Friday, December 31, 2021

Sisters' December Reading Challenge

The last month of the year was a great reading month. I love the coziness of a reading a book during the dark nights of December. With busier schedules this month, a quiet hour to read was even more cherished.

This post contains affiliate links.

December Reading Challenge

1. Read a Christmas book.

Charity- Hallelujah by Cindy Rollins

Handel’s Messiah is always a wonderful addition to the month of December. In this advent book Rollins breaks down this beautiful song into a 25-day listening schedule and Scripture readings. Each day Mom and I enjoying a few minutes of beautiful singing. Over and over we were amazed as we listened and read the words that Handel set to music. Rollins also included guest writers who share their Christmas traditions and explain Handel’s remarkable piece. We are already talking about how we are going to read it again next year! 

Gina- Home for Christmas - numerous authors

This was a heart-warming collection of Christmas stories. Though some of them were possibly doctrinally unsound, such as rewrites of the Christmas story with shepherds and wisemen arriving at the stable at the same time, I can overlook such things. A few were true stories, many were classics, but most I had never read. Short stories are perfect for a busy schedule.

2. Read a book on doctrine/spiritual growth/self-help.

Charity-Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to Be Noticed by Sara Hagerty

Being unseen and unnoticed is hard. We want to do something worthy of notice, to change lives, visibly serving God. But what if God wants us to hide in Him? To know Him personally without the crutch of “doing” something great? Hagerty explores the concept of being hidden and unseen by telling her experience of learning to know God more fully. I didn’t finish reading this book yet, but I’ve been challenged and can’t wait to see what the rest of the book will teach me. 

Gina - Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy examines the verses in Titus 2 and the role of an older woman to teach the younger to "adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things." (Titus 2:10) While this book didn't reveal lots of new truth to me, I need reminded of the strength we have to encourage each other in the faith.

3. Reread a favorite book.

Charity-Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I stepped back into a childhood favorite this month, and it was pure delight! I am a firm believer in rereading books because the way you view life is always changing. Little Women held so much meaning as I read it again in my twenties. It is the story of four sisters living with their mother while their father is away fighting in the Civil War. They are trying to decide what really matters in life and overcome their valleys and weaknesses. It is a story of growing up and learning that their castles in the air won’t always come true, and yet maybe there is something much better in store for them.

Gina- A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser

I read this book quite a few years ago after my brother-in-law died. I've known I should reread it and this seemed like a good time. Jerry lost his mother, wife, and daughter in a car accident. He wrote this book three years after the accident. I felt like he understood where I am in the grief journey. I like that he is willing to answer the hard questions of where is God in our pain. He also acknowledges all pain, not just death, but other losses such as unemployment, infertility, and abandonment. I underlined lots in this book and highly recommend it as the best book I've read on grief. 

4. Write a list of favorite books you read this year and share your list with a friend.


Gina- Here is my list. And I'm sharing it with you, my friend. My ten favorite books this year lean heavily toward books on grief, and only one is fiction. Not sure what that says about my year, but looking through this list reminds me of how richly I was blessed by words on a page this year.

5. Read a book while listening to Christmas music.

Charity -

Christmas music is often playing in the background after Thanksgiving. This month often found me enjoying the cozy mood of Christmas songs while snuggling up with a good book! Also mom and I would often be found listening to Handel’s Messiah with our advent book in hand so that we could follow along.

Gina- Christmas music is played on repeat at our house so it was the backdrop to lots of reading this month.

Both of us enjoyed the reading challenges this past year. I read more books this year than usual and  severely cut back my screen time. It was fun to have a little push to read the books that have been collecting on my shelves. 

We will be taking a break from the Sisters' Reading Challenge for the next two months to take part in the Brighter Winter Reading Challenge. But we will be back in March with a new version of the Sisters' Reading Challenge. 

If you want to make sure you never miss a blog post, you can sign up to receive the blog posts by email. Some of you have said that you used to get the emails and now don't. I know that some of the email addresses were lost when I switched to a new email service last summer. So feel free to sign up again. You can find the signup form on the right column of the blog.

(The literary scarf I'm wearing in these photos was a gift from my children and can be found at Storiart. I'll let you guess what book they chose!)

Happy New Year! We look forward to reading with you in 2022!

Saturday, December 25, 2021

From our house to yours


I'm reading in Isaiah now, the perfect place to be reading over the Christmas season. In the midst of all the chapters of doom and destruction, we find words of hope. Never easy words of "it will be okay," but words that point to Jesus. 

"There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse..." (Is. 11:1) 

"Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid..." (Is 12:2) 

"Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee..." (Is 26:3)

Today, on Christmas, may you know the peace that only Jesus gives. 

"My people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places." (Is 32:18)

Thursday, December 16, 2021


I've heard that Christmas is a hard time for many people. One study found that 38% of those surveyed said their stress increases in December. Others find the longer hours of darkness to negatively affect their emotional health. 

