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Book Review: A Christmas Gift for Rose

I would classify A Christmas Gift for Rose as an Amish historical fiction romance with an emphasis on the historical romance. Set near the end of World War II, this story opens with the main character, Rose, feeling both heart-broken and perplexed. Her ex-fiancé has just returned from an overseas tour of duty as a medic. His choice was controversial and suspect because the Amish are pacifists. His people expected this man to go to jail for refusing to serve rather than volunteer before even being drafted. Rose has heard all of their worries, complaints, and judgments and feels she must stand firm in her decision not to marry after all. She hasn’t heard his side of the story, though.

And Rose’s life is about to change with unexpected news about her own, shaky standing among her people. Rose will have to come to terms with who she is and to whom she belongs as everything she believes is hers will seem to be taken away.

I enjoyed reading this story and appreciated how author Tricia Goyer handled such subjects as military service, post-traumatic stress, poverty, and adoption. Readers who favor historical fiction with an enduring message will want to read this book.

I thank Thomas Nelson Publishers for sending a complimentary eCopy for this honest review.

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Deuteronomy 4:9 on My Mind

NewOMM“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” –Deuteronomy 4:9, NIV

My grandmother used to tell me all the family stories—of ancestors who came over on boats or traveled across the country by wagon or train. I’ve recorded these carefully to share with future generations, yet some details have been lost to time. Grandma couldn’t answer all of my questions because she either didn’t remember or hadn’t been told a particular detail of interest herself. And, as I think of new questions now, it’s too late to ask them.

Among these stories are very few about my ancestor’s salvation experiences. I know several were Christians. I know which churches some of them attended. I know that my great-grandfather enjoyed attending revival services wherever he could find them and got to hear some of the greatest evangelists of his generation in person. But I don’t know, specifically, how most ancestors came to Christ. I would so love to know these stories. For now, I can only look forward to listening to my ancestors tell them in person in Heaven to honor Jesus someday.

If your parents are Christians, do you know how they came to Christ? Have you told your own children about the day you invited Jesus into your life? These testimonies are priceless for several reasons:

  1. This isn’t mentioned in Deuteronomy 4:9, but our salvation stories honor God. When we share them with others, we’re talking about what God has done. Telling true stories about other works of God in our lives brings glory to His name, too.
  2. Testimonies of God’s work in our lives encourage our children and others we know to get to know Him, so they can begin to see His work in their lives, too. Our children are our primary mission field. Anyone else God brings into our immediate sphere of influence is part of that mission field, too. Let’s brag on God’s amazing work whenever, however, we can.
  3. Telling our experiences to others helps us to remember them with more clarity and for a longer time. In fact, if we write about them in our journals (or on our blogs), they’ll be available for us to review whenever we need to be reminded that God is faithfully at work.

As Moses commanded God’s people, let’s do whatever we can to keep our true, faith stories on our minds, in our hearts, and in our loved ones ears. Let’s be careful and watch ourselves, so we will not forget.

Father, we thank You for Your continual work in our lives. Help us to see it. Help us to share it. Help us to remember in honor of Your name. We love You, Lord! Amen.

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In Search of Little Birds This Christmas

Note: This is a repost from my original blog, Wildflower Thinking. The event that follows took place in 2008, but the lesson seems especially appropriate for this busy Christmas season. Let’s all be careful to watch for little birds this year.

Our family was leaving the mall. Mike opened the door, and I noticed something flopping around underneath it. As I followed Mike out, I looked more closely and realized I wasn’t imagining things—it really was a little bird. “Oh, no!” I yelped as Mike closed the door, running over the confused bird again.

I knelt down quickly, oblivious to the fact that I was now in the path of the door and about to be run over myself. Mike ran interference while figuring out why his wife had suddenly lost all common sense. He started nudging the bird with his foot.

“What are you doing?” I asked, quite alarmed.

Mike rolled his eyes. “I’m moving the bird away from the door, so he won’t get run over again.” (He’s pretty smart, that man.) Then he looked around to see where to safely direct the bird. (He did this all for me, you know! Either that, or he knew he’d never get home until we’d taken good care of the bird.)

Realizing the nearest bush was several feet away and that kicking the bird that far would probably do more harm than good, we did the next best thing. We told Seth to pick up the bird. (Yes—it was a classic LIFE cereal moment. “I’m not picking up that bird.” “Well, I’m not picking up that bird.” “Let’s get Seth to pick up the bird! Hey, Seth!”) Seth picked up the bird, I took pictures, we introduced the bird to its new refuge spot—all was well with the world, we could go home. Mike was still rolling his eyes.

