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Book Review: Dancing with Fireflies

Books!Dancing with Fireflies is the second book in Denise Hunter’s Chapel Springs Romance series. In the first book, Barefoot Summer, readers met the McKinley Family of Chapel Springs. The story focused on Madison McKinley yet also introduced us to Jade, the independent, yet troubled sister who has broken everyone’s heart by moving to Chicago without a face-to-face good-bye or explanation. The family assumes she left because of a broken heart.

Dancing with Fireflies completes the story. The results of a traumatic experience draw Jade back to Chapel Springs where she hopes to set down permanent roots and start her family. She insists on doing this, however, all by herself. Longtime friend of the family, Daniel Dawson, quickly learns her secrets, though, and decides he must help her, while keeping secrets of his own. Pretty soon, the two are no longer dancing with fireflies, but dancing around truth, trying not to hurt anyone, while spreading confusion and pain all around.

Jade is a charming and unpredictable character. Daniel, so serious and down to earth, is her perfect match. I loved reading their story. Hunter is very skilled at not drawing one issue out for too long, while introducing new ones to keep the story going. It certainly held my interest! I’m looking forward to reading the next book in this series–and can’t wait to see which member of the family or cast it’s about!

I thank HarperCollins Christian Publishing for sending me a complimentary copy of this book for my honest review.

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Book Review: All Things Hidden

Books!All Things Hidden by Tracie Peterson and Kimberley Woodhouse is an historical Christian fiction novel set in the mid-1930’s. While I loved the characters and the storyline, I was fascinated by the real life setting. The story takes place in Alaska at the site of the Matanuska Project, an experimental program set up by Franklin D. Roosevelt to help families struggling to survive in America’s big cities during the depression. More than 200 families were selected from these cities to move to Alaska where homes and land were provided for them through a low-cost loan so long as they agreed to stay put for 30 years to help establish the new community.

In the novel, Gwyn Hillerman and her father have lived in the Matanuska valley for almost all of Gwyn’s life. Her father serves as doctor to the natives and to those who, like him, have already chosen to move there. Abandoned by her mother and little sister, Gwyn has grown very close to her father and now works by his side as a nurse. When she learns of the expected influx of people, she’s afraid of changes they will bring to her stable life.

At the same time, Dr. Jeremiah Vaughan from Chicago loses his medical license following the tragic death of one of his more influential patients. Though the charges against him are unfair, he decides to escape the controversy rather than fight it and takes Gwyn’s father up on an invitation to help with the new community’s medical needs, hoping he can keep events in Chicago a secret.

Of course, things don’t go smoothly for either Jeremiah or Gwyn, or we wouldn’t have a story to read. I enjoyed the way their story unfolded. I also highlighted several insights they discovered throughout about getting along with others and learning to forgive. But my favorite part was reading about the birth of a new community in a harsh, but beautiful land.

I thank Bethany House Publishers for sending a complimentary copy of this book for my review. I enjoyed reading this book.

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Book Review: It Had to be You

My favorite kind of book series is the kind that tells the stories of family members one after another until all the siblings are happily married off. Susan May Warren’s Christiansen Family series is one of these and Tyndale House has just released the second book which includes a bonus novella about the Christiansen family kids’ parents.

In this second book, It Had to be You, readers get a closer look at Eden Christiansen who is living on her own in Chicago, writing newspapers obits while striving toward her goal of becoming a “real” reporter. She’s also watching out for her younger brother Owen, who has just landed a contract with a professional hockey team. Eden considers herself his guardian and is frustrated by his developing rebellious ways. How dare a little brother rebel against his big sister?

Eden’s attempts to wrangle Owen put her in contact with his team captain, hockey superstar Jace Jacobsen, much too often for her own comfort until the two of them bump into one another and a John Doe coma patient in the hospital. The encounter gives Eden and Jace a mystery they both feel compelled to solve.

I loved reading this book. Susan has a gift for writing brilliant and surprising mentors into her stories. I learn from the mentors right along with Susan’s characters. The messages in this story were especially inspirational to me.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I recommend the book to you!

