Tag Archives: friendship

Review: Calm Before the Storm, by Janice L. Dick

Calm Before the Storm, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2020)

Family dynamics, faith, coming-of-age, and gentle romance, all set in the turbulent days leading up to the Russian Revolution.

From a haven-like estate in Crimea to impoverished rooms on the wrong side of town in St. Petersburg, from starving soldiers near the front lines of World War 1 to a private hospital for the mentally ill, and with other settings along the way, Calm Before the Storm evokes 1914-1916 Russia as experienced by the Hildebrandt family and their friends.

The Hildebrandts are Russian Mennonites, people of German heritage whose ties to this land only go back a hundred or so years. As the poorer classes grow more desperate for political reform, hostility also brews toward these “German” Russians.

Katarina Hidebrandt is a young woman who sees the best in everyone, yet she must acknowledge the growing tension and the sense that life is about to change. As her family separates and the young teacher she loves is sent to serve in the hopeless war effort, she learns to rely on her faith and to make what difference she can in her world.

What could be a depressingly heavy tale is instead told with a careful touch, beautiful descriptions, and traces of humour. The characters are honest in their questions and their choices, and somehow despite the pain they find hope (most of them).

As well as providing a fascinating glimpse into this period of history, the novel resonates particularly well with the brooding uncertainty of 2020. Katarina’s struggles in the face of unwanted change and trouble can help readers who are feeling the same concerns even if our situations are different.

It’s not a preachy story, but Katarina’s and others’ examples of living out their faith give us clues we may take to heart. I feel a bit better-equipped to face my own doubts when they sneak up on me again.

Some favourite lines:

The Juschanlee River wandered westward over the Russian steppes, collecting little villages on its meandering way… (Chapter 1)

“The air is so clean and clear, like it’s been washed and left to dry in the sun.” (Johann, in Chapter 5)

“In political crises people cease to view others as people, and instead consider them merely a means toward an end or, in this case, an obstacle to a desired end.” (Heinrich, Chapter 6… timely, no?)

“Yesterday is gone, and tomorrow is in God’s hands. No regrets, no worries. I can put all my energies into this day.” (Katarina, Chapter 8, but this peace was not easily won)

Calm Before the Storm is book 1 in Janice L. Dick’s Storm series. Book 2, Eye of the Storm, is expected to release in December 2020. The series was originally published by Herald Press and is now out of print. I’m glad to see new editions being released in print and ebooks as part of The Mosaic Collection. For more about the author and her work, visit her website.

[Advance review copy provided by the author. My opinions are my own.]

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Review: Set the Stars Alight, by Amanda Dykes

Set the Stars Alight, by Amanda Dykes

Set the Stars Alight, by Amanda Dykes (Bethany House, 2020)

Lyrical, beautiful, heart-warming and satisfying, Set the Stars Alight is a must-read.

Page one welcomed me in like I was coming home.

Before I even reached that page, the dedication spoke to me—the part about wonder:

Hang on to it, brave ones.
And more—hang on to the Giver of it.
Though darkness may fall and times grow hard,
hold fast to this given light. [Kindle location 45]

Timely words for a hard year like 2020.

The novel follows two timelines: 1987 – 2020 and the 1800s during the Napoleonic wars, each revealing what’s needed to understand the other. It’s not choppy, switching timelines each chapter; instead, the story flows in segments with time enough to settle in place and care about the people involved.

In the contemporary thread, childhood friends Lucy and Dashel reunite as adults in a quest to locate a legendary shipwreck in the English Channel. The historical thread follows Frederick, a landowner’s son, and the young lovers Juliette and Elias.

Some of the many lines I highlighted in the book are sparks of light to hold close:

Taking note of the good, the true, the just, the miracles hidden at every turn is like…a deliberate act of defiance against the darkness. [Lucy’s father, Kindle location 431]

Such freedom, to know our limits. And to know the God who has none. [Clara, Kindle location 3347]

Others are just beautiful:

The woman had a way of almost gliding—not in the graceful, practiced way of the ladies of gothic novels, but rather more like an apparition gliding over ice. [Kindle location 1625]

Set the Stars Alight is a novel of love and loyalty, friendship and faith, that encourages wonder and affirms the value of everyday actions and individual lives. As an added bonus, readers who loved Amanda Dykes’ debut novel, Whose Waves These Are, will welcome the quiet nod to that book in chapter 25.

