Saturday, May 26, 2018

Thoughts from a Back to Work Mom

We're only a few days away...just three days of post planning for teachers...before we finish up the 2017-2018 school year. Wow. I'm honestly just thankful I made it through one of the roughest school years of my life. But I can also say that it's been one of the most impactful...mostly in a positive way. ; ) No matter how difficult it seemed, even on days that I really just felt like giving up, God reminded me that He is my Provider and He had this year planned from the beginning of time.

Confession time. I'm speaking only for myself here...not other moms, wives, husbands, people in general. There was a certain level of pride in my heart about being a stay at home mom. I also battled pride in our humble financial status because we chose to sacrifice so that I could be home with our children, taking care of the house, and homeschooling. Don't get me wrong...all of the things I was doing were exactly what the Lord wanted me to do and they were good things. God blessed us, provided for us in miraculous ways, and gave us so much joy during this time. The problem wasn't what we were doing, it was the pride that would creep in.

God has a great way of humbling us, while thankfully blessing us at the same time. I really wanted to homeschool my children through their elementary years, but I was very unsure about how I was going to do that. When we moved to a new, more rural, community, it was like God completely changed mine and my husband's heart about our kids' education. There was no doubt in our minds that I was supposed to stop homeschooling and our kids needed to be in school.We visited several schools and prayed for wisdom. It was about a week before both of my parents had intense medical issues that God flung the door wide open for our children to attend a private school about 45 minutes away from us. It was a place that I had always dreamed that my kids might go, but I never in a million years thought that dream would be a reality. The school also happened to be about 10 minutes from my parent's house. God provided the financial aide we needed and we enrolled our two oldest kids there and our son in a half a day preK down the street. My heart just wants to burst thinking about God's sweet provision. I was free to be with my parents without having to work for a full school year thanks to God's abundant blessings.

As the 2016-2017 school year came to a close, I began to sense an urging to apply for a job for the next school year. We knew some of the financial resources God had given us would be running out eventually. It would also be good for me to have something to do during the time that all three of the kids would be in school, especially since I didn't want to drive that 45 minute commute back and forth. Joe, my husband, and I began to pray. I felt led to "cast the net wide" and put my resume in a few different places and asked the Lord to close the doors where He knew I didn't need to be. I had no idea what we would be doing in 5-6 months, but I knew God did. So I asked Him for His help. Through this job search, my tinier-than-a-mustard-seed faith began to grow.

God opened the door for me to have a job that not only provided for our financial needs, but it was also something I really enjoyed and could do part time. I was put in a position to be mentored by fellow teachers who could help me each step of the way. When my Mom was close to passing away and eventually did pass away at the beginning of the school year, my coworkers were there supporting me, giving me their love, thoughts, and prayers. God knew I would need all of that during this time. Having to teach each day also gave me something to keep moving forward and keep my mind occupied so that my grief wouldn't be all that I thought about.

What have I learned through this year? One of the biggest lessons is that God is not only in control, but He lovingly leads and guides families down the paths that He sees as the best for them. When we earnestly seek Him...lay down our ambitions, our pride, our desires...and say, "Here am I Lord, send me," He will. He may send you back into your home to stay home and homeschool your kids. He may open doors for you to start your own business, go back to school, or go to a job you never thought you would do. I never thought I would go back to teaching in public school in the county I grew up in. I would've been scared to death of being in some of the places I've needed to go. But what a blessing I would've missed! I've had opportunities to love and minister to children who are in dire need of love. To walk into spiritually dark places and pray for students and teachers there. Learn some lessons in my attitude and perspective when things weren't going well...which is certainly humbling...and refining. I've had the privilege of making new friends from many different places and walks of life, and I've loved the conversations and time we've gotten to spend together. The Lord knew how lonely I had been and my high need for socialization, and He provided that for me. Each time I reevaluated and asked myself the question, "Is this really what I need to be doing right now?," God gave me reassurance that "for such a time as this," I was right where He planned and provided for me to be.

I have a lot to be thankful for! On that note...happy summer and happy end of the school year!!! Woohooo!! : )

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Mother's Day...With Love from the Red Bird

My Mom's stepmother, whom we lovingly call "Nanny," has been gently encouraging me to write a devotion book. Life and time haven't aligned to give me the opportunity to even explore that, but my heart does do a little pitter-patter every time she mentions it. She told me that one entry must be about the cardinal...which we affectionately call the "red bird."

The red bird holds special meaning for many people and for Christians in particular it can be a symbol of faith . For Nanny, my Mom, and I it became a symbol of love. When my Papa, Nanny's husband and my Mom's daddy, passed away about four years ago we experienced a deep loss. I know my Mom grieved so deeply, but she rarely showed it.
Mom and I, Easter 2017

My Mom was one of the bravest people I've ever met. She endured deep heartache at the young age of nine when her parent's divorced. She was raised by her Daddy, along with her two brothers, one of which was deaf and the other who had cerebral palsy. Mom had to grow up fast, almost becoming a second mother to her brothers. As I grew up, I heard story after story of her childhood. She never told her stories with sadness, but with love. Love for her Daddy and the camaraderie among their little family that was borne of simple living and simple joys. I picture those stories in my mind like they were part of my own personal history. In a way they are, as I'm part of my Mom, but I'll never know all the sorrow and hardships that were also part of those years. One thing is for certain, though: my Mom, her Daddy, and her brothers had a deep connection that was forged through all they went through.

When my Papa died, I felt like my own heart was broken in two. Every time I thought of him for several years I couldn't stop the tears. He and I were very close, but my Momma was Papa's heart. Momma only let the walls down and shared her grief with me once, and it was the only time in my life, up to that point, that I saw her cry that hard. She was always afraid that if she started crying she wouldn't be able to stop. We grieved together that day.

