Thursday, November 29, 2007

Gretchen's Christmas Reading Picks

Here it is! My choices for the best books you can buy this year for Christmas presents. Some are new books, some are older, just new finds to me! I tried to make suggestions for all ages and genders. Even though I have all the titles linked to Amazon, I want to encourage you to buy your books from a local bookstore -- independent, if possible. I like Amazon as much as anyone, but supporting local bookstores helps ensure that in the future, people who love to pick up books and browse through the selection, reading snippets and examining the artwork will be able to continue doing so.

Stepping off that soapbox now . . .

For Kids:

1.The Little Lights Series by Catherine MacKenzie in this series are short biographies of Corrie Ten Boom, Amy Charmichael, Hudson Taylor and George Mueller. I love Catherine MacKenzie's God-centered books published by Christian Focus. I would call them early readers, but they have pictures on every page, so they would make great read-alouds.

2. The Story of the Treasure Seekers by Edith Nesbit or anything else by her. In case you are a new reader of my blog, you can read a review of that delightful book here. Really, this book would be great for anybody who likes to read.

3. The Dangerous Book for Boys .

I liked this one so much better than its com
panion, (The Daring Book for Girls) -- because it is just so BOYISH. The back cover says it all: "Recapture Sunday afternoons and long summer days. The perfect book for every boy from eight to eighty."

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. I know, I know. Same tune! I cannot pipe up about this enough! If you do not have this Bible get it (unless you are a person I am buying for this Christmas, in which case, one might be on its way!). If there is a child in your family, church, neighborhood, they need it. :) Here is my long ago post about my favorite ever storybook Bible. Perfect "Family gift" for those relatives who don't get so juiced about another ornament or fruitcake. Ha ha!

For grownups:

1. Shopping for Time by Carolyn Mahaney. This light book is aimed at the hea
rt, and the perfect present for a woman of any age or position of life. Who doesn't need to learn how to better manage their time? How can I not recommend this book that has changed my life?

2. Hind's Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. I first heard this book mentioned by Mrs. Mohler when she spoke on the subject of worry, but I have been intrigued by it ever since. It is an older book (like the era of Christian's Secret to a Happy Life), and tells the allegory of characters like "Much Afraid", trusting the Shepherd as He leads them to the high places. I have not actually read this book yet; it's sort of a Christmas hopeful for me, too!

3. Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon. Some mornings at work we read the day's selection from this book, and I have been so blessed by each little devotional by the eloquent Spurgeon. This is perhaps the new book I want most of all, to read each morning and evening.

4. The
Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever. This new little book is both practical and theological, on a subject that is rarely done well (not over-simplified, or over-analyzed). The author, Mark Dever, dedicated this book to my children's ministry director, Ryan Townsend, because Ryan was the fruit of Dever's personal evangelism. Knowing Ryan and what he used to be and who he is now is sort of "proof in the pudding" for me, and I am eager to listen to what Dever has to say about living the life of an evangelist.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This classic edition makes a great gift for a book collector or avid reader.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Christmas Exchange Party

Last night was our exchange party for Pendergraph Women's Ministry. Over 100 women were there, each bringing 4 items they had made, baked or bought. I was pretty busy coordinating the refreshments, and didn't have time to "peruse the merchandise", I couldn't begin to tell you what all people brought, but I know there was quite a variety.

Here is how the exchange works: since each lady brought 4 items, she got to take home 4 items. There were 4 rounds -- you chose one item per round. Simple, huh? But pretty fun! I chose all baked items -- as cute as the Christmas decorations were, I just knew I wouldn't have room for them here.

But we can eat up the pie, bread, biscotti and carmel apple I came home with. Here is a picture of how my mini libraries turned out:

The faculty wives, many of whom I've never met before, graciously brought the food we served. It was my delightful job to receive their dishes from them as they arrived, and I discovered how generous and kind they were. What a blessing for me, as the hospitality coordinator, to have so little to prepare.

