Book Review: All the Pretty Things

Maybe it was the country western songs peppering the pages, maybe it was her description of living in a trailer, or juggling life with divorced parents. It could have been the way I could relate to the deep and unexplainable love a girl feels for her daddy, no matter what. Whatever the reason, this book invited me in and held me in its grasp through all of its pages and not one chapter was insignificant.

Edie Rudder began her life in the Appalachian Mountains, running wild and chasing after her daddy. Times were hard and life was full of bumps and bruises and excuses and disappointments. One thing led to another and even though she had pulled herself through med school and fashioned a life no one from her background usually even dreamed of, she still felt lost and afraid.

Success, money, family, nothing could fill the void she felt in her inmost heart of hearts. Rising to the top and then losing it all she was finally brought back to the root and center of it all, the love of a Father. Somehow in the midst of it all, she realized that no matter what came her way, God's love for her was unending and unconditional.
Maybe that's it. Maybe that's why the ache won't stop. Maybe it was never supposed to. Maybe it wrings us out and wears us down until we finally see the point of it all-that we have been snatched out of the fire of our brokenness in order to serve and love and bless the dear ones God has placed right in front of our eyes, the ones who need our very meager gifts and offerings the most-the fatherless, the misfits, the prostitutes, the jailbirds, and all those whose despair has rendered them hopeless. 

I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review.


It All Begins With Hope

Its the first Sunday of Advent and with little people still in my house, I'm revving up for the joyful season.

I have always loved the traditions of Christmas and while the Goodman and I have held on to some from our childhoods, we have forged some of our own.

Every year since Tony's first Christmas we have put together a prayer chain.

We make a list of family and friends and make one paper chain link per person or family.

Then we string them all together and before bedtime, we all pray for one each night counting down to Christmas Day.

Hope. That's what prayer gives us. Its our own line of dialogue with the One who gives us the means to live and move and have our being. And during the holiday season we especially remember the eternal hope that Jesus' birth in Bethlehem brought to all mankind. Without that hope, that looking forward to His return once again for His Bride, what kind of people would we be?


Gratitude Elusive

As is our custom each year, my Goodman and I sat together and talked about what we are thankful for this year. Can I be honest and say, it was hard to come up with? This has been a year. Fight after fight, struggle after struggle. An uphill battle. We mentioned the givens: our family, our marriage, our church, but when we looked back over the year, the difficulties were tough to see past. Whew. So many victories, so much hard fought ground covered, but really what can I say I am thankful for right now if I was to be asked?

I thought about it and this is what I came up with: through all this year and years gone by I am so very thankful for Jesus. Not being corny here. I'm so serious. Had I not been held up by the hope that lives in me, Christ in me, the hope of glory, I would be a sorry individual. I would not have made it, I tell you that with a certainty. On my darkest days, He shines a beacon that keeps me going, trudging onward. Secondly, there's my man, my partner, my love. During these battles when I glance over to where he's fighting, and I see him busting heads I am encouraged to fight all the harder. This partnership isn't all about rose petals and champagne, but battle scars and shared war stories.

Life is hard, I don't always get what I want, when I want it, how I want it. There is much injustice in the world and there are struggles that my family endures that don't seem fair. I don't even claim to try to know the whys or the hows, the important thing is that I have a relationship with the only Who that matters, and that is the sole fact that brings gratitude right up close and personal.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.


Book Review: He Knows Your Name

Living in a world where we are constantly bombarded with the negativity of the nightly news, Facebook drama, and the regular reporting of evil, we can find ourselves feeling as if there is nothing we can do about it. What difference can one person make?

Linda Znachko is a woman just like me, but she decided to place herself in a position to allow God to use her. Because of her availability and heart after God, she has been used by Him to make an impact of one family at a time, through her ministry He Knows Your Name. This ministry provides the help needed to purchase headstones,  or financially support the funeral of the loved one of those who may not be able to find closure in their loss otherwise. And it all began with one terrible headline. Even while battling with the recent loss of her own mother, and fear for her sick daughter, she chose to step out and take action instead of curling up and hiding.

