“These are a few of my favorite things…”

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I’m sure you’ve heard the song in The Sound of Music where Maria sings about her favorite things. A huge storm is raging outside and the children are all cuddled in the same room. They sing about “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens” and the like.

Well, here are a few of my favorite things.

Food: Because we must begin with the important things. I love Caesar salad and butternut squash soup. Oh, and cheesecake. Unfortunately, the soup and the cheesecake are a huge pain to make (so if anyone wants to send me some, I will be eternally grateful).

Seasons: Fall. Hands down. It’s got my birthday, Thanksgiving, and sweaters.

Sports: Soccer and running

Siblings: Like I would divulge that information!

Blogs: The Rebelution, Helping Writers Become Authors, Story Embers, thedancingrunner, etc.

Time of day: Early morning when I can run in the peaceful world.

Animal: Dogs!!! I like to say that I want to get a dog of a size that I could ride it into battle (should the need arise).

TV show: Doctor Who (I plan on a marathon when I get my wisdom teeth out this summer)

State: Virginia! I love the beautiful mountains, plus we have beaches too.

Coffee: Um, yes. I mostly drink black coffee, but I can really do anything as long as it doesn’t have mint in it. Mint chocolate anything would probably have to go on the least favorites list.

Kira

What are some of your weirdest (or normal-est) favorite things? Do you have a dog you could ride into battle? If so, can I meet him?

Adventure Novel (part 2)

You can read part one here.

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“Good, because we need to get down to work.” Jackson went to a small dresser on one of the walls and pulled open the top drawer. It, like everything else in this forgotten corner of civilization, was covered in dust. I sneezed.

Jackson crossed back over to me and held out a small round thing, roughly the same color as my skin. I took it and turned it over in my palm, examining it.

“It’s an earpiece. Put it in and get going. You’re going to be late for work.”

I shot him a look that said I definitely was not okay with this, but did it anyway. He checked to make sure it was in correctly, then spoke into a little microphone on his wrist.

“Testing, testing.”

I jumped when it came through loud and clear on my earpiece.

Jackson grinned. “I guess it works. You won’t be able to contact us, but Kat will be outside if anything goes wrong. Now go.”

“You still haven’t told me what you want me to do yet.”

He pushed me gently toward the staircase. “I’ll talk you through it. Just go.”


I was only a few minutes late, but Mr. Helsing’s secretary shot me a concerned look anyway.

“Morning, Natalie. Have they already started?”

“Yes. Here, bring in the coffee order and maybe you won’t get as many glares.” She handed me a styrofoam tray of coffees which I balanced with one hand while edging my way into the meeting.

Everyone turned to look at me and Mr. Helsing stopped midsentence. “Ah, Megan. So nice of you to join us.”

“Sorry I’m late.” I set the coffee in the middle of the conference table and six people turned to grab their drinks. The attention was no longer on me and I slid into a chair at the end of the table.

“As I was saying,” Mr. Helsing continued, “profit has spiked this past year due, I believe, to our marketing efforts.”

“Megan.” Jackson’s voice in my ear made me jump and everyone turned to look again.

“Sorry. Just remembered I forgot to feed my cat. Please, don’t mind me.”

Mr. Helsing gave me a very disapproving look before continuing once again.

“Megan, the virus is on a flashdrive in Mr. Helsing’s office. I’m told it’s in the top drawer of his desk. You’ll need to find a way to get in there, take it, and get out. You have two hours.”

In his office? And how did Jackson know where it was?

I pretended to listen to the meeting as my mind scrambled for an excuse to leave.

“One hour, Megan.”

I had to get out before Mr. Helsing went back into his office.

“Thirty minutes.”

Time for action.

I stood, once again attracting the attention of everyone in the room.

“Megan, is there a problem?” Mr. Helsing crossed his arms and glared at me.

“No sir. Sorry. I’m just not feeling well today. I think I need some water. I’ll be right back. Please, go on without me.”

“Be quick about it. We’ve got a lot to go over and I don’t want you missing it.”

“Yes sir.” I left in a hurry and went back out to the lobby. “Natalie, Mr. Helsing wanted me to grab something from his office for him. Could I have the key please?”

