Book Review: I’ll Be Home for Christmas

Home I’ll Be Home For Christmas: Four Inspirational Holiday Novellas by Lenora Worth, Belle Calhoune, Jill Kemerer, and Allie Pleiter contains, as the title suggests, four stories that involve coming “home” in some way.

In A Hope Valley Christmas by Belle Calhoune, Mallory Jefferson is visiting her family over the holidays. The one person she hopes she doesn’t run into is Colton James. She’d had a serious crush on him back in the day, and her youthful exuberance and infatuation had led to some pretty embarrassing attempts to get his attention and show him her feelings. Yet who should walk into her father’s mechanic shop, just when she’s helping out, disheveled, and greasy, but Colton. Her father suggests she give Colton a ride home. As Colton and Mallory talk, Colton tells her his grandfather isn’t doing well. His grandfather wants to see Colton happy and settled with someone he loves. To ease his grandfather’s mind, Colton told him he did have a girlfriend. Then Colton gets the bright idea that Mallory can stand-in as his pretend girlfriend at an upcoming family dinner. Reluctantly, Mallory agrees, and they get to know each other as they are now, and not as they were in their high school memories.

In Sugarplums and Second Chances by Jill Kemerer, Chase McGill is a former NFL star trying to recover from mistakes in his past. In a fit of vengeance he had assaulted his wife’s killer and served time. Now he’s trying to make up for lost time with his son as well as help out another young man. Courtney Trudesta is the widow of his former teammate and wrote him regularly to encourage him while he was in prison. Courtney stops by on her way to a new job to visit with Chase for a few days. As they try to help each other deal with their losses and find their purpose in life, they wonder if those purposes might include each other.

In A Brilliant Christmas by Allie Pleiter, Zoe Walters’ passion is the community arts center that she runs. She has mixed feelings about the new artist-in-residence for the next six weeks: Nigel Langdon, a famous animator who has fallen from Hollywood graces. Besides the fact that he’s not currently popular, his gruffness doesn’t promise good things for his time with “her kids.” His first session does get off to a rocky start. But Zoe begins to fathom the hurt and the heart underneath his crusty exterior, and her devotion to her kids and program opens his eyes.

Seashell Santa by Lenora Worth is a different kind of Christmas in Key West, Florida. Navy Seal Rick Houston‘s beloved grandfather, Pappy, has died and requested that Rick come to his old cabin at Christmas and disperse his ashes. Who else should show up at the cabin but Willa Kincaid, Rick’s ex-girlfriend, who had received the same request. Realizing Pappy’s trick, they decide to put aside their differences to honor his wishes. In the meantime, as their arguing gives way to further discussion, they each realize they didn’t know everything about the other’s motives for their previous actions.

I’m not a fan of romances in general, both because of the silliness of tingling sensations and such, descriptions of kisses, and the end-all of romances being the declaration of true love (when, in real life, that’s just the beginning.) However, I do like when the characters have to learn or overcome something in the process of coming into a relationship, and that happens in each of these stories. Some of the stories have more of a faith element than the others. A couple of them contain characters from the authors’ other series, but the stories were complete enough in themselves that I didn’t feel I was missing pieces.

My favorite was Allie Pleiter‘s Brilliant Christmas. Both the story itself and the writing were refreshingly different. I’ll be looking up more of her work in the future. My favorite line from the book came from her story:

Our job is to bring out whatever talent or self-expression is there. Help them see that picking up a paintbrush might just be more powerful than picking up a knife. Get their emotions out in ways that don’t involve sending each other to the emergency room.

My least favorite line in the book came from Lenora’s story, about a character who “put out feelers to the Big Guy in the sky.” Big Guy in the sky? Seriously?

This collection is not showing up on Amazon anymore, but Sugarplums and Second Chances and A Brilliant Christmas are available individually. I’ve not read any of these authors, but I used to follow a blog that Lenora contributed to, so that’s probably what prompted this purchase. All in all it was a nice Christmas read.

