I recently had an amazing experience with a small prayer group. It was just comprised of myself and two other girls, but it was the most uplifting, deep, and powerful group prayer experience I’ve had in some time! Between life updates and prayers, we ended up being together for about four hours. CRAZY! Your prayer group doesn’t have to be four hours, but this experience inspired me to write down some features of a successful group that can really make a difference in your personal and spiritual life. Here they are!
Over the past year or so, God has given me a heart for the elderly. This January, I really wanted to get involved in a ministry, so I signed up for VolunteerMatch’s email list and started sending out inquiries to local care programs.
I ended up becoming a memory care friend—and this was definitely a God thing given what happened next. Being a memory care friend consists of spending time with people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, giving them care and companionship while offering their caregiver a break.
This is very fulfilling and fun work at times. It is also harder than I expected.
Days before I went to serve at my first memory care group event, I learned that my grandpa had been admitted into a care facility for his Alzheimer’s. The transition has not gone smoothly, and it’s been very troubling for my grandparents and the entire family.
So I went into the memory care meeting with a whole new context for the disease. Doing the training was one thing, but now it was personal. I had a vague concept of what Alzheimer’s meant from the training and general knowledge. However, seeing it impact my family was so sad. My grandpa was the joker, the sweet one, the one who loves ice cream. He always likes things just right. He was never confused. The truth was that I had no idea how bad things had gotten. It had been too long since I’d been to see my grandparents and now I felt terrible about that.
The first day of my memory care experience was tough. I was new and ended up being matched with the person (S) who had perhaps the most difficulty participating in the event.
S had trouble following along with the activities and flat out couldn’t do several of them. She also wasn’t much of a talker that particular day, so I felt lost. Most of the morning was spent in awkward silence. I tried to help her as best I could, but there was so little she could manage. Was I hopeless at this? How was I going to connect with my grandpa now? What was I doing wrong?
Thankfully, things got better. The next time, S was much more herself. She was talkative and took part in the activities as best she could. I also realized that she’s pretty deaf so part of the problem was that she just couldn’t hear anything I was saying last time.
Then I realized my mistake. I had been so concerned with following the care guidelines and not making her uncomfortable that I wasn’t responding to her as an individual. What were her specific needs? She couldn’t hear me. She needed help walking but not too much. She’s still the same woman she was before the disease—it’s just more difficult for her to shine through. I need to keep that in mind with grandpa. He’s still at the stage where he remembers his loved ones, and that is a huge blessing . . . mostly. It also means my grandma has to constantly tell him why he can’t just come home.
The next memory care visit was so much more enjoyable for S and me. We smiled and laughed more; we even did a crossword, with some help from yours truly. It was a relief to see that there could be such a difference based on the day, at least in S’s case. It leaves hope for everyone involved that tomorrow will be better.
I’m still hoping that tomorrow will be better for grandpa, even though things are not going well. He’s so focused on getting back home to my grandma that he can’t settle. He also has very little interest in the activities at the home.
I visited grandma this weekend. She was so happy to see my sister and I, but decided that we shouldn’t see grandpa yet. She said it would be too upsetting for us, and I wanted the decision to be hers. She is kind of lost without him, and it was hard for me to see that. My grandpa and grandma were always together. It’s so strange—and tragic—to think of them forced to live separately, even though I know it’s the best thing for them both right now.
I am confident that, even amid this trial, God has a plan. He will provide. I keep praying my grandpa will have just one day like the last day I spent with S. I know my grandma needs it as much as he does.
I’ll leave you with this Spring haiku—a bit of hope—composed by the memory care group clients at our last gathering:
Flowers blossom sweet.
They are very feminine.
She is beautiful.
Isn’t it amazing that even though their brains are confused in some ways, these individuals are still able to create a work of art? I find it remarkable and soothing. All is not lost. There is hope. God is good. And flowers are sweet.
If you grew up in the church, this verse is probably familiar to you. It’s nice and comforting. Maybe you’ve heard it so many times it even sounds cliché—not so for me. This verse became my lifeline during one of my hardest trials.
