"The Feather Thief" (A #WhatsOnMyNightstand Book Review)

I don't remember who recommended this book to me, but I feel like it was a childhood friend on Facebook, after I mentioned a book I had recently finished reading. Since I'm always up for "stranger than fiction" real-life tales, I added it to my "To Read" list on Goodreads and eventually ordered a copy (used of course) from Amazon, to add to my nightstand reading stack. It's probably been at least 2-3 years since that recommendation, but I finally got around to reading it this year, and since life happened and I didn't get my July post written, I'm hoping that an August 1st book review post will make up for the oversight. 

May I introduce to you, The Feather Thief, by Kirk Wallace Johnson. A story of the most unusual theft, by the most unlikely of characters, with a somewhat unsatisfactory outcome. But still one of my favorite books of 2022 so far. 

When Johnson first heard the story of Edwin Rist, he almost couldn't believe it to be true. It was too far out there. A twenty-something American flautist, studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London, obsessed with the rare art of salmon fly-tying and the even rarer (and more illegal) feathers to tie them, breaks into the Tring museum, a branch of the British Museum of Natural History, in the dead of night and waltzes out with a suitcase full of hundreds of bird skins. Using the local train system as his "getaway" vehicle, he made a clean escape, only to be found through his sales on eBay and a loose-lipped buyer. 

Think Oceans 11, The Italian Job, and Jason Bourne, only with a homeschooled American boy who wanted money to buy a nice flute so he could play classical music with a German orchestra. Truth truly is stranger than fiction. Without giving anything away, let me just say that although the long arm of the law did, eventually, catch up to him, justice was not served. In a plot twist that would fit well in Catch Me If You Can, Rist and his feathers are still free in the world, much to the chagrin of Johnson, who slowly became obsessed with this unusual heist, and the man who got away with it.

Available on Amazon, you can buy it new or used, or look it up at your local library. The world truly is a funny place. Happy Reading!


The Year of Weakness

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. {2 Corinthians 12:8-10}

When a child made some poor life choices early in the year, I thought, "Well, that's going to be the low point of the year. Glad we got that out of the way early." And then when my elderly mother fell and fractured her hip, I thought, "Lord, I'm not sure how much more of this I can take in 2022." And recently, when another child decided at Easter that Christianity and Jesus rising and us spending eternity somewhere other than a box in the ground is all a hoax and not to be believed...I felt like "What have I been doing the last five and a half years?"  

Photo by Jackson Simmer on Unsplash

Even though I knew better, there was a part of me that thought 2022 would be the year I'd finally have it all together. I'd be on the ball with homeschooling (reality: I'm barely keeping my head above water as I juggle four grades and five kids); I'd get it together with time management (reality: the kids don't coordinate their needs with my neat schedule, and I consider it a win if I get a solid 5 hours of sleep); I would have more time to spend with the Hubs (reality: he changed jobs, became self-employed, is busier than ever, and all of my time is spent with the five kids who need me MORE, rather than less, as they get older). Rather than having it all together, I look far more like the LegoⓇ woman above - broken up, scattered, and utterly helpless. 

When my mom broke her hip, I had a few minutes of being alone in my car as I headed to pick up a child who was late for a Bible study she was supposed to start that night. As I drove the curving mountain roads from my parent's home, I found myself slamming my hands against the steering wheel and crying. Why God? I cannot take any more. I cannot do this any longer. My life is already full. I'm already tired...WHY? WHY? WHY?? Okay, so it was more like a whine than a cry (although there were tears of anger and frustration as well). And it was while I was wiping away the tears that the verses above came to my mind. His power is made perfect in my weakness. 

As I continued to drive, I asked God, "How? How am I supposed to BOAST in my weakness?? I don't know how to do that. I don't know why I would do that. I don't like weakness...and You want me to BOAST in it? Fine. [Insert a snarky, "challenge accepted" attitude here] I will boast. Teach me how to boast in my weakness." 

And God did just that. I instantly knew that if I couldn't boast in it, and if I couldn't rejoice in it, then I was going to miss the lessons He wanted to teach me. The tears dried up, the anger dissipated, and I was able to grip the wheel and say out loud, in the quiet of my empty car, "Yes, Lord. Okay. I see it now. I am weak. I must be weak if Your power is to rest on me because otherwise, it's all about me. And I'm missing the point. So...thank You. Thank You for this opportunity to lean into your power and rejoice in my weakness. For when I am weak, then You are strong in my life.

