Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Top 10 Books from 2016

For the past several years, I've shown you my top 10 books from the ones I've read in the past year.  So here are my favorites for 2016, counting down from least favorite among the ten to my top book for the year.

10.  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  This is a classic and I enjoy it.  But since I've read it several times before it doesn't get my highest rating.

9.  My Antonia by Willa Sibert Cather.  This is another classic, though, honestly, I'd never heard of it before.  I saw a list of classics you must read, saw it was free on Kindle, so I downloaded it and was not disappointed.  It's not high on action, but has interesting characters.  I also love historical fiction and love learning more about how our country developed.

8.  Abandoned to God: the Life Story of the Author of My Utmost for His Highest by David McCasland.  This is the story of Oswald Chambers and was a very interesting biography.  

7.  City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell.  This book is a novel about missions in China.  It is very well written, the characters are well-developed, the setting is fascinating, and because it's historical fiction, I learned a lot, too.

6.  Dear Enemy by Jack Cavanaugh.  Another historical fiction book, this one is set in Brussels during World War II.  It has a fascinating story line, but I'm still annoyed by the ending!

5.  Fierce Women: The Power of a Soft Warrior by Kimberly Wagner was definitely the most helpful marriage book I read and possibly the most helpful spiritually as well.  If you are a strong woman and if you wonder how that plays out in a good marriage relationship, you'll appreciate this book.

4. & 3. 12 Years a Slave and Other Slave Narratives by Solomon Northup and others.  Every single American needs to read this book.  This is not a novel.  It is not historical fiction.  It is the truth as told by former slaves.  It's often brutal and seldom beautiful, but their stories need to be remembered.  And the remembrance should influence the way we live in today's world.  Book #3 is part of this compilation and was called Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.  If you only get two books out of this compilation, get 12 Years a Slave and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

2.  The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman.  If you ever had any doubts that the Holocaust happened, read this book.  This is the story of a Jewish Polish man who lived to tell the story.  This is another book that is hard to read, but the story must be told and we must never forget.

1.  Crucial Conversations:  Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler.  I am not an automatic expert now at having crucial, difficult conversations, but this book has definitely given me some tools.  Even if you only grab on to and put into practice one or two things in this book, you'll have made progress in successfully having crucial conversations.

And here is my entire list from 2016, listed in the order read:
1. City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell
2.  The Fruits of the Spirit:  Living a Life Connected! by Gary Anderson
3.  Between Worlds:  Essays on Culture and Belonging by Marilyn Gardner
4.  Afton of Margate Castle by Angela Hunt
5.  Dear Enemy by Jack Cavanaugh
6.  12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
7.  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself by Frederick Douglass
8.  The Life of Josiah Hensen, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself by Josiah Henson
9.  The Love Dare by Stephen and Alex Kendrick
10.  Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Linda Brent (Harriet Jacobs)
11.  Fierce Women:  The Power of a Soft Warrior by Kimberly Wagner
12.  Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington
13.  The Unseen Face of Islam by Bill Musk
14.  Honorably Wounded by Marjorie Foyle
15.  The Warrior by Joyce Swann
16.  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
17.  Porridge and Passion by Jonathan Aitken
18.  Quentins by Maeve Binchey
19.  The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison
20.  Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor by Stephanie Barron
21.  Jane and the Wandering Eye by Stephanie Barron
22.  When Godly People Do Ungodly Things by Beth Moore
23.  Abandoned to God:  The Life Story of the Author of My Utmost for His Highest by Davi McCasland
24.  Rescue the Captors by Russell Stendal
25.  Bridge to Haven by Francine Rivers
26.  History of the Wife by Marilyn Yalom
27.  The Man of the Desert by Grace Livingston Hill
28.  My Antonia by Willa Sibert Cather
29.  The Fringe Hours:  Making Time for You by Jessica N. Turner
30.  Crucial Conversations:  Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
31.  Promises to Keep by Ann Tatlock (this almost made it to my top 10)
32.  The Pianist by Wladylov Szpilman
33.  How to Really Love Your Adult Child by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell
34.  The Duchess by Amanda Foreman

Saturday, January 07, 2017

2016 in Review

Let's take a look at the year 2016.

