March Reflections

When I was a child, my siblings and I would sometimes get scolded for coming in and out of the house too often. We didn’t have central air conditioning until I was halfway through high school, so my parents weren’t concerned about letting cool air out or hot air in. But the frequently open door let in mosquitos and flies. Plus it was probably irritating when the door banged shut so often. We were told to decide what we were going to do and do it–either stay in or stay out for longer than a few minutes.

The entrance of spring reminds me of my childhood self. It’s as if the season can’t quite decide whether to settle in or retreat for a while. Or maybe winter is the culprit, setting out to leave, but coming back with, “Oh, and one more thing . . . “

We have a few more nights in the mid-30s coming up next week. But hopefully after that winter will stay out and spring will stay put a while.

March has been a pretty balanced month—not overly busy, but with a few fun things on the calendar. We celebrated my husband’s birthday early in the month. One Saturday we visited Fort Loudoun, a pre-Revolutionary War settlement, and the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum. We enjoyed several family times with dinner and games or just chatting.

Our church search has finally brought us to one that seems very promising. Over the next weeks we’ll explore Sunday School and some of the other get-togethers. I have high hopes.

I can’t recall watching or listening to much of interest this month that I’d want to recommend, so I’ll skip that section this time.


I just made one card this month, for Jim’s birthday.

The numbers are puffy foam stickers.


Last time, I had just finished Dakota Dawn, Dakota Dream, and Dakota Dusk by Lauraine Snelling, a novella series about Norwegian immigrants who settle in North Dakota in the early 1900s, but hadn’t had a chance to review them yet. They were packaged together in one audiobook.

Since last time, I finished (titles link to my reviews):

I’m currently reading:

  • Be Joyful (Philippians): Even When Things Go Wrong, You Can Have Joy by Warren Wiersbe
  • Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul by Hannah Anderson
  • Murder Your Darlings: And Other Gentle Writing Advice from Aristotle to Zinsser by Roy Peter Clark
  • The Forgotten Life of Eva Gordon by Linda MacKillop
  • All That Really Matters by Nicole Deese
  • Ring of Secrets by Roseanna M. White, audiobook


Besides the weekly Friday Fave Fives, Saturday Laudable Linkage, and book reviews, I’ve posted these since last time:


Finally, after a lot of prayer, motivated writing time in order to present to my critique group, and their very helpful and encouraging feedback, I’ve made major headway with my “problem chapter.” I wish I could stop everything and just write for a week. I guess most writers feel that way.

As we turn the calendar page to April, we look forward to Timothy’s birthday, Easter, warmer weather, and more blooms.

How was your March? What are you looking forward to in April?

The Lost Art of Discernment

Most of think of discernment from the negative side. We want to discern good from bad so we can avoid the bad. We want to teach our families to avoid the bad as well. And that’s necessary. There is a lot of bad to avoid.

But constantly looking out for the potential bad can warp our thinking. Hannah Anderson says, “Facing so many variables, with good and bad so quickly blurring, most of us find it easier to retreat to safe spaces, cluster in like-minded tribes, and let someone else do our thinking for us” (p. 11). She goes on to share:

For a long time, I didn’t think very clearly at all because my actions and choices were shaped more by the brokenness around me than the reality of God’s goodness and nearness. When faced with a decision, I played defense: What will keep me safe? What are other people expecting me to do? What will happen if I make a mistake?

But in trying to keep myself safe, in obsessing over making the “right” choices, I found myself making a whole lot of wrong ones. Because I lacked a vision for goodness, I also lacked discernment. And without discernment, I had little chance of finding the security and happiness that I wanted—that I think we all want (pp. 11-12).

Hannah suggests a different approach. Why not discern good from bad in order to pursue the good? That’s just what she proposes and demonstrates in All That’s Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment.

But what if there were a way to see clearly once again? What if we could see the world as God sees it—in all its brokenness and beauty—and in seeing, be able to do more than endure this life? What if we could flourish in it? I think we can. In fact, I’m convinced of this good news: Despite all the pain, all the sorrow, all the questions, goodness still exists because God still exists. And because He does, He has not left us to sort through the mess alone (p. 11).

