Archives For Devotional Thoughts

The Wedding Chapel

Renee Ann Smith —  December 13, 2015 — 9 Comments

Rachel Hauck Wedding Chapel

Rachel Hauck’s The Wedding Chapel is one of those stories that has all the stuff I love—a connection to the past, a second chance at love, family drama, romance, heartache and healing, reconciliations—and lots of heart.

It’s about a young couple navigating the troubled waters of their marriage and an older couple who never gave their love a chance.

It’s about the games people play when they don’t trust their hearts to those they should be closest to,

How they build barriers to protect themselves,

Or manipulate to get what they want—even if they must rip it out of the hands of someone they’re supposed to cherish—

And after all that, how God can smooth over the pain that has been festering and leave peace and healing in its place.

It’s also about a chapel that takes its place as a special character in the novel . . .

“Majestic with her stone walls and weather-worn beam trim, the chapel drank in the sunlight through the cupola, then reflected it back out through the windows. The canopying beech and cottonwood trees stretched leafy branches over the slanted slate roof, creating a thicket of serenity.”

Coach Jimmy Westbrook had build the chapel for the love of his life . . .

“She was part of him, this place. He’d deposited his sweat, his tears, and his heart here. And buried them with time.”

But somehow Jimmy hadn’t ended up living happily ever after with the girl of his dreams . . .

Too late . . . The truth branded his brain. The twist in his back intensified. Of course it was too late. He was an old man.

Too late to do anything about unfulfilled dreams.

Too late to win a love that was lost.

Too late for everything the chapel represented.

He, a hall-of-fame football coach, had ridden the bench in the game of life, waiting to be called in for a play that never came.”

Wedding Chapel Rachel HauckI think that’s all I can share here without giving too much of this wonderful novel away. You’ll just have to read it for yourself. Grab a copy today & tuck it away to enjoy when you have time.

This sweet story plus a cup of your favorite hot beverage will help you carve out an oasis of calm in the midst of hectic holidays. 

My students & I love Rachel’s books. They’re so looking forward to the day I bring my copy to school & add it to our bookshelves.

The Wedding Chapel is a Romantic Times Top Pick and one of Booklist’s Top Inspirational Novels of 2015.

It makes a great gift for teens on up. Follow this link to order the copies you need.

Follow this link to enter Rachel’s $100 GIVEAWAY & you might also win a copy of the book!

Thanks for stopping by today, story lovers! Blessings, friends!

Wedding Chapel Rachel Hauck

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“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.

~From Little Women by Louisa May Alcott~

LIttle Women Christmas Gifts for Girls

One of my favorite stories to read and watch at Christmas time is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Though technically not a Christmas novel, this story of four sisters growing up in 1860s New England begins at Christmas and features some pretty great Christmases over their years together.

As one of four sisters myself, I instantly fell in love with a story of sisters growing up together & navigating life—through sunshine & tea parties, harsh poverty, unrequited love, youthful follies, teen adventures, heartaches & disappointments, deaths, careers, marriages, babies, sorrows & joys.

I love how the book begins with Marmee giving each girl a copy of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress for Christmas—they’re too poor that year for anything else.

The girls read the book together and attempt to follow its lessons.

In part one, many of the chapter titles even refer to Bunyan’s book.

I also appreciate the types of relationships on display in the story—

  • Friendships between neighbors, buddies, and BFFs
  • Unrequited love
  • Those who have loved and lost
  • Old, settled married love
  • Sweet, young love
  • Love and respect for elders
  • Sacrificial love for the poor and needy among us

Of course, at the center of the story is the relationship among sisters and all that goes with it—the confidences, fights, sighs, tears, laughs, scrapes, adventures, and love.

And I’m sure that all of us who read the book as young girls spent time pondering the question: Which sister am I?

Now looking back at the story, I’d say that . . . 

Too often I’m shallow like Amy was, without being beautiful.

I have some of Jo’s impulsiveness & sense of adventure and too much of her temper.

I think at this age, I can finally say that I’m as responsible as Meg.

And I’m still wishing to be as gentle, kind, and giving as Beth.

