Tag: devotional (page 1 of 7)

Sacred Seasons

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Above our dining room window hangs a set of four tiles, each one depicting a season. A little orange house sits in the center of each picture, half-buried in snow, then surrounded by spring blooms, fresh apples, and fallen leaves in turn. These tiles travelled with us from home to home growing up, but since my mom gave them to me a few years back, they’ve hung in our dining room, where they remind us of the shape of things: lush leaves will turn brittle and fall; bare branches will leaf out again come spring.

Over the years, we’ve also adopted the shape of the church calendar into our home and learned the patterns of Lent and Easter, Advent and Christmas. We’ve found our way into this little by little, learning more where we could, but when I read the introduction to Sacred Seasons, I was struck by how much more there was to learn—and I was grateful to Danielle Hitchen for explaining it all so beautifully and graciously.

Sacred Seasons reads like a guidebook to the church year, with some flyover introductory chapters that invite readers into the idea and structure of the church calendar followed by chapters that give an array of options for how families might observe each season. These options feel like just the right kind of abundance: not so many that the choice feels overwhelming, but enough that there’s bound to be celebrations in here that will work for most families. Stephen Crotts’s illustrations, too, lend depth and beauty to this book—especially the wheel illustrating the different seasons within the church calendar.

It is good to be reminded through the church calendar that, in God’s story, life follows death just as spring follows winter. These little celebrations slow us down and remind us where we are in the scheme of things—and what we are looking toward.


Sacred Seasons: A Family Guide to Center Your Year Around Jesus
Danielle Hitchen; Stephen Crotts (2023)

Jesus Listens

I suppose every family picks up its own lingo, usually after an adorable toddler misspeaks and her invented word becomes enshrined in the family vernacular. Thus, when something is crooked in our house—a sock, say, or a ponytail—we call it “fonky.” Or when something is of the ordinary, tried-and-true variety, we don’t call it “regular”—we say it’s “reggly.” And so forth. These are the words our daughters will most likely take with them into adulthood, not realizing until they call something “fonky” in public that nobody else’s family says it quite that way.

But it’s funny to think that we’re learning language all the time—not just language, as in The English Language, but all those subtle forms of it. There’s Mom Language, for example, and its various dialects, each particular to the season of motherhood you’re in. These days, I’m pretty fluent in Writing Language, which means that, if you don’t stop me, I could really talk your ear off about the way Stoker employs dramatic irony in Dracula or about Semicolons, The Uses Thereof. When my husband talks Coding with another computer programmer, I definitely need a translator.

Jesus Listens, by Sarah Young | Little Book, Big Story

And there’s no denying it: the church has its own language, too. Sometimes it’s heavy with “thee’s” and “thou’s” or perhaps with talk about the heart—”the Lord put it on my heart,” or “guard your heart,” or “check your heart on that one.” I remember coming into the church at seventeen and putting some serious work into decoding these phrases, which seemed to fly most thickly during prayer time.

Have you noticed that? We seem to slip into our stiffest, most stilted language when we’re praying. Not all of us, all the time, of course. But I sure feel that temptation, and I know I’m not the only one.

Jesus Listens, by Sarah Young | Little Book, Big Story

And that is where Jesus Listens gets it right. This is a devotional for kids, written in first person, that helps guide children into a rich prayer life. In Jesus Listens, Sarah Young somehow strikes a balanced tone: these prayers feel like they’re offered to both to the God of the Universe, who made all things, and to our Heavenly Father, who loves to hear from us right where we are. Neither too casual nor too formal, these prayers are written in the language of childhood—open, honest, and direct. Each one draws heavily from Scripture and closes with a handful of verses for readers to explore.

This book is written as a devotional for kids to use during their own reading, but it also works when read aloud as a family. However you use it, Jesus Listens serves as a beautiful template for prayer. And every time I read one at the lunch table with my daughters I want to sigh happily and say, “That is so good.” I find that it’s teaching me a new language as well, one that encourages me to drop the Official Prayer Language and simply come before God as his child.


Jesus Listens: 365 Prayers for Kids
Sarah Young; Tama Fortner (2022)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this book for review, but I was not obligated to review it or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.

Heaven & Nature Sing

Each of Hannah Anderson’s books is more beautiful than the last (and I say this as a bit of a fan girl who has read each of her books at least once). She has a gift for seeing clearly and for articulating what she sees in language both beautiful and incisive at once. Many of her books pair this clear sight with illustrations of the natural world, which I love: the illustrations make the books themselves things of beauty—works of art to be savored and lingered over.

Not dry and academic, these books. But not flowery or theologically soft, either.

Heaven and Nature Sing, by Hannah Anderson | Little Book, Big Story

Heaven and Nature is Hannah Anderson’s work at its best. This is a collection of essays intended for Advent reading—for you, perhaps, or for older children or teens. In each essay Anderson weaves personal stories with Scripture, exploration of the natural world with illustrations by her husband, Nathan Anderson. This is a very humble, inviting Advent book: not full of crafts you won’t get to or lengthy readings you won’t finish. These essays feel like a gift in themselves, an invitation to pause and consider and prepare for the celebration of Christmas. Heaven and Nature Sing is beautiful inside and out.


