Saturday, December 31, 2016

God's Faithfulness in the Midst of Hardships pt 4

    We took that first week of school one day at a time. I was walking through a haze of disbelief that all this was happening at once combined with the need to stay level headed to take every challenge on. I would repeat the phrase, "We can do hard things," quite a lot during this time. My kids would hear the first words and say it with me. It kept us moving forward. I continued to make appointments for my mom and dad at their doctor's office, working with them to do whatever we could to get my dad into a good rehab facility. With the doctor's help, and God's provision, we were able to do that. We were all relieved that he would be taken care of in a very nice facility. We had about 20 days to figure out what to do next until he needed to be moved home or into another facility.
    Another decision we had to make was to move my parents to a one level home. The stairs were just too much for them at the moment and the size of their house was too big for my mom to maintain. Once again, God provided. My sister, who now lives in Colorado with her family, had a house right down the street from my parent's house. She had been trying to sell it for over two years and it hadn't sold. It was a one story house, with plenty of space and bedrooms for my parents to live and have people to stay with them if needed. My sister's husband flew in from Colorado and over the next 10 days, he, his dad, and brother moved all the big furniture over to my sister's old house. It was
Bible journaling encourages me during this time
a huge blessing, but also hard. Their old house held within its walls so many years of childhood memories. My parents had just recently begun to do renovations and had the house looking so nice. Again, I'm a sentimental person, but we had no time to grieve the loss of our childhood home. They still have yet to begin the process of selling it, but we know that is the direction we have to go.
    Bottling up that grief, along with all the other emotions we were facing at the moment, was emotionally draining. I was coming home from our 1 1/2 hour/day commute exhausted. Anxiety over making sure needs were being met were keeping me up at night. Caffeine and fast food were soon becoming an everyday thing instead of a treat. Just talking about some of the events that were taking place would make me feel like I was having an anxiety attack or cause tears to come to my eyes. This went on for several weeks. Eventually, I realized that I had to let go of some of this and begin to take better care of myself. While I still had my morning coffee on the way to school each morning, I began to start trying to walk for 30 minutes after dropping my son off at preschool. This was a time of prayer, listening to praise music, and even shedding some tears. It was one of the best things I did for myself. I had safe places and people that I could let it all out with. Even a few of the doctors, nurses, and a social worker at the hospital were very kind to me and comforted me when I was very worried about my mom. This was all new territory for me, but God helped me persevere
Morning walk scenery
and gave me the support that I needed when times were tough. I'm so thankful for my husband, as well, who just gets me. I may not always be able to articulate my feelings and struggles well, but he understands. I needed that many times these last months.
    As the weeks continued, my mom's pain increased. Her appetite began to fade, and the pounds began to come off of her body. She lost so much that her doctor was becoming concerned and began to give her medicine to increase her appetite. Her body was under attack from this cancer in her arm. Even though it hadn't spread (thank the Lord), it was absorbing anything good from her body, causing her to be dehydrated and make her body not function properly. She had three hospital visits over the course of the next few months. She also began radiation, which she was determined to get through. My mom is one of my heroes. I've never seen such perseverance in the midst of suffering.
    My dad's time at his first rehab facility was coming to a close, so my sister and a friend of hers were helping me research a new place. I visited one facility and just as we were preparing to send my Dad there, God closed the door, but opened a door at another place that was perfect for him. We were so thankful to get him in there. He had another 20 days of rehab, but he was ready to be home. It was challenging for him as the stroke affected his emotions.
    In the middle of all this, our minivan just all of the sudden died on us. Purchasing a new vehicle was not something we were prepared for. We began to search, test drive, and pray for God to provide something we could afford with low miles. After a few crazy days of looking, we finally found a brand new vehicle that we could afford. We drove it for about a month when a big deer jumped in front of us and ruined the whole front of the van. Again, I was stressed and overwhelmed, but our church family ministered to us. They helped us get through it. We finally got our van back after a couple of weeks and then a rock hit the windshield while I was driving down the interstate to school. Thankfully, it was something that could be repaired easily, but it was just one more thing that added to the craziness of our life.  Then, unbelievably, my Dad's wallet was stolen and my brother and I had to work on getting all of the cards replaced.
    Mom completed her 5 weeks of radiation and had a scan to determine what was next. She had overheard one of the radiation doctors mention amputation early on and it caused her to be very upset. I was upset, too. We really didn't think it was even a possibility that it would go to that extreme. So when mom's doctor in Atlanta informed her that the radiation was not as effective as they hoped, the cancer had gone to her bone and amputation was the only option, we were all shocked and emotional. Through all of this, seeing my mom lose weight, suffer, and struggle emotionally was heart wrenching for me.
    Mom had her surgery to amputate her right arm on December 1st. My sister, who is a nurse, was able to fly in from Colorado to be with her. It was a relief to my brother and I, who had been doing a
My mom and uncle right after her surgery
lot, and as my family had been sick since Thanksgiving. I'm happy to say that Mom is doing so well considering what she's been through. I feel like I'm seeing my old mom again, not the shell of pain and suffering that she was. It brings tears to my eyes to think about it. My older children have adjusted to school and are thriving there. My youngest, after a rough couple of months of not doing his work at school, is finally starting to participate more and do his work. All of their teachers have been amazing. They have prayed for our family and served us in so many ways. My son who broke his leg still has a slight limp, but is doing so much better. I'm leaving out so many details about the struggles we faced along this journey, but I wanted to hit the main things just to show how God has been faithful. He has provided for our needs in so many ways. On Christmas day we had lunch at my parent's house, my Mom cooking some of the meal. What a sweet gift to see her doing so well. She has said over and over that she gives God the glory for helping her make it through this trial. Please continue to keep her in your prayers as she recovers, continues to work through her pain, and adjusts to her special needs. Please pray for my dad as well as he continues to recuperate. 
    I haven't included details of all the ways that other family members and friends have ministered to my parents, but we couldn't have gotten through it all without them. So many people have helped bring meals, sent notes, brought gifts, and visited my parents. Family members have also brought meals, helped clean the house, gone grocery shopping, and taken my parents to doctor's appointments and out on errands. It has blessed me to see all the many people who have loved my parents in so many ways, and many of them have been a listening ear for me as well, supporting me and encouraging me through some difficult moments. Teachers and staff at my children's schools have encouraged me and have been praying for us and my parents. My parent's doctors and their
staff have been wonderful, too. They have prayed for them and even been a support for me as they've seen behind the scenes how I was coping with all the circumstances. My own doctor, after I went in for a routine check up, saw that I was having a difficult time and offered to lift me and my family up in prayer with his staff. The body of Christ has lifted all of us up and we have sensed that in many ways. For me, it has been like a life preserver.
    We have been through hardships, but God has walked with us and prepared the way. When things are too much for us to bear, God bears the load and provides in ways that sometimes we don't even realize. I have seen the way God has used painful moments to move me forward, even if the process was heart wrenching. Thank you for reading our story. I pray it is a testimony to God's overwhelming <3 .="" 3="" p="">