I admit, I was a bit afraid that in an evening which emphasized gifts so much, it would be impossible to actually conclude with a focus on Christ. We had this party with Pendergraph because our faculty liason, Karen, has hosted it in her home for years, as an evangelistic outreach to her neighbors and community members. She always shares Scripture, and devotional and lots of Christmas songs to focus the evening on Christ. We sang "O Come, O Come Immanuel" in this beautiful arrangement that had 7 Antiphons, which were sort of short prayers that went with each verse. Members of the Pendergraph board, and I among them, read the Antiphons between each verse. That was the end of the night. My friend Rachel, who leads the music for Pendergraph, did a great job pointing us in Christ's direction. I understand how an event like this is a perfect way to welcome both believers and non-believers into your home during the Christmas season.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Reading to Cede

My little niece has grown so much. I was thrilled to see how much she loves books. I got her to warm up to me by reading over and over this huge art board book she has. She is so smart, too! She kept pointing at the big colorful capital letters and counting "two three two three two THREE!" It was like she recognized you make words from the symbols (and letters and numbers are awfully similar). So fascinating. On Thanksgiving, we all took turns reading Where's Spot? to her over and over. Here are some precious pictures!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Scenes from Thanksgiving

We spent Thanksgiving with my family in Illinois and had a great time! Here are some pictures:

Our lovely table spread for the meal.

Josh reading Where's Spot? over and over. Cede didn't get tired of it!

Abby and I enjoying a bit of carrot to tide us over before the big meal.

Laughing in a game with Abby.

Our little Pilgrim!

Day-After-Thanksgiving shopping!

Waiting to eat at the Beef House before we went to Indy to see "A Christmas Carol".

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

On Grumbling and Thanksgiving

The other day in my One-year Bible I read Psalm 111: "How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in Him should ponder them. Everything He does reveals His glory and majesty."

I am commanded then to ponder His amazing deeds! Reflecting on this past year, it is not difficult to see how the Lord has blessed us over and over. Those blessings reveal His glory and majesty. Yet I constantly fall into the peril of grumbling, offending God by my grievous sin. At its heart, grumbling dishonors God. It truly is a terrible offense, named among sins such as idolatry and immorality. Last Sunday Bruce Ware, an elder at our church, preached on I Corinthians 10, which speaks of the Israelite's grumbling. After all He has done. . . how dare we grumble? Dr. Ware exhorted us to cultivate the practice of reflecting on God's provision by developing in our lives a conscious, deliberate effort to bring to mind what God has done.

Here are some things that I am pondering:

  • My dad's health -- praise the Lord for the safety of his heart!
  • The growth I see in my life, Josh's life and each member of our families' lives. God is so gracious to give us more of Himself.
  • The amazing way God opened the door for me to work with the children at Clifton, a deep desire of my heart!
  • Financial generosity of friends and family who have helped us obey the Lord this year at Seminary and live within our means.
  • A new nephew -- Max Garrett -- and another little niece on the way!
  • New friends here at school and at church. We could not have dreamed how many precious like-minded friends we would find, and whose hospitality we would enjoy.
  • Incredible encouragement from God's people at just the right time. Yesterday I was repenting of my grumbling spirit and not 20 minutes later Mrs. Ware came into the store, and encouraged me with all that she is. Not long after that, a precious family of little girls that I love at church came in and spent the next couple of hours there! I enjoyed talking to them about school and books and all sorts of things and before they left, the oldest little girl, Katie, slid a little card on my computer that had the sweetest message in it along with a gift card to Starbucks! I wanted to cry.
My challenge to you, my dear friends and readers, is to delight in the Lord, and ponder His great works. By doing so, may you overcome the sin of grumbling!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Taylors are here!

Phil and Mary Ruth, James and Christen -- here's a little update for you!

We are having great fun with our dear friends this weekend. Here Sharon and I are about to dive into our delicious food at Ray Parella's (where Josh works). This is our tradition when people come to visit, to take them to Parella's for a yummy supper. That way Josh sort of hangs out with us while he's working and we get a discount! In the next picture, Josh pauses from his waitorial duties to have a look at the baby fussing (he was mostly very good, though).

