30 December 2016

Of Stillness and Storm by Michele Phoenix

Lauren and Sam have spent most of their marriage planning and saving to get to Nepal to do missionary work in the remote tribal regions of the mountainous land. Two years into their lives in Kathmandu, reality wears on Lauren and their 13 year old son Ryan, in taxing and telling ways. While Sam disappears for three out of every four weeks, completely unaware of how much distress his wife and son are in, Lauren and Ryan are left to do his bidding in the name of the "mission", in a foreign third world country where daily life is more than just a struggle.

When an old friend from Lauren's long ago past pops up on Facebook, life begins to spiral out of control as reality comes crashing in. Unfortunately, it is the young who suffer the most . . . .in this story, that is no exception.

I found Of Stillness and Storm to be poetically and brilliantly written, carrying me along and wrapping me up in Lauren's story. I haven't read a book that I literally could not put down until I finished it, at 2 a.m., crying my eyes out, in quite a while. Lauren's tale riveted me, as if I was reading events parallel to my own life (except not in Kathmandu, and not missionary work) and I had to know what happened to Lauren and Ryan and I felt my life was invested, and interwoven even, in theirs.

The complexity of faith, the reality of daily life, the sheer selfishness of some people - however pure they think their motives are, the humanness that connects people to each other, the yearning and need to be heard, to feel validated, to be loved - these elements come together creating a powerful story.

The events and characters in this story reverberated deeply with me, perhaps because of events going on in my own life. I understood Lauren's pain, her yearning to feel loved by her husband, the frustration of being continually ignored and then told she didn't say anything, the anger at the incredible selfishness of some people, the pain of seeing her child spiral downward without being able to do anything about it, the response out of intense loneliness and taxing burden when someone reaches out and touches her soul. And the tension that these things bring out that comes crashing down in chaotic and incredibly tragic reality. These things are what Michele Phoenix writes about in her story.

Though Michele's mission is not to put ministry work in a bad light, she does have a heart for the children who are often run right over in righteous zealotry. Is a calling a calling if the whole family is not called? Would God want a marriage, a family, torn apart so that others can be reached? Of Stillness and Storm brings up these questions, and so many more, than cause thoughtful pondering of the will of God in our own lives, in ministry, and more.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through Thomas Nelson Publishing Co.. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

29 December 2016

The Shattered Vigil by Patrick Carr

The Vigil has returned, facing more peril than ever. Willet and the other members of the Vigil group find themselves in more danger than ever as the evil from the Darkwater seeps in, trying to undermine, outmaneuver, and destroy any remaining good in Collum. Will the protections the church tries to place be enough? Will tough decisions save the day or create more problems? Read to find out!

The second book in the Darkwater Saga, The Shattered Vigil follows closely on the heels of The Shock of Night, picking up the story of Willet and the rest of the Vigil. The characters deepen and Patrick Carr has woven together another captivating and thrilling tale of suspense, fantasy, and action that leaves the reader eagerly turning the page for more. With each chapter, Carr captures the imagination with a new twist, a deepening in the humanness of the characters, and a plot that doesn't quit. I look forward to the third installment of this series!

I would recommend this book to action, suspense, and fantasy lovers alike. Carr paints an exquisitely real picture of a land steeped in traditions of its' church and government, and those sworn to protect it and hold its' secrets, and fight for its' freedom.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Bethany Publishing Company book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

06 August 2016

Courageous by Dina L. Sleiman

Rosalind of Ipsworth has set sail for northern Africa with a group of Crusaders on a quest to set captives free, based upon a spiritual vision of Lady Sapphira. Though the quest that she finds herself on is certainly noble, she has reasons far deeper as she searches for personal redemption from past mistakes. Can she see past her past to who God sees her as and what He has in store for her?

Serving by Rosalind's side in the training of the children on the crusade, Sir Randel Penigree has ambitions to join the Templar crusaders and redeem past humiliation. Together they make a great team, but can they stand up to the political intrigue that swirls ever deeper around them? The crusade not only pushes their physical limits, but tests their spiritual journey and forces them to see their faith in a way that neither foresaw.

Having not yet read a historical fiction set in the 1200's, nor about Crusaders, I found this read very interesting overall. The pace of the book started out a tad slow, but soon the action started, and the depth of the characters grew so much that by the end, I found myself hard pressed to put the book down. This book is part of a series, however, it certainly can stand alone and the previous two books need not be read to fully understand the characters or the plot.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Bethany Publishing Company book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

29 March 2016

The Village

**I started this post several weeks ago, and now I am finally posting it . . . **

In the midst of this first week month (**2 months) with Mike gone, the outpouring of support has been amazing and I have been so touched by all the phone calls, text messages, Facebook messages, Facebook comments, and friends helping out.

