Review: Heartbreak Trail

Once again, my review book is for the kids rather than for me. I snatch just about everything I can for my voracious young readers! And, we’re back to Andrea Carter and the Circle C Ranch with book two of Susan K. Marlow’s Circle C Milestones series.

In the Circle C Milestones series, Andi is growing up. That maturity reveals itself greatly in Heartbreak Trail. As Andi’s fifteenth birthday approaches, she has no interest in the feminine quinceañera that typically accompanies the coming of age of a young girl in Andi’s community. Instead, her one desire is to join her brothers on the annual cattle drive. When she miraculously gets her wish, however, Andi quickly discovers that a cattle drive is not quite the type of excitement she’d always imagined.

I have a little difficulty reviewing Heartbreak Trail. Because Andi is growing up, my 9-year-old son, the one who enjoys the Circle C series the most, is losing interest in Andi’s story. (She is a girl, after all.)And although my 12-year-old daughter typically devours every book in sight and will read Heartbreak Trail, it’s not really her favorite genre. My 14-year-old has never really gotten into the series at all.

The book is labeled as young adult fiction, which really puts it in the 14-18 age range. In all honesty, though, I would only hand this to a 14-16 year old who really needs to be pushed to read. For a more solid reader – even an average reader, I’d keep Heartbreak Trail in the 8-14 range. But, I can see it also being a fun family read-aloud for a much wider age range. Joining as a family in a story like this makes it much more fun and effective!

Now, having all of that behind me, let me say this: I really like the story in Heartbreak Trail. Andi has to learn to swallow her pride and admit she’s been wrong. But, she also has to learn to stick with her commitment and persevere when times get challenging. Very challenging. The lessons she learns are such beneficial lessons, and are often much more easily impressed on a child or teen when presented in story form than when simply instructed.

Bottom Line: I really enjoy the Circle C stories. I don’t see the Circle C Milestones as fitting into the young adult age range unless they are used as a family read-aloud. But, this is a book I’d be highly inclined to find a place for, if only to teach the character lessons.

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Review: Marie Durand

I have officially dubbed this month “Crazy July.” The craziness is resulting in a pushing of the limits on just about every deadline on my calendar, including this review of Marie Durand by Simonetta Carr. But, I must say that this is definitely a book worth making time for!

My family has grown to greatly love Simonetta Carr’s Christian Biographies for Young Readers series, published by Reformation Heritage Books. The beautiful picture-book style format makes them great for use with young children, but the depth of content engages older students – and even adults – as well. Although none of these books will offer the extensive details of a full-length biography, they are perfect for challenging glimpses into the lives of Christian heroes. And those glimpses will, in many cases, drive readers to further study.

Marie Durand introduced me to a name I’d never heard before. Born in France to a Protestant family in an age when Protestants were not tolerated, young Marie’s life was anything but easy. Marie’s mother was arrested for allowing her property to be used for a Protestant worship service. That same night, Marie’s brother Pierre had to flee for his life for actively recruiting worship attendees. Marie was only seven years old.

Ten years later, Marie’s father was arrested in an effort to force Pierre, now a pastor, to come out of hiding or stop preaching. Only two years after that, nineteen year old Marie and her new husband were both arrested simply for being related to Pierre. She would spend the next thirty-eight years in prison.

Marie Durand chronicles the conditions Marie and other Protestant French women endured during their imprisonment. Over the years, Marie wrote many letters in an effort to attract the sympathy of officials and the public and secure the prisoners’ release. She also bolstered the confidence and spirits of her fellow prisoners and their children.

Aimed at a target audience in the seven to twelve age range, Marie Durand deals with tough topics, yet keeps the content appropriate for the age at hand. I love this, because it stretches the minds of young children, presenting age-appropriate content while not talking down to children. The book is also divided into manageable chapters and includes interesting additional time-period information, making it easy to turn this book into a short daily reading or even a unit study.

