In this episode we look at books that help create conversations leading to defining moments when we can encourage our children to be who God created them to be.
Books Discussed in This Episode:
Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids. These teachable moments lead to discipleship and helping our children grow in their faith and understanding of God and help us as a family to go forth and make a difference in this world with the Good News of Jesus Christ. In addition to seeking teachable moments, we need to hope for defining moments. I was recently watching an Andy Stanley broadcast, and in that he shared a story from his life that changed the way I was thinking about this podcast. I want us to find those teachable moments, and when they arrive, thank God for them and use them. But one of the things that Andy Stanley said that challenged me is that he said a defining moment is better than a teachable moment. I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the holidays. And as we’re starting out 2021, I realized that part of discipling our kids is helping them to know who they are in Christ, but also who they are to us and the importance they have in our lives. I wanted to make sure my children knew that no matter what they did, they were still my children. I still loved them. And they were always a part of my family. In the ministry that’s extremely important. And what Andy Stanley shared is also the same thing. He and his best friend, Louie Giglio used to sneak out after Sunday school and go to a local restaurant where they could watch the sermon on a TV while they had a snack instead of actually attending the worship service. And they would watch it enough to know that if there were any questions asked on the car ride home, they could answer those questions. And the parents would hopefully not know that they had skipped out. One day, they were driving home, and he said, his mom shared how a lady in the church had said she saw them sneaking out. His dad said, you tell miss whatever her name was to raise her kids her way, and I’ll raise mine my way. And Andy said in that moment, what he realized was that he mattered more to his dad than his dad’s reputation, than his dad’s ministry, than anything else outside of their family, that he was more important to his dad. His dad was not so worried about how Andy might embarrass him, but he was his son. That was a defining moment for him. And he said the very next week that he and Louis were in the front row of the church service. And they made that decision. That got me to thinking about what we can do as parents to bring about some defining moments in our kids’ lives.
This year my goal with “Books that Spark” is to share books with you that will open up those important conversations. As we disciple in the nooks and crannies of life, we have to squeeze in the discipleship as we are going through our daily routines, as we’re walking along the way, as we’re putting our children to bed, as we wake up and have a meal, that’s where discipleship happens with our kids. That’s where real discipleship happens with the people in our lives that we are trying to help grow in their faith and how we grow in our faith. This year I want us to try to focus on finding defining moments for our kids. We’ll see them find those defining moments when they are facing decisions and struggles in their own lives. And they have to make those decisions and we have to stand by and hope they make the right decision. I think that’s one of the reasons the Bible tells us to encourage one another and to spur each other on to good works. It’s because those help define us in our own hearts and minds as to who we are and who we’re called to be and what God wants for our lives. If we don’t help our kids understand who they are, then we’re not building that foundation they’re going to need. Because life is hard–We know that. If they can’t understand that their worth is in who they are, not in what they do, then we have failed with them. Defining moments can help us clarify God’s calling on our lives, but it also helps us to clarify that security. We have, no matter what else is going on, the security we have in who we are in Christ, who he has created us to be as a person, regardless of whether we’re working at McDonald’s or have become the CEO of a company.
Some books that I want to recommend–One is one that I’ve talked about before by Glenys Nellist. And that’s The Wonder that Is You as a book that can build a defining moment, an opportunity to talk about the difference that a child has made in our lives and the difference that they may make in the world.
Another book is Through Your Eyes: My Child’s Gift to Me written by Ainsley Earhardt and illustrated by Ji-Hyuk Kim. This is a beautiful book, and it’s talking about a mom and what her child taught her–how our children see the world and how that influences then how we see the world. So this is to me, a really important defining moment book. I want to read a little of this book. “The moment we met, I wrote down a list of all we would do–of what not to miss. We’d soar through the skies on a super fast plane, speed past snowy hills on a passenger train, but on a trip to the park you opened my eyes, taught me life is a gift–Every day, a surprise. You spread your arms wide, near a snarling of blue, leaping into the air, head back. You flew. You built mountains from sand, played tag with a tree. Who would have guessed you could teach me to see.” The whole book goes through how the little girl opened her mom’s eyes to see the world and to appreciate the miracles all around us. I think it’s a beautiful book and can really open up conversations to talk about who that child is and what they’ve meant to us.
And then a third book is The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin. And this one says, “When I look at you and you look at me, I wonder what wonderful things you will be. When you were too small to tell me, ‘Hello,’ I knew you were someone I wanted to know. This is the first time there’s ever been you. So I wonder what wonderful things you will do.” And so this is just a very cute book written to a child as well. There are many wonderful stories that as we’re talking through the beauty of the words that are spoken, the creativity that’s happening in the book, the relationship between the characters in the story, that can also open up opportunities to have these conversations with our kids.
