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

Last Minute Mother’s Day Gift Guide for the Last Minute Buyer

MDGiftGuidesquare

 

My husband and I are both notoriously last minute. Planning ahead is overrated anyway, right? At least it is until you realize that you’ve forgotten to get a gift for a loved one…again.

We may or may not have downloaded gift certificates for people we love ON CHRISTMAS MORNING because we waited juuuuust a scootch too long.

So in an effort to help out anyone who may suffer from the same sickness as me, I’ve put together a last minute gift guide, because we procrastinators need to stick together!!!

I tried to put together a good list of items that you could either get within two days (thank you, Amazon Prime), or that you could print off a lovely picture of and put in a card with a COMING SOON note. So, without further ado, I give you…

The Last Minute Gift Guide for the Last Minute Buyer

 

MDGiftGuide5

*Journaling Bible: Scripting is the hot new thing, and these journaling Bibles make Bible study both fun and inspiring. Combining coloring, creativity, and worship, a journaling Bible allows mom to find rest in the Lord, and to meditate on His Word like never before.

There are a lot of journaling Bibles out there, but this one in particular is lovely, and it’s something that mom will treasure forever, and will someday be able to pass on to her children.

GiftGuide3

Image Credit: Beth Cupitt Studio

Hymn Art: I can’t even describe how much I love this piece of art. I puffy heart love it with little squiggles all around the sides. This is a gift I might have to buy for myself…unless my husband happens to be reading this and wants to interceded on my behalf.

*wink*

All of Beth Cupitt’s prints are gorgeous, and every single one of them gives me goosebumps of joy. This is a gift you most likely won’t receive in time for Mother’s Day, but you could print the photo out and put it in a card and give mom the gift of looking forward to its arrival.

Bellabeat1

*LEAF
icon I dusted off my Fitbit recently and put it around my wrist, then promptly took it off with a sigh. Is it too much to ask that we create a fitness tracker that looks pretty on a girl’s arm?

Well, apparently it wasn’t too much to ask the innovators at Bellabeat, because they have created just the thing. I LOVE this product, and am excited to start using it. (Disclaimer: I was offered a LEAF in exchange for writing a product review).

The LEAF is pretty
icon
It’s functional, and it does everything that a Fitbit does, plus some! This is the perfect gift for the mom on the go who’s striving to make healthy every day choices. And bonus, you just may be able to get it in time for Mother’s Day if you order using their two-day shipping option.

Mother’s Day Promo Code: 20% off your order using MOM16
icon

MDGiftGuide6

GraceLaced: All of Ruth’s prints are gorgeous. She captures the beauty of the world in the gentle strokes of her paintbrushes, and we all get to enjoy the fruits of her labor!

This print is the perfect gift to frame for mom, but it’s not the only beauty she offers! Visit the GraceLaced Shoppe today for more choices.

MDGiftGuide7

Illustrated Faith: This is a quick and easy gift for the journaling/scripting mom! Just pay a minimal fee to download the pdf and voila! You have the perfect pretty gift that you can stick inside a card.

Give mom the gift of creativity this year!

LookingforLovely_FULL_MECH_LwayFonts.indd

*Looking for Lovely: As if the title of this book alone wasn’t enough to make mom smile, the cover is sure to help. Who isn’t looking for lovely in life, especially the frazzled mom who feels bogged down by all the stuff?

MDGiftGuide9

*Longbourn: Jane Eyre meets Downton Abbey?

All the moms say YES, PLEASE!

This is a gift for the mom who loves to bury her nose in a good book, who swooned every Sunday night over the Crawley family, and who secretly wishes she could be Jane Austen.

MDGiftGuide10

Painted Tin Cans for Mom: Looking to employ the kids and offer mom a sweet, homemade gift for Mother’s Day? This quick and easy tutorial from House by Hoff is the perfect solution!

Moms love homemade gifts, especially when the kids delight in preparing them for you. This one requires minimal artistic ability, and it’s something mom can look at every day and remember the sweet blessings she’s been gifted in life.

So hop to it, all my procrastinating friends! Make this Mother’s Day a day she won’t forget as you celebrate the mom in your life. Take it from this mom – we appreciate being thought of in the big ways and the little.

Happy Mother’s Day!

*affiliate link

2016: Pursue

We started last year with a hush. It was a quietness of spirit hovering slowly over a blanket of grief. And yet there was this burst of light sprinkled inside the fog, because for those who believe, death is victory.

And so it is that we enter into this new year with another victorious hush. We celebrate and we mourn as we head into the one year anniversary of Herb’s death. We celebrate that he’s had a full year to sit at the throne, though I imagine for him it’s been but a moment in time.

Entering into last year, I didn’t set any resolutions. I had no word to dictate my days. Or…well, actually maybe I did, but I didn’t know it at the time. In hindsight, if I were to pick a word for last year, it would be survive.

We survived the death of a parent, increased travel for Lee, a baby who didn’t want to sleep through the night, busy sports schedules, and my parents living in Europe. It was hard, but it was also overflowing with blessing.

fambeach

There was a lot of good in 2015, and for that I rejoice.

Heading into 2016, I’m a little more focused. My mind isn’t quite so numb, and the fuzziness of the past year has lifted considerably. So I’m focusing again on a new word for the year.

Pursue

I don’t want to survive this year. I don’t want to get lost in the haze of life again.

This year, I want to pursue.

The idea of a resolution is intimidating. A resolution demands some sort of success. It begs for, well, for resolution. An end. A satisfactory result.

It also sets one up for failure. Anything short of resolved feels undone, and I do hate for anything to be undone.

