Is This Person a Gift or a Threat?

I love love love it when something I’ve read a dozen times before suddenly explodes like fireworks with new meaning. 

Like, re-reading a classic like Pride and Prejudice and suddenly seeing all the prides, all the prejudices, playing out between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett — the themes come to life when you know what’s coming next in the story, right? 

I find it even more magical when someone pulls an incredibly simple, yet extremely profound — life-changing — truth out of a passage I know I’ve read from start to finish on numerous occasions.

We had a fantastic guest speaker at church a few weeks ago, and he jumped into 3 John and brought to life something I’d never seen before, that spoke with significant clarity to me, I’m still finding fresh truth in it.

There are a few key points to bring up that will help me pass along the lightbulb moment to you.

Ready?

So. John, who wrote Third John, addresses Gaius, in this very short letter, and he starts by praying prosperity and blessing over Gaius. He addresses him as Beloved three times (and hold onto that thought for a moment) and he encourages Gaius because, basically he’s just totally stoked to hear that Gaius is walking in the truth, and being generous in the way he faithfully serves his church peeps, and even strangers. 

John goes on with a few choice words about Diotrephes… but I’ll let you read the passage below to see what his thoughts are there.

Words addressed to Gaius:

Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. […] Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well… {3 John 2-3,5-6}

Words about Diotrephes:

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church. {3 John 9-10}

John follows that with these remarks:

Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does what is good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God. {3 John 11}

So we’ve got this interesting little thing we might call a “character foil” from a literary perspective. There are two characters set side by side, and we get to see a contrast of personalities that makes us better understand them both.

Gaius is welcoming to everybody and is commended and encouraged for it.

Diotrephes longs instead for preeminence and, like the coolest of the cool kids at the ‘cool’ lunch table, he wants to call the shots on who’s in and who’s out. And it sounds like everyone who’s not already in is out.

When John writes Gaius this letter, he repeatedly reminds him of one thing: he is Beloved. And that’s not just like “I really think you’re awesome.” That word should speak to Gaius’ heart and whisper: you are the Beloved of an Almighty God. You are the Beloved of this Jesus that you preach. 

Side note: That lovely Greek word for Beloved, is the same word spoken when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and a voice spoke from the clouds, “This is my Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” 

We get to be called THAT kind of Beloved. Wow.

That’s a side note light bulb, but let me get to the one I promised earlier.

Like Gaius and Diotrephes, we have a choice about how we receive the people who come into our lives, and this is it:
Every person can be a gift. Or, every person can be a threat.
If we feel like Diotrephes, say, maybe we want to stay in control, we are likely to see people as a threat.

When we first started our photography business more than a half a dozen years ago, it was hard not to think of other photographers as a threat. It was hard not to be filled with a mindset like, “There’s not enough pie for everyone. We need to get as much of the pie as we can get.” 

But when we began to trust that God was calling us to build our business, we could see more clearly that our part of the story was to be faithful. We connected with other photographers who helped us succeed, and we did our best to help other photographers along the way. We learned to live as the Beloved, and to trust God to open doors for us as He saw fit.

And open doors, He did. 

All these years later, we can sense how God has changed our hearts and helped us to have a sense of peace. When it seemed like another photographer was knocking on the door of some of our current clients, maybe even trying to offer similar services at lower prices, it was hard not to get ‘itchy’ and uncomfortable about it.

But over the years, we’ve learned to trust God and to say “There is enough pie to go around. God will take care of us.”

And even this worked together for our good, as our clients asked if we could do those same services for them — and we could, and we are.

This looked like a threat — but God made this person a gift.

As a writer I’ve had a hard time navigating the ropes of the writing world, wanting to lock arms and encourage others, but at the same time feeling “If I push you ahead, will I then be behind? If I help you get to the top, will that put me closer to the bottom?”

But I’m learning to receive fellow writers as gifts. And just this year, in choosing to join a community of writers where I can encourage others and be encouraged, I’ve found life and growth and … you guessed it… gifts, one after another, in the form of friends to walk alongside me on the writing journey, and wisdom I might’ve been too prideful to realize I needed.

