Posted in Reviews

Before We Were Yours

I tend to only review books that are sent to me for that purpose, but the more I read, the more I realize that I want to share about other outstanding titles I enjoy. I primarily want to do that because it will enable me to share more nonfiction (which I rarely agree to review because I read nonfiction much more slowly and don’t want to be rushed for the sake of deadlines). I’ll be starting those nonfiction reviews soon, but for today I have another novel to share.

I can’t remember where I first heard of Before We Were Yours, but some suggestion somewhere along the way led me to put it on reserve at the library. When I reserved it, there were sixteen people in line ahead of me – not surprising considering it spent six months on the New York Times Bestseller list. Fortunately, it was also a book my mom loved, so she bought her own copy and loaned it to me months before I would have gotten it from the library. I can tell you this, though: it would have been worth the wait.

One look at the synopsis reveals very clearly that Before We Were Yours is not a light and fluffy read. On the contrary, it’s quite hard, especially if you tend to start, like I do, by looking at the historical context for a novel such as this. Fiction, no matter how dedicated the author to depicting history, can rarely fully encompass the horror of dark points in our history. And that is the case in the story Lisa Wingate weaves of Rill Foss and her family. Despite the horrors Rill and her siblings endured, many families endured much worse in real life.

Rill’s story is set in the late 1930s and early 1940s during the days of Georgia Tann, a woman who “rescued” poor children from their bleak circumstances and matched them to wealthy families who desired children, usually for a hefty price. Some of the children were rightfully removed from their families by the state, victims of abuse and neglect. But others were literally stolen from happy, loving families whose only crime was poverty.

Decades later, a chance encounter leaves another young woman, Avery Stafford, stumped. An elderly woman she’s never met claims to know Avery’s beloved grandmother. Avery knows she should simply leave the question alone, but the woman’s cryptic statements, combined with her own grandmother’s failing memory and odd responses, spark her curiosity. Even more disconcerting is the fear that the connection between the two women may hide a scandal that could destroy her family’s political and societal standing. Determined to uncover the truth, Avery embarks on a journey that will change her life in more ways than one.

Before We Were Yours is the type of historical fiction I love – a glimpse into the side of history that never makes its way into the history books. Lisa Wingate explores both the immediate and long-term impact of historical events, while also building a beautiful tale of relationship and family. She combines the treat of being able to read a beautiful open-and-closed storyline with the reality that no life can truly fit within the beginnings and endings of a satisfying novel. The story also reminds us that hope and joy can be found even in the darkest of places. Even though the spiritual aspect of that reality is not really explored in Before We Were Yours, it is not difficult for believers to see how God’s hand was present even in the darkness that encompassed so many families during Georgia Tann’s decades of power. Yes, it’s a hard read, but it is also a worthwhile read.

I definitely recommend this book for adults and for older, mature teens.

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Posted in Around the Web, Faith Nuggets, Meditations & Meanderings

Source of Delight

Sometimes I have to go back and revisit what God has taught me in the past, either through journals or old articles. Today, I’d like to share one I wrote for work – probably for Family Magazinefour or five years ago. I needed this reminder today. 

What delights you? Obviously, our families and good friends bring delight. But, we can’t forget that good bite of chocolate, either. Okay, so maybe we need more than just a bite, but you get the picture.

I can think of several activities that bring me delight. I find great relaxation in sewing and writing. Other times there’s nothing like curling up on the couch with a warm drink and a good book when I catch the chance. I feel energized when I have something to organize, whether it be a kitchen cabinet or a well-laid plan. Even though I typically would prefer to leave cooking to just about anyone else, I do thoroughly enjoy whipping up a delicious baked treat. And then there is teaching my children. Oh how I truly love being the one to watch that precious trio learn!

I have noticed something about myself, though. There are times when none of these activities appeal to me. Somewhere deep inside of me I might want the relaxation of a good book or the accomplishment of completing a sewing project. But, that little something seems to be so greatly buried that it offers no motivation. Instead, I find that I just don’t care about anything. I’m so restless that inactivity drives me crazy, but none of the things that normally delight me tempt or motivate me at all.

Maybe I’m the only one who ever ends up in a place like that, but somehow I doubt that to be true. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to find at least one reader battling similar feelings right now. I hate that part of myself and never want to be in that place. But, it has taken me a very, very long time to learn how to battle against those times of lethargy.

