Tuesday, April 6, 2021

An Abbreviated List From My TBR Pile

Do you have a TBR pile? You know, the books 'to-be-read'? These days, my list seems to be growing faster than I'm reading, and it's been a while since I've shared some of the fiction books I'm looking forward to reading when I finish the semester. 

Here are a few at the top of my TBR Pile from books out in the last year(ish) that I want to catch up on soon. I've provided the back-cover copy from the publisher. 

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1. The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner. 

April 18, 1906: A massive earthquake rocks San Francisco just before daybreak, igniting a devouring inferno. Lives are lost, lives are shattered, but some rise from the ashes forever changed.

Sophie Whalen is a young Irish immigrant so desperate to get out of a New York tenement that she answers a mail-order bride ad and agrees to marry a man she knows nothing about. San Francisco widower Martin Hocking proves to be as aloof as he is mesmerizingly handsome. Sophie quickly develops deep affection for Kat, Martin's silent five-year-old daughter, but Martin's odd behavior leaves her with the uneasy feeling that something about her newfound situation isn't right.

Then one early-spring evening, a stranger at the door sets in motion a transforming chain of events. Sophie discovers hidden ties to two other women. The first, pretty and pregnant, is standing on her doorstep. The second is hundreds of miles away in the American Southwest, grieving the loss of everything she once loved.

The fates of these three women intertwine on the eve of the devastating earthquake, thrusting them onto a perilous journey that will test their resiliency and resolve and, ultimately, their belief that love can overcome fear.

From the acclaimed author of The Last Year of the War and As Bright as Heaven comes a gripping novel about the bonds of friendship and mother love, and the power of female solidarity.

2. Before I Called You Mine by Nicole Deese

Lauren Bailey may be a romantic at heart, but after a decade of matchmaking schemes gone wrong, there's only one match she's committed to now--the one that will make her a mother. Lauren is a dedicated first-grade teacher in Idaho, and her love for children has led her to the path of international adoption. To satisfy her adoption agency's requirements, she gladly agreed to remain single for the foreseeable future; however, just as her long wait comes to an end, Lauren is blindsided by a complication she never saw coming: Joshua Avery.

Joshua may be a substitute teacher by day, but Lauren finds his passion for creating educational technology as fascinating as his antics in the classroom. Though she does her best to downplay the undeniable connection between them, his relentless pursuit of her heart puts her commitment to stay unattached to the test and causes her once-firm conviction to waver.

With an impossible decision looming, Lauren might very well find herself choosing between the two deepest desires of her heart . . . even if saying yes to one means letting go of the other.

3. Autumn Skies by Denise Hunter

From the bestselling author of The Convenient Groom and A December Bride (now beloved Hallmark Original movies) comes the third and final novel in the Bluebell Inn series!

When a mysterious man turns up at Grace’s family-run inn, it’s instant attraction. But she’s already got a lot on her plate: running the Bluebell Inn, getting Blue Ridge Outfitters off the ground, and coping with a childhood event she’d thought was long past.

A gunshot wound has resurrected the past for secret service agent Wyatt Jennings, and a mandatory leave of absence lands him in Bluebell, North Carolina. There he must try and come to grips with the crisis that altered his life forever.

Grace needs experience for her new outfitters business, so when Wyatt needs a mountain guide, she’s more than happy to step up to the plate. As their journey progresses, Grace soon has an elusive Wyatt opening up, and Wyatt is unwittingly drawn to Grace’s fresh outlook and sense of humor.

There’s no doubt the two have formed a special bond, but will Wyatt’s secrets bring Grace’s world crashing down? Or will those secrets end up healing them both?

4. The Restoration of Celia Fairchild by Marie Bostwick 

Evvie Drake Starts Over meets The Friday Night Knitting Club in this wise and witty novel about a fired advice columnist who discovers lost and found family members in Charleston, by the New York Times bestselling author of The Second Sister.

Celia Fairchild, known as advice columnist ‘Dear Calpurnia’, has insight into everybody’s problems – except her own. Still bruised by the end of a marriage she thought was her last chance to create a family, Celia receives an unexpected answer to a “Dear Birthmother” letter. Celia throws herself into proving she’s a perfect adoptive mother material – with a stable home and income – only to lose her job. Her one option: sell the Charleston house left to her by her recently departed, estranged Aunt Calpurnia. 

Arriving in Charleston, Celia learns that Calpurnia had become a hoarder, the house is a wreck, and selling it will require a drastic, rapid makeover. The task of renovation seems overwhelming and risky. But with the help of new neighbors, old friends, and an unlikely sisterhood of strong, creative women who need her as much as she needs them, Celia knits together the truth about her estranged family — and about herself.

