Christmas Outing

I meant to get this post up several weeks earlier already, but what with one thing and another that didn’t happen. Here it is now, though—late is better than never.

Christmas Outing 07

Christmas has not been a big deal for our family for years. We’ll have a picnic lunch out by the beach somewhere, the boys will go swimming, I’ll have a chance to read something, and Dad and Mom just rest and watch the children. The last two years, we’ve gone to a beach about half an hour north of us where there are rarely if ever any people, and afterward picked cherries. It’s a lovely time to just be together and soak up fresh ocean breezes and sunshine.

Christmas Outing 01

Notice the piles of dirt to the top, far left—there are thousands of little slips (landslides) like that all over the area, all caused by the earthquake. Some of them were very big, closing major roads, and some roads aren’t open yet because they’re so bad!

This year as we were heading off the beach, Mom, another brother, and I, climbed up the cliff-like edge of the beach to get to the train tracks that we have to cross to get back to the van. We wanted to inspect the tracks, because we had seen from a distance that they were significantly moved around in one section as a result of the earthquake.

Christmas Outing 02

I didn’t get very many pictures from that spot, but we soon headed about 5-10 minutes inland, and also saw damage on the tracks there that ran alongside the cherry trees. In these two pictures, you can see how the railway sleepers were lifted out of the gravel they are normally embeded in, either by the bridge rising some or the land on either side of the bridge sinking a little. Also, notice the hole to the middle right of the picture above—the gravel had fallen through down toward the road beneath. The edge of the bridge used to be almost level with the gravel here.

Christmas Outing 03

Little brother posed for a picture. You can see another place where the track sank behind him.

Christmas Outing 04

Christmas Outing 08

I headed down the tracks a bit, to see what the bridge looked like from a distance—pretty impressive! This is typical of the railroad line in this area. Lots of little things that will need to be fixed before they can send trains down here again!

Christmas Outing 05

Christmas Outing 06

Christmas Outing 09

In all, it was a gorgeous day to be out exploring earthquake damage and picking cherries. The latter weren’t totally ripe yet (they tasted better a week or two later), but it was still a fun day to be outside.

How was your Christmas? Share below, or if you wrote a blog post, link to it in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

And one last thing before I finish—have you entered the giveaway yet? Only four days left! Get your entry in now.

500 Reviews: Giveaway Time!

Hello, everyone!

It’s giveaway time! I’ve got to say—running giveaways is probably one of my favorite jobs around here at LRD (besides reading books, of course!). I was talking to Mom about the giveaway this morning, and she encouraged me to keep it simple…while I was all for doing something big and fun! Well, we came up with a compromise and I’m happy about that too.

500 Reviews Celebratory Giveway!

But first, before I tell you what you could win, I’d like to say a big thank you. I don’t do that enough, I know, but thank you for being here—even just taking time to read this. Thank you for your support over the past year and a half that we’ve been going, for taking time to read our reviews and buy a few books that hopefully have been helpful to you, and for sticking it out even through those times when I haven’t gotten the reviews up when I should have. Thank you. We couldn’t do this without you—if it weren’t for you, our job would be pointless.

And since we finally hit 500 reviews on the website, I thought it called for a celebration! 500 reviews isn’t nearly as many as I hope one day to have, but it’s a good start. Where will another 500 take us? Well…that’s at least partially up to you. What subjects do you want us to research and find more books on? Tell us, and we’ll see what we can do. We’re all about helping you succeed in what you’re doing. I’m excited to see what will happen next!

The Giveaway:

There will be three winners at the end of this drawing. It is open internationally (as long as you can use an Amazon.com giftcard or receive a book from Book Depository!), although please note the DVD is only available to those residing within the US. The giveaway will run from now (January 16) through to January 23.

You could win:

Enter to win:

LRD 500 Reviews Party

(Can’t see the widget? Enter here.)

Any questions or comments? Ask below. And here’s hoping you’ll win!

God bless,
Esther

Hope // My Word for 2017

The word burst upon me with a riot of color this evening, the sunset turning the leaves on the trees next to my sleepout into a beautiful green sheen. Like stagelights, except better—much, much better, because the Master Stage Director (or whatever they call them) is in control of those lights.

Hope.

I’d been working on next year’s calendar, getting it ready for use (and to share with all of you; stay tuned for that!), enjoying being able have room for inspiring quotes—a first in my calendar-making experience. And as I worked on including another quote, the words jumped out at me.

“Hope itself is like a star—not to be seen in the sunshine of prosperity, and only to be discovered in the night of adversity.” ― Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Hope 01

Hope.

