Being Watchful During Advent

In the readings for the first Sunday of Advent, we were admonished to “be watchful”.

  • Be watchful for Jesus. 
  • Be watchful for opportunities to minister to others. 
  • Be watchful for others ministering to us. 
  • Be watchful for the movement of the Holy Spirit

Be watchful for Jesus.  To Christians, we are in a perpetual season of Advent, waiting for the coming of Christ. This is amplified annually during the Christmas season as we wait for the birth of the Christ-child. Our readings, our reflections are about watching…watching those around us for the joy of the season.

I am seeing this daily in our home. This is the first Christmas that our youngest actually understands that there’s something going on. She is sooo excited about Christmas – sure, it’s the excitement of Santa and of getting gifts, but she is enthralled by everything Christmas-related. She was so happy to help me set up our small Nativity scene the other night. We talked about each piece and what they were. Now whenever she walks by it, she says that it’s her “special thing” that she did with Mommy. For her, Advent is taking “too long”; but for us, it’s not long enough.

Be watchful for opportunities to minister to others. The holidays are a time that donations spike. People are in a giving spirit and they are called upon, whether by others or by their conscience, to give of their time, money, or talents. Ministering to others doesn’t have to be formal affair…maybe it’s as simple as holding the door for someone who is burdened with items, or a kind smile when you see someone who is frazzled. It may be volunteering for a task at work, your church, or other organization that would stretch your comfort level. It’s amazing how ministering to others can influence your everyday life.

Be watchful for others ministering to us. I tend to rush through my day always playing catch-up. I don’t always notice others as I go about my tasks. I tend to want to do things on my own, and I will struggle through a task even though someone else may have offered to help. My challenge in the coming years is to learn to accept others who are ministering to me. To accept that smile, to accept that offer to babysit, to accept that little girl’s hand in mine and not to rush through my day. Accept each person ministering to you as a gift and say “Thank you” with a spirit of thankfulness and grace in your heart.

Be watchful for the movement of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit moves in unexpected ways. Stories of people who made a serendipitous connection with a stranger abound, or how the non-answer to a prayer was really the answer to the deeper prayer. Be watchful for how the Holy Spirit moves in your life and the lives of those around you. For us, we struggled for years with wanting to have a child. We decided to become foster parents so that we could help others, but we still wanted to have a child of our own. We were finally blessed with the gift of two little girls who fit perfectly into our lives and our family. God heard our cries and even though we weren’t blessed with a child of our bodies, we were blessed with children of our heart. The Holy Spirit moved in mysterious ways.

How have you been watchful this Advent season?

“House of Secrets” by Tracie Peterson

Bailee Cooper has been the “mother” of her family since her mom died when she was young.  She has always felt responsible for her younger sisters, and has put her life on hold/reorganized her life to ensure that she is available to her sisters.  Her dad has not been much help, other than paying for things – education, clothing, homes, etc.  To a certain extent, her younger sisters have also resented her actions/interference in their lives, but have dealt with it because she takes care of everything.

Bailee is offered a promotion at her job where she has been a freelance editor for a number of years.  Her boss, Mark Delahunt, wants her to be independent for once.  Over the years, he has become her friend, no matter the walls she erects…and has begun to care for her.  Bailee is fighting her desire for the position because of her responsibility to her sisters.

Out of the blue, Bailee’s dad summons her and her sisters to their summer house in Washington state.  Not only is this unusual because her dad wants to spend time with them, but also because the sense of their mother is so strong in this house.  The girls have often believed their father had a hand in their mother’s death, but have never confronted him about it.  At the beginning of their vacation, they decide to confront their father with their beliefs – to make him answer to them.

However, nothing goes as planned.  What they imagined as true is false.  What they remember as dreams are reality.  How they perceive their father (and themselves) is not necessarily the truth.  This book is about walls being torn down, people accepting others for what they are, and people accepting themselves for what they are – not what they think others need them to be.

This book is beautifully written and there are twists and turns throughout.  My heart broke for Bailee and her sisters, and the impact that secrets have had on this family.  Through their relationships with God, they will find their way.

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.

“The House at Tyneford” – A Story About Life Continuing On, No Matter What

I am very interested in World War II-era stories, especially stores of those affected by the Holocaust.  This book starts at the beginning of WW2 in Vienna.  Elise and her family have a good life in Austria .  Her father is a novelist, her mother is a musician.  The problem is that they are Jewish.  The family is trying to get everyone out of the country, but they are having problems getting visas.  Elise is able to leave the country because she is being sponsored by an English family to come and work as a house servant.  Being the youngest in the family, it’s hard for her to leave, but she does so with the understanding that her family will send for her when they get to America.

