Rev. Jessica Asbell is the Minister to Children and Families at First Baptist Roswell, where she has been serving since 2012. She has written the children’s curriculum for Smyth & Helwys’s Annual Bible Study for the books of Daniel; Ezekiel; Luke; Jonah; 1 Corinthians; 1, 2, 3 John and Jude; Colossians; and The Story of Israel’s Ancestors: Living toward a Promise. She has also written for CBF’s Spark and Form and for Affect in CBF’s fellowship! magazine. Married to Jonathan Oravec, Jessica reads every chance she gets.
Why is faith important? Why is family important? And how do they work together?
Faith is our foundation. During this time of uncertainty, chaos, and fear, we turn to faith. We turn to the God who made us, because we know that He is the God who sustains. God is the only one who can give us the strength and the peace we need to make it through crises when we come undone. Our faith is especially important in times like these when all the things that we thought we could count on (even down to going to the grocery store for some) have been taken away. When our lives have been stripped down to the essentials, we realize that it is our faith in God that will see us through.
Family is the vehicle God has given us to help us grow in our faith. The church is an important place for nurturing and growing faith. But families have much more time together than the church will ever have. Family is who nurtures us and raises us. It is our community and our safety net. Family, be they chosen or blood related, are the people who help us and who nurture us. When faith and family work together, something amazing happens. We take our two foundations and create a very sturdy house out of our lives. In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, we read,
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
The Lord tells us what we should do and then says that we should impress those teachings on our children. The family is the place where faith can grow the most. The church and the family partner together to nurture the faith of a child, but it is in the family where the child’s faith has the most opportunity to grow. When families focus on faith with their children, they can create a faith foundation that will be the bedrock for that child’s whole life.
When and how did you come up with the idea to write a book of devotions for families?
I first started writing devotions for families in my first year as Children’s Minister at First Baptist Roswell. The Minister to Young Families and I started writing these together. We wanted a way to help families read the Bible more and to see how their own stories fit with the Bible. After that first year, I continued writing them alone. After about five years of writing these devotions, I wanted to find a way for more families to use all that I had written. To me, there is something powerful about seeing how your story fits in with the stories of the Bible. When you find your place in God’s story, you start to find God’s purpose for you. I wanted families to know that the Bible is still relevant and that it still speaks to us. And I also wanted kids to know the faith stories of their families. When we pass along our stories of faith, they add to our faith foundation. These stories of faith help us learn more about our families and add depth to our lives and to our faith.
What is one piece of advice you give to parents when sitting down with their kids to share the Bible and its stories?
I think my biggest piece of advice is to keep it age appropriate! There are some pretty crazy stories in the Bible. It’s important to read the story first before you read it out loud for your kids. Are there things you need to edit? Think about the point of the story. What is the writer trying to tell us? Is there a different translation that you could use to help your children better understand the story? Translations like The Message are great for kids because they paraphrase the Bible stories for us in everyday language. Translations like the King James will probably be harder for kids to understand. I would also say that kids love weird stories. Read a Bible story together that your child has never heard. Talk about how some weird things happen in the Bible, but also how some weird things happens in our own lives too. See what connections you can make with the stories of the Bible and the stories in your own lives.
What kinds of topics do your devotions cover and why do you think they are important for families to read about and discuss together?
I like to think that these devotions cover much of our human experience. They cover everything from sibling rivalry to bullying to fighting for justice to caring for the poor to anxiety and fear. In these devotions, you will hear from people of the Bible who walked by faith and people who struggled to believe. You will hear from people who praised God out of an abundance of joy and people who were praising God while in the depths of despair. These are all important topics for families to read about and discuss together so that children can see that their feelings are valid, that however they feel (happy, angry, sad, afraid, anxious, etc.) has been felt before, and is part of the human experience. These devotions give children a chance to talk about these things, and to hear from parents about how they have felt in their own lives. These topics give parents a space to share their own stories and provide questions to help both parents and children share their stories. My hope is that these devotions will make these topics easier to talk about and will help parents and children share their lives with each other.
What part of this book excited you the most to write about? What part of this book do you hope excites readers the most?
I think I ended up being most excited by the hardest part: writing my own stories. This book allowed me to think through the stories of faith in my own life, as well as my successes and failures, and the ways in which my own life has intersected with the stories of the Bible. It’s funny, one of our church members bought a copy and after a few weeks said to me, “wow, I’m really going to learn a lot about you in this book.” Yes, it’s true, you will learn a lot about my own stories of faith, of anxiety, or sibling rivalry, of fear, etc. But my hope is that you will also learn a lot about yourself. In thinking through and sharing your own stories of faith with your children, it is my hope that your family will grow closer together and will develop a richer, deeper faith from sharing your own stories.
I hope readers are most excited about sharing their stories with their children and with hearing their children’s stories. Faith is about story. The stories of faith (and of unbelief) in the Bible form the foundation of our faith. These stories are the way that God speaks to us. And so, by sharing these stories and our own, we allow our faith to grow deeper and richer, full of the faith stories of the past, the present, and the future.
In this current time of stress and the unknown, how do you think your book can help families refocus on their faith and work together to overcome fear?
There are many stories about faith in the midst of fear, anxiety, and worry in the Bible. As a result, there are many devotions in this book that talk about fear, anxiety, stress, and the unknown. These devotions remind us that thousands of years ago, others were facing the unknown. They were facing difficult times. And they were afraid. And yet, they still praised God. They praised God in the face of death. They praised God when running from their enemies. In the Psalms, David writes, “When I am afraid, I will trust in You.” As David wrote/sung this, he was running for his life. These devotions remind us that it is okay to feel afraid, to worry, and to be anxious. But they also serve as reminders that in the midst of everything we feel, God is there. And that we can trust Him. It is my hope that in this time of fear and chaos, that you and your family will feel God’s presence, that you will praise Him in the midst of the unknown and the uncertainty. And that these stories will remind you that you can always trust in God. You can have faith in God, because He does not change. You can have faith that God’s love is bigger than anything that is happening. And you can have faith that God is always there, walking beside you.