Friday, December 29, 2006

Resolved to Read. . . or. . . 2006: the Year of the Book

As the year winds down, I look back and reflect on my resolutions from the beginning of this year. I can't believe all that has changed -- how I have grown in my relationship with my Creator, my husband, friends, new and old. Of course, I have been blessed with wonderful memories to reflect upon, but in this post I'd like to reflect on the reading I've done.

You see, this year, I actually kept a New Year's Resolution all year long. I read 100 new books. That is, books I'd never read before. It wasn't that hard, really, because I love to read so much; it was more of an excercise in being intentional in my reading choices and sometimes sacrificing other little pleasures (at the start of 2006, that would have been Sodoku, at the end, it is blogging) when I was tempted to lay down my book. I tried to read a variety, and I only chose to read things that I knew I could (would?) finish. That means no dabbling in reading parts of interesting historical or theological books. Only titles I could read cover to cover. I made lists, each month. And now it's the end of the year. . . and I'm done.

I have made some of my favorites into links, so if you are interested, you can check them out, too. I thought it would be tedious to read reviews for each one, so I've spared you that! I also gave some awards to the best of the bunch. I am sure most of you will read this list and say "What? You've never read THAT before?" But, no. I haven't. These books are all new to me. There are probably another dozen or so that I reread this year, but they don't count. Here is my list (in no particular order):

1.Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (I'll be honest, I listened to this one on Audio Book -- 36 hours!!) This is the winner of the
"Best New Fiction Award"
2. Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper winner of the "Inspired Me the Most Award"
3. 1776 by David McCullough winner of "Best Non-Fiction Award" ~Pictured: we see the famous Fort Ticonderoga that I read about in 1776~
4. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
5. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
6. The Hound of Baskerville by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
7. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (not a fan, so much)
8. Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
9. The Giver by Lois Lowry
10. Dancing Through Fire by Kathryn Lasky
11. The Last Apprentice by Joseph Delany
12. Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne Winner of the "Make me Laugh Out Loud Humor Award"
13. Be Still my Soul by Elisabeth Elliot
14. Two Hearts Praying as One by Dennis Rainey
15. Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
16. The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townely
17. Coraline by Neil Gaiman (recommended to me by Mary Coffman)
18. The Power of Reading by Stephen D. Krashen
19. Let Me Be a Woman by Elisabeth Elliot
20. Redwall by Brian Jacques
21. Mossflower by " "
22. Mattimeo by " "
23. Mariel of Redwall by " "
24. Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright Winner of the Gretchen Neisler Award for Excellence in Children's Literature
25. Return to Gone-Away Lake by " "
26. Thimble Summer by " "
27. Instead of Three Wishes by Megan Whalen Turner
28. Boys and Girls Forever by Alison Lurie (big disapointment!)
29. God's Guidence, Finding God's Will for Your Life by Elisabeth Elliot
30. Jess by Mary Casanova
31. Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo Winner of the "Most Recommended to Others Award"
32. Small Steps by Louis Sachar
33. The Witches by Roald Dahl Gretchen Neisler Excellence in Children's Literature Honor Book
34. End of the Spear by Steve Saint
35.Created to Be His Helpmeet by Debi Pearl Winner of the "Surprise, I liked it!" Award (recommended to me by my friend Christen)
36. The Shaping of a Christian Family by Elisabeth Elliot
37. The Stolen Sapphire by Sarah Masters Buckley
38. Secrets in the Hills by Kathleen Ernst
39. Criss Cross by Lynn Rae Perkins
40. Peril at Kings Creek by Elizabeth McDavid Jones
41. Homeschooling for Excellence by David Colfax
42. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall tied for "Best New Children's Book Award"
43. Each Little Bird that Sings by Deborah Wiles tied for "Best New Children's Book Award"
44. The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
45. Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God by Noel Piper
46. Manhunt, the 12 Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson
47. Secure in the Everlasting Arms Winner of the "New Favorite from a Favorite Author Award"
48. Among the Free by Margaret Peterson Haddix
49. Minuk, Ashes in the Pathway by Kirpatrick Hill
50. Bone, Out From Boneville by Jeff Smith (the only graphic novel I'm counting, there were several others, but they weren't this long)
51. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2 thumbs down)
52. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens Winner of the "Best Classic Award" read my review from an earlier blog
53. Caddy Ever After by Hillary McKay
54. Peter and the Shadow Thieves by Dave Barry
55. Pirates! by Celia Rees
56. Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper
57. A Chance to Die by Elisabeth Elliot
58. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
59. A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller
60. A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers
61. An Echo of Darkness by " "
62. As Sure as the Dawn by " "
63. In the Presence of My Enemies by Gracia Burnham
64. Understanding Muslim Teachings and Traditions by Phil Parshall
65. Sold! by Patricia McCormick
66. In My Father's Houseby Corrie Ten Boom
67. Tramp for the Lord by " " (I get such waves of summer memories when I just think about these books!!)
68. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
69. The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith Winner of the "Most Contriversial Award" . . . but I LOVED it.
70. The Little Woman by Gladys Aylward
71. Horns and Wrinkles by Joseph Helgerson
72. Parables of the Cross by Lillias Trotter
73. Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper
74 - 84. Lemony Snicket #2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13 Read about my Evening of Unfortunate Events
85. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne Winner of the "You Got Me with that Ending!" Award
86. Parables of the Christian Life by Lillias Trotter
87. Discipline, the Glad Surrender by Elisabeth Elliot winner of the "Sure to Step on Your Toes Award" :)
88. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
89. Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis
90. The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susannah Clarke
91. Dorie, the Girl Nobody Loved by Doris Van Stone (recommended to me by G-Knee)
92. The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
93. The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis
94. The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Frank E Basilweiler by E.L. Koningsburg
95. Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller
96. The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
97. Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell
98. Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
99. Mimosa by Amy Charmichael
100. Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Family Christmases #4 -- Wilkinson Family

