Sunday, December 23, 2018

A Good MRI

My blogging break didn't last long. So many of you have faithfully prayed for us that I wanted to share some good news this time.

I have been concerned about the results from Ed's MRI since his ability to focus was declining, and his fatigue was increasing. He didn't feel as bad as in November, but the symptoms were worrisome.

But Ed's MRI this week was a huge improvement from his last one in November. The inflammation was decreased, and the tumor/scar tissue areas were much smaller. We haven't had an MRI this encouraging for many, many months. The new medication he started in November must be having the desired affect.

We are adjusting some of his medications in hopes that we can increase his focus and energy level. Once again I have to practice gratefulness for what I have instead of focusing on the losses. I try to enjoy today without worrying that next month's MRI could move in a worse direction. We try to find things we can do as a family with Ed's limited energy.

This afternoon, just for fun, we drove over to the Gettysburg Battlefield. We climbed some monuments, scrambled over rocks, and shared a winter picnic. We've had so many rainy days that even though it wasn't sunny, the day felt pleasant. 

Thanks again for your prayers. We couldn't walk this road without prayer.

"The Lord will give strength unto His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace." 
Psalm 29:11

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Christmas Links

I don't plan to blog for the rest of December.

Unless I can't help myself. Several of you have told me that when I post, you are reminded to pray for our family. So if we are in need of prayer extra prayer, you might hear from me again before January.

And who doesn't need prayer? We do. Every day. This past week Ed hasn't been feeling as well. His ability to focus is declining again, though not as bad as in November. I have to push down the panic when I think of his next MRI and the bad news we could possibly hear.

But back to this post...I do plan to take a blogging break. But I'll be back. I'm excited about some of the topics I hope to write about in January, Lord willing.

But if you want some reading now, here are some links to Christmas posts in past years. (The children look so little in some of these posts that I get hit with a wave of nostalgia.)

Favorite music of Christmas

What Makes a Meaningful Christmas?

Book Lists

Favorite Christmas Books for Children

And Another List for Children

And Yet Another List for Children

Chapter Books for Children

And a list for Adults


Lemon Strawberry Swirls

Peanut Butter Critters

Graham Cracker Houses

Monster Cookies


Monday, December 17, 2018

Three Recent Nonfiction Reads

A few nonfiction books that I've enjoyed in recent weeks.

This post contains affiliate links.

One Thing You Can't Do In Heaven by Mark Cahill

I often evaluate a book's quality on whether I want to read it again. This book I finished and immediately planned to reread it. Cahill is passionate about sharing Jesus with others. I'm a wimp when it comes to opening up my mouth and witnessing for Christ, but Cahill didn't make me feel guilty, just inspired. He shares so many practical ideas on how to get conversations started and answer common questions.The book isn't long, but it is full of information and will be pulled off my shelf again. I think every Christian would benefit from reading this book.

Kara wrote this book when she was dying from breast cancer. As a mom with young children, she writes about the challenge of facing death and leaving her family. The book is a tear-jerker, but I didn't find it morbid or depressing. Instead, Kara reminded me that the God that gives grace to die of old age is with us when we face death by cancer as a young mom. My faith was bolstered by Kara's testimony. I read my sister-in-law's copy of The Hardest Peace but when I finished it I immediately bought my own copy. 

I slipped this little book in my purse last month when Ed had a number of stressful tests at the hospital. It was the perfect fun read in the waiting room. Anne shares her love of books and infatuation with reading that has led to the popularity of her podcast What Should I Read Next. If you love books and want some light reading, this book is a joy.

What are you reading?

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

In Search of a Mary Christmas

I shared this article two years ago and am sharing it again as a way to help me focus my attention on Christ this Christmas. I wrote this article for the Daughters of Promise magazine in December of 2016.

In Search of a Mary Christmas

I love Christmas. I love the music, the whispered secrets, the yummy food, and the glittering lights. 

I say I'm celebrating the birth of Jesus, but sometimes when I'm scouring Pinterest for craft ideas, printing off another Christmas cookie recipe, and sighing over the pictures of beautiful table decorations in the pages of Southern Living, I wonder what Jesus would think of my celebration.

Is my Christmas any different than society's holiday? If you evaluated my calendar, credit card statement, and to-do list what would you discern about my priorities? Would you know that the goal of my Christmas (and my life) is to lift up the name of Christ? I might not max out my credit cards or wake up with a headache from the spiked eggnog, but too often my Christmas is centered on me.