A wonderful friend invited us over to dinner Saturday night, the night Mike left (so grateful for this! It really helped to take my mind off the fact that Mike had just flown away for what seems an immense amount of time). Another amazing friend met us at the park for a hug on the way back from the airport.  A sweet friend dropped off some beautiful flowers on Monday. My next door neighbor brought up my trash can for me. A friend made 4 mason jar salads at a salad party for me to have for lunch each day. Another friend brought dinner over another night. A friend listened at a gymnastics make up lesson on a really, really, super-awful-no-good-very-bad day. Another friend brought another meal on a different day. So many friends have given hugs and encouraging words. Another wonderful friend brought some chocolate, an Italian soda, and flowers to the park for Valentines Day. Our home-school community at Classical Conversations has set up a meal plan for us, which I am so thankful for. On super crazy, chaotic days spent balancing school, emotional children, and getting everything else done, not having to worry about what I'm going to fix for dinner is heavenly.

These expressions of friendship, support, caring, and love have helped me in this transition so much - especially since the kids are having such a hard time. My friends have surrounded me with love and support, showing me that I am not alone, that I have help, and that I can smile when I face the day, that I can do this, I can get through this.

It really reminded me that in a culture where independence is valued so highly, sometimes it really does take a village to help a person get through life - be it a day, or a season, or the entire thing. Humans are not made to walk this journey alone - we need fellowship. With fellowship comes support.

We are each given a burden in life to carry - taking care of ourselves, our spouses, our family. But sometimes life gives bigger burdens - the loss of a loved one, a serious illness, a deployment or remote tour, an especially overwhelming season (maybe having a lot of tiny humans enter into the world in rapid succession). When those times come, and your community comes alongside you, and wraps their loving arms around, you realize that you are not alone.

For me, feeling the beauty, love, and support of my friends as they came alongside me has been humbling. I feel that I can face this remote tour with greater confidence because I know that I am not alone.

I feel as though I cannot adequately express my gratitude for my sweet, cherished friends who have come beside me in this. Of course my friends cannot replace my husband, but friends are the family that we chose.

Galatians 6:2 "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."

Life apart

I'm on my fourth cup of tea today, the kids started their morning with peeps and chocolate kisses, while watching the Magic School Bus and Wild Kratts, and that's pretty much going to be our day. (For the record, I did make strawberry banana pancakes for breakfast with Candian bacon.)

Because sometimes life just bowls you over, and it feels as if there is no other recourse.

Of course, some other recourse probably exists, but when you're exhausted from being woken up around midnight by a little one, and it took three and a half (or more) hours to fall back asleep, it just doesn't seem like it.

I wrote, back on New Year's Day, that my goal for this year has been to thrive, not just survive, and I can tell you that there has been no thriving going on this house since Mike left. We have totally been in survival mode, holed up in our heavy routine of school, therapy, and activities, and  honestly, I just don't have the energy to look outward and see more.

I knew that this year apart would be hard, but honestly, I have been completely taken by surprise at how hard it has been. You see, I thought it would be better for the kids and I have to have a break from Mike, with his focus on career and school (and resultant lack of time spent outside of the office and garage), his anger, and his isolation. Only it hasn't worked out that way.

Turns out God knew exactly what He was doing when He created the family unit, and even though those attitudes exist, the kids need their Dad. They need him on a deep, emotional and spiritual level that I don't think realized quite existed. To me, this only highlights the tragedy of families without a Dad - because of death, divorce or abandonment - and underscores the important of the father figure in the home. Their little emotional cores are off kilter, and the result has been a plethora of a disobedience, regression, anger, and sadness. Which is, of course, mostly directed at me, simply because I am present. It has been a slow process to get back to where we were before Mike left.

Also blind-siding has been the realization of the depth of my need for Mike. Not in an emotional, lovey-dovey, kind of way. But in a more practical sense - the other half of the parental team, the other adult in the house, the head of the house hold, whether he wants that role or not. And the deeper implication in the spiritual sense - the other half of the one-flesh, the leader in the home.

