Monday, October 16, 2017

Skeleton and Ghost by Nathaniel James Dowell


My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are a child at heart who loves Halloween but are not into the over-the-top creepy aspect of it, or if you are looking for a book to share with an important child in your life, this is the book for you. It is an adorable story of a skeleton who longs to walk around in the outside world, but cannot because he has no ghost. Along comes a ghost looking for his family and so begins a beautiful relationship!

The story is sweet and the writing is enchanting. The illustrations are gorgeous creations by the author himself! This is the perfect book for you to share with your child, little sibling, niece, nephew, or friend.

Happy Halloween!

View all my reviews

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Go Teen Writer's Instagram Challenge Week 1

"I am so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." 
~ Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables

Everything seems magical in October. It could be because it is Halloween month, and everyone has their various decorations out. It could be because the weather is changing, if ever so slightly (in Texas anyway). Everything is transformed into a pumpkin! Coffee, cereal, soups, desserts.

Anyway, in the spirit of October and the magical season, I have decided to participate in Go Teen Writer's October '17 Instagram Challenge (even though I'm not a Teen).

I'm not a huge fan of hardcore Halloween stuff, but I like the slightly-mystical-not-too-serious-not-too-dark-fall-festival-pumpkin-carving-Legend-of-Sleepy-Hollow-Disney-version type of Halloween. I felt like this qualified.


As you can see, each day has a prompt for the participant to follow with a picture that somehow matches. Creativity is encouraged. This is the first time I've done something like this, so I'm excited to give it a try.

Rather than post once a day for 31 days (which, let's be realistic, wouldn't happen, and would be annoying if it did), I will be posting once a week with my findings. If you decide you would like to participate, feel free to post your favorites in the comments below!

Here is Week 1:

Day 1: Magic ⭐

Obviously, coffee is a magical drink. Especially first thing in the morning when everything is still dark outside.

You reluctantly make your way into the kitchen, not really wanting to start another day yet, but knowing you must. Then you hear the whisper of your favorite coffee brand beckoning you from the cabinet. You open the cabinet door and there it is. Glancing over your shoulder to make sure you are alone, you quietly pull it from the shelf and open the bag. As the scent of the yet-to-be-brewed concoction hits your nostrils you feel a twinge of excitement and inspiration. The day has possibilities you have yet to discover, and this drink holds the key! You glance at the clock. Time is growing short. Hurriedly, you fill the cauldron (coffee-maker) with water, grind the beans with your mortar and pestle (coffee-grinder), and soon the brewing has begun.
The cauldron grumbles and spurts, unhappy at being woken from its slumber. However, even this cranky machine is susceptible to the power of the brew and its grumbles become purrs as it eventually complies with your wishes. You pour the dark drink into your chalice (coffee mug), taking a moment to savor the beautiful aroma. Then you take your first sip, and the world around you begins to change.


Day 2: Ghost 👻


This picture could have a double meaning because it includes the appendix of the science textbook, which is like a ghost because my 7th graders SWORE  it wasn't there, and then it magically appeared when I looked for it...kind of like a ghost. But within the appendix, we also find a picture of an amoeba which I thought looked like a cute little ghost waving its ghost-like arm. The caption says that the amoeba is extending its pseudopods to engulf and digest some food. Sounds kinda creepy to me.

Day 3: Pumpkin 🎃


Like I said, EVERYTHING turns into a pumpkin! And you don't even have to wait till midnight. I tend to be skeptical about flavored cereals, but I LOVE pumpkin spice things, so I tried it. Honestly, my taste buds had to adapt at first, but I have decided this is a win. It's not overly sweet, which I appreciate, but it does have an addictive element to it. It works great as breakfast or a snack, and you get to feel festive while you eat it.

Day 4: Orange 📙


This one was easy because orange is one of my school's colors so it's everywhere, including my classroom. This is a picture of my back wall. I teach Science, Math, and Yearbook. Can you tell what the different items represent? On the far left I have our Yearbook Planning board, that helps us keep track of what pages we have worked on so far. Next to that, we have the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens which we talked about on the first day of school. These also kind of serve as my class rules (Be Proactive, Begin with the End in Mind, Put First Things First, Think Win-Win, Seek First to Understand and Then to be Understood, Synergize - work together, Sharpen the Saw - take care of yourself). Next to that is my clock, which is two minutes fast, much to the dismay of my students, and the steps of the Scientific Method. After that is the Periodic Table of Elements and the Roman Numerals. You may also notice some random folded pieces of paper along this wall. This was from a multiplication scavenger hunt I did a few weeks ago with the kids. Each paper has a famous mathematician and a multiplication problem that leads to a different paper. At the bottom of each paper is an answer to a different problem. The kids had a lot of fun with that one because they got to get out of their chairs.

