Faith At Home

Three Things We’re Doing to Build a Strong Family

I wish so badly that there was some sort of formula for parenting.

That if you fed your kids a certain number of vegetables, took them to church a certain number of times, and gave them a certain number of goodnight kisses, you could guarantee that things would turn out the way you wanted them to.

Unfortunately, like so many other things in life, there is no one clear-cut way to guarantee results in your parenting. The longer I serve the Lord, the more I realize that beyond the basic right and wrong, it is absolutely essential to be yielded to the Lord’s leading in all that we do, especially in parenting.

Remember what Mary said to the servants at the wedding in Cana? “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).

Mary knew Jesus. She knew his authority and his power. She trusted that if the servants followed his guidance, Jesus would make things right.

So before I share about the ways we are building a strong family, I want to preface it with this: do whatever he tells you. I really think that these pillars of our family culture are beneficial for all kids, and research even backs up how important and foundational some of these practices are. But you have to start with the vision God gives for your own family. If one or more of these doesn’t resonate with you in your season or particular family dynamics, and most importantly, if God is leading you to do something different, then by all means do that.

But like I said, I think for most families these three things will help, over time, to build a foundation for a resilient, close-knit, healthy family.

  1. Share stories


Stories matter. Did you know that one of the biggest predictors of a child’s ACT scores—more than race or gender or socioeconomic status—is whether or not that child’s parents read to him or her? But even if it didn’t virtually guarantee academic results, I’d still read my kids stories. Jesus told stories. The Bible itself is a story. Stories show us who we are and who we can be like nothing else can, and being able to pass that on virtue and character to our kids through stories is a priceless gift.

  1. Share meals together

There are so many studies that point to the overwhelming importance of regular family meals. Kids whose families eat together are less likely to be overweight or become addicted to drugs. They are also more likely to do well in school, and be resilient in the face of adversity. But again, I think there is a strong case for eating with your family even if these factors were not in play. Food plays an extremely important role in the Bible, and if Jesus spent time eating with his disciples, shouldn’t we eat with ours?

I know that, at least for me, the time and effort it takes to make regular family meals happen can be a challenge. Soon, I’ll share some more strategies for making this a little easier, but there’s one big thing that really helps us make family meals a priority: we eat breakfast together.

Several years ago, another pastor’s wife shared with me that family breakfasts worked better with their weird schedule, and I instantly realized what a game-changer that would be for us. Now, I feel more off-kilter when we haven’t had a sit-down breakfast in a few days, than when we’ve missed a bunch of dinners in a row. If dinner works for you, that’s awesome. But if it doesn’t, know that it doesn’t have to be at night to count as a family meal.

  1. Share time in nature


Kids absolutely need time outside. Period. Not only does it help their physical bodies, but it’s so much easier for us to wonder at the mystery of God’s creation when we are out in it. Standing at the edge of the ocean, climbing to a mountain peak, sleeping under a canopy of stars—these are the things that absolutely take my breath away at the beauty and majesty of our God. I want to pass those same experiences on to my children, so we try as much as we can to explore and camp and go on hikes.

And one more, as a bonus:

  1. Play Games


I would be remiss if I left if out because this is such a big part of who we are as a family. Jason and I both come from game-playing families, and playing games together was an early part of our relationship. We love sitting around the table and playing games with our family (the big people) and we would love for that to be true with our own kids when they are grown. I don’t know if there’s any research backing up the importance of a regular family game night (something we’re trying to get more consistent at doing), but playing games teaches kids to be gracious winners and losers, to cooperate, to think strategically, and a host of other skills. Plus it’s tons of fun!

So, that’s what we are doing. Like I said, there’s no formula, but I think if I can do these things consistently over the next decade or so, these habits will eventually bear good fruit in my kids’ lives. So now you tell me: did I leave anything out? What do you do to build a strong family? And do you have any tips or tricks to make it easier to implement these habits? Let me know in the comments!


How We Take Long Road Trips without a DVD Player


When I was a kid, we took a lot of vacations.

On one particularly epic road trip, we drove to Texas for my dad to interview for a job, from Texas along the gulf coast to Florida for a week at DisneyWorld, then back home to Missouri. It was something like six full days in the car. (Yes, I said car. We had a sedan, not a minivan or station wagon.) And did I mention that my sister and I were six and eight years old at the time?