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Not the Messiah They Were Looking For

As a young Christian, I wondered why Jesus came incognito, so to speak. Why didn’t He go on a hilltop or to the temple and proclaim Himself: “I am the Messiah you’ve been waiting for all these years!”

There may be a variety of reasons. But in my current I-don’t-know-how-many-eth time through the Bible, I happen to be in John after having read the other three gospels. I’ve enjoyed going over all of Christ’s life on earth during the month of December, not just the “Christmas” portions. I’m using the ESV Study Bible, and its notes often remark that Jesus did not declare Himself openly because most of the Jews at that time were expecting a military ruler who would throw off Roman oppression. Several times in the gospels Jesus had to get away from the crowds because they wanted to make Him king immediately. Some, Jesus said, followed Him because of the loaves of bread He miraculously reproduced in the feeding of the 5,000.

There is a sense in which Jesus does fulfill all those roles already. He is the King of Kings, and some day the whole world will be under His righteous rule. Someday the crooked will be made straight and rights will be wronged. But these roles will be fully manifested at His second coming.

And there is a sense in which we do depend on Jesus for our daily bread and all other needs. But, as He told the crowds then:

Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:26-29, ESV).

Before He could declare Himself openly, He had to teach them the true nature of the Messiah. By many signs (miracles), by His claims (“I am the bread of Life,” “I am the light of the world,” etc.), by His declarations and teachings, bit by bit He showed them exactly who He was and what He was about. And some understood and accepted Him for who He was. They came to understand that His kingdom is a spiritual one.

But some left Him when he started to share “hard things.” Others realized He didn’t fit their image of what the Messiah would be and do, they rejected Him and sought to destroy Him.

Don’t people still do that today? Instead of learning from God’s Word the true nature of the Savior, they’ve imagined their own version of what a Savior would be like. He wouldn’t let evil happen. He’d take care of the bad guys. He’d answer every prayer just the way they want Him to. And when He doesn’t perform according to expectations, well, then, who needs Him?

We all need Him. But we need Him as He truly is, not as we think He should be. Even those of us who are Christians, even those of us who have been for a long time, still have to continually “renew our minds” and adjust our thinking according to truth. We come to know Him as Savior and Lord, but then we spend the rest of our lives getting to know Him better and adjusting ourselves away from our preconceived notions and expectations and toward who He really is. And we’re not disappointed, because in the end He’s a much better Savior than we could ever have imagined.

Do you know Him today as He truly is? Get to know Him through His Word. If you’re new to the Bible, start reading the gospel of John. See what He does and what He says about Himself.

And if you’ve known Him for years, keep getting to know Him better. Keep learning more and more what a wonderful Savior He is.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday)

Laudable Linkage

It’s been another good week for online reading! Here are posts I have learned from lately – maybe some of them will interest you as well.

Routine Bible Reading Can Change Your Life, HT to Challies. “But the way the Bible does its work on our hearts is often not through the lightning bolt, but through the gentle and quiet rhythms of daily submission, of opening up our lives before this open Book and asking God to change us. Change doesn’t always happen overnight. Growth doesn’t happen in an instant. Instead, it happens over time, as we eat and drink and exercise. The same is true of Scripture reading.”

Advent Reading Plans. Several doable, workable plans for reading from the Christmas-related passages of Scripture during December.

Don’t Downplay Your Suffering, HT to Challies. “One of the biggest mistakes believers can make when facing a tragedy is to minimize it. I think so many of us do it because we are lacking a robust theology of suffering.

The Most Difficult Time of the Year: How to Love Grieving Parents at Christmas.

How Long Does It Takes to Read Each Book of the Bible? HT to Lisa.

Should We Stop Publicly Shaming People?  HT to Lisa. Yes, indeed. Sometimes a public outcry helps, like the reaction to the Dove commercial a while back. But often instead of letting people learn from their mistakes, they are run into the ground and ruined for the rest of their lives.

Beyond Truth and Fiction: Loving Our Neighbors With Dementia, HT to Out of the Ordinary. The Christian alternative to lying to someone with dementia so as not to upset them.

My Husband Was Hurt by an I.E.D. The Lasting Injury Was to Our Family, HT to Challies. Sometimes devastating injuries don’t “show” on the outside and affect the whole family.

