Monday, December 30, 2013

Holiday Wrap-Up

As the holidays come to a close for yet another year, I’ve been thinking about the memories I’ve made with my family and friends this year. Good times and bad, both documented and tucked away in my mind to draw upon later down the road of life. The best part about this year for me was having God by my side. He was very evident in my life this year, as He is every year. Through the valleys, He held me as I wept. Up the mountains, He lent me the strength to climb when I felt I couldn’t go another step. At the peaks, He shared my victories, my joys. Every moment He was there. That fact always amazes me. Why should He love someone who is so flawed? Because He created me, He loves me. And because He loves me, I love Him. Loving God is the best place I could ever be.

When did God make Himself known to you this year? Was it during the good, easy times? Or did you see Him best when things seemed dark and lonely? What was your favorite memory (or at least one of your favorites) of 2013? I look forward to hearing your stories in the comment section below.

May the Lord bless you abundantly in the new year!

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Governess of Highland Hall... and Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone! May you all be blessed abundantly this week, as you celebrate the birth and life and sacrifice of our Savior, and on into the new year as well.

Here's a book to add to your holiday reading list. Maybe you can have it read by the time the bells chime in 2014.

When Julia Foster returns with her mother and ailing father from a missionary’s life in India, she must find employment to support her parents during their time of need. Thus, she becomes the Governess of Highland Hall. Although her younger two charges, Sir William Ramsey’s children, are eager to please her, the baronet’s cousins resist the necessity of having a governess as they approach the time for the social season in London. When Julia realizes her position in the baronet's household leaves her somewhere between the family and the downstairs help, will she be able to find a place to belong?

Many things about the Governess of Highland Hall appealed to me, making it difficult to know where to begin. The heart of the author shines through each subplot and character, strumming the chords of the reader’s heartstrings. The storyline appealed to me because it’s sometimes difficult to know exactly my place in life. Am I to make a huge impact on the world around me, or just try to survive the trials that come my way? Better yet, is it possible that both situations help improve the other? Every day I listen for God’s call on my life, so that I may be able to discern where He wants me to be and who He wants me to connect with while I’m there. In that way, I felt like Governess’ Julia Foster. She listened for God’s guidance about whether or not she should take on the role of governess at Highland Hall or if she should return to her mission work in India. If we follow God’s call, we can’t go wrong.

Another way we can’t really go wrong is when we offer our brotherly and sisterly love to the people around us. As Julia says in chapter five, “Love is more than a fleeting emotion. It’s a choice you make based on many things.” One of the many things—and the most important—I base my choice to love upon is the fact that Jesus Christ first loved me, sacrificing Himself in one of the most painful of deaths—being hung on a cross—so that God could raise Him from the dead, bringing eternal life to those who choose to love and follow Him in return. With a Savior willing to give up His life to save me from death, how can I choose anything other than love?

Carrie Turansky is a new-to-me author, and I’ve got to admit that she’s swiftly become a favorite. Having only read this one novel of hers, I can only say I highly recommend the Governess of Highland Hall and am looking forward with a smile to the next Turansky book I can get my hands on. I’ll be keeping my eyes out for her name when I next go book shopping. She told this tale with a sweetness that fit the time period and made me feel as if I were there in Highland Hall along with the characters. Her writing style reminds me of Jane Austen and Julie Klassen, so if you’re a fan of those ladies, you’re certain to love Carrie Turansky.

You can check out a neat video promotion for the Governess of Highland Hall here.

“Love is more than a fleeting emotion. It’s a choice you make based on many things.”

What does that quote from the Governess of Highland Hall mean to you? How can you live out your love in a way the people around you can easily see Jesus Christ shining from within?

Thank you to WaterBrook Multnomah for my copy of the Governess of Highland Hall to review.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Letters from the Enemy

Though Letters from the Enemy was released in 2004, it’s new to me. My sister shared it with me, and, since I was iced inside by a rare-in-Texas sleet storm, I decided to squeeze this Heartsong Presents book in before reading one I received for the Blogging for Books program I participate in. I’m so glad I bumped this little book up on my reading list. It held a western sweetness I hadn’t read in a while.
Letters from the Enemy takes place in 1918. While the war rages in Europe, Lilly Clark eagerly waits for the mail train each week, hoping to receive a letter from her fiancé, Reggie Larsen, even as she sends him yet another missive. When her world is knocked upside down by a tall foreigner, Heinrick Zook, will Lilly stick to her resolve to send messages of hope to her beloved? Or will the lone enemy in town, who happens to keep crossing her path, challenge her to rethink everything she has come to believe, disrupting her carefully laid plans?

This is the second Susan MayWarren novel I’ve read, though I’ve collected several more. I’ve got to tell you, both the books of hers I’ve read have connected with me on a spiritual level. The messages and themes in her tales dig deep into my soul and don’t let me up for air until I’ve puzzled them out and seen how I could apply the things I’ve learned to my life in some substantial way. It’s books that do this that stay with me long after I’ve placed them back on one of my bookcases.

The thing that really struck me in Letters from the Enemy was Lilly’s spiritual journey. In a few different ways, it mirrored my own. The most significant is living in fear. Maybe that’s why the following line, spoken to Lilly from Heinrick, stood out to me. “Lilly, perhaps you’re afraid. Do you think that if you knew God and heard His voice, He might tell you something you don’t want to hear?”