David and Sharon have a VERY cute 2-month old baby, Gabriel. He has been great. I love this picture here where he is looking at the camera like he's casually smirking. Ha ha! I took a bunch of these from different angles, and he kept looking at the camera. So cute! A poser already -- just like his cousin Daniel!

This morning Da
vid put Gabriel in the bed all tucked with the sheet around him and he loved it. It was so cute! He actually laughed out loud! (I remember trying this with my cats and they hated it. So I guess I was surprised babies like it!)

We know we are so blessed to spend time with precious friends. Here's a p
icture of David learning a song we'd sung in the morning service so that he could play it for our small group Sunday night. God has given David and Sharon a passion for Himself, and a zeal to follow hard after Him. They are eager to get to Brazil -- hopefully by this spring. If you are reading this post, would you please pray in that direction for them?

Other Taylors -- we missed having you with us! I'm sure this branch of the Taylor fam will be heading that way pretty soon!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Feeling Creative

Last night I went with my friend Annie out on a bit of a creative binge. We were feeling pretty inspired to make gifts and decor and seasonal things. I needed to put together 4 little similar gifts for the Pendergraph Christmas Exchange Party. You can make, bake or buy your items, and package them to make them appealing. After a stop at Hancock and Michaels, Annie and I found our way to the much beloved Half-Priced Books. We are two peas in a pod in that place -- what a blessing! We stayed until close, and we both made fantastic discoveries! Clearly the camera could not contain all the goodies we unloaded.

For my 4 gifts, I made mini-children's libraries. They each have 3 books for different ages and 3 vintage bookplates. I found some great stuff, including The Railway Children, Meet Addy (with the original illustrations), and Peter Pan. Here's a picture of one of them I really like:

Here's another one:

I still need to add some little tags or something, but I think they loo
k really cute! Wouldn't you pick one of my gifts??

I put some pretty Martha Stewart paper up in our little built-in bookshelf (actually it was a little while back, but without
a camera, I couldn't show the pictures). Sara Mincy inspired me to add some color by putting up pretty paper! Here's a full length view followed by a close-up:

Finally, I wanted an a
utumn wreath on my door since all my decorations are in storage at my parent's house in Illinois. So I found these gorgeous velvet flowering branches for 90% off and made a wreath out of them. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Shout Out

I'm inspired by GirlTalk's post on Christmas picks for kiddos (also check out their recommendations for men and teens -- I've been going nuts trying to keep up my GirlTalk section at the bookstore to feature these books.) Check back soon for my Christmas book recommendations. There really is nothing better to buy for Christmas than an excellent book!

I also want to give a shout out to my favorite Seminary President for his recent posts on Children's Storybook Bibles. You really ought to check out his suggestions on reading Bible stories to your children: "Respect Their Desire to Read and Learn." My favorite point is #2:

"Read in a clear voice and avoid both excessive drama and a lifeless reading. A listless and lazy reader will lose the child's attention, but an excessively dramatic reader will make the child grow accustomed to drama -- often at the expense of thoughtful content and retention. You want the child to be fully drawn into the story, but you also want the child to be thinking about the story and its meaning."

Umm, did Dr. Mohler walk by children's church the other day while Josh and I were teaching? Sounds like it. Hey, the Jesus Storybook Bible is pretty exciting! I guess we all have our own definition of "excessive drama".

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


This is how happy I am that David and Sharon are coming to visit us! YAY!! (I actually took this picture the day I got my haircut, but it represents my happiness well).

David and Sharon are coming!! I can't believe it!! (Read what I wrote about them here). Oh, thank you, Mrs. Mohler for lending me a digital camera. I will be taking lots of pictures of this weekend.

