Monday, January 4, 2021

Book Review: “All That We Carried” by Erin Bartels


I have been laying bed for the last several days sick and there is nothing like a good book to accompany you during a time like this. Erin Bartels is a new author to me and one I am looking forward to reading more in the future. 

In "All That We Carried" the Greene sisters are estranged after the parent's death 10 years prior. They decide to go on a hiking trip to reconnect and end up discovering much more than they bargained for. The girls get lost in the woods multiple times, close encounters with bears, mountain lions, and forest fires, that comes to a dramatic conclusion that brings them to a point of reconciliation neither of them can deny. 

Throughout most of the book the girls are bickering between each other and it reminds me of my two sons that never do seem to get along. (I had thought several times throughout the book that I needed to throw my kids into the forest and see if they can work out their issues.)

Beyond reconciliation with each other, they come to a point of reconciling their spiritual differences with God as well. They are both confused, hurt, and angry at a God that would allow both of their parents to die. Bartels does a great job of exploring the complicated emotions that comes with doubt, fear, and questioning God. 

The raw honesty and emotions throughout the book are heartbreaking yet speak so much truth. Kudos to Bartels for exploring such a difficult topic. This book comes out tomorrow, January 5, and I implore you to get your copy here.

I was given a free copy of this book to review from Revell publishing in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Book Review: "The Edge of Belonging" by Amanda Cox


Unplanned pregnancies, abandonment, the plight of shuffled foster children, PTSD, abuse, human trafficking, infertility, adoption, and homelessness...Did I leave anything out? All of these major issues are beautifully interwoven into a gripping story that brings the most vulnerable populations at the feet of an endearing woman that points them all to Jesus. 

In Amanda Cox's new novel, "The Edge of Belonging", I find myself reading through the eyes of multiple different characters from present day to the past. The matriarchal character, Pearl, reminds me of my own grandmother reaching out to the lost and hurting despite her own baggage to show them the love of the Father. 

Ivy, the story's main character, goes on a journey to discover who she really is from the lessons of the past. In the process she realizes that despite her frail beginnings, she can rise up to be the strong woman God created her to be. 

As someone who has a degree in human services and psychology and worked in the criminal justice system and crisis pregnancy centers, I appreciate the raw feelings and emotions the author conveys through the story of Harvey and Ivy. I appreciate the detail in their plight and heartache to explain how some people labeled "at risk" arrive to this label. Sometimes it's all about having that one person in your life to love you through the hardest and darkest times in your life to give you a glimpse of God's love for you. 

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: 
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Romans 5:8

I gave this book 5 stars on my Goodreads profile and I don't hand those out just nilly willy. You should pick up your copy today! 

**I received a free copy of this book by Revell publishing in exchange for my honest review.**

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Book Review: “An Appalachian Summer” by Ann H. Gabhart

 I love when you pick up a book by an author you’ve never read and end up loving it! Ann H. Gabhart is an author local to me. I currently live in Kentucky and she is a local celebrity with her books for sale in a small-town gift shop that I have perused and never picked up until “An Appalachian Summer” came along. 

I was delighted with the story of debutante, Piper Danson, who left a life of comfort and luxury among the socially elite of Louisville, Kentucky during the height of the Great Depression for a summer of soul searching. Piper leaves behind a summer of courtship with the most eligible bachelor in Louisville, Braxton Crandall, to be a courier in the Appalachian Mountains with the Frontier Nursing Service. 

Feeling stifled by her father’s expectations of an arranged marriage back home is what inspires Piper to chart a new path for herself. She struggles with the loss of her best friend and childhood love, Jamie Russell, who fled town with his mother and siblings after their family loses all of their estate during the Great Depression. Piper also considers the proposal from the handsome Braxton Crandall knowing it could afford her the financial security so many lacked during this difficult time. 

Confused and unsure of what she really wants, she hears about the need for help with the Frontier Nursing Service from Mary Breckenridge who comes to town to raise funds for medical assistance in the mountains. Piper decides to join as a courier and take the summer to “do something different” and not have to think about Braxton or Jamie. 

As a courier, she assists nurses who deliver babies to mothers in some of the most treacherous and rural parts of the mountainous region. Riding horses, cleaning stalls, killing chickens for dinner, and watching out for rattlesnakes is just a small portion of what Piper experiences on her adventurous summer. 

But what she doesn’t expect to happen is just when she thought she was far enough away from it all, life happened to catch up with her there. 

I don’t want to tell you what happens, you will have to read it for yourself. 

What I love most about this story is that Piper is showcased as a strong female lead who doesn’t ever play the damsel in distress part that I come across in so many books. When she is faced with a challenge, she perseveres even in the face of fear. She isn’t afraid to stand up for what she believes in and is brave enough to try new things.