My mom's family gets together on Christmas day. Several years ago, because so many of us came from out of town, we started having our Christmas celebration at the hotel we stay at. That sounds pretty cold and impersonal, I know, but it actually works out great. They have a kitchen that we can use and the hotel blocks off the large lobby area for us. There are couches, tables, a fireplace, two televisions and a kitchen. We're all set!

My Grammy and Grandad proudly hold the first great-grandchild in the family. Grandad has always loved babies, so it was cute to see him with one -- it's been awhile!

My Uncle Matt gave everyone a really cool gift -- CDs with my grandad's WWII army pictures on them. Here Josh, Anna and Emily are examining the proofs closely.

My creativ
e Aunt Donna (on the right -- she's an artist who has worked designing greeting cards for as long as I remember. I think that is such a cool job!) had another fun idea this year. She had everyone in the family help to paint a canvas to hang up at Grammy and Grandad's house. The design was based on Sudoku, with each number being replaced by a symbol/color. Here Josh begins the painting with yellow dots, as interested family members look on.

My cousin Rob adds some red diamonds -- and even my little niecelet Schmader gets in on the action. Unfortunately, when you are a mere 8 months old, it is a bit difficult to know if you are painting a canvas or your daddy's shirt. Janet is laughing here, but this shot is just seconds after she wisked away the brush!

Emily and I get in on the action by addin
g pink hearts. (Meanwhile Nathan's shirt is being unsuccessfully scrubbed in the kitchen). Might I add that this was such a fun party idea?!

Here is the finished result. I think it looks a bit like an amish quilt pattern (of which my Grammy is enormously fond!). It's sort of a "frien
dship painting", not unlike the friendship quilts of old, where everyone adds a square. It is so cute and fun, and it will look fantastic framed and on the wall at the Wilkinson home.

Family Christmases #3 -- Benzing Family

My dad has a huge family, and their tradition is to get together on Christmas eve (this dates back to prehistoric days, I believe, when the Guffs still ruled over Horseshoe Bend). Of course, not everyone in such a large family can all come every year, but whoever can, does, and this year we had quite a crowd all snug together in my Grandma and Grandpa's house. I think it's amazing that my dad's parents still live in the house in which he and his 8 brothers and sisters grew up.

Here's a shot of some of the girl cousins: Emily, Abby, Me, Sarah and Caroline (others playing in the background, I guess they are less "cheesy").

I pose with my Aunt Pat (we discovered at this visit that she and Josh share a favorite author) who is always a
trusty attendant at the Christmas Eve festivities, and my Aunt Deb (who drove with my Uncle Matt and 4 kids all the way from New York to Cincinnati!).

This precious child brightened up the evening for everyone! "Little Abby" hopped, skipped and jumped around all night showing her presents, playing like she was a variety of animals and munching on tomatoes. I hope I have a little one this good someday!

I am so blessed to still have all of my grandparents. Here I am wi
th my Grandma: Anna Mae Benzing. She is quite a classy lady, ready to shine in her Christmas Eve attire. I appreciate the heritage of godliness in the Benzing family. There is an affectionate bond when you gather with family members who share a common history, but an even stronger bond when those members also share a common future.

Family Christmases #2 -- Immediate Benzing Family

My immediate family always gathers to exchange gifts about a week before Christmas (to allow for everyone's travel). This year was notably special with the first little grandchild in the family (niece to me)! Here is a picture of "Schmader-cakes" opening her first gift from me (books, what else??).

My sister Emily waits pensively for the free-for all to begin. Just kidding. The fire was so lovely that I tried to capture the glow in the room, but I fear it looks a bit blurred.

Mom was REALL
Y surprised by her gift from the girls: an American Girl doll! She has wanted a Molly doll since I got my Kirsten doll 19 years ago. We decided we wanted to treat Marjalo with a big gift because she has gone through so much this year. She cried when she opened it -- I think we did a good job!!

Family Christmases #1 -- Neisler Family

Josh and I were so blessed this year to be able to travel around and see EVERYBODY some time during this Christmas season. Here is a little photo journal of each "Family Christmas" and when and where we went:

First, Neisler Family Christmas in Ohio. Here Lukas shows his favorite gift (from me), a Dwight Schrute bobble-head doll (from The Office).