Thinking about how we talk about our kids, to other people is also very important. And that is where a lot of those defining moments come. I remember even as an adult, when I got engaged to my husband, my dad was out of town. And so he didn’t know, he actually didn’t even know I’d started dating because my husband and I only dated a week before we got engaged because we’d been best friends for three years. So when we knew, we knew that we were going to get married. And I said, “Dad, I need to talk to you.” And I told him I was engaged. And he’s like “To who?” Cause when he left, I wasn’t even dating anyone. So he started giving me the third degree, but he’s asking me how I knew I was supposed to marry him. And I answered all of his questions, but I thought he probably thinks I’m ridiculous because it boils down to I had prayed and knew that this was the man God wanted me to marry. And at that point, my dad was not really close to God, and so I thought he would just think I was a foolish girl and silly for answering that way. But then we’re at my sister’s wedding reception, and I overheard him telling the story of how we had tried to kill him by telling him we were both engaged on the same night. And then he started talking about how he gave me the third degree. Cause I had told him first. And so he gave me the third degree and he didn’t do that to Tammy because by the time she told him that she was engaged, I had already given him all the right answers. And that’s all he said, but it just hit me. And I realized, he thought I had given legitimate, intelligent answers. And that meant the world to me. It kind of gave a vote of confidence that he believed in me, believed in my faith and in my ability to make choices. It just kind of affirmed everything. And I loved that. And so sometimes our kids will overhear what we say about them. We may not think to tell them something to their face, but we say things about them. These can be defining moments, good or bad. So I think we have to be very careful what we say about our children because they’re listening many times, and, without meaning to, we can say something that really changes how they think about themselves.
Another book that I think is affirming and could open up a lot of conversation, and I think I’ve shared this once before, but I can’t remember, but it’s called After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat. It’s talking about Humpty Dumpty, and he fell off the wall, but not only did he fall off the wall and nearly die, he was afraid of heights after that. In the story, it talks about him overcoming that fear and facing that fear and moving forward. So I think it’s a powerful book, and it’s done with humor. It’s done with great crazy illustrations. And of course it adds to the old nursery rhyme. So I think it’s just an excellent, excellent book.
And then I love Matthew Paul Turner’s book illustrated by Kimberly Barns When I Pray for You. And he’s also written When God Made You. And this book says, “From the moment I saw you, I started to pray big prayers and small wins I have sent God’s way. I prayed as I held you. When you sat in my lap, I prayed while we rocked, as you peacefully napped, as you took your first steps. And when you started to run, as I pushed you on swing sets or we skipped in the sun, I prayed you felt safe, full of joy, and content–that when I whispered, ‘I love you,’ you knew what I meant.” It says toward the end, “Because when I pray for you, no matter what we go through, the dreams that you dream, I’ll be dreaming them too. At the moment, you realize it’s time to explore, all pray God gives you wings and like an Eagle you’ll soar. I’ll pray where you go, that wherever you land, you’ll find purpose and meaning and a role in God’s plan.” And so that’s just such a beautiful book.
Another book is The Oak Inside the Acorn by Max Lucado and illustrated by George Angelini. And I love this book. It says, “The acorn looked at the world around him. Green hills rolled their backs in the distance. Bright daisies bloomed below him. Above him a family of puffy white clouds floated through the blue sky. The world looks so big. The little acorn said to his mother, ‘I’m just glad to be right here with you.’ His mother was a tall, beautiful Oak tree. ‘I’m glad too, my little acorn. It’s good for you to be here with me now, but when your time comes to go into the world, you’ll be fine.’ ‘I’ll be afraid.’ Mother Oak hugged little acorn in her strong branches, ‘Within you is a great Oak, little acorn. Just be the tree God made you to be.’ The thought of letting go and leaving the safety of his mother’s branches was scary to little acorn. So he tried not to think about it, but deep down inside, he knew the time was coming. One by one, his brothers and sisters had been letting go and saying goodbye. They had been afraid too, but their mother had assured them with the same words, ‘Within you is a great oak. Just be the tree God made you to be.’ Each time he heard this, little acorn would look at himself and say, ‘An Oak in me?’ He was so small. It was hard for him to believe he could ever be a tree.” So then it goes through, throughout the whole story is the story of this little acorn, and it’s intertwined with the story of this little girl, because the acorn winds up being planted as a small tree in this yard. And as the tree grows, eventually the farmer puts a swing in the tree for this little girl. And it says, “Big Oak was just awakening from a long winters nap. His leaves tiny buds when a young farmer brought two ropes and tied them to one of his strong branches. Close by a little girl watched. Rosie Rose was puzzled. ‘What’s it for, Big Oak?’ ‘I don’t know,’ Big Oak answered, but he soon found out.” So through most of the story, we’re talking about the acorn and his struggles and his doubts, and as he grows into this big oak tree, and then toward the middle/end of the book, we see the farmer putting a swing in the tree for his daughter. “The little girl says, ‘Can I do it, daddy? Can I swing?’ ‘Go ahead,’ urged the man, and the little girl with bright blue eyes and hair the color of daisy flowers sat in the swing. Big Oak felt the tug, but barely. He was strong, and little girl was small. With her daddy’s help, she swung forward, not too far but further the next day and farther the next. By the time the sun was hot and the flowers were plenty, she could swing alone, kicking her feet higher and higher until she could see the roof of her house. Then back, she would swing back until she seemed to look straight at the ground. Big Oak loved the sound of the little girl’s laughter, her footsteps running toward him, her squeals of delight as she swung higher and higher into the sky. Yes. Big Oak loved Little Girl. When she swung, he stood strong. When her daddy built her a tree house in Big Oak’s branches, Big Oak gladly held it. When little girl stretched out on the grass to watch the clouds float, Big Oak shaded her. She played in his branches, climbed his trunk, rested in his shadow, and together they grew each year, both taller each year, both stronger.” And then it goes on. The little girl grows up, and she’s got to leave home. One of the last pages says, “Big Girl spent many blue sky days sitting on the ground, leaning back against Big Oak’s trunk and watching the clouds drift by. Big Oak knew big girl had a big question on her mind because she said things like, ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to be.’ And ‘it’s hard to let go.’ And ‘how can I know who I am?’ Big Oak wanted to talk to Big Girl. He knew just what to say. He would say, ‘Within you is a great girl. Just be the person God made you to be. Orange trees grow oranges.’ He would say, ‘Flower plants grow flowers, and oaks–oaks grow tall enough for swings and strong enough for swinging and big enough to hold little girls until they become big girls.’ He wanted to, but he couldn’t say the words when the big girl was so sad. The little girl who used to giggle in Big Oak’s shade just sat silent, tears flowing down her cheeks. ‘It’s hard to let go, she said. Big Oak was listening, and he had an idea. He looked down. His branch had a little acorn. ‘I have a special job for you,’ Big Oak said. The next time the wind blew his branches, Big Oak let this branch shake more than the others. The little acorn popped loose and landed in big girl’s lap. Big girl picked it up and started to toss it away, but stopped. She held the little acorn in her hand and stared at it. She turned and looked up at Big Oak. ‘Were you ever this small?’ Answering her own question she continued, ‘Of course you were. You grew into a great oak from a little acorn. All you did was become what God made you to be.’ She looked again at the acorn, then back at the tree. Her eyes brightened. Do you suppose that’s what God wants me to do? Big Oak wanted to shout, ‘Yes,’ but he didn’t have to. Big Girl stood and announced, ‘Of course he does. Now. It’s time for me to let go and become the person God made me to be.’ Big Girl smiled, placed the acorn in her pocket, and began walking away. But after a few steps, she stopped and turned. She looked at the swing, the tree house. She looked at the big Oak. She walked over to him and placed a hand on his trunk. Without a word she said goodbye. Without a word, Big Oak said the same.
I love this book so much. To me, it’s one that really can open up conversations for discussing defining moments, discussing teachable things that can open up the questions and the fears and the concerns our kids have. I like this book so much that I started making acorn necklaces, and you can find those on my Etsy page if you’re interested. But I would love to see people buy this book and give it to someone with an acorn necklace.
Another book I’d like to share is The World Needs Who You Were Made to Be by Joanna Gaines and illustrated by Juliana Sweeney. And this book is very cute. She uses the analogy of making hot air balloons and how each child decides to do it differently. Some work in groups, some work alone, some plan ahead, some don’t start until they’ve got the plans all written out and others jump right in. And so it’s very cute to talk about the different ways that we work, the different ways that we create. And it acknowledges that each of us have strengths and each of us have talents. And each of us needs to be who we were made to be to make the world complete. And so I really love this. And it goes right along with talking about spiritual gifts with our children and how God appoints some to be teachers and some preachers and some have the gift of helps. And when we put all of that together, then our local church will run more smoothly because each person is doing what they’re supposed to do within the body of Christ. And this book kind of goes along those lines.
