Posted in Reviews

The Promise of Dawn

Well, it seems as if I am only getting reviews written these days, but I’m definitely thankful for the chance to write those and encourage other writers in their endeavors. It can be hard to imagine that a prolific writer such as Loraine Snelling would be encouraged by reviews such as mine, but maybe you will be nourished by reading her novels as I share them with you, thus encouraging her to keep up the good work!

It’s no secret that I love fiction. And although romance just for the sake of romance is not my favorite genre, I do enjoy the novels that have romance brewing while deeper issues are being dealt with. But, most of us spend a good deal more time living life after the giddy feelings of a new romance. So, it is nice to see Christian fiction that matches that stage of life as well.

That is where The Promise of Dawn fits.

Opening in Norway where the Carlson family struggles simply to put food on the table, The Promise of Dawn proceeds across the ocean and over land to Minnesota where Rune and Signe Carlson and their three sons intend to help an uncle and his wife clear timber from their farmland. Rune embraces the opportunity, expecting his family to flourish in America in ways they never could in Norway. But Signe’s concerns fill her with reluctance from the moment the invitation arrives. An illness-filled journey and cold welcome do not ease her mind in any way.

Signe’s fears are confirmed as her family interacts more with Uncle Einer and Aunt Gerd, feeling the burden of their thankless, demanding hosts. As the weeks pass, the Carlsons wonder if they will ever find the better life Rune had dreamed of for his family.

The Promise of Dawn is real life. The perspective, understanding, and struggles of Rune and Signe remind me of my own experiences with newness and unexpected disappointments. I could feel the weight of discouragement, challenged faith, waning hope, and strained relationships as I walked with the Carlson family through challenges that seemed to have no foreseeable end. How often do we feel the same? Even though The Promise of Dawn is set over a hundred years ago in a time and culture long gone, the nature of the challenges remain the same.

That is why The Promise of Dawn was so refreshing, even while reading of seemingly insurmountable challenges. It was reminder that our choices in attitude, relationship, and spiritual growth are critical, whether our circumstances change or not.

The Promise of Dawn is book one in the Under Northern Skies series, and the characters are connected to Loraine Snelling’s two Red River series. I look forward to going back and meeting some of those characters while also getting to know the Carlsons a little better as the Under Northern Skies series continues. Loraine Snelling is definitely an author I would recommend and want to explore more myself!

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

Walk It Out

Years ago, I became a fan of Tricia Goyer when I read her book Blue Like Play Dough. Then I got my hands on From Dust and Ashes, and I was completely hooked. Years later, I am honored to call Tricia a friend, but that doesn’t make me any less of a fan. I have had the privilege of seeing glimpses of her living out – in real life – what I once only read about in her books.

Walk It Out is a bit of that glimpse for Tricia’s readers. In every other book she writes, readers see this beautiful woman’s heart. But, in Walk it Out, Tricia gives a glimpse of the challenges, responses, and real-life growth behind the stories and non-fiction that have touched the lives of so many.

Tricia Goyer’s life today differs greatly from the dreams she held as a child. The girl who once dreamed of being a classroom teacher has homeschooled her three oldest through graduation and continues to homeschool her remaining seven children. The teen tortured teen who walked in hidden shame over her decision to abort her first child now openly shares her story to aid in the healing of other women. The task-oriented perfectionist has learned that the rewards of relationships rise above the rewards of a spotless house. Walk It Out shares the story of how Tricia learned these lessons and many more.

Two themes actively reveal themselves in Walk It Out. First, Tricia stresses the importance of growth through a relationship with Christ, obtained only through prayer and time in the Word of God. Secondly, lessons cannot truly be learned unless they are followed up with action. Each chapter in Walk It Out clearly shows Scripture and action that accompanied every step of growth God has walked her through.

But, I also see a third theme: community. In every chapter, Tricia’s story shows how integral the family of Christ has been in her growth. Fellow believers loved on her when she felt unlovable, received her story when she expected rejection, and surrounded her to walk alongside her when she stepped forward in actions of obedience. The community of faith is critical, and that shines through every single page of Walk It Out.

Walk It Out is, without a doubt, my new favorite of Tricia Goyer’s non-fiction, and I look forward to sharing it with others for years to come.

Posted in Reviews

Liar’s Winter

It never ceases to surprise me how beauty and tragedy can not only dwell side by side, but can be so intertwined that the full beauty could not exist without the tragedy. Today I get to review a book that powerfully depicts such an intertwining.

Liar’s Winter by Cindy K. Sproles is the story of a young woman who has known nothing but shame her entire life. For the superstition-ridden mountain folk among whom she lives, any little anomaly is the sign of evil, and Lochiel Ogle is living proof of that harsh reality. Born with a red-wine birthmark on one side of her face and neck, Lochiel has been raised with the understanding that the mark brands her as the Devil’s own daughter. Time and again she is reminded that her birth mother discarded her in fear and she would not be alive at all were it not for the kindness of the Ogles who have hidden her away and protected her from the prying eyes of the mountain folk.

