Extreme cold and I are not the best of friends. We are not the worst of friends either, but with negative wind chills, snow that stays for days, and limited sunshine, I am reminded of why I call this season “neverwarm”. In this weather being outside for more than a few minutes causes my glass eye to become an ice cube, making it impossible to blink. I’m not tall enough to reach the top of my car to clear off all of the snow, thus becoming one of the very people who drive me crazy on the roads with snow flying everywhere. And even with multiple layers, my hands and feet are always cold. Always.
Suffice to say, Winter is not, and never has been, my favorite season. Some would claim that the above statements give me good reason for that. With gritted teeth I found myself this past week growing increasingly perturbed at the lingering arctic vortex that swept through the region and then decided to stick around, telling myself to just get through the days until Spring finally arrives.
Then, I was reminded of two things. One, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Everything, Lord? Even this ridiculous weather? Yep. Two, winter has a purpose. Without the cold, and the snow, and the darkness, we would not have such beautiful Springs, or the ability to appreciate the vibrant colors, warm temperatures, and sunshine. So this week I have been asking the Lord to help me see the beauty in winter, and to learn to embrace this season, even a little bit.
Here was part of His answer:
It is difficult to capture in a photo what you actually see, so as pretty as these pictures are, understand that the real life experience of standing on the sidewalk and looking at the sun glittering on the snow as it disappeared behind the surrounding houses was breathtaking. There is beauty in winter; we just have to choose to see it.
Finally made the time to sit down and finish the other half of my book list! Many of the non-fiction works I read over the past few months were biographies. Their stories of courage, leadership, strength, and humility in times of crisis challenged my complacency and stirred in me a desire to pursue growth in these areas of my own life. It is inspiring to read about the lives of those who have lived in times so different from today, and yet often facing many similar challenges. The last two on the list are books I used to accompany my Bible Study – reading a chapter or portion of a chapter (in the case of Scandalous) each day.
Churchill, by Paul Johnson
Johnson’s short but thorough biography focuses primarily on Churchill’s varied and dramatic political life from before WWI through the Korean War. I have long been fascinated by the life of Winston Churchill, and this book only deepened my respect and admiration for him. He was a man of discipline, resolve, and gumption, willing to stand and fight in the face of ridicule, abandonment and fierce opposition. Johnson also shares about Winston’s personal life – his faithful marriage to Clementine (they were married 57 years before his death at the age of 90), the 5 children they raised, his hobbies as an artist and writer. If you want to read about a life well lived, I encourage you to read this engaging work.
No Ordinary Men: Resisters against Hitler in Church and State, by Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern
Much is known, written, and celebrated about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his work in the resistance against Hitler and the Third Reich, but very little seems to be known about the equally important life of his brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi. In this book the authors reveal the essential collaboration between Hans, who worked in the Abwehr (government agency), and Dietrich, who served in the Church. The success that Dietrich had in his efforts would have been virtually impossible had Hans not had the inside knowledge of what was happening in the government. Well worth your time and attention.
Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore
A true story of friendship, faith, and unconditional love, this book will move you from tears, to laughter, and back to tears again. Denver grew up without a name in rural Louisiana, caught in a cycle of modern-day slavery through sharecropping. He escapes and eventually lands in Fort Worth Texas, where he lives on the streets and struggles to survive. Ron is a wealthy international art dealer, separated from Denver by far more than a set of railroad tracks. Ron and his wife Deborah begin volunteering at a homeless shelter, and it is there that they first meet Denver. Written by both Ron and Denver, learn about the way the Lord brought these two unlikely people together, and turned them into brothers. An amazing story that will encourage your faith and challenge your complacency.
The 23rd Psalm for the 21st Century, by Lon Solomon
This is the first book I’ve read written by the Senior Pastor at my church here in northern Virginia, and it in Pastor Lon takes the well known Psalm 23 and exposits the text for our current generation. Pastor Lon has been leading trips to Israel each year for the past 20 years or so, where they still have Shepherds dotting the hillsides. He utilizes the knowledge he has gained over the years of watching the Israelites shepherding to bring this text to life and help us understand why this imagery is so important in the life of a believer.
Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, by D. A. Carson
Carson is one of the most engaging modern-day theologians I have had the pleasure of listening to or reading. I first heard Dr. Carson speak on this subject back in March 2012 when he came to the THINK conference hosted by my church in Indiana. This book is an in-depth look at five passages of scripture that illustrate the scandal of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he writes with clarity and conviction. This book will give you a deeper understanding of this Jesus we follow, and of the eternal ramifications of the most beautiful news in the world.
Have you read any of these? What are the non-fiction books have you been reading and enjoying lately?
The start of a new year calls for a new list of books! Over the past few months I have managed to fit in some good reading time, filled with a wide variety of both fiction and non-fiction. Since there are so many to share, I am breaking them up into two lists. Here are recommendations and short synopses of some of the fiction books I have read over the past few months.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
This was my favorite read from 2013, and I plan on reading it again soon. The characters in this story are fun, genuine, and quirky, and from the first page they became like dear friends. It is written as a series of letters from Julia, the main character, to her publisher, his sister, and a group of men and women on the island of Guernsey off the coast of Britain. She is in London working on a story based on the Literary Society this group started during World War II, and in the process she grows to love them as her family. If you read only one work of fiction this year, I encourage you to choose this one.
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
Set in Germany in the throes of World War II, this is a deeply moving story narrated by Death, who tells of a young girl named Liesel who gets into the habit of stealing books. A foster family in Munich takes her in after losing her mother and brother, and it is her foster father who teaches Liesel to read. Her foster parents find a young Jewish man on their doorstep in the middle of one night, and over the months that they shelter him, Max and Liesel form a deep friendship.
Wildflowers of Terezin, by Robert Elmer
A moving and thought-provoking novel based on the true story of the courage and determination of the Danish people to save their Jewish countrymen from annihilation by the Nazis. Steffen, a quiet and gentle Lutheran pastor in Copenhagen, reluctantly agrees to help the tenacious and vibrant Hanne Abrahamsen smuggle a group of Jews out of Denmark by boat. As the resistance grows, Steffen’s faith deepens and so does his relationship with Hanne. When she is captured and taken to Terezin, a work camp located in Czechoslovakia, Steffen’s participation in the Resistance grows stronger. With themes of faith, sacrifice, love, perseverance, and brotherhood, this book is well worth your time.
Now, in case you are under the impression that I only read books set in World War II, here are a few more from a wider range of genres.
The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton
This is the first of Kate Morton’s writing that I’ve read, and I was captivated by the story of a young girl who appears on a wharf in Australia by herself with no idea where she came from, and fleeting memories of a woman known only as “The Authoress”. She ends up being raised by the Wharf Master and his wife, and at the age of 18 her father tells her the truth about how he found her, embarking her on a quest to find out who she is and where she came from. She assembles a few of the pieces, but is unable to put together the whole story, so after her death her granddaughter continues the journey and discovers the whole truth. Well written and easy to read, this book keeps you engaged from beginning to end. Morton does an excellent job of weaving together the mystery, giving you just the right clues along the way.
The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton
Like The Forgotten Garden, this book is also a mystery that weaves its way back and forth from the early 1900’s to the present. It follows the life of Grace, who as a young girl worked as a housemaid at Riverton, and tells of the unique and tragic relationship she has with the mysterious sisters of the manor, Hannah and Emmeline. The story centers on the death of a young poet at the house in 1924, and Grace is the only living witness to the event. Now that she is old, Grace decides it is time to tell the whole story of what happened, choosing to share it through recorded tapes to her Grandson. At points this book seemed a little tedious in the details, but overall it was engaging and worth the read.
Divergent, by Veronica Roth
This dystopian novel is similar in tone and themes to The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins (although from what I have read, Roth began her story long before THG was in print), with a strong female lead character who rises up to help lead a rebellion against the autocratic and oppressive government. Books such as these remind me of the saying “the best way for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” (Edmund Burke). As a student of history, these stories remind me of the resilience of people and the unwillingness to submit to tyranny indefinitely. At some point, truth wins over lies. Every time. I found the storyline of this particular novel a bit lacking in depth and character development, and it was easy to guess where she was going with the story. If you enjoy this genre though, the story is clean and a quick read.
Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline
Another novel based on true events, Orphan Train is the ficticious story of two women separated by about 80 years, who meet and find out that they share a very similar life story. Molly is a young woman about to be aged out of the foster care system in 2011, angry at the world and at her life. She steals a book from the library, and has to do 50 hours of community service. She ends up helping 90 year old Vivian clean out her attic, and discovers that she was one of the 249,000 orphaned children sent west from the east coast between 1850-1930 to live and work with families who were willing to take them. This is a quick read, and one that is full of humor, poignancy, and the realities of love and loss. It is also a fascinating historical lesson on what happened to many of the children who rode the trains, and will make you want to learn more about this time in our history.
Let’s start at the end. Who do you want to be when 2014 is over?
Have you thought about that? I am not talking about resolutions that will be forgotten by next month – this is about constant, gradual growth that results in ending a year different from who you were when the year began. One of the most important lessons I have learned about growth is that it does not happen by accident. Very rarely does someone look up after plodding the same path year in and year out and realize that they have become a different person. Growth requires intentionality, a pursuit of knowledge, and the willingness to try life in a different way than you have done before. Change comes when we resolve in our heart to think, act, speak, and live with purpose.
As each new year begins, I sit down with the Lord and answer three questions:
How did I grow in the previous year?
In what ways did God provide for me as my Jehovah-Jireh? (We are given an example all through Scripture of taking time to remember God’s faithfulness to us, and celebrate what He has done for us. This is a beautiful way to begin a new year!)
How do I want to grow in the new year?
Last year, I chose Proverbs 31:25-26 to serve as the theme for my growth and development. The verses say “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future. She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue”. As I stood on the brink of a year of major change, my prayer was that these two verses would be reflected in my life: that I would face each new day with strength and dignity, and my lips would speak with wisdom and kindness.
2013 was a significant year, because for the first time my trust in the Lord and in His plan was so much stronger than my own will and desires. O, Praise Him! Slowly, slowly, I am learning to trust the One who is eternally trustworthy. So often my own feeble will rises up and declares that I know better, that I can manage my own affairs; yet time and again my way fails. The gospel enters then, reminding me that even my best effort is worthless, compared to Jesus. In His grace, the past 365 days have brought me deeper intimacy with Jesus, a greater reliance on Him & insight into His will and plan, and a few steps closer to becoming like the One I have chosen to follow.
Another noteworthy area of growth over the past year was in seeing my singleness as a gift, and choosing to embrace this time in my life. Recognizing that marriage is not the holy grail – it is a gift from the Lord, full of its own challenges – but singleness is also a gift, one to be treasured and used to bring God glory, a time full of potential and hope! And whether married or single, my focus and my treasure must be in Christ alone.
This year as I prepared to work on answering the questions, I was challenged by speaker and author Tim Elmore to take it one step further and write out a plan for each month of ways to grow in the specific areas. As an almost OCD-planner type, I can’t believe I haven’t done this before. I am so excited for 2014, and to see where I am in 12 months!
2014 Growth Plan:
Theme Verses: “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35.
Areas of Desired Growth:
Writing & Photography
Relationship with Christ
I have written out specific ways I want to grow in these five areas, and have picked out 25 books to read during the year (two for each month, with one extra) on a wide variety of these topics, decided what conferences I am going to attend, and located areas in my life that need change in order to re-adjust my priorities.
The Lord has designed each one of us differently, and maybe all of these lists and having so specific a plan sound like torture to you. Everyone’s growth plan should look different, because we all grow in different ways. My challenge to you is to live this year with purpose. To start by asking the Lord to help you know who you are right now, and what He wants your life to look like by the time the year ends. Whether you answer the three questions above, or completely different ones, the goal is to dream big, and trust the Lord to grow you in mighty ways this year. As we grow, our impact on His kingdom most often grows along with us! What joy to experience growth brought about by the Holy Spirit, and make an eternal impact on the world.
Happy New Year! May the Lord richly bless you this year as you walk in obedience with Him.