Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Challenge! -- Do Hard Things

I've just finished reading Do Hard Things by Alex & Brett Harris, and I believe it should be required reading for teenagers -- and adults too!  This book was very well written by teenagers, for teenagers, but it is filled with challenges that can also speak to those of us much farther down the road.

Alex and Brett have coined their own word -- "rebelution" -- which they define as "a teenage rebellion against low expectations."  They are convinced that "the teen years are not a vacation from responsibility.  They are the training ground of future leaders who dare to be responsible now."  From their own lives and the lives of countless other teenagers, the authors share examples of the accomplishments that can come from the efforts of those who are willing to ignore the mediocrity of society's low expectations and follow the "holy ambitions" God has put in their hearts.

In their book, and on their website, the Harris brothers do so much more than espouse some vague philosophy of what should be done, what might be done.  They share how they began this "rebelution" as a result of being challenged by their own father to spend a summer reading.  As they read the pretty heavy material put before them, they came to believe that teens were the ones who needed to wake up and prepare to be the leaders who would be required in the world they were learning about.  Alex and Brett decided to begin a discussion of their ideas with other teens and chose to do that by means of a blog.  From there, the "rebelution" grew into something much bigger than they could ever have dreamed. 

If you need to have hope restored in what today's younger generation is capable of -- and in many cases, willing to do -- read Do Hard Things.  I would strongly recommend this book for teens, parents, teachers, and others who are involved with teenagers, or for those who want to face head-on challenges for their own lives.

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(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group's Blogging for Books program for this review.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A great word from God's Word

As part of a Bible study I'm currently involved in, I've recently spent some time in the book of Hebrews.  If you haven't been there in a while, I would recommend reading chapters 8-10 in one sitting.  That passage gives such a vivid picture of Christ's work for us as our High Priest.  Unlike the Old Testament priests, He finished His work and sat down at the Father's right hand.  He's still there, interceding for me and for you.  That makes me feel pretty special and safe!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Hand to Hold

A Hand to Hold by Kathleen Fuller is the third and final installment in her Hearts of Middlefield series.  I first sampled Kathleen's writing in her contributions to a couple of Amish novella compilations and am glad to have discovered her.

A Hand to Hold tells the stories of two young Amish women -- Ruth, who is following her long-time dream of being a teacher, and Deborah, who is dealing with the challenge of being a young single mother.  Ruth has her lesson plans (and her life) all in order and can't wait to begin the school year, when Zach enters the picture and . . . well, let's say those plans are quite drastically disrupted as Ruth finds adventure she never expected.  Deborah returns home to Middlefield after receiving word that her mother has died -- leaving behind an unanswered proposal in Paradise.  As she deals with the difficulties of fitting back in with her grieving father and bitter sister, Stephen comes along to help . . . in more ways that anyone expected.

Although told in an Amish setting that I enjoy so much, the story is universal, and the characters have real, everyday conflicts to deal with.  Forgiveness, having the chance to change for the better, understanding of yourself and of others, sincere love -- all of these help make A Hand to Hold a great read.  Thanks, Kathleen

Sunday, February 6, 2011

My Amish journey (part 3)

(NOTE:  If you're interested in the chronology of this account, you might want to scroll down a couple of posts and read them in order.)

So was that the end of my Amish journey?  No way!  I left Lancaster County with some unforgettable experiences in my mind and heart and with some new friends.  Would I go back?  In a heartbeat!  I could enjoy seeing some of the same places, would definitely want to stay with Miriam again, and I am sure there are things we missed the first time around.

Amish books are not all I read, but I still read them every chance I get; there are several right now in my "to-read" stack.  By the way, that first book by Beverly Lewis has led to more books by her, as well as a substantial list of other great authors of Amish stories:  Wanda Brunstetter, Barbara Cameron, Mindy Starns Clark, Amy Clipston, Colleen Coble, Annalisa Daughterty, Mary Ellis, Suzzanne Woods Fisher, Kathleen Fuller, Shelley Shepard Gray, B J Hoff, Hilary Manton Lodge, Loree Lough, Marta Perry, Kim Vogel Sawyer (hers are really Mennonite stories), Beth Wiseman, Cindy Woodsmall -- I hope I didn't leave anyone out.  (There have been a couple of others whose names I won't mention because I didn't particularly enjoy their writing.)

Now I enjoy the books even more.  When there is mention of certain places, certain events, certain foods -- I don't have to imagine what those are like; I KNOW because I've seen and experienced them myself.  And as I told Miriam before I left, I will never read another Amish novel without hearing her voice saying, "Now, you know you can't believe everything you read in those books."  I know the authors do their research; many have Amish friends who read their stories to check for authenticity.  So I'm not being critical of anyone's writing.  I think, though, that Miriam (and probably other Amish like her) is concerned with the pre-conceived ideas or stereotypes that people may have about her kind of life and faith when they are condensed into those few words on the pages of the books.

So if you come back here from time to time, don't be surprised to find that I've spent some more time visiting my gut friends in a world which moves at a little different pace than the one where I usually live!

My Amish journey (part 2)

So then it was time to plan the trip.  When would we go?  How long would we stay?  Where would we stay?  What would we see?  As my husband likes to point out, for me planning a trip is a big part of the fun!  So to the internet I went!  This had to be just right.  Since I am friends with several great Amish authors on facebook, I decided to send a message to some of them for advice on how to experience as much as possible of an authentic Amish visit, not just the "touristy" spots.  Thanks to Cindy Woodsmall's posting a question on her wall about recommendations of where to stay, a fan responded, "How would you like to stay with an Amish family?"  That one started the adrenalin flowing!  I made email contact with her and got a phone number for a dear Amish lady who ran a guest house in the dawdi house where her parents had lived when they were alive.  I can't even describe how excited I felt when I talked with Miriam and worked out the details for our lodging!  The excitement of a little kid on Christmas morning doesn't begin to compare!

