Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What I Read Wednesday: Almost Amish by Kathryn Cushman

Almost Amish: A NovelFrom the Cover:
Over committed and overwhelmed, Julie Charlton is at the breaking point. She knows she should feel blessed as a mother and wife—but she just feels exhausted. And then, the miraculous happens.  Her sister-in-law Susan, a Martha Stewart-in-training, lands the chance to participate in a reality TV series about trying to live like the Amish and needs another family to join her.  It’s just the break Julie needs.

But the summer adventure in simple living soon proves anything but simple.  With the camera watching every move, Susan’s drive for perfection feels a lot like what they left behind, while Julie suddenly finds herself needing to stand up for slowing down. Whether it’s cooking, cleaning, or dressing differently, each new Amish challenge raises new complications…and soon each woman learns unexpected lessons about herself and her family.

Andrea’s Take:
Almost Amish is a departure from my usual preference of historical romance, but when Kathryn Cushman broadcast the back cover copy and called for influencers, my reply to her was something like, “This woman sounds so much like me that I really think I need to read this book.”

Almost Amish is a character driven story, and the characters are amazingly compelling. Julie and Susan are easily likened to the Biblical Mary and Martha. Julie’s continual feeling of, “What am I good at? What am I supposed to be doing?” struck a chord in my heart, and resonated with me throughout the story. Often, her scenes brought tears to my eyes because I saw so much of myself in her. She comes to realize strengths in herself that have been hidden under layers of busyness and urgency. 

Susan’s perfectionist-induced stress rolled off of her in waves. At times, just reading her point of view was enough to make my shoulders ache with tension. Circumstances at one point forced Susan to view her life and family from a very different prospective, and she began to realize weaknesses in herself, and strength in others, that she had never understood before. Though I didn’t readily identify with Susan, I did understand her.

After learning some hard lessons about their relationships with each other, their families, and God, both women return home with new determination to simplify their lives in all the ways that count.

Characters to Watch:
Whitney, Brian, and Angie – Julie’s children and Susan’s daughter.  All the children are wonderful, and Angie is instrumental to Susan’s transformation. But thirteen year old Brian stole my heart. He bears an uncanny resemblance to a young man in my church. His dry, intelligent humor had me chuckling often.

Chris – A production assistant for the TV show. Chris doesn’t get a lot of “screen time” in the story, but his presence serves as a catalyst for much of the family drama that unfolds.

Kendra – The show’s producer. Smug and self-serving, Kendra very often had me seeing red.

Some details of the production of the TV show struck me as not quite right, and I didn’t like that Julie’s husband (Susan’s brother) Thomas didn’t accompany the family on their summer adventure.  Since I don’t know anything about TV production, I let that slide with little trouble. Thomas’s presence would have drastically altered the group dynamic. It would have made for an entirely different story, which would have made me very sorry indeed.

Overall, I enjoyed Almost Amish very much. I started reading it early in the morning, read every spare moment, and finished before the wee hours of the morning. It was a day well spent.

I give it Four Stars

Monday, September 3, 2012

Monday Miscellaneous: Bible Study Matthew 4:1-11

I was studying in Matthew some time back and I wrote part of this then. I found it while doing some "housekeeping" on my blog last week. It's still so inspiring, I decided to finish it and post it.

Matthew 4:1-11 The Temptation of Christ

Verse 1, "Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil."

Okay, I've read this a thousand times and never noticed the way it reads, as though the entire purpose of this time of fasting was for Jesus to be tempted!

I run from temptation. If I know it awaits me in a certain place, I quickly and deliberately turn the other way. But Jesus went toward it. Why?

He went toward the temptation so he could give us an example to follow when we are tempted.

Satan tempted Jesus three separate times before giving up.

Jesus continually faced Satan's assaults with Scripture.  "It is written..." was his standard reply.

Even on the third temptation, Jesus didn't say, "You can't offer me that! It's already mine! And by the way, I created you, so it's not likely I'm gonna worship you. Sheesh!" (which would have made perfect sense to me). Once again, He quoted Scripture.

Verse 11 "Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him."

Satan admitted defeat and left. He didn't leave forever, Luke 4:13 says, "And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season." (emphasis added). He wasn't finished, but he admitted defeat for the moment and went off to torment someone else for a while, I suppose.

My most favorite part is, "and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him." How long had it been since He had stood in the presence of His adoring angels or partaken of the good things Heaven offers? His body was tired, sore, and hungry from weeks of deprivation. But the angels came and ministered to him bringing - I believe - Heavenly rations to restore and strengthen Him for His coming ministry.

So what does all this mean to me? Well, I think I've boiled it down to three basic facts.

1. Satan will not give up easily.
If he went three rounds with the Son of God, Creator of the Universe, how much more will he bring against me, a mere mortal.

I realize that's a pretty dismal view to take, but don't give up yet. There's more, and it's really, really good.

2. Satan cannot stand against a defense based on Scripture.
The Bible is the only weapon we can use to defeat Satan. But what a weapon!

