Thursday, December 20, 2018

Blog Tour: Decree Review

As promised, I'm back with a review of the fifth book in the Blades of Acktar series by Tricia Mingerink. Decree is a collection of short stories and novellas based on the characters in the previous books.

To read my reviews of Jaye L. Knight's books that released on the 14th, click HERE.


~ Decree ~

The Adventure Continues.

Discover more of The Blades of Acktar in this collection of novellas and short stories.

The Blades as They Should’ve Been

A test and the Gathering of Nobles will decide Leith and Martyn’s futures. Can they fight to become more than the Blades they were? Will Keevan accept the man who attempted to kill him as family?

The First Mission

When Martyn visits Surgis, his past seems determined to haunt him. Can he figure out how to forgive, especially when confronted with an enemy in need of his help?

To the Far Great Mountains

A death sends Leith and Martyn far beyond the borders of Acktar. Will they be able to arrest their quarry before they are caught themselves?

From the story of how Leith and Martyn met to Ranson’s search for a life outside of the Blades, these stories will answer plaguing questions and expand the world of Acktar.

Available now on Amazon!

goodreads 

My Review:
As I mentioned in my review of Lacy, I'm not normally a huge fan of short stories and novellas, but Decree was well written and put together. While I enjoyed some of the stories more than others, the whole book was a fun read. Watching the various interactions between the characters left me smiling. Some stories were driven by action, while others were more about the characters. As in all the Acktar books, the characters truly shined. They have genuine personalities, fears, and dreams, that make readers fall in love with them and feel their same emotions. In the stories that were plot driven, the action was compelling. The setting contributed to the general plotlines, a subtle but well done aspect of the stories. The themes greatly added to the unique aspects of each story, both deep and real. Overall, I'd grant Decree four stars for the intriguing plots, believable (and loveable) characters, and important themes. I can definitely see rereading this at some point.

As a side note, Leith, the main character of the series, is the best assassin turned hero turned romantic I've ever seen. :) He's an incredible character. If for no other reason than Leith, you should read the series.

*I received a free ebook copy of this book for the purposes of the blog tour and in exchange for an honest review.

~ About the Author ~

Tricia Mingerink is a twenty-something, book-loving, horse-riding country girl. She lives in Michigan with her family and their pack of pets. When she isn't writing, she can be found pursuing backwoods adventures across the country.

You can connect with Tricia on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Haven’t discovered the The Blades of Acktar yet? Find out more at on the official Blades of Acktar page.

Be sure to enter the incredible giveaway they're having and visit a few of the other blogs on the tour!



Saturday, December 15, 2018

Blog Tour: Bitter Winter & Lacy Reviews

I've been waiting a year and a half to do this post! Since I read Exiles, the fourth book in Jaye L. Knight's Ilyon Chronicles series, I've been counting down the days to the release of her next Christian fantasy novel. When Knight posted the release date for Bitter Winter, I also discovered that on the same day she was publishing book 5.5, Lacy. I'm honored to be part of the blog tour releasing them into the world, and happy to announce they both exceeded my expectations (which were already high).

[As a side note before I post the books' information and reviews, I should mention that this blog tour is particularly special to me because Knight (one of my top favorite authors) is teaming up with Tricia Mingerink (one of my other top favorite authors) for a dual book release and blog tour. Knight's books, Bitter Winter and Lacy released yesterday, December 14th, and Mingerink's book, Decree, releases on the 18th. I'll review Decree here on the 20th.]

Without further ado, I present part one of the Knight and Mingerink—Ilyon and Acktar blog tour!

 
~ Bitter Winter ~

Already struggling with a harsh winter and the threat of food shortage, a catastrophic event leaves those in the Landale camps reeling. Just when things couldn’t get much worse, camp members fall ill with the same devastating sickness that’s sweeping across the country.

Determined to gain the cure, Jace sets off to Valcré. However, there are only two sources—the queen, or a powerful gang of smugglers who have made the dangerous city their home. When Jace gains audience with the gang leader, he finds the price of the cure is steeper than any of them imagined, forcing him to make an impossible choice—betray his conscience or let those he loves die.

Available now on Amazon!

goodreads

My Review:
I had an eager-nervousness as I began reading Bitter Winter. Would it be as good as the previous books? Was it possible to love the characters any more than I already did? I soon learned the answers to my questions—yes and yes. Bitter Winter went far beyond my hopes for the book. It was a breathtaking read. I simply could not put it down! At times I was fighting tears nearly as much as the characters themselves. Other times my heart raced with the same adrenaline that urged the characters on. Still more times I hung on every word to find out the fate of the Resistance.

While Bitter Winter was a bit slower paced than the others in the series, that didn't lessen the intensity or sense of danger closing in on the characters. The plot remained gripping all the way through. Even though I enjoy the fast action of the previous books, I was appreciative of the break from the heaviness of the persecution the characters are facing. They still endured trials and tragedy, but I wasn't left feeling quite as heavy-hearted.

Concerning the setting, it remained detailed, realistic, and intriguing. As implied by the title, the setting took on a semi-major role in this novel, to the point of becoming one of two main villains. I thought it was excellently portrayed in this role.

Regarding the characters, Knight has always done a wonderful job of creating realistic subjects that are extremely relateable. They have depth and true personalities, complete with wonderful strengths and genuine weaknesses. I have only one minor complaint—I feel that there are too many characters starting relationships. Even though it may be realistic, considering all the characters have similar backgrounds of persecution for their faith and are dwelling in a small hideout together, it seems that in the first few books there was no or very little romance, while now half the characters have a significant other. Don't get me wrong—I adore sweet romances and wouldn't mind a few, but it does seem like there has been a huge increase in the number of characters in relationships all of a sudden.