Blessings to you from our family
goodness and faithfulness.  It will also serve as a reminder to me of all that God has done. Please continue to lift us up.
    My prayer is that we will continue to approach 2017 as we have these past years: trusting God to lead and guide us as we seek Him. We pray that He will sustain us as we face new challenges and help us to always see His hand in the blessings we are given. God bless and happy new year!

Friday, December 30, 2016

God's Faithfulness in the Midst of Hardship...part 3

 Having a child with a broken leg is not easy. Especially when the pain is intense, his leg has to be constantly propped up to prevent swelling, and you're trying to move. He was also trying to learn how to use crutches because he was too heavy for me to carry. It was slow going, and for an active child, it was almost torture (for his momma, too). We pressed on. Packing up twelve years of life and saying goodbye to a home that held so many memories was an emotional time for me. Many tears were shed. I really couldn't imagine our kids not playing in that yard with our neighbors or walking through our neighborhood like we'd done hundreds of times over the years. Those roads represented years of memories in themselves. Going to church after we announced that we were leaving was hard, too. We were leaving on a good note, with love in our hearts for our time there and the many friends that we had. I think I cried every time we went in because I knew that while I was excited about what was ahead, I dearly appreciated what we were leaving behind. We had shared life with so many families...through love, marriages, births, and deaths...and being the sentimental person I am, I was a mess. Towards the end of June, my mom also began
Empty old house...
having a sharp pain in her right arm. She had a lump there but it was similar to a lump she'd had in that arm before, so she didn't think much about it. Then when she was home after her vacation, she hit her arm on the refrigerator handle at her house. After that it began to hurt even worse and the lump was getting bigger. The doctor thought it might be a ruptured muscle, so she was referred to an orthopedic doctor and we all didn't think much about it. Her doctors assured her it was probably something that could be resolved soon. Life went on.
  Our moving day was July 1st. Joe worked right up until June 30th, and then started his new job, preaching his first day, on July 3rd. It was a crazy time. With the situation as it was, we were not able to even think about trying to sell our old house at the moment, but my plan after we moved out was to clean it and prepare to sell it on our own. We just didn't have the capacity to figure out how to rent it. Our old church generously gifted us financially after we left, and we saw that as a gift from the Lord to help provide for us as we transitioned and waited for our house to sell.
    After moving, I spent the next couple of weeks trying to unpack all the boxes and get the house set up. Our new church members were wonderful. They helped me unpack so much stuff, hang pictures and curtains, and brought us meal after meal. The tangible ways that they ministered to us were a huge blessing, but the love I felt in this new place, and the love that was shown to our family as a
Double rainbow right beside our house
whole, ministered to me the most. Joe and I also felt that with the location we were in, our children needed to be enrolled in school. We felt strongly about our children continuing with a faith based education, so we looked at some different Christian schools in the area. We were very impressed with the options, but had no idea how we would afford the tuition costs. Our thought was that I would work in a school in some capacity, preferably wherever our kids went. I was actually excited about the idea, as I felt it would give me something to do, help provide, and connect me with the community. After visiting one school, Joe and I felt we had found the place. The school was right down the street from us, which would give Joe the ability to visit the kids some and if they needed us for any reason we would be available. After visiting, I noticed the name of the headmaster was the same last name as a friend of mine who taught at a Christian school I was familiar with in Macon, so I asked her if there was a connection. My friend taught at the school my parents had both taught and substituted at in previous years and I had actually substituted there as well. Through our communication, she mentioned that she thought that our kids could get financial aide at their school (in Macon) since Joe was now a senior pastor. We made an appointment despite the fact that the school was quite a distance away and not one we had considered. After an encouraging meeting with the headmaster, we were able to enroll our two oldest children into the school. Our youngest son's class was already full, so I wasn't sure if it was God's way of saying that I should keep him home with me another year or find another school. I mentioned my dilemma to a friend, and she encouraged me that after all that we had been through over the years and our recent time of stress with the move, it would be good to have even a half day break while my youngest went to preschool. That conversation caused me to call a preschool at a church close to my older kids' school and inquire. They had a slot left and I was able to go and sign him up the Friday before school started. God's hand was guiding and directing us so clearly, but at the time I didn't know how much He was preparing for us. During all of this, my mom's condition seemed to get worse. Her level of pain was very high, and she was enduring a series of tests, biopsies, and other things to try to reveal what was actually happening in her arm. We were hopeful but very concerned.
Beautiful cotton fields by our house
After a little over a month in our new home, I had everything unpacked and in a place. I was able to get a few new things to spruce up our old furniture and our house felt like a home. It also felt like a place of peace and a refuge, which is exactly what we needed. The first day of school was August 8th, and I had spent a lot of time getting everything ready. This was our kids' first time to go to school away from home and I was a little nervous. I wanted this to be good for them and our family and prayed the transition would go smoothly. I dropped the kids off that first day with tears in my
On the way to our first day of school
eyes. This was also the day my mom had a doctor's appointment in Atlanta.
    Mom was getting the results of some tests she'd had recently. As I was picking the kids up and taking my son to the doctor, I got word that my mom's result was a fast growing cancer and she would need radiation treatments and surgery to remove it. As my dad was getting out of the car after the appointment, he fell and my brother had to call an ambulance to come get him. We thought he was just having some dizziness initially, but tests revealed that my dad had a stroke. That week and the weeks that followed were a time of stress and anxiety unlike any I'd faced.
   My mom couldn't drive because of her intense pain. She felt miserable, and had just had a painful biopsy that was causing her pain levels to reach new heights. She asked if the kids and I could stay with her at her house that first week of school while my dad was in the hospital. We stayed and I tried to do all I could to help her. I was calling her doctors, calling my dad's doctor, trying to figure out how to help my mom with her pain management and help my dad post-stroke. He and my mom had the same primary care doctor, who is fantastic. He called me personally and offered to help in any way he could. My dad was released from the hospital because he wanted to get home, not realizing he needed therapy to overcome his new disabilities as a result of the stroke. We realized that he could not go up and down the stairs at their home, the home we'd lived in most of our lives. My brother, sister, and I were doing all we could to navigate what was going on and help my parents. It was very overwhelming. My sister was trying to help us with getting my dad into a rehab facility, but it was not easy. In the meantime, my mom was completely overwhelmed with her diagnosis, her pain, and inability to give my dad 24-7 care.
    My daughter was having a really hard time emotionally with the work load and transition to school that week as well. I'm so very thankful for the teachers and staff at their new school who prayed for her and patiently helped her. My son was also still in a cast that first day of school. He had it taken off the first day and was put into a walking boot, which we were happy about but he was very hesitant to put pressure on it. This was a challenge as well. We had to schedule 6 weeks of physical
Words that spoke to my heart during this time (Ann Voskamp)
therapy to give him the confidence and physical strength to walk again. While this time was extremely stressful and overwhelming, I could see how God was preparing us for this. He set it up for our kids to be at that school so that I would be close to my parents...less than 10 minutes away. With my son in preschool, I had mornings free to help my parents, take them to appointments, etc. There was really no way I would've had the time or capacity to homeschool my children. I loved our years homeschooling, so had we not moved to this new location with my husband's job, we probably wouldn't have changed what we were doing, or been close enough to send our children to the school they were at. God kept sending financial provisions our way so that I wouldn't have to work at this time, either, which I would have had to do if our kids went to another school. With my husband's new position as senior pastor, we qualified for financial aide at our older kids' school that we wouldn't have gotten before. Over and over again, we could see all the details God had put together. It all began to be set in motion several months before. This was just August, though. More opportunities to trust God through the hardships were coming.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