January's big events were the dedication of the Tamajaq New Testament, our annual Spiritual Life Conference, helping friends find a house, a trip to visit missionaries in the bush, attended a big wedding, and celebrated John's birthday. It was a pretty busy month.  My January picture is from our trip to the bush and shows baobab trees.  


February was a little less crazy.  John started taking moolo lessons.  February is the time of year when the fresh fruits and veggies are in season so I did a lot of work to freeze veggies for the hot months ahead.  This picture isn't terribly exciting, but a year after the church burnings this church we helped plant back in 1989 finally had a new ceiling and a fresh coat of paint.

In March we attended another big wedding, froze more veggies, celebrated Easter, and visited a church in another town.  John and I have visited a lot of churches in the past three years as he has done research for his doctorate.  We've enjoyed getting to know more pastors and seeing what God is doing in this area of the country.

In April, we had our Area Council meetings, went to a concert that involved John's moolo teacher, I went to a wedding shower for an adult MK who was here doing an internship, and got ready for the TIMO team's arrival.

In May I helped welcome the TIMO team, celebrated my birthday, and redecorated our second bathroom.  But, what can I say, traveling to Oxford to be with John for the last two weeks of his six-week annual trek to England, was definitely a highlight.  How do I even choose a favorite picture from that time??!

In June we spent 24 hours in Turkey, 

found out Suz and Theo's expected baby was a boy, made a trip to the village where we used to live, had a picnic at the sand-dunes, and I became interim Director for the summer.  As part of my duties, I attended the graduation of a girls' sewing school and the graduation of the Bible school.

In July, John and I got to visit the TIMO team on location (which included flying in one of our mission planes), attended the installation of the pastor at a church we helped start, 

and as interim Director attended the closing ceremony of a church camp.

In August we enjoyed the rainy season, I rejoiced when the Director came back, and we celebrated our 30th anniversary.  We had a little party at church for our anniversary.

Also in August I got a house ready for a family arriving, and we celebrated one of our friends who has worked at the SIM office for 20 years.

September was either an unusually quiet, calm month or I was too busy to take pictures, I'm not sure which.  Our office went to greet one of our employees who had just gotten married and I attended an event at Sahel Academy.  That's apparently all of interest that happened that month. :)  

In October we had our Area Council meetings again and then we left on vacation.  Our main reason for going on vacation in October was the birth of our grandson and to see our grand-daughter ... oh, and to see our kids and parents, too, of course. :) 


We were privileged to be in the USA during the entire month of November.  We had some extra time in addition to our vacation for medical work which was really a blessing.  We got to spend good amounts of time with Suz and Theo, with Daniel and Kelly, with my parents in Florida, and with John's mom in Connecticut.  We also got to see my sister, all of John's brothers, nieces, nephews, and even some cousins.  This picture represents all the family time we got in November. 


And then December found us back in Niger.  Of course, there was Christmas, but there was also a difficult situation at church, and setting up housing for a short-termer coming for a few weeks to teach and for a family coming long-term, as well as making sure everybody had a place to sleep during our spiritual life conference.  Here we are wearing our Christmas gifts ... which was fun since the Browns won their first game of the season on Christmas Eve (our nephew, Seth DeValve, plays for the Cleveland Browns in case you missed that! :) ).


Sunday, January 01, 2017

December Reading List

My goal for the year was to read 50 books.  That's how many I read last year, so I figured that was a good number to aim for.  However, I fell a bit short and ended up with 34 books read.  That's 2.8 books per month, so I guess that's not too bad.

This month I finished three books.

The first was The Pianist by Wladylov Szpilman.  This is the true life story of Wladyslaw Szpilman who was a professional pianist. He was also Jewish, living in Nazi-invaded Poland during World War II. This is an incredible story of survival and of horror. It is the story of the death of many around him, but also the story of the indomitable human spirit and will to survive. I saw the movie of the same title before reading the book and thought surely Hollywood made up the ending. But, no, it is what really happened (and I won't spoil it for you!). This book shows the horrible, terrible atrocities carried out by the Nazis. It also shows the way non-Jewish people helped Jews during this time. It's also incredible to think that the book was written soon after the war ended, so all the details are fresh and adequate, not unreliable remembrances from 40 years back. And if you really don't like to read and would rather just skip to the movie by the same name, I can tell you that it is very true to the book.  I don't recommend the book or the movie for younger people and in the movie there are scenes where you will need to look away.  That sad, I do highly recommend both the book and the movie.

