I made a book! It’s a weekly calendar book with a spread for each week of 2020. It features each of the 52 Fighter Verses for Set 5 and includes space for recording what you are thankful for each day. If you record three items each day, you will have thanked God for more than a thousand things by the end of 2020. I did the layout and typography, and my teen daughters helped with some of the watercolor backgrounds. You can preview the calendar and purchase yours through this link. Happy 2020!
When I first heard that Andrew Peterson, a songwriter, recording artist, and fiction-writer, was releasing a non-fiction book titled Adorning the Dark, I pre-ordered it right away because Andrew’s work really resonates.
About 18 months ago, I fell in love with his amazing song “Is He Worthy?” and really his entire album titled Resurrection Letters Volume I. His folksy songwriting style brings to mind Caedmon’s Call, the Ragamuffin Band, and the late Rich Mullins, a very gifted musician whose songs I first heard in college and still enjoy listening to a couple decades later.
Reading Adorning the Dark, I learned that those same artists actually influenced and encouraged Andrew early in his music career. Likewise, Andrew is himself a Barnabas type. He’s committed to encouraging other artists — whether they are musicians, writers, or painters. He’s been doing so for years through his ministry The Rabbit Room, which fosters Christ-centered community and spiritual formation through music, story, and art. And now his book Adorning the Dark extends that ministry in the form of a memoir/handbook.
One big take away from the book is the emphasis not just on writing but also on finishing. Every artist is tempted to slow down or get distracted or quit altogether, and so Andrew reminds his readers, “…it is only by discipline that you’ll finish, and it is only in finishing that you’ll be able to offer up your humble work to those weary souls who may need it.”
Adorning the Dark highlights the need to serve the work and serve the audience, too. Andrew writes, “Those of us who write, who sing, who paint, must remember that to a child a song may glow like a nightlight in a scary bedroom. It may be the only thing holding back the monsters. That story may be the only beautiful, true thing that makes it through all the ugliness of a little girl’s world to rest in her secret heart. May we take that seriously. It is our job, it is our ministry, it is the sword we swing in the Kingdom, to remind children that the good guys win, that the stories are true, and that a fool’s hope may be the best kind.”
If you’re like me and have a few unfinished creative projects gathering dust, Adorning the Dark may be just the encouragement and inspiration you need to carry it on to completion for the sake of adorning this dark world with the light of Christ.
Side note: As I write this during Advent, I am listening to Andrew Peterson’s album Behold the Lamb, which I highly recommend. And I’d be remiss not to suggest that Andrew’s fantasy-adventure series, The Wingfeather Saga, would make an excellent gift for any young readers on your Christmas list. My kids have thoroughly enjoyed the series and are hoping to soon update their personal libraries with the new hardbacks that feature captivating new cover art and illustrations.
With the switch to Daylight Savings Time coming soon, it seems timely to revisit Greenwich, England.
You’ve heard of Greenwich Mean Time. Folks here seem to have invented time itself. Well, to be more accurate, they invented how to measure time, and I am thankful for that.
Clocks, antique timekeepers, and all sorts of devices for astronomy and navigation are featured throughout the Royal Observatory here, which was founded by Charles II in 1675.
The Great Equatorial Telescope (1863) is impressive.
To fully appreciate what’s on display at the Royal Observatory, you have to realize the problem of being lost at sea and the problem of longitude.
Back in the 1700s, longitude was an urgent problem, especially for sea-going nations involved in international trade. The precious lives of sailors and the valuable cargoes their ships carried made navigation at sea a matter of life and death. Skilled sailors, out of sight of land, could only find their north-south position (latitude). They had no methods or instruments to accurately calculate their east-west position (longitude). They did not know where they were!
Unfortunately, mapping the night sky and trying to predict the complex motion of the Moon does not work so well on cloudy days at sea. So after lots of trial an error and a big invention competition, the problem was solved by the development of a portable clock that could keep accurate time on board ships.
John Harrison, an 18th century clockmaker, made the first practical marine timekeeper, a monumental development in navigation.
Way back in 1775, Harrison claimed that his clocks were a hundred times better than those made by his contemporaries. And a few years ago, this clock, titled “Burgess Clock B,” set a Guinness World Record for being the most accurate mechanical pendulum timekeeper of its type. It uses a radical theory proposed by Harrison, and it varied by only half a second in 100 days, finally proving in 2015 that Harrison’s claim was correct.
If you have time to read it, the book Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time tells all about Harrison and how important longitude is to navigation. My sailor husband highly recommends it.
