The Gift of Story

Merry Christmas!

I am still on a bit of a blogging hiatus. I’ve been writing quite a bit, but for reasons I cannot explain, I haven’t been able to string together a decent post here…on my own site.

*sigh*

Truthfully, I miss blogging. I miss the days of yore when I could sit down and punch out a funny story in less than an hour. I think there will be time for that again some day.

Or maybe there won’t.

I’m not entirely sure just yet. But I do know one thing, I am as addicted to the written word as I ever was before. In fact, I’ve made it a point to spend more time reading these last couple of months.

I needed to lose myself in story again to remember why I loved it so much.

I’ve also been working on my second book. With very few moments to spare in my days, the down time I’ve had has been spent developing new characters. The process is a slow one, but my plan is to finish the manuscript by early summer.

*fingers crossed*

In the meantime, here are a few of my book recommendations for you all! Give the gift of story this Christmas (and, in some cases, your gift may just benefit others in need).

1.) Like a River From Its Course – Kelli Stuart

Come on, now. You didn’t think I’d compile a list of books and not include my own, did you? *wink*

I received a lovely review of my novel this week. I’m grateful for every review that comes through, but truth be told I love reviews from men just a little more. If I can win over a male reader with my writing, then I feel like I’ve accomplished something.

“This is the best historical novel I have read this year. It was moving, powerful, amazing. I have been on a mission trip to Ukraine and the people there remember the horrors of WWII. Thank you for telling their stories so eloquently.” Doc Kirby

Have you purchased your copy of Like a River From Its Course yet? When you do, a portion of the proceeds go to Hope House Ukraine, a ministry of World Hope Canada working with girls who have aged out of orphanages.

 

2.) Life Creative: Inspiration for Today’s Renaissance Mom – Wendy Speake and Kelli Stuart

My second book released in September, and this is the perfect gift for the creative moms in your life. Wendy and I have had so many sweet compliments about this book, and I am equally proud of it.

Purchase Life Creative today and bless a young mom who feels a bit lost in motherhood. A portion of the proceeds from this book are sent to Lulu Tree, a ministry that aims to “prevent tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers.

3.) A Cup of Dust – Susie Finkbeiner

Susie Finkbeiner’s historical fiction novel set in the 1930’s Oklahoma was a beautiful, heart wrenching story. I had never heard of the Dust Bowl, and after reading her book I did a little research and was fascinated to learn more about this devastating time in our nation’s history.

You’ll get lost in the compelling characters that Finkbeiner has created, and what’s better is that the sequel, A Trail of Crumbs, releases in just a couple of months. I had the privilege of reading the second installment in her series early, and I can tell you it is as well written and researched as the first book.

4.) 7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness – Eric Metaxes

I’m about a quarter of the way into this book, and I couldn’t love it more. As the mother of two daughters, I love stories of strong women who leave a big impact. Eric Metaxes, the author of Bonhoeffer (one of my favorite biographies) brings the stories of some of the greatest female leaders to life in this book.

From Susanna Wesley to Corrie ten Boom, Mother Teresa to Joan of Arc, Metaxes gives readers a glimpse into the lasting impact of these strong women.

 

5.) The Tale of Despereaux – Kate DiCamillo

This book is a gem. It isn’t a new book, and many of you may have read it before, but I never had so I was thrilled when it was on the list of books for Landon’s literature class this fall.

The Tale of Despereaux is pure magic from beginning to end. Kate DiCamillo is a master at bringing story to life, portraying deep lessons through the most lovable of characters. The kids and I read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane last year and loved that story just as much.

This is a must read for parents and kids alike!

6.) Truly Madly Guilty – Liane Moriarty

I met Liane Moriarty this past September at the #ReadSavannah event in Savannah, Georgia. She was witty, gracious, and generous with her time as she promoted her new bestseller, Truly Madly Guilty.

I enjoyed the book (though admittedly, I liked Big Little Lies better). This is a book of secrets, connections, and the common event that changed multiple lives. It’s a page turner from beginning to end.

7.) All the Pretty Things – Edie Wadsworth

I love a good memoir, and my friend Edie did not disappoint with this beautiful book in which she shared the beauty and brokenness of her youth. You will be encouraged, blessed, and moved by Edie’s poignant prose, beautiful storytelling, and big love for all the pretty things.