It’s a beautiful word, one that can convey so many different meanings. It’s one that often surfaces this time of year—the hope that Jesus has brought to the world through His birth, death, and resurrection. Hope for humanity beginning at the cradle and continuing through past the cross.

We say words so often that they become trite. Common. But this word—it’s alive. It can mean the difference between life and death. If you have hope, you can see beyond the pain of the present and believe through faith that your future will be better. If you have hope, you have something to cling to. A solid anchor. If you have hope, you can recognize the true beauty of the gift you’ve been given in Christ.

My mind drifted to a scene I saw as I flew home a few weeks ago after a two-week trip to the States. As we rose above the clouds over Auckland, I looked down to see the shadow of our plane floating below us. Around that shadow was a perfectly round rainbow. I’ve heard of seeing rainbows from airplanes before, but had never personally experienced it. And as I looked down, I couldn’t help but think how much the Lord is like that rainbow—surrounding us with His love, especially in the middle of storms.

Hope 02

I tried to get a picture of the rainbow. It didn’t turn out that well, but you should be able to get the idea! 🙂

Hope is like that—the life preserver, if you will, that surrounds us. A shield during the “night of adversity”.

Hope—for change, for a better future, in Jesus—is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

I don’t often get into “words for the year” or things like that, but this year I’m choosing hope. As daylight fades into golden droplets on the leaves—one last fling of color before another day is gone forever—I’m thankful for hope. Thankful that it is given to us, thankful that in Christ we have more than hope for a better tomorrow. We can have hope for eternity! Praise the Lord!

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God[!]” Psalm 146:5.

Every Christian’s Nightmare

Every Christian's Nightmare

One night recently as I was getting ready for bed, I was suddenly struck with a thought. It might be worth something, it might not, but it did provide some interesting fodder to mull over as I went to sleep.

It’s every Christian’s nightmare that Jesus will go to sleep on us.

That isn’t going to happen, but have we gone to sleep on Him? Have we become so caught up in our day-to-day lives and our pet little routines that in effect we’ve squished any form of our Christian lives into one nice little bow-tied box called “I’m a Christian”? Have we begun turning to encouraging worship music instead of turning to Him? Have we slipped a little “devotional time” in our mornings or just before bed just so we can feel good about ourselves and know that we’re doing this Christian thing right? Have we so minimalized our Christianity that in effect we really aren’t any different from anyone else—we’ve just got a few slightly different daily rhythms?

Humor me for a second, and think about it. Are we really that pitiful?

Wait

Wait on the Lord

In my single-digit days, one of the things I most despised hearing from Mom were the words “hold your horses!” And, sadly, as I’ve gotten a little older that hasn’t changed much. She still reminds me, when I start heading down multiple what if? rabbit trails at once, to stop, be patient, and well…just wait.

Funny thing is, the Bible has some things to say about this too. Psalm 27:14, for example, has this to say about it:

Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.

And, of course, one of my favorite verses lately has a similar theme to it:

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

The thing is, God doesn’t always show us His “understanding” right away. He doesn’t even “strengthen our hearts” right away. He doesn’t always “direct our paths” just as soon as we pray, “direct me, please!”

It’s hard to wait when you’re afraid. Hard to believe that God really is going to come through and be with you, is going to follow through on His promises. I think of all those people listed in Hebrews 11, and wonder how many of them battled fear even while clinging to the faith that earned them a place among the “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)? Many, I’d expect.

So today, as I go about my daily life, trying to commit my cares to the Lord and asking Him to help me trust Him more, I’m asking for patience to wait. For patience to just rest, see that the Lord is good, and follow His plan.

Not trusting is wearing—physically, emotionally, spiritually. But trusting Him? While it may be hard, we can be sure we have a firm foundation—because Christ has risen! (See 1 Corinthians 15:13-22.)

Life and an Earthquake

Following written last Monday, almost a week ago.

What an adventure! Life certainly has thrown some curveballs at us these last few months, but I’m so thankful that God is still on the throne.

After losing my brother near the beginning of last month, I realized—possibly for the first time ever—that life can reallymess up your schedule for you. But no matter what’s been going on, God shows Himself faithful. While lots of things happen that we don’t want—and definitely don’t expect!—He’s still there, still taking care of us.

After the funeral, our family went through a lot of readjustments and reassignments. Some of it had been taken care of even before the funeral, but some hadn’t been, and what with lots of different people through during that time we didn’t have “normal life” happening at all anyway. And oh, what a blessing it was to have so many caring people gather around us during that time!