How ’bout you? Have you read the book? Which sister are you?

If you don’t have time to re-read Little Women this Christmas Season—or have never read it—I’ve compiled some of my favorite quotes here for you to enjoy.

(Feel free to share—tweet, pin, download, etc.)

I hope they remind you of the simpler times and sweet memories of Christmases gone by.

Little Women Louisa May Alcott

 

Little women valley of the shadow

Little Women Christmas nostalgia

Little Women Beth Jo Amy MegLIttle Women Jo amy meg bethLittle Women

Follow the links below to access whatever version of Little Women you might need or enjoy. These make great gifts! 

little women pilgrim's progress

Thanks for stopping by today, sisters & storylovers! Blessings, friends!

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What I’m Afraid To Say

Renee Ann Smith —  November 30, 2015 — 18 Comments

While I was reading the Bible this week, two words stopped me in my tracks.

“Imitate me.”

Paul wrote those words in I Corinthians 4.

Paul had been imprisoned, flogged, left for dead, beaten with rods, pelted with stones, shipwrecked, been threatened with many dangers, suffered hunger, thirst, cold, nakedness, and sleeplessness. (II Corinthians 11)

Yet I wonder how much courage it took for him to extend that invitation.

I see that the world needs role models worthy of imitation.

My students look up to actors and singers and athletes, and I can understand why they’re drawn to those shining lives.

But what are they learning about God’s generous heart and wise ways and strong arms that hold us close when we need Him?

I want to draw their eyes away from the created ones

And call them to lift their eyes to the One who created them,

The Father who lovingly chose their purpose and their future.

Follow me Imitate me Paul Jesus

But when they turn their eyes to me, standing in front of them each day,

The words “imitate me” stick in my throat & I shake in my shoes.

I know what they’ll see if they look too close,

The flaws and fears and failures,

The zeal too often smothered by cares of this world,

The boldness that melts away in the face of hardship,

The pure message diluted by shallowness and sin.

Then I remember other words Paul spoke,
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance,
Jesus came to save sinners—OF WHOM I AM CHIEF.

So no matter that folks would see the pettiness and ego and impatience and failures,

Paul opened his heart and life to those around him—and to us so many centuries later.

He risked being labeled hypocrite and judged harshly and cast aside as worthless—so he could give HOPE to the rest of us,

The ones who need to see how God picks His children up after failures

And holds them until they can stand on their own

And gives them second and third and fourth chances

And loves them to the end no matter what.

Yes, some will look close and misunderstand and turn away.

But perhaps later, when they find themselves face down in the dust, in danger of being trampled by life, they’ll remember the example of a man or woman after God’s own heart,

An imitator not too proud to repent, ask forgiveness, and begin again.

An imitator who totally relies on God for the grace & courage to repeat with Paul,

Imitate me Paul Jesus Follow me

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” I Corinthians 11:1

Thanks for stopping by today, my fellow imitators! Blessings, friends!

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The Scarlet LetterEvery year when we read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic The Scarlet Letter, the girls in my American Literature class fall for this dramatic tale of a woman who goes wrong yet learns from her sin and becomes a stronger, better person. My students’ hearts break for Hester Prynne as she navigates the world alone, rejected by the men who claim to love her and the religious folks around her.

When she rises above her personal pain to reach out to those in need, they cheer her on.

As we discuss the difference between consequences of sin and God’s grace and forgiveness, they begin to see parts of their own story in Hester’s journey.

They love that after Hester gave birth to her daughter out of wedlock, she “named the infant Pearl, as being of great price—purchased with all she had—her mother’s only treasure” (Hawthorne 76).

And that’s when I share what I’ve learned about Becoming the Pearl of Great Price.

The pearl is an interesting study. Unlike other gems, pearls are produced by a living organism, an oyster, as the result of a wound.

The pearl usually begins forming around a grain of sand or an egg of some parasite that invaded the oyster—or it could even be a small piece of the oyster’s own shell—a self-inflicted wound.