God's Faithfulness in the Midst of Hardship pt 2

    When we celebrated the new year, 2016, for the first time in a long time I felt a sense of relief. It hadn't been all chaos the last couple of years, but there always felt like we had anxiety hanging over us. Now we had finally paid off a huge medical debt, our family was healthy, homeschooling was going really well, and I was hitting my stride with my essential oil business. We were even thinking about looking for a bigger house, as the last 12 years we had lived in what was basically a two bedroom, one bathroom house. We loved that house, but with three growing kids and a need for a homeschooling space, we were feeling a little crowded. Just for fun, I made out a "wish list" for a new house that included a laundry room (we didn't have one of those, either), a master bathroom, a carport or garage, and a homeschool space. I smile thinking about that list now.
Mission trip 2015 to Turkey
    One thing that we were always open to from the beginning of our marriage was God's leading. Joe, at the time, was an associate pastor and had been at the church for almost 18 years, and we had been married for 11 of those years. As a couple we had been on 3 overseas mission trips together during our marriage and were very involved in ministries within the church. Our love for missions had casually led us to talk about going on the mission field ourselves. I'll have to admit, though...change wasn't as easy for me as it once was. When I was young and single, I loved change and adventure. Now I liked having roots and a nest for my little family. I also finally felt like I had an established group of friends and a place in our community, which are things I had prayed and longed for for several years. My husband and I began to sense a need to begin praying more intensely for a direction for our stay where we were or to go somewhere new...specifically in the area of my husband's job and ministry. We had no idea where God wanted us to be. We cast the net wide and some of the things my husband suggested made my heart skip a beat. I hoped that I could be as flexible and willing to go to the ends of the earth as a tired mom in her 30s as I was as a single 20 year old. Once again, we had to put this in the Lord's hands and many brothers and sisters in Christ were lifting us up in prayer. We prayed for guidance, wisdom, and clear direction from God, but to be honest, I felt like that longed-for time of relief was fading fast.
    A few months into the new year, a small church that had been without a pastor for several months contacted Joe. They had received his resume and felt led to reach out to him. It would be only 30 minutes from where we currently lived, closer to my family, and in a rural area. Joe visited with some of their search committee members and came back very encouraged. Initially, I was very hesitant. I wasn't sure how God was going to work out all the details. As we continued to talk to those in the church and I visited with Joe one Sunday, I could see why he was so encouraged. Even as a visitor I felt loved and embraced by the members of this church. I soaked it up.
Kids watching the rain at our old house
  We were faced with a tough decision that we had no idea what the answer was: continue where we were currently living or move and accept this new position at the church? These were the two options that God had opened the doors to. We sought counseling because we were so uncertain which way God was leading us. We weren't sure how God was going to provide for all of our needs. A counselor we met with gave us some wise advice. He said a lot of people depend so much on a divine word from God to make decisions and when they go with what they thought God told them and it doesn't turn out the way they anticipated, they question whether they followed God's will or not. He advised us to first look at the Bible and see if our choice would match up with God's word. Is it Biblical? (this is the vertical) Then we needed to go horizontal. Did the choice meet our physical needs? Is it a good match with ones strengths/weaknesses? etc. If the answer is yes, then it is an acceptable decision from God. What if things don't go well when you make the decision? It doesn't mean that you were acting against God. It could mean He moved you there to move you on to something better. It was just what we needed to hear at that moment. We felt God was leading Joe to become the new pastor at the church...but there were a lot of question marks that we were taking on faith. Would we continue to homeschool? If not, where would the kids go to school? What about our house: would we need to sell or rent it? Would I need to go to work? How would we like living in a more rural setting? So far we had lived in a neighborhood where our kids had other kids to play with and we wouldn't have that when we moved. My heart was heavy with all of these questions and what was going to happen. I could not have imagined how God would provide.
   On my first visit to the new church, a church member showed us the pastorium, or the house that was provided by the church for the pastor and his family to live in. We had never lived in a pastorium before. Joe had seen it and told me how nice it was, but I was skeptical. His version of really nice and my version had often been very different over our 12 years of marriage ; ). I was cautiously optimistic when I went in. My little "wish list" was still in my mind, and once again, God knows how to make me smile. The house had everything on my wish list. A nice laundry room, a master bathroom, a kitchen that opened up into the dining area that was perfect for our family and would be a big enough area if we wanted to homeschool, three total bedrooms that would be plenty for us, and a carport that was just right. Not to mention a very large living room area and beautiful views...even a front porch that we could sit out on, which was something I always wanted. We were also able to move in
whenever we needed to. God couldn't have planned it more perfectly.
Thankful it wasn't worse...
    We accepted the call to our new church in June of 2016, after much prayer and counsel. I learned later that some of my friends thought we were crazy for taking this leap of faith, but God knew this is just where we needed to be. June was filled with my packing up our house while Joe worked during the day. I was, again, pretty overwhelmed. Friends old and new came to help me when they could. My parents were on vacation most of the month of June, so I was thankful for all the help. Some church members gave us a going away party and at the party my son had an accident and broke his leg. He had to stay overnight at the hospital and that was the beginning of a series of events that still amaze me. More later....

