D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: the book that changed my life

The Book That Changed My Life: Walking on Water

The first of my writer friends up is the great Christiana. I love her for her whimsy, spiritual insight, and her story that spans great swaths of American life. I really resonated with this portrayal of how books shape us when we are in college--how some pieces fall away while others (somewhat inexplicably) remain. Also, St. Madeline, right????  







Walking on Water Guest post by Christiana Peterson



C.S. Lewis said that those of us who are life-long readers don’t often grasp how indebted we are to authors for their part in the “enormous extension of our being.” Our worlds have been so expanded by reading that without it we would feel stifled. Through reading, our capacity for compassion and understanding of others is magnified along with our knowledge of self. Lewis says, “My own eyes are not enough for me. I will see through the eyes of others…in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.”

That is how I see so many of the wonderful books that I’ve read. Not every good piece of writing has changed my life but many of them have flowed into the sea of my life that was changing not wave by wave but drop by drop.

But there are some books that fit just so into that sea of change that they cause a storm, setting me on a course for uncharted waters.

When I was studying theology in grad school, I would huddle against the cold, stone, walls of my Scottish dorm room (I know, feel sorry for me), clutching my hot water bottle, and wondering what I believed anymore. I grew up in a close Christian family, went to a small Christian school on the same property as our church, and had never met an atheist until my lovely South American roommate in Scotland.

I never knew that people studied religion from a non-religious perspective. Therefore, I was unprepared to have post-Christian, agnostic, and multi-religious classmates studying Christian philosophy with me. After graduating from a Christian college in Texas, I was also unprepared for my grad school professor (who was himself an Anglican priest) to shut down my naive talk of faith in the classroom.

Many times during those years, I could picture all my old beliefs as thousands of marbles that had been tossed up into the air. I scrambled to catch those old beliefs as they fell and often wondered if I even wanted to catch them at all.

And then came St. Madeleine.

When I read Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water for the first time, I felt a lifeline had been extended to me. I didn’t have to catch all the marbles that fell but then, I didn’t have to let them all go. And sometimes, there were new beliefs and thoughts that collected, ideas the hues of the Scottish sea, grey like the stone path out to the raging waters, and white like the huge dipping moon.

Madeleine gave me permission to rest in faith and doubt, to see those new colored marbles as part of the beautiful nuance of Christian faith.

In one of my undergraduate writing classes in my Christian university in Texas, I was essentially told that we weren’t going to write YA fiction because it was not real literature. I had always wondered a bit if the sense of longing I felt while reading a quality piece of fiction or a wonderful YA book was just my way of escaping the real world into my own imagination. This writing teacher’s words confirmed that for me: that there was somehow something bad in me that wanted to delve into fiction, fantasy, and literature for children.

But a year after reading Walking on Water, I enrolled in a creative writing program in Scotland to begin a YA novel that had been rolling around in my imagination for years. L’Engle’s words about faith and doubt, about the beauty of writing for children, and the importance of this longing that fantasy and myth stirred inside me, legitimized my own longing to write YA.

I can’t say that I’ve had a long career in YA fiction (not yet anyway), but I learned so much about myself and my place in creation during those subsequent years in Scotland, that I truly believe L’Engle’s book changed my life.




unnamed-2Christiana N. Peterson grew up in Texas and received a PhD in Creative writing from St. Andrews University in Scotland. She has published poetry at Catapult, Curator, and Literary Mama as well as articles on farm life at her.meneutics and Flourish. She lives with her family rural Illinois where she feels the daily call of farm life, folly, food, and occasionally fairies. You can find her blog and links to her other writing at thebeautyofthishour.wordpress.com or you can follow her on twitter @renewsustain.





The Book That Changed My Life

url I grew up homeschooled, erratic books and lesson plans, some years all straight-up, hard-core smart kid math books, other years we just read Laura Ingalls Wilder and tried to make acorn pancakes ourselves (not so tasty, as it turns out). This was before the phrase "unschooling" was on anyone's lips and most people thought us a strange and wild bunch. After a mighty struggle to read (various testings for dslexia, the words all knotting up my mind and in my mouth) suddenly the dams burst forth. I was a reader from that day forward.

I chose to be homeschooled much longer than my sisters, for various reasons (a main one was that I could get all my work done in an hour or two and be free to read or teach myself the electric bass or start a dog-walking company whenever it pleased me). When I was about to start my junior year of high school my family up and moved to a small town in central Oregon. The public school there was small, focused on the arts, and with a breathtaking view of the Three Sisters mountains. I decided I could get by there just fine and enrolled.

My English teacher was a large, somewhat stern woman who I now recognize as having a very wry sense of humor. The grown-up children in her class both bemused and bored her (it was a small town school injected with some very rich and very privileged kids). I don't remember what she taught; I know we had to write research papers and all that but it was all a bit of a blur. Whatever she assigned for us to do in class I would do as quickly as possible. And with a nod to my unschooling ways I would stand up and go to the shelves that lined the classroom, pick up a book, sit on the floor, and start to read.

I did this, class after class (The House on Mango Street and The Bean Trees were two of my favorites). My teacher once came over to my and smiled down. You know, she said, you can take one of those books home to read if you would like. I just looked up at her and smiled, shaking my head. I was good, on the floor, in a corner, lost in my own world. It had always been my favorite place to be.

One day I picked up the book Night by Elie Wiesel. In the middle of class, reading the first few chapters, I soon realized this was a story about the Holocaust as I had never read it. Here was lament, here were the prayers for the dead being screamed out in anguish. Here was a baby being thrown up in the air and being caught on a bayonet, right in front of her mother. Here was doubt, doubt in a good God, personified. Here was the terrible world, laid bare before my 15-year-old self.

I laid the book on the floor. Deep, shaking sobs started and they just couldn't stop. The classroom, busily working on writing out sources, stopped; the teacher stared, then turned concerned. I got up and ran to the bathroom, unable to smooth over the deep well of feelings that had been unearthed.

I never did recover, from that, my first shock of the horrible, brutal ways in which humans treat each other. It was a veil being lifted. It was the thin veneer of respectability, of denial, of distancing being scraped away. I was still a child, but I knew: it had happened, it was still happening, and I don't want it to ever happen again.

I went back to the classroom, water splashed on my face. I sat back down on the floor, not knowing if people were still staring. I picked up the book and continued to read, both compelled and fearful of what would be asked of me in response. But as Wiesel documented his doubt, mine never grew. Another world is possible shivered underneath my idealistic self. But even then, I knew: it will never come if we don't face up to how very far away that beautiful kingdom still is.


Night is one of many books that changed my life. There are so many stories of words changing me, of causing my heart to be just slightly less rock-hard and impenetrable. I'd like to take the next few weeks and invite some of my writer friends to write just a little bit about the books that were a part of shaping, softening, and changing them.

In the fall, likely around the end of September, I will do a round-up type of thing where I will be asking all of y'all to contribute. So be thinking, even now: what are the books that changed you?

As we move on in the world, trying every day not to be hardened to the way things are--books have been a vital part of helping me see in a new way. And I suspect it has been the same for you.

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