The Book of Psalms, perhaps more than any other biblical book, has a way of striking us right at our center. All of Scripture has this effect, to some degree. But for all their curious imagery, the psalms are written in language we understand: the emotion in them is raw, sometimes unexpected, and always deeply true. Reading them we are struck by verses that makes us think, “Yes, that’s exactly how it is.”
Not every verse strikes us that way, of course. Some strike us like stones. They knock our feet out from beneath us as we jog merrily along. But there’s something about the first-person perspective of the psalms, about their vulnerability and openness, that gives us words to say to God when we find ourselves stumbling.
Sheltering Mercy is a collection of poetic responses to the first seventy-five psalms: each one borrows language from the psalms and from the rest of Scripture in order to, as the authors write in the introduction, “harmonize” with the original psalm. These are not close paraphrases or neat translations, but responsive poems rooted deeply in the language of Scripture.
And these poems are beautifully written—I love that about them. But I also love how they model for us, and for our families, a particular way of interacting with Scripture. The poems in Sheltering Mercy show us what it looks like to sit with a psalm, to consider its connections to the rest of Scripture, and to respond to God through beautiful language. This book is beautiful both for what it is—a gorgeous collection of Scripture-rich prayers—and for the attention and care for Scripture it displays. It reminds us that the psalms are worth lingering over and invites us to listen closely—to say with the psalmist, and with the authors of Sheltering Mercy, “Yes, that’s exactly how it is.”
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.
When our first child was a baby, I did not have to look hard to find parenting advice. Strangers offered it unsolicited; moms at church were eager to share their hard-won wisdom. And the books were everywhere: whether I was learning how to introduce my daughter to solids or troubleshooting potty training, I never struggled to find a manual meant to walk me through it.
But as my daughters have grown older, the topical resources have grown thin. I’ve found books on homeschooling: sure. But books on raising teenagers? Not quite. Most of the Christian books I’ve found about adolescence onward have to do with body-related topics, like puberty or purity. I’ve found few willing to offer us a grace-filled, big-picture view of how to faithfully parent our daughters through these last years together at home.
Maybe, my husband and I speculated, everyone’s eager to write about those early years because they seem fairly cut-and-dried compared to these later years. When our daughters were little, parenting felt like planting seeds in neat rows. Weeds cropped up in the garden, sure, and slugs ate a handful of seedlings the minute they emerged—but those remaining sprouts of faith and obedience were full of possibility. We planted and plucked up new weeds and anticipated the harvest.
Now that our daughters are older, tending the garden takes more deliberate labor. It is enjoyable work—if we follow the garden metaphor, it is work I gladly volunteer for summer after summer—but it is demanding: we hunt for pests, trellis vines, and stand beneath the midsummer sun, watering each bed by hand. Many times, we give into the temptation to sit on the porch with a book rather than work in the garden. Now that the growing season is in full swing, the tender weedlings we missed last week now tower over our crops, their roots so gnarled and knotted that removing them takes work of almost surgical precision.*
As we move from one phase of parenting to another, we’re finding that we need skills we hadn’t needed before, that parenting takes less “training” and more talking (and a lot more listening). And that our daughters differ so wildly from one another that a book whose guidance helped one would almost certainly be useless for the next.
So I notice that I rely less on parenting books now than I do on prayer.
Kathleen Nielson clearly gets this. Her Prayers of a Parent series consists of four volumes aimed at four different stages of a parent’s career: young children, teens, young adults, and adult children. These are slender books filled with prayers for specific topics or issues our children may face or that we may be called on to shepherd them through. Her prayers are beautifully written, poetic even, and each one is anchored in Scripture and accompanied by a short reading. And each volume deals with issues specific to each season of parenting, an approach I find heartening, because it acknowledges what I’ve long suspected: parenting doesn’t really end, it just changes.
I have wondered sometimes if the reason it’s hard to find books on parenting older children is that this stage seems to rest so heavily on relationship: our relationship with our children, their relationship with God, and our relationship with him as well. And so I think Kathleen Nielson is onto something here. Any approach we take to raising older children has to begin with a deep and trusting relationship with our Father. That is where all parenting starts, but as our children grow, we feel that more acutely. We may tend the garden, but he is, ultimately, the one who causes the growth. He is the one who causes our children to flourish. Nielson’s prayers remind me of that each morning, as they lift my eyes from my own concerns for my kids and focus my vision again on the one who loves us all.
