Monday, December 19, 2016

What a Gift!

I was thinking of John 3:16 this week. Well, can't say I was really thinking of the exact words, but I was thinking of gifts. Which made me think of God's big gift: His son. Which then led me to the words I learned before I can ever first memory verse...probably yours too:

For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever should believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NASV

Now that's the version I learned it in and still the one that rolls through my mind, but I have to say I do love swapping out the "begotten" for "one and only". Jesus was God's "one and only" son.

Anyway, as I sat there with those familiar words, God does as only He can do and gave me a new insight on them. It's stuck with me this week, and while this may be an insight you've already been given, it was powerful to me and I wanted to share. You know, sometimes the most obvious of things we don't see. So here it is...

We envision this verse through our eyes today. Eyes that haven't really observed the offering of our children toward gods as a sacrifice. But back then? gods demanded sacrifice and so often it involved the peoples' children. What a price to pay...and they did! But the One true God flipped that on its end when He sent his son. See, while all the other gods asked for the peoples' children as a sacrifice to please them, God sent His as a sacrifice to save us.

Can you even imagine how they read this verse? What it meant to them? What God truly did? Oh what a bottomless love for us! And it wasn't the first time. Go back to the foreshadowing of all this, when Abraham took Isaac up to that mountain, and God had him put his son on an altar. Only He didn't allow Abraham to sacrifice him, instead He sent a ram. And the blood of the animals for years to come would have to try to meet what no one could until Jesus Christ came and died on that cross.

The one true sacrifice. Perfectly blameless and holy. Infinite wrapped in finite clothing. The only One who could truly pay the cost for our sins. God's son.

God didn't hold back. He gave once--to us--what all the other gods had asked for repeatedly, from us. And His gift still gives today. It still covers every mistake, every dark moment, every sin we've every even thought of. The gift of His son is one that cannot be taken back or exchanged. It's one-size-fits-all and can be afforded by anyone. All you have to do is ask, and then believe in faith. The only sacrifice God wants on your part is to lay down your will and take his. That's it.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.  Ephesians 2:8

***this is a repost from December 2013

Friday, December 16, 2016

Bookshelf Friday - The Thorn Healer by Pepper D. Basham

Christmas is coming!! That means two things when it comes to books. First, you'll have a few days to treat yourself to a new read while you snuggle up by your twinkling Christmas tree lights. Second, you're making your list and checking it twice! Well, this book should be on it. Here's the blurb, and we'll chat on the other side!

Jessica Ross’ scars run much deeper than the wounds of a world at war. Determined to escape the ghosts of her past and the German influence on her nightmares, she returns home to the sleepy Appalachian town of Hot Springs, NC, only to find the renowned Mountain Park Hotel has been converted into a ‘prison’ for displaced Germans and, much to Jessica’s dismay, her grandparents have befriended one of them. August Reinhold has not only found kinship with Jessica’s grandparents, but as they share their granddaughter’s letters from the Front, he discovers a surprising bond drawing him toward the independent and beautiful woman. Displaced by a war and a painful history, he find Hot Springs and the intriguing, Jessica Ross, a tempting place to start over. Determined to scale the heights of her bitterness and show her the power of love, August faces more than just Jessica’s resistance, but a more devious design to harm the civilian sailors housed in Hot Springs. Will August’s tender pursuit show Jessica the healing and hope she needs, or will bitterness force her into the hands of a ‘true’ enemy waiting to destroy much more than her heart?

The Thorn Healer is the third and final in the "Penned in Time" series from Basham. However, if you haven't read the other two, you will easily be able to jump into this book as a stand-alone title. While you'll most likely return for the other two, starting here is fine.

Basham has a way with words that suits her to this time period. Her characters are always well fleshed out, believable, and multi-layered--as are her plots. Her stories move at a pace that is neither rushed or stilted, and The Thorn Healer only reinforces this fact. I loved that in this book Basham didn't shy away from a tough subject like prejudice and that we were allowed to see a slice of history others may have overlooked. Basham is known for doing her research of both the time period and locale for her books, and it only enriches the story she weaves.