Inside this unassuming little book (or perhaps your copy is large and forbidding) lies an arsenal powerful enough to defeat the greatest enemy that ever came against mankind.  And it is at my disposal.

If I take Jesus's example and fire Scripture at Satan every time he comes at me, he cannot defeat me! (yes, I really think it deserves all that emphasis). Eventually he'll get bored and move on, at least for a while.

3. I will receive Heavenly rations when I resist Satan with Scripture.
Okay, so angels may not come down from Heaven bodily and minister to me with food and drink. I'll admit that. But there's something much better than food or drink.

After Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well, he told his disciples, "I have meat to eat that ye know not of." Of course he meant spiritual nourishment. The good stuff!

That's what Jesus gives us when we resist Satan in His name--peace that surpasses understanding and joy rooted deeply in our souls that Satan cannot reach it to corrupt it.

Each time we defeat Satan with Scripture, we grow stronger. Resisting will be easier and easier. Then one day we'll see him coming and whip out that old "Gospel Gun" and send that rascal running with his forked tail between his legs!

What a great God I serve!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sunday Songs: Beautiful You by Trent Monk

The Cover:
As far as I can tell, this one is just a single, not an album.

Beautiful You - Single

The Song:
I couldn't find a video that would cooperate, so here's the link. 

Andrea's Take
Today's offering makes me want to drive down a sun-dappled country road with the top down, hands raised to the sky in praise to my Beautiful God. 

(I don't have a convertible, but that's a minor detail. Right?)

It has a mellow and relaxing melody I just can't resist.

To my friends who prefer a more traditional sound: 
Give this one a listen and see if it doesn't just make you happy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What I Read Wednesday: Short-Straw Bride by Karen Witemeyer

Short-Straw BrideFrom the Cover:
No one steps on Archer land. Not if they value their life. But when Meredith Hayes overhears a plot to burn the Archer brothers off their ranch, a long-standing debt compels her to take the risk.

Years of constant vigilance harden a man. Yet when Travis Archer comes across a female trespasser with the same vivid blue eyes as the courageous young girl he once aided, he can't bring himself to send her away. And when an act of sacrifice leaves her injured and her reputation in shreds, gratitude and guilt prompt him to attempt to rescue her once again.

Despite the fact that Travis is no longer the gallant youth Meredith once dreamed about, she vows to stand by his side. But will love ever be hers? Or will Travis always see her as merely a short-straw bride?

Andrea's Take:
I read Karen Witemeyer's third novel To Win Her Heart after a trusted friend said it was one of the best she had ever read. And I concurred. So when Ms. Witemeyer put out a call for influencers for her fourth book (which I was chomping at the bit to read anyway), I leaped at the chance to own a free copy of Short-Straw Bride, knowing I would love it.  And whad'ya know, I was right!

Karen Witemeyer has created a cast of characters who both tug at and warm your heart. That cast is lead by Travis Archer and Meredith Hayes. Both are orphaned and have good reasons to withhold trust from others. Their brief but memorable history from years ago, combined with the urgency of the threat they both face, compels them to trust one another.

As they learn greater trust, they build on that trust and teach each other to open up in ways they never would have on their own.  Both are Christians from the beginning, but their budding relationship leads them to greater trust in God as well. In the exciting climax of the story, Travis and Meredith face the greatest test yet to their trust in each other and in God.  Both falter a little at the obstacle in their path, but they never really take their eyes off the goal.

Witemeyer is a master at what I call squeaky-clean sizzle. The romantic tension between characters is palpable and sometimes leaves the reader with goosebumps, all the while remaining conservatively PG. As a former devourer of secular (read here: steamy) romances, I find this talent extremely valuable.

Characters to Watch:
Travis's brothers - All of them! Jim was especially endearing to me. He reminds me of a clueless-about-women, man's man Mary Coneally hero. This is a good thing! Though Ms. Witemeyer hasn't published a series or sequel to date, I'm sure her readers would welcome a story (or two) devoted to Crockett and Neill's romances. I know I would!

Cassie - Meredith's cousin and best friend is courageous and fiercely loyal. Clueless cowboy Jim Archer gets a clue real quick when she comes on the scene.

Moses and Myra - Two old and dear friends of Meredith's. They are integral in the growth of Travis's trust of both God and his neighbors. They are the kind of friends who fully warrant that trust.

On my second read through of Short-Straw Bride, the villain fell a little flat for me. Since I don't read romance for it's lifelike villains but rather for that squeaky-clean sizzle, that doesn't affect my enjoyment of the story one bit.

I give it Five Brilliant Stars.

A huge thank you to Karen Witemeyer and her publisher Bethany House for the complementary copy of Short-Straw Bride.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday Songs: Hand in Hand With Jesus

My husband and I recently sustained a terrible shock following the sudden, violent suicide of a dear friend and mentor who once served God with rarely equaled fervor. I felt shaken and wounded, asking God, How can such a thing him of all people? And if it happened to him, once so strong and sure, could it happen to me?

God placed this song in my mind. It stayed with me for days, a constant reminder of His unfailing love. The gentle melody belies the awesome power of that Hand to protect me from an enemy who will stop at nothing to defeat me, and whom I am powerless to resist on my own.

