Books & Reading · 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 the disciples he has entrusted to our care?

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!


Our 2019-2020 Homeschool Resources

When people ask me “What curriculum do you use?” I never know quite how to answer.

We embrace a mostly Charlotte Mason mindset for our homeschool. (You can read all about that method here.) And as I’ve learned more about how to implement this in our home, I’ve found more and more resources I like at Ambleside Online. If I had to say which single “curriculum,” I use, that would be it.

But Ambleside Online, and other resources for Charlotte Mason education is about so much more than “curriculum.” I follow some of their suggestions, and supplement in other places with resources that fit our family. And of course we read LOTS and LOTS of books.

Thus, our “curriculum” for the year is an ever-evolving list of books, projects, activities, and conversations. But if I had label what we’re actually using, these are the things that would make the list. (And lots of these resources are things you could use even if you don’t homeschool!)

Bible and Theology

This year, for our religious studies, we’ll be focusing primarily on apologetics. We’ve begun having conversations about apologetics with our kids already, but we begin to work through apologetics ideas a bit more systematically this time. We’re using the Case Makers Academy books from J Warner Wallace and the associated free resources on his website. We’re about halfway through our first book right now, and my boys love it.

We’re also learning six new hymns, memorizing a few new passages of Scripture, and following the Year 2 Bible reading plan from Ambleside Online.

Language Arts

Brave Writer is one of my very favorite resources for Language Arts. Their Arrow Single Issues are a really fun way to explore literature, writing, and grammar through their actual context in good stories. I know for sure we’ll be reading Redwall, Caddie Woodlawn, and My Side of the Mountain, but I probably need to choose at least one more title. The good news is, there are many great books to choose from.

Both boys will also continue to work on their cursive penmanship with Handwriting Without Tears workbooks, and we’ll continue to have our weekly poetry teatime.


One of my favorite things about the Charlotte Mason method is her insistence on using living books – that is, books by a single author, that tell a story—instead of dry, committee-written text. After a few years of trial and error, we’ve found that what sparks curiosity and learning for us is a great picture book.

There are truly some amazing books out there for kids on just about any topic you can imagine. This summer, we spent almost a month deep-diving into books about the moon landing. We seriously read probably 20 picture books.  We all (mom included!) learned so much.

So we will explore history mostly that way this year. I plan to focus primarily on 19th and 20th century American history, with a particular emphasis on things like the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, Westward Expansion, American pioneers, WW1, Industrialization, the Great Depression, and WW2.

We’re also going to add mapping to our study of the US, and we’ll be learning to draw it with this book, starting in a couple of weeks. We’ll see how it goes!


Another major Charlotte Mason principle is nature study. I’m not great a getting outside with my kids, but nature walks are a whole lot easier for me to pull off than science experiments.

Right now, we’re using a NaturExplorers guide from Cindy West on spiders, and following the activity suggestions. We’ve seen all kinds of spiders and webs this summer, once we started looking for them, and we’ve been recording our findings about spiders, and other interesting things we notice or learn in nature journals. We’ll keep studying spiders as long as it’s interesting, and then we’ll move on to something else.

We may use the schedule from Ambleside Online, or we may buy another guide. So far, the boys are most interested in science involving animals, and I’m happy to let them keep pursuing that as long as it captures their attention.

We also like using picture books to supplement in this area when we can’t go outside (it’s been a scorcher this summer in Tennessee). We recently discovered Jim Arnosky’s picture books, and we can easily spend half an hour pouring over his gorgeous animal illustrations.

Fine Arts

Our favorite art resource is My kids can be a little bit perfectionistic, and tend to have meltdowns when they don’t do something right (gee, I wonder where they get that?), and “Nana” has been such a kind and gentle guide for them as they grow in confidence in their artistic abilities. We aim to do one painting a week, and so far, I just use the videos on their You Tube channel, but I’d like to buy this set at some point.

We also study music, through hymns, as already discussed, and through classical music appreciation. I’ve used SQUILT in the past, and have had some success with their resources, (we like these cards) but this year we bought the Peter and the Wolf album from Maestro Classics and had a blast learning the music and all about Prokofiev. I’ll probably buy the Nutcracker one for Christmas.

Finally, after we move to South Dakota, we are hoping to purchase a full keyboard, mostly for me, but also so that I can begin to teach the boys to read music and play the piano. I have not yet decided on a method for this, though, so I’m open to suggestions!


This is about the only area where we have a true curriculum. I’m using Singapore Math 3 with both boys this year. We’ve been using it since first grade with Caleb. Every year about March, I start wondering if the grass is greener in some other math book, and I always end up coming back to Singapore. I really like it, and it seems to work for my boys, at least for now.

