Gift of Grace Blog Tour

Imagine yourself a typical teenager of today, with your cell phone and Ipod, going to high school and looking toward college.  With almost no warning, you are suddenly whisked away to an Old Order Amish community, with no electricity, telephones, or automobiles.

New Zondervan author Amy Clipston explores that premise in the first book of her "Kauffman Amish Bakery Series."  After receiving an advance copy of A Gift of Grace from BlogTourSpot.com to review for this week's blog tour, I can't wait for the second installment!    

When Rebecca Kauffman's "English" sister and brother-in-law are killed in a traffic accident, Rebecca's two teenaged nieces come to live with her in her Lancaster County Amish community . Unable to have children of their own, Rebecca and her husband Daniel now have an "instant family".  While one sister acclimates quickly to the Old Order culture, the other rebels at the unwelcome restrictions.  Rebecca finds herself torn between abiding by her sister's wishes that the girls be raised in the culture she rejected and her husband's insistance that the girls will never fit in and in fact threaten the Kauffman's place in the community.  

Rebecca's struggle to honor her sister's memory and provide a loving home for her nieces in the face of her husband's strong disapproval is heart-wrenching.  The way Clipston chose to resolve that struggle was not what I expected...and I liked that.  At times in Christian fiction...even good Christian fiction...the ending is rather predictable.  It was a pleasant surprise to find I didn't have this one figured out from the start. :)  

Clipston writes about difficult issues and emotions without coming across as "heavy".   When God's will and our plans collide, the results are often painful, but A Gift of Grace spotlights the hope that comes when we stop fighting His plan, and instead embrace it.  Clipston says, " Sometimes we may be convinced God has forgotten us or that what we’re experiencing isn’t part of His plan. However, things may not go the way we’d hoped, but God is always in control.  "  She speaks as one who has experienced trials...her family is currently awaiting her husband's second kidney transplant, about which she says, "God has been teaching me a whole lot about having patience and giving my burdens up to Him... It’s been a very long and difficult road with my husband’s illness, but prayer and faith have been my companions."

For more reviews of A Gift of Grace, visit the other participants in the Blog Tour Spot tour.  


Simple Woman's Daybook...Finally Back :)

I cannot believe it's been over two weeks since I've posted here!  It's certainly not been from lack of content...my "To Blog" list gets longer and longer by the day.    And "there hasn't been time" really isn't accurate, either.  While there have been some busy days in the past few weeks, and lots of unexpected issues cropping up here and there, there *has* been down time occasionally when I would normally have been blogging.   "Massive brain fog" is probably the best explanation.  The mental energy to sit down and form thoughts into typed words has completely eluded me.  Any attempt at serious thought in the past few weeks has brought with it the feeling that I am trying to swim through a sea of jello.  

The brain fog is still there, but *hopefully* is beginning to lift a bit (it had better be, or my family is in big trouble! ;-))  I *must* get busy on this "To Blog" list...partcularly two book reviews that *must* be posted this week (watch for a review of the first book of a great new Amish fiction series, and a *very* late review on the very intriguing Flickering Pixels.)

In the meantime, I thought I'd ease back in with a Daybook post....:-)

For Today... April 27, 2009

Outside my window... still no rain, despite an 80% chance of rain/storms last night and today.  A little rain would be fine, but I'm praying that the  storms and heavy rains don't materialize this week.  We'll see.  It looks like the clouds could burst any moment. 

I am thinking... many jumbled thoughts on every topic imaginable.   I'm really hoping to sort some of them out this morning!

From the learning rooms... We have a basket full of library books we need to finish getting through, a new math  curriculum (yay!!) to start, and a strong need to get back on schedule and STAY there.   We're also going to be doing some extra study on nutrition  in the next few weeks...I need to pull out that material and get "lessons" organized. :)

I am thankful for... my husband.  I am thankful for the way he takes care of me and of our family.  I'm thankful for the ways he has once again picked
 up the slack this last week as I haven't been quite up to par physically.  

