Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Songs of Joy

Lately, days seem to run together. Sometimes I don't know the day or date. 
What I do know is God has created evening and morning, and in his presence I find joy.

This colorful sunset fell over Lake Erie, as we watched in awe and wonder. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Children's Picture Book Review: Fiona, It's Bedtime by Zondervan (Author), Richard Cowdrey (Illustrator)

Book Description:
It’s time to go to bed and Fiona can’t fall asleep until she’s said “GOODNIGHT” to all her animal friends at the zoo.

Fiona, It’s Bedtime, a follow-up to the New York Times bestseller Fiona the Hippo and A Very Fiona Christmas, is the latest book to showcase the adorable internet sensation from the Cincinnati Zoo. Fiona is beloved by fans all over the world, and her newest book is the perfect bedtime read-aloud for cuddling with your little one. Fiona, It’s Bedtime, illustrated by New York Times bestselling artist Richard Cowdrey, features everyone’s favorite hippo who wanders through the zoo saying “GOOD NIGHT” to all her animals friend before she heads to bed and settles into slumber.  

My Review:
Richard Cowdrey's charming and colorful illustrations will delight little ones as they're encouraged to go to sleep. The rhyming text of Fiona, It's Bedtime is fun to read aloud, as Fiona visits all her friends at the zoo. The text also captures the sleeping habits of the various animals. Living near Cincinnati, I have a soft spot for this lovable hippo. Cowdrey has captured her sweet persona on each page. This is perfect for children ages 2 to 8. Or an adult like me who loves children's books. Fiona, It's Bedtime will become a good-night favorite. I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Struggle is Real

Psalm 30:11-12
You turned my wailing into dancing;
    you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
    Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

This week my anger flared.

Tim and I are doing well. We fill our days and enjoy each other's company. We're thankful we have a safe place to live and food on the table. Yet, my anger toward this COVID-19 virus reached a peak this week. I'm grieving the fact that I can't see my family, hug my children, or play with my grandkids. Tim and I can't go out for dinner at a restaurant. We can't attend church with the congregation. I walk in my neighborhood, but fear I might catch the virus. As I wallowed in my discontent, my fibromyalgia flared and made me even more miserable.

That was Tuesday.

On Wednesday, hope filled my heart. The ire dissipated and joy sang out. So often, I must walk through the darkness before I appreciate the light. As they say, "The struggle is real." Our mental health is being tested. So is our faith.

Dale Chihuly glass art  
Maybe anger eats at you, depression dogs your days, or anxiety attacks. I've suffered them all through the stay-at-home corona days. But I've also experienced joy through the Holy Spirit. When I get over myself and hand my cares to God through prayer, the Spirit fills my soul with joy and a peace that passes understanding. When I stop to thank God for my circumstances and ask Him to forgive my selfishness, he turns my grumbles into dancing, my grief into joy. I'm so grateful that God loves me even when I'm unlovable.

As my faith grows and stretches, I praise God for his continued love and grace.

How have you dealt with all the baggage of these stay-at-home times?
Are you taking care of yourself?
Physically, mentally and spiritually?

Even a few minutes in God's word and in prayer eases the stress.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Fiction Reviews: Liar's Winter & Mercy's Rain by Cindy Sproles

Liar's Winter Book Description:
Liar's Winter
Lochiel Ogle was born with a red-wine birthmark--and it put her life in jeopardy from the moment she entered the world. Mountain folks called it "the mark of the devil," and for all the evil that has plagued her nineteen-year existence, Lochiel is ready to believe that is true. And the evil surely took control of the mind of the boy who stole her as an infant, bringing her home for his mother to raise.

Abused and abandoned by the only people she knows as family, Lochiel is rescued by a peddler and given the first glimpse of love she has ever known. The truth of her past is gradually revealed as is the fact that she is still hunted by a brother driven to see her dead. Unsure if there's anyone she can truly trust, Lochiel is faced with a series of choices: Will she continue to run for escape or will she face her past and accept the heartbreaking secrets it reveals? Which will truly free her?