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

God's Faithfulness in the Midst of Hardship...part 1

  When people go through hard things, a lot of people say, "well, the Lord won't give you anything you can't handle." I know this is meant as an encouragement, and I appreciate that. I may have even said that to other people before. Something inside of me now, though, has shifted. In recent years, our family has been through heavy struggles and I have honestly felt like God has given me a lot of things that I couldn't handle...of myself. I think that is kind of the point, though. We weren't meant to handle things on our own if Christ is in us. When we face things, it is He who handles it, but we have to let go and let Him provide, direct, and guide through what is happening. It is not easy. It requires humility, and sometimes stepping into uncertainty. Faith. About 4 1/2 years ago my family and I were faced with circumstances that we had never faced before. Physical and emotional challenges that were way beyond our ability to handle on our own. As we walked through that time, and now faced even in 2016, my relationship with God has developed into something even deeper. A place of utter dependency on Him that I've never had before. He has guided and provided in our circumstances in ways that I never could of myself. I wanted to share part of our story in a way that reflects God's faithfulness, so I'm going to focus on the aspect of His provision and how He has worked in our lives. I pray now that He will guide and direct my words so that the focus is not on us, but on Him.
   It's hard to know where to begin. In 2012, I had our third child after a difficult pregnancy. That year was nothing like we thought. We knew this would be our last baby, so I wanted to enjoy every second, but it was tough. I had a 4 and 2 year old that turned a year older right before the baby came, so we were in the middle of homeschooling, potty training that wasn't going well, and I was overwhelmed. Then the baby came and he had terrible reflux, I was exhausted, and our older kids had some ENT issues we had to address. The baby was 3 months old when our big kids had surgeries (on the same day!). Not only was this a physically and emotionally overwhelming, but financially overwhelming as well. But we were confident this was the Lord's direction for us, and we really couldn't postpone the health issues that needed addressing, so we went forward. When the baby was about 4 months old, I discovered a lump in my neck. This raised all kinds of fears within me, but my husband was very calming and we were praying. God wasn't going to give us too much, right? The lump turned out to have a 50-50 chance of being thyroid cancer, but cancer or not, it had to come out. It was sitting right on my esophagus and getting bigger. We prayed and our surgeon felt that he could remove the lump without removing the thyroid and I wouldn't have to be on medication the rest of my life. We just knew God had answered our prayers and we agreed to take a chance that it wouldn't be cancer. Well...weeks later the biopsy came back and it was cancer. I would have to have another surgery and have my thyroid removed completely. The surgeon called me personally and I was devastated. I had many thoughts during this process of what would happen if I died, if my husband were left with three small children on his own, and how I would miss everyone. My faith felt like it took a hit (what was God's plan in this?!). I really believe I was also having post-pardem depression, but I had so many other things going on to feel down about it was hard to know for sure. I was sleep deprived. Our medical debt was building. Between my thyroid surgeries, my husband's mother passed away. It was like blow after blow to our family. I wasn't handling what God was giving me too well. It was definitely the hardest days I had faced in my life up to this point.
   God had not abandoned us, by any means. When we were at a big lows, God filled in the gap. Friends from church offered us a free week at their beach house to minister to us...what a blessing as we couldn't afford even a simple vacation, not to mention a beach vacation. A dear friend of mine recognized the signs of depression and took me to lunch and had basically written out an intervention for me. She sat me down, prayed with me, cried with me, and gave me some practical things I could do to help me through it. She had Bible verses that I could pray through and that she was praying for me. What a dear sister she is to me. Church members were ministering to us by bringing us meals, giving us gift cards, praying for us, and encouraging us. I had friends bring me flowers, come over and clean my house for me, invite me over for girl's nights and made little gift baskets for me. My parents were also ministering to us in a variety of ways. I remember my mom coming over to our house and encouraging me to open up the blinds, get some sunshine in, and get myself and the baby dressed every day. Just giving me some simple goals to get moving. In the midst of the hardship, God walked with us.
   Time continued on and it took me quite a while to adjust to my thyroid medicine. I gained weight (in addition to the baby weight I hadn't lost), I couldn't sleep, and then I would go to the other end of the spectrum where I felt like I couldn't get out of bed at all and thought I was almost blacking out. My body was on a bit of a roller coaster. The baby was growing and having all sorts of skin problems in addition to his reflux that he had all through his first year. He had to see a dermatologist and an allergy doctor. We discovered he had severe food allergies, a high sensitivity to insect bites, and he also had to get ear tubes put in that year because of terrible ear infections. Our medical debt had risen to about $15,000+. We committed to my being home with the kids and homeschooling, so we were trusting God to take care of us. I started couponing and we cut out a lot of "extras" which included going out to eat, driving out of town (to save on gas), and anything else we could do. Any extra money we had would go to debt. I was also having some other medical issues and we decided at the end of 2013 that I would have surgery. That happened in November, a few weeks before Thanksgiving. This would be my 4th major surgery in a little over a year. I was recuperating pretty well post-op, but when I went for my one week follow up I started feeling bad at the doctor's office. He wanted me to stay close to his office (in Macon) to monitor how I was feeling. We stayed at my parent's house and I began to run fevers for the next couple of days, but never getting up to 102...just lots of chills and fever back and forth. On Thanksgiving Day 2013, the fever rose past 102 and my husband took me to the ER. They couldn't figure out exactly what was going on, but I was admitted for a post-surgical infection. I spent four days in the hospital and was sent home with some antibiotics, which I didn't respond well to. So I went back to my doctor's office and he put me back in the hospital for 3 more days. I finally went home and finished recuperating.
    Once again, friends ministered to us. One friend came and just watched my kids all day while I couldn't get out of bed. Many were praying, bringing us meals, and another friend even invited me to go to the movies. We were so blessed with a wonderful church family. There were even some ladies in Ecuador who heard about all that was going on with us and sent me a small gift to encourage me. Our missionary friends around the world were lifting us up. "The prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective" was lived out in our circumstances. God was walking with us through the trials and using His people to meet our needs.
    We pressed on through 2014 and 2015, continuing to be frugal and trying to be good stewards of what God had given us. I was introduced to essential oils and by using them we saw dramatic improvements in our and our children's overall health, which meant decreased doctor visits...what a blessing. I began to be involved in educating others about essential oils and that was very therapeutic for me. It gave me a new community to be involved in. I was also able to reconnect with old friends and receive prayer, counsel, and an increase in socialization, which I needed. It felt good to teach again, to interact more with people, and be depended on in a new way. It also helped me as I faced times of grieving. I was very blessed to have my grandparents in my life as long as I did, but the loss of one of my grandparents during this time, my mom's dad (Papa), was especially hard for me. He and I always had a special bond. I grew up hearing my mom tell stories about their growing up years, the sacrifices my Papa made and the many ways he loved his children. I experienced that love first hand as my Papa demonstrated his love for me in so many ways. I still miss him, which makes the thought of being with him in Heaven one day all the sweeter.
    God continued to provide for us and by Christmas of 2015, all of our medical debt was paid off. We even had dear friends offer to pay for a large medical bill we had. This was one of our last medical bills and their gift was one that brought my husband and I both to tears. It was like the completion of a very hard chapter in our lives, and God used dear friends who knew all that had happened and had walked with us through it to bring it to a close. A true blessing from God and a tangible expression of how He takes care of His people.
    Even though we had been frugal, we had lacked for nothing. God had consistently not only given us what we needed to survive, but to thrive. My theme word for 2015 was "thrive" because I felt like we had been in "survive" mode for so long. I can look back now and see how God's timing was perfect. He used our time of need to help us learn to depend on Him in new ways and showed us His faithfulness in big ways. This would be especially meaningful as we entered into a new season of hardship and blessing in 2016....

