Five Things

Five Things I Want My Daughters to Know

Five Things I Want my Daughters to Know // by Leslie Ann Jones

Parenting has never been easy, I know, but it seems extra challenging these days. This world seems intent on making our babies grow up too fast, and we're constantly pushing back against the messages they're taking in every day. As parents trying to raise children in a way that honors and points to Christ, it's our job to replace those messages with Truth.

They're growing up, and it's happening fast. Before long, they'll leave the safety of our home and venture out into the big, wide world, and these are the things that I want them to know deep, deep down in their hearts when they go.


1. You Are So Very Loved

More than anything, I want my girls to know that they are loved. They are loved by me. They are loved by their dad. They are loved by their grandparents. They are loved by their aunts and uncles. They are loved by their cousins. They are loved by their friends. They are loved by their church family. And, most importantly, they are loved by God. 

We all want to be loved (go ahead, cue the old school DC Talk); it's a God-given desire that's hard-wired into our systems. Our need to be seen, to be noticed, to be known, and to be loved is part of our design. God has made us to crave the very thing that he provides in endless supply.

God's love for us is a "Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love" (Sally Lloyd-Jones). He has seen us at our most unlovely, and, here's the kicker, he has loved us anyway. This is a great relief, because it means that his love for us isn't dependent on how good or funny or perfect or pretty or witty we are. It's dependent on his faithfulness. God loves us because he loves us. Period.

I didn't understand that kind of love until I became a parent, but now that I'm a mother, I can't imagine it any other way. With every lunch I pack, ponytail I fix, book I read, and bath I give, I am showing them what faithful love looks like. I love them when they are willfully disobedient and I love them when they behave like angels. Nothing they do could ever make me love them more—or less—than I already do. I love them because I love them. Period.

"For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:6-8, ESV)


2. Pretty Comes from The Inside

Every little girl, and grown woman for that matter, wants to feel pretty. My girls were barely walking when they began swishing their skirts and playing with my makeup in front of the mirror. 

"Do I look pretty, Mama?" is a fairly common question around here. And of course, the answer is always, "YES!" But whenever it arises, I have a follow-up ready: "Where does pretty come from?" They roll their eyes but answer me anyway, "Pretty comes from the inside, Mama." "That's right!" I answer. "Pretty isn't about how you look. It's about who you are."

I say it out loud, and I say it often, because I want them to know the Truth. It's not the dress or the lip gloss that makes them beautiful. It's the joy that makes their eyes sparkle and the kindness that softens their features. It's the confidence that comes from knowing that they're loved and the radiance that exudes from them when they pursue their passions. I could go on and on and on here, but you get the point.

Their beauty stems from the character that God is shaping within them—how they look on any given day has nothing to do with it.

"Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight, is very precious." (1 Peter 3:3-4, ESV)


3. You Can Do Hard Things

A couple of summers ago, I spent every morning in the shallow end of the pool, trying to help our youngest daughter swim. The struggle was real, y'all. It wasn't pretty. In fact, it was quite exasperating. I knew that if she would just let go of her fear, she could master swimming, but she couldn't do it as long as she believed that she couldn't. So I taught her something else to believe instead. 

Here's the conversation we had about 6,839 times that summer.

"I can't do it, Mommy! I'm scared!"

"I know you are sweetie. But what else are you?"

"I am brave. I am tough. I am strong."

"That's right, sweet girl. You are. And what can you do?"

"I can do hard things."

"Yes. Yes, you can. I'll be right here beside you."

Before she could swim, she needed to believe both in her ability to do it and in my ability to help her. It took a lot of convincing and reassurance, but she eventually got there. And just so you know, she swims like a fish these days. She even got to compete on our little pool's swim team this summer, and she had a blast. Watching her swim 25 meters basically on her own made me so proud, because I knew exactly how much she had overcome to get there.