When Caleb was a baby, we traveled a lot and it was easy, but once he was mobile and we’d added a second baby to the family, traveling felt kind of impossible. I marveled that my parents didn’t kill me or my sister on all those long road trips. But lately, with our recent move to Nashville, we’ve been taking lots of trips, and it’s been surprisingly manageable. It’s even been kind of fun.

Please note: part of the reason all of this works is the age of our kiddos. For us, the magic age of successful trips was about 4 or 5. The kids were (finally) potty-trained, and a whole lot better at understanding how long they would be in the car and why. If you have little-bitty kids, road trips might just be plain hard. Hang in there.

But even with bigger kids, a long day in the car can be a little daunting. Like my parents back in the day, we don’t have a minivan. We have a 13-year-old compact car and 17-year-old truck. (Nissan and Toyota, in case you were wondering. They’re been amazing vehicles for us). We’ve done road trips in both, and neither has a DVD player. So a movie marathon to kill the day is out. But it’s not been as big of a deal as I thought might be.

Here are a few ways that we make it through the day (and still all like each other at bedtime):

  1. Let your kids be bored

This one requires the most advance planning, but it is so worth it. If your kids are used to you coming up with things for them to do every twenty minutes throughout the day, they will expect the same thing when you’re in the car. And unless you pack a whole suitcase full of things for them to do, you will run out of ideas way before your first pit stop.

But resourcefulness comes from boredom. Let your kids come up with their own games on a regular basis at home, and they’ll be equipped to do the same thing on the road. On our last trip out to Nashville, the boys spent about 45 minutes making tents with their coats draped over the backs of our seats. Go figure.

  1. No limits on snacks

This is what makes trips fun. We bring snacks along to curb impulse buys at convenience stores, and try to keep the snacks on the healthier side (jerky, trail mix, crackers, fruit), but for the most part, if my kids ask for something to eat when we’re on a trip, the answer is yes.

This means they are eating almost all day long, and don’t eat great at meals, but for a little peace when we’re all cooped up in the same space all day, it’s a worthwhile exchange.

  1. Audiobooks and audiodramas

This is one of my absolute favorite ways to pass the time during long stretches in the car. A good book or story makes the trip fly by. Listening to something together as a family is something even the driver can be involved in, and as opposed to a movie, kids have to be really quiet to catch what’s going on in an audiobook.

Some of our favorites are:

  • Little House on the Prairie
  • The Chronicles of Narnia
  • Adventures in Odyssey (I LOVED this one as a kid)
  • A Bear Called Paddington
  • Charlotte’s Web
  1. Easy activities

For me, a good car activity doesn’t require my help, takes up very little space, and doesn’t make a mess. Some of our favorite things to bring along are:


So, that’s what we do on road trips. What do you do to keep your kids occupied for those long strechs in the car?


January Reading Pile Update

I’m still getting lots of questions about the reading pile pictures I’ve been sharing on Instagram the last several months, so I thought I’d take some time here, at the end of the month, to go back through, tell you what I’ve actually finished and what I thought of them.


Book: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe // C. S. Lewis
Progress: Read aloud to the boys; finished
Thoughts: What can I say? This is one of my all-time favorite books, and I’m considering making reading it aloud an annual family Christmas tradition. If you’ve never read this book, please do so immediately.

Book: Not By Sight // John Bloom
Progress: Finished
Thoughts: It has short chapters, I read one or two in the mornings before the boys were up. I read the follow-up, Things Not Seen first, and loved it. This one totally lived up to my expectations. Highly recommend.

Book: The New Year’s Quilt // Jennifer Chiaverini
Progress: Finished
Thoughts: I learned about this series a little over a year ago from a dear friend, and have loved these stories about quilting, especially the ones that are historical fiction. This is the eleventh both in the series.

Book: The Unschooling Handbook // Mary Griffith
Progress: Finished
Thoughts: Totally disagreed with some of the principles in this book: I don’t think it’s right for parents to let kids have complete say over their curriculum. Sometimes, kids need to know something they may not want to learn, and I want my children to understand that doing things that are hard or not our favorites is a part of learning perseverance and self-discipline. But this book also speaks to the thousands of ways kids learn all kinds of things without our help, and how children are really learning all the time, that was encouraging and helpful.


Book: The Fellowship of the Ring // J. R R. Tolkien
Progress: Still reading (Still on chapter 1, actually)
Thoughts: The last time I read this I was in college. I’m really looking forward to rereading it, but it just keeps getting pushed to the bottom of my stack. I hope to get a little farther next month!