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Amy Grant's "Tennessee Christmas" CD: review and GIVEAWAY!

Get cozy by the Christmas tree and pop in Amy Grant's newest CD, Tennessee Christmas, and you'll no doubt feel all the warmth of the season. The soft tones of Grant's voice coupled with a soothing instrumental accompaniment, and even one song that highlights the more raucous side of the holidays, make this the perfect addition to your Christmas music collection. The title song, Tennessee Christmas, welcomes listeners into the home of Grant and her family. In fact, inside the cover she shares that the music was actually recorded at her home. There are thirteen songs, half of which are new tracks and the rest are traditional Christmas songs you'll recognize. She's added a few personal reflections and background vocals with family and friends. In her words, "Nostalgic...warm...hopeful...loved...not alone...These are the things I hope you feel as you listen to this record." These are definitely the things I felt with several of the songs on this album. Here is one of my personal favorites:

I will be giving away one free copy of this CD to one of you!!  Comment on this post with a a favorite Christmas memory or tradition to be entered into the drawing I'll have on Monday, Dec. 5th. If you don't win the drawing but would like this CD, go here to pick up your own copy from Itunes.

Connect with Amy!
Amy's team will be putting together a compilation of videos of fans receiving Christmas surprises. If you'd like to post a video on social media, use the hashtag #TNChristmasSurprise. Here's a sample of one family's suprise to their loved one : ). Don't you just love videos like this?!

Looking forward to reading your comments! Merry Christmas!!

*Only for residents of the continental US*

“Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255:  “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”):  Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway.  Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation.  I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.
Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway.  If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller /FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win.  Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again.  Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Reviewer's Bookshelf: The Silent Songbird by Melanie Dickerson

Book summary (Amazon): Evangeline is gifted with a heavenly voice, but she is trapped in a sinister betrothal—until she embarks on a daring escape and meets brave Westley le Wyse. Can he help her discover the freedom to sing again?

Desperate to flee a political marriage to her cousin King Richard II’s closest advisor, Lord Shiveley—a man twice her age with shadowy motives—Evangeline runs away and joins a small band of servants journeying back to Glynval, their home village.