There must be more to Christmas than uncounted calories, the pressure to find the perfect gift, and a dozen opportunities to catch the latest version of the flu. Unhappy with my me-centered holiday I began to look for ways to have less worry and more worship in December. I studied three women in the Bible named Mary who knew Jesus while He was here on earth. These women's lives were changed by Jesus. Maybe my Christmas could be changed by their stories.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus

With the angel's words, “thou art highly favoured, . . . thou shalt bring forth a son,” (Luke 1:28) Mary's plans shattered. To mother the Messiah, the Promised One? This honor meant the end of a normal life for a Galilean girl, but Mary shows no hesitancy. Her answer was immediate. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

Mary did not base her decision on what was popular or what would promote her in the Nazareth society. Carrying this baby made her the next possible victim for a public stoning. Mary gave up her dreams of a perfect wedding and the expectations of her firstborn's birth. Because of an oppressive tax law, her baby was born far from home in crude surroundings without even the comfort of a mom or sister to assist with the birth. That first Christmas wasn't twinkling lights and warm, fuzzy emotions. While Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem to Egypt and back again, I wonder if she was tempted to compare her crazy life with her friends' “perfect” lives.

Last year I waddled into Christmas with a due date in early January. My calendar was full with weekly prenatal visits. I had zero energy, limped with every step, and looked like I should stay home with an ice pack and a Tylenol. But I enjoyed a more peaceful, less frantic, more meaningful Christmas than usual.

The difference? Expectations.

Our culture places a lot of expectations on us women. I coddle daydreams of the picture-perfect Christmas: crackling fires, ten kinds of Christmas cookies, and a fun schedule with holiday concerts, cookie swaps, shopping, family reunions, and church events. When I can't keep up, I start comparing myself with all the talented ladies who appear to get it all done.

The disappointment of dashed expectations curdles the enjoyment of December and is often the enemy of my peace. But last year I felt no pressure to attend every event possible. I made plans with the caveat “if we can make it.” I didn't expect to do everything, so what I did accomplish was a treat, a gift. And for once I wasn't comparing myself with others.

Alexander Pope said, "Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed." He might be right, though I prefer David's take on expectations. "My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him." (Psalm 62:5) 

There is One, only One, who never disappoints. If I, like Mary, “ponder these things in my heart,” maybe I can build expectations on the One who won't leave me feeling frustrated. I want to give up my idealistic expectations every year, not just when I'm nine months pregnant. 

Mary of Bethany

We all know the story of Mary and Martha and their sisterly spat on which was most important—preparing a meal or listening to Jesus. (Luke 10:38-42) Jesus said that Mary made the best choice—to sit at His feet. 

But how does that work when I have laundry to fold, dishes to wash, Christmas rolls to bake, and bathrooms to clean? Reading my Bible all day just isn't an option.

From other Scriptures in the Bible, we learn that Mary and Martha's house was a regular meeting place for Jesus and his disciples. I assume that both sisters spent many hours hosting guests. The fact that Martha was irked to find Mary shirking her duties on this occasion tells me that usually Mary was right beside Martha chopping vegetables and washing mugs.

Service can be a way to worship God. 

Jesus did not condemn Martha for serving food—just pointed out her bad attitude. Martha was “troubled” in her service. Maybe if Martha would have spent time listening to Jesus with Mary she would have served with joy. Gordon MacDonald said that “the inner world of the spiritual must govern the outer world of activity.”

Each day I make decisions on how I use my time. I need to choose between many good options to find the best, especially at Christmas. There are not enough hours in the season to do everything that I want to do.

Last summer I repainted a few rooms and discovered just how much Stuff we had accumulated. After painting, I added back to the room only what I deemed necessary or meaningful. We ended up getting rid of some furniture and many boxes of books, and rehung only half the wall decorations. Less Stuff gave a feeling of freedom, cleanliness, and quiet. (Though with six children our home isn't often clean or quiet.) 

Could I do the same with my schedule? What would my December look like if I shook out the calendar, dumped out all the holiday traditions, quit listening to the voices of obligation/guilt/expectation, and then added back to December only what was necessary, meaningful, and worshipful?

Does it mean I would quit baking Christmas cookies, throw out the candles, and skip the family reunion? Not necessarily. Those things can be part of living out my life of service and worship. I can bake cookies for a fun activity with my children. I can light a candle on the table and invite others to join in the warmth of shared conversation. I can attend a reunion and strengthen family ties. But I can also decide that none of those things will be priorities this year because, for whatever reason, God is calling me to lay aside this particular Martha activity to make time and energy for Mary worship.

