Posted in Reviews

The Elusive Miss Ellison

The popularity of television shows such as Downton Abbey reflects a literary popularity that has been steadily growing for some time now. Authors who loved Jane Eyre and the various heroes and heroines of Jane Austen as teens are now penning their own Christian versions of stories from the same period of history.

I did love Jane Eyre as a teenager, but only recently has my overall taste for historical fiction branched from my preferred American pioneer or World War II genres to include the collision of the genteel and popular British culture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. So, I recognize that I still have much to learn. The various ranks and habits of the British nobility remain a bit unfamiliar to me. The stories, however, are very fascinating.

As with other favorite genres, I am trying to explore new authors as I have the opportunity. Carolyn Miller’s The Elusive Miss Ellison came up for review through Kregel, and the plot sounded intriguing. I was not disappointed!

Miss Lavinia Ellison is the not-so-eligible daughter of Reverend Ellison and crusader for the plights of the poor villagers in her father’s parish. When Nicholas Stamford, the new Earl of Hawkesbury, arrives to evaluate the situation of his holdings, he finds Lavinia Ellison formidable, opinionated, and disturbingly intriguing.

The Elusive Miss Ellison is very obviously a romance. Readers know quickly that the anticipated romantic tension will exist between Nicholas and Lavinia, and it is obvious that the pair will be forced to conquer challenges posed by the expectations of two very different social stations. It is not an uncommon theme for romantic fiction of this genre. So, what makes this particular novel stand out?

I enjoyed “watching” the relationships explored in The Elusive Miss Ellison. Friendships, both new and longstanding, formed a foundation for the story. But, my favorite relationships were those that quietly and steadily shared the love of Christ. It was fascinating to watch various characters discover the spiritual standing of other characters. I also enjoyed the fact that the Christians in Carolyn Miller’s novel were real people who had to work through their faults and struggles like anyone else – but they had both the encouragement and the correction of the Holy Spirit to make it happen. Discipling relationships were sprinkled throughout the novel. Discipleship through relationships is a passion of mine, and I love to see it explored in fiction as an example for real life.

I also appreciated the author’s approach to bringing the romance to fruition. I won’t explore this particular point too deeply, because to do so would give away too many spoilers. But, despite the familiar ebb and flow of a Christian romance novel, the author introduced creativity in the storyline that kept it from being overly predictable.

My familiarity with early nineteenth century British culture and society is still limited, so I admit to getting lost a few times when “popular” references were made or when members of the nobility discussed their society from an insider perspective. I missed the significance of much of the banter, simply because I had no context for it. It did not diminish my enjoyment of the story, but it did show me that I am not in the “in” group when it comes to readers (and writers) of this genre.

So, would I recommend The Elusive Miss Ellison? Definitely! It is a good read for teens and adults alike. I’m not sure I would encourage readers with little or not exposure to early 19th century British culture to start here, but it is definitely a good read.

This book was sent to me by Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Marriage Monday

Together

Some days the writing thoughts flow. Other times, I sit staring at a blank screen, clueless about where to begin.

One evening, I knew a marriage post was next on my list, but I was in blank screen mode. I had tried to work through several ideas during the week, but nothing would come together. My thoughts either sounded too grumpy or too forced, or they just wouldn’t gel at all.

On this particular evening, my husband sat behind me working on his own computer. I finally looked at him and said, “I have nothing. I love marriage – really, I do. And I love being married to you. But I have nothing to write about.”

For the next few minutes, we just chatted. Not about a marriage post, though. We chatted about a writing lesson on character development that was coming through my inbox. We talked about this, that, and the other. Then, it was time to close everything down and head to bed, and the writing opportunity had passed.

But the interaction reminded me of how important togetherness is for the overall flow of life.

True togetherness is not about times when we need help. It also is not about the situations in life that require joint effort. In fact, without true togetherness, we will probably fail to come together when we need help, and we will possibly struggle to process through the things that demand joint effort.

True togetherness is like our relationship with Christ (shocking, I know) – it must be nourished continually and through all areas of our relationship. And, when it is nourished in the times of simply being, it will come through in the times of need.

Any glance through my blog shows that it has still taken me a couple of weeks to get a marriage post written, more because I haven’t had a chance to come back to it than anything else. But, as I sit down to get this one written tonight, I am reminded about how beautiful it is to do marriage together. To interact in every opportunity. To just enjoy being together, whether we are working, playing, or just being.

I pray you have the opportunity to enjoy togetherness this week.

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

I Love You

Sometimes I struggle with saying, “I love You,” to my Savior.

That’s hard to even admit in writing. I have written the confession in my journal many times, and that fills me with enough shame. But, to share it publicly…

It’s not that I don’t love Him. Oh how I do! But, my heart aches because, all too frequently, my thoughts and actions do not show it. How can I tell Him I love Him when I blatantly behave differently day in and day out?