Pretending to be mute, she gets to know Westley le Wyse, their handsome young leader, who is intrigued by the beautiful servant girl. But when the truth comes out, it may shatter any hope that love could grow between them.

More than Evangeline’s future is at stake as she finds herself entangled in a web of intrigue that threatens England’s monarchy. Should she give herself up to protect the only person who cares about her? If she does, who will save the king from a plot to steal his throne?

My thoughts...
I wish I would've had books like Melanie Dickerson's to read when I was a teenager.  Honestly, the selection at the school library had nothing like this. Knowing that this is a Young Adult novel, as I read it I thought of what it would be like for my daughter, but in the process I enjoy it just as much as an adult.  

Melanie combines an interesting setting, medieval England, with adventure, moral dilemma, faith and very clean romance.  The story of Evangeline and Westley is part of a series of fairy tale retellings that have been written with a slight twist. This story is a retelling of The Little Mermaid in the sense that Evangeline pretends not to be able to speak, although she can, and has quite a beautiful singing voice. It is that voice that Westley was drawn to initally, even though he wasn't able to see the face of the girl who was singing. This is just the beginning of their story. As it continues, the characters face various physical and moral dilemmas as they must overcome evil and trust one another. 

I really enjoyed the building of the plot in this novel and how it was not only a romantic story, but one that had depth. Themes like honesty, trust, and faith were prominent in this tale, as well as perseverance. Evangeline had led a pampered life but wasn't whiney when she struggled through doing hard work. This is a great message to a young audience. The pace was steady and was especially exciting as the plot began to build. The main characters were brave, and somewhat stubborn and reckless in one sense, but they worked together to fight the good fight. 

I love Melanie's style of writing and the way she weaves faith and character into these classic fairy tales. Personally, I love these newer versions! I can't wait to share them with my daughter when she gets a little older. As an adult, I enjoy the setting, action, and the interesting plot twists in the story. But most importantly, that it's not our own efforts or "magic" that allows us to persevere, but our faith in God and His power.

**I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher in order to give an honest review, which I did.**

Friday, October 14, 2016

Reviewer's Bookshelf: The Cautious Maiden by Dawn Crandall

Book Summary (Amazon): Violet Hawthorne is beyond mortified when her brother Ezra turns their deceased parents' New England country inn into a brothel to accommodate the nearby lumberjacks but when Violet's own reputation is compromised, the inn becomes the least of her worries. In an effort to salvage her good name, Violet is forced into an engagement with a taciturn acquaintance, Vance Everstone.

As she prepares for a society wedding, Violet learns that her brother had staked her hand in marriage in a heated poker game with the unsavory Rowen Steele, and Ezra had lost. Now Rowen is determined to cash in on his IOU.

With danger stalking her and a new fiancé who hides both his emotion and his past, Violet must decide who to trust, and who to leave behind.

My thoughts....
The Cautious Maiden is the fourth book in Dawn Crandall's Everstone Chronicles. I thoroughly enjoyed the first books in this series and this book was equally exciting and fun to read. 
In this novel, Violet is definitely a victim of her brother's bad choices. She is wounded, particularly in an emotional sense. I had a somewhat negative impression of Vance Everstone from a previous novel in the series, in which he was quite a scoundrel. I was curious to see how his redemption would play into Violet's story.

The fact that Dawn Crandall writes in first person really adds an interesting aspect to her novels. You really get to see a depth to the central character that you may not typically get in third person storytelling. As I was reading this novel, there were times that Violet's thought processes kind of frustrated me. She excused some of Vance's behavior that I wished she would call him out on more...or feel differently about. But on the flip side, that is what I appreciated about the novel as well. Even though Violet is a fictional character, she represents how a real person might respond. She is not perfect...and I'm kind of glad she's not. It creates the tension in the novel, makes Violet more relate-able, and develops her character. The first person aspect allows Violet to tell her story, flaws and all, and as the reader I felt that it was ok if it wasn't all in a neat package. The lovely little romantic scenes and the building of romantic tension that are always so well written in Dawn's novels were another highlight to the story.

I always look forward to reading a novel by Dawn Crandall. She has a gift in writing first person, stirring your heart with the struggles faced by her characters, and including clean romantic scenes that are just the icing on the cake!

And there's more!
Dawn is having a Rafflecopter giveaway!  Go here for Giveaway 1  for some fun goodies!! 

If you're in Indiana, Dawn Crandall and Denise Hunter are doing a book signing. How fun!

If you haven't read Dawn's previous books I would definitely recommend them!

Happy reading!

**I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher in order to give an honest review, which I did.**

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Reviewer's Bookshelf: No Way Up by Mary Connealy

Book summary (Goodreads): When Cimarron ranch patriarch Chance Boden is caught in an avalanche, the quick actions of hired hand Heath Kincaid save him. Badly injured, Chance demands that his will be read and its conditions be enforced immediately. 
Without anyone else to serve as a witness, Heath is pressed into reading the will. If Justin, Sadie, and Cole Boden don't live and work at home for the entire year, the ranch will go to their low-down cousin Mike. 
Then Heath discovers the avalanche was a murder attempt, and more danger might follow. Deeply involved with the family, Heath's desire to protect Sadie goes far beyond friendship. The danger keeps them close together, and their feelings grow until being apart is the last thing on their minds.

My thoughts...Once again, Mary Connealy takes us out to the wild west in another series called The Cimarron Legacy.  No Way Up is the first book in the series, but there is a novella prequel that is worth the read.  It gives the history of the characters and how Chance Boden became the owner of the ranch.
     I always enjoy the way Connealy writes the west.  Strong men, strong women, and often a lot of sass and magnetism between the characters.  The chemistry between Heath and Sadie is one of my favorite parts of this novel.  The bond between the Boden siblings and the way they gave up their own pursuits to serve and help each other (even though they were forced to do so at first), was also a favorite aspect of the novel.  Connealy starts her novels with an action-packed beginning, and that was present as well.  An element of mystery rounds out the plot, which concluded in a way that I did not fully expect.
     The only bit of this story that I missed was more of witty, sassy banter between the characters.  I was waiting for it and in the end it seemed to pick up, but, for me, it took a while.  I wanted a little more spark. 
     Overall, I think this series has great potential and I look forward to seeing how the next parts of this story play out.