Looking at my priorities may mean clearing the schedule of some enjoyable activities to make time for what is truly important. If my fun day of shopping makes me too tired for the church caroling in the evening, I haven't chosen well. If I spend my afternoon chasing the children out of the kitchen so I can create a lovely meal for guests, I have Martha's troubled spirit. When I'm racing the clock, my voice sharpens, my chest tightens, and I know my priorities are skewed. Except for rare times of true emergency, I don't think God meant us to live in panic mode.

I have a tendency to accumulate traditions. We make gingerbread houses one year and think we need to do it every year. But time is limited and to keep the schedule (and me) sane, I must eliminate something every time I add an activity.

I can also learn from Mary and Martha to accept others who have made different choices. What is overwhelming to me might be relaxing to another. I love that we are not cookie-cutter gingerbread ladies, and I want to enjoy each woman's talents without comparison or judgment.

Mary Magdalene

We know little about Mary Magdalene's past except that Jesus healed her from seven demons. (Mark 16:9) Mary Magdalene is listed with several other women and it is implied that they were women of wealth who used their own money to serve Christ and his disciples. These women watched as Jesus suffered on the cross, then took spices to his grave. Mary Magdalene found tangible ways to show her gratefulness to Christ, and she was rewarded by being the first to see the risen Saviour.

Mary Magdalene gave her wealth, her time, her comfort, her reputation—to serve Christ. She served extravagantly; spices were expensive at that time. Neither do I need to be ashamed to serve others with special touches that say, “I love you.” But Mary Magdalene wasn't serving for her own glory; she was serving Christ.

Christmas shouldn't be about me, but how often are my motives to impress others? How many of my holiday traditions stem from the pressure of obligation or bondage of approval? What is my goal—to have some great photos for my blog? Or do I aim to show the love of Christ by choosing activities that will nourish my soul and the souls of my family and others?

Every December we give homemade Christmas cards to the residents at a local nursing home. I can do this out of obligation, “I should do this.” I can do it out of pride, “Look what we are doing for these poor people.” I can stress myself out trying to make cards that are picture perfect (and end up making them all myself). Or I can allow my two-year-old to color a simple star with her favorite purple crayon and focus on giving the residents a smile. I know what Mary Magdalene would choose.

December may always be a busy month, but all three of these women named Mary had busy seasons. Mary, the mother of Jesus took several long trips when Jesus was small. Mary of Bethany hosted many guests in her home. Mary Magdalene served a hungry band of travelers. Yet all of them found time to proclaim God's grace, listen to His words, and wait for His presence in a quiet garden. 

I want to praise my Lord like Jesus' mother, rejecting all the expectations and comparison games that steal my peace. 

I want to choose the best and spend time with God's Word like Mary of Bethany. I want to give my time and possessions to serve Christ with joy like Mary Magdalene. 

I want December to hold less worry and more worship, less panic and more peace, less jolly and more Jesus.

How do you keep a Mary Heart at Christmas? Or any other time of the year?

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Dream Isaiah Saw

On Sunday after the song Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, the choir immediately sang this song. I love the combination of words from Isaiah combined with a call to bow our hearts before the Lord.

The Dream Isaiah Saw
by Thomas Troeger

Lions and oxen will sleep in the hay,
Leopards will join with the lambs as they play,
Wolves will be pastured with cows in the glade,
Blood will darken the Earth that God made.

Little child whose bed is straw,
Take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
Life redeemed from fang and claw.

Peace will pervade more than forest and field:
God will transfigure the Violence concealed
Deep in the heart of systems gain,
Ripe for the judgment the Lord will ordain.

Little Child whose bed is straw,
Take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
Justice purifying law.

Nature reordered to match God’s intent,
Nations obeying the call to repent,
All of creation completely restored,
Filled with the knowledge and love of the Lord.

Little child whose bed is straw,
Take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
Knowledge, wisdom, worship awe.

And here is a chance to listen to the song. I love that the last chorus is sung acapella first, then sung again with the orchestra for a fitting climax. (Click over to the blog if you are reading by email.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Today we are back at the hospital for Ed's second infusion. Ed continues to improve, and his doctor is pleased with his progress in the past three weeks.

The biggest difference I see in Ed is that he is talking again. For a few weeks he had been so quiet, hardly able to hold a conversation and showing little emotion. Now he is back to his quick retorts and one-liners, making me smile with a deep quivering relief. I don't need anything else for Christmas.

Since Ed is feeling so much better, we've been throwing ourselves into enjoying December. The craft show this weekend was so much fun. I loved seeing old (and new) friends.