Author Q & A

1. This is the second installment in a new six-book series. Can you give us a bit of background on this series?

The Christiansen Family series is a spin-off of the bestselling Deep Haven collection, stories about the townspeople of Deep Haven, Minnesota, a tiny resort town on the north shore of Lake Superior. The original series started with a book titled Happily Ever After and grew to include six titles. However, one family began to stand out, and we decided their story
needed to be told. We wanted a series about a family with adult children learning what it meant to carry on the legacy of faith into their lives. And I wanted to write a series that would really let readers dig into the family, feel like they were a part of their journey.

2. This Christiansen Family series is set in Deep Haven, Minnesota. Tell us about this setting.

It’s a gorgeous place to set a story—on the rocky shores of Lake Superior, in a tiny town where everyone knows your name. It’s a town with a rich heritage, strong ties, and a place where people want to escape—in fiction and in real life (as it is modeled after my town of Grand Marais, Minnesota). You’ll find people from all walks of life here—and most importantly, Evergreen Resort, run by the Christiansen family for four generations.

3. What is your hope for this series?

Of course, I hope people fall as much in love with the Christiansens as I have. They’re a great bunch—all led by John and Ingrid Christiansen, who have tried to instill their values into their children. But each child has their own path to walk, and part of the series is just watching as they walk that path—through the good and the bad, trying to figure out where their faith and their parents’ legacy fit into their lives. It’s a contemporary epic family series set in the wilds of northern Minnesota with romance, suspense, and lots of great family drama!

4. What was your inspiration for this particular book and the main character Eden Christiansen?

Eden Christiansen came from a number of places. Watching the siblings of movie stars and athletes, watching my own daughter cheer her athlete brothers, even watching my friends, parents who feel on the sidelines of their children’s lives . . . maybe even a little left behind as they leave for college. I began to wonder—what if you had an amazing sibling, and your entire family focused on his or her successes, and you felt left behind, void of your own amazingness? This is Eden—who feels like she hasn’t accomplished anything and is sitting on the sidelines of her life. She feels like she needs to “get into the game” but doesn’t know how or where to start. And she feels like she really has nothing spectacular to offer . . .

But God has different plans . . . 

5. Did you base the character of Jace Jacobsen on anyone in particular?

Jace was loosely modeled after famed Minnesota Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard, who died, in part, due to the many concussions he suffered as a hockey player. The problem of concussions with today’s athletes, especially in hockey and football, can be life-threatening for athletes, and although hockey (and football!) is played much differently today, it’s still an issue.

I wanted Jace to have the opposite problem from Eden—he is only good at one thing. In fact, he’s spectacular at it, but he believes if he walks away from it, he will be nothing. So same problem . . . different perspective. It gave me a good opportunity as an author to examine our “worth.”

Of course, adding the John Doe element only rounded that theme out with yet another perspective. I loved how these three angles came together.

6. What lessons or truths will your readers find in the pages of this novel?

I think we all need to see our worth not in relationship to our external successes but in how we work out the task God has for us. How we love one another, how we use our gifts and talents. How we abide with God in our daily lives. Hopefully readers will begin seeing their worth in a new way.

7. How do you expect this new series to resonate with your audience? How do you want your books to make them feel?

I am hoping readers walk away from this book, and this series, with hope. The sense that they belong to something—to God, to family—and the feeling that our lives are not chaotic or out of control, but that God has a unique and amazing journey for each of us, and it’s lived out within our relationships. I want them to feel as if they’d found a new set of friends.

8. Have you received any feedback from your fans on this series? What are they saying?

People fell immediately in love with Darek and his sweet son, Tiger, in Take a Chance on Me, and I think readers will really enjoy Jace and Eden’s romance in this story. I’m thankful that people enjoy the work I put into developing my characters and the romance, and I have loved diving into these multilayered stories about people with realistic, everyday struggles.

