Posted in Meditations & Meanderings, Thoughts from Life

Questions Without Answers

“Question for you,” my husband or I will say to one another. Or it may even come from someone else. A child. A parent. A friend. A church member.

“Answer for you,” comes the inevitable response. At least, we hope there’s an answer.

There’s something incredibly satisfying about being confident in our ability to answer a question. It means we’re knowledgeable about something (always a confidence booster), able to make a decision (extremely edifying for those of us who struggle to make decisions), or able to be of help to someone (Who doesn’t enjoy that?).

Of course, when we are the ones with the questions, we also want the answers to be forthcoming. Typically when I ask a question of my husband or children or anyone else, I might not need an answer immediately. But I definitely want them to ponder, evaluate, consider, research, explore, or whatever and get back with me at some point. We ask questions because, ultimately, we want answers.

And this is where spiritual growth gets tricky. Because sometimes we ask questions that only God can answer. And many times it feels that He is a little vague or dodgy with the answer.

I can’t read Scripture without clearly seeing the number of times God’s clear answers were delayed or obscured in some way. And when He was clear and quick, it was often in discipline, not in response to the heart cries of a truly searching servant. From Job to Abraham to Joseph to the prophets to the disciples to Paul, there is incident after incident of God requiring His servants to wait. To trust. To learn slowly.

This truth is clear in my own life as well. I look at what I know now and see how much of it has come, not from beautiful moments of quick illumination, but from long and hard study. From waiting. From asking question after question after question, layering one on top of the other until I don’t really remember where I started—I just know that the search never seems to end.

Reading what I just wrote makes the process seem so very daunting. Completely overwhelming. And not at all reassuring. Can we really be motivated to ask if one request seems to pile into many? If the answers never seem clear and forthcoming?

Yes. Yes, we can. And here’s why. First, Jesus told us to ask. (See Matthew 7 or Luke 11. Or go back even further to see God’s instruction to Solomon in 1 Kings 3.) That’s reason enough.

But there’s more. If we really stop and look both through Scripture and our own lives, we see that there is so much more to God’s provision and work in us than just straightforward answers. He works truth. He works understanding. He works growth. He works His will. He works Himself into our lives. And through the process, though it may take so much longer than we care to endure, we do receive those answers. But when they come, they come with fullness of life and with meaning and with purpose instead of just as simple answers to questions. They answer much more than we could ever have imagined.

More often than not, my journal holds questions without answers. The beginning of yet another search, even as I am still in the middle of older searches. Even as I continue to journal through previous questions that have only received partial answers. Clues lead me to the next step, but the old questions seem unending. The new questions seem unanswerable.

But, I have learned to go ahead and ask them. To go ahead and write down the questions that I know will not be answered today. Or tomorrow. Probably even this year. Maybe even this decade. But they still must be asked. Because the journey to the answer means more than the answer itself. The journey points me to Christ. The ultimate Answer. And the more I ask, the more I get to know Him.

Seems like incredible motivation to me.

Posted in Carolyn Miller, Reviews

Underestimating Miss Cecilia

A couple of years ago, I was introduced to Carolyn Miller, an author of Christian romantic fiction set in nineteenth century England. I typically don’t enjoy reading romantic fiction just for the sake of reading romantic fiction. I like a romantic component, but I prefer it to be a side story or a vehicle by which something more intriguing (especially history!) is shared. So, while I agreed to review Miller’s novels, I honestly didn’t expect her to become a favorite author. Yet, somehow I kept coming back to her.

I finished her Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace series and enjoyed all three books. Although I missed her second Regency Brides series (A Promise of Hope), when I had the chance to pick up Underestimating Miss Cecilia, book two in Daughters of Aynsley, the third Regency Brides series, I figured I’d give it a whirl. And I’m glad I did.

Obviously, it’s always dangerous to pick up the second book in a three-book series without having read the first book. But, this particular gamble turned out well. Although there were clear references to the first book, as well as indications that I was missing some details from having not read A Hero for Miss Hatherleigh, I found Underestimating Miss Cecilia to be sufficiently self-contained. The characters were easy to get to know, and the flow of the story carried itself well.

When reading a romantic novel, it goes without saying that the girl gets the boys and vice versa. That is simply the nature of romantic fiction. But, once again, Carolyn Miller artfully weaves the story to keep the reader engaged and interested, even knowing what the end result will be. The how is the key, and Miller handles the how well.

