A Promise in Pieces

I grew up on the stories of the Depression as told in Reminisce Magazine (back when there was a Reminisce Extra). I lived vicariously through the World War II era tales in the books like We Pulled Together and Won! collected and published by Reiman Publications. I might not be able to quote you exact dates or battle locations, but I learned more about World War II from those stories than I ever learned in my school history books.

But I didn’t develop this fascination with the World War II era on my own. It was my brother and guy cousins who fueled the fire. I loved reading the stories, but they loved acting them out. I played everything from Army Nurse to W.A.S.P., working alongside them to heal their imaginary battle wounds or fly to victory with them.

It was fun then. And of course, the good guys always won. My boys always came home.

But now, I read those same stories and I’m empathizing with the mothers and the sweethearts. Now, I watch the good old classic “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” or a modern-day like “Red Tails” and the sacrifices those soldiers and their families made seem so much more poignant. The tears blur my eyes and those men on the screen become the men in uniform in my own family, putting their lives at risk in service of town and country.

#PromiseInPieces - a review of Emily T. Wierenga's first piece of fictionMaybe it is the soft spot in my heart for the World War II era. Maybe it is my love of a good story. But I cried all the way through Emily T. Wierenga‘s new book A Promise in Pieces. I knew Emily could weave words into poetic prose, but she can sure tell a good story as well.

I love the first person voice of A Promise in Pieces. I could do more than just empathize with Clara, the main character–I was living her story through her words. I felt her chagrin over being restricted to ridiculous rules as the daughter of a conservative, nonresistant pastor. I smelled the aromas that filled her with disgust in the nurse’s boot camp. I cried with her at the bedside of a dying soldier. I agonized with her at the birth of the first child she delivered on her own as a midwife.

The only thing I didn’t like about A Promise in Pieces was that it was so short. It left me hungry for more. I couldn’t help but wishing Emily had developed the characters more–I felt like I was just barely meeting them when they were already leaving the story or aging many years and changing in character. Because not only can Emily tell a good story, but she can make her characters come to life on the pages. I just wished I’d had a chance to spend more time with them.

A Promise in Pieces left me in so many puddles of tears. Spanning decades and generations, the story will tug at the heartstrings of anyone who loves their family and a good story. Having played Army nurse as a child isn’t required for reading the book, but if you did, you’ll probably find even more tears watering the pages of your book or splashing off your Kindle screen.

Disclosure: I recieved a free ecopy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Surprised By Motherhood {my story}

#SurprisedByMotherhood {My Story}

I didn’t expect to be surprised by motherhood. My little sister was born when I was almost 12. My baby brother followed 3 years later. I was an old pro at changing diapers and cooking dinner with a baby on my hip by the time the baby I was juggling was my own.

I knew it would be different actually being the mom instead of the big sister. But I thought I knew what to expect. I thought I understood how much having a child was going to change my life, our life. And in a few ways, I probably was better prepared than some girls who haven’t helped raise siblings and babysit cousins. But in other ways, the very fact that I thought I knew what I was getting into was probably the reason I found some things so very surprising.

I was surprised to have one child that followed everything the books said–followed by two who didn’t. If our firstborn had been an only child, I’d have smugly thought (for a year or two, at least) that I had motherhood figured out. Sleeping through the night from early on, I could set the clock by her wake/eat/play/sleep schedule. She quieted the moment she was swaddled and was potty trained at 10 months. And then we had our second. Who has never slept well a night in her life. And is so stubborn that everything is a battle. Followed by the third who had medical and dietary issues who made everything about his babyhood a challenge. I wish I hadn’t been so quick to judge other children by my first.

I was surprised that the discussion of parenting methods could become so dogmatic and emotionally draining. I suppose that ever since the Old Testament our offspring has brought out the “mamma bear” in us all. But I never imagined that in my eager and excited sharing of “this is what worked for us” I would enter into the fray of parenting style debates. Nor could I comprehend the way the pit of my stomach would feel when I read equally sure opinions from both sides by the time I was babywearing and nursing around the clock with my third child. I wish we could discuss the ways we comfort and care for our babies without becoming prescriptive. I wish we could grant as much grace to other mothers as we ourselves need.

