Posted in Reviews

Keturah

Time flies when you’re reading good books! And I’ve read several great ones lately – and lost track of a couple of review due dates. So, since I have one review that’s a bit late and another that’s due now, you get two this week!

The first one is the latest historical fiction from wonderful storyteller Lisa Tawn Bergren. I was first introduced to her books through the God Gave Us children’s picture book series. Several years later, I was introduced to her adult fiction when I devoured her Grand Tour series. Then came her young adult River of Time series, followed by other books from each genre. The most recent delight from her writing desk is Keturah, book one in The Sugar Baron’s Daughter series.

For years, the widowed Lady Keturah Banning Tomlinson’s father has told his daughters again and again that the family sugar plantation in the West Indies is not the appropriate place for young women. But word of her father’s death is accompanied by word of dire financial issues, Keturah makes the decision that flies in the face of all societal convention: she is going to the West Indies to try to save not only the plantation but also her sisters’ inheritance back home in England. Unwilling to either be left behind or see their sister travel alone to Nevis, Keturah’s two sisters make the decision to travel with her. Challenges begin for the sisters almost immediately as they learn what it means for women to try to live and work in a culture dominated by men – white men.

Keturah offers everything I love about historical fiction. It is rich in exploration of the culture in which the story is set. That means the good and the bad, including a look at slavery. But that is not the only challenging topic Bergren deals with in Keturah. At the risk of introducing spoilers, our widowed heroine does not look back upon her short marriage fondly. Instead, she still bears the scars of the horror she silently and secretly endured as a young bride.

Because of this, I am a little more limited in my recommendation of this book than I might be with others this wonderful author. That doesn’t mean I don’t highly recommend it! It just means that I’ll only share it with my daughters as I know they are of an appropriate age to handle the material, and I will be careful to give warning to friends who still bear the scars of their own abuse experiences.

Well-written, well researched, and beautifully told, Keturah is a captivating introduction to The Sugar Baron’s Daughter series. I greatly anticipate the continuation!

This book was sent to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
Advertisements
Posted in Faith Nuggets, Meditations & Meanderings

Forgiven

I love different perspectives on the same story. Consider the story of Jesus, early in His ministry, healing a paralytic during a stay in Capernaum. Most of us head to Mark 2 for this story because we get the fun of watching four friends cut a hole in the roof of the house to get their buddy to Jesus.

But then there’s Matthew’s version. Matthew glosses right over the fun details about the hole in the roof and heads right to the words of Jesus:

And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2, emphasis mine)

Hearing a living, breathing human being declare forgiveness of sins through His own authority was a novelty at the time, leaving the scribes to mentally fume over such blasphemy and the people to widen their eyes in awe. Such a thing had never been heard of before, not even among the great prophets of old!

We, on the other hand, read this with incredible and precious familiarity. We’ve seen the rest of the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We know that our forgiveness was the focus (which, incidentally, is why I think Matthew started off with that part of the story). We have the big picture.

The newness left the Jews befuddled, preventing them from accepting that God could possibly have granted authority to this Man. Meanwhile, in our familiarity, we love to criticize them. And yet, what has our familiarity done to us? Does it cause us to miss the power of this just as much?

The morning this question hit me, I felt buried under a cloud of yuck. Sleepiness had reigned over me for days as allergies, a full schedule, and multiple stresses took their toll. My journaling up to that point had been pure wonderments of how in the world God could use me as I lay buried so deeply. How could His Spirit flow through me when I felt so paralyzed by life? But, after pondering Matthew’s introduction to the story, I read Jesus’ response to His critics.

And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’?” (Matthew 9:4-5)

Suddenly, it clicked. I realized the depth of significance behind Jesus’ words. Your sins are forgiven. You see, the paralytic was more than just paralyzed. He was cut off, not only from work, but also from the temple. From community. From worship.

His friends thought he needed physical healing. Jesus knew he needed restoration.

Physical healing might allow a little more freedom in life, but it wouldn’t provide true restoration. Only forgiven sins could possibly fill that need. And it is the same with us. When we are buried in our yuck – our ailments, our bad circumstances, our utter discouragement – we think a physical change is what’s needed. But the reality is that we already have everything we need because our sins are forgiven! Our fellowship with the Father has already been restored. We are complete. Whole. Unified with Him.

