8 Books I’m Thankful For

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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8. An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott

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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!

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

The Trees Sing for Joy

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Whether we’re driving to town or just peering out the front door, the phrase I say and hear over and over lately is “Oh, wow! Look at THAT tree!”

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The sun splashes its light, and the leaves glow warm shades of golden yellow, fiery red and blazing orange. Take a short walk on a fall day and you can’t help but stumble into the endless gallery of God’s gorgeous handiwork.

All this color in the trees brings me joy because it is the work of His fingers. He is an amazing Artist. And so as I say my joyful “Oh, wow!” the vibrantly colored trees seem to sing out in response, “Yes, God is amazing!”

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Joy is the art of God, says author Ann Voskamp. Let us praise the Artist for His joy-giving work. Let us receive the gift with thanks and acknowledge the Giver. To Him be the glory forever.

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“All beauty is only a reflection. And whether I am conscious of it or not, any created thing of which I am amazed, it is the glimpse of His face to which I bow down. Do I have eyes to see that it’s Him and not the thing?” -Ann Voskamp

 

 

Watchful and Thankful

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” 

-Colossians 4:2

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On this beautiful October day, I am thanking God for all the evidence of His glory that surrounds us in nature and for the many gifts He’s given this past week.

I am thankful for a quiet hike through the woods.

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I am thankful for the leaves above glowing all golden in the warm sunshine.

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I am thankful for the leaves below that softly crunch as our boots shuffle through them.

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I am thankful for the cute pair of just-the-right-size rain boots a dear friend gave to my youngest.

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I am thankful for the cheerful Black-Eyed Susans still in bloom.

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I am thankful for the fallen tree that makes a good resting spot.

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I am thankful for the little collection of leaves my oldest carefully gathers up to treasure.

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I am thankful for the lemon-verbena that smells oh-so delightful.

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I am thankful for the dazzling dahlias in bloom.

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Oh, the dahlias make me smile big!

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I am thankful for bright orange pumpkins and bright-eyed girls with big smiles, too.

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I am thankful for our annual family outing to the apple orchard.

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I am thankful for the girls’ favorite wagon, Lacie, and all the memories it holds.

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I am thankful for the delicious harvest of apples to fill our pies and dumplings.

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I am thankful for the pumpkin patch nearby and determined pursuers of perfect pumpkins.

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I am thankful for God’s amazing creation and how it points to His goodness and glory.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:17

 

Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven

“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.

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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.

 

 

 

Finding God in the Hard Times

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

I Give You My Sprig of Lilac

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In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
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With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle—and from this bush in the dooryard,
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With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break.
…I give you my sprig of lilac.
from the poem “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” by Walt Whitman
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A dear friend gave me this gorgeous bouquet of lilac sprigs this weekend. Oh, what a heaven-sent heavenly scent! Lilacs always remind me of my mama, who has been in heaven for 23 years now. And the bouquet reminded me how much I’ve missed having a common lilac bush the last three years since we moved into this house. And so, because it was Mother’s Day, we headed off to the farm supply store and found a lovely, blooming lilac bush all ready to plant.

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Into the ground it went, just outside the kitchen window where I can see it and remember to set my mind on things above, not on earthly things, as I wash the dirty dishes.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” -Colossians 3:1-4 NIV

Thank You, God, for the lovely lilacs, for my dear friend who knew I needed them on Mother’s Day, and for the hope of heaven. Help me set my heart and mind on things above.

Beauty to Behold

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“I do believe that deeply rooted in every human heart is a longing for beauty. Why do we go to the Grand Canyon, the Boundary Waters, art exhibits, gardens? Why do we plant trees and flower beds? …Is it not because we long to behold and be a part of beauty? We crave to be moved by some rare glimpse of greatness. We yearn for a vision of glory.” -John Piper 

Looking for beauty to behold, we made another trip to the arboretum last week. The big sister came along this time and had a turn capturing the gardens with the camera.

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It was the tulips’ turn to shine.

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This orange one was simply radiant in the spring sunshine.

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Tulips long have been a favorite of mine because my mom grew a few of them along the front porch of the house where I grew up.

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Also in bloom were the delicate bleeding hearts. These are another one of my favorites because they remind me of a garden my aunt once had.

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And, speaking of memories, the delightful redbud trees reminded me of the tree my brother and I climbed frequently with the neighbor boys. When playing cops and robbers on our bikes, we pretended the redbud tree was the bank and every leaf was a dollar bill!

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The captivating crabapples are almost blooming, and I’m looking forward to smelling the lilacs soon, too. Isn’t spring like a little glimpse of heaven?

“We should live every day of our life promoting the glory of God.” -John Calvin