Here's the thing. Sometimes the tasks we face can be pretty daunting, even downright scary, but that doesn't mean that we can't do them. It just means that we might need to work a little harder, and maybe ask for some outside assistance, to get it done. The truth is that God sometimes gives us a task that we absolutely cannot accomplish on our own. We can only do it with a little perseverance and a lot of his help, and that's OK. Because when we are weak, he is strong.

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV)


4. Nobody's Perfect

I feel obligated to go ahead and add "except Jesus" to the end of this one because I know that some of you are thinking it. Hold your horses, though. I'll get there in a minute.

Because perfectionism is one of my biggest struggles, it breaks my heart to see it emerging in our oldest daughter. One word of correction or wrong answer on a test can send that child into a tailspin. I watch her striving and struggling to be the best, and when she inevitably fails (because that's life), devastation follows.

Now, I'm not saying that I don't want my girls to do their best or to work hard. Of course I do! But perfectionism takes a healthy desire to perform well and twists it into an unhealthy obsession with impossibly high standards. It's debilitating and exhausting and a burden that we were never meant to carry.

I want my children to learn how to fail, and to do it with grace. To know that they're not going to be the best at everything. They won't make a 100 on every single test. They will make mistakes. They will mess up. They will not win every game. And that's OK.

Because newsflash. We're human. We have limits. There are things that are simply beyond us. Only when we finally accept that Truth can we lean in to the grace that God gives us for this very reason. God does not expect us, nor does he ask us to be perfect, because he knows that it is beyond our capabilities. He is perfect, so we don't have to be. The sooner we accept it, the better.

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV)


5. Love is a Choice Worth Making

I don't know what it's like at your house, but in ours, this one is particularly challenging in the playroom, where fights constantly erupt over who gets to choose the game or play with the best Barbie. Selfishness, pride, and hurt feelings are the culprits behind most of our battles, and when they raise their ugly heads, we do our best to replace them with love.

Love doesn't always come naturally, but choosing to love—especially when we don't feel like it, or we think we've been wronged, or the other person doesn't deserve it—is always worth it. Sometimes love is a sacrifice that feels too big to make, but it's our best chance to show the world what Jesus is like. We love each other well so that others may see and know the love of God working in us.

It's important, y'all. We practice loving well at home in the hope that it bleeds over into our outside lives as well. We do this by...

  • Sharing our favorite things.
  • Choosing kindness instead of lashing out.
  • Giving grace and offering forgiveness.
  • Using words to build up rather than destroy.
  • Generously showing physical affection.
  • Spending time together.
  • Listening to one another.
  • Celebrating victories together.
  • Sharing in each other's pain.
  • Being good helpers.

These are small things, I know, but all together, they will transform your home into a place of peace, safety, and warmth. We want our home to be a safe haven not just for our girls, but also for anyone who walks through the door. For that to happen, it must be a place where love abounds.

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35, ESV)


As parents, it's our job to prepare our children for the world out there. We're getting there bit by bit. These five things are the foundation for all the other lessons we'll have to teach them along the way. We'll get to those eventually...for now, this is a good place to start.

Until next time, grace and peace.

Five Ways to Make Christmas Meaningful

Five Ways to Make Christmas Meaningful: Practical ways you can restore the meaning of Christmas to the season.

Hey y'all! Are you feeling as overwhelmed with the season as I am?? The past few weeks have been absolutely insane for our family. In between all the normal stuff of life, we've been to birthday parties and Thanksgiving dinners, potluck suppers, and choir performances. On the agenda for this weekend? Dennis' company Christmas party, the city Christmas parade, two birthday parties, and decorating gingerbread houses at the library. 

It's easy to lose sight of the meaning of Christmas in all of the hustle and bustle, but thankfully, there are a few things we can do to savor the Christmas season, even with a full calendar. Here are five things that work for our family.

1. Observe Advent.

If you grew up in a non-liturgical church like I did, you may be unfamiliar with Advent, but don't let that scare you off! Advent simply means "to come." In the church, the season of Advent is the four weeks before Christmas—it's a time of holy expectation and preparation for the coming of the Savior. One way we observe Advent in our family is by lighting an Advent wreath at dinner every night. We talk about the candles and Jesus coming to earth, then we say a prayer and eat supper. It's that simple. The whole thing only takes a few minutes, but it's a great way to intentionally turn our hearts toward the light of Christ as a family. 