**I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in order to give an honest review, which I did.**

Friday, June 10, 2016

Reviewer's Bookshelf: The Ringmaster's Wife

Book summary (from Goodreads): What is revealed when you draw back the curtain of the Greatest Show on Earth?

Rosamund Easling is no stranger to opulence. As the daughter of an earl, she’s grown up with every comfort money can buy. But when hard times befall the family’s Yorkshire estate in the aftermath of the Great War, Rosamund’s father sells her beloved horse, setting the stage for a series of events that would extend beyond even her wildest dreams.

Though expected to marry for a title instead of love, Rosamund feels called to a different life – one of adventure outside the confines of a ladies’ parlor. She abandons all she’s known and follows in pursuit as her horse is shipped to the new owner – an American entertainer by the name of John Ringling. Once introduced to the Ringling Brothers’ circus and knowing she has much to learn, Rosamund agrees to a bareback riding apprenticeship in the shadow of the Ringlings’ winter home—Ca’D’Zan. It is at that mansion, in what would become the last days of the enigmatic Mable Ringling’s life, that Rosamund finds a deeper sense of purpose in the life she’s been given, and the awakening of faith in her heart.

With a supporting cast of characters as mysterious and dazzling as the Ringlings’ big-top world, Rosamund’s journey takes her from the tradition of the English countryside to the last days of America’s Roaring ‘20s—a journey that forever changes what one life might have been.

My thoughts: Things that initially caught my attention when I requested to read this book were the cover (beautiful!), the author (love her previous books), and the title.  Not knowing much about the history behind the circus, I was intrigued.  
One of the strengths of this novel is Kristy Cambron's ability to intertwine two, what seem to be unrelated, storylines and create a beautiful connection of life, faith, and perseverance.  I enjoyed seeing how the story began to unfold and how the characters impacted each others' lives.  The detailed descriptions of the locations made me feel like I was right there with the characters in the story, from walking through the Ca'D'Zan to exploring behind the circus tents. The faith of the characters and how it helps them grow and overcome adversity is also a central theme in the story.  Here are some of my favorite quotes:

"This building up of what we want doesn't have to be a tearing down of who we are. It's the worst kind of extravagance to think we're above adversity. Isn't that what God calls of us, to acknowledge that we are moving with this undercurrent of something that is always at work around us?  Something bigger than we could ever be as just one person?" -Mabel
"They all had one thing in common: to have faith that when one has no control, there is One who does."

Reading this story to completion helped me to appreciate all the aspects of how the story came together, but when I began reading I had a hard time making the connections between the two storylines.  I honestly wanted more of John and Mabel's story, as she was the actual ringmaster's wife.  I realize that she impacted the lives of all who were in the story, but I wanted more details behind the love that she and John shared.  
This is definitely a well-written novel, and would recommend it.

**I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an unbiased review, which I gave.**

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Reviewer's Bookshelf: From This Moment by Elizabeth Camden

Book Summary (Goodreads):Romulus White has tried for years to hire illustrator Stella West for his renowned scientific magazine. She is the missing piece he needs to propel his magazine to the forefront of the industry.
But Stella abruptly quit the art world and moved to Boston with a single purpose: to solve the mysterious death of her beloved sister. Romulus, a man with connections to high society and every important power circle in the city, could be her most valuable ally. 
Sparks fly the instant Stella and Romulus join forces, and Romulus soon realizes the strong-willed and charismatic Stella could disrupt his hard-won independence. Can they continue to help each other when their efforts draw the wrong kind of attention from the powers-that-be and put all they've worked for at risk? 

My thoughts....First of the names Elizabeth Camden chose for her characters!  They definitely create accurate images of their physical appearance and personalities.  Romulus is strong, masculine, and a man who is very confident in the way he interacts with others.  He has an image that he projects in the way that he takes charge of situations and has an impeccable sense of style. Beneath that shiny exterior, though, is a man who has his vulnerabilities.  At the slightest crack in that exterior, his insecurities begin to take over.  Stella is beautiful, talented, and also has a sense of fashion that is ahead of her time. In the past she has been untouchable to Romulus, who has been trying to convince her to come work for him as an illustrator for his magazine, Science World. The Stella who has moved to Boston, however, is a woman on a mission to solve her sister's mysterious death.
One of my favorite things about Elizabeth Camden's novels is that she addresses some point or event in history that had a huge impact on the culture but may not necessarily stand out to us today.  For example, in From This Moment, the novel explores the construction of the first subway lines and how that impacted American culture.  She also includes the aspects of a scientific magazine, how it's produced, and how it impacted the area of science and discovery.  All of that was woven through the story without it seeming like a history textbook; true events intermingled with fictional characters.  This story was also more of a murder-mystery than a romantic fiction for me.  While there were romantic elements, the mystery involving Stella's sister had the stronger story line, in my opinion.  Here are some of my favorite quotes:
"She'd learned long ago that courage was not the absence of fear, but the willingness to confront it."
"Happiness was not an abundance of riches or amusements, it was evenings such as these, when people were engaged in a worthy pursuit and surrounded by kindred spirits."
"Do you love God only when he is good to you?" (A challenge to Stella)
"Beneath the careless insults, the forgotten anniversaries, and socks thrown on her clean floor, she had found a man. And she loved him desperately. This was love.  This was marriage, in all its shining, imperfect glory." (this isn't a spoiler ; ))

**I was given a free copy of this novel in exchange for an unbiased review, which I gave.**

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Reviewer's bookshelf: No Other Will Do by Karen Witemeyer

Book Summary (from Amazon): Men are optional. That's the credo Emma Chandler's suffragette aunts preached and why she started a successful women's colony in Harper's Station, Texas. But when an unknown assailant tries repeatedly to drive them out, Emma admits they might need a man after all. A man who can fight--and she knows just the one.
Malachi Shaw finally earned the respect he craved by becoming an explosives expert for the railroad. Yet when Emma's plea arrives, he bolts to Harper's Station to repay the girl who once saved his life. Only she's not a girl any longer. She's a woman with a mind of her own and a smile that makes a man imagine a future he doesn't deserve.
As the danger intensifies, old feelings grow and deepen, but Emma and Mal will need more than love to survive.