The Restoration of Celia Fairchild is an unforgettable novel of secrets revealed, laughter released, creativity rediscovered, and waves of wisdom by a writer Robyn Carr calls "my go-to author for feel-good novels.”

5. Facing the Dawn by Cynthia Ruchti 

While her humanitarian husband Liam has been digging wells in Africa, Mara Jacobs has been struggling. She knows she's supposed to feel a warm glow that her husband is nine time zones away, caring for widows and orphans. But the reality is that she is exhausted, working a demanding yet unrewarding job, trying to manage their three detention-prone kids, failing at her to-repair list, and fading like a garment left too long in the sun.

Then Liam's three-year absence turns into something more, changing everything and plunging her into a sunless grief. As Mara struggles to find her footing, she discovers that even when hope is tenuous, faith is fragile, and the future is unknown, we can be sure we are not forgotten . . . or unloved.

With emotionally evocative prose that tackles tough topics with tenderness and hope, award-winning author Cynthia Ruchti invites you on a journey of the heart you won't soon forget.



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What about you, friends? What are you reading right now? What's on your TBR pile? 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

A Year of Freedom

Since 2013, I have asked the Lord to give me a word for each year. This year, I compiled those words in one place—and then sat in awe as I reflected on all the ways the Lord had brought that word to pass, some of which I couldn’t have seen until now.
2013 – brave: The year we moved to Plainview, and I learned how to make new friends. Again.

2014 – grace: The year of multiple failed fertility treatments, including two failed IVF rounds.

2015 – hope: The year I lost all hope in God’s plans for our family.

2016 – redeem: The year He began to heal me and rebuild my faith.

2017 – peace: The year of chaos and changes.

2018 – anticipation: The year He told us a baby was coming in 2019.

2019 – promises fulfilled: The year He brought our precious miracle.

2020 – joy: The year in which I experienced great loss and pain, and yet so much joy.

My word for 2021 is freedom.

Free from fear. Free from offense. Free from other people’s opinions.

Freedom in Christ comes after the good and hard work of healing.


This week, the Lord brought me back to an old blog post I wrote to remind me that He’s healing those places in me that were sad and broken and wounded in 2020.


“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Ps. 147:3

Heals = râphâh – lit. to mend (by stitching); fig. to cure, heal, repair, make whole

Binds = châbash – to wrap firmly

I love the word pictures in this verse. The word for heal here literally means to stitch or to mend, so when it says God heals the brokenhearted, it means He takes our hearts, and He sews the pieces back together; He carefully, meticulously stitches the broken seams, the tattered and torn places of our hearts.

I don’t sew, but having watching my sister sew (she’s amazing at it!), I know it requires precision and accuracy—it cannot be rushed. And to stitch, to make repairs by hand, is an even slower process. So this work that God is doing when He is healing our broken hearts: it’s careful, it’s calculated—and it’s slow.

But the end result is beautiful because within this same word, râphâh, it means to make whole. So He doesn’t just start stitching and mending and then set us aside to work on someone else. No, He carefully holds our hearts in His hand, and with needle and thread, He sews, He stitches, He mends our brokenness—until we are whole, until we are healed.

The other verb here—to bind—is equally as tender. Literally, this means to wrap up, and the Lord gave me this beautiful picture of taping an ankle that’s been broken or sprained. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the chance to practice wrapping someone’s ankle (or even harder—your own!), such as for an athletic event, but let me tell you, it’s not easy! Those who are skilled in taping ankles will tell you it takes a lot of practice. And what I’ve learned is that there is a definite pattern and technique. You can’t just wrap the tape like so—you have to follow an order, a pattern so that the ankle is tight and secure. Wrapping of this kind is an art.

And in the same way, the Lord takes our wounds, and again, He skillfully and knowingly wraps them; He binds them up in the perfect way, to keep the wound covered, secure, and in place. His binding of our wounds is His protection. He doesn’t leave our wounds gaping open. No, He tenderly wraps them as He knows how and allows our wounds to heal under His protective covering. This, too, takes time.

The beauty of râphâh and châbash is that He holds my heart—and because He mends the brokenhearted, because He binds up the wounded, I am safe and free. This is why the psalmists declare over and over that He is our safe place, our hiding place, our shelter, our protection, our covering.

He holds me and secures me and covers me and protects me—so that I can be free to fully live. Free to fully give. Free to fully believe Him, unrestricted, uninhibited. Because to really believe Him for the desires of our heart—whatever that desire may be—is always a risk, and it’s costly. But, really, it’s a safe bet—even if it doesn’t feel like it:

Because He is for me.

Because He is with me.

Because in Him, I am safe and covered.

In Him, I am free.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021


Proverbs 13:3
I saw a meme the other day that said, “You don’t always have to tell your side of the story.”

Isn’t that the truth? But it’s oh, so hard.

