About this time every year, I start looking for family Lent devotionals. And every year I think, Wow, I wish there were more of those. I can find all manner of Advent devotionals, written for readers of all ages, but Lent devotionals are scarce. In fact, looking back at the book reviews on this blog, I couldn’t find a single family devotional that began on Ash Wednesday and ended on Easter.
Imagine, then, my joy at discovering Meals With Jesus.
Ed Drew structures this seven-week devotional around the book of Luke, and follows Jesus through Luke’s account with short readings and activities. This is a versatile book, with reading plans for Lent or any other time of the year, and variations on the questions and games that make them fun for kids of any age. I love how practical and flexible this book is, but my favorite part is Drew’s vision for it:
“Christians are not primarily about an institution, a religion, our habit or a set of behaviors,” he writes in the introduction. “We are about Jesus Christ. As we sit with him at the dinner table, we see who he is: his decision-making, his compassion and his bravery. When we sit with him, we meet the man we spend so long talking about. As we look him square in the eye, we get the chance to make the biggest decisions of our lives. What do we think of him? Do we like him? Do we trust him? Will we dare to follow him?”
This idea of sitting with Jesus and getting to know him is at the heart of Meals With Jesus. It encourages us not just to talk to our kids about Jesus, but to give them the chance, through Scripture, to get to know him for themselves.
Disclosure: I did receive copies of this for review, but I was not obligated to review this book 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.
Our lives looked different then: the dining table dominated the kitchen instead of presiding over its own glorious, sunny room. The girls were in school, so Elevenses wasn’t a thing yet (what it is will make sense if you read on). Most notably, there was no Josie yet, though if my math is right, I must have been growing her when that last post was published.
Our family reading life looks different now: Lydia is 11, Josie is 3, and Sarah and Phoebe fit neatly between them. Our lives orbit that funky formica table as we school and eat there many times each day. No babies need to nurse mid-reading (though the little sisters are rather free range at times); we are in a New Season. I thought I’d give you a glimpse of when we read aloud now, with slightly older kids and a school schedule to factor in.
Note: I started writing this post during the school year but am publishing it now, after the school year’s end. Things already look different than they sound below—bedtime remains unchanged, and the lunchtime reading remains, though it often happens over a picnic at our favorite park and Heidi has given way to Treasure Island.
Mitch and I still wake early. At the time of writing, we don’t wake before the sun, but the sun wakes obscenely early up here this time of year. Who wants to compete with that?
We drink tea (green for me; Earl Grey for him) and read our Bibles and pray over the coming day together. Then he works and I write until 6:20 or so, when I pop in my earbuds and work out like nobody’s watching.
At 7, the girls emerge from their rooms, wild-haired and full of questions about life and our schedule for the day and have we seen the cat. The starting gun sounds, and we’re off.
By 10:30, Mitch has left for the day and the older girls and I have finished their individual lessons. They’ve both had a brush with math and language arts; they’ve logged a solid fifteen minutes at the piano and done some assigned reading. Maybe we’ve squeezed in a drawing lesson by then or nature study, or maybe we spent that extra time feeling big feelings and taking a walk to sort those out.
But by 10:30, we’re back at the table with a stack of books. We call this time Elevenses, because we eat like hobbits while it happens.
After we pray, sing a hymn, recite our memory verse, read the Bible together and read a poem, the girls stow their binders (with sighs of joy! And relief!) and go grab their fancy dessert plates from the kitchen. Earlier, I piled them high with popcorn, pistachios, dried apricots, and fancy flavored marshmallows, and now they carry their bounty to the table, where they sip tea and nibble tiny, time-consuming snacks as I read book after book aloud.
Immediately after Elevenses, one lucky daughter makes lunch. There may or may not be conflict over this; there may or may not be tears. But eventually, lunch reaches the table, and while the girls eat, I read aloud to them from a novel. Lately, it’s been Heidi.Heidi has become such an inextricable part of our lunch routine that Josie recently asked me, “After we eat lunch and read Heidi, then what are we going to do today?”