Book: Wingfeather Tales // Andrew Peterson
Progress: Finished
Thoughts: Such a delightful follow-up to the Wingefeather Saga! What I wasn’t expecting is that it’s a compilation of stories by multiple authors; I discovered a few new ones through this collection, and my reading list exploded.

Book: The Winding Ways Quilt // Jennifer Chiaverini
Progress: Finished
Thoughts: Devoured it. Can’t wait to read the next book in this series.

Book: Jane Steele // Lindsay Faye
Progress: Finished
Thoughts: Just (finally) finished my reread of Jane Eyre, and was excited to dive into the stack of adaptations that came out last year, this one included. It had some elements I’ve come to expect from most mainstream books (a little language, and some bits that touch on physical intimacy) but was much cleaner than some I’ve picked up unaware. If you can imagine Jane Eyre as a thriller, you’ll like this one.


Book: The Great Divorce // C. S. Lewis
Progress: finished
Thoughts: I think I mention this book in conversation one more time, I might drive my husband crazy. But it is SO GOOD, you guys. I just can’t stop thinking about it.

Book: The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic // Jennifer Trafton
Progress: still reading this one aloud to the boys
Thoughts: We haven’t finished it yet, but this feels destined to become a new favorite. Jennifer Trafton’s writing is silly and poignant at the same time. We are having such fun reading this aloud.

Book: The Long Winter // Laura Ingalls Wilder
Progress: Reading aloud to the boys, and listening to the audiobook, narrated by Cherry Jones; still reading
Thoughts: This is a classic that I’ve read several times, but it’s the boys’ first time through the Little House series, and they like it more than I was expecting. This is one of my favorites in the series despite the fact that the words always make me feel cold to the bone. If you’ve never read it, it’s a fantastic story of triumph in the midst of hardship. Very inspiring.

Book: Good Enough Parenting // John Philip Louis and Karen McDonald Louis
Progress: Finished
Thoughts: So insightful about breaking dysfunctional patterns in families and making sure your kids’ emotional needs are met. Also, while I was reading it, I learned that it’s a textbook for some family counseling programs, so that makes me even more confident in recommending it. I’m sure this is one I will come back to again and again.


Book: Different // Sally Clarkson
Progress: Still reading.
Thoughts: LOVING it so far.

Book: Reader, I Married Him // Tracy Chevalier
Progress: Still reading
Thoughts: I just got started on this one last night, but I like it so far. This is the second short story collection with multiple authors I’ve read already this year, and some intriguing names contributed to it, including Francine Prose and Audrey Niffenegger. I’m genuinely excited to read this.

Book: The Madwoman Upstairs // Catherine Lowell
Progress: Just finished this one yesterday!
Thoughts: Another great take on the Jane Eyre story!

Book: Felicity’s Surprise // Valerie Tripp
Progress: Haven’t started
Thoughts: If I have time, I’m going to read this today. (It’s only 70 pages). I read all of  these as a kid. I am rereading them now because I would love to find something similar to read to my kids that features little boys in similar historical fiction (if you have any recommendations, please pass them my way), but in the meantime, I may see if these hold their interest, and I wanted to preview them first.


Unity: Is It Really What We Need?


I’ve been seeing and hearing the word “unity” tossed around a lot lately.

In this volatile cultural and political climate, it seems like many of us want the arguing and tension to go away. I totally get it. I tend to avoid conflict like the plague, and while sometimes this leads me to making mature and unselfish decisions, more often it leads to a place where I am making my decisions based on fear.

And that’s not a good thing, but that’s a post for another day.

Today, I want to talk about unity. And I don’t think I can avoid the tension here any longer without addressing it.

Do you know what story I thought of first when I was thinking about unity?

It’s a Bible story, where people banded together with a common purpose and accomplished a lot in a short amount of time. And it’s not the story of Nehemiah I’ve seen shared on Facebook recently. The story I thought of portrays unity, but not in a positive light. I’m talking about the story of the tower of Babel. Genesis 11 describes it this way:

“Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the earth” (Genesis 11:4).

I’ve heard lots of reasons this was the wrong move for the early residents of what would one day be called Babylon.

I’ve heard they were literally trying to reach heaven, like the ladder Jacob dreamed up seventeen chapters later.

I’ve heard that with the flood such a recent memory, they were trying to secure their own safety against God’s righteous judgment.

