Brief Hiatus

Just stopping by to let you know that I will be taking a two-week blogging hiatus (beginning, ahem, yesterday). July is really crazy busy for me, and I thought I could keep up with blogging, but I need to take it off my plate for the next little while. I usually take a break for part of the summer anyway.

So, I’m going to take a break, and I’ll come back in August! See you then!

love, grace

Lessons from the Law: God and Social Justice

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I hit 100 blog followers this week…what?? Thank you so much to all of you wonderful followers! It means so much to me that you take the time to read what I have to say, and I hope it continues to be an encouragement to you!

So far in this series, I’ve covered the sacrificial laws and the building instructions. There’s another major category I have yet to talk about: the social laws, the laws for justice and equality. To get a sense of what I’m talking about, read Exodus 23:1-9.

These are the laws that provided for order in the community, for justice and fairness. They seem mundane, addressing issues like being a court witness, lost animals, dealing with bribes. After talking about the glorious symbolism of the sacrificial system, what’s the point of these? After all, the civil law of the Bible is kinda obsolete. It’s not the civil law of the modern world. Why do we need to know it?

Because of what it teaches us about God’s character. There’s one big thing we can learn from all of these social laws: God cares about justice. 

In fact, the only hope for true social justice lies in God. All the people in our world today who are trying to cure world hunger and get rid of poverty and everything else? Those are noble goals. But they can never be accomplished by fallen humans.

Christianity is the key to true social justice: because being a Christian means loving others, treating them better than ourselves, and believing in the dignity and worth of every human being.

What better foundation for social reform could there be than that? 

Christianity’s social reform is perfectly consistent. Christianity’s social reform is based on eternal things. Christianity’s social reform will succeed when all else fails because it has God behind it. And when it doesn’t succeed in this world, there is always the hope of heaven to look forward to.

In these social justice laws of the Old Testament, we see the foundation of Christianity’s belief in loving others and caring for others. God is justice, and nowhere do we see that better than in the law books. That’s what laws are all about, after all; protecting the innocent and prosecuting the guilty. And that structure ultimately came from God, not men.

That’s why we read the civil law of the Old Testament: because it came straight from God, and it shows us what God values and cares about. And our goal as Christians should always, always be to learn more about the character of God.

love, grace

What do you think? What else have you learned about God’s character from the law books? Share in the comments!

 

Book and Movie of the Year 2016

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It’s already time for another book and movie of the year post! I had so much fun doing this last year and so I’m excited to do it again.

The choice, especially for books, was slightly agonizing, but I’m happy with the titles I’ve picked. In the end I just had to go with a gut feeling about which books most deserved this title.

Disclaimer: I am not getting paid to promote C.S. Lewis. Futhermore, this blog is not sponsored by C.S. Lewis, who happens to be no longer living anyway so how he would sponsor my blog, I don’t know. 

All jokes aside, I was a little concerned about choosing another C.S. Lewis book for my Book of the Year (last year’s was That Hideous Strength), but what can I say? C.S. Lewis is truly one of the greatest authors ever, and out of all the books I read this year, this one was the best. I do not take this choice lightly, and I didn’t want to choose a lesser book simply so that I wouldn’t have the same author two years in a row.

(It’s my award. I make the rules. And I say that the book can be by the same author two years in a row.)

So with that out of the way, I present to you…the 2016 Book and Movie of the Year! 

Book of the Year: The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

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Runner-up: The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart 

The Last Battle is the final book of the Narnia series, the culmination of every plot in the other books. I had definitely read it before, but I was so young I didn’t remember, and this year was the first time that I sat down and read the whole Narnia series, from start to finish within a few weeks, on my own. The Last Battle blew me away.

The endings of the other books are all so bittersweet, with the children returning to the real world, unsure if they will return. But not this one. This one displayed the great climax of human history and the great resolution of final peace and joy. The ending is made even sweeter because of the previous books, all of the characters reunited in eternal happiness. This book somehow captures what the feeling may be like when Christ returns, and it is a picture of heaven that I will never forget.

The runner-up is a whole series, because taking one book out of the series robs it of its magic. The four books together make The Mysterious Benedict Society series what it is: a wonderful story of friendship and good defeating evil. While a children’s book, it has such important messages for all ages, and is a story that everyone can enjoy. It is a happy story that is deep and meaningful at the same time, a rare find in this age of dark and depressing or light and fluffy books.