Whether it’s the new nurse on your floor at the hospital, the new neighbor who just moved in down the street, the new gal at church who everyone seems to like, or the new business in town that seems to be in direct competition with yours, you can choose how you will receive every person you meet: threat, or gift. 

And if, like Gaius, we can find our identity as the Beloved, we can receive any and every person — brother or sister in Christ or absolute stranger — as a gift, deserving of welcome and encouragement, of friendship and love. 

You are Beloved, friend. Welcome the gifts around you today!

xCC

Special thanks to Peter Hartwig for being a fantastically encouraging guest speaker and inspiring many of these thoughts for sharing!!

Also note: Henri Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved, is a fantastic, brief and deep read to help you understand what it means to be the Beloved of God.
I highly recommend it!

Are you encouraged today? If so, you can subscribe to receive weekly Love, From Here and never miss a post by clicking right here!

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A Secret Whisper For the Not Good

You know what’s really hard sometimes? Trying to find the good in the seemingly not good.

I want to let you in on a little secret about it. 

And as usual explain the secret with a story.

Around the sweet little kiddos at the Collie house, there are lots of dear friends in different circles. The church friends and the homeschool group friends, the new neighborhood friends and the old neighborhood friends… you get the idea.

Now among these friends, there are some in particular that my kiddos visit from time to time. And when they return from playing with those friends at their house, sometimes something just seems off.

The last time, my eldest came home feeling frustrated, but he was unspecific about his frustrations. Arguments started arising surrounding allowances and chores and items on his wish list that he would like to save up his own money to buy, but that his Mom and Dad have made the executive decision he cannotbuy even if he has three times the money he needs to buy them.

Sometimes I try to sit down with the one kid having trouble, and just start gently, slowly asking questions and listening. And sometimes I think when you sit down with someone and try to ask thoughtful questions and really really listen? You can hear things they don’t even realize they’re saying. The message beneath the words, right?

And this time what I really heard beneath the talk about wanting to be able to spend the money on this or that, wanting to do chores and make more money, wanting me to create opportunities for this to happen… what I heard underneath all that was:

I want something, and I think it’s good. You don’t want me to have it, so you are not good.

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ”

Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. 

{Read the Whole Story in Genesis 3}

Do you see a bit of a theme developing here?

Maybe that sounds like oversimplification but look at a different story and see if you see this theme here: 

Why does the woman eat the fruit? This is the moment. This is the first “not good.”

God created and saw that it was good. God created something else and saw that it was good. 

If we believe God is good, we believe He creates good things and He gives good gifts.

In the life of the believer, we can, we should, we must take this a step further and cling to a belief like this:

For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
The Lord will give grace and glory;
No good thing will He withhold
From those who walk uprightly. {Psalm 84:11}

I think many of our “not goods” come from believing that God is withholding good things from us. Like Eve in the garden, and like my kid coming home from a friend’s house, we want to say:

I want something, and I think it’s good. You don’t want me to have it, so you are not good.

It is pretty darn hard to be happy when we don’t get what we want, right?

But what do we do about it when we don’t get what we want?

Celebrate car accidents and broken bones? Throw parties when someone dies unexpectedly?

Absolutely not.

But here’s that secret I promised you. If you can choose to believe God is always good, then when something not good comes along, you can take a deep breath and whisper a prayer like:

This seems not good. But God, you are good. And somehow, you can make even this good.

When we choose to trust, and we choose to still believe — even when it’s hard, even when it hurts… especially when it hurts — when we choose to trust, we can find hope to keep us going and anchor our souls. 

When we choose to trust in the goodness of God, and to focus on Him, just like Isaiah 26:3 says…He keeps us in perfect peace. We find a peace we never expected in the midst of the hard and the scary and the hurt, because we believe God can and will work things together for our good. And He does not withhold good things.