But when Lochiel’s brother attacks her and leaves her for dead, the hands of a stranger bring rescue and an introduction to the world beyond the Ogle’s yard. Even more than that, her rescuer possesses a kindness – a real love – that plants seeds of doubt in her mind. Did the man she called Poppy and the woman she called Momma ever truly love her? Or had their raising been something else entirely?

I honestly did not know what to expect when I picked up this novel. The description intrigued me, but I anticipated that I would read it, review it, then stick it on my shelf and forget about it. The opposite occurred. Liar’s Winter captivated me from page one. I felt drawn into Lochiel’s very soul as I watched events unfold from her perspective. Superstition, abuse, fear, and stubbornness collided with love and faith as Lochiel slowly discovered the truth about her nineteen years of life and the people she called family. Each page made me want to turn another, and even in the memory I’m drawn back into the powerful story Cindy K. Sproles weaves through every scene. This is a book I want to read and reread, share with friends and my children, discuss, and explore.

Liar’s Winter is not an easy book to read, by any means, especially knowing that these mentalities and this sort of abuse ran rampant throughout history and continue even into our day and age. This is the real reason I want my children to read it, as they reach an appropriate age. They need to know what this world hands out, and they need to see how they can either be rescuers or bring additional harm. Most of all, though, the can see that the powerful love of God shines beautifully even through the darkest of circumstances.

This is my first experience with Cindy K. Sproles, but it will not be my last, and I will definitely not hesitate to recommend Liar’s Winter.

I received this book from Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review.

 

Posted in Marriage Monday

Marriage Advice?

I don’t really know where the thought came from. It started running through my mind the other day, I think while I was processing through my morning devotional reading. And it has not left me alone since.

The thought was this: there is no such thing as universal parenting advice. I could write a book on all of my parenting tricks and tips. I could share my successes and failures, how my children have grown and matured both because of and in spite of my parenting techniques. And the things I share would, without a doubt, help some people, just as the advice and experiences of other parents have helped me. Ultimately, though, all those tricks add up to just that – tricks. They do not give the complete picture.

As I think back on all of the parenting advice I have ever given, I regret that I have never looked at a fellow mom and asked, “Can you pray while you are disciplining your child? Playing with your child? Teaching your child?” In the future, I desire that to become the core of any advice I give. Thinking back on all of my progress as a parent, I have grown the most and parented best when I have stopped in the middle of any moment – happy or sad, infuriating or exhilarating – and drawn upon the wisdom, joy, and strength of our heavenly Father.

Marriage is no different.

Recently, while enjoying a wonderfully peaceful, nourishing, and much-needed visit with my best friend, our conversation drifted toward marriage. We talked about the seasons when our marriages are tested. When communication is hard work and true health requires extra effort and attention.

My friend and I both hunger to pour into other marriages and see couples grow in their relationships with one another, their children, the world around them, and Christ. We have different specific passions – different ways we hunger to invest in relationships. But, the passion is there for both of us. As I continue to ponder our conversation, that pondering merges with the parenting thought, causing me to realize that our best tool for encouraging Christian couples is the same as the parenting advice: Can you pray in the middle of this?

Whether it’s an argument or a success. A stroll in the park or time apart. A season of closeness or a season of strain. Can you seek the Lord in the middle of it? If not, what’s holding you back?

There are too many times in my own marriage when pride and selfishness have turned my attitude sour and my responses toxic. Instead of praying for the right words, I have spewed out my own idea of justice. Even what I have intended to be positive has often turned ugly because it has come out of a heart that had chosen to not first ensure it was in tune with Christ. I have not sought the Lord in the midst of the situation. On the other hand, as with parenting, I have grown most as a wife in those times when I have been able to seek the One who ordained our marriage, no matter what the circumstances.

Whatever you are dealing with in your marriage right now, can your heart turn to your Savior in the middle of it? If not, please, precious friend, find your way back to Him first. When you do, all other marriage advice will fall into place.

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

These Things

1 & 2 Peter tug my heart in a special way. I can’t quite put my finger on why this is true, but they just might be my favorite epistles. Although I’m not currently reading in Peter’s epistles, I was recently flipping through my journal and was reminded of a thought from last year’s reading of 2 Peter 1.

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.
Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind.
2 Peter 1:5-15

My journaled thought came from the end of this passage – the constant reminding. I am a teacher. I teach my own children. I teach youth. When I have opportunity, I lead or co-lead Bible studies. And I don’t mind repeating things. Ask my kids. Ask my Sunday school class! Half the time when any of the girls ask a question, I look back at them with a look that asks, “What do you think I’m going to say?” They know I’m going to remind them of the importance of a daily interaction with the Word of God. I have told them time and again that it’s up to them whether or not they actually heed my advice and make Scripture a prominent aspect of their lives. I cannot force them to do what they should. But, I can make sure they don’t forget the teaching.

At first glance, the last verses of this passage endorse my tendency to remind. But, as I ponder what verse 15 is really saying, I realize that the reference to “these things” is very specific, hearkening back to the qualities listed in verse five through seven: faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. And suddenly, I’m convicted instead of applauded.