Movie of the Year: Big Fish (2003)

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Runner-up: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005) 

I don’t think Big Fish is a movie that can really be explained. I can’t explain what it’s about, or why it had such a huge emotional effect on me, but I’ll try anyway.

The movie is the story of a father and son, shown in the present and in flashbacks through the father’s life. All during the son’s childhood, the father told wild stories about his own life, passing them off as truth. As an adult, the son greatly distrusts his father and resents those stories.

The movie explores their relationship, especially when the father becomes very sick. It explores the power of stories and the lasting effect they have on our lives. The ending had me crying my eyes out, and the whole movie is fun, humorous, entertaining, deep, beautiful, and sad all at the same time.

And yes, more Narnia as the runner-up. This year I watched a Narnia movie for the first time, and was really pleased with how well it was adapted! The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is visually gorgeous, well-cast, and stays very true to the book. I’m hesitant to watch the rest of the movies from things I’ve heard, but this one at least did a very good job and left me happy and satisfied.

 

What do you think? Do you like my choices? What are some of the best things you read and watched in 2016? Tell me in the comments! 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Christmas Albums I Love

Christmas music is what really makes it feel like the Christmas season for me. When I turn on that first Christmas song, it makes me so happy. At that point, the holidays have truly arrived.

I’ve been listening to Christmas music obsessively, and today I want to share some of my favorite albums with you. Hopefully this will introduce you to some artists you haven’t heard before and provide you with some new things to listen to!

(I wish I could share my actual playlist with you, which includes most of these songs and a few more in a very specific order, but I don’t have Spotify or anything so this will have to do for now.)

Noel: Josh Groban

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If you haven’t already listened to Josh Groban’s Christmas album, go do it! It’s classic and gorgeous and usually one of the first albums I listen to at the start of the season.

Two of my favorite songs:

Christmas: Michael Buble

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Here’s another album with a classic sound and gorgeous vocals that is a good way to start off the season!

That’s Christmas to Me AND A Pentatonix Christmas: Pentatonix

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Pentatonix is so talented and can sing so many different styles; all you have to do is listen “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” to hear both their classical and contemporary sound.  The songs are so fun, catchy, and well-arranged!

Christmas Beyond the Lights: Sons of Serendip

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I just discovered this group, and their music is so beautiful! Some has vocals (and wow, is the vocalist great), and some is just instrumental (and wow, are the arrangements gorgeous). Calming, reflective, and beautiful.

Rose of Bethlehem: Selah

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I mentioned Selah in my November Month in Review for their hymns album. Their Christmas album is probably one of my top favorite albums in this entire list. It is perfectly balanced with classic carols and amazing original songs, reflective pieces and toe-tapping ones, and every song is gorgeous. So highly recommended!

Plus Two More Songs I Love…

So there you are! A huge list with six favorite albums of mine and my most favorite Christmas songs of the moment. I hope this gives you some new things to listen to during the Christmas season!

love, grace

 

 

Purposeful Pages November 2016

Purposeful Pages Meme

Linkup info: Amanda’s blog / Hannah’s blog

And now, for the final Purposeful Pages installment. I’ve really loved participating in this linkup! Hopefully you got to know me a little better and found encouragement, inspiration, or motivation through my answers to many of these questions.

If you want to read or reread any of the previous installments, here they are:

July 2016:  a novel snippet, hanging out with Mary and Aragorn, and “licit”

August 2016:  3 books I was dying to read (only one of which I’ve actually read since then…), my blog’s name, and my dream road trip

September 2016: inspiring people, my theme song, and my blogging habits

October 2016: why I write, banned books, and my Myers-Briggs type

I’m not going to copy and paste the description again. You can read it in any of those four posts or on Amanda’s or Hannah’s blog. If you’ve been following me for any length of time you’ve likely read it before, so let’s just get on with the questions!

November 2016 Questions

Question One // Is there an organization, website, or collaborative blog that you encourages you?

The Rebelution. I think that actually fits under all three of these categories. It started when I read Do Hard Things in middle school, then I found the website. It’s an incredible book, blog, community, and movement that is really changing lives. Whether in the posts, the discussion forums, the comments, or whatever else, it’s full of similar-minded people striving to live their lives for God. You can’t get much more encouraging than that.