After sitting on the couch for a while with that sweet child of mine, hearing his heart and getting down into a sense of the real ‘not good,’ I had the opportunity to tell him two things that I wanted him to hear:

1. Your Dad and I love you so much. We are deeply invested in wanting to choose what is best for you. We are careful about what we allow you to have and see and do because we want to keep you safe and we want to do what’s best for you.

2. Please trust us. Even when it seems unfair and you’re not getting your way, I want to ask you to believe that we love you enough to sometimes say yes and sometimes say no. We want what truly is good for you.

I wonder if the Lord would sit us down on the couch to say the same thing? To the thing you’re waiting for, the diagnosis you’re facing, the no you got when you prayed so hard for a yes? Would He say:

1. I love you so much.

2. Please trust Me.

And at the other end of the sofa, when you look back at the Lord who loves you, what will you say in response?

Next time, try whispering this one simple thing:

This seems not good. But God, you are good. And somehow, you can make even this good.

xCC

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I hope you’re encouraged, friend! I write With Love, From Here every Wednesday. Take a moment to subscribe here and you’ll never miss a post!

If you’re walking through some very ‘not good’ I highly recommend Timothy Keller’s book, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering.

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Psst. Some posts on my site contain affiliate links. When you click on those links to make purchases, I receive compensation at no extra cost to you. I love it when you do that! Thank you for supporting With Love!

Meet Jupiter, Your Cosmic Big Brother

A single slice of information, obtained from a very interesting audiobook listen a couple of months ago has stuck with me hard and fast — a fresh encouragement about a God Who is all seeing, all knowing, and intimately inthe details great and small.

If Astrophysics isn’t your thing, just bear with me… and let me quote the source on this one.

“Newton’s Laws specifically state that while the gravity of a planet gets weaker and weaker the farther from it you travel, there is no distance where the force of gravity reaches zero.” (Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry)

Huh?

Okay. So anything that has mass has gravity. And objects with more mass? Yup. More gravity. This means that a mighty big planet, like Jupiter, which also has a mighty big gravitational field, can pull on objects quite, quite quite far away. Even though the gravitational pull diminishes as distance increases, it still exists. And (in this case) it pulls in or bats out of harm’s way many comets and other objects floating through space that would otherwise wreak havoc on the inner solar system, the part we call home. 

Uh… what?

Well, this means Jupiter acts like a gravitational shieldfor Earth. Jupiter is like the cosmic big brother that has protected Earth from getting constantly slammed by asteroids that would make a stable life on our beautiful green-and-blue planet virtually impossible. Without that protection, Earth would have a hard time being an inhabitable planet — we would constantly be living out Deep Impact, or whatever that other movie with Liv Tyler was.

So why is this even worth a mention?

It is absolutely glorious — I’m inspired by a fresh sense of wonder — that the existence of other planets inside our solar system could have any impact on life on Earth whatsoever, let alone be seen as a crucial part of the system that allows us to live on our beautiful planet. I’ve often imagined our incredible Creator flinging stars into space — but I’ve never imagined Him setting up the cosmos in such a strategic way, with infinite knowledge of how the very existence of any object will have some sort of impact on every other object in creation.

And if the God who knows all this, and does all this, knows me, and loves me? Then He must also be intimately aware of my every circumstance because it really, truly all matters more than we can even possibly conceive. Your second grade teacher. That first heart break. The time you stubbed your toe so hard it bled. The job interview that was a big fat NO. He sees it, He knows it, and He is in the business of weaving all things — from your shoe size to the location of the planets in the cosmos — together for the good of those who love Him.

So what are you walking through today? Does it seem like a mountain that needs climbing? Or do you feel like you’re facing something that is completely insignificant to everyone else? Can I encourage you with two simple words today? 

It matters.

You are seen and known and so deeply loved, you’re worth dying for. If you’re struggling to hold that truth deep down, and believe it, remember that even the planets of the solar system are contributing to this one rare, amazing, precious life of yours. *Snaps for Jupiter*

In all the universe, there is only one God, and He has set His affections on you.

xCC

“But know that the Lord has set apart for Himself him who is godly;
The Lord will hear when I call to Him.” {Psalm 4:3}

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Thanks for supporting With Love, From Here. 