Join Me on a Ride to Malvern, HT to Challies. A favorite childhood memory, a reminder that “all of these ‘small moments’ have the potential of eternal significance for your child.”

Stop Hand Washing Your Dishes, HT to Lisa. Nice to have my preferences justified. 🙂

And a smile for the day, found on Pinterest:

Happy Saturday!

Book Review: Homeless for the Holidays

HomelessIn the novel Homeless for the Holidays by P. S. Wells and Marsha Wright, Jack Baker’s future looks bright. He has a lovely family, a great job, and expectations of a good Christmas bonus and possibly a promotional. His boss is a bit demanding, calling him nights, weekends, even Thanksgiving. But if Jack can hang on til he gets the promotion, everything will be better – so he tells his wife.

As the Bakers prepare for Christmas, they stuff shopping carts, max out credit cards, competitively search for the last of the “hot” toys. And when encountered by a child seeking donations for a charity or a Salvation Army bell ringer, Jack begrudgingly hands over the spare change in his pocket and gripes about people who don’t work for a living.

Then the unthinkable happens. A mistaken label on one of Jack’s company’s products creates a hazard. To save face, Jack’s boss makes Jack the fall guy, placing the responsibility for the fiasco on his shoulders and firing him. Jack’s boss promises Jack that once the hoopla has died down, Jack can have his job back.

In the meantime, Jack’s search for a job proves fruitless and bills start piling up. One by one his family loses services, then their car, then their home.

The book’s tag line says, “One family learns what is truly important when they lose it all and find they have everything.”

Overall it is an enjoyable book. You feel the characters’ fear and angst as the walls close in and the losses pile up and then as they discover that having all the “stuff” doesn’t matter as much as time for each other, humility, faith, and compassion. There’s a telling exchange when Jack’s wife tries to apply for food stamps and runs into all kinds of weird rules.

The one factor that keeps this story from being just another “learning the true meaning of Christmas” tale is that it is based on true events from the life of scriptwriter George Johnson. George eventually produced a movie based on his experience called Homeless for the Holidays, which released in 2009. In the back of the book George tells about his own situation and how the movie came to be.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

 

 

There is no one right way to celebrate Christmas

Traditions help make holidays special. We look forward to the things we “always” do, the seasonal foods, events, activities, decorations.

But as busy as everyday life is, adding in all the holiday extras can increase pressure. Every year brings tips about managing Christmas. But this year I have seen a new emphasis, calling for a more minimalist approach to the holidays: less spending, less decorating, less going and doing.

Most of us truly appreciate finding ways to reduce pressure. We shouldn’t keep doing things just because that’s what we’ve always done. It might be best to discard traditions that have become burdensome rather than joyful or rotate some so that we’re not overwhelmed.

But some of the posts I have read on this topic cause me to fear a new judgmentalism, a looking down on those who don’t do less.

If a minimalist approach appeals to you, that’s fine. But the person who enjoys putting out all 32 pieces of a Christmas village because she loves the way they look and she remembers the people who gifted her with the pieces one by one through the years shouldn’t feel guilty about it.

What everyone does for Christmas depends on how many people are in the family, how much time, energy, and money is available, personal preferences, etc.

One person likes to put out just a handful of decorations. Another likes to display every Christmas item she has accumulated for 30 years or put trees of various sizes in every room.

One family’s Christmas dinner might look like any other meal, with the exception of pumpkin pie for dessert. Another likes to go all out with special dishes for the season.

One family prefers no gifts or a gift to a charity in their name. Another saves up for months or shops all year for gifts.

Some like to hit all the Christmas performances and events they can. Others prefer quiet nights at home by the fire with hot chocolate and Christmas movies. Most of us are somewhere in-between.

None of these is wrong one way or the other.