There is more than one love story weaved in and a strong sense of family and faith prevails throughout the pages. 

I can’t wait to read more of Ann H. Gabhart’s work knowing the incredible storytelling will take me on a journey that will allow for a fun escape in a world that is COVID crazy. 

If you are looking for a lighthearted summer read, I highly recommend “An Appalachian Summer”. You should look for it at your local inspirational bookstore or online wherever your favorite books are sold. You can get your copy here

(This book was given to me by Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Purpose in a Pandemic

“There is a season (a time appointed) for everything and a time for every delight and even or purpose under heaven…
A time to be born and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw away stones and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; A time to keep silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace.
…He has made everything beautiful in its time…I have seen that there is nothing better than that a man should be happy in his own works and activities, for that is his portion (share).”
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; 11; 22

This scripture came to mind during the last (almost) 2 months of quarantine. It feels a lot longer than that, especially for those of us who are extroverts and crave friendship, girl’s nights, and get togethers. 
No one in this current generation or even in their parents’ generation has ever experienced anything like this before. The closest thing I could think of would have been the fear of our men overseas fighting in World War II and certain items being on ration. We aren’t fighting anything we can see, and we aren’t necessarily being rationed (although score gold stars for you if you can find cleaning supplies and toilet paper on the shelf right now). But, it is still a situation that incites fear, worry, anxiety, and stress unlike many of us have ever experienced. Despite the news and media telling us how we are living in trying, unprecedented, and unsure times, we can be sure of one thing, God is up to something.
Do I believe that God orchestrated this to teach us all a lesson? No, I am not going there either. As much as there is a good and heavenly Father looking down on us, there is also real evil in this world and because of that fact alone, we live in a fallen world and bad stuff happens. Yes, sometimes bad things happen to good people. I am not going to get all into theology and answering life’s questions as to why. But, I also can’t help but pause and think that even though we are in the middle of a pandemic we can find purpose here. 
If we want to sit here and dwell on the negative, we can certainly find it. But, if we want to dwell on the positive and uplifting and ask God to reveal to us something he wants us to see and learn from all this, he will. 
For example, I am a busy body. I am usually always doing something. I like to have something planned or a something to accomplish. Well, since that is all out the window, God is teaching me to enjoy the unplanned, the laidback, and mundane days that are seeming to all roll into each other. I can find contentment in being busy and I can find contentment in having nothing to do. 
Another area this is teaching me is to be a good steward of everything God has given me. How am I spending my time and who am I spending it with? (Let’s get real, when my Apple screen time showed me that I went from 2 hours a day on my phone to 6, I felt some conviction). How am I spending my money and am I saving any (for situations like these if I had lost my job, what would that look like)? How am I raising my children and am I imparting to them the basic spiritual principles I want them to grow up on (or have I given way too much of that responsibility to our church)? How am I stewarding my health? Have I ever paid attention before to how much sleep I get on a regular basis? What about exercise and eating right? Am I filling up on junk and expecting a 6 pack by summer? (Hmmm, maybe I need to tweak my habits).
 Listen many of us may have a lot more time on our hands than we know what to do with and although I don’t want to pressure anyone to do get up and do something they are uncomfortable with because our mental, social, emotional health are a bit fragile right now. The last thing we need in a crisis is pressure. What we need, instead, is purpose! 
So where do you even begin? With whatever the next right thing is for you. Maybe it starts with journaling where you are and where you want to be. Maybe it starts with creating a vision board and a plan of action for where you are right now in some of those areas of your life and thinking through the next practical steps to where you would like to be. 
Maybe you want to save more money for when the next crisis hits so you won’t be in such a state of despair- start with something small like an automatic draft of $25 a month into a savings account and build on that when you can. 
Maybe you want to start reading your Bible more or reading it with your kids. Instead of feeling the pressure to do it every day, start with once a week- maybe a Sunday evening before your week begins. Perhaps reading a scripture and asking the members of your family what they want to pray about is a good start. 
Perhaps you want to begin exercising or eating right. Start small- walk around your neighborhood or on the treadmill 10-15 minutes a day and build from there. Look up healthy recipes online and write down the ingredient list so the next time you go to the store you’ll have everything you need to make it. 
I could go on and on, but your purpose is to take care of you so that you can then fulfill the God-given purpose God created you to fill. That looks different for every single one of us. If you feel a tug to do something do the next small step that will get you there. 
A friend recently texted me “through the pressure and through waiting, that, my friend, is how diamonds are created.” This pressure, this pandemic that we are going through right now is going to make us stronger, braver, and refine our beauty like nothing else. It is during the most difficult moments of my life that I felt drawn to God’s presence and got to know him the most than in the most prosperous times. This pandemic has not drowned out your purpose. In fact, it is in the middle of all this that God is wanting to work in you to reveal what has been hidden in the dark, remove what needs to be removed, and place in you the strength, resolve, tenacity, and resiliency to be able to fulfill the purposes placed on this Earth only you can fill. 
“…He has also placed eternity [a sense of divine purpose] in the human heart [a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God] -yet man cannot find out (comprehend, grasp) what God has done (His overall plan) from the beginning to the end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Book Review: Star of Persia (Esther's Story) by Jill Eileen Smith