Bottom Line: This most recent addition to the Christian Biographies for Young Readers definitely lives up to the quality established from the beginning of the series. I heartily recommend it for readers of all ages.

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Going On

We’ve all heard the stories of the church growing dramatically. Sometimes the growth results from gospel being heard for the first time. Other growth comes in response to persecution. Still other growth begins when hearts that have been simply going through the motions are suddenly revived.

I love hearing – and experiencing – any such growth stories. But, my favorite stories remain the earliest ones. The biblical ones. Like this one:

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. Acts 9:31 NASB

Do you see the amazing information packed into this verse?

  1. The church enjoyed peace.

    This was really the first time of peace for the church. It started under mild persecution, as the Apostles were threatened by the Jewish leaders who thought their problems had ended when they got rid of Jesus. Surprise!

    For the most part, though, it seems as if the persecution relaxed a bit and preaching, teaching, meeting, and growing occurred without too many issues. But, if you’ve ever been in a growing church, you know there are other issues. Internal issues. Growing pains. We see a glimpse of these issues in the argument between the Hellenistic and Jewish widows. I have a feeling that was not the only growing pain.

    Then came the massive persecution at the hands of Saul following Stephen’s martyrdom. The believers were scattered, and the gospel spread.

    Only after Saul traveled that life-changing Damascus road did peace come.

  2. Being built up.

    Consider the beginning of the chapter. Saul was trying to tear down the church. Now, the threat from Saul is gone, and it seems like the rest of the Jews have lost their steam – or that they’re more focused on Saul than the whole church.

    So, what once was being torn down is now being built up. It is interesting to note that this verb refers not to something that the church was accomplishing on their own. They were not building themselves up, but were being built up. The action of the Lord Himself accomplished this growth. He’d established His church in challenge. Now He was growing His church in peace. He acted. They received.

  3. And going on.

    This is the one I really love. The church went on, acting on what they’d learned in the time of challenge.

    So often, we see the opposite in the lives of individual Christians and churches as a whole. We band together and lean on Christ in the challenge, but when the peace comes, we relax. We separate. We do not go on, persisting in the foundation established during the challenge. Instead, we act as if those foundational behaviors are only for the times of challenge, waiting for us to return to if the need arises.

    But the early church had no concept of that. Perhaps it was a side effect of being established in challenge. They knew nothing else. So, they continued in what they knew, and they “continued to increase” because of it.

We often discuss emulating the early church in order to be truly biblical in our methods. I think right here is the first place we need to look. We need to choose to go on “in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit,” no matter what our circumstances.

Then, my friends – oh, then! – let’s just hang on. Because the growth will truly be glorious!

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Marriage Monday: My Competent Spouse, Pt 2

Last week, we discussed the reality that our husbands are truly competent. But, what does that look like practically? How can we affirm the competency of our spouses?

Here are a few things I’ve learned along my marital journey (and am still learning!):

Does It Matter?

There are times when I look at something my husband has done, and the perfectionistic monster arises within me. I want to go behind him and correct, do it my way. So, I stop and ask myself why it matters. Is it really problematic, or is it just preferential? Is my preference worth correction, criticism, and derision? The more I practice asking myself these questions, the more I find that the answer is, “No!”

A Little Honesty, Please

When it does matter, I should be honest about it. Some days, I need a little more order and structure. So, if I go back and straighten that comforter just a bit more, I should do it with honesty, admitting that this is a day when having the little things done my way will help me cope with the greater chaos of life just a little more easily.

There are also times when I have information my husband doesn’t have, requiring a tweak to how he accomplished something. I must remember this, though: My perfectionistic days should be very much the exception, and any necessary tweaks should be explained clearly and positively.

Sharing is Good

It’s also very important to blur the lines of responsibility sometimes as well. In our family, Doug takes on most of the ministry responsibilities, and I tackle the homeschooling. We try to share the overall family needs, although that system fluxes depending on whether or not our circumstances allow Doug to work from home.