All taken into account, I still grant Bitter Winter five stars. Though I felt some areas fell slightly short, others went far above and beyond my hopes so I believe it evens out. :) It kept me flipping pages and very connected with the characters. I'm already eager to reread it. :) Congratulations, Jaye, on another outstanding addition to the Ilyon Chronicles!

~ Lacy ~

The last thing Aaron ever envisioned was falling for a prostitute. Everything about it spells trouble. However, he can’t help noticing the way her smile lights up when she sees him and how much brokenness she hides behind it. Neither can he ignore how desperately she needs rescue and protection.

When Lacy shares a life or death secret with him, Aaron is willing to risk everything to help her and to show her Elôm’s love. Yet, such a choice could destroy his reputation and maybe even cost him his freedom.

An Ilyon Chronicles novella.

Available now on Amazon!

goodreads

My Review:
Lacy was a pleasant surprise for me. I hadn't been aware of its existence, and I'm normally not as much a fan of novellas as I am lengthy novels. However, Lacy swept me up and pulled me in. I was drawn toward the characters and their plight. The struggles they faced were not petty issues, but a topic that has always moved my own heart. Plot, setting, characters, themes, they were all beautiful in this story. Genuine and deep.

When I started to read, I anticipated Lacy would be a four star book, simply by the fact that it wasn't full length. Having finished, I've increased that to five stars for how it captivated me even in fewer pages than my usual preference. It's masterfully crafted—a true work of art. 

*I received free ebook copies of these books for the purposes of the blog tour and in exchange for an honest review.

~ About the Author ~
 
Jaye L. Knight is an award-winning author, homeschool graduate, and shameless tea addict with a passion for Christian fantasy. Armed with an active imagination and love for adventure, Jaye weaves stories of truth, faith, and courage with the message that even in the deepest darkness, God’s love shines as a light to offer hope. She has been penning stories since the age of eight and resides in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.

You can connect with Jaye on her website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Etsy.

Haven’t discovered the world of Ilyon yet? Find out more at the official Ilyon Chronicles website!

Be sure to enter the incredible giveaway they're having and visit a few of the other blogs on the tour!



Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Will You Stand?

Christians left, right, and center are compromising their beliefs—too afraid to take a firm stand. Peer pressure isn't something only youth face. From old to young, Christians are hesitant to stick up for their convictions. No one wants to be looked down upon, so it takes great courage to take a controversial stand. The "pressure" isn't even necessarily from peers—though it might be. It could also be a young adult desiring the respect of a grandparent, potential employer, or professor. Unfortunately, it is the rare Christian who is willing to risk everything to defend his beliefs.


Despite wanting to be liked or fit in, Christians should not fit into the world. Romans 12:2 tells Christians that they shouldn't conform to the world but rather have their minds transformed and renewed. Jesus explains the concept of being separated from the world in John 15.
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
The first step to standing up for your beliefs is recognizing that even though you want to fit in with others, the reality is that by the very nature of being born again, you are not of this world. You are of the Kingdom of Heaven. You should be different.

Is losing favor with the world a sacrifice? Yes—and no. It is in the sense that since people want to be liked, they are choosing to give this up to honor God. However, in some aspects it isn't a sacrifice when considering the only reason Christians must be different from the world is because they are destined for eternity in heaven. They've chosen to make their home in another world, so it only makes sense that they would not fit in on this earth. "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come" (Hebrews 13:14). You wouldn't expect the Native Americans to understand the cultures of the Englishmen back in the 1600s? or the hobbits of Middle Earth to get along very well in the Star Wars galaxy, would you? Even the elves were different from all the other beings in Middle Earth, because they were destined for another place, separated from the rest of their present dwelling. So why hope that Christians could be friends with the world when they are different at the core of their beings?

However, in the sense that it is a sacrifice, is it worth it? I would have to say that it is. After all, our savior gave His life so that we could be different. The sacrifice of not being liked by the world is nothing compared to the sacrifice of His very life.

This is the conclusion that California college junior Isabella Chow came to when faced with supporting the LGBT agenda in late October. As a student senator at UC Berkeley, she was asked to vote pro-LGBT, but she refused, based on her Christian beliefs. She provided a five paragraph statement explaining her views, and clearly explained how she felt about people involved in the LGBT movement. “I have said, and will always say, that discrimination against or harassment of any person or people group is never, ever okay” (Lee). The onslaught of criticism Chow received for abstaining from the vote was tremendous. Sophia Lee, reporter for WORLD Magazine, describes it this way:
Heads turned when Chow walked across the campus, and her cell phone beeped with social media alerts. Disaffiliation notices piled into her email inbox. Online, people compared her to the KKK and called her “a terrible example of Christian hypocrisy.”
Despite the intense attacks from every direction she faced, thanks to the prayers and support of her fellow Christians, Chow remained steadfast in her conviction to not give in to the pressures. Her world was turned upside down, and she is still battling the results of her decision. Her sacrifice was great. Nevertheless, Chow refused to cave. She knew that she must stand for her beliefs, even if it meant losing her position in society.

Similarly, the American missionary, Andrew Brunson, who was recently released from 21 months in Turkish prisons, was willing to sacrifice everything—including his very life, to stand strong for Jesus. He was quoted as saying "Sometimes it's harder to live for God than to die for God. I would rather have been in heaven than in prison" (Belz). In fact, he considered himself a "living martyr" (Belz). While imprisoned, he remembered Richard Wurmbrand, who endured years of torture at the hands of the Romanian government, and later founded Voice of the Martyrs. Wurmbrand had praised God through his continued struggles, and Brunson imitated him by dancing before the Lord in his cell (Lee). Despite the extreme hardship he faced, he made the difficult choice to continue his stand for Christ.