God created the world and the people in it and pronounced them good (Genesis 1). But sin marred the world and our hearts (Genesis 3). Yet God has promised to restore goodness some day. And for now, even in spite of a marred visage, we can still trace God’s goodness in what He created. As we believe in and follow Him, “He is busy transforming you, renewing your mind ‘so that you may discern what is [His] good, pleasing, and perfect will'” (Romans 12:2) (pp. 12-13).

Hannah explains what discernment is and isn’t, what hinders “our ability to experience His goodness,” how “simply reacting to established culture is not enough, why naïveté and isolationism can cause us to misstep just as quickly,” how discernment and virtue intertwine,  what habits we can employ, and how God walks with us (p. 12).

Then Hannah devotes a chapter apiece to the things Paul told us in Philippians 4:8 to think on: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise.”

Hannah weaves each of these truths with observations from everyday life: detective stories, vacations, pearls, art museums, making pies.

I took this book slowly, just reading one chapter a week and letting it sink in. I appreciated so much not only what Hannah said, but how she said it. I marveled at how she wove different elements together in her chapters.

I’ve got dozens of quotes marked, but here are just a few more:

There are no hacks to discernment. No three easy steps to follow, no lists or tricks or tips to ensure that you’ll be able to make good decisions when you need to. In order to make good decisions, you must become a discerning person, a person skilled in wisdom and goodness itself. And to be these kinds of people, we must be humble enough to be willing to learn (p. 27).

What Solomon realizes is that our life on earth, all the things we experience, all the work we do, all the good things we enjoy, aren’t simply a hurdle to the next life. They are designed by God to lead us to the next life. They are designed to lead us to Him. Like the grooves on a record, God’s good gifts are designed to draw us closer and closer to the center, to draw us closer and closer to eternity and Him (p. 53).

At its essence, worldliness is a disposition of the heart—the belief that goodness comes from the immediate satisfaction of temporal desire. But because worldliness is a disposition of the heart, we can’t simply retreat into religious contexts to escape it. We also can’t rely on adopting certain positions or practices to avoid it—especially if we use them to avoid the more difficult task of examining our own heart motives. As long as we’ve picked the “right” education for our children, go to the “right” church, watch the “right” movies, and vote for the “right” candidate, we won’t have to face the deeper truth about how easily our hearts are led astray. We could be consumerist, pragmatic, and completely worldly but never know it because we see our choices as “right” and thus are convinced that we are as well (pp. 53-54).

You develop discernment by becoming a person who knows how, not simply what, to think (p. 57).

In order to become discerning people, we also must separate our need for approval from our decision making. But to do that we’ll need a source of honor that is not dependent on how people perceive us. We’ll need a source of honor that doesn’t rest on presenting just the right look at just the right moment. And we find that honor, not in image crafting, but in the One who first crafted us in His own image (p. 84).

I didn’t realize until I was almost finished with the book that the last chapter contained review points and discussion questions for each chapter. That would have been helpful to know and use.

Hannah hosts a podcast called Persuasion along with Erin Straza.

If you are a member of, the audiobook of All That’s Good is currently free with your subscription. They shuffle their free titles around at intervals, so I am not sure how long this one will be free. I did not listen to the audiobook—I can’t listen to books like this and get as much out of them as I can when highlighting and occasionally rereading parts. But I know some of you prefer nonfiction via audio.

But I encourage you to get and partake of this book. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)


Laudable Linkage

Here are some of the posts that especially resonated with me this week:

If God Would Outsource His Sovereignty. “I want you to imagine that, at least for a time, the Lord would see fit to involve us in selecting the providences we would receive from his hand. I want you to imagine that through one of his deputies—an angel perhaps—he would approach us to ask how we would prefer to serve him.”