On Sunday we went to a Christmas concert held by a local community chorus at a beautiful chapel. This place holds sweet memories for Ed and I. We had been there numerous times when dating, including the Christmas Eve that Ed proposed. but we had not been there since we've had children. This year we decided to take our children to enjoy their Christmas program. The youngest grew bored and fell asleep, but the older ones enjoyed climbing the bell tower and watching the carillonneur play the bells.

And the music. Wow. I forgot how good it is to sit high in a balcony in a building with amazing acoustics and hear the waves of music swell up from the orchestra and choir.

Every year I have a favorite Christmas song. Last year I was struck by how much Christmas music refers to Christ's second coming. Maybe because I've been reminded so often this past year that peace on earth won't be truly found until Christ's return.

One of the songs sung was "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence." This is an ancient hymn, but new to me even though I found it in our hymnal. In Sunday School we are studying Revelation, and this hymn reminds me of glory of Christ described in the first chapters.

So much of the way we celebrate Christmas is self-centered and commercial. This Christmas hymn reminds me of the awe found in the presence of the exalted Jesus Christ.

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
Translated from the Liturgy of St. James by Gerard Moultir
Hymns of the Church #202

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing early minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descending
Comes our homage to demand.

Kind of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spread its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
Comes the powers of hell to vanquish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

Here is a recording of you want to listen. (If viewing by email you may need to click over to the blog.)

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Review: In My Father's House and Silver Censers

Chris was confused. His mother has died, and he knows nothing about his dad. His life at the children's home is sometimes happy, but the strict staff members don't seem to care about his hurting heart. When Chris is hired out to a local farmer, his life becomes even more difficult.

 In My Father's House is a true story of a young man growing  up in western Maryland during the Great Depression. When Chris (not his real name) was an elderly man, he told his life story to Darletta Martin who recorded his experience of hardship, disappointment, and forgiveness. 

I recently lent the book to my sister. She said that the book must have been well-written because she couldn't stop reading even though she had work to do. Darletta had asked me to read her draft a year ago to edit for historical accuracy. Sometimes true stories have the well-earned reputation for being boring, but I stayed up late to find out what happens next in this book. Darletta is a talented writer, and I enjoy stories with local settings. Since there are so many children today who feel rejected, Chris' example of forgiveness is a valuable one.

Darletta has also compiled a poetry calendar called Silver Censers. For years she had gathered poems written by Anabaptist poets. With a friend's photography, she designed a daily flip calendar.

For over a year, this calendar has sat on my bedroom dresser. In the past few years I've been trying to acquire an appreciation for poetry. I've formed the opinion that poetry is best appreciated in very small bites. The short poems for each day have been perfect. Most are inspirational or based on Scripture and give me something to think on for the day. Ed claims to dislike poetry, but I find that he is usually the one who flips the calendar and reads the poem of the day before me.

The calendar includes poems by nearly 40 poets. I looked for my favorite poets such as Lydia Hess, Janice Etter, Elaine Gingrich, Christine Laws, Sheila Petre, and, of course, Darletta herself - but I was also introduced to many new poets. Not every poem is my favorite but with 365 options, I can find many to enjoy.

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You can purchase either In My Father's House or Silver Censers directly from Darletta Martin. Either one is $15.00 plus $3.00 for shipping. (Shipping is less for more than one.) You can email Darletta at dgdfmartin @ (delete the spaces) to place an order. She also sales larger quantities for wholesale orders.

And if you like to hold things in your hands before a purchase, come to the Christmas Craft Expo this weekend. Darletta will be there with her books.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Book Review: Growing Toward the Sun

You all know that I'm always looking for good books for my children. Vila Gingerich offered to send me a copy of her book, Growing Toward the Sun (affiliate link). I've enjoyed Vila's short stories and was eager to read her full-length children's book.

My nine-year-old read Growing Toward the Sun and said, "This is a book about a girl like me." I thought maybe she meant that it was a story about a girl from a Mennonite family, but, no, she said "Celeste likes mystery stories just like me."

Not only does Celeste like mystery stories, but she imagines that she is the next Sherlock Holmes. She carries a notebook and writes down clues. Who stole Sharon's purse? Is it the same person that stole the school story books and the chainsaw? If you've read Harriet the Spy, you can guess the trouble Celeste's notebook causes.

When Celeste accuses a shopper of kidnapping, Celeste's parents attempt to rein in Celeste's imagination. I love the Celeste's parents are loving and firm without making the book preachy.