9. As a writer, what did you particularly enjoy about crafting this story?

I loved writing about Minnesota in the winter. And I loved the story of John Doe and uncovering who he might be. (I plotted it like a mystery, so it was fun to revisit my mystery-plotting techniques). I especially loved the layers of Jace, the hero, and how, with every turn, he became more intriguing.

10. What is the best advice or encouragement that you have received?

Try to up your writing game with each book, and just keep writing. Not every story appeals to every reader, but I try to write a story I would enjoy—and then hopefully my readers will also.

11. In your writing career, what are you most proud of?

I think I’ve stayed true to who I am and the kind of story I’m supposed to be writing. I’m very blessed by my reader friends and their constant encouragement. I am very blessed to spend my days with the Christiansen family!

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Angel Tag

Parachute Prayer“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” –Psalm 91:11-12

Several years ago, I was lying on the couch reading a great book when my middle son came running through the room at nearly light speed. Our small dog was close on his heels, obviously playing “It” in a serious game of tag. Before Windsor could latch on to Alex’s pant leg, however, Alex hopped up on a wooden chair. I watched in horror as the chair tilted from its usual 90-degree angle to less than 45. I’m pretty sure there’s a law of physics that says a chair pushed to that angle by a fast-moving boy will fall to the floor, carrying the boy with it. To make things worse, the corner of our entertainment center was in the direct path of the boy’s forehead, our TV in line with his shoulder. Catastrophe was inevitable; we were headed to the ER.

The accident never happened, though. I was shocked! As I watched, the chair. just. stopped. moving.

Alex froze in place, looking like a surfer holding himself upright at the top of the perfect wave; then he slowly leaned backward to right the chair. As its legs touched the floor, a big, excited grin spread across my son’s face as he looked at me, his eyes wide with delight.

“Wasn’t that cool?!” he said.

I honestly didn’t know whether to clap or cry. I couldn’t stop a smile of incredulity from spreading across my face, but I did have the presence of mind to show Alex what could have happened, what should have happened, and why he’d better never come that close to making that happen again. When the Bible tells about the work of God’s angels, I know it’s telling the truth. I haven’t actually seen them, but I’ve seen the results of their actions. I’m thankful God sometimes chooses to send them to protect and care.

Today’s Parachute Prayer: When you see small children playing in your neighborhood or grown-ups doing dangerous jobs such as trimming trees or completing construction projects up high, ask God to command his angels to watch over them, to keep them safe from harm.

Father, thank You for the unseen angels who follow Your orders on our behalf. In a world full of danger, their presence is a comfort to us from You. Amen.

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Ephesians 3:12 on My Mind

NewOMM“Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.” –Ephesians 3:12, NLT

It distresses me that some people, even Christians, are afraid or don’t know how to talk to God. This is what He created us for! He loves us. He wants us to love Him back. And, as in all other relationships, communication is the tool we use to get to know one another, to understand each other, to resolve conflict, to grow close.

God invites us to grow closer to Him each day.

In the beginning, Adam and Eve enjoyed walking and talking in the garden with God. They enjoyed a closer relationship with Him than any of us have ever yet known.

But sin built a barrier between them and God. Sin gives people a reason to fear His Presence, a reason to cower in the dark.

That’s why we need Jesus. Because of His sacrifice on our behalf and if we’ve placed our faith in Him as our Savior, that barrier of sin is gone. We can enter God’s Presence boldly and with confidence.

Eph3-12When I was in junior high school, my mom and I were baking one day. The vanilla smelled so good, I asked my mom if I could taste it. She told me no, telling me that I wouldn’t like the taste.

Later that day, she left to run some errands. I remembered the vanilla in the pantry and decided to try it for myself. I guess I didn’t believe my mom. But I should have! It tasted so bad that I spit it back out—and got it all over my clothes.

Not wanting my mom to know what I’d done, I changed, washed the strong smell of vanilla out of my clothes, and put them in the dryer. They finished drying just in time for me to change back into them before my mom came home.