How Jesus is Smashing My Rejections

Hey friends! I know I’ve been saying this good ol’ Love, From Here will be back into a regular routine soon… and then it isn’t … but I think I’ve finally turned a few corners and let go of a few commitments that will allow me to continue writing and encouraging your hearts. Thank you so much for your patience and your consistent encouragement, for sharing and for praying! More love and more news to come…

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“You can’t sit with us!”

It’s hard not to feel a little guilty leap of heart happy when Regina George, the Queen of Rejecting Others gets rejected by her own hive of bees at lunch. If you haven’t seen Mean Girls, just know that this is the moment when the meanest of the Mean Girls gets a taste of her own medicine.

When someone else is getting rejected, let’s be honest, we can feel a mix of emotions. If we feel the rejection is deserved, maybe we’re okay with it. But I don’t think too many of us feel overwhelmingly happy when rejection points its unpleasant finger in our direction and says Nope, not you.

Lately I’ve been experiencing a new type of rejection that I think I was probably so afraid of I didn’t even want to try, for fear of rejection.

While *not* being particularly busy writing in this neck of the woods, I’ve still been doing some writing, including working and reworking and thinking and rethinking a picture book and then wording and rewording a picture book, tentatively called She Curtsied for the Queen

I won’t outline the story for you here (as I hope you’ll get to read a lovely, fully-illustrated and well-edited version of it someday) but I’ll tell you it’s one of those things that arrived by surprise, and I feel like there’s a lesson for me here, about recognizing a gift of God as something we ought to properly steward, even when that looks hard and it looks like potential rejection.

Two agents thus far have come back with this exactly reply, truly almost word-for-word:

“I’m sorry to say I don’t feel I’m connecting wholeheartedly with your writing, despite its many charms.”

(One used that sentence with “I” and the other with “We”… seriously that was the only difference. Even though it’s polite, it’s still rejection.

And that ‘R” word is the thing you hear from so many writers — that the pile of rejection letters is rather long before anybody gets anywhere.

So when this little picture book’s second rejection hit my inbox yesterday, I took a deep breath and decided to smile and text a friend these words:

“She Curtsied for the Queen got its second rejection letter today! I’m two rejections closer to finding a literary agent who wants to publish it, right? 😁🤓”

And I’ve decided that’s exactly what I am choosing to believe. 

Here’s why.

If God puts something in your heart that you know you’re supposed to do, the outcome really doesn’t matter. Truly, it just doesn’t. If this baby never gets off the ground… if this airplane never takes flight… I will still know two very important things:

1. God has asked me to do something, and He can make a way where no way seems possible.

2. My responsibility can be summed up with one word: Faithfulness.

Whether we are excluded from the table at lunch or turned down for the dream job or those 1,200 words I’ve read 1,200 times get turned down for the 45th time, Jesus is the Rock that makes every outcome secondary.

You are known, seen and loved. You are Beloved and you matter.

I am known, seen and loved. I am Beloved and I matter.

Jesus knows us, sees us, and loves us. We will be rejected by the world from time to time (and a great lack of rejection could be an indication that we are going with the flow a bit more than we should!)

Winston Churchill said, “Success if not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”

So if you’re experiencing rejection because your art doesn’t connect with the critics, or if you’re experiencing rejection because your faith doesn’t line up with everyone else’s comfortable illusions of Jesus… take heart, friend. 

Have courage to continue walking the faithful walk that consistently says “Yes” to Jesus, regardless of how the rest of the world will look at you.

You may find out the best friends you’ll ever have in this world were sitting at a different table all along.

xCC

Five Tips and Ten Recommendations if More Reading is a New Year’s Resolution For You

Are you where I am in the midst of the eerie fog that seems to exist between December 26th and December 31st? This odd sort of holiday-esque space where some people have to go back to work and others are still on a break and people are traveling and some are still doing the Christmas stuff — and maybe you’re somewhere in between, and thinking “Hmm…. almost 365 days have passed and another whole year is almost over… What did I do?”

