Thanksgiving

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” For years I’ve read this and repeated the words like a mantra, a chant, a call to arms. But only recently did I see the equal weight of these three commands. Rejoice, pray, thank. Always, continually, all the time. They’re parallel terms, synonyms.

I can rejoice—rejoice in God’s thick brushstrokes on the ombré evening sky, rejoice in the soft words He speaks through a friend, rejoice in His down-to-the-penny provision. But I can’t rejoice without thanking Him, and I can’t thank Him without praying to Him. Each action depends on the other.

Dear Lord, thank you.

I’m glad we have a day set aside for giving thanks. It’s a standing reminder that we need to reflect and to appreciate. To snuggle on the couch with little ones who smile at the Macy’s parade; to taste the textures of pecan pies and the bite of cider; to hear the range of voices around the table, nobody saying anything profound but everybody wonderfully present.

And during all of the surrounding days, I must rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstance, because this is the will of God. He desires us to be amazed, honest, and open, and in this unending cycle of praise, we can’t help but see how He saturates every day with color and light. He is with us always, and I’m so, so thankful.

Veterans Day Reading

One year for the school Veterans Day program, a group of lovely community women sang a peppy arrangement of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” in true Andrews Sister fashion. I loved that homage to such a challenging but refining time in our nation’s history. On this blustery Veterans Day, here is some literature that depicts the struggles and strengths of our brave veterans and those on the home front.

Wings of the Nightingale series by Sarah Sundin

With Every Letter, On Distant Shores, and In Perfect Time intertwine the stories of three World War II flight nurses. These books are textured with historic details, raw emotions, and lovely characters. I wish I could sing “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” with these ladies.

Wings of Glory series by Sarah Sundin

Another WWII trilogy, each book (A Distant Melody, A Memory Between Us, and Blue Skies Tomorrow) chronicles the journey of one of the Novak brothers. I fell in love with these B-17 bomber pilots, and again, Sundin’s understanding of personality and faithfulness to history add layers to these beautiful books.

Essentially anything written by Lynn Austin

Austin’s books are the friends I return to again and again; in fact, I’ve read Eve’s Daughters at least once (if not twice) a year since I was 16. The four generations of resilient, vibrant women represented in this novel endure immigration, the Great War, the Great Depression, WWII, and the Vietnam War. While We’re Far Apart and A Woman’s Place are set exclusively during WWII, and in both, Austin vividly portrays different facets of life on the home front. Her realism, characterization, and accuracy ensure that each novel is an enriching experience.

The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe by Stephen Harding

A friend recommended this account to me, and though I haven’t yet read it (it’s top of the pile!), this true story sounds remarkable. Through memoirs, interviews, and histories, Harding explains how during the final days of WWII, American soldiers worked with German Wehrmacht soldiers to rescue French VIP prisoners from the fanatical SS and Gestapo.

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

This exquisitely painful novel is narrated by Jenny, the innocuous cousin of a returning British soldier. Through Jenny’s eyes, we witness the emotional and relational effects of WWI on the soldiers and their loved ones. I adore this imagistic story, so much so that I almost wrote my Master’s thesis on its themes.

Postscript: What poignant historical fiction or non-fiction books would you recommend?

Baby Names

Reportedly, J.K. Rowling kept a shoe box full of unique names to use in the Harry Potter series. Like my pal Jo, I also love collecting names, and my list of favorites keeps growing. (It’s a good thing I’m a writer, because it’s much easier to create characters than it is to bear children.) I’m not suggesting children should be dubbed Salazar or Xenophilius, of course, but with so many kids identified by a last initial in their kindergarten class, it’s nice to hear a fresh name.

There’s always another end of the spectrum, though, and sometimes parents are a tinge too colorful. Sophia is now substituted with Sida (Sida what? Fries?), and Jacob is replaced by Jag. (Like the 90s TV show.) I’m all for a unique name, especially when creating characters, but some of these monikers from the “Unusual Baby Names of 2013 List” seem lifted straight from the Hogwart’s roster:

Girl Names:

Blip—On her 18th birthday you can say, “It just seems like a blip in time since you were born, honey!” Teehee, aren’t you punny, Mom.

Chevy—Because every little girl wants to be named after the manic dad with the light fetish on National Lampoon’s: Christmas Vacation.

