Take Your Family to the House of Mourning: Children’s Books that Move Us

My son was hiding under the art easel so I couldn’t see him.

“Simon, come here. What are you doing?”

He shook his head, fighting back tears.

“Simon, please come here.”

He slowly crawled out of his hiding spot and walked over to me.

I brought him in close and said, “If you feel like crying, you should cry. What you’re doing is good, Simon. It’s good to be sad about death. Death is wrong.”

“It is?” he asked.

I said yes, we cried a little bit and held each other, then kept reading.

No one in our family has died recently, I’ve just been reading out loud to my six year old son from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. It’s been a mixture of tears and laughter and some healthy discussions about hard topics. I’ve found the element of story to be a great way to talk about hard things with my son. Great children’s literature is wrought with deep universal topics and questions that have been shared throughout history.

Even from a young age, we can ask our children good questions to build healthy discussions about hard topics. When I’ve not avoided difficult topics, like death, loss, and racism, my son and I have bonded more. It’s crucial to listen to Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7:2:

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.

It’s good to be reminded of our own mortality, because it humbles us to our rightful place as feeble humans, teaches us wisdom in order to number our days rightly, and helps us learn empathy for our fellow image bearers.

We don’t have to always scout out non-fiction by solely Christian authors in order to teach our children. We must not underestimate our children’s capability to absorb a story rich in ideas. Even if they don’t understand all of the concepts in the story on the first read aloud, it will become a treasure buried in their hearts and minds that can be re-discovered in various ways and connections later on. The point is to continually expose our children to these types of inspirational stories over the years of their childhood and even teenage years.

Here are a few literary stories that enable discussions over death, loss, and racism. And don’t forget that even if the discussions don’t “take off” in the ways we imagined, the main point is the exposure to the ideas in the text.

Peter Pan by J.M.Barrie

On our walk to church one morning my sons were observing and delighting in all the freshly blossomed flowers. Then we stumbled upon a dead bird. Right in the middle of new spring life was a dark death. We must all be confronted with death at some point in our lives. My sons can’t even escape this reality on an innocent walk to church.

In Peter Pan,  J.M. Barrie helps children confront death and loss through a magical and imaginative place called Neverland. A place where children never grow up and are always on an adventure. Though I’ve had to talk to my oldest son about the inappropriate names and portrayal of Native Americans in the book, we’ve laughed and cried together too.

We marveled at Peter’s Christ like sacrifice when he let Wendy have the balloon to escape from drowning. Then we cried when the rising waters of mermaid lagoon threatened to take Peter’s life, and after a bout of fear his courage returned as he cried, “To die would be an awfully great adventure!” The ticking clock of the crocodile, in constant pursuit of Captain Hook, clues us into the sure fate of us all. As J.M. Barrie says, “Time is chasing after all of us.” Hook only has so much allotted time until he is swallowed up in death. So, how should we spend the time we are given?

My son and I were able to talk about orphans when we realized Peter Pan and the lost boys had no parents and desperately desired a mother. We felt empathy for Peter as he gazed through the barred windows at the joyful family reunion of the Darling family. Especially, when we remembered his own personal loss: coming back to his nursery window from Neverland to find it closed, as he peered inside to see his parents with a new baby boy. My son and I shed our own tears at this loss of family. We felt for Peter. Entering into another’s loss, learning about time and death, and courage and sacrifice are life lessons we want to share with our children. Peter Pan can help us do this.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Wilbur the pig comes into this world with a natural human desire: he doesn’t want to die. He’s saved from eight year old Fern who wants to keep him as her pet, until he grows too big and is sold to another farm. He finds himself on death row again, but this time he’s saved from a spider named Charlotte who can weave words into her web. Her plan to rescue Wilbur works and even makes him famous in the process. Charlotte and Wilbur show us that death is a part of living, and that death teaches us how to live. As Charlotte tells Wilbur:

You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.

Charlotte sacrificed her short life for Wilbur so he himself could live. A spider can show us, and our children, that life is short and we must spend it for others. And as we deal with the loss of a loved one, Wilbur teaches us that they can never be forgotten or replaced:

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart.