And if you are like me and you sit still a minute and ponder that question, you probably arrive at a place where you think “Well, that happened, which I had planned, but this didn’t. And I didn’t really do that, but at least I can say I made progress.” And perhaps on and on you go, evaluating and thinking and wondering what you might need to do differently so that 365 days from now you don’t feel like you’re still exactly where you are right now.

I didn’t write half as much as I wanted to, perhaps should have, in 2017. And I have some thoughts to think about how to change that in the year ahead — where I hear the Lord whispering the word “Choice” (as in “everything is a choice”) and I sense myself being challenged to make some life-giving choices in the year to come.

However, I excelled at another area I was aiming for: I read an awful lot this year compared to previous years, which I’m pretty delighted about. So while I might not be able to tell you how to crush all your goals (I do think this Michael Hyatt book I mentioned a while back could help with that) I do have some suggestions about reading that, if you’re in the market to make it happen, can make turn those pages more of a reality for you than any year before.

First I want to give half a second to encouraging you to think about why — why reading more *real books* should be one of your goals for 2018. I don’t think a dozen blog posts could fully speak to this question, but let’s start with a few simple thoughts. As a society, we are doing a heckuvalotta consuming and not a whole lot of producing. Most people agree that we are moving in a direction, as one generation passes the baton to the next, and that the direction we’re headed in is not a good one. But do you realize that a lot of the problems we’re facing are as old as the hills? Ideas that have been discussed by philosophers and average joes for generations past? We are really born into a world that was having a conversation for millennia — yes, millennia — before we arrived, and the best way to join that conversation? Is to read what the great thinkers of the past said, and what other great thinkers said in response, thereby joining the conversation.

Did you know Teddy Roosevelt typically read a book before breakfast every day? And then some? Don’t you love his oft-quoted thoughts — that it’s not the critic who counts? Not the one who points out how the strong man stumbles or the doer of deeds could’ve done them better? The credit belongs to the man in the arena, right? But when we spend 99% of our time reading whatever whoever he said she said on the internet, guess what we’re getting? The noise of the critics, right?

Did you know children in Shakespeare’s day had a better vocabulary than the average American adult? Suffice it to say: Reading is good for you. Very good. A man who reads lives a thousand lives, a man who does not lives one, as they say.

Truly — I ought to give another blog post to the why so let’s move on to the how.

Five Tips for Reading More This Year

  1. Always have the next book on the docket, waiting in the wings. Whenever you’re reading something, go ahead and figure out what’s going to be next. Start searching for book lists online — like the “100 Books To Read Before You Die” lists. Or think about books you’ve read in the past that you enjoyed, and ask for recommendations of similar ones. Ask friends who have similar tastes in books… and if you can…
  2. Find a friend to join you on the journey. They don’t have to read every book you read. You don’t have to read at the same pace. Being able to text a friend (like I did this year) and say “I finished Emily of New Moon. Couldn’t put it down. I love her so much. My favorite part was when the preacher sat on the cat and was too deaf to hear it and Cousin Jimmy walked in and said, ‘Lord, man, if you’re a Christian, get off that poor animal.’ Or something like that. I could not stop laughing.” A like-minded friend who’ll make and take recommendations can be a gift. Even if you decide to read different things!
  3. Consider a Kindle (or similar device). When I knew I needed to start reading more a few years ago, the Hubs quickly and kindly invested in a Kindle for me. Not one that had apps and games and tra la la — just a plain black and white (Paperwhite so that I can read at night without disturbing him) Kindle that would not tempt me to check email or Facebook or anything else — just read. Now here’s why the Kindle was a game changer:
  4. Get a Library Card and Use It. Often. I do visit the local library on a regular basis, but here’s some great news for you. Once you’ve got the card, you don’t actually have to visit ever again. (Although I loooooove the library and I think you should.) There are tons of free books to read on Amazon, AND, there are tons of books that you can check out from the library – online – and have delivered — you guessed it — to that shiny Kindle of yours. This was a GAME CHANGER for me. I don’t have tons of cash to buy every book I want to read. And my library does not own many of the books I want to read. But between a Kindle Unlimited Subscription and the Library Card (and please look for the Libby app — I’ll explain in a moment) you truly have SO many options at your fingertips.
  5. You Can Take it With You. (And You Should.) Here’s the number one tip — even though it’s listed fifth. You cannot read a book that you do not have with you. But you can take it with you in more ways than you think. Those thirty minutes in the pickup line can fly by with a good book in your lap. And those twenty minutes waiting for the kid at guitar practice will put another chapter under your belt. And GUESS WHAT? Audiobooks totally count. And are wonderful. So do what I told you in step four, and download the Libby App for iPhone, and be amazed at how many great Audiobooks there are, read by great readers. I read To Kill a Mockingbird earlier this year, and then enjoyed listening to the Audiobook on a long trip with the Hero Hubs — narrated by Sissy Spacek. Such a treat! That thirty minute drive to work. The earbuds in your ears while you’re working out. Fifteen minutes folding laundry. Moments made for an audiobook. Audiobooks totally count y’all!!