I don't like fiction stories written about Mennonites and Amish by those who have have never lived in that culture. But Vila is writing about her own upbringing in the midwest. Since Vila is from a different Mennonite background than my own, I enjoyed learning a bit about her group through her story.

I'm always a little nervous reading self-published books. I've read some that I was so distracted by the typos that I couldn't concentrate on the story. I would add a few more commas to Vila's book if I was editing, but Growing Toward the Sun is well-written with a professional cover.

I'm looking forward to Vila's next story about Celeste. You can learn more about Vila's books on her website and purchase Growing Toward the Sun at Amazon.

Thursday, November 22, 2018


Holidays are an opportunity for thoughts such as, Will this be Ed's last Thanksgiving? These thoughts can suck all the thankfulness out of the day.

Last year we didn't know if it was Ed's last Thanksgiving, but we were given another year. So I'm trying to enjoy today and not worry about next year.

That goal is much easier this week when Ed is feeling better than he has in weeks. If Ed was still declining, it would be much more difficult.

Yesterday we had a follow-up visit with Ed's doctor. She was pleased at his improvement. His mind is more focused than a week ago. We hope that the improvement will continue as Ed receives more infusions.

Since this visit was shorter than most of Ed's appointments, we took the children along and did some sightseeing in DC afterward.

We parked at Union Station. What fun to walk through this busy train station with its amazing architecture. Made me want to bring my suitcase and jump on a train bound for California.

Note for large families: The Union Station parking garage costs $15 for a whole day and has plenty of room for large vans.

Next door to Union Station is the US Postal Museum, which is part of the Smithsonian. We learned about the history of the postal service through the many exhibits.

The children explored the huge postage stamp collection.

Ed walked slowly, but he wasn't exhausted yet so we walked over to the US Capital building.

We were able to catch the last Rotunda tour of the day. We were here a few years ago, but I always enjoy the sculptures and paintings depicting US history.

Then it was the challenge of getting home. Thankfully, the Thanksgiving traffic wasn't bad. I still don't enjoy driving, but since Ed quit driving a few months ago, my skills have certainly improved. With Ed's coaching, I'm learning to maneuver in city traffic. But no one is more glad than me to arrive home.

Last week, a family day like this would have been impossible. So grateful for God's continued care for our family. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

Newton's Law and Prayer

Newton's First Law of Motion states that an object at rest stays at rest until acted upon by force.

I didn't plan to prove a law of physics the last few weeks, but I'm finding it hard to get back into blogging.

The past month has been hard. And I don't like to write about hard things.

Some of you have contacted me saying that you hope I'm quiet because I'm having fun with my family, but, just in case, you are praying.

Thank you. I've needed prayer.

I keep thinking about the post I wrote about asking for prayer for the things heaviest on our heart. So many of you have held us up in prayer this past year, and I know you are a safe place for me.

But this past month I was afraid that if I shared how things were at our house I'd spill out something like "Brain cancer is hard on a marriage." Or "I feel like I'm losing Ed by slow inches."

I'd rather write a book review.

Last month's MRI had showed what we thought was inflammation caused by scar tissue. We had decided to give it time to heal before trying more treatment.

Ed continued to feel well as far as no pain or headaches, but his fatigue increased. He struggled to concentrate which made it difficult to work or even hold a conversation. These symptoms are common for those with a brain tumor in the frontal lobe, but it was frightening to feel like I was losing Ed as his personality changed.

Brain cancer is brutal. It is not content to affect one area. Because the brain is the control center of the whole body, it can affect the whole being. For Ed it means that no longer does he have the motivation to conquer projects and initiate new ideas. Because of his distraction, he needs help to work through even common tasks.

Thankfully his memory has not been affected. We still have so much to enjoy, and I have blessings to count. But I also worry about the future and grieve our losses.

This week was Ed's monthly battery of tests as part of the research study he is participating in. On Tuesday we spent the day at the clinical center moving from one floor to the next for his MRI and other tests. We had planned to meet with his doctor the next morning, but before we left for the day, Ed's doctor told us she had time to discuss his MRI. There did not appear to be a huge change in the tumor (thank you, Lord) but the swelling had increased significantly. While it is impossible to know exactly if the inflammation is caused by the tumor or scar tissue, the signs point to scar tissue. Because of Ed's other symptoms the doctor immediately put Ed on a higher dose of steroid for the night and planned to discuss our further options in the morning with the rest of the team.

Instead of fighting rush hour traffic only to return to the city in the morning, we decided to spend the night at a hotel down the street. We were able to relax, enjoying window shopping in the ritzy shopping district. We try to make the best possible use of our "doctor dates."