Day 5: Black


Because I can....Sonograms are black (and white). This is a picture of my son...wow, that sounds weird coming from me. I've managed to wrap my head around the fact that I am pregnant and will have a baby this February, but when I think in terms of "Mom" and "Son" it adds a whole new level to it! Anyway....Look at that little thumb-sucker! Isn't he cute??? He gets increasingly more active with each day, usually when I am sitting down. 22 weeks and counting!


Day 6: Moon



Thursday night we had a full moon, and even though I don't have a fancy camera, I had to do my best to shoot it. There is something about gazing at a full moon that quiets your soul and begs you to stop everything and listen to the world around you. My in-laws live in a neighborhood in the city, but it is its own little woodland haven. Each of the houses has a huge yard surrounded by trees. In the morning and evenings, deer can be seen grazing on the grass, and some lucky residents have been able to coax them into eating out of their hands. It is a beautiful little retreat that allows you to forget you live in the middle of the city. Everything was quiet and still the other night, and the moonlight was gorgeous.  I was so excited that the rays showed up in the picture. I love the yellow houselight as well. I think it adds a little bit more October to the picture. ;-)




Day 7: Candy

In general, I am not a huge candy fan, but one must make allowances for chocolate. Especially when that chocolate is dark chocolate and combined with almonds. I'm not sure if this technically even counts as candy. It's more of a sophisticated snack.

These things are AMAZING and dangerous. Much more dangerous than candy. If you are thinking of purchasing some, be aware: They have addictive properties! Proceed with caution.

Okay, well that's all I've got for this week. Hopefully, I will be creative enough (and have enough time), to continue. We will see. Feel free to post your own finds in the comments. Either way, I hope you have a beautiful October!










Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Examining Beliefs

"Truth doesn't mind being questioned," my parents told me as I was growing up. I have always looked at this statement as something solid that I could hold on to. If truth is truth, it will hold up under pressure.

That's great.

Until you are questioned on something you have always accepted as true without putting much thought into it.

Suddenly, your beliefs are challenged by someone who HAS thought about things and come to a different conclusion. They actually have reason and evidence to back up their claims. Does that mean that what you believe is no longer true? Does that mean you were wrong?

There are two possible answers:

1. No, they just came to a different conclusion than you and your theory or belief is just as valid as theirs.


Or...


2. You may be the one in the wrong.


This possibility scares us. We don't like that scenario. We dismiss it immediately, discounting the other party as radical, or emotional, or extreme. We come up with all kinds of theories for why they believe what they believe, never once asking, but assuming we know their motivation.  To ask questions would be to grant validity to their opposing view, and we can't have that. To look into their evidence would be to admit that they possibly have good reasons for believing as they do, and that could lead into a discussion we are not prepared to have.

No, it is better to stay away from such arguments and listen to people that agree with us. Accept their much smarter-sounding arguments, and look at their single-sourced reasons. That's safe. It reaffirms what we have always known to be true without having to hold it up to the light.

There are two problems with this approach and they both stem from a frightening fact: If we choose to respond to arguments this way, we don't actually believe that the truth is truth and it will hold up under pressure.

Problem 1:
By not taking the time to examine our belief system, we may persist in a belief that is not only wrong but also harmful to ourselves or others. We perpetuate lies. We walk blindly into situations that will end up being a trap for us. We allow suffering to continue.

History is filled with examples of this

Nazi Germany

Child Labor

Jim Crow Laws

American Slavery

Human Trafficking

Pick an issue. We are not blameless.

We turn a blind eye to what is actually happening because we don't like to think about what it would mean if it were true. We listen to the voice that brings comfort and says the right things. The correct things. The things that sound like truth. The voice that says the right key words.

"Did God ACTUALLY say...." Genesis 3:1
"You will not surely die." - Genesis 3:4
"God know..." - Genesis 3:5

Instead of questioning it, we accept it because it sounds like truth. We do not hold it up to the light and other things we know to be true.

We rationalize. We ignore things that cause us to question ourselves and the people we love. We choose to believe a lie.

If we listen to enough lies we will eventually forget what truth is. Truth will become relative. Truth will be what we want to hear.


Problem 2:
By not examining our beliefs, and the beliefs of others, we are powerless to defend against beliefs that actually ARE wrong. They have better arguments, they have valid reasons for believing as they do, and yet they are wrong. We have no right to argue with them, however, because we have not done our research. We have not examined or listened to their arguments to understand where they are coming from.  They will not listen to us because we are uninformed and we have ignored and dismissed them.

Any way you cut it, our unwillingness to examine truth allows darkness to continue, in ourselves and in others.