Rediscovering Delight

Once I did finally discover the key weapon in my battle, I found it to be something so incredibly simple. It comes from a verse many of us have known for as long as we can remember.

Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

This is such a familiar verse, and it is one that frequently gets taken out of context. So, just to make sure there is no misunderstanding, let’s look for just a moment at what is going on in Psalm 37. Essentially, David observes that the wicked seem to be living in the lap of luxury while the righteous struggle day after day. But, he also notes that the success of the wicked is temporary, and he reminds us that only trust in the Lord will endure eternally and bring us success, fulfillment, and even provision. He’s calling us to delight in the Lord in the middle of frustration, agitation, and injustice. We are reminded to put aside the earthly temptations that draw in the wicked and intentionally find delight in God alone.

I can guarantee you beyond any doubt that those deep, dark moments of life in which I lose all interest in everything can be traced back to a choice regarding where I place my delight. When I delight in the Lord, I find myself fully delighting in the things He created me to be and do. I cannot help but write. I itch to sew. I look at my bookshelf and hunger to find a book that teaches me more about His Word or tells the story of a character, real or fictional, who delighted in Him. I want to keep my life organized, and I want to bake just so I can delight someone with the treat. And oh how I want to teach my children. The hunger and passion to instill that delight in the Lord in them almost overwhelms me. But when I stop delighting in Him, I begin trying to find joy in all of those other things. And suddenly, they’re not good enough at all.

The only treatment for times like these is a restoration of our delight in the Lord. But we fight against it so strongly. We don’t want to pray. We don’t want to read His Word. We don’t want to fellowship with other believers. We know we’re rotten, and we are convinced that diving into anything of spiritual significance will do nothing more than reinforce our own blackness. All we want to do is avoid that spiritual depth. And the more we avoid delighting in the Lord, the more we lose our delight in everything else.

So, what do we do? We try to rev up our delight in all those other things. It will never work. The opposite happens instead, and we find ourselves even more repulsed by the very things that typically fuel us. Amazingly, though, the moment we push through and make ourselves delight in the Lord, we see a change. We see the passion begin to spark again. We feel the energy begin to flow. There is an instant, cleansing power found through delighting in the Lord.

Are you in a place right now where you have lost delight in everything? Take that first step toward delighting in the Lord. It might be as simple as getting on your knees and crying, “Help me!” It could involve forcing yourself to read a passage over and over until you sense the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking life back into your heart. Joining with other believers in a place of good, Christ-focused fellowship might be the step you need to take. Whatever it is, take it! It will be hard. It will take all of your energy. But as soon as you take that step, you’ll sense the delight returning to your heart.

My friend, may you delight yourself in the Lord, and may He overwhelm you with joy in the desires of your heart.

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Family

Learning from One Another

Friday is my family’s day of rest.

There are certain things lacking in our Friday Sabbath, like the corporate worship portion of Sabbath that is such a critical part of our rest. But, the honest truth is that we are in a season where Sunday and rest simply cannot coincide. That does not, however, give us an excuse to disobey the command to rest. The command is still there. Not just moments caught here and there, but intentional, weekly, full-day rest.

And, for this season in the life of the Hibbards, that day is typically Friday.

The thing about our Fridays is that we have had to learn how to make the rest happen. And, we’ve had to learn how to do it as a family. Or, maybe I should say that we are having to learn to do it as a family. It doesn’t come naturally, partly because we live in a culture that works against true rest. In our culture, nothing is truly restful. Days off work are filled with catching up on chores that cannot be done during the week, engaging in an overly exhausting pile-up of ball games and tournaments, or filling the time with non-stop “vacation” activity. Days off do not equal rest. True rest has to be learned.

Many books and resources are available these days to help us learn what true rest is – and just how counter-cultural it is! In fact, if you’re interested, I could recommend some of the best of those resources to you. (Be warned – your toes WILL be stepped on.) Ultimately, though, it all comes back to the reality that we each have to learn what rest looks like for our individual circumstances. The specific details of rest will look different for you than for me because our needs, personalities, and circumstances are different. Unique. Specific.