I looked at a few performances before stumbling upon this one by the Cathedral Quartet.

This is a departure from my usual selections of Contemporary Christian songs. I hope you'll enjoy the harmony of this performance. Mostly listen to the words (I particularly like the last two lines of the chorus).

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What I Read Wednesday: Longing for Home by Katherine Springer

Longing for Home (Love Inspired Series)From the Cover:
It seems like the perfect solution: hotel mogul Alex Porter will manage his sister's small-town bed-and-breakfast while she honeymoons. But he gets more than he bargained fore when he finds himself clashing with feisty cafe owner Kate Nichols. Suddenly he's organinzing church outings and playing surrogate dad to the foster children Date takes in. Alex is used to taking charge--but not like this! If he isn't careful, this big-city executive just might lose his heart to Mirror Lake's favorite hometown girl.

Andrea's Take:
Longing for Home is the fourth book in Kathryn Springer's Mirror Lake series. Alex and Kate clashed--I mean met--for the first time at the end of A Place to Call Home, the first book in the series. Right away, I thought they should get their own story.

I love when an author takes a character I can't stand, shows me what makes him tick, and makes me love him. Alex Porter is one such character. To this point in the series, he is the rich city boy who thinks he knows better than everyone about everything and has no use for the small town where his sister has chosen to settle. Not exactly a likable guy.

Kate Nichols is the rare small town girl who never wanted to be anything else. Her town, her diner, and her church are her life, and she's happy with things as they are. Alex's dismissive attitude regarding all those things infuriates her. The resulting fireworks are certainly a sight to behold.

In Longing for Home, we see behind Alex's icy facade to the big brother who only wants to protect himself and his sister from the hurts of life. When those protective instincts rise up and encompass Kate and the two children she's fostering, she can't help opening up to him as well.

Just when you think they've got it made, a final speed bump slows them down and makes them think it over  one last time. Their road to Happily Ever After is by no means smooth, but in the end it's definitely worth the trip.

This book is my favorite in the series so far. I give it 5 brightly shining stars.

Longing for Home is a January 2012 Love Inspired release, and may be unavailable in print. It is available in digital format. Click here to purchase it at Barnes and Noble.

Friday, July 20, 2012

I've Been MIA.

Since April.

You see, shortly after my last Sunday Song Lyrics post, I learned the entire feature was one giant copyright infringement (well, it probably constituted several small ones, but I digress). Apparently it's against United States copyright laws to use song lyrics in anyway.

It has something to do with the percentage of words used, and songs have few words compared to books, so even a small quote uses a great percentage of words...It's not easy to state simply. But it effectively  stripped the wind from my sails.

While I hardly expect to be sued for telling my readers, "This is a great song! Listen to it!", I do want to operate this little slice of cyberspace according to the law. So I've been laying low and rethinking some things.

And, let's face it. It's summer, and Summer = Busy.

In the midst of the busyness, I've been reading (several ) books, watching (a few) movies, and listening to (tons of) songs on the other words storing up blog fodder.

Okay. It's stored up. So what am I going to do with it?

I have no plans to change my book reviews. They are well within what I now know of copyright laws.

Movies are the same...not that I've reviewed many movies. I did see two in the last few weeks that will probably show up here in the near future. A word of warning, I don't watch new movies, at least not often, so don't look here for what to see this weekend...unless you're planning to mine the archives at the movie store for something cheap.

I still love the idea of Sunday Songs, and I'm unwilling to relinquish it entirely. So I'm revamping it. My source  on the copyright laws informed me that embedding a video (as I did with Matthew West's Strong Enough) is perfectly acceptable. It also makes me show up in search engines easier. This is a plus.  "Sunday Song Lyrics" is becoming "Sunday Songs," and will show videos (official from the artist when possible) instead of lyrics.  You'd rather see that anyway. Right?

Album, book, and movie covers are fair game, copyright wise, so I'll still show them off.

I have another little feature up my sleeve, but I haven't hammered out all the details on it yet, so I'll keep it under wraps for now.

Look forward to new posts soon here at Andrea's Take. And to my followers...Thanks for sticking around. I'll do my best to see to it that you don't regret it.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

What I Read: Heart's Safe Passage by Laurie Alice Eakes

Heart's Safe Passage: A NovelFrom the Cover:
All Phoebe Lee wants out of life is to practice midwifery in Loudon County, Virginia. But when she refuses to accompany her pregnant sister-in-law to help save her husband from prison during the War of 1812, Phoebe finds herself pressed aboard a British privateer.

Captain Rafe Docherty promises to get Phoebe’s brother-in-law out of prison in exchange for information Rafe needs to exact revenge on the man who destroyed his family.  As he realizes his attraction to Phoebe, she determines to get ashore before her patient goes into labor—and before her own heart is in danger. But an enemy in their midst threatens to end their plans—and their very lives.

Andrea’s Take:
I read the first book in The Midwives series, Lady in the Mist, and thoroughly enjoyed it, so when Laurie Alice Eakes asked for influencers for book two, Heart’s Safe Passage, I was all over it. And I was not disappointed.