She also includes a treasure that makes this book even more fun for me: history! This particular history includes the struggle for labor and representation reform in England in the first half of the 19th century, revolving around the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. (Yes, I had to look it up!) I enjoy novels that breathe life into history I’m either unaware of or have only seen facts about. How did real people interact with those events? What impact did they have on actual lives? What did the people at the forefront of change experience and sacrifice to see the change come to be? As William Wilberforce gave his time, energy, and even health to the fight to end the slave trade, so did others surrender much to see that common laborers received fair representation in Parliament. Carolyn Miller’s weaving of this portion of history into the fabric of a romance makes for captivating reading.

There is one more aspect of the Regency Brides books that I enjoy. Many historical novels are written such that the characters may be fully in their own time period, but their language more reflects our own. On the one hand, I understand this. Language changes, and authors must choose whether to adhere to the language of the time or write in a way that our modern sensitivities can grasp. I think Carolyn Miller does a good job of bridging that gap. While I do think many of the thought processes reflected in Underestimating Miss Cecilia and the other books in the Regency Brides series more match modern culture than the early 1800s, there are also many references, comments, dialogues, and behaviors that are clearly foreign to us. Little idioms caused me to pause and contemplate. Phrasings caught me off guard. I loved those moments and those little glimpses into how culture grows and changes.

All that to say, for those who enjoy Christian romantic fiction, especially of a British flair, Underestimating Miss Cecilia is definitely a title to check out. And yes, I’d also recommend it to those who like historical fiction and don’t mind it being presented in a strong romantic frame. Overall, I am definitely finding Carolyn Miller to be an enjoyable author when I’m in the mood for a fun, even predictable read while still wanting depth and an element of surprise.

THIS BOOK WAS SENT TO ME BY KREGEL PUBLICATIONS IN EXCHANGE FOR MY HONEST REVIEW.
Posted in Family, Parenting

Learning Well

When I shared my journey toward reading more non-fiction, I didn’t quite give the full picture. You see, we are a family of bookaholics. My husband and I grew up with books, and throughout our married life we have filled our own home with books. Thousands of books, both in print and in digital format.

Our children didn’t have a chance. They were doomed to love books.

It’s not so much that they had to be great at reading. Contrary to public opinion, not all of my children learned to read easily. And I’m not really referring to learning their letters and how they went together. That process came in varying degrees of ease or difficulty with each of my children, but nothing abnormal.

What I’m referring to is the act of sitting down to read for personal growth or enjoyment. Only one of my children actually has a truly inborn love for books, and most people who know my family could pick out that one child without much thought. The love for reading that the other two now have had to be actively nurtured, built, and often persuaded, just as my love for non-fiction has had to be cultivated and nourished. Despite the fact that they are all avid readers now, there still come times of persuasion when we want to encourage a new genre or challenge.

Sometimes, though, persuading our children to read certain books is as much a willingness for us as parents to think outside the box as it is for our children to do so themselves.

For example, I remember one particular book my oldest was reading for her literature class. The book was definitely outside her reading comfort zone. It was a new style and originated in a culture foreign to her. She came to me one day and told me that she was really, really enjoying the book, but she also had a problem. The comprehension questions for that particular book were strange and did not, to her, truly reflect a sense of comprehension. She began to describe some of what she’d read recently and pointed out that none of those observations were covered by the comprehension questions. Oh, she could answer the questions. But in doing so, she was having to neglect her own responses to and engagement with the book. Comprehension questions are designed to make sure that she understands. If they actually keep her from really processing the material, are they really accomplishing their purpose?

We dumped the questions. Instead, for each day’s reading assignment, she had to note five things that stood out to her and engage with those five points, explaining what she thought about them and how they had impacted her.

Parenting can never be boiled down to nutshell advice. But, the act of setting aside those comprehension questions actually does illustrate well a great number of the lessons I’ve learned about parenting over the years: We parents have to be willing to learn as we go, thinking outside the box, if we’re ever going to raise functional, adaptable children. And sometimes we have to be willing to ditch the “tried and true” advice. Not necessarily permanently, but definitely in some situations.

Each child is unique. Even beyond that, each family is unique. My nuclear family has an identity that the family I grew up in did not have. It does not insinuate anything wrong with my upbringing. But, if I parent exactly the same way my parents did, holding exactly to every bit of advice they share, then I’m holding to a standard that will not truly nourish my children—and may even cause harm. If I instead allow my upbringing and my parents’ example to be a springboard for learning how to parent my own children, then I am honoring my parents while also acknowledging the uniqueness of my children.