I’ve heard they were wrong because of the simple pride of their boasting.

I’ve heard they were disobeying God’s command to spread out throughout the earth by gathering in a city.

I don’t know which of these was the real problem, but for one reason or another, God disapproved of their tower. He says “If as one people speaking one language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6) So God disrupted their unity by scattering their languages.

There’s a lesson to learn here friends, and it’s not that unity in and of itself is a bad thing. But we can see clearly from this story that unity is not the most important thing.

There are times and places where unity is important, even essential, because of the goal that unified group is trying to achieve. Having unity in my marriage gives my kids security, makes my family strong, and brings me a lot of joy. Having unity in my church allows us to glorify God, demonstrate Christ-like love to the world, and testify to his coming kingdom.

When our hearts cry out for unity with our culture, however, we have been deceived. Unity within the church is possible because of Jesus. Unity in the world, as we see in Genesis 11, is possible because of sin. Unity between the two is impossible.

This reminds me of another passage of Scripture, one we usually just use to talk about romantic relationships, but I think it is especially relevant here:

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said, ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ ‘Therefore, come out from them and be separate,’ says the Lord” (2 Corinthians 6:14-17).

It is not God’s will for us to be unified with those outside the church. We don’t hate them. But if we really love them them, we cannot try to yoke ourselves together with them. If you try to bring light and darkness together, they cannot both continue to coexist.

Either the light will illuminate the darkness or the darkness will snuff out the light.


A Prayer for Inauguration Day

Father God, I look to you on this day, when power over earthly kingdoms is transferred from one man to another.

May your sovereign will be done on earth as is it in heaven, today, and always.

I lift up Donald Trump to you, just as you commanded me  to do (1 Timothy 2:1-2). May I live a “peaceful and quiet [life] in all goodness and holiness” during Trump’s presidency, and may it lead many to the saving knowledge of Jesus.

May I rightly understand the role that earthly authority plays in the life of a Christian. Help me not fall into the idolatry of worshiping my leaders as the ones who save. But also protect me from thinking I can call them my enemies and get out of loving them.

I am humbled by your unmerited favor towards me on this day, God. Your mercies are new every morning. Why me, God? Why was I not born in an impoverished African village or a war-torn Middle Eastern country? Why now? Why wasn’t I born in the middle ages or in the 1930s?

Help me to discern my right now purpose, in this nation, in this time in history.

Bless my president, Lord Jesus. Bless him with your wisdom and grace.

And may our hope ever rest in you, our steadfast, unchanging God.


Rafts and Routines: How We are Surviving This Transition

You guys, moving is not for the faint of heart.

This part of January always drags for me anyway; Christmas is solidly over, but there’s still very little sunshine and lots of cold (although this year has been pretty mild on that front–thanks, Missouri!). But combine those winter blahs with grief over upcoming goodbyes, most of our school materials still being in storage, and an unfamiliar bed, and it’s kind of a perfect storm of motivation killers.

Dishes pile up in the sink, and it’s hard to care enough to wash them when they aren’t even mine.

I stay up way later than I should for “just one more?” episode because I know that tomorrow doesn’t have much in the way of  plans or structure.

And anytime getting Andy’s frozen custard comes up, I’m all “why not? It’s probably our last chance….”

Suffice it to say that I understand why people say they don’t want to move ever again.

To anyone who has ever been in any transitional housing for any length of time, my heart goes out to you. It is just plain hard to keep my chin up and keep pressing forward in the midst of the chaos that is our life right now.

I knew in my head, from the time I spent right after college working with missionary families, that transition is rough and it’s important for the well-being of your family to handle it carefully.

But I didn’t really know what that meant until now. So I revisited some of the strategies we used to share with missionary families, and I’ve found a couple things that are really making a difference for our family right now.

  1. R.A.F.T. transition model

    While I won’t go into all the details here, RAFT is model that was designed by third-culture kid expert David C Pollack to help families in transition. (You can read more about how it works here and here.) The letters stand for Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewell, and Think Destination.

    For us, this means we are making lots of time right now for the special people and places we will miss when we leave the Springfield area. It means we are not shying away from the pain of goodbyes, but giving ourselves space to grieve.

    It also means we are talking a bunch with the boys about what we think Nashville will be like, and what we are looking forward to about living there. We even brought them along on a whirlwind weekend trip out to Tennessee so they could be with us when we walked through the house we are trying to buy. It will be their home, too, and to us, including them in the process was worth two full days together in the car.