If you're looking for a read for yourself or a friend, I highly recommend the entire "Penned in Time" series. You can purchase The Thorn Healer here or find out more info on the others.

Happy reading, friends!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Christmas List vs. Prayer List

My kids love to make Christmas lists. I did too. I remember laying on the orange, fuzzy carpet in my family room and pouring over the JCPenny catalog, writing down all my heart's desires. I didn't just write a list, I wrote a phone book! My kids are no different, only now they point at the endless TV commercials or ads on the computer.

It's all in fun, and they know they're not getting everything on their list. In fact, they don't even let me say it anymore, they stop me. "We know, Mom, a Christmas list isn't a check-off list." And honestly, they love whatever they receive. (Ok, they didn't used to, but they're getting older.)

This year it got me thinking how sometimes we approach God with our lists. We write down everything we want and hand it off in a prayer, and we do expect it to be a check-off list. But God's not Santa. Not even close. And prayer isn't about a list, it's about an active relationship that we take part in.

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. James 5:16

Earnest means an intense mental state or an impressive amount. We approach God with our prayers in a serious way, engaging him and seeking him...not simply hand him a list and walk away. After all, he wants a relationship with us and prayer is our time to talk with him. Thank him. Praise him. Seek him. I'm not saying we can't have a prayer list. In fact, it's wonderful to keep a list of things you pray for and then note when those prayers have been answered. That's an account of the things God has done in your life and a reminder of things to give thanks for. It's an encouragement as you're still praying for other desires, deliverances, and needs. I am saying that your prayer life consists of more than that list. Prayer is knowing God's Word (which is our sword) and calling it out, applying it to our situation, believing with our faith (our shield) that God can and will do what he says he will do and fervently seeking him to be in the middle of our situation.

Prayer unleashes the power of Heaven.

It produces wonderful results.

And is so much more than a list to check twice.

Friday, December 9, 2016

On the 9th Day of Christmas... favorite authors gave to me...

a lovely bookmark to mark what you read:) (And MORE books!)
"So many books, so little time."

Hey all! So I'm the only author here without a traditional length book yet published! While I'm working to have something out soon, for now I'm adding bookmarks to the stash because my love of writing came from my love of reading. And with all these amazing books you have a chance to win, you'll be doing a LOT of reading.
Here's how it works. We'll randomly select a winner each day for the first 12 days of December. And each day the prize builds with another book or book-related goody. So the 9th day of Christmas prize winner will receive one copy of each of the following:

Hazardous Holiday by Liz Johnson
Audiobook download of Watercolor Dreams by Sherry Kyle
Concealed Identity by Jessica Patch
A Family Arrangement by Gabrielle Meyer
His Prairie Sweetheart by Erica Vetsch
Where Two Hearts Meet by Liz Johnson
The Gingerbread Pony by Patricia Bradley
Yuletide Redemption by Jill Kemerer
And the bookmark I just added!

All you have to do is enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below. Every entry carries over for the remaining days, so even if you don't win Day 9, you may win before the 12 days are up! So keep checking back at the blogs to come.

And make sure to visit Sarah Sundin's blog tomorrow for Day 10 and another chance to win!

(Day 9 Winner will be chosen at random tonight at midnight EST. Author Liz Johnson will notify that day's winner by email and then post their name on her blog.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, December 5, 2016

Our Gift

The idea of gifts has been on my mind...wonder why? ;) Last week I wrote a post on a writing blog that was central to this idea, but the idea stuck with me, so I'm continuing here. See, I'd written to my fellow writers about how our writing is a gift we've both been given and it's one we need to share--but we ALL have a gift.

Some of us are still looking for it. We know we were created for a purpose, but we are still in the process of God showing it to us. Don't give up, God created you with a gift and talent that is designed for the exact purpose he had in mind when he called you into being. You have a gift. Let him unfold it in front of you as you seek him.