8.) Carry On, Mr. Bowditch – Jean Lee Latham

Tia has been reading this book in her literature class, and she and I both love it. It’s a tough read for the younger kids, but the language is rich. At times, I’ve read out loud to her, and other times she’s read it herself.

Be warned, the book is sad. Tia and I both have wiped our eyes several times while reading.

9.) Carrot Top Paper Shop Bookmarks 

Every reader needs a bookmark to hold her place, and adorable bookmarks make reading all the more fun. I’ve fallen in love with Carrot Top Paper Shop in recent months. Her prints of literary heroines are too cute, and she has bookmarks to match!

Buy a bookmark for the book lover in your life. They make perfect stocking stuffers!

10.) The Puffin Hardcover Classics Box Set

I’m hard core coveting these books right now.

And also this set.

Not only are they the classics we all know and love, but they are gorgeous, making bookshelves as visually appealing as they are emotionally appealing.

These would be a wonderful collection to wrap up under the tree as a family gift. Or you could just send the entire box set to me if you want. I won’t argue. 

*awkward smiley face*

This is my personal Tep Ten list of perfect gifts for the bookworm. What about you? What would you add to this list?

*This post contains affiliate links

Merry Christmas

MerryChristmas

The stockings are all hung by the chimney with care…

Well, most of them are, anyway. I don’t have a stocking for Annika yet, because FOURTH CHILD! I can’t be bothered with such details right now, thankyouverymuch.

We had two days of nippy weather down here in Florida and it put us right into the Christmas spirit. Of course, it will be 86 degrees on Friday, so instead of building a snowman, we may go to the beach and build a sandman instead.

sandman

I’ve spent the better part of an hour trying to craft a beautifully worded post for the internet, and I’ve scrapped every post I started because they all felt forced.

I won’t force words on you today. And I’ll quit forcing them on myself.

But if you’re looking for some beautiful words in poetry form, then I would suggest you visit Wendy’s site and take in her Holiday Haiku series. She’s brought us all into Christmas using fewer words.

While you all enjoy a few holiday haikus, I’m going to pack my kids up in my (smokin’ hot) minivan, and we’re going to go out to lunch. Because it’s the first day of Christmas break, my house looks like Santa’s elves threw up all over it, and I don’t feel like doing anything – not even feeding my children.

So I will simply leave you with Christmas greetings, from my family to yours.

xmascard

May your days be merry and bright.

And may your Christmas be whiter than mine.

Happiest of holidays to all of you. I’m thankful that I get to take this journey with so many of you cheering me on. I’m looking forward to 2016.

Cheers!

The Thing About Christmas

There’s this memory that sort of hovers over me every year. It floats in sometime after Thanksgiving, and grows increasingly strong until Christmas morning when it roars past me like a freight train.

Sometimes I wish I could catch the memory, maybe climb back into it, and wrap myself up in the warmth of that moment.

It was Christmas, and I was young. My brother and I burrowed beneath blankets upstairs as the winters winds of Wisconsin knocked at the window panes. It was the middle of the night, not even close to being a reasonable time to wake our parents. The clock by my bedside said 3:30. We decided to wait until 4:00 to go downstairs.

Because, obviously, 4:00 is more than reasonable. Ask my mom. She loved getting up that early.

Brett slept on the floor by my bed, and on this night (morning? No…definitely night), I was reading Ziggy to him by flashlight. I’d read the words, then show him the pictures, and we’d both snicker because, for whatever reason, we found Ziggy hilarious.

It’s very tactile, this memory of mine. I remember the darkness that wrapped around our house, the way the windows rattled now and then with the wind. I remember my toes being cold, and not really wanting to get out of bed, but so longing to see what treasures waited for us under the tree.

I remember being happy and excited. I remember feeling both cold and warm, or…maybe it’s just the memory that makes me feel warm?

deerphoto

Mostly I remember feeling completely at peace.

The thing about Christmas is it tends to get under your skin. There’s something about the holiday season that wraps all tight around your heart, forcing you to recall short snippets of time, replaying them like movie reels in your mind.

I love that Christmas memory. I don’t remember the gifts we received that year. I just remember being happy in my bed, giggling with my brother, anticipating the day to come.

There’s another Christmas memory that has loped it’s way into the reel in recent years. This one, too, has been pressing down on me for the last few days, reminding me that I’m not a kid anymore, but that Christmas can still hold a particular brand of magic.