My primary math goal for both boys this year is for them to get a solid grasp of the multiplication tables. So if we get decently far in the year, and that isn’t happening, I’ll probably buy Kate Snow’s Multiplication Facts That Stick. I bought her addition and subtraction guides to help Caleb a couple years ago and loved them.

I also want my boys to think math is interesting and fun, so I try to take time on a regular basis to throw in some “fun” math – we have especially enjoyed the Penrose books this year so far. We also play tons of board games as a family, and the boys enjoy the math-based video game, Prodigy.


So that’s what we’re using this year in our homeschool. Do you homeschool? What are you using this year?


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Faith At Home

Our World Was Not an Accident, and Other Things We’re Teaching our Kids as Early as Possible

This is Steve.

Steve lives in an orderly world that is perfectly tailored to his needs.

It is obvious to us that this world was made by someone outside of Steve’s own kind, that it was created by someone who is bigger, wiser, and more powerful than Steve.

But Steve isn’t so sure.

Steve thinks that perhaps this world may have come into existence by accident.

Steve thinks that if you had enough sets of these exact Lego pieces and shook them up, at least one set would just happen to snap together in this particular pattern.

Do you think he could be right?

We posed this scenario to our kids a few months back, and asked them if they agreed with Steve. Could you shake up these Legos and eventually get a fully-formed Minecraft world on accident?

“That would never happen in a million years,” said my oldest son, Caleb. He laughed with us while we talked about how silly it would be if Steve didn’t believe in the existence of “a Caleb.” Because of course it takes a master Lego builder to assemble a complex brick world.

And yet, there are lots of people out there who would willingly lead our children astray with equally ridiculous ideas about the creation of our world. Their ideas are persuasive and attractive. They claim to have science on their side. And so my husband and I believe that it is never too early to being instilling in our children that there are even more persuasive arguments in favor of a Creator.

This whole idea, the study of the reasons that support what we believe, is known as apologetics, and contrary to what some people would think, it is not diametrically opposed to having great faith. Yes, there are things about our faith that we cannot and will not fully understand this side of heaven. As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13, our current understanding is limited, and we will not know things fully until we have stepped into eternity.

But that does not mean we bury our heads in the sand and just hope our hardest that everything we believe is true. That would be a mockery to the work of the early apostles. Their whole mission was based on the fact that they were eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. In their minds, having seen the risen Lord was irrefutable evidence that everything they had believed about Jesus was true.

In fact, towards the end of his gospel, the apostle John writes, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”(John 20:30-31).

It was an important part of the early church’s ministry that new believers would understand the reason for the things that they believed, and would put their faith not just in the apostles’ word, but on the evidence that supported the things they were saying.

If having a reasoned, well-thought-out belief was important to the earliest witnesses of Jesus, I believe it should be important to us as parents, too.

As I said earlier, we are already beginning to have some of these conversations with our children (currently aged 7 and 9), and I don’t think you can start planting these seeds in their minds too early.

I’m thankful to have a husband who has spent the last several years studying apologetics, both as a hobby, and through courses with Biola University . But this is not just for people who have a special education; anyone can learn more about apologetics as a parent and start a dialogue with your kids. Here are some great resources to get you started:

Natasha Crain’s books, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side and Talking with Your Kids about God are both excellent resources for any parent. She also has pretty extensive booklists on her website if you’re looking to learn more about a particular area of apologetics.

Another great website to get you started on the role of apologetics in your parenting is Mama Bear Apologetics. They’ve also recently released a book. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my list and I’m hoping to get to it soon!

If you want to learn more yourself about the evidence for our faith, one of the very best places to begin is with Lee Strobel’s book A Case for Christ. This book was recently adapted into a movie, which was surprisingly good, and if you like Strobel’s writing style, he has a whole series of books about different aspects of apologetics.

Finally if you’re ready to begin discussing these with your kids, the Picture Book Apologetics series by J.D. Camorlinga is great for starting that conversation. (This book is the one that sparked the conversation above). We also plan to use J. Warner Wallace’s CaseMakers series in our homeschool in the coming year (I’ll share more about that soon), and will also be utilizing the free resources on their website. We haven’t read these yet, so we are not completely sure how it will go, but we will start with this book and go from there.

I hope that sparks your interest in this important topic and helps get you started. May God give you wisdom as you help your kids know the solid foundation of truth on which our faith rests!


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Faith At Home

How to Memorize Bible Verses as a Family (and 10 Great Verses to Get You Started)

The first Bible verse I remember learning was Romans 8:38-39.