Josh is rather excited to open this lovely box from J. Crew -- most likely because his sissy Laura purchased some rather nice apparel for him.

And I love my Rachel Ray inspired shirt from Josh's mom. EVOO is "delish"!

Below, Kari shows her Christma
s spirit with a classic Kari grin. OH-kay!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Wise Little Children

Last night as Josh read Luke 10 out loud to me, I was struck by verse 21 which says:
In that same hour, he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said "I thank you, Father,
Lord of heaven and earth that you have hidden these things from the wise
and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for that was your gracious will."

Wow, I thought. I could have said that! How many times have I been teaching my little class or small group and been ministered to by their true and blessed insight? I have had such a precious privilege to work with sweet children in many areas at church and work, so I thought I would share some examples here.

Tonight in my small group, we were counting our offering money that we have been collecting to buy goats for an AIDS orphan (each small group has a Christmas offering goal for the AIDS orphans). I had secretly dropped in a $20 bill from my Christmas bonus, to get the kids excited, thinking I was being generous. We started to count, when in walked Logan with $43!! He is six. It was his own money! Talk about the widow's mite. . . I felt like the rich young ruler. Of course everybody was overjoyed! We are thinking we might be able to do more than just two goats. . . Might I add that if you want to check out the website I've linked above you will be surprised to see that you can sponser an orphan for $12 a month. This organization employs the most practical grass-roots methods to bringing aid to the most needy people on earth.

Then, as we prayed over our offering, thanking the Lord for its abundance, Rachel prayed "Lord, may this offering we give to the AIDS orphan be a token to him of You! May he see that You are the best gift he could have, way better than these goats." I was blessed that she had made that connection. I hadn't thought of the goats being from God, Who gives all good gifts. I had not thought of them being a symbol of His bounty and Self-Sufficiency. I was so blessed by that prayer, and the reminder it was to me that WE had not done a thing, but God has provided in all things.

Here is a precious story from last spring. I was teaching my 1st and 2nd graders the "The ABC's of God" which is great curriculum about the perfections of God. We had just learned about His righteousness (which is that anything He does is Right, because He values what is Supremely Valuable). The next week our lesson was His wrath, and the lesson called for you to set up a scene where you scarily act out Jesus in the temple, throwing over a table and lashing a whip. Then we discussed, "was that right for Jesus to do?" (Do we not, as adults, constantly call into question God's righteousness by demanding He do what we want?) "Yes!" they said "Everything Jesus does is right!" Emily asked "did He whip the animals or the people?" We relooked at the text. "It was the people" I said "Jesus whipped the people with his whip. And that was RIGHT to do, wasn't it?" "Yes," they all agreed, "the people deserved to be whipped!" Then Delani (who is a spiritually sensitive child, often thinking deep thoughts about the Lord) quietly said something I will never forget: "He can whip me if He wants to." I teared up. I was humbled. She was able to see herself in that story, the one who deserves to be whipped. That was His gracious will -- to reveal that to Delani, and then to me.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has been taught by the wisdom of little children, things that the Holy Spirit has revealed to them. Post your "lessons" and share them with us!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Unveiling the Motives

Right now we are visiting Josh's family for Neisler family Christmas. It has been lots of fun, of course, but I have been humbled as one by one, my own insecurities (which I thought no longer existed), materialism and altogether self-centeredness have been unveiled to me.

See, I tend to enter these big family events with a motivation to prove that I am totally into the family and sort of shine as a big helper and buddy for everyone. I don't WANT to be like that, I don't set out on the trip intending to be this way. I just slip into this "character" like I slip into jeans that are ill-fitting and unflattering. I hate the way I look the whole time, yet bothering to go change into something more appropriate is too hard.

Apparently I love to be a martyr. This is what happened today. We were having a surprise party for Josh's dad this morning (he turned 50) so we all had to get up early and get to the grocery and make all the food and have the party set up by a certain time. So I let everyone else get a shower first, and consequently didn't get to get one myself. After the party, I was flying around cleaning, organizing, carrying out all presents and leftovers (thinking in the back of my mind how hardworking I am). When we arrived home (Josh's mom and I arrived first) I washed up all the dishes, helped Josh's mom make up our list for tonight, cleaning, organzing, and wishing I could just go get a shower real quick (and starting to feel envious of all the clean tidy people around me). Well, you might imgaine the rest of the story. I kept busy helping and being on everybody's team and trying to make everybody have fun. That is not so restful. You cannot rest if you are always looking for a chance to shine. By the end of the evening, I had really worked up the martyr mindset. We played Bingo with prizes (annual tradition), and I didn't win once, even though everyone else won multiple times. But I, the good model-daughter/sister-in-law did not complain, and cheered for everyone, even though I had in the back of my mind the ugly thought that I wished they would let me win because I had been so nice all day, and I was everybody's favorite in the family. I also snapped a couple of times at Josh's siblings (all grown-ups) because I was irritated or offended that they were not thinking of me as the model sissy-in-law.