Phoebe is a woman trying desperately to give the pain of her past to God and allow Him to fill her heart. Rafe is a man trying desperately to hold onto his pain, shutting out God and all echoes of conscience. Both think they have succeeded.

When they are forced together, they learn how wrong they are. Phoebe is a loud and insistent voice of conscience that Rafe cannot silence. Rafe’s lifestyle and actions bring to the surface feelings Phoebe thought long-conquered. He says to her at one point, “Perhaps God has used me to lance your wounds so they can truly heal.” Similarly, God uses Phoebe to salve Rafe’s wounds in spite of his determination to keep them festering.

Rafe is a most compelling hero. The tragedy that struck his family, through the machinations of a wicked and greedy man, is truly appalling. The reader can easily understand—and almost applaud—his need for vengeance. Almost.

Phoebe is an admirable heroine. When she realizes she still harbors anger and fear over things in her past, she confesses it, “I want to save your soul, but now I see mine for the tarnished vessel it is.” She learns that God can use even a tarnished vessel if it is willing, and in the using of it, shines it up so it will reflect Him all the better.

Character to Watch:
Melvina: A young lady who has the run of her father’s heart, and his ship despite his efforts to corral her.  She’s a good girl; though getting her way sometimes leads to serious trouble. But God uses the trouble to achieve His goals, and Melvina, though a little worse for wear comes out well in the end.

I thank Laurie Alice Eakes and Revell Publishing for my complimentary copy of Heart’s Safe Passage. The only compensation I received is the sweet satisfaction of enjoying a story well told.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Song Lyrics: Strong Enough by Matthew West

First, let me say I'm sorry. I've neglected this little Sunday Morning feature since my "comeback" a few weeks ago. I'm getting back on the ball now...I think.

The Album:
The Story of Your LifeMatthew West: CD Cover 

The Lyrics:
You must, you must think I'm strong
To give me what I'm going through
Well, forgive me, Forgive me if I'm wrong
But this looks like more than I can do
On my own

I know I'm not strong enough to be
everything that I'm supposed to be
I give up
I'm not strong enough
Hands of mercy won't you cover me
Lord right now I'm asking you to be
Strong enough
Strong enough
For the both of us

Well, maybe, maybe that's the point
To reach the point of giving up,
Cause when I'm finally, finally at rock bottom
Well, that's when I start looking up
And reaching out

Cause I'm broken
Down to nothing
But I'm still holding on to the one thing
You are God
and you are strong
When I am weak

I can do all things
Through Christ who gives me strength
And I don't have to be
Strong enough
Strong enough

The Video:

This song brought me to tears last summer while I was driving to the hospital where my husband was having tests for what turned out to be a cardiac close call. It echoed in my heart again last Christmas when he totaled his truck, and again late this winter when I felt frozen with the stress of moving.

I can do all things, but not on my own, only through Christ who gives me strength. In His strength, there is nothing I cannot do.

God doesn't expect me to be strong on my own. He doesn't want me to be strong on my own. He wants me to call on Him, draw on His strength because He is "strong enough for the both of us."

Click here to read the story that inspired Matthew West write this encouraging song. This story makes all my stresses seem like a walk in the park.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What I Read Wednesday: Addison Blakely: Confessions of a PK by Betsy St. Amant

Addison Blakely: Confessions of a PKFrom the Cover: 
Addison Blakely has never had much trouble pleasing her widowed, overprotective father. After all, he’s a pastor, and she knows her reputation is closely linked to his.  But when the bad boy next door, the cute but arrogant quarterback, and a charming new guy all vie for Addison’s attention, she begins to doubt her resolve. To make matters worse, Addison’s best friend suddenly seems to hate her, a talent show has the entire school at odds, and an exotic foreign exchange student from Germany is shaking everyone up.

Join Addison as she attempt to separate love from lust, facts from faith, and keep her head above water in her murky fishbowl existence.

Andrea’s Take: 
I found myself intrigued with this story when Betsy St. Amant sent out the call for influencers. You see my husband is a pastor, and we have a five year old daughter. In a decade or so (that will seem much shorter, I’m sure), she may find herself  in shoes very similar to Addison Blakely’s, though I hope I’m around to help her then, unlike Addison’s mother.

So, though I’m several years past Young Adult (unless “young at heart” counts), I answered Ms. St. Amant’s call, and I am so glad I did!

This story made time travel possible. It transported me back to the years of high school. I lived again - in a thankfully shorter version - the overwhelming angst and temptation of that time. Addison's struggles are very true to life. And she is a delight to read.  She’s good, but not a goody-two-shoes. She has her little rebellions, but she doesn’t fit the image of PKs gone wild that is often stereotyped. She manages to take the high road mostly, but not always the first time. She is sixteen, after all. 

The story, at its bottom line, is about Addison’s struggle to answer - for herself - the question, “Why Jesus?”  She learns answering that question is the key to answering all the others.

