Brave Beauty: Finding the Fearless You (Grand Rapids: Zonderkidz, 2017)

Brave Beauty devotional book for girlsWhile reading Brave Beauty, a devotional for tween girls,  I couldn’t help but think of how much I would’ve appreciated a book like this when I was growing up. Those preteen years are the beginning of an awkward time for girls. I remember having so many doubts about myself and whether or not I fit in. Author Lynn Cowell does an excellent job making readers feel understood and valued.

The book is comprised of 100 mini chapters, courage-building ways for readers to find answers by growing confident in God. Topics range from family, self-worth and friends, to faith, forgiveness and loving difficult people. The author uses a simple, yet effective style to communicate godly wisdom. Each chapter includes a brief example/story followed by a “Becoming Brave” practical challenge and a “Courageous Call” to action. The bite-sized chapters will appeal to young readers–and “older” readers, too, as I find myself looking forward to what’s coming next!

The author offers this gem: It takes bravery to be a girl who thinks people are more important than things. The culture we live in makes “stuff” like clothes and the newest phone so important. A brave beauty recognizes that people are more important than things.

So true and important for girls to learn this when bombarded by a culture that values materialism.

If you have a young girl in your life, get her Brave Beauty. It could be life-changing!

 

 

A Spectacle of Glory (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016)

I’m always excited about receiving a new devotional book, and this book by Joni Eareckson Tada is no exception. In my opinion, she is one of the most qualified individuals to write about showcasing God’s glory. Joni Eareckson Tada devotional bookShe has done this beautifully as she has learned, by God’s grace, how to live with the chronic pain and suffering of quadriplegia for nearly 50 years. I can’t imagine…

Her inspiration touched my life profoundly when I read her book, Joni, in the late 1970s. She wrote about the diving accident that left her paralyzed as a teen and how she wrestled to accept that God could use her life more  to impact others from a wheelchair than if she could walk. Her faith and wisdom has only matured through the years. Her latest book, A Spectacle of Glory, is a 365-day devotional that offers comfort and hope to anyone who is struggling with difficult circumstances.

Each devotional focuses on a Bible verse, followed by a short reading that encourages readers to allow God’s light to shine through them, no matter what they’re going through. The daily offering ends with a heartfelt prayer.

In one reading, Joni refers to Psalm 46:1. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” She writes: When you are in trouble, God doesn’t just send help; He is your help. And this help is ever-present.

Joni’s writing is transparent, real, and encouraging. There’s a calmness and simplicity in what she shares, yet a gentle authority. Her daily insights will help you discover how to put God’s glory on display–how to say “no” to complaining and “yes” to following God as you walk the most difficult paths. I like this book because I feel like I have a friend accompanying me on the journey–someone who really knows the ropes when it comes to dealing with pain and suffering.

Handlebar Media provided a free copy of this book for my honest review.

Christmas: God’s Special Delivery

I’d like to tell you a story. It happened a long time ago, but not in a galaxy far, far away–though living on Okinawa, Japan for three years seemed that way! I’ll never forget the first year Randy and I celebrated Christmas overseas  with our sons, Chris and Jeremy, who were 7 and 4- years old. It’s a poignant memory as  we’ve recently said good-bye to Randy’s mom. Even though we’re heartbroken by her loss, we’ve found comfort in a parade of memories that span several decades. This is a story about her and her generous heart that blessed our lives beyond anything I could ever have imagined.

Travel back with me through time…December 1978. Two little boys are seated at the kitchen table working on their Christmas wish lists. winter

“Mommy, how do you spell bionic?” Seven year-old Chris looked up from writing his Christmas wish list. He’d been searching the Sears catalog for pictures of the Bionic Man, the to-die-for toy every little boy wanted in the late 1970s. He and his younger brother Jeremy had grown increasingly concerned about whether Christmas would come to Okinawa. They wanted to make sure their grandparents knew exactly where to send their presents.

I smiled when I saw their lists. The boys had written pages of their most wished-for gifts; robots, Lego sets, and the all-important Bionic Man. They included catalog page numbers showing where to locate their requests. Rather than lecture them about the virtues of giving, I allowed them the freedom to write without mom-assistance. We sealed their letters and dropped them at the post office.