Earthquake damage 01

Quite a few cups didn’t actually break–and as you can see in the picture, two different ones landed in the butter, thereby escaping harm!

Two weeks ago today, Grandma (Mom’s mom) arrived. She’s staying the whole month, and while that’s been going way too fast we’re so thankful that she can be here. That same day, I got my learner driver licence (learner permit), which is somewhat exciting and more than a little scary. I still don’t do backing very well, and don’t like intersections all that much. Open road is okay, though!

Last week, we headed way down south to a little out-of-the way village named Cass. Some friends of ours own a bach (cabin) down there, and we spent a delightful four days there. It was a good time for our family to just relax, take in some scenery, play games together, and overall just recouperate from the previous month’s activities. We’re so thankful we could do that!

Earthquake damage 02

Just after the quake: Cleaning up broken jars of fruit.

Earthquake damage 03

Then, early this morning, we awoke to a tremendous shaking. I don’t think I really woke up for several minutes, as I had been sound asleep when the earthquake started. Eventually it registered that the earthquake was getting worse, not better, so I crawled out of bed (couldn’t even walk—it was shaking too much!) and laid down beside it on the floor. I know not everything was registering then, but I do remember it was very noisy and very violent. Lots of books and other bits of things were thrown around in my room, creating several interesting piles to sort through and put back in order later. Incredibly, the one thing I thought would probably fall in a quake—a lamp on the top of my computer desk that I’ve accidently jerked down before—ended up falling the other way, landing on some books that had already collapsed. I’m thankful; it’s one less light bulb to replace, as those are already normally in short demand around here!

As far as damage around the place, we actually haven’t had much. Quite a few preserving jars were thrown of the shelves, but the majority stayed put comparitavely speaking. Mom’s favorite stack of crockery serving bowls was thrown to the floor, and we lost a few plates and regular bowls too, I think. And little things like tea cups. Overall, though, considering the amount of damage the quake did in other places, we got off very easy. I really feel sorry for those who have lost their homes—I’ve heard of at least five homes that are condemned, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are quite a few more before all the inspections are over. Not to mention the people who have terrible messes that still need to be cleaned up, and the ones trapped in the different towns and valleys by impassable roads.

Earthquake damage 04

The piano was flat against the shelves before the earthquake, and the boxes were in a stack to the left. The squash were all on shelves before the quake. And a bucket with wheat for the cow splashed all over the floor, although it (thankfully) didn’t fall off the shelves. Just lost 2-3 in. of water and wheat.

Yes, we have much to be thankful for. We’re still all alive and well, still have a place to call home and plenty of food, water, and electric, and haven’t sustained much damage. But even for those in the thick of it, I think they could too say that they’ve been blessed. It could be so, so much worse.

The earthquake could have hit at 12pm, instead of midnight—if it had, there would have been a lot more fatalities along the roads where slips (landslides) have completely blocked the traffic.

Earthquake damage 05

After the quake, we moved all remaining plates and bowls to the floor. Just in case there was another biggie. Didn’t want to risk losing any more!

Earthquake damage 06

We also moved all surviving jars to the floor. They stayed here for several days before my brothers put up barricades on the fronts of the shelves.

The tsunami could have been much, much bigger—as it is, I don’t believe there was much damage at all.

We could be in a third-world country right now, and not have the blessings of plenty of helicopters on hand to help get provisions into places that have no other access.

Earthquake damage 07

Stuff that fell down in my room. The plant was also tipped on its side after the quake.

Earthquake damage 08

Lots of books from my desk fell to the floor.

We could still be without power, phone, and internet—and yes, many still are, but almost everyone has some form of contacting the outside world now, and that makes it so much easier for everyone!

That’s just a few of our many blessings. I’m reminded of Jeremiah, and how in the midst of his crying about the desolation of Judah he breaks out in praise and says,

It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:23–26; emphasis mine)

Yes, the Lord is good to us. Even in the midst of trouble, He’s there guiding, protecting, holding, and being with us. Our God is so good!

Today, as I was mulling over this fact, a song came to me. I don’t know if it will embed here or not, but I’ll try. I thank the Lord over and over for the hope that we have!

This evening, as I am thinking over the past 20 hours’ events, I remembered a couple other encouraging references too. “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20) and “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” (Joshua 1:9)

Earthquake 09

Relief work—lots of helicopters have been in and out every day since the quake. So thankful for those guys!