It says, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It was a mouthful, but when I was just seven or eight, I worked really hard at this verse until I learned it. My motives weren’t exactly the holiest; I was on a Bible trivia team for my church, and this verse worth more points than a lot of the others. But despite my competitive intentions, the verse stayed in my mind and my heart, and God has used it countless times throughout my life, to challenge, correct, and reassure me.

I honestly don’t know where I would be as a Christian if not for the discipline of memorizing Scripture. If we are going to follow Jesus, we absolutely must fill ourselves with the Word of God. And it’s a true gift to our children if we can do the same for them while they are in our homes.

There are a lot of games and interactive methods you might find online to use for memorizing verses, and these work well in classroom setting, especially if you only have the kids once a week. But unless you just really want to, you don’t need to make up motions or puzzle pieces for every verse you learn as a family.

Children have an incredible capacity for memory. In fact, their brains are hard-wired for it, and if we don’t give our children something to memorize, they will memorize things anyway. (Which is why my children can recite several funny commercials verbatim.) But if you’ll make Scripture memory a habit, I think you’ll be amazed at how many verses they can learn. 

The trick is to work on the verses nearly every day.

What we’ve done in our home is to write each verse we are learning on a separate index card, and keep them all in a small file box near our kitchen table. Every morning, while we eat breakfast, we read through the verse we’re learning a few times, encouraging our kids to say it with us the best they can. Then we recite a few that we’ve already learned.

That’s it. It takes about five minutes a day, and it only takes us a week or two to learn a new verse using this method.

Ready to get started memorizing Scripture? Below are several great verses to learn with your family.

Genesis 1:1*“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Psalm 56:3 “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.”

Psalm 139:12“Even the darkness will not be dark to you, the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

Proverbs 15:1* “A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Isaiah 9:6*“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. And the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Matthew 28:19-20*“Therefore  go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Ephesians 6:11“Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

2 Timothy 1:7 – “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.”

Hebrews 12:11*“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

James 1:19*“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”

(Verses marked with an * are ones we have actually learned as a family.)


Holy Week


“It’s not a tattoo; it’s just marker,” I told the friend who asked at lunch.

If I got a tattoo of a cross somewhere I could see it, I’d probably eventually get used to it, and it would lose its significance as a reminder. But I don’t think that will happen in just seven days and I so desperately want to spend this week remembering, so during our pastor’s Palm Sunday sermon, I took my brown felt-tipped pen and inked a little t shape on the inside of my left wrist.

I used to have mixed feelings about Palm Sunday.

None of the crowds shouting “hosanna” on Sunday stood by Jesus on Friday when He turned out to be a very different kind of savior than they expected. It seemed, to me, like a celebration of fair-weather Christianity.

But this year, as I’ve observed Lent in a very traditional way–a way that sees each Sunday as a mini-easter and a respite from the discipline of fasting–it’s heightened my sense of expectation for the coming resurrection. And when I got up yesterday morning, just one Sunday away from Easter, I couldn’t get these words out of my mind: “…Jesus set out resolutely for Jerusalem.”

The crowds lining the streets from the Mount of Olives to the temple may not have known what awaited Jesus in Jerusalem, but He did.

And He came anyway.

For you.

For me.

The New American Standard Bible says “he was determined” to come. He wouldn’t give up on our salvation, even when that road led to His very own cross.

So as we draw ever closer to observing the worst, best Friday in all of history,  I’m lifting up my voice this week and shouting: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Books & Reading

The Best Books I Read in 2018

I’m an avid reader.

It’s always been one of my favorite hobbies. According to Goodreads, I read over 130 books last year. (My husband is pretty sure I have a problem, and he might be right). But of all those books, a few stand out as really incredible. I’ve limited myself to 12 total: four novels, four works of nonfiction, and four children’s books. So you can be sure that I really thought they were great.

Best novels

The Masterpiece, Francine Rivers – Francine Rivers has long been one of my favorite authors. Redeeming Love has always been my favorite book of hers, but this new one might be a close second. It’s that good.

The Almost Sisters, Joshilyn Jackson – Heads up: this book has some language and some adult themes (the main character gets pregnant out of wedlock). But there are also some powerfully redemptive messages in it, enough to suggest to me that maybe the author is a Christian? Plus, it’s a really good story.

The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Stetterfield – I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a mystery so thoroughly. I couldn’t wait to figure out the twist, and the setting and characters were very reminiscent of the Bronte sisters’ work. If you love Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, this is a book you’ll want to read.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis, Patti Callahan – This is a fictionalized retelling of how C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman met and fell in love (though Joy’s son says it’s very much based on the truth). It’s a wonderful picture of the life of one of my very favorite authors.

