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Friday, August 30, 2013

Book Reviews: The Forever Stone, Rain Song

The Forever Stone by Gloria Repp is a good story. It’s about Madeleine Rondell, a young widow who escapes her sorrows by volunteering to help her aunt refurbish an old family house in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. There she meets old Timothy, the storekeeper who becomes her confidant. She also gathers a growing group of teens around her, adopts a wildcat, takes an online baking course, and explores the secrets of the piney woods. Madeleine encounters counterfeiting, danger, treasures (people and things), and love.

I had read some of Mrs. Repp’s children’s books and was eager to read something she wrote for adults. Even though her style is more old-fashioned and less pacey than a lot of modern writers, she weaves a very good story with many delightful details. The last chapters will have you turning pages very fast. I loved this warm story. Mrs. Repp’s style adds to its appeal. Brew yourself some coffee or tea, get cozy, and enjoy The Forever Stone.

Rain Song by Alice J. Wisler is a warm family story.  Set in Mount Olive, North Carolina—think pickles—it’s about the close McCormick family. It’s complete with a lovely matriarch who sticks religiously to her traditions, her sister, a few complicated people and infidelities, and some typically Southern food and charm. Nicole lost her mother in a house fire when she was two, and she was reared by her grandmother and loved by her aunts and the whole family. Her father couldn’t handle his wife’s death and descended into drink and despondency. Nicole meets someone online while discussing koi fish, and the friendship grows. Soon, she is asking questions she never thought she’d ask and finding out about her early childhood.

It wasn’t the plot that was intriguing about this book. It’s fairly straightforward with a few surprises. But the style . . . . All I can say is that I love Mrs. Wisler’s style! It’s folksy and fresh, first person. The motifs of pineapple chutney, cucumber sandwiches, Japan, a special doll, and fish are woven throughout the book so that it has extra meanings and cohesiveness. The child Monet, who has obvious physical issues and great artistic talent—how often the two go hand-in-hand—gives the reader a joyful release from the intense emotions we feel from Nicole, her aunt Iva, and her cousin Grable. Nicole finds many answers about her mother, father, and the lady who saved her life. Eventually, she moves on to trust and love.

I look forward to reading more of Mrs. Wisler’s books from this series, “Heart of Carolina,” and I heartily recommend this one to you.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

As a Drop in the Bucket

“A drop in the bucket” means a very small or unimportant amount.

Did you know that this saying comes from the Bible?

Here’s the passage: Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering. All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity (Isaiah 40:15-17).

What is the biblical “drop in the bucket”? The nations. They are counted to God as relatively insignificant, small dust, less than nothing, vanity. The islands are a very little thing to God! (Have you seen Australia? Greenland? Indonesia?)

God is so great that nations are small to Him.

Today, we’re watching the whole world in upheaval about possible military intervention in Syria. Nations are getting their top men together for talks and calling their parliaments for special meetings. UN investigators are on the ground. The media say war is imminent.

And, God is in control.

Way back in Daniel’s time, God let people know He was in charge of the nations: that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men (Daniel 4:17b). Daniel’s lifetime wasn’t full of righteous kings, however. There were men like Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius, and Cyrus that conquered, pillaged and ruled.

But God was in control.

Today, when the fear mongers get you shaking in your boots, remember, God is so great that these problems are little ones to Him.

It is also important that we pray for people, for leaders, and peace—keeping in mind that God wills that all would know about the truth. That’s our mission and our life.

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:2-4).

God is still in control. The nations are only a “drop in the bucket.”

Trust Him. Praise Him!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Be Like a Tree

I have a good friend who would like to fly. He watches sea gulls and wants to join them. Have you ever felt the same way? I have. The idea of soaring up above everything, riding on currents of air, with little or no effort . . . .

It’s interesting, though, that the Bible says we need to be rooted—like a tree.

Read these passages and see God’s vision for us:

Psalm 1:1-3 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Psalm 52:8 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.

Psalm 92:12-15 The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing; To shew that the LORD is upright: he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

I think we can learn something from the common thoughts in these passages:
  • The trees are alive: green, leafy, frondy (I made up that word!), and needle-y (this word, too).
  • They are planted, rooted—on a rock, in the house of God, in the courts of God.
  • They are flourishing.
  • The trees bring forth fruit, different kinds of fruit: olives, dates, berries.
  • They don’t wither or suffer weakness from old age. They seem to live on. 