Over the years, many Christians have chosen to defend what they know to be right and true, at great personal cost. But the majority of Christians often fail to honor their Lord in this manner. Their fear holds them back. Don't you think Jesus was afraid of the pain and separation from His father at the cross? Don't you appreciate His sacrifice made especially for you?

Maybe you're currently in a situation where you have to make that hard choice to stand for God or not. Maybe soon you'll find yourself in a place like that. Only you can decide what to do, but know this: there is no sacrifice you can make that even compares to Jesus' sacrifice for you. Christians are called to be a light in this world—to be different. The Christian life is anything but easy, but as Paul said in Romans 8:18, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Sacrifice now to honor your God. Make that hard choice to do what you know is right. Just as Brunson was encouraged by Wurmbrand's example, so Christians everywhere can draw strength from the stand of Isabella Chow. Will you be one of the few who will step up to the plate, prepared to be a "living martyr?"

Will you stand?


Belz, Mindy. "'A Living Martyr.'" WORLD Magazine. 24 Nov. 2018: 37-42. Print.
Lee, Sophia. "Convictions and Consequences." WORLD Magazine. 20 Nov. 2018. WORLD Magazine Web. 3 Dec. 2018.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Remember the Bible?

Remember that thick book at the bottom of your TBR stack? The one you look away from whenever you see it, guilt plaguing your mind? I really should read it. I know I should . . . but I'm too busy. I have to update my social media status first. Then I'll read a bit.

Two hours later: Well, I guess it's too late now. I'm really tired and have to get up early tomorrow for work, and then there's that birthday party I'm going to afterward. I won't have time tomorrow, but I'll be at church Sunday so that's alright.


So often in today's American culture a family might own ten Bibles. The majority of them sit on a shelf collecting dust, and maybe one per family member rests on a bedside table to be used twice a week. Reading the Bible frequently seems like a chore. Something that should be done, but is more of a task to get over with than the privilege that it is. Compare this to the 1400s and early 1500s in England.

Each week people would attend church services spoken in a language they were unfamiliar with. The Bible would be read in Latin and interpreted by the church who changed the meaning to match its own agenda. Translating the Bible into English was forbidden. People didn't own a single Bible they could understand. They weren't able to study the Bible at leisure. If they were caught with an English Bible, their punishment would be death. In 1519, seven fathers were burned at the stake for teaching their children the Lord's Prayer in English (Piper). Stop and imagine that for a moment. Parents wanted their children to understand what they were praying, and they were murdered for this.

Why? Why would the church execute Christians, seeking to read the Bible and understand it? Wasn't the church supposed to want people to learn more about God? No. The church wanted people to hear specific things about God (some of these things altogether faulty), and think they knew God. The church was unwilling to lose the power it held over people by making them believe they were saved by good works.

Enter into the scene: William Tyndale.

As Pastor John Piper, founder of desiringGod.org, summarizes Tyndale's life, Tyndale was “always singing one note.” His single-minded focus in life was getting the Bible translated into the common tongue and the hands of every person in England. In Tyndale's famous declaration, he audaciously stated his ambition: “I defy the pope and all his laws . . . If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow, shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.”

Tyndale recognized the importance of people reading the Bible for themselves. Mastering several languages, Tyndale devoted his life to translating the Scriptures to English, despite being wanted by the law and living in exile in Germany for it. Upon completing the Greek New Testament, Tyndale smuggled at least 3,000 copies into England. After studying Hebrew, he published a revised edition of the New Testament in 1534, as well as translating parts of the Old Testament. Piper explained that Tyndale's translations were so accurate, many of his exact translations have remained through today. He estimates that the English Standard Version of the Bible (the translation I primarily use) is over 70% of Tyndale's direct work. Tyndale's Bible was certainly the basis for both the King James Version and Geneva Bible.

While Tyndale dedicated every moment to translation and distribution of the Bibles, the church in England retaliated and burned as many of his Bibles as they could find. Because people had accessed the Scriptures and read them for themselves, more and more started standing against the church's contrary teachings and for the truths they found in the Bible. The number of martyrs grew—for doing nothing more than reading the very book you have three copies of sitting on your shelf, virtually unused. It's a shocking revelation to realize that simply owning only one of what you have multiple copies of would have made you a martyr a few hundred years ago.

Tyndale never was able to complete the Old Testament translation, because he was betrayed by Henry Philips, who Tyndale had thought was a good friend, and arrested in May of 1535 for heresy. The generally accepted date of his strangling and burning is October 6, 1536. While the exact year of his birth is contested, Tyndale was somewhere around the age of 40. He'd spent 12 years of his life in exile, and a long, hard twelve they were. Tyndale died so you could have the Bible in your own language. So that you could read and study it—not leave it lying somewhere unused. Allow George Mueller to remind you of the value of studying the Bible from his own life:
“I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God, and to meditation on it. . . . What is the food of the inner man? Not prayer, but the word of God; and . . . not the simple reading of the word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts.”
The next time you see your Bible shoved in between the dictionary and the edge of the shelf, take some time to pull it down, dust it off, and read. Remember the sacrifices people made for the same privilege you have in abundance. America is still a free nation, and you still can access the Bible everywhere you turn. It's an honor. And a command. “Blessed is the man . . . [whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1.1-2). Remember what a treasure the Bible is.

