Thursday, August 31, 2023

Sisters' Fall Reading Challenge

Summer may have left us panting, but Charity and I are looking forward to our fall reading. We chose a variety of reading challenges for this fall that will both challenge, inspire, and comfort. 

This post contains affiliate links.

Sisters' Fall Reading Challenge 

1. Read a biography. 

Probably no other genre has impacted my life as much as biography. Reading about people from the past can teach, inspire, and warn. Some of my favorites are A Chance to Die, the biography of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot, and Ann Judson by Sharon James.

2. Read a book set in England. 

I'm not sure why I think of England when I think of cozy books. Maybe it stems from reading James Herriot's books and being grateful to be warm and cozy in my bed while tramping with a vet in the brutal wind of the Yorkshire hills. Maybe it is the delight of detective stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy Sayers. Or English authors such as Elizabeth Goudge and D.E. Stevenson. If cozy English cottages are not your thing, there are plenty of nonfiction set in England.

3. Read a book with a subtitle.

It seems that subtitles are all the rage in nonfiction. Titles seem to be getting shorter, and I find that I often choose a book because of its subtitle. Find a book with a subtitle that promises a topic that interests you. 

4. Choose a Bible character, study his or her life, and draw a time line of their life.

I'm eager to pick a person from the Bible, perhaps one whose life spreads over several books of the Bible, such as Paul or Moses, and dig into their life. Hopefully sketching out a time line can help me put their life events into the context of other events.

If you care to join us, we hope some of these ideas can breath some crisp fall inspiration into your reading life.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

4 More New Books From Friends

A few months ago I shared several new books written by friends. Here are four more new books written by friends. (At least they used to be new. By now, some of these have been out for a year!) Each of these authors I have met in real life at least briefly. I not only like their books, but appreciate them as people. 

Unless otherwise noted, I purchased these books myself. I included ordering information directly from the author or their distributor. If you live in a Mennonite community, you can probably find them at your local bookstore. 

Or if you want to order several of these books, the cheapest option may be from FaithView Books. They don't have an website, but you can call and ask for a print catalog or order by phone.  

Coming Home to Roost is the latest of Dorcas Smucker's essay collections. I first learned to know Dorcas from her blog when she had a houseful of children many years ago. I've enjoyed each of her essay collections. But now, her last child has found her wings and Dorcas says this is her last collection of stories about her flock, though the door is always open for the returning brood. 

Dorcas' down-home wisdom has been an encouragement to me in my own motherhood journey, and I think this is my favorite of her books. In the last years, I've realized that there is so much that a mother can't write about parenting teens and young adults because the stories are not yours. I think that is why I've appreciated Dorcas's level-headed writing about her chickens, fabric collections, the old family van, while considering regrets, middle-age adjustments, and young adult conversations.

This is a book you can pick up and read in any order and would be the perfect gift for that older mom who is adapting to her own nest changes, though I think a woman of all ages and stages of life would enjoy it. 

Order Coming Home to Roost (and all of Dorcas' other books) at Muddy Creek Books. You can follow Dorcas along on her further journeys at her blog.  Dorcas sent me a complimentary copy of her book.

I've known Mary since she was a shy girl in our homeschool group, but it wasn't until years later that I realized that hiding behind the shyness was a lot of wisdom. Mary has written a number of books for women, but her latest book, The Girls Inside, is for girls. The Girl Inside tackles subjects that any Christian girl wonders about including relationships with boys, changes in her body, friendships, and more. 

Mary speaks bluntly, though with discretion. To me she feels like a big sister or kind aunt, reaching out to a younger teen in her life. I would place the target age for this book to be girls in their upper teens and early twenties, but I found myself challenged and encouraged as a mother of girls. It is refreshing to read a book that holds up a high standard for holy living without heaping on shame. The chapters on body image and thin culture are excellent. This would be a great book for a mother or mentor to read with a teen or for a girls' Bible study. 

You can order The Girl Inside from Amazon (affliate link) or Christian Light. Check out Mary's website for lots of book reviews. Mary sent me a complimentary copy of her book.

In October of 2021, seventeen missionaries were traveling home from a Haitian orphanage when they were kidnapped for ransom.  For weeks, my first thought when waking in the morning was, Is there any news from Haiti? I knew several of the missionaries just briefly, and I couldn't imagine how their families were coping as one week passed and then another without hearing anything about their loved ones. Like thousands of others, I rejoiced to hear of the group's safe return to their families.

Kidnapped in Haiti by Katrina Hoover Lee shares their story. Katrina interviewed each of the members of the group as well as family members and mission staff. Kidnapped in Haiti shares details from both Haiti and the US and Canada during the two months of their captivity. I read this book aloud to my children and found it very faith strengthening. God truly can sustain His children through difficult circumstances. (This is an adult level book, and I did a tiny bit of editing-on-the-fly to avoid a few heavier details that I didn't think appropriate for my youngest children.)

Purchase Kidnapped in Haiti directly from Katrina or from the publisher. You can follow Katrina's blog or sign up for her email newsletter to find out more about her writing projects. (This includes affiliate links.)

