Taking Notice

It’s a Grab Bag Monday. Today’s post hails from seven years ago, but the scene it paints still lives vividly in my mind’s eye.

Yesterday David and I took a day trip to Cloudcroft, NM, to see David’s parents. They were there for a few days of relaxation. They chose a great place to do just that; many of us know that Cloudcroft is a beautiful mountain village surrounded by towering pines–a perfect escape from the summer heat.

While there they took us to a nearby campground to see something in particular. The day before, a big thunderstorm unleashed on the area, bringing lots of rain and hail. …And lightning, evidently. We stopped our car nearby what they wanted us to see: In the middle of the campground stood the thick trunk of what used to be a huge pine tree. I say “used to be” because during the storm a lightning bolt whiplashed it, felling the tree and exposing the pale, fleshy lumber inside. A car was also its victim; in that same split second, the same bolt flung an arc to a nearby car and incapacitated it. The aftermath was a pretty impressive sight. Thankfully no one was hurt.

As we drove away it struck me (pun partially intended) how powerful God really is. He is God. His power and glory can be seen all around us, especially in nature. We left that campsite and went about our day. But other things kept catching my notice, from the fragrant wildflower bouquets decorating the edges of the highway, to a photo of a double rainbow my mother-in-law showed me on her camera, to the perfectly round, pea-sized hail cascading outside while visiting The Lodge hotel. Each reminded me of His awesomeness, creativity, and love (yes, somehow the hail even reminded me of His love!). I knew He was there.

Have you noticed that sometimes He wows us with a mighty display of His majesty? Often also it’s the smaller, everyday things we see that He uses to invite us to gaze at Him. I’d love to hear from you:

What about you? When was a time that God used something–maybe in nature, big or small–to remind you of who He is?

Review: George Washington’s Secret Six

Once a month I offer a review– usually fiction, sometimes non-fiction, sometimes movies/TV. Grab your favorite hot beverage (mine’s a mocha), and let’s talk!

Let’s talk spies…again. Specifically, George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution.  (Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager, Sentinel Trade, revised 2014)

Washington

Rating: 4-3/4 mochas out of 5

What it’s about: This non-fiction bestseller offers its account of the true-to-life Culper spy ring. General Washington needed crucial intelligence about the King’s army during the American Revolution. The authors walk–at times gallop–the reader through the enlistment of the ring, including spymaster Benjamin Tallmadge. Tallmadge and the spy ring handpick unlikely spies from the sleepy villages of Long Island to the heart of the British stronghold of Manhattan itself. Their collective covert work helps turn the tide of the revolution; the title doesn’t lie.

You might like this if you like: American Revolution history, spy thrillers, the AMC TV series Turn, or Siri Mitchell’s novel The Messenger.

What I liked: Off the bat, the reader understands that the authors researched the stories to the nth degree. That helps the reader settle back and enjoy the read. True, even history can be vulnerable to the storytelling itch of authors, but the reader finds admissions of historical uncertainties when the authors can’t claim something as gospel.

That said, the story of the Culper ring fascinates those even remotely familiar with the American Revolution. We learn of heroes like Abraham Woodhull and Robert Townsend (Culper Sr. and Culper Jr., respectively), who risked and suffered in the shadows to fulfill their missions. We see a faint verbal portrait of the anonymous Agent 355, a female spy who acted with courage in the face of the horrors of war. It’s an insider’s view of the revolution that gives more life and dimension than we all had time to learn in school.

I’m not crazy about: In our secret schools for writers (okay, they’re not so secret), there’s a certain way to write non-fiction/history in long form, like this book. You’ve gotta make it read like a novel. We’re taught to take the elements of fiction storytelling and apply it this scenario: characterization, setting, plot, theme, etc. Tell the truth, but make it an interesting read. Shhh, don’t tell or they’ll kick me out of the writers’ schools. The authors did this well, overall. However, a spot or two suffered from some forced tension that felt thin. …But not enough to prove traitorous.

The bottom line: “I’m telling you, you’ll love it.” I have a particular friend who shall, like Agent 355, remain nameless. Whenever I recommend a movie, she narrows her eyes and shoots me a sideways look and half-smile. I lost her confidence in my recommendations when I tried to sell her on Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre. But let the record show: she liked Nacho Libre, and now she even likes my “usual” at our local coffee house.

So, if she is coming around to the genius of my tastes, I can say with conviction (I cannot tell a lie) that I think my fellow history-lovers will enjoy Secret Six.

What about you? Do you enjoy books like these? Do you think you would’ve stepped up to the plate as a Culper spy?

Related Links:

Washington spy letter on display

TV series White Collar’s tribute to the Culper ring  – It’s on Netflix currently.

Are you smelly for Jesus?

Which scents do you love?