Sometimes, though, those responsibilities overlap. Or, one of us is in a situation of needing to let go and allow the other to help. It’s okay to step outside of our standard roles – and I need to trust him to be able to handle a role he does not normally fill.

Going Public

Most importantly, though, I must publicly support his competence. It is culturally acceptable – and even encouraged – to bad-mouth our spouses in public. To joke about the things they don’t do well. As a godly wife and help meet, I should do the opposite. I should build up his strengths, not declare his weaknesses. The more I brag about him publicly, the more I see his strengths and the less I even consider his weaknesses.

Please know that I understand there are all types of marriages in today’s world. There are times when a husband truly is incompetent, and to say otherwise would be lying. If you are in that sort of marriage, please honestly and openly seek help!

But, Christian wives, God has given us the honor and privilege of being help meets to our husbands. Let’s reflect that honor by building them up and praising their competence!

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Marriage Monday: My Competent Spouse, Pt. 1

We’re all guilty of it, aren’t we? We’d rather do things ourselves because someone else couldn’t possibly do it correctly. Or maybe just not well enough.

Okay, okay – no one else can do it MY way!

This seems to be especially true of our spouses.

The old-fashioned, King James word for a wife’s relationship to her husband is “help meet.” Many see that to be a subservient, inferior, or negative term. But, I love it. It reminds me that I have the incredible privilege of supporting, strengthening, encouraging, and building up my amazing husband. What an honor! What a joy!

Yet when I indicate that my husband is incompetent by criticizing how he accomplishes tasks, or when I jump to do things because I don’t believe he can do them well enough, I relinquish that honorable role. Instead of supporting and building up, I tear down. My criticisms weaken and discourage him when I should instead be strengthening and encouraging him with my words.

Ladies, our husbands are incredibly competent. No, they do not do things the same way we do. They do not make decisions according to our fashion. And, in some areas, it is true – we do certain things better than they do. But don’t forget that there are many, many other ways in which they are more accomplished.

And in every way, they are competent.

We live in a society that argues equality. Woman has to be as strong as man. As successful as man. As accomplished as man. As capable as man. I could go on and on.

Unfortunately, that mentality sets women up to diminish men. Why? Because until we are truly as accomplished, we must find a way to bring them down to our level to even the playing field.

Fortunately, we have truth on our side! We know that God created each of us beautifully. He created husband and wife to fit together in perfection for the purpose of glorifying Him as a single unit.

What a beautiful picture!!

Ladies, our husbands might not notice what we notice. They might not complete tasks just like we do. But, instead of being critical of them because of it, what if we were to recognize that their differences are amazingly wonderful?

What if we were to praise their competence?

Oh, what a difference it would make in our marriages! Oh what an example it would present to this world! Oh, what a pattern it would establish for our children!

And oh, how it would raise the head and shoulders of our incredibly competent husbands, allowing them the freedom to walk in strength and honor.

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Choosing Our Light

This morning, we awoke to a bright, cloudless sky. Our home has many windows that let in the bright sunshine on clear days, so on days like this we frequently don’t even have to turn on interior lights. The sunshine streaming in through the windows might not be as bright and strong as our electric lights, but it’s sufficient.

This afternoon, clouds are moving in ahead of anticipated weekend storms. As the clouds build, we alternate between bright sunshine and darkening shade. In some rooms, we’re turning on lights to counteract the game of peekaboo the sun seems to be playing.

When a storm system actually arrives, though, I expect a very different story. The front will solidly entrench itself, and heavy storm clouds will block the sun. In our home, we’ll have to use the lights that do not receive much use during a sunny stretch.

For so long, Christians in the United States have lived much as we do in our home. We’ve been content with the light of the cloudless or partly cloudy skies of morality, rarely seeing the need to turn on our lights of Christ-likeness. Why? Because we mistakenly equate Christianity and morality, thinking the light of morality is enough.

Clouds of trouble do cover the sun briefly, and we turn on our lights for a while, taking a stand for godliness. But, because the storm has not yet arrived in all of its ferocity, we inevitably turn off our lights of godliness when the sun of morality emerges from the clouds again.