“Sure. What is it?” She handed me the key.

“Just a flashdrive. Thanks.”

I unlocked the door to Mr. Helsing’s office and stepped in, holding my breath.

Top drawer.

I opened it carefully and stared down at five flashdrives, all the same color.

“Can I help you find it?” I startled at Natalie’s sudden appearance in the doorway.

“Um, no thanks. Got it right here!” I held up one of the flashdrives and smiled, using my other hand to slip the other four into my pocket. I shut the drawer and slipped out past Natalie. She closed the door and locked it.

I headed toward the front door.

“Don’t you need to be getting back to the meeting?”

I stopped. “Oh, um…some of the drinks were missing. I’m just going to go around the corner and grab them real quick. It’ll only take a minute.” I offered her a reassuring smile and walked out the door, breathing a sigh of relief.

Kat caught up to me as I walked toward the base. “Do you have it?”

“I’ve got five. They’re all identical.”

“Well we’ve got to hurry. Time’s running out.”

Back at the base, Jackson had pulled up a computer and snatched the flashdrives from my hand as soon as I held them out. He began plugging them in and searching.

“Three minutes, Three minutes…” he muttered.

At number four, his eyes lit up. He began typing furiously.

Kat checked her watch. “Jackson…”

“I know, I know.” His fingers flew across the keyboard. I looked at my own watch, watching the seconds tick down.

Five. Four. Three. Two.

“Done!”

Jackson heaved a huge sigh of relief and sank back into his folding chair with a grin. “We did it.”

“And all thanks to you, Megan.” Kat smiled at me.

I smiled back. Just like in an adventure novel.

Adventure Novel (part 1)

You can read part two here.

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“Honey!”

I glanced over my shoulder as I continued to push my way down the busy street. Who would be yelling above the crowd so loudly?

A tall woman with dark hair looked delighted to see me. She must have been the one who called out. I turned and kept walking, faster now that a lunatic was following me. Only a few more blocks to the office. No problem. Besides, police officers were all over the city. Right?

Only a few steps later, an arm wrapped around my shoulder. It was the woman. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you!” she exclaimed.

I made a face and started to squirm away, but she tightened her grip and lowered her voice. “Come with me. Quickly – there’s no time.”

I obeyed in spite of myself. Surely there would be a police officer soon. I could call out for help as soon as I saw one. But my gut told me that wasn’t why I was going along with this black clad woman. No, it was the adventure novels. I was addicted to them and this felt like something out of the first chapter.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“Shh. No time for questions. You’re my little sister and they have eyes everywhere, so act like it.”

I continued to trot to keep up with the woman’s hurried pace, trying to get a good look at her. She wore a black leather jacket and dark jeans tucked into combat boots. And was that a gun in her belt? Suddenly this wasn’t so much fun.

“Who are you?” I pulled away from her, but kept walking.

“Katrina. You can call me Kat. I’ve been watching you, Megan, and I think you’re going to be very helpful.” She raised her voice. “Well, you really ought to tell me if you’re going to leave without me in the morning. You had me scared half to death!”

“I’m a grown woman. I can come and go as I please!” I answered.

She shot me an appraising look. “Very nice,” she breathed.

“How do you know my name? And where are we going?”

“To the base.” She took a sharp right, shoving a path through the crowd and entering a tiny secondhand shop. The furniture and clothes all looked as if they had come from the twentieth century and my allergies instantly flared up at the dust.

I followed Kat through the deserted shop and down a narrow flight of stairs into the basement. The room was lit by a single lightbulb hanging over a card table. A teenage boy sat at the table, leaning back in his chair and shuffling a deck of cards.

He stood abruptly when we came in. “You got her then? No problems?”

“No problems,” Kat confirmed.

“Good. Have you briefed her?”

“Nope. Didn’t want them hearing anything.”

“Good call.” The boy turned to me. “I’m Jackson. Kat and I have been watching you for some time now. We need your help to save the world.”

I raised my eyebrows. “To save the world? Nice try, kid. Look, I’ve got to get to work. I don’t have time for this.”

“Then why’d you follow Kat?”

I glanced away, knowing he had won this round. “Fine. What do you want? You have five minutes.”

