In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Footsteps

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 4.31.08 PM“Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs….”  These words along with the rest of the Laura Ingalls series filled my childhood.  I read all her original books, the books about her daughter Rose and her mother Caroline as well as others based on the lives of people who had been special to Laura.  I also had the Little House Cookbook, the scrapbook I Remember Laura as well as read many more of the wonderful books that chronicled the non-fiction and fantasy of her life in early America.Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 4.21.33 PM.pngAs I read through the series as a child, I never once thought that I would be visiting some of the places where she lived.  So when Ryan suggested a trip to Pepin while in Wisconsin, I jumped at the chance.  I even re-read Little House in the Big Woods in preparation so that everything would be fresh in my mind.  And after a wonderful few days visiting friends and family in the Twin Cities, Ryan and I took a longer way back to Pardeeville along the Mississippi.  This enabled us to stop by the place where a replica cabin stands on the land where Laura was born and had her earliest memories.  Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 4.21.07 PM.pngBut the highlight for me was walking along the shores of Lake Pepin, picking up pebbles just like Laura would have when her family visited the town together.  I only kept two, pictured above with my copy of the book.  However, Laura shares that she filled her entire pocket with pebbles each prettier than the last so much so that her pocket ripped out of her dress when her Pa put her in the wagon to head back home.

I loved my time on Lake Pepin and am so thankful for these beautiful days to pause and enjoy the places we find ourselves near.

Book Review: The Blood of Lambs

A couple months ago, I received an email addressing a subject that is a common topic today in conversation as well as on social media.  The email got me thinking and I started to read more on the subject as well as to pray more.  The email’s realistic yet compassionate message was inspiring.

In sharing this my goal is not to stir up anger, unhealthy debate, or inspire fear.  Instead my hope is to encourage people to become informed in a way that will lead to conversations and actions that will help to change our world one person at a time.  And especially to anyone who calls themselves a Christian, my hope is that you would pray more, live like Jesus Christ and show the love and light of the triune God to everyone no matter what their background, religion or race.

November 16, 2015

Syrian Refugees: Bring Them On

Recently President Obama proposed bringing 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. This is only a tiny portion of the hundreds of thousands that have fled to Europe, which in turn is a small portion of the millions that have fled just over the borders to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. But after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, many American leaders do not want to bring in any. And a few days ago Donald Trump said he wanted to exclude any Muslim from entering the U.S. until we “figure out what is happening.”

The fear is understandable. Obama promised that the refugees would be “rigorously vetted.” But this is likely to be the same kind of vetting that let Tashfeen Malik (the woman terrorist in San Bernardino) enter the U.S. two years ago on a K-1 (fiancee) visa. Since she came from Pakistan, which is known to harbor extremists, she was even subject to more vetting than others. We now know that she was already “radicalized” by then, and this was not picked up by the supposedly rigorous vetting.

So is Donald Trump right? From the American national security point of view, maybe he is. But from the Christian point of view, he is wrong.

Trump and many other politicians talk about keeping us “safe.” But Jesus never promised that we would be physically safe. In fact, He said “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:16-18). Being flogged is not “safe.” In the time of Jesus, being delivered over to courts, governors and kings often meant death. Of the eleven disciples who remained after Judas, ten were martyred. See 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 for all the unsafe things that the Apostle Paul endured. Only John died a natural death.

As an example of a “worst case scenario,” back in 1981, an Islamic terrorist came to America from Lebanon on a legal visa. His purpose was to develop jihad cells and attack us from within, but God had other plans. He was in a severe car accident, and a Christian doctor took care of him, not knowing who he was – only a foreign man who needed help. After some time in a hospital, the doctor took him into his own home for months of recuperation. This completely exploded the terrorist’s idea of Christianity. When he left the doctor’s home, he could only fall on his knees and pray to God, who revealed Himself to this now ex-terrorist. The doctor practiced radical Christian hospitality and was used by God to bring this very unsafe man into the Kingdom.