Feline—“Sly, stealthy, or treacherous.” Won’t that look lovely on the Name Meaning plaque hanging above her crib?

Green—Green with envy. Greenhorn. So sick she’s green. Green as Slytherin House robes. Whatever connotation you were going for here, none of them are good.

Pippin and Viggo—You do know there are women in The Lord of the Rings, right? Wouldn’t you rather bring little Liv or Arwen to dance class? Rosie, Eowyn, Galadriel? Heck, even Merry at this point.

Boy Names:

Cheese—Maybe he can marry Green and they can have horrible connotations together.

Leviathan—An entire Bible full of genealogies and this is the name you pick.

Osbaldo—Apparently the new strategy to combat name-calling on the playground is to beat the bullies to the punch.

Thiago—How would you explain this to your parents? “Come meet your new grandson Thiago! You know, Thiago. Like the bird in Aladdin but with a speech impediment.”

Kashmere—No. Please no. You did not just name your son after a fabric made from goat belly fibers and then MISSPELL it.

Character-Inspired Halloween Costumes

It’s a safe bet that there will be lots of cute Elsa’s and Anna’s trick-or-treating this year. But if you’re like me, you want your Halloween costume (or that of your child) to be clever and distinctive. Here are some sure-fire one-of-a-kind costumes inspired by fictional characters. I guarantee you’ll be the only one running around cul-de-sacs and ringing door bells in these costumes.

Member of Abnegation (Divergent trilogy)

Costume: Modest gray t-shirt, gray sweatpants, no makeup.

Pros to costume: You can basically just roll out of bed. Also, Four is attracted to members of Abnegation.

Cons to costume: Other trick-or-treaters will assume you’re exceedingly lazy. Also, Four doesn’t exist.

Nancy Drew (Nancy Drew series)

Costume: Black pumps, titian wig, blue convertible (in case you need to pursue suspects), packed overnight bag (in case you need to pursue suspects across state lines).

Pros to costume: Black pumps go with everything.

Cons to costume: No one knows what “titian” means.

Dolores Jane Umbridge (Harry Potter series)

Costume: Pink. Cats optional.

Pros to costume: Pink will be easy for drivers and pedestrians to see.

Cons to costumes: You probably (maybe) (definitely) won’t receive any candy.

The Ghost of King Hamlet (Hamlet)

Costume: White sheet draped over your head and body.

Pros to costume: Oh-so-simple yet oh-so-unique.

Cons to costume: Few people will discern the subtle distinction between the ghost of King Hamlet, deceased ruler of Denmark, and a regular ghost costume.

A Pevensie Sibling (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)

Costume: Fur coat, British accent.

Pros to costume: You’ll be warm while trick-or-treating in Minnesota.

Cons to costume: A fur coat is actually necessary to keep warm while trick-or-treating in Minnesota.

Websites for Literary Characters

Technology is like a cat; it knows when you don’t like it. (And vice versa.) But despite my love-hate relationship with technology, I must admit that there are innumerable benefits to the internet. While trolling some of my favorite websites, I wondered which sites would be most used by literary characters. Here are my thoughts—please add yours!

Emma Woodhousedating sites. Not for her, of course, but for you. Emma knows you need someone special in your life, and there are only so many men bumbling around Highbury. She’s created profiles for you on Match.com, eHarmony, Christian Mingle, Farmers Only, and Our Time. (Emma wants to keep your options open.)

Charlotte A. Cavaticadictionary.com. That Word of the Day would sure come in handy, eradicating the need to bribe Templeton for word-related errands. (Though I’m not sure Wilbur would appreciate being called a galoot or a scaramouch.)

Eloise at the PlazaAmazon. One-click purchasing, two-day shipping, and unlimited uttering of “Charge it, please, thank you very much!” It’s terribly, terribly, terribly wonderful to receive your pink tutu so quickly, and rawther delightful to have so many packages to open. (Gird your loins, Nanny.)

Luna LovegoodEtsy. She could open her own shop, selling handmade jewelry and Hogwarts School Spirit Accessories! Looking for a unique Christmas gift? Just order up a pair of Luna’s svelte radish earrings. Ready to pop the question to your beloved? Nothing says “You are the nargle to my mistletoe” like one of Luna’s signature beetle rings.

