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Monday, January 25, 2016

A Year in Books: 2015

Because I love old books and new books, libraries, used bookstores, children's books and historical books, novels and biographies, stories and reading and writing and . . . (you get the picture), I am sharing my list of books I read in 2015. There are 65 of them, a record reading year for me!

I divided them by category, not by the order in which I read them, so that I could keep track of what types of books I gravitate towards the most. At the end of this list, I wrote some comments about a few of my book experiences of the year.

I have marked with an R (r) the books that were rereads (ones I had read one or more times previously), and with an asterisk (*) the ones that I especially enjoyed. The books I found particularly unsatisfying/disappointing I have marked with a negative symbol (-).


1. Postern of Fate, Agatha Christie
2. The Secret Adversary, Agatha Christie
3. N or M?, Agatha Christie*
4. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie 
5. And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie (-)
6. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
7. By the Light of the Study Lamp, Carolyn Keene
8. The Clue in the Old Album, Carolyn Keene
9. The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow, William Arden

10. Anne of Green Gables, L. M. Montgomery (r)
11. Anne of Avonlea, L. M. Montgomery (r)
12. Anne of the Island, L. M. Montgomery (r)
13. Anne of Windy Poplars, L. M. Montgomery (r)
14. The Golden Road, L. M. Montgomery
15. To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee (r)*
16. Emma, Jane Austen
17. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte (-)
18. Heidi, Johanna Spyri

19. Our Finest Hour: The Triumphant Spirit of America's World War II Generation, LIFE Magazine Publications
20. Lost Childhood: My Life in a Japanese Prison Camp During World War II, Annelex Hofstra Layson 
21. Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference, Joanne Oppenheim*
22. The Diary of Petr Ginz, Petr Ginz (-)
23. One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II, Lita Judge
24. Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II, Martin W. Sandler
25. Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London, Andrea Warren
26. Norman Rockwell: Storyteller with a Brush, Beverly Gherman
27. Louisa May's Battle: How the Civil War Led to Little Women, Kathleen Krull
28. Hot Dog! Eleanor Roosevelt Throws a Picnic, Leslie Kimmelman
29. Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston
30. Brother Andrew: Taking Bibles to the World, Renee Taft Meloche

31. Tallgrass, Sandra Dallas
32. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier*
33. The King's General, Daphne du Maurier
34. Emily's Runaway Imagination, Beverly Cleary (r)*
35. All Through the Night, Grace Livingston Hill
36. The Big Blue Soldier, Grace Livingston Hill
37. The Substitute Guest, Grace Livingston Hill
38. The Year of Miss Agnes, Kirkpatrick Hill
39. Go Set A Watchman, Harper Lee (-)
40. The Giver, Lois Lowry
41. Wonderland Creek, Lynn Austin*
42. The Hundred Dresses, Eleanor Estes
43. Library Lion, Michelle Knudsen
44. Small Town Girl, Ann H. Gabhart
45. The Christmas Angel, Thomas Kinkade
46. The Christmas Box, Richard Paul Evans
47. Nana's Gift, Janette Oke
48. Dear Mr. Knightley, Katherine Reay

Christian Living/Bible Study:
49. Be Satisfied, Warren W. Wiersbe
50. Be Joyful, Warren W. Wiersbe
51. Be Committed, Warren W. Wiersbe
52. Be Rich, Warren W. Wiersbe
53. Be Complete, Warren W. Wiersbe
54. Be Ready, Warren W. Wiersbe
55. The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis
56. Parables: The Mysteries of God's Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told, John MacArthur
57. So You Want to Be Like Christ? Eight Essentials to Get You There, Charles R. Swindoll
58. The First 90 Days of Marriage, Eric and Leslie Ludy
59. Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies, Steve and Candace Watters
60. The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life, Dr. Armand H. Nicholi, Jr.
61. Grace for the Good Girl, Emily P. Freeman*

62. Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury*
63. Summer Morning, Summer Night, Ray Bradbury

64. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Neil Postman
65. The Writing Life, Annie Dillard

This year, I was introduced to Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence novels, and I find them to be my favorites of her detectives (not to steal any glory from Miss Marple, another delightful detective). ;)

As you can see, I completed a sizable stack of books pertaining to World War II. That was for a particular pet project of mine that you may hear about in the near future. I have a passion for history, and these books, though some were heart wrenching, were deeply enjoyable and invaluable in the rich past they shared with me.