So as tomorrow will more than likely bring plenty of new aftershocks, as the many different helicopter pilots will spend another day ferrying food and other supplies up there and bringing people back (one refuelling station is right across the road from us, so we hear a lot of them coming and going), we can rest assured that the Lord is with us. That He’s watching out for us.

Earthquake 10

One of the many things airlifted to Kaikoura. This is a roll of pipes, I believe—most likely will be used to help repair the sewage and water systems that have been broken in the quake.

No, life isn’t back to normal yet. We’re constantly developing a new normal, but that’s okay. That’s the way things should go.

Whatever you’re facing, friend, know that the Lord is with you, too. He loves you. Rest in that love.

Keep safe!
Esther

P.S. Mom has a few more pictures on her blog. Check it out here.

New Book and Interview with Author Sarah Holman!

Hi, everyone! And welcome back after the long silence! I’m learning—slowly—that I’m not that great of a consistent blogger, but when I’m in the mood for it I enjoy it. That makes it slightly difficult for me, since I enjoy a regular routine, but such is life.

Anyway, I have something exciting to share with you today! Well, this evening, rather…it’s past 11 pm now. I’m having my last hot drink for the day, and hope to have this post finished by the time I’m done. That’s not very likely, but I can try!

BT CC.jpg

The last couple days I’ve had the privilege of pre-reading author Sarah Holman’s latest book Courage and Corruption! This book is the third in the series, a medieval fantasy that has good stories and Christian themes woven throughout. Looks like I haven’t reviewed any of the books in this series for the website yet—that will have to change. These books are worthwhile reading, especially for younger readers.

Oh, and before I go further I do want to let you know by way of disclaimer that I read an Advanced Reader Copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. Also, some links in this post are affiliate links. Purchases made through those links do not cost you any extra, but the small sum I receive from them helps keep this site running. So thank you! And now, onto…

My Review of Courage and Corruption:

About CC.jpg
Christopher cannot understand how his father believes he can learn to be a man by being sent off with the women, girls, and younger children to a castle away from the battle scene. With strife between him and his sister as well—neither wanting to take the blame for careless mistakes made out of a lack of responsibility—his life is miserable. Will he ever be able to find true happiness? And what will happen to Taelis, their beautiful country that is about to be split by a civil war as the people try to decide who will next be king?

Courage and Corruption by Sarah Holman.jpg

In all, I enjoyed this book for the most part. There were a few things I didn’t appreciate so much about it, as I felt some elements might not be realistic (even in a fantasy setting).

I also didn’t totally agree with the theology. This book seems to be stressing accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, which I agree with—Jesus does need to be both Lord and Savior of our lives—but in my personal devotions in Acts right now (and from other scriptures I remember as well), we should actually repent rather than just accept. There’s a big difference, which I won’t go into now, but Acts 2:38 and 1 John 1:9 have some bearing on this. This view is mentioned two different times. This may be an oversight on the author’s part, I don’t know. But I do think it’s worth mentioning.

Despite that, the storyline was good as it taught the need to prove your responsibility in little things before you can be trusted in big things. I’m sure many young readers would find that a worthwhile message to hear. The story itself is also exciting. Lots to do with kings and princes and knight’s children. Recommended for ages 11-14, especially.

Note: There is a battle in the latter part of chapter 27 and again the very first part of chapter 28. It mentions people being wounded and some blood, but not in any detail.

Interview with Sarah Holman:

(I actually interviewed Sarah several months ago, but never got it published. I decided this was a great opportunity to share her insights with you!)

Esther: Thank you for joining us today, Sarah! Could you give us a quick background of who you are and what you do? And just for fun, what’s one thing you do with your family these days that will make memories you’ll cherish years down the road?

Sarah: I was born in Dallas but moved to the Austin area when I was three. I grew up with two book addicts for parents and a love for stories in every form: oral, book, movie, and so on. At age eleven, I was frustrated because I couldn’t find the kind of books I wanted to read, so I decided to write them. When I was seventeen, God laid it on my heart that I should pursue becoming a full-time author. I published my first book in 2012 and continue to write the kind of books I always wanted to read.

I love this question. I think my favorite memories will be of the evenings where we all sat together, just talking. It can be on a serious topic or a being silly. However, just being together makes it worth remembering.

Esther: I love our family’s times of just talking, too! For us, it usually happens around the supper table—and the topics can be all over the place from building trailers to something someone said at church several weeks ago!

I also think it’s neat that you’re writing the books you’d like to read. It can be difficult at times to write for ourselves, as opposed to what we perceive the world at large would like to read. What do you enjoy most about your job as a writer?

Sarah: Ah yes! Don’t you love how scattered family conversations can be?