If you are a parent, you know what I mean from the other end of the spectrum. In one moment, we hear our children say, “I love you, Mommy!” Then in the next, they are doing something that blatantly negates the statement. A bad attitude. An arrogance of behavior. A flagrant act of disobedience.

And, if you are anything like me, sometimes you look at your child and want to say (or maybe go ahead and say!), “You say with your mouth that you love me, but your actions show otherwise.”

Because I, in my frail humanity, have difficulty receiving words of love from my children when they blatantly disobey me, I often attribute that same response to God. He knows my heart. He knows the selfishness that reigns. He knows the times when I avoid talking to Him in prayer because I would rather be busy with other things. He knows. Oh, how He knows, so much more even than I know the heart of my children! So, how can I tell Him I love Him when He can see directly into the self-centeredness of my heart?

Recently I was reading John 21 and came to the conversation between Jesus and Peter that we often refer to as Peter’s reinstatement. I have read this passage many, many, many times, but on this particular day, it struck me in a different way. Peter had denied Jesus. Flat out denied, with curses, that he even knew his Savior. Yet Jesus did not once say, “Peter, how can you say that you love me after the way you acted?”

Instead, He simply asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”

And after the third time, Peter gives my favorite answer, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You. (John 21:17)”

Wow. Remorse filled Peter over his denial of his Savior. Yet, he could still say, “You know that I love You.” And Jesus knew that love would carry Peter through his coming life of church leadership, persecution, and martyrdom.

The truth of my heart is that, despite my stupid and selfish actions, I really do love my Savior. And He knows it. Oh what a treasure! Oh what a joy to know that I can say, “I love You, Lord!” even as I am on my face before Him in tears of repentance! And that very truth is what drives me again and again to repentance and growth. My Jesus knows I love Him. Now, may my actions increasingly reject my own selfishness and instead reflect the love He knows to be true!

Posted in Homeschooling, Wednesday Work

What About Homeschooling?

A couple of weeks ago, I shared about the homeschooling side of my organizational system. But, you have probably noticed that I rarely write about homeschooling.

It’s odd, I admit. Homeschooling is such a huge part of my life. I was homeschooled through most of my childhood, and now I’m in my eleventh year of teaching my own children. So, why does it not figure dramatically into my writing? Well, there are a few reasons.

First, I am not really the hands-on, photograph worthy homeschool mom that you might see on Twitter, Pinterest, and in the great bloggy world. Yes, I’m comparing myself, and I am not that mom. Oh, we have done some of those things in the past. I do have posts on the family blog of the elementary years displaying outings, projects, and funny moments. And, there are sometimes blog worthy moments even now that they are older. But, now that the kids are older, those picture perfect moments have grown fewer and farther between because my kids do not fit that homeschool model either. Books fill their love for learning, but pictures of kids sitting around reading book after book after book tend to get a little old.

Second, we’re strange. What works for us does not work for many other people. Maybe even most other people! (Again, rather obvious from social media and the blog world.) So, I actively refrain from writing about what we do as if it’s THE way to homeschool. It’s not. It’s just our way to homeschool.

Finally, I love to encourage and mentor other homeschoolers, but I’m a one-on-one kind of person. If you have questions, I’d love to sit down face to face or over e-mail and talk through them with you. I’d love to help you discover what will work best for you and how to get the most out of your homeschooling. A blog post does not accomplish that. Not in the least. Mostly because I can’t hear your questions and respond according to your unique needs.

There’s a Problem, Though

All of this leaves me bothered about something. You see, there are a gazillion homeschool bloggers out there. Think I’m kidding? Get on Twitter and search #homeschool. Then, begin following everyone that pops up. But, as you follow, make sure to look through and follow all of the recommendations connected to each new account you follow. It keeps going and going and going and going and going! And all of them have plenty to share about their homeschool experience.

And that bothers me. Not because they are sharing what works for them (I applaud that part!), but because their posts often – and usually very unintentionally – leave other moms like me (and maybe you) feeling like failures because we cannot make that same system work. Or because we have never taught this topic or insisted on those lessons. Or because we don’t do all of those creative, hands-on projects. We come away with the feeling that, no matter how exhausted we already are as we try to fit everything in, we have to make sure to fit in this one more thing or we’ll be leaving incurable gaps in our children’s growth and education.

That, my friends, is a lie. And many of the homeschool bloggers out there would be mortified to discover that they in any way contributed to that lie.

I work with a team of amazing homeschoolers. Each of us has homeschooled a different way. We prioritize differently, and our children are all developing differently. But words cannot express just how much I have learned from my amazing coworkers through the years. They encourage me, exhort me, and share their wisdom with me. How I love it!

That is what homeschool community is meant to be. And, that is actually what the blog and social media world can be to all of us, if we know how to navigate it and sort through the massive amount of information flowing our way.