Best nonfiction

Martin Luther, Eric Metaxas – This book is long, but it’s worth your time if you like biographies. I loved learning so much about a man whose life I knew very little about—and whose work had such a profound impact on the church today. If this is too long for you, I also highly recommend his book, 7 Women, which is seven mini-biographies of important female historical figures.

The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel – My husband, Jason, has devoted much of his time to the study of apologetics, and for someone just starting out, this is one of the first books he recommends. Now I can see why. The book’s compelling narrative, in which author Lee Strobel diligently searches for the truth, serves as a framework for a lot of detailed information concerning the historical and scientific evidence for what we believe as Christians. The movie is also superb.

The Road Back to You, Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile – This was not my introduction to the Enneagram, but I wish it had been. This is a great place to start if you’re just discovering the nine types, and still trying to figure out your own.

Letters to the Church, Francis Chan – This book encapsulates a lot of what God has been stirring in mine and Jason’s hearts regarding the church as we have pondered what is next for our family. But it was also deeply personally challenging, as Francis Chan looked honestly at the discrepancies between the New Testament and modern American church, and encourages believers to pursue a closer walk with Jesus.

Best kids books

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, Maryrose Wood – Imagine Jane Eyre meets Jungle Book. This terrific series had my kids (and me) engaged from the first book to the last.

The Green Ember series, S. D. Smith – I’ll be honest, the first time I read The Green Ember, it wasn’t my favorite. I didn’t dislike it, exactly, but I didn’t love it either. But reading it aloud to my kids has given me a whole new perspective on this series. As a mom of boys, I love stories that encourage them to be brave and selfless, to see themselves as warriors for everything that is good and true, and these books do exactly that. We’re currently reading the second book in this series and loving it.

Bob, Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead – This is a sweet book about a girl and her forgotten imaginary friend. It’s beautifully written, and I hope it wins the Newbery award.

Now We Are Six, A. A. Milne –While I was familiar with Milne’s Winne the Pooh stories, this year was the first time I’d ever read his poetry for children, and I adored it. We read these aloud over the course of several Monday afternoons, when we have a weekly poetry teatime.


I hope you enjoy these book recommendations, and find something on this list you think you might enjoy. If you want to keep more up-to-date on what I’m reading, I post a picture of books I’m trying almost weekly on Instagram (the photo above is one I posted about a month ago), and you can always see  everything I’m reading on Goodreads. But please note that my picking it up is not an endorsement: there are many books I read last year that I would not recommend to someone else. Some I just didn’t enjoy, in some cases I blatantly disagreed with the author, and some I couldn’t even finish because I disliked them so much.

If you’re curious about a particular title, please ask me.

Also, if you love book recommendations as much as I do, a couple of my favorite bloggers just released their “favorites of 2018” lists on their own blogs. You can see The Lazy Genius’s list here, and Emily Freeman’s here. I’ve added several of their recommended titles to my own list for what to read next year.

**Some of the links in the post are affiliate links, which means that I get a small commission off anything you purchase  at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting me!

Books & Reading · Holidays

Links for Thanksgiving

I just love Thanksgiving.

I love Christmas, too, of course, but sometimes the oh-so-very-important meaning behind the holiday gets overshadowed by the gifts we exchange.

Thanksgiving doesn’t have that problem. More than any other holiday I can think of, Thanksgiving is a time to simply enjoy good food with the people you love. We are celebrating Thanksgiving with my husband’s family this year—we’ve rented a house a few hours away, and we’ll all be together for several days. I can’t wait.

This Thanksgiving is special in some new ways, too. We’ve been studying American history this year with our boys, and so more than ever before, they’re aware of the rich history behind this holiday and some of its traditions.

If you’re looking for some new books, songs, or traditions to add to your family’s celebration this year, I’ve gathered a list of some of my favorites below:

To Read

Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving by Eric Metaxas

An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott

This is the Feast by Diane Z. Shore

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet

The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dagliesh

Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson

Give Thanks Bible reading plan from She Reads Truth

How to Celebrate Thanksgiving All Year

To Listen To

My Thanksgiving Playlist on Spotify

“Stepping Stones,” Part 1 and Part 2, an Adventures in Odyssey story about the Pilgrims

To Make

Chex Party Mix (use the oven method, not the microwave method; it makes a difference!)

A Thanksgiving Tree

Libby’s Pumpkin Pie (expert sources and my dad confirm it’s the best)


I hope you have a very happy Thanksgiving!