It was three years ago that I sent off our completed dossier to Russia. I’d had eleventy frillion documents tracked down, signed, notarized, and copied, and I sent the stack of paperwork as thick as my arm off with a thrill in my heart.

And the week before Christmas it all sort of unraveled. Whispers of a Russian ban on American adoptions made their way into my heart, and began to squeeze tight.

It was Christmas night, and I was up all alone. The children were in bed, the events of the day having pushed them into slumber swiftly and mercifully. Lee was asleep, too, and so I sat alone.

I curled up in front of the tree, all lit and glittery with memories old and new, and I sipped my hot tea. I thought of a little girl far away, alone and waiting for a family to choose her, and I prayed the prayer that only a mother can pray when she feels powerless to help her child. 

I’m not one to claim to have heard the voice of God often. I don’t toss that idea around lightly. But on this still night, I heard the word Wait.

In this memory that keeps flitting around my subconscious, I hear the voice audibly. I don’t believe it was quite so clear that particular night, but I do remember growing still in spirit as the message washed through me.

Wait.

Tonight, we brought home our Christmas tree, and while Michael Buble´ crooned Jingle Bells in the background, we pulled out the lights and ornaments, and we dressed the spruce in our living room.

“Put the breakable ornaments up a little higher so Annika can’t get them,” I told the big kids, and they did. And all the while, Annika stood in the middle of the carpet, her eyes dancing with delight at the wonder of it all.

Three years ago last week, I put our dossier in the mail to Russia. It’s been a long wait, but tonight I felt a warmth spread quick through my soul. It’s the same feeling I get when I think of that Christmas morning in my bed with a flashlight, and a Ziggy book.

Peace. Joy. Anticipation.

The thing about Christmas is there’s always room for one more memory – another snippet to add to the reel.

And it is magic.

Underprepared and Living To Tell the Story

I am a preparer. I like organization, and I like things to run smoothly. I am also a parent of four rowdy children, which means I am constantly and forever being forced to slow my roll and accept that my life will not be organized for the next 20-ish years.

And given the spacing of my children, I will likely have grandchildren by the time I send my final child out on her own, so the idea of me being organized ever is almost laughable.

I also just threw up a little in my mouth at the idea of myself as a grandparent. In my mind, I AM STILL IN COLLEGE!

All of that is a lead-in to the fact that the walls of my home are caving in on me, and there simply isn’t enough time in the day for me to get ahead of all the crazy. I’m trying to embrace the season of now. I really am. I am trying to let it go.

Idina Menzel gave me the chorus of my days

WWonka

 

Tomorrow night we will welcome “K” back into our home. We truly cannot wait to have her back with us. When we first got the email saying she could return, I felt a surge of panic. Because of her age, it took a long time to confirm whether or not she would be able to return, so we were told only on Thanksgiving that she would be coming.

SO LITTLE TIME TO PREPARE!

I’m still not prepared, and Idina and I are singing our tune hourly. Let it go! Let it go!! Turn away and slam that door!

I haven’t slammed any literal doors…today. But I have let go of a few expectations. The first is that I will have a clean house. I won’t. It’s just not going to happen. This place is a bit of a pit, and the amount of work needed to get it into the shape I would prefer it be in is more time than I have between now and tomorrow.

I’d need a couple of clones and a few stiff drinks.

Kcollage

I’m getting done what needs to be done to make this a sweet time for our family. I got “K’s” room ready, and I’ve moved Sloan’s clothes into Landon’s room. I’ve got all my Christmas shopping done, and I have a loose plan of what we’re going to do between now and Monday when we fly to Arkansas.

I’m going to consider all of that a Christmas win, and let go of the desire to completely declutter all living spaces inside this house. When I get in this sort of a tizzy about the clutter, I end up doing foolish things – like accidentally giving Tia’s beloved Lovey Bear to Goodwill.

Which I did a few months ago and she hasn’t let me forget it.

A couple of nights ago, I actually dreamed that woodland creatures came into my home and cleaned it out for me. There was a bunny, a fox, a few birds, and a pack of mice, and they organized the whole house from top to bottom.

I woke up from this dream both happy, and a little confused. Clearly I’m a little out of my mind these days, yes? And the truth is, if that actually happened in real life, I would FREAK out, not for the obvious reason of woodland creatures cleaning my home, but because I am so ridiculously terrified of both mice and bunnies.