  2. Basic family routines

    And when I say basic, I mean basic. Please don’t imagine this means we are rising before dawn and accomplishing some long list of chores every day, because that is so not what our life is like right now at all. (Case in point: It’s 1:30 in the afternoon, the boys and I are still in pajamas, and the Chex Mix we’re snacking on will probably end up counting as lunch.)

    But I am trying, as best as I can, to mostly keep doing a handful of normal things that mark our days and weeks when life is more stable. I’m making my bed every morning, we are eating our normal, go-to breakfasts most days (oatmeal or scrambled eggs), we are reading Bible stories every night before bed, and we eat pizza and watch movies together at least one night over the weekend, preferably Friday.


If you have any type of transition coming up for your family, I hope these simple suggestions are helpful for you. They are sure helping me right now.

Of course, now that I’m looking at what I’ve written, it’s occurring to me that a made bed and a Friday pizza is all that stands between me and complete anarchy, so maybe pray for our family if you think about it? I know lots of you have been, and I can’t tell you enough how much that means to me and Jason.

We are blessed to have so many wonderful friends surrounding us during this season, and if you’re reading this blog, that includes you. I love you all!



Picture Books We’re Reading This Christmas


I mentioned last week one of my favorite things we are doing for Advent this year: a Christmas picture book every day. In case you were curious, I thought I’d share the full list of titles we are reading. Most of these we own; a few of the early ones we got from the library. There are new favorites on here, along with books the boys have been reading every Christmas, and even a few that were mine when I was a kid.

I wrapped up all the books back in October, when our schedule was a little calmer, and wrote the names on the spines in pencil. Then on Thanksgiving night, I pulled them all out and numbered them.

Here’s what we are reading each day:

Nov 25: Christmas Trolls // Jan Brett

Nov 26: Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree // Robert Barry

Nov 27: Christmas Cricket // Eve Bunting

Nov 28: Good King Wenceslas // Jane Seymour

Nov 29: Fletcher and the Snowflake Christmas // Julie Rawlinson

Nov 30: The Legend of the Poinsettia // Tomie dePaola

Dec 1: Snow Day! // Courtney Carbone

Dec 2: The Polar Express // Chris Van Allsburg (The version we have came with the audiobook, which is read by Liam Neeson, and it is fantastic.)

Dec 3: The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey // Susan Wojciechowski

Dec 4: How the Grinch Stole Christmas! // Dr. Seuss

Dec 5: The Hat // Jan Brett

Dec 6: Santa, Are You For Real? // Harold Myra

Dec 7: The Legend of the Candy Cane // Lori Walburg

Dec 8: Merry Christmas, Curious George! // H. A. Rey and Catherine Hapka

Dec 9: Wild Christmas Reindeer // Jan Brett

Dec 10: The Night Before Chrsitmas // Charles Santore

Dec 11: A Charlie Brown Christmas // Charles Shulz

Dec 12: The Bears’ Christmas // Stan and Jan Berenstain

Dec 13: The Nutcracker // Ronald Kidd (I’ve also heard good things about this version of the story, and this one.)

Dec 14: Gingerbread Baby // Jan Brett

Dec 15: Bear Stays Up for Christmas // Karma Wilson

Dec 16: Christmas in the Big Woods // Laura Ingalls Wilder

Dec 17: The Night Before Christmas // Clement Clarke Moore, illustrated by Tomie dePaola

Dec 18: Country Angel Christmas // Tomie dePaola

Dec 19: The Night of Las Posadas // Tomie dePaola

Dec 20: The Tale of the Three Trees // Angela Elwell Hunt

Dec 21: The Crippled Lamb // Max Lucado

Dec 22: Humphrey’s First Christmas // Carol Heyer

Dec 23: Cock-a-Doodle Christmas! // Will Hillenbrand

Dec 24: Song of the Stars // Sally Lloyd-Jones

Like I said, some of these were from the library, and so I had to just go with what was available, but for the most part, these books are ones I love and heartily recommend. There’s a good mix here of books that mention Santa, and books that don’t, so whichever is your persuasion, hopefully there’s plenty here to suit you.

And if you need more recommendations, there are more great lists of Christmas picture books at  All About Reading, Brightly, the Read-Aloud Revival, and Money-Saving Mom.

What are your favorite picture books to read at Christmas? Share in the comments below!