Monday, September 5, 2016

A Little R&R

So August was beyond crazy around my house. Lots of good crazy, but crazy none-the-less. And I'll admit, I'm tired. That's why things around here have been a little quiet lately. See, in the middle of all the busyness of August I let something slip--my personal time with God. If I'm honest, it had been growing smaller and smaller all summer until it somehow became non-existent. Something I didn't even realize until I became bone-weary exhausted in my very spirit.

If I'm being even more honest, a huge reason behind that slip was struggling with how God sees me. Oh, I am assured he loves me, and I'm crazy in love with him. But when another rejection came in early summer for a project I had worked on, it began to feel like a rejection from God. Like what I thought was my purpose, well, wasn't. And I started to grow weary. Weary in my calling to writing and my heart for ministry. A version of Galatians 6:9 says, "Do not lose heart..." and that's what was happening to me. I began to flounder.

But God is so good to us, isn't he? Always calling us to him. Ever faithful and never wandering. It's us who wander:) So this month of September, while school begins again and everything pumpkin spice pops up in stores, I'll be spending it burrowing back into my time with God. Things will be quiet around here as I work on the last part of that verse: do not give up. It's time to take a break, soak up some Living Water, and pray about direction and next steps.

Have a wonderful beginning of Fall, friends!

Monday, August 15, 2016

God is Bigger

I've had the amazing opportunity to go on a cruise with my hubby a few times now. Typically in the winter the sun disappears, and we sometimes go searching for it:)

While onboard most mornings I'll wake and head up to a top deck where you can walk the entire perimeter of the ship. I love it. Outside, the sun shining, the salty air coating my lips. I'll put on my worship music and walk, sometimes for more than an hour. There's something about being in the middle of the ocean, nothing around, that starts to give you a unique view of God's creation. That's a lot of water he put down here!

I can remember one morning that was a bit windy. Ok. A lot windy. As I came to the front of the ship, the wind increased so much that I could literally lean into it and be supported. Honestly, it was difficult to even take a step forward. Powerful. The waves crashed beside the boat and the sunshine beat down. I stood there and suddenly the story of Jesus calming the storm ran through my mind. He stood on the front of a boat and told the waves and wind "Quiet. Be still!" and they listened!

The waters calmed.

The wind stopped.

I could stand in that wind all day, the force of it nearly stopping me from taking a step, and tell it to be still all I wanted. That wouldn't stop it from blowing though. And as it threatened to topple me, I was amazed again at the power of God. One word. Just one word and all of nature obeys him!
The force of that wind was unlike anything I've ever encountered...except God. And that thought settled into my core, nearly bursting my soul. An awesome, physical reminder that we serve a God who commands not only nature with one word, but any force that may come against us. Things may threaten to topple us, but God has control. He'll either walk us through it, or he'll speak into it.

Because no matter how strong that wind feels, God's stronger. He's bigger. And he's in control.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Bookshelf Friday - One Plus One Equals Trouble by Sondra Kraak

I love discovering new-to-me authors! So when I heard friends buzzing about this book, I knew I had to snap it up. Here's a small blurb and we'll chat on the other side:)

The one room schoolhouse isn’t big enough to hold thirty-four students, let alone the egos of two teachers. He can’t afford to lose the position, and she refuses to lose her heart. Washington, 1891 Humiliated after her broken engagement, Claire Montgomery flees her comfortable life in San Francisco for a teaching position in Pine Creek, Washington, a dot of a town nestled in the rugged Cascade Mountains. She’s determined to succeed—for once in her life—only to discover, upon her arrival, that success will have to be won. Thanks to a school board error, two teachers have been hired. When scandal forces professor Barrett Clarke from his position, he returns to Pine Creek where his uncle, chairman of the school board, sets forth an irresistible offer: teach one year in return for ranchland. For this would-be rancher, nothing is more tempting than resurrecting his childhood dream, and nothing can deter him from earning that land. Except perhaps Claire Montgomery. Losing the battle for the classroom means losing the ranchland, but winning may mean losing Claire’s heart. With large doses of humor and romantic tension, this Christian historical love story offers a picture of grace, forgiveness, and finding true worth.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book right from page one. The initial interaction between Claire and Barrett had me smiling and laughing, only making me continue to flip the pages. These two characters are meant for each other--even if they don't want to immediately admit it. 