The oyster protects itself by layering the irritant with nacre or mother-of-pearl

Until out of pain and suffering it forms an object of great beauty.  

What started off as something unwanted, unattractive, and worthless actually becomes a gem of great worth!

So it is with us.

From birth, we’re marred by sin, unable to become what our Heavenly Father envisioned when He planted us in the womb.

If left to ourselves, we wander through the days that stretch out before us, constantly seeking beautiful coverings to hide the ugliness we see in our own hearts.

Little pieces of jealousy, bitterness, unkindness, fear fester into wounds that smother our peace and pierce our happiness.

But because He loves us, God purchases us,

Clothes us with His righteousness,

And transforms us into a thing of beauty.

He talks about it in Matthew 13:45 . . .

“God’s kingdom is like a jewel merchant on the hunt for excellent pearls. Finding one that is flawless, he immediately sells everything and buys it.”

Many see this as a parable of a person seeking the kingdom of heaven.

But some see another level of meaning where Christ is the jewel merchant, and we are the pearl.

This resonates with me because I know it from firsthand experience.  

God, our big-hearted Heavenly Father, has a special talent for seeing the treasure inside the people and things that everyone else overlooks.

Pearl of Great Price

These verses testify to how great a value Christ places on you and me . . .

“They shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels.” Malachi 3:17

“The Lord their God will save his people on that day as a shepherd saves his flock. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown. How attractive and beautiful they will be!” Zechariah 9:16&17a

And here’s the same truth from The Message . . .
“Their God will save the day. He’ll rescue them. They’ll become like sheep, gentle and soft, or like gemstones in a crown, catching all the colors of the sun. Then how they’ll shine! Shimmer! Glow!”

Pearl of Great Price

May you sparkle as His treasured daughter today. Blessings, friends!

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Recently, I’ve been feeling empathy for the biblical character of Jonah.

(And not just because I fear large bodies of water, where all kinds of deadly creatures lurk beneath an unsuspecting swimmer’s dangling feet.)

God called Jonah to preach repentance to the Ninevites. The Ninevites were Assyrians, a ruthless people who posed a constant threat to Israel and all those Jonah loved.

In fact, the generations after Jonah had to deal with the cruelty of the Assyrians, who eventually destroyed one section of Israel and took the people captive.

Jonah understood what these people were capable of. He also knew God.

God intended to give the Assyrians a chance to repent. And once they did, Jonah knew God would welcome them with open arms.

Jonah wanted no part in reaching a group of people who were sure to cause trouble in the long run. 

He saw only heartbreak down the path where God was leading and desired to avoid it.

But in running from the pain he feared, he had to run from God as well.

When I contemplate Jonah’s predicament, I can’t help but remember Corrie Ten Boom—one of my heroes—a  Dutch woman who risked her life to hide Jews during the Holocaust.

At one point during those dangerous days, God allowed Corrie to see what was coming down the road for her.

She dreamed that she and her family were caught by the Nazis and driven away to captivity and death.

Corrie believed the dream was a vision of a certain future.

Surely the best way to avoid the torment and grief the Nazis were sure to inflict would be to bar the door and keep their hiding place to themselves.

But when Corrie shared her dream with her beloved sister Betsie, she held a different view. Betsie told Corrie . . .

“If God has shown us bad times ahead, it’s enough for me that He knows about them.

That’s why He sometimes shows us things, you know.

To tell us that this too is in His hands.”

Corrie Ten Boom

Though the Assyrian culture and mindset towards God’s people didn’t change much over the centuries, God never wrote them off. Why?

God told Jonah that there were 120,000 Ninevites “who cannot tell their right hand from their left.”

That means kids.

God allowed the risk to Jonah himself and to Israel’s future in order to save a generation of children. 

Because our big-hearted Heavenly Father does not wish any to perish. 

God aches over the sufferings of the Jonahs and the Corrie Ten Booms of the world. He does not take their suffering lightly. 

But somehow He works all things together for the good of those who love Him—both for those who suffer in His Name and for those He sends them to reach. 

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness
or danger or sword?