I was surprised by the fear that so quickly gripped my heart at the simple thought of my heart walking around outside my body, without me being able to hover every second of every day and night. I knew how prone I was to fear for my husband–and he was a grown man able to take care of himself. But almost losing him two months after we got married had taught me how precious life was. And when it came to babies, the stories of friends’ miscarriages, infertility, and struggling little ones brought the truth home even more. To deliver life is to give birth to pain and the potential for loss. I wish that when we share our stories of motherhood we would help birth trust and peace in each other.

I was surprised by the fact that it wasn’t easier to be patient and loving when the children I was caring for were finally my own. I’ve never been a patient person, but I thought the natural mother’s love I would feel for my own children would make up for my lack of forbearance. God does give an extra measure of grace to mothers; I know He does. It’s the only way we can survive on so little sleep. But I’ve learned that there’s no shortcut to being a patient mom. It’s moment by moment leaning into grace. I wish I’d understood that I would need grace for my children and even more patience with myself in my journey of motherhood.

Lisa-Jo Baker’s book Surprised By Motherhood releases today. Throughout its pages I laughed for the memories and I cried for the lost moments and I healed from the hurts. I wish every mother and daughter could read this book and together embrace the surprises of motherhood.

Head on over to Kindred Grace to read my review and enter for a chance to win your own copy!

Worth the Fight

Kayse Pratt has a talent for distilling a lot of information into a short and easy to read eBook. Her eBook Undivided Mom was a refreshing breath of fresh air, and now she’s done it again with Worth the Fight. In Kayse’s inimitable easy going style, she shares honestly about her own “high maintenance” marriage as she encourages others in theirs.

Worth the Fight: Lessons Learned in a High Maintenance Marriage (a review of @KaysePratt's eBook by @GretLouise)In Worth the Fight: Lessons Learned in a High Maintenance MarriageKayse discusses five essential elements to every marriage: Commitment, Communication, Service, Laughter, and Sex. The explanation of “reflective listening” alone is more than worth the price of the book. But Kayse and her husband are parents of two little children. They understand the challenges that married couples face when it comes to communication and time together:

We realized “good communication” was not exactly the same thing as “talking a lot.”

Kayse’s eBook isn’t prescriptive, it simply affirms the truth and encourages you to live like you believe it. Without being confrontational, Kayse gets right to the root of some of the issues marriages face. I so appreciate her perspective on the way we speak of our husbands!

When we speak about our husbands in a negative way to others, we perpetuate a feeling of discontent in ourselves. We let ugliness tumble out of our mouths and make it’s home in our hearts.

Worth the Fight is worth the price for a quick shot in the arm for your marriage. Whether you read it alone in one sitting during naptime (that was me!) or out loud with your husband whenever you both get a chance to sit down together (and how often is that?), you’ll be blessed by Worth the Fight.

Get the eBook now!

Use the code worththefight20 to get 20% off today (February 3) only!

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this eBook in exchange for an honest review.

Living Life on Purpose (a review of Notes from a Blue Bike)

Each January I read the posts about choosing one word for the year. And each year I think, how could I begin to sum up my hopes for the year in one word? How could I guess what my year will hold? But this year, I kept wondering–what if I were to choose a word this year? What if it was more about the word God wanted to show me than about me choosing a word for myself? What might God have to teach me in this coming year?

I’m part of a Bible study group going through Beth Moore’s study of the book of Esther, It’s Tough Being a WomanIt’s been fascinating to delve into the historical account and see how very human the characters appear when you study them closely. But their very humanity makes the evidence of God throughout the story even more apparent, even though His name is never mentioned in its pages. Hadassah, Esther–she was born for such a time as this. She had a destiny to fulfill, a purpose she didn’t always feel adequate to.