So my dream trip happened!  We spent a night in Holmes County, Ohio, and then five in Lancaster County.  We saw a lot of Amish sites, ate a lot of Amish food, even had the awesome experience of attending an Amish church service on Sunday morning!  Did I have fun?  Amazingly so!  Did I learn more about the Amish lifestyle?  Loads!  (If you have a few hours, I could share the details!)

But what was the best part of all?  Through visiting with Miriam and her husband Sam, some of their family, and others at the Sunday fellowship meal, here's what I learned:  "the Amish" are not just some group of people with some weird practices, outdated ways, and funny clothes.  They are real people, just like the rest of us.  They have their day-to-day joys, day-to-day struggles, family concerns . . . just like I do.  They don't handle them all exactly the same way I would, but I'm not sure there's anyone else just like me in the "English" world either.  And "the Amish" don't all fit a cookie-cutter pattern, any more than "the Baptists" or "the Missourians" or any other group of people.

After the Sunday morning service in a barn (3 hours, 99% of it spoken in German) and the fellowship meal to follow (probably over 100 people fed very quickly and efficiently in the hosts' home), one of the minister's wives came over to where I was sitting to visit with me.  She asked if I was understanding anything that was going on; most of the women and girls in the house were speaking to each other in their "Pennsylania Dutch" language.  I told her it reminded me of what I would see in a fellowship with friends in a church back home -- lots of talking and laughter, many conversations going on at once, not able to keep up with everyone talking at the same time!  There were mothers and daughters, children and teens, catching up on each other's lives since the last time they had visited.  And my husband was in the barn (where the men ate their lunch) visiting with the ministers and deacons, sharing in their conversations about church and work and such.  Just people being the people they are!

My Amish journey (part 1)

Several years ago -- probably just before the turn of the century (how's that for dramatic and old???) -- I was reading books from my mother's library of Christian fiction.  I thought she had a BIG library -- probably enough to fill one decent-sized bookcase.  That was before I inherited several of her books and developed a serious addiction to building my own library, now numbering somewhere around 500 books.

Anyway, one of the books I read was an Amish story by an author named Beverly Lewis -- the first was probably The Shunning.  I'm not sure how, not sure why, but I was hooked!  When I finished the book, I remember going into the room where my husband was and telling him I wanted to go to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  Something about the Amish lifestyle, which I had really known nothing about before, just fascinated me. 

In the 12-14 or so years since then, my interest and fascination has grown.  The more I've read about the "Plain" way of life, the more intrigued I've become and the more I've wanted to know.  Although I don't agree with all their beliefs and practices, and I'm certainly too spoiled to willingly live without so many of my modern conveniences, I admire many things about the Amish way.  Their commitment to God, to family, and to community, their willingness to often put aside their own "rights" for the sake of peace and other people and to forgive when they are wronged -- these are examples a lot of us could benefit from.  Truth is, there is no reason for values such as those not to fit into any lifestyle, no matter how complex.

Meanwhile, my dream to visit Lancaster County remained just that, a dream that would likely never happen.  As the phrase, "bucket list," became popular, I always thought that such a visit would be close to the top of my bucket list.  Who knew that a tiny piece of misinformation would lead to my dream being realized!

In May of 2010, while traveling from Missouri to Arkansas for our daughter's wedding, --  I don't even remember how the subject came up -- my husband asked just how far away Lancaster County was from our home.  At some point in my dreaming I had looked it up on the internet, and what I remembered was about an 8- or 9-hour drive.  My husband made the "mistake" of mentioning that that was not so much farther than our trips to visit family in southern Arkansas.  The seed of hope was planted!  On our next stop, I bought a road atlas and started figuring up mileage and time.  Oops!  I had been mistaken; it appeared it was more like a 15- to 16-hour drive.  But by this time, my husband knew it was hopeless.  We had to go!

The Rose Trilogy -- The Thorn

The Thorn by Beverly Lewis is the first installment in her new series -- The Rose Trilogy.  This is another excellent book by a great author.

Rose is a young Amish woman who was baptized into the church at a young age and seems confident that is where she belongs.  She spends much of her time caring for her mother who suffers physcially because of an accident many years before.  Sometimes Rose feels stuck in the house in her role as her mother's caregiver.  But she enjoys the freedom in her friendship with Nick, the bishop's son, and is excited about the renewed prospect of being courted by Silas Good.  Mystery enters Rose's life as she begins to investigate the "haunted" sounds in the home of Mr. Browning, where she works a few hours a week cooking and cleaning.  Rose's sister, "Hen" has been away for the past few years, since she left the community to marry an Englisher, but as she begins to visit home frequently with her young daughter Mattie Sue, her family becomes concerned about her commitment to her marriage.

As is her style, Beverly Lewis masterfully weaves together the stories of multiple people and the complexities of their lives -- even among the setting of a "plain" lifestyle.  She keeps you involved in the characters' stories and wanting to know more.  Her attention to details helps you learn more facts about the Amish way of life even as you find yourself involved with fictional people -- although you can easily find yourself wondering if they are real people you have met along the way.

Book two, The Judgment, is due to be out in April, and I'm anxious to find out more about where life takes Rose and her family and friends.