Struggling with the Struggle. “The main feeling that is overwhelming me right now is guilt. After all, shouldn’t I be overjoyed that God is teaching me intense lessons right now? And then I judge myself harshly for thinking that hard times are actually hard and not much fun.”

There Is Something Better Than Never Suffering, HT to Challies. “To suffer, with Christ, is a vastly superior to a life of comfort without him. And if he has saved you through his death, manifesting all his divine power in his own human weakness unto death, do you not think he can be your power in your suffering?”

It All Holds True, HT to Challies. “We want to shield our kids from pain. We want them to learn perseverance and endurance and real, personal faith without having to go through anything hard. That’s not quite how it works in the Christian life. Perseverance is cultivated in adversity.”

He Is Not an It: Understanding the Person of the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit is not a force, feeling, or phenomenon. He is not a ghost or an “it.” He is a Person that we should know and love.”

On Being the Main Character in Your Own Sermon. I can identify with this, even though I am not a preacher. “I pray for the humility to go unseen, unacknowledged, and unremembered, so long as Christ is seen, acknowledged, and remembered. In fact, I pray that Christ would be so present and so visible that people would fail to think of me at all.”

Where Do You Get That From the Text? HT to Knowable Word. “This matters because not every comment in every bible study is of equal worth. Not every application of scripture is a valid application of scripture.”

Why Read If You Forget Most Everything Anyway? HT to Challies. “If you can’t remember most of what you read, why even bother? Aren’t there better ways to use your time?”

God's Word is a treasure

Is It Wrong to Read Romance Novels?

Recently I visited an old Christian message board that I used to frequent to see if it was still active. I came across a conversation where someone asked if reading romance novels was wrong. The only respondents were men. One said he thought they weren’t wrong, but they were a silly waste of time. Another said he thought they could be wrong.

I didn’t want to take the time to find my log-in information and wasn’t inclined to get into the discussion anyway. But I thought about the question for a few days.

So, do I think it’s wrong to read a romance novel?

It depends.

“Romance” covers a wide territory. Many books outside of the romance genre will contain a love interest. But in a romance, the main point of the plot is two people coming to realize and declare their love for each other.

Is there anything wrong with that as a basic plot? No. The Bible contains romances (Song of Solomon, Ruth and Boaz, Jacob and Rachel). Ephesians 5 tells us marriage is a picture of Christ and the church.

When I’m getting to know a couple, one of the first things I want to know is how they met. That usually leads into a longer story of how they knew they were right for each other. It’s always neat to see the Lord’s hand in bringing them together.

But that’s real life. Isn’t a fictional romance a waste of time?

No, a story isn’t a waste just because it’s imaginary. Jesus used fictional stories to make a point. So did OT prophets.

Fiction fleshes out truth. When I’m listening to a sermon, I might get the pastor’s point but wonder what it looks like in real life. Then he shares a sermon illustration so I see the truth in action.

Randy Alcorn said, “Some Christians view fiction as the opposite of truth. But sometimes it opens eyes to the truth more effectively than nonfiction.”

We read fiction for a number of reasons: to see life through another’s eyes, to get to know how other people think, to develop empathy, to experience other cultures, to stimulate thinking, to learn discernment, gain information, to broaden our horizons.

Can we do all that with romances? Sure.

Some of the classics are romances: Romeo and Juliet, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, all of Jane Austen’s novels.

But the best romances have something going on besides falling in love. One or both characters will need to grow or overcome something. In Pride and Prejudice, for example, the two main characters need to get past their titular characteristics before they can come together. In Sense and Sensibility, one sister needs to learn the value of restraint and appreciating more about a potential husband than good looks, charm, and excitement. All of Austen’s romances involve a whole lot more than just the love story. They are commentary on the times and culture in the setting as well.

The same things can happen in a modern romance.

So how can romances be wrong?

When they produce longings that can’t be fulfilled now. If you’re struggling with being single, a romance might encourage you that God could do the same for you. Or it might discourage you because He hasn’t done so yet. If you’re in a long engagement before you can be married, you’ll have discern whether reading romances makes waiting harder for you.