Set in the wild and beautiful Appalachian Mountains of nineteenth-century East Tennessee, Liar's Winter is an unflinching yet inspirational exploration of prejudice and choice.

Mercy's Rain Book Description:
When your life is built around a father's wrath, how can you trust in the love of Father God?

Mercy Roller knows her name is a lie: there has never been any mercy in her young life. Raised by a twisted and abusive father who called himself the Pastor, she was abandoned by the church community that should have stood together to protect her from his evil. Her mother, consumed by her own fear and hate, won't stand her ground to save Mercy either.
Mercy's Rain
The Pastor has robbed Mercy of innocence and love, a husband and her child. Not a single person seems capable of standing up to the Pastor's unrestrained evil. So Mercy takes matters into her own hands.

Her heart was hardened to love long before she took on the role of judge, jury, and executioner of the Pastor. She just didn't realize the retribution she thought would save her, might turn her into the very thing she hated most.

Sent away by her angry and grieving mother, Mercy's path is unclear until she meets a young preacher headed to counsel a pregnant couple. Sure that her calling is to protect the family, Mercy is drawn into a different life on the other side of the mountain where she slowly discovers true righteousness has nothing evil about it--and that there might be room for her own stained and shattered soul to find shelter. . . and even love.
Mercy's Rain is a remarkable historical novel set in 19th century Appalachia that traces the thorny path from bitterness to forgiveness and reveals the victory and strength that comes from simple faith.

My Review:I love Cindy Sprole's writing about mountain folk. Her description and dialect drew me into the beautiful Appalachian setting and into the heart of the people. The women portrayed in the stories endure difficult circumstances, sometimes hard to digest. But I love how they drew on their deepest emotions and found the courage to move forward. Lochiel and Mercy's stories are difficult, they struggle, but they also endure. Cindy has captured the essence of what life is like in the mountains and how God's love overcomes evil. She writes about the hard stuff, pain and sorrow with the essence of hope. Years ago, I fell in love with literature written about the Appalachian Mountains when I read Christy by Catherine Marshall. I am thrilled to visit the mountains once again in Sprole's books. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Cindy has a new book coming out in June, 

What Momma Left Behind

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

His Love

No matter what, God is faithful.
His love never ends.

I see him in the flowers of spring, the rainfall, the greening grass.
His love surrounds us every day.

Monday, April 20, 2020

God's Incredible Creation

We'd walked around the park's path a couple of times. Wanting to reach the two mile mark, we needed more steps. Across from the play area, a hiking trail wound up the hill. Other than a bit of mud, we enjoyed trekking along the small rise. As we tromped the path, we listened to the river rush and the birds sing.

As with any hike in the woods, I'm always searching for flowers and plants, particularly in the spring. I thought I'd missed discovering one of my favorite wildflowers. We hadn't visited the park where I usually see them. As we hiked along, I watched the floor of the woods. Along the edge, I spied not one, but many of the wildflowers I had hoped to see.
White Nodding Trillium
Red Trillium
Several red trillium squatted together along the edge of the woods. Only one white nodding trillium rested among them. Being a bit of a nerd, my excitement rose and I felt blessed to see these beauties of spring.

Anytime I am in the woods, I am recharged by God's incredible creation. His artwork revives my soul and increases my hope. If you can, visit a wooded area and take in God's beauty. Or step outside and listen to the birds' songs. Refresh your soul through his creation.

A little trivia—Ohio's official wildflower is the white trillium.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Man Had Enemies

Psalm 56:1-4
Be merciful to me, my God,
    for my enemies are in hot pursuit;
    all day long they press their attack.
My adversaries pursue me all day long;
    in their pride many are attacking me.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?

Their target was King David.

The man had many enemies. In the Psalm, he wrote of being chased and pursued by armies. Thwarted on every side. He hid in caves, he ran, but in the end he knew where to find help.