"For if you remain silent at this time, 
liberation and rescue will arise for the Jews from another place,
and you and your father's house will perish [since you did not help when you had the chance]. 
And who knows whether you have attained royalty for such a time as this 
[and for this very purpose]?"
Esther 4:14

The words above are from a story in the Bible that is one of my most favorite. This story is powerful and when I received my copy of Jill Eileen Smith's new book, "Star of Persia: Esther's Story", I couldn't wait to dive in. I did receive a copy from Revell publishing for my honest review, but let me tell you, I knew in advance it would not disappoint. I have read several of Smith's books in the past and her attention to biblical detail is on point. If there ever was an author that could bring the Old Testament stories to life it would be Jill Eileen Smith. 

The story of a Jewish Queen over Persia hiding her ancestry before her king is one that never gets old to hear. When evil Haman seduces the king into thinking the Jews are the problem in their country and they need to be annihilated, Esther is forced to choose between keeping her ancestry a secret so that she may continue to live peacefully with her king in the palace or speaking up to save her people and risk losing her life. 

Of course, I won't tell you what happens next, but as soon as I finished it, and in only a couple of days, I had to open up my Bible and re-read the story myself and Smith's story mixed with biblical and historical facts breathes new life into this incredible heroine's decision. 

You see, coming before the king uninvited and unannounced could have been an automatic death sentence, by itself. But also sharing her ancestry and her plea to save her people could have also infuriated the king, so she had nothing to rely on but her faith in God (Adonai) and hope His presence in the room with her would be enough to soften the king's heart to her request. 

I highly recommend this book and lucky for all my readers, this book just came out yesterday! Get your copy on Amazon asap!

I will leave you with a beautiful song that I think sums up what might have gone through Esther's mind as she pondered the big decision she had to make- My Weapon by Natalie Grant.

"Your presence is my greatest weapon
Pushing back the darkness
Breaking every chain
My worship opens up the heavens
Crushing every stronghold
When I speak Your name
Your presence is my weapon"

Friday, February 28, 2020

Input Equals Output

“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, 
noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst;
the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.
Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized.
Do that, and God, who makes everything work together,
will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” Philippians 4:8 (MSG)
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you probably already know I am an avid reader. But recently two incredible books came to my attention that I had to share. First let me explain something, right after the holidays, I began to experience an anxiety level I haven’t experienced in years. I stressed about not being further along in paying off debt by the time 2020 rang in the new year. I stressed over seeing family over the holidays and making sure everyone felt like they had ample time to spend with us while also realizing not everyone got what they wanted. I came back to work (I work in the human services industry) to a caseload that had more than doubled and hit an all-time burnout with hearing about the families’ drama and trauma that I work with all day, every day. Not to mention my upcoming tonsillectomy that I had scheduled and frequently tried to talk myself out of needing.
It was too much, all of it and I was ready to wash my hands of it all and climb in bed with my three dogs and tell everyone to let me know when this anxious feeling I had passed, and when winter turned to spring. But, that did not happen. Thank God, literally! God wanted me to get my head out of the sand and put my big girl pants on one leg at a time and I felt like over the last month that He has been working on my heart, body, and mind, he has been giving me a hug with resources at my fingertips to encourage me on my journey. Input= Output.
First, God had me open His word again. I hate to admit it, but the daily Bible reading that I have preached about in the past had slipped through my fingers except for the occasional Bible study. I felt that God wanted to begin showing me things through revelation with Him that I then began to see confirmed in other avenues. Input= Output.
 I knew a natural stress reliever for me and something I really enjoy doing is cardio dance. I began to make it a priority to attend more classes and make my health a priority. Because my day job can be very sedentary sitting behind a desk all day, God began to prompt me to wake up 20 minutes early everyday and get on the treadmill and get moving and the blood flowing. During this time, I would listen to my all-time favorite Bible teacher- Joyce Meyer on her podcast channel. Every morning this time with God is holy and I feel the need to protect it and savor it, no matter how tired I am. With my legs jogging and God’s word going through my ears, I feel as though my day can’t get started any better. Once I get to my office and check my emails, I open God’s word and look up scriptures God has put on my heart for the day for about 10 minutes. Input= Output.
I then began to watch what I ate because I didn’t want the increased physical activity to be all for nothing. I didn’t count calories, just limited my intake of sweets (I am a chocolate lover!), serve myself one portion of meals (no seconds), and incorporate more fruits and veggies in my life. Input= Output. 
My husband and I spoke about our financial situation and planned to put so much money towards debt even if it meant we cut back on frivolous spending this year to reach a goal of paying off a certain amount of debt by the end of the year. Having a plan in place made me feel so much better about the situation and I am excited to see how God helps us reach this goal and the incredible growth trusting Him for this will inspire in our family. Being better stewards of our resources (input) will result in a greater blessing down the line- being debt free (output). 
I also began to journal more often. Not everyday but about 2-3 times a week. I poured out my heart and soul on the pages of my journal, expressing my thoughts and feelings, praying prayers to God, and sorting through the place I found myself in physically, emotionally, and spiritually and asking myself “How did I get here?” and “What needs to change to get me to be emotionally, spiritually, physically, and financially healthy?” Input= Output. 