From almost drowning twice to hearing of multiple school shootings to watching the terrorist attack on New York City and the United States in 2001, many fears have plagued my mind, stealing my joy and robbing me of peace. Too many times, as humans, we feel we must control every little thing in our lives or else we’ll fall apart. That’s just not true. The less control we have, by turning things over to God and trusting His plan for our lives, the more peace we’ll gain. The fewer fears we’ll retain. That’s what I want, to live fear free. So I’ll lay my fears at the feet of my Savior and ask Him to help me learn to trust Him. To show me how to rely on His plans, His guidance in every aspect of my life. From now on, I plan to make a more conscious effort to lay aside my human desires and ask God what plans He has for me. They’ll be far greater than anything I could have imagined in the first place anyway.

Other than the Bible, what books have spoken to your spiritual life in recent history? How can you apply the spiritual lessons you’ve learned from books to your daily life? Any advice for listening with your spiritual ears verses only using your physical ones?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Favorite Quotes of 2013

Since we’re now in December and nearing the end of the calendar year, I’m looking back today at some of my favorite quotes from books I read during the year. Have you read any of these titles yet? If you’re looking for a great read for the holidays, any of the following would be a fabulous choice. Happy reading!

“The truth is always fitting.”
            Broken Wings by Dianne Price

“Some things in life don’t get better when they’re rushed. Marriage is one of those things.”
            Jennifer by Dee Henderson

“For now, just do the thing right in front of you that makes sense, and let Him take it from there. There’s going to be a way through this.”
            Jennifer by Dee Henderson

“I decided every female doctor needed a Sully.”
            Catch a Falling Star by Beth K. Vogt

“A lot of us make plans, Griffin. And then life changes.”
            Catch a Falling Star by Beth K. Vogt

“But when a single woman bought a house, it was like admitting that she was alone. Like a widow.”
            Gone South by Meg Moseley

“See, that’s the great thing about faith—the more you need, the bigger it grows.”
            Lakeside Family by Lisa Jordan

“And I won’t settle—even if it means staying single for the rest of my life.”
            Lakeside Family by Lisa Jordan

“Alexia decided she much preferred the visible enemy of a good fire to murder, personal attacks, and home invasions.”
            When the Smoke Clears by Lynette Eason

“I always feel better when I’m ministering to someone else, even if the someone else is a cat.”
            What Once Was Lost by Kim Vogel Sawyer

“Dear Lord, why must I always fall short?”
            What Once Was Lost by Kim Vogel Sawyer

“Your driver’s license and social security card only prove your identity, but they don’t show me who you are.”
            Awakening by JoAnn Durgin

“Tell Lincoln husbands—pretend or otherwise—don’t grow on trees.”
            Made to Last by Melissa Tagg

“Because somehow saving the show meant saving herself, her identity.”
            Made to Last by Melissa Tagg

“Better a life among enemies than a noose around her neck.”
            Ring of Secrets by Roseanna M. White

“Women are baffling, George. Baffling. They complain if you treat them as pets but grow bored if you treat them as equals.”
            Ring of Secrets by Roseanna M. White

Letting go can be a harder way to love than holding on.”
            My Hope is Found by Joanne Bischof

“One can only search for so long before you realize there are just some things you cannot outrun.”
            My Hope is Found by Joanne Bischof

“It’s time for you to drop your bucket deep down into the well of possibilities that you’ve been ignoring all these years. Drop it all the way down and see what you pull up.”
            Sisterchicks on the Loose! by Robin Jones Gunn

What book quotes have struck your fancy this year? Any books you recommend I add to my to-be-read list?

Monday, December 2, 2013

What Are You Thankful For?

Late in November, we celebrate Thanksgiving. This holiday reminds us of the difficult times the pilgrims went through the first few years after they came to America. As the pilgrims went through hard times, each of us faces our own hard times at one point in life or another. This season especially, I think of the people and things in my life I have to be thankful for.

This year, I’m thankful for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), among other things. This is the first year I’ve participated in NaNo, and frankly, I wasn’t expecting much. I didn’t know what to expect, really. All I knew was the goal was to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. So, each day I wrote, typing words into my computer. Sometimes they didn’t seem to flow very well. Other times they gushed out like a raging waterfall.

My word counts added up quicker than I thought they would. Every day of the first week, I beat the previous day’s word count. On the first Saturday, NaNo’s writing marathon, I managed to eke out just over 8,000 words. Imagine my surprise when I tallied that one up! The next week didn’t progress quite that well, but I did still manage to log pretty good word counts, compared to my normal ones.

The third week was slow for me, due to circumstances outside my control. But I still found some time to write each day. By forcing myself to sit in front of my computer every day in November, I reached the goal of 50,000 words by November 25th.

Yes, I’m a NaNoWriMo winner.

I’m grateful for the experience, for it showed me just how much I can accomplish when I get my schedule figured out. When I sit with only my computer as entertainment, and with the Lord as my Guide, the words are sure to pile up and create the bones of a story I can work with.

Thank you to my family who supported my attempt at the National Novel Writing Month. They allowed me the undisturbed time I needed to write. Each day they were eager to hear the word count I’d reached. Their encouragement meant the world to me and helped me reach the count on the difficult days that seemed to drag on and on and on. Without their support, I wouldn’t have reached my goal and felt this awesome sense of accomplishment.

How has your family and/or friends supported your dreams? What people and/or things do you have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving season?