In the morning we met with Ed's team of doctors. We decided to give Ed several doses of an infusion of a medicine that acts as a super-steroid. Typically this medicine works quickly to reduce swelling that is caused by scar tissue. Sometimes it can take weeks to get approval for this medicine, but Ed has amazing doctors. Ed was able to get his first dose in the afternoon before we even left the hospital.

This was the first time Ed has received any of his cancer treatment by IV, but it went well. A special blessing was that we had a Christian nurse to do the infusion. She told us that she prays each night for the patients she will have the next day.

I think we are already seeing some positive results of the medication. Ed seems a little more alert the past two days. Ed plans to get another infusion in three weeks and will probably have a total of four infusions. We pray that he'll continue to improve, and the side effects will be minimal.

So now you know why it meant so much to hear from a number of you this week. When I feel too weak to pray, God sends others to pray for us. Medical decisions are never easy - especially for someone like me who spends hours reading about drugs and their side effects. But once again we felt carried by God and knew His amazing peace.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. (Psalm 46:1-3, 10-11)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Rahab - A Woman of Faith

A continuing look at Proverbs 31 and women from Scripture. This article was first published in Fall 2018 in Keepers at Home magazine.

Rahab – A Woman of Faith

She is not afraid of the snow for her household; for all her household are clothed with scarlet. Proverbs 31:21

Even behind impenetrable walls, the king tossed on his bed. He had heard rumors for years of a great crowd of people marching across the wilderness. Some said their leader stood on a mountain and held up his hands and his army won battles. Others spoke of food appearing on the desert sand and water pouring out of barren rocks.

The king thought he had a few weeks at least; no one would attempt to cross the Jordan River at flood stage. But he had heard tales of the Red Sea parting and he wasn't taking chances. He commanded his guards to be on high alert.

Rahab, too, had heard the stories, but when two Israelite spies appeared at her door, she chose to hide them. (Joshua 2) Rahab told the spies that because of their God's power, she knew that He was the true God. While her fellow townspeople were terrified of these people, her belief drove her to she beg the spies to reward her kindness by protecting her family.

The spies told Rahab to gather her family into her house and to place a scarlet cord in her window. A red thread may have seemed like a meager protection against an army, but she obeyed. 

Through the opening of the Jordan River and the strange week-long march around Jericho's walls, Rahab's faith stayed strong. Hebrews 11 and James 2 both mention Rahab as an example of faith in action, one whose beliefs caused her to obey. Her faith rescued her entire family and placed Rahab in the family line of Christ.

We all face fear. We lay awake worrying about the future whether it is the next day or the next year. We know winter is coming, and our household must be prepared. Even if our lives are relatively pleasant and comfortable, we and are loved ones will all someday die. Statistics tell us that about half of us will face cancer, and most women will someday become widows. While no one escapes sin's curse, through Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, God has given us a scarlet cord.

When my husband was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer in 2017, 1 Peter 1:3-5 became precious. 
“His abundant mercy hath [given]... us... a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation." (1 Peter 1:3-5)  
When the future looks scary and uncertain, I need an eternal perspective to trust God.

But some days our future death seems easier than living faithfully today.

World events and the corruption in our land terrifies us like the people of Jericho. We watch addictions proliferate in our communities and fear for our children's future. We see the sin in our own hearts and become discouraged. Our enemy's goal is to make us faint and give up. If we don't guard our minds, he can build huge walls and raging rivers that only a faith like Rahab's will overcome.

Fear shows itself in numerous ways. I see the results of fear during sleepless nights when my mind imagines the worst. I'm giving in to fear when I'm reluctant to serve others because I might be misunderstood. Fear tempts me to avoid surrendering my will to God or submitting to my husband. Fear holds me back from opening my heart to love lest I be hurt.

Worry comes more naturally than trust. When cancer marched into my world, I asked if God was trustworthy. But then I glimpsed the power and love of God and wondered why I failed to trust Him. God gave me the peace of restful sleep even though armies marched outside my window.

We can't protect our loved ones, or ourselves, against all the dangers in this world. We can call on human power like Jericho's king. 

But like Rahab I want to obey God's commands, offer my family the Scarlet Cord, and trust the only One big enough to rescue us.