Where do these self-centered thoughts come from? I have longed to be centered on Christ in my thinking and affections this Advent season, but all it takes is one long day of celebration, and my hidden desires spring forth. I am ashamed. I wish I could rewind the Holiday and just worship Jesus and not myself.

So I am sharing this because I don't feel it is too late! I am going to read and read and read my Bible tonight, and talk to my Sweet Jesus and ask Him to forgive me for showing off at His birthday party like a five-year-old younger sister who is jealous of their sibling getting all the gifts. Don't let this be you! A holiday is unfulfilling if anything besides Jesus is our focus. Don't let it be gifts. Don't let it be food. Don't let it be decorations. Don't let it be Christmas movies. Don't even let it be your kids, your significant other, your mother, your favorite Christmas songs. Ask the Babe in the manger to show you how you might kneel humbly before Him and give Him a precious gift like the Magi: your attention.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Long Winter's Nap . . . and Two Thumbs Up for the Nativity

A fun event every Christmas comes when the tree is up and blazing in its splendor, and we anticipate several consecutive days of no guests. Then Josh and I pull out the air mattress, cover it in quilts, and sleep by the Christmas tree. I have always thought that sounded fun, and the first year we got married, we were like kids (HEY! We can do whatever we want -- the perpetual slumber party!) and decided to sleep by the tree. Now it is tradition. It is precious curl up in the golden glow of the tree lights, reading to ourselves, or one another, and falling asleep with visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads. :)

Part two: Last night we went to see "The Nativity" movie. It was great! If you don't live in an area that has an awesome Bethlehem Marketplace like my friend Donette, then it is worth seeing just for the picturesque landscapes that New Line is famous for (like Lord of the Rings). I also thought the acting was quite good, especially Joseph and Elizabeth. Mary was not my favorite because she was a bit pouty, as if young women back then went through the "rebellious teenage years" like they are supposed to now. The only thing that was explicitly unbiblical was the vision of Zechariah (no angel, just some speaking smoke in the temple). And of course, you can question the arrival of the wise men just hours after the Messiah was born (but the wise men were my favorite part, giving a bit of comic relief). Otherwise, I loved it, especially the masterful weaving together of regional music with popular Christmas carols (strains of Away in a Manger play as Mary places Jesus in the Manger). I think th
e movie did a great job boldly proclaiming Jesus Christ to be God. The wise men give their gifts with lines like "Gold . . . for the King above all kings". Wow! I am thrilled that this movie was made to try to capture the wonder of in Incarnation.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Happy Birthday, Jack

As for traditions of reading aloud to one's friends, here are a couple pictures from last night's annual birthday party celebrating C.S. Lewis. A handful of friends who are all willing to be enchanted together gather at my apartment, fix a British dinner, and enjoy the rest of the evening sipping gallons of tea and reading aloud portions of our favorite Lewis books to each other.

We branched out a bit this year in our cooking. Our menu consisted of cheeses, jams, crackers and sun dried tomatoes for hors d'ouvres, fish and chips (traditional, unassuming and yummy), Yorkshire pudding (pictured below -- kind of bland) with Welsh Rarebit (a sort of plainish cheese sauce of little excitement), cranberry scones and clotted cream. And tea, n

Pictured right is my husband Josh reading from The Weight of Glory. We also heard portions of The Four Loves, Prince Caspian, The Silver Chair, The Screwtape Letters, Surprised by Joy, The Narnian, The World's Last Night, and a modernized version of Malory's Morte d'Arthur (which was one of Lewis's favorite books). It was a nice variety of humor, inspiration, magic and human interest.

Please note to the left, the lamppost in the background. I am rather partial to all things Narnian.

What a delightful time! How peaceful and lovely to hear a kindred spirit read from the eloquent pages of Lewis. How precious to respond together to the written word. It caused me to think, why do I not do this with God's word more often? I would love to have friendly gatherings in which we celebrate, say, the book of John, or the Pauline Epistles. Wouldn't that be splendid? It may be a bit more difficult to create a menu around those themes!

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Don't you love traditions? I like to have traditions with a purpose, focusing my time and treasuring on blessing someone special. This special season, begins, for me, with the American Girl Trip to Chicago. I have gotten to organize this trip each year for the bookstore I work at, and I take a sweet little girl with me each year. I try to choose a little girl who is old enough to enjoy herself, and good enough to endure a bit of a long day. This year, I got a double helping of BOTH! I took 2 precious girls from my homeschool P.E. class. What darlings! What angels! Never "I'm cold". Never "I'm tired". Only "Thank you, Miss Gretchen, thank you so much!" Oh, you precious darlings, I would take you a thousand times!

Last year, I cooked Thanksgiving pies and other treats with several of my pastor's kids, and I wanted to repeat that tradition this year. We had just
gotten our camera last year, and here is picture one of them took that day. Just below it is a repeat picture taken this year. By the way, I'm looking so fab both years in my P.E. ensembles, aren't I? I only wish I could post a couple pictures of these cuties rolling out pie crust (Anna) or covered in evaporated milk (Stephen), but they aren't my kids, so I better not.