The second book I finished was called How to Really Love Your Adult Child by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell.  This book is helpful to parents who have young adult children. I think it would be most helpful to those going through the transition of children leaving. Chapman and Campbell include a helpful chapter on why leaving home looks so different for Gen X'ers than it did for Boomers.  The authors have some very practical tips to help parents whose kids have left and come back again (boomerang kids), those whose kids just won't leave, and those whose kids find themselves in dire straits (such as a divorce or death of a spouse) and need to come home for a limited amount of time. They also have a section on encouraging your children who have moved out and are doing well and how parenting looks different now than it did when they were home. It also has a great section on grand-parenting and on leaving a legacy for your kids and grand-kids. Overall I think it's a helpful book.

And the third book was another biography called The Duchess (originally published as Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire) by Amanda Foreman.  I was especially interested in the story because we visited the Chatsworth House, the Cavendish summer estate, in May. That was the first time I heard about Georgiana, so when my sister told me she had just read this book and passed it on to me, I was eager to find out more about her. I found the book interesting, but not riveting.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was probably the best-known woman in England in her day. She lived a life of privilege and influence, yet of sadness, dissipation, and was part of a dysfunctional family. She seemed to live a life of contradictions. Georgiana was beautiful and influenced fashion. What she wore one day was en mode the next. Yet her husband paid little attention to her and seemed unimpressed with her beauty.  Later they did seem to achieve a sort of comfortable friendship.  She influenced Whig politics, knew the Prince of Wales and the Prime Ministers of England personally, campaigned publicly, and was a true politician, yet lived in a day when she could not vote. She was wealthy, yet gambled it away. She had friends, yet "borrowed" from them to pay back gambling debts; but instead of paying back debts, she simply gambled more. Georgiana was insecure in her friendships resulting in her deepest friendship being with Lady Bess who moved in with the Cavendishes and had an affair and two children with Georgiana's husband. It is not clear, but the two women may have also had a lesbian relationship. Georgiana claimed to be religious, yet she had several affairs herself and an illegitimate daughter as a result. She was a writer, but never published under her own name. She was a supporter of the arts and influential in all of society.

The book is impressively researched and includes 42 pages of bibliography. However, I found the book to be a bit slow. It spends a lot of time explaining and expounding on the politics of the day. If you just want to know about an important historical figure and if you love history, especially that of the time period of the late 1700's/early 1800's, you would probably enjoy this book. If you just want the story of a historical figure without lots of details, this 
book would bore you silly.

Also, being American and not British, all the different names and titles can become very confusing. Georgiana herself, for example, has her maiden name, Spencer, and her married name, Cavendish. But her title is the Duchess of Devonshire, even though the family estate is nowhere near the area of Devonshire. (The explanation of that is an entirely different story.)

I only saw the first part of the movie by the same title and as much as I saw, they definitely were focusing on the sexual aspects of Georgiana's story (and the way they portrayed it was what they surmise might of happened, so it seemed really fictionalized). But I didn't see the entire movie, so maybe it got better as it went on.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas ... and Some Thoughts

I don't know about anybody else, but Christmas always kind of sneaks up on me and finds me unprepared.  Maybe because here on the edge of the desert where "Christian" things are celebrated only by the minority, it's just easy to forget.  

Some of the big stores have Christmas decorations and extra toys and candy for sale, but that's about all we see of Christmas.  There are no constant advertisements, no decorations all over town, no Santa Clauses ringing bells, no Christmas carols on the radio and oddly enough not even at church, etc.  At the same time, life is busy for us right now and so it just always sneaks up.  I find myself with little energy for doing Christmasy things.  

So I spent most of Christmas Eve doing very un-Christmasy things.  I worked on getting linens and kitchen supplies for a short-termer who is arriving this week. 

also printed his syllabus for him (well, took it to the printer).  I did make bread, and sweet rolls for Christmas breakfast, and I cooked the chicken for our Christmas dinner.  And I wrapped gifts.  We had a super simple supper, nothing special.  And then we went to church.