I'd love to hear how you build your faith and defeat worry.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Books for Imaginative Children

A friend asked me recently for book recommendations for her son who enjoys fantasy books. I find the fantasy genre to be difficult since I want to avoid any books that hint at the occult. But I have found that most children have active imaginations and enjoy books with talking animals, secret wishes, and magical feats. I don't think my children have a problem discerning between truth and make believe. They know that spiders don't write letters in their webs to save their friend the pig. 

This list of books is for my friend Becky and anyone who want books for the imaginative child. Not all of them would be considered fantasy, but all definitely stretch realism and will require some imagination.

As always, these are books that I personally enjoyed when prereading for my children. If I start a book and find it hard to pick it up again, I assume that the book probably isn't worth my children's time either. I enjoy finding books that will delight their imagination while still meeting my personal book standards. If your standards differ from mine, then skip this list.

This post contains affiliate links. 

The Bark of the Bog Owl by Jonathan Rogers
Imagine the story of David and Goliath mixed with Tom Sawyer and some American Tall Tales and dumped into a Georgia swamp. Only a skilled author with a great imagination could pull off this story. Don't expect a Bible story retelling, or even a "Christian" book. This is great story telling depicting some truth. Even my reluctant reader was drawn into this story of alligators, caves, and, of course, giants. The violence isn't graphic though still may be too much for a sensitive child.

The Bark of the Bog Owl begins the Wilderking Trilogy. I didn't think the sequel could be better than the first, but The Secret of the Swamp King managed to excel the first, in my opinion. The third book, The Way of the Wilderking wasn't my favorite of the three but gave a satisfying conclusion.

Half Magic by Edward Eager
On a boring summer day Jane finds a coin on the sidewalk and wishes something exciting would happen. Jane and her siblings soon find their wishes granted. Almost. Only half their wish comes true which makes some crazy escapades for the whole family. I love books like these with solid family relationships that were written in the 1950's. Eager's books have been delighting children for half a century. I've only read this one, but you might want to try his others books if you like Half Magic.

A lonely girl, an evil nanny, and a talking rat – all the ingredients needed for a delightful tale. Both boys and girls will enjoy in imagining what it would be like to be a few inches tall on a mission to save their parents. Don't miss the fun drawings across the top of the page. If you like Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIHM, you'll like this story of super-smart rodents.

Recipe for Adventure: Naples by Giada De Laurentii

Alfie's aunt insists homemade pizza is better than take-out, and Alfie and his sister soon discover real pizza in Naples, Italy. These are short chapter books perfect for food loving children who are just beginning to read chapter books. Look for other books in the series for more food discoveries in other parts of the world as this chef/author cooks up a food adventure story. Note: the children do sometimes lie to keep from being found out on their make-believe adventure.

Eddie’s aunt is missing. He might only be a small green bug, but he is willing to brave the long school halls to find his aunt. Maybe he can even save the school library from the evil librarian. A fun easy chapter book for anyone who loves books.

The Candymakers by Wendy Mass
This is a story that proves that nothing is like it appears at first glance. Four twelve-year-olds are competing in the national candy making competition. Logan is expected to have an advantage since he lives in a candy factory. As the story switches to the perspectives of each of the other contestants, surprising secrets are uncovered and soon the children are in a contest to save the candy factory itself. I loved this story combining yummy treats and suspense. 

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
Four gifted children respond to an unusual ad in the newspaper and are chosen to infiltrate a secret school. They find riddles, danger, tunnels, and an evil man who wants to rule the world. My children loved this book though it is a little darker and scarier than the other books on this list. You might want to discuss the Whisperer and telepathy with your children if they read this book. Don't be surprised if they fall in love with this creative bunch and want to read more books about the Benedict Society.

If you want more stories to build the imagination, check out my other list of fantasy books.

I'd love to hear about your favorites.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Camping with Children - without Losing Your Mind

Any mom who has vacationed with several small children knows that moms don't get a vacation on vacation. In fact, with a lack of routine (i.e. naps), a mom's life can be crazier on vacation than at home.

Early in our marriage, Ed and I did a lot of tent camping. We canoed down a quiet river, set up a tent in a pine-carpeted woods, and watched the campfire flicker. Ahhh...camping memories.

When children joined our family, we tried to keep camping. Our oldest slept in a tent by the creek when she was one-month old. We spent another memorable night by the creek with a three-year-old, not-quite-two-year-old, and one-month-old. Maybe that was the night we decided to put the tent in retirement and turn to cabin camping. We spent the next few years enjoying the rustic cabins at various state parks. Three years ago we tried setting up the tents on the Fourth of July at a state park, but a torrential rain flooded the tents and sent us home early.