Question Two // When do you feel the most empowered to live life to the fullest?

Right after I read a book/blog post or listen to a song that has that sort of message. A few examples that come to mind:

Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris 🙂

Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper

“Do Life Big” by Jamie Grace

Question Three // Who is an author that has impacted you deeply?

If you have read my blog for a while, I’ll give you a chance to guess what my answer to this question is…

C.S. Lewis! Mere Christianity, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy… it’s all so beautiful and some of the best literature/nonfiction I’ve ever read. Narnia has been a part of my life forever and as I’ve gotten older the others have become just as fundamental in my understanding of the world. Mere Christianity especially is a book that I plan to reread often.

For more: The Trinity According to C.S. Lewis / C.S. Lewis: God Outside of Time

Question Four // Love. What Bible verse has shown you the depths of God’s love recently?

“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

-Revelation 1:5-6

I just love the connotation of God’s people as priests, and what a personal nature that gives our relationship with Him. Also, yes, I am reading in Revelation at the moment. I absolutely love it! It’s such a beautiful book literature-wise and has lots of passages like the one above that just encourage me and lift me up.

Question Five // What words do you love the sound of?

Oh man. I know I have a favorite word (definitely in Latin, and probably in English too), but I can’t think of it right now. If I do think of it I’ll update this post!

Question Six // When do you feel most alive?

When I perform for the glory of God. Dance, singing, piano, acting, anything…it can all be done to bring glory to God, and that is when I find the most joy and fulfillment in it. I love performing on stage in general, and the extra layer adds so much more to it.

Question Seven // How has blogging impacted you?

Blogging is something that I cannot imagine my life without. It has given me a platform to share encouragement and sort out my thoughts on topics and issues. I have learned how to articulately express my beliefs. I have discovered that there are far more people in the world who think the same way than I ever realized before. I have learned that friends who I have never met in person can be just as wonderful as the friends I see every day. And I have learned how much I truly do love to write and express my thoughts through writing.

Question Eight // What do you wish you could tell your five-years-younger self?

Enjoy the next few years of your life. Homeschooling and private school are incredible blessings, whether you might like them at the moment or not. Appreciate them. Public school is nowhere near as good. Plus, these years fly by. Before you know it, you’ll be a junior and have to start thinking about the rest of your life. Enjoy the last little time that you get to be a child and stop being impatient to grow up.

Question Nine // When you think of joy, what comes to mind?

A full, heart-stirring, soul-lifting love that overflows into the lives of others. A smile here, a greeting there that warms the hearts of those who go by. A life lived to the fullest with no room for regrets, every moment seized to use for God’s glory. The ability to get through all circumstances, no matter how hard, leaning on God for courage and support.

Question Ten // What kind of legacy would you love to leave?

I want to leave a legacy of putting God before everything and putting Him into everything; of loving learning and education and believing in its value; of valuing life, people, and morality; of using every gift for His glory; of joyfully living life like described in the previous answer. I want to leave a legacy of faith and trust and joy.

 

So there you have it! The last installment of Purposeful Pages. Let me know how you liked this linkup, and be sure to follow Amanda and Hannah! If you participate, leave your link in the comments, or just share your answers to some of these questions! 

love, grace

Remember…Take It One Step at a Time

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Last week I reminded myself and all of you that we can’t do everything. Today, I have one more thing to share with you that I hope will help you manage your stress and enjoy life.

Because the truth is, even if you are only doing essential things and not trying to do everything, life as a teenager can be very stressful, confusing, and somewhat scary. Once you hit high school, you have a million things flying at you and you’re suddenly expected to make a bunch of decisions that will impact the rest of your life (or at least some of it).

School, church, extracurriculars, college prep, home life, friendships…it can get overwhelming. But the Bible has something to say about that.

I want to bring the encouragement of Matthew 6 to any of you who are feeling overwhelmed and stressed:

“Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” -Matthew 6:34

This is the answer to the stress of this phase of life and every other phase after: Take it one step at a time. 

Don’t think about the things you have to do in two weeks. Don’t think about how many decisions you have to make in the next year. Just think about this:

What does God want you to spend today doing? 