Some of us have found our gift, but we're in a spot of refining it. God is maturing us. Growth isn't always fun, but it's in the thick of stretching, carving, and shaping our gift that we grow facets of ourselves God will use to reach others. In the Potter's hands we truly become exactly who God created us to be.

Some of us have discovered it but don't want to claim it. It's not the gift we would have chosen or nearly as shiny as the person beside us. Well it's time to stop comparing. Stop longing after something you were never meant to have. And start enjoying the beauty of what God's placed inside of you! Don't throw away the gift God has given because you think it's not good enough. Everything...everything God created has value. Including you.

And some of us are operating smack dab inside the gift God gave us. And when we are finally there. When we've fully unwrapped, put together, appreciated, and put on the amazing gift he placed within us, an amazing thing begins to happen.

The gift he gave us becomes a gift for others.

And all of it points straight back to the ultimate Gift. Jesus Christ himself.

Monday, November 28, 2016


I love how the Bible gives us glimpses of imperfect lives. I love that we see trials and mess-ups mixed in among people who had some of the most miraculous or victorious moments. No, the Bible doesn't hide the doubters, worriers, and strugglers. Which is good, because their stories are where hope is born.

Recently I opened Luke and jumped into Zechariah and Elizabeth's story. These two don't take up much space in the pages of our Bibles, but they do take up a huge spot in fulfilling the prophecy of Christ's birth. See, it was foretold at the very end of Malachi of one who'd come like Elijah and prepare the way of the Lord. People had been praying for the very arrival of this one for 400 years. 400. And I get bothered when I have to pray a week and don't see movement in an area.


Zechariah and Elizabeth had another prayer in addition, only this was a personal one. They wanted a child. Now it doesn't say how long they'd been praying for a baby, but it does say they were both "well along in years" (Luke 1:7) which is a sweet way of calling them old. Knowing how important children were in the time and culture they lived, you can safely believe they'd repeated this prayer for several years. What I love the most? Even as they continued to pray about something they saw no response to, they remained faithful to God. How do we know? Because right before the passage calls them old, it says something far more important: "both were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and relations blamelessly." (Luke 1:6) They didn't get what they wanted from God, yet they still continued to follow him. Did they struggle? Probably. Have hard days? No doubt. And still they were pillars of faith even in their trial. Wow. I think I want to be like them.

What is even more amazing, however, is that when God finally answers them--and with a literal angel delivering the answer face-to-face--Zechariah questions it. (See. Those not-so-perfect moments remain on the page.) Honestly, I don't think it was because he doubted. I think the reason for his questions were two-fold. First, I think after praying for something for so many years it was hard to reconcile the answer had finally arrived. I think this moment shows how tattered his faith had become. He had the faith to still utter the prayer, but his ability to believe the answer truly would come might have been a bit shredded by time. Sometimes our situations can change so quickly that we need a moment to catch up, and I think that's what happened here with Zechariah.

Second--and this is the part I absolutely love--Zechariah and Elizabeth had been praying for years for two children. One of their very own, and one to usher in the coming of Christ's birth. Never in their wildest dreams did they imagine the two prayers were actually one and the same. So when Gabriel stands before Zechariah and speaks the very words written at the end of Malachi about the child Elizabeth will bear, well, I can see why Zechariah might have been a little stunned.

Oh friends, we pray for so many things near and dear to our hearts, but how often are those desires so much smaller than what Christ wants to actually do through us? Zechariah and Elizabeth's picture of a family was huge to them, but what God wanted to do was infinitely grander. If only we could see what he has in store for us! Don't limit your prayers.

Know--no matter how long you've prayed them--that they've been heard.

And don't be surprised when God delivers the answer--sometimes in a very big way.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Sweetest Thing

I have a problem. And this time of year it’s a bear to bare with: My sweet tooth.