I confessed silently that I also wondered if Christmas would come to our overseas home. It didn’t seem at all like December. Banana palms flapped outside our windows, and the children played outside without jackets. Back home in Pennsylvania, winter had set in. I imagined snow blanketing the countryside. We almost always enjoyed a white Christmas. Not on Okinawa!

The highlight of our pre-holiday days was stopping at the post office to check for packages or letters, the only connection to our family back in the States. This was long before cell phones, Facebook, and Skype. We didn’t have a phone. Even if we called the United States from the military base, the phone bill would have cost a small fortune.

I reached into our mail box with anticipation. Empty. I managed a smile. “Don’t worry, guys, it takes a long time for mail to come all the way across the ocean to us,” I said with forced optimism. They didn’t buy it.

As Christmas got closer, I began to get concerned– and more homesick than ever.

Finally, our daily post office trip paid off. There among several letters and Christmas cards was the coveted green slip. We had a package!

Chris and Jeremy jumped up and down. “Mommy, please can we open it?”

How could I say no? The boys ripped off the wrapping paper, and pulled out some chocolate candy, a stuffed teddy bear, and some picture books.

“That was nice of Grandpa and Grandma, wasn’t it?”

They nodded, but I could tell they were disappointed.

“Do you think they got our letters?” Chris asked.

“I’m not sure, honey.” I knelt down so I could give him my best mom’s heart-to heart. “You know, it’s fun getting gifts, but we have to remember the real meaning of Christmas. Jesus is the most special gift.” I could tell they weren’t convinced.

Christmas Eve arrived much like any other day on Okinawa. Business as usual, no last-minute shopping at malls or carolers crunching through snow. Would Chris and Jeremy understand that it was too late for more packages to arrive? I determined to set a positive example. We could still celebrate Christmas, even in a foreign country, even without many gifts.

We attended the candlelight service on base later that night. Randy and I held hands while we sang “Joy to the World.” The chapel glowed with flickering candles. I looked around and realized that we had become an extended family with these friends we had come to know. Even though we lived in an unfamiliar place, we weren’t alone.

The chaplain interrupted my thoughts. “You might not realize it, but you’re making memories for a lifetime here. Oh—one final announcement. I’ve just gotten word that there’s been an unexpected mail delivery tonight. Be sure to stop by the post office. Maybe there’s a surprise for you. God bless you–and Merry Christmas!”

Of course, we joined the crowd of families checking our post office boxes one last time before Christmas.

“Daddy, are there any packages for us?” Chris and Jeremy looked hopeful.

They cheered when they saw the green slips in our box. We quickly took our place in line. I held my breath while the postal clerk searched through the mountains of packages. None of us could believe the huge package she set on the counter addressed to Chris and Jeremy Kalmbach.

Randy helped the boys tear open the gigantic box from Pennsylvania. On top of the stack of wrapped gifts was a letter.

Dear Chris and Jeremy,

We know it’s hard to be far away at Christmas. Here are all the gifts you wished for. We love you and miss you. Have a wonderful Christmas!

I still remember the incredulous look on our sons’ faces as they unpacked that box. There were the Lego sets, the robots, and yes, even the Bionic Man.

I felt stunned that Mom had found every single gift. My first reaction was embarrassment for allowing the boys to write such extravagant lists. Then I understood. They wanted us to feel their love and the joy of our family Christmas traditions, even halfway around the world.

And isn’t that what Christmas is all about? The love of family and friends and gifts sent to homesick kids is only a small reflection of God’s most extravagant gift, His special delivery of a Savior to a broken and hurting world.

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.Mother Teresa

Thanks, Mom, for the many ways you showed God’s love to us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Are Enough: Overcoming Negativity

Wanted-Gods-Heart-for-You-By-Holley-GerthI recently enjoyed some coffee time with a few girl friends at the delightful 3 Bears Cafe and Quilts in our small town. It’s the kind of place where you feel good just being there, surrounded by bolts of bright-colored fabrics and a warm, welcoming atmosphere.

Our conversation focused on what was happening in our lives. As I came away from our time together, I thought about how each of us has struggled  with a negative opinion of ourselves. The “voices” that tell you you’ll never be good enough to attract a caring, kind man, you’re too stupid to ever amount to much, you’ll never be able to change in a positive way. One friend told how her 8-yr. old grandson already considers himself a loser! How sad that he’s decided this so early life.

