Posted in Reviews

A Most Noble Heir

We all think we love – and would love to live – a good “rags to riches” story. But the reality of rising from one social context to another never runs as smoothly as the glorious fairy tales like to reflect. The struggle, rather than the fairy tale, is what is reflected in Susan Anne Mason’s A Most Noble Heir.

Nolan Price is perfectly at home in the stables, caring for the Earl of Stainsby’s horses. But Nolan’s real passion is for a place of his own with his beloved Hannah Burnham by his side. Just as those plans are coming together, however, his mother’s deathbed confession destroys every hope in an instant. Nolan is the earl’s son and rightful heir. His place is no longer in the stables but in the earl’s home, living as befits his station. Nolan wants none of it, and he is determined to move forward with his own plans. The earl, however, has no intention of letting Nolan go – and he has the power and authority to ensure his will is enforced, no matter the cost.

As can be imagined, the interactions and relational dynamics of A Most Noble Heir are intense. Every relationship Nolan holds dear is stretched and strained, and the one relationship he never had but truly wanted has now been forced upon him in a most undesirable way. At the risk of spoiling the story a bit, I must confess that Nolan’s reactions to his life upheaval left me preferring every other character – even the earl himself! – over Nolan. I wanted him to be, well, noble. I wanted to see what it was about this man that made Hannah fall in love with him. Looking back, though, I realize that what I wanted was fluffy idealism. The picture Mason has painted in A Most Noble Heir is a realistic one, depicting a young man with good character but an untried heart. His life, while encumbered with the challenges of servitude and relatively low station, has not truly been stretched. The sudden upheaval of everything he held dear stretches and strains him, revealing flaws that need purification and youth that needs maturation. Although I still find myself drawn more solidly toward other characters in the book, I see that Nolan is much more the picture of the noble heir than I initially believed him to be.

So, where does that leave the book as a whole? Despite the potentially heavy subject matter of A Most Noble Heir, this is a quick and easy read, full of sweet moments and even a touch of humor. Being married to a church history nerd, I did notice that a more modern concept of faith was incorporated into the narrative. While it will seem very fitting to contemporary readers, it is not an accurate historical depiction of what Christianity would have looked like, even for those with a solid and intimate relationship with the Lord. This does not distract from the story itself – it is simply a reminder that our appetite for both history and theology may be whetted by fiction, but we can never be content to allow fiction to be our main course in either discipline.

The storyline moves along at a good pace, and a small thread of mystery weaves its way throughout the narrative, leaving the reader wondering what other forces are working behind the scenes. Lessons are learned, character is developed, and a few surprises are worked in along the way. All in all, A Most Noble Heir is a fun read for lovers of late 19th century historical fiction.

This book was sent to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
Advertisements
Posted in Thoughts from Life, What I'm Learning

Sufficiency and Tightropes

I’m procrastinating today.

We slept in a bit this morning, which has me running a little later on the routine than normal. But, that’s not really what has me moving slowly. In reality, it’s the subconscious knowledge that, if I keep putting off writing, I once again won’t have time to get a blog post written, edited, and published before I absolutely have to get to work in order to get my hours in before church. That subconscious knowledge has actually become my safety net. And I’ve been spending more time in the safety net than on the tightrope where I belong.

You see, I have quiet a few blog posts stored in my files right now. Some are just thoughts tapped out quickly that need to be fleshed out. But others are fully written and just need to be edited. I have good intentions of starting my morning with some editing, photo searching, and publication prep so I can get one of those posts up. But each morning I find a whole list of other things that just have to be done. Then my time is spent, and I have to get to work. So, the posts never go up.

But it’s not really because of a lack of time or because of so many other things that are pressing. It’s really because staying in the safety net is more comfortable. It keeps me from falling. Because I know that I’m not going to stay on that tightrope. I will fall. How much easier to just stay down here where I know I’m going to end up anyway?

I’ve always been like that. I’ve never been a risk-taker or a daredevil. Thrill has never enticed me. In some ways, that’s a good thing. There is a place for people like me, because we like to keep the show running. We like to be in the background providing everything the thrill-seekers and dreamers and brainstormers and visionaries need. We make their ideas happen because we’re good at the practical and the organizational and – to be completely honest – the boring. That’s our place. That’s our strength.

But, too often it’s also our hiding place. And we have a litany of reasons to hide. One of the big ones for me is a feeling of insufficiency.

One of my daughters surprised me one day by verbalizing exactly how I feel so often, especially in the presence of my children. They are so talented. So amazing. They all have such incredible skills. I feel pretty mediocre standing next to them. Yet, one morning my daughter expressed how she felt useless and untalented, especially compared to her siblings. They, in turn, stared at her with mouths gaping and quickly began stating all of the ways she was so awesome and her talents were so amazing and useful, especially compared to how they viewed their own talents and strengths. As I worked to build up and encourage each of them, I also ached because I knew exactly how they all felt.

Insufficient.

They believe about themselves the same things I believe about myself. We may have our skills and talents, but what difference do they actually make in the real world? How can we possibly compare to the extraordinary offerings of so many other people? What impact can we, with our piddly contributions – actually make?

We recognize that we’ll never know if we don’t try, but we’ve also all – yes, even my three precious children at their tender ages – have tried and have fallen off the tightrope. Multiple times. Sometimes because of our own failing and other times because we’ve been shoved. Every time because of some insufficiency.

We long for the tightrope. We even do all of the preparations needed to walk the tightrope. And really, we don’t mind falling in the process of learning to walk the tightrope. But, we know that we won’t always fall on our own. Sometimes we will be knocked down, whether accidentally because of a lapse of attentiveness on someone else’s part or intentionally because of jealousy or rudeness or pride. But, it will happen. And in that fear, we stay in our safety net and wish that we were already experts on the tightrope. Already skilled to the point of being able to better resist the shoves. Unsure that we can handle both the learning and the struggling.

That’s why I’m procrastinating today. That’s why multiple posts remain in my folders, unedited and unpublished. And that’s why I’m forcing myself to publish this post today. Because it’s time to get out of the safety net and get back on the tightrope.

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.
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.