Characters to Watch: Betsy St. Amant has written a wonderful supporting cast for this story. I enjoyed them all, but here are my favorites.

Marta: She is an amazing blessing to Addison. She needs to come back to America and get her own story.
Wes:    Local bad boy, but so much more. I loved him.
Luke:  Every girl should have a friend like Luke.
Claire: That I dislike Claire through much of the book is not surprising, but she comes around. I’d love to see her get her own story too.

*****5 Stars 

I love to give 5-star ratings! And this book earned it. I would not have changed a single thing about it. It’s a great pleasure to say so. Great work, Betsy!

 I received my copy complementary from the publisher, but was not compensated in any way. All opinions are genuine.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What I Read Wednesday: The Rose of Winslow Street

Cover Image From the Cover:
In the small town of Colden, Massachusetts, Libby Sawyer leads a quiet, predictable life. Yet beneath the surface, she is haunted by a secret.
Newly arrived on American shores, Michael Dobrescu is far from predictable, and his arrival in Colden is anything but quiet. Michael's shocking claim to be the rightful owner of Libby's father's house immediately alienates him from the appalled citizens of Colden.
Despite her own outrage, Libby is unwittingly fascinated by this enigmatic man who seems equally intrigued by her. As the court's decision about the house looms and the layers of mystery surrounding Michael's past are unveiled, Libby's loyalties are tested in ways she never imagined.

Andrea's Take:
I approached this, Elizabeth Camden's second book, with caution.


It's simple, really. I absolutely loved her first one (Click here to read my review of The Lady of Bolton Hill. ). She set the bar pretty high, and I wasn't entirely convinced she could live up to it in her second book.

I needn't have worried. She absolutely did do it again.

The Rose of Winslow Street has a cast of the most interesting and unique characters I've ever read. Libby has an amazing talent as well as secret she's ashamed of, and she has a father who takes advantage of the first and never lets her forget the second. Even so, she loves her family deeply. Her loyalty to them - though severely tried - remains strong, even if they don't always return it.

Michael has an unusual gift, which I would never have thought to give to such a big, tough-guy hero. But it is as much a part of him as his large stature and rough, foreign ways. He too is fiercely loyal to and protective of his family, so much that he will, and does, alienate himself from his neighbors and the Sawyer family. His audacity is jaw-dropping in several scenes.

Though their loyalties clash and they drive one another crazy, Michael and Libby share a sense of fair play that won't allow them simply to write each other off as enemies, no matter how badly they want to.  It is on this foundation that Camden builds their romance, and it is a lovely thing to watch. 

All the while, the subplots are unfolding in the background that seem unconnected to the romance. But when they come together, they show how God, in his great love for his people, weaves every detail of our lives into a most beautiful tapestry.

Sibling rivalry plays a part in the lives of both characters, especially in Michael's, where I noticed parallels to the biblical story of Ishmael and Isaac.

I recommend this story to anyone who wants to read a captivating story of the love between a man and a woman and the love of God for his children.

Character to watch: Mirela - Overcoming unspeakable pain, she blooms where God plants her, much like her family's famous roses.

***** 5 brilliantly shining stars

(Note: I gave away my copy of The Lady of Bolton Hill in my birthday bash last fall. Don't look for this one in the next giveaway because I have no plans of letting it go. :)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What I Read Wednesday: A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller

I'm Baaa-aack! 

After a long hiatus, that wasn't much of a hiatus for this painting, cleaning, packing, moving...tired...lady, I'm back. 

A couple of plusses...

1.   All of our belongings (that we intend to keep) have been moved from the old house to the new. Many of them are still packed (a fact that is beginning to grate on my poor husband's nerves), but they are moved.

2.  I lost 6 pounds in the last six to eight weeks of work...and that was living on McDonald's and Taco Bell for about two of those weeks. Not too shabby.

It's not completely done. I still have painting to do...perhaps someday I'll share that story, but not today. And of course there's the hanging up of all the pictures, shelves, and knick knacks. But we're in, and there's time to get settled (though not much if I want to keep my husband happy). ;-)

One thing I have found a little time for in all the ruckus is reading. I have a small tbr (to be reviewed) stack of books (not to be confused with the much larger TBR - To Be Read - shelf, which at a rate of one a week, is full enough to keep me busy for over a year, no kidding. But I digress).

So now I'll bring on the first post back What I Read Wednesday: A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller.

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23The image I display is from Barnes & Noble's website. My copy is very old and was published especially for a Billy Graham Crusade, which I think is kinda cool. 

The short blurb on the back of the Crusade Edition says, "Experience Psalm 23 in a new way: see with the Shepherd's eyes, touch with His hands, feel with His heart through this intimate look into the full life of our Lord--the Great Shepherd."

Andrea's Take:
A wonderful lady at our church recommended this book to me years ago when my family was living in her house (Yes, living in her house. It's a huge house...and I already mentioned she is wonderful.  Yes, that wonderful). This wonderful lady bought a book for my husband and me that we thought at the time was this one, but it was more of a "highlights of..." kind of book, not the real thing.