So back to the two book resources I wanted to share. The first is “Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones” by James Clear. This was a phenomenal read on the science behind habit forming and habit breaking without being too scientific and really abreaking it down to be very practical. This is a wonderful book for men, women and I want to give a copy to both my boys when they are around 16. The basis for the book is that if you want to create a habit you will stick with it needs to be obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. Behaviors and habits, you want to break or be rid of need to be invisible, unattractive, hard, and unsatisfying. I will leave that there and if you want more info, get the book. 

The other book is “100 Days to Brave: Devotions for Unlocking Your Most Courageous Self” by Annie F. Downs. This is an incredible author, speaker, and host of one of my favorite podcasts “That Sounds Fun”. This book was the spiritual encouragement I needed for each day. From talking about working at your job as unto the Lord (whether or not it is your calling), to exercising and eating your fruits and veggies, to remembering to rest and make time for fun, to even how the pain of surgery God can use to heal (remember I am having a tonsillectomy soon). It was everything I needed to hear at just the right time I needed to hear it. 
Input=Output. When I began to shift the input in my life to be habits that grew me spiritually and emotionally with my Bible and uplifting podcasts and books, to physically with healthier habits and exercise, to mentally and financially with learning to live more on budget, the output began to change. Shifting my focus to how big my God is made my problems I felt I had much smaller. My anxiety lessened greatly and the worries that kept me up at night began to dissipate. 
“You will have nothing to fear at night and
no need to be afraid of enemy arrows during the day”
Psalm 91:5
Whether you like to read books, listen to podcasts, listen to audible, exercise, eat healthy or not. I implore you to start looking inward and see where your stresses are coming from and what you can do about them and rest and trust in God that He will take care of what you cannot. Promise me you won’t sit idle and let your fears swallow you up. Do what you can with what He’s given you. 
I want to leave you with one of my favorite worship songs right now, “Nothing Else” by Cody Carnes. The words say it best: 
“I'm sorry when I've just gone through the motions
I'm sorry when I just sang another song
Take me back to where we started
I open up my heart to You
I'm sorry when I've come with my agenda
I'm sorry when I forgot that You're enough
Take me back to where we started
I open up my heart to You”

Monday, January 20, 2020

Book Review: "An Uncommon Woman" by Laura Frantz

I love reading a good fiction book. I love both secular and Christian fiction, but when I stumbled upon Francine Rivers’ book “Redeeming Love”, I feel in love with the genre of Christian fiction. Today I am excited to share with you another incredible story that I believe falls under Christian historical fiction called “Uncommon Woman” by Laura Frantz

This is a new author, whose books I have not read before and was excited to dive into the book from a perspective of a colonist settling into new American territory around 1770. The era this book was written even referenced George Washington before he was our very first President. Dangers loomed everywhere for settlers between staking out new land from the local wildlife to the hostile tension that was created between settlers and Indian tribes. 

There is a lot of heated debate, even today, about the mistreatment of the Native American tribes during the time the white people began moving West and taking over more and more ancestral lands. But, both main characters from Laura Frantz’z book- Tessa, a brave frontier woman and Clay, former captive of the Indians that grew to love the family and people he was raised with brought out both sides of the Indian and settler viewpoints. This brought compassion and heartfelt appreciation for both cultures, respectfully. Weaving a beautiful love story, heat wrenching action, and an interesting look at the times these characters lived brought me to the frontier of West Virginia in the 18th century. Laura’s use of older colonial English made me feel like I was there.

For fans for fans of the historical fiction genre, you will want to get a copy of this book. I am looking forward to reading more from this author and I hope you enjoy it as well. 

Even if this is a book review, I can't leave you without a song to listen to and I thought I would add "Never Lost" by Elevation Worship. In the times this book speaks of there were battles beginning to be waged over freedoms and land. In this song, it speaks to God having never lost a battle...ever. Isn't that such an encouragement that as Christians he wins and we already know the outcome? I hope you are encouraged by this song as I was hearing it.