So yes, we should be “wise as serpents” and examine the refugees as well as possible, knowing that like in the case of Tashfeen Malik, we will miss some. But for the sake of “bear(ing) witness before…the Gentiles,” I say “Bring them on.” It is very difficult for them to hear the Gospel in Syria and Iraq, but here they can. Our bodies may not be perfectly safe, but our souls are perfectly safe in Christ.

Alexander PierceBloodofLambCoverThe “worst case scenario” described in the above email comes from a book called The Blood of Lambs: A Former Terrorist’s Memoir of Death and Redemption by Kamal Saleem.  This book, written by Kamal, does tell his amazing story of conversion.  However, the book primarily focuses on describing Kamal’s formative years, how Islam shaped his world view and his journey that eventually brought him to the US.  

I was shocked and disturbed by a lot of what was described in somewhat graphic detail.  But it is those details that give the reader the whole picture of the ideology and culture that shaped Kamal and that continues to shape others.

However, one of the most impactful parts of the book for me was the descriptions of how Kamal first felt meeting Christians who lived out their faith.  The light Kamal describes is something that I would hope could be found in any Christian home.  However, it’s also convicting because so often Christians do not live their faith in such a transparent, deliberate way.

This book is worth reading, whether you are a Christian or not, it will be an interesting and informative read.  And once you read The Blood of Lambs, you might be interested in digging a bit deeper, continuing to learn about Islam and how practically to engage Muslims while showing Christ’s love.  For that I would recommend another recent read called Facing Islam, Engaging Muslims written by Alexander Pierce.

Enjoy reading and learning.  May your conversations be inspired and informed.


Possum Magic- Book Review

Children’s books are very special to me.  I love re-reading the books that I grew up enjoying but I also love reading new adventures and falling in love with new characters.  A friend recently introduced me to this very fun book, Possum Magic, that highlights some of Australia’s unique animals and food.


Take a trip around Australia with Hush and Grandma Poss.  These sweet animals will steal your hearts with their curiosity and adventurous spirits.  And this book has the magic of making you hungry too:-)

Christian Caregiving- A Book Review

Ryan and I are both natural caregivers.  However, we recognize that caring is hard work and if we learn more, we could care better.  So in order to hone our caregiving skills, we are taking a course together.  This course focuses on Christian caregiving and we are hoping that it will be foundational for our future ministry.  For those of you familiar with Stephen’s Ministry, this course is offered by our church as a starting place for those interested in participating in active Stephen’s Ministry.


We are learning how to listen well, ask questions and care for the whole person.  The assigned reading from Christian Caregiving: A Way of Life by Kenneth C. Haugk, is read before each meeting and then we discuss and practice the material.  This book has many great examples as well as very practical advice.  However, I think learning the material best happens when in a situation where you can, at the very least, discuss the information.  Although, it is difficult to “practice” what a conversation would be like in some of these situations, it is very helpful to have a safe space to ask questions, make mistakes and practice caring better for people.  Ryan and I are really enjoying the class based off this book.

A criticism of this book is that it is written from a distinctly Christian perspective and therefore limits who can use and benefit from it.  I would agree that as a caregiver, a Christian would most benefit from the perspective and foundation of the book.  However, I strongly believe that for Ryan and I, we will be able to use this information no matter who we are caring for.  The caring will naturally be Christian because we are Christian but the same principles definitely apply no matter who we’re working with or caring for.

I would definitely recommend this book and a course that uses this book to anyone who wants to learn how to care for people around them in a more loving and effective way.

Book Review: The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

“I walk among my enemies.  But I carry my friends with me.”