What I most enjoy? Sitting behind my computer and letting the words of a new story flow through me. There is something amazing about see a fresh story starting to take shape that is always exciting for me.

Esther: That is fun! I love all the adventures and…um…adversities that I can throw at my characters from time to time. Or the ones they spring on me!

But moving on…I’ve always enjoyed the Christian elements in your stories (and I’ve read a good number of them). Do you have a story that was particularly hard to write as far as the faith aspect is concerned? Which book has challenged you the most in your personal journey?

Sarah: Wow! You know how to give a tough question. Just about every book has a message that was close to my heart. The hardest one to write was Kate’s Innocence. It took a long time to develop the story enough that a faith theme emerged. See, I don’t often start with a super clear idea of what it is going to be because I want it to come out naturally.

As for the most challenging personally that is a good story: 2015 was a really hard year for me. There were some awesome parts to it, but overall it left me drained and dealing with a lot of emotions. I took off of almost everything in January of this year and spent it writing. Out of that month, two books in the Tales of Taelis came and both of them reflect my struggles and what God taught me. Courage and Corruption and Dreams and Devotion will be coming out later this year and both of them reflect the struggles within my own heart.

Esther: That seems like a wise way to share faith in books. The one time I tried it, it ended up feeling stilted, but I may have to try again. After all, forcing things like that on fictitious characters could be as bad as on real people! It’s interesting that 2015 was difficult for you—in many ways, that was a hard year for me too. Now you’ve given me even more reason to look forward to the next Taelis books—I really enjoyed the first two!

Relating to the last question…I think we’d agree there are many challenges confronting Christians these days. (Lies propagated through the media and music, moral issues, etc.) Have you specifically addressed any of these challenges in any of your books–intentionally or no?

Sarah: Another good but tough question. Most of the time when we say we need to talk about issues, we have a laundry list of the ills of society. In my own way, I am addressing the issues, but at a heart level. Christians fall for the lies of this world because they are not spending enough time focusing on the truth. If we spend all our time focusing on the evil around us, often we will fall for the lies. If we spend our time on God and His truth, the evil won’t be as appealing.

While I probably will deal with some of the tough issues head on in some upcoming books, for right now I’m doing exactly what I’m called to. I am writing books that deal with the tough issues of the heart like God’s plans for your life (The Destiny of One), the importance of telling the truth (A Different Kind of Courage), where is God when life is hard (Adventures and Adversities), and the power of forgiveness (Brothers and Betrayal) to name a few.

Esther: I love that thought about focusing on truth! So true! I believe you are wise to address those issues first—as the Bible says, “the heart is the wellspring of life”. It’s a pretty important task!

Okay, I think that was the last “hard” question I had for you. In wrapping up, I wanted to ask about your personal writing process a little: You’ve just released Kate’s Capitol, and have several more books in the works right now.  Do you have any particular methods for keeping yourself inspired and motivated—even when doing things like editing, which can be a bit difficult?

Sarah: My biggest key to getting things done is just to keep at it even when I don’t feel like it. I make deadlines and work to keep them (although I haven’t been successful all the time) and even give myself rewards for completing things. My method for keeping inspired? To have several projects going at once. I don’t like editing, so I normally have a project that I am writing at the same time. This keeps me motivated to do the editing so that I can get to the writing.

The main thing that keeps me motivated, is that I know what I know I am doing what God has called me too. There is a huge amount of satisfaction that comes when you are in the middle of God’s plan for you.

Esther: Knowing you’re in the center of God’s plan—a wonderful feeling, I agree! That’s great! Do you have any words of advice for younger or newbie Christian writers? And just for fun, which book out of the ones that you’ve written is your favorite?

Sarah: I have three pieces of advice for new writers. First and most importantly is to make sure that everything you write aligns with your faith. Secondly, don’t write what you think other people want to read, read the kind of books you like. Third, read all the time and of many genres.

My favorite book? Can I say all of them? No? Okay, if I had to pick a favorite out of all of them it would either be A Different Kind of Courage because I love that time in history or The Destiny of a Galaxy because there is so much of my own emotions in that book.

Esther: I love A Different Kind of Courage, too—it’s really good! Thanks for sharing with us today, Sarah! Where can people find you and your books? Any closing thoughts?

Sarah: The easiest place to find my books is Amazon. But you can also find them on audiobooks on Audible and iTunes and paperbacks on Createspace.

In closing, I would just like to say that whatever God has called you to do, do it to His glory. Don’t look to the world or anyone else for your standards our validation, look to the One who made you.