Freedom Song: The Story of Henry Box Brown by Sally Walker

This title is different from the first two books. It’s not an old book, like the other two, and might not neatly fit into the idea of a true “literary” read, but it still helps convey the idea of slavery to young children. It’s a picture book and tells a true story from the perspective of a slave. I’ve explained slavery to my oldest son before, but reading this book helped him see it as something more concrete and human. He felt the injustice.

Music also plays an important part in this story as Henry longs for freedom and creates his own songs in the midst of hope and despair. He is separated from his family when he is sold to another master.  But we find happiness with him as he marries and starts his own family, only to feel his loss as his family is ripped away from him and sold. He hatches a plan to hide away in a box to the north, and the desire for him to be free is born in us. There is another similar picture book about Henry Box Brown by Ellen Levine called, Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad.

The right story can be a powerful tool to display truth and beauty to our children. Along the way, story teaches us to feel and to know. To know about slavery and to feel the pain of bondage and separation. To know about death and feel that we must learn to live our lives rightly. To know about loss and feel the right way to respond. In our day and time it’s more important than ever to raise up children who feel moved on another’s behalf and who desire to tabernacle among the suffering.


This originally appeared at Morning by Morning >>

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Confusing Christ-likeness with Christ: Seeking the soft-hearted in the search for a spouse

Christian women are often commissioned on a quest to find a man who portrays biblical masculinity, but quite honestly, I’m afraid we have directions to find a unicorn. Yes, there should be a biblical standard for the person we marry, but because of Ephesians 5:25, many people instruct us to look for the God-man instead of a man-man that loves God. And we eagerly accept the challenge.

Much of the emphasis in complementarian circles seems to weigh on the man, but at times this can place undue pressure and expectations on what biblical manhood should look like. It’s easy to elevate biblical manhood to a place that it was never intended to go—a place that is reserved for only Jesus.

Read the rest at Fathom Mag >>

Do We Need a Still Small Voice Before We Obey?

Women love to hear from God. We love telling people about the still small voice speaking to us. Perhaps it makes us feel special and loved to know we’ve heard the voice of God. It’s a sign of favor. It’s relational. He’s shared something unique with us, it’s our own secret, and no one can tell us otherwise.

But why do we want to hear from God in this special way? Do we think we need a sign to tell us what do? Must we have everything lined up just right to make perfect sense of our confusing circumstances? Maybe we need the assurance and affirmation?

Whatever the case may be, the Holy Spirit brings things to our remembrance (John 14:26) only in accordance with His Word. This still small voice must not be of our own making but must be grounded in the living Word of God. We have already been specially loved by God; He has already invited us into relationship with Him; He has already spoken unique words to us alone—they are found in, and through, Scripture. Serious study of Scripture is one aspect of developing our relationship with God that informs every other aspect. His Word is all we need for our obedience in a life of godliness.

Read the rest at Revive Our Hearts >>

Planting Seeds of Gospel Hope

She was a new mom who stayed home with her baby boy. A woman in the neighborhood was home with her growing family as well. She, along with a few other ladies from the neighborhood, led a Bible study and invited the new mom to join them. The good news was on their tongues and expressed in their deeds towards her. They told her about a God who offered forgiveness of sins through his own death and resurrection. She was accepted and loved by these women, and so she believed God could accept and love her through Jesus. God used these neighborhood women to shine his light into this new mom’s heart; she believed by faith in the son of God and accepted his words as true. Her husband could see the change in her and began to ask questions. After meeting up with the husband of the woman who led the Bible study, he came to faith as well.

This couple grew in their passion for the gospel as their family grew in size. They desired to tell others the same message they were told and began cultivating relationships in their surrounding neighborhood and workplace. Many years later, as this couple and their youngest daughter were gathered in their family room discussing the Bible, this father led his little girl to Christ and she was forever changed. That little girl was me.

Because of this, my parent’s heart for evangelism spread to me. I spent much of my high school and college years intentionally building relationships with unbelievers, sharing the gospel with strangers, and passing out tracts. I even wanted to bring this message to other nations as a missionary. But God was leading me to a different season than I imagined for myself. A season that didn’t look like typical missions work or much of an evangelistic opportunity. I was to become a wife and mother.