I will be leaving these precious friends soon (see how I feel about that on my post My Isaac), but the Lord is so good. He has given me fresh insight into one of His perfections, His Immutibility. While weeping over how nothing could be the same again, it dawned on me that what I truly love about any wonderful event or tradition is HIM! And He is the Eternal One, the Same yesterday, today and forever! Oh yes, we change! Children grow up, I grow older, homes, and families and relationships ebb and flow. But the Great Unchanging One makes it all bearable as He whispers to me "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

I was inspired last year by Noel Piper's book, Treasuring God in Our Traditions, to begin making traditions that turn our eyes on Jesus, especially at Christmas. I recommend this book as perfect holiday reading. Begin a tradition that makes drives your attention upward, and worship the One who remains the Rock of Ages.

Monday, November 20, 2006


I am not too afraid of being sentimental. Gag if you like, but my teenage sisters and their friends all mockingly imitate me talking to my husband in baby talk (it's a family thing -- we all communicate in this dialect about 50% of the time) . And I do LOVE my husband. So I was glad when my friend Sarah tagged me, forcing me to post about him and 13 things I love about him. BTW -- "Jeish" is the way his grandma pronounced his name, so it has just stuck as a nickname. Sets him a bit apart from the multitude of Joshes.

1. He truly is my spiritual leader -- he sets the tone in our home, and calls me on the carpet when I need it.

2. He constantly encourages me. Whether it is my appearance, feeling worn out from all my differing responsibilities, or just cooking dinner or getting the laundry done, he is affirming, affirming, affirming.

3. He is such a great "big brother" to my little sisters. He buddies them and babies them, and tells them they are beautiful. (I think this is a good indication that he will be a great father!)

4. I think he is very handsome. I would know his profile anywhere.

5. He loves to read, like me.

6. He never nags me if I let my housework lie a bit. He gives me time to relax when I am home from work, and lets me read, read, read all I want without feeling guilty.

7. He has no vices, or addictions to things that just waste time. He enjoys sports, but his life is not tempered by whether or not the right team wins or loses. He rarely watches television (and never here!).

8. He has adapted to my style of food (very little meat, open to trying nearly all vegetables) and is game for being adventurous if I feel like it with my cooking.

9. He has a vi
sion for how the Lord will use us together in the future.

10. He likes spending time with me! We mostly like to hang out together!

11. He feels things intensely, but seeks to be led not by feeling, but conviction. He is not a boorish "He-Man". And I'm glad!!

12. He loves childre
n and elderly people. This was one of the first things that stood out to me when I first got to know him. I had never met a man who was good with both.

13. He has a great sense of humor! He can make me laugh HARD like no-one else can. And another good thing is, he is rubbing off on me, so we sort of share a sense of humor.

So . . . Who to tag next??? I think I shall tag my friends Donette and Stephanie!

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Blessings of Faithful Friends

The Lord has blessed Josh and I enormously these past months with some very dear friends. They are the Taylors: James and Christen, David and Sharon, Phil and Mary Ruth. This family is 3rd generation missionaries to go to Brazil. James, David and Sharon grew up as MK's in Brazil, and now are on deputation to go back to serve themselves.

We had David and Sharon at our house last night, on their way through town from Iowa to North Carolina (deputation takes you many miles!) I was reminded of what sweet fellowship one can have with likeminded friends. How great our God is, to create something so amazing as the Joy between two friends when you realize "you have felt that too? I thought I was the only one!" I rejoice when I think of the blessing God has given Josh with friends like David and
James. Not every man is capable of having very very dear friends, but my husband is, and needs encouragement from strong Christian men. Here is a picture of David holding his new nephew, Jeremiah Taylor (doesn't that just sound like a missionary's name?) last night at dinner.

Of course, I wish David and Sharo
n were always around, but the truth is, my relationship with Sharon has been based on a series of visits and late night talks, knowing that we are parting in the morning. There is such a sweet grief to long to be with your friends longer, don't you think? I think it is a taste of longing for eternity, where time has no power or constraints.

James and Christen have lived nearby for the past 11 months. Christen and I became immediate friends, mostly for the immediate need for a friend we both had! I had been wrestling with the Lord over jealousy I was harbor
ing toward other girls around me who seemed to have tons of good friends. The Lord brought my jealousy to light, made me realize that He is the Supreme Friend, and the Affection of my heart, and then gave me Christen. She got me back into running (and then had to quit due to pregnancy), I got her into blogging, we worked together at Camp OUTT, cooked fun meals, shared songs and books, drank millions of cups of tea, told a million stories, and a million praises of the Lord's goodness. I so appreciate Christen for her flexibility, (she and James currently share a bedroom with all 3 of their kids, including their 8-day-old Jeremiah), her simplicity (finding the fun in wearing matching church logo t-shirts to play scrabble), her boldness that shames me (so ready to witness and challenge others in an encouraging and upbeat way). Thank you, so much, Christen, for reading my books and giving me some of yours. Thank you for being such good company, someone I always want to sit and catch up with.