So now I’m wondering how many other little birds we carelessly run over as we go about our daily routine. I’m not talking about real birds anymore—though we almost missed the one at the mall! How many hurting people do we cross paths with every day who feel constantly run over by life? They’re standing there stunned and confused as people walk on by, pushing them aside without even realizing they’re there. How many people do we talk to regularly, maybe even at church, who need, not just small talk, but a true listening ear or a nudge toward safety? God can use us to help people if we’ll notice who’s flopping around.

Lord, You know that I can’t save every little bird, but open my eyes that I will see to help where I can. Make me aware. Remind me to stop and take time to express genuine care. There’s nothing more important that I have to do today. Amen.

For more devotional thoughts today, visit Essential Fridays and Spiritual Sundays.

Special Announcement: The Kindle version of my new book, Home Is Where God Sends You, is on sale this week. Click here to purchase your copy.

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Remembering God Once We’ve Found Home

Finding Home“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” –Judges 17:6

I started reading the book of Judges this week. Though it’s one of the historical books of the Bible, it kind of stands alone, covering a period of Israel’s history that’s otherwise mostly ignored—a between time of sorts. Genesis 12 through the book of Joshua tell of God establishing His people: of the Patriarchs they came from, of their rescue from Egypt, of their wandering in the desert for 40 years, of their finally entering and taking the Promised Land. The next big thing after that is the establishment and fall of their monarchy with David, of course, being their most famous king, the man after God’s own heart whose ancestral line led to our King Jesus.

Judges, however, covers the time between the establishment of God’s people and the events leading up to demand for a human king. The theme of the book is found in Judges 17:6, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”

But here’s the thing: Israel did have a King. The God Who established them as a people and led them to the Promised Land wanted and deserved to be their King. Yet as soon as they arrived at their destination, the people stopped following God. Instead of conquering all the people He told them to conquer and clearing the land of false gods, they cleared just enough to make space for themselves and starting cozying up to their new neighbors, intermarrying with them and worshipping their gods. Instead of being set apart and living in a way that would draw others to the one, true God, they chose to mingle, compromise to fit in, and worship idols. Judges 1 and 2 tell us all about this. Judges 2:20-22 tells us what God did about it:

“Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and said, ‘Because this nation has violated the covenant I ordained for their ancestors and has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the LORD and walk in it as their ancestors did.’”

When the Israelites stopped doing their part, God stopped doing His—just as He’d warned them He would. He removed His protection and allowed them to interact with the people who would cause them harm. He let them suffer the consequences of their own decisions. When they eventually remembered Him, He was there, appointing judges to help them out of their predicaments. When they forgot Him again, He watched, but left them, by their choice, to suffer on their own.

The lesson for us is clear: when we’re facing a move or going through one (or struggling with some other trial that makes us feel unsettled in our own land), it’s easier for us to remember to lean on God for guidance, wisdom, and strength. Our need for Him is never more clear!

When the dust settles and the boxes are unpacked, however, we have to work a little harder at remembering Who’s our King—and why. We must, though, because the God Who created us and established our families and homes deserves our worship, our loyalty, and our recognition of His place in our lives.

A few ideas:

1. Keep a journal during “wilderness” times. Record your prayers, God’s answers, and Bible verses that speak to you. Once you’re settled, read over these from time to time and thank God for being there for you.

2. Set aside a specific time of day each day to read God’s Word and pray. Talk with Him about everything! Offer praise and thanksgiving. Present your concerns.

3. Train yourself to practice God’s Presence, talking with Him throughout the day whenever something in your life reminds you He is there. You wouldn’t ignore a friend sitting in your living room. Learn to recognize and acknowledge God’s Presence, too!

Father, thank You for establishing us as Your people through Christ. We love You and are so thankful and awed to know You love us, too. Through good times and bad, help us to remember that You are here and You are King. We serve You alone. Amen.

• What do you do to remind yourself of God’s Presence and help yourself walk more closely to Him each day?

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Luke 2:7 on My Mind

NewOMM“She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” –Luke 2:7, NLT

Yesterday morning, we sang a hymn in church that I haven’t heard in so long it was almost new to me. My husband and I both struggled to follow the words while singing the right notes. More amazing, it’s a Christmas carol! I guess it’s one that’s sliding into obscurity, but I enjoyed the visit yesterday.

The name of the carol is Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne. The words ponder how it was possible that God’s own Son, King of Kings and Lord of Lords Himself, could have left the splendor of Heaven where He was celebrated by angels only to find no room on earth: no room in the inn, no place to lay His head, no acceptance by His own people, only their scorn and a crown of thorns.

In the words of the chorus, the grieving lyricist does her part to set things right with this invitation: O come to my heart, Lord Jesus; There is room in my heart for Thee. Then, after the final verse, she looks to her future in Heaven: My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus, When Thou comest and callest for me.