* I’ve noticed that anything I write that I find at all clever was inevitably flavored by something else I read long ago. In this case, I was well into my gardening metaphor and feeling pretty great about it when I remembered that Kelly Keller had written a beautiful piece that already ran along these lines. I heartily recommend it: “Parenting is Gardening,” on The Gospel Coalition.
I don’t typically review parenting books here. The pitfalls are too many, too various: I don’t want you to come away thinking that we must agree on parenting philosophies and strategies if we are to parent alongside one another.
What I do want is for us to agree on the gospel. Everything else is peripheral, and if we are teaching our children the truth of the gospel, we have a lot of room to differ on the practical stuff. How we educate our children, how we train them when they’re young, how we discipline them when they’re older: these are all matters we work through with God, within our own families and church communities. You don’t need some book reviewer telling you how you ought to feed your toddler. And so while I may occasionally mention parenting books that I have personally enjoyed or found helpful, I rarely recommend books specifically for parents about raising children.
But this book is a worthy exception. Rather than provide practical parenting advice on a particular issue, Praying Through the Bible for Your Kids begins where all our parenting must begin: with prayer, and in Scripture. Nancy Guthrie structures this book around a Scripture reading plan (which takes readers through the whole Bible in one year) and shares a series of short devotionals and guided prayers to accompany each day’s Scripture reading. The idea is to encourage parents to read Scripture and allow it to shape our prayers.
I don’t know about you, but I find that the longer I’m a mother, the more acutely I realize that I am, frankly, not big enough for this job. In defiance of every motivational Instagram tile out there, I’ll say it: I am not enough. As my children grow up, the issues they struggle with get bigger, and the roots of those issues run so deep we can’t suss them out in the five-minute motivational talks that did the trick when they were two. Parenting children through this past year alone has called for wisdom and strength beyond my natural allotment.
I may not be big enough to be all those things and meet all those needs, but God is. I need his help every day, and I suspect you do too. Praying Through the Bible for Your Kids reorients parents each morning and reminds us that this is a big task, but we do not face it alone. God equipped us for the challenges of yesterday, and he will equip us for whatever today brings as well. This book may focus on praying for our kids, but of course our contact with the Lord and with Scripture will leave us changed as well.
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.
We had talked to our daughters off and on about racism—here and there as we came across it in books, mostly—but we could discuss it only to a certain depth, being white parents in a predominantly white city. But as the national discussion about race and racism grew louder and more urgent this spring, I was confronted by how little I actually understood about the issue. My own little lessons about it began to seem too shallow, too theoretical.
And so I was grateful for this book, The Gospel in Color. Racism is not theoretical to authors Curtis A. Woods and Jarvis J. Williams, but neither is the gospel: at the heart of this book, it shines bright, a clear reminder that things are not what they are meant to be, but that God is working out his plan of salvation for all races and all peoples.
The Gospel in Color comes in two editions—one for parents, and one for kids. Both are beautifully illustrated by Rommel Ruiz (Golly’s Folly; Why Do We Say Goodnight?), and full of biblical, practical wisdom. The parent edition contains more in-depth information; the kids’ edition is written directly to younger readers.
In both books, the authors share ways that their families have personally experienced racism, as well as some of the history of thought that has led to the idea that one race is somehow superior to others. But Woods and Williams handle this graciously: they don’t villainize anyone, and they don’t gloss over any hard truths either. Instead, they hold the gospel up to the issue of racism and allow it to reveal racism for the sin it is while simultaneously reminding us that grace is available to us for all sin, and that God is always at work, restoring our world.
I know that there are a lot of perspectives on race, even within the church. I know that there will likely be things in this book that may not sit well with all readers. But I know, too, that the gospel is the one thing that unifies all Christians—it is the grace of God that unites us into a family and holds us together—and it is that gospel that Woods and Williams proclaim. Grace for all. Freedom for all in Christ.
After this, I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9–10)
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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