James and Christen are leaving soon, leaving a huge "Taylor Void" in our lives! The absence I believe, will be a bit like climbing up the stairs and thinking there was one more step, and nearly stumbling when the step is not there (to quote Lemony Snicket). I embrace that pain, that small death in my life, as a way to honor the Lord. He gives and takes away. How blessed we have been to be given such friends! Would we really annul His will? Has He been a desert to us? No, indeed. He is the very fountain of blessing!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

My Sisters

A while back I posted some pictures of Josh's family and commented on our relationship, so now I want to post some stuff about my family and how much I love them -- especially my sisters!
Anybody who does not have a sister does not understand the bond that can be there. I have been thankful for my sisters over and over; they are very dear friends to me! After seeing Josh's mom deal with her mother dying and the comfort she took with her sister -- who is SO different from her, but shares that common bond of sisterhood -- I decided that I want to have more than one girl. So let me know how you let God know that . . . anybody got ideas? Sarah? Sandy? Just kidding.

Above is a pictur
e of us all at the Father-Daughter Dinner in June (we are wearing "We Heart Dad" shirts made by Emily and I). My sister Nancy is the girl with short hair in the back row. Nanc is my adopted sister for the past 4+ years. She is growing in her people skills and has an unbelievable ability to memorize every word to songs and movies! Unfortunately, I could not find any other good pics of her! I guess she is not the camera hog the rest of my sisters and I are! Here are some other pictures of my sisters and family that I love!

Josh and Abby at Boyce Preview weekend a couple weeks ago. Abby is 14 and much more tomboyish than Emily. She is sometimes buddies with Josh, though he still wishes I had a little brother! :) Abby is very gifted with children and loves to babysit and hog my little niece, Cede! People always tell Abby she looks like me . . . sorry Ab! I guess if they mean the natural beauty look, then that is TRUE!

Emily is the girliest girly girl in the family. She is also very artistic and talented singer. Here she is singing at International Teen's Involved. What I appreciate about Emily is her love for the Lord! She is WAY more spiritually grounded than I was at 17! Isn't she beautiful? No wonder all those boys are crushing on her!

I couldn't find any recent ones of just Anna and I, but here is one of the 4 of us on my Dad's 60th birthday in September. Anna is my closest in age sister, and she is married and works as a nurse. Anna and I shared a room growing up, and we are a testimony that that can WORK and sisters can still be buddies!

Thank you, Jesus, for my sweet sisters! Please take them from my open hands and use them for YOUR glory!!

Monday, October 30, 2006

My Isaac

The ladies' Bible study at church has been studying The Patriarchs by Beth Moore, and I have always been captivated by the story of Abraham offering Isaac on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22). One thing that Beth said in the study was that "our hardest tests involve our dearest loves." I know that is so true, yet I was unable to put my finger on what was my dearest love that the Lord was testing me over. And today I discovered what it is.

I got a card in the mail advertising the Children Desiring God Conference coming up next April (we use their curriculum and it is GREAT!). Silly me, I eagerly opened the card an
d read about the cost and workshops available and dreamed "maybe Johanna and Mandy and I could all go together!" before I caught myself. The next thing I knew, I had burst into tears, walking home from the post office. You see, I will be moving away in a couple months, and of course it is so silly to dream that the children's ministry team I work with would be doing that together because I will not be in children's ministry anymore!

My ministry -- the kids at my church, in my classes, in my small group, the children of my friends -- is my Isaac. I do not say my ministry is my idol -- no, it is a precious gift that He has given to me just as He promised. This is what God is asking me to offer to Him. To sacrifice it boldly on the altar of my life. To give it up freely, gladly glorifying Him in the process. Tears are streaming down my face as I type this, a sign that the trip up Mount Moriah is not yet compl
ete! I cried all afternoon, really really wept like I have not done for a long time. I was thinking about the girls I minister with and how blessed I am that we are so likeminded.

Mandy, Johanna and Janice -- I appreciate you! You are such a wonderful team! I know you will be able to flourish without me because God is your focus, not the kids, and God is growing you all in a deeper relationship with Him. (I unfortunately have no pictures with Johanna or Janice, but this is not the best one of me and Mandy!)

Kids -- I LOVE you!! I have the best students in the world -- from the 4 year olds who love to show me that they brought their "sword" (little reminder, Steph!), to the 1st and 2nd graders in my Sunday School class (here is a picture of our African class party yesterday -- it's me with Zalira and Akeyla -- their Swahili names), to the older kids who are great leaders in our small groups on Wednesday nights (for instance Rachel who is more Christ centered at 11 than I was at 18).

It is by no means easy for me to leave this thriving ministry. But I take comfort, indeed, great joy in the verse from Hebrews 11:19 "Abraham considered that God was able even to raise Isaac from the dead". Christ sustains me with the faith to look ahead at the ministry He will have for me in the future! And so I fearfully obey and make my sacrifice, and look to the day when He will raise a ministry for me again someday.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Here are a couple of pictures of last week when my family and I visited Southern Seminary for the Boyce College preview weekend. We had dessert at Al Mohler's house (the President of the seminary). WOW!! It was quite the mansion!

