Wednesday, November 24, 2021

5 New Books By Friends

One of the things I've most enjoyed about having friends who write, is the chance to read first drafts. I count it an honor to get to enjoy a book before it is published and give opinions on additions or changes that can be made to make the book even better.

But the downside is that I can be excited about a book that is not yet available to the public. So now I can talk about several books, written by friends, which I read months or, in some cases, years ago.

Disclaimer: While I count these authors as friends and they all asked me to read and comment on their books before publishing, I didn't promise any of them a blog review. Some of them gave me a copy of their book, some paid me for my time and editing advice, but in other cases I purchased my own copy. I'm including ordering information and some affiliate links, but the opinions shared on this review are my own.

Turtle Heart by Lucinda J. Kinsinger

Turtle Heart is a beautifully written true story of a shy sheltered Mennonite girl from Wisconsin who befriends a sharp elderly Native American woman.  Through the collision of cultures, Lucinda desires to show Jesus to Charlene, yet finds that Charlene had much to teach her.  Lucinda doesn't pretend to have all the answers, but her book made me consider how I relate to wounded people, which was good in a slightly uncomfortable way. (I wouldn't give this memoir to a young teen because of the gritty honesty about lesbianism.)

You can purchase your own copy of Turtle Heart from Amazon and read more of Lucinda's writing on her blog.

A Time to Lose by Emily Steiner

This sequel to A Time to Keep Silence continues the fictional story of Monica and Justin. I inhaled the book on a Sunday afternoon, becoming even more attached to the characters in this Kentucky community. This book hit me deeply since it describes sudden grief and the loss of a parent of young children. I thought Emily described grief realistically, as well as the challenges of singlehood and the surrender all of us face at some point in life. In so many Mennonite books, the characters are too perfect, but Emily has developed some flawed characters that we see growing in this book. I can't wait to see how they continue to mature in the third book.

Email Emily at to purchase you own copy of A Time to Lose for $12.50 plus $3.00 shipping. 

Trapped in the Tunnel and Facing the Fugitive by Katrina Hoover Lee

I'm always looking for good books for children, especially boys, and was thrilled that Katrina is starting a new adventure series for children. I describe these books as a cross between the Hardy Boys and the Sugar Creek Gang. They aren't as unrealistic as the Hardy Boys or as preachy as the Sugar Creek Gang. I'm currently reading the first book, Trapped in the Tunnel, aloud, and it is passing the "read one more chapter" test for my girls as well as boys. The three brothers live along the river and enjoy the normal boy things like bike ramps, hidden tunnels, rope knots, and boats. 

Each book in this new series reflects on one of the fruit of the Spirit so nine books are planned for the series. You can purchase the first two at Katrina's website or on Amazon. Also available on Kindle and Scribd.

Chance and Change by Galen Horst

In the summer of 2018, Galen and Patricia Horst stayed at our house when they were in the area for a wedding. I had known Patricia for years, but it was the first time we me in real life. We had just been given the news that Ed's tumor had regrown for the third time and we knew his life was fragile. But we didn't know that less than a year later, both our families would experience death. A few months later, the children and I were able to visit the Horst's lovely mountain farm in Ontario. My children still talk of that wonderful Sunday afternoon.

Chance and Change is Galen's story of how God moved in his life, reordering his priorities as a father and causing him to sell a prospering business and buy a run-down mountain farm. The family was enjoying the full life of homeschooling and homesteading, until the daughter's health crisis turned their world upside down. 

You can purchase Chance and Change from Amazon and can read more about the Horst family on their blog.

I can highly recommend all of these books, though the content varies widely. This list may have a book for about every taste in reading.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

How to Use My Time

I've been rather quiet here on the blog this year. I haven't quite known why. I'm busy, but I've blogged through other busy seasons. In fact, this blog started when I was pregnant with my fourth child and had a four-, three-, and one-year-old.  That was an intense season, yet I blogged several times a week. 

When I look back to the first years of this blog and wonder how I could have been so consistent in writing, I think there were several factors. 

1. My children were young. They didn't mind photos shared online of themselves. Now I'm much more careful to protect their privacy.

2. My children were young. I was home all day, nearly every day, and they took naps. 

3. My children were young. While we talked and read books and learned the alphabet, they didn't require the full mental concentration required by teenage conversations and Algebra. 

4. Blogging was my one and only hobby. I now have more writing, speaking, and editing opportunities than I can ever do.

5. I'm deliberately choosing to limit my online time. I used to read a lot of blogs and maybe that translated into writing on this blog frequently. I now read a lot more books and read online much less frequently. 