The physical healing did come as well, just as I have seen the Lord reveal His power through the physical circumstances of my own life. But, it usually only happens when I finally realize that the important thing is fellowship with Him. That His forgiveness raises me above the yuck and makes me His. Makes me usable. Everything else is just a bonus.

I am forgiven.

Posted in What I Do, Wonderments

A Habit and a Smile

I have been sitting here for 15 minutes, trying to decide what to write.

I want to write something. Anything. I want to make myself re-establish the habit of writing. But, at the end of the day, my brain is tired. My creativity is shot. My attitude it not always so great. And the writing doesn’t always flow.

Besides that, I have to be off the computer by 8:00 or I won’t sleep well. So here I sit, at 7:45, tempted to just give up and not write anything.

And that, my friend, is how habits come to be formed – or broken.

Once upon a time, I wrote regularly. It was a habit. Occasionally, the words just didn’t flow, but I could usually get back to it in the next day or two. Until the day I couldn’t. Maybe I’d invested all of my ideas in my work writing for Well Planned Gal or one of my other side writing jobs. Or I was just brain-tired too many days in a row. Or I’d had a day (or a week or month) of spiritual distance and disconnect, and I felt like I had nothing left to say because I wasn’t really listening to the nudges and guidances of the Holy Spirit – the only one who can make my creativity flourish in a truly meaningful manner!

So one day flowed into another day. And another. And then my habit became to give up.

Tonight, I don’t want to give up. Tonight is my last chance to write for the rest of the week because I don’t have another free evening. So, tonight, I’m just writing the first thing that comes to my head: thoughts about changing my habit.

Whenever I read about spiritual growth, whether in Scripture or the various other books I’ve worked through lately, I’m reminded just how much I struggle with discipline. How often I falter. How easily I give into the pouty “I don’t want to” attitude.

The thing about being undisciplined is that it affects even the most enjoyable aspects of life. I not only don’t want to eat right or exercise or devote the energy to prayer or diligence with my schedule. I also no longer want to create. Because creating takes effort, too. Even when it’s fun.

I love to write. But, sitting down to do it – to try to put my thoughts into coherent words, to be vulnerable at times, to open myself up to be criticized or ignored – takes discipline, just like any other aspect of growth and health. And at the end of the day, it’s so easy to convince myself that I’m done. I’m tired. I just don’t have anything left to give.

And I don’t. But God does. He never tires. He never runs out of creativity to share.

And now, I’m smiling. Because I’m realizing something. I don’t need to force one more boost of energy to write tonight. I just need to open myself up to let the Holy Spirit’s energy and creativity flow. Yes, it takes discipline. Yes, it takes a decision to sit down and write. But it can flow, if I let it.

And now, fifteen minutes later, I have well over 500 words. Not a great article or anything super deep or meaningful. In fact, this is more for me than for anyone else. Because it’s the re-creation of a habit. A habit that doesn’t demand I write every day or that I publish everything I write, but that motivates me to write when I do have the space. To choose to not give up and walk away. To write something, even if I only have fifteen minutes in which to do it. And I’ve taken the first step.

Yes, that definitely makes me smile.

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Meditations & Meanderings

From Separation to Rain

Every time I read or teach about Adam and Eve and the fall, my heart breaks over their sudden separation from God. And, each time I stop and consider the fact that our Bible “heroes” were part of building what we now have fully compiled in Scripture, I realize just how different their interaction with God was. But recently the reality of this hit home more powerfully than ever before.
The starting point is in John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. (John 1:1-4)

The Word of God has always been there. Always. And, this Word was fully present with Adam and Eve in the garden. But, when they sinned, they were cut off from that Word. Cut off. No daily walks in the garden. No Holy Spirit. No written word. No nothing. Can you even imagine?

We are so immersed in the Word of God that we don’t even realize what we have. The fullness of Scripture is right at our fingertips in so many forms – bound books, audio presentations, digital searches. Within seconds, we can fills our minds with any portion of Scripture we desire.

And then there is the Spirit to illuminate that Word, helping us to understand not only the written text, but the mysteries of Jesus Christ Himself and the truth of our adoption a children of God the Father.

Adam and Eve were left with none of that. Completely cut off.