So many aspects of Christianity have a past, present, future element to them. The first Sunday of Advent, celebrated yesterday, is one beautiful example of this. It’s a day of anticipation and expectation: we remember how God’s people were waiting for the first coming of their Messiah, our Lord, Jesus Christ. We celebrate that historical coming as we thank Jesus for it through this present season. Yet we also look forward with hope to the expected and much anticipated second coming of Christ to occur on some future day. (Or maybe even today!)

We see the same in Luke 2:7 combined with the words from this almost forgotten hymn. We remember there was no room available for Jesus when He first came—and we grieve the tragedy of that. We thank Him for preparing a place in Heaven for us someday, for making it possible for us to find room with Him. Finally, we examine our own hearts to be sure that right now in this moment, nothing is trying to push Him out of His rightful place. If we’ve invited Jesus to live in our hearts, to be Lord of our lives, we don’t want Him to have to compete with any other person, place, or thing.

Jesus, I’m sorry there was no lodging available when You came to earth as a baby so long ago. Thank You for not holding that against us, though. Thank You for completing Your mission, for fulfilling Your purpose, that You could offer us the promise of eternity in Your home. Please search our hearts now and point out anything You find there that may be crowding You. That space is Yours, Lord Jesus. Our hearts are Yours. Amen.

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Book Review: The Christmas Candle

Books!It only took me one afternoon to read The Christmas Candle by Max Lucado—ten short chapters with a thought-provoking message about Whom we put our trust in when we pray. I liked this story.

Set mostly in 1864, it’s the story of a town with a legacy. Every 25 years, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, an angel visits their candle maker and touches one candle. This candle brings a blessing to one chosen person. 1864 is the year of the next visit.

But this town also has a new minister who is a bit skeptical, refusing to cooperate with the traditions that have grown up around the angel’s visit. Discussions about this leave both townspeople and minister confused. To complicate matters, everyone wants the blessing of the candle this year and the candle maker has no son to carry on the legacy in 1889. The Christmas candle has brought everyone so much to fret about.

I recommend The Christmas Candle by Max Lucado to those who enjoy Christmas novellas with hopeful messages. The Victorian England setting, the way the characters communicated with each other even when they disagreed, the pace of the book, and the outcome were all just right. I enjoyed reading this book.

I received a complimentary eCopy of The Christmas Candle in exchange for this honest review.

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Thanksgiving Prayer Thoughts

“Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.” –1 Chronicles 29:13

If ever we could think of nothing else to thank God for, we could thank Him for His Presence. He is with us always—wherever we are, whatever our circumstances.

That said, let’s be sure to thank God for His Presence today!

To do so, watch for an opportunity to slip away from the chaos and spend some time thanking God for Who He is. Make a list of every attribute and biblical name for Him you can think of. Reflect on what each means to you personally.

Next, thank Him for what He’s done. Think back over your life journey, and look for God’s fingerprints all over it. Thank Him for His work in and through your life.

Thank Him also for what He will do. This is an act of faith—anticipating His work in this world, in your life, and in the lives of your loved ones. We don’t know what this will look like when God’s finished, but we know we’ll be amazed when the work is done! Thank Him for this hope.

Finally, if the weather allows, take a walk outside. Thank God for everything you see that reminds you He is there.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” –Psalm 19:1

Thank God for revealing Himself to You through His creation and for drawing your attention to it this day, that you won’t take it for granted, but will hear the rocks cry out that God is here, that God is great beyond comprehension, that God is in control of everything.

“The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne.” –Psalm 11:4b

In her book, The God of All Comfort, Hannah Whitall Smith says, “It is a fact that we see what we look at, and cannot see what we look away from; and we cannot look unto Jesus while we are looking at ourselves.”

It’s good to thank God for our blessings. Let’s continue to do that, especially today. But let’s start by thanking God for being God. Let’s take our eyes off of that which cannot last and thank God for the Presence we’ll enjoy through eternity!

Happy Thanksgiving! Bless God today!

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Book Review: Stones for Bread

Books!I just love stories about broken and lonely people gathering together to form community. Stones for Bread is this. It’s the story of Liesl, owner of the Wild Rise bake house. Still overcoming the shock of her mother’s suicide and of finding the body at the age of just twelve, Liesl holds people at arm’s length. Yet she loves to bake bread and takes her role as keeper of the bread seriously, preserving a family legacy.

Throughout the book, God brings new people into Liesl’s life and reveals secrets about the people she already knows. Liesl must learn to adapt to changing needs, to open her heart and her life to people she cares about, and to listen for—and trust—God’s Voice.