For more about author Amanda Dykes, visit amandadykes.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher via #NetGalley.]

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Review: Fiercehearted, by Holley Gerth

Fiercehearted, by Holley Gerth

Fiercehearted, by Holley Gerth (Revell, 2017)

I have so many lines in this book highlighted! Some because they’re comforting, encouraging, or challenging, and others because the word pictures are beautiful.

A few favourite lines:

In the introduction, Holley Gerth writes that she wants the book to help women

…feel less alone and more comfortable in our God-sewn skin and a little surer that we are a force to be reckoned with in this world. [Kindle location 189]

It’s in these moments that we carry wonder and fear like twins. [Kindle location 2080]

We’re all just clay on the wheel, which is another way of saying we are dust being sculpted into glory. [Kindle location 2214]

I found author Holley Gerth through Ellen Graf-Martin’s Change Makers Podcast, and have been appreciating her email newsletters and posts ever since. When I saw the digital version of her book, Fiercehearted, discounted recently, I snapped it up.

With short, conversational chapters transparently reflecting the author’s life experiences, Fiercehearted touches on topics common to many women: conflict avoidance, identity, self-worth, insecurity, success, perfectionism, expectations, failure, work, depression, friendship, and more.

Highly recommended for Christian women, and especially for those who appreciate the writing of Emily P. Freeman, Carolyn Watts (Hearing the Heartbeat), and Ann Voskamp.

For more about Holley Gerth and her ministry, visit holleygerth.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Marks of a Good Friend (Guest Post)

Good friends listen and share from the heart.
[Image courtesy of Pixabay]

Marks of a Good Friend

by Steph Beth Nickel

Who’s your BFF? Who do you love spending time with? Who can you call in the middle of the night when you need them?

I’ve found that good friends, genuine friends, are marked by several characteristics. Let’s consider five of these traits.

Good friends listen.

Sometimes we need advice. And it’s great when we have wise, insightful friends who will “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

However, there are other times, we simply need someone who will listen—just listen.

My husband of over 35 years is an active listener. He doesn’t just stay quiet and pretend to listen. He is my sounding board when I need to pour out my heart. It’s such a blessing to have friends like this—whether or not they’re also family members.

Good friends share from their heart.

Another mark of genuine friendship is trust and authenticity. When our friends trust us enough to share from their heart, it’s a good indicator that our friendship is solid.

While there may be many people we refer to as friend who don’t open up to us, it’s a privilege when they do.

Sometimes they’ll want our advice. Sometimes they’ll need us to listen. We have to resist the temptation to turn the conversation back to our own situation when our friends pour out their heart.

Good friends cheer us on.

Are you beginning a new adventure? A new challenge? A new battle?

Our very best friends are there to cheer us on when this is the case. They may be able to relate to our situation; they may not. Still, they’re rooting for us. They’re in our corner. We can depend on them and call on them whenever we need a boost.

Good friends facilitate growth.

While true friends are good listeners, open up to us, and cheer us on, they also challenge us to grow. They don’t so much demand growth but facilitate it.

Good friends have a way of making us want to become better people. They bring out the best in us. And they forgive us when we’re less than our best—even when we’re at our worst.

We want to become better people when this kind of person is in our life.

Good friends address hurts.

Do our real friends hurt us? Do we hurt them? Yes and yes.

Sometimes we hurt one another unintentionally. At other times, for whatever reason, we may be intentionally hurtful.

Our very best friends will address the issue. It may be hard for us to hear. It’s likely even harder for them to bring up. However, friendships that endure the test of time are often marked by openness and honesty.

When we get close to someone, when we open up to them, we risk being hurt, but it’s worth it.

I am privileged to have many such friends and I’m thankful for each and every one of them.

Now, that we’ve considered some traits of genuine friends, let’s take an honest look at ourselves. Are we this kind of friend? What steps can we take to become even better friends than we are today? Are we willing to do the hard work, the work that reaps rich rewards?