I consider myself very blessed. I grew up in a loving Christian middle-class home, received an excellent education, and have been able to pursue my passion for writing as an adult. But like everyone, I have had my struggles. The greatest—and ever ongoing—trial of my life is chronic illness, which I was diagnosed with at just ten years old. From that time on, I have lived with pain. And sometimes, it’s hard.
The truth is I was an absolute wreck in high school. Oh, I seemed fine. Perfectly well adjusted. Type-A personality, good student, extra-curricular activities, involved in church. But inside, I was hurting. And it got to a point where the combination of the physical and emotional pain that I was in—and not dealing with—just boiled over. And my body turned on me—or so it seemed. I didn’t know that could happen. But as Psalm 139:14 tells us, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” God designed our bodies to protect themselves—and both my body and spirit were under siege. So my body rebelled against the stress it was under, resulting in a medical condition in which you show psychological stress in physical ways. For me, it was my legs that took the hit.
The loss of motion seemed to happen gradually . . . then all at once. I’m not even sure how long the process took. I was walking normally one day. Then it got harder. My legs were heavier. They didn’t want to move. So I moved slower—until suddenly, I could hardly move them at all.
This was not part of my plan. Didn’t I have enough to worry about already? Wasn’t constant pain enough for one person to handle? It already felt like too much. As I faced down hours of physical and talk therapy, feeling completely overwhelmed, I came across Proverbs 16:9 in my Bible. And I realized: If the LORD determines my steps, He also determined this stop. He alone knew I needed help. He saw my hurt. He felt the deep need that I was so desperately trying to hide. And . . .
Leaning on the Lord’s strength took on new meaning for me. I was literally counting on him for every step—and it took me about five minutes to take just a few. I had to think through every motion. Use this muscle. Flex that. Move that forward. It was painful and agonizingly slow. And I was afraid every time that I might not be able to take another. But I did, praying and trusting him to carry me through.
During those very slow walks, I dwelt in God’s presence more than ever before. God taught me patience. He taught me humility. He taught me strength. And most importantly, he was always faithful. Through all the doctors, pain, sweat, and tears, God never left my side. It took months, but I was able to walk normally again—and still do to this day. And most importantly, I received the help my spirit needed for the emotional pain that I was feeling—the isolation from my peers, the resignation, the hopelessness. God took that and lit a fire in my heart through this crucible. I began speaking at youth groups, sharing my story—and feeling more alive than I had in years. God gave me a purpose for the pain He brought me through, and I was blessed enough to see the fruit from that purpose almost immediately.
Is there an area in your life that’s spinning out of control? Are you going through the motions, all in a whirlwind, with “no time” to rest and refresh? I challenge you to press pause and examine your life today. Is it likely that you will develop a conversion disorder and have the dramatic life reset that I did? No. But it is almost certain that you will miss out on God’s best for your life if you don’t check in with God and make sure you’re walking in step with him.
child of God. follower of Jesus. overcomer. daughter. sister. aunt. friend. roommate. coworker. volunteer. writer. reader.
God. books. really good pens. sunshine. blankets. tea. antique decorations. memories. England. clean sheets. candles. chocolate chip cookies. coloring.
insecurity. fear. shame. “should-haves.” chronic pain.
traveling. being a mother. serving Jesus. loving well. partnering with a ministry for kids/teens living with chronic illness. writing a book.
Any questions, comment below!
Hello, readers! I’m trying something new today. I didn’t finish any books this past week! So instead of a review, I’m sharing a list of some anticipated future reads. I hope you find something that sounds intriguing.
Recently Added to My To-Be-Read List:
The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.03
Published: February 28, 2017 by Viking
Source: Publishers Weekly listing
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Bookman’s Tale comes a new novel about an obsessive bibliophile’s quest through time to discover a missing manuscript, the unknown history of an English Cathedral, and the secret of the Holy Grail. SOLD!
The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn by Lori Benton
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.29
Published: April 29, 2014 by WaterBrook
Source: Fan of the author
Western North Carolina, 1787 ~ To escape a threatening stepfather and an unwanted marriage, Tamsen Littlejohn enlists the aid of Jesse Bird, a frontiersman she barely knows, to spirit her away from Morganton, North Carolina, west beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Trouble pursues, as the two men intent on seeing her recovered prove relentless in their hunt. . . . Gaining the freedom she longs for will mean running yet again, to the most unlikely refuge imaginable—the Cherokees, a people balanced on the knife edge of war.