6. My blog subjects have changed a lot through the years. I used to write a lot about gardening and bread baking. When Ed got sick, I didn't garden and bake much. This blog became a cancer journal. Now I don't know what exactly to write about. I don't want it to be only a grief journal. I still rarely baking bread. Some of the big topics in my head don't feel like topics of general interest or I don't know how to express them in an edifying manner. 

I've thought a lot this past year on how I make decisions on how I use my time. Not just blogging, but all of life. I think the fact that I have the brain power to reflect and analyze means that I'm moving beyond simply survival mode.

This past week I taught the youth girls' Bible study on "how to know the will of God." It is a common question that youth ask and one I still don't think I have many answers. In preparing for the lesson, I thought back through my own years as a single and how I stressed about decisions. There seemed to be so many options - work, school, travel, missions. There were so many good ways to use my time, and I didn't want to mess up. I knew I couldn't do it all and had to choose. 

When I married, suddenly that stress was gone. I was committed to my husband. I knew every morning my goals were to care for my husband and our home, and, eventually, babies. There was a deep settled peace in knowing that Ed's goals were now my own. Any decisions were made together as a team, but the pressure of final decisions was on Ed. When I found a new opportunity, such as blogging,  Ed gave me direction. Usually he was my biggest supporter, the one who pushed me to do things I felt unqualified to do - such as teach a prison Bible study. But occasionally he sometimes he suggested that I already had enough to do and should decline. I found real rest in his counsel.

In the last year I've been inundated with opportunities to write, speak, edit, and serve in various ways. Since I no longer have babies and I'm not caring for a sick husband, I feel freer than I have in years. But time doesn't grow, I still have the same twenty-four hours. 

I greatly miss having Ed's input, his opinions on when to say "yes" or "no." I have people in my life who I can ask advice, but it is far different than asking someone who exactly knows your daily routines and responsibilities and knows whether adding another activity will be a blessing or a weight. 

As a widow, there are chunks of time that I used to dedicate to my husband that are now mine to use. I haven't known how to balance the added responsibilities of widowhood with the added freedom. Like many life decisions, there is no rule book. Yes, the Bible gives life direction, but I will had lots of questions. If I say  "no" was it out of selfishness or to not overwhelm an already full schedule? If I said "yes" was it out of a desire to serve or to gratify my feeling of achievement? 

I can drive myself crazy trying to discern my motives. Because of my personality, I tend to be very performance driven and find my identity in what I do. I worry that I'm making a decision based on my ego. 

After a few conversations with friends, I began reflecting on my past decision making and what I believe God has given me to do. I jotted down some principles to guide my use of time. For example: 

My first God-given responsibility is a mom. For me that means: 

  • I will place priority in activities that I can do with my children. This year that has meant several service-focused trips and a weekly children's ministry that we could do together as a family. While I may leave my children on occasion, I don't want overnight trips to become common.
  • I aim to limit my writing/editing/blogging to the early morning hours before my children are up. That means that I don't have time for all the projects I could do, or even want to do, if I had more hours at my computer. 

Second, I want to prioritize my local church community. For me that means investing in local relationships, helping with the youth girls' Bible study, and serving in my local church. I'll be honest, sometimes these projects aren't as exciting as other opportunities, but I think they should come first. 

Evaluating my present responsibilities can both eliminate and highlight areas of service. For example, since I homeschool, most of my mornings must be at home. I can't substitute teach at our church school, for example. But I can teach Sunday School since I'm already going to be at church on Sunday, and I can study in the early morning hours. 

Evaluating my responsibilities can also reveal areas that I can become more efficient. If I get to bed earlier and not waste time on my phone, I can then wake up early and have time for writing before breakfast. If I streamline housework during the day, then the children and I will be free to serve together in the evening.

I can't do it all, obviously, and sometimes I fail to do well what I try to do. But evaluating my time and priorities helps me consider how my choices affect my children and my other goals.

We are almost to Thanksgiving and a new year is around the corner. If you have never evaluated your responsibilities and priorities, I encourage you to sit down and make a list - if you are a list maker like me. You may find that it gives clarity to you as you start a new year.

I'd love to hear how you choose between several good activities. Do you have a mental checklist or priority list that helps you prioritize your time? Have you seen your use of time change with seasons of life as a single, or young mom, or older mom? What role do others (your husband, friends, mentors) play in helping you make decisions?

Monday, November 1, 2021

Sisters' November Reading Challenge

A new month means a new reading challenge! I'm excited about this November's reading.

This post contains affiliate links.

