Young America, a wooden doll, and The Loveliest Place

Book review time!

I read only one of these following books (my thrifted copy of Hitty) in tangible form. Because I sure love my audiobooks. Since I can’t be Belle — in a castle with a giant library and dishes that wash themselves — at least I can wash the dishes while someone reads aloud to me. Still a princess-like luxury, if you think about it.

Here are some brief notes on each of these books. I’d love to know your thoughts if you’ve read any of them, or if you plan to give them a try.

Addy: An American Girl by Connie Porter
I just listened to all 5 of the books in the Addy series (takes about 5 hours). I remember loving them as a young teen, and I still think they are a treasure. I appreciate the glimpse into Civil War era history, the exciting plot and characters, and the emphasis on kindness and forgiveness.
She was always my favorite American girl (but sadly, I never had the Addy doll).

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The first time I read Jane Eyre I didn’t really care for it, and I didn’t like Mr. Rochester even to the end. I still don’t. But this time through, I better understood the thread of redemption and enjoyed the deep emotion and drama of the storyline. Still not my favorite, but I have a feeling I’ll like it even a little bit better next time I read it.

These Happy Golden Years
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I enjoyed the relaxing listen to this book, and it was fun seeing Laura as a young woman. It makes sense — her independence streak! It’s also interesting to see Pa and Ma parent a grown-up daughter. This book renewed my interest in the Ingalls family and inspired me to research their journeys. I used to live on that same prairie, after all!

Persuasion by Jane Austen
I had forgotten about the plot twists in this story and also enjoyed watching the movie after. The ending is just so satisfying! Gotta love Captain Wentworth.

Laddie: A True Blue Story by Gene Stratton-Porter
I reaffirmed Laddie as one of my top favorite books (find the one narrated by Laurie Klein). In this book, “Little Sister” commentates all of her large family’s affairs, through her shrewd and wholesome lens of childhood. She sweetly carries her older siblings’ burdens personally, but gets into plenty of mischief of her own. She is a little problem solver and isn’t afraid to tell the truth, even though she hasn’t learned when it’s best to keep quiet and when it’s helpful to speak up. This book is sweet, humorous, romantic, with very lovable characters. I always loved stories about the dynamics of big families and even wished for more details about more of the siblings. But Laddie truly does deserve the center stage and the title, as he’s the best older brother “Little Sister” could ask for.
Bonus observation of the family’s worldview: They are pious and moral people, who work hard, and put a huge emphasis on physical appearance. Both in their affirmation of good looks, and how circumstances will appear to their neighbors. I love the parents’ heart for the least and the lowly; their generosity and care for the outcast is indeed admirable. However, their motivation seems to be a “good work mentality,” trying to earn their salvation.
One of the children, referring to their mother’s constant hospitality, asks:
“‘Mother, have you ever figured out how many hundred sheets you’ve washed?”
Mother said: ‘No, but I just hope it will make a stack high enough for me to climb from into Heaven.” Laddie, Gene Stratton-Porter
This quote illustrates that the outward show of good deeds that Laddie’s family tries to achieve, misses the true heart of God’s grace and gospel. We’re saved for good works, not by them (Titus 3:5).
That being said, I do highly recommend this true, blue early American story as a great family read aloud.

Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace
Sometimes children’s books are too simple, no matter their nostalgia, to hold my interest. I often shelf them for later, to read aloud to my future kids someday.
But this one — is truly a timeless delight. Betsy and Tacy, friends from age five, have endearing imaginations, reminiscent of me and my sisters.
Lovelace wrote off her own early 1900s childhood, weaving history and beauty and humor with each chapter.
In fact, I’m savoring my way through the entire series, and I’ll likely write more on these soon. In the meantime, find a copy of Betsy-Tacy to read to your little girl! Or for your own delightful amusement (if you love beautiful, true-to-life, historical, darling fictional adventures!)

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field
Hitty is a doll fashioned from mountain-ash wood for a little girl in early America, the state of Maine. Through many daring adventures, Hitty maintains her dignity and charm as she is passed frown owner to owner through uncanny events, seeing the country and century pass by. It’s such a charming and witty story, with a rich vocabulary. I think children and adults alike can enjoy the world travels of a doll who becomes an antique, with a memoir of gold to prove it.

