Sunday, February 11, 2018

On How Remembering Well Can Actually Bring Us to Our Best Places

I didn't know what to expect when my friend Renee and I bundled up and drove up north to the shores of Lake Michigan for a writers retreat that spanned the better part of four days. 

And to be honest, I didn't really care as long as my time included good conversation with Renee (and hopefully other friends attending) and sleep, glorious uninterrupted sleep. 

But God, God was up to a lot more in my life than just sleep and good conversation that weekend, though both of those gifts were included in my time away. While Renee and I were sitting in our cabin, listening to the waves crash on the sandy shore just outside of our windows, we began talking about the challenges that come along with meaningful writing, and at one point one of us said to the other something like, "maybe we just need to stop and reflect on who God really is ..." We sat quietly for a bit, waves churning outside, and reflected on that before conversation resumed. 

After we left the shores of Lake Michigan, I thought long and hard about the true character of God for weeks. Not long after the retreat, Renee wrote me and shared she had been writing day after day after day of a devotion about God's character, and the words just kept coming, they just kept flowing and would I edit this project? 

I don't always know answers to these kinds of questions immediately, but I knew in my spirit it was a yes moment. I knew God was speaking to my own heart about His character, about knowing and also remembering who He actually is; remembering God's character actually gives us strength for each moment we face, peace for each new day and an anchoring love for times of hardship as well as celebration ... so as Renee finished writing, I began editing.

Most of the time when I edit a project, I distance myself from it so I can see what works, what doesn't and deliver honest questions and feedback along with in-depth proofing for mistakes. When I edit I like to do this all in a timely manner. 

Try as I may to distance myself from each day of the devotional while editing, I just couldn't. All I could do was allow God to draw me deeper into knowing His character. It took me double the time to edit because while I was editing God was editing in my heart my understanding of Him, inviting me into a deeper relationship with Him.

Soon Renee will be releasing a 14-day study,  illuminate: seeing God by the Light of His Word. I can't say enough about illuminate, and not just because I had a small part in working on it -- but rather because God used illuminate to work in my own heart, drawing me closer to His heart of love.

There is great power in knowing God and in remembering who God really is; it's life changing when we slow down long enough to soak in more of His heart of love because His love is the kind of love that truly changes the map of our hearts. I pray you're as blessed by these 14 days of journeying closer to the Father's heart as I have been.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Books I Actually Look Forward to Reading with Our Kids

My husband would do almost anything in the name of love-- including hauling huge, back-creakingly heavy boxes from my mother's basement into our new dwelling when we were first married.

The contents?

Mostly my beloved childhood books. To be specific, mostly Ann M. Martin's The Babysitters Club series. 

I could not get enough of those books; I devoured them, reading and rereading them at school, during breakfast, at recess, during class, while I was supposed to be showering, until all hours of the night. I read, reread and reread.

Now that's a good book. 

All five of my kids love a good story, and three of our children are like me, easily wooed into a good book and willing to forsake all else to flip just one more page. 

While their books of choice don't usually excite me, much like I'm sure The Babysitters Club never excited my parents, I'm glad they read and have the pleasure of getting lost in another world of thought and story for awhile. As little kids, I read to them long and often, and now that they are older, I long to share the love of a good story together. 

This often has me on the hunt for books that are good for the whole family to read aloud together, and thankfully, I haven't had to hunt too hard for stories that draw both the children and me into them! Just to repeat -- these stories have drawn me in as well. They are page-turners even adults enjoy while still being appropriate for our younger audiences!

Here are some of my favorite stories we've read together (our boys are ages 8 and 10, and our girls are ages 6, 16 and 17; I'll note who has read what together.)