That "two flesh shall become one" is no light thing. The repercussions that pervade all areas of life, good and bad, after the union of two people is far greater than I knew or realized. No matter how I feel about Mike, and he about me, we remain joined together, soul and spirit - indeed we have become enmeshed. It's supposed to be like this, of course, in the Biblical sense. Why it has to be so tortuous I cannot fathom.

Mike and I have been through some hard times in our marriage. Some really hard times. We have seen friend's marriages fall apart and end in divorce when going through similar situations, but we have also seen friend's marriages survive and go on to thrive. We have done neither; we have simply continued to exist as a couple, carried by the momentum of life, struggling to stay afloat, riding out the monster of hard feelings of unforgiveness and hard-heartedness that rise from the dark deep to surface on occasion. For the record, we are both guilty of those things.

And now he is out of the picture, physically. Unfortunately, for me, I cannot kill the need to be loved by my husband, and thus I find myself on the end of a yo-yo, being strung along by the occasional reaching out in love, and then waiting expectantly, and hopefully, for more, which does not come, until at last I find myself ready to say goodbye, give up, and turn my back on the whole relationship, and then another letter comes, or a loving prayer written down, or a tidbit of encouragement, and that terrible bright hope rises up inside of me, hope I cannot suppress, cannot squelch, cannot kill, and it all begins again. And I feel I live upon the precipice of emotional turmoil, and my soul lives in constant juxtaposition of hoping for love and trying not to love, indeed even to hate at times, the man to which I find myself married.

I am at a loss as to what to do, except to reach out to the Lord, to let Him be my husband, to love me and cherish me and fill the gap that my husband leaves behind, unwittingly.

In the wake of all these feelings, I have found myself face-to-face with the weight of my own sin - unforgiveness, anger, envy, hate, pride, disrespect and more. The Bible tells Christians to put off all of these things, and through study, prayer, and fellowship I have been trying to peel off the layers of sin and keep them off. For every layer removed, another surfaces, although it seems to be fractionally smaller. Hopefully anyway.

I see the hand of the Lord in all this pain and turmoil, and I know He is working on me. The only thing that gets in the way is myself - my own feelings when I put my focus on Mike, wanting to do things my way, wanting to run away, failing to seek the Lord on a daily, or hourly, basis. My lack of self-control is rather appalling, but when a person lets things go wild for so long, what can one expect?

When the Lord begins to move His words from an intellectual knowledge to a heart knowledge, those ten inches can seen insurmountable. I think of verses I have had memorized for so long, like Proverbs 3:5-6 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path."

In all ways. In the pain of marriage. The bitterness of regret. The complete dismantling of any and all expectations for every aspect of life - learning to lean on Him in everything, even when you can't see around the next bend. Hard to live by, so hard. But you know, Jesus is right there to walk with me every step of the way. To comfort me when tears are streaming down my face as I beg and cry out to be released from the situation. To plant that minuscule seed of hope inside my soul that grows and insists on making its' presence known, no matter how dark things get. To learn, that no matter what, I am a child of God's, and He's got this situation, and He will use it for His greater glory one day. To lean into Him and learn that His love will be enough and that I can live without a man's love and be joyful. Not that I'm learning these things lightly, I speak partly of what I know will come . .. eventually.

For now, I will leave you these verses, which I have been trying to meditate on lately:

Isa 54:5-8
For your Maker is your husband
    the Lord Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;    he is called the God of all the earth.The Lord will call you back    as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—a wife who married young,    only to be rejected,” says your God.“For a brief moment I abandoned you,    but with deep compassion I will bring you back.In a surge of anger    I hid my face from you for a moment,but with everlasting kindness    I will have compassion on you,”    says the Lord your Redeemer.

Col 3:1-17
"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your[a] life,appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature:sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander,and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised,barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do,whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

07 March 2016

New Mexico Kids Consignment Sale is Coming!!

Looking for a great way to clothe your family while not dipping into your savings account? Looking for fantastic books at a fantastic deal? Looking for friendly people to help you find great deals?

If you are in Albuquerque, New Mexico (or the surrounding area - this sale is totally worth the drive!), then check out the New Mexico Kids Consignment Sale Spring Event!

It's this weekend, 11-12 March at the New Mexico Expo School Arts Building at the State Fairgrounds.

I first heard about the New Mexico Kids Consignment Sale (aka NMKidsSales) through my friend Jenny, who happens to own and beautifully run the sale. I like to sell things at consignment sales (hello paying off debt!!), so immediately my interest piqued and I signed up to sell at her next sale.