What are the practical lessons for people who want to please the Lord, for us?
  • Be righteous. Keep sin confessed, and do right.
  • Delight in God’s law, God’s Word.
  • Avoid running around with sinful friends who are against God and His law.
  • Meditate on the Bible.
  • Be faithful all your life.
  • Go to church joyfully and serve the Lord there.
  • Share your faith with others. God will bring forth fruit in your life and in the lives of others. 

What does a tree look like? Here, we have at least four kinds of trees:
  1. one near a river—Surely this tree was light, airy, easily blown in the wind. It bears some kind of fruit. It’s flourishing.
  2. an olive tree—We live in Spain, so this is very familiar. Olive trees are sturdy. They last seemingly forever, are resistant to disease and fire and extreme temperatures. They are also usually somewhat irregular in shape with lots of character. The leaves are silvery green.
  3. a palm tree—Beautiful and graceful. The palm also is a hardy tree that bends in the wind and resists all but the harshest weather.
  4. a cedar of Lebanon—A huge, hardy evergreen, the cedars of Lebanon are known for their excellent wood and their longevity. The shape of a Lebanese cedar is symmetrical and elegant.

I know I would love to be a “tree” with those qualities: flourishing, fruit bearing, hardy, resistant, beautiful and graceful, with excellence inside, elegant, pleasing to the eye. When we think of these qualities spiritually, we begin to appreciate what God has in mind.

Be like a tree!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Fun Survey About Books

Thanks to one of my best-read friends, Barbara, I copied this list of questions from her blog, Stray Thoughts, that she got from Joyful Reader, who got it from Two Weeks From Everywhere. I decided to answer them myself. I hope you enjoy a little peek into my reading habits and preferences. (It’s quite a bit longer than my usual posts, so go get a cup of coffee or tea, first.) Enjoy! 
1. Favorite childhood book? Very early childhood, my hands-down favorite was Timothy Tiger by Marjorie Barrows. Later, I especially loved the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