Note: Another post I wrote on a similar subject as reading your Bible is one of my favorites, Dear God, Where Have You Been?

Piper, John. “Always Singing One Note—A Vernacular Bible.” Desiring God Conference for Pastors. Desiring God. 31 January 2006. Conference Presentation.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Looking Into James: James 1:22-25

A few mornings ago as I read my Bible, a passage in James stood out to me. James 1:22-25 reads:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

I read this, then went back and read it a few times over, trying to understand the mirror analogy. Through personal reflection and discussion with my family, I noted two major takeaways from the passage. The first point I noticed lies in not forgetting. So often, even in my own experience, I go to church, youth group, a Christian camp, hear a message, and forget about it within an hour. If you asked me the following day what the sermon covered, it would take me a few minutes to remember, and after several days, I might not have any idea. In these cases, I am being "a hearer of the word and not a doer." What good is it to sit in church and listen to a teaching if you then neglect to apply it to your life and grow from what you heard? Sometimes, it's a challenge to pull a practical aspect out of a lesson, but I've found that the times I do this, the more I get out of it. When I take the effort to find a practical application and truly work to practice this in my own life, that's when I make progress in my spiritual walk. Growing closer to the Lord takes work, and that includes finding and applying spiritual lessons. For me, this may be hearing a teaching regarding self discipline, then asking myself what areas of self discipline I'm not good at, how to be better, and then doing so.

My second note regarding this passage concerns self-examination and relates to the point I made above. My best understanding of the mirror analogy is this: When we study ourselves, and find areas that we need to improve upon (as we always will), we are foolish if we do not then go and work to fix those areas. Like I mentioned earlier, it does no good to hear a message or notice ways we should be better in our spiritual lives and not work to become better. The entire point is to notice things to improve in ourselves, and then find ways to do so. Otherwise, we are being lazy, and honestly very foolish. We're concentrating on our short-term, earthly lives, not on honoring the One who gave His own life for us. We're being focused on the temporary, not eternity-minded. Remember, even if we neglect to grow spiritually and examine ourselves, God knows. If you lack insight, ask Him and read your Bible. Hebrews 4:12-13 points out:
"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account."
So next time you are at church, youth group, or God reveals something to you, ask yourself how you can grow through it, and apply it to your life. God will honor your efforts and help you grow stronger in Him. "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13).

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Defending the Faith 5: Compromising Truth

In today's society, compromising truth has never been easier for Christians due to great societal pressures. Pastors sway under pressures from “science” and teach that Genesis is figurative. Churches agree not to discuss any potentially “divisive” doctrines. Christians neglect to speak out when the opportunity arises and cower instead, afraid to be called judgmental. Some Christian colleges insist on editing out news stories from school newspapers that don't follow their agenda.
 

According to WORLD Magazine's September 1, 2018 issue, this is the compromise in Liberty University's journalism department. Journalism students are taught to write accurate stories, but when it comes to practicing their skills in the school newspaper, the Liberty Champion, their informative articles are placed under extreme criticism. When they write about a topic the president of the university, Jerry Falwell Jr, doesn't wish to have made public about campus policies, he forces them to edit it out. Similarly, if they write accurate but unflattering information about the United States presidential candidate that Falwell was an advocate for, he either forces the students to remove it from the newspaper or also state which candidate they themselves are voting for. While it's not necessarily wrong to include warning readers of an author's potential bias, being forced to specifically state your choice of candidate is. Time and again, the article asserts, the students try to simply write truthful articles about topics they find fascinating, only to have them be struck down by a president who would rather hide and compromise the truth. Erin Covey, the Champion's news editor, states her frustration and confusion. “The level of oversight we have does make it difficult to pursue the accurate journalism that we're taught in classes.” When the students stand up for what they have been taught is right, the consequences are drastic. Former editor-in-chief, Jack Panyard, ultimately was fired from the position and lost the $3,000 scholarship each semester this job earned him. The president of the college that instructs the students to write truthful articles in class, teaches the students not to do this in a “real world” environment—and this is in a Christian setting. If this is true, then it's no wonder that so many lies circulate through our secular society today.

No longer are Christians as determined to uphold truth. Many have compromised on one of the most important aspects of life. As Randy Alcorn put it,
Suppose a professor or inspirational speaker says, 'What’s important isn’t finding the truth, it’s searching for it.' Try applying the same logic to your search for a life preserver when you’re drowning! Or, 'Truth is whatever you believe, as long as you’re sincere.' Certainly, you can step off a building sincerely believing you won’t fall. But gravity cares nothing about your sincerity. Even sincere people are often wrong, sometimes catastrophically so.
Finding truth and holding fast to it are key elements of living a life glorifying to God. As Christians, we shouldn't be compromising truth, we should be standing firm for it, and doing so with gentleness, grace, and love. C. S. Lewis makes an outstanding point. “The glory of God, and, as our only means to glorifying Him, the salvation of human souls, is the real business of life.” A Christian's job is to glorify God. (1 Corinthians 10:31) We glorify Him through helping point people to Christ. How can we point them to Jesus if we are inconsistent and compromising in our other Christian beliefs?

If we hide some truths because we'd rather not think about them, and give in to secular pressures (or even pressures from other Christians), how can we honestly expect people to trust us when we say that we know the Truth? If we claim that Genesis is figurative because “science” disagrees with the Creation and Flood accounts, then what right have we to say that our Savior was born of a virgin, performed true miracles, battled demons, and resurrected? Science says those are impossible as well.