When they focus too much on the physical. I avoid most modern secular fiction, especially romances, for this reason. I only pick one up after carefully researching reviews or receiving a good report from a trusted friend. But even Christian romances can go too far here. And even if a romance avoids bedroom scenes, there can be an overemphasis on her seeing his bulging muscles under his shirt, wondering what it would be like to kiss him, feeling an electric jolt when they accidentally touch. Do such things happen when people are becoming attracted to each other? Sure. But in real life or fiction, the physical shouldn’t be the main thing.

When they make you discontent with everyday life. Lisa-Jo Baker shared in The Middle Matters that a teenager quoted in the Huffington Post felt her love life would never be adequate “until someone runs through an airport to stop me from getting on a flight.” The girl probably saw that in a movie somewhere. Her romantic life is going to be difficult if she sets up a test scenario in an airport every time she thinks she’s in love. Real love is usually shown in everyday ways more than the grand gesture.

When you long for a perfect “Mr Right.” There is no perfect Mr. or Mrs. Right. The best writers write flawed, realistic characters. But sometimes a character can seem so exquisitely attractive that no one in real life could measure up. If you find yourself looking down on your husband (or potential husband, if you’re not yet married) because he falls short of a fictional hero, it might be time to lay aside the book.

I sometimes see romance writers talking about writing swoon-worthy characters, especially male characters. A character having admirable qualities is one thing. But I don’t want to swoon for anyone other than my husband.

Personally, romances aren’t my favorite genre. I read some. But I don’t want the story to stop with a wedding and a promise of happily ever after. To me, the wedding is a beginning, not an ending. I prefer women’s fiction or historical fiction, where there is more going on than an initial romance, though there may be romance in the story.

But thankfully, there are romances that are good stories, where the characters grow and learn, where we learn about the culture or setting of the book, where we can connect with human growth and experience.

“It is only a novel… or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language” ― Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Quotes about Reading

Reading is one of my favorite pastimes, and for years I’ve collected quotes about reading and books that rang true for me. Here are a few:

“And indeed, what is better than to sit by one’s fireside in the evening with a book, while the wind beats against the window and the lamp is burning?”
~ Gustave Flaubert

“…and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”
~Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
~ Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“When I am king, they shall not have bread and shelter only, but also teachings out of books, for a full belly is little worth where the mind is starved.”
~ Mark Twain, The Prince and the Pauper

“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”
~ Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”
~ Italo Calvino, The Uses of Literature

“The author who benefits you most is not the one who tells you something you did not know before, but the one who gives expression to the truth that has been dumbly struggling in you for utterance.”
~ Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, Dec. 15

“Far from being an escape from reality, good literature is a window into reality.”
~ Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Woman’s Heart

Which of these resonates with you? Do you have any other good quotes about books or reading?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Laudable Linkage

I’m finally caught up on my blog reading! For now. Here are some of the best posts discovered in the last week.

More Than Jumper Cable Christianity, HT to Challies. “We use jumper cables when our car’s battery is depleted, dead, and in need of a jump from another battery to get going. We connect jumper cables to another car, get some juice, and then go about our day and way. I fear far too many of us approach “abiding” in Christ this way. We do some Bible reading, read a devotional book, get some spiritual voltage and roll out.”

Feeding our Longing, HT to Challies. “Have you ever felt like there was more to life than this? Known some sense of longing for the future?”

How to Think About God Promoting His Own Glory, HT to Challies. “Many people misinterpret God’s character when looking at his demands and actions in history because they imagine what they would think of a fallen human being who did the things God has done, and they recoil. Failing to picture God as he is, they picture instead what they’re familiar with—a sinful, human tyrant imposing his preferred laws on people by force, destroying nations, or demanding worship.”

Units of Thought in Narrative Scripture. “One of the most important observations to make in a passage is the structure. And the way to observe structure is to first identify the parts of the passage (the units of thought) so that you can figure out how those parts relate to one another. In this post I’ll show you some of the ways to recognize the units of thought in a narrative.”