And then, to narrow it down more, what does He want you to spend the next hour doing?

Just do that thing, with your full attention, to the best of your ability. And then, do the next thing, and the next.

When a big decision comes your way, choose the best path that you can and move forward from that, one step at a time once again, trusting that God is in control and that one decision will not make or break your life.

If you trust God to direct you, all you have to do is keep moving forward, using your time wisely to complete the work that He places in front of you.

Let Him take care of the rest.

Let’s seek peace together this school year by placing it all in God’s hands and simply moving forward each day, one step at a time.

love, grace

Writing for Building Up (or, I’m Tired of Depressing Stories)

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Recently I finished reading the Divergent series. And while they are entertaining, popular books, I have a big problem with them and with a lot of the books circulating today in general that I just realized was a problem.

I’ve never really liked books that left me feeling depressed and drained, but I didn’t think it was a big deal. I’m slowly realizing, however, that what I read has a huge effect on me and that I need to be more careful that the stories I choose feed my soul instead of eating it away.

What is the Purpose of Writing?

This thought process was sparked by a pair of posts K.M. Weiland wrote a few weeks ago entitled 5 Reasons Writing is Important to the World (her reasons) and 15 (More) Reasons Writing is Important (reactions from people who read her first post).

They were beautiful posts, compiling many reasons why writing is important. Stories display truth, open our minds, teach us to hope. Stories reflect the meaning and purpose in life. They give us role models. Quality arts glorify God.

In a nutshell? The purpose of stories is for encouragement. They are to build up, to feed our minds with truth and beauty.

Writing is an art form, and it has incredible power.

 

Transforming a Powerful Art Form into Cheap Entertainment

In our secular world, unfortunately, many authors do not realize the power that they have or they are using it in the wrong way.

Almost every popular young adult novel or series I’ve read left me incredibly underwhelmed, depressed, or even disgusted. I’m going to avoid mentioning names as much as possible in this post because it really isn’t one particular author; it is the standards that have been set by the entire industry and, mainly, by the reading public.

Because books that feature whiny, sarcastic, tough-girl protagonists sell. Books that feature violence, death, and destruction sell. Books that feature a general atmosphere of hopelessness and darkness sell. Books that are empty of values or messages sell. These books are entertaining, and that is the problem.

Writing has been transformed from a powerful art form into cheap entertainment. Some books that I read have such underwhelming writing quality that it makes me frustrated.

And it isn’t just the YA genre either! Christian romance novels, while seemingly much more upbuilding, are often empty and low-quality. Because that kind of easy-to-read, cheap, feel-good novel is what sells. And the same could go for many other genres as well.

To clarify, I’m not saying that sad books are bad. I just finished reading The Scarlet Letter, which is not a particularly happy book. Yet, it had hope. It had redemption. It left me feeling emotionally full, not emotionally empty. It’s a slight distinction, but it makes all the difference. (Take A Tale of Two Cities. The Book Thief. etc. There are plenty of sad books that leave me feeling full rather than empty.)

Having High Standards

The title of my blog comes from Philippians 4:8.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

As Christians, we are not only called to avoid the bad stuff, but to avoid the mediocre as well and actively seek out things that are commendable, lovely, excellent, worthy of praise. We are called to not only ask “What’s the harm?” but to ask “What’s the good?”

Let this be a challenge to all you readers out there to raise your standards for the books you read. Is it true and honorable and just, or does it present an offensive worldview in a positive light? Is it pure, or does it feature content that we should avoid? Is it lovely and commendable and excellent and worthy of praise, or is it dark and depressing or empty and mindless?

Let this be a challenge to all you writers out there to seek to write in this way. Does what you are writing present the truth about the world? Is it pure, a good witness to Christ? Is it excellent and lovely, or will it leave readers empty?

I don’t want to read any more empty and depressing books; I want to seek out books that leave me with hope for the world, that make the world seem more beautiful.

I want to seek out books that give my soul a generous helping of truth.

 

What do you think? Do you agree with me? Will you try to seek out more uplifting stories? If you have any recommendations, please let me know! I’ll probably be doing

love, grace

6 Ways to Use Your Summer Well

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Summer is basically here! *cheers*

BUT! I have a challenge for you today: Don’t waste your summer.