Most of us find that some traditions change through the years. We’ve added some and discarded others over time. We made Christmas cookies when my sons were young. Then one year we just didn’t get to it – but no one seemed to notice. We have so many sweets that time of year, we didn’t suffer for not having cookies. But with a young grandson now, it’s fun to revive that tradition. We used to do a birthday cake for Jesus mainly for the kids to remember Whose birthday it was. But in later years we stopped. One year we had an elementary Christmas piano recital on Monday night, a high school piano recital Tuesday, church on Wednesday night, an elementary school Christmas program Thursday night, and a high school Christmas program Friday night. That week was probably bookended by Christmas cantatas and children’s Christmas programs at church on Sundays. Talk about exhausting. Fun, but exhausting. Thankfully our church and school adjusted their calendars after that. But in those years of so much to attend, we didn’t go to many community events. Since our kids are grown, we have been able to venture out and try a few new things. Some have laid aside the tradition of Christmas cards and family newsletters, but I will determinedly keep sending them as long as I can because I enjoy both sending and receiving greetings

The point is, there is no one right way to celebrate Christmas. We have to be careful that we don’t impose the solutions we find for our family onto everyone else. It’s up to each family or individual to assess all the factors involved and decide what works best.

We can commemorate the birth of our Savior in many ways. Let’s not judge each other on how we do it. Let’s just each work on keeping the focus of Christmas where it ought to be: remembering that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday,Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)

Laudable Linkage

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Here’s my latest list of good reads found online recently:

Should Christians Abandon Christmas? HT to Challies. “When churches ‘ignore’ Christmas, how much preaching and teaching are they likely to receive on the incarnation?” “The abuse of something shouldn’t be allowed to destroy its proper use.”

On the Death of John Allen Chau. Good points all, especially the first one: “We don’t need to rush to judgment.”

3 Internet Accusations Against Missionaries, HT to Challies.

Singleness Is Not a Problem to Be Solved, HT to True Woman.

Gospel Hope for a Weary Mom, HT to True Woman.

Pastors: Preach, Don’t Rant, HT to Challies. Good advice for writers and teachers, too.

The 50% Lie, HT to Challies. Turns out it has never been true that 50% of marriages end in divorce, by any way of measuring. “Imagine the difference to our collective consciousness about marriage and divorce if we began to say ‘Most marriages last a lifetime’ [8 out of 10] rather than ‘Half of marriages end in divorce.'”

Why J. I. Packer Reads Mystery Novels (Or, In Defense of Light Reading), HT to Challies. “Light reading is not for killing time (that’s ungodly), but for refitting the mind to tackle life’s heavy tasks (that’s the Protestant work ethic, and it’s true).”

And finally, a smile found on Pinterest:

Happy Saturday!

Literary Christmas Reading Challenge

 

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Tarissa hosts the Literary Christmas Challenge in December: actually, it started in November, but I like to hold off on Christmas reading til after Thanksgiving. The main rule: read Christmas books! And link up your posts about them (via a blog, Goodreads review, etc.).

Tarissa is giving away this cute Christmas ornament, and participating in the Literary Christmas challenge is just one way to enter to win it.

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Here’s what I am planning to read this month:

Finding Christ in Christmas by A. W. Tozer (99 cents for the Kindle app as of this writing. Tozer always makes one think.)

Tozer Christmas

 

Homeless for the Holidays by P. S. Wells and Marsha Wright.

Homeless

Christmas Stitches by Judith Miller, Nancy Moser, and Stephanie Grace Whitson. I’ve read many of Judith and Nancy’s books, so I am looking forward to this Christmas collection.

Stitches

Baby, It’s Cold Outside by Susan May Warren

Cold Outside

I’ll Be Home For Christmas: Four Inspirational Holiday Novellas by Lenora Worth, Belle Calhoune, Jill Kemerer, and Allie Pleiter. This is not showing up on Amazon anymore, but you can read more about it on Goodreads here. I’ve not read any of these authors, but I used to follow a blog that Lenora contributed to, so that’s probably what prompted this purchase.

Home

If I should finish all these and I’m not tired of Christmas stories at that point, I’d love to get Terri Blackstock’s Catching Christmas and Michelle Griep’s Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series, Twelve Days at Bleakly Manor and A Tale of Two Hearts. I’m trying to read what I have already accumulated through sales before I add any more.