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.08
Published: October 21, 2008 by Atheneum
Source: Heard wonderful things about this book and the author
As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight . . . for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.05
Published: May 3, 2016 by Atria Books
From the bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, a heartwarming and hilarious story of a reluctant outsider who transforms a tiny village and a woman who finds love and second chances in the unlikeliest of places.
Gracious: A Practical Primer on Charm, Tact, and Unsinkable Strength by Kelly Williams Brown
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.00
To-Be-Published: April 18, 2017 by Rodale Books
Source: Saw it on Goodreads
From New York Times bestselling author of Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps Kelly Williams Brown comes a funny, charming guide to modern civility in these—yes, we’ll say it—rather uncivil times.
Throughout the book, she provides tips on how to deal with the people and circumstances that challenge even the most socially graceful among us, advice on how to practice graciousness in everyday life, and thoughtful discussions on being kind to those around you without ever losing your sense of self.
Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.24
Published: April 5, 2016 by Simon and Schuster
Source: Listening to The Kitchen House now and loving it! I heard about that book through a trusted bookish friend.
From the author of the New York Times bestseller and beloved book club favorite The Kitchen House, a novel of family and long-buried secrets along the treacherous Underground Railroad.
Jamie Pyke, son of both a slave and master of Tall Oakes, has a deadly secret that compels him to take a treacherous journey through the Underground Railroad.
This was a great year for me and books! What with blogging, joining the Litsy community (@annahenke), and just loving the reading life, I’m perfectly content. I read over 120 books in 2016. It’s customary in the blogosphere to do some sort of “Best of” list, and I’m excited to share mine with you. Here’s my list of the best books I read in 2016 by category!
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas, A Court of Thorns and Roses #2
I devoured this book! I have loved everything Sarah J. Maas has written so far. The character development in A Court of Mist and Fury is astoundingly good. I really like how Maas handles Feyre’s grief and portrays her PTSD after the events of A Court of Thorns and Roses. I couldn’t put it down! This is a series that MUST be read in order.
NOTE: This is not a YA book, in my opinion – at least, not in terms of the romance. Full-on steamy. This should have been marketed as adult fantasy.
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
What a remarkable story! This fictionalization of the life of trailblazing horse trainer and pilot Beryl Markham blew me away. Set primarily during her formative years and early adulthood in Kenya, this novel about a strong historical woman who wasn’t afraid to smash boundaries is beautifully written. Beryl was flawed but fierce and endured much for “being a woman and daring to think I could be free” (Circling the Sun). I’ve put Beryl’s memoir, West With the Night, on my TBR, and I’m very interested to hear the full story from the woman herself. Beryl was a private person by all accounts, however, so I hear it doesn’t have much in the way of personal relationships, which was a strength of McLain’s fictionalization. But I still need to read it!
A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn, Veronica Speedwell Mystery #1
I enjoyed this book so much that I read it twice in one year! I had to prep for the sequel coming out in January 2017. Why I loved it: It’s a Victorian historical mystery featuring an intrepid lady/amateur detective who is also a lepidopterist (specialist on butterflies and moths). Sold! There is an enigmatic, handsome taxidermist who becomes her reluctant investigative partner. Yes! There is a romance, but it’s very subtle and develops slowly. Just my cup of tea! They take refuge in an abandoned private museum of sorts. Hooray! There is a mystery about the main character’s heritage. Love it! I could go on, but I won’t.
The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg
Brilliant! The artwork is amazing and perfectly fits the tone of the story being told. The fictional folktales within are everything one would wish for: clever, funny, poignant, and sweet. I think it’s a must-read for graphic novel fans and a great entry point for newcomers to the format.
Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye, Narrated by Susie Riddell
This book was so strange and I loved it. It’s a Jane Eyre-inspired story with a quirky twist: What if Jane had been a serial killer? The tagline for the marketing was, “Reader, I murdered him.” For those unfamiliar with the real Jane Eyre, the most famous line is, “Reader, I married him.” So clever! I was hooked by the fascinating premise; however, the book was something of a surprise. Jane was quite likeable. This is in itself is a remarkable achievement for a writer. I consider myself pretty sensitive to violence, and I don’t enjoy unlikeable characters at all, so I was very impressed that Faye pulled that off. Jane kills multiple people (only bad people, mind), but I was still rooting for her in the end. The audiobook is exceptional. I would not have changed a thing.