In the midst of this health emergency we are in together—I hear fear. Will I get the virus? Will my loved one get it? Will we ever get to go back to work? Will we survive financially? So many questions, and all good ones. Everyone has been touched by this invisible nemesis.

When I ponder those same questions, I'm tempted to ball up with anxiety.
But I have good news. I've found comfort in the Psalms. As David was chased by his enemies, he recognized his refuge, his safe place, his best place to shelter in place—in the arms of God. Each day as I read a new chapter, I see God peeling away my layers of fear and replacing them with trust. No matter what happens, I trust God to love and comfort me.

Is this easy? No. But I choose to place my hope in God.

Do I fear? Yes. But I trust God more.
Psalm57:1 Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Fiction Review: Love is in the Air: 5 Contemporary Christian Romances by Laura Hilton, Candee Fick, Kathleen Rouser, Kathleen Friesen, Tanya Eavenson

A while back I posted that Love is in the Air would be debuting May 1st. 
Since then, I have had the privilege to read and do an early review.

Book Description:
This collection of five brand new romances is sure to send your heart soaring.

First Class Wrong Flight by Laura V. Hilton:
Candi Walker is excited to attend her former college roommate’s wedding. At least it’s a direct flight across the country and the potential of messing up is next to impossible…until she crashes into a handsome pilot.

Alex Kuklewski has one last flight before he attends his stepsister’s wedding. Desperate to escape his tagalong ex-girlfriend’s clutches, Alex prays that his future wife would drop into his path. And she does.

Emotional baggage on both sides exceeds the weight limit. What will it take for them to launch true love into the air?

A Castle in the Clouds by Candee Fick:
Aspiring romance novelist Miranda Scott has her head in the clouds and her nose buried in a book. Raised by a single mother, extravagant trips to castles overseas are only a fairy-tale…until a co-worker’s accident has her boarding a plane to teach creative writing on an all-expenses-paid school-sponsored trip.

Family responsibilities kept Joshua Clark close to home, but it’s finally time for the history teacher to spread his wings. Hopefully his time chaperoning an overseas trip will reveal what the next chapter holds.

Flying Into Love by Kathleen Rouser:
Unable to say no when others need her, Talia Sampson took on her deceased aunt’s advice column and the care of her special needs niece. Then new veteran, Ben Tanner, shows up unexpected on her doorstep. Hurt many times, he wonders where home is. Talia isn’t happy finding a hot-air balloon with him. And Talia hates flying.

Will she trust God—and Ben—enough to go airborne?

Written in the Clouds by Kathleen Friesen:
A mysterious cloud formation, a nerve-wracking introduction for JR and Serena, an unexpected reunion for Jim and Blythe, a few traumatic memories, a pilot for the company plane, and another afraid of flying. Mix them together…and what in the world is God up to? Is it love at first flight?

To Gain Forever by Tanya Eavenson:
Karianne Bennett, small-town wedding coordinator, has always believed in happily-ever-afters. That is, for everyone but herself. Hope comes when she adopts a retired service dog and a newcomer catches her eye.

Trey Scott has been fascinated with fireworks since he was a boy. If he can land the account for a hot-air balloon festival in an out-of-state town, he’ll be that much closer to achieving his lifelong goal. But his dreams never included a beautiful dog walker who also happens to be the stranger he’s been praying over for years.

My Review:
I enjoyed this collection of sweet romances by these talented authors. Each writer took the theme of love in the air and created a unique story. I had a couple of favorites as every reader will. You'll enjoy the history of a hot-air balloon, a mix up at the airport, rekindled love in a small business plane, fireworks celebrating love, and a delightful literary trip to Europe. The couples in the stories span several generations, which adds a special touch. I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
The Kindle version is available for pre-order at 99 cents. Quite a deal for five wonderful novellas. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Whom Shall I Fear

I'm human. 
I get scared. 