As Christians, this should terrify us because we are called to be witnesses to this world. How can we do that if we choose not to engage with it? This means we may have to examine our own beliefs. We might be wrong. If we are, we need to own it. If we are not, we need to fully understand and be able to defend our positions.

If I believe in truth, I need to allow it to do its work.  I should not feel threatened when people ask me a question to which I have no answer. I need to think about why I have no answer. I need to struggle with my beliefs and examine other viewpoints prayerfully. I need to find the light, and bring it to others.

There are many things that may change in this world, including my beliefs on certain issues. There is only one thing that is constant, and that God. His truth will hold up every time.

There are many things that are challenging me right now, particularly because of society's volatile response to these issues:

What is my role as a Christian living in America?
Should Christians pledge allegiance to anything or anyone other than God?
Should we really respect all leaders and those in positions of authority?
Does it really matter if someone kneels instead of stands?
How should I react if I see a wrong that needs to be righted?
Is the history I have always studied an accurate account of what happened?
What should my response be to someone who is suffering regardless of the cause?

Several people in my life have answers to these questions. Not surprisingly, they disagree.

What do I do with that?

First, I need to recognize that people in my life who I care deeply about will not always agree with each other, or me.

Second, I need to realize that I am not God, and am therefore subject to mistakes, including mistakes in my beliefs. I cannot assume that I am right and someone else is wrong. We are both human. Eventually, one of us is going to get something wrong.  I need to seek the truth outside of people's opinions.

Third, I need to figure out what I believe, independent of others. I need to ask people I disagree with how they came to their beliefs and actually listen to what they say. I need to examine the evidence, or lack thereof, they lay before me.  I need to think critically about what they say and how it lines up with my own observations and experience. I need to do my own research into the matter and vary my sources.

And I need to decide. I may come to a different conclusion, or I may see that they actually have a point. But whatever conclusion I come to, I will have a reason for what I believe.

In the end, I will be held responsible for me. I cannot be careless.

If what I believe is true, it will hold up under questioning.

Father, please help me to hold myself accountable for the things I profess to be true. Help me to seek truth and not be afraid to question it, no matter what it leads to, knowing that You will not lead me astray.

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
John 8:31-32

 "And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.  But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
John 3: 19-21


"but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame."

1 Peter 3:15-16

"The brothers[a] immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

Acts 17:10-11

"If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth."
1 John 1:6

"Let no one deceive himself. 
If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise."
1 Corinthians 3:18







Thursday, September 21, 2017

Summer of Changes

Greetings everyone!

This has been a long and crazy summer, full of a LOT of life changes that I was not expecting at all. I have been working on this blog entry since mid-July at least, and am finally finishing it right as summer closes. Even after I posted it the first time, I have gone back two or three times to add things I forgot to mention. It is interesting to look back and see where I was a couple months ago with all of the changes that have taken place. In some ways, I am still there. However, looking back, I am able to see God's constancy and His grace. I am so thankful to have a God who loves me in spite of myself.

This will be a very long entry, so feel free to skip. It will not hurt my feelings. I needed to post this for a couple of reasons. #1: Writing this entry has helped me process a lot of the changes that have taken place and I wanted to share that with you. #2: I have several ideas for different blog entries that I can't get to until I get this one posted and we move on with life.

All that being said, let me tell you about my summer....

JUNE
*The day after school ended for the year, my co-workers and I were told by our Board of Trustees that the school would be closing due to low enrollment for the Fall semester.  This was not something any of us had been expecting. Enrollment had been down for a couple of years, due to a lot of factors, but I think most of us felt that we were past the scary part. We had a donor ready to build us a building, we had an advertising deal with a Christian radio station, the staff had put countless hours into making each event a success, and the parents were supportive.

To say this was a devastating blow would be an understatement. Many of us had worked at this school for several years. This was my first job outside of college. Matthew had started working there part-time while going to school so it was as much his school as mine. We were each other's family. My co-workers' kids were like my nieces and nephews. My students were my babies. We had watched these kids grew up. We had their parents' numbers on speed dial. I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. We sat in the room weeping and going through all five stages of grief like a hamster on a hamster wheel.

When I packed up my room, it was for the last time. I had no idea what I would be teaching next year if I would be teaching next year, or where I would be teaching next year. All I knew was that the best school in the world was closing and my heart was breaking.

*One week later, this happened:



Yeah.

So, hubby and I have not exactly been "trying" but we were okay with an "accident". That is, we were okay with an accident when I had a full-time job and we had a regular income.

Here's the thing about accidents: Apparently, you don't get to choose the circumstances of the event. Hence it being an accident.

Who knew?