My thoughts...When this book began with Emma's message to Malachi to come to her...and he immediately starting packing his stuff without question and called her his "angel," I was totally smitten with this story.  Malachi is unquestionably masculine, but his tenderness towards Emma made my heart want to melt.  Karen Witemeyer has the ability to write fantastic heros in her novels that embody not just a strong masculine side, but a vulnerability that draws me in every time.  Emma is also a well-written character, who is kind and tenderhearted but also has a tough side.  She's smart and sassy. The two of them compliment each other so well. I also love Witemeyer's use of descriptive language:

"Ever since she'd made up her mind to ask him to come, anticipation had been swelling inside her like yeasty bread dough rising on a warm windowsill. She was in desperate need of someone to punch her down and knead her back into shape."
Here's one other quote from Emma's friend:
"Emma, you see people the way Jesus did. You bend down to wash their feet even when they have thirty pieces of silver jangling in their pocket." (Love that.)

The chemistry between the characters is not the only strength of this novel. Someone is harassing and threatening the residents of Harper's Station, and it's not clear just who it is or why they're doing it. The elements of mystery and danger were just enough...and didn't involve several complicated subplots.  I love a good mystery and depth to a story, but I don't want to have to take notes while I'm reading just so I can keep up with all the characters and what's going on. No Other Will Do hit the sweet spot.

I loved this book and couldn't put it down!  I would definitely recommend it!
**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, which I gave.**

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Reviewer's Bookshelf: The Beautiful Pretender by Melanie Dickerson

Book Summary (Amazon)The Margrave of Thornbeck has to find a bride, fast. He invites ten noble born ladies who meet the king’s approval to be his guests at Thornbeck Castle for two weeks, a time to test these ladies and reveal their true character.
Avelina has only two instructions: keep her true identity a secret and make sure the margrave doesn’t select her as his bride. Since the latter seems unlikely, she concentrates on not getting caught. No one must know she is merely a maidservant, sent by the Earl of Plimmwald to stand in for his daughter, Dorothea. 
Despite Avelina’s best attempts at diverting attention from herself, the margrave has taken notice. And try as she might, she can’t deny her own growing feelings. But something else is afoot in the castle. Something sinister that could have far worse—far deadlier—consequences.
My thoughts...I have to start out by saying that this is one of my new favorite books by Melanie Dickerson!  I absolutely LOVED this story.  It had the perfect balance of sweet romance/romantic tension, mystery, and action.  And it's set in medieval England....which I also love.  It starts out as a kind of medieval "The Bachelor." The Margrave has several ladies come so that he can observe them, interact with them, and choose one to be his bride.  Avelina does not want to be there and is forced into going by the Earl of Plimmwald. She does all that she can to fulfill her duty and secure her and her family's future provision without giving the Margrave any indication that she's interested in being his bride. Even when things do not go as she thought they would, she doesn't lose heart or turn to self-pity. I love wounded male characters...and Melanie Dickerson writes them to perfection!  My other favorite book of hers is "The Merchant's Daughter," which also has a similar male hero.  The vulnerability of the Margrave, combined with his inner strength and courage, make him a hero that you want to see happy and fulfilled.  His rough exterior makes him even more appealing. 
The combination of well-written characters and an interesting plot make this a novel I would highly recommend.  I thought the pace of the story was just right. There were slower moments where you learn more about the characters and their motives, but faster-paced moments of action that created excitement and tension.  A great book for teens and up!
**I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, which I gave.**

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Reviewer's Bookshelf: Dawn at Emberwilde by Sarah E. Ladd

Book summary (Goodreads): For as long as she can remember, beautiful and free-spirited Isabel has strained against the rules and rigidity of the Fellsworth School in the rolling English countryside. No longer a student, Isabel set her sights on a steady yet unexciting role as a teacher at the school, a safe yet stifling establishment that would provide her a steady environment to care for her younger sister Lizzie, who was left in her care after her father’s death.

The unexpected arrival of a striking stranger with news of unknown relatives turns Isabel’s small, predictable world upside down, sweeping her and her young charge into a labyrinth of intrigue and hidden motives.

At her new family’s invitation, Isabel and Lizzie relocate to Emberwilde, a sprawling estate adjacent to a vast, mysterious wood rife with mysterious rumors and ominous folklore—along with whispers of something far more sinister. And perhaps even more startling, two handsome men begin pursuing Isabel, forcing her to learn the delicate dance between attraction, the intricate rules of courtship, and the hopes of her heart.

At Emberwilde, Isabel will discover that the key to unlocking the mystery of her past may also open the door to her future and security. But first she must find it—in the depths of Emberwilde Forest.

My thoughts...This story is centered around Isabel's journey through a short part of her life that will affect the rest of her future.  It is definitely a journey that involves pain and heartache, but she also sees how much she is loved and how she can authentically love others.  
     There are some slightly suspenseful moments when she has an encounter in the mysterious woods at Emberwilde, but this could have been explored further.  From the beginning of Isabel's relationship with her family, there is an overall sense that something isn't right.  That part of the plot was interesting and well-developed.  The romantic aspect of the plot did have some tension, but I would've welcomed even more intensity, within the boundaries of still being a clean read.  
    Overall, this novel had a slower pace.  The characters were interesting and the plot had nice development with some twists and turns, but I would've welcomed a little more tension and intensity.

**I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher in order to give an honest review**