Flaunting Your Faithfulness: The Dangers of Conspicuous Christianity. “Conspicuous Christianity is the practice of seeking to appear more godly, not out of devotion to Christ or the love of others, but purely for the sake of winning the approval of other people. Conspicuous Christianity can come in many different forms, but it usually has some of the following characteristics . . .”

Keep Doing the Small Things, HT to Challies. “What if your greatest spiritual growth does not come through some cataclysmic event. What if the most important spiritual breakthroughs in your life are slow and methodical? Are you going to be OK with that?”

All My Not-Enoughness, HT to Challies. “I’m confronted with my not-enoughness a lot lately. As I get dressed, as I parent, as I’m faced with yet another important thing I’ve forgotten. When I try to write and the words won’t come. When I feel so tired that every inch of me longs to slink to the floor and crawl back into bed.”

The Hidden Super-Stars of Missions, HT to Challies. “I coach new missionaries as they prepare to go overseas. I’ve found I can often predict how quickly they’ll be able to raise support based on one crucial factor: whether they have an advocate who will come alongside them.”

Words That Lead, HT to Challies. Loved this post on the myths and responsibilities of writing.

On Reading Widely: Are You Stuck on One Shelf? “Root your thinking in the Word of God first, but be informed about the world around you. Resist being spoon fed by others. Do your own reading and research to form your own opinions.”

Wrapping Up Two Christmas Reads

I just finished my last two Christmas novels and thought I’d review them together.

In Hope for Christmas: A Small Town Christmas Romance Novella by Malissa Chapin, Merry Noel (who insists her last name is pronounced Knoll, not No-el) is trying to close one last deal before Christmas Day. If she can’t get everything together for it, the client will call the deal off. But her office is in the midst of a Christmas party and she can’t get anyone to make copies or do the things needed to close the deal.

Even without the pressure of this last deal, though, Merry hated Christmas and wouldn’t be celebrating.

After a disastrous series of events, Merry ends up losing her job. She didn’t want to go home to Wisconsin, but she has nowhere else to turn.

Having gotten used to city life in Atlanta, Merry chafes at going back to the farm. And how crazy was it to come back when the whole town was in the throes of their annual community Christmas celebration.

But her mother’s new neighbor, time with her mother, a blizzard, and an unexpected visitor in need all help Merry face her issues.

When I first started reading this, I thought it was going to be a modern retelling of A Christmas Carol. A couple of Merry’s coworkers even call her Ms. Scrooge. But Merry’s motivations aren’t related to business or finance.

I very much enjoyed Merry’s journey and this story, which were both heart-warming and faith-filled.

Malissa is the author of a book I read and loved last year, The Road Home (linked to my review). She also wrote Murder Goes Solo: A Piper Haydn Piano Mystery, which I have not read yet. Cozy mysteries are not my favorite fare, but I do read them sometimes, so I probably will check this out at some point.

I had not heard of Beth Moran before. But I had finished my audiobook a few days before Christmas and wouldn’t get another Audible credit until the end of the month. So I looked around Audible’s “free with a subscription” selection, and Beth’s Christmas Every Day caught my eye. I’m wary of modern secular fiction because usually it has bad language or bedroom scenes. But I figured this was low risk–if I came across something objectionable, I could just delete it from my library.

Jenny is another Christmas-hater, but for different reasons. Since her parents’ divorce, she usually spent holidays alone. But in light of her impending engagement, she has every hope that she’ll spend Christmas in a lovely place with a real family this year.

But then her boss/secret boyfriend announces an engagement not with Jenny, but with her beautiful, popular twin sister.

Jenny leaves for an old cottage in Sherwood Forest that she inherited from her grandmother, who passed away six years earlier. She expected the place to need a little clean-up. But she hadn’t known her grandmother had become a hoarder or that the house would need so much.

She gets off on the wrong foot with her curmudgeonly neighbor, Mack. But slowly, she begins to form friendships with other people in the village and gets a job.