Another book I want to share with you is The Day You Begin. This book is such a lovely, lovely book. The Day You Begin by Jacquelyn Woodson and illustrated by Raphael Lopez. In this book it’s this little girl, and it says, “There will be times when you walk into a room, and no one there is quite like you. Maybe it will be your skin, your clothes, or the curl of your hair. There will be times when no one understands the way words curl from your mouth–The beautiful language of the country you left behind. ‘My name is Rigoberto. We just moved here from Venezuela.’ And because they don’t understand, the classroom will fill with laughter until the teacher quiets everyone. ‘Rigoberto from Venezuela,’ your teacher says, so soft and beautifully that your name and homeland sound like flowers blooming the first bright notes of a song. There will be times when the words don’t come. Your voice once huge, now smaller. When the teacher asks, ‘What did you do last summer?’ Tell the class your story.” And then it goes on where each child has such a fascinating story to tell that this little girl feels like she has nothing worth sharing, but then she goes ahead and shares. And as it comes to the end of the story, it says, “There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you until the day you begin to share your stories. ‘My name is Angelina, and I spent my whole summer with my little sister,’ you tell the class, your voice stronger than it was a minute ago. ‘Reading books and telling stories, and even though we were right on our own block, it was like, we got to go everywhere.’ ‘Your name is like my sister’s,’ Rigoberto says. ‘Her name is Angelina too.’ And all at once, in the room where no one else is quite like you, the world opens itself up a little wider to make some space for you. This is the day you begin to find the place inside your laughter and your lunches, your books, your travel, and your stories, where every new friend has something a little like you and something else so fabulously, not quite like you at all.” I love that book. I think it’s a very special book.
As we’re seeking defining moments this year for our kids and for ourselves, possibly, if you have some books you’d like to recommend, please post those. I welcome comments. I love hearing from you.
I want to end by sharing a quick devotional with you. I’m hoping to do that with each podcast–to share a short thought from a couple different books I really like. This one is from Grace for the Moment: 365 Devotions for Kids by Max Lucado. This is from the August 5th devotional. I’m not going in the order in the book. I’m going more by the topic of what he’s discussing. And so I’ll be jumping around. And then of course the other one I will use occasionally or have used already occasionally is Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing. Those are my two I’m kind of stuck on right now. I may introduce some others as we go along, but I thought it would be really nice just to end each podcast with a biblical thought each week. So this one has “God’s Plan for Your Life.” And it’s based on Psalm 37:4, which they have quoted here as “Enjoy serving the Lord, and he will give you what you want. When we choose to follow God’s plan, we can trust our wants and desires. Our life’s mission. Our purpose is found at the place where God’s plan and our pleasures meet. What do you love to do? What makes you happy? What gives you a sense of satisfaction? God will use those things in his plan for your life. Some people feel a need to help the poor; others enjoy leading others. At church, each of us has been made to serve God in our own special way. The things you enjoy doing are no accidents. They are important messages. The things you love to do, shouldn’t be ignored. They should be respected just as the wind turns the direction of the weather vane. So God uses the things you love to do to turn the direction of your life. God is too kind to ask you to do something you hate.” And in this devotion, then it offers some questions to ask with your children and to discuss with your children. But I like this a lot because I know a lot of people have talked about how they’re afraid to surrender to God because he’ll ask them to go to Africa, and they don’t want to go to Africa. You know, we always assume, for some reason, that God is going to ask us to do something that scares us to death or that we don’t want to do. And my experience has been that God rarely asks me to do something I don’t, in my heart of hearts, want to do. He will sometimes challenge me beyond what I think I’m capable of doing, but he always has created a desire within my heart to do the thing he’s preparing me for to do–the thing he’s calling me to. He develops an excitement and a passion in my life for whatever he’s calling me to. And that has been my experience. My entire Christian walk, the scripture in Psalms, He has always given me the desires of my heart as I have sought to follow him and obey him. And that is a promises given to all of us. If we will seek him and his ways and his wisdom that he will give us the desires of our hearts.
Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotions, questions, and discussions, and hopefully help us with teachable moments and defining moments in our lives and in our kids’ lives. I hope this discussion will spark some meaningful conversations with the children in your life. Please check out my website at TerrieHellardBrown.com. And I hope you’re enjoying the brand new year–that 2021 has already brought blessings into your life.
Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.
Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.
Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.
For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.
Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.
Disclaimer: Although Terrie majored in psychology and sociology for her bachelor’s degree and has taught AP Psychology, she is NOT a licensed therapist. She sometimes mentions items in her blog and podcast that could be considered comments on psychology, but these comments are based on ministry experience and ministering to people through the missions and church work she’s done for the past 36 years. If you have questions about psychological disorders or counseling needs, please consider finding a reputable, licensed counselor in your area. Terrie’s comments should be seen as anecdotal and ministry-experience-related or scripture-based. Thank you!