Fast forward a few years to last fall's Friends of the Library book sale. You know, the sale where hardbacks are a dollar and everything else is less? On the last day of the sale (when even hardbacks are only a quarter) I found this 142 page treasure, and the lady running the till gave it to me...for free.  Yeah.

Well, it's worth so very much more.  Mr. Keller, himself a shepherd for many years of his life, examines the lines of the Psalm one by one, expounding on what they mean to a shepherd and the shepherd's motivation for so many of the things he does for, to, and with his sheep. 

A couple of my favorite chapters are Chapter 2, "I Shall Not Want," in which we learn how human beings are indeed very like sheep; and Chapter 3 "He Maketh Me to Lie Down in Green Pastures," in which Mr. Keller reveals the state of sublime perfection a sheep must experience in order actually to lie down, and explains that sublime perfection is what our Good Shepherd offers, if we will only accept it.

By far, for me, the best part of this book is Chapter 10 "Thou Anointest My Head With Oil..." It is not exaggerating to say this chapter changed my life. In it Keller tells how summer insect infestations often lead sheep to seek relief in self-destructive ways. The watchful shepherd will see the early signs of irritation and apply to each sheep's head and nose an ointment that will repel the pestering bugs.

"What an incredible transformation this would make among the sheep. Once the oil had been applied to the sheep's head there was an immediate change in behavior...she sheep would start to feed quietly again, then soon lie down in peaceful contentment" (116).

The Christian parallel to the ointment applied by the shepherd is the Holy Spirit, "...Christ Himself, our Shepherd, urges us to ask for the Holy Spirit to be given to us by the Father." When life's little irritations bug us we can pray, as Mr. Keller recommends, "O Lord, I can't cope with these petty, annoying, peevish problems. Please apply the oil of Your Spirit to my mind. Both at the conscious and sub-conscious levels of my thought-life enable me to act and react just as you would" (118).

Or if you are me (or like me) you can pray, "Anoint my head with oil. Anoint my head with oil..."

Mr. Keller says, "It will surprise you how promptly He complies with such a request made in deadly earnest" (118). It's true. In the past months of buying a house, painting a house, and moving into a house, I've had ample occasion to try it. It really does work.

I intend to re-read this book. Often.

Here's a link so you can buy it and read it for yourself. Often. It's the best $4.99 you'll ever spend.

I give this book 6 stars because 5 just isn't enough. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Temporarily Out of Pocket

Hello Lovely Readers,

I wanted to post here to say that I'm going to be "out of pocket" for possibly a couple of weeks.

My husband and I are in the process of buying a new house. Things are on track to close well before the first of the month. The appraisal was completed yesterday and must now work it's way back through the bank's bureaucracy to the desk of our local loan officer. I think that's all we're waiting on. Yay!

That said, the purchase of a new home often includes lots of work, like painting, carpeting, and of course packing up the old house. Those are the tasks that will dominate my waking hours for, I'd guess a couple of weeks to come.  (Not carpeting, we'll pay someone else to do that).

I'm chomping at the bit to sit down and write. The good news is, in the new house, there's a cozy attic room--complete with slanty ceilings--that I'll call my own. (I love slanty ceilings. They make me feel tall.)

So if you miss my unique and in-depth insight* into the books and music I enjoy, have no fear. In a few weeks, I'll return, hopefully better than ever.

Wishing you all happy reading, happy writing, happy living!

I'll "see" you in a few weeks.

God Bless You!

*Tongue firmly in cheek here. ;-)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What I Read Wednesday: Summer of Promise by Amanda Cabot

Summer of Promise (Westward Winds Series #1)From the cover:
Though she had planned to spend the summer in Vermont, Abigail Harding cannot dismiss her concerns over her older sister.  Charlotte's letters have been uncharacteristically melancholy, and her claims the nothing is wrong ring false, so Abigail heads west to Fort Laramie, Wyoming. When her stagecoach is attacked, Wyoming promises to be anything but boring. Luckily, the heroics of another passenger, Lieutenant Ethan Bowles, save the day.

Abigail plans to marry when she returns to Vermont, just as soon as she attends to her sister. As the summer passes, she finds herself drawn to this rugged land and to a certain soldier determined to persuade her to stay. When summer ends, will she go back East, or will she find her heart's true home?

Andrea's Take: ****4 Stars
Once again, I'm reviewing a book by an author brand new to me.  I just love "meeting" new writers and their characters.

Summer of Promise is the first in a trilogy called Westward Winds that will follow three sisters in their adventures as they find love in the American West. Abigail is the first Harding sister to grace us with her story. Abigail is what I might call an adventurous homebody.  She thinks she wants to settle down in a pleasant marriage and live in the same house for the rest of her life.  She doesn't even know the adventurer is buried deep inside until instinct tells her that Charlotte needs her desperately.  This untamed side of Abigail is evident in her impulsiveness, but it is driven by her love for God and her desire to help others know and love Him too.