In her book, He Knows Your Name, Linda shares the extraordinary story of how one small step of faith, reaching out to bury a baby abandoned in a dumpster, changed her life and birthed a ministry. No need is too insignificant, no idea too small, no hurt too unimportant for God. As she shares in the book,
"I am confident of one thing: as you boldly step into the difficult places, God is faithful to use whatever you offer to accomplish his divine and holy will. So if you've senses a nudge from the Holy Spirit, say yes. I promise you that, in the most wonderful way, your life will never be the same."
*I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Book Review: Play With Fire

In her book, Play With Fire, Bianca Juarez Olthoff invites the reader to consider the mythical fire bird, the Phoenix, in regards to our lives being reborn from the ashes of the past. Being a Christ follower is not a guarantee for a life free from troubles and trials. God has not overlooked you or forgotten you just because it feels like you're walking through a wilderness.

This book reminds us that hard times are not a sign that we've got it all wrong, but instead that God is leading us on into something more. The fire of trouble is actually an invitation to an even greater adventure if we are willing to step forward and let go.

"There will be desert seasons and wilderness wanderings and moments when we feel like we are in the fire. But we must not lose perspective when we cannot see our future, because we know who holds the future. The fulfillment of God's promises comes when we have the boldness to enter into the fire and embrace the transformation that takes place."

*I received a free digital copy of this book from NetGalley in return for a honest review.



I don't even know how to start this post.

It all started when the PE teacher sent home a message from school that my daughter didn't know how to dribble a ball. And then that my son needed a lot of work on some other coordinated activity that I can't even remember now.

No wait, it all started when our daughter ran away and left a note stating that she didn't want to live with us anymore.

Actually, it was probably way before that, but the resulting factor is that I start to look at what I'm doing as a parent with a magnifying glass, because it is obvious to the world that I'm lacking somewhere, somehow.

It could be as simple as deciding to put my son in karate instead of soccer, or homeschool versus public, or trying meds to help my daughter get a slight handle on things. Everybody has their two cents, their wonderful opinion.

Night before last I was checking out Pinterest for some cool ideas and came across several posts with ideas on cool things to do with our kids in the fall. I was expecting some amazingness. But what I got was some basic things that left me thinking, somebody had to write a blog about that? Are we that separated from figuring things out on our own that we need someone to come up with the bright idea to take a walk with our kids?

But I get caught up in it too. Like my kids won't be viable citizens of the world unless they have such and such skills and speak three languages and play outside for x amount of hours each day. I'm all for great ideas and new ways of doing things. But somewhere in the midst of that I think that we push too hard. We set up these unrealistic meters for measuring our success that really doesn't matter at all.
I'm also finding that as I open up to real life people around me, people who have been there, done that, I get some really good, hard-earned advice. Whether its the anonymous mommy at the playground that reassures me that even highly successful people can't hang from the monkey bars. Or the women that see my struggle in the journey and come alongside with their own painful reminisces that assure me that things can turn out well.

Parenting is a lot like picking out a baby name. There is always gonna be someone with a story of how they knew someone by that name who was a such and such and did this and that. Follow the basic guidelines and your kid probably won't hate you when they grow up.

I have to remind myself that the guidelines are simple.

Deuteronomy 6:6-9 Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.

The basics are written out in His Word. I need to follow His guidelines myself and teach them to my children. All the rest is just extra fluff.

Relax and go take a walk with your kids.


The Hungry Caterpillar

Mondays are always a hard to begin day for me. The Pastor's house is harder to wake up and get moving for school, nobody is really hungry for the breakfast that I set out, and the house is usually a complete wreck. Today was no different and with last week's storm and flood I needed to get some work done in the garden too.

I sent the kids off to school and the man off to work and headed out to weed and tidy the garden. We worked hard on the yard and garden this year and are just a tad bit proud of the harvest that has been coming in. As we planted the seeds and tenderly cared for the baby plants, it was an eye opening experience to watch the miracle of sowing and reaping right there in our backyard. The tomato plants have been an extra difficult project since they wanted to rot on the vine, and then only blossom but not produce any fruit. Finally, with this cooler in the morning weather we saw the long awaited green tomatoes hanging from the vines.

As my eyes passed over my much loved plants something unusual caught my eye, a bright green caterpillar perched right there within the greenery of my tomato plant. I had to fight hard my inner little girl urge to think of all caterpillars as potential butterflies and dredged back in my memory to my grandpa disgustedly plucking the green "tomato worms" from his own garden. All I could see was danger encroaching upon and munching on the tender green fruit I had waited for so patiently.

These worms were well suited for their task, camouflaged to blend in with their surroundings as they silently ate away. Closer inspection revealed 7 of the stinky guys and I quickly removed and disposed of their filthy carcasses.

