15 God-Focused Activities & Devotionals

I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year. From the moment the calendar flips to September 1, everything’s either pumpkin-spiced, plaid, or bonfire-scented. And on top of all the Fall-even-though-it’s-still-85-degrees-in-North-Carolina decor, there are the 3,264 events you can attend or sign up your family for. 

Is it just me, or does it seem as if there’s a tad bit of pressure to do all the things this time of year? After all, if you don’t enjoy a pumpkin-spice-something while wearing cute boots and carving a pumpkin while roasting a marshmallow…did fall even happen? And if you don’t create DIY Halloween costumes for your children while wrapped in a blanket scarf and bake pumpkin-somethings from scratch…do you even have a soul?

These are the questions that haunt me. 

In all seriousness, I’m guilty of trying to do every last activity or event with my kids—like if I don’t do enough, they’ll be in therapy someday, lamenting the woes of their lost childhood to their therapist. 

If only I’d gone apple picking and had my picture taken with a scarecrow, I might have gotten a real job and made something of myself, they’d say.

Ok, so I can be a bit dramatic. 

But honestly, this internal pressure isn’t just Fall-related. The feeling that I need to make sure I’m doing enough for my children is one that’s constant, and often leads me to over-complicate the divine task I’ve been given of pointing them to Jesus.

What if instead of focusing on doing lots of stuff, I focused on taking every normal, everyday mundane sort of task and using it to point my children to Him?

I’m learning that my children are so receptive to truth that even an everyday mundane moment, when connected to Jesus, can make a lasting impression. This season, I want to leave my children with more than just 28,953 filtered pictures of themselves posing next to pumpkins and scarecrows. Instead, my hope and prayer is that when they are grown, they’ll be changed by the gospel message and obsessed with sharing it with others. 

Our legacy as parents is not calendars jam-packed with stuff to entertain and fill time. 

Our legacy is the way we point our children to Jesus. 

And we don’t need expensive experiences or fancy books or resources to do that. We just need minds that see God in everything. And we need hearts with the willingness and determination to point Him out to our families. 

That’s why I’ve put together this simple resource for those of you who want to create God-conversations with your kiddos without all the extra planning and glitter and stress.

Included in this free download are 15 activities and devos (that can be spread over 3 weeks or longer) that focus on simple biblical truths and provide easy dinner or bedtime questions for conversation. 

If you have young children, then you’re probably already doing a lot of these activities. So hopefully this will give you some ideas for taking those everyday moments and turning them into discipleship moments.

*These activities and questions are geared toward ages 3-8ish, but they can easily be altered for older ages, too.*

Instead of obsessing over doing everything to make my children’s fall season or school year “good enough,” what if I were obsessed with making a few things into teachable, gospel-centered moments?

Sure, go to the pumpkin patch. But use it as an opportunity to talk about how creative our God is. Yes, bake pumpkin cookies. But then use them as a way to bless others, reminding your children that we love others because God loves us. 

Pick a few things your family will love to do, and then focus on injecting every one of those moments with the gospel.

I hope this resource will be just the start of a thousand great moments and conversations. Click below to get yours now!

Happy Fall(ish)! 🙂

6 Ways to Help Your Child with Anxiety: A Free Resource

Intrusive thoughts, fears, and worries can be paralyzing. It’s easy to tell our children (or ourselves!) to just move on mentally and “don’t worry about it.” But this is much easier said than done. Throughout Scripture, we see a pattern of not only throwing off unhealthy or sinful practices, but also putting on healthy, godly practices.

In other words, we must replace intrusive thoughts, fears, and worries with the truth of God’s promises. That’s why I’ve put together some practical strategies for talking with your children about worries, and also printable cards with some of God’s promises from His Word. These strategies have been so helpful in my own life – for both my children and myself – and I hope they will be helpful to you.

The Scripture cards are meant to be printed double-sided, so that a summary of God’s promise is on one side, and the Scripture itself is on the other. You can print, cut, and place these in prominent places where you and your children will see them. (Helpful hint: if you’re able, consider laminating them or printing on cardstock to make them last longer. You can punch a hole in the corner and stick a binder ring through them, or Velcro them to a focal board.) When you or your child is faced with anxiety or intrusive thoughts, take out one of these cards and pray over these promises together.