Who will be next? Will it be you? Who wants to do some Christmas shopping in a nice little city? I'll take you around to see the sights!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Reformation Events (finally)

***I apologize for the delay . . .

We had quite a lovely evening at my first ever Reformation Party at our church. Josh dressed as a monk, and I as a peasant girl. We studied the life of Martin Bucer, who was a Reformer who balanced between Luther and Calvin, but is from the Reformed tradition. Our church is blessed to have a Seminary Professor on hand to play the part of the Reformer each year. Dr. Wright who teaches Church History at SBTS, and is the father of 5 boys, did an outstanding job teaching the kids about the Reformation in the weeks leading up to our event. I was blown away to see how much the children knew about these issues! They have been well taught over the years.

After our opening song (The "Reformation Polka"),
and a few words from the gracious Martin Bucer, Josh led a team of kids around to the various booths, while I manned the jousting booth, which was a great deal of fun for all those who conquered there. Here is a great action shot of the "jousters" fighting with their pillows while staying balanced on the line of tape. I wish I had a photo of the littlest kids fighting -- it was the cutest ever! As you can imagine, the leaders also got involved, each challenging the other to a duel.

Here is our own Leo the tenth in a friendly moment with Martin Bucer. The Pope is always played by our children's director, Ryan Townsend (working for him is part of my Seminary education . . . I'm learning so much!). Not sure how much of those costumes are really period, but when you own doctoral robes, you need to pull those out to complete your "reformer/scholar" look.

Apparently an exciting moment of the evening is the big arrest. The teams were to vote for any one person (child or adult) to put in jail. Our jai
lers did a great job making a huge scene and announcing the imprisonment of those foolish enough to refuse to bow the knee to Rome. They made up funny reasons for our arrests (including "for being too nice" about a little 7-year-old girl, Emmi). You may have guessed that of course, I was arrested "for overdramatization". I gave a huge display as they dragged me forward, wailing on my knees and begging for mercy. You really can't arrest someone for that and not expect a reaction. Sadly, even though I put on a great deal of entertainment, that moment was not captured on film. Here is a picture of the moment the jailer's announced my arrest -- I love the looks on Bobbie and Bethan's faces (the 2 little girls) -- the shock! I'm pretty sure I alarmed several of the littler kids, who were apprehensive of the jail already -- sorry. So I was toted away to the jail (which is very real looking) along with several little girls, my friend Annie, and Martin Bucer. When kind Mrs. Bucer (Gretchen Wright) took pity on us and brought us some food to the jail, the girls and I made a break for it. This is clearly what is fun about being arrested -- plus I think it was all somehow pre-arranged.

As you can imagine, it was all a great deal of fun, rather like being in a play. Josh and I couldn't get over how cute all the kids were in their medieval attire. This group picture is one of my favorites. I love the boy-boyish costumes contrasted to by the 2 little princesses. These kids cracked me up! (of course I gave them all an opportunity to joust). My friend Sarah Abersold is the leader of the little princesses here -- she reminds me so much of Emily Becker. I love that girl.

I can't wait until Reformation Day next year! This last picture is of me with my friend
Annie Meade. She is the brains behind the operation, and I was the lucky one who got to help!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Story of the Treasure Seekers

Okay, I know I went on a bit about The Railway Children by E. Nesbit, but I think I may like The Story of the Treasure Seekers even better. Edith Nesbit is quickly climbing the ranks among my favorite authors (although no one can contend with Elisabeth Elliot, Charles Dickens and C.S. Lewis). There were so many times when I cracked up out loud while reading this book, that my neighbors probably thought I was crazy. Once it was after Josh fell asleep next to me, and I could not stop laughing -- which woke him up, which he was not thrilled about. (I will share what part that was later).

The Story of the Treasure Seekers is about the 6 Bastable children (in England, late 19th century). I have always loved stories about kids with lots of siblings. This book is written in 1st person from the vantage point of one of the boys, but Nesbit creatively makes the writer attempt to write in 3rd person, not wanting to reveal which of the children he is. It is clear before too long, however, precisely who the writer is, which adds to the wit of the story throughout. The child telling the story clearly favors one sibling's viewpoint on everything (his own) and consistently forgets not to say "I" right after he has told what happened in 3rd person. You will absolutely adore this child, though. His own chivalry, character and bravery speak for itself, even with him tooting his own horn a bit.