The conflict in this book makes sense once you understand each character's backstory. The plot flows at a comfortable pace, filled with moments that have you laughing or cheering on Claire and Bennet. You truly want them both to win the position, but realize they can't! Kraak does an amazing job of making the reader sympathize with both Claire and Bennet, and yet crafts an ending that leaves you happy only one of them receives it. The growth of both characters makes perfect sense and leaves us with a happily-ever-after all romance readers long for.

I am happy to not only have found Sondra Kraak and her smooth, witty writing, but also to know this is the first in a series I'm sure to continue reading.

You can pick One Plus One Equals Trouble up here just in time for your weekend!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Be A Child

I was listening to a song recently, and it used the phrase "Child of God." It's one of those string of words you use and hear often, but I stopped this time when it played. Maybe it's because my own kiddos are growing too fast and I miss them being little. Maybe it was the way the song spoke to my heart that day. Or maybe it was just God painting a word picture for me, but those three little words reached down inside me.

And I thought, you know what? I'm an adult. It's very rare that I look at my daily life with any child-like wonder any more. I've discovered most of the facts behind things that used to fascinate me. I've seen the ocean and the mountains. Watched sunsets and sunrises. Stopped to chase fireflies and played in the rain. All those firsts that bring joy and wonder to children, I've already experienced.

Our spiritual lives can be much the same. When you've been a Christian for years, you run the danger of losing the wonder of God-moments. Your prayer life becomes routine. You can quote the Bible stories you've read multiple times. And every study feels like it says the same thing.

But oh! A relationship with God is both predictable and ever changing, and that's where the wonder still lies. We can know his character; he's faithful, our defender, trustworthy. We can know his love; it's bottomless, all-consuming, fierce. We can know his grace; it's redeeming, never-ending, freely given. But we can never know how he's going to move in our lives in each given situation. Who he'll drop in our path. What he'll call us to do. The miracles he'll perform. The way he'll breathe life into his Word as we hold it in our hands. Every single heartbeat God is both the same and new in our lives. He's our familiar adventure.

May we never lose the childlike wonder of him in our lives.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Not That Hard

We conquered Algebra II in Tuttle homeschool last year. Honestly, I think there should be a stronger word than conquered available for that sentence. Each day added something new to the previous lesson until at one point there were so many steps to answer just one equation that our eyes crossed before moving to the next problem. It was tough. Doable. But tough.

About two-thirds of the way through the book I noticed my son, who'd been doing well, began to stumble through his lessons. Suddenly I was marking more wrong than right, so I decided to sit and do his lesson with him. I watched as he struggled over a question, adding steps he didn't need, to arrive at an answer he shouldn't have landed on. The question didn't require all the maneuvering he was adding into it. It was straightforward and used concepts we'd learned the previous year. I began to look back on his work only to notice a pattern in the incorrect questions. When I brought it to his attention he shook his head and said, "I guess sometimes I make this harder than it needs to be. I just don't think the answer is supposed to be that simple."

Wow. Don't we do that with our faith, friends? Especially for those of us who've been in the faith so many years? We read our Bible daily, we've memorized Scripture, we've walked through tough times, and somewhere along the way we've picked up more steps than needed for answering our problems. Sure, there are times where God's refining work on our issues or old habits needs multiple steps to eradicate them. Yet God's word is so much more simple than we often make it out to be.

Jesus Christ died on the cross to save us from our sin. He rose again, defeating death. He wins.

And that power, that very same power that raises things from the dead, lives in us.