...my children.  They, too, have had a lot put on them this week.  I appreciate their sweet spirits and willingness to jump in and help (*most* of the time!

...friends.  And the ways they are *always* there to help carry the burdens, even when they are carrying huge loads of their own.  

...music.   I am *still* amazed at how God always puts just the music I need to hear in my path at just the right time.  

From the kitchen... I'm thankful for the bulk cooking I was able to do week before last...and hoping that I'll be able to finish that this week. 
I am reading... Just Jane, by Nancy Moser (one of my favorite fiction authors).   It is a fictionalized account of Jane  Austen's life, and I'm really enjoying it so far.   

My non-fiction reading has been spotty lately...the brain  fog makes non-fiction reading a bit of a challenge. :)  I'm hoping to get back to my "stack" this week and post a  "Book Bit" or two.   I did start a new Bible Study last week that I am really excited about...The One True God, by Paul Washer.  You can download the whole book in PDF format free here
I am hoping... that the predicted storms end up being gentle rain, instead. :)  

I am creating... a place to create!  Bayley helped me get one half of the dining room sorted, purged, and organized; we are hoping to get the other side (the crafty side :)) done
 this week.  I'm so ready to get back to creative projects!

I am praying...  for dear friends going through major trials right now...that God will bless and provide abundantly, and that He will use me to help bear their burdens in even a fraction of the ways they have helped bear mine,  

...for a friend having surgery later this week,

...for God's continually perfect timing and  provision in our lives,

...for wisdom, discipline, diligence, and for my focus to constantly be on Him, and not on circumstances or feelings.
Around the house... Lots of work to do in the kitchen today!!  Billy started what was supposed to be a "quick, minor  plumbing fix" yesterday before I got the kitchen cleaned up from lunch (and the meat I had cooked, divided, and put away at midnight the night  before...eek), and it turned into a bit more than quick and minor. ;-)   Not only did it take much longer than he expected (including multiple trips to the hardware store while the  plumbing lay in the middle of the kitchen floor :)), but I ended up not being able to run water in there all afternoon and evening.   But I now have the official okay to do the  dishes...thank goodness!  I never realized how much I appreciated my kitchen sink! :)  (AND my handy husband!)

One of my favorite things... watching Billy and our children together.  People constantly comment on what a "natural"  or "hands-on" dad Billy is...and I am so thankful that no matter what happens, I know that he can and will take care of our  children as well (and probably better!) than I do.   If you want to make him really mad, say that he is "babysitting" when I'm not here (but be prepared for a good Italian tongue-lashing when you do! ;-))   He is my children's hero...and mine!

A few plans for the rest of the week...
 An appointment this afternoon, then hopefully a calm, quiet, *ordinary* week of school, church, chores, etc.

Here is a picture thought I am sharing with you...

Billy and the kids doing some "spring planting" last week.   "The rest of the story", and more pictures will hopefully be the subject of their own blog post soon. :)

For more Daybook entries, visit Peggy at The Simple Woman's Daybook.  


Booking Through Thursday...

I thought this week's Booking Through Thursday question was interesting...

Here’s the question:

Some people read one book at a time. Some people have a number of them on the go at any given time, perhaps a reading in bed book, a breakfast table book, a bathroom book, and so on, which leads me to…

  1. Are you currently reading more than one book?
  2. If so, how many books are you currently reading?
  3. Is this normal for you?
  4. Where do you keep your current reads?
As I've mentioned before, I tend to read my non-fiction in "stacks".   Here are my answers:

1. Yes.

2. One fiction, and a whole stack of non-fiction.  

3. Yes.   I always seem to have a stack of non-fiction I'm working my way through, and at least one fiction book.   The fiction book is almost always bedtime reading.  Usually I breeze through them in a few days at most; the odd thing about my current reading is that I have been trying to finish my fiction book (The Edge of Recall, by Kristen Heitzman) for *weeks*.    It's slow going when you keep falling asleep after a page and a half!  

