Snakes

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They pay us before we catch the first snake. Our reputation has spread for this kind of work, and now the villages we approach trust us enough to pay us before our work is done, however much we look like gypsies. I think they would rather not see us after the job is done anyway. They call me a witch, my husband a conjuror. They let us into the village to deal with their ‘problem’, but they wouldn’t be so quick to let us stay the night. Or help us if we were in trouble.

I know this only too well from long experience.

The snakes, they tell us, infest the canyon just short of the river. There are so many of them they come up through the tall grass three or four times a day. A few children have died already, and more than a few of their livestock. Snakes, especially poisonous ones, are a danger to nearly every community.

My husband and I make our living off of making them disappear, although I’ve never yet had to kill one. We’re charmers, not butchers.

We go down to the canyons, and I light a fire, scattering the herbs in the ashes. The aromatic smoke drifts through the trees, smelling of woodbine and yellow windflower. The smell doesn’t do much more than convince the villagers we’re working. They like to think our trade is all witchcraft and conjuring. It isn’t, but we get paid more for their superstition, so we never try to explain.

My husband sits down on a rock at the edge of our camp, pulls his flute out, and begins to play. His melodies echo through the canyons, among the rocks, cool and sweet and soothing to the soul.

A dry rustling flits through the tall grass, and the snakes begin to gather.

The Flower Man

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Okay, I know what you’re thinking.

“Who writes a book review on a picture book?”

I do.

Because I am an adult, and I have goals and priorities and schedules and bills and insurance.

I also have a candy jar in my kitchen for extreme and vital emergencies. It’s filled with smarties.

Yum.

But seriously, The Flower Man is a book that I feel deserves all the recognition it can get. The story, a sweet journey through colorful, vividly detailed pages, offers a unique example of the way one heart can change an entire town. Mark Ludy, the author of this beautiful little book, is one of the finest illustrators I have ever had the privilege of coming across. The Flower Man, and a few of his other books, are wordless picture books, conveying their stories through gorgeous artwork and brightly colored detail rather than the more traditional written style.

Despite the lack of words, this book offers a sweet and impacting story that I have no doubt will charm a smile onto your face.

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It begins with the Flower Man, an old, grandfatherly type who arrives in a small, dismal little town in the middle of the night, looking for a place to stay. He settles on a broken down shack in the center of the town, buys it, and begins to make repairs.

The brilliance of this book is in the colors. In the beginning, the town is black and white, with a little gray and brown mixed in for good measure. It’s dull and dirty and more than a little depressing. The Flower Man, by way of contrast, is a collage of colors, with a bright green coat, an old blue hat with a yellow and orange patch, a yellow scarf, and a purple flower in his hat band.

The days go by. He fixes up his little house, (which slowly begins to have color of its own) paints his fence white, and plants a garden.

The people of this little town, all of them as dull and colorless as the buildings, begin to take notice of him. Before too long, he offers a flower to a little girl. She takes it—and finds her own color in the midst of all the dingy surroundings.

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The rest, as they say, is history. The book is a lovely depiction of how impacting one person’s love and peace can be amid unhappy surroundings. Mark Ludy is truly an incredible artist, and I am constantly surprised that his books are not on every bookshelf in every house I visit. Someday, I’m sure, he will be remembered in the same sentence as Bill Peet and Dr. Seuss.

God’s Smuggler

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Some books stick with you.

We all know the feeling, I’m sure. That one book that was so powerful, so life-changing, so essential to who we are, that we just can’t let it go. It sits in the back of our bookshelf, thumbed through too many times, read over and over until we can quote it after months of not reading a page. I have a good memory for books, but there are very few I know this well.

God’s Smuggler is one of these.

I’ve read this book so often, I can’t remember picking it up the first time. To me, the story of the Dutch boy who became a smuggler for Jesus has always been a part of my life. I’ve read it, loved it, and learned from it, and it has influenced me in ways that few other books have managed.

The story is a biography, really, although it’s such an amazing, fast-paced, almost unbelievable book that you might have thought it was a thriller or an adventure novel if you didn’t know better. Brother Andrew is the name printed on the cover, and throughout the entire book, Andrew is the only name we’re given. For a missionary who was still working in sensitive areas—places where God’s name could get him into trouble, it wasn’t safe to publish his full name in a book about his daring behind the Iron Curtain.

As a boy, Andrew dreamed of being a spy. He grew up in a small village in Holland, survived WWII with the rest of his family, and became a soldier in hopes that war in the Indies would fulfill his dreams of daring and espionage. Instead, he returned from the war crippled, jaded, and lost. He was drifting without an anchor, without a reason to keep living, when God got a hold on his life and gave him a new mission. And a new purpose.

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What follows is an almost unbelievable testimony of faith and daring, of miracles, God’s hand and direction, and of the Gospel spread through a region of the world that had rejected the Almighty completely. During the 1950’s, when the greater part of this story takes place, a good portion of Europe was under Communist control. Christianity was at the very least frowned upon. At most it was persecuted openly and bitterly. Brother Andrew traveled to country after country behind the Iron Curtain, smuggling bibles and Gospel tracks to the Christians and struggling churches in these countries. Time and time again he risked deportation, imprisonment, and possibly even worse to spread the Gospel of Christ to nations who needed it so badly.

The stories of faith in this book are an incredible example of what can happen if you trust God and follow his leading. God’s Smuggler has challenged me time and time again in my faith, and I would highly recommend it to anyone searching for encouragement, wondering if God really does still do miracles on earth, or just to anyone who likes a book with a lot of excitement and tension.