I’ve been burning a candle this winter called “Alpine Frost.” It’s green and it smells deliciously like pine-covered mountains (big surprise!). The only downside: I want to drop everything and head for the hills each time I fire it up. It draws me in, and not only because I’m a closet pyro.

photo by Nicolas A. Tonelli

photo by Nicolas A. Tonelli

Not only can we enjoy certain aromas around us, but if you’re a Christian (meaning you’ve given your life to Jesus), you are a fragrance. Do you remember this passage, written by Paul in 2 Corinthians 2 (NLT)?

14 But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. 15 Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. 16 To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume.

This unique picture encourages three reminders about carrying the aroma of Christ.

1. It’s powerful. We’ve all noticed good smells. Friends and family laugh when I insist that one of my favorite memories from traveling to England was the heavenly smell of the potatoes there. I’m not kidding. They’re amazing. The aroma of potatoes baking filled one entire little town that we visited before lunch. And all from a small handful of pubs and tea houses.

Scents can be powerful, and so is the Jesus who fills our hearts. Simply by having Christ in us, His powerful presence magnifies His message like an earthquake ricocheting from its epicenter…far and wide. We may feel small, but each step of our feet lands with the might of heaven. The message of Jesus travels farther than we ever imagine, farther than our days take us. His aroma flows through us and beyond.

2. It sticks with a person.  Have you noticed that you still smell like places you’ve been after you’ve left? Sometimes that’s welcome, sometimes it’s not. There’s a chain of convenience stores that fills each town in the region where I live. Spend twenty seconds in one of them, and–no lie–you’ll smell like it the rest of your day. It’s a major commitment to buy a Coke there. That aroma has staying power.

We can affect people the same (but hopefully more pleasant) way. We can share the fragrance of Christ during the briefest of interactions. A kind word, a smile, a door held open…it has staying power. Given more time, people can’t help but take notice that something is different about us. We can point them to Christ more easily than we realize. And it’ll stick with them.

3. Not everyone likes it. Did you notice the u-turn that verse 16a takes? We meander the previous verses like a kid skipping through a lovely flower garden, then…bam! We smell like the grim reaper. “To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom.” What a downer.

But what reality. Not everyone will choose Jesus. Many reject Him. We know this all too well. After someone turns away from the Good News, do you think they want reminders of Him? We Christians come around, and it’s not a pleasant smell to them. We’re like a tuna sandwich left abandoned in a car during a Texas summer day.

But it doesn’t have to send there. We can continue to humbly pester them by showing God’s love, praying that they’ll have a change of heart.

And, as verse 15 shows us, we always smell good to God. And that’s good enough for me.

What do you think? Is it hard or easy to remember that we always “smell like” Jesus wherever we go? Have you ever met someone who didn’t tell you that they were a Christian, but you could sense it in their demeanor?

 

 

 

Time Travel: Evolution of a Blog

If you’re a regular reader (thank you, by the way), you may have double-checked that you had the right address when you got here. Welcome to the new look of my site!

photo by Alexander Baxevanis

photo by Alexander Baxevanis

I’ve wanted an updated blog theme, new logo, etc. for a while. My ultra-talented IT/graphic designer, David (also the king of all husbands), jumped at the challenge months ago. He created the new logo and much of what you see here. I took a little longer to catch up. New website designs are part fun and part commitment phobia-inducing.

But now I’ve taken the leap to this, the third version since creating my blog in 2007. You see here the starting point. Over the next few weeks, I’ll play with it more, get formatting more to my liking, and overall become settled into my new online home. Let me know if you have feedback about functionality or if the look is easy on the eyes (or makes you want to poke them out). =)  All of the previous content remains.

And to scratch that itch about (recent) history, here’s where blogs came from: History of blogs

Pause

It’s a Grab Bag Monday! I have a loose tradition to re-post this each January. 

Which is your favorite month of the year? Of course, January is everyone’s best-loved month, right?

Okay, probably not.

Years ago January was last on my list. Back then I didn’t like cold weather, and January just seemed like a bleak, blustery, colorless month that had to be endured. I wondered if a person could get in on the bears’ hibernation deal.

What changed? Maybe it was when I got married in a January wedding. Suddenly there was a permanent bright spot on the calendar that time every year. Also around that time I launched into my transition from a hot-weather loving/cold-weather shunning girl into quite the opposite.

Whatever the reason, I now like the first month of the year. While not my absolute favorite, it does have its charms. Yes, after Christmas and New Year’s, life resumes with the hustle and bustle of daily routines. …But overall, there seems to be a quiet simplicity that hushes the land. A brisk stillness that can be seen in bare tree branches and blankets of snow. It’s as if nature has paused for a moment.

It’s a welcome chance for me to pause as well, reminiscing with a smile about the holidays, being grateful for countless blessings, and feeling hopeful about the time ahead. Maybe that’s also why I’m drinking hot chocolate more often–it’s a chance to warm up and take a moment to stop and just think…often a rarity in our busy days.

What about you? Is there anything you like about January? What’s your favorite month?