Now, here’s a bonus for you to encourage you to get started. I truly feel like a richer and fuller human being this year because I spent less time staring at a TV screen and more time joining the great conversations our world has been having for millennia. And I’d love to share some of my favorite reads from this year with you, in hopes that you’ll get bitten by the bug and decide to push that lovely “OFF” button on the remote, or close the tab that’s open to Facebook, and read something that will inspire you to breathe, to be, and to live more fully.

Here are my favorites in several different categories:

For Putting First Things First

Did you know if you read about 4 chapters a day, you can read the entire Old Testament once, and the New Testament and Psalms and Proverbs TWICE… in one year? Think ten minutes a morning and ten minutes before bed could get you there? Ten minutes less Facebook, maybe? I hope you’ll include the Good Word in your word count this year!

Robert Murray M’Cheyne (incredible 19th Century Scottish pastor) created the Bible Reading plan that will get you through the Bible in one year as described above.

This link will take you to a website that has it organized by months and then days, and you can click over to the day’s reading on Bible Gateway.

This link will take you to a website that has printable versions in several different formats based on your preferences and eyesight (very thoughtful, hey?) and paper sizes.

For Parents

Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult. This isn’t specifically a parenting book, but it truly had a huge impact on some of the ideas and strategies the Hubs and I have for helping the little people in our care become full-fledged adults ready to contribute to society when they leave our home. This book is definitely not just for parents. Anyone who is in any capacity concerned about the state of the United States, and wonders what they can do to help forge a brave new way forward will be inspired by this book. Inspiring non-spoiler alert: Sasse does not believe political decisions, parties and directions are the solutions to the problems we are facing. Thus, while it is written by an (impressively intelligent) Senator from Nebraska, it is not a “political book.”

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp was by far the most help and informative book especially for parents that I read this year. It has this illustration about “The Circle of Safety” that we have used since we first read this book years ago, (this was a re-read this year!) and that one practical illustration speaks volumes to our kids and makes reading this book so worth it. I will probably continue to read this one every year or two — not because it’s entertaining and a fun read, but truly because it has so much practical wisdom that I want to continue to remind myself as a parent!

For Inspiration

Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light. I mentioned this one when I first read it in January, and it still echoes in my head 12 months later. I do not think you can read this story and not marvel at this amazing human being, and feel inspired to also “Accept whatever He gives and give whatever He takes with a big smile.” If you live in my town I know for sure this is at the Brown Library!

Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place. Wowzers, I could not put this book down. While her story is in itself incredibly gripping, it is impossible not to be challenged and encouraged by the faith Corrie and her family exhibited in the midst of unspeakable conditions. You can’t put a price tag on perspective — but purchase and read this book, and I think you’ve made an investment on gaining that invaluable perspective that helps you see your circumstances with less discontentment and more gratitude.