So, I have decided to start writing more about homeschooling. Not necessarily about what works for me, but more about how we can navigate this huge, intimidating, but potentially helpful community that is the world wide web of homeschooling. And I would love to hear your questions! Is there anything you want to know about homeschooling or navigating the online community? Any general homeschool questions that you have never known how or where to ask? I’d love to hear from you! Either comment below or click on the Connect with Me tab at the top and send me a message. I’d love to connect with you over a little homeschool chatter!

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

Missed Beauty

The country of Jordan has a desert climate. For anywhere from seven to ten months out of every year, no rain falls, and the country is covered in a dull, dusty brown.

But twice a year, a miracle happens. Right after the first rains arrive in October or November, the mountains of north Jordan turn a beautiful, lush green. Clover and grass sprout everywhere and remain for a couple of short weeks until the winter chill set in. Then, it all dies again and turns a wintry gray until spring rolls around. Spring, like fall, is short-lived, those few weeks bring the most beautiful time of the year. Sometime in early March, as the warmth returns and the rains begin to recede, the whole countryside erupts into a tapestry of red, yellow, and lavender as the wildflowers bloom. Intermingled throughout it all is the deep purple of the national flower of Jordan, the wild Gilead iris, commonly grouped with black irises.

I grew up in those hills of north Jordan, and each spring we would take a day and head out to pick wildflowers – especially poppies and irises. We would come back with a trunkload of flowers to brighten the next few weeks. I loved the poppies, but there was nothing like the deep, royal purple of those irises.

When I moved back to Arkansas, I still saw irises in the spring. Blue and lavender and white and yellow and all sorts of beautiful colors sprouted in gardens and yards everywhere I looked. But, I almost never saw anything dark like those Gilead irises.

Then, several years ago, my mother-in-law surprised me with the gift of several black iris bulbs. I was so excited! Doug and I went and bought a pot and some good soil, and we planted those irises according to the best directions we could find.

Then, we waited. The green leaves sprouted, but no flowers appeared. The next year we moved the pot to a more sunny location. Still no luck.

The year after that we were in a new home, so I transplanted the bulbs into a spot already populated with flourishing irises. I watched and waited. The established irises bloomed beautifully, but my transplanted bulbs still produced nothing more than tall, strong leaves.

I felt so disappointed. And in my disappointment, I almost missed the beauty that did exist before me.

There is something regal about a cluster of irises. They stand tall, and their petals flow with amazing grace and perfect shading. And in my yard – for the first time ever – I had a whole patch of beautiful light purple and blue flowers. But, because they were not the dark purple I’d hoped for, I almost disregarded them.

I am ashamed to admit that the dismissal of those not-quite-dark-enough purple irises reflects the way I dismiss God’s gifts so very often. I am a planner. A plotter. The type of person who takes possible scenarios and plays them out to logical conclusions. In the process, I establish what I think should happen.

Ironically enough, God rarely, if ever, works the way my daydreams try to dictate!

When His reality – His amazing gifts – fall into place, I far too often get pouty because they are not what I wanted to see. I miss the beauty of His provision because I’m staring at the flowerless leaves of my expectations. My demands, if I am honest.

This spring, I’m watching all of my irises. We have had a sunny spring, but cold is expected. It is possible none of my flowers will bloom this year because of the freeze. Or, because they have been slower to sprout than the established irises, it might be that my black bulbs are the only ones that flower. Who knows? What I do know is that I intend to soak in whatever God sends. I will choose to not miss the beauty He sets before me, whatever the color.

Posted in Wednesday Work, What Works for Me

The Planner in Me: Life

Last week I shared a glimpse into my homeschool planning system. But, I know many of my readers are not homeschoolers. So, what do I do for the rest of life?

Well, the first system that really seemed to work for me was Franklin Covey. I had a really nice binder, and I ordered planner inserts every year. I used that system for three years, I believe. The biggest problem from me was the size. The binder I used was lovely and sturdy, but it was not incredibly convenient to carry around. It did not fit in my purse, so it had to be carried separately. That got a little awkward. I had tried a variety of pre-bound planners, but I never found anything – even among the Franklin Covey planners – that matched what worked for me through the customized Franklin Covey inserts. That really offered the best layout, but the bulk just got to be too much.

For a while, I tried to to make digital planning my primary go-to system, updating in my Franklin Covey paper planner when I was at home. But, I had trouble keeping up with that. The story was the same when I tried to carry a smaller calendar in my purse, updating my big planner at home. So, my next step was trying to go all digital. I was just not very good at that, either. I’ve tried. Really I have. But, it is so hard for me to see the “big picture” on my phone. It’s also hard to flip to information quickly. And, just about the time I really need something, technology outsmarts itself, something doesn’t sync, and I cannot retrieve my information. Yes, it is inconvenient sometimes when I neglect to carry my planner around (which really isn’t very common) or when a date is beyond the end of my planner. But ultimately, it is so much easier for me to flip open that planner than to try to find what I need on my phone. And, I keep up with it better. I can much more quickly jot notes in the planner than tap them into my phone. So, it didn’t take long for me to give up on the digital planner idea.