Candy Canes.
Those cute little ribbon things.
Peppermint Bark
Chocolate...well, chocolate anything
Frosted Sugar Cookies
Pecan Pie
Pumpkin Bars
Cinnamon Roasted know how they fill the mall with their smell and tug you toward them?

Everywhere you turn there is something sweet to nibble on. Goodness, they even take things like fruit and cover it with chocolate or caramel or layers of both! And it seems my sweet tooth is never satisfied. The more I taste, the more I want. This is not helpful if I still want to fit in to my clothes come January 1st.

So imagine my glee when I discovered something sweet I can gorge on day and night. Something that will always satisfy and is not harmful at all: the Word of the Lord. “How sweet are your words to my taste…” (Psalm 119:103)

Strange, I know, to say words satisfy. That they are sweet. But spend some time talking with Him. Sit in His presence. Let it flow over you. Wrap you. Embrace you. And then start writing down the words you feel. I bet sweetness is on that list. See, there is a sweetness in the intimacy, in the abandonment of praising Him, in His all-consuming love. Is there really any better way to describe it?

So today, while you’re baking, shopping, running, prepping…stop. Just for a moment. And wait on Him. Lift your hands and begin to praise Him.

He truly is the sweetest thing.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Friday, November 4, 2016

Bookshelf Friday - WINNER!

Here's the winner of last week's Everstone Chronicles giveaway:

Congratulations Dianne! Private message me here or on my Facebook page with your desired mailing address, and we'll get the books out to you.

And thank you everyone who entered! 

Have a great weekend and happy reading, friends:)

Monday, October 31, 2016

1,672,359 Steps (or what feels like it at least)

July marked the 6th birthday for this blog. In that time I've logged nearly 700 posts, been contracted by my amazing agent, had a few small stories published, and been rejected more times than I care to count. I've grown in my faith, arrived at a new understanding of hope, and dug deeper into God's Word.

I wish there was something that told me how many steps I've actually taken and what they all equate to. Something that would prod me when I haven't taken enough and something that applauded me when I've hit my mark. Basically, I wish there was a spiritual Fitbit I could wear. But since there's not, I've been clinging to a verse:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

Friends, waiting is a hard thing to do. Especially when we feel worn out from all the work we've put in and our harvest still hasn't grown. I think we can--and do--grow weary. I named this blog Steps because I fully intended to constantly be taking steps toward the purpose God created me for. And like the title of today's post, I'm fairly confident I've taken at least 1,672,359 of those steps and have yet to see a harvest from the seeds I've planted. Nope. I'm still planting away in the muck and the mire.

I. am. tired.

Bone weary.

And I think that's okay. I think that going after who God created us to be can wear us out sometimes. The best of workouts leave us winded but stronger. Our muscles ache, but they are growing. Weariness for a moment is okay--as long as it doesn't cause us to give up. And though my weariness almost did just that, I rested, dug into God's Word, and have come back ready to keep moving forward.

Friends, we have to keep planting. Oh, the field may change, our path may twist, our harvest might not look anything like we envisioned, but we cannot give up doing the good God called us to do. Take a break. Sit in his presence. Recharge if you need too, but keep doing. Keep moving. Keep planting.

The harvest will come.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Bookshelf Friday - The Cautious Maiden by Dawn Crandall

Hello friends!

After a short break, Bookshelf Friday is starting back up today with one of my favorite books! The Cautious Maiden by Dawn Crandall. Oh, and a giveaway!! So let's chat about the book and then I'll let you know how you can get it in you hands:)

Violet Hawthorne is beyond mortified when her brother Ezra turns their deceased parents' New England country inn into a brothel to accommodate the nearby lumberjacks, but when Violet's own reputation is compromised, the inn becomes the least of her worries. In an effort to salvage her good name, Violet is forced into an engagement with a taciturn acquaintance: Vance Everstone. As she prepares for a society wedding, Violet learns that her brother had staked her hand in marriage in a heated poker game with the unsavory Rowen Steele, and Ezra had lost. Now Rowen is determined to cash in on his IOU. With danger stalking her and a new fiance who hides both his emotion and his past, Violet must decide who to trust, and who to leave behind.