Here’s the catch. When we share advice or experience with one another, we make one of two mistakes. Either we share what has worked perfectly for us and expect it to also meet others’ needs perfectly (or we’re on the receiving end of that sort of advice!) or we refrain from sharing because we know that we’re unique and weird and different and that what works for us will not work for someone else. What we should be doing is sharing with one another because we know we need motivation, encouragement, ideas, and foundations upon which to build.

I’ll be honest. Our family has struggled to figure out what our day of rest should look like. Why? Because in past seasons, rest flowed more naturally. It presented itself in the rhythms of our life. We didn’t have to actively protect it and be as intentional about it as we do now. It just happened. Which, in a way, was nice because it wasn’t a struggle. In another way, though, obedience was easy and we didn’t have to think about it. So, we didn’t grow in that aspect of obedience.

Now we do have to be intentional. We do have to work at it. And, we have had to rethink every aspect of what it means to rest as a family. We’ve researched and read and explored (thus finding all of those awesome resources that we can recommend!), learning much through books and commentaries and blog posts and such. Sadly, in all of our exploration, there has been very little exchange of thoughts and ideas with our immediate community.

Friends, that ought not be.

First, we should be obeying the command to observe regular rest. Second, we should be sharing as a community in the process. Sabbath is counter-cultural in our society – it should be the norm within our Christian communities.

Last year I “met” a new “friend” named Shelly Miller. No, I don’t really know her. I enjoyed her book Rhythms of Rest, I read her Sabbath Society e-mails each week, and we exchanged a few e-mails at one point. None of it is enough to allow me to truly claim her as part of my community. Yet, what she has to offer is what I long for in a community. She shares as she learns, engages in conversation with those who are learning alongside her, and craves growth as a community.

That’s what WE should be. A community that encourages one another to learn, whether it be about rest or any other area of obedience.

So, what are you learning? How are you sharing what you’re learning? Who is sharing their lessons with you? And if you cannot answer any of those questions, what are you going to actively do to change? Let’s actively learn from one another!

Posted in What I'm Learning, Wonderments

Not Ready

Hibbard Academy’s thirteenth year of operation began on Monday, but the teacher was not really ready.

All summer, I’ve fought to find moments here and there to prepare for the new school year. I’ve spent evenings working far later than I should. I’ve squeezed as many Saturday moments as possible. Whenever the work and family schedule allowed, I put in hours during the day. But, I still wasn’t ready. Two days before we started, I realized I was missing the lesson plans for an entire course for my ninth grader. Morning of, I scrambled to find answer keys for the work my son had completed that needed to be graded. I still have a folding table set up beside my desk, full of miscellaneous tasks needing to be finished. I even created a brand new to-do list just so I wouldn’t miss something in the middle of the chicken scratch that remains of my working lists. In the middle of it all, I have this crazy feeling that I’ve missed something huge. Major. Critical.

But we still started. The kids dove in happily, asking me questions as we went along and helping me see what still needed to be added to my list – but never in a demanding or complaining way. They’re old hats at this, and they knew how to dive in to even some of the things that weren’t quite ready for them. They bound some of their own loose worksheet pages, made their own reminder notes, and laughed through the first day.

The things undone are still hanging over my head. They still have to be done so I can clean up the chaos around my desk, walk through the year well, and be ready and able to handle the demands for flexibility that inevitably pop up throughout the year. But, as the first day progressed, I realized that the last push to get the most major things ready was enough. We were able to have a good first day, despite it all.

Sometimes, not ready is okay.

As a planner addict, I’m not really okay with a lack of readiness in most situations. I want to have all of my ducks in a row and all of my plans lined up. It’s not so much that I expect things to go as planned – I’ve learned that they almost never do! But, when I have the plan well laid, I’m more ready and able to make adjustments when the need arises.

That’s not a bad thing. In fact, when things fall apart, it can more frequently be traced to lack of planning than to over-planning. I’ve seen it time and time again. We need to plan. We need to be aware of what’s coming and think through the logistics of what needs to be done. But, sometimes planner people like me take it too far. We plan and plan and plan, aiming for a point of readiness, often missing that the specific target is not very solid. There is always some other way we can plan. Some other avenue we can pursue. Some other contingent we need to create an alternative for. There’s always something.

And in the planning, we neglect to act.