What utterly endeared me to these children, however, was their propensity to imagine, pretend and act like characters from books (the writer particularly points out, however, his exasperation with children who play act beginning with statements such as "I'm pretending to be. . . " I felt this as well as a child! My siblings and I never told one another that we were pretending, we would simply state who we were: "I'm Princess Leia" or simply "I'm her" -- which is one of the all-time best games, easily played with a book of Norman Rockwell pictures or just your new J. Crew catalog . . . but I digress). It seems these children get all their ideas from books, and are forever quoting them and speaking in dramatic terms quite constantly. Which of course is hilarious!

Before I give you a couple excerpts that I found particularly funny, I do want to share my one reservation. There are a couple of less-than-positive references to other ethnicities by the children or other characters in the stories, especially Native Americans (saying things like "Red Indian" with typical stereotypes of that era). I would certainly not throw this book away because of these minor infractions; for one thing, British children over a hundred years ago were not regularly taught about God's glorious design for the nations. This was Imperial England, where the sun never set, and a gentleman was thought well of if he could make his fortunes in the conquered land of India (consequently, the children get very mixed up about an Uncle they have who is called "Indian". It seems he has simply lived in India a great deal of his life, but they don't understand this and ask him lots of questions about beavers and tipis). If this were a new book, I would not be able to understand such an issue. But as it is, I would use this opportunity to point out to my children how one might speak well of all ethnicities.

One of my favorite characters is the brother Noel (I believe you emphasize the first syllable). He is the most dramatic of the siblings, and a poet. He decides he could try to sell some of his poetry to recover his father's lost fortune (which is the purpose of the whole story -- his other option is find a princess to marry . . . I think Noel is 8). The poems were what made me laugh out loud and wake Josh up. Here's the excerpt:

"'What was Noel's plan?' Alice asked.

"'A Princess or a poetry book,' said Noel sleepily. He was lying on his back on the sofa, kicking his legs. 'Only I shall look for the princess all by myself. But I'll let you see her when we're married.'

"'Have you got enough poetry to make a book?' Dicky asked that, and it was rather sensible of him, because when Noel came to look there were only seven of his poems that any of us could understand. There was the 'Wreck of the Malabar' and the poem he wrote when Eliza took us to hear the Reviving Preacher, and everybody cried, and Father said it must have been the Preacher's eloquence.

"So Noel wrote:
O Eloquence and what art thou?
Ay what art thou? because we cried
And everybody cried inside
When they came out their eyes were red
And it was your doing Father said.

"Besides this there were the 'Lines on a Dead Black Beetle That Was Poisoned':
Beetle how I weep to see
Thee lying on thy poor back!
It is so very sad indeed.
You were so shiny and black.
I wish you were alive again
But Eliza says wishing it is nonsense and a shame. "

Probably the funniest chapter is "Castilian Amoroso" where they send in money in a response to an advertisement that promises you can make 2 pounds a week in your spare time. What arrives is a bottle of sherry that you might use to give samples and try to sell orders. The children themselves are teetotalers, they say, but they try to get anyone who visits the house to buy some (which reminds me of when my sister and I with our friend Vanessa tried to get our neighbors to buy some cheap brand of pop). So funny!

Finally, here is a link I found where you can read the whole book on line! Here you go, Annie Meade! (though I prefer the paper copy, at only $4.99, available at Blue Kangaroo Books, or the store I work in now).

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Being Reflective

I'm not sure why, but I've been very, very pensive lately -- reflecting on a year ago. Maybe it's the weather -- the changing things in fall, making me think back to everything that was changing in my life this time last year. The other day I heard the song "The Precious Blood", which I used to run to all the time in Illinois, and my memories of running on the track at the YMCA before Homeschool P.E. or running in my little town in Illinois came flooding back to me, so real that it was almost tangible. I was in my fitness class when I heard it, but I could not stop the memories, and I actually began to cry a bit, thinking of the sweet things of the past.