I had been two weeks late, which didn't necessarily scare me because I had been irregular lately. But I wanted to be sure, especially in light of recent events.  I took the test, expecting the one little line to confirm that I was not pregnant.

I did a double take when there were two lines, and took a second test to confirm that my eyes were not playing tricks on me. Then, I looked up at the ceiling and went, "Really, God?! NOW?!"

In all my daydreams of getting pregnant, accidentally or otherwise, none of them included this scenario where both of us were unemployed. I was not excited, and that frustrated me because something like this was supposed to be a joyous occasion! All I could think about was the fact that we were both unemployed, my support system was disintegrating, and I had no idea how to make plans.

*The following week, I went to serve as a senior counselor at Camp Lu-Jo KISMIF with one of my best friends, and former Principal Julie. I'm not going to lie, it was the last place I wanted to be and I tried to think of lots of excuses for backing out. Fortunately, hubby wouldn't let me.

That week was rough, but I ended up being so glad that I went. For starters, the theme was Unstoppable Faith. Every single day there was a message that I specifically needed to hear.  Sometimes, quite unintentionally, it was through my own lessons as I talked to my 7th-grade girls about faith. It was like God was shouting at me, "You're going to be okay! I've got you!"

*The week after that Julie and I took a trip to Washington DC and New York City for some MUCH needed vacation time. We had been planning this trip since October when we found out that Anastasia was going to be on Broadway! We had a blast nerding out at the Smithsonian in DC and all the awesomeness of New York. One of the best things was that her cousin got us backstage passes and we got to see the set up close and personal! We even got to meet a couple of the actors, though sadly, I missed out on getting Anastasia's autograph.  I was very thankful for this trip. It was a good time for processing and enjoying life before going back to the real world.

*Before we left on our trip to New York, I had been offered a position teaching at another small private school about 40 minutes from where I live and I had almost accepted it but decided to wait. While I was in DC I got another offer for an interview and decided to delay my decision even longer.  I went to the interview, really liked the job, the people, and the environment, but unfortunately, they chose to go with someone else.  While I was disappointed, I am thankful that I chose to go to that interview because it highlighted for me several things that were missing from the other offer. Consequently, I decided to turn it down. This felt, and still feels, like it was the right move, but unfortunately, it put me back to square one on the job hunt.


JULY
*The first week of July things started to change fast. I was frantically filling out applications to every school district in the area and applying for every opening listed on their website. Julie started the process of moving to her new job in another city. Matthew and I got our first sonogram and the whole pregnancy thing started becoming real to me. As I smiled for the first time about my pregnancy, my train of thought went something like this:
Yes, I am definitely pregnant. There is a baby inside me. Isn't that little peanut cute?! Awww its little heart is beating!  It's going to come out eventually and want to be fed. Then I have to keep it alive for eighteen years. Not to mention the nine months before it shows its adorable little head. I still don't have a job....
I had been playing phone tag with the unemployment office all summer long and trying to get on Medicaid for pregnant women and kept running into confusion and bureaucrats. I applied for part-time positions, thinking I would stack jobs if I had to. I applied for minimum wage jobs at tutoring centers.  Those were the only places that called me back wanting to set up interviews. It wasn't ideal but it would work. Matthew had a part-time position lined up at a University Model school teaching Computer Applications that would at least cover the rent so all I needed was a full-time job or two part-time jobs that paid SOMETHING. 
One Saturday evening, after I had a meltdown freaking out over where we were, or rather where we weren't, Matthew casually suggested I expand my search to San Antonio, where his parents live. We would have a support system. We already love the church there. There were family members who could help us get jobs. We had friends in the area. So I started applying because I was out of options, not really loving the idea because at that point the idea was Matthew would stay to fulfill his commitment to his job while getting the house ready to sell and I would be in San Antonio by myself.

The following Monday, Matthew's school called and said that, due to enrollment, they were cutting his classes, and therefore his salary, to half of what he had originally signed up for.

We took that as a sign from God and San Antonio went from being a possible backup plan to our only consideration. The more we thought about it the more right it felt. Matthew started working on fixing up the house that week and we began making plans to move to San Antonio by the end of August.

While selling our house and furniture, putting our stuff in storage, and moving in with parents may not seem ideal, this is a huge blessing to us for a lot of reasons:

1. We will be able to pay off the rest of our student debt which means we can focus on saving for our own house.

2. Matthew's parents are allowing us to stay at their house rent free

3. Family connections can help us find jobs and give us support when the baby comes

The tentative plan was that, after fixing up the house to sell, Matthew would come down and continue to go to school and get his Computer Programming certificate. I would substitute teach for the year. I had pretty much resigned myself to this plan and felt good about it. It would give me time to build a relationship with the school districts, and I would have the flexibility I needed for when the baby came.