A person who doesn’t feel the need to defend herself is someone who has complete and utter security in the Lord. Someone who knows she’s a daughter of the king, righteous, and accepted. Someone full of grace and power and position.

I want to be that person.

All too often, I’m quick to defend, quick to justify—even if only in my head.

And when I do open my mouth to share my defense, I usually end up adding a line or two that I regret.


The root of defensiveness is insecurity, and the root of insecurity is a missing or mistaken identity.

We’ve misidentified who God is—and who He says we are.

Over and over again, the Word tells us He is our defender, our protector, our shield, our salvation. He is our refuge, our hiding place, our strong tower, our shelter.

He never asked us to self-protect.

He might give us wisdom to set boundaries. And certainly He’s asked us to guard our hearts, which is an action on our part.

But overwhelmingly in Scripture, we see that He is the one who fights for us (Exodus 14:14), who places a shield around us (Psalm 3:3), who hems us in, behind and before (Psalm 139:5).

Right now, there’s so much noise in the world, so many people trying to tell their side of the story.

Sometimes all we need to do is listen. And in listening, we find empathy and compassion and a capacity to love as Christ does.

My parents were big on having us memorize Bible verses when we got in trouble. These two have stayed with me (maybe because most of my tallies in elementary school were for talking J):

“Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life” (Proverbs 13:3).

“Whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19).

We don’t have to open our mouths every time we feel threatened by what someone else says. We don’t have to give our opinion just because someone has a different one. And we don’t always have to defend our position. Because, let’s face it, sometimes we are wrong.

And sometimes, even when we’re right, we might win in the long run by listening first.

So, let’s be prudent, life-preserving people who walk in the security and confidence of our Christ-given identity and who bring life and joy to the world around us.


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

"It Won't Always Be Like This"

“It won’t always be like this.”

These words God deposited in my heart when our baby girl was a few days old, eating around the clock every two or three hours, which meant I was sleeping in thirty- to forty-minute increments.

Little did I know then that this phrase would become a mantra for other areas of my life.

When I'm recovering from surgery, or suffering through COVID, or experiencing (most recently) food poisoning: “It won’t always be like this.”

When our girl is teething, or coughing, or going through a developmental leap, and our (normally) good sleeper spends a few nights in the chair with mommy, I tell myself: “It won’t always be like this.”

Those tough first weeks with a newborn morph into four- and five- and six-hour stretches of sleep (and now our girl sleeps ten or eleven hours… *high five!*), and the sleep-deprived days are memories we joke about with a hint of pride for our survival skills.

God’s words to me are both an encouragement (“this is temporary”) and a caution (“don’t wish away this season”).

I’ve always heard women say they forget the pain from childbirth—like it’s this supernatural thing God does in our minds so that we’ll continue to procreate.

As a pregnant woman, I received this with skepticism, and now, about 15 months after my first childbirth experience, I understand what they mean.

It’s not that I’ve forgotten the 21-hour, all-natural delivery, but I don’t really remember the pain. It’s like a blurred scene on the film strip of my memory.

Howell remembers that day far more vividly than I do—and I think he’s a bit scarred by it. I can’t even recall the intensity of the contractions. Certainly I remember having them, but I can’t conjure up what they felt like. And I remember that it hurt at the end, but it seems so brief, so passing because moments later, I held my baby girl, and none of it mattered.

That experience was less than 24 hours. Somedays when I remember we spent almost a decade waiting for our girl, it, too, feels like a blink in time.

Not then, of course. But now—on this side of it.

I’ve found that my greatest defense against discouragement in a tough season is to remember. While the pain, the suffering, even the intensity of time—minutes, hours, days, years passing—fades, what remains in my memory is God’s faithfulness.

It stands out above the noise.

Time and again, I remember what He has done for me.

God’s word calls our affliction “light” and “momentary” (2 Cor. 4:17), and I’m sure Paul’s suffering goes far beyond anything I’ve experienced. (In fact, that sort of perspective is good to hang on to.)

Paul goes on to tell us to focus on what is unseen, the eternal, rather than the temporary (2 Cor. 4:18).


 
Peter says it like this: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Notice that our faith is more precious than gold that perishes. Gold sounds temporal, huh?

But faith—that’s among the things unseen, the things eternal.

His words to me are true: “It won’t always be like this.”

Today I can hardly believe our miracle girl is running all over the house, holding her baby doll, and playing “pretend” with her as she rocks her and feeds her the Cheerios from her snack cup. The girl I spent weeks feeding around the clock now holds a fork and feeds herself. And the nights that felt hard are forgotten, replaced by the warmth of my bed and the comfort of my husband.

If you’ve been grieved by various trials, my friend, if it feels hot under the fire right now, don’t lose heart.