Elise has never truly worked.  Everything has always been done for her, so when she arrives in England at Tyneford, she is in for a rude awakening.  Housemaids work from before dawn to after dark.  There is never a moment’s peace.  And it’s even harder when you don’t speak very good English.  Luckily, the squire (Mr. Rivers) is a kind man and has read Elise’s father’s books.  Kit Rivers, the squire’s son, is not around much, but when he is, it brings life to the house.

Elise has to work through a number of things – learning English, being away from her family, seeking information on her family, as well as just adjusting to a different way of life.  She is a source of suspicion from those who visit the house, a source of frustration to the head butler and housekeeper, and a curiosity of sorts for the villagers, Mr. Rivers, and Kit Rivers.

The novel follows Elise’s life throughout her time in England.  I found it interesting to read about what her life was like as a Jew in England and how much faith it took to continue to exist while her family was in such dire straits.  Her relationships with the Rivers men are interesting, if unsurprising.  My heart ached for her – wanting to know what was going on with her family, trying to find her way in England, and yet dreading the information that could come at any time.  But each day, she got up and continued on with her duties and responsibilities, knowing that she is trying to make her parents proud.

One thing I found a little distracting was the fact that Elise doesn’t refer to her parents as Mom and Dad, it’s Anna and Julian.  Maybe that’s because they were such public persons and she didn’t relate to them as Mom and Dad.  But it was something to get used to.

I really liked this book and would definitely recommend it.

I received this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.

“The Christmas Singing” – A Wonderful Christmas Story about Perceptions

The Christmas Singing is a quiet novel set in the current day.  Mattie and Gideon grew up together in their Pennsylvania Amish community, and eventually were engaged.  However, Gideon broke Mattie’s heart when he broke up with her three years ago.  Mattie gathered herself together and moved to live in the same Ohio town as her brother.  There, she was able to follow her dream of opening a bakery and built a small, but successful company.  She even started to move on and met a new man from the local Amish community.  Sol has a steady, quiet demeanor that appeals to Mattie after her relationship with Gideon.

When Mattie is faced with the destruction of her company, she runs into Gideon again.  She is forced to confront her feelings for him, her feelings for Sol, as well as her desire to reopen her business.  Mattie has always believed that she was the wronged party in the breakup between her and Gideon.  However, things are not always as they appear.  Gideon has had a very good reason for breaking up with her – one that Mattie has to take the time and the reflection to discover.

Mattie has a standing engagement for the Christmas singing.  Either she goes to her hometown singing with Gideon, or she meets Sol at the singing in Ohio.  Whichever one she chooses will determine her future.

I liked this story.  I thought that it was a great story and I liked how calm the writing was.  I had the feeling that I was getting to know these characters, even though it was a short novel.  I liked that Mattie seemed to be more “worldly” than some of the other Amish heroines.  She seems so very creative and her bakery has allowed her to earn a living doing something that she loved.  I was caught up in the differences between Sol and Gideon.  While I wanted her to pick the right man, I could see how she would be conflicted, given the circumstances.

I received this book from WaterBrook Press for the purposes of reviewing it.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

What I am Thankful For – Days 11, 12, & 13

Here is what I have been thankful for the last few days…..

Day 11: My husband who served in the Army for four years.  He spent a year in Korea, serving at Camp Casey.  The remaining three years were spent at Fort Lewis, Washington.  He came hope from Korea, we were married a week later (on a Friday), and then moved to Washington on Sunday.  Those three years we spend in Washington weren’t always easy, but I was proud of him for his service.

I have a lot of family members who have served in the Armed Forces, both in war and peace.  It’s not always easy being the person at home, but it’s our way to serve.  I’m reminded of a paragraph in the Patriotism lecture in Rainbow:

Hers is the first battle, and hers is the first victory. It is the sister that kisses the brother good-bye, placing her sweet benediction upon his lips. He marches away under flying colors to the sound of martial strains; but she, in the silence that follows, fights the first battle. Womanhood stands back of the ranks and holds up the Flag at home, for if it were not for Womanhood and the love that is centered in her realm, there would be nothing to incite him to deeds of bravery on the field of battle.

That paragraph didn’t have the same meaning until I was that person at home, even though he wasn’t going into battle.