About the Author:

111 Author - closer.JPGSarah Holman is a not so typical mid-twenties girl: A homeschool graduate, sister to six awesome siblings, and author of many published books and short stories. If there is anything adventuresome about her life, it is because she serves a God with a destiny bigger than anything she could have imagined.

You can find her at her website: www.thedestinyofone.com

Follow the Tour:

November 15
Faith Blum
Lakeside Publication
Claire Banschbach

November 16
Ordinary Girl, Extraordinary Father

November 17
Learning Resource Directory
Into the Bookcase

November 19
Gods Peculiar Treasure
A Pinch of Faith

And that’s it for this girl tonight. My tea has run dry now, anyway. Have a great weekend, everyone, and stay tuned—I have a post written to tell about the recent earthquake we had and aftermath, and hope to share that in another day or two. Just as soon as I can remember to sit down to upload pictures—providing our internet stays on, of course. It’s been acting up a little since the earthquakes.

Faithful in the Middle of the Storm (a Farewell)

There are some things in life you could never see coming. Some things that you know could—will—come eventually, but ones you never expect until you’re much older. Wiser. More able to cope, or at least accept. But death is no respecter of persons, whether old or young. I just never thought it would come so soon.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016. 1:00 pm.

The date and time are stamped in my memory forever. That was when we found out that my oldest brother—only sixteen months younger than me—was dead. And more than that, that he appeared to have taken his own life.

Snippets of the day remain, pieces of memory that typify the day our family was turned upside down.

Mountains

Seeing a friend who works as a volunteer on the ambulance trying to get onto the radio, hearing the chatter of who knows how many other ambulance personnel (none of it as serious as our case) from all over this side of the island, trying to break through with the message—“Patient status zero. Call off all other responders.”

The incredible local volunteer fire crew, many of whom we know—some even personally. Many came out to be with us, if only for a little bit in those first dreadful hours.

Looking at the clock and knowing someone ought to call the family in the States, and soon—they’d be going to bed before too long—but knowing that you didn’t want to do it. But someone had to, someone who could still talk, so I volunteered. I hope I never have to deliver such painful news again.

The post on Facebook an hour later, asking for prayer for our family, and the instant almost overwhelming but oh-so-comforting messages that began flooding in. The bittersweet knowledge that many, many people were offering up prayers for us, for our situation—it was humbling. And so, so encouraging.

The nurses, who stayed around with us—just being there—until the police came to talk to several of us for their reports.

The friend who came as soon as she realized what had happened, providing a shoulder for Mom to cry on and just being there for us. Because she loves us. She made time in her day, even though she had a big trip to prepare for. What more could you ask of a dear friend?

One of the many dear friends of my brothers, who also came as soon as he heard…but couldn’t stay to talk, because of other things going on. Who then came back later when things had cleared a bit, and just listened and was here for us.

The many other friends that came that afternoon and evening as soon as they heard, telling us that they were praying for us, talking about now-precious memories, and overall just being a physical visible wall of support for us.

Path

The path ahead looks steep, but there’s One who has already traversed it for us. Glory to His Name!

So many snippets. So many little conversations in the midst of the murky confusion of that first and the following days as we—I—tried to come to terms with the fact that my brother was actually dead. I remember that first night clearly, as I lay down and burst into tears. “Oh, Lord, I’ve lost my brother!” And as that long night drew on, I finally asked Him—the One who knows all better than any of us could—to take it. To use it as He saw fit. And most of all, to help us heal.

Faithful. Many times, at different stages, I’ve wondered what it would be like to go through something really, really hard. I knew that I could praise God in the midst of everything going well; I often took time to do that simply because a heart of gratitude needs an outlet and I was so, so thankful. I knew I could find beauty in normal, everyday life. But I wondered if I could still do the same in the midst of heartbreak. If I could find beauty in the middle of brokenness. Well, I found out—and yes, you can! Our God is so, so faithful. Faithful to heed the tears and inward pleas from hearts torn with grief, faithful to point out simple, small blessings, faithful to be there, to be the solid rock even when the storm is raging. He is faithful.

So as I sit here tonight, just over three weeks past that initial shocking day that has changed our family forever, I’m still thankful. Thankful for the time I had with Seth, thankful for the blessing and sharpening he’s been in my life in the past, thankful for the many little memories I have of our time together. Two things stand out especially—our trip together to the US (almost exactly a year ago), and that time we went out for coffee “just because” only eight weeks ago. Both were firsts for us, and both were memory-making ventures that I will always treasure.