When we realized that a child we thought knew Jesus really didn't...it was a blow. And when another child cornered me for two hours in a car and unloaded her concerns about her siblings, I thought, "Wow, if we come out of this with ANY of the kids following Jesus, it will ONLY be through the power of God, for His glory...not mine. Because right now my parenting batting average is taking a massive hit." And you know what? That's exactly where I needed to be. Because let's face it...I'm not amazing. If the kids all graduated magna cum laude and went on to successful careers, and proved to everyone that I was an incredible parent and nurture was, in fact, stronger than nature...then the praise would fall on me. So, as hard as this is to say, I would rather we not look successful in the eyes of the world, if all - or some - of these kids God placed in our lives eventually fully surrender their lives to Jesus and the world sees His power and He receives all the glory for a life or lives well lived. 

You would think that getting this lesson that day in the car, things might begin to turn around. But as the year has progressed, it hasn't gotten easier. And why would it? I still have more to learn.

When the phone call came in that the child had spun off the road and totaled her car (but walked away unscathed)...

When the x-ray showed two level-three sprains resulting in a boot (again)...

When the Hubs is always busy but the paying jobs are not always forthcoming...

When I am outbid by the editing competition and start second-guessing my proposal rates...

When my Facebook feed is filled with smiling, happy couples on vacations in exotic locales while I am sitting at home, cleaning out my freezer and answering the same question for the fourth time...

I am learning to sit in my weakness and find reasons to be thankful. And no, that doesn't always look the way you might think it should. The other day, while I was driving to pick up a kid and stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle, I suddenly found myself yelling. I was angry. I thought I was angry at a child, or maybe just the poor driver who was slowing me down, but as I yelled, I realized...no, it's not the child or the driver...I was angry at God. I was angry that this is the life He gave me. I was angry that things and situations aren't being "fixed" in the ways I think they should be (or not that I can see at this moment). I was mad that I am stuck here, angry at the current circumstances, and generally frustrated by the inability to make any headway. This anger lasted about a mile...and then I found my reason to be thankful: I serve a God who is big enough and loving enough and gracious enough to love me in spite of my anger. My God knew I was angry with Him before I did, and in His mercy, He opened my eyes to see His love. 

Twenty-twenty-two has been incredibly challenging, but it has also been the year that in my weakness, His strength is being made perfect. I am thankful for the year of weakness, and even though I'm mentally, emotionally, and physically ready for a break in the waves...His strength is sustaining, and I'm leaning into it. I'm not sure what your year has looked like, but if you're feeling weak, congratulations...you might be right where God wants you to be. Welcome to the club.


Giving an Answer

What can one say when tragedies occur, such as what took place in a small Texas grade school yesterday? Is God still good? Is He still in control? Did He allow this to happen? And if so...why? I have my own thoughts on the answers to each of these, but that's not what I want to share today.

My sister is a public school teacher. The question on her mind in the middle of the night was, "How do I keep them safe?" The simple answer? You can't.

Of course, we can create new laws—and possibly even try to enforce them—but what it comes down to is that the heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9). We already have laws that say murder is illegal, and yet, from the second generation of the human race, murderous intent came naturally (Gen. 4:8). Within a few generations, the hearts of mankind had fully embraced evil, "The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that EVERY inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was ONLY evil ALL the time." {Genesis 6:5 - emphasis mine}

The world is a mess. Children are killed in mass shootings; families have been ripped apart as one country attacks another; a stream of famine, disease, and hatred of those who are deemed "less" than someone else floods our feeds. If we fix our eyes on the news headlines of the BBC, it would seem that there is no point to getting out of bed in the mornings. Let's hoard our food, dig a bunker, and hunker down until Jesus returns or we die.

But now I speak to those of you who, like me, are followers of Jesus Christ. This is NOT what we have been called to do. We were warned that things would get worse before they get better.
"I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." {John 16:33}
And we were entrusted with a message of Hope to share...
"For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have HOPE." {Romans 15:4}

"For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the BLESSED HOPE—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good." {Titus 2:11-14}

"Let us hold unswervingly to the HOPE we profess, for He who promised is faithful." {Hebrews 10:23}
Did you catch that?? >>> He who promised is faithful. <<< My brothers and sisters in the Lord, take these words to heart! He IS faithful...when the world is falling apart, when it seems like you can't handle one more piece of bad news or hardship, when you want to hide under your covers and be the "speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil" monkeys 🙊🙈🙉 ...He is STILL faithful. He is STILL in control. And we CAN trust Him. In everything.