Jackson nodded to Kat. She turned to face me. “Your boss – Mr. Helsing – he’s trying to take down the entire banking system of America.”

I rolled my eyes. “Hilarious. Did John put you up to this?”

Jackson stepped forward, looking me straight in the eye. Somehow, his gangly teenage limbs didn’t detract from the seriousness of his face. “This is not a joke, Megan. He has a virus that will destroy everything holding the financial world together. We need you to get it for us.”

“Why would he even want to do that? He’s one of the richest men in the city – wouldn’t that undermine everything he’s done?”

“No. I don’t have time to explain all of the details to you. This virus is set to go live in three hours. Are you in or out?” Jackson held my gaze. Kat stood with crossed arms a few feet behind him.

I scoffed. “You expect me to drop everything and spy on my boss for some lady I just met and her teenage sidekick?”

Neither of them answered.

I glanced between their faces. “Fine. I’m in.”

Why I Read Old Books (and like them)

Let me start by apologizing for going AWOL for the past couple months. I’m back and I’m working to find a blogging schedule that isn’t interrupted by the rest of my life. Now, onto the post…

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Have you ever read Chaucer? Dickens? Thucydides? I have. Granted, all of these examples were for school, but I am glad of the chance to consume such literature.

A common problem in many readers today is that of reading only recently published books. But (and I am generalizing here) many of those books are shallow. They contain love triangles, vampires, and dead parents. Especially in books written for teenagers, the writing itself is simple and contains small words. The plot is straightforward and the characters have no crushing moral dilemma beyond whether it is socially acceptable to date whichever attractive person they are desperately in love with.

Now look at old books. Yes, some of them do contain these elements. Jane Eyre is quite the love triangle. But it is more than that. It is a young woman’s journey of growing up and learning what sacrificial love really is. It contains rich dialogue, deep characters, and a morally gripping plot.

Old books not only use more complicated sentences and bigger words (offering wonderful exercise for the brain), they also bring us into the thoughts and ideals of people in the past. Charles Dickens wrote about the French Revolution in A Tale of Two Cities, giving a story of political tumult and redemption which combined many plots into a rich climax. He offered his perspective on the revolution through his characters and his storytelling.

Of course, so far, I have only mentioned novels of a few hundred years ago. But the nonfiction is just important, even though those books may be a bit more dull than their fiction counterparts at times. The Federalist and Antifederalist Papers show us the discussions and disagreements between some of the core founders of the United States. The History of the Kings of Britain shows both the complicated history of Britain and the political corruption (and purity) in some major players in said history.

The theological books are, yet again, powerful and offer insights into the early history of the church. Eusebius gives us a thorough Ecclesiastical History, as does Bede. Augustine wrote countless books on different aspects of theology and the Christian life. He examined the kingdom of God in The City of God; he wrote his own testimony in Confessions; he looked at some basic Christian truths in On Faith, Hope, and Love (the Enchiridion). Calvin wrote almost too much to read in his Institutes of the Christian Religion and while we may not agree with everything these theological giants believed, they were pivotal in the development of the church and fighting the heresies of their day.

Old books offer us wisdom that recent books are unable to provide. They put at our fingertips the knowledge of the ages and the ideas and records of thousands of years. Old books are priceless. They enrich us.

Let me leave with the the advice of the great writer C. S. Lewis in his introduction to Athanasius’s On the Incarnation:

“It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.” (full introduction here)

Go forth and read!

Kira

What’s the last old book you read? What did you learn from it?

God’s Outrageous Generosity

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I wrote my last post in a state of dullness; life wasn’t working and nothing I did seemed to help. All I could do was to keep pushing through, keep doing the things that need to get done in a day: eat, shower, school, work, chores. Go to bed, wake up, repeat.

That feeling isn’t completely gone. It’s beginning to fade, but still here. I’m continuing in my routines, getting things done, and just trying to live through.

But God is gracious. He knows how I’ve been feeling and, while feelings aren’t everything, He did give them to us and He has felt them Himself. On Sunday, He offered some soothing of the struggle – some joy in the midst of the drudgery.

The sermon was on the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 (you can listen to it here). If you’ve grown up in the church, you’ve probably heard it a thousand times, like I have. Surely there’s nothing new.