As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors
through him who loved us.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
neither height nor depth,

nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us
from the love of God

that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
~Romans 8:35-39~

Follow this link to read more about Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom.

Thanks for stopping by today. Blessings, friends!

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Life in Small Spaces

Renee Ann Smith —  October 12, 2015 — 20 Comments

The school where I teach is a pretty small place.

My students experience the benefits of being a tight-knit family. They have people who love them, help them, hurt when they’re hurting.

They never walk through their days without others by their side—even when they’d rather be alone.

By second period, they’ve passed each other in the hallway, bumped elbows at the bathroom mirror, heard the whispered gossip at their lockers . . .

And they know, just as we all can see their trendy outfits and hairdos, we can often see the things they’d rather hide.

It can be hot under that spotlight when people know so much about you—especially on the days when you feel you barely know yourself.

Just like in a family, sometimes that very closeness that’s meant to be a comfort is what makes us guard ourselves all the more,

lest the ugly inner stuff—the anger, pettiness, jealousy, insecurity, fear—

spill out all over for everyone to see.

When the ugliness spills, it smudges our friendships and our reputations,

and the judgment that’s sure to follow breaks our hearts. 

We wonder if the folks who know us best ever will ever let us forget who we’ve become in their eyes.

At those moments, it takes a stout heart to believe God loves us in spite of our inner mess.

That He sees deep inside us and yet never feels the need to lift Himself up by exposing us to others.

That He desires only that we see it—clearly and without excuse—for ourselves so that we might accept His provision.

Then God invites us to hold out our arms and let Him clothe us with Christ’s righteousness . . . 

a one-size-fits-all covering that becomes a Veil of Grace.

And the magic is that if we view others through Christ’s Veil of Grace—

even when their pettiness, weakness, and failings are on display—

His breathtaking image, His lovely righteousness, overshadows anything else

and makes them beautiful in our sight.

Here’s the verse I’m claiming this week for life in small spaces. May God bless as I share it with my students as well.

“I delight greatly in the Lord. My soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
& arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest &
as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
Isaiah 61:10

clothed in righteousness

And a bonus quote for when you need a fresh start . . .

Second chances George Elliot

Let’s look for glimpses of His glory today. Blessings, friends!

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For every time that God answers my prayers, there’s a contrasting time when He does not. Sometimes He gives healing and strength before I even ask.

Other times, I call out to Him as one crying in the wilderness and hear nothing back but the echo of my own voice.

I have experienced this barrenness at the bedside of the dying, in the wake of a betrayal, in the face of a setback or tragedy. 

And for a time it felt like there was no end to the terror in sight. No answers to the problem in sight. And, seemingly, no God in sight.

Perhaps this is how it seemed for Mary and Martha so long ago. (see their story in John 11)

These sisters knew Jesus well. They often served Him and sat at His feet. He considered their home, His home.

But when their darkest hour came—the death of their brother Lazarus, their provider and protector—they called for Jesus, and He did not come.

When this happened, perhaps Mary and Martha felt they deserved better.

After all, they were hardworking, upright, good people. They were friends of Jesus and had given Him a prominent place in their lives.

But right living doesn’t ward off heartache and knowing Jesus doesn’t doesn’t give us a get-out-of-tragedy-free card.

When Jesus Doesn't Come (Feel free to download or share!)

When we call and Jesus doesn’t come right away, it doesn’t mean He isn’t hurting with us, working for us, loving us.

What it does mean is that His delay is part of the answer to our prayer.

According to Merriam-Webster, a delay is “the amount of time you must wait for something that is late.”  Late means “something that is past the expected time.

So there’s the problem: expecting life—and God—to follow my time frame.

For the Bible tells me, “With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day.

God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost.

He’s giving everyone space and time to change.” II Peter 3:8&9, MSG

I think sometimes when I call & God delays to answer, He’s encouraging me to live out I Peter 1:8. He’s allowing me to get to the place where I can say . . . 

“Even though I have not seen Him, I love Him. And even though I do not see Him answering my prayer right now, I BELIEVE in Him and am filled with Joy.”