Sheep

“I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine….” (John 10:14) I love thinking of Jesus as our Shepherd, especially through times like this.

The pain? Yes, it’s still there. I’ve lost my brother, one who was probably my closest playmate in my early years. We did everything together, and still have done a lot of that even up till now. We’ve had to rearrange so many things since he’s gone—the hole in our family, in our hearts, is huge. Just the other morning I was redoing our cleaning roster, and deleting his name in order to move things around felt like deleting a part of something that has always been…and I knew would never come again. But God’s grace and love are still there, still holding us ever closer together. We can ask “why?” and “how?” all we’d like, but in the end although this wasn’t God’s original plan we know He allowed it. And by allowing it, I trust that He has a bigger, better “why” for us—all of us—in the end. We haven’t seen the completed puzzle yet.

For now, it’s taking faith and patience. Yes, we miss Seth. Terribly. But there is One who is supreme, and can—and I believe will—turn even this into something beautiful in His time. God loves us, and although we can’t understand the depth of that very well, I can testify to the fact that that has been revealed over and over throughout this whole ordeal.

Praying friends, all of you who have spent some time offering up prayers for us over this time, thank you. We still covet them—the path to healing is looking very long. Thank you for your support—we feel it. May the Lord richly bless every one of you.

Kowhai flower

The Kowhai tree out in front of my house finally started blooming—only about 2 weeks later than all other trees! Still, I’m thankful. Isn’t our Lord good?

My dear brother Seth, I miss you. You’re now gone, leaving us the chance to see how much you did for us on a daily basis. Not only that, but you’ve left us with an even deeper appreciation for each other. You meant a lot to us in your short sixteen years. I’m going to miss your love of coffee, your willingness to help with just about anything, and your determination even in the midst of difficulty. There’s so much I could say, but I won’t. Just know that I’ll always treasure the memories I have of you. You’re gone now. Gone to the God that we’ve been taught of and loved all our lives. I release you to Him—He loves you so much more than I ever could, and I have hope of seeing you again one day. Farewell, brother. Thank you for the determination you’ve left with me to love the Lord more, and to get to know His Word even better than I have before. Thanks for all you’ve taught me. Love, your oldest sister.

Good vs. Great (and Why I Don’t Like War Room)

I read great books all the time. Sometimes, it almost feels repetitive to say “this is such a great book!” because I’ve said it literally a hundred-plus times before. But the truth is—there are lots of great books out there. Yes, there are a lot of “good” ones, too. Ones that aren’t really great, but are still good and still teachable.

Often, I ponder the difference between these books. What makes one book just good and another really great? Do I judge a book as great simply because it had an adventure-filled storyline, or is it something deeper?

01

Case in point: Just recently, my family and I got to watch War Room for the first time. If you’ve followed Christian news at all for the last year or so, I’m sure you’ve heard of this new movie from the Kendrick brothers. Having watched and appreciated the four previous movies, I figured this would be another great one as well. Well…I came away feeling less than impressed. The overall theme of the movie? Yes, that’s great. But the movie itself? Good, at best. Now, that isn’t the opinion of everyone in my family—praise God for different people with different strengths who can appreciate things I can’t so much!—but for me, I was disappointed to some extent.

As far as the encouragement to pray, I can go along with that 100%. I also appreciated the (whats-it-called?) cinematography—that was also well done. However, I felt like some of the things added to the movie were only there for the excitement factor (such as the jump-rope competition; yes, it was part of the story throughout, but it felt contrived). Many of the scenes felt like telling, not showing (characters just sat and yakked…which isn’t all bad AND there is some good stuff shared there, but it still was “telling”). And overall, I felt like the winning was contrived—whether it was the tension at home (wrapped up way too soon), or the bad guy being let off with a way too easy fine (considering the circumstances, he should have gotten a lot more punishment than he did), it wasn’t all that satisfying. Yes, it was good. Yes, I did mostly enjoy it in the end. But I’ve found a few bones to pick about it.

02

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Knowing that I tend to write some pretty lame fiction, I really don’t want to pass judgment on other people’s books. Maybe I’m cut out to be more of a reader than a writer, although I’m sure I’ll always secretly wish that I could be a writer too. Writing is just so fun! At the same time, though, I wonder why one book that should be great is just good. Average. Why somehow it’s failed to hit the higher point on the judgment meter, even though I know the author is a dedicated Christian who has the ability to craft amazing stories.

In rereading my review of 21 Days of Grace tonight (review will be up in about a week), I think I may have discovered a partial answer to that: The characters weren’t needy. By that I mean they didn’t desperately need an out, whatever it is. They weren’t flawed.