The afternoon passes in a blur of probable park dates and possible lessons. But after dinner, all six of us settle in on our bed and read together from The Gospel Story Bible, by Marty Machowski. After that, the big girls say goodnight to me and rush upstairs with Mitch, where they throw themselves on the floor with art supplies and draw while he reads from The Return of the King.
I, meanwhile, curl up with Phoebe and Josie and read to them from a novel more their speed. Currently, we’re reading The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic. Then I tuck them in and take my book (Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog) to an armchair, where I read until one of them gets up needing to potty, then again until one of them gets up needing a band-aid, and again until one of them wants a drink of water.
Eventually, all falls quiet. Mitch comes downstairs, and we watch a show maybe, or eat frozen mangos and talk.
When we go to bed, we bring our books (David Copperfield for him), and close the day when we can no longer hold those books upright but the words begin swimming sleepily as we doze. We turn the lights off. Our day ends.
From time to time, I get emails from readers. I want to say first of all that these make my day. Some of them are heart-warming thank yous, but most are requests: requests for gift ideas for struggling readers or for help finding a new read-aloud after the bittersweet end of a beloved series. I love both of these species of email, each for their own reasons. But the second kind gets by far the longer response.
It might surprise you, though, to learn that there is a third species of email. Or, perhaps, a sub-species of the second kind of email. It is a request, but it always points to the same topic—the one sitting heavily on the shoulders of many parents, giving us wet willies and making life uncomfortable.
Do you know of any good books for teaching my kids about sex?
I love this question because it means that:
a) there are parents out there who are deliberate in how they discuss sexuality with their kids, and
b) there are parents out there who are willing to talk to their kids about sex at all. (I also like feeling like the cool aunt that people feel comfortable asking about, you know, awkward stuff.)
To be honest, my kids live a pretty sheltered life. They are not, to my knowledge, hearing cuss words from other kids on the playground* or throwing caution to the wind as they click link after link on YouTube. But even so, they still bring some interesting ideas to the dinner table, and we want to give them room to raise questions and debate issues and have clumsy follow-up talks with us.
We might shelter our kids, but we can’t insulate them. We don’t want to.
We want them to recognize pornography for what it is and to know what to do when it finds them. We want them to know how to love and empathize with those whose views differ from our own, but to still hold fast to the truth and offer it as a gift—not use it as a bludgeon. We don’t want them to be mystified by their own bodies but to recognize them as good, if sometimes comical, gifts from their Creator. And we definitely want them to know how to respond if someone tries to hurt them.
To that end, I have read a lot of books on a lot of awkward topics. The good news is that there are a lot of good books available by Christian authors. But I finally whittled my list of favorites down to nine. Here they are.
*Good grief, I hope not, since the “playground” is our yard and the “other kids” are their sisters.
I included age recommendations here, but please use those as guidelines for purchasing books but not for determining which conversations your kids are ready for. You know your children far better than I do, so I strongly recommend pre-reading all of these books before reading them with your children.
Also, this is a long post dealing with some weighty and potentially divisive topics. You all are a gracious lot and I love corresponding with you. If you have specific questions or want to challenge me on something, I welcome that. But I encourage you to do so privately (via email, please) and respectfully. Thank you.
This book is a simple doorway into later discussions: Jim Burns explains what makes boys boys and girls girls, and he does so in a fun and welcoming way. The focus here is not just on private parts, but on the whole of our wonderful bodies—parts of which are private. He also introduces conception and pregnancy in a gentle, age appropriate way. (Read the full review.)
This book picks up where God Made My Body left off. Addressing the same material but at a greater depth, it’s recommended for slightly older kids. These books are both part of a longer series that increases in depth as kids age, but I haven’t read the others. Have you? Are they good? I want to know! (Read the full review.)
This book takes a more serious turn. The focus here is on equipping kids to know what to do if they find themselves at risk for (or victims of) sexual abuse by presenting one family’s conversation about this difficult topic. The authors anchor the whole book in an understanding that our bodies are good and that God crafted every part of them for good and specific purposes.