There are many reasons for depression, but I used to assume that those hardest hit are the ones with no family and friends, like the man we caroled to this week who sat in a dark trailer and said no one visits him. My heart breaks for him, and the many others, who sit alone night after night.

I wonder if it is the contrast that is most painful. The contrast of what you had and now don't. The contrast between what you want and what you've been given. The contrast between reality and desire. The more jolly and merry in the world around us - even if it is fake, the more stark our own life can appear.

Our December has been rich, and full, and beautiful. I love the gatherings, the food, the people. We've attended numerous music events: church caroling, Christmas singings, concerts, and community events. Each one fills me with deep joy. 

But the joy contrasts to loss. Just as a splotch of mud stands out starkly on a bride's white dress, so grief at Christmas feel highlighted with neon lights. 

Twenty years ago Ed proposed on Christmas Eve. Though he is gone, the hole he leaves is too big to be forgotten by filling the social calendar and singing "Joy to the World." Memories run too deep. I'm surrounded with tangible reminders. I pull a book off the shelf and find his name inscribed. I rummage for a piece of scrap paper and find a list of points in Ed's handwriting for a game he was playing with the children three years ago. The children flip through photos and videos on my phone (which was once Ed's), and I hear his voice singing Christmas carols. 

I don't want to lose memories. But the beauty of memories carry a gut punch. 

I recently reread A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser. He compares catastrophic loss to an amputation. 

"We can recover from broken limbs, not amputation. Catastrophic loss by definition precludes recovery. It will transform us or destroy us, but it will never leave us the same. There is no going back to the past, which is gone forever, only going ahead to the future, which has yet to be discovered. Whatever that future is, it will, and must, include the pain of the past with it. Sorrow never entirely leaves the soul of those who have suffered a severe loss. If anything, it may keep going deeper." (Please go read the whole book because I can't copy down everything I underlined.)

Somehow that has been comforting. Maybe it is a sign of health that the deeper the joy, the greater the contrast to the deep sorrow. Sweet contrasts with bitter. Light to darkness. The heartbreak of the cross to the glory of the resurrection. The valley of the shadow of death to the gates of heaven.

I don't know how to hold both joy and sorrow in my heart at the same time, but I'm not given an option. I know many of you are walking through similar contrasts. May we not deny the pain or decline the joy, but embrace both. It sounds cliché, but this is why Jesus came. To walk into our sorrow and give us eternal hope.

"And ye, beneath life's crushing load, 
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing:
O rest beside the weary road, 
And hear the angels sing." 
(3rd verse of It Came Upon the Midnight Clear)

I'm including a video of a song by Aspire Chamber Choir that I loved this month. (If reading by email you may need to click over to the website for the video.) You can also enjoy Aspire's entire Christmas concert.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Sisters' December Reading Challenge

We are nearly to the end of the year. Charity and I have loved doing this reading challenge and both feel like our reading life has grown in 2021. 

This post contains affiliate links.

December Reading Challenge

1. Read a Christmas book.

I love the coziness of a good Christmas story. There are also Advent books available.

For example: 

Shepherds Abiding by Jan Karon

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

I wrote several posts about Christmas books, including adult books and children's chapter books.

2. Read a book on doctrine/spiritual growth/self-help.

Do you have an area in your life that you'd like to improve in the coming year? Here is a chance to learn more about a specific topic.

For example: 

12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You by Tony Reinke

Atomic Habits by James Clear

The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield

3. Reread a favorite book.

Sometimes I feel like there are so many unread books that I can't let myself reread books. But I also know that on the second read, I often get more from the book than the first time. Here is an excuse to reread a favorite book - either for fun or for learning.

4. Write a list of favorite books you read this year and share your list with a friend.

5. Read a book while listening to Christmas music.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Sisters' November Reading Challenge


Another fun reading month. 

This post contains affiliate links.

1. Read a book published in the 1800s.

Charity - Abide in Christ by Andrew Murray

Murray focuses each chapter on a different verse of the Bible and talks about Christ as our Redemption, Sanctification, etc. I have read and enjoyed a few of his other books, but this on has been a slow read. I find myself needing to completely focus and so this challenge will spill over into the next month!

Gina - Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

If you had asked me, I would have said that I loved Jane Austen, but maybe it would be more accurate to say that I loved Pride and Prejudice, which I've read numerous times. I wasn't as excited about Austen's other books and had never read Mansfield Park. But this month I not only read Mansfield Park, but I listened to the conversation about the book on The Literary Life podcast. I'm now of the opinion that Mansfield Park may have been one of Austen's greatest books. There was so much symbolism and depth to the book that I probably would have never recognized on my own, without the help of teachers. Fanny Price is not a dashing Miss Bennet, but I love her ability to perceive others' character.