Sisters' November Reading Challenge 

1. Read a book published in the 1800s.

There are so many great book in this category that I either want to read or reread.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

2. Read a book about a disability. 

Some examples: 

Joni by Joni Eareckson Tada (quadriplegic)

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (dyslexia) 

Out of my Mind by Sharon M. Draper (cerebral palsy)

Still Alice by Lisa Genova (Alzheimer's) 

3. Read a book about clothes.

Maybe you are groaning and saying that you hate fashion, but think out of the box. What about a book on modesty? Or building a capsule wardrobe? Or a seamstress in a third-world country? 

4. Check a book out of the library for one of these challenges.

You may have lots of books on your shelves, like Charity and me, but we want to encourage support of your local library.

5. Chat with a librarian about their favorite book or ask her for a book recommendation.

Don't know which book to read for one of these challenges.? Your librarian would love to give you suggestions. Most librarians love books and love introducing people to new favorite books. 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Sisters' October Reading Challenge

I hope you enjoyed these fall days and good reading this month. We did!

This post contains affiliate links.

 October Reading Challenges

1. Read a book by an author you’ve never read.

Charity - The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon

The Great Commandment. Do I follow it? Pathak and Runyon challenge us to love our neighbors by actually learning to know them. With practical and sometimes profound thoughts, they push us out our front door and into our neighborhood. I appreciated how practical and uncomplicated they made this concept of neighboring while also not denying how hard it will be.

Gina - Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genus Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel

With gps on our phones pinpointing our exact location at every moment, it is hard to imagine that for centuries, ships in the ocean could only guess how far east or west they were. And sometimes they met huge surprises that spelled disaster. This small book tells of the dangers of sea travel without a dependable method to find longitude and the large awards offered to the person who solved this problem. We all love an underdog story and this is a true account of a untrained, uneducated carpenter who changed navigation forever.

2. Read a book written by a pastor.

Charity - The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

This book, by a pastor, is a plea to get out and seek God. Don't just sit back and wait for Him to reveal Himself. Tozer addresses the things that hold us back from knowing God and how He longs for us to find that closeness that could exist if only we would seek Him.

Gina - Getting Along with People God's Way by John Coblentz

With chapters on love, communication, peacemaking, and honesty, I knew this would be a practical book. Every time we relate with other people, there is potential for both conflict and growth. I'll confess that I didn't complete this book this month since I didn't want to rush through it. Some of the ladies at my church plan to get together and discuss this book this winter so I want to read it slowly and take notes.

3. Read a book about royalty.

Charity - A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain

Written as a satire, this is a weird combination of humor, violence, and injustice. A young man from Connecticut finds himself transported back to King Arthur's kingdom. Quickly he realizes how ridiculous the laws and customs of the time are, as well as how impractical knightly armor is to fight in. Using his knowledge of modern technology, he quickly becomes one of the most powerful men in the kingdom and goes on many exciting and tragic adventures. I often was unsure if I should laugh or cry.

Gina - Lenape Homeland by James G. Landis

I read this book to learn more about the Native Americans in Pennsylvania. Written as historical fiction, sometimes I had trouble deciding what was fact and what was fiction, but it gave me a glimpse into the Lenape perspective of the European colonization of America.  Maybe it was a stretch to say this book is about royalty, but several chiefs are featured in the book. I'm hoping to read more in this series to balance out the white view of American history usually told in history books. 

4. Press a pretty leaf in a book.

Charity - A weekend away with some delightful rambles outside made for great leaf collecting opportunities! I used my little red leaves as a book marker and had autumn glory pressed between the pages of my journal. They remind of a restful weekend away from home and its busyness.

Gina - Our leaves were slow to turn this year since October was so warm. But one tree in our yard had some pretty red leaves to pick. This season is so fleeting and I want to enjoy these warm-colored days.

5. Read a book at a coffee shop.

Charity - I know it is ridiculous. I work at a coffee shop and I didn't complete this challenge. But even though I love my job, I rarely want to go early or stay late just so I can read there. So this challenge was undone. Don't be deceived, no actually quality reading time happened during these photos with Gina.

Gina - While waiting for Charity to finish work so we could take a few photos, I read a book off the coffee shop bookshelf to my little girls. I also read for a few minutes early one morning in a coffee shop while waiting to to meet a friend.

Hope you enjoyed your reading this month. As always, we'd love to hear what you read! Come back and see the November challenges.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Sisters' October Reading Challenge

 I love waking up to the crisp fall mornings. These are days to light a candle and snuggle down with a book. With the busy season of summer behind us, Charity and I want to stimulate to our reading life so this month's challenges may feel a little more stretching than the last few months.

October Reading Challenges

1. Read a book by an author you’ve never read.

Here is a chance to pull a book off the shelf (or your friend's shelf or the library shelf) of a new-to-you author. 

