Posted in Book Recommendations, Reviews

The Final Installment! #TQ4T

Back when my oldest (now 18) was not quite 10, we were just beginning to explore the joys of fantasy and science fiction. Oh, we’d done Narnia, but we were learning that there were more options. A blogger friend had signed on to review a children’s science fiction book, but she realized she wasn’t going to be able to get it reviewed. So, she asked if I’d take over. Since I was constantly on the lookout for new books for my voracious readers, I gladly said yes, and my daughter and I read it together.

Taken by Brock Eastman had us hooked immediately! I wish I’d had a recorder running so I could remember all of the conversation we had about Taken. It was unlike anything we’d read together before. And even though it was written with children in mind, I found myself as engaged in the story as my daughter was.

The setting is a futuristic world where humanity has spread out across the stars and their origin and history has been lost. Elliot and Laura Wikk are archaeologists working to uncover some of that lost history. As the series continues, readers discover just what caused that history to be lost and what has instigated the efforts to regain it, but from the first chapter it is obvious that not all is as it seems. Just as the Wikks are about to head to a new site, Elliot and Laura are captured by a strange man and his soldiers. Their four children are left with a packed spaceship, coordinates for the family’s intended destination, and a compelling need to rescue their parents from this mysterious captain.

It is quickly evident that part of the quest involves a search for something more than just history, and this is where my daughter and I had amazing conversations. As a very young Christian, she was picking up on the hints of what this futuristic humanity had lost: a connection to God and His truth.

The final installment in the five-book The Quest for Truth series, Hope, released July 1. To refresh my memory on the flow of the story, I decided to go back and reread Taken, Risk, Unleash, and Tangle before I picked up Hope. As I reread, I was reminded just how much I enjoyed the story, even as an adult reading children’s books. When I finally finished the first four books and was ready to dive into Hope, I was definitely not disappointed.

There was a lot to pack into this final installment of the series. Mysteries about characters, logistics of the quest, the truth about the ultimate destination, and so much more had to fit within these final pages. Somehow, author Brock Eastman pulled all of that off while still delving into additional character development and incorporating the message of Truth throughout.

It’s hard to say much about Hope specifically without giving away spoilers from the rest of the series. But I will say that it’s worth the ride. It’s worth reading Taken, Risk, Unleash, and Tangle in order to enjoy Hope. This is the type of series that can be enjoyed as a read-aloud with the whole family or handed to children to enjoy on their own. The writing is simple enough for middle elementary students, yet captivating enough for high schoolers–and even the parents! This is a series I will be recommending for years to come.

Thanks, Brock, for the great journey! We look forward to taking more journeys with you in the years to come.

Enjoy the Quest!

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Meditations & Meanderings

Ministry of the Spirit

Now if the ministry that brought death, chiseled in letters on stones, came with glory, so that the Israelites were not able to gaze steadily at Moses’s face because of its glory, which was set aside, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? – 2 Corinthians 3:7-8

I often look at the Old Testament and say, “What if we could experience that.” They had waters parted and dead raised to life and old women bearing children. Or perhaps the Gospels. Jesus’ physical presence. After all, I’m a tangible, visual person. Would it not be more glorious, more wonderful, to be in His physical presence?

Paul says no.

According to Paul, nothing this side of heaven is more glorious than what we have now…the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Read what else Paul has to say about this glory…

For if the ministry that brought condemnation had glory, the ministry that brings righteousness overflows with even more glory. In fact, what had been glorious is not glorious now by comparison because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was set aside was glorious, what endures will be even more glorious.
Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness. We are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from gazing steadily until the end of the glory of what was being set aside, but their minds were hardened. For to this day, at the reading of the old covenant, the same veil remains; it is not lifted, because it is set aside only in Christ. Yet still today, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts, but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:9-17

We live under “the ministry that brings righteousness,” the most profound ministry possible. Righteousness! You and I are righteous because of this ministry of the Spirit! Not because of temporary sacrifices laid out by a stone-chiseled law, but because a once-for-all blood sacrifice sealed our victory over death and paved the way for the presence of the Spirit. That ministry. Is that not glorious?

But, Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say that we will “act with great boldness.” Aha. There’s the kicker.

We act.

Do I act? Do you act? Do we truly live as though we are in the age of the glorious ministry of the Spirit? Or do we wish for the old, imperfect ministry of the law? Do we walk as if we have received the perfection of fulfilled righteousness? Or do we stayed weighed down as though trapped in imperfection?

I won’t deny that we are still encumbered by this world. It’s a hard world. And we long for the purity of heaven. But, we don’t have to wait for the perfection of righteousness. We don’t have to wait for the fulfillment of the ministry of the Spirit. We get those right here. Right now.

Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The ministry of the Spirit.

Will we act on it?

Posted in What I'm Learning, Work & Life

Tools to Inspire

Several years ago, I taught myself how to knit. That seems like such a simple statement to encompass the full victory of this process. You see, many, many, many years before, some friends had tried to teach me to knit. They loved knitting and couldn’t imagine not knowing how to do it. I could crochet. Why not knit.

But I couldn’t. Two needles covered in loops that you maneuvered in a variety of ways just did not compute in my mind. So, I’d sit with my single little crochet hook and they would sit with their knitting needles, and we’d have a grand ole time.

It was a failure I never could shake, though, because so many beautiful patterns called for knitting. My favorite patterns, in fact. Oh, the crochet patterns were pretty. Don’t get me wrong. But there was something about the style of knit that I longed to be able to accomplish.

So, finally, as an adult, I decided to give it another try. And somehow, this time, I succeeded. Perhaps it was the teaching method. Perhaps it was that I saw the diagrams in a book instead of simply trying to mimic the style of someone else. Perhaps it was the patience that I’d learned in the two plus decades since my first attempt. Maybe it was simply a true desire. Back then, my friends wanted me to learn. This time, I wanted to learn. Makes a difference!

Whatever the case, I succeeded. I didn’t become phenomenal or grasp intricate patterns quickly. But, I did learn.

I don’t knit constantly, or even daily. It’s an occasional burst here and there, dropped for a time when a project demands more attention than I can give it. When a day comes along that allows me to give the project extra attention, I get it back to a point of being easy enough to pick up for ten minutes here or thirty minutes there. Then I can keep it going during a work meeting (when my involvement is more about listening than actively engaging) or school with the kids (when we are discussing a book together).

By necessity, most of my projects remain simple, although I do enjoy challenging myself with a new stitch here or a new design there. I like to create projects that allow me to merge the simple with the complex, though, so I’m frequently learning new techniques but also have something that’s easy to pick up and do without a whole lot of need to watch a pattern.

Because of this desire to challenge my skills, I have needed certain tools. Various sizes and styles of needles. Place markers and counters. Cable hooks. I keep it all on the inexpensive end because I’m not enough of an enthusiast to spend a lot of money on the hobby. But, even those inexpensive tools give me a chance to experiment and learn.

At one point, I picked up a little plastic case full of knitting tools. I’d chosen this kit because it had several marker options and a couple of counters. But when I opened it, I also saw a wide variety of other tools. Tools I had never seen before. I had no idea what they were called (again, inexpensive set…no labels) or how to find out. As time has passed, I’ve learned about a couple of them, but there are still several that leave me baffled.

But they also inspire me. They make me want to learn more about knitting. Figure out new skills. Try new challenges. Explore new options. Could this be the tool for that fancy stitch? Might that one help me feel a little more coordinated with cable knitting? Or enable a more elaborate cable? The tools motivate my curiosity and nudge my desire to learn. Well, most of the time, at least.
Here’s the deal: sometimes these unknown tools scare me a bit. They remind me of my limitations. They let me know how much I can’t do. And sometimes that is more overwhelming than inspiring.

Do you ever feel that way about your spiritual growth? Do you ever feel like you’re plugging along nicely, only to suddenly get a glimpse of tools, resources, and learning scales that you’ve never even thought of before? Do you ever feel that you will never be able to learn enough? Grow enough? Use resources well enough?

Or are you motivated and inspired to reach for a new goal? Learn a new skill? Climb a higher peak?

I know we will all hit walls that scare us just a bit. We will be overwhelmed by the discovery of just how much we don’t know. But, my prayer for both myself and for you, dear reader, is that those moments aren’t what define us. My prayer is that the more common response of our heart is to be inspired. To be motivated. To desire to learn how to tackle that new skill. To use that new resource. To climb to that next level.

To not be defined by fear, but to be motivated by inspiration.

Image by Tammy McLean from Pixabay
Posted in Faith Nuggets, Meditations & Meanderings, Thoughts from Scripture

A Real Passion

Several months ago, I was looking for an image to add to a blog post when I came upon this precious image of a child reading an old, battered Bible. Although the image did not fit the post I was preparing to publish, I couldn’t help but save the picture anyway. It was beautiful, and I wanted to use it someday.

There are so many reasons this image struck me. The child with his scrunched up little forehead trying to read the words in front of him (probably still in Isaiah, based on the way the pages are slightly visible). The wear and tear on the paper cover. The way the pages are crisp despite their yellowing, indicating that this Bible is more old than worn. So many little details releasing so many thoughts in my heart and mind.