Read the rest at Risen Motherhood >>

The Hidden Beauty of Repetition

Here is my original contribution to Morning by Morning’s Gospel and the Arts series:

Monotony can be depressing. There are times when I have to put on my cap of duty and just get the bathroom cleaned. Or times when I’m tired of taking my boys to the same places to play over and over again. Sometimes it feels like I just planned my meals yesterday and now I already have to think about what we’ll eat this week, and then actually shop for it all, again. I try not to think about the monotony of repetition when I get up with my three children during the week: get up, change the baby, make my bed, dress myself, put the toddler on the potty, get the boys dressed and beds made, go downstairs to make breakfast for us all, finally I make my cup of coffee, and back upstairs to start our school time. Repeat. Repeat again.

Repetition can be comforting at times, but also boring. I spend the majority of my time taking care of my family and my home. Care-taking and homemaking are repetitive tasks. I just fed the baby, and two hours later, I repeat. I just told my boys to stop fighting and fifteen minutes later I’m saying it again. I begin the evening’s meal preparation, even though I just put away dishes from our previous meal. Everyday is fundamentally the same. Homemaking can be dry and dull, but what if it’s really meant to be full of life and creative expression?

Read the rest at Morning by Morning >>

Why Redeeming Our Thoughts Matters

Broken sexuality has been before our eyes continuously in the form of hashtags and headlines. It’s been a steady stream of repeated revelations of sex abuse scandals. For many, their deeds of darkness have finally been brought into the light (Eph. 5:11), and there has been appropriate public outcry over many of these revelations.

How do these dark deeds become actions in the first place, though? The answer is complex. One aspect that might be passed over because it’s often viewed as normal in our culture, is pornography. We’re a culture steeped in pornographic images, even if it’s soft porn found in mainstream films, TV shows, and books. Though there is not always a direct correlation between pornography and sexual abuse, there is a possible connection between the two that should be taken more seriously.

Read the Rest at ERLC >> 

Goodbye Christopher Robin Beckons Us Back to the Hundred Acre Wood

Peace in wartime, happiness in sadness, fame in obscurity, and stillness amidst the busyness. These are all longings we experience in life on earth. And all are present in the film Goodbye Christopher Robin. The movie is about author and playwright A. A. Milne and the creation of Winnie the Pooh, centering around a boy who loved his toys and the woods. A creative telling of Milne’s life and his relationship with his son, the film shows the impact of one bear on a boy and the whole world. Goodbye Christopher Robin opens with Milne as an adult in post–World War I London. He suffers from war trauma, which is triggered by loud pops and bangs. He’s returned from battle but it stays with him; he becomes disenfranchised with play-writing in the city and flees to the country to write a book against war. Once there, he hits writer’s block and must find inspiration. He finds it in an unlikely place: the imagination of a child and the wonder of nature. These became his new weapons to fight off the existence of war. As the nanny, Olive, says in the opening of the film:

Once upon a time there was a great war that brought so much sadness to so many people, hardly anyone could remember what happiness was like. But something happened that changed all that. It helped us to believe in the good things, the fun things, and a world full of imagination. And then, just like a tap you turned on, happiness came pouring out.

Winnie the Pooh happened. And it became a global sensation. Milne’s son, whom he and his wife called Billy Moon, became known for his birth name, Christopher Robin. The real boy was popularized as an illustrated book character. His toys became Pooh and friends, and his beloved woods were renamed the Hundred Acre Wood. Suddenly, everyone wanted to know about the boy and his imaginary world. He was expected to pose for magazines, attend social events for book promotion, and have tea with important people. Everyone was happy again… but not the real Christopher Robin.

Read the rest at Christ and Pop Culture >>

Finding Freedom at the End of Yourself

God has used marriage and motherhood to bring me to the end of myself. In my single years, I took pride in my emotional stability, my innate strength, my independence, and even my lack of felt need for a man. I didn’t even think I was too bad in the godliness department.

Yet it wasn’t long after embarking on the ship to motherhood-land that I realized how impatient and angry I could be. And five years into my marriage, I was struck by a blow I was always afraid to face. Both of these instances drove me to my knees in desperation.