One way we got through grieving Papa's death was every time Mom, Nanny or I would see a red bird we'd say something like, "There's Papa coming to tell us hello!" Of course, we didn't believe that was actually Papa, but we did believe that a loving heavenly Father could send a message to us through his creation. I'll admit, sometimes I felt kind of silly thinking of a bird in that way, but as time went on it became a symbol of love and comfort for all of us. Little red bird things began popping up around my parent's house: figurines, pictures, etc. Seeing a red bird flying nearby always made us smile.

My sister, Mom, and I, Easter 2012
Mom was wearing her red dress
When Mom was diagnosed with sarcoma cancer in August of 2016, her courage and determination were tested to the limit. Through her pain she was able to let go of bottling up her tears, and when her pain was almost unbearable we would cry together. Her best friend, Sharon, told me later that she asked Mom how bad the pain was: was she taking it day by day, hour by hour, or minute by minute? Mom replied, "second by second." My Mom faced her fears and pain with grace and dignity. I shared a lot of our journey and a conclusion here. One thing I didn't share was the day of Mom's funeral I saw two red birds flying around in my parent's backyard. The significance was not lost on me. We had even chose a red dress for my mom to be buried in. She looked so pretty in that dress.

Since Mom's passing, I've missed her terribly. I don't wish for her to be here on earth in pain and suffering, so I'm thankful that she is free from that in Heaven. I do, however, miss her presence in my life. Our girl's days, everyday talks on the phone, her time goes on I feel the void of our deep connection more and more. As my first Mother's Day without Mom approaches, God has been sending me divine little love messages. Several times over the past couple of weeks I've seen a red bird: twice hopping in the yard at our house, the parking lot at one of the schools I work at, and twice red birds have flown in front of us as we've been driving home. I do not doubt God's signature is all over this: "To you, my daughter, with love from your heavenly Father."

I close with this picture of the poem, A Mother's Love. Mom loved poetry. She copied this poem by Helen Steiner Rice on a sheet of paper and my sister, Paige, and I found it as we were going through her things after she passed away. As a surprise, Paige had the poem, in Mom's handwriting, placed on a wall hanging and gave it as a gift to my brother and I. What a treasure.

God bless you as you navigate through the joys and sorrows of this life, particularly the ones you may face on Mother's Day. Look for the love notes God leaves all around you. It could even come in the form of a little red bird. I'd appreciate your prayers as I do this as well. Much love..xoxo

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Reviewer's Bookshelf: Falling for You by Becky Wade

Book Summary (Goodreads): Willow Bradford is content taking a break from modeling to run her family's inn until she comes face-to-face with NFL quarterback Corbin Stewart, the man who broke her heart--and wants to win her back. When a decades-old missing-persons case brings them together, they're forced to decide whether they can risk falling for one another all over again.

My thoughts...Becky Wade...THANK YOU for being an author!! Seriously, I have read all of Becky Wade's books and I have yet to feel even a hint of disappointment...except when I'm done...because I didn't want it to end. Falling for You is the second book in the "A Bradford Sister's Romance" series. Don't you just love this cover?! You could actually read them as stand alones, but they're even better read together. This story focuses on Willow Bradford and her ex, Corbin Stewart, and how they work through their past so they can have peace in the present.

This story has so many layers to it. Complex, yet not hard to read. The flow of the story is great...not too fast that you feel like you've lost some of the details and connection and not too slow that you feel bored. Corbin and Willow have a strong personal connection that was severed by a painful breakup, but have been reconnected by Corbin's niece who wants to solve the mystery of her long lost aunt. As the three work together on the mystery, which was an interesting part of the plot, Corbin and Willow have to face what happened in their relationship. I LOVE how the author kept what happened in their relationship SO REAL! Couples really do face temptations and struggles in real life, especially when one person in the relationship is a Christian and another is not. Consequences, forgiveness, peace, and not becoming a victim of your past were all explored in this book, through the truth of God's Word and who He is. So well done! And, of course, the romantic tension was great ; ). 

Personal Takeaway...It's never too late for God to redeem your story!

Basically...put this book, and all of Becky Wade's other books, on your To Be Read list! : )

**I was given a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley to share my personal opinions.**

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Reviewer's Bookshelf: Together Forever by Jody Hedlund

Book Summary (Goodreads): Marianne Neumann became a placing agent with the Children's Aid Society with one goal: to find her lost sister. Her fellow agent, Andrew Brady, is a former schoolteacher with a way with children and a hidden past. As they team up placing orphans in homes in Illinois, they grow ever closer . . . until a shocking tragedy changes one of their lives forever.

My thoughts...Full disclosure: I've been a big Jody Hedlund fan for several years! I have read almost all of her books and have found that while the plot and characters change, the best elements of her books are always there. Jody does a wonderful job of creating romantic tension between her hero/heroine. The pace is steady and keeps me interested with plot twists and complex conflict. Her books also don't shy away from showing some grit and difficult circumstances.

In this series, you get all of these elements. Marianne and Andrew both have their reasons for traveling on an orphan train to place orphans in new homes. They both carry a heavy burden of guilt and shame from things that happened to them in the past, so this trip represents a path towards redemption. Particularly if Marianne is able to find her lost sister. The hardships on their journey were at times emotionally painful to read. Sometimes both character's stubbornness could get a little irritating...haha. But all of these elements come together to create a thoughtful novel that I would certainly recommend! I would definitely recommend starting with the first book in the series.

Personal takeaway...True redemption, and freedom from guilt and shame, can only come from the Redeemer. He offers it freely.

**I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in order to share my honest thoughts, which I did.**