4. Current fiction book is on my nightstand.  Current non-fiction is *supposed* to be on a shelf on my desk.  However, my desk is presently a sea of chaos, and my "stack" at this point has outgrown my desk. ;-)   Oh...and I almost always have a book or two in my bag...in the words of one of my favorite "Pieces of Flair" on Facebook, "Always carry a book...you never know when you will need it."  There is nothing worse than being stuck in a drive-thru, or waiting for someone in the van, and having nothing to read! :)

Here's my current non-fiction "stack":

Do you read more than one book at a time?  What are you reading right now?  I'd love to hear...leave me a comment!  To see more, visit the Booking Through Thursday site.  


Thankful for the Word..

This was actually supposed to be *last* Thursday's Thankful Thursday post.  Occasionally I will have a strong urge to write a particular post, have it practically composed in my mind, but be prevented from actually getting it typed out for a period of time no matter how hard I try.  And then suddenly "It's time."  And I realize at that point that there is a reason God has blocked my posting earlier...because I need to be reflecting on those thoughts *now*.   That is definitely the case with this one.

Last Thursday morning I woke up thinking about this verse...

"For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." 
 Hebrews 4:12

The night before, I had had one of those "take your breath away" moments, when God allows you to see His glory more vividly than usual.  Bro. Kent's sermon the previous Sunday (from John 21:1-14) had been one of those that seemed that it had been written *just for me*.   I had been struggling for direction in a difficult and critical situation...a situation in which it was more obvious than usual that we could not make a decision in our own wisdom...it was crucial that we *know* we were following God's plan and not our own.  I was "chomping at the bit" to move, feeling a completely unsettled need to act.   At the same time, I kept remembering our commitment throughout the whole long situation not to take a single step without definite, unmistakeable guidance.   And as much as my mind was screaming "act", a still, small voice (1 Kings 19:12) was saying, "Be still, and know that I am God."  (Isa. 46:10)

And in the midst of this tug of war between "acting" and "being still", I ended up sitting in the Sunday morning service listening to Bro. Kent preach on "waiting on God in uncertain times". Here are a few tidbits from my notes...

* "What next? Do we keep waiting on God, or do we do something?"   
* Sometimes that is where God puts us..."just waiting", for a long time.
* God calls us to trust Him in uncertain times. 
* When the Lord has given us instructions, to do anything else is sure failure.
* Sometimes God says, "Wait," and if that is what He has told you to do...then WAIT.  Continue to do what you know He wants you to do, even in little ways, and otherwise, just wait. 
* God calls us to trust in Jesus.  Our tendency in difficult times is often to pull back. Don't pull back!  Run to Him.  
* Remain faithful to your prayer life, and don't allow troubling circumstances to take your eyes off of Him.

I was completely overcome, sitting in the pew scribbling notes as fast as I could scribble, with the thought that God's plan in the situation at hand was to work in a way that there was no doubt in anyone's mind that it was "all Him", that it had nothing to do with any wisdom, abilities, or actions on the part of men.  

And so, we waited.  And God acted.  And sure enough, there was no doubt in our minds that it was "all Him".  We were completely blown away at the unexpected turn of events that was obviously entirely orchestrated by God.  