The biggest tourist draw at the Royal Observatory is not the clocks, though. It’s the Prime Meridian of the World. That’s zero degrees longitude, where the eastern hemisphere and western hemisphere meet.
And it’s a prime spot to stand in line outside to take a selfie.
The Prime Meridian covers 12,427 miles from pole to pole, but most of that is an imaginary line that doesn’t show up in a selfie.
Inside and away from the crowd, I couldn’t resist standing with one foot and one daughter in each hemisphere.
Learning about longitude and time made me ponder it for a while. How do we know where we are? Where does time go? Why does it disappear faster and faster the older we get?
Frequently in motherhood, when I see my kids growing taller and notice the years flying by so quickly, I want to panic like a sailor lost at sea. It’s easy to feel like time is running out and I don’t know where in the world I am. It’s easy to wish for some way to stop the clock or maybe even turn back the hands on the clock.
But I don’t truly want to go back in time. Not really.
One of my favorite authors, Ann Voskamp, writes: “I watch the hands move grace on the clock face. I’m growing older. These children are growing up. But time is not running out. This day is not a sieve, losing time. With each passing minute, each passing year, there’s this deepening awareness that I am filling time, gaining time. We stand on the brink of eternity.”
Likewise, author Elizabeth Foss writes: “No, I don’t really want to stop time. But I do want to fill it. I want to fill it with gratitude and grace worthy of the days I trade for them… I want to take each one of these days…and really live the story [God] intends. I don’t want time to stand still, but I do want to still my soul and fill the time with His blessings.”
The idea of filling time with gratitude and stilling my soul encourages me.
My prayer is that God would teach me to number my days so that I gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12). My prayer is that, as I count the days, that I make the days count. And my prayer is that I would walk carefully and wisely, making the best use of my time and understanding God’s will for me (Ephesians 5:15-17).
“He gives snow like wool; He scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down His crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before His cold?” —Psalm 147:16-17
Some days the complaints about winter weather pile up faster than snowflakes around here. Grumbling comes easy when the outside air hurts my face and my hands are dry, cracked and bleeding. Weariness and discontentment can deepen as I clear the driveway and sidewalk.
But someone has kindly pointed me to Psalm 63. And the words in verse 3? They melt me.
“Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.”
Can my dry, chapped lips glorify God while they grumble and complain about the cold and snow He sends?
Can my heart truly believe that His steadfast love is better than life? Why does my heart doubt His goodness in sending the weather?
“Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.”
I put on these words and wear them close, like a layer of Under Armor insulating my prone-to-wander heart.
Then I take a walk in the fresh snow.
I stop now and then to take a picture. Fresh air and photography help me re-focus my heart and be more watchful of His goodness, His grace, His love. Each beautiful flake of snow is worthy of pondering closely.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11
God is always good and His steadfast love endures, even the thermometer reads -31 degrees F like that Sunday morning back in December. And even when it’s -31 degrees, I can still be thankful and trust the One who sends that cold. Because the One who sends the cold, He is the One who provides what I need to keep warm. Warm socks, hot tea, fire in the fireplace. He provides. And His love never fails.
“For to the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour, His mighty downpour.” Job 37:6
“By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast.” Job 37:10
Another day I walk across the lake. And walking on water, albeit frozen, tests my faith. I’m inclined to question every step, but God reminds me to trust Him.
“Let me hear in the morning of Your steadfast love, for in You I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to You I lift up my soul.” Psalm 143:8
Trust builds with each thank-You prayer. So I thank Him for the sunshine and fresh air. I thank Him for a quiet morning. I thank Him for guiding me step by step.
In the marsh, the cattails capture a soft, shiny glow in their fluff.
And there on the frozen lake the light catches on the flakes, and the snow sparkles — as if someone has scattered little diamonds across it, shiny little treasures waiting to be found.
“Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.” Psalm 63:3
Outside my kitchen window, a dapper little junco tap dances around the new little lilac bush we planted on Mother’s Day. The leaves on the lilac are still green, but the bush is surrounded by a small heap of dry brown leaves that blew off the maple tree on the other side of the yard.
It’s the first week of November. Soon the branches of all the bushes and trees will look thin and bare. Soon Daylight Savings Time will usher in shorter days. And soon that lonesome north wind will howl in the night.
Beauty in nature is hardest to find in Minnesota November. And if I linger too long thinking about my least favorite month, I will easily slip into complaining and feeling discontent. But then the calendar reminds me Thanksgiving is coming. And is it too corny to say I am thankful for Thanksgiving? Because I am grateful my favorite holiday falls during my least favorite month of the year.