The last seven years of marriage and motherhood have bitten chunks out of my usual stable emotions, showed me how weak I actually am, killed my independence, and helped me feel needy for one particular man: the sinless Savior who died for me.

Read the rest at Revive Our Hearts >>

Learning to Laugh with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Like the Proverbs 31 woman,
Midge Maisel has the boldness to laugh at the days to come.


Midge Maisel waits for her husband to doze off, rushes to the bathroom, and hastily cleans off her makeup. She slinks into bed only to wake up in the early morning hours, return to the bathroom, reapply her makeup, and sneak back into bed. When he wakes up, her husband sees her perfectly applied face, which mirrors her perfectly applied life. Midge Maisel is a young housewife living in New York’s Upper West side. She married her husband, Joel, right out of college, had two children, and is the typical privileged homemaker of the 1950s. The unraveling of her perfect little world is the basis of Amazon’s Golden Globe-winning series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Read the rest at Think Christian >>

Book Review: Wilderness Wanderings by Stacy Reaoch

I just had a baby three weeks ago. She is the third child I’ve carried and birthed after her two big brothers. This past week was my first time being alone with a newborn, a three year old, and a five year old. I’m in that transition stage of trying to figure out a new routine and get everything done (or at least as much as I can) with a big change.

Because of the new baby girl, and changes to my everyday life, I thought it would be a good time to share about a free book I received from Stacy Reaoch. This is a book written exactly for someone like myself in my new stage of life. It’s really for every woman, especially a woman who wants to go through a chronological study in the Bible, but it’s great for moms who have limited time.

With just one-hundred and twenty-five pages and twenty-five short devotional chapters, Wilderness Wanderings: Finding Contentment in the Desert Times of Life, takes us through the Israelites’ wilderness journey to the Promised Land. Each chapter begins with a Scripture reference from either Exodus or Numbers, along with a brief meditation on the passage, followed by real life application, reflection questions, and a prayer.

In just a small book, Stacy reminds us of big truths. Truths of God’s promises, provision, and glory. And lessons about faith, obedience, and perseverance. She brings us into the wilderness where it feels like we’re lost and wandering, but are in fact exactly where God wants us to find him.

 

Christmas and Communion: Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descending
Comes our homage to demand.”


Bethlehem was an unlikely place for a King to be born. But Micah prophesied of this little town ushering in a newborn King:

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
   who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
   one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
   from ancient days.” – Micah 5:2

God himself would come to this little town, inhabit flesh and blood, and then offer it up as a holy sacrifice for us. He was born into “the house of bread” (Bethlehem), so he could become the bread of life for us (John 6:35). Bread conjures up ideas of provision, nourishment, and life. A house of bread seems to connote something plentiful and abundant. Jesus told us that his body would be like bread, broken for us on the cross (Luke 22:19). And now, we use bread as a reminder of his broken offering. The bread of life offered in Jesus’ broken body is plentiful and abundant; it’s a storehouse full. His broken body is our provision, nourishment, and life.

Not only did God come in a body, but he came in blood. He came to earth in flesh and blood to offer up his flesh and blood. It’s no coincidence that Jesus introduced the disciples to their first communion at a Passover meal. The disciples would have been familiar with the story of Moses and their ancestors in Egypt: when God sent the final plague that would take the lives of every firstborn Egyptian male, but the people of Israel would be passed over through the blood of a lamb. They were spared by the death of another. So, when Jesus compares wine to his blood at a Passover meal, he’s initiating a new covenant (Luke 22:20); a covenant bonded by the blood of a better sacrifice – the Lamb of God. No one could fathom the ancient mystery that God would be the one to give “his own self for heavenly food.”

That truth that God himself “came in human vesture” to offer up his body and blood for our eternal provision and life calls for our holy silence.

Habakkuk 2:20 says,
“But the Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him.”