And that’s it for this year! Do you plan to do any Christmas-themed reading this month?

 

Homemade Christmas cards and other stray thoughts

Today is the first “back to the old routine” day in a while. I love all the holiday activities, and God was kind to grant me some pockets of quietness and rest amid the busyness. Getting out of the normal routine for several weeks was fun and refreshing. Getting back into it feels both good and sad at the same time. We had a wonderful Christmas with all the family home and then a very quiet but enjoyable New Year’s Eve and Day.

I thought I’d show you the Christmas cards I made for the family. I buy boxes of them for extended family and friends – I’d never be able to make as many as I send out – but for our own family I like to make individual ones.

This is Jim’s:

Jim Christmas 17

It doesn’t show up in the photo, but the white words are flocked. If I had been thinking, I would have cut off the bottom pine cone so more of the word Noel showed up.

This is Jeremy’s:

Jer Christmas 17

Sometimes ideas come from others I’ve saved on Pinterest, sometimes from something in the Cricut design space, and sometimes they come as a result of looking over the materials I have. This one started out with the fox sticker, as Jeremy likes foxes, and then the other elements came one by one. This is one of my favorite cards I’ve ever made.

This is Jason’s:

Jason Christmas 17

I had wanted to use blue because he likes blue, and I had also wanted to use the snowflake embossing folder on one, so those came together here.

This is Mittu’s:

Mittu Christmas 17

I love that cozy sweater background paper, and they love coffee, so these seemed like a good pairing. The cups were done with the Cricut.

This is Jesse’s:

Jesse Christmas 17

This started with the word sticker – that just seemed to fit him. Everything on the white part is a sticker.

This is Timothy’s:

Tim Christmas 17

I had seen the cookies on a cookie sheet idea on Pinterest, but the shapes on it were three of the same gingerbread men. As I looked through my scrapbook paper, I found one with these gingerbread figures on them, so I cut them out. Thankfully I had enough of a scrap of the metallic paper for the cookie sheet. 🙂

This is Jim’s mom’s:

GG Christmas 17

And this was for Jim for our anniversary:

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Other stray thoughts this morning:

  • We had turned on the TV New Year’s Eve long enough to see the ball drop, and I commented that I always wondered how they did bathroom issues in Times Square during that event. I envisioned a long row of port-a-potties somewhere. Jeremy looked it up and said there are no port-a-potties – and businesses don’t let the crowds come in to use the restrooms. And some people are there as early as 8 in the morning! They also don’t allow backpacks or large bags, don’t allow people to sit down, and they kick out the food stands to make more room for people. I looked up a couple more articles this morning (here and here). I never had aspirations to go to this anyway, but it’s definitely on my “Nope, I don’t think I’ll ever do this” list – which is guess is the opposite of a bucket list. 🙂
  • I’ve rediscovered cheese and crackers as a snack. My mom used to always send Swiss Colony cheese and sausage packages for Christmas until the kids all got older and it got too expensive to send them. But usually one of us gets a Hickory Farms package at some point during the Christmas season. This year we opened it on Christmas Eve. Then I had mentioned earlier that somehow we got started having the Chicken in a Biskit and Easy Cheese during the holidays, so I have enjoyed munching on them all month. They may not be the healthiest snack, though – especially the Easy Cheese – so I probably need to find a better salty snack.