Day 12: I am thankful for my family – immediate and extended.  It is family that gathers around for special occasions – birthdays, holidays, weddings, funerals – that makes life worth living.  Family gives you something to look forward to, people who love you no matter what happens, and people who rally around when things aren’t so wonderful (most of the time).  In the end, it is all that matters.

Day 13: Today I am thankful for naps!  Yesterday, we had two little girls who didn’t want to rest and take a nap.  That led to a very frustrating evening.  They got up too early this morning, so naps it was for the afternoon.  They must have been tired – they slept for over 3 hours!  Now, we have two little girls who want to snuggle and are well rested.

There’s No Place Like Home

Grandma and Grandpa

This was written at St Martin’s University in 1998.

Growing up in Iowa was more fun than it sounds.  Every summer, my mom and dad would load up us kids and trek us halfway across the state to my grandparents’ farm outside of Ames.  Admittedly, this doesn’t sound like that much fun either, but when you are a kid and you get to spend from the day after school gets out to the day before school starts again, it’s a blast.  Three months of sun, being outside with animals, spending time on rainy days making all sorts of little projects Grandma saw on TV, is a kid’s dream come true.

I spent every summer from when I was born until I started high school at my grandparents’ farm.  I guess I didn’t realize until I was older just how much I appreciated being there for long periods of time.  Not only did I get to spend time with relatives that I only saw every couple of months, but I was exposed to an entirely different atmosphere than at my parents’ house.  Mom and Dad lived in the city, but Mom had grown up on the farm.  At this point in my life, I realize that those moments spent next to my grandparents and great-grandparents are irreplaceable.

The images that I remember are of fields of corn in the summer…actually walking between the rows and pulling weeds and tassels; rows upon rows upon rows of soybeans…again, actually walking between the rows and spraying weeds for hours on end; rows of mown hay being bundled into bales…and more bales…and more bales.  Then there are the fun images – those of a calf first learning how to stand, all wobbly and scared.  A Brown Swiss cow standing in the midst of all the black and white Holsteins chewing her cud.  Getting up early in the morning to go feed the calves and to help Grandma with her chores (and Grandpa too…if you got up early enough).  Walking what seemed to be HUGE herd of cows down the road to the other form…and scared that they would run away and then what would happen?  I remember picking flowers, picking corn, picking beans (green beans, not soybeans), and my favorite — strawberries.

There are certain smells that always will take me back: the smell of a cow lot or pig lot (no one else seems to like that smell), the smell of fresh cut grass; the smell of my grandma’s house on anything she sends me; the smell of cookies and cakes and roast; the smell of corn on the cob just before it’s time to take it out of the pan to eat!  It is funny how something so simple can bring back a wealth of memories and feelings that you had forgotten about.

I was always amazed how Grandma kept up with all the people that were in and out of her house.  The “boys” (aka my uncles) were (and still are) always coming and going.  There is memorabilia all over the house from when they were in 4H. My favorite picture is the large framed picture of Uncle Charles showing the cow.  That picture hangs over the bed in the basement.  There are running jokes about how slow Grandma eats, or how she is always going to clean off the pool table, or how she’s going to get a head start on her Christmas cards.  I think that other things were just more important to her, and she wanted to make sure her cards and letters had her personal touch on them.

I remember when Great-Grandma was still alive and living at the other farm.  I used to walk over there to make cookies with her.  Great-Grandma had the coolest house – it was old and had all sorts of nooks and crannies to hide in.  At the other farm, the cow pasture (a real pasture) had a stream.  I was only allowed to walk along the stream one time.  Great-Grandma also had to get up really early and give the older calves their milk.  That was always scary because we had to go down into the basement (which everyone knew had a snake in it) then mix up the powdered milk with the water and VERY carefully walk up the narrow staircase to go outside.

Even if I went back now, I would still fall back into the same pattern that has been in place since I was born.  I would still get to sleep in the “Big Kid’s” room.  I would still sit at the same place at the kitchen table.  I would still know where everything was, because nothing has been moved in years.  Grandpa would still take a nap before lunch in his recliner, while Uncle Charles would take his nap after lunch either on the living room floor or downstairs.  Grandma would still take forever to eat and would fall asleep in her recliner at night.  Grandma still measures the grandkids (and great-grandkids) on the refrigerator. She still threatens to swat us with a fly swatter or make us sit in the corner if we misbehave.  There is a continuity at the farm that I haven’t found anywhere else.  It’s almost as if the farm exists in its own time warp.