I appreciate that Thanksgiving brings not just a delicious feast with my family around a dinner table overflowing with food, but also a rich, joyful feast for my soul as I count my blessings throughout the month.
Through the dull, gray days of November, I see that God’s grace still abounds with every breath I take. And God’s Word reminds me (yet again) that I need to keep speaking the language of thanks. Praise and gratitude should forever be on my lips, not just because it makes my soul joyful, but also because giving thanks glorifies Jehovah Jireh, the LORD Who Provides. He is indeed the Giver of every good and perfect gift.
To help ring in the month of Thanksgiving with that attitude of gratitude, I have for you a little list of eight Thanksgiving-themed books that I have loved reading aloud with my family. I am thankful for these books because sharing each of them with my kids has been a blessing I’ve counted — sometimes more than once.
1. Almost Home: A Story Based on the Life of the Mayflower’s Mary Chilton by Wendy Lawton
This is a well-researched, 140-page chapter book in the “Daughters of the Faith” series. It relays the story of 13-year-old Mary Chilton, who also sailed on the Mayflower and bravely begins a new life in Plymouth. I especially appreciate how this story begins with the persecution these believers endured before leaving for America, as that really puts their situation into context. I also like the brief but very helpful glossary of unfamiliar terms in the back. I suggest this book for youth in upper elementary grades and up.
2. Over the River and Through the Wood: A Thanksgiving Poem by Lydia Maria Child
I immediately fell in love with this picture book when my sweet friend Carla read it as part of a November story time for homeschoolers at the library one year. Of course, a few lines of the poem were already quite familiar to me, as they likely will be to you. But how delightful to have the entire poem as well as fantastic woodcut art to illustrate it! This is a treasure for all ages.
3. A Light Kindled: The Story of Priscilla Mullins by Tracy M. Leininger
This nicely illustrated, 60-page chapter book tells of the faith and courage of Priscilla Mullins, who was 18 years old when she sailed to America in the Mayflower in 1620. As one of only four women who survived the Pilgrims’ first winter, Priscilla endured many hardships and relied on God for strength through loss and trials. I suggest this one for school-aged kids and any younger person who will listen to chapter books. I am sad to say this one is out of print, but check your library or used book sites like Thriftbooks.com.
4. The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh
This charming picture book on Thanksgiving was published in 1954, and it received Caldecott Honors. Alice Dalgliesh is one of my favorite children’s book authors, and I like that she includes a tidbit about the wash day the Mayflower women had shortly after arriving at Plymouth. Clean clothes are indeed something to thank God for! Can you even begin to imagine how disgusting those clothes must have smelled after that lengthy ocean journey and all the illness on board? Ugh!
5. Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson
When my dear friend Julie read this picture book two years ago, she right away knew that I would love it because it is a true story about the first female magazine editor in America. With an informal and humorous tone, the book explains how Sarah Hale used her pen to “save” Thanksgiving by arguing for it to be a national holiday. Like me, you may have to forgive Mrs. Hale for also arguing against pie for breakfast. I mean, why should we not eat pie for breakfast? This one is great for all ages.
6. The First Thanksgiving by Linda Hayward
When my daughters were learning to read on their own, this “Step into Reading” series was a great fit because the stories and illustrations are well done. I like that this early reader about Thanksgiving was well-researched and informative.
7. Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller
Written in rhyming verses, this newer picture book about a family cooking their Thanksgiving feast feels like a familiar old friend. It is short, catchy and simply delightful to read. Plus the illustrations are just so quaint and darling that I can almost smell the turkey in the oven.
8. An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott
The text for this 32-page picture book comes from what originally was a longer story published in 1882, so the content has been significantly abridged and adapted. Usually that would deter me. But the illustrations by James Bernardin are so captivating I could not resist this version of the book, and I found the story is still quite worthwhile. The book’s length is ideal for all ages, and older students also might enjoy comparing this version to the one illustrated by Michael McCurdy.
Happy November and happy reading, my friends!
“Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go now.” That’s a line from a popular song by country music star Kenny Chesney. It’s catchy because it’s true. It’s rare to find someone who seems very eager to leave this life on earth. It’s rare to find someone who even wants to talk seriously about it.
I think this is true partly because none has a clear picture of what heaven will really be like.