One of those things was my friend Trish's pregnancy. I wrote, asking you all to pray for her here, and the Lord heard those prayers. Gavin is a year old now, hale and hardy and adorable. I remember how intensely I prayed for them. It was a time when we all spoke often about God's sovereignty and goodness. We wept with Trish because she was still sad about Braden, and she was truly walking the road of trust -- putting one foot in front of the other as Gavin grew bigger and bigger inside of her. How blessed it is to look back!

Another person I have been thinking of is my friend Christen. Just about this time last year, I wrote this about her. They were leaving Illinois then. And I knew, and I still know -- which is what brings me to tears so often -- that it can never be the same again. That little Barnabas house that held all those Taylors was so open and familiar to me that it was like an extension of my own home. I always knew Josh and I were on the same terms with these friends -- we both wanted to be with them equally, so it led to some rather late nights with James and Christen, and even Phil a couple times, I recall. I often meet people who remind me of Christen, but usually in just one or two small ways. This is probably because Christen is a bit larger than life to me, a friend in time of need that the Lord gave. You have those friends, too, I'm sure -- friends who you know need you in all the ways you can fill, and you need them as well, in all the ways they can fill. I was thinking today that this exact day (not date) last year, Christen had Jeremiah, and I was so sad I could not be there for her because we had gone to the Ohio State game with Josh's family! Thinking of those golden days is rather bittersweet to me, but good to reflect on, nonetheless.

I have also often thought about 3 years ago (it was just this time of November) when Emily and I went to New York City with Misty and Shea. I have thought over and over how much I'd like to go back again, and have relived the sights we saw and the fun we had. I am amazed when I think about how much Emily has grown and changed since her meltdown before we went to eat at 21 (I don't say that to humble you, Emma, but to honor you). It was so fresh and fun to us all then, because we weren't world travelers yet. . . I'm still not, but the others are! Now Misty is in Morocco and Shea is in Peru. I am at Seminary. We were almost like kids then -- so eager and green. It was great.

I do not know if it is always wise to be so pensive. Perhaps I am heaping on my soul temptation to doubt God's goodness, but I came across something I wrote last November that encourages me greatly:

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 Immutability. 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."

Incredibly, I was thinking just the same way last year. . . and preaching the gospel to myself. Only God in His goodness would know how I'd need to hear myself say those things! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Who has been His counselor?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Early Christmas!

Working at a bookstore always has its perks. When I was at the Blue Kangaroo, there were the boxes of advanced readers to sift through. Now it's Zondervan Bible training. Everyone who works at the store has the opportunity to complete the training and be eligible for $100 in free merchandise, any Bible (up to $70) and a couple other free items. My box of goodies arrived today!

I had sort of forgotten what I'd ordered, so it was sort of like a Christmas surprise for us. I won't list everything here, because some things are meant to be for presents, but I will show the spe
cial book I ordered for myself, the crown jewel of the box!

I found Christian Tradition in English Literature in one of the catalogs that our New Academic buyers' catalogs (so glad for those, since I was at a loss for what to get, at first) This book will undoubtedly become the inspiration for further blog posts.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

I was in Strassbourg during the Reformation

Just a little teaser here. . .

I hope to put up lots more, but I am dependent on people who have unbroken cameras to e-mail me their pictures!

We were blessed with an excellent night at our Reformation Party last night! Lots of crazy, chaotic fun, wild costumes, arrests, escapes, jousting . . . makes me wish it weren't over! Josh and I topped off the festivities with a party at our friend Kevin and Micah's house where we watched the movie Luther and listened to Kevin read (some of) the 95 Theses aloud.

In all seriousness, a splashy, uproarous celebration like this made me consider and become more thankful for my Reformed faith. I am so thankful to live where I can easily read the Bible in my language, and freely enjoy my protestant faith. Let's not forget those brave reformers who took a stand and risked so much for the truths we hold dear!