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  • One of the things I miss most about putting Christmas decorations away is the lights. But not enough to keep any up year-round.
  • I’ve also enjoyed several weeks of Christmas music. I got a new Christmas CD this year, Worship the Newborn King from the Wilds Christian camp. I especially loved the Candlelight Carol. I’ve loved that for years but rarely hear it. Other long time favorites have been their Christmas With Friends album (although that doesn’t seem to be available any more) and Sacred Music Services’ King of Glory. I also like some of Pentatonix – not the more raucous stuff, but I especially like their versions of Silent Night, The First Noel, Carol of the Bells, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Mary Did You Know, and others in that vein.
  • I don’t make resolutions per se, but I do like to make reading plans for the year and map out some projects I want to work on, so I hope to do that this week. I like to incorporate some purposefulness in my reading but with some flexibility in case I come across something new I want to read during the year. I hope to have my reading plans posted in the next day or two.
  • Also this time of year you see a lot of people writing about words for the year. I’m not sure how that got started. A lot of people derive great blessing from it, and that’s great. Personally I have never felt led to do so. Usually God has more than one word to work on in my life at any given time. 🙂 But can I say, if you feel stressed about choosing a word for the year or guilty because you don’t have one, don’t worry about it. Seek God about it, and if you sense His leading toward one area of concentration, then go for it, but if not, just seek Him in His Word and seek His will every day.
  • This is also a good time of year to find a good Bible reading plan if you haven’t already. I wrote on that extensively here. There are all kinds available. Probably the best plan is one you’ll actually use. Reading the Bible through in a year is a good thing for several reasons. A Christian radio station I listen to reads through the Bible throughout the year during daily 15 minute segments, not really too difficult for anyone. The last few years I have continued to read the complete Bible, but not in a year. I am not sure how long it takes me. I aim for a couple of chapters a day, but vary it according the the length, difficulty, or density of the passage I am in and whether I want to stop and slow down in certain passages.

And now I had best get on to some of that daily routine that needs attending to. Thanks for visiting. 🙂

(Sharing with What I’m Into at Leigh Kramer)

Laudable Linkage

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Just a few this week, but since some of them had to do with Christmas themes, I thought I’d go ahead and share them.

How God Used A Christmas Carol to Resurrect Literature in My Life. “People can be tempted to think that books are meant to take us away, meant to give us a mental holiday from our lives, but that is not true. Great books, living books, are not meant as an escape from life, but a passage into life.”

Who Were the Magi?

What’s the Difference Between Lament and Complaint? I’ve wondered about this, so this was timely for me.

4 Reasons Every Church Needs Senior Saints, HT to Challies.

End of Year Evaluation. This is not a recent one – I’ve had it in my files for years and think about doing it but haven’t yet. I have trouble choosing superlatives and tend to over analyze all of that. My friend Susan isn’t actively blogging currently, sadly, but thankfully she has left her old posts online.

I mentioned recently that Phil Vischer’s Me, Myself, and Bob: A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables was on my top 12 books read this year. I recently discovered this video of a speech he gave which is kind of a condensed version of the book. It’s fun at first because he does some of the different characters he voices in the Veggie Tales programs. But then he gets to the meat of the matter. Personally I don’t care for the phrases about God “showing up” and calling Jesus “the Big Guy,” but if you can look past that, this is well worth the 56 minutes.

Happy last Saturday of the year!

Laudable Linkage

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I don’t usually post these two weeks in a row, but I came across a number of good reads this week!

Answering Claims That the Bible Contains Errors, and Why It Matters That It Doesn’t, HT to Challies.

What Expository Preaching Is Not, HT to Challies.

God Has a Heart for the Vulnerable. Do you?

Feel the Love

Doing Church Away From Church Isn’t Church, HT to Challies.

Nine Questions to Ask Yourself to Prepare for 2018, HT to Challies.

100 Years. 100 Million Lives. Think Twice, HT to Challies. I’ve been quite alarmed in recent months to see young people lauding communism. “For many students, casually endorsing communism is a cool, edgy way to gripe about the world.” “Communism cannot be separated from oppression; in fact, it depends upon it. In the communist society, the collective is supreme. Personal autonomy is nonexistent. Human beings are simply cogs in a machine tasked with producing utopia; they have no value of their own.”

On Leaving Jerusalem. “While the media is great at capturing events, they are not so great (or so interested) at capturing context or proportion.”

Living Out Our Faith. Great ways to serve the Lord as a family.

Crying in Home Depot at Christmas.

Lastly, I don’t know anything about the speaker here or the film he talks about, so this is not an endorsement, but a friend shared this on Facebook and I found it interesting. I had never heard what he shared about the significance of Jesus being wrapped in swaddling clothes before.

Happy next to last Saturday before Christmas!