When we compromise on truth, we are compromising any reason we have for others to trust us and our beliefs. We are giving into worldly pressures to hide truths that might be a bit “messy,” uncomfortable, or embarrassing. Even if you do not recognize your own inconsistencies, others will point them out. If you say the gospels are true and accurate accounts of Jesus, then you cannot also claim other parts of the Bible are figurative.* You can believe that all of the Bible is true, or none of it, but you cannot compromise and believe both.

Don't give in to pressures from society and “science.” Stand for what you know is true. It won't be easy, and sometimes will be very uncomfortable, but it's worth it. Don't compromise truth. 

*I'm not saying some parts of the Bible are not figurative. Some certainly are, and are very clearly so. I'm specifically referring to Genesis, which contains plain, straightforward language and is put forth as a very literal book.


Crotts, Charissa. Rieth, Elizabeth. Johnson, Isaiah. "Papered Over." WORLD Magazine. 1 September 2018: 40-45. Print.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Summer 2018 Highlights: 100 for 100 Challenge

Hey, everyone! I know I haven't been around lately, but I'm hoping that will change and this was just a season of exceptional busyness in my life. Maybe I'll get a chance to recap my summer for you. However, as for today, I'm here to highlight one sliver of it—my writing.


From mid November of 2017 to late May, 2018, my writing had fallen to the wayside. It wasn't that I didn't want to write, or didn't necessarily have the time, it was more that I didn't know what to write and didn't have the drive. None of the stories I was working on at the time were quite matching my mood, so I simply stopped writing. I recognize it seems contradictory to say I missed writing but also didn't feel like it, still, for whatever reason I didn't write for nearly six months.

Then . . . the 100 for 100 Challenge hosted by Go Teen Writers started, and I jumped on the bandwagon, wondering whether I would even survive writing 100 words a day for the first two weeks. Long story short, last Friday was day 100 of the challenge and I made it! The premise of the challenge was to write at least 100 words a day for 100 days to total 10,000 words by August 31. The exceptions: you got one "grace week," and one day off a week if you chose. In all, I had to take off 10 days combined from when I was attending camps. For the other 90 days though, I wrote consistently! This was both a massive battle and blessing for me. Some days my eyes kept drooping closed and I was writing at midnight to squeeze in my 100 words to barely scrape by. At times I just didn't feel like writing but I had to push through anyway. On occasion I couldn't decide where to go with my story, and had to force myself not to quit.

But other times, I woke up eager to write and determined to continue through the challenge. Sometimes I would write 500 words a day or more. Honestly, I had no idea that I had it in me to push through the difficulties and remain steadfast over that length of time. At the start, I wasn't sure how to manage writing when I would be gone so much over the summer, but somehow I managed. And not only did I make 10K, but I ended up with a grand total of 26,543 words! :) Though that's not much to some, it was a huge accomplishment for me. I started and completed a short story For Better or for Worse (22,760 words), and began another to finish the final days.

A hearty thanks to all who urged me on through this challenge, and encouraged me to write every day. It's only because of your consistent prodding that I managed some days. Thank you to those who are eager to read For Better or for Worseit's encouraging to have people want to read my writing! And thank you bloggers at Go Teen Writers for hosting and providing me an opportunity to test my limits and come through victoriously!

To read the synopsis and an excerpt from For Better or for Worse, click on the story title anywhere it appears in the post. Let me know what you think!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Caption #13

Wow, that was a lot of fun! I didn't think I'd get nearly as many wonderful responses as I did! Thank you everyone who sent in a caption: Abigail, Alex, Amy, Arianna, Audrey, Carla, Danny, Debbi, Faith, Isaac, Kathy, Natalie E, and Samuel.


As I received each caption, I couldn't help but laugh. Some were similar, but all unique, and each one was so much fun to read! My favorite caption was sent in by Danny, but second place was tied between several of you. Here's Danny's caption:

I don't mind all the kisses, but how will I ever break it to her that I ain't turning into a prince?
Isn't that so funny? I can picture the lizard thinking exactly that. Thank you, Danny! Some of the other fabulous captions are below.
Amy: "Introducing ... The Great and Powerful Lizard of Oz!"
Alex: "I've never seen a tree talk before!"
Carla: "I know she can't see me, I know she can't see me . . . wait, I thought I was a chameleon—oh no, she sees me!"
Kathy: "How many times did you have to shed your skin to be that super?"
Samuel: "Are you Goliath?"

I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did! Let me know if you'd like me to do another at some point. :)


Sunday, June 17, 2018

Dear Fathers, Grandfathers, and Future Fathers

This goes out to all the amazing guys out there, but especially to my dad and grandpa, both the best of the bunch (though I'm probably a bit biased). :) Happy Father's Day!


Dear fathers all over the world, thank you for all the times you love on your children, show them they're special, and take care of all their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. You are one of the most influential people in your children's life, so thank you for when you show them how to either be a good father and husband, or what to look for in a future husband. Thank you when you imitate your Father in heaven. As the leader of your household, treat your children with love (including discipline) and instruct them in the ways of the Lord. Proverbs 22:6 tells you to "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."

Dear grandfathers all over the world, thank you for spending time with your grandchildren, and raising your children to be Godly parents. You are an incredible role model and mentor to so many around you, whether your children, grandchildren, "adopted" children, or the neighbor down the street. Look for how God wants to use you in your community, and remember that each stage of your life is something special. Job 12:12 reminds you, "Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days."