Remember, anxiety is an opportunity to grow closer with your child and create mutual trust.

Discipling our children as they navigate worries and fears is hard – but you are not alone! God has given us everything we need in His Word – we just have to turn to it.

If you’d like to have these resources sent directly to your inbox, click the image below. Enjoy!

-Mary

Why Our Summer Reading Looks Different This Year

It’s that time of year again when summer reading challenges abound! I’m taking a different approach this year, and the picture above sums up why. On vacation a few weeks ago, my son grabbed one of his favorite books (Encyclopedia Brown, of course), plopped down on the beach, and sat there reading for close to an hour. (What can I say, he’s a child after my own heart.)

Our challenge last year focused on reading a certain amount of books, and I think it worked great for us during that season. Reading was very new and practice reading lots of words was key. But now we’ve transitioned into this really neat place of reading for enjoyment. My favorite school times this last year were without a doubt when we read aloud together and slowly digested a book without worrying about “getting it done” so we could check it off a list. (Holes by Louis Sachar was hands down our top pick!)

So this year we’re just picking a few books and reading them at our pace, planning to talk about them, maybe reread them, maybe watch the movie about them. Zero pressure, because I want reading to be a fun, together kind of experience.

I had so many people reach out about our reading challenge last year, and so I’ve put together a similar free printable download to share with you! You can click the image below to get it sent directly to your inbox.

Here’s a shortlist of some of the books we’ve enjoyed so far together. What would you add to this list? Happy reading!

  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary
  • Holes by Louis Sachar
  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  • Stuart Little by E.B. White
  • The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  • Bunny’s Book Club by Annie Silvestro
  • Encyclopedia Brown by Donald Sobol

Just as He Said: A Free Easter E-Book for You

The resurrection of Christ changes everything. As an Easter gift to you, I’ve put together some writings from the last few years on the resurrection and how it has changed me. Included are 3 chapters:

  • 4 Ways to Make Easter Meaningful for Your Family
  • The Longest Night of My Life
  • Death, Where is Your Sting?

Click the image below to sign up for my email list and receive this free e-book in your inbox instantly. Praying you and your family have a wonderful Easter. Christ is risen!

Book Update: The Anxious Lily, Coming Spring 2023

Confession: I’ve done a terrible job of updating this blog. The last year has been a bit of a whirlwind as we’ve adjusted to life as a family of five. My consensus on having three children so far? I love it. It’s a whole new level of chaos and exhaustion, but also a whole new level of joy. I am learning so much about patience, service, and dying to self. My husband and I have gone from playing man-to-man to a zone defense – it’s nice to know all that high school basketball is finally paying off in some way. 🙂

In the midst of all the craziness, I realized I’d never given my exciting news a home here on the blog – so here it is:

 I signed a book contract with End Game Press for my first children’s picture book!

One of the best parts of getting this news has been sharing it with my family. Seeing the excitement on their faces when I told them they’d get to hold one of those stories in their hands is a moment I won’t forget. 

Can I be honest for a second? I’ve come so close to giving up on writing children’s stories. Since I first signed with a literary agent 3 years ago, I’ve had a variety of manuscripts rejected more times than I’d care to admit.

This whole writing thing can be pretty painful. When you pour hours and hours into making every word count – only to be met with a “thanks but no thanks” – it starts to wear on you.

I remember saying to my husband not that long ago – “I think I’m done writing. I think I need to just let this go.”

To which he said, “absolutely not.”

Man am I glad he said that.

I’m so humbled by this opportunity to share a story with you and your families. It’s a story for the children in your life, but it’s also a story for you.

The Anxious Lily is a story I wrote several years ago while studying what Scripture has to say about worry, fear, and anxiety. The year after I finished the manuscript, I walked through a season of loss that plunged me into some of the most intense anxiety I’d ever experienced. I remember holding onto God’s promises in Scripture with a death grip. And I also remember pulling out that manuscript and reading it again and again. Because there’s something about a story that helps truth become more vivid. 

That’s my prayer for this story. 

I cannot wait to share this picture book with you, as well as all the steps along the way. I am currently in the midst of the editing process. I’ve been paired with editors from End Game Press who are helping me make this story as strong as possible.