At one time or another, we’ve all heard about the power of words–how they can have a positive or negative impact–especially when we’re vulnerable as children. Even though we can’t control the words that others may hurl at us, we can learn to deflect them. We can sidestep them–evaluate whether what is being said has any truth. Then we can focus on God’s truth of who He says we are instead of being influenced by others’ opinions. We can believe we are enough.

When I was a third-grader, I had an emotionally unstable teacher. As I child, I didn’t have the maturity to evaluate her comments, to temper them, and be OK with myself. Instead, I spent that year in her classroom terrified of her anger. We students didn’t know who the unsuspecting victim of her wrath would be on any particular day. On at least one occasion, it was me. One June day, I sat at my desk long after all my classmates had finished their math tests. My clammy hands felt sticky on the desk. The blank test paper told the story. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.

Mrs. Miller (name changed to protect the not-so-innocent) glared at me with her hands planted on her hips. What don’t you understand? Student struggling

Uh-I don’t know, I stammered.

What don’t you understand? Mrs. Miller screamed at me. She picked me up out of my desk and shook me, trying to force out an answer.

By this time, I was hyperventilating. I don’t remember how I got free from her grasp. All I know is I ran out of the classroom without looking back. I pedaled home on my bike at lightspeed. I refused to go back to school that afternoon. In between sobs, I tried to explain to my mom what had happened. I had bought the lie: I was stupid. School was no  fun. I had to be on high alert because of a teacher’s emotional outbursts. Math was difficult through most of my school career.

The following year, I had a patient and compassionate teacher. She was surprised by how shaken I was when asked to go to the blackboard to solve a math problem–a story problem–the worst! She wrapped her arm around me and assured me I could do the math. With encouragement, I found the classroom to be a safe place where I could learn and grow.

It isn’t easy to move beyond the negative, critical voices we’ve all experienced. To believe we are enough, that God designed us to be unique, beautiful creations. I really like the graphic by Holly Gerth inserted above. Yes, we are imperfect and flawed. Some of us can’t do math. But we’re loved through it all if we can only dare to believe. And the best part is that we don’t have to apply to be selected as a recipient of God’s love. He has already chosen us.

Here’s what the Creator of the Universe says about you:

You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14

I have loved you with an everlasting love. Jeremiah 31:3

I will strengthen you and help you. Isaiah 41:10

I have called you by name. You are mine. Isaiah 43:1

I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. Isaiah 49:16

I rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:17

You are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:31

I will be with you always. Matthew 28:20

I have called you friend. John 15:15

I chose you. John 15:16

Today’s Assignment: Begin to believe YOU ARE ENOUGH!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watch for the Light

It’s an early morning in December, still dark outside. I curl up into the overstuffed couch, wrapped in my pink fleece robe. Efforts to get up and be productive are more of a challenge these days with cold, gray mornings and frigid temperatures icing the windows.

I force my sleep-fogged eyes to focus on what I’m reading. Moments of quiet before the day is off and running are an antidote for the winter darkness. In addition to reading my Bible, I’m also reading Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. I’m so pleased that I received a copy of this book from the publisher to review.  I find myself looking forward to quiet moments each day. I don’t even mind that it’s still dark!

At first, I thought this book would be a more typical seasonal devotional–short, meaningful stories with a takeaway biblical principle. Though I always enjoy a good devotional book, Watch for the Light is different. This book is a collection of readings from a wide variety of classic and contemporary sources: C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Day, Philip Yancey, T. S. Eliot, Annie Dillard, Martin Luther, and many others. There’s a selection for each day of the Christmas season, starting with the last week of November through the first week of January.

These writings are no-fluff. Some are poems, some are longer essays, but rich in meaning and well worth taking time to read and ponder. I’ve decided I’m not in a hurry to complete this book on schedule, though you could easily read individual selections when you have time–and still find it valuable.

I’ll probably be reading Watch for the Light into January. It will be meaningful to consider the thoughts and inspirations of these novelists, poets, theologians, and composers from long ago and from more contemporary times. I’m reminded in these dark days preceding Christmas, to watch for the light, the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. If you were going to add one book to your Advent and Christmas reading, I highly recommend this one. As the editors point out, “it will give new meaning to the phrase ‘holiday preparations.'”