This summer we thought we'd like to try tenting again. Our youngest is now two and out of the crib. Our older children can set up tents and other camp chores. Ed gets tired quickly and can't bike or hike, but camping is an activity that he can still enjoy.

But this summer, every time we'd have a free weekend, I'd look at the weather predictions and decide that tenting was not a good plan. Our area has been deluged with rain for months. When finally we decided to head to Chincoteague Island in October, I wasn't sure I even remembered how to pack for camping anymore.

That is when I had a pleasant surprise.

I pulled out our camping box from the basement. Back when we regularly went camping, we had stocked this box with some extra kitchen tools. I didn't remember what it contained but found that on the lid was two lists. One listed the items in the box. The other listed the supplies that needed added.

I'm good at making lists - but not keeping lists. I knew I had made camping lists in the past but had no idea where I may have put them. I felt like I had been given a huge gift with these two lists taped to the box. In a few minutes I was able to add the needed items (such as dish towels, charcoal, frying pan, and hot dog sticks). Over the years we had bought some items to keep with our camping gear, such as some cheap plastic bowls and plates and a small dustpan and brush, which made packing even easier.

We used to have a large tent, but the tent poles have broken over the years. We've picked up three smaller tents at yard sales and thrift stores - one for the girls, boys, and Ed and I. We found that several small tents are more convenient than one large one.

We stayed at Pine Grove Campground on Chincoteague Island. This is an small, older, family-owned campground. There are other campgrounds that have more amenities, but they charge more for larger families. One would have made us rent two campsites for our family of eight. At Pine Grove we found a quiet corner by a pond near the bathhouse and were able to spread out over several tent sites. The bathhouse was old, but the freshly-scrubbed toilets help me ignore the cracked cement. We would definitely go back to Pine Grove Campground.

I learned to always bring twice as many trash bags as you think you can possibly ever need  - especially if you'll be near water. There is always something sandy, wet, or muddy that needs contained. I had thrown in a small bucket which we found endlessly useful. At the beach the children's feet were sandy just walking from the restroom to the van. We filled the bucket with water so the children could wash their feet before climbing into the van. 

Food is a highlight of camping, but I kept our meals super simple. Each meal contained a simple protein (hamburgers, hotdogs, or chicken). I added a big bag of fresh veggies to the table as well as some sliced apples. Cookies or toasted marshmallows were dessert. With this menu, Ed could keep on his keto diet without any problem. He just added some mayo to his protein, used a low-carb roll, and enjoyed low-carb veggies with dip. I also picked up a bunch of snacks. Since I almost never buy processed snack foods like potato chips, they were a treat for my children and fun camp munching.

For clothing packing I tried a technique I learned from a mom with many children. My children are not convinced it made a big difference, but I think it tamed the chaos of everyone hauling their duffle bags full of clothing into the bathhouse. 

When we packed up our clothes at home, I had everyone carry their stack of clothes to my bed. I then made a stack containing a set of clothing for each person and placed them in a small duffle bag and marked the duffle with a date. For example, one bag was marked Girls - Saturday and contained a set of clothing for myself and each of my girls. I did the same for Ed and the boys. I had a bag for each day plus and bag with an extra set of clothes. I also had a tent bag which contained pjs, flashlights, and stuffed animals for the little ones. Another bag contained all the beach clothes and towels. 

The result was a LOT of bags with labels. But I could (usually) find what I needed. At camp we placed the tent bags in each tent. At night when we went to the shower house, we brought the one bag of clothing for the next day. The children changed into their clean set of clothes after their shower.

Another time-saver I found in our camping gear in the basement was our towel bag. Several years ago I pulled out some of our towels that were getting ragged. My daughter stitched initials for each family member onto a wash cloth and a bath towel. I keep these folded in a large bag. Anytime we go anywhere that requires us to bring our own towels, I grab the bag and we are packed. We keep a clothes line in our camping gear and strung a line between some trees.  After showers, each person hung up their towel to dry for use the next day. No confusion on using the wrong towel.

I think that this may have been the most stress-free camping trip we've ever had. I think this may have more to do with having older children to help and no babies than any other aspect. Or maybe it is the fact that our normal life is so stressful that it can't get worse when camping. Or maybe over the years we've learned a few things to help camping go smoother. 

But at the end of the weekend, we piled everything in the van  and closed the door quickly before something fell out. The stinky mess of wet clothes, the crusty remains in the bottom of the ice chest, the sand embedded into every fiber of clothing and van carpet - it all reminded me that camping with children (at the beach!) will never be a neat and tidy production. 

But it will be worthwhile.


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