As a side note, the premise of this book is so bizarre that it makes a great conversation piece. I had about a twenty-minute conversation with my coworkers about it at the company picnic and they all thought I’d gone mad. 🙂
Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
I loved what Nyquist had to say about grace, forgiveness, and shame. I learned so much. Read my review here.
The Wood’s Edge by Lori Benton, The Pathfinders #1
I was so impressed with the diversity, vigor, and historicity of Benton’s writing in this first chapter of a new family saga. The story is wonderful. Read my review here.
A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley
I loved this book and look forward to everything Kearsley writes. It contains her signature Scottish history connection, a mystery in a book, and features a beautiful, intelligent heroine who happens to have Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s real, and the romance is so heartwarming and completely believable. Apparently, Susanna’s daughter has Asperger’s, and that shows in the sensitivity and normalcy with which she portrays the social interactions of the main character. I thought it was fantastic! This is a solid, clean romance recommendation.
Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
This one took me a little while to get into, but I was more than amazed by the end of it! Its best qualities are the unorthodox storytelling, the various illustrations, and the gripping action/suspense. I literally gasped at the twists and turns in the last fifty pages. Definitely worth the read! A top-notch YA pick.
That’s all for 2016. 🙂 Happy New Year!
This month has been crazy busy as I’ve moved to a new place! I’ve been very occupied with setting up and settling in. Naturally, my bookshelves were one of the first things I unpacked! Shocking: I added a shelf, so I have empty space. This must be remedied ASAP.
I have to be honest: I’m TERRIBLE with change. I don’t like it and I don’t know how to deal with it. So there’s a definite theme in my nonfiction choices this month.
Full Disclosure: I work for a different division of this publisher. This is my personal review.
A great book at the perfect time! I needed this and would recommend to anyone who, like me, struggles with transitions. There were parts that felt a bit slow to me, but that’s likely because she was talking about being a mom and that doesn’t apply to my life. Other chapters, specifically “Settling in the Home Where Your Heart Thrives,” were phenomenal and applicable for any reader.
“We need to be okay with not getting over it and give ourselves permission to feel the upheaval.”—Kristen Strong, from Girl Meets Change
I learned so much from this book! It’s about being present just as you are—with God, with those around you, and with yourself. Niequist has some interesting things to say about prayer that really spoke to my heart. She talks about a model of prayer where you basically get confession and repentance out of the way first before broaching other topics with God so that you can speak freely and focus on connecting with Him. This is such a refreshing approach. I also really liked what she had to say about grace, forgiveness, and shame. Highly recommended! Now I’m trying to get my hands on everything else Shauna Niequist has written.
While I think the “thank your possessions” and “spark joy” concepts extremely materialistic and slightly ridiculous, there are a lot of practical tips in this book that are very useful. The section on how to fold properly was particularly interesting. My sock drawer has never looked better! This content of this book should be taken with a grain of salt, but there are some nuggets to be found within. I will say that I got rid of more stuff than I probably would have if I had not listened to this book while packing.
That’s all for now! Glad to say I’m finally feeling a little more settled. Until next post!
P.S. I’m currently listening to SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard. It’s fascinating and very accessible. Any fellow history nerds would enjoy!
Wow, September flew by! It’s been three weeks since my last post, but the truth is . . . I’ve been busy reading!
BOOKS READ IN SEPTEMBER: 13
New Releases: 4 Backlist TBR Books: 6 Surprise Finds: 3
Galleys: 2 Audio: 4 Ebook: 3 Print: 4 Graphic Novel: 1
Fiction: 11 Nonfiction: 2 Sequels/Series: 3 for #sequelseptember
FAVORITES THIS MONTH:
Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas, Throne of Glass #5
I absolutely love this series. SJM delivers everything fans love in this fifth installment: romance, action, phenomenal world building, fantastic characters, and so much drama! As usual for this series, this book gutted me emotionally. And that cliffhanger—how can we wait! NOTE: This series gets more explicit with each book. This is categorized as YA, but I wouldn’t recommend it for younger teens.