I shared with our pastor what an impact that sermon had had on me, and his reply about God's direction in that sermon instantly brought to mind those words from Hebrews 4:12.  Looking back at the way that God had used His Word so directly, so pointedly, so "relevant-ly" did take my breath away.  I've pondered them at various times in the last week, as I've thought about that sermon and others over the past few years that have been "just exactly what I needed" at that particular time.  To fully understand that, you have to realize that our pastor has been preaching through the book of John on Sunday mornings for almost 4 years.   (I think we are actually within a few sermons of the end.:-))  I was no stranger to the merits of expository preaching prior to Bro. Kent's arrival, but I have been *so* completely amazed at the way God has spoken directly to whatever has been happening in *my* life at that *exact* moment as we have travelled through the book of John.  And I know that that is not only the case for me, but for others as well.  His Word is truly living and active

Today, we find ourselves in *wait* mode again.  You would think, so soon after God had shown His power and glory in an awesome way, the waiting would be easy.  I keep telling myself it should be.  But...I still struggle with contentment in His timing.  I find myself needing the reminder from His Word, and from reflection on His Work in our lives, all over again.   As I was preparing this post and going back through my notes from last week, I came across this article, found during last week's study on "waiting".   It's a long read, but excellent, especially for anyone going through a time of trial or waiting on the Lord.  

God's Word is truly living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword.  I am so thankful this morning for His Word.  I am so thankful for pastors and others who are so faithful to teach and preach the truth of the Word, without apology.  I am so thankful for the stack of Bibles beside me on my desk...in various translations and formats.  I am thankful for websites like BibleGateway, where with a few clicks of a button we can find any verse, or verses on any topic, in a multitude of translations and languages.  I am thankful for an intimate, personal God who cares about every detail of our lives, and who speaks to us directly, through His Word.  I'm thankful for the fact that even this morning as I've been working on this post, He has again, and again, and again, shown the truth of this verse, and given much-needed guidance for the moment at hand and the days ahead.  

For more Thankful Thursdays, please visit Laurie's blog


Sticks and Stones

When I received my review copy of Ace Collins's book Sticks and Stones: Using Your Words as a Positive Force, I had plenty of time, I thought, to read the book, write my review, and have it posted by the deadline...April 3.   As often happens, life went in directions I hadn't planned, and my reading of the book was interrupted at the second chapter.   No problem, I thought this week...it's a small book, easy reading, I'll be able to speed through it in plenty of time to post.  

The only problem was, there *was* a problem...Collins's little book is too captivating to "speed through".  The premise of the book is certainly not new:  We use 30,000 words a day.  We have a choice to make them count, to have a positive impact on those around us...and ourselves.  But Collins has a way of taking familiar thoughts...the importance of saying thank you, the impact of a simple smile, the healing properties of laughter, the significance of "being there" for those who are grieving...and weaving  a fascinating blend of "simple action points and colorful stories" that urged me to take my time, settle into my comfy chair, and savor each chapter.

I found myself thinking back to words that have impacted me over the years, and the people who said them.  Words that have stuck with me long after they ever remembered they said them, I'm sure.  As I read Collins's chapter on "Greetings", I thought of a hospital janitor whose name I don't know, but whose smile and friendly greetings I remember 23 years later.   As I walked up and down familiar hospital halls during my grandfather's last agonizing hospitalization...when the news on his condition went from bad to worse as the days progressed...he would look up from his work with a big smile, ask me how I was, and then tell me, "I'm praying for your people!"  

The chapter "Should We Be So Forward?" (about email) made me think back to the days just before and just after my dad died.  A close friend and I did much of our communication by email in those days, and her emails were full of words of encouragement, scripture verses,  and things to make me smile.  When my computer crashed a few years later, those emails were the greatest loss I grieved.   

I was reminded of another close friend as I read the chapter "I Don't Know What to Say".  No matter how difficult the situation, she always has the right words...and she's not afraid to say them.  She puts her heart and her prayers into those words, and she has talked me through some deeply difficult days.  

As a sometimes-professional scrapbooker and scrapbooking instructor, I almost wondered if he had been listening in on some of my long-ago classes when I read his chapter "Write It Down". Powerful thoughts there on topics that are a "soap-box" for me! 

I laughed, I was moved to tears by some of his stories, and most of all, I was convicted to examine (and change!) the ways I use my words and the kind of impact they have on those around me.   I was also reminded of many who have blessed me with their words (and impressed that it's time to send a few thank you notes!)