Classics

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë was my favorite classic this year. I am often amazed by how much faith can be portrayed in a book that isn’t necessarily written for the purpose of “faith inspiration.” This year I’ve also been more amazed than ever before at how much truth you can learn in the pages of a fiction book. There are several paperback and hardcover options available on Amazon… and it is free for Kindle! If anybody forgot to get me a Christmas present and wants to send this gorgeous hardcover Brontë Sisters Box Set to my house, y’all just feel free. But seriously that would make an amazing gift for a reader in your life!

To Read-Aloud with the Kids

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry. If you’d like to listen to the Audiobook, oh my goodness, Arte Johnson read this one — we found it as an audiobook through the Libby App! — and OHMIGOODNESS it was pricelessly funny. Please enjoy and thank me later.

Our kids also fell in love with the Mercy Watson Series this year and the cousins received this box set for Christmas because if you have not met this delightful pig with an insatiable love for hot buttered toast? Well ya really need to. (She is also at the Brown Library if you live here in Washington!) Mercy truly is a porcine wonder.

Grown-Up Fiction

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr might be the book I had the hardest time putting down this year. This might be the best “Book for the Beach Trip” recommendation here. Doerr’s prose is so engaging it’s almost poetry. The chapters are short and the pace is quick, it seems like so much is happening and you feel quite literally transported to see the story unfold before your eyes in Europe decades and decades ago. His writing style is incredibly unique and I found it absolutely delightful.

Juvenile Fiction

Sarah Mackenzie over at Read-Aloud Revival recommended in a podcast episode not too long ago that you can feel so very fully engaged and satisfied as a reader by reading juvenile fiction. If you’re hoping to get more reading in, you really aren’t selling yourself short on storyline, plot, complexity or overall entertainment value just because you choose books that may also be considered appropriate for middle to high school aged students. The more manageable lengths of the books is part of what makes it so satisfying, and helps you want to keep reading more. Think of the richness of the Chronicles of Narnia or Bridge to Terabithia before you disagree!

With Sarah’s advice in mind, I definitely jumped into more Juvenile Fiction this year, pre-reading some things that will be on a list for my kids later on and reading other books that I just thought I’d enjoy.

Emily of New Moon might’ve been the character I most fell in love with this year. She has so much spunk and personality. L.M. Montgomery (a la Anne of Green Gables fame) wrote Emily of New Moon as well as Emily Climbs and Emily’s Quest. I found all three for Kindle by checking them out from the library. The first was definitely my favorite.

I also enjoyed The Witch of Blackbird Pond (E.G. Speare) and The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 (Christopher Paul Curtis, grab some tissues) immensely.

And last but not least….

For Homeschoolers

If you’re a homeschooling parent and you haven’t read Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie yet, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is not a long or arduous read (as some homeschooling guides can be) but full of practical, easily “actionable” ideas and plans to help you find your own personal style and rhythm (and hopefully arrive at the end of this year with more hair still attached to your head.) Easily worth the $13 price tag — I plan to read this one again and again, too!

So friends, Happy New Year! I hope your year gets off to a great start, that you remember to put first things first, and you find yourself learning, growing and thriving more and more in 2018!

More to come from this little corner of the web soon. But in the meantime, if you were a reader this year I’d love to know how many books you read, and what your favorite was!

xCC

I almost forgot::

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What Should Christians Do On October 31st?

“What was your teacher’s favorite color?” he asked. Sitting on a bar stool at the counter, he was about to select a color for the leaf printed on the page in front of him from a tray of oil pastels.

“What was your teacher’s favorite color?”

I tried to refocus my distracted mind, tilted my head to one side and urged myself to listen.

“I’ve had lots of teachers, Blake. I’m not sure. What do you mean?”

“Your teacher….” he emphasized the word, “at the nursing home.”

I barely remembered. The hubs didn’t remember at all. But somehow, after visiting a nursing home as a family about 350 days ago, my six year old son remembers that one of the people we visited was one of my teachers in grade school.

And this leaf is for our next visit. So he’s asking for a suggestion about the color.