I've always loved stories that take me to lands I will probably never visit and show me sights I'll probably never see. Alison Stoltzfus carried me with her to a huge refugee camp in Bangladesh where she served with her nursing skills in 2021. This book was far too short, and I was sad it ended. Alison is skillful with words, and I loved her honesty about both her challenge of showing love in a new culture and climate and opening herself up to love back home. 

I'm hoping that Alison will keep sharing her talent and write more books, but right now she is a busy mother of new twins. You can read more of her words on her blog and get your own copy of How Beautiful the Dusty Road at Christian Light. 

Friday, August 18, 2023

When My Little Brother Gets Married

"How do you feel about Vaun getting married?" 

I've been asked this question countless times in the last months. And I never knew what to say, because three emotions are equally true.

1. I'm delighted that Vaun found a lovely woman to share his life. As one who experienced a wonderful marriage, I wish it for others.

2. We will miss Vaun. While others may guess, they don't truly know how much Vaun has done for us the past four years.

3. But while this will bring change for our family, we've weathered change in the past so surely we will again.

So who is Vaun? And why will we miss him?

Vaun is my youngest brother, born just before my twentieth birthday. Of course I dearly loved my sweet baby brother, but with the huge age gap, I didn't relate to him nearly as much as the brothers close to my age. I was busy and flying in-and-out of the house as twenty-year-olds with jobs and a full social calendar do. 

Vaun was six when I married and, in the coming years, he became an adored uncle to my children. They loved going to Grandpa and Grandma's house where Uncle Vaun and Aunt Charity poured attention on them.

Then Vaun grew up and became the busy teen with job and friends. He lived life on high gear, trying to fill his days with six more activities than he had time for.

When Ed was diagnosed with brain cancer, Vaun was in training for ministry in the Middle East. He spent almost two years teaching English to refugees. He returned home just weeks before Ed's death, immediatly sliding into a role of helping with Ed's care.

After Ed's death, Vaun was very deliberate in his care for our family. He spent every Thursday evening at our house, sometimes working on a house project, other times playing games with the children. He went on vacation with our family and took us on a volunteer work project. He spent hours remodeling a rental property for us. 

I battled a bit of guilt, feeling that Vaun had set aside his plans and goals for our family, though he claimed he was doing exactly what he wanted to do.

We had nearly survived our first year without Ed when Covid hit. Vaun asked if he could move into our house to help with some projects while he was off work. Our bedrooms are small, and he slept on a floor mat sqeezed between my sons' beds. But he stayed with us for the next three and a half year, until his wedding. 

I can't begin to describe all the ways Vaun helped us during those years. It was more than repairing the bathroom ceiling, making coffee each morning, and changing the oil in vehicles. My oldest turned sixteen the week after he moved in. We were entering new territory with new drivers, car purchases, phones, and jobs. Having another adult in the house was a huge gift. While I'm sure we would have muddled through alone somehow, I'm grateful we didn't have to. 

The children's attitudes were much better with an uncle around. But I'll admit that mine was too. For example, after Ed's death, it had been very hard to cook meals. I know it was silly because I still had six children to cook for, but the meals I placed on the table were rather pitiful. Vaun's arrival breathed new life into all of us, helping us care about things like a clean house and carefully prepared meals. 

Vaun helped my boys start a little mowing business, showing them how to send invoices and track spending and income. When my oldest son finished school, he began working with Vaun in construction, a job he seems to enjoy. Helping my boys find employment had been a worry for me.

Vaun joined us in our projects, taking us on trips and visiting our friends. But he also allowed us to join him in his projects. I was floundering to figure out my role in church and ministry as a widow, and this was such a gift. Whether it was sawing wood for Bible School crafts, planning meals for the TESOL class he organized, or planning a picnic for a Ukrainian refugee family - Vaun's enthusiasm for ministry pulled us into projects and expanded our lives in healthy ways.

I don't want to turn this into a eulogy, but i thank the Lord for my little brother and his willingness to come alongside our family. He claims to have loved the last few years, and I hope he has. We will miss his Saturday pancake breakfasts, his bedtime stories, and adult conversations. But we are thrilled that Emily agreed to be his wife and look forward to watching the Lord bless their commitment to Him. They bought a house nearby, and we hope to continue to be part of their lives.

Here is a glimpse of the wedding.

Dad was able to enjoy the wedding, though it was the week of his chemo treatment. So gratful for the good health he currently has. 

The whole clan! When you are the last of nine to marry, you have a large family photo.

The newest little ones.

Vaun and Emily with his nieces and nephews.

The nine siblings.

One of the songs we sang at Vaun and Emily's wedding was "Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart." This has been a favorite song of mine for years, but I don't think I ever heard it at a wedding. But I thought it was quite fitting.

  1. Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart
  2. By George Croly

  3. Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
    Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
    Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
    And make me love Thee as I ought to love.
  4. Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
    All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
    I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
    Oh, let me seek Thee, and, oh, let me find!
  5. Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
    Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
    To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
    Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.
  6. Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
    One holy passion filling all my frame;
    The kindling of the heav’n-descended Dove,
    My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.

Here is a video of the song arranged by Lloyd Kauffman.


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