They also discuss the difference between a secret and a surprise, and define what sort of touch is good and what isn’t. Another thing I like about this book is that it says emphatically that it’s okay for kids to say “no, thank you” to any kind of touch if they don’t want it: a hug, a kiss, a high five—none of those are okay if they’re unwanted. This is a great place to begin those hard conversations. (Read the full review.)
Please note: The story itself is very kid-friendly, but the material in the front and back of the book is geared toward parents only and could be upsetting for kids.
Pornography is a subject worth addressing specifically with our kids, and Good Pictures Bad Pictures is the best way I’ve found to bring it up. The authors define pornography simply and explain what an addiction is, how it starts, and what we can do to prevent one from forming. They do this through the context of a mother and son having a warm conversation, and they break the story into short readings, ideal for tackling individually and building slowly to an understanding of how our kids can respond wisely and quickly when they encounter questionable content.
This book only mentions sex once, quietly, but it is all about the context in which sex and romance belong. Jani Ortlund explains beautifully what marriage is, first sitting at the child’s perspective and asking, “A lot of people get married. Have you ever wondered why?” She then goes on to explain not just what marriage is, but what many people believe it is, what it isn’t, and what it can be. I appreciated the way this book doesn’t pick up any of the spicy language that surrounds this topic in our culture but discusses a sensitive subject with honesty, gentleness and grace. (Read the full review.)
Every chapter in this book answers a question that girls might ask about their bodies. These range from topics that introduce puberty to weightier, more complex topics in the back of the book. The authors answer from a gracious, Christian perspective, blending medical knowledge with a deep respect for the girls they write for. They treat the reader like she deserves to understand how her body works, yet point her to the gospel again and again. This is definitely the best book I’ve found on this subject. (And for those of you with sons, good news! The Ultimate Guys’ Body Book is available, too!)
This book uses allegory to introduce the subject of sexual purity. Through the story of a young princess, Jennie Bishop illustrates the idea that we are each given a gift worth saving for the one we marry. This is a lovely story, and I think that, paired with some of these other books, it could start some beautiful conversations. (And there’s a partner book for boys called The Squire and the Scroll! I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard good things.)
Subtitled “A Conversation Guide for Parents and Pastors,” this skinny book gives a solid, biblical perspective on gender, both outlining what our culture says about it and what the Bible teaches. In three sections, the authors outline how we might discuss the topic of gender with our little, big and nearly grown kids.
They offer, too, ideas for how we can lovingly interact with friends and neighbors who hold differing views on gender, and how to treat one another with grace through those conversations. You may not agree with everything the authors recommend (I can’t say that I did), but the foundation of this book is solid and makes a great starting place for discussions.
Full disclosure: I haven’t read this book yet. But our church hosted a conference with the authors a few months ago and it was a great time of awkwardness, hilarity, heavy truths, and the gospel (so much gospel).
You may recognize Jessica from Give Them Grace, a book she co-authored with her mom Elyse Fitzpatrick (and one that I re-read every few years). Or you may recognize both Jessica and Joel from the podcast they host with their mom, Front Porch With the Fitzes. Or maybe you don’t recognize their names at all, and that’s fine.
But you should still read this book. The authors don’t treat purity as a finish line—as though waiting for the wedding night is a mark of high-ranking holiness—but recognize that we, as Christians, are saved not by fulfilling our “purity vow” but by Christ and Christ alone. The finish line we’re aiming for is much further down the road, and the reward is much bigger. In fact, marriage is a purifying part of that race, not its end. Their perspective is humble and refreshing; their advice wonderfully practical.
Huzzah! We’re taking some time off from most subjects here, though math and, of course, reading, continue on. But here on the blog, I’m going to try a new summer schedule. Every other week, I’ll share a post from the depths of the blog archive—one I love, but that is hidden somewhere back in the blog’s beginnings and rarely receives company. On the opposite weeks, I’ll continue sharing new reviews. I hope that hits the sweet spot between last year’s every-other-week posts and the previous summers’ “month of re-runs.” We shall see!
May your summer be sweet, sunny, and popsicle-sticky. And may it be filled with great books.
Our minivan smells like potato chips, sweaty shoes and chlorine. We find crumbs where there shouldn’t be crumbs, and little lost toys secreted in nooks and crannies. We know all of the songs on a handful of albums by heart; when we sleep we see the road unroll behind our tired eyes.