If I possess these qualities, I am “neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” and I “will never stumble.” But if I lack these qualities, I am “blind or short-sighted, having forgotten [my] purification from [my] former sin.” If I remember these things, I will be effective as a teacher, not because my listeners will all heed every word, but because every act of obedience brings glory to my Savior, and He uses it to produce fruit in His time and His way. But if I forget them…

My heart breaks with the realization of how often I forget or actively ignore the command to walk in these things. No wonder there are so many times when I cannot find wisdom, when I feel like I can’t get anything right.

Every now and then I put a sticky note on my monitor with a verse I want to regularly see and remember. The one currently staring at me is Ps 110:169, which reads, “Let my cry reach You, Lord; give me understanding according to Your Word.” I think He’s answered that prayer with the reminder of 2 Peter 1:5-15. And now, I think I have a few new verses that need to be stuck to my monitor and seared into my brain that I may live a life in which I am not useless or fruitless and do not stumble.

 

Posted in Wednesday Work, What I Do

Learning, Not Doing

I am realizing something as I learn and grow. What I do – the methods I have perfected over the years – isn’t automatically the best thing, even if it seems to be working. Sometimes, what I do need a serious overhaul.

Take my learning, for instance. I love to learn. And I like learning about practical things. How to do something. How to improve an area of my life. I like to gather resources that will help me out and supplies that will make a practical application easier. It’s fun to try to figure out all of the ins and outs, getting everything lined up and perfectly in place so that the doing will be easier.

There’s just one problem. I can go on and on and on without exhausting all there is to learn, figure out, or plan. In the process of trying to make the doing easier, I neglect to get around to the doing.

I justify my behavior by watching those on the opposite end of the spectrum. They are the ones who dive in full-force, doing without putting any time or effort into figuring out how to do what they’re doing. Sometimes they accidentally succeed, but more often than not they blunder their way into a mess. Surely my way is better than theirs, isn’t it?

Except that they, at least, are doing something.

Learning, planning, and gathering tools are important. But, they are as useless as the blundering mess if I don’t actually take a step and act. I suppose fear is often what holds me back, just as impatience leads the go-getters to skip the learning stage. I am afraid that I’ve missed something. Afraid that I don’t know enough. Afraid of failure. Embarrassing, humiliating failure. (Maybe there’s a little bit of pride in there, too.)

I don’t ever want to stop learning and exploring. But, if at some point I don’t also step out and do, then I am not walking in obedience. I’m not glorifying Christ in all things. I’m not furthering His kingdom or pointing people to Him. Instead, I’m just filling my brain with information that could be useful but won’t be because I don’t act.

Learning is good only if it leads to doing.

I want to learn to do.

Posted in Marriage Monday

Conflict Seen

I can’t remember when I first heard the “never argue in front of your children” advice. I definitely see the benefit. Children, especially at a young age, cannot process or handle the emotions that go with their parents arguing. It introduces insecurity and uncertainty. And that is a burden none of us want our precious children to bear.

And yet…

Have you ever met a young couple impacted by the fact that at least one of them never heard their parents so much as disagree with one another? I have. It’s an interesting sight. The first time this young couple has a disagreement, argument, or fight, the “sheltered” one is devastated. Convinced that the relationship must be doomed. Or, at the very least, certain that there must be something terribly wrong. After all, Mom and Dad never argued.

Or did they?

The undeniable, irrefutable, and even biblical truth is that all relationships are marred by sin. If we cannot even succeed in relating flawlessly to our perfect, pure heavenly Father, how can we possibly think we will ever relate perfectly to a fellow flawed human being? No matter how much love may exist in the relationship?

So, it follows that all married couples – yes, even the most grounded and mature – will have conflict in their marriage.

Now, let’s contemplate parenting for a moment. As parents, it is our responsibility to nurture and protect our children. But it is also our responsibility to teach and mold them. That includes finding opportunities to safely teach them how to handle the not-so-great (as well as the downright horrific) aspects of this world. We watch for opportunities to discuss and explain, exposing them to the difference between a godly home and what they will experience one day as adults trying to navigate this mess.

That brings us back to conflict between Mom and Dad. While on the one hand we do not want to air all our dirty laundry before our children, and we especially don’t want to show a divided front in parenting, I wonder if there might be times in which it is beneficial for our children to grasp that we are in conflict.

If they see us disagreeing, then see us work through the disagreement, then see us choose to hug and kiss and say, “I love you!” as we go our separate ways for the day, could that not bring benefit in the long run?

How many things have you learned about your spouse because you disagreed at some point? How have you matured in being able to swallow your own pride or offer a sincere apology or choose your words carefully? How much have you learned about the difference between arguments worth having and arguments not worth having? How has your prayer life grown?

When our children fight with one another, we step in and separate them. But, at some point, they are not going to have Mom or Dad around to step in and end the conflict. They are going to have to figure out how to end it themselves. They are going to have to learn how to find resolution and restore peace. How better to learn such things than to watch their own parents handle conflict in a manner that honors Christ?

Of course, the first step is for us effectively model handling conflict in a manner that honors Christ!

Our children are precious, and our hunger is to protect and nourish them. But, sometimes the best nourishment we can give them is to help them see how to live Christ-honoring lives in a dark and sinful world. And sometimes that means letting them see.