I do sell a few items at the NMKidsSales, but really, I love to shop at the sale! I have been able to get my kids another season of clothes for a really great deal! I have even found clothes with the original prices tags still on them!

And the books! Oh, the books! My real weakness here, really. This sale has so many fantastic books at incredible deals. My Usborne leader, Mercedez, sells some of her Usborne inventory at this sale - so you have a chance to get brand new Usborne books at discounted prices - hard to beat that! At the last sale, I love that my son, Little Man, perused the books and picked out an enormous (I mean 150-200 page book) and asked me to buy it for him (he had just turned 5). Love that book-loving spark coming out!

Really, the bottom line about this sale is that you can find thousands of gently used children's and women's clothes, baby items, books, homeschool supplies, baby equipment, shoes, strollers, toys, gear and more at a really great deal. And by doing so, you are helping out other families because you are buying items that they are selling.

And, it gets better! There will be over 20 direct-sale marketing and crafting vendor booths at the sale - including Usborne, Scentsy, Steeped Tea, Barefoot Books, Thirty-One, Norwex, Doriest Designs, Jamberry, Menicucci Insurance Agency, and many more! The event is also sponsored by Chick-Fil-A and Autism Spectrum Resouce. New Melissa and Doug products are also offered a significantly reduced price.

Again, the info for the sale is:

When: 11-12 March (that's Friday and Saturday)

Where: New Mexico Expo School Arts Building at the State Fairgrounds in Albuquerque

How much? FREE - the event is free to the public

But what about parking? The New Mexico Fair Grounds charges $5/car (get your friends together and carpool!)

How do I pay for what I buy? The sale accepts cash, VISA, Mastercard, and Discover.

Did I mention the Chick-Fil-A cow will be coming out?? Yes, Saturday, from 10:00am to noon!

Where can I get more info? Check out New Mexico Kids Consignment Sale.

Any other special stuff? Yes - the first 200 shoppers receive goody bags which include gift cards for free ice cream from Chick-Fil-A and other goodies!

Is there a discount day? Yes - Saturday many items are marked at 50% off!

Can I check them out on Facebook? Absolutely! Just click here!

That's all I have for now! Head on out this weekend and check out all the great deals! :)

29 February 2016

Risen by Angela Hunt

The political climate in Jerusalem is ripe for revolt. Already insurrections, often bloody, are put down on a regular basis. Balancing the will of all powerful Rome - and the emperor - and the local religious sects takes finesse and knowledge of the inner workings of both cultures. Knowing this all too well, Roman Tribune Clavius has been tasked by Pilate to ensure that the latest round of crucifixions end before sundown, as the Jewish Passover begins then, and Pilate doesn't want another reason for the Jews to complain.

When he arrives, one of the trio of men, Yeshua, is already dead. Ensuring this is so, he orders a soldier to thrust a pilum into his side. Following Pilate's orders because of the status of the Nazarene and the possibility of his followers stealing the body to incite revolution, Clavius follows Joseph of Arimathea to the tomb, witnesses the tomb being sealed, and heads home for the day, his daily orders completed.

Only, the body goes missing, and so Pilate orders an investigation. With time ticking away and pressure building as the Sanhedrin, and the upcoming visit from on-high Rome, put the heat on Pilate, Clavius commits himself to find out the truth.  But the more Clavius probes, the more reality doesn't add up. Meeting followers of Yeshua and condemners alike, Clavius' journey leads him to unexpected places . . . and people.

Risen is a compelling story offering a unique point of view of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I loved the narrative, told from the point of view of Tribune Clavius. Scattered throughout the book, in the background, are depictions of Biblical scenes, such as the earthquake the day Jesus died, the Roman soldiers gambling for Jesus' clothes, the women who followed Jesus. The way these are woven into the story, combining real events with fictional characters, brought a new feel to the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Clavius' narrative also offers a more objective, if withdrawn, view of the death and resurrection of Jesus. He doesn't believe from the start - far from it. He approaches his mission of finding the body methodically and from the point of view of a pagan Roman, who prays to the Roman gods often.

Interwoven with Clavius' story is that of Rachel, a Jewish widow who finds herself in the unlikely place of falling out of her faith because of life's circumstances. Only seeing Yeshua (as Jesus is called in the novel) one time before his death, she begins to be drawn into His following and becomes a believer. The author's note tells readers that Rachel's character was omitted from the movie for time constraints, so it will be interesting to see how the movie is without her story interwoven into Clavius'. I think the two narratives together adds another level of humanness to the story - the need for redemption and a new start.