I’ve been reading a lot of books about Australia.  They’ve mostly been history books with a smattering of linguistics and other interesting topics.  However, I haven’t read any Australian fiction until now.  The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is interesting young adult fiction set in a dystopian future.  This is the first book in The Tribe Series by Ambelin Kwaymullina.  For another perspective, you can read a review and summary of the book on Kids’ Book Review.

the interrogation of ashala wolf

But the main reason I found this book interesting was because of the author’s inspiration.  Kwaymullina comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia.  In the Author’s Notes she writes “For me, the best storytellers I know are Aboriginal Elders.”  This storytelling ability must be present in Kwaymullina as well because she weaves the story of Ashala Wolf, past, present and future together seamlessly.  Aboriginal culture seems to heavily influence the characters and setting in the book too.  The connection the Tribe has to the world, nature and the animals around them is beautifully written.  Understanding the author’s inspiration made the book more special to me.  Again in the Author’s Notes she writes, “Every landscape I describe in the Tribe series is inspired by one of the many biodiverse regions of Australia.  So there really are towering tuarts; they grow in the Country of the Nyoongar people, in the southwest of Western Australia, and are one of the rarest ecosystems on earth.”  The Nyoongar land is found in the Perth area where we hope to be moving and the tuart forest is indeed beautiful and unique.

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is a quick, interesting read for young adults or even adults.  It was recommended by a friend and I love that fiction can be another way to peer into a country or a people.  Don’t read this book if you’re looking for direct information about Australia or the people but do read this book if you want to enter another world and have your mind bent in wonderful, unexpected ways.

Approved For Atlanta- Certain Uncertainty

We’re heading to Atlanta in July!  One step closer to Australia and yet still so much that has to happen.  But instead of dwelling on the distant future, let’s just look forward to next month.  The last week in July, Ryan and I will be in Atlanta.  We’re thankful to everyone who has given to our ministry fund and those who continue to give because this means that the entire cost of our trip, tickets, etc, are already covered.  The purpose of this trip is to attend REV (REV is short for Readiness Evaluation and it is a week long course that tests to see how ready we are to live and work overseas).  I’ve been through REV in 2012 but this time will still be a challenge.  They’ve changed things a bit, I’m now married to Ryan and it’s been a couple years.

Although I can’t go into any real details about the course, you can read the poem I wrote: A Long Week in Atlanta, after the course.  It was an intense week but it was worth it.  I hope that Ryan and I both have a positive experience this year.  One of my favorite things from this poem is the line about certain uncertainty.  I feel like this is definitely a theme for our lives.

Outcasts United

But if you must have some details, I can recommend this book: Outcasts United.  This was passed on to us as pre-REV reading and I read it after I attended REV the first time.  We will be crossing into this world during our week in Atlanta and this book is an amazing look into a part of the United States that many people don’t even know exists.

Thank you for your continued prayers.  This is a big hurdle that we have to clear before Australia but every step has its purpose and like I’ve said before, I’m thankful to have Ryan by my side and to be doing this together. 🙂

The History of Religion- Books and Beliefs (Part Two)

In May I posted Part One of The History of Religion- Books and Beliefs so now here is Part Two.  Originally I had intended it to be just one entry but as History of Religion- Books and Beliefs (Part One) got longer, I realized that it would be best to split up the reviews by books.  I read these two books Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms and Eternity in their Hearts almost simultaneously.  And I think they are more interesting when viewed together but they can also stand on their own.


I borrowed this book from a friend after our conversation about culture and the gospel.  I had read one of Don Richardson’s books before but Eternity in their Hearts gives a broader look across many different cultures.  Even before I read this book, as a Christian I believe that God has woven himself into the fabric of this world.  “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.” Ephesians 1:4 NLT  “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20 NIV  I believe the Bible is true.  I believe the Christian faith is reasoned and reasonable and can stand up to scrutiny.

So with this in mind, I was not surprised as I read through Eternity in their Hearts and heard the stories of past and current cultures that have evidence of the one true God and the Christian gospel in their culture despite never having been previously expressed to the Bible or Christian proselytizing.

In the Part One post I had a couple quotes where people claimed that their religion was the oldest or their scripture was the most accurate.  It was these quotes and others similar that hung in my mind as I considered the information in Eternity in their Hearts.  It made my mind work as I considered truth and what truth actually means.  This of course is a bigger question and discussion but this short Youtube video Truth Refocused does a great job of presenting why truth can’t really be relative and to each his own.