Then came August....
*Remember the part where I get a whole year to adjust to my new circumstances? HA! That was a good one.

*So, as I am fighting pregnancy fatigue and trying to pack up our earthly belongings, and reconcile myself to my new life, I get a call from a school called Living Rock Academy in Bulverde, Texas about a Math and Science position for Middle School. This is a week and a half before school starts.

I actually debated with myself.

Math and Science. Taught Math before. Not Science. More of a Language Arts/History person. On the other hand, it's a small private school which is what I want. But Math and Science! But regular paycheck....

After more "discussions" with God, I called them back. I had a phone interview with a board member. I scheduled an interview for the following Monday. I went to the interview the following Monday, was offered the job and accepted it on Tuesday, and began in-service on Wednesday.

Since then I feel as if I haven't stopped.

Since then, I have set up my classroom, begun learning new content and curriculum, navigated new waters with my new school and location, bought a new(er) car, carpooled for school trips twice, found out we're having a boy, and seen my husband four almost-consecutive weekends in a row.

Matthew is still in Dallas renovating our house to sell and probably will be for at least another couple of weeks. Most of my stuff is in storage, and I haven't had a whole lot of time to go through the stuff that is not in storage. There are many things about our situation that are not ideal, and many times I cry out to God, "WHY did you have to mess up my perfect life!"

Have you ever tried to argue with the Creator of the Universe? He's much better at it than we are. Something about being omniscient or something. After I am finished telling him what should have happened and how much better things would have been if they had, He reminds me of where I am and how good I actually have it.

The people I work with are great, and I am so thankful to be in a small private school with a regular income, rather than having to depend on a call from the school district for a one-time job. The Principal has been very flexible in allowing me to leave early for prenatal appointments, and he didn't even bat an eye when I told him in the interview that I was pregnant.

There are still adjustments to be made, and things that take some getting used to, such as learning how to teach different subjects than I am used to. But I feel as if this next school year is about growth for me. I definitely feel the growing pains.

I have found a place to have the baby that is run by midwives who work with the hospital, and they accept Medicaid! So far, I have had a great experience with the two women I have met with, and look forward to continuing to build a relationship with these women who will deliver my baby.

I am closer to my sister and my best friend, Kayla and could see both of them in a day trip.

I am living rent free with my in-laws while we work out the details of selling our home, paying off debt, and figuring out this next phase of our life. Many people in Texas have lost their homes and their possessions and do not have this luxury.

I don't understand why my school had to close and everything had to change. But looking back over the past several months I see God's faithfulness and His patience with me. A patience and a faithfulness my impatient and faithless heart does not deserve.  When I throw spiritual tantrums, He responds with gentleness like a parent who knows their child is just scared.

There are many things I still do not know about our future. I can't even guess where we will be a year from now. I will probably continue to have days when I mourn the loss of my old life before I can move on.

But as I was writing about this whole mess in my personal journal, telling God how much more comfortable I would feel if there was a plan, He reminded me that there is a plan. He's got it all worked out, and I need to trust Him.

There is a purpose. God will not waste this time. He is working something out that I can't even imagine. I will look forward to the day when I get to know what that is. I will continue to wait. I will trust in Him.

Matthew says I rely too heavily on knowing all the details. He might be right. My plans did not involve the school closing and my co-workers, friends, and students scattering. But so far, everyone who has gotten a job has ended up exactly where they need to be in a situation that makes sense for them. God has been present throughout this whole yucky mess and reminded me through His people that He loves me and I'm going to be okay.

Here are some of my moments from this summer:

A month before school let out I had ordered a t-shirt for Julie that said, "Faith Over Fear". It arrived the DAY they told us the news about the school closing.

A few weeks ago, I received this postcard and keychain from the staff at Camp Lu-Jo, reminding me to have Faith.

Julie found out while we were at camp that she had gotten a job as a Principal in a city two hours away from where we lived. When I was simultaneously trying to be happy for my friend and trying not to cry, someone from her home group noticed me struggling and made a point to give me a hug and encourage me.

As soon as they heard the news, my sister, best friend since childhood, and my part-time sister all reached out to me with specific gifts and notes of encouragement letting me know they were there for me.


A Principal starting a new school came to buy furniture and school supplies from NTCA. While she was there, she prayed over us.
Parents advocated for jobs for me while they looked for a new school for their students.
One post on Facebook gathered a group of people from the school together in one spot to spend time together because we love each other.

A friend from church reached out to Matthew and gave him a contract job setting up the internet in his new office.

And finally there's this:

As I was going through the initial stages of going through my stuff and deciding what to sell, throw away, or pack, I came across this bag from last year's Texas Christian Schools Conference.  I hope you notice the theme:

It's almost as if God knew and was preparing us for it.