On Monday morning, it was time to act. Although it went against the grain of who I am as a planner, I chose to hold myself to that deadline. And it worked – three days in, the first week of school is going quite well. More remains to be done, but I’ll get it done along the way. For now, though, I feel better for the acting. Yes, sometimes “not ready” really is okay.

Posted in Elizabeth Camden, Reviews

A Daring Venture

I recently glanced through all of my Elizabeth Camden books, remembering the plot of this one or a favorite character from that one. As I compared older books to her latest, I realized why I still do not hesitate to get my hands on each new release. Even though she releases at least one new title – if not two – every year, and even though her writing style and character development have morphed and changed over the years, there has never been a change in the quality of her research, creativity, and quality. Camden’s most recent effort, A Daring Venture, is just as captivating, and her characters are just as rich as ever.

A Daring Venture is unique in Camden’s ventures, however, in that it is a genuine sequel. Although once before Camden has taken a minor character from one book and turned him into a major character in another, nothing in those two books demands that they be read together. A Daring Venture holds its own as far as the story line is concerned, but readers will miss a great deal if they do not first get to know Nicholas Drake’s background through his sister’s story in A Dangerous Legacy.

(Note: This review, by nature, will contain some spoilers for those who have not yet read A Dangerous Legacy.)

Nicholas Drake’s inheritance from his estranged uncle has brought him fortune, but not automatically fame. Despite having vast resources, Nick must still fight a battle for recognition and acceptance among not only the wealthy, but also the political leaders in New York. He is convinced that being named Commissioner of Water for New York will allow him to earn the respect he needs to take care of the growing city, but he has no illusions that it will be an easy task. What he doesn’t expect, however, is the continued family tension that he cannot seem to escape – or that his new role might force him to sacrifice his heart.

Rosalind Werner’s world crashed around her early in life when a deadly cholera outbreak attacked her family. Now an adult, Rosalind has learned that impure water is not her only enemy. Educated as a research doctor in a time when women are not recognized as competent in the scientific arena, Rosalind must not only defend her qualifications, but also her controversial research findings – and even her personal reputation. But she never imagines the fullness of what it will cost her to stand and defend what she knows to be true.

I love the combination of flaws and strengths in Nick, Rosalind, and even familiar characters Lucy and Colin. The relational interactions are vivid and powerful, battling real temptations and struggles. A Daring Venture is not a neatly packaged, every-problem-solved romance. Yet it is satisfying and beautiful at the same time. Camden has beautifully handled the transition from single-story writing to weaving a series, and I felt that the character development from the first novel to the second was well-handled and strongly presented. And, of course, the history reminded me once again why I devour Elizabeth Camden’s novels. The story line explored an aspect of history vitally relevant to each and every one of us, yet one we take for granted and do not truly even think about. I love diving into these historical glimpses, and I love the way they urge me to research on my own. Camden does a great job of merging fictional and historical characters and exploring the impact events and decisions made on real people.

Elizabeth Camden continues to succeed, providing my teen daughters and I yet another book to read and reread. And, the story isn’t over yet! I am already counting down to next year’s release of book three, A Desperate Hope!

This book was sent to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Meditations & Meanderings, Thoughts from Scripture

Unity and Harmony

Over the years, I’ve grown to love the way the Holy Spirit helps me see portions of Scripture more clearly. Sometimes, I see connections within a multi-verse passage or between two different passages. Other times, a single word jumps out at me, and I realize the preconceptions I have applied to that word. Then I get to explore and determine whether those preconceptions have helped or hurt my understanding.

“Unity” is one of those words. Recently, while studying 1 Peter, I got a bit hung up on a word in 1 Peter 3:8. I was using NASB (my favorite study translation) to read through the passage each morning: “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit” (emphasis mine).

I’d read and studied the whole focal passage (1 Peter 3:8-12) over and over again for several days already, and I’d been processing through the passage as a whole. But, “harmonious” kept standing out to me. I looked it up in other translations, and I realized that other translations seemed to favor “unity” and “of one mind.” Only NASB chose “harmonious.”

And that’s where I realized my preconceptions. You see, in my mind I often equate unity and uniformity. They are not the same. But, that’s what I frequently come to the table thinking: if you want me to be unified with you, you want me to think like you. To process like you. To engage like you. But that’s not really unity. That’s uniformity.