Because it’s a book about a growing community of broken people, suicide isn’t the only circumstance that people must work through that’s touched on in the book. Others include depression, self-harm, alcoholism, adoption, cancer, dyslexia, abandonment, divorce, death, and corporate greed. The story doesn’t dwell on these, however—just acknowledges they exist. The focus of the story is on Liesl and her loved ones learning to get along and care for one another. They’re learning how to live.

Stones for Bread is a leisurely read for a reflective day. I enjoyed my time with it. I probably won’t try any of the bread recipes scattered throughout the book, but I found the history and mechanics of bread baking to be interesting. Thomas Nelson Publishers sent a complimentary copy of this book for this honest review. I recommend it to you.

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Hebrews 12:28 on My Mind

NewOMM“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” –Hebrews 12:28

This week, this whole month, I’ve been seeing so many Thanksgiving lists posted all over the place. Thanks to Thanksgiving, we’re all taking time to stop and reflect on what God’s given us, on what He means to us, on what He’s done for us, on all the big and little things we most appreciate.

It’s a beautiful thing: everyone offering hearts full of gratitude and praise to God. Let’s keep it up! Let’s try to keep it up all year.

I say try, though, because sometimes it’s hard. As life ebbs and flows, we sometimes find ourselves in dark places where it’s hard to find much to be thankful for. At these times, I’m so thankful we have ultimate gifts to be thankful for. Thanks to Jesus, we are receiving a Kingdom that cannot be shaken. God is preparing us for that Kingdom and that Kingdom for us right now. We’re growing together as Jesus gets ready to return. In Him, we have great hope!

No matter what’s going on in our lives, God’s eternal Kingdom will stand firm—and, if we’ve received Christ as our Savior, we’re a part of it. So let’s be sure to add our reflections on that to our Thanksgiving lists this week. Then God will be faithful to bring these thoughts back to our minds when we most need them.

I’m thankful for that, too!

Father, thank You for the ultimate gifts: salvation, life in Your Presence now, life in Your eternal Kingdom forever, hope in all circumstances, Your faithful love and care. I thank You now as I celebrate Thanksgiving. Help me thank You always. Amen.

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No More Taxes!

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“Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.” -Psalm 95:2, NIV

The popcorn tax was first to be recognized as such. Then pizza. Bananas. Apples. Anything I use a spatula to cook.

That last one was put into effect when I accidentally flipped some stir fry out of the pan and onto the floor where the DRS discovered it and decided he wanted more . . . and more . . . and more.

That formidable DRS: Dog Revenue Service. Whenever we eat, he plants himself down in front of us and stares, patiently demanding his portion. Sometimes those eyes say, “Aren’t I so adorable you feel compelled to share with me?” or “Don’t you feel guilty enjoying that while I sit here all hungry-like and watch?” More often, they say, “I’m entitled to my portion of your food. Hand it over now.”

I blame my grandmother. Windsor was content to eat dog food until she came to visit us in the Netherlands during his puppyhood. We told her he could only have dog food. Vet’s orders, we said. She quietly slipped him some mashed potatoes under the table anyway. We caught her in the act, but irreparable damage was already done. Ever since, our doggie has demanded his due.

“But he likes it,” she said. I’m still rolling my eyes.

Now Windsor has discovered green beans and broccoli. It’s time for this taxation without representation to stop! Windsor is the dog. He lives in our house by invitation, not obligation. We choose to feed him and care for him because we want to. Windsor needs a change of attitude: Thanksgiving for all we choose to share in place of stubborn demands for what he wants.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Black Friday falls the day after Thanksgiving (and now seems to be usurping that holiday). Our ancestors set one day of the year aside for thanking God for all He’s given. Satan would rather our hearts be full of greed. So now we spend Thanksgiving Day planning how we’ll get more stuff.

Maybe that last paragraph was a little harsh. I know we’re not all like that. It’s more of a societal generalization. But I long to see this trend turn around. If everything we have is a gift from God, we should celebrate Thanksgiving every single day! (–without over-stuffing our guts.)

God doesn’t owe us anything.

We’re not entitled to a portion of what’s His.

He graciously provides all we need and more just because He wants to. He simply adores us.

Stop.

Let that last sentence sink in: He simply adores us.

We don’t need anything more.

Father, please forgive me when I take my eyes off You and turn my focus to wants. You are all I need. Help me to trust that the gifts You offer are more than enough for me. Help me to thankfully enjoy what You bring into my life and not to fret over what’s not there. I may ask for things, but I’ll try not to sit and stare, insisting You meet my demands. You are God, the Creator, and You chose to make me! Thank You, loving Father. Amen.