I’d gotten away with it! But I still felt badly about what I’d done. I avoided my mom for most of the afternoon until I couldn’t stand it anymore and made a tearful and fearful confession.

She laughed! I was so confused—and relieved. Our relationship was restored.

In the same way, if ever we do wrong, thanks to Jesus, we can confess this wrong to God, knowing He will always forgive. The wall of sin between us will come down, so we can boldly and confidently enter His Presence again.

Father, thank You for creating us for fellowship with You. And thank You for Your Son, Jesus, Who died on the cross and rose again, that we can enjoy this fellowship—now and through eternity. We love You, Lord. Draw us into Your Presence often. This is where we long to dwell, forever with You, growing closer each day. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Psalm 73:25 on My Mind

NewOMM“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” –Psalm 73:25, NIV

I don’t know about you, but I can remember some pretty greedy Christmas moments from my childhood. I remember one in particular. I must have been four, maybe five. I’d asked Santa for a baby doll that year. But not just any baby doll. I wanted a very particular baby doll. And when that very particular baby doll did not show up under my family’s Christmas tree on Christmas morning, I was pretty angry with Santa for letting me down. In fact, while holding the new baby doll I’d received that wasn’t the particular baby doll I’d wanted, I pouted all the way to Grandma’s house and all through the first few hours of our extended-family Christmas celebration.

Imagine my surprise to learn, as we started the gift-opening portion of the day, that Santa had indeed brought that doll for me. As my grandma explained it, she’d wanted to see me receive it, and so, had asked Santa to bring it to her house instead of mine.

In hindsight, I think I should have caught on to the Santa scam that day. Instead, I felt sorry for being so angry with Santa for not bringing the baby doll I’d wanted when, in fact, he’d brought the one I’d wanted plus one more. I learned to be more patient in future years.

Such can be the drama of Christmas morning. Thankfully, I’ve outgrown those days. At least, I hope I have! I’m sure that you have, too. Now the joy of Christmas morning comes as we watch others open gifts we’ve carefully chosen for them: some they have requested, others meant to surprise and delight.

Why is it that brings us joy?

Because, in Christ, we have everything we need. His Presence fills every longing and promises so much more! For eternity! We celebrate this fullness by letting it flow over into others, generously, as God leads.

The tangible gifts are just a symbol of this, of course. The real celebration is the coming of Christ Who permanently meets the needs and desires of all the world. As we give and receive gifts this Christmas, let’s remember this verse—and be thankful indeed.

Jesus, thank You! You are the reason we celebrate, the reason we look forward to Heaven someday. Earth has nothing for us compared to the joy of being loved by You. Amen.

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Praying for Families Apart for the Holidays

Once upon a time, when my husband was deployed over Christmas, I remember being reduced to a puddle of tears right in the middle of the baking goods aisle at the grocery story by Karen Carpenter’s beloved song, Merry Christmas, Darling, playing throughout the store.

You remember the one. Merry Christmas, Darling. We’re apart, that’s true . . .

Bah. Humbug.

I didn’t fare much better with Elvis’s, Blue Christmas, or the ever-popular, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, playing at the mall.

I remember thinking at the time that it was a bit cruel. I’d like to formally request that all merchants nationwide stick to playing cheerful Christmas music in public places this year. No offense meant to Karen, Elvis, or any other Christmas crooners.

Alas, I don’t have much faith in the power of one blog to change the playlists of shopping centers across the country. So I’d like to suggest a more positive twist:

When we hear these songs while Christmas shopping, let’s pray for military families who can’t be together for the holidays this year. Who knows? The lady one aisle over may be frantically trying to bury her tears in a bag of brown sugar. Ask God to cheer her heart, keep her husband safe, and happily reunite them soon.

Lord, it’s nice to be together at Christmas, but sometimes it just isn’t possible. Please encourage families who have to be apart. Remind them of their purpose. Assure them their sacrifice is not in vain. And help them to find creative and meaningful ways to celebrate together by heart, if not by locale. Comfort them, Lord, as only You can. Thank You, Jesus! Amen.

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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.