And so what if the worst comes? What if we are faced with death? Do we, as Jesus followers, mourn like those who have no hope? Surely NOT!
"If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied." {1 Corinthians 15:19}
I often have this conversation with our kids. Am I looking forward to death? Yes. To quote my cousin, because I do not serve a dead Christ, but a living Christ. I know why I'm here, and I know where I'm going. Am I looking forward to the PROCESS of dying? No, of course not! Who looks forward to that? I'm a human wimp, just the same as anyone else. The process of dying could be painful, it could be prolonged, it could be momentarily terrifying. But while death comes to all of us, it is not the end.
"Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him." {Hebrews 9:27-28}
And if it's painful? If it involves suffering? ⤵️
"But even if you should suffer for what is right, YOU ARE BLESSED. 'Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.' But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the HOPE that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect," {1 Peter 3:14-15}

"I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." {Philippians 1:20-21}
May we have "sufficient courage" to face a world that needs the Hope of a Savior. May we be "prepared to give an answer" when people around us want to know why we have Hope. May we "love our neighbors as ourselves" so that they see Jesus shining through us. And if the Lord doesn't respond in the way we know He can? Then may we respond as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did in Daniel 3...
"King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and He will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." {Daniel 3:16-18}
The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer. In Him, and Him alone, do I have Hope. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. In good times and in bad, may those of us who claim to follow the Lord Jesus, exalt Him, so that others may see and seek.


The Best Laid Plans...

Oh, what grand schemes were schemed at the end of 2021. Twelve blog posts, twelve big things to focus on, twelve ways to improve myself, our house, and our bank account in 2022. The only thing I can say at the quarter point of the year is that I have managed to write at least one blog post each month, and that's something, right? If you saw my post from March, then you know life threw some curveballs our way, and my pantry isn't cleaned out or organized. In fact, if anything, it has gotten worse and more overwhelming. And while we've had some good news in April, it has also been a month of stuggles, with one child in particular, and weekends spent cleaning at my parent's house while my mom continued to recover from her fall and resulting fracture. 

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble. {Psalm 46:1}

Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

Sometimes the view of the road ahead is clear, and other times you can't see around the next bend. At times you are steering in the dark, and then suddenly a ray of light will issue forth and provide some much-needed guidance for the journey. I think the image above pretty much sums up my life at this stage - can't see what's coming next, mostly dark, but with the occasional God rays to remind me that He's still the author of the journey. 

In my "best laid plans" I intended to read 12 books this month. With all that is going on, there are many nights I don't even get to read to the kids anymore, so reading 12 books, whether for myself or to others, seems like a dream at the moment. But since I still want to aim for something - because in the midst of the craziness, I still feel the need for some normalcy and goal setting - I'm revising the April goal to reading 12 minutes a day

Are you in a season of life when finding 12 minutes in a day to do something like read for pleasure feels like a luxuary? Let me tell you, you are not alone my friend. If the last three-and-a-half months have taught me anything, it has been the importance of making time to be still with the Lord - not running around trying to purge 12 things (even though that's a nice stress relief too) or read 12 books or spend 12 minutes cleaning out a pantry bin. I don't have time for any of those things, if I'm being honest. Between parenting five kids and working a few hours each week and juggling homeschooling and field trips and aging parents...the hours in my day are rapidly dwindling. 

At the end of the day, sandwiched between bedtime routines of the youngest and oldest, there is just a smidgen of time to "be still" and listen for the Lord to speak. But He does. He always does. And I'm always thankful for those stolen moments, and look forward to the day when they aren't quite so stolen. Maybe you are too.

“Be still and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted over the earth.” {Psalm 46:10}

Hang in there, Mamas...or daughters, sisters, friends...this too, shall pass, but the Word of the Lord will remain forever. Whatever else you do this month, make sure you're making time for the most important of all.  


Surviving the Flood

When my phone rang at 11:45 PM on December 31st, I knew it wasn't a good sign before I ever answered it. Twenty twenty-two came in with a bang, and it often feels like it's taken up the challenge of 2020 and upped the ante. 