Rebecca, a 1930s gothic mystery/romance novel by Daphne du Maurier, was the most intense and gripping book I've read in a long while--possibly ever. Honestly, it ranked right up next to Jane Eyre on my list. The atmosphere of the novel is almost tangible--dark, brooding, mysterious. Disappointingly, the book contains a sprinkling of inappropriate words, but they can be marked out and avoided in future rereadings. I am thrilled to have discovered this gem of a story this year.

Being a passionate lover of To Kill A Mockingbird, I read Harper Lee's second novel that (shockingly) was published this year. I found Go Set A Watchman to be rather disappointing and quite unlike her former work. In fact, though I do not know for certain the circumstances of the book's publication, I am inclined to believe, as many articles speculate, that she was taken advantage of, and that her age and poor health were used against her by publishers to gain money and publicity. Perhaps not, but the whole situation seems rather suspicious. 

I discovered an invaluable addition to my Bible study efforts this year in Warren W. Wiersbe's Be series, a collection of commentaries which cover the entire Bible. They are simple enough for the layman to understand, and by reading a chapter a day and the accompanying Scripture portion, I can learn a little a day about the passage that I never knew before and that I can apply to my life.

Grace for the Good Girl by Emily P. Freeman is another rare treasure that stands out in my memory from the year. It caused me to examine my relationship with God and to make lifestyle-altering decisions. My copy, from a used bookstore, is now highlighted and marked-up throughout every chapter. I definitely plan to use this in a Bible study and share it with others in the future.

If you hope to meet a certain reading goal in 2016, I recommend using goodreads.com to keep track of the books you complete. It's fun, free, and easy, and seeing all the books I've read on the site motivates me to keep reading! What is your goal for 2016?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

5 Books That Changed My Life

When I look back on all the spiritually challenging books I've read over the course of high school, college, and now my first year of married life, I can identify five books that have most impacted me. These are not wimpy devotionals that barely skim the surface of Scripture. No, these are powerful, piercing books that dare to delve deeply into the wonders of God's Word. And as truly deep as they are, these still manage to speak effectively to everyday people--like me. They are not difficult to read, but if you decide to plunge into them, be prepared for your faith, your perspective, to be shaken. 

1. One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, Ann Voskamp

2. Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis

3. The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom

4. Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life, Emily P. Freeman

5. A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live, Emily P. Freeman

I recommend reading these with a highlighter handy, and to dig the most treasures out of these books, have your Bible, a notebook, and a pen close by, too. Read them with a willing heart and the mindset of a treasure-hunter. There is no telling how many spiritual jewels you will glean from them. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

[When I Feel Like] God Doesn't Want to Hear From Me

God doesn't want to hear from me. I failed Him again.

The shame rushes through her mind, repeats itself, a rhythm of guilt.

I haven't truly entered into prayer for days. I've prayed only at meal times.
I haven't studied my Bible in a week. I've barely skimmed the Scriptures. 
My heart and mind have been distracted.
I've placed my daily activities ahead of Christ. 
God is angry with me. My shortcomings far outnumber my successes this week. Again.

Do these thoughts sound familiar? 
As a girl, she is particularly accustomed to measuring her worth by her performance. It's the only life she knows--gauging her success by the number of people she can please. Her parents, her teachers, her friends, her church family. One day her husband. And of course, God.

But what if this is not the way God intended for her to live? What if He doesn't want to be another Person on her checklist? What if He doesn't ask her to perform to please Him?

You see, she is fallible, full of error, just like every other human being on this earth. She may sometimes succeed in impressing others with her performance, even those closest to her. But she will never impress God.

And that's okay.

God does not ask her to impress Him. He asks her to trust.

You see, just like many other Christians, she feels that when she fails God--when she sins or allows other people or things to creep into His place, when she neglects spending time with Him, when she lets dust build up on her prayer journal--God despises her. God is sickened at the sight of her. God rejects her.
She's used to rejection, because often her lifelong performance fails to please people in her life, and they reject her.

But God doesn't work like that. 

Does He desire that we spend time with Him? Absolutely. Does He command us to study the Scriptures and to pray? Absolutely. 

But when we fail, God still loves us. He is not sickened at the sight of us. He longs for a glimpse. He yearns for our homecoming, for our returning, for our repentance.
You see, repentance is not a once-in-a-lifetime experience that occurs at the time of salvation. Repentance is a continual surrender, a regular pattern in the life of the Christian. A turning away from--a shunning of--the sins that beset us.

The longer she waits in fear and self-loathing, the longer she rejects the forgiveness, the grace, that God has to offer, the harder it becomes for her to return to Him.

God does not ask us to perform. He asks us to trust. He asks us to learn and cherish His Word, to pour out our hearts to Him, to obey, because we love Him. This lifestyle will naturally result from His redemption in ours hearts. It will flow from us, just as His grace, His love, flow into us and fill us up again. 
This is not our performance--a contest to please. This is our lifestyle--a commitment to love.