Getting to the purpose of my writing, I realized at that moment a silent answer to a prayer I've been praying. Lord, why? You know that prayer don't you? And in that moment as I was attempting to rid my garden of its unwanted guests, I heard Him speak to me and realized this truth, "Bearing fruit attracts some dangerous pests." Profound thought, right?

I had worked so hard to provide rich soil, adequate water, the right amount of sunlight, and my garden was growing and flourishing in a verdant green abundance. But the purpose is to provide a harvest and that was being threatened despite all of my following the proper procedures and guidelines. I had to get in there and recognize the invaders and forcibly remove them.

It was a deeper level of gardening and it mirrors my life right now.

Take a step closer and look out for fruit thieves. 


Bandersnatch: A Book Revew

In our society, in our world, in our churches, we are slammed with the message to conform. Blend in. Do what everyone else is doing. Watch what they watch. Wear what they wear. Follow the rules. Blend in. Don't rock the boat.

But the truth of the matter is, we are created uniquely, with custom made gifts and innate creativity just waiting to be released. Bandersnatch is an invitation to explore that side of yourself that makes you different from everyone else. It is permission to explore your own God-given creativity.
"You weren't made for conformity. You weren't made with some cosmic cookie cutter. You were made precious and rare and only." Erika Morrison-Bandersnatch
By looking more closely at some common by-words of Christianity and redefining others, Erika Morrison opens up a new strategy of living that frees us up to live the way we were created to live.


Wood, Hay and Stubble and the Straw that Broke the Camel's Back

I don't know about you, but its been one of those seasons for me. The if-I can-just-get-through-this-it-will-all-be-ok kind of season. The crazy thing is that the light that I think I see at the end of the tunnel is just another torch, lighting the next portion. I'm thankful for those little reminders that someone has been there before me, like the marked trails, pointing me in the right direction. But, when I lay my head down at night and try to muster up the courage to get up again in the morning, I feel myself dragging.

For all my hard work and faith and striving, I get weary. The daily chaos of raising children, supporting my man, being a good wife and mommy and pastor's wife and Christian. Trying to eat healthy and workout and failing miserably because I want to starve my fears but end up feeding them instead. Counseling appointments and doctor's appointments and managing homework schedules. These things bear down like a weight. They become burdensome and heavy. Out of all the things I do, what will stand in the fire? What remains? When its all sorted out what is really important?

And then as I'm wading through my day to day, the unthinkable happens. My washing machine dies. Its happened before and we were able to resurrect it, but this time we see no hope. I feel weak that this is the thing that breaks me. When I stack up my haves to the rest of the world's have-nots, I feel lacking that a broken appliance can push me over the edge. Its a good thing that I'm not a crier, because this could really make me lose it.

At times like this, I start looking at what I'm carrying around. Baggage restrictions make us look more closely at what we really need to bring along on this journey. What have I been hanging on to that needs to be left behind? What have I been doing with the tough times I'm going through? Have I ignored the hurt and just piled it up instead of dealing with it and letting it go? There are those things we push for and make happen that really aren't worth the effort in the long run. And there are those little injustices that we push under the rug, don't handle and allow ourselves to heal from, and pretty soon we're carrying a load of mess around with us. Between useless efforts and mishandled hurts, the heaviness is unbearable after awhile. 

But He says that we should cast our cares upon Him. 

He says that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

Why don't I believe Him? Why don't I take Him up on His offer to lay it all at His feet?

In all my wondering and wandering, the truth is found in Him. The answer is always found there. with my prayers, with my praise, when I can rise above these mundane obstacles to see what really matters. Not the potential mounds of unwashed laundry, or the cranky kids, but the hope that these things while seeming endless and overbearing, they are but momentary.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.


Scars and Limps

Writing is kinda like therapy to me.

And I hate therapy. It hurts.

I went to college to become a counselor and discovered that while I loved the idea of helping people to get better, the process was hell.

When you've broken a bone and trapped it in a motion confining cast for months, its ugly when you unwrap it and try to use it again. The skin is pasty and peeling and the muscles don't want to cooperate anymore and the healed bone aches in a way you never hurt before the "incident."

Heart hurts are no different. We wrap up our pain in a cocoon of darkness. Don't let anybody in, don't venture out, don't use the part that hurts and maybe just maybe it will get better on its own. Going right on out and talking to somebody about the pain is almost as hurtful. I have to dredge it all up again and experience all the feels and then sit there and listen to somebody else tell me what to do about it or how its not my fault and its just almost unbearable.