Above all of these thoughts, though, rose a passion. I never fail to feel deep excitement when I see someone connecting with the Word of God, whether it’s a small child trying to decipher the words of that big book lying around the house or an adult seeing an old truth with new eyes. Excitement abounds when my children share something new they have discovered in Scripture. Delight overflows when the girls in my Sunday school class ask questions about what they’ve read in the Bible. Joy fills my heart when I get to be a part of a Bible study where others truly want to engage and dig and explore and learn and grow.

That simple picture reminded me of that excitement and that joy.

But here’s the thing: our natural inclination is not to seek out those opportunities for engagement. We may say we have a passion for Scripture and that we want others to engage as well. But, it’s too easy to fall into phases of life when our passion looks a little too much like the Bible in the picture. Worn, yes, but not from loving use. Instead, simply worn from being around for a while. Familiar because of its presence, not because we’ve plumbed its depths. We engage when the opportunity presents itself, much like this Bible is read when a child just happens to pick it up, open it to the middle, and try to decipher the good old King James translation of what the prophets had to say.

That’s not how I want my passion to look.

If I say I love the Word of God, I have to act on it. I have to read it. And, I do. I started the habit as a child. I’ve been more diligent about it in some seasons than in others, and there are times I still struggle with the discipline of being truly attentive to what I’m reading each morning. But, I know it’s worth it to work on that discipline. To be diligent. To make an effort to wear my Bibles out.

My passion to see others connect with God’s Word has to be just as intentional. It has to be active. I can’t just plan to happen upon it now and then. Instead, I have to actively engage my children in discussion about what they read. I have to structure Sunday school in a way that will encourage my students to ask questions. I have to seek out opportunities to study Scripture with fellow believers.

A passion with worn edges but no real internal use is a false passion. It’s a sweet picture that is completely posed. But God knows the truth. He sees the little clues that reveal my lack of intentionality. And, because He is Truth, He will work to reveal those clues until I recognize that it’s time to get real.

Guess what. It’s time to get real.

Posted in Marriage, Parenting

Preparing Our Children for Marriage

We live in a society that is fixated on relationships. Specifically, romantic relationships. And I have two teenagers in my house, one of whom is a natural romantic.

In all honesty, arranged marriages are looking more and more tempting.

Is there a way to prepare our children for marriage?

Despite the arranged marriage temptation, my husband and I have chosen a different route. We have chosen to prepare our children for marriage. Yes, I know they are still young. But, what if we can shape their thoughts now, before the relationship temptations hit? Allow me, if you will, to share a couple of thoughts with you.

Teach Surrender to God’s Plans

I love talking to my children about Christmas and birthdays. For years, they never had a list of requests. That gave us a clean slate to direct their desires and interests. Now, they frequently have desires, but most of their requests tend to be thought-out. While they occasionally express frivolous desires, my children typically want useful things or pleasures that will have long-term delight. They want the desires that we have taught them to have.

This training also involves teaching them to hunger for the things God wants them to have, promoting a natural hunger for God’s will. They may still fall prey to adolescent puppy love crushes. But ultimately, a hunger for God’s perfect plan will remain the foundational drive for their desires, whether that includes marriage or not.

Teach a Right Attitude About Relationships

It is important to teach our children that all relationships are a gift from God, provided by Him to fill a need. And yes, marriage is a need when it is a part of God’s plan. But we greatly limit need fulfillment when every relationship with the opposite sex revolves around determining whether or not that person fills the marriage need.

It is so much better to teach our children how to honor God to the best of their abilities in every single relationship. When our children approach relationships with that mentality, they will be stronger when the romantic inclinations creep in. They will naturally pray for protection, direction, and guidance to help them meet the needs of their friends. And those prayers will form a hedge of protection around their hearts.

The desire for romantic relationships probably will not go away. But, our children will know that those desires, like any other thought or desire, must be held in submission to God’s will for the relationship.

No Guarantees-Just Trust

Now, I know that the real world is still out there. Temptations are strong, and no amount of teaching will guarantee that none of my children will fall prey to those temptations. But working to ingrain these thought patterns in the minds of our children will definitely point them in the right direction.

And if that doesn’t work, we can always fall back on the arranged marriage idea.

Originally published at wellplannedgal.com. Republished with permission. 

Posted in Work & Life

Getting It Done

It never ceases to amaze me the number of practical life lessons I’ve learned because of the challenges I’ve worked through in homeschooling. For instance, in the homeschool community, record-keeping discussions are common. What do I keep? How much do I keep? What information is needed? How do I gather, organize, and maintain the necessary information?

The needs vary from state to state, depending on local homeschooling laws. Some states, like Arkansas, are very lax. I fill out a form every year stating my intent to homeschool. That’s it. In other states, parents have to have regular meetings with education officials, showing not only intentions but also progress. Samples of work, grades, test results, etc.