Between the pages of Esther and the pages of the thesaurus, I knew my #OneWord365purpose. I want to live life on purpose, with purpose. I need to be purposeful about the choices I make. And most of all, I want His purposes to be my purpose.

It sounded so good in theory. I could put it into words that made me excited with their very purpose. But what was that to look like in real life?

It's hard to slow down when the race has no finish line. (Tsh in #NotesFromABlueBike)

And then I picked up Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic WorldAnd I had the answer. Not necessarily “my” answer for exactly how it was going to look like for me, for my family. But I had an example of what it could look like, how it worked for one family.

Tsh doesn’t pretend it’s been easy. She’s as honest as she is humorous in her look at their journey from Turkey to Texas to Oregon and the choices they’ve had to make along the way.

The section on food might have been my favorite. I love a book that talks about the slow food movement in the same sentences as chocolate and coffee. I appreciated the realistic approach to menu planning that took budgets and time into account, while casting a vision of cooking as art and meals an experience to be enjoyed.

“Chocolate is truly one of life’s simpler pleasures.”
-Tsh on Food

When Tsh talks about work, it’s real and applicable to me. Not every author knows the ins and outs of a blogger’s schedule, or what it’s like to have your husband at home on and off throughout the day. I loved getting a peek into how Tsh makes her blog The Art of Simple (formerly Simple Mom) work without sacrificing her own personal writing time or her family.

“Sometimes not being caught up is okay, especially if it means raising my head in order to breathe in the world uncapturable on a pocket computer.”
-Tsh on Work

I’ve never read a more grace-filled discussion of education than that in the pages of Notes from a Blue Bike. Tsh’s children are still only in the early grades, but she’s learning the lessons I had to learn once as a homeschool student and am learning again as a homeschool mom: education choices are as personal as they are powerful. And “never say never”.

“I’m convinced that parents are the most essential key to unlocking the next generation’s curiosity, creativity, and innovation.”
-Tsh on Education

It’s fascinating for me to listen in on the tales of someone who loves to travel. I’m a homebody. Our three-weeks-and-three-thousand-mile-trip last year was enough to make me feel well traveled for a decade at least. But hearing Tsh talk about the way their family views travel gave me new perspective, and made me a little more inclined to just pack light and enjoy the ride–and maybe even make last-minute plans to do something.

“Keep your vision intact and experience the slow, deep pleasure from seeing the new as a family.”
-Tsh on Travel

walking, baking bread, and doing laundry... #NotesFromABlueBike

In a world full of screens and devices, Tsh brings a third-world view to the discussion of entertainment. I loved the honesty and humility with which she discussed the ebb and flow of her family’s entertainment choices. Not to mention the fact that Tsh cherishes the rhythm of hanging out laundry as much as I do:

“I have memories of God speaking clearer to me during those fifteen minutes of laundry hanging than during any other part of my day.”
-Tsh on Entertainment

The lesson that comes through loud and clear between the lines of Notes from a Blue Bike is that living intentionally is not easy–in fact, it’s hard. But sometimes, doing hard things bring the greatest rewards. Especially when we do them with a purpose in mind.

Just ask Tsh. And Esther.

Living well doesn't mean not doing hard things. @Tsh

Did you choose a word for the year? What is one choice you’ve made this year to be more intentional about your life?

P.S. Notes from a Blue Bike comes out next week. Pre-order your copy now to get in on lots of awesome pre-order gifts and giveaways! And don’t miss the blog tour of Notes from a Blue Bike at Kindred Grace next week (we’ll have a giveaway, too!).

Pre-order Notes from a Blue Bike
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

a book lover’s gift guide

There’s no better gift for a book lover than another book to read. But sometimes it’s hard to find something new and different to give to the avid reader. Whether you’re getting a head start on next year’s Christmas shopping, or have a birthday party to attend, hopefully this list will help you find the perfect gift. Here are some of my favorite titles, old and new, that might not yet be on the bookshelf or Kindle of the book lovers on your list. (And, if you like, comment and share your favorite titles!)