Ethan is on the receiving end of Abigail's impulsive, problem-solving bent...much to his benefit.  His past has left him little understanding of the truth about God's love and sacrifice for him.  Old wounds have left him blind to the love of those who should have been closest to him. With help from the Holy Spirit, along with Abigail, and a puppy named Puddles, Ethan discovers the truth about God's love, his family's love, and of course, Abigail's love.

Storylines for supporting characters give the book a full and satisfying feel. Characters to watch include Charlotte Crowley, Abigail's older sister (whose story we will have the pleasure of reading in 2013), and Puddles, the cutest little mutt ever, among others.

The one thing about Summer of Promise that I might have changed is that the resolution of the romance came later than I like it to.  The ending felt a bit abrupt to me. Faithful readers here have heard me say - so to speak - that I like for the couple to encounter the story's final conflict knowing they are committed to each other come what may. The resolution doesn't happen that way in this book.

This is a matter of taste for me, and I'm sure there are as many opinions on this as there are readers who enjoy the stories.  It will in no way prevent me from keeping a sharp eye open for Charlotte's story when it comes out in a year or more (a tragically long wait!).

Thanks to Amanda Cabot and her publisher Revell for a complementary copy of this book. I hope to get on their list again sometime (say, early in 2013?).

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday Song Lyrics: "How Many Kings?" by Downhere

The Album:
Hom Many Kings: Songs For ChristmasDownhere: CD Cover

The Lyrics:

Follow the star to a place unexpected
Would you believe after all we’ve projected
A child in a manger

Lowly and small, the weakest of all
Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mothers shawl
Just a child
Is this who we’ve waited for?

Cause how many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Bringing our gifts for the newborn savior
All that we have whether costly or meek
Because we believe
Gold for his honor and frankincense for his pleasure
And myrrh for the cross he’ll suffer
Do you believe, is this who we’ve waited for?

It’s who we’ve waited for

How many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Only one did that for me

All for me
All for you
All for me
All for you
Andrea's Take: 
I was looking for a song to post this Epiphany weekend, besides the obvious "We Three Kings," and my friend Melissa, whom you heard from earlier this week, recommended this. She calls it her newest favorite Christmas song. 

It certainly is appropriate as a Christmas song. Even more so as an Epiphany song (though few people in the modern Church would trouble themselves to write an Epiphany song). But it really is universal. In fact, I heard it on the radio just this week, long after most of us have put Christmas behind us.  I have heard my almost 5 year old daughter singing several times since then too.

Told from the viewpoint of the wise men at their introduction to the Christ child, it explores the wonder they may have felt at finding Him in a humble country stable instead of in the grand palaces of Jerusalem they had so recently left. 

It expresses the wonder we all should feel. At Christmas, at Epiphany, at Easter, on the second Tuesday in September. All the time.  Wonder should fill our hearts every time we think of where He came from and what He gave up to come here and save us.

My favorite lines are these:

Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mother's shawl

This is not the only reference in song to the cloths that Jesus was wrapped in, but I think it's my favorite. Would Mary and Joseph have carried extra supplies on their long journey? I doubt it. Would they have wrapped the baby in just any old dirty rag? Certainly not. But a mother would easily sacrifice her own garment for the comfort and safety of her child.

How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?

My faithful readers know me to be an an avid romance reader, so it should come as no surprise that I cherish the picture of God giving up His greatest prize in order to woo his Bride.

And of course:
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
Only one did that for me.

A stark and simple question with its stark and simple answer.

I hope this Epiphany weekend has you in awe and wonder as the wise men must have been on that day. Let's always be sure to offer our best gifts to Him as they did. After all, He gave His best gift to us.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Special Guest to Honor a Little Observed Holiday

Today is Epiphany. You may be asking, "So? What's Epiphany?"

Epiphany is observed in some parts of the Christian world to recognize the day the wise men came to worship Jesus and offer him their wonderful gifts. Most Protestant denominations don't observe it at all. Catholics will observe it, but to the best of my knowledge, mostly they do so with nothing more than a mass devoted to it.

But this forgotten holiday has a rich tradition. I don't know as much about that tradition as I would like to, but I have a friend who has researched it thoroughly, and actually celebrates it. I have asked her to join us today to share about what Epiphany means to her, and how she and her family observe it.

Please welcome Melissa Jagears.

Celebrating a Forgotten Holiday

“We don’t do anything special for Christmas.” “She doesn’t know who Santa is.” “We celebrate Epiphany.” “I’m not putting up a Christmas Tree.”

All of these sentences have come out of my mouth and earned me some incredulous stares. So what is wrong with me? I got tired of celebrating because everyone else was celebrating and feeling like I had to do it just like everyone else because, well, everyone else did it that way.

Even before I had children, I decided that I wanted to focus on the reason for the holidays, not the trappings of the holidays. Both of my families gather for Christmas, but it’s simply a get-together with a bonus present exchange. I couldn’t imagine after the hubbub to go home and do it all over again, and I don’t ever plan to. So, I decided we would observe an entirely different holiday, make our own traditions, and tailor the focus where we wanted it.