But, my friends, we are finally home.
For the last twelve days, we’ve been off and on I-90, driving from our corner of Washington state to Mount Rushmore, where we spent four lovely days with extended family before piling back in the van and retracing our route. My husband has driven for hours, and I have heard the word, “Mom?” countless times, while perfecting the dexterity needed to fish toys out from beneath seats without turning around. We have loved (almost) every minute of it.
But it really is nice to be home.
We didn’t have a lot of time for reading on our trip, so today’s post is going to be a little different: we’re not talking about a bound book, but a deck of cards meant to inspire our own stories—a portable item, perfect for restaurants, quiet evenings in hotels and, yes, car seats.
Each set of Tell Me a Story cards features 36 beautifully illustrated, surprisingly durable cards. Each card features an illustration (but no words). From card to card, recurring characters appear: here, the bear holds a button. There, he chats with a pig. It’s up to you and your child to tell the story that brings him from one scene to the next.
A set of game ideas is included with the set, and most of them look like they’d be fun. But we’ve enjoyed free-styling with ours: shuffling them up or spreading them out and telling a story card by card. My two-year-old loves to rifle through them, just looking. (So I keep them in my purse, just in case.)
What is your favorite approach to storytelling in your family?
Today’s post was originally published in August, 2013.
In Wise Up, Marty Machowski (whose books The Ology and The Gospel Story Bible have become standards in our home), takes families through the book of Proverbs in ten-minute jaunts. He asks probing questions about selected passages, all with the aim of teaching our kids to value and pursue wisdom.
Machowski pulls passages from all over the Bible into the discussion as well, showing that the pursuit of wisdom is not a topic limited to the book of Proverbs, but one that is prevalent and highly-prized throughout the whole of Scripture. This is a quest that matters—to God and, therefore, to us—and Machowski is careful to emphasize that while not leaning toward a moralistic interpretation of Proverbs. The gospel is everywhere in this book, and that is beautiful.
But here is where I need to make a confession.
When I flipped through this book just now, I found our bookmark, placed there months and months ago, holding our place at the reading for “Day 4.” I have written before about our inconsistency with family devotions, but I was sure we’d made it at least a week into this one before shelving it. So, I need you to know that: we haven’t read through this full book as a family. We didn’t try any of the projects (though I love the idea of them), and I don’t think we sang any of the hymns (though we love singing hymns). But I wanted to share this book anyway, because it is a great study and I want you to know about it.
I also want to ask for your help: for those of you who make family devotions a part of your day, what does that look like? We read together before bed—sometimes from the Bible itself, sometimes from a story bible—and I just embarked on a study with the girls as part of our school day that I hope to share here a little later.
But I’m learning that when presented with pre-written questions, the five of us old enough to know what’s happening seem to wilt and conversation dries up. If we read a story Bible and follow the girls’ questions wherever they lead, a rich and rewarding discussion sometimes ensues (or sometimes, people flop on the floor and pretend to sleep). It’s harder to measure our progress when we have discussions that way, but I’m starting to make peace with that.
What about you? How does your family read Scripture and hold devotions together? I’m on a quest for ideas here and, through that, I hope to win some wisdom.
We did it! We picked this book up again and are currently reading it as part of our morning school routine, and it is going swimmingly. I loved the idea of this book before, but now I love the execution: these daily discussions of wisdom and foolishness have given some much-needed direction to the rest of our conversation throughout the day, as we’re able to look at a character’s ( . . . or a child’s) choices and ask, “Did they choose the way of wisdom there? Or of folly?” And the hymns weren’t hymns at all, but songs from a CD Sovereign Grace made to accompany the book. And one of my daughters will hold this book like a hymnal, reading along as she sings to the album. Hearing a child sing, “Make Me Wise,” at top volume is sure one of the pleasures of parenthood.
Hi, I'm Théa! I review classic literature, poetry, nonfiction, fantasy, picture books—children's books luminous with grace and beauty. These are books our family loved and that I think you'll love too. Thanks for stopping by!
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