(The bunny thing is strange, I admit, but they do, in fact, scare me. They’re so unpredictable, and they stare at you with their beady little eyes like they’re going to pounce on your face at any moment. My children have been informed that we will never have a bunny…ever.)

So the house won’t be perfect, but we are preparing room in our hearts for another memorable Christmas. That will have to be good enough for now.

Because bunnies aren’t allowed, no matter how well they might be able to organize a closet.

Am I the only one who goes a little crazy when life feels out of control? Does anybody else feel this way…or dream of animals cleaning for them? Anyone? Anyone? 

Good

joytotheworld

The blend of familiar chords filled the room, and I closed my eyes. It had been a long few days, and I felt the weight of life squeezing my throat tight. I was tired, my eyes so heavy, the knot in my neck pulling my head slightly to the side.

“Joy to the World, the Lord is Come. Let earth receive her King!”

The melody washed over and through me, and I didn’t sing. I just listened. I was too weary to add my own voice, so I just let the song envelope me.

Christmas songs bring comfort. They are so familiar, and they carry with them years of memories, of happy times and joy filled moments. In a season of weary fatigue, the words and the melody felt like rest.

This Christmas will be a different one for our family. A bittersweet Christmas, indeed. The cancer of a loved one forces us to take it slower this year – to cherish the moments more sweetly – to look for the miracle of healing because that’s all we have left.

I believe He can speak life and health back into my father-in-law’s body.

I trust Him to be good whether or not He does.

We also have the awesome privilege of bringing our sweet “K” back to us for Christmas. How mysterious God is to ordain these two events in such a way. How awesome is His power to dictate that we should feel both immense joy, and desperate sadness, all at the same time.

“Let every heart. Prepare Him room. And heaven and nature sing.”

I’ve written about Love before, and I’ve pondered the beauty of suffering. Walking in faith is easy sometimes. It’s easy to say “I believe” in the face of great joy and peace. But when the soul cries out without the promise of an answer, faith becomes a wrestling match.

Like Jacob with the angel, I tussle with my Savior. I call Him Sovereign, and I question His actions. I praise His goodness, and lament His silence. I waver, then accept, then waver, then accept.

“He rules the world with truth and grace. And makes the nations prove. The glories of His righteousness.”

When the wrestling is finished, I hobble away, and still His Love pulls me back. You don’t wrestle with the Savior and come away unscathed. But the scathing is like a healing – the fire burning away the parts of me that cling to this world, the selfish pieces of my heart that seem so firmly attached to the things I can see and understand.

I don’t understand cancer, and I can’t see the glory of heaven. I doubt, and I question, and I wish that pain wasn’t so…painful. I open my eyes and look at the Christmas decorations up front, and it hits me that the story of Christmas has to be true. If it isn’t, then what is the point of my wrestling?

I battle because I want to believe, and the wrestling points me to Christ every. single. time.

This Christmas will be bittersweet as we cling to the One who came to earth as a humble infant. He was the One they prophesied about for hundreds of years. He was born in a manger, and His birth set into motion a life that pointed to a Creator. He would grow into a man who died on a tree so that I might live.

So that our family could have hope in the face of uncertainty. So that we could hope for a miracle, take comfort in the knowledge of heaven, and cling to peace when life feels foggy.

“And wonders of His Love.”

love2

He tugged on my sleeve and motioned me down. I leaned over, and his lips pressed against my ear, sending a shiver down my spine. He’s the one with the freckled face – the one who is asking a lot of questions, and seeking for the answers. I felt his hot breath, and my heart leapt with a fierce love.

“Is Jesus real?” he whispered. I glanced at his big, blue eyes, so full of wonder and hope, and the lump in my throat dissolved. There are so many things I don’t know – so many questions that feel unanswered. But not this one. The answer to this question is Joy to the world.

I lean down and press my mouth against his ear, and he pulls his shoulder up with a tickled grin.

“Yes,” I breath. One syllable, filled with conviction.

He grabs my hand and smiles, his nose inches from mine. “Good,” he whispers.

And I nod, because he’s right.

It is good.

 

Subscribe to receive a FREE excerpt from the award winning Like A River From Its Course!

You have Successfully Subscribed!