Yes, Jesus delayed in coming to Mary and Martha. That delay challenged them, changed them, and eventually brought great glory to God.

When all was said & done, perhaps the sisters of Lazarus could have attested with Job, I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You.”

We may not see the miracle on the horizon, but we can be confident our Heavenly Father cherishes us and has our best in mind—always.

 Let’s look for glimpses of His glory today. Blessings, friends!

Martha Mary Lazarus John 11 Job 42(Feel free to download & share!)

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If you’ve stopped in here often enough, you know that I’m an enthusiastic bookworm! One of my favorite aspects of being a teacher is sharing books and stories with my class.

Recently, I assigned my junior high students an older short story called The House Guest by Paul Darcy Boles.

The story focuses on Bridgie, a 9-year-old girl growing up in Ireland during the troubled years, when the IRA and the British troops faced off in the streets.

In the story, an international organization brings Bridgie to America for a few weeks. This gives her a respite from her day-to-day existence, where kids go hungry and live their lives to the background sounds of gunfire and grief.

Bridgie never gets enough to eat and jumps when cars backfire and still misses the dog her family was too poor to keep as a pet. She is quiet and gentle and brave.

Bridgie spends her few days in America, not gathering up material things to take home with her, but in making life better for others. After being gifted a leather craft kit, she makes pet collars and chases down the stray dogs in the neighborhood to give each of them one.

She tells the dogs, “You can hold your head up, now. And don’t be trying to scrape [the collar] off or lose it. It’s your ticket to some fine homes. They’ll feed you up. They’ll think you’ve been a pet and believe you’re valuable.”

That’s the part I choose to read aloud the day we discuss the story. The poignancy touches our hearts. My students are silent thinking of that sweet, brave girl who wants to make sure that even the lowliest of creatures—the stray dogs—feel valued and find homes.

Solemn-eyed and serious, they contemplate a world where too often kids end up being less valued than lost dogs.

They wonder what life is like for kids in North Korea and China and Syria and the places they’ve heard adults mention. What are those other kids going through? How do they find reasons for hope and the courage to face another day?

My students are no strangers to sorrow themselves. In our little class, students have lost mothers to cancer and mental illness. They’ve lost fathers to addictions and imprisonment.

My class remembers the devastation of Hurricane Sandy a few years back and the tragedy that happened an hour south of us at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

They’ve learned that the world can be a scary place and have wrestled with feeling . . .

  • Hurt
  • Fearful
  • Insignificant
  • Powerless

My heart aches to see the awareness in their young faces.

And I find myself asking, how do we show them . . .

That God is with us
That His heart is loving
That when everything around them quakes, He is our ROCK
That—no matter the evidence to the contrary—HE IS GOOD

We have a great calling—to show our young ones that though the world is not always kind or just, God is both!

Lord, give us heart renewal that we might be equal to the task.

And guard our next generation from the fiery darts that would steal their joy and shipwreck their future. 

“Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society.
Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God.
Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause
to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns.
You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.”
Philippians 2:15&16, The Message

God Is With Us(Feel free to share this graphic!)

“I’m asking God for one thing, only one thing:
to live with him in his house my whole life long.
I’ll contemplate His beauty; I’ll study at His feet.
That’s the only quiet, secure place in a noisy world,
the perfect getaway, far from the buzz of traffic.
God holds me head and shoulders above
all who try to pull me down.”
Psalm 27:3-6, The Message

God is our very present help in times of trouble

(Feel free to share this graphic!)

 Let’s look for glimpses of His glory today. Blessings, friends!

**Photo Backstory: I create my graphics from iPhone pics or free images from sites like Unsplash & Death to Stock Photo plus the effects at PicMonkey. Feel free to Pin, Tweet, download & share. Pass them on!
**Find me on Facebook at this link & follow!
**Let’s be Twitter pals!
If you’re on Twitter, I’ll follow you—if I’m not already. Just let me know in the comments. You can find me here.
**Let’s connect on Instagram!
I so enjoy scrolling my Instagram feed & admiring everyone’s pics. Let me know if you’re on Instagram or find me at this link.
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