Recently, the Supreme Court handed down a decision that has once again blocked the light of morality. While many Christians are in full-fledged panic mode over this decision, the reality is that this is just another bout of cloudiness – maybe even a thunder-shower – ahead of the real storm front.

But, what if we as Christians responded to this shower differently? What if we chose to turn on our lights of godliness once and for all? What if we decided to stop relying on the intermittent light of morality and made a move to operate instead in the consistent and full light of godliness?

It’s a frightening thought for American Christians, to be honest. Such an action would mark us even more profoundly than morality ever did, perhaps even expediting our progress toward persecution.

But, it would also establish us firmly in a light that can never be dimmed.

The light of morality, grounded in a false belief that man is inherently good, was destined to be extinguished. Scripture reminds us that all goodness is bound up in Christ – man is sinful, not good. Without Christ, even the most moral of Americans will eventually bow to the lie of equality.

Do I like the decision that was handed down by the Supreme Court? No. Has it robbed reason to rejoice? Again, no. On the contrary, it has actually given me reason to rejoice. Why? Because now a few more Christians will choose to move from the fading light of morality into the never-failing light of godliness. They will grow closer to Christ through it. They will become stronger witnesses for Him because of it. And more of the lost and dying in this world will come to saving faith as a result of it.

And that, my friends, is why I rejoice, even in the face of those inevitable storm clouds.

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Marriage Monday: Entrusting the “Real”

As I have been pondering how to restart Marriage Monday posts, a question has been rattling around in my mind. So, this morning, I present it to you.

Who sees the “real” of your marriage?

What do I mean by “real”? Well, think about it this way. We all have a public marriage and a private one.

The public marriage, obviously, is the one everyone sees. The public marriage reveals much, to be sure, as others see how we interact as spouses. Are we kind to one another in public? Do we speak positively or negatively to and of one another? Are we affectionate, or do we tend to keep that private?

The private marriage, however, has multiple facets. There are certain aspects of the private marriage that should stay only between a husband and wife. Period.

But there are other aspects of the private marriage that don’t automatically have to be fully restricted. In fact, these are the aspects our children see day in and day out. They know the nitty gritty of how we treat one another in the privacy of our own home. They know the “real” of Mama and Daddy’s marriage.

Those are the aspects that I mean when I ask who sees the “real” of your marriage. The things that are typically only seen at home. Some good, some bad. But definitely not the picture that the wide world sees. And, in truth, it’s not necessarily things we want the wide world to see.

That does not mean, though, that we need to hide this aspect of marriage from everyone. Some people need to see the “real” of our marriages. And we need those people – and the sharing that comes with them.

On the day our moving trucks arrived at the new house, the Choate family, some of our dearest friends, came to help tackle day one chaos. If anyone knows moving, it is the Choates. They move every few months in their service as Wycliffe Bible Translators in the Solomon Islands. They definitely know what it takes to become quickly functional after a move, and they were ready and able to dive in right alongside us.

But, Aaron and Joanna also understand something else. They fully grasp the kind of pressures moving puts on a marriage. Those little moments of miscommunication. The ways different personalities prioritize what needs to be done and when. The stress of chaos and a lack of routine. The effects of exhaustion.

It was so freeing to not have to hide those moments of strain from our dear friends. And, it was even more beautiful to have Aaron look at us and say, “I’m already praying for your marriage through all of this.”

That kind of friendship is not only priceless, it is essential. As couples, we need friends we can trust with the nitty gritty of marriage. Friends who understand the private victories and can help pray through the private struggles. Friends who see and grasp.

So, I ask again: Who sees the “real” of your marriage? Anyone? If there is no one, then my prayer for you this week is that God will provide those friends for you and your spouse. Friends who see. Friends who understand. Friends who will listen, rejoice, and fight with you. Friends who know that the struggles solidify your marital bond. And above all, friends who know how to pray for your marriage in all seasons.

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