About four years ago, as I transitioned from being a volunteer reviewer for Well Planned Gal to being an editor on her staff, I also expanded my usage of her planners and gave On the Go a try. This is a purse-size planner (unless you carry one of those little bitty purses!) that does everything my Franklin Covey system did, but is much easier to carry around! It has spots for to-do lists, time-focused appointments, and extra notes. The monthly view pages are easy to write in, and there is plenty of room for notes for each month.

The only problem with my On the Go planner is that it is a school year planner, and life and church tend to go more on the calendar year. To solve that problem, I have a simple, hardcover Moleskine weekly planner. It has all of the monthly views in the front, and the weekly views follow. On the weekly views, the calendar page is on the left and a note page is on the right. I do not like this layout as a primary planner, but it works so incredibly well for a secondary planner. I use it as my prayer planner and to keep dates and information for July – Dec. Thanks to the combination of these two paper planners, I always have anywhere from nine to eighteen months of planner space available to me!

That’s such a quick overview of my planner organization system, but if you are by some chance trying to figure out a great organizational system, maybe my overview and the links above will help you get a better idea of what you’re looking for! Or perhaps you already have your system working well. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: what works for me will not work for everyone. So I’d love to hear what works for you! Will you share it in the comments?

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

Worth It!

My son has loved Legos since before he could walk or talk. He had a funny way of showing his passion at that age. We would build something for him, and he would take great delight in tearing it down and begging us to build something else for him to destroy. I honestly believe that his excitement for destruction lay in the realization that he could watch us build again and again, because he anxiously awaited the day he could build for himself.

At age seven, after discovering several fun Lego sets and kits, my son learned that there was such a thing as Lego robotics. Honestly, he had no clue what that entailed. He only knew that “Lego” and “robot” were combined in the same concept. He was hooked.

My husband knew much more about it, having learned that the Lego Education line encouraged kids to learn programming and electronics skills ranging from the most basic to highly involved. He also knew that our son was nowhere near ready for that kind of challenge. But, he encouraged Steven to start saving, confident that by the time he reached his financial goal, he would also be ready for the challenges involved.

For the next three years, Steven saved diligently. Every now and then he would dip into those savings for a major purchase. A bicycle to replace the one he’d outgrown. A mechanical Lego cargo plane to help him learn a little bit about the difference between his familiar Lego creations and the Mindstorms kit he was saving up for. Other little things here and there. But finally, shortly after Christmas this year, he had enough money saved up. The mailman delivered Steven’s order just a few weeks ago, and he has already learned incredible things! Pacing himself, he is discovering what he needs to learn bit by bit to achieve ultimate programming goals.

Steven recently asked me how he got started saving in the first place. “You heard the words ‘Lego’ and ‘robot’ and were hooked!” I explained to him that he had no idea how big of a deal this kit was. Doug and I did, but he did not. All he knew was that it was worth the time and effort it would take to save up for it. He knew it was worth the sacrifice of not being able to spend money whenever he wanted. Even as a young child, he grasped that this was important to him – without even knowing just how far it would take him.

Even now, the big picture is too great for him. He can only focus on one thing at a time, learning what is right in front of him. But, he is investing in the little tasks now because he knows that opportunities he can’t even imagine are still ahead of him if he is diligent.

Is that not the perfect picture of salvation and faith? How many of us truly knew what we were grabbing hold of when we first declared that Jesus had become Lord of our lives? How many of us knew the challenges and promises bound up in that moment? My guess is that none of us truly grasped the depths of our new life. We just knew it was worth it. It was something we desperately hungered for, and we were willing to go wherever it took us.

Oh how amazing to know that I do not have to grasp the fullness of what I have received from Christ in order to live in His will. He understands for me! He knows my present, my capabilities, my future, and the promise of all that lies ahead. He knows the challenges and the joys, and He is ready and able to walk through each one of them with me when I am ready. He is guiding me through each step so I will not reach a goal too soon, nor will I have to wait too long. Every moment of His plan for my life is laid out in His wisdom and perfection. When I’m ready for the next challenge, He will lay it before me. In the meantime, I can trust Him with the one in my path at this moment. I don’t have to have it all figured out to progress through His will. I just have to do the task set before me right now and watch as the little goals along the way change, grow, and evolve while I conquer each hurdle.

Even as a young child, Steven knew the kit was worth his time and energy. Now he knows each step of learning is worthwhile. And, in faith, both of us know the same thing is true in our spiritual walk.

It’s worth it!