Dear future fathers all over the world, thank you for the times you pray for your future wife and children. Thank you for putting effort now into being a good father and husband later. You are the next generation who will have the responsibility of determining the course of the world; this starts with your family. Thank you when you respect your parents and siblings, and put God first. Obey your parents now and learn all you can from them and any Godly elders around you. Never compromise on your beliefs; rather, rely on God to give you strength to do what is right as your fulfill your roles in the body of Christ. Honor all girls as your sisters in Christ. Second Timothy has lots of wisdom for you. "So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart." Proverbs 3:1 also instructs you: "My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments."

Dear fathers, grandfathers, and future fathers, "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong." (1 Corinthians 16:13) Each of you has such important roles at all stages of your life. Don't dwell in the past, don't focus too much on the future, but enjoy where God has you right now. Never resent where you are, and pour your everything into being the man God has called you to be. Thank you for all the times you honor Him.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Caption This #13

By request, today I bring you a "Caption This" post. For those of you who are newer to my blog, this is a series of posts I ended in 2015 when people's interest seemed to taper off. But after a couple years, it's time for the thirteenth edition!


Here's how it works: Contemplate the image below, and decide a funny way you would caption it. Leave your suggestion in the comments (or email me) and I'll re-post the picture with my favorite caption. For some samples, click HERE to see the previous rounds. Have fun!

What's the lizard thinking?
I'm looking forward to hearing your funny ideas! Thanks for participating! I enjoy connecting with my readers through fun games like this. I'll post my favorite within a week. :) God bless you all!


Monday, June 11, 2018

Smell the Flowers

A few months back I was blessed with the opportunity to attend a local high school retreat/campout with one of my youth groups. The youth group was calling it "Pause," signifying the goal of the weekend was to get away from everyone's hectic lives and take a break to breathe and get some time alone with God. It worked.


The time I spent at Pause gave me an opportunity to take a much needed time of relaxation, and reminded me of the importance of taking time to just rest. In today's culture, everyone is always busy. There's a never-ending list of things to do, places to be, and people to catch up with. Sometimes it feels like you're only falling further behind, and never catching back up. It doesn't take long before you're overwhelmed, exhausted, and feeling like you're failing. It's an easy trap to fall into. And a hard one to climb back out of.

I still haven't found the secret to avoiding this pitfall, but I've found a few things that help. One of my biggest is stop procrastinating when I need to do things, and not keep "finding" distractions. But another thing I've found that helps, is allowing yourself some time to stop and rest. Give yourself a break. As one of the other youth groupers put it, take time to smell the flowers.

It's unbelievable how much it helps to take a few minutes, a couple deep breaths, and calm down. Giving yourself permission to rest is key. Don't worry about everything on your to-do list. Just go outside, enjoy God's beautiful creation, read a book, photograph, journal, do whatever is relaxing to you. Forget the stresses of life—allow yourself to rest. And just breathe.

Recently, my "theme song" has been Jonny Diaz's "Breathe." I'd highly recommend it if anything I've said today resonates with you.

Don't wait until school lets out or you get a break from work. Take time right now, this summer, and through the rest of the year to pause, take a breathe, smile, and thank God for your many blessings. Be refreshed and don't regret the moments you spend. Take time to smell the flowers.


Friday, June 8, 2018

Top 10 Questions People Ask Me About Homeschool

I've been a proud homeschooler since third grade. At first, it was hard to leave my friends at school, but it wasn't too long before I fell in love with the homeschool atmosphere. Time with family, taking trips to locations I wouldn't otherwise be able to, the ability to pursue my interests, and a freedom I hadn't experienced before were the main highlights resulting in much closer relationships with my parents and younger sister. For these past nine years, homeschool has been one of the best things that has happened to me.

However, despite my enthusiasm for homeschool, there are many people who are curious, and some even skeptical, about homeschoolers. It's a foreign group of students. An unusual type of family. A rather odd decision. Without further ado, I give you ten top questions people ask me about homeschool (and my responses).


1. Why did your parents decide to homeschool you? // Why are you homeschooled?
Probably the most common question I'm asked, my go-to answer is simply: because my parents felt that God led them to. No, they aren't "anti public school" people, they simply felt God was calling them to pull me out for awhile. At that time, they thought it was only going to be for one year to correct some attitude issues I was having. However, by the end of that year they decided to do . . . one more year. And so on until eventually I hit high school and we realized unless God suddenly changed our course, I would be homeschooled the rest of my education until college.

2. Do you like being homeschooled? // Do you wish you were in public school?
YES, I love being homeschooled! I would never trade homeschool for public school. Nothing against public school students, but my personal preference is absolutely homeschool. When I think about just my few years in a public school surrounded by ungodly influences and how that affected me, and then I hear about high school experiences . . . . *shudders* I'm so blessed to be educated from home. The closeness as a family, trips we can take, and bonds I form with other homeschoolers are among my favorite aspects. I enjoy talking to skeptics and proving all their ideas about "homeschoolers" wrong. And I'm so grateful not to have an hour plus long bus ride to school each way. It's much faster to wake up and walk to my desk.

There have been times I've wished I was in public school, but only to have more friendships, and to be a witness for Jesus in the public school system. I would be challenged but so grateful to have more opportunities to share my faith with non Christians, and help them find the love and hope of Jesus Christ.

3. What's it like to be homeschooled?
I like to think it's a lot like public school in the sense that I still have school every day, still have the same core subjects (plus many more awesome subjects), and still have a schedule to keep. However, it is also understandably very different. Instead of spending two or more hours on a bus, I can use that time to do homework and visit with my family. I can help more easily with projects my family has, take more vacations during the off season (like to Disneyland and Yellowstone Nat. Park), and study more subjects I enjoy (i.e. cinematography, photography, calligraphy, marine biology, apologetics, blogging, Constitutional literacy, horses, etc.).