But as a believer in Jesus Christ, I know heaven is my ultimate destination, and so it should be foremost in my thoughts. In fact, the apostle Paul specifically urges us in Colossians 3 to set our hearts and minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Reading Elyse Fitzpatrick’s newest book, Home: How Heaven and the New Earth Satisfy Our Deepest Longings, has helped me set my heart and mind heavenward. The book overflows with Scriptures and Bible-based commentaries about heaven and the New Earth.
Fitzpatrick also clarifies some of the confusing and non-Biblical ideas many have about heaven, and she carefully explains the homesickness Christians feel living here on earth while our true citizenship is in heaven.
“Home in the place to come will truly be Home for us because it is where the Lord is. We miss him. We feel so homesick because we are ‘away from the Lord’ right now,” she writes.
In addition to offering wonderful glimpses of what heaven and the New Earth will be like, Fitzpatrick offers very fascinating thoughts on how the church on earth is like stepping into another realm.
“The church on earth is the doorstep of the church in heaven… it is the shining portal through which we catch glimmers of golden light… it is through the church that we are reminded that He provides all our needs, pardons all our sins, and protects all of us all our days,” she writes.
She adds that, “The church, when it’s functioning as it should be, should almost enable us to experience the world to come; it should make the division between here and there nearly transparent… the church should be a place where we get glimpses, whiffs, whispers of it [heaven] from time to time.”
Encouragement and comfort abound throughout this book, especially for those who are suffering.
“Life in the New Earth is only good news to those for whom this old earth no longer promises satisfaction,” she writes. “The Word of the Lord to all who trust in Him is that everlasting joy is coming, and nothing can stop it!”
Amen to that!
Please note: In exchange for this honest review, I received a free copy of the book from Bethany House Publishers.
One Sunday morning 11 summers ago, I stood in the auditorium with our church family singing together the worship song “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt and Beth Redman. I shuddered with fear when we sang the boldest line, “You give and take away, My heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be Your name.”
Did I really believe this? Would my heart trust God with this tiny person growing inside me? I knew that God had given her to me, but what if He chose to do the unthinkable? What if He chose to take her away before she was even born? Would I still be able to bless His name? And would I continue to trust Him with the sweet but fidgety little two-year-old blonde that my husband held beside me as we sang? What did it really mean to bless God’s name anyway?
Looking back over the last decade, I see God’s faithfulness as our family has walked down various roads marked with suffering, trouble and loss. In His great grace and faithfulness, God has blessed me with the gift and responsibility of being a helpmate for my husband and mothering these two precious girls, now ages 10 and 13.
Through every phase of family life, God continues to teach me what it means to trust Him with all my heart in the hard times. He continues to show me how to be watchful and thankful and how to praise Him for every blessing He pours out. And God continues to minister to me through the words of Matt Redman’s music and writing.
Earlier this spring I was delighted to hear that Matt and Beth Redman have just published a second edition book called Finding God in the Hard Times: Choosing to Trust and Hope When You Can’t See the Way. It’s a concise book, only 123 pages, but it’s powerfully written.
Each of the five chapters is titled with a phrase directly from the lyrics of the worship song “Blessed Be Your Name,” and each chapter is reinforced with many quotes from Scripture as well as three brief but meaningful questions for reflection. The book is an excellent resource for individual study or for a five-session group study because the appendix features a discussion guide for small groups and a complete listing of Bible references for further meditation.
One of the things I like best about this book is how it is both inspiring and practical. For example, in the first chapter the Redmans write about what they call “spiritual motion sickness,” which they describe as “living in the tension of what we think we know to be true, and the deep pain that seems to contradict it.” Pointing to truths in Lamentations 3 and Psalm 13, they offer these wise and practical remedies for building your faith and fanning the flames of worship when you’re in such an unpleasant condition:
“The key is to reinforce what deep down you know to be true, by adding extra revelation. Spiritually speaking, roll down the window and stick your hand out. Open the Bible and feed upon the truths of God and His faithfulness. Strengthen your understanding of His ways as you read. Find encouragement in the lives of those who chose to trust His power, grace, and purpose amidst their darkest hours. Look over His track record in your own life and in the lives of those you know to love Him. See how often He has poured out the oil of kindness in times of trouble. How on many occasions He has rescued seemingly at the last possible moment — or turned around something that at the time seemed like it could never lead to fruitfulness… The discipline of remembering helps us keep a grip on hope and find our way on the paths of praise… Remembering releases rejoicing.”
This is a book I will likely re-read, and I anticipate reading other books by the Redmans, including The Heart of Worship Files.
Please note: In exchange for this honest review, I received a free copy of the book from Bethany House Publishers.