There is no better gift for a book lover than another book to read. Here is a list of old classics and new titles that will make the perfect gift for any occasion! http://gretchenlouise.com/book-lovers-gift-guide/

(This page contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure.)

For Children

James Herriot's Treasury for ChildrenJames Herriot’s Treasury for Children
We love these heart-warming tales of a country veterinarian. Especially because my grandfather was a veterinarian!

The Mommy Cup by Heather Ruskievicz
I love this simple tale with its sweet illustrations. It helps little ones understand that when mommy needs a break, it’s not because she doesn’t love them, but because she does. Help them understand what fills up mommy’s cup so that she has more love to give. (Read my review of The Mommy Cup.)

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones
Our kids have enjoyed this simple storybook Bible that traces Jesus’ name through all of Scripture.

Leading Little Ones to God by Marian M. Schoolland
My husband has really enjoyed reading out of this to our kiddoes.

Long Story Short by Marty Machowski
Don’t tell my kids, but they are getting this for Christmas! Their daddy needs another devotional to read to them at night.

For Tweens & Teens

Zucchini SummerZucchini Summer by Anne Siegrist
I can’t wait to read this one. It looks like a fun book for any age, really.

The Sugar Creek Gang Series by Paul Hutchens
My brother and I grew up on this series. They are a favorite re-read. Fun classics chock-full of Christian character lessons. (Read my review of The Sugar Creek Gang books.)

The Jodi Fisher Mysteries by Virginia Ann Work
If you loved Nancy Drew as a young person, then the young people in your life will love the Christian mysteries about teen Jodi Fisher.

Speak Love by Annie Downs
Annie is amazing. I love her heart. And I love her heart for teens. (Get them Perfectly Unique, too, while you’re at it.)

The Abolitionist by Elisabeth Allen
Historical fiction that will inspire all ages. I loved this glimpse into the life of William Wilberforce.

Toxic by Vicki V. Lucas
I haven’t read this fantasy fiction yet, but I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about it. Definitely worth checking out for the fantasy fans on your list.

For the Whole Family

Tales of LarkinTales of Larkin by Alan Harris
Everyone will love these tales of the one-inch tall people called “Larkin”. They might be small, but they serve a big God. Their stories are enjoyed by my parents and siblings alike. (Click here for full review of Tales of Larkin: Hawthorn’s Discovery.)

The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit
This is one of our children’s favorites that is much-loved by their parents as well. The author has a delightful writing style.

The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton-Porter
If you haven’t read Gene Stratton-Porter, you are missing out. She’s better known for her classics A Girl of the Limberlost and Freckles, but The Harvester, Laddie, and The Keeper of the Bees remain some of our favorites (if we had to choose favorites–we own almost all of them!).

Little Britches by Ralph Moody
True stories of a boy growing up in America in the 1950′s. Classic tales of hard work, determination, and family values. Absolute favorites in our family. (Read my full review of the Little Britches series.)

Eric Sloane’s Weather Book
Eric Sloane’s books are always a safe gift for the men. Filled with fascinating drawings of how things work, and how to build everything from tools to barns, all ages will find something new to learn in these books.

Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling Clancy Holling
These are some of my husband’s favorites to read aloud to our children. Educational and fun with lots of amazing illustrations done by the author.

For Moms

Embracing BeautyEmbracing Beauty by Trina Holden
I wish every woman could read this book filled with practical encouragement that helps you face the closet and the mirror with confidence. (Read my full review of Embracing Beauty.)

Mom in the Mirror by Emily Wierenga
This book tears apart the lies we believe about beauty, and helps put us back together again. Powerful book for every woman, but especially moms. (Read my full review of Mom in the Mirror.)

Stepping Heavenward by Elisabeth Prentiss
This classic book is one I need to re-read every year. The journal-like account of one young woman’s life, beginning at age 16, its stories will touch your heart and soul in ways that nothing else will. A must-read. [Read more...]