Whatever we are going through is temporary. It might be over in an hour, or a day, or a week, or a year. Even if it takes years upon years, our circumstances are still temporary.

So let’s fix our minds on Christ, on the things of the Spirit, which are life and peace (Ro. 8:6).

Let’s ask God to give us His eternal perspective.

And let’s remember all the times He’s been faithful before to bolster our faith that He will do it again.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Question



While recently reading a fiction book for the general market, I came across a bit of dialogue in which one character asks the other whether he believes in God. He hedges something like, sometimes, but not always, to which she replies, “I do.”

But then she goes on to say that as she grew older, the relationship she once enjoyed as a child, she now didn’t. And her reason: “I thought I understood the way things were supposed to work, but as I grew older, I realized I didn’t.”

She continues her speech to reveal one key reason for her disconnect from God as an adult: “Why would God, who’s supposed to be all good and loving, allow innocent people to suffer?”

This is the question that I think everyone—believer or non-believer—has to, at some point, grapple with.

This character ultimately feels both hopeless and unhappy as she attempts to reconcile her current situation with God’s Word—and the Bible falls short, she says. For this reason, we see her abandon her faith.

As I read this passage, something deep in my soul stirred, so I marked it. The depth of that fictional—and secular—conversation required more thought, more time.

I think the question—posed often in another form as “Why do bad things happen to good people?”—needs to be asked in a different way.

How do we discern what is from God?

When formed this way, I believe the Bible not only gives us hope but also gives us an answer—one we choose to believe by faith in His nature.

So, my answer?

If it is good, it is from God. His Word tells us He gives good gifts (Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13; James 1:17).

God, by His nature, cannot give us evil gifts. It is not who He is.

This is the first response I would give to this character—that she has lost her hope and her happiness because she’s begun to doubt the very nature of God, His goodness.

When we come to a place where we doubt God’s goodness, then what we see around us determines how we define God and His kingdom. It becomes impossible to separate what we are experiencing (our circumstances) from our certainty or security in God’s love for us, for humanity. 

If He is not good, He is also not loving. If He’s neither loving nor good, then He is easy to blame for all of our bad circumstances, all accounts of evil, all of mankind’s failures.

But He is good. One of my favorite verses is Psalm 119:68, which tells us God is good and what He does is good.





It is who He is—and the only way to crawl out of the pit of hopelessness is to believe this truth.

When we do, it changes our perspective. It changes how we view and answer the rest of this character’s question—why do the innocent suffer? Or, put another way, why do bad things happen to good people?

I’d argue there are three possible reasons—all grounded in the Bible, and I’ll try to be succinct.

1. The first might be our favorite because it takes the responsibility off of us and becomes an easy scapegoat. What is this reason? The devil and his demons. But in all seriousness, the Bible is clear that we have an enemy, an adversary, and he comes “to steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). I am not a big “blame it on the Devil” person, but I also think if we don’t understand the very real and present powers of darkness that are at work (Ephesians 6:12), then we are both naïve and deceived.

2. The second is less popular because it is our responsibility, the result of our choices. Since the Garden of Eden, there have always been two choices: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16). Adam and Even chose the second tree (Genesis 3), and mankind today still chooses it, even believers. Our choices have consequences. We may be reaping what we have sown (Galatians 6:7-8). No one likes this answer, but it’s simply the truth.

God redeems us from our sin. He doesn’t punish us for our sin. The Bible is clear about that—Jesus is our atonement (Romans 3:23-25; Ephesians 1:7; 1 John 2:2).

And yet, these truths also exist. We make choices. And our choices have consequences.

3. And finally—the least popular answer, because it’s both out of our control and hard to swallow: sometimes God simply allows it. We see this play out in the book of Job (Job 2:1-10). The Word also tells us trials are for our testing (James 1:2-4), to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12-13), for our refinement (Malachi 3:3; 1 Peter 1:17), for our sanctification (John 17:17-20; Hebrews 13:12-13), for our good (Romans 8:28-30). None of these processes are easy—or fun.

The truth is, we may never know the reason why.

And let’s be clear here that even if God allows our pain, our suffering, our hard circumstances, our unfair situation—it is not from Him.

Remember, if something is from God, it is good, loving, peaceable (James 3:16-18). These are the gifts He gives. If it lines up with His nature, it is from Him.

And if you find yourself in a place that doesn’t feel good, what can you do?

I implore you, friends, don’t throw in the towel, as this character has done. Don’t abandon your relationship with your Heavenly Father.

Now, in this present circumstances, is the time to press in, to receive His love, His song over you, and to believe in His everlasting goodness and faithfulness.

Won’t you do it? Look for His goodness today.

Each good gift is like a knot on a rope, giving you a place to grip, a way to find footing as you climb out of the pit.

Keep climbing, friends. Keep gripping.