Then she’s invited to an unusual book club. A couple of the participants are so cantankerous that they can’t agree on what books to read. So the group decides to shift focus and work on a personal challenge for the coming year, reporting on their progress at the monthly meetings instead of books. A private investigator wants to learn to bake. A dying older woman has a list of daring feats she wants to accomplish. A single mom wants to find a good man with whom she can have a real relationship. A super-fan wants to find the location of a reclusive author said to live in their area and invite her to the book club.

As Jenny deals with the house, her new job of minding a lively family of five children, her neighbor, and her new friends, she finally learns what belonging and family are all about.

This story is funny in places and heart-warming in others. Jenny’s series of comedic disasters got a little old at one point—but I guess I got used to them, or maybe they just toned down a bit. They kept happening but didn’t seem so outlandish as at first.

Even though this is written from a secular standpoint, there was a really good section on forgiveness.

There was a smattering of bad words, but otherwise the story was very clean.

Helen Keely did a superb job narrating the audiobook. I had to slow down the narration just a tad, as the British accent spoken very quickly was hard to understand in places.

I liked this books so well that I am willing to try more from this author. And I hope Helen Keely narrates them all.

Reading Plans for 2023

For most of my life, I’ve just read whatever was next in the stack or something I was in the mood for. Reading challenges have helped broaden my horizons and be more intentional in my reading. Plus it’s fun to share reading lists with the other participants. And some challenge hosts offer drawings for prizes!

I dropped one challenge I participated in last year. All of these are categories I already read anyway. Plus they leave me some room to still delve into something new and unexpected through the year.

I have not heard or seen anything from Karen at Books and Chocolate about whether she is hosting the Back to the Classics Challenge again this year–so that probably means she isn’t. That’s too bad, as this was one of my favorites. But I’m sure she has other priorities in her life right now.

I will still read classics, though. I’ve made it a mission to since I wasn’t exposed to many growing up. I’ve been trying to read through Dickens novels that I haven’t read yet. All I have left are Martin Chuzzlewit, Barnaby Rudge, Dombey and Son, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, so I’ll read at least one of those. I also got the audiobooks for Pilgrim’s Regress by C. S. Lewis and Martyr of the Catacombs. I finished Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire series last year, so I’d like to explore some of his other works.

Bev at My Reader’s Block hosts the Mount TBR Reading Challenge, which encourages us to get to those books we already own but have not read yet. That’s something I need to do every year, and I have enjoyed participating with Bev the last few years. She has the goals set out as a series of mountains, and we’re supposed to declare which one we’re aiming for. I think I’ll stay with Mt. Vancouver (36 books), even though I’ve reached the next level a couple of years. The sign-up and more information for this challenge are here.

Shelly Rae at Book’d Out hosts the Nonfiction Reader Challenge. This can be done one of two ways. Shelly has twelve books in different categories that we can aim for. Or we can be a “Nonfiction Grazer” and make our own goal. Although I might hit a few of her categories, I’ll go the grazer route. I normally read several nonfiction books (over 30 last year). This year, I’d like to hit these categories:

  • At least one biography, autobiography, or memoir.
  • One writing book
  • One book of humor
  • One Bible study book
  • One Christian living book
  • One book of letters or journals
  • One book by C. S. Lewis that I have not read yet
  • One book on organization or productivity
  • One book pertaining to a holiday (probably Christmas)
  • One book related to midlife or aging

Finally, The Intrepid Reader. hosts the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. A good many of my fictional reads fit this category. I’m going to aim for the Medieval level at 15 books.

And that does it for this year, I think!

Do you participate in reading challenges? Which ones.

Heaven and Nature Sing

Heaven and Nature Sing: 25 Advent Reflections to Bring Joy to the World by Hannah Anderson was just released last fall. I’m so glad I heard of it in time to use for Advent.