That’s what it means to both learn and teach well in parenting. (And yes, that goes for all parents—not just those of the homeschooling persuasion.) It means sometimes prodding because we know it’s what good for them, as with ensuring our children to learn to read well. But, other times it means paying full attention to what doesn’t quite fit. What feels off. What might not be accomplishing a desired result, even if it’s a tried and true method passed down through generations. When we are willing to stretch outside those boundaries in parenting and in learning ourselves, we set an example for our children as well, teaching them to think outside the box and pay attention to the culture, uniqueness, and specific needs of the environment or situation they are in.

And that, my friends, is learning well.

Image by ThePixelman from Pixabay
Posted in What I'm Learning, Work & Life

Building a Non-Narrative Reading Habit

A year or so ago, a friend of mine asked a question on Facebook about establishing a non-fiction reading habit. As I pondered her question I was, first and foremost, encouraged by her admission. She’s one of those people I rank very high on the “smart preacher’s wife” list—but here she was struggling with non-narrative reading just like I always have! I’d always felt “less-than” on the intelligence scale because of my struggle with non-fiction. It was encouraging to see that even smart people sometimes struggle with non-fiction.

Secondly, her question opened my eyes to the fact that I have actually achieved a long-desired turning point in my own reading habit. I have gone from struggling greatly with non-narrative reading to establishing a needed habit of it to truly enjoying it! For the first time in my life, I look with excitement on my growing list of non-fiction titles instead of feeling overwhelmed. How exactly did I get there?

More Than Fiction vs. Non-Fiction: Starting with My Strengths

Fiction lovers often talk about preferring our novels over our non-fiction. But there are more distinctions than simply fiction and non-fiction. It’s not so much that I prefer fiction. It’s that I prefer story. I love Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place just as much as From Dust and Ashes by Tricia Goyer, my long-time favorite World War II novel. One is non-fiction, the other fiction created from memories of men who lived it. But both are stories. Narratives that bring history to life.

Recognizing that reality helped me take my preference and pick out non-fiction authors who paint word pictures. Even if they don’t tell stories in purely narrative form the same way The Hiding Place does, they do bring words to life, turning them into images that explode in my visual mind, helping me grasp abstract concepts.

The biggest challenge was that the recommended “greats” of Christian literature don’t always write like that. I had to realize that there was no failure in going with my strengths. I was still challenging myself by breaking out of my fiction restriction and moving to story-telling, non-fiction writers. As long as I was challenging myself, I was not failing, no matter what authors I was “ignoring” at the time.

My goal was to read for a set amount of time each morning, so I chose books that fit well with my morning devotional time. I never dreamed what kind of doors that new habit would open!

Going with a Theme

As I became more comfortable with non-fiction, I began to branch out by choosing books based on current themes rather than writing style. I’d read books by word-picture artists like Mark Buchanan and Ken Shigematsu that greatly challenged my approach (or lack thereof) to rest and Sabbath. So, I began to intermingle other books on the same theme. Although not all of these were by authors who were great at painting word pictures, the familiar themes helped me make connections. I could take the new information and convert it myself into imagery that worked well for my method of learning.

These themes have morphed and adjusted over the years. Sometimes while working through one theme, I “accidentally” pick up on a new one, and that directs me to my next book. Some of those directions have led me to books that are very much outside of my natural inclinations and reading styles. Reading those books, especially when first starting, can be a challenge. But, the more I read, the more I get used to different writing styles and am able to better and more quickly process the information before me.

The growth didn’t stop there. Once I’d firmly established the devotional non-fiction reading habit, I added a second book each morning. This one is not always “spiritual.” Not automatically written by a Christian author. But, it always contains something that will help me become a better…something. Strengthen who I am as a wife, a mom, a writer, a homeschooler, an organizer…you get the idea. But, because I read it at the end of my morning quiet time, I always approach it with the perspective of what I have just finished studying in God’s Word and reading from my spiritually nourishing non-fiction.

Voila! A Habit is Born!

I didn’t intentionally follow these steps. I just wanted to start reading non-fiction. And, honestly, I didn’t really realize what I’d accomplished until I saw that question on Facebook. I stand now in amazement, though, as I realize just how one little action—the decision to read a non-fiction book for five minutes every morning—has helped me grow so greatly.

Small actions can produce powerful habits. What small action can you take today?

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