Photo by Yannis Papanastasopoulos on Unsplash

In February I found myself nursing a bruised tailbone after taking a tumble while proving to my kids that at 40 I could still rollerskate (I earned both street cred and the right to take ibuprofen like they were candy for a while). While worth it to receive their unchecked admiration, my coccyx did not rebound like it did when I was eight.

When I rolled over in our Florida hotel room bed a little over a week ago in the wee hours of the morning and saw multiple missed calls and then started reading the text messages, my heart sank as I realized we were not only right back where we had been on December 31st, but in for a much bigger ride this time. Poking the Hubs and waking the kids in the middle of the night was just the start of the next 18+ hours of driving, praying, and wishing I could wake up and it would all be a really bad dream. 

When my phone rang again a week ago, just a couple of days after our rude awakening in Florida, I knew as soon as I heard my mother's voice that things were not good. And not good turned into a fall resulting in a fractured femoral neck (connecting to the hip), buying walkers, dealing with doctors, and becoming the self-appointed communicator with siblings, Church family, friends, and more. 

Today I posted a notarized letter to a juvenile court in central Florida because they won't talk to me on the phone or over the internet. In 2022, the only way to communicate is through a letter. Bureaucracy at its finest. And even though we haven't arrived there yet, April is already wearing me out with what might be on the horizon. 

So when a friend saw me this weekend and told me about this book I should read, it was all I could do to keep from laughing. Read?? I'm doing good to get through my text messages, much less adding one more book to my stack. Most nights in the last week I didn't fall into bed before one or two o'clock in the morning. 

I am a counselor with no degree, a pastor with no formal training, a medical aid without going to medical school. I am a housekeeper, a personal assistant, a communications expert, and - apparently - I am Google, because I cannot tell you the number of times someone has asked me for the answer to something they could have Googled...which I then proceed to do and then give them the answer. 

This is all in addition to the unpaid gigs of math tutor, science teacher, geography expert, and guidance counselor for the four kids I'm actively homeschooling. And the "normal" stuff that comes with being a mom of five, and a wife... chauffeur, cook, laundry manager, keeper of the schedule, planner of meals, an expert at selecting Amazon Prime next-day shipping for that thing the kid needs that I forgot until now... and a self-employed writer, editor, and proofreader on top of that, just to keep things from becoming boring. And if all of that were not enough, the Hubs is about to leave his job of 20 years to work for himself, and all the changes that come with that transition. Plus, it's tax season. Because...why not?

Everyone needs something...and reading a book that you think might be "helpful" to me is not at all helpful...unless it comes with legs and arms and can drive a car and run errands and give worthwhile advice when one (or more) of my kids are in tears just when I'm ready to crawl under the covers for the day. 

And yet, I am surviving this deluge of busyness, this tsunami of trials. People have asked how I'm holding up...and my answer remains the same: God is sustaining. He always has and He always does. 

One day last week, as I was driving from my parent's house to the pharmacy (with a stop at the medical equipment store), I, the stoic INTJ, burst into tears. It was all just too much. And as I sobbed and snotted all over the steering wheel, I heard God say, "When you are weak, I am strong. Rejoice in your weakness so that My power may rest on you." Being the obedient daughter that I am, I immediately said (out loud), "REJOICE?? FATHER, HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO REJOICE IN THIS?!?!" And again I heard, "In your weakness, my strength is shown. My power is made perfect in weakness." The tears dried up as I meditated on these truths, and then I pressed on, in my weakness, and in His strength. 

When long nights followed long days, He was there. When the clock ticked slowly past the midnight hour, and my brain had long since shut off, He gave wisdom. And best of all, this gift is not just mine alone - it is available to you, to all of us who believe in Him, who choose to trust Him, who take one step in faith and keep walking. 

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. {Matthew 11:28-29}

The floods will keep coming. The waves will crash and the stormy gales will continue to blow, but, in the words of the song by Andrae Crouch, through it all, through it all...I've learned to trust in Jesus, I've learned to trust in God. I've learned to depend upon His Word. 

Happy March. I didn't organize my pantry (per my list of 12 for this year), but I learned a lot more about leaning into the Lord and taking what comes a day at a time. Whatever happens in April, may I still be found, in my weakness, resting in His power. See you next month...Lord willing! 


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