I can’t do justice to this book by summarizing the stories, if you’re interested, you will have to read them on your own.  But I can tell you that stories of cultures that cross continents Greek in Europe, Inca in America, Mbaka in Africa and the Chinese in Asia are thought provoking.  And that’s just Chapter 1 which tells about cultures and people who have knowledge about a “Vague God”.  These cultures all have a name for or a belief in a supreme God that has been passed down often with stories that parallel Biblical stories with amazing accuracy.  “The Chinese call him Shang Ti- the Lord in Heaven….In Korea he is known as Hananim- The Great One…Belief in Shang Ti/Hananim predates confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism by an unknown number of centuries.”

Chapter 2 continues to dig deeper and focuses on an area in and around Burma where multiple people groups had hymns were waiting for the “Lost Book”.  All of these groups were waiting for a sacred book and some even had detailed hymns and Biblical stories that were also passed down and continued to whet the people’s appetite for more knowledge that they believed would be found in the “Lost Book”.  “Karen prophets actually taught their people hymns passed down from generation to generation by verbal communication alone…Karen hymns to Y’wa reveal how astonishingly clear the concept of the one true God can be in a folk religion!”

I could continue because this book keeps going through Papua New Guinea and many other places.  It explores many people who had glimpses and even more of the gospel before ever having the Bible or hearing the Gospel, causing them either to look expectantly towards a time when they would hear the truth more fully or in some cases this knowledge just proved to be a platform for understanding the gospel in their culture and context.  It is definitely worth reading but I have a couple warnings. You will need to ignore the heavy use of the exclamation point (which I get because it’s an exciting topic but not enough to merit all the exclamation points used).  Also when the author moved away from his story telling strength, his theories and arguments, while still compelling, can get dense and difficult to wade through.

But despite those warnings, Eternity in their Hearts is an interesting and thought provoking read.  If you like history, religion and culture, this book combines them all.

Digital Nature Photography- Book Review

I love nature and there are some really beautiful places all over the world.  Pictures are one of the ways we can remember these beautiful places and take them with us when we’re someplace else.  Pictures can also transport us to places we’ve never been and show us things we otherwise would never see.  While in Australia Ryan and I took a lot of pictures but we also just tried to absorb where we were in the moment.  Once we get back to Australia, we (mostly Ryan:-) are looking forward to taking more pictures and sharing them with family, friends and supporters.


With Australia in mind I pick up this book called John Shaw’s Guide to Digital Nature Photography.  John Shaw put his experience with nature photography into words but he didn’t forget to include pictures.  This book includes lots of beautiful images that are all labeled where and how (lens, shutter speed, etc) they were taken.  The chapters are practical, easy to read and run the gamut from getting started to types of gear to image composition.  Just looking through the book is interesting and I look forward to seeing how Ryan puts the information to good use in the future.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Caught Up in a Book- The Dead Key

I get caught up in books all the time.  Recently I’ve gotten better at reading a chapter or two before bed or while waiting for an appointment and slowly savoring the storyline.  However, after reading a book for awhile, the characters seem to become my friends.  I care about them and what happens to them so as the book progresses, my ability to stop after just one or two chapters becomes inhibited.  Especially with mystery novels, I read faster and faster just to find out what happens next.  I use to be able to gauge how much story I had left with novels because I could see where I was in the book and make an educated guess, now I just rely on the handy dandy time estimates provided by my kindle.

Last night was one of those nights where I just couldn’t put the book down.  I read late into the night, my kindle light glowing while my husband slept soundly.  I kept thinking, just one more chapter but there was always something else to discover and I couldn’t imagine falling asleep without knowing.  I’m now suffering the consequences of giving up two hours of sleep but it was worth it.  I know the book’s ending, my curiosity has been satiated and my angst has been tamed.


The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley caught my attention because of the way it was written.  There are two storylines that waltz and weave throughout the book.  One is a modern mystery, the other a mystery from 20 years earlier.  However, both are connected and the author intermingles the stories in order to feed the reader the pertinent information in small doses.  At the beginning each layer unveiled just adds to the intrigue.  But by the end (the reason I couldn’t put it down last night) all those layers start to peal back and everything is revealed with just enough twists to keep you guessing.  I love a good mystery where something happens and I think “Wait, what!?” just to think a little more and smack myself in the forehead because I suspected the character was more than they seemed but I didn’t see that one coming.

