s a book I can use. So that’s great.

Betsy:

I’m just a big believer in having a story to talk about. I’ll often with my little boy, if he is having a discipline issue, just make up stories. They’re not very good. There’s like so closely paralleling him that they’re not very good stories, but it allows me to teach in a way that doesn’t feel didactic to him. So I hoped that some of these would help parents do the same thing.

Terrie:

Okay. And then you also have another book for adults: Seasons of Waiting. Tell us about that one.

Betsy:

That book came out of many years of singleness. I got married a lot later than I would have originally hoped, and then I actually had children a lot later. We were not able to have children right away after we got married. So this book talks about different kinds of waiting that are common in the lives of Christians and others. Waiting for a spouse, waiting for children, waiting for a home, waiting for healing, and waiting for prodigals, and I realize that those are all areas that have powerful biblical themes throughout the whole scriptures. So the book, it’s not really a self-help book, although there definitely is practical application, but it traces those themes through scripture to help us understand how they sort of fit into God’s big picture and why sometimes God allows waiting to teach us things about Himself. But one of the big points of the book is: God doesn’t give us these situations so that we will learn our lesson and then move on and never have to wait again. We need to learn how to wait well because we’re always going to be waiting for something. So if we can learn how to wait well, that will serve us well in other seasons of life. Even if one season of waiting ends and another begins, we don’t graduate from the school of waiting. You don’t go to art school and then graduate so that you never have to paint again. You graduate from art school so that you can paint for the rest of your life. Well, God takes us into the school of waiting so that we can wait well.

Terrie:

That is beautiful. Oh, I love that so much. It’s so needed today. You need to write an Arlo book about waiting too. But oh man, I can relate to that so much being in ministry, and we got married and we didn’t have kids for six years. And we wanted to have kids right away. We were told we would never have kids. And then all of a sudden now we have four. And then we felt called to missions from before we were ever together. We both felt called to missions. And so we thought when we got married, we’ll graduate seminary and go on to the mission field, and God had us wait and we didn’t go. For about 15 years after we got married, we finally got overseas and I’m like, God, we’re too old now. And he is like, no, you’re not. So waiting is hard. It really is,

Betsy:

Especially when you feel like you have a godly desire such as to go on the mission field, you think why wouldn’t God fulfill this? But there are many characters in scripture that that was true of them. And sometimes their waiting wasn’t just about what God was doing in their own life, but what God was doing in salvation history. For example, Elizabeth was barren for years until she had John the Baptist and she was a picture of Israel waiting for the Messiah. So the story is bigger than just us and sometimes we have good and godly desires, but God withholds those for a greater purpose.

Terrie:

Yeah. Oh that’s beautiful, yeah. We realized while we were waiting as far as ministry, God had other ministry for us to do and He was growing us in many ways in ministry so that we would be ready for the mission field. It was much more difficult than we had anticipated. If we hadn’t had that maturity, I think we wouldn’t have lasted as long as we did on the mission field, so there were a lot of things that worked. So yeah, that’s just wonderful. I’m going to have to get that book now. I really love that. Okay, and I know that you are an editor and writer for the Gospel Coalition and like I said, I’ve loved reading the blog posts and seeing the resources there. I spend hours reading the blog post. Tell us about who the gospel coalition is and what your mission is.

Betsy:

Well the Gospel Coalition essentially is a coalition, a council of pastors who are from different denominations but hold the same primary issues as most. What they have in common is the gospel, even if they may have different views on baptism, and it was started by Tim Keller and Don Carson as a way to build up the church and support it even across denominational lines, but while keeping the main things the main thing. Now we have expanded, we have conferences every year, we have a women’s conference and a national conference, we have the website, which is how probably people most know us. We have podcasts and we also publish books, and our goal is to equip church leaders. So we are not a parachurch that wants to come take the place of the church, what we’re hoping to do is provide resources to help church leaders, whether that’s a pastor, a small group leader, just a committed layperson, face the issues that come our way every day in a way that thinks biblically about things and keeps the gospel central, so we try to help pastors handling difficult texts. We try to help parents in tricky situations to do with sexuality and transgender. We try to help parents in parenting, just any area of the Christian life where the gospel and God’s word needs to speak into that, we try to provide resources that do that.