Pursuit, however, feels more open-ended. To pursue something means to chase after it. Perhaps you catch that which you pursue, and perhaps you don’t, but if the goal is to simply pursue, then whether or not you catch it isn’t really the point.

The goal is in the chase, and so I’ve set PURSUE my word for 2016.

There is no satisfaction in stagnancy, and I refuse to allow it creep into my life. There’s this sort of mentality that creeps up on you when you all approach forty – a feeling that perhaps the best years are already behind you.

I refuse to entertain such thoughts.

Pursue

This year, I’m pursuing that which is ahead of me. And so I’ve written down bullet points of the things I want to pursue:

  • A deeper intimacy with the Creator: What is life if we don’t constantly long to know Him more?
  • The hearts of my children: I often get so caught up in the day to day moments of our days that I forget to pursue my kids – to really know who they are deep down, beyond their outward gifts and abilities; beyond their personality quirks and challenges. This year I want to pursue their hearts.
  • The heart of my husband: We will celebrate sixteen years of marriage this summer, and I’m still learning more about this man I love. I want to pursue a greater depth of knowing who he is in the coming year.
  • A better use of my down time: This year I plan to read more (I’m open to book suggestions – preferably fiction!), and to spend more of my time pursuing those things that expand my mind, rather than simply shut it down (I’m talking to you, Facebook).
  • Excellence in the use of my talents and gifts: I hope to write another book this year. I will be launching two books in the summer and fall. I want to  continue to pursue excellence in my career.
  • Health: I’ve simply let it slide in the last year. I refuse to let my laziness make me old. This year I’ll pursue more healthy living.
  • Friendships: I’ve been richly blessed with dear friends both near and far. I want to continue to cultivate and grow those friendships.
  • Laughter: I just want to laugh more heartily and readily at the days to come.

These are the things I’ll pursue, and in the pursuit I’ll offer myself loads of grace. I don’t have specific goals inside these pursuits as I want to simply enjoying the chase. 

2016 is here. The future is upon us! This is our time to pursue all the beauty that life has to offer. Won’t you join me in the chase?

Have you chosen a word for the year? Feel free to share it in the comments!

The Good Truth

Good.

I like that word.

When I think of the word good, I like to think happy thoughts.

Good is smiling. It’s warm and colorful. It’s happy endings and Christmas mornings. Good is the thing that makes you smile. It’s the light that drives out darkness – the opposite of evil. Good is just so…good.

But sometimes good doesn’t really look like good.

I sat against the back of the pew at church last week and let myself sink into the plush material a little more than usual. I wanted to make myself small, to maybe shy away from the honesty of the message. I wanted to shield myself from the hardness of Truth – a Truth that reveals God to be good.

Even if good doesn’t look good.

“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.”

Luke 1: 46-48; 53

GodisGood

We’re now engulfed in the post-Christmas fall out, and I’m currently sitting at my kitchen table surrounded by a holy mess. There’s an open can of dog food sitting next to me, a dirty coffee cup, three dirty glasses, several napkins, and a huge stack of yet-to-be-mailed Christmas cards.

The table is scratched and scarred, an homage to this life I live. It’s well-worn, three out of the four chairs just a few sits from falling apart completely. We need a new table. We keep saying this over and over.

But there’s something about the scarred table that I love.

If I look to my right I see a kitchen counter piled high with crusty dishes. Just yesterday, I mentioned to Lee as I cleaned the house for the eleventy-frillionth time that had someone told me early on in marriage I would spend the better part of the rest of my life cleaning, I might have been tempted to run far away.

Because motherhood doesn’t always feel good.

With Christmas behind me, I’m reflecting on where we’ve come in the last year. In a very real sense, there’s been so much good for our family this year. Good that actually looks and feels good.

But there’s been heartache, too.

This time last year, my father-in-law was swinging his final punch at cancer. He fought valiantly through Christmas so that he could meet his newest granddaughter, and then it was time to let go.

It didn’t feel good.

The way it all went down when he passed away still doesn’t feel good. Not to me. I will never get over not being there when he took his final breath. It doesn’t feel good.

Likewise, this week is exactly three years since Putin signed into law the ban on American adoptions, an event that has continued to shape and mark me. Three years ago, every hope and dream I had for my family hung in the balance, and as I wade through the darkness of that time, the benefit of hindsight allows me to now claim God’s goodness.

But at the time, I couldn’t see beyond my devastation, disappointment, and doubt.

And so it is that I must continually embrace the hard truth that God alone is good. He is the giver of good things, though my eyes veiled by this earth tend to miss it.

Last week, Lee asked me what I would say to a younger version of myself. What would I tell the fresh-faced, wide-eyed, newly married, twenty-two year old Kelli to prepare her for the journey to come? I had to pause and think through that question. It’s not that easy to answer.

Of course, the obvious first response was, “Dear child – you will have four children, and they will be awesome. You will love them immensely. But you will also spend the better part of the rest of your life cleaning up after them. Prepare yourself.”

But that was a lame answer.

After some thought, I finally gave my halting reply: “I’d tell her that God’s goodness doesn’t hinge upon answered prayer and fulfilled dreams. I’d tell her that God is good because He is God, and that is enough. The heartache to come isn’t a stain on God’s goodness, but is rather an opportunity for you to lean into it.”

As we head into 2016, I pray that each one of you has the opportunity to lean in to God’s goodness; to fully embrace the beauty of who He is, simply because He is God.

May He fill you with good things, and may you all laugh at the days to come.

Happy New Year.

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.

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

You have Successfully Subscribed!