2. Practice Generosity.

In this season of spending and gifting, we take care to remember the poor and the marginalized. My children love looking through the Christmas gift catalog from Compassion International each year. I let them make a list of everything they would like to give, and we talk about how a goat can provide food and income for a family, or how some children don't have enough good food to keep them healthy and strong, or how not everyone has access to clean water. It helps us, as a family, focus on what others need instead of what we want. It's a tangible way for us to teach our children that we give generously because God has been generous with us.

3. Purchase with Purpose.

Another way we make Christmas meaningful is by giving gifts that do good. More and more businesses these days are giving back in ways that matter. Over the past few years, I've really tried to give my dollars to companies that are interested in more than the bottom line. I've intentionally sought out businesses that provide jobs and opportunity to people in need, and I add items to my own wish list from those shops. Seriously y'all, the concept of purposeful purchasing is so important to me that I incorporated it into my own shop, and a portion of every single purchase from the LAJ Shop goes directly to Amazima Ministries. If you, like me, are looking for meaningful gifts that matter, check out my Purchase with Purpose pinboard. With Christmas right around the corner, there's no better time to make your dollars count.

4. Slow Down.

I have a confession to make. We're still in the process of putting up the Christmas tree. I know, I know, we're behind, but slowing down has been an intentional choice this year. If you view the four weeks before Christmas as a season of waiting and preparation, then there's no rush to hang the tinsel before the turkey is out of the oven on Thanksgiving day. Black Friday and Cyber Monday have duped us into thinking that we have to have all our Christmas ducks in a row right after Thanksgiving, but y'all, that's a lie. Your halls don't have to be decked in all their splendor for the whole entire season. It takes time to prepare your heart for Christmas—it's OK to let your home reflect the process too.

Did you know that historically speaking, this cramming of Christmas into the weeks before December 25 is a new thing? Traditionally, Christmas was celebrated for the 12 days after Christmas, not the 25 days before. So this year, don't get in a rush. Slow down. Savor the season. Let it linger. And by all means, feel free to leave your tree up for the entire 12 Days of Christmas. You now have permission not to take it down until January 6. You're welcome.

5. Embrace Wonder.

This one is probably the most important, but it's also the hardest to do when your life is crammed full to the brim with activities and parties and everything else the Christmas season throws at you. The struggle is real. I get it. But y'all, you'll never capture the wonder of Christmas if you can't learn to slow down and chill out. I don't have it all figured out, but I'm trying. I'm carving out a few minutes every day to reflect on the sheer miracle of God becoming flesh. To let myself be amazed by the Living Word.

The God we serve is not one who stood idly by while the world went to hell in a handbasket. No. He left heaven. For you. For me. He came down. He pierced the darkness with his blazing light. He burst into our world and became the lowest of the low to fix the brokenness within us. If that doesn't give you pause, I don't know what will. The miracle of the incarnation is nothing short of remarkable. Extraordinary. Spectacular. Glorious.

Don't let the wonder slip past you. Grab onto it and hold on tight. It is the true meaning of Christmas, and if you want to make your Christmas meaningful, you have to start there.

Until next time, grace and peace.

Five Books to Help You Study the Bible


So. I'm part of a women's Bible study that meets weekly at church, and last week, we took some time to share some of our favorite devotionals and books with one another. The whole session got me to thinking about what books I would recommend to someone who wants to study the Bible a bit more seriously than the average church-goer.

I grew up in church, and though I'm incredibly grateful for that background, for the most part, I was biblically illiterate by the time I got to college. Don't get me wrong. I knew the stories, and I even knew tons of verses by heart, but I didn't know a thing about Israel's history or how it played into the Bible's overall message. I didn't know anything about the exile, or the divided kingdom, or even the patriarchs for that matter. I knew the Roman Road, but I couldn't see the Big Picture of the Bible. I had never even heard the word covenant. I was clueless.