Terrie:

Okay. So with the Gospel Coalition, you said you publish books and I see you have some great children’s books there. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Betsy:

Yes, that has been a wonderful thing to work on, but both of my books are part of the TGC Kids series and the series came out of something that I noticed. We have a process that we go through every year and the Gospel Coalition gives out different awards in different categories, and I have overseen the children’s book award category for many years, and I noticed there are trends in Christian publishing and I was not seeing a lot of fiction and particularly not anything to do with moral formation. Some books that my parents read to me in my childhood had a great effect on me in the way that I was able to develop thinking about right and wrong through fictional characters without having to have some of the hard knocks myself. So as I noticed this, I started talking with some of the other editors and we decided to try to create our own series for moral formation.

Betsy:

So Arlo and Polly were in that series. We’ve also had two other books published. One is called Meg is Not Alone, which helps children understand the church and the role of the Body of Christ in the lives of children, and then most recently, Lucy and the Saturday Surprise by Melissa Krueger is about envy a little girl who wants her brother’s lollipop and actually takes a bite out of it. It goes through the biblical pattern of seeing and touching and then tasting, the progression of envy. We’ve got another book coming out early 2024 called Charlie in the Preschool Prodigal, which is the story of the prodigal son retold in modern day, and it really sort of focuses on the older brother and his desire for justice and why that can be hard for children to understand. Like grace is a hard concept for children, particularly those of us who are rule followers. So it’s helping children at an early age think about some of the parts of the gospel that may be hard for us if we’re self-righteous, but hopefully help them see their own need for Christ just as much as the more obvious prodigal who doesn’t follow the rules. So this is a series that we’ve done in partnership with Crossway and our hope is that children will think of them as really fun stories. They won’t realize their learning lessons, but that they’ll come away with some truths deep in their imagination. That’s

Terrie:

Wonderful. I’ve read Meg Is Not Alone and I just loved it. I thought, what a beautiful book and a great story, and I think every child can relate to that because we’ve all been left behind somewhere at some point.

Betsy:

Right. We’ve all at least felt lost even if we weren’t really lost. It’s a scary feeling.

Terrie:

It is. I have a picture from when I was like four years old at Disneyland and my parents are close enough to be taking this picture of me, but I don’t see them. I’m not crying yet, I’m about to cry, and scared because I can’t find them. Yeah, we all have those moments. You mentioned Melissa Krueger, I just love her book Wherever You Go, I Want You to Know. I just wanted to mention that because it’s one of my favorites and I love her work. I’ve mentioned her one about grace before on the program, but oh, I’m going to have to talk to her too. There’s so many good books on this website that you guys offer and so many neat people to talk to that I hope I can interview sometime.

Betsy:

Well, it’s a real blessing to get to be a part of TGC. I’m thankful for that and for my coworkers.

Terrie:

Yeah. Oh, well it’s so great, the work you’re doing is wonderful. Your books are just adorable. I think they do meet the goal that you’ve set, that they tell a good story and help children learn some important lessons and I just love it. So I just appreciate you taking the time, thank you for being here and talking with me.

Betsy:

Oh, it’s my pleasure. Yeah, may God bless your podcast and the work that you’re doing with it.

Terrie:

Well, thank you so much. I appreciate that. And if you want to connect with Betsy, you can find her on her website, BetsyHoward.com and the Gospel Coalition you can find just by Googling the Gospel Coalition, but their website is also TGC.org. So, alright, well thank you and God bless you and I look forward to talking to you when we get the new Arlo book out. That’ll be fun.

Betsy:

Great. Thanks so much.

Terrie:

Thank you for joining us for “Books That Spark,” where we encourage each other to live out everyday discipleship, helping to equip our children to follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you enjoyed this episode, please like and share on social media so people know we are here and leave a review on one of the podcast host sites. We truly would appreciate that. If you would like to connect with me, you can join my mailing list or comment on TerrieHellardBrown.com. We love to hear from you. We respond to every comment and question. And most of all, we pray you feel empowered as a parent or caregiver to walk by faith and to embrace everyday discipleship every day with the children in your life.

Your Host: Terrie Hellard-Brown

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts discuss living as a disciple of Christ while parenting our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ and to use the nooks and crannies of our lives to disciple our children.

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be WONDERFUL” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

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