To be among the first to know about updates (such as the cover reveal, preorder opportunities, and giveaways), click the image below and sign up for my email list. I can’t wait to put this book in your hands. Thanks for joining me on this journey!

There is Both: God’s Goodness in the Joy and Sadness

Sadness. That’s what I felt the moment they placed her in my arms.

And then – before my arms even tightened around her small frame – the sweetest joy.

If I’m honest, the moment I learned of this pregnancy, I was flooded with fear. Fear of another loss. But also fear of what I would feel if I didn’t lose her. Guilt? Anger? Anxiety? I wondered if the sadness would linger forever. I wondered if loving this child meant I loved the ones we lost less.

I’ve shared in the past about my pregnancy losses (see highlights and also link in bio), but processing loss while celebrating the new life God has given us is an entirely new experience. And I can’t help but think many women wrestle with the seemingly contradicting feelings of both grief and happiness.

I’ve cried many tears of joy because of this sweet new girl in my arms.

And I’ve cried many tears from the sadness of the three children who are not.

Because of God, I’m holding a healthy, beautiful baby girl.

Because of God, I have three crocheted blankets in a box in my closet that will never be used.

God gave three children to me.

God took three children away.

I’ve found myself both thanking God for my deepest joys and crying out to him with my greatest sadness within the same breath.

We’ve spent the last seven weeks welcoming a little girl into our family who really needs no welcoming because it feels like she’s always been with us, always been ours. And as I stare daily into her beautiful, perfect eyes, I see the answer to those questions that plagued me for nine months.

I love her so completely. And I miss them so much it hurts.

There is joy. There is sadness. There is both. And He is good, always.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

No Bodies to Bury: The Unspoken Pain of Early Pregnancy Loss

Does my grief even count if there are no bodies to bury?

The crass thought swirled around my mind in the weeks that followed my pregnancy losses. I was unprepared for how much our losses would shred my heart. But I was even more unprepared for how much the world would minimize the deaths of my unseen children. 

You’ll Be Fine

Mere moments after a doctor told me, “your pregnancy is not healthy,” a nurse told me—while drawing blood from my vein—”Don’t worry, you’ve already got kids. You’ll be fine.” 

I sat frozen, tethered to my seat by a needle in my arm and shards in my heart.

Another doctor said, “Don’t worry, we’ll get you pregnant and keep you pregnant.” 

As if one child is the same as the next. As if all newly formed lives are the same. Products of a baby-making machine—virtually indistinguishable from one another.

“At least it happened early, you know, before you could get attached,” others said to me. 

At least. Don’t worry. You’ll be fine.

When another asked me what was done with the contents of my uterus after my emergency D&C—“I mean, do they just throw it in the trash?”—I begged God to open a cavernous hole in the floor.

Make me disappear, Lord. I can’t handle this. I can’t do it.

These comments along with the variety of ways my children were described—”miscarriage,” “failed pregnancy,” or “spontaneous abortion”—felt like punches to my gut. I felt my grief being minimized, and I began to wonder—”Am I making too big a deal out of all this?”

Does my grief even count when there are no bodies to bury?

Surely I was being dramatic, right? Everyone else seemed to be in on some cosmic secret, some hidden knowledge that unborn children were exempt from personhood. If a life dies early enough, then it doesn’t qualify for grief. 

Don’t worry. You’ll be fine.

But deep in my heart, I knew nothing was fine. There are three children—with three sets of DNA, three completely different people—who will never be with our family here on earth. Never. 

Permission to Grieve

When our unborn children died, I was unprepared for how much the world would minimize their deaths. 

But I was also unprepared for how our family and friends would ascribe dignity and value to our children’s lives in some of the kindest, most thoughtful and loving ways. 

During those darkest days and months following our losses, I’m sure I didn’t adequately express gratitude to everyone who reached out—I was numb beyond words. But every kind word, text, card, meal, or gift felt like permission to grieve, validation of our losses, and dignity for the hearts I so desperately wished were still beating. 

My husband and I found our own private ways to honor our children’s lives. But having others honor their lives, too? That helped me put one foot in front of the other. 

You’re Not Alone

If you’re reading this and you’ve walked through a loss, I hope you know you are so not alone. Your grief matters. What happened to your child was terrible. And I’m so sorry.