2. Read a book written by a pastor.

This can be any genre--nonfiction, fiction, poetry, memoir, doctrine, etc.

3. Read a book about royalty.

This challenge includes any book that includes a king or queen as a main character. It can be a book of ancient history, a middle-grade fantasy, a current book on the British royal family, or a book about our king, Jesus. 

Charity suggested Angel on the Square by Gloria Whelan if you want an excellent middle-grade novel on Russian royalty. If you ever get stumped on any of these challenges, just ask. We both love to give book recommendations.

4. Press a pretty leaf in a book.

Depending where you live, October may be your last chance to enjoy some sunshine on your face while reading. Take a walk and find a leaf to use as your bookmark this month.

5. Read a book at a coffee shop.

Charity works at a coffee shop so if you are local, you can enjoy some book talk with your barista as well!

Enjoy reading in October.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Sisters' September Reading Challenge


Where did September go? The month has been rich and busy, but, of course, Charity and I squeezed in time to read. 

This post contains affiliate links.

Sisters' September Reading Challenge 

1. Read a book written by a teacher or about a teacher.

Charity - I Am His Daughter by Emily Steiner

This novel is long and almost frustrating, but somehow I couldn't stop reading it. I know families like this. Many daughters have found themselves caught in the fray between their own desires and opinions, and that of their father. In this story, the dad is passionate about following Christ and he moves his family all over the country, either because of new opportunities, broken relationships, or in search of a better church. As she becomes an adult, she is torn between her love for her father and the independent decisions she wants to make. I appreciated the attitude of the book, while dealing with a sensitive topic.

Gina - Good-bye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton

This is a classic that has been unread on my shelf for years. It is a quiet book, full of tales of a beloved teacher at an English boys' school. I wondered why the book was so popular both in England and the US. Is it because it was published right before World War 2 and people wanted to read about an earlier quieter time?

2. Read a book on a topic that you want to learn more about.

Charity - Son of Hamas by Mosah Hassan Yousef

I'm always eager to learn more about other countries, especially the Middle East. Yousef is the son of one of the founders of the terrorist organization called Hamas. As a boy he was proud of his father and passionate about fighting for the rights of Palestinians. Yousef was in prison at only eighteen years old. His story helped me see both the Israeli and Palestinian side of the conflict and also shows that terrorists are humans. While not excusing their conduct, I was grateful to see these men as people. This is a story of redemption. There is hope for our world, but it can only be found in Christ. If the son of Hamas could find Jesus then no one is hopeless. (Warning: this book is heavy at times. Yousef tells about torture, bombings, and other violence. It is not extremely graphic, but is not suitable for children or young teens.)

Gina - The Insanity of God by Nic Ripkin

Often when Ed would read a book, he'd tell me so much about it, I'd feel like I had read it myself. This was true of The Insanity of God, but I decided that enough years had passed that I should read it myself. Nic and his family were missionaries in eastern Africa in the 90s. After years of working in Somalia under extreme danger, Nic returned to America completely discouraged. He wondered if it was  possible for Christians to thrive in a place where they were so persecuted. He decided to visit other countries where Christians lived under persecution. The second half of the book tells of his travels to Russia, China, and the Middle East where he listened to the stories of Christians who have been persecuted for their faith. The experience strengthened Nic's faith and this book was faith-strengthening to me as well.

3. Enjoy a wordless book.

Charity - I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoet

As a lover of art, wordless books have a huge attraction to me. It is amazing that people can write a story without using words! Not only are words powerful, but pictures also have power. This wordless book is about kindness and standing with those who are being bullied. The illustrations are beautiful and the message so important for children and adults.

Gina - Deep in the Forest by Brinton Turkle

Turkle is most well known for his Obadiah books. Deep in the Forest is a twist to the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. No words are needed to tells this story, especially with an artist who depicts emotion so well. I enjoyed looking through the book with my little girls.

4. Buy a book at a thrift store.

Charity - When I walk into a thrift store, sometimes I completely skip the clothes. I don't need clothes, but somehow I can always add another book! This month, my mom, my sisters, and I went on a day trip and explored a little town. Of course at some point Gina and I were found searching through the book section of a thrift store to find a book we couldn't live without. I'm excited to dive into another book on hospitality. Also I was thrilled to pick up a few books at my local library's book sale. An old library copy of Mr. Popper's Penguins makes me happy.

Gina - I too enjoyed the mom-and-sisters' day and was glad it included a thrift store. At our vacation last week in Chincoteague, I biked down to the small downtown area and lost myself in a delightful book store. The prices were a little high, in my opinion, so I only selected two books to take home, but still the possibilities of a used book store can't be beat.