2. Read a book about a disability. 

Charity - Remembering by Wendel Berry

I picked this book off my TBR pile and was never so delighted to see that it was about a man with only one hand! Berry's novels are works of art. The way he writes is beautiful, contemplative, and a strange mixture of grief and joy. This story is about one man working through the grief of a changing farm community and a lost hand. He finds himself walking the streets of San Francisco remembering the past and deciding if the future has any hope. This book is part of Wendel Berry's Port William series.

Gina - A Smile as Big as the Moon by Mike Kersjes

Mike was a special needs teacher who wanted to encourage and challenge his troubled students. He battled the opinions of the school leadership with a bold plan to take his students to NASA's Space Camp - an opportunity that was reserved for only the best and most gifted students. This book challenged me to see the gifts that others, even those with a severe disability, can give to the world. Note: Contains some profanity.

3. Read a book about clothes.

Charity - The Beauty of Modesty by David and Diane Vaughn

The Vaughns dig into history and the Bible to explore modesty. I appreciate their focus on the root issues of the heart that end up flowing out into our clothing. This was a reread from a few years ago and somehow this time I didn't like it as much. I haven't been able to decide exactly why, but I only partially recommend it.

Gina - The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzelmach Lemmon

The author traveled to Afghanistan in search of stories of women who supported their families during the takeover of the Taliban in the 90s. We are introduced to Kamila and her five sisters who were left alone in Kabul with no way to support themselves since they weren't allowed to leave their home without a male family member. Kamila began a sewing business in her home for her sisters and other needy women. It is hard to read stories from war-torn cities, especially knowing that the women in Kabul are currently facing very hard times, but this book was inspiring.

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

Charity -I was on library duty at church one morning in November and was struck with the realization that we didn’t specify a public library! There are scads of books in our church library that I want to read and one of them was Andrew Murray’s Abiding in Christ. I was delighted to start another book on my TBR list and all without a special trip to town!

Gina - For years I reserved books to pick up at the library or bookmobile, but somehow I've lost my routine (not sure if I can blame Ed's illness or Covid or both). But this month I made an attempt at beginning again. I love choosing books from the comfort of my home and picking up a book stack of new reading material.

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

Charity - That same morning at church, on of my fellow church librarians and I were chatting. She recommended The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Now I'm eagerly anticipating this historical fiction!

Gina - On my visit to the bookmobile this month, I chatted with the world's best librarian (the one who did home delivery after my babies were born and Ed was sick), but I forgot to ask her about her favorite book. Instead we talked of her grandbabies, which is a worthwhile distraction!

What did you read in November?

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 met 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.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Introducing Motherhood Magazine

Many days I'm amazed at the small, seemingly random ways that God finds to bless me. 

For example, the last few years I've been given numerous editing opportunities. I don't consider myself an editing professional, but I've enjoyed stretching my skills. I haven't searched for any of these projects, but each one has been a blessing in a specific way. For example, I was working on an Anabaptist history book during 2020. Studying God's faithfulness to the persecuted church gave me a valuable perspective to the Covid challenges. 

This spring, through a series of unexpected circumstances, I had the opportunity to help edit a new magazine for mothers. Only God knew how much I would need to read and reread words of hope and blessing to moms. I was surprised to find that even after multiple readings, a phrase or line could still move me to tears as I fought days of discouragement this summer. 

Motherhood Magazine shares words from mothers and grandmothers from various countries, ages, and stages of life. Over and over they repeat the message that God sees and knows and cares for each mom. The words are combined with carefully selected artwork, photos, and design for a calm reading experience. I especially enjoyed the selected Scriptures. This is a magazine to be savored. 

Kerra Troyer is a young mom who has the vision for a magazine to encourage mothers. She has a background in design and marketing, but as a young mom herself, she and her husband knew they would need to set up boundaries. 

So Motherhood Magazine is a non-subscription magazine. Each issue will be sold individually. This removes the pressure for Kerra to produce a magazine under a time limit. At this point she doesn't know how long or how often she'll offer a new issues of the magazine, but her goal is that each issue will be a high-quality keepsake for mothers. 

This week, Kerra is opening the Motherhood Magazine website for preorders. If you want to make sure you get a copy of this new magazine, order now. The magazine will be shipped in October, and once they are gone, they probably won't be reprinted. 

Each issue of the magazine cost $10 plus shipping. 

If you combine your orders with friends, or order extras as gifts, shipping costs will be reduced. If you order 10 copies or more, the cost is $9 plus shipping. 

If you live near me and would like a copy of Motherhood, message me I'll combine your order with mine. 

Visit for more information. You can also sign up for updates so that you will hear about future magazines.

If you prefer to place an order by email, contact Kerra at stan.kerra2012 .


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