If you've read any of Crandall's books, you'll know she writes in first person and loves romance--and this fourth book in her series is being touted as her best by those who've read it. I tend to agree. Crandall deftly mixes a slightly suspenseful plot, a reformed hero, and a stronger-than-she-looks heroine with a group of secondary characters who only enrich this cast. She also continues to have strong spiritual and emotional threads while maintaining sigh-worthy romance. And somehow she manages to do it all with a voice that was created to write historical. There's something lyrical and old-fashioned about her writing, and yet it's fresh and new at the same time. Her books are ones I never expected to enjoy (I'm not a first-person fan and I prefer contemporary to historical) and yet have every one of them on my shelf.

And so...I'd love to give you the same chance! I'm not only giving away a copy of The Cautious Maiden, but Dawn Crandall is helping me give away the entire series. OH! And she's signing The Cautious Maiden before sending it out. I'll be running this contest here and on my Facebook page. All you need to do to be entered to win is comment here or there. I'll randomly pick a winner next Thursday night and announce who it is right here next Friday.

But if you cannot wait until then, you can always purchase The Cautious Maiden here.

Happy reading, friends!

Contest Rules:
Must be 18 or older to enter. Contest open to US Residents only. This contest is not sponsored by, affiliated with, or endorsed by Blogger or Facebook. Contest open until 11/3/2016 at 11:59 p.m. Winner will be randomly drawn from all eligible participants.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Leave Nothing on the Field

No one really likes going to battle, at least I don't really know of anyone who does. Personally, I'd love it if life was a daily walk in the park. But we don't live in a world like that yet. One day we will, but until then we have to contend with sometimes fighting battle we'd rather avoid.

For some of us, those battles are results of generational sins rearing their ugly heads. Others, those battles stem from personal choices and struggles. Whatever the root, we find ourselves staring down an enemy that wants to devour us. Yet we know we fight with armor given by a victorious God. He fights with us, for us, and in Him we are more than conquerors. AMEN! (Need some verses today? Look up John 10:10Romans 8:37Isaiah 41:10Exodus 14:14Ephesians 6:10-18)

But today I want to talk about what happens after we battle, when God brings victory after a long-fought war and we're dusty and tired. A few years back I did a study called Gideon by Priscilla Shirer. During one of the teachings she said "You should never leave a battle without taking something from it." This moment stuck with me, because the point she went on to make was so right. What we do after a battle is as important--maybe even more important--as what we did to win that battle. Let's take a look at David:

David took the gold shields carried by the officers of Hadadezer and brought them to Jerusalem. From Tebah and Cun, towns that belonged to Hadadezer, David took a great quantity of bronze, which Solomon used to make the bronze Sea, the pillars and various bronze articles. 1 Chronicles 18:7-8

I read this verse this week and it brought back the point from that teaching on Gideon. I love how God makes his scripture alive to us. See, David had just fought a battle, and he wasn't leaving it empty handed. He took spoils with him. Gold and bronze, and not simply a little but a "great quantity". And why? For his son to use.

So stick with me here. Many of us are fighting spiritual battles in our lives. As I mentioned above, some of those may be rooted in sins or struggles that have dogged your family for years, and you're not willing to let it move on to your children. You want more for them. Winning that battle is not enough if you walk away empty handed and don't pass anything down to your children. We need to do what David did. Finish the battle then take our spoils of war--wisdom, knowledge, freedom, a deeper love for Christ--and pass them on. To our children. To our nieces and nephews. To our friends. To anyone around us who'll listen.

Why? Because it's meant to be used! Look at Solomon. He didn't simply take the bronze that his father handed him. No. What did he do with it? He used it to build a temple to God. He finished what his father began, giving glory to God and growing even deeper. What the enemy had intended for harm, God used for good!