And yet…

Oh how I love that! The story wasn’t over. Instead, it was just beginning. Scripture is full of “therefore” and “for this reason” and “because of this” and all sorts of other conjunctions that make us realize just how deep the Word of God is. It flows and intersects and connects in ways we only begin to fathom this side of heaven. In His wisdom, Almighty God did not ever leave humanity completely void of Himself and His Word. From the first moments after the fall of man, He was working to restore His Word to us, first through His mighty acts toward and through the the early descendants of Adam and Even, then, centuries later, through “the Word [who] became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Isaiah explains this incredible gift so eloquently:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

I love the way Kathleen Nielson explores this amazing passage in Word-Filled Women’s Ministry:

Seeing verses 8 and 9 [of Isaiah 55], we grasp even more the wonder of verses 10 and 11, that God’s words, from which we’re cut off, should come down to us like the rain and snow from heaven to give us life as opposed to death. How amazing. How merciful.

God has not left us cut off. Neither has He given us mere breadcrumbs or sprinkles of water to keep us tagging along like puppy dogs until we finally reach the restored fullness of His presence. Instead, He has rained down His Word upon us through the provision of Scripture, the sending of His Son, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Oh that we would grasp the magnificent gift that we hold. Oh that we would see that, where we once were cut off, we are now immersed. And oh that the ground of our hearts would be soft and receptive to this amazing rain.

Posted in Family, Thoughts from Life

Together

A couple of weeks ago, we headed out for a much-needed and highly anticipated family getaway. We left early on a Thursday morning because our mouth-watering, start-vacation-off-right, pancake and omelet breakfast treat was an hour away in the destination city of Hot Springs. It was a delight to hear the proclamations of, “Wow, that’s just good,” and see the expressions of delight as the kids tasted phenomenal apple pancakes, delectable omelets, fresh-squeezed orange juice, local sausage, thick bacon, and delightful apple butter. Before climbing back into the car to head on to our cabin twenty miles away, we walked off our fullness by browsing the shops that were open at such an early hour, and I once again delighted in the responses of my children as we entered a cute shop with pottery and carvings and jewelry. We ended up having to drag them out, even after they’d made small purchases and thought they were done looking. They kept finding new treasures they’d missed!

And then there was the cabin on the lake. A glorious retreat into peace and quiet and fresh air and beautiful views. A treasure for each and every one of us. Some of the time, we interacted. Walking around the park. Hiking a trail. Skipping rocks at the lake. Closing out each day with s’mores or warm beverages and a game of some sort. Other times, we did our own thing. Curling up with books either in separate rooms or scattered around the cabin’s living room. Wandering around outdoors. Sitting out on the porch with a cup of something or other, watching the rain fall.

But even when we did our own thing, we were together.

And that’s what I love about our family. We love being together. Oh, we frequently go our separate ways out of necessity, but we all like coming back together. We enjoy sharing things with one another. Laughing together. Discussing with one another. Speaking in movie or book quotes and pursuing philosophic contemplations together.

Just being together. Whether we’re interacting or doing our own thing.

When I think of all of the families I’ve known through the years, the consistent reality is that the happiest of those families are those who enjoy being together. Whether they have plans or are just being. And there is a very distinct common thread that runs through all of the families who enjoy one another. They are all intentional about their togetherness.

Togetherness doesn’t happen by accident. Neither does the desire to be together. Both must be intentionally chosen. Actively cultivated. Even stubbornly pursued through the times when togetherness is not the pleasure and bliss we enjoyed during our recent vacation.

Sometimes togetherness is hard. Sometimes we get on one another’s nerves or wish for someone else – anyone else – to be with. (And yes, there are many times when we need to be with other people, but that’s another topic for another day.) But the good only comes when we choose the work. The discipline. The intentional interaction.

As our children grow older, we know we are rapidly approaching the day when togetherness will not be so frequent or so easily accomplished. My prayer is that we will never lose the joy of our togetherness, even if it has to be enjoyed through phone calls and sporadic visits. But I also pray that our children are able to take that joy into their own adult lives as they marry and have children of their own. That they are able to cultivate and celebrate their own togetherness and teach their children the joy of that interaction.

Because it’s a beautiful thing to enjoy life…together.

Posted in Wonderments

Is Simple Better?