We were most in awe of his library, spanning room after room in his basement, housing his own private collection of 50,000 books! It was incredible, sort of an awesome feeling to be surrounded by all those books!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

My friend Trish

Please pray for my sweet friend, Tricia. She is, (quite obviously) nearing the end of her pregnancy with a precious, much longed-for little boy. She is having a scheduled C-section on Monday, October 23rd, because this pregnancy is high risk.

Two years ago, on October 21st, she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, Braden. She was overdue, and in the process of labor, her uterus tore, and Braden was severely brain damaged. He was precious and whole and darling, but he lived only one week because of the brain damage. Trish and Joe (her husband) have been an unbelievable testimony to all who know them of God's grace and lovingkindness through loss. I can actually say that a revival of sorts broke out at this time, at least for me, and the children I minister to (including Trish's other kids).

Now she is a walking testimony that we serve a God of miracles! Everyone who sees Trish's
halarious tummy is once again reminded of what they lost, and how God has changed the way we see Him, and life, and everything pertaining to it. (I recommend the book: A Path Through Suffering by Elisabeth Elliot which I was reading at the time).

Please pray for these important last few days! I am crying out to God on her child's behalf, that for His Name's sake, He will safely bring this child into the world. It is no accident, in fact, an unbelievable miracle that this little boy will be born between the date that Braden was born, and Braden died. It is because of Braden, in fact, that this child has life! Please pray that Trish and her family might stand before God with their hands open, ready to let God give and take away, and through it all, be able to say "Blessed be His name!"

Monday, October 09, 2006

An Series of Unfortunate Events

I am so hooked on the Series of Unfortunate Events. For those of you whose lives are not as steeped in children's fiction as mine is, this is a series of 13 books about 3 children who lead quite unfortunate lives. These books were made a bit more famous a couple years ago when a movie came out loosely based on the first 3 books (starring Jim Carrey). The first book begins when their house burns down, killing their parents, and the series continues as they are bounced from guardian to guardian, each more pathetic than the last. They encounter all sorts of frustrations and frights such as man-eating leeches, working at a lumber mill, an austere boarding school where you learn only the metric system, nearly being fed to lions, and most of all, being chased by the horrid Count Olaf.

Why on earth would kids like these books so much? Well, for several reasons. For one thing, they are unbelievably funny! Lemony Snicket (the author) peppers the unfortunate tales with hysterical quips and definitions. My friend who teaches ESL told me that ESL kids really like this series, because they are not accustomed to assuming life will turn out just fine. I think many kids today are like that. . . they know what hardship is. They have endured horrible things, so they like reading about other kids that encounter way more horrible circumstances and endure them, bearly slipping through every time. That is the reason I like these books. I have always loved stories in which the kids are the heroes! And the orphans here are pure genius! They adore reading and learning, and can always invent something clever. And through all the trials, the brother and sisters are always loving and devoted to one another. I just love it!

This Friday, the final book in the series (#13!!) will be released, hopefully solving all the mysteries in the previous 12 books. At the bookstore I work at, we are having "An Evening of Unfortunate Events" to celebrate! I am pretty much planning the shibang, so I am really excited. Here are some of the things we have planned:

1. An unhappy and wretched movie filled with misery
2. A Series of Unfortunate Letters: "The Horrible Hunt" (this is my favorite part!)
3. Dull and tedious tasks to complete such as measuring items using the metric system
4. Distasteful treats such as Leech pudding and root beer float punch
5. A costume contest judged by Esme Squalor (a mean lady always telling people what is "in")

Doesn't that sound like a blast? :)

Monday, October 02, 2006

He leads me beside waters of rest. . .

I love my ESV. Josh bought me a beautiful little two-tone Bible in the English Standard Version for my birthday this summer, and lately I have been noticing what a special translation it is
. I have been reading really familure passages in a whole new light with this beautiful new version. For instance, Psalm 23 becomes fresh with these words:

"The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside waters of rest. He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for His names' sake. Even though I walk through the valley of deep darkness, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You annoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Only goodness and steadfast love shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall return to dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

A girl in our youth group and I were discussing these verses (it was our assigned reading in the WOL Quiet Time) and really enjoying ourselves as we envisioned being sheep. It was so refreshing and precious to discuss what all the Blessed Shepherd does for us! I especially liked thinking about the "waters of rest", most often quoted as "still waters", becasue I was feeling really overtired and strained last week, just from all the special events we had going on. I know that when I need it the most, the Lord will lead me to the waters of rest where I can truly rest, knowing He gave me this time, I am not wasting it (does anybody else feel like that? I bet you do!).