Duh.


_________

A little over a year ago, the Hubs and I sat down for a long series of heart-to-heart conversations about our plans for October 31st.

It’s a day that many Christians have probably spent a lot of time arguing about. I’m thankful to say we didn’t argue. We just talked, and we talked and we talked. Lots.

For the first few years of parenthood we were outside of the US and Halloween wasn’t really a question we had to encounter. When we returned and the kids were still young, at first we avoided, but when it eventually came time to figure out what we would do, we were blessed to have invitations from neighbors for get-togethers, and decided to participate.

But somehow, it just didn’t ever exactly “sit right” in our souls. As a resident alien hailing from far corners of the Earth, the Hero Hubs was perplexed by the holiday, its origin and purpose, and even more perplexed about participating in it.

After a couple of years of costumes and trick-or-treating, we started asking questions like…

Are we just going with the grain because this is what ‘everybody’s doing?’ 

Does celebrating this holiday really line up with what we believe and want to pass on to our kids? Does it matter?

Should we be trying to swim upstream like we’ve always said we wanted to?

Is it possible to somehow redeem this day, the way historians think the day chosen to celebrate the birth of Christ was redeemed? There was a spark.

____

Fast forward dozens of deep conversations.

A week or so before the 31st of October last year, I was on the phone with someone at a local nursing home wondering if we could bring artwork the children had created to the residents and wish them a Happy Fall.

With the baby in the little push bike she’d just received for her birthday, and dozens and dozens of leaves we’d printed and colored and decorated for the residents, we strolled into the nursing home on the afternoon of the 31st.

At first our kids were a little reticent — we joked about a nursing home being a really scary place to bring your kids at Halloween — and then something shifted.

They caught on to the fact that every. single. person whose room they walked into was happier and more cheerful when we left. They discovered a wealth of people who were overjoyed, over-the-moon delighted to see them, simply because they are children.

They brought the gift of a smile, a kind word, a piece of art, and left with so much more — a feeling that they’d given some really great gift, that they mattered, that they had something to give.

Our eldest, who at first was perhaps the most reticent of all, eventually became the one who wanted to walk in first and present the art work, who didn’t want to skip a single door.

Funny enough, some residents, very aware of the day, hurried to a cupboard and pulled out a bag of stowed-away candy, delighted to have children to give it to.

It was a sweet reward that warmed my heart.

On the way to a restaurant for a special dinner out, we talked for a bit in the car afterwards about the experience, and the kids were delighted and hoped we would go back again soon.

I resolved to do so in my mind, and knowing that so often the Christmas season is a busy time for the nursing home with visitors coming to sing, I thought perhaps we’d wait until January, when the winter blues set in and try to bring some light again.

The new school semester started, life scurried on, and here we are nearly a year later having not visited once since then.

But these big doughy eyes look across the kitchen counter at me, willing me to remember a favorite color for a teacher.

Maybe it meant more than we realized for the kids.

Maybe we’re on to something. And maybe we aren’t.

But here are some things I feel sure about, after pondering it long and hard for ages.

Often in life there are a dozen different paths to take. And the path that might be right for one person might not be right for another.

While I am fully confident that Jesus is the path — the Way, the Truth and the Life — I am also confident that He has plans and purposes for His children, and they are not all carbon copies of each other.

Your race is in your lane, and my race is in mine. 

I don’t expect anyone to try to swim my race, and I don’t want to try to swim anyone else’s, so I have to go to Jesus and ask — what does faithfulness look like, here, for me, to follow You?

And when I hear His still small voice saying This is the way, walk in it, well then, that is what I must do.

If your puzzler has been puzzling for a different path for October 31st, I wholeheartedly welcome you to join us in our hope to make it a day for us to give and love and be Light.

But first, be still — listen and wait. 

As Paul wrote to the Romans, “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” {Rom. 14:5}

Your race is in your lane, dear friends. Whatever that looks like for you.

So what should Christians do on October 31st? There’s not one right answer.

Just keep swimming toward Jesus.
xCC