“Heaven and nature sing” is a phrase from “Joy to the World,” written by Isaac Watts. Watts’ hymn looks forward to Jesus’ second coming more than His first, but it’s regularly used as a Christmas carol. Hannah took inspiration from this phrase and wrote 25 Advent devotions based on various aspects of nature connected with the birth of Christ. The Bible tells us creation groans from the effects of sin, waiting for redemption. We also groan or yearn for things to be set right. Hannah writes, “I want to offer you hope—not by ignoring the brokenness but by looking it squarely in the face, knowing your Redeemer has and will come” (p. 1).

One thing that struck me about these meditations was how much sheer thought must have been behind them, to weave so many threads together.

For instance, in the chapter “Family Tree,” Hannah writes of her husband’s discovering some old family genealogies which were written not in flow charts like we’re used to, but in concentric circles. Then she tells of a family visit to see the redwood trees in CA. One cross-section of a stump showed rings developed over the millennia the tree had been alive, and Hannah contemplates all the history the tree lived through. Then she brings up the records of Jesus’ human genealogy. His people were often faithless and disobedient, resulting in judgment by enemy armies taking over Israel and exiling its people. Isaiah compares this to God lopping boughs off a tree (Isaiah 10:33). But He promises “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him. . . In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:1-2, 10).

“The story of Christmas is this: the tree is not dead” (p. 20). And eventually, others were grafted into the family (Romans 11:17-24), “strangers and foreigners and all those who thought they’d never know family again, those who never dared to hope that life would run through them” (p. 20).

You and I are links in the chain of generations, called to steward the fragile hope we’ve received. The seventy or eighty years given to us on this earth pale in light of those who have come before us and those who follow after. . .

So whether his work happens over the course of a thousand years or one day, whether it is given to us to play a prominent role in it or simply to stand as a faithful witness to the promise, we will wait on him. And we will wait in hope.

The tree is not dead. The quiet, steady work that came before us will continue on after us. The quiet, steady work we do today—even if it’s as simple as celebrating the Promised Son during this season—will echo through the years (pp. 20-21).

And thus Hannah writes about winter, stars, serpents, holly, evergreens, swaddling bands, shepherds, stars, and more.

One of my favorite quotes is in the chapter “Among the Beasts.”

Yes, the manger signals something about this baby, but it is not simply his poverty. By being placed in the manger, he is revealed as both the rightful son of Adam charged with caring for his creation and also the eternal Son of God who created them and who provides for them. So instead of filling the manger with hay or corn, he fills it with himself (p. 80).

I spent many mornings after my reading in this book in tears or joy, touched and awed by the contemplation of the “old, familiar” Christmas story.

Each devotion is about five pages long and written in an easily readable style. The illustrations on the cover and between chapters were drawn by Hannah’s husband, Nathan.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I’m sure I’ll use it again in future Advent seasons. But since these truths are timeless, you could read it any time of year.

I have some of Hannah’s other books in my Kindle app, and I am eager to read them. The only trouble is deciding which one to start with!

Top Twelve Books Read in 2022

This post is one of my favorites to write every year. Looking back through all the books I read during the year is like revisiting old friends. I try to keep my end-of-year favorites between 10-15. Some rise to the top immediately. Others I have to think about and weigh.

Not all of these books were written this year; in fact, most of them weren’t. But most were first-time reads for me this year.

Another Gospel: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity by Alisa Childers, nonfiction. I knew fairly soon that this would be one of my top books. Alisa Childers’ faith was shaken by her pastor, of all people, as he undermined the validity of the Bible, the nature of Christ’s atonement, and so many fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. Alisa realized that she didn’t know why she believed what she believed. And to her credit, instead of just following along, she began to read and study for herself. This book is her testimony as well as her answer to the issues the progressive movement brings up.

Heaven and Nature Sing: 25 Advent Reflections to Bring Joy to the World by Hannah Anderson, nonfiction. As the title indicates, Hannah focuses on various aspects of the Christmas narrative, especially in connection with nature. She brings such a depth of thought and brings out things I had not considered before.