As I talk with family and friends, I hear fear. 
Fear that life won't get back to normal for a long while.
Fear of contracting a vicious virus.
Fear of fear.

Instead of living in a state of anxiety, I'm choosing to trust God
as I practice common sense and apply wisdom.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Have a Blessed Day!

Jesus rose on the third day!
He conquered death so we could have freedom through him.
Thank God for his love and mercy.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

He Opened Their Minds

Luke 24:36-47
While they [the disciples] were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. ”

Easter—the day we remember Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

Prophets spoke of the Messiah, how he would die and on the third day break the chains of death. The Lord himself taught the disciples about his purpose on earth. They traveled with him and witnessed miracles. They heard the Pharisees mock him. Every one of them knew Jesus' story inside and out. But here they were humming and hawing about the very truth he showed them.

They thought they saw a ghost.

They'd witnessed Jesus being drug through the streets and beaten. Yet, the man they loved and missed, the one they'd seen nailed to a cross, and placed in a tomb, dead as could be—stood in front of them in full flesh and blood and declared victory over the grave.

Peter's guilty conscious plucked at him because he had cowered and denied he ever knew him. Thomas shook his head in disbelief. The other disciples stood with their mouths hanging open. Yet, Jesus didn't give up. He opened their minds to the truth.

In this time of pandemic, stop doubting and open your minds to the truth and hope of Jesus. The world is a mess. Not just from COVID-19, but from evil and sin. That's the bad news. The good news is, Jesus opened the doors to hope and heaven.
Jesus stands with outstretched hands in hopes everyone will trust in him.
I thank God for the opportunity to worship my Savior this Easter. Let's sing praises to him from our couches. Lift up prayers from our living rooms. Search our hearts and accept Jesus as Savior. He died so we can live, here on earth with purpose and one day with Him in heaven.

Celebrate Easter with Him!

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Peace to You

Sometimes the calm we need feels far away.
I know Jesus offers a peace that transcends whatever is going on in life.
He offers amazing grace and hope.

In this week before Easter, I pray peace fills your heart. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Historical Fiction Review: The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate

Book Description:
Bestselling author Lisa Wingate brings to life startling stories from actual “Lost Friends” advertisements that appeared in Southern newspapers after the Civil War, as newly freed slaves desperately searched for loved ones who had been sold away.

Louisiana, 1875: In the tumultuous era of Reconstruction, three young women set off as unwilling companions on a perilous quest: Hannie, a freed slave; Lavinia, the pampered heir to a now destitute plantation; and Juneau Jane, Lavinia’s Creole half sister. Each carries private wounds and powerful secrets as they head for Texas, following roads rife with vigilantes and soldiers still fighting a war lost a decade before. For Lavinia and Juneau Jane, the journey is one of stolen inheritance and financial desperation, but for Hannie, torn from her mother and siblings before slavery’s end, the pilgrimage west reignites an agonizing question: Could her long-lost family still be out there? Beyond the swamps lie the limitless frontiers of Texas and, improbably, hope.

Louisiana, 1987: For first-year teacher Benedetta Silva, a subsidized job at a poor rural school seems like the ticket to canceling her hefty student debt—until she lands in a tiny, out-of-step Mississippi River town. Augustine, Louisiana, is suspicious of new ideas and new people, and Benny can scarcely comprehend the lives of her poverty-stricken students. But amid the gnarled live oaks and run-down plantation homes lie the century-old history of three young women, a long-ago journey, and a hidden book that could change everything.