The Loveliest Place by Dustin Benge
We all need a refresher on who the church is and why she exists.
We often forget that the church is the Bride of Christ, and she is beautiful and precious. I love how this author dives to the heart of Scripture to draw out the aspects of the Body of Christ. This book helped renew my appreciation for the church and look forward to the day when we’ll forever be with the King. He always keeps His promises to us, and every word He uses to describe His bride will reign true.


April in Words

sky blue candlesticks

a midwest watercolor

rain, grayness, more rain, some snow

yellow teacups and The Gardner

couch-less life while waiting to find the perfect one

“God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

and the rest of I Corinthians 1

coconut banana cake with fudge frosting

hopeful planting

grace upon grace

a flower delivery to a mansion

the peace of contentment

baking German chocolate cake for a golden birthday

windowsills full of blossoms

placing the thousandth piece in a puzzle

using the word “toddler” more and more

moving party

reaffirming a favorite read — Laddie, a True Blue Story

catching a rainbow and fellowship on resurrection morning

pondering how we’re raised to walk in newness of life, a life after our burial with Him

*illustration by David Small

Waiting for Tulips (the March gifts)

driving home for the first time

daffodils saying hello

Indian butter chicken

friends who love us enough to clean the showers and every other inch of our moving mess

. . . and haul all our earthly belongings

quilt spread in the backyard grass

first sunburn at a luncheon

waiting for tulips…wondering their color

my sister’s carrot cake with citrus notes

“is anything too small for a child to talk to his father about?” —Anneliese

small prayers answered, as well as big ones

first package on the doorstep, containing a treasure (The Sugar Mouse Cake by Gene Zion)

dressing our new sturdy bookshelf with picture books

cold-brew and premarital counseling

the first grilled chicken of the year

finding an empty cupboard in the kitchen, days into unpacking

meeting the neighbors while bearing spring monster cookies

singing “Safe Am I” to my little one

brave sunshine and a little stroller

shire songs

These Happy Golden Years

baby’s first steps

marco polo conversations with friends from childhood

thrifting finds

1,000 piece puzzle owning our kitchen table

“Home is everything you can walk to.” –Jerry Spinelli

exploring our new home by walking

more thoughts, On Walking from Bethany’s blog

petitioning the God of the impossible, our Defender

–Who never tires of our requests

“How great is Your goodness which You have stored up for those who fear You.” Psalm 31:19

How Beautiful is Church Camp

Our church camp almost didn’t happen this year … because it’s getting difficult to reserve entire campgrounds in our state.

Thankfully, camp still occurred in all its glory, even if we were prevented from certain traditions. First, there were no water sports due to some kind of weird algae bloom that could make you sick and allegedly made a dog die from drinking it. So we had to miss the usual staples of camp life like boating, swimming, tubing. Second, the state issued a fire ban so no open campfires allowed. Third, we set up camp in a new-to-us place. We had finally outgrown our beloved Huckleberry Campground where I personally have enjoyed each of my church camps for the last 10 years in a row.

However, the core of everything I love about this annual camping trip stayed true despite missing iconic water sports, campfire, and Huckleberry. It’s like that one time when someone stole the church trailer with the piano, cushions, chairs, pulpit, and sound equipment. We were still a church. Or when we had to watch the sermon virtually since our building was closed up because of covid. Still the Bride of Christ. So of course, a simple location change wouldn’t stop us from packing up our cars and coolers with bright attitudes to be together!

And it was a wonderful weekend.

I grow more impressed with the immeasurable means of grace in that God gifted us each other. Without a church family, a person could literally have no one to trust, no one to turn to. But I have layers and layers of saints who have proved they would drop everything if I needed anything. There are local churches all over the world who would pick up where one left off in ministering to a sheep like me. It’s overwhelming and humbling.

My top three highlights of camp this year were 1) sharing the tangible joys with my little family, 2) the baptisms, and 3) the spiritual gifts in action.

It was such an honor to introduce a small flannel-clad boy to a weekend of outdoor fellowship. Judah approved of it, and heartily participated in everything he could, which was mostly just making people’s days with his bear hugs.

Pine trees infused the air with the fresh woodsiness. Corn hole brought out our competition. The claps of dramatic thunder begged the question, “How did YOU sleep last night?” Without our Sunday best, but a sunburn instead, observing each other’s realness and coffee habits is easy. We talked about goldfish, about weddings, about the gospel and about this new corner of the lake. We were relaxed and had nowhere to be except dinner and worship.