Joy: A Godly Woman’s Adornment by Lydia Brownback, nonfiction, is made up of 42 fairly short devotions on the topic of joy. Being joyful is not a matter of having a bubble personality. It runs much deeper. I enjoyed the truths Lydia bought out.

O Love That Will not Let Me Go: Facing Death with Courageous Confidence, complied by Nancy Guthrie, nonfiction. Most people are uncomfortable thinking about death. Even if we know we’re going to heaven because we’ve believed on Jesus as Savior, we can be a little afraid of death and dying. It’s not for nothing that the Bible calls death the last enemy. Nancy has assembled writings from an assortment of Christian writers over time to help.

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by Lady Carnarvon, nonfiction. The author is the current countess of Highclere Castle, which was used as the ancestral home of the characters in Downton Abbey series on PBS. But you don’t have to be a fan of the show to enjoy the book. Lady Almina oversaw the castle through World War II, when she turned it into a hospital for wounded soldiers. She accompanied her husband on many travels to Egypt for his health, and where he and friend Howard Carter discovered King Tut’s tomb. The first part of the book was largely informational and a little hard to get into, but before long it became fascinating.

The Italian Ballerina by Kristy Cambron, Christian fiction, is my favorite fiction book this year. It was released just this summer. It’s based on the true account of an Italian hospital which made up a contagious disease they called Syndrome K to keep the Nazis away from one ward. They then used that ward to hide Jewish refugees until they could find somewhere for them to go.Two US military men, a newly-orphaned child, and a ballerina and her partner end up in the hospital as well and try to help. The story is uncovered by two descendants of some of the characters in modern times who follow clues to find out what happened. Excellent.

Bringing Maggie Home by Kim Vogel Sawyer, Christian fiction, is another split-time novel involving modern characters trying to find the history of their ancestors. In this case, Hazel DeFord’s younger sister disappeared when they were children, when Hazel was supposed to be watching her. Hazel didn’t tell her daughter, but this loss made her overly controlling, perfectionistic, and anxious–which drove her daughter away. Her granddaughter is a cold-case detective who unwittingly discovers old pictures of Maggie, Hazel’s sister, and uses time healing from an accident to investigate the 70-year-old case, hoping to bring closure to her grandmother and healing to her and her mother.

The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White, Christian fiction, is a novel about an adopted heiress who finds out who her true father is. But will the rest of her father’s family accept her, and will her relationship with her friend, Justin, who she secretly loves, survive? And will she realize the man trying to woo her is a predator? This sounds like a fluff read, but there is no fluff in Roseanna’s books. She brings such depth into her characters and plot.

Midnight, Christmas Eve by Andy Clapp, Christian fiction, is a sweet story about two teenagers who decide that in five years time, if they are not married, they’ll come back to “their” bench in their home town at midnight on Christmas Eve and get engaged. He comes; she does not. He continues to come for the next several Christmas Eves.

Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan is a novel about a college girl is London whose younger brother is dying. Her brother is obsessed with the world of Narnia and wants to know whether it’s a real place, and if not, where it came from. When he learns the author, C. S. Lewis, teaches at his sister’s college, he begs her to meet Lewis and ask these questions. There are three levels to this story: Megs and George and their family, Lewis’ biography, and Megs’ learning the value of stories. I didn’t agree with every point of theology from the author, but the overall story was very good.

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow is secular fiction from the world of Pride and Prejudice, from the viewpoint of Mary, the quiet sister in the background in Austen’s book. It suffered from a bit of over-explanation in a couple of places, but overall it was excellently done. And the audiobook was very good.

The Winnie the Pooh books by A. A. Milne. I reviewed the two books of stories and two of poetry all together. The Pooh videos were a big part of my kids’ growing up. There was a weekly cartoon of Pooh on then with new stories. But somehow we never read the books together. I wish we had. It was sweet and nostalgic to read them as an adult.

So that’s my top twelve this year. What was your favorite among the books you read this year? Have you read any of the ones I listed?