You’ll be bombarded with insensitive comments from people who mean well but have no idea what to say. You’ll feel like your loss has been dismissed, devalued, and minimized. 

And it’ll be one of the hardest things in the world, but you’ll have to choose to show grace. To forgive the thoughtless words. To not replay them in your mind again and again. To choose to believe what God’s word says about the immeasurable worth of your child, rather than what the world says.

Grieving doesn’t mean your faith is weak—it means your love for that child is strong. 

The losses can’t be undone, but the wounds do begin to heal. Scars remain, and that’s ok—their deep imprints remind us of our deep love. 

God does not look at a brokenhearted mother and say, You’ll be fine. He does not and will not minimize your grief. Rather, Scripture says he is close to the brokenhearted, and he holds us up when our strength is failing. 

And that’s a promise worth clinging to.

Remind Her She’s Not Alone

If you’re reading this and someone you love has experienced a pregnancy loss, I’d encourage you to treat her the same way you would if one of her family members had died. 

Because that’s exactly what has happened. 

Shoot her a text. Mail a card. Leave chocolate on her porch. Babysit her kids. If you don’t get a gushing response of gratitude right away—or ever—show some grace. Your friend is most likely in a fog and trying her best not to drown. She may not write a thank you card, but I promise you she cherishes the small acts of kindness and love. 

Her loss may be “common” in terms of statistics—but there’s nothing “common” about her experience or the life she lost. So when she asks that terrible question—Does my grief even count?—you must respond with an emphatic and compassionate yes

There may be no body to bury, but there is most certainly an empty womb—and there’s not a moment that goes by when your friend is not painfully aware of that truth.

The world will tell your grieving friend her loss doesn’t matter—that she’s overreacting. 

When the world whispers, “you’re fine,” put your arm around her and say—in a voice that’s compassionate but also clear and strong—“You are not fine. You’ve lost something precious. I’m here with you. And no matter what the circumstances, your grief counts.”

Because all grief most definitely counts. 

And sometimes it’s ok to not be fine.

The Longest Night of My Life

Weeping may last for the night.

Some days it feels like the longest night of my life.

I miss my children today—the ones I haven’t met yet. I’d hoped these days would look different, that they would include a chubby set of twins, their eyes following the zigzag patterns run by their older siblings.

I’ve missed the kicks and rolls I would have felt if our fifth child were still here and only a few months from her due date.

I wish things were different.

I know I’m not the only one. Many people are hurting today. Our world is groaning under the weight of a pandemic that’s had its way with us. Much has been lost, broken, or damaged. There is much to grieve. There is much to weep over.

The night is long.

I think of the women who visited the tomb of Jesus after his death. I think of the anguish that must have ripped through their hearts as they watched him breathe his last on the cross. Those soul-crushing hours after his death must have been excruciating. What was it like when they finally rested their heads on their pillows that evening? Could they sleep? Could they breathe? Did they question everything?

It must have felt like the longest night.

But on the third day, as the women stared at that empty tomb, an angel spoke these words:

“He is not here, he has risen, just as he said.”

Just as he said.

Can you hear the gentle truth, the weight of meaning packed into those four words?

What might that angel have said if he had elaborated?

Precious women, he’s not here—he’s alive, just like he said! You look shocked, you look confused, you look like you believe everything good in your life is lost. You look like you have no hope, no future, no anchor. But your Savior keeps his promises. He always has, and he always will. He told you death wouldn’t win. He told you weeping would last for the night–maybe even the longest night of your life–but that joy would come. And it has! Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and when he says something will happen, there is nothing—no height, no depth, no tragedy, no pandemic, no grief, no loss, no death—that will stop or undo his word. 

The question of Why is relentless, and in my darkest moments I find myself looking to my pain for the answers to hard questions instead of to the One who keeps all his promises and is trustworthy.

If he’s trustworthy, I don’t need to know why. Because I already know him.

And he is good.

I miss my children today. But tomorrow—and every day—we celebrate Easter, a day when Jesus did the unthinkable and rendered death defeated. The moment his heart began beating again, the doors of heaven swung wide open to all who believe. Death did not have the last word for him, and it doesn’t have to for us, either.

I miss my children today. But because of Jesus, one day I’ll see them and know them. Our sin separates us from God, but the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the bridge that makes a way for us.