Now, the baptisms. How good is God to give us a tangible picture of a new spiritual life? To see an outward representation of Christ’s rescue from sin?

It’s inevitable that I’ll cry. As someone in my family coined it, “Life and death will make me cry.” About ten testimonies ranged from someone saved by grace out of a generationally godly family to first generation Christians, to trusting at a young age to tasting what the world has to offer first — all a clear picture of sinful hearts washed with the blood of Christ. We all rejoiced deeply in each public announcement of faith in the Savior. What struck me listening to the testimonies was the inclusion of fervent prayers for these ones gone astray, and the evidence of plenty of seed planting by an older brother here, a sister there, a pastor, a friend, an acquaintance. God chooses to use us in Gospel work, as seen in the many familiar names brought up in the testimonies, but He brings the increase.

Finally, I enjoyed the extra goodness of the Lord to grant us spiritual gifts and hearts that long to serve one another. Not only did He save us from hell, make us His cherished bride, but He also equipped us uniquely so we could bless each other and thus bring glory to Him.

At camp I noticed we were served by someone sharing their special green avocado creamy sauce for taco night. A young man with a ton of energy willing to bring up the tube from the bottom of the slip n’ slide hill over and over. Hands that played guitar chords, emptied trash, held babies, acted as the hospitable camp hosts, provided a listening ear and mercy. On Sunday we were taught from the Word.

Those gifts in action are all for His glory wafting up like the campfire smoke we didn’t have because, remember–fire ban.

God didn’t have to give us each other to help in suffering or to laugh about slip n’ slide wipeouts. To serve each other hamburgers with caramelized onions, to share truth with, to worship Him on a wooded mountainside or in the suburbs back at home base. Isn’t His Body beautiful?

I can hear it. “But there isn’t a perfect church! She’s clearly wearing rose-colored glasses.”

It’s true. There is no perfect church. Of course, I have a little loyal partiality toward my family, but I still work to give grace for the failures I see and even for the ones I can’t see. Because there is masterpiece work going on. A bride is getting prepared for the marriage of the Lamb.

And gratefully, there aren’t any rose-colored glasses needed to appreciate God’s beautiful goodness in giving us the broken and beautiful Body of Christ. His plan is good. Even in hard, ugly times we can acknowledge His design is lovely, and He’s building His church, even though that won’t make the headlines. Whatever imperfections are now, we look toward the day of endless, perfect, better-than-church-camp worship. Even the righteous acts of the saints at camp are helping clothe us for that day.

“Let’s rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, because the marriage of the Lamb has come,

and His bride has prepared herself.

 It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean;

for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.’”

And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”

Revelation 19:7-9

Stories of March

Since I procrastinate like the best when it comes to documenting (both privately and publicly) my life milestones, it’s high time for a personal update. Maybe I delay because certain events feel too sacred to lock onto a page . . . like when you snap a picture but you know your smudgy smart phone can’t capture the justice the landscape deserves.

But, lately, I’ve noticed how much I relish reading a blog post, prayer letter or post with pieces of the author’s heart tangled up in it. When it’s their story, it draws me in as I relate, imagine, rejoice, and empathize.

We love stories.

So I don’t want to withhold my stories from this very special month of March.

March 1st marked three years from when my husband first messaged me and a long-distance romance was birthed. Neither of us knew where a simple message would lead, but with so much in common, our conversation exploded and one thing led to another. After four months of writing and skyping, we met in person, and the rest is history.

March 16th signified our engagement just two years ago. I’ll never forget the roller coaster day that ended with a ring and cheesecake. God is good.

One year ago March makes me think of empty offices, Frozen 2, Greek food, virtual meetings, remote church, and Psalm 34. It reminds me of long springtime strolls, rehearsing the sovereignty and goodness of God.

And now this March is the month where we’re experiencing many sweet firsts with our firstborn son. His name is Judah Charles, and he turned one month today. God answered so many prayers relating to our pregnancy and birth, and we’re smitten with the precious little man! The journey of being a stay-at-home mom has truly been a gift.

It’s stunning how much we love him. While falling in love with a spouse leading up to marriage is gradual (with some uncertainty), love for a child is unconditional and instant. It mirrors how our Heavenly Father loves us even when we are helpless and unreasonable.

Welcome to our family, Judah! We can’t wait to see the story He writes for you.

What are your stories of March?