I am a longtime WordPress user. My own blog is one of the freebies because I have never taken the time to learn how to customize my own site. But, I work for a woman who is brilliant when it comes to coding and design. I must confess to being a bit spoiled by the WordPress site she has created. That is probably the other reason I’ve never taken the plunge and designed my own site – it could never measure up to hers!

A few months ago, though, I noticed something. WordPress kept trying to get me to change to the “new editor.” It was promoted as easier. Simpler. Sleeker. Better.

The simpler was definitely true. In place of the familiar dashboard that took a bit of learning to manage, every detail of the new editor was practically self-explanatory. But, many of the things I’d previously taken care of on my own were done for me automatically – and not always the way I wanted them to be done. Instead of choosing to utilize them, they were chosen on my behalf. Easier? Yes. Better? I wasn’t so sure.

It’s possible I wasn’t really losing anything with the new editor, but I ended up deciding to go back to the old one. I knew where everything was, and I didn’t have to undo things that were automatically taken care of for me. The old design much more closely matched what I work with day in and day out through my job, so it was more natural to just continue with that layout. After a while, WordPress stopped asking me to change, and I fell back into a nice rhythm again.

Now, some of you might be reading along thinking, “She’s just resistant to change. She needs to be willing to accept new things.” And, that is true. I have experienced a lot of change in my life over the years, and sometimes I get tired of it. I just want to stay the same for a while, and I have to be reminded that growth and change often goes hand in hand.

But not all change is helpful, and that includes change that automatically makes life simpler for us. Much of our society is moving that direction: toward the simple. Toward having work done for us. Toward a reality where we don’t have to figure things out because it’s all taken care of.

I’m not sure that’s always a good thing. Easier is not always better. Simpler is not always the most helpful. Sometimes it just makes us lazier, less attentive, and less able to think and problem-solve for ourselves. Then when problems arise that our easy, simply, do-it-for-us lifestyle can’t quite handle, we suddenly find that we have forgotten how to problem solve. How to really think.

In many ways, yes, simple is better. But in other ways, it may be robbing us of the best.

Posted in Reviews

A Song Unheard

Sometimes accidentally requesting to review book two in a series has delightful results. Such was the case with Roseanna M. White’s Shadows Over England series. Having borrowed and read A Name Unknown, book one in the series, I was excited to dive into A Song Unheard.

The mysterious Mr. V has a new assignment for London’s most exceptional family of thieves, and this time the special skills of young Willa Forsythe make her the ideal choice. Willa has always loved music, but when a old, battered violin came into her possession, she discovered that genuine talent also flowed through her. Although formal training was never available, time spent in the alleys near the open windows of practice rooms or up in the rafters of performance halls fed Willa’s hunger for music and introduced her to new tunes she could then bring to life with her treasured instrument. So, when Mr. V needs someone to obtain a cypher key created by the father of famous Belgian violinist Lukas De Wilde, the musically-minded Willa is the obvious choice.

After barely escaping with their lives, Belgian musicians have temporarily resettled in Wales where, thanks to the generosity of wealthy patrons, they prepare for concerts that will hopefully bring in finances to help fellow Belgians displaced or left starving by the German invasion. But Lukas De Wilde no longer cares about his incredible talent or once-enjoyed fame. Instead, he thinks only of returning to Belgium to find his lost mother and sister. When the fascinating Willa Forsythe arrives in town, his anxious heart is soothed somewhat by the discovery of a raw talent that far surpasses his own. Her passion, her strength, and even her stubbornness captivate his imagination, and he is determined to provide the formal skills she lacks and free her natural talent to truly blossom.

As I picked up A Song Unheard, I confess that I expected to discover a formula, of sorts, to the series. I was still excited about the book, because I knew the author could make even a formulaic novel feel captivating! But, as I began to read, I quickly realized that this second book of the series would be as unique and fresh as A Name Unknown. From the relationship between Lukas and Willa to the progression of Willa’s assignment, this story weaves history and fiction together in a beautiful glimpse of life in the early stages of World War I. Readers are taken from the streets of Wales to the depths of occupied Belgium and back again with a look at the struggle experienced on both sides of the English Channel. As with the first book in the series, this second installment was creative and captivating, full of unexpected developments, sparks of joy, and depths of heartache.

A Song Unheard is definitely a book I will both share and reread, and I greatly look forward to An Hour Unspent, book three in the Shadows Over England series.

This book was sent to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.