Now, on the one hand, I am thankful that Arkansas does not require such things. On the other hand, that makes it easy to lose track of where the kids actually are and what progress they have made. I have had to be intentional from the beginning about choosing curricula designed to help me keep them on track, knowing that my husband and I are accountable for the progress of our children – if not to a state education representative, then definitely to ourselves and to their future needs.

This intentionality in homeschooling serves as a continual reminder that there’s not always someone else to keep me accountable and on track in life any more than there is in homeschooling! I have to be intentional and diligent about finding ways to hold myself accountable in every aspect of life.

Keep in mind that just because I know I should find ways to hold myself accountable doesn’t mean I always do it. But, when I am diligent, here are some of the things that work:

Recognize the Trouble Spots

Like with homeschool record-keeping, there are areas where we know we will face problems if we do not keep ourselves accountable. So, the first step is to recognize those trouble areas. One for our family comes at meal-time. I hate to decide what to cook. So, menu planning is critical for me. If I don’t plan, we don’t eat well. We either eat less healthily or more expensively or both. So, the first step is recognizing the trouble spot that mealtime can be for me.

Make a Plan

Once the problem is identified, a plan has to be made. I can say I’m going to cook well or teach my kids well or make progress in any other area of life. But unless I actually create an avenue to accomplish this, it will never get done! So, a plan is critical. I have a list of what needs to be done each year to prepare for and progress through a school year. I know each month when I need to menu plan. (And before you think I’m always on top of this, realize that last year I failed in this area much more often than I succeeded. I’m a work in progress.) I have plans for other areas of life as well, including trying to get back to regular writing. It doesn’t have to be anything rigid, but having a plan keeps the need right in front of me.

Find Accountability

My job is the best example of this. Every Monday, each employee in the small company I work for gives our boss a list of priorities for the week, talking through them with her and with one another for clarification. At the end of each week, we send her a record of how we spent our time. This is not because she doesn’t trust us or is trying to micromanage and nitpick. In fact, it is just the opposite. These lists help her know where our energy is going, allowing her to keep track of whether or not the limited time, energy, and resources of our company are being used effectively. But, this also allows me to clearly see where I am using my time and gives me a measure of accountability for my work days.

By using the same principle in other areas of life, I don’t have to handle the full weight of responsibility all on my own. I can have others help hold me accountable.

Implement!

As is obvious with the confessed menu plan failures, implementation is the final key. We can know what to do, plan to do it, and even have others remind us. But, ultimately, it’s up to us to take action. And when we do, the pay-off is more than worth the effort.

Posted in Helpful Hints, What Works for Me, Work & Life

Erasable Ink

Sometimes, life really comes down to the practical. No deep lessons. No profound thoughts. Just basic and practical.

Sometimes as I ponder depth and meaning and how to surrender to the surgery I desperately need the Lord to do on the deep parts of my heart, mind, and habits, I forget just how important those basic and practical things are.

Like erasable ink.

Several years ago, a friend introduced me to Frixion pens. I’d never liked erasable pens because they never seemed to really erase. But these? Oh my word…they work!! And I became addicted! They’re pretty and fun and just a treat to use. They add a little pizazz to life.

But, there’s more to these pens than just fun. There are actually two reasons I really, really like the idea of being able to use erasable ink pens, especially in my planners.

Flexibility

The first really is obvious. I always function better when I can plan ahead, and sometimes I need to plan FAR ahead. But the truth is that life changes. Plans change. I need to be able to erase and make changes, both in my personal planner (the Mommy brain, as my kids call it) and in my homeschool planner. It’s just a necessity.

But, that can be done in pencil, can’t it? Yes, it can. And, for a long time, it was done in pencil. Erasable colored pencils, to be certain, because I color code. In the homeschool planner, each child has a color for independent work and a color for work I do with them (read-alouds, etc.). In my personal planner, I have separate colors for general family life, school, work, church, writing, and personal development. It saves space, helps me keep it all distinguished, and helps me not overlook tasks and activities. Color is my friend.

But, why ink?

Commitment

While pencil works well for flexibility, it doesn’t work well – at least mentally – for commitment. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “I’ll pencil you in.” More often than not, that means plans will change. We are not committed to penciled-in obligations, tasks, and events.

Yes, it’s mental. And yes, it’s something we might just need to get over. But, for me, being able to use ink instead of pencil helps with that mental commitment – even if they are equally erasable. There’s just something about seeing it in ink that solidifies a task, event, or other commitment in my mind.

It’s just a little thing. But sometimes those little things make the deeper things more feasible. Even something as little, as practical, as basic as using erasable ink.