I'd much rather hide. Cover up my bruise with a little makeup. Cover my scars with a long sleeve or a fashionable scarf. Keep walking like I'm not dragging a little. These things make me feel ashamed. Like life should be easy and I'm not tough enough to conquer it.

And then I remember a man wrestling with God until daybreak and walking away with a limp because the Lord knew the man just wouldn't give up.

Or another Man who chose a life that would lead to a Cross and some pretty gory scars. Those same scars that identified Him to the dear friends He gave His precious life for.

So today I'm gonna remind myself that scars and limps aren't signs of defeat. They aren't to be ashamed of.

Signs of a battle well fought and I'm not down for the count yet.

Breath in my lungs, ever faithful beating heart.

My scars are my story.


He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

When all is right with my world, its easy for me to believe that God loves me. Birds are singing, blue skies up above, perfect hair day, its pure bliss and man, I am favored of the Lord. Then my tire goes flat, or the account is overdrawn, or my kids act up and I'm certain that I must have done something wrong. We all experience good days and trying days, and for most of us, the trying days are more difficult to navigate than the examples I gave, but I find that on the difficult days, that's when my trust that He loves me is truly evident.

The hard days are the ones that shape us when we really think about it. They reveal who we really are, what we are made of. They are those hard parts of the Bible, like the Book of Job, and that long dissertation Paul gives about all the things he went through for the sake of the Gospel. We are reminded that we should count ourselves blessed when we go through things.

A few years ago a movie came out, The Kingdom of Heaven, in which an old knight finds his illegitimate heir and right before dying from wounds received from defending this heir, he props himself up in front of his son and charges him with the Knight's Oath. Just as he's finishing, he says, "And that's so you'll remember it" as he hauls back and backhands the boy. That scene has always stuck with me. These amazing last words over a son, mingled with the shock of a surprise blow.

How many times have I walked into things gung ho and full of zeal, promising this and that and not even realizing the weight of my words? Not understanding the truth that I'm speaking, and the road I must walk to bring it about is not what I am expecting. Only the love of a father can seek us out, remind us of who we are and charge us with our destiny. It is a good father who reminds his children to never forget.

Throughout scripture the Lord instructs His people to not forget, to remember, to set up memorial stones, to write words on their hearts. Remember what I've already done for you, so that when the hard times come you won't go slinking back to your old ways, you'll stand firm and not question my goodness and my heart for you. Without the struggle there would be nothing to remember, no place to draw a line and say that is done, it is overcome. Would I forget too easily without the loss, without the remembered sting of pain? When I am tempted to think that He doesn't really love me, I can look at what He's already done and remind myself.


Egg Cartons

I'm finding myself in a brand new season of life. For the first time in a long time, I'm able to stay home and away from a "job," and its pretty weird. The Goodman and I are still trudging through the outskirts of our old life and entering into the new one and trying our hardest to find our new "normal." Over the past month we've faced some pretty interesting challenges and plot twists and I find that I'm still not sure of what to do with myself. Our Rebecca got married the beginning of August and with that came family visits and wedding drama and all that it entails. Anthony went and moved almost as far away from me as he could and I still find myself wanting to just jump in the car and drive to wherever he is, but that would take a few days now. I am making myself into a nice little stay at home mommy, the one I wish I could have been twenty years ago. Cooking breakfast and arranging schedules and appointments and practices.

Joshua has been preaching about living intentionally. I've always been a list maker and schedule follower and nowadays, I'm having to intentionally set my heart on being flexible with whatever God has for the day. I came home from work this season with the intention of being focused on our family. There are some tent flaps that need to be tied back down.

When we made the decision to bring me home this year, I had the image in my mind of coffee and books and a clean house and projects being finished finally. But what I'm facing is so much bigger than that. The projects that need my attention are so much more important than an organized closet or clean stove top. Now that my eyes are inclined here at home, there are things I'm noticing that I was too busy to see before.

I posted recently about the things that I do for my children that they don't see. Well, the other day I was walking around the grocery store with my oldest daughter and she was sharing with me how she had a friend who never knew why people checked their eggs in the carton before they purchased them. She was pretty shocked that her friend didn't know why.  My daughter said that she never really remembered me telling her why we checked, but she knew that she had watched me so many times and deduced that I was checking for broken eggs. My girl must have been watching carefully to come to that conclusion, if I never came right out and explained what I was doing. It just goes to show that when we aren't distracted we see things in more clarity.

So here's to a season of remembering to pay attention. Checking the eggs in the carton and knowing why. Understanding that hindsight is always 20/20, but this new prescription is pretty groovy too.
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