Today, if you're fighting a battle, don't walk off that field empty handed once the victory comes. You've grown. You've learned. You've gained priceless spoils of war that can be handed down to those around you. That wisdom was hard earned and is intended to be passed on, not left on the field. Don't let the enemy have one precious piece of it.

Monday, October 17, 2016

But With Prayer...

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." Philippians 3:6

Social media and the news outlets are crazy right now. It's enough to make you want to bury your head in the sand and ignore everyone and everything. And I'll even admit to a few days spent like that--but then today's verse burrows right into my hiding place.

Friends, our anxiety changes nothing. Giving into it only achieves one thing: to render us useless in this battle. The only thing that we have is the power to pray to the One who holds all power in his hands. Lay all your fear, frustrations, desires, and hopes at his feet. Give thanks that we live in a country where we're even allowed to have the discussions that are occurring...that we can still choose who will be elected into offices. And seek His wisdom before you step into that booth.

These candidates aren't a surprise to God. No breaking news story catches him off guard. He is the only sure thing in the midst of all the craziness going on. And that leads us to the very next verse:
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:7

The only way we're going to make it through the next month with any sense of peace is to sit at the feet of the One who offers peace in all things. Let's stop allowing man's word to speak louder than God's voice. Be anxious over nothing...pray...and bask in his peace.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Beauty in Worship

I saw something yesterday that stopped me. It was Sunday morning and our worship team was leading us in music. Looking to my right, I watched the section of deaf ministry as someone led them with sign language. I’ve always loved watching this. I think it’s so beautiful. But this morning I caught two of our leaders sitting, facing two of our congregation. They held their hands and signed while those hands were clasped together. I quickly realized that not only were these two deaf, but also blind or severely limited in their sight.

But they were worshipping. Unable to hear the music or see the interpreter, one still swayed in time with the woman holding their hands, signing. And it captivated me.

See, so many of us have our own favorite style of worship. Be it hymns or rock, acoustic or full band, bright-light show or dark venue; we all have a style that is perfect for us. (I’m speaking to myself here too, people.) And when our style isn’t the one on stage, we don’t engage in worship. We fold our hands and close our mouths, sometimes even our hearts. Oh! We are missing out!

I watched these two on Sunday and was brought to tears. They didn’t hear the music. They couldn’t see the lights. They had no clue what was going on around them—but they worshipped. In their own quiet and darkened world, they entered into the beauty of God’s presence and worshipped Him in a way so many of us miss through the distraction of our own desires.

Worship has nothing to do with us and everything to do with God. It’s our offering to him. When we rely on the person on stage to create our perfect atmosphere before we can worship God then we are 100% missing the point of worship. God is God no matter the song that’s playing. He is the same God who resurrected the dead things in our lives. He is the same God who forgave our sins. He is the same God who died so we can live—and live abundantly.

Worshipping God should be something we cannot contain. It goes beyond our earthly senses and focuses on our hearts. And that’s what I saw yesterday. That’s what will stay with me. The beauty in true worship.

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.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Run, Don't Sprint

Thanks to my husband I've gotten to be a part of the racing world for the past several years. In fact, I often volunteer at one of the races he helps put on. Let's be clear though, while he's done everything from a 5K to an Ironman, my role caps out at handing out the medals and cheering.

Yet I'm running my own race, and so are you. It's a thought that's been on my mind lately as I scramble to finish a never-ending to-do list, meet my family's needs, prepare for another homeschool year, and attempt to keep up with things I've said "yes" to or simple daily tasks. I've begun to feel as if I'm running at an impossible speed and about to burn out, but God reminded me of these words from Hebrew 12:

...let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us...

Emphasis on the word run, not sprint. And that's what slowed this runner enough to mull over all the words there.

See, we can start to sprint, can't we? Racing from one thing to another to another until we're nearly spinning in circles. But if you've ever seen a race, the runners pace themselves. Sometimes they even walk for a bit--especially in longer races--and that's because a body cannot maintain that all out pace for long periods of time.