2. What are you reading right now? The Holy Bible; Missionary: An Unexpected Journey of Following God’s Call to the Other Side of the World by Christopher Marco; A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty by Joni Eareckson Tada; and One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.
3. What books do you have on request at the library? None. I live in Spain, so the Spanish library isn’t exactly my favorite source for my reading. The truth is I’ve never gone to a library here. 
4. Bad book habit? Now, what is that supposed to mean? I don’t think I have one—unless staying up half the night to finish a book is a bad habit.
5. What do you currently have checked out at the library? Nothing. (See answer to question 3.)
6. Do you have an e-reader?  Yes, a Kindle. I LOVE it—especially since I have one of those covers with a little light, so I can read at night while my husband is asleep.
7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time or several at once? I usually read one at a time, but if the subject is heavy, I might read several—some lighter in tone than the heavy one.
8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog? Well, yes. This year (my second year of blogging), I decided to change my personal devotions routine and use several different women’s devotional books I had on hand. When I’m done, I review them on my blog. They have been a huge blessing, even though I really miss my usual reading all the way through the Bible.  
9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far)? I’d rather not name it. The book was very poorly written, probably not edited, badly organized, and the cover was inferior. I did tell the author privately that I thought she should get it edited by an expert editor.
10. Favorite book you’ve read this year? The Bible, of course. Other than the Bible, probably for content, I’d choose one that I’m reading now, A Place of Healing by Joni Eareckson Tada. For style, it’s definitely One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. It is so unique and poetic that it makes you slow down and take it in. For inspiration, the two Bible studies I’ve done by Betty Henderson: A Woman of Prayer and Grace for Every Trial. How’s that for picking just one?
11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone? I’d have to say often. I have a wide area of interests, and sometimes I read just to find out what other people are saying. I like to be up on world news—not at all encouraging—and medical advances, scientific finds, etc. These are all somewhat outside of what I’d call my comfort zone. I also read sometimes—not often—books with very different doctrinal positions. I did that early this year and found it helpful to see the theme that interested me from a totally different viewpoint, even though I won’t be changing doctrine and practice.
12. What is your reading comfort zone? I prefer books that uplift. They can be spiritual themes or fiction, but if they encourage or entertain me, those are the books I enjoy. I try to only read books that have positive moral tone (the good guys win; the bad guys lose). They must be clean (language, themes). I dislike sappy romances and avoid them if I can. I don’t enjoy steamy romances either and don’t read them at all. I personally love action, intrigue, mystery, and learning about a new subject in the middle of an exciting plot. Love history and historical novels. Love the classics! Love missionary biographies and other biographies. I like testimonies well written, especially those that read like a novel. Reading one now.
13. Can you read on the bus? Haven’t been on a bus for a while. (The last trip I took was before dawn, in the rain, with a crazy driver. I was praying, not reading!)
14. Favorite place to read? In bed, at night.
15. What is your policy on book lending? Policy? Hmmm . . . I’m always happy to lend books to others. I noticed in the past that some don’t ever come back home. So now, I make a list of the books I have lent out along with the person’s name and put it on the side of the refrigerator until the books are returned. If quite a few months have passed, and it looks like they’ve been forgotten, I send an e-mail reminder to the borrower. 
16. Do you ever dog-ear books? Rarely ever. I use bookmarks. 
17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?  Yes.
18. Not even with textbooks? I’ve been out of school for some 35 years now . . . .
19. What is your favorite language to read in? English, then Spanish, French only if totally necessary. All of my pleasure reading is done in English.
20. What makes you love a book? It has to grab me somehow. I have to be able to feel something, to be moved in some way. It could be the words themselves—like in One Thousand Gifts—that are pure poetry. Or it could be the action or intrigue. It might be that I identify strongly with one character or another. Or it’s that a book inspires me to think differently about a subject I had already explored. I like a good storyline, and I enjoy walking away from a book still thinking about what it said, still thinking about a character. And, I confess I like a page-turner.
21. What will inspire you to recommend a book? I recommend those that have something special to offer. I will not recommend one that teaches values contrary to my own. I have to like the style and think it is well written. If it doesn’t say anything to me, I would never recommend it to anyone else.
22. Favorite genre? Christian. I rarely read anything that isn’t listed as “Christian” these days because of the filthy language and content in other books. I like both Christian fiction and non-fiction. (I do, however, read secular contemporary biographies, travel, how-tos, and other books that are clean. I also read old books in many genres.)
23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did)? I wish I read the classics more often. I enjoy pace, and the classics—let’s face it—usually have about three chapters of introduction and descriptions before the action starts. I actually love the classics, but I have to make myself read them. It’s a style thing.  
24. Favorite Biography? It’s a toss-up between A Chance to Die by Elizabeth Elliot about Amy Carmichael and the poorly written but life-changing inspirational book, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor.
25. Have you ever read a self-help book? Many! I especially enjoy books on home organization, blogging, decorating, and cookbooks.
26. Favorite cookbook? The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker.
27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)? It has to be Joni Eareckson Tada’s A Place of Healing. It’s a total rethink about suffering. It’s truthful but not asking for pity, transparent, and inspirational, especially to those who experience physical suffering of any description.
28. Favorite reading snack? I don’t do that. It would be a cup of coffee, if I did.
29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience. Can’t think of any. Usually, if there’s hype, it’s merited—unless it’s a Hollywood star or a politician’s book.
30. How often do you agree with critics on a book? I don’t read “critics,” although I do read some Christian reviewers as well as Amazon readers’ reviews. I am usually my own person when it comes to what I think. Generally, a good book is a good book!