God's timing is perfect. I don't understand it, but I trust in it. I don't always feel it. But I have been clinging to this knowledge that God has a plan and I can trust Him with my life.

I still don't know what He has in store for me, Matthew, or Little One.

As my Grandad used to say,

"I don't know what tomorrow holds, but I know Who holds tomorrow."

We're going to be okay.





Ask ye what great thing I know
that delights and stirs me so?
What the high reward I win?
Whose the name I glory in?
Jesus Christ, the Crucified.

 Who defeats my fiercest foes?
Who consoles my saddest woes?
Who revives my waiting heart,
healing all its hidden smart?
Jesus Christ, the Crucified.

 Who is life in life to me?
Who the death of death will be?
Who will place me on His right
with the countless hosts of light?
Jesus Christ, the Crucified.

 This is that great thing I know;
this delights and stirs me so:
faith in Him who died to save,
Him who triumphed o'er the grave,
Jesus Christ, the Crucified.

Johann C. Schwedler




























Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Name Unknown - Litfuse Blog Tour

Greetings, everyone!  This month I am participating in LitFuse Publicity's Blog Tour for A Name Unknown, Book 1 in the Shadows Over England series by Roseanna White. I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest review which you will find below. Read all the way to the end to find out how you can win a free copy of this fabulous book!

Back in June, I posted a cover reveal for  A Song Unsung, the second book in the series which comes out in January. I may have mentioned earlier that Roseanna is one of my new favorite authors and I have loved everything she has written so far. Naturally, I am very excited about this new series, especially after reading this first book. I hope you enjoy my thoughts below, and if you would like, you can purchase your own copy on Amazon, or get your copy signed by purchasing directly through the author's website.

Also, check out the Litfuse Landing Page for this blog tour here: http://litfusegroup.com/author/RWhite


A Name Unknown by Roseanna White

Book info

About the book:

She's out to steal his name. Will he steal her heart instead?
Rosemary Gresham has no family beyond the band of former urchins that helped her survive as a girl in the mean streets of London. Grown now, they are no longer pickpockets-now they focus on high-value items and have learned how to blend into upper-class society. Rosemary's challenge of a lifetime comes when she's assigned to determine whether a certain wealthy gentleman is loyal to Britain or to Germany. How does one steal a family's history, their very name?
Rumors swirl around Peter Holstein. Awkward and solitary, but with access to the king, many fear his influence. But Peter can't help his German last name and wants to prove his loyalty to the crown-so he can go back to anonymously writing a series of popular adventure novels. When Rosemary arrives on his doorstep pretending to be a well- credentialed historian, Peter believes she's the right person to help him dig through his family's past.
Anger and danger continue to mount, though, and both realize they're in a race against time to discover the truth-about Peter's past and about the undeniable attraction kindling between them.

My Review:

I came into this book expecting to love it and I was not disappointed. Roseanna White has developed a reputation for creating a cast of well-rounded characters, fully developing romances so that they do not feel rushed, and giving the reader a sense of authenticity as they experience the period setting of the book.  She creates well-developed plots that keep your interest without giving away too much and there are always surprises the reader does not expect at the end.

The Characters:

Rosemary is a thief. One might say she is a noble thief, not quite a Robin Hood, but not quite criminal either. She has a deep love for her adopted siblings and an inner moral compass that holds her accountable even in her thievery. For instance, she will not steal from someone who is in a situation as bad as hers, or worse. She is a tad bit rougher than Mrs. White's previous female leads, having been raised on the streets and forced to rely on herself for most of her life.   Once a relationship has been established, she is fiercely loyal to her friends and will do anything for them.  This shows itself in some hilarious scenes in the book when she stands up to some bullies.

Then there is Peter, who I found fascinating as a character. His main obstacle in the book is that, because of his German last name, his English citizenship is in question. Which is a problem because England and Germany are not in a good place right now and there have been rumors of impending war.  His closest friends know he is loyal to England, however, those friends are few and far between. Due to the fact that Peter has struggled with a speech impediment since childhood, friendships and interactions with others have never come easily to him. He is somewhat of a recluse in his hometown, causing the townsfolk to be suspicious of him.  He finds it easier to communicate through the written word than the spoken word and will often write letters to his friends and members of the staff whenever he has something important to communicate.

Other tidbits:

Something new in this book that I enjoyed was the abstract character of the library. Peter hires Rosemary to organize his family library and help him find documents that would be pertinent to his citizenship. It turns out, however, that Peter's family had a bit of a book-hoarding problem and the library is in dire straits when she gets to it. Having personal experience, both as a library book-shelver, and with "collectors of treasures", I could well imagine the terrifying, overwhelming situation in which Rosemary walks into. It was fun watching these two characters develop along with the organizing of the library.