Usually we have a really big celebration at our church.  Culturally that was hard for me to get used to, but now I really enjoy it.  We start by a Christmas Eve service that usually starts around 8 or 9 and goes until midnight.  Then on Christmas Day we have a three hour service followed by a shared meal.  But our church is going through a hard time right now, so things have been pretty subdued.  The Christmas Eve service started earlier than we thought, so we missed most of it ... we got there at 9:00 and it was over by 10:30. And it was pretty basic without all the extras we usually have. 

Church on Christmas Day was also a much shorter more subdued service than normal and we didn't have any meal afterwards.  The youth (which is mostly university age) did have a meal together because most of them are away from their families during Christmas.  John preached the Christmas message and did a great job.  

He preached on the title that Jesus used for himself:  the Son of Man.  So it was a Christmas that was, understandably, lacking in some of its joy.  But there are times to rejoice and times to mourn and maybe times to find the balance between the two.  I think that's what our Christmas this year was: a balance of mourning and rejoicing.

We have a group of university students who come to our house weekly for a Bible study, so we invited them over for Christmas dinner in the evening.  I made a big pot of curry and we had 12 different toppings to put on it. 

 I also wrapped gifts for each of our guests.  Everybody got a candy bar and a pack of gum and the boys got flashlights and the girls got nail polish. 


We watched a movie and sang together. 

 So that was probably the best part of Christmas for us.

On Monday John and I opened our gifts.  I stayed in my flannel pajama pants all day and truly had a day off.

So, I've been thinking about Christmas and what it means.  I really like happy Christmases with lots of family, good food, traditions, and warm fuzzy feelings.  But some Christmases just aren't like that.  Some Christmases, like I said, are a balance between mourning and rejoicing.  And for some people, Christmas is a really sad time as they work through grief, abuse, or loneliness.  

Suzanne wrote on an Instagram post, "This is by far the hardest Christmas I've ever had.  Yet in that, I have found that I was able to focus so much more on the true meaning of Christmas:  a baby born to redeem the world and save us from the sin and brokenness of the world.  Everything about my Christmas was humbling, how much more humbling was a baby born in a barn -- to save the world?!  *a thrill of hope the weary world rejoices*"  Have you noticed how when God brings something to your attention, you start seeing that idea all around you?  Well, soon after I read Suzanne's post, I read on DesiringGod's Instagram:  "If you are suffering this Christmas, you have far more in common with Jesus than the comfortable and contented.  All was not calm, and all was not bright when Jesus was born.  God chose the most painfully humiliating circumstances for the opening scene of his Son's sufferings.  From the beginning of his life, Christ became the living evidence that the hope of God is for the suffering."

So maybe it's ok to have a more subdued Christmas, to contemplate that Jesus' birth brings hope, forgiveness of sins, restoration, and new life, and that that hope was birthed in suffering and in difficulty.  Just think of Mary, suffering excruciating pain, probably alone and definitely far from home.  Think of Joseph pacing the stable while his wife labored to bring her child into the world.  Then Jesus was laid in a manger as the animals looked on, a pretty humbling surrounding.  Soon after the Kings came to offer him gifts (probably a year or two later), all baby boys under two years ended up being killed.  Jesus lived simply, with no place to lay his head and the religious leaders were out to get him.  He was born into a period of history when there was great oppression and civil unrest.  He suffered a cruel, violent death.  But through that suffering was birthed the way to peace and to hope.

Emmanuel, God with us, here with us in our suffering, in our sadness, in our pain.  Wonderful Counselor, speaking to our hearts with understanding, convicting us of sin.  Mighty God, able to forgive our sins and heal our hurts.  Everlasting Father, preparing us for a beautiful, perfect, peace-filled Eternity.  Prince of Peace, bringing peace to the turmoil of our hearts and in the world.

Sadness, yes, but a thrill of hope!  The weary world rejoices.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Happenings in November

Well, here we are, more than half way through December, and I'm just now getting around to telling you about November.  It was a fun, busy, and eventful month.  We were still on vacation and we got in a lot of good family time during the month.