Lord, in my luggage I have Scripture I want to take to Your children. When You were on earth, You made blind eyes see. Now, I pray, make seeing eyes blind. Do not let the guards see those things You do not want them to see.

Gravekeeper

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I take them to the tombs as soon as they arrive. Marcus brings them out of the trees like a huddle of wet chicks, their hair and clothes drenched by the weeping rain, their eyes wide in their thin faces. I’ve never seen him bring so many, but he says that the silver mines are getting worse. The more children that escape, the harder the slave drivers push the others. He couldn’t afford to leave any behind this time.

We bring them to the graveyard and hide them in the stone coffins. They’re afraid of the dark, the stone angels, the heavy coffins, but they’re more afraid of the soldiers that will be riding after them through the trees. They can’t be far away now.

As soon as the lids are shut over top of them, I hurry back to the caretaker’s house. Marcus stays behind, in the coffins with the children, and my father and I will greet the soldiers when they come. The gravekeeper and his daughter.

Hopefully the rain will have erased their little tracks by that time.

The stone angels watch me go as I run down the paths. I can already hear the clink of armor, the rattle of hooves in the dark pines beyond our walls. They’re coming for the children, and this time I’m afraid they’ll find them. We’ve never hidden so many before. If one of them begins to wail, just one, we’ll lose them all, and Marcus too.

Doubtless the soldiers will kill us on their way out too.

My father stands at the gate as they arrive. He’s holding a lantern in his shaking hand, and leaning on his stick as if he needs the support much more than he really does. His hair is white and lank with all the rain, and the scar on his face is livid in the lamplight when he smiles at the approaching horsemen. “Come to visit the ghosts, gentlemen?”

Book Reviews: “The Birdwoman” and “Evocation”

An awesome review for my short story book. Thank you!

The Edifying Word

I don’t usually read short stories, though not really for any particular reason, but the two collections I’m reviewing here today make me wonder whether I should more actively seek them out. When I was brand new to Twitter a few short months ago I went on a book-accumulating spree (translation: I followed lots of authors, and every time an author advertised a book as free to download from Amazon I clicked the link and downloaded the book), and these are two of the books I happened to “buy for free,” as Amazon puts it. In any case, they are both worth actually buying.

The Birdwoman: . . . and other short storiesThe Birdwoman and Other Short Stories by A.R. Geiger

This collection of stories is phenomenal. I was captivated from the very beginning, commenting on my Kindle after the first story, Stowaway, “I want more!” The stories are truly short–several pages, on average–but they pack in…

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Four Reasons You Definitely Need A Bookshelf In Your Home

I live in a tiny house. I have one bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom, and two bookshelves.

I also have two cupboards filled with books that I couldn’t fit on my shelves.

So, to convince myself (and you) that I am not a hoarder and do not require an intervention, I’ve come up with four reasons why every home needs a bookshelf.

Or maybe three bookshelves. definitely

Or six.

Ahem.

1) Decor

Empty walls are boring and paintings are expensive. Books are expensive too, but if you buy from thrift stores, used bookstores, and library sales, it will take a little longer for you to go broke.

I know this from experience.

2) Endless Entertainment

Running to the library every time you need a new book is all well and good . . . right up until you run out of new reading material in the middle of a snowstorm and can’t get to town.

I wouldn’t take the risk.

3) Conversation Starters

Books are great conversation starters, especially at awkward parties where no one knows quite what to say. (Can you tell I’m 89% introvert?) Finding a friend who likes the same books as you do is hard to do, especially now when so few people have time to read. If your books are out on display in your living room instead of stuffed in your closet, you may stumble across someone with the same taste as you the next time you have a party.

Or, if you’re as introverted as I am, you can skip the party and read instead.

4) All your friends (or books) are collected in one place

I’m not the type to read a book, finish it, and then never pick it up again.

I get attached.

I like to revisit my favorites, read the chapters I loved the best, or just have them around. In case. You never know when you might need a familiar story to help you through a sick day, or pass the time at the doctor’s office, or, if you’re very brave, loan to a friend. (I don’t have the stomach for this one very often.) Having them on hand when I need them is one of my favorite parts of having bookshelves in my bedroom, no matter how much space I sacrificed to squeeze them in there.

I could come up with a few more reasons, but I think these start off the topic well. What are your favorite excuses for having too many bookshelves? I’d love to add to my list the next time someone accuses me of hoarding!

Daisy Chains

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They take us to the meadows once a month. We aren’t often allowed outside. Most of the time the keepers like to have us where they can see us, and where no one else can, but once a month they let us come to the meadows with them to make a daisy chain.

Retta starts it. She’s the best at beginning the chain, and for a long time I only bring her the flowers I pick and leave them in her lap. Her bright hair falls over her face while she braids the daisies into a long line, tying them together with grass stems and willow leaves, and sometimes, if I ask very nicely, she’ll sing for me while we work.

These are the days I like best. The birds sing so beautifully for us when we come out, as if they know how long it’s been since we’ve seen the blue sky and smelled the fresh wind and felt the grass beneath our bare feet. Our dresses are getting a little small, the hems of our skirts nearly up to our knees, but the keepers have promised we’ll have new ones next month, when the supplies come in. I hope mine is as blue as the sky, although I know Retta wants hers to be as yellow as the daisies that grow in the meadow. We always match, but sometimes I wish we could have separate colors.

The daisy chain grows quickly. We’re very practiced at making them. Last month’s chain fell apart in three days, so Retta is making extra sure to braid it tightly this time. It’s only just dusk when she finishes, and we have a little time to run through the grass before the keepers come. They lead us home on our daisy chain, but we’ll come back next month.

They promised.