5. Share something you learned in a book with someone else.

Charity - Do you think I could read an interesting book without talking about it? The books I read this month had me talking to anyone who would listen! Reading books is only half the fun, the next best part is when I get to tell someone all about it. At least one sibling now knows everything I read about Israel's Shin Bet. Some information is too interesting to keep to yourself. The question is, does my family think that too?

Gina - I'm capable of finding a way to insert a book discussion into about any conversation. The book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy that I read this month found its way into many discussions. Next month it will probably be another book. I like to think of a book like a stone that hits the water and we see the ripples long after the last page is read.

What did you read in September?

Monday, September 27, 2021

Summer of Faith

We just got home from a week's vacation in Chincoteague. Now summer is officially over, and we will begin fall routines.

When I flip through the photos from summer, I see joy. Life was busy and full. We had new experiences and tackled new challenges. We hosted guests that expanded our world view, interacted with youth who were passionate to serve Christ, and watched my older children learn new skills. Numerous people invited us to join them with events, trips, and activities. (I've been asked, what can I do for the widow at my church. My answer? Invite her to do things with you.) Here is a glimpse of our family's summer.

In August, friends invited us to join them for a work project in Maine. We helped remodel the VS house, including painting the entire outside. Our children loved spending the week with their friends, we accomplished a lot of work, and we were given a taste of Somalian culture because of the large Somalian immigrant population in that city. 

We took a few hours off to visit the Maine coast. The water was cold but the children still got in. The highlight was seeing a whale.

At the beginning of September, we spent a week at campmeeting. We enjoyed inspiring messages, hours of volleyball, and campfires. The fellowship was even more precious since campmeeting had been canceled last year.

Last week my brother and his family invited us to spend the week at Chincoteague with them. 

We tried our hand at crabbing.

Enjoyed the miles of bike trails.

And, of course, loved the beach. The water was warm, there were no crowds, and cousins make everything more fun.

I couldn't help but think of the contrast between this trip to Chincoteague from our first visit, three years ago. That was the first trip I had planned and executed alone. Even though Ed was with us, his cognitive ability had declined to the point that I felt like the sole adult. I remember feeling constantly on guard and responsible. 

This time I was so much more relaxed. My sister-in-law and I took a long walk one morning at sunrise while the men were making breakfast. One afternoon I rode my bike to a little used bookstore and lost all sense of time while perusing the shelves.

So our summer has been good. But when I think of the last few months, I remember my fragility. Underneath the rich joy of a full and busy life, many times I felt hollow. 

When Ed died in the spring of 2019, I told a friend that I couldn't mourn. I had spent two years, grieving the loss of Ed one inch at a time, and by his death, I couldn't wish his soul to stay in his broken body one more day. Caregiving had been brutal. Even though life wasn't normal without Ed, in many ways it wasn't as painful as life with a broken Ed. 

But grief met me in a deeper way this summer. Or maybe just in a different way. The permanence of losing Ed gapes wider and more intensely. There is nothing easy about single parenting - even with lots of help from family and friends. We again felt the claws of cancer when my dad was diagnosed with cancer a few weeks ago. Other friends face pain, and I'm reminded of how broken this world has been since the fall.

God continued to meet me through the blessing of friends, messages from His Word, and songs of worship. And I've enjoyed several books from those who have walked through grief. (This includes affiliate links.)

I've Seen the End of You by W. Lee Warren is the personal story of a neurosurgeon who fought to hold onto his faith as he watched his patients die with GBM (Ed's brain cancer.) The book doesn't hide any of the hard facts of GBM and I wouldn't recommend a brain cancer patient reading it, but I found it life-giving to hear Dr. Warren so honestly ask the hard questions I've asked. (Note: I don't agree with all of Dr. Warren's personal choices.)

Just Show Up by Kara Tippetts and Jill Lynn Buteyn is a combined effort of two friends. Kara wrote only a small portion of the book since she was in hospice at the end of a battle with cancer. Her friend Jill wrote about facing death with a friend and what she learned through it. Ed and I had read Kara's other book The Hardest Peace which also depicts the struggle, but ultimately victory of faith in death.

Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop is a study in lament. Digging into the Lament Psalms and the book of Lamentations, the author uses his own experience of losing a daughter to show how lament can draw us closer to God. Lament is vastly different than the world's way of coping with grief. I copied so much out of this book and highly recommend it for anyone grieving or attempting to help others who grieve.

I hope my faith has grown stronger this summer. I suppose only time will tell because I know that new challenges lie ahead and I'll need the continued presence of God. 

I'd love to hear how your faith has been challenged and strengthened this summer.


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