And uniformity is not what is meant by Paul, Peter, and other New Testament writers as they presented a concept that we usually translate as “unity.” The concept they present is one that, in my mind, is more easily expressed as “harmony.” Why? Because I’m a musical person. I grasp the idea of multiple voices or instruments playing a variety of notes in a variety of ways, together producing something amazingly beautiful. They are together. They are accomplishing a united goal. But, they are each doing so in a way that reflects their own personality. Harmony.

That is the truth of unity as expressed in Scripture. Both words are correct. But one resonates more clearly with me simply because of the way my brain works.

Peter would not have thought differently of the two. I’d have to do more research to validate this thought, but I don’t believe musical harmony was much of a concept in Peter’s day. He did, however, understand that a good fishing team needed to have multiple strengths to work together and accomplish a common goal, just as Paul described the different parts of the body functioning together. That’s harmony. Unity, but not uniformity.

I’ve always known that. But, my subconscious preconception that equated unity and uniformity has still negatively colored my reading of “unity” passages in Scripture. One little translation choice to use “harmonious” instead of “unity of mind” or “like-minded” made me stop and deal with my preconception.

That, my friends, is how the Spirit works. How He grows us and teaches us and helps us dig more deeply into the Word of God. How He conforms our thoughts and our minds to more clearly reflect the mind of Christ. May we never take that teaching lightly! And may we never cling to our preconceptions more strongly than to the teaching of the Holy Spirit.

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Meditations & Meanderings

Blog Post or Devotional?

I was fifteen when I was handed my first devotional. It was a small, leather-bound copy of My Utmost for His Highest, given to me as a Christmas present by my great-aunt Lula. I still have it. And I still read it. Not every year – it’s not in my stack of morning reading this year, but it goes through my rotation every few years.

In the “off” years, I try other devotional books. Some have been good. Others have been okay. But this year, for the first time, I stopped reading my chosen devotional book only a month into the year. It’s not that it was a bad book. I had not come across anything unbiblical or questionable. I just realized something about it: it was not really devotional. Instead, it felt more like a collection of blog posts.

I enjoy blog posts. I write blog posts. And I’m challenged and encouraged by blog posts. But, I’ve come to realize something. A blog post is not a devotional. Instead, it is a sharing of thought, opinion, or experience. It forms camaraderie as we share with one another and realize we are not alone in our thoughts, opinions, or experiences.

A devotional, however, is a very different thing. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines the word devotional two ways:
1. Adj: of, relating to, or otherwise characterized by devotion
2. N: a short worship service

Ultimately, devotional reading should be all about emphasizing our worship of and helping to express our devotion to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. While our experiences might be used as an example in a devotional, ultimately the primary thrust of the writing comes back to one thing and one thing only: a growth in the Word and worship of God. It isn’t about us. It isn’t even about fellowship and community. Those are important and very much have their place, but sometimes we need to come back worship and true devotion. Purely and simply.

When I sit down to read in the morning, I hunger for everything I take in to point me back to God’s Word. Some would say that I should, therefore, not even pick up other books in the mornings. And, there are some mornings I skip my other books and just dive into my study of 1 Peter or the upcoming week’s Sunday school passage or my Proverb of the day. But, other books, whether devotionals or otherwise, also help me break out of the rut I sometimes read myself into. They help me think outside the box I sometimes trap myself in. They make me examine myself in new ways.

Unfortunately, too much material written for women these days tends to fall into the “blog post” category. It may be packaged as devotionals or spiritually nourishing books or even Bible studies, but the focus is primarily on encouraging one another in shared experiences, doing little to drive us back to worship of Christ or to Scripture itself. It does not break us out of our ruts. It does not help us think outside our little boxes. And it does not force a deeper level of self-examination that compares our hearts and lives to the purity demanded in Scripture.

There is a huge place for expression of mutual comfort and a sense of fellowship. This lets us know that we are not alone in our struggles. That we have fellowship. Oh, how desperately we need that! But a deeper need – our deep, burning, foundational need – is to become more like Christ. To learn a greater devotion to Him. And if what we choose to take in only focuses on the encouragement of human community and not on our deeper need for growing devotion, we starve our spiritual selves.

So that brings us to this question: are we daily challenging our devotion to the Lord? Are we engaging in true devotional time, or are we merely contenting ourselves with blog posts?