When we fail, we must not run from Him but to Him. Knowing that we will fail again. But knowing also this: that He will not fail to forgive. 

Do not allow another day, another hour, another moment, to pass. Run to Him and re-enter into the unsurpassed delights of studying and cherishing the Scriptures, of pouring out your prayers to the God Who cares, and of basking in the lavish grace He bestows.

The Father still welcomes home the Prodigal.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Guarding His Thoughts: 5 Ways to Help Your Husband

As a Christian wife, one responsibility of mine is to help protect my husband's purity in his thought life. Is it ultimately his responsibility to control his thoughts and desires? Yes, it is. But as his closest companion and his soul-partner, I possess great influence in his life and his heart. 
Make it a priority to jealously guard your husband's heart, just as God jealously guards His children's devotion to Him.

1. Lift him up in prayer. Make your husband's purity a priority in your regular prayer requests. 

2. Point him to Christ. It has been said that behind every great man is a woman, but truthfully, a man can be victorious only if the One ultimately behind him is Christ. Encourage your husband in his walk with God. Let him know you appreciate the time he spends in Bible study and prayer. If your husband does not currently spend time with God, let him see your own efforts at daily devotions and the positive changes it makes in your own heart. Talk with him about your concerns and gently encourage him to establish a Bible study routine. Be patient and pray for his spiritual growth.

3. Keep magazines and books containing compromising images out of the house. I know, this greatly limits the magazines to which you can subscribe, but isn't it worth it to guard your husband's eyes? 

4. Openly have access to his internet usage (and let him do the same for you). There are online programs that keep track of a person's internet usage and send a monthly email to an agreed-upon partner that shows each website visited by that person. These programs can be found for free online. If the person dearest to his heart has constant access to the sites he is visiting, he is far less likely to allow himself to visit sites that would cause that person hurt. It will not be worth it to him. 

5. Dress modestly around other men. No, you do not have to dress modestly when you are alone with your husband. Obviously. Your husband is allowed to desire you; it is how God beautifully designed marriage. A healthy marriage relationship includes that desire. But when you are around other men, you do have to dress modestly. That is not a popular message, but it is clear in Scripture. A Christian woman will desire to dress in a way that honors God. How will this help your husband to remain pure? He will see your commitment to keeping other men from desiring you in the wrong ways. He will know that your heart is his. Also, your modesty may help to influence the women who see your consistent modest dress. They may decide, from your testimony, to dress modestly, too, and the less immodesty parading the streets (and the churches), the better for every man who desires to remain pure.

Try practicing these ideas consistently. Be patient in your efforts and your prayers. Encourage your husband when you witness his own efforts at protecting his thoughts and his heart. Every time I see my husband avert his eyes from an immodestly dressed woman, my heart floods with gratitude and love. That simple action, with no prompting at all from me, shows my husband's earnest desire to remain pure for His Heavenly Father and for his wife--for me. It was my husband's own idea, when we were courting, for us to join an online program that holds us accountable to each other. Gestures like this on your husband's part should be praised. They show his commitment to Christ and to you, and they should not be taken for granted.
Remember, as his wife, it is your responsibility to help your husband to keep his thoughts pure. But do not allow worry or fear to plague you. Simply do your best to help him, pray, and leave the rest to him and to God. 
If you have any other tips or advice in this area, please feel free to leave them in the comments. We, as ladies striving to be godly wives, need each other's help and support!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

5 Creative Writing Prompts for Kids

Writing is a wonderful exercise for children (and indeed, adults). It builds valuable skills such as thinking, reasoning, researching, spelling, handwriting, and expanding vocabulary. Plus, the essays and stories they come up with make special, fun keepsakes for their parents and for the children's own families someday. Try a few creative writing prompts to get kids writing! Consider letting them illustrate their compositions. It adds a whole new level of fun.

1. It is wintertime on the prairie during the days of the pioneers. You and your family live in a little log cabin, and you are snowed in. What do you do to pass the long hours? 

2. You have found a way to travel back in time. What time period would you choose to visit? Why? Who would you like to meet during your visit?

3. You live in a small farming town during the Great Depression. What do you do to help your family during these difficult times? Is there a special talent or desire God has given you that you would use?

4. You and your family visit the zoo. Your mom or dad says that you can choose one animal to take home with you to be your pet! Which animal would you choose, and why? What would you name him/her?

5. Your parents have asked you to come up with a new Christmastime tradition for your family to start. What tradition do you invent? Why?