We were still in Ohio with Suz and Theo at the beginning of the month.  Suz and Theo were working hard to get Hezekiah to gain weight.  He kept losing weight for the first few weeks of his life, but he's doing great now.  We tried to spend as much time as possible with Tera so Suzanne could concentrate on adjusting to the new baby ... but mostly just because we wanted to and we enjoy her so much.  

We also tried to get in as many baby snuggles as we could.

Whenever we are in the area, my dad's cousin, Jeanne, invites us for a meal. She is actually closer to me in age than to my dad, so I've always just considered her a cousin and don't try to figure out if she's a second cousin or a first cousin once removed.  Whatever the relationship, we had an enjoyable evening there one night.  She had also invited my sister and her husband, my niece, and another set of cousins.  

We had an unusually warm November, so one day we had a picnic on the front porch.  That was a lot easier than going off to a park, though that would have been fun, too.


It was great seeing Suzanne and Theo working together with their kids.  They are doing a fabulous job at parenting.  

One of the warm days we went to the Learning Tree Farm.  This is an interactive farm where kids can actually touch the animals.  They have pigs, sheep, donkeys, cows, ducks, goats, chickens, and, of course, barnyard cats.  Our Tera Girl loves animals so she never gets tired of going to the farm.

Our next stop was Sebring, FL where my parents live.  

We just happened to be there during the election. 


My dad is a political guru, so he was a good person to watch it with.  We had some good discussions while we were there.  As this is not a political blog, all I'm going to say is, I wouldn't have been happy with the outcome no matter who won.

We had some good times with Dad and Mom including going out to eat, attending my dad's Sunday School class, and just being with them.  The time there was just way too short.  We have a lot of friends in Sebring since it's our mission's retirement center, so my dad suggested having an open house one afternoon.  It was good to be able to catch up with a lot of people that way.

After Florida, we spent a week in Michigan with Daniel and Kelly.  Unfortunately Kelly and I shared a cold, so we were both feeling a bit miserable.  During our week with them, Suz and Theo, Tera, and Kiah came up for an overnight.  John's brother, Dave and sister-in-law, Debbie, and their four kids came down from Wisconsin the same weekend, so we got to spend some time with them.

Daniel took some time off work to show us around.  We got to see where Daniel works.  

We couldn't visit Kelly's school, but I think that John and Daniel went to see it (outside) while I stayed home on the couch with my kleenex.  We went for a hike along the Huron River, saw downtown Ann Arbor, went to some great used book stores, and ate out. 

Then it was back to Ohio for another week.  One night when we were out we saw a Christmas tree lying by the side of the road, so Theo picked it up and took it home.  We helped them decorate it.  

My nephew, Jeremiah, and his wife Heather were in town from Colorado, so my sister had us over to her house one night for supper.  We actually got together with them a number of times which was great.

We had time for more baby snuggles.

And some Christmas baking.

That week included Thanksgiving.  Our nephew, Seth DeValve, plays for the Cleveland Browns, so his family had rented a house in Cleveland.  His parents and brothers and their families came from CT, MO, TX, and NC.  John's brother in WI came down and another brother lives in Cleveland.  So everybody but John's mom was able to be there!  When we came on vacation we didn't expect that we'd get in on such a big family gathering!  

Suzanne and her cousin, Jacob, are only three weeks apart and their sons are two months apart.  Why yes, that would be spit up because that's what babies do. :)

The day after Thanksgiving, Daniel and Kelly came back down to Ohio and we had a family Christmas.  We had hors d'oeuvres for supper and exchanged gifts.  Tera helped everybody open theirs.  And Hezekiah got his first ever Christmas gifts.

The very next day we said our sad goodbyes and headed for Pennsylvania where we spent the night with our good friends, Ed and Sharon.  

The next day we got to go to our supporting church, which is the church we attend most when we are on home assignment.  Later that day we drove to Connecticut where we spent our last week with John's mom.

And now it's back to the craziness that's our lives here.  We are super busy, me with work and John on his doctorate.  The end is in sight and deadlines are looming.  In the meantime, he is really involved in a stressful situation at our church.