We need to stop jumping through whatever hoops we think it'll take to change and start believing in the power of Christ in our lives. Yes, old habits die hard, but we serve a God who holds the keys to death. Its not too hard for him.

Let's stop believing it is.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Bookshelf Friday - An Elegant Facade by Kristi Ann Hunter

This is Kristi Ann Hunter's second book in the Hawthorne House series. After reading the first, A Noble Masquerade, I eagerly anticipated this release! I had a chance to read it last week and fell in love all over again with Hunter's writing. Here's the blurb and we'll chat on the other side.

Lady Georgina Hawthorne has always known she must marry well. After years of tirelessly planning every detail of her debut season, she is poised to be a smashing success and have her choice of eligible gentlemen. 

With money and powerful business connections but no title, Colin McCrae is invited everywhere but accepted nowhere. He intends to marry someday, but when he does it will not be to a shallow woman like Lady Georgina, whose only concerns appear to be status and appearance.

But beneath her flawless exterior, Georgina's social aspirations stem from a shameful secret she is desperately trying to keep hidden--and that Colin is too close to discovering. Drawn to each other despite their mutual intent to avoid association, is the realization of their dreams worth the sacrifices they'll be forced to make?

While this is a series, these books can easily be read as stand-alone titles. However, because I'd been introduced to Lady Georgina and Colin McCrae in the first book of the series, I was already invested in them before I even opened the book. I love the way Hunter marries serious scenes with lighthearted ones, allowing the reader to see the many sides of her characters.

One small drawback I felt to this book was it began with scenes from The Noble Masquerade only in Lady Georgina and Colin's viewpoints. And while this is completely a new story, at times--for those who read the first book--it seemed we were peeking behind the curtain of The Noble Masquerade rather than truly seeing Georgina and Colin's story. For me things didn't fully pick up pace until we moved from those scenes into completely fresh ones, allowing these characters space to grow and challenge one another in new ways. Though I did like understanding Georgina's motivations and I loved her even more for her flaws, I would have loved for the entire story to be their own.

However, I still couldn't put the book down. Hunter's ability to string words together into settings and scenes is masterful in its ability to pull a reader into her world. Her characters are multifaceted, and their layers slowly peeled back the deeper into the story you read. Both Georgina and Colin grow throughout this story, and never in ways that feel contrived. And while conflict abounds, it's driven from story moments, not created out of author convenience. Oh, and we definitely get our happily-ever-after:)

Hunter is an author I now search for in anticipation of her next release. I happily give An Elegant Facade 4 out of 5 stars and you can purchase it here.

I thank Netgalley and the publisher for my copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, July 25, 2016

How I Feel Doesn't Matter

I studied counseling in school, and it was there I learned the phrase "I feel". It was a tool used to teach people how to interact with others during difficult discussions. Rather than directing a comment at someone else, you begin with "I feel...". This tactic often diffused heated conversations and kept them from becoming attacks on one another. It allowed words to flow and understanding to be found. And that's all great.

However, "I feel" can become a dangerous tool to use. While it's good to let people know how their actions impacted you or were interpreted, "I feel" can be a slippery slope. In fact today I see more people using it to direct decisions they make, and that can lead to some scary places. That's because our decisions should never be based on how we feel, but rather on how God feels.

Friends, every day we face moments that our feelings can overrun. From struggling with the comparison game to remembering our past doesn't define us, we have a tendency to let our emotions grow louder than God's voice. We pick up Facebook or Instagram to tell us we're loved and worthy instead of opening our Bibles. We let the counsel of friends confirm our anger is warranted instead of sitting with God and asking him about forgiveness. Or we simply stew in our thoughts and allow them to become the authority over our minds instead of allowing God's truth to transform them. But if we want to live our lives in the abundance and freedom that Christ offers then we need to drop the "I feel" and take up the "God feels" statement.

Stop allowing your feelings to manipulate the truth in your life. Your feelings will change, but God's truth will always remain.