I always like Sunday to be a day of rest, really and truly, but it doesn't always end up like that! Somehow Sunday gets way overbooked, just like the rest of the days, and when it is over, you feel like you need a weekend! But I hung on to these verses, refusing to collapse and give in to grouchiness, because I knew my rest would come. And here it is! I had a nice long night of sleep last night, and all morning helping Josh to meditate on scripture, and pray. I feel serene and peaceful, knowing that the Lord, to whom I "lift up my soul" will provide what I need in His timing.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

On Being Happy

A catholic teenage boy that I know from the bookstore, commented on this picture of me with this statement: "You are always in such a good mood! I wish I could be happier more often." I was totally caught off guard by that remark (after all, doesn't everyone smile in pictures?) and it started me thinking about being in a "good mood".

I realized I am, quite often, happy! I prayed and asked the Lord for a way to reply to this kid, and how my deep joy and it's outflowing of happiness might be a way I could minister to him.
The Lord, being so wonderful, gave me an answer. Not with my words, but with His:

In Psalm 21, David says "for You have made the King most blessed forever (or a source of blessing forever), You make him glad with the joy of Your Presence." Blessed is another word for "happy". So when we say the Lord is blessed, we mean He is happy! I personalized this verse for myself: You have made me most happy, and a source of happiness forever; You make me glad with the joy of Your Presence.

Oh, that I might be a source of happiness -- not trite, glib, shallow thoughts, but deeply wrought joy -- to everyone around me! And that my delight might point all who are affected by it to the Happiest of Beings!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Family Pictures

Here are some family pictures that we had taken with Josh's family a month or two ago. I really liked the way they turned out, thanks to digital cameras that lets everybody see how they looked right away! The group one is my favorite. I think it is so funny to live in a family where everyone is adults! I know that won't last forever!

I know I am blessed to get along so well with my in-laws. Josh's sisters are some of my best friends, and I know that Josh's respect for his parents and family have made it easy for them to accept me -- the first outsider to marry in! So this is the Neisler family (although, they are not all Neislers anymore). The back row is Ryan (Jerry), Josh's only brother and the baby of the family, Aaron, Melissa (Josh's next youngest sibling and Aaron 's wife), Kari (the middle of the fam), and her hubby Lukas, then Josh on the end. On the bench is Laura (in the yellow) who is Ryan's twin, Josh's mom, Lennis, and his dad, Gary, then me! I think this will be a fun picture to show the kids one day, of when we were all young and fun! :)

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Myth of Boredom

Lately I have been fed up with hearing the kids and teens (and even some adults!) around me talk about being "bored". I just got a mass-forwarded message from a girl in our youth group that said she was bored and invited anyone to come make cookies with her, or do anything (and it got rather racy after that), as long as it entertained her.

WHAT? You are telling me that in our world where millions of people are screaming for aid, we here in America are so spoiled that we are sitting around throwing a tantrum and screaming for entertainment? This is just a symptom of the epidemic of selfishness that we are happily feasting upon. We help ourselves to Narcissism by posting pictures of ourselves on My Space or Facebook, hoping that people will post about how lovely we are. We analyze and typify our "look" and do everything we can to be unique with our overly casual clothing from Abercrombie (et al). We eat and drink and watch and listen to whatever we want, whenever we want. And then. . . we are bored.

It is such a mockery of what we are created for! Of course we are bored! God did not create us to make much of ourselves, but to make much of HIM! I mostly find myself bored when I have run out of things to do that serve myself, and I am usually putting off what I really need to be doing. The next time we feel bored, we ought to fall on our faces in repentance and ask the Lord to inspire us with a joyful service for Him!

Here are some ideas (this is what I replied to the girl in my youth group): read your Bible (or read it again, or start a new study in it), paint a picture that characterizes an attribute of God, ask a family member or neighbor if they need help with anything, read a book, write a letter, play a game with a child, pray for unsaved friends, contemplate a way you can save money (or make money) to help a really unfortunate portion of the world's population, such as AIDS orphans, research an organization that works to rescue girls from the brothels in Bombay, go for a run, clean something, go through your stuff and get rid of a bunch of it. . . the list goes on and on.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Simple Things

I am such a sucker for simple, clean, organized tricks and tools. Right now, as I am going through every drawer and cupboard, trying to make it easier on us when we move, I have been pondering the materialism that is so prevelent in our life.

I am attempting to purge our lives of junk, clutter, and the need for STUFF. But it's funny how often thoughts creep in my mind while I'm cleaning like "I really need to buy this cool bin, or those nice hangers, or this fancy cleaning product". Sometimes I catch myself in these thoughts, and it dawns on me -- "this is JUST what I'm trying to get away from!" So what is it, exactly, that attracts me to those simple, cool things?

Pretty much the same pride-of-life materialistic motives that motivates a mother to spend hundreds of dollars to wardrobe her child in Oililly clothing: a love for things, and finding my identity in the things I have. What is the good of purging the stuff out of your life if your motive is to accumulate better, and cooler stuff? It is the same trap, falling into bondage to wanting more.

I don't want more. I want less. Simplicity just for the sake of a simple image, is no gain at all! "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My Word will not pass away." I want to purge my life not only of the mess and clutter of my home, but also purge my heart of evil desires to build my own kingdom. Purify my heart, Lord! Make me sensitive to those unclean motives as they crop up. Further instill in me a burning desire to make Your Name great, and lose my identity in You!