Of course, every time we think that, God is quick to prove us wrong on an epic scale.

The whole sermon was amazing, hitting me with different points and introducing new ways of thinking about the parable that I had never considered before. But it was one verse and one point in particular that has stuck with me and won’t leave my head, through the roughness of life.

And he said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” -Luke 15:31

The father in the story is talking to a disgruntled older brother about why he celebrates the return of his wayward son. The father represents our Father in Heaven and his words are those of our Lord.

One of the true-est truths (if there can be such a thing) is that of God’s generosity. It is apparent throughout Scripture from the beginning of time all the way through every moment of history up until this very one. He has given us His universe to live in, His food to eat, His Son to be saved by.

Everything God has, He has given to us.

You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours…

However, as our pastor pointed out, this is also one of the first truths that we want to deny to ourselves. “How is this generosity? It’s probably just God trying to toughen me up or ‘sanctify me’ or something. But not generosity.”

Eve believed God was keeping something from her when He said not to eat the fruit. It’s a lie that has crept from generation to generation and one that we must be aware of in order to combat.

The past couple weeks, it is the lie that I have believed. “God’s giving me a rough time right now. He’s withholding the ease and happiness that I want. Maybe I’ll get it one day, but there’s a reason it’s being kept from me for now.” No. God is overwhelmingly generous with me, always sharing all that He has with me.

And when you think about how much He has, that’s a big deal. So, don’t be discouraged. Remember that your Father loves you and has given you all that is His. Because He wants to.

Kira

What are some ways that you can see God’s generosity in your life right now? How do you remember those when you’re suffering?

The Upside of Gutting it Out

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“You seem to be disenchanted with life this morning.”

My mother’s words before church on Sunday perfectly captured what I had been feeling for the past week or so (and am still feeling as I write). Disenchanted with life… I don’t want to get up in the morning because it’s just another day of school and work until falling into bed. I’m exhausted from the minute I wake up to the minute I fall asleep. Social interactions and books don’t hold my interest. There’s not much time or energy for writing. And don’t even mention working out – that hasn’t happened in weeks.

Living like this is frustrating. It feels like nothing’s working even though I’m trying so hard. I just don’t love life.

I don’t know what the cause of this is. Maybe it’s just a phase or season. Maybe I’m not getting enough vitamin C (though I know it’s not that – gotta ward off those germs). But I do know something that has helped me. Habits.

A couple years ago, I formed the solid habit of doing devotions (Bible reading, prayer, verse memorization) every day. I don’t often miss it. When I got a job and suddenly became busy, I formed the habit of praying constantly. Through years of siblings waking up bright and early, I formed the habit of getting out of bed by 7:30am at the latest (and considering that sleeping in).

I’m in the shower by 7:10 every morning. I work on school with most of my spare time. I get my chores done (mostly) in between various things. These things help me mechanically move through time, even when I’d rather not move at all. I can still get work done, I can still move forward, even though I feel terrible.

I don’t say any of this to brag. I say it rather to urge you to form solid habits. Decide when you need to get up in the morning and work on it until you wake up before the alarm rings. Pick a book of the Bible and read a chapter every day, at the same time every day, and pray afterward. When do you need to work out? Do it (and I say this one as much to myself as to anyone else).

We have so many feelings and they’re not always good. Bad moods, frustration, “disenchantment with life” will sometimes overstay their welcome. But life can’t stop for a week of disenchantment – or two or three.

Use the good times to form habits. They won’t fix the bad, but they’ll help.

Kira

What habits help you keep moving when life’s got you down?

Any new ones that you need to form?

The Golden Shark: Part 2

You can read Part 1 here.

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Michael started the message down the ship, through each of the slaves, convicts, fighters. Within the hour, he told me I had every man’s allegiance.

“Perfect. Now, how to get the keys? None of us can do anything against George and the rest of my crew in these chains.”

Michael thought for a minute. “Leave that to me, sir.” The next time we pushed our oar forward, he reached out and tapped the man in front of him on the back. The man nodded, seeming to keep with the beat of the drum. A moment later, he collapsed off of his bench, into the center of the ship.