I love the title of the book and the way it connects to the story and the two challenges Rosemary is issued at the very beginning of the book.

I learned a little bit more about World War 1. I did not know that German residents who could not prove their citizenship were sent to internment camps. This is the fate that Peter is trying to avoid by finding documents proving his loyalty to England.

As always, Roseanna White created a wonderful cast of supporting characters which made me want to know more about them. Surprisingly, some of my favorites were the more hostile characters, probably because I enjoyed watching them clash with Rosemary. It made for some pretty entertaining scenes!

Also noteworthy are the fabulous setting descriptions that made me feel as if I were actually there walking the floors of Kensey or eating in the pub with the villagers.

Takeaways:

We may call ourselves and others by different names: "thief", "nothing", "street-rat", "German", "English", and "idiot" are some of the names attributed to the characters in this book. We may throw around words like, "liberal", "conservative", "basket case", "needy", "or what have you.  These names do not come from God, they come from the world and they do not tell your story. The message of this book comes out clear: you are not defined by what you have done or who others say you are. You are defined by what God thinks of you, and He loves you.

"My father once told me that all a man has is his name. I've been thinking about that a lot, as you can well imagine. And I've realized...I've realized there is only one name that matters. And it's Christian. Christ-follower. If I am that, then I am all I need to be. And if I'm not...then all the respect of all the men in all the world will avail me nothing." -- A Name Unknown


Click on the links below to find out how you can enter to win your own copy!

http://litfusegroup.com/campaigns/name-unknown-roseanna-m-white

She's out to steal his name-will he steal her heart instead? Win @RoseannaMWhite's new book @Bethany_House #contest http://bit.ly/2tW2S4L


Calling all historical fiction readers! Enter to win a copy of @RoseannaMWhite's new #book! #giveaway http://bit.ly/2tW2S4L @Bethany_House

White 2

About the author:

Roseanna M. White pens her novels beneath her Betsy Ross flag, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When not writing fiction, she's homeschooling her two children, editing and designing, and pretending her house will clean itself. Roseanna is the author of over a dozen historical novels and novellas, ranging from biblical fiction to American-set romances to her British series. Spies and war and mayhem always seem to make their way into her novels . . . to offset her real life, which is blessedly boring. She passes said boring life with her husband and kids in the beautiful mountains of eastern West Virginia.
Find out more about Roseanna M. at http://www.roseannamwhite.com.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Reflections on Faith

Good morning!

Forgive the wandering nature of this post. It's rather a stream of consciousness, but hopefully you find something beneficial in it.

I am currently reading through the Gospel of Luke, and today I came across the story of Jesus healing the blind beggar:

"As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.  And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, 'Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.'  And he cried out, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!'  And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, 'Son of David, have mercy on me!' And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 'What do you want me to do for you?' He said, 'Lord, let me recover my sight.' And Jesus said to him, 'Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.' And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God."

Luke 18:36-43

I have read this story, or had it read to me, several times in the past, but for some reason today I find myself particularly intrigued by the blind man. 

Who is this man? 

He asks Jesus to let him recover his sight, implying that he has not always been blind. At one point he had his sight. I wonder how he lost it? Illness? Injury? Age? Is he old, middle aged, or young? The Bible doesn't say in this particular story.  Why is he begging? Does he not have a family to take care of him? Is this how he provides for his family?

He has obviously heard of Jesus before. He has heard enough to know he has the power to heal, and as soon as he knows who it is he calls out to him. 

He is not going to be discouraged either. The crowd tells him to be quiet, but he persists, not content to merely accept his lot when he is so close to his salvation. What makes him cry out, I wonder? What makes him desperate to see? What makes him believe that he can be healed and that Jesus is the healer? Does he know someone who has been healed?

Yet he does. He knows Jesus is the answer and he believes Jesus will heal him. 

Jesus honors that faith and his sight is restored.

But then, rather than go on his merry way, he follows Jesus. He glorifies God. He is now a living testimony to God's power. Other people see him and praise God.

What must it have been like for him? To lose his sight, live in darkness, and then, beyond all possibility, receive his sight back? How did that affect him for the rest of his life? Did he see other things more clearly because he was able to look closely? 

I am in awe of his faith.  Many probably would consider his situation to be his lot in life. "Well, it's really sad that he lost his sight, but there's nothing to be done but to accept it and move on." 

How often do I resign myself to less-than-ideal circumstances and deny God's power to bring about change?

On the other hand, we are also given the example of Paul who was content in all circumstances:

"Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

Philippians 4:11-13

So how is that different?