Tweetables:

When we get close to someone, when we open up to them, we risk being hurt, but it’s worth it. (click to tweet)

Good friends listen. They share from their heart. They cheer us on. Good friends facilitate growth and address hurts. (click to tweet)

Steph Beth Nickel
Steph Beth Nickel (Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Steph Beth Nickel is eclectically interested and eclectically involved. She is an author, blogger, a regular contributor to the HopeStreamRadio online radio station, a freelance editor, and birth doula. Steph brings her interests together under the Nurture and Inspire umbrella. Ladies, you’re invited to join her Facebook group by the same name: Nurture and Inspire

Running and Life Lessons

Last Saturday, I participated in my first-ever 5K running event (that’s 5 kilometres for my US friends, which translates to roughly 3.11 miles). This proves that God has a sense of humour, because I have never been athletic.

The Hillside2Haiti run is sponsored by a local church that regularly sends mission teams to Haiti to teach life skills. I’d wondered for a while about attempting a challenge like this, and when I saw the promotional material at another event, I recognized that the time was right.

I’d been running in the gym with my music, and now I started running on the streets around my home. Alone and content that way.

From the early stages of the Hillside2Haiti event, I ran with my friend Kim. I kept telling her not to slow herself down for me, but we found a pace that suited us both and by running as partners, encouraged one another to reach our dream goal of running the entire distance without taking walk breaks. (Yes, I know you can go faster if you take walk breaks. If you have enough stamina to go faster.)

Crossing the finish line was as surreal as signing my first novel contract. Despite my hopes, clearly some deep part of me never thought it would happen. Along the way, I observed a few parallels between running and the Christian life:

  • The participants came in all shapes, ages, sizes, fitness levels; some walked, some run/walked, some ran: we were all heading for the same finish line.
  • We swarmed out onto the road, stopping traffic: there’s strength in numbers, and together we can overcome certain obstacles.
  • A runner put on extra speed to catch us and return Kim’s headband, which we hadn’t known had fallen: help one another out, even when it’s hard work.
  • One runner stopped to fix a shoe: it doesn’t matter if something stops us, what matters is that we start again.
  • Those who ran in bursts and walked for brief recovery times finished with a better time than those who ran all the way; different people had different goals: pace yourself, set and know your strategy.
  • Some wanted speed time, some to run the full way, some had other goals: don’t judge someone for being on a different strategy; but do alert someone who has veered off the route.
  • Stopping to walk before you’re gasping means a shorter recovery before you can restart: be realistic about your abilities, while leaving room for God to stretch you a little farther than you think is comfortable.
  • It was a twisty, unfamiliar route, with no distance markers: not seeing how far we still had to go, or what hills lay ahead, kept discouragement away.
  • Previous running experience teaches you to slow down on the hills and to know you’ll recover on the flats: remember where God has already met us, choose to trust Him to do it again.
  • After slowing for hills, speed back up when you can: pace yourself, but beware the danger of starting to coast longer than necessary.
  • I thought we’d reached the end, but it was the start of a long, hard final stint; discouragement would have stopped me there, to walk the rest of the way, but my partner was still running: in disappointment, we need help to carry on.
  • There were water stations: take your own sustenance for the journey, but expect God’s provision en route.
  • We cheered for the children crossing the finish line on their race before ours started, and cheered on other runners as they passed us or came across the line after we did: we need to be encouragers, and it does something positive in us when we are.
  • Training for a race helps us run it better: remember the Christian life is a race, be diligent with spiritual training. Also, we train better with a goal, so don’t slack off because we don’t see trouble yet.
  • Good equipment helps: what spiritual equipment do we need?
  • Keep your sense of humour because there’s no dignity in the final stages of a race: don’t worry about appearances.
  • The sense of unity: isn’t that’s what it’s all about – the body of Christ, united in relationship with Him?
  • There was a big red start/finish arch: finally seeing the end in sight gives fresh energy.
  • The celebration at the finish line: “when we all get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be,” and yes, it may feel a little surreal.

Still with me? Give yourself a medal, and here are the biggest benefits I discovered about running with a partner:

  • we encouraged one another to keep going
  • we bonded through the experience and through sharing conversation
  • we distracted one another from the hardest parts
  • knowing that stopping would let the other down kept us each pushing on
  • under 38 minutes from the start, we crossed the line together

Photo of Janet and Kim, side by side, putting on extra speed because we've seen the finish line.

Janet and Kim: we have seen the finish line, and we can do this. Photo credit: Your Running Race Photos (Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/YourRunningRacePhotos)

https://www.facebook.com/YourRunningRacePhotos