31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews? I usually will not slam a book publicly. It has to be pretty awful for me to feel like slamming it, anyhow. Having said that, I have given maybe one review that was a low rating because I felt it had very little merit, and I wanted to spare the public. When I am familiar with the author, I will write a private e-mail to him and tactfully tell him why I didn’t like the book and could not post a review. (I’m an author myself, and I’d appreciate the same courtesy. I don’t expect everyone to love my book, agree with my book, or think alike with me on all points. So, I am fully prepared to accept some honest criticisms.)
32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose? I can read in both Spanish and French. I choose Spanish over French. If I could just choose a language out of the air, it would be Chinese! Nothing is more beautiful than those characters. After Chinese—still out of the air—would be Arabic. Same reason; it’s beautiful.
33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read? Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, in English. It is totally brilliant, so I’m glad I made the effort. It surprised me by being humorous and up-to-date, even though it was written in the 1500s.
34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin? I guess it would be War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. It’s well over 1,000 pages!
35. Favorite poetCan we put an “s” on that? They would have to be Emily Dickinson for putting so much in so few words and keeping it simple; Edgar Allen Poe for internal rhyme and psychotic excellence; and whoever wrote Psalm 119—along with Divine Inspiration—for the acrostic that beats all acrostics. I don’t think I will ever tire of reading that chapter! I also really admire Japanese haiku poetry. Then, there are the epic poems like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Beowulf. I think I need to quit here, but I love poetry!
36. How many books do you usually have check out of the library at any given time? None. (See number 3.) 
37. How often have you returned a book to the library unread? I have gotten rid of about four books on my Kindle because of terrible language from about the second page. (The authors were sneaky, and the bad words couldn’t be seen on the Look Inside feature on Amazon. So, I got the books and got rid of them later.)
38. Favorite fictional character? I’ll pick three: Christy from Christy by Catherine Marshall, Jo from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and Freckles from the Freckles books by Gene Stratton Porter.
39. Favorite fictional villain? Bluebeard from the fairy tale by Edmund Dumac.  
40. Books you’re most likely to bring on vacation? I’d choose something happy or inspirational.
41. The longest you’ve gone without reading. Around three weeks. I had vertigo and couldn’t focus on words—or anything else! If I am physically able, I’m reading!
42. Name a book that you could/would not finish. There have been several that began okay and then went into vivid detail in intimate scenes. I have no interest in reading about garbage. I have destroyed several books after reading half or less of them.
43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading? From the reading itself, I hate bad grammar and spelling, also bad translations from English to Spanish or French. Those things really drive me nutty. I also don’t appreciate it when an author hasn’t done his homework on the setting, be it the history or the place. If this question is about outside distractions, a train would have to go by for me to be too distracted from my reading!
44. Favorite film adaptation of a novelSense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, the 1995 movie starring Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant. It is incredible how much it’s like reading the novel, even with some of the lines quoted directly from the book. I also think the 1995 TV series of Pride and Prejudice is fantastic! (And, who can forget Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy?)
45. Most disappointing film adaptation? There’s a Louis L’Amour book, Catlow, that is much, much better than the movie—even though Yul Brynner stars in it.
46. The most money I’ve spent in the bookstore at one time? Hmmmmm . . . I’ve probably spent $100 a few times, but that included buying Bibles for people.
47. How often do you skim a book before reading it? Very rarely. I’d rather give the author a chance. 
48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half way through? I did that about a year ago. The story was extremely sad, about a young woman who was brought up in a religious sect, abused, etc. I thought the book was going to tell about her escape, salvation, and her new life. But, it got darker and darker and nastier, so I skimmed through some of the end chapters, and it was obvious she had never gotten freed spiritually. I quit less than halfway through. Years ago, I quit on a “biblical” story for the same reason. It was very explicit and didn’t look like it would get better.
49. Do you like to keep your books organized? Yes. Classics are in our guest room—you’ve been warned!—missionary biographies at the top of the stairs; fun books, mysteries, children’s books, Christian counseling, Bible studies, etc. are in my office. You never know what you’ll find on my nightstand!
50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them? It depends. I keep most of my books and reread many of them. (I live overseas, so my library is what I have myself.) I give away those I think someone else will appreciate more than I do. I like to give books as gifts, but I give unread copies.
51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding? Only those that are immoral, amoral, use nasty language, or have ugly themes. I guess you could say I avoid most of the books on the market today!
52. Name a book that made you angry. Really, I only get angry when I start a book and realize it’s a waste of time for moral or lack-of-quality reasons. I would rather use my reading time profitably. I got a little bit angry with one that was praised as five-star on Amazon, only to find it was barely comprehensible. Not naming it, of course.
53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did? I began a Bible study on the book of Job. I really didn’t expect to enjoy it, because when I think of Job, I think of suffering. But it turned out to be so rich, so loaded with spiritual good, that I ended up loving it. (It is Grace for Every Trial by Betty Henderson.)
54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t. There are some “Christian” authors—a married couple—who are very popular. I had read a few of their books, and they were okay. A friend lent me another one, and it had no redemptive qualities that I could find. It was raw, dwelling on the dark side of life, and there was no light. It had no Christian message at all. Indeed, if you hadn’t known that the authors claim to be Christians, you would never have guessed. I did read it all the way through, hoping for something positive, and I never found it. The quality of writing was very good, but the book wasn’t. A real disappointment.
55. Favorite guilt free, pleasure reading? It’s silly reading, I know, but when I’m totally stressed out, I pick up Agatha Christie and read either one of her short stories or one of her books. Very fun, relaxing, and pure pleasure! She’s brilliant. I love Poirot and Miss Marple.
If you should choose to copy these questions and answer them, please link back to me, so I can come and read yours, too. Thank you, Barbara, for sharing!