If you like mysteries and non-linear stories then The Dead Key is worth a read.  I didn’t understand or even really like the characters at first so be patient with the stories as they develop.   But your patience will be rewarded and by the end you might just have to stay up an extra couple of hours to find out how it all ends.

The History of Religion- Books and Beliefs (Part 1)

I love reading for many reasons but one main reason is that it introduces me to new corners of our world.  Fact or fiction, reading can give us insight into different people, cultures and time periods.  I’ve recently read two interesting but very different books.  They both had to do with religion and they both gave me a lot of food for thought.

HeirstoForgottenKingdomsHeirs to Forgotten Kingdoms by Gerard Russell lived up to it’s subtitle Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East.  This book was a look into 7 middle eastern religious people groups; the Mandaeans, the Yazidis, the Zoroastrians, the Druze, the Samaritans, the Copts and the Kalasha.  I appreciated the in depth look into the culture, history and practice of these people and their religion.  It was very interesting to read about them while thinking about the current struggles in the Middle East because it shed light on some of the structural and historical reasons behind bits and pieces of these conflicts.

Christianity, Islam and these other much smaller religions have all existed in the same space for many many years.  These smaller religions have influenced, been influenced by and sometimes even mistaken for Islam and/or Christianity.  Here is an example of this influence, “Early Christians often depicted the Three Wise Men who were said to have visited Jesus as Persian Zoroastrians; although this is never specified in the account in the Gospel of Matthew itself, it was a lucky choice.  When the Persian armies conquered Bethlehem in AD 614, it is said that they spared the Church of the Nativity from the destruction they visited on the rest of the town, because they saw a depiction of three Magi at the church’s entrance.” pg. 77

And another example of the influence, “I [the book’s author] mused on the ways that belief in reincarnation may have helped them to win converts.  To a Christian I imagined the early Druze saying, “By accepting Mohammad as a prophet you are not rejecting Jesus: for Mohammed is Jesus reborn.” To a pagan who revered the Greek philosophers, they could argue that the Druze leader Hamza bin Ali was Pythagoras returned to life.  In later centuries, the famous Druze Characteristic of courage in battle was fortified by the belief that death would lead quickly to rebirth.  Going into battle, Druze soldiers would shout, “Who wants to sleep in their mother’s womb tonight?” pg. 141

I personally think that my Christian, American worldview also provides me with an interesting perspective. Here are two quotes that have me contemplating the relationship of these religions with Christianity as well as the question of Truth (not relative truth but Truth with a capital T).

The Mandaeans-

“Ours is the oldest religion in the world, ” said Sheikh Sattar.  “It dates back to Adam.”  He traced its history back to Babylon, though he said it might have some connection to the Jews of Jerusalem.  The Mandaeans believed in Adam, he said, who was the first man, and they accepted some other prophets who featured in the Hebrew Bible, such as Seth and Noah.  Above all, they revealed John the Baptist.  But they rejected Abraham and had their own holy books that were quite separate from the Bible or the Koran.” pg. 9-10

The Samaritans-

“The Samaritans rejects Jewish religious texts such as the books of Daniel and Isaiah: for them, the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament, sometimes also called the Torah) stands alone.  The Samaritan Torah is slightly different from the Jewish one…it’s version of the Ten Commandments does not include any ban on using the Lord’s name in vain, but it does include a commandment to build an altar on Mount Gerizim.  Benny* argues that the Samaritan Torah is the more authentic version.  His people preserved the text better over the centuries, as he sees it, because they stayed in one place, scrupulously copying the precious scriptures from old ones to new ones.” pg. 165

*Benny who “was something of a spokesman for the Samaritans.” pg. 164

It is these quotes and other similar ones that were in the back of my mind as I read the second book.  I’ll write more about Eternity in their Hearts in another post.  But for now I would recommend Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms to anyone who is interested in history and how it relates to our world today.  Read it to learn about the Middle East and it’s history, religion and people.