The Complete Brambly Hedge, Jill Barklem (series; read with our 6, 8 and 10 year olds)

There is nothing better than snuggling in at the end of the day together and reading the adventures of the Brambly Hedge mice! 
The stories are sweet tales detailing the seasons, relationships and celebrations held within the Brambly Hedge community of mice. The interactions between the mice are lively, often witty and filled with kindness and respect. We've often giggled at the humor of the stories and gotten lost in the beautifully detailed drawings of the mice's homes and festivities. I also adore the poetry and blessings woven into the stories of the mice's festivities.

The Green Ember, S.D. Smith (series of four books; read with our 8 and 10 year olds and the teens linger loooooong whenever they are home and I'm reading these tales!)

Brother and sister duo, Picket and Heather, are ordinary young rabbits growing up amid the fields of Nick Hollow quietly tucked away by their parents from the dangers of a chaotic world. As the two young rabbits are out playing a game of speed and determination one day, their whole world is turned upside down by an attack on their home by the Lords of Prey. Heather and Picket are saved from captivity by two unlikely heroes and soon become heroes themselves as a tale of  working toward The Mended Wood unfolds. With well developed characters, an interesting story line and beautifully complex themes, this book series quenches our thirst for a good story. 

My children beg, honestly beg, me to read just one more chapter at the end of each chapter. We flew through the first book, The Green Ember, and we are now half way through the second book Ember Falls. Honestly, when they beg me to read one more chapter, I delightfully oblige whenever possible. Homeschool tip: As we have read these books, we have also worked through what it means to be a hero and untangled some of the many emerging themes of loyalty, bravery and doing the right thing even when it's tough. 

The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis (series; read with our 8 and 10 year olds; teens would enjoy it, too)

A favorite of my husband from his own younger years, I was excited to read these tales but also a little reluctant at first because I wasn't sure our boys would quite be able to follow them. However, even at the young ages of 6 and 10, they loved every chapter of the tale of another, otherly world in which good and evil are rivaling and friendships are forged amid the most harrowing of tales. 

Beautifully imagined and expressed, The Chronicles of Narnia stories follow us around and remind us of truths at the best times. We often use the tales and characters to illustrate ideas and thoughts we have circling in our heads, and we return again and again back to these stories as we think on friendships, adventures and hardships in our daily lives. 

Fudge, Judy Blume (series; listened to on audio books with our 8 and 10 year olds)

I had fond memories of the Fudge books from when I was growing up; listening to them as an adult made me both gasp and laugh at the same time. I'll start with the laughter because I think the general tone of fun and silly outweighs the gasping parts. The spirit of fun in the Fudge books completely comes to life through the little-brother character, Fudge. I honestly laugh out loud listening to the boys giggle along with Fudge's antics, including when Fudge eats older brother, Peter's turtle, and when Fudge becomes the proud owner of Uncle Feather, who is a bird, but is mistaken for a real missing uncle when the family is on vacation.

The only thing I will say as a word of warning, the gasp factor, is that older brother Peter uses the word "stupid" a lot, and He also talks to his little brother and parents somewhat disrespectfully ... so we have had a lot of conversations about the proper use of the word stupid and the kind and respectful way to speak to those around us. 

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp (read with our teens)

Read during the holiday season, but honestly could be enjoyed year round, The Greatest Gift is a beautifully illustrated story of how all the stories in the Bible a connected by thread to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Our teens generally enjoy the book, and they have learned a great deal about how the Old Testament stories are part of one big story, a story we are a part of, too. The colorful art is such a great part of this book, and every time I look at it, I catch something new. 

Love Does, Bob Goff (read with our boys, but our 8 and 10 year olds; teens would enjoy it, too)

Love Does is a fun, engaging, page-turning read of complied real-life stories by lawyer, human-rights advocate and follower of Jesus, Bob Goff. 

Goff tells incredible, true stories of audacious love and inspiring kindness and acts of true friendship in his laugh-out-loud way. It's completely inspiring; it feels like reading the best letter from that one friend who is always moving from one big adventure to another. This book is a great way to bring a lot of fun and a good bit of wisdom into the home!