Ma IngallsPinterest. Since there’s no Target near her little house on the prairie, Ma is all about DIY decorating and gift-giving. Thank goodness the rustic look is back in—she has scads of burlap.

This is the Day

My birthday was earlier this month. The weather was perfectly autumnal, crisp and brisk and colorful. My parents, brother, and I ate at Texas Roadhouse, where I was coerced onto the Birthday Saddle, blushed through a rousing “Yee-Haw!” and nearly kicked a passing waitress as I dismounted.

It was a wonderful day. Simple. The days of pink parties with little girls are done, and as fun as they were then, I’m glad things are quieter now. I must be getting old, because all I really wanted was food and family. (And a nap.) In fact, I kept forgetting it was my birthday—it felt like just another day. Seven-year-old me, with her alphabetized party plans, Barbie-themed favors, and birthday countdown calendar would have been appalled. Is any day so magical, so meaningful, as one’s birthday? Twenty-four-year-old me says Yes. Every day.

Every day is wondrous.

God’s been growing me. Revealing that He infuses every day, not just “special days,” with awe-inspiring gifts and moments. The scent of woodsmoke, dryer-warmed blankets, conversations with safe people. Cozy moccasins for my feet, long hugs from the kiddos, fresh oatmeal raisin cookies. Love from family, encouragement from friends, and tenderness from a great Redeemer who doesn’t need me but cares enough to save and shape my heart.

My birthday was wonderful, but it was just another day. Another glorious, miraculous, God-given day.

Postscript:

“This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”—Psalm 118:24

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”—Psalm 90:12

Story of the Song

Careening down back roads, hemmed by corn fields nearing retirement, I turned up the dial to better hear the radio over the rumble of gravel. My head soon dipped and dived in time to a Country class, “Harper Valley PTA.” As the singer recounts, a small-town PTA takes issue with a teacher’s scandalous behavior, and she retaliates by exposing their hypocrisy. Croons the singer, “It was the day my mama socked it to the Harper Valley PTA.”

Once at home, I researched the song (because I’m nerdy like that) and discovered that singer Jeannie C. Reilly catapulted to fame with this 1968 hit. In fact, it was such a success that it led to a film and a TV spin-off, both starring Barbara Eden of I Dream of Jeannie fame. (I wonder what the PTA would think of those midriff-baring costumes.)

I’ve always loved that country songs tell a story, so I’m doubly delighted by the fact that this song inspired a movie. Books and true stories are the inspiration for films, so why not songs, too? For that day when I just happen to sit next to a movie exec on an airplane, here’s my list of suggested song-to-movie adaptations:

Austin by Blake Shelton. Confused woman, steadfast boyfriend. That feel-good, let’s-make-up Rom-Com we’d all publicly mock but would secretly adore. Especially if the confused protagonist has a witty best friend like April on Parks and Recreation.

Ol’ Red by Blake Shelton. Essentially The Shawshank Redemption but with a hound dog instead of a Marilyn Monroe poster. Morgan Freeman should make an appearance, though, even if he just narrates the trailer.

The Longer the Waiting (The Sweeter the Kiss) by Josh Turner. A historic film about a sea captain and the waifishly beautiful woman who paces the Widow’s Walk of her stunning seaside mansion, constantly scanning the horizon for her beloved’s approaching ship, meanwhile growing as pale and bereft as a Tim Burton heroine until he finally returns and they embrace passionately.

She Believes in Me by Kenny Rogers. He’s a coffee shop singer with tousled hair, flannel shirts, and hipster glasses, while she works in a sad, fluorescent-lit office building to finance his dreams. They live on tap water and quinoa and love.

Carolina Eyes by Scotty McCreery. Can’t you just picture the teen couple sitting on the dunes, a watercolor sky in the background and a soft Corinne Bailey Rae song playing? No, that’s just me?

Don’t Take the Girl by Tim McGraw. There’d be more weeping during this hour-and-a-half film than during the last Nicholas Sparks movie, the Royal Wedding, and the final Harry Potter installment combined. (Until Allegiant hits theaters, of course.)

I’m a Survivor by Reba McEntire. Oh, whoops. Already made a show about this.

Postscript: Which songs (Country or otherwise) do you think should be developed into films or, for that matter, books? :)