We fear and tremble before our God, not only because he is holy and great, but because he is good. We marvel at his grace offered to us through the body and blood of Jesus. He is in his holy temple, high and lifted up as the one true God, and at this we marvel. But because of this we also wonder at his lowliness in Bethlehem. Remembering that silent night should make us silent in awe before a holy God on high descending to us “with blessing in his hand.” We remember this blessing when we partake in communion; when we remember the body and the blood. So, let all mortal flesh keep silence.

This is one of the short devotional meditations found in the free e-book Emmanuel: Readings for the Advent Season

 

 

 

 

Sorrow and Joy at Christmas Time

Many Christmas songs are solely exalting, rejoicing, and celebrating – full of holly and jolly, fa la la la la’s, and jingle bells. But this Latin hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, doesn’t give us a one-sided view of life; it holds a beautiful tension between sorrowing and rejoicing. The song reminds us that we are in the already, but not yet of God’s redemptive plan. Our Savior has come, but he is coming again, so we wait and long. He has paid the penalty for our sin, but the effects of sin are still active in our hearts and in our world.

The hymn itself is mournful and dark sounding, because of its lower, richer tones. The beat is slow and methodical. The lyrics open with the people of Israel waiting in “lonely exile”. Scripture is clear about their exile in Egypt and then in Babylon, but their physical exile was, and still is, a picture of their spiritual exile. God allowed them to be taken captive, because he was punishing them. The Israelites needed to repent, but they never seemed to learn their lesson. They were like sheep without a Shepherd; wandering and lost. Their physical exile was meant to point them to a deeper need in their hearts; a need to be ransomed from their dark inner captivity.

Today, we are not like the Israelites, in the sense that our Emmanuel (meaning “God with us”) has already come. We already have the hope that the Israelites longed to see. The Son of God has appeared to us. He was with us in bodily form on this earth and crushed his body on a tree to redeem our whole being. Though he cried out, “It is finished!” it’s clearly evident that things still aren’t perfect. So we are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Our Emmanuel has come and fully secured our eternal salvation. But we still wait for our final deliverance: for everything to be made right, for our sin and tears to be gone, for the banishment of suffering and pain, for our bodies to be resurrected, for the earth to be made new.

We can still cry out with the Israelites in our own earthly exile, because we still wait for the day when we’ll see him face to face and be with him forever. We wait for “death’s dark shadow to be put to flight” completely and finally. We yearn for the day when “our sad divisions cease” and the King of Peace will complete his full plan of redemption. We have reason to lift up our eyes and rejoice, because he will come. He did it once, and he’ll do it again.

This translation of an anonymous Latin hymn doubles as a prayer for the first and second coming of Christ. It takes us into the mind of old Israel, longing for the first coming of the Messiah. And it goes beyond that longing by voicing the yearning of the church of Christ for the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to consummate the history of redemption. – John Piper

This is one of the short devotional meditations found in the free e-book Emmanuel: Readings for the Advent Season

Body Image and Baby Jesus

Before getting pregnant with my third child I worried about my body image. Will I be able to lose the baby weight a third time? Will there be more sagging? More stretching and scars? My postpartum body just doesn’t measure up to images on social media or the magazine aisle at checkout.

The cultural and social pressure out there is tough on our bodies, especially for women. Fat is stigmatized, muscle should be toned, and beach body ready by summertime. If the view of our bodies is reduced to only a scale number and a certain “fit look” then we are missing out on God’s design for our bodies.

They are a temple of the Holy Spirit, which he bought at a great cost (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Since our bodies are good and not our own, we are called to cherish and care for them and use them in service and sacrifice (Romans 12:1).

Although tempted to believe otherwise when I look in the mirror, my pregnant body is good and my postpartum body is good. Scars and sagging skin are the marks I bear on my body in service of others, like when Jesus showed the disciples the nail scars in his hands. It was good for him to sacrifice his body for me, and it’s good for me to sacrifice my body for another.

Read the rest at Desiring God >>

Emmanuel: Readings for the Advent Season

For the last month and a half or so I’ve been working on creating content for this e-book with the help of Katie Tumino. (Ellie Eugenia worked on the design and layout.) Inside are short devotional meditations inspired by Christmas hymns. I wrote two myself, as well as Katie and Ellie, but we also had a few other contributors writing their own pieces.

We’re offering it for free! 

Get it here.

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