The obvious choice for a generally unobserved religious holiday was Epiphany, King’s Day or Twelfth Night. What is Epiphany? Epiphany means “manifestation” or showing forth of Jesus as divine Son of God. Christmas marks Jesus’s humanity, the Epiphany is to highlight his divinity (Wise men visit, Dove descending at baptism, and wine into water). In the first century church, the only holiday observed was Easter, the second century added Epiphany, the third century added Christmas. The Twelve Days of Christmas refer to the twelve days between Christmas (Dec. 25) and Epiphany (Jan. 6).

The biggest observers of this holiday are Latin American Catholics and the Orthodox Churches in Europe, so I researched all their traditions and then chose the ones I liked most that fit what I wanted to do. Here are the fun things that many of them do to celebrate (Besides liturgical practices):
  • A King’s Day Cake or Bread. A cake is baked with a crown/ring (or other item) inside. Whoever gets the crown gets to be King for the day and the others serve this person.
  • The children take down the Christmas tree that has hidden candy and cookies. The children keep the spoils they find while dismantling the decorated tree. Burning the tree.
  • A procession, usually made up of children dressed as wise men who parade around the neighborhood caroling and carrying the Bethlehem star, some giving away coins or treats to the houses they visit or getting such from the houses they visit to donate to church that typically is the final destination of the procession. Or they bless each house they stop at. Or three men dressed as the Wise men hand things out to the village children.
  • A presentation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night or other plays, pageants, and dances.
  • Men scramble into the ice cold water to retrieve something thrown there, or cut out a cross-shaped hole in the ice to be baptized in, bless the water and distribute the blessed water, or just to show off their manliness–predecessor to the Polar Bear Plunge, I assume.
  • Children leave out stockings or shoes for the Wise Men to fill up when they visit, or they fill a box with grass and hay and place under their beds for the Wise Men’s camels which gets replaced with treats.
  • Yule Log, Wassail and other specialty food which they gather together to eat.
I wanted the emphasis to be on Jesus and less on ourselves. But as typical me, I decided I want to do it my way. So here are the things I’ve decided to do with our family:
  • For the Twelve Days of Christmas, I intend to read a book(s) each night about Christmas and its true meaning. For the younger children, I have a nativity set they can play with that I can use to tell them the story.
  • If I ever get suckered into a Christmas tree, we’ll take it down that day.
  • We’ll leave our boots outside the front door and hang a star to guide the wise men to us who will fill them with stocking stuffer items. I never liked Santa, but I like these historic gift givers.
  • The wise men will also leave three gifts per person (one for each traditional “3” wise men):
    • A gift to represent gold which will be money equal to the age of the recipient; however, this gift will not be to keep, it will be used to buy Jesus a gift. The family will decide whether to pool our money together or purchase Jesus a gift individually. We will read Matthew 25 and discuss that giving to poor people, visiting prisoners, etc. is how we give Jesus gifts. Then we’ll brainstorm options, whether purchasing something from Heifer International or similar places, giving the money to or volunteering at the various charities available in our area, or seeing a need and using our money and time to meet it, etc. and make a plan on when and how to do so. Any extra money from piggy banks would certainly be accepted.
    •  A gift representing wisdom aka books (or how-to DVDs, CDs). I limit myself to no more than 3 books per person in this package or I know myself and there’ll be more books than square footage in my house!
    • And a gift or themed package for fun—the typical “big” Christmas gift.
  • Our families have never read the Christmas story, so that was one of the main things I wanted to incorporate—perhaps when the children get older, I will have them write a Christmas play during the 12 days to perform for a nursing home (since we don’t live by any relatives). I really like the idea of a procession of wise men, but I think no one would know what to do with us if we showed up on their lawns singing on January 6th. So, the nursing home/shut-in audience in the future will satisfy my desire to try that aspect and be another service project for a gift to Jesus.
  • I don’t like the king for a day aspect of a King’s Cake because I could see that creating quite a bit of sibling rivalry and focusing on ourselves, so since we are celebrating this day as Jesus’s birthday party, we will bake a birthday cake for Jesus.
  • Getting rid of the cake, er, Game Night with Friends. To share our Jesus birthday cake and spend some time with others, we intend to invite a different family over every year on the evening of Epiphany (or closest weekend evening) to play board games, and will probably purchase a new game every year to accommodate our children’s ages.

I want to challenge you to think about the last few weeks. Did your family focus on the things you wanted to focus on? If not, how will you address it for next year? Life is too short to do what everyone else expects you to do.  Be bold, dare to get stared at with incredulity, make sure you family is making the memories you want to make.

Melissa Jagears is a stay-at-home mom who writes fiction into the wee hours of the night and Andrea's crazy, highly opinionated, socially inept, blog collecting, former college roommate.

If you read Christian Historical Fiction, check out her Inspirational Historical Fiction Index to find those books sorted by setting, decade and other subjects.

If you are interested in frugality, check out the archives of her Making Do With the Not So New blog.

Melissa, thank you so much for telling us about your version of this "forgotten holiday."

To all of my readers out there,

Were you familiar with the name and meaning of the Epiphany holiday? Did or does your family do anything to recognize it? Or was this all new to you?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.