And when we start to sprint we can miss the markers on the path we're on. Oh, do we need those markers! Without them we can miss our calling, miss those moments God can use us, or even take on so many extra miles that it wears us out.

So pace yourself. Stay on the marked path. Walk sometimes, it's okay. It's a run, not a sprint, to the finish line God has for us and he doesn't want anyone to miss one thing along the way.

Have you found yourself in a crazy sprint lately? What things can you give up so that you can slow down some?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Bookshelf Friday - The Things We Knew by Catherine West

This summer is full of amazing new books. I was incredibly excited to read this one by Cathy West and add it to my bookshelf. Here's a short blurb and we'll chat on the other side!

After her mother’s death twelve years ago, Lynette Carlisle watched her close-knit family unravel. One by one, her four older siblings left their Nantucket home and never returned. All seem to blame their father for their mother’s death, but nobody will talk about that tragic day. And Lynette’s memory only speaks through nightmares.
Then Nicholas Cooper returns to Nantucket, bringing the past with him. Once Lynette’s adolescent crush, Nick knows more about her mother’s death than he lets on. The truth could tear apart his own family—and destroy his fragile friendship with Lynette, the woman he no longer thinks of as a kid sister.
As their father’s failing health and financial concerns bring the Carlisle siblings home, secrets surface that will either restore their shattered relationships or separate the siblings forever. But pulling up anchor on the past propels them into the perfect storm, powerful enough to make them question their faith, their willingness to forgive, and the very truth of all the things they thought they knew.

This was a great introduction to a family I can't wait to read more about. And while West introduces us to several characters, this story centers around Lynette, Nick and the mystery surrounding Lynette's elusive memories. She does a wonderful job of balancing the primary and secondary plots and characters, leaving the reader with a complete story yet small pieces that will pull us back for more. I'm hoping for a sequel!

Lynette and Nick's story is one that--if you read romance--you've seen before. Girl reunited with her first crush. Crush now falls for her. But West finds a way to add her own small twists and intrigue to what could otherwise be an overused plot. This keeps the pages fresh for the reader, pulling you through to the satisfying end. Plus, Nick and Lynette are meant for each other, easily evidenced by their interactions. One of the many things West does well is authentic conflict and dialogue. She writes both dramatic moments and comedic moments, peppering them in so neither is heavy handed. It simply feels like the flow of real life.

And while the characters and their stories were enough to keep me entertained, I also love the setting of this story. I've always wanted to travel out East, so reading about it completely intrigued me. I'm only more determined to get there now! West does an amazing job settling the reader into Nantucket.

I happily give The Things We Knew 5 out of 5 stars and you can purchase it here.

***Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest and fair review. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

My Jelly Donut Life

Ever feel like you’re stuck in the middle? Like the room moves around you, but you don’t have a spot to sit? Like people wave and say hi, but then pair up with other friends? Or perhaps you see where you’re at with your career, and you can never really achieve the next level while others around you are moving up every day. There’s so many reasons we can feel stuck in the middle, not quite at the bottom any more but never quite reaching the top. And it can mess with out minds, and our hearts.

But here’s the thing with our positioning...our spots. God has us spread all over the place so we can reach people all over the place. Each and every spot has its importance and if you ask him, he'll show you. He did with me. See, I confess I have struggled with feeling like I’m stuck in the middle, but God decided to start working with me on it, showing me that he had me right where he wanted me. Not only did he reveal how my heart and eyes changed to see others in the same position, but as I sat complaining about being a “middler” he whispered, “Just like the jelly in a donut, you’re right in the sweet spot.”

No lie. He compared me to a jelly donut.

I so love a God who brings it home to us in such relatable terms—plus he had me giggling. And that’s just it. God loves us that much. He doesn’t see our lives in levels, he sees them in all the sweetness with which he created us. He sees the purpose and the position he created us for. Each of us unique. Each in a spot best situated to reach people for him—if we stop fighting it and let him use us.

So where does God have you? And are you content with it?