Summer is meant to be a time of relaxation, and that is all wonderful. It’s meant to be a time of refreshment and recreation, so take whatever time for true recreation that you need. But…don’t spend the entire summer browsing blogs, watching YouTube or Netflix, or scrolling through social media.

Here are some ideas for spending your summer in a productive way…

1. Get deep in the Word. 

During the school year, no matter how faithful you are with daily devotions, it can be hard to really take the time to do some deep studying of God’s Word. So use your summer for that!

Spend a lot of time on a single verse or chapter, dissecting it and really getting the meaning out. Go in-depth with a specific topic or book of the Bible. Get a journal and write prayers as you go. Try verse mapping. Get books or commentaries to help you; even try some theology books or something a bit more challenging than you are used to!

But whatever else you take from this list, and however you go about it, spend time in the Word over the whole summer.

2. Read some great books.

Of course this one comes to the front of my list of summer plans 🙂

If you’re always complaining that you “don’t have time” to read, then make it a priority over the summer! Make a list and knock out some of the books that you’ve been wanting to read for a long time.

Here’s my tentative list for the summer:

  • Finish The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan
  • The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (don’t worry…this is a reread!)
  • Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper
  • A Place of Quiet Rest by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
  • The Divergent series
  • The Five Enchanted Roses collection

As you can see, it’s a mix of challenging books and lighter ones. Several of the books on the list will require a significant investment of time and thought. I do have lighter reads, like Narnia, that will give me a break from the harder stuff.

Don’t be afraid to use your summer for books that are not traditionally “summer fluff”. Since you aren’t in school, use your free brain power to read something a little more challenging.

3. Use Duolingo to learn a new language (or two). 

You can download the app (super convenient) or use it online if you don’t have a smartphone. I downloaded this app a little while ago and started learning Spanish, and it’s really fun, quick, and hopefully effective although I haven’t been using it long enough to really know.

They offer tons of languages and it’s basically a game, with daily goals and streaks and rewards. If you have the app, then you can literally practice with headphones almost anywhere. It requires little to no thought or time, or you can play it for hours on end.  Highly recommended!

4. Spend time with your siblings.

Summer is a great time to build family relationships, since you have less responsibilities and are at home more. Don’t discount the value of spending time to just hang out and laugh together or work on crazy, weird, and ambitious projects.

For more ideas, see my post on 31 Things to Do With Your Siblings.

5. Learn new things with Khan Academy.

Khan Academy is primarily for math practice, which is definitely useful for students who need to brush up on their skills over the summer. But they also have videos on TONS of other subjects: Physics, Chemistry, Health/medicine, Computer science, Art history, US history, and Economics, not to mention standardized test prep, just to name a few.

Imagine if you replaced YouTube with their endless library of videos…how much could you learn in one summer? Just learn about things for the heck of it, without worrying about whether you will ever use the knowledge. Learn about random history or coding or anatomy even if you never plan to be a history teacher or a programmer or a doctor. Spend some time going where your interests take you.

6. Really relax.

Despite everything I’ve said about using your summer productively, don’t be afraid to take some chill time. Sleep in! Watch a movie with your siblings or friends. Read some “fluff” or a magazine. Hang out at the pool. Sit around and play with your dog or chat with your family and literally do nothing. Just be careful that your relaxing activities don’t become time-sucking time-wasters. They should truly refresh you and make you feel relaxed. (See my article on the Sabbath; a lot of what I say there can also apply to summertime.)

 

Those are just a few ideas for ways to spend your summer productively and enjoyably. There are, of course, many other things you could do: get in shape, learn an instrument, work around the house, pursue basically any hobby you can think of…but hopefully this article sparked your ideas and got you excited to see how you can use your summer for the glory of God!

What do you think? What are your summer plans? How will you rest, recharge, and glorify God this summer? Will you take any ideas off this list? Do you have any to add? Share in the comments!! 

love, grace

 

On Hiatus

Hey guys!

Just popping in quickly to let you know that there won’t be a post tomorrow. I’m going out of town and won’t have access to a computer, and I planned ahead badly and didn’t get a post written ahead of time. Sorry about that!

I’ll be back next week with the final installment of the modesty series and some summer reading suggestions. See you then!

love, grace