4. Do you do school in your pajamas? // Is it nice to sleep in till ten every day?
Unfortunately, I don't do school in my PJs, though I probably would if I didn't have to feed our horses first thing in the morning. As for sleeping in, I can't have that luxury for the same reason. Country life = no sleeping in. :) Besides, even without the horses, I still need to be up and start school by 8 in the morning. I don't sleep in as late as I want. I have a schedule to keep just like other students, although from time to time I can sleep in a little longer.

5. Can't you just take the day off and catch up another day?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It's not quite as easy as it sounds to "just take a day off." True, I have more flexibility choosing which days to do school, but I still need to get in five days a week, and I still have work on the weekends. So although I am occasionally able to take a day off to participate in an event, it's not always as easy as it sounds to catch back up on what I didn't do that day. I don't have infinite days to take off/make up; even if I got sick, that day just becomes my "day off" for the week, but I still need to complete the assigned work later.

6. Does the state give you your curriculum and grade your work? // How do your parents choose your curriculum? // How do you take tests?
Although some "homeschool" students have state textbooks and curriculum, these are more accurately considered independent studies students. I'm the type of homeschooler whose parents don't use a single program, but they select which subjects I'll take that year and then choose the best books they can find for that subject. It's a lengthy and pricey process, because the state doesn't provide funding, but the textbooks they've found for me have been almost all from a Christian perspective, extremely well done and interesting, and taught me far better than many other curriculums that I've seen. Sometimes, they find them through hours of online research, and other times through recommendations or attending homeschool conventions. Through some of the material they've found, subjects I had never enjoyed much made sense and came alive and these became some of my favorite classes.

As for the tests, I grab a pencil and start filling in answers. Simple as that. Like I said above, my curriculum, therefore my tests, are not state generated or graded. They come with the various curriculums my parents have chosen and my mom grades them using the teacher book/answer key. On occasion, she generates her own tests for a given subject. Few of my tests are only true/false or multiple choice; they are fill-in, short answer, or essays so that I must demonstrate a true understanding of the concepts.

7. How does your mom teach you these subjects?
I love informing people of how smart my parents are. So I always have an easy answer to this one. The two most common subjects people ask about are my foreign language (Spanish) to which I respond that my mom was a language major, and math. For math I explain that I have video based instruction and then I complete the lessons, but also that math comes naturally to my dad. As for my other subjects, between both my parents and my textbooks, I usually have no problem learning. If they can't help me figure something out, there's always this great resource called the internet. :)

8. What do you feel you're missing out on? // What about graduation? Prom/dances? Friends? High school? Summer break?
This one . . . is a little bit tougher to answer. I know quite a few things I'm "missing out" on, such as drama, secular teaching, etc. but that doesn't bother me. :) As for things I'm missing out on that I wish I had, for several years my answer would have been friends. The only reason this was a problem for me was because I live so far away from anyone else that church was the only time I would see anyone my age, but God finally brought me a few good ones I'm able to see on a semi-regular basis. Another aspect might be sports, but I played softball for a few years at the elementary school when my parents coached. The last thing I can think of at the moment that I might be missing out on is academic competition and brainstorming. As the only student in my class, I am my only competition. My goal is just to be better than I've already been doing, and it would be nice to have a little competition in that respect. Also, it would be helpful to have a class environment for discussing literature books, etc. So the social aspect and sports are primarily all I really miss out on.

Graduation: At this point, I'm the only high schooler in my homeschool group, so there won't be a traditional ceremony, but I'll probably have some form of gathering/party. This has actually been one of the hardest aspects of homeschool for me, even back in eighth grade. My family is wonderful about making things special, but I do wish I had a class to graduate and celebrate with. You could add that to the list of things above that I miss out on, but in the big scheme of things, having a ceremony or class to graduate with isn't necessary. Sure, I would like it, but it's not crucial.

Prom/dances: Again, it's another aspect that would be fun, but it's not too important for me.

High school: Homeschooling high school has been a real challenge, especially for my mom, but we've made it through the first three years. One more to go!

Summer break: Yes, I do get a break for summertime! The biggest difference between my break and that of a public school student is that mine is a little shorter, but only because we exchange the longer summer break to have breaks between quarters. I gladly accept that trade.

9. Are you ever going to go back to real school?
I don't take offense easily . . . but this one tests my limits. First of all, I am in real school. Maybe it's not normal school, but it most certainly is real school. So please rephrase this to ask, "Are you ever going to go back to a public school?" because otherwise it just sounds like you think I've spent the last nine years skipping out on school and when I go back I'll be in third grade. Trust me, homeschool is every bit as real as public school.

Now, to answer the heart of the question, as I mentioned earlier, for several years we thought we would homeschool "just one more year." But as each year came to a close, God told us to keep going. Eventually, we realized that unless God suddenly told us otherwise, we would be homeschooling through high school. This has not been an easy process, and some days we've nearly given up, but no, I plan to finish my last year of school the same way I've been doing it. That being said, my senior year I will likely be taking some classes at a local junior college, but I will not be attending a public high school.

10. Are you going to homeschool your kids?
First of all, that's a long ways off. Secondly, when that time comes, I'll have to see if this is what God and my husband want. My personal hope is to homeschool my children. After having these years bonding closely with my family, I can't fathom sending my children away to school for most of every day for so many years. I'd much rather homeschool so we can grow closer as a family. Homeschooling would be the fulfillment of one of my dreams.