The same voice that had ordered me to row shouted for him to get up, get back to work. He lay still. The man stormed forward and I recognized him as Howard, one of the lesser of my crewmen. He began beating the man on the floor with both his fists and his whip. The man cried out, but didn’t get up.

Michael jumped to his feet, stepping as far as the chain on his ankle would allow, and delivered a sound blow to the back of Howard’s head. He froze and swayed a little. Michael hit him one more time and Howard fell, the sound muffled as he landed on the slave he had been beating.

The slave wormed his way out from under the man and fished around in his pockets for a moment before pulling something out. He held his findings out to me. “Your keys, sir.”

I blinked, still taking in what had happened. But no time for that. Already, some of the slaves had stopped rowing and the voices above deck told me that George had noticed. Someone would be down to check on that soon.

I accepted the ring of keys and unlocked my own chains, and Michael’s. Then I passed them forward. I addressed the slaves as if for battle as they took turns unlocking themselves, all down the ship.

“The crew is armed. We are not. However, we outnumber them. And do not forget that for which you fight: your freedom!” Eighty or so fists raised in the air in silent celebration. “Follow me, men. Today, we fight to regain this ship.”

I led the way up the ladder to the next deck, where a few crew members snored in their hammocks. We crept by, unwilling to waken any extra enemies. I did, however, snatch a stray sword leaning against the wall on the way through.

The moment I reached the deck, I ran for the wheel. That was where George Mullins gleefully reigned. The smile fell from his face at the sight of me and my following of haphazardly armed slaves charging the deck.

As the slaves engaged with various members of the crew, I fought my way to George. It wasn’t difficult, considering how we outnumbered them. Every time a man attacked me, two slaves closed in on him and I moved on, nearer to my first mate.

“Captain.” He breathed the word. “How…”

“That’s not your concern, George. You have two choices: hand back my ship, or have it taken by force.”

“Do your worst.” He slid his own blade from its sheath and I raised mine, striking immediately.

The fight was short – George was not very good with a sword, and I had mine at his throat in less than a minute. “Care to give me back control, now, Mullins?”

He swallowed hard, sheer hatred in his eyes. He ground his teeth together and dropped his sword.

“Order the men to do the same.”

“Drop your weapons.”

I shook my head. “I don’t think they heard you.”

“Drop your weapons!” he screamed.

I smiled. “Better.” I turned to face a deck full of sailors surrendering to galley slaves. “Lock them up, men. We’ll need someone to row the Golden Shark to the islands.”

My new crew cheered and hurried to gather their prisoners. I handed George over to Michael, who prodded him below deck with a rather sharp looking shard of glass.

I gripped the smooth spokes on the wheel of my ship. “And now,” I whispered, “we sail.”

The End

Kira

The Golden Shark: Part 1

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The world lurched beneath me and my head slammed into something hard. I moaned and opened my eyes a crack. The world was mostly dark, with a single flickering source of light at the end of what looked like a long tunnel.

Rows of people lined either side of the tunnel – men, sitting on benches two by two and swaying in sync with one another. Behind me, a beating sound pounded into my head, a slow, persistent thump. Thump. Thump.

I moaned again and was suddenly jerked up into a seated position. “Row!” yelled a rough voice, right in my ear.

Stars still blinked before my eyes and I sat there dumbly.

“I said, row!” A fist collided with the back of my head and I woke myself up enough to grab the piece of wood rotating in front of me and copy the man next to me. Push, pull, push, pull.

What was I doing here? And where was here? I asked the slave beside me – for slave he was – and received a strange look in return. “You’re in the galley, Captain Shores,” he whispered.

I had deduced that I was in some sort of a ship by now, but didn’t understand why the man would be calling me Captain. “Why do you address me like that? I may not know where I am, but I am clearly no captain!”

Push, pull, push, pull. I realized now, that the rowing was in time to the thumping of what must have been a large drum.

“Sir, you are the captain of this ship, the Golden Shark. Your first mate organized mutiny last night and your men confined you to the galley. You must have hit your head…or had it hit for you.”

“The Golden Shark…” I paused in my rowing, the words bringing back flashes of memory. “My first mate…George?”

“That’s right, sir.”