And if you are walking through the longest night of your life right now, that promise can be true for you, too.

Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

Because he has risen.

Just as he said.

 

 

I Cried on New Year’s Eve: Grieving with Hope in 2020

I cried on New Year’s Eve. 

We spent time with friends, blew noisemakers, and yelled “Happy New Year!” at 8 PM (because we knew there was no way we’d actually last until midnight). We laughed, talked about goals for the new year, and shared stories from 2019. 

But earlier that day, when I was alone, I cried. 

Someone asked me recently what my favorite memory of 2019 was. I didn’t think the question would trip me up as much as it did. I fumbled for words, grasping at something, anything. I knew the year had held many joys and victories. I knew it. 

But in that moment, nothing else existed in 2019 apart from the three children I lost. I couldn’t – and some moments, still can’t – see past the thick fog of grief. 

I cried on New Year’s Eve because of the sadness our family walked through. But I also cried because of a harsh reality that hit me: 2019 was ending, but my grief was not. 

I wish grief had a specific start and end date. I wish I could package it up, write “2019” in big, bold numbers, and then leave it there where it can’t sink its unrelenting talons into my heart anymore. 

Maybe you’re in a similar place. 

Maybe 2019 carried great sorrow for you. Maybe there was a miscarriage, infertility, a cancer diagnosis, death of a parent or grandparent, estranged family members, or any number of things that bring sorrow. 

Maybe 2020 isn’t so much a beacon of hope as it is a reminder that your grief is still there. And it still hurts.

I won’t pretend to have some sort of magic formula that makes all the heartache go away. But in the last year, I’ve experienced what it means to grieve deeply, but not “as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Instead, scriptures that I’ve read my whole life have spoken to my heart in ways I just didn’t understand before. And I’m learning to cling to the truth that, while our pain and suffering here on this earth is real, it’s not worth comparing with what waits for those of us who know Jesus Christ (Romans 8:18).

So if you’ve entered 2020 with a heavy heart, here are a few scriptures that have been carrying me through. I hope you’ll take a few moments to look them up and read them. The word of God is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12), and I’m confident that if you read these with an open heart, God will use them to foster healing.

Job 1:21
Psalm 94:17-19
Psalm 62:5-8
Psalm 56:8-11
John 16:33
Romans 8:18-39
2 Corinthians 1:3-10
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Revelation 21:1-7

Even if your 2019 was perfect, the reality is that one day in the future – maybe this year, or the next – you will experience sorrow. And if we had no hope beyond ourselves, then that truth might very well cripple us with fear. 

But listen to the thrill of hope ringing through these words:

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Trouble and hurt and heartache and pain are promised. But so is the truth that Christ is greater. He is our hope. And because of him, one day there will be no more “mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.”

And Jesus himself said, “these words are trustworthy and true” (Rev. 21:5).

I pray that 2020 is a year for you filled with growth, faith, and hope. 

No Longer Empty-Handed

I can’t feel them in my arms anymore.

It’s inexplicable, really. I’ve stared at four positive pregnancy tests in the last four years. And each time—without fail—I could immediately feel them in my arms.

The anticipation was instant, the bond immediate. Some may roll their eyes at such extreme statements, but the knowledge that a newly formed life had been purposefully and miraculously knitted inside of me took my breath away.

“At least it happened early, before you could get attached.”

I’ll never forget when those words were carelessly tossed in my direction. Words normally come to me easily. In that moment, I had none. 

At least.

Two words that have no place in any conversation when a woman has lost a child. 

I’ve lost three babies this year. Three. And the reality is this: it doesn’t matter how early it happens. The moment those hearts stopped beating, pieces of me died, too.

Some days I wake up thinking it’s all been a bad dream. Some days I forget that it’s happened, and I start mentally planning for due dates that will only leave me empty-handed once they arrive. 

But then I’m reminded of John 14, of Jesus’ promise that he is preparing a place for me. How beautiful to know that before the world began, Jesus knew and planned that my true home would include the three children that have gone before me. What a gift to know that they are waiting for me!

And here is the beautiful truth that God has whispered to me in my pain: my coming reunion with Jesus Christ is the true ‘due date’ that my soul—and every soul—longs for. 

And on that due date, my arms won’t be empty anymore. 

 

This article first appeared on Just18Summers.com