A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir, An Ember in the Ashes #2
This is one of the best fantasy series being written today! This latest from Sabaa Tahir is riveting, beautifully crafted and packed with emotion. It’s impossible to talk about this book without spoiling book one, so pick up An Ember in the Ashes STAT if you’re into YA fantasy. I’m so happy that we are getting two more books in this series!
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
I can’t believe it took me this long to read this book. This story of two French sisters during WWII is moving, filled with fascinating historical detail and unputdownable! The audiobook is excellently read and so deserving of the Audie Award it won. If you haven’t picked this one up yet, do it! Confession: I had some bias toward this author based on the covers of her contemporary women’s fiction books. I was so wrong!
CHRISTIAN FICTION SPOTLIGHT
The Wood’s Edge by Lori Benton, The Pathfinders #1
This is a great historical fiction read. Set in the years leading up to the American Revolution, this tale follows the lives of two twins who are separated at birth. Benton presents the fascinating juxtaposition of one twin, raised by his birth mother—a white woman married to an Oneida Indian—and one twin raised by the redcoat officer, who took the newborn from his crib and raised the child in place of their own newborn who died. With gentle romance, well-researched history, and Christian elements, this is a solid read. I’ll be continuing the series. Highly recommended!
A Change of Heart by Sonali Dev
I was completely blown away by this book! I have heard such great things about this author that I requested it on Netgalley without even reading the premise. I went into to it totally blind. Man, was I in for a surprise! This story is dark, difficult, and brutally emotional. It’s so much more than a romance—there’s also a mystery and a crime investigation. It’s about two broken people, finding the courage to help each other heal and love again
Iron Cast by Destiny Soria
While I didn’t love this book, I think many teens will enjoy it. I recommend it to fans of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. It has a similar style and fell. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve read so much phenomenal YA fantasy this month, but this didn’t quite deliver on the intriguing premise.
Well, that’s all for now. Participating in the #hellooctober readathon and must get back to my book!
I am a big Boot Riot fan—the posts, the podcasts, the whole shebang—so I decided to take up their 2015 Read Harder challenge. I like to take up a challenge every year to stretch my reading horizons (and be inspired to catch up on my TBR pile). It’s definitely made me pick up a few books that I wouldn’t have already, and I still have some interesting categories yet to fill!
Here’s a (slightly past) midyear update of my progress so far:
A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25
The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon
A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65
Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley
A collection or anthology of short stories
Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman
A book published by an indie press
The Day I Met Jesus: The Revealing Diaries of Five Women From the Gospels by Frank Viola and Mary E. DeMuth
A book by or about someone who identifies as LGBTQ
Afterworlds by Scott Westerfield
A book by a person whose gender is different from your own
How to Enjoy Reading Your Bible by Keith Ferrin
A YA novel
Atlantia by Ally Condie
A sci-fi novel
This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner
A romance novel
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
A Pulitzer Prize winner from the last ten years
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
A book that is a retelling of a classic story
Cinder by Melissa Meyer
The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin
A graphic novel, memoir, or comic collection
The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffnegger
A “guilty pleasure” book
The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig
A book published this year
The Accidental Empress by Alison Pataki
A self-improvement book
Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin
Tasks still to go:
A collection of poetry
A book that someone else has recommended to you
A book that was originally published in another language.
A book published before 1850
A book that takes place in Asia
A book by an author from Africa
A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous community
That’s it for now! If you have any suggestions for the remaining categories, I’d love to hear them! Happy reading!
A vivid historical romance set in York, Pennsylvania shortly after the Revolutionary War.
Silas Ballantyne came to York, Pennsylvania to finish his apprenticeship and then set out for the west. But his arrival at the home of master blacksmith Leige Lee–and his introduction to the daughters of the house–manages to distract him momentarily from this singular goal. The longer he stays with the Lee family, the more apparent it becomes that sisters Eden and Elspeth couldn’t be more different in character. Still, he finds himself fascinated by them both. When Silas finally makes his choice, the result will be a legacy that endures for generations to come.
This is the first book in a quartet that will follow the Ballantyne family from the late 1700s through the Civil War. Loved it and looking forward to the next in the series!