It all came back. The darkness of the night on which George Mullins chose to lead my own men in attacking me. The struggle to fight them off, the cries for any of my men – any at all – to aid me.

And all over some cinnamon.

The Golden Shark was one of the Queen’s navy ships, charged with finding a quicker route to the Spice Islands and bringing back enough spices to make investors and the royal family quite wealthy. Of course, as captain of this ship, I was to receive a considerable percentage of whatever we managed to bring back to England with us. All George needed to do was claim that I drowned at sea or broke the law and tried to take all the riches for myself, turning pirate, and he would be lauded and paid – well paid.

I looked to the man sitting next to me. Galley slaves. All of them. And now I joined them, rowing and rowing, chained to the ship by my ankle, a man with a whip at my back. I must regain my ship.

But would they aid me? Me, who enforced the court’s sentence of slavery for however many years befitted their crime? There was only one way to find out.

“What is your name?”

The slave gave me a sideways glance. “Michael, sir.”

“How much longer are you sentenced to the galley, Michael?”

“Seven years, sir.”

“I assume the others have similar sentences?”

“I’m sure they do, sir. Some shorter, some longer.”

“And do you think they would aid me in regaining control of this ship if I offered them their freedom?”

Michael turned to face me as well as he could without letting go of the long oar. “Doubtless, sir.”

To be continued…

Kira

Love Doesn’t Come From Me

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We love because he first loved us.

We all know 1 John 4:19 by heart. We can recite it forward, backward, and upside down. But how often do we think about the deep meaning of the verse?

I think we Christians have a tendency to “know” all the popular and spiritual verses without understanding them. We have the knowledge in our heads, but it doesn’t reach our hearts. 1 John 4:19 is one of those verses.

I’ve been thinking about love lately. Not the romantic kind – the unconditional kind. In my pathetic attempts to love people by myself recently, I have discovered just how far my stores of love go. It’s not far. I began to despair of ever being able to love people as the Bible commands.

But then God reminded me that it’s not my job to come up with all the love. It’s His. I can love the people around me (no matter how obnoxious, rude, or just plain mean they are) by using His love. And His love never runs out.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10

God performed the ultimate act of love for me two thousand years ago and continues to love me to this very day. It is because of that love that I can love others. And the same holds true for you.

Kira

What verses encourage you through the difficulties of living for God? Are there any that you need to look at more closely for the truth they convey?

Book Review: Passion and Purity

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Every once in a while, a truly excellent book is born. A book that changes the perspectives and lives of thousands of people – quietly. This book isn’t made into a movie. It doesn’t go wild on the internet. It might even be rather slow to sell. But God is faithful and He uses it to further His kingdom, even decades after it was written.

Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot is a quiet little book. It’s not particularly long and is the exact opposite of flashy. From the cover to the introduction to the book itself, Elliot creates an atmosphere of peace and rest. I finished this book in the space of only a few days, so eager was I to get back to the comforting read, and then was sorry when it was over.

Passion and Purity tells the love story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, a gripping and sweet tale that seems as if it could come out of a storybook. But their story serves a deeper purpose, as do all of our stories. Elliot uses their years of joy and pain to discuss faithfulness to God in the midst of romantic relationships – purity in the middle of passion.

I’ve heard this book recommended countless places and will now join the voices urging that everyone desirous of living a pure life read the short volume. Passion and Purity is the first book on relationships I have read (and I have read many) to focus so pointedly on living for God in all your life and not just what to do with these feelings tangled up inside. It recognizes that we were created to glorify God and serve Him alone – even if that goes against what our heart is telling us to do (thank you, Disney, for that worldview). We must not waste these years of singleness and we must not waste future years of marriage. All is for the glory of God.

As much as I hesitate to use the word, “relatable” describes Elisabeth Elliot’s work quite well. She understands what it feels like to want marriage so badly, but to be kept from it over and over. She knows the struggles of submitting yourself to the Lord’s plan for your life. She knows the daily discipline of obedience. And she offers encouragement, through it all.

And so I say, read Passion and Purity. Read it carefully; read it slowly; read it with open heart and mind. Elisabeth Elliot holds much wisdom from the life God has given her and she generously shares it if only we are willing to listen.

Kira

Have you read any good books lately? What made them worth the read?