Heaven and Nature Sing: 25 Advent Reflections to Bring Joy to the World
Hannah Anderson; Nathan Anderson (2022)

The Jesse Tree

Years ago, I wrote about our family’s Jesse Tree tradition. And then our girls grew older, and a few of our ornaments broke, and that one book felt a little tired after several straight years of readings. We decided it was time for a change, so we tried a different devotional each year; we sampled some Advent calendars and some reading cards. And we liked them all—the stickers, the paper ornaments, everything. They were fine.

But a few weeks ago, my eldest daughter (now fourteen) mentioned our Jesse Tree wistfully. “I liked that,” she said. And I felt resolved: our youngest is six—we haven’t done a Jesse Tree since she was a baby. So I ordered a new set of ornaments—a beautiful, lasting set that I could see the girls reminiscing over when we pull them out decades from now for the grandkids to play with. And I pulled out a book I’d bought, oh, years ago but never really used as a devotional.

My friends, the Jesse Tree is making a comeback. (At our house, at least.)

The Jesse Tree, by Geraldine McCaughrean | Little Book, Big Story

Geraldine McCaughean’s The Jesse Tree tells the story of Jesus’s birth from the very beginning—the garden. And it tells the story not through a series of Scripture readings—which, just to be clear, is a wonderful way to tell the story—but through a narrative. A young boy meets a cantankerous woodcarver and invites himself to watch the man at work. And as the woodcarver works, he finds himself telling, one day at time, the story of each element as he carves it. From the garden, to the desert, to the stable, he tells this delightfully pesky child the story of Jesus’s birth.

This is a warm, comfortable way to hear the story. It’s inviting and funny, and I can see it aging well as our girls (continue to) grow older.

The Jesse Tree, by Geraldine McCaughrean | Little Book, Big Story

Will we ever not do a Jesse Tree again? Who knows! I don’t. (God does.) But this feels like returning to our roots—like remembering what we’ve loved about Advent and gathering together around it. Remembering, I suppose, God’s faithfulness not just to His People, but to the six people here in our home and—Lord willing—the generations that will follow us.

Edited 12/7/22: It is worth noting, now that we’re a ways into this year’s reading, that there are some theologically sticky spots in this book—particularly around the stories of Noah and Mary. There’s nothing major, though, and even those spots made for good conversation around our table. I do still recommend this book, but I thought you’d appreciate a head’s up.


The Jesse Tree
Geraldine McCaughrean; Bee Willey (2003)

5 Lovely Collections of Prayers

I came to faith in a church that emphasized personal experience, where prayer was something instinctive—the more free-form, the better. And there’s something beautiful and true about that. But when I first encountered written prayers, I was struck by how quickly they transformed my own prayers by giving me words for those feelings I couldn’t name or that, when joy or grief submerged me, I couldn’t articulate.

As my daughters grow and we look for ways to help them deepen and mature in their own faith, I find myself reaching for written prayers—not because they teach us The Only Way to Pray, but because they connect us to the Christians who came before us, those who wrote their verses on papyrus or in ink dipped from a pot nearby. These old prayers remind us that the psalmists and writers of long ago wrestled with doubts and praised the Lord with emotions still recognizable to us.

But there are new prayers being written today, too—in a coffee shop, maybe, with a phone buzzing nearby, or on a park bench, as the writer looked out over the water. The means and the language differ, but the things the writers wrestled with rarely change. The conviction of sin; the delight of grace; the blank absence of doubt; the joy of deliverance—all are familiar to us, from the time King David penned his psalms to today.

I love how these collections of prayers set our aim a little higher than we might think to reach on to our own. They draw us out of our own particular worries (though God loves to hear about them, too) and remind us just who it is we’re talking to: the God of all things, the maker of the universe. The God who tends to needs both big and small.

And so, I love a good collection of prayers, whether old or new. Here are a few favorites we’ve gathered over the years that have blessed our family with words when we struggled to find our own and that have inspired us to praise the Lord from the heights as well as the depths.


The Valley of Vision, ed. by Arthur Bennett

This classic book of Puritan prayers was my first introduction to written prayers. These are beautiful, theologically rich prayers that model a deep, stirring, challenging faith, and they cover everything from confessing sin to praising the Lord to preparing for the Sabbath.


Every Moment Holy, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey

These books (both Volumes 1 and 2) encourage us to meet every trial and celebration by drawing near to God. Though they’re meant to be read corporately as liturgies, these work well as private prayers too. I love how specific these prayers are: some deal with small concerns and others (especially in Volume 2) deal with some of the deepest griefs we can face. (Read the full review.)


Into His Presence, by Tim Chester

Into His Presence reads like an updated, more accessible version of Valley of Vision, with prayers drawn from the Puritans and lightly edited so they read a little more like contemporary works. Each chapter deals with a different circumstance (“Prayers of Gratitude,” “Prayers for the Lost,” etc.) and reminds us that the Lord meets us in every season.


Sheltering Mercy, by Ryan Whitaker Smith & Dan Wilt

Sheltering Mercy is a collection of responsive poems written in the wake of Psalms 1-75. These read beautifully as prayers and show us that Scripture is something we can engage with: we can read it, pray it, and write poems by its light. (Read the full review.)


And one late addition, discovered after I photographed the other books. But I just couldn’t leave it off this list!

Jesus Listens: 365 Prayers for Kids, by Sarah Young

Our family is reading Jesus Listens right now and it’s an unexpected pleasure. This collection of prayers includes one for each day of the year, each accompanied by a few verses that connect the prayers to Scripture. The language in this book is so warm and inviting, it deserves (and shall receive!) a full review, but I couldn’t bear to pass over it here.