I can remember when things were a little different.  The farm had its own gas station (for lack of a better description).  Uncle Mark lived at home (he’s the youngest), and he drew pictures and portraits.  Grandma drove.  Grandma kept a bigger garden – almost part of field.  I remember when Grandpa still grew sweet corn and we spent a lot of time husking it in the back of a pickup, then carting it into the house for the “womenfolk” to boil it, take it off the ears and freeze it.

Looking back, I realize that even though they weren’t obvious to me at the time, I learned a lot of lessons about life that have stayed with me.  The value of hard work and the benefits you receive from a job well done.  The satisfaction of playing when all the work is done, and even how to make what seems like a tedious job fun.

Note: In the 13 years since this was written, a lot has changed.  Grandma died a few  years ago after being sick with Alzheimer’s.  Grandpa no longer actively farms, although he occasionally raises some pigs for Iowa State.  The other farm is gone, it was used for a controlled burn a number of years ago.  But the feeling of family, of continuity, of love, still remains.  It is, and always will be, the center of our family’s gatherings.

“Belonging” by Robin Lee Hatcher

I enjoyed this book.  I have read other books by Robin Lee Hatcher, so I kind of knew what to expect, but this was a great relaxing book.  Felicia’s story is heart breaking.  Orphaned as a child, she is sent via train out West, where she is taken in by the Kristofferson family.  She lives with them for a number of years, and although emotions are not expressed often in the household, she feels she is a member of that family.  This helps to assuage the loss of her brother and sister when they were adopted after their mother died.  However, that feeling of “family” comes crashing to a halt after the Kristoffersons died.

To escape an untenable situation, she accepts a teaching position at Frenchman’s Bluff.  They have gone through a number of “schoolmarms” recently and several of the school board members are leery of hiring another – especially one who is older and has no real experience.  Luckily for Felicia, she is unaware of this opinion until after she starts the job.

One of her students is Charity Murphy, who has had reading problems.  Her father is a widower and is allowing Felicia to stay in a cottage behind his store.  He was told that Charity will never be able to read by a previous teacher and he is afraid that Felicia will be of the same opinion.

Even with that pressure, Felicia finds ways to connect with the town.  She attends church, finds people with similar interests, and gets to know her students and their families.  In the back of her mind is her search for a family of her own.  She seeks a family of her own to settle into. She even is searching for her brother and sister who were adopted before her.

Her relationship with God is important to her, and she seeks His guidance for her actions.  For new readers of Robin Lee Hatcher, the religious aspect may be a little overwhelming, but it is her style, and one that I have enjoyed in almost every book of hers I read.

I hope this is the beginning of a series.  I want to find out what happens with Felicia’s search for her brother and sister.  I want to see how Charity grows and changes.  I think it’s a great start.

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I received a copy of this book from the publisher via the NetGalley program.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.

What I am Thankful For – Day 6

Barn kittens on my lap

Today I am thankful for the comfort and relaxation of spending a few hours in a horse arena with my husband and daughters.  And the delight of sitting down to watch, only to have kittens crawl up on my lap and fall asleep.  One at a time, these little bundles of fur crawled up, found a spot to sit, curled up next to (or on) their buddy, and then promptly closed their eyes.  They only wake up when a horse comes too close or someone makes a loud noise.

Kittens feeling comfortable enough to trust you while they sleep is always a comfort to me.  Thank you little ones.

What I am Thankful For – Day 5

Today, I am thankful for people who are patient with me and help me to understand.  Sometimes, it’s hard for me to put into words what I want.  There are those who try to figure out what I want, and others who try to assume they know what I want.

Life is sometimes about taking what is given to you and making the best of it.  In the famous words of Tim Gunn “Make it Work!”.  I think that is going to be my motto for the next week or so.

What I am Thankful For – Day 3

Today I am thankful for my job – for several reasons. 

  • First, I am able to earn money that pays for my house, my car, groceries for my family, utilities to heat my house, and generally provide for my family. 
  • Second, my job provides health insurance, which I will have to use today when I take the girls to the doctor for possible ear infections. 
  • Third, my job allows me to use my education and experience for the betterment of the company.
  • Lastly, my job is 10 minutes from my house.  That allows me to spend more time with my family and be available for my kids if they are sick.

I have worked a lot of jobs in my life and I can honestly say that this job is one of the best I have had.  I appreciate the fact that they took a chance and hired me.