It was sitting in an Old Testament class at Mississippi State that Israel's story was first broken down for me. And it was in the New Testament class the next semester that I formed a picture of what the early church may have looked like. Those classes ignited within me a passion and hunger for reading, understanding, and teaching the Word of God to believers who may be a little on the clueless side (just like I was). 

Studying the Bible can be intimidating, to say the least. First of all, you have to figure out where to start, and once you get started, there's the problem of deciphering what in the world the text is saying. I promise that you don't have to go to seminary to understand what the Bible says—there are tons of books to help you with that. A good study Bible is always a helpful tool to help you understand what's going on, but if  you want to go a little deeper, then you're in luck. Here are five books to help you get started.

1. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Fee & Stuart). I really can't recommend this book enough. It covers everything from the differences between translations to the various genres of literary forms used throughout the Bible. You wouldn't interpret the poetry of the Psalms in the same way that you would one of Paul's letters. This book teaches you the difference between the two and how to rightly handle each one. I highly, highly recommend this book.

2. A Survey of the Old Testament (Hill & Walton). We used this book in my Old Testament Survey classes at Beeson. It's not a book that you would read cover to cover, but it's a great reference tool. Let's say you're following a Bible reading plan that has you reading Ezekiel this month. That's a tough nut to crack, to say the least. So, you pull this book off the shelf and read the chapter on Ezekiel to give some context to your reading. It will give you a general idea of when the book was written and what was going on in Israel at that point in time. It will also give you an outline and introduce major themes that you'll find in the book. It's a super handy tool to keep on your shelf.

3. Old Testament Theology (House). Y'all. This book is a treasure. And I'm not just saying that because the author, Dr. Paul House, was one of my favorite professors in seminary. I'm saying it because it's the truth. If you want to learn more about the character of God as it is revealed in the Old Testament, this book is for you. In each chapter, Dr. House demonstrates how we can see a different aspect of God's character in the separate books of the the Old Testament. In Ezekiel, he is the God Who Is Present. In Isaiah, he is the God Who Saves. In Ecclesiastes, he is the God Who Defines Meaningful Living. You get the picture. Seriously. So good.

4. Encountering the New Testament (Elwell & Yarbrough). This is a great introductory text on the New Testament. We didn't use it in my seminary classes, but my New Testament professor referred to it often, and I purchased the book after I finished her class to keep for reference. This one is similar to the Hill & Walton book above, except it covers the New Testament. You'll learn about the authors of each book and when exactly it was written, as well as the major themes of each book and a basic outline. If you're studying 1 Corinthians, you can turn to the corresponding chapter and learn what the city of Corinth was like at the time Paul wrote the letter. And, bonus, this one is full of pretty pictures and maps. Great reference book to add to your collection.

5. Theology of the New Testament (Thielman). This one was written by another one of my favorite professors, Dr. Frank Thielman, and it's priceless. He does a fantastic job of looking at the historical situation of each book and then interpreting the theology of each one accordingly. It's a great theological introduction to the various books of the New Testament, as it highlights the major concerns of each book and helps you understand why it matters. It's a keeper, for sure.

Now that you have the lowdown on the books, there are a couple of things I want you to keep in mind. These books use big words sometimes. Words that aren't used very often outside of theological education. If it makes you feel any better, I spent my first semester of seminary looking up all sorts of words I didn't understand. So even though a dictionary isn't officially part of this list, I'd say you should keep one at hand to look up words like hermeneutics and exegesis and eschatology. Don't let the big words scare you off. You can do this. I promise.

Aside from the big words, some of these books also have big price tags. I wouldn't want to go out and buy them all at one time. Feel free to build your library slowly. If you're working your way through the Old Testament, just spring for the Old Testament books. But at the very least, please buy How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. It's a game changer. I promise.

Until next time, grace and peace.