My recommendation: read the book!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Bethany Publishing Company book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

12 February 2016

The Hard Goodbye

I titled this picture "The Longest Walk" on my Facebook page. This is the view of the airport parking garage as you exit the terminal - we were parked in one of the last rows. I took this picture this past weekend as my lovely little children and I walked back to our van after dropping my husband off at the airport. He departed the US for the Republic of Korea for a remote tour - one year - away from us.

The build up to this moment ebbed and flowed with anticipation, dread, anxiety, and other such emotions as we prepared for his departure. After Christmas the countdown really began. Out processing finalities picked up, a moving van actually came to pick up his stuff (talk about getting real!), and finally, he packed his suitcases and we loaded up the van and drove to the airport.

In some ways it's hard to describe the plethora of emotions, the standard roller-coaster if you will, of what I felt in the weeks and days leading up to The Day. I often felt torn between dread and denial - trying to push away the thought of Mike leaving so I could focus on the present and soak up as much time together as I could.

Denial will only get you so far. Then there's this:

The day finally arrived and we all said our goodbyes and the kids and I took that long walk.

Since then, we are trying to establish our new "normal" without Daddy around. All of the kids are having a pretty hard time dealing with the fact that Daddy won't be coming home for a really long time. It's hard for them to wrap their minds around the fact that Daddy can't just "come home on Saturday because he doesn't work Saturday" (they know he is working in Korea). What breaks my heart is Butterfly's "Why can't he just come back? Why did he have to leave?" with tears streaming and a trembling chin. Little Man hasn't cried yet - which worries me - and seems to be internalizing his emotions. Flower, who said she was "happy" in the weeks leading to Mike's departure, finally broke down the next day, at Costco, with a melt down choruses of "I miss Daddy."

And since then, a serious breakdown of discipline has occurred. Regression back to babbling, potty accidents, major disobedience (even gleeful at one point), and more has been the reality of the week - which has brought me to a not very happy place as a suddenly overwhelmed [again] mom. In the moment it's hard to remember that the reason behind these outbursts and regressions is a deep sadness and sense of loss in their little hearts and minds as they try to work out their feelings - feelings that they don't really know how to express otherwise.

As for me, well, I think I'm just still in shock. Or I've become really stoic. Or I'm still in denial. On Sunday when Butterfly came in from playing, I jumped and expected Mike to walk through the door for a second before reality came flying back to me. He won't be walking through that door anytime soon.

So we go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning and get on with our lives as best we can. Our family not whole.

Life is lived simultaneously in the present and in the future "after Christmas". We talk about the movers coming a lot, even though they won't be coming for us for another year. (We already have our follow on orders and know where we are going - unless the Air Force changes that.)

During the day, missing Mike isn't too bad - I mean, he works during the day and normally I don't even see him until he comes home from work. Nights are harder of course. And the weekend is upon me now, and that hollow feeling inside is starting to fill with anxiety at the thought that there will no whole family pancake breakfast on Saturday morning, no one (that isn't a small human) to sit next to in the pew on Sunday, holding hands. No one that takes the children outside to play at the park. I mean, I will do that, but that is something Daddy normally does . . .

Almost one whole week down, fifty two, or so, to go. . .

01 January 2016

Happy New Year!!

Welcome 2016!

I usually write a few goals, or resolutions if you will, for a new year.

Rarely do those pan out. At least all of them.

So this year I'm going to keep it short and sweet. So here goes (in no particular order)!

1. Thrive in 2016, not just survive (this has something to do with a certain tour someone is taking .  . . )

2. Try to enjoy something from every single day, no matter how bad the day might get. We all have bad days, but I believe there is something kind, or beautiful, or meaningful, to take away from every single day. I want to actively look for those moments.

3. Enjoy the relationships I have - with Jesus, with Mike and the kids, with family, with friends, and new relationships I make.

4. See a new place. At least one. :) I just had to put something in there about travel.

5. Write more. And by more, I don't mean more posts on Facebook, although I always enjoy those because I like sharing the funny (and chaotic) moments of my life with my Facebook family and friends. This is purely subjective - I'm not necessarily looking for quantifiable, just want to "feel" like I wrote more.

How about you? What does 2016 have in store for you (that you know about)? Are you setting any goals or resolutions?