The common thread in Paul's contentment and the blind beggar's lack of contentment in this particular situation, is that they both trust in God's power to bring them through their trial. The blind man believes in God's power to deliver him from his situation, and Paul believes in God's power to sustain him while he lives with his situation. Both require faith in something beyond what we can see and touch and feel. Beyond what we "know" to be true. Beyond what the world tells us is realistic. Both require that we ignore those voices and trust that He knows better.

It is a simple answer, but not so simple in practice.

Many times I may begin a journey praying in faith that God will act. Then when He doesn't, or rather, when I do not see the evidence of His actions, I give up and decide that God wants me in this situation.

Other times I look at a situation, determine immediately that it is hopeless, and, rather than ask for God's power to work in the situation, I give up and claim to be content.

Sometimes, I don't ask because I don't want to be told "no".

In all of those scenarios I deny God's power and His goodness. 

I deny that He is working for my good in a less than ideal situation.

I deny that He is able to do immeasurably more than all I ask or imagine.

I deny that He wants good things for me.
 
Here's the thing about being content in any and every situation. It comes from knowing that good things are coming and the story doesn't end in this yucky spot. Maybe not for a while. Maybe in this life. But they are coming, and the story has a happy ending. And yes, that requires faith to see beyond our present circumstances. 

"By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God."
Hebrews 11:8-10

Having faith means that we acknowledge our own blindness and we reach out to the One who can see perfectly.

"These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland."
Hebrews 11:13-14

Faith means seeing beyond what is in front of us and knowing we will take part in it one day.

"By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, 'Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.' He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back."
Hebrews: 11:17-19

Faith means believing that even if the worst happens, God's promise holds true.

"But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience."
Romans 8:25

The same faith that enables us to cry out to the Savior who can heal us also enables us to be content when He says, "wait". They are not two different kinds of faith, and we do not serve two different gods. We serve One God who sees far more clearly than we will ever see, and wants to bless us beyond our imagination.

Jesus said to the blind man, "Your faith has made you well."

May we have the faith that allows us to rely on God's power to act in impossible situations, and to wait for the eyes to see it clearly. May we follow Jesus and glorify God acting as living testimonies to His power, whether we have been delivered from a physical darkness or a spiritual one.

Blessings.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Cover Reveal for A Song Unheard by Roseanna White

Greetings, everyone!

If you haven't heard, I have a new favorite author, Roseanna White (See reviews for books one and two of her Ladies of the Manor series, The Lost Heiress and The Reluctant Duchess, below. I haven't gotten around to writing a review for the third one yet, shamefully, but I will as soon as I get it back from my friend who is borrowing it.). She specializes in historical fiction with a twinge of suspense, well-developed characters, and satisfying romance.

She is currently working on a new series about a band of thieves during World War 1 called Shadows  Over England. Her first book in the series, A Name Unknown, will launch July 4th of this year and I am SO excited. So excited, I went a little crazy and pre-ordered it from Roseanna's website so I could get a signed copy. ;-) If you feel so inclined you can join me in my crazy fandom and pre-order your copy by clicking here. You can also add it to your list on Goodreads or preorder it on Amazon (minus the signature).

ANYWAY, I am serving as an unofficial member of her launch team for A Name Unknown, and thus have the opportunity to be privy to some insider news such as the cover reveal for book 2 of the series, A Song Unsung. Side note: I am already LOVING these titles. They immediately want me to know the name and sing the song!

So without further ado.....
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.



 Isn't she pretty?! And look at that beautiful violin and the expression on her face. She's watching something. Or someone? And what is she thinking? I love that backdrop with the white light coming in from the windows!  Okay, here's the story:

Willa Forsythe is both a violin prodigy and top-notch thief, which makes her the perfect choice for a crucial task at the outset of World War I—to steal a cypher from a famous violinist currently in Wales.

Lukas De Wilde has enjoyed the life of fame he’s won—until now when being recognized nearly gets him killed. Everyone wants the key to his father's work as a cryptologist. And Lukas fears that his mother and sister, who have vanished in the wake of the German invasion of Belgium, will pay the price. The only light he finds is meeting the intriguing Willa Forsythe.


But danger presses in from every side, and Willa knows what Lukas doesn’t—that she must betray him and find that cypher, or her own family will pay the price as surely as his has.

Oooooooo! Doesn't that description give you shivers??? This book promises lots of excitement, and I trust Roseanna to deliver! I have loved everything of hers that I have read so far, and I am beyond excited about this new series.

A Song Unheard is listed on Amazon and Goodreads. Feel free to pre-order or add to your shelf. If you are new to Roseanna White, check out her personal blog here. Another side note, the above-listed retailers have not posted the cover picture yet, so you should feel super privileged that you get to see it first! ;-) Click on the picture below to see what Roseanna wrote!