Is it possible that in writing Christian fiction we’re so steeped in our ideal of what Christianity should look like that we miss the fact that underneath we’re all sinners? That we’re all flawed, in some way or another? And as a result of this ideal we create people—saved or unsaved—in our stories that ultimately end up “perfect” (which, of course, isn’t possible or plausible in real life)?

03

Of course, there’s got to be a balance here. We can’t glory in sin in order for characters to be flawed. And we can’t have them so flawed that it makes it unbelievable that they can ever be a true Christian. But perhaps we need to step outside of our idea of perfectionism just a little bit in order to grasp the beauty of what Christ has done for us. Perhaps once in a while we need to distance ourselves from what we know and believe is right and consider another point of view, in order to see the truth more clearly.

I’m sure there are more pieces to this puzzle that I haven’t figured out yet. There’s got to be. But maybe this is one key to work with, one reason that makes some books that should be great just good, and makes some books truly amazing.

What do you think? What are some differences that you can see between a “good” and a “great” book? Do you think we could be so blinded by our worldview that we can’t create engaging, useful stories?

He Will Be There for You

This is a mantra I’ve been chanting to myself over the past week or so. Things don’t always go as planned, and when disappointments arise I find myself asking “what, Lord? What do you want me to do in this situation? Was I assuming something wrong all along? What’s Your plan for my life—what should I be doing right now?”

This coming weekend, our homeschool group is holding their annual concert. It’s a time for families and individuals to share something—a piece of music they’ve learned, a short skit, a poem, or something along those lines. It’s a fun event, often going on for an hour and a half or more.

We first attended the concert five or six years ago. It was the first time in my life I’d ever been on stage, ready to say something to almost a hundred people, and I remember clearly the knee-shaky feeling as I stood there staring out over this group of almost-strangers. We sang four songs that time, songs that I had memorized but my brothers hadn’t had time to. It wasn’t that great, but we made it through—and what a relief to have it over with!

He’ll Be There for You 01

Being up on stage has gotten somewhat better since then. I now know almost everyone in the audience, and knowing in advance about stage fright has made it a little less frightening (funny how that works!). Still, as I prepare for another round, I often think back over the last few years. The hilarious skits we watched (or participated in), a few flunks, that time when several people were unintentionally mean…almost a microcosm of life, in some ways. There’s great, there’s bad, and as always just a bit of average. In the end, we all have an enjoyable time and are drawn together just a bit more as a group.

About two weeks ago, I picked out several songs to go along with a poem Mom suggested—What God Hath Promised by Annie Johnson Flint. We’ll be singing Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus and My Ways Are Not Your Ways to go along with that.

God has not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;
God has not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

I find the messages of these songs quite an irony now. Of course, I had no idea then what personal significance they would have for me, even though they’ve always been encouraging. But as I struggle with disappointment, I realize the Lord knew all along. He knew that I’d find the words strangely thrilling as I sing them over and over trying to memorize the songs.

You know, God never promised things would be easy for us. But He’s promised that whatever the trial, He’ll be with us. Sometimes, He calls us to walk with Him in the darkness, and often we can’t understand why (Psalm 22:1 would be an example). Sometimes, we can’t see Him—but by any even small examination of the Psalms, we can easily see that the Lord hears us. He understands, and more than that, He is worthy of our praise!

Consider Psalm 28:6-8, for example:

Blessed be the Lord, because he hath heard the voice of my supplications. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him. The Lord is their strength, and he is the saving strength of his anointed.

He’ll Be There for You 02

Then there are other beautiful passages like Isaiah 43:2-3:

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.

Despite the pain, look to Jesus. Trust that He’s got a plan—a better plan—in place for you. You may be in the dark now, but He is your light. More than that, He understands and is more than willing to help you.

So this weekend, as we’re singing these songs and trying to be an encouragement to the dear friends who will be there, I’m praying that we will above all glorify the Lord. No matter what the future holds for any of us, He’s still there. As I was reading in Zechariah 2 this morning, He calls us “the apple of His eye” (I know, somewhat out of context…but it does apply, because just a few verses later we learn of “many nations being joined to the Lord”!).

Take courage, my friend. Stand in the strength the Lord has given you. I don’t know what you’re facing right now—perhaps, just maybe, you’re in a time of relative peace. Or maybe the devil seems to have all his guns out against you. I don’t know. But whatever is going on, know that if you’re truly following the Lord, this promise is for you: “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength” (Isaiah 40:29).