My Review:
Lisa Wingate has written an amazing story. I'd never read about the "Lost Friends" ads that posted for folks to find family and friends after the Civil War ended. I love the way she approached the story with a split-time perspective. Benny Silva is the perfect character to guide her students into the history of their town and their families. She has her own interesting story, which you'll discover as you read. I absolutely love Hannie and her spunk and courage. She's incredible. As I read each different time period, I couldn't wait to get back to the other one. Both stories are told in rhythm with one another, even though separated by 112 years. Being reminded how families were split apart is heartbreaking and thought provoking. The struggle to find their people took strength and an amazing amount of courage. If you read historical fiction or contemporary fiction, you'll enjoy The Book of Lost Friends. This is a 5++ stars story. I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Fiction Suspense Review: Silent Shadows (Harbored Secrets Book #3) by Natalie Walters

Book Description:
Pecca Gallegos moved to the tiny town of Walton, Georgia, to protect her son and escape the dangerous lifestyle that once defined her. When a series of strange circumstances evolve into threats, Pecca finds herself confiding in an unlikely ally--her stubborn patient.

Army veteran Colton Crawford is desperate to recover from the undiagnosed disorder that is ruining his life, and his instincts are on high alert when threats against his nurse and her son force him to take action. But Colton's involvement only ramps up the danger when he uncovers a family secret revealing that whoever is after Pecca is closer--and more deadly--than they realized.

With this suspenseful new story, Natalie Walters welcomes you once more to Walton, Georgia, where everyone knows your name--but no one knows your secret.

My Review:
Silent Shadows
is a great suspense story. I enjoyed the interaction between Pecca and Colton and the friendship that developed between Colton and Maceo, Pecca's son. I also liked the older veterans who rehabbed with Colton. They reminded me of my dad. There are surprises and twists I didn't expect. The small town setting where the people are supportive and kind create the perfect community for Pecca and Maceo to start over. The thread of romance adds a sweet touch. I haven't read the first two books, but picked up on their stories in this one. They sound intriguing, also. If you enjoy suspense with a twist, pick up Silent Shadows. I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Praises and Palms

He rode in on a donkey to fulfill the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9 

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

He's our Ever-present Help

Psalm 46:1-3
God is our refuge and strength,
ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

I loved listening to my Gram tell stories.

Grammy as a teenager
When the 1918 Spanish Influenza attacked, my gram was nine years old. In October a messenger about Grammy's age, dropped a telegram at the door. A military officer had alerted my great-grandmother Helen Hannah Smith to the urgency of her son's illness. "If you want to see him alive, come right away." My Grammy Sara fetched her brother Bernard and his wife, and the family loaded into the Model T and traveled from Lynchburg, Ohio to Camp Sherman in Chillicothe, Ohio where her brother, Walter, prepared to serve in WW1. The flu had hit the camp and my great-grandma Smith was determined to see her son. 

Sara, too young to visit, waited on a bench with the doctor's wife, outside the building where the infected men stayed. Great-grandma applied a mustard plaster to Walter's chest in hopes the home remedy would help. Sadly, Walter died during the epidemic with complications from pneumonia. Great-grandma Smith, Grammy, and other family members contracted the flu. Thanks to the doctor who lived across the street and a neighbor who left soup on their step every day, they survived. As my gram's memories echo with sadness and sorrow, I'm reminded of the folks who have lost loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic. My heart breaks for anyone who has suffered such loss. 
Please pray with me that God pours peace over those who mourn.
Grammy, Great-grandma Smith, & Mom
Are you feeling exhausted, nervous, sad? Are you mourning? God wants to wrap you in his arms and comfort you. He reaches out to the brokenhearted, the hurting, the sad. He offers shelter in this time of distress.

As I've reflected on my Grammy's story and witnessed her life, I know she clung to Jesus. She loved God and set an amazing example of resilience and faith in her 92 years. No matter what we're going through, God is our strength and our hope. He gives rest to the weary and peace to the broken.

Seek the Father who is our ever-present help in times of trouble.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Bow Down

In this time of uncertainty, I know God remains the same. 
He's bigger than all my problems, greater than all my stress. 
I know that I can bow down and lift my prayers to Him, and He hears me. 
He loves me and He comforts me. 

Lift your worries and anxiety to the one who always listens.
Worship the One who cares.