And a bonus question . . .
11.  Do you see your teacher and principal . . . kissing??
Ah yes, a personal favorite. And the answer is yes. Yes I do. I thought about reporting it to the school board . . . but nah. :)

So there you are! I hope the answers to these top ten (or eleven) questions have been enjoyable and educational for you. Do you have any questions about homeschooling? Or, if you are homeschooled, which of these questions have you been asked, and what others have people asked you? Three cheers for homeschool!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Random Updates

Well, I'm sitting here realizing that out of the few posts I've done this year, most of them have had a very serious note to them. So I decided to do something a little more lighthearted to end May. Here's a brief summary of my life lately to keep you updated.


  Life
I've been busy, but who isn't this time of year? A few weeks back I took the SAT. My family just completed making a twenty-five minute film of our highest production quality so far, but it took a tremendous amount of time. I haven't been reading much, but I've been writing a little bit more lately. The event I went to with intentions of evangelizing was quite an experience. It made me more aware of how lost so many people are without Christ. These next couple weeks promise to be filled with lots of school and attendance of multiple graduation events for friends. I'm eagerly looking forward to the beginning of July bringing my first camp of the summer. This is one I'll be counseling at for my third year in a row.

Music
I've been listening to more music these last few months than I usually do, and I've been enjoying multiple Christian artists. The newest songs I've been introduced to is Josh Wilson's "Dream Small" and Riley Clemmon's "Better for It."

 Jokes
One of the things I've been doing lately when I'm feeling down is looking up Christian jokes.
Q1: What kind of man was Boaz before he married Ruth?
Q2: Who was the first tennis player in the Bible?
(answers at the end of the post)

Blog
I've been enjoying writing my "Defending the Faith" series, as it is a topic close to my heart and I'm grateful to have an audience to share it with. As for posts I'm planning, I suppose you'll just have to wait and see!

Pictures
I haven't been taking too many pictures lately, but I thought the image of the flower I used for the title picture came out pretty well.

What sorts of things have you been up to lately? Any good songs or jokes you've heard?

A1: Ruthless.
A2: Joseph, because he served in Pharoah's court.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Defending the Faith 4: How Will I Know What to Say?

Ah yes, the age old question. "I want to talk to people about my faith, but I don't know what to say! They'll ask me questions that I won't know how to answer. How will I know what to say?" There's a few aspects to touch on regarding this topic.


First off, I want to point out God's response to this. In Exodus 4 when Moses is begging God not to send him back to Egypt to free God's people, one of his many excuses is that he doesn't speak well. God replies that He made Moses' mouth and "I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak" (verse 12). I don't know about you, but that's a pretty amazing thought. God Himself will teach me what to say.

Secondly, Philippians 4:19 teaches that God will give us what we need to do what He asks of us. He knows that we need the words to speak, "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." Once again, God is telling us that He will take care of it.

Another case where God confirms He will handle this need comes from Paul's second letter to the Corinthians. "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." The context to this is Paul explaining that He has asked God to remove some sort of "thorn" from his flesh. The Bible isn't clear whether this was a physical ailment, person causing him trouble, or something else entirely, but regardless, this "thorn" is something burdensome to Paul. Instead of removing it, God says that He will use this weakness to make His power even greater in Paul, ". . . For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 2:10). In our weakness, God reveals His strength. When you are uncomfortable speaking to people about your faith, that's when God will shine through all the more.

My personal favorite passage that directly relates to the worry of what to speak is recorded in three of the gospels. Each place is slightly different and adds even deeper meaning, so I'll share all three here:
Matthew 10:19 "When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour."
So far, we gather that when we are in situations where we have to defend our faith, we don't need to worry about how to do it, because at the time we need it, God will tell us what to say.
Luke 12:11-12 "And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say."
Now we know that even when we are being brought before rulers, we still don't have to be concerned about defending ourselves or what to say because the Holy Spirit in us will teach us. We might not know what to say even sixty seconds before we have to speak, but when we open our mouths, He will provide.
Mark 13:11 "And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit."
Finally, we gather that in addition to what we've learned above, it's not even us who are really speaking! It is the Holy Spirit doing the talking for us, and all we have to do is be the messenger and listen for what to say.
  
This is such a comforting thought to me. I really don't have to worry about what to say, because when I need to speak, the Holy Spirit will put the words in my mouth. These verses are what I'm holding to this weekend when I will be speaking with unbelievers.

Does this mean we will always have all the answers? Not at all. However, even when we don't have the right responses for someone, God has still given us what we need. He simply decided that we didn't need that answer at that time.

However, I see another side to this whole topic as well. Someone could interpret these verses to mean that they don't need to do any preparation, because God will just tell them what to say. I don't believe this is what the Bible is teaching at all. If my Dad never prepared a sermon and said "Oh, God will just tell me what to say when I get to the pulpit, I don't need to worry about preparation," . . . I think he would be very embarrassed when he stands up front without a clue of what to say and has to admit that he doesn't have anything because he failed to prepare. That being said, there have been times when he prepares all week but something about his planned sermon doesn't feel right, so he walks to the pulpit unprepared, but God always shows up and gives him the perfect words for that day. God honors his attentiveness and efforts. First Corinthians instructs us: "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."

Do your best to prepare, but don't worry. Make an effort, but rely on God in your hour of need. Study the Bible so you have verses that God can bring to your mind. Remain attentive to the voice of the Holy Spirit, so you hear His quiet whispers. Do all to the glory of God. Be on the lookout for "God moments" and trust Him to give you the words to speak.