Book Review: A Beauty so Rare

A beauty so rare 195x300 Book Review: A Beauty so Rare Memorable characters and a great story line are what keep us turning the pages of a new book long after we should be asleep at night. Author, Tamera Alexander, has delivered both in her new historical novel, A Beauty so Rare. From the moment the book begins with Eleanor in a field hospital, during the Civil War, listening to the last regrets of a dying soldier, we are hooked.

Tamera doesn’t shy away from having her characters face difficult situations. Eleanor Braddock, our plain looking but fabulous protagonist, certainly faces her share of hardships. Her father is battling dementia and she is forced to place him in an asylum, her aunt is planning her life to include a marriage of convenience, and her own dreams of starting up a restaurant are quickly extinguished.

However, it is during these difficult moments, that her life begins to take an unexpected direction. Eleanor, while out one day, meets one of the many war widows who are now trying to eke out a living in the city of Nashville. She begins using her own money and limited resources to cook and feed for the needy widows and their children. Although Eleanor would have never chosen this path for herself, she finds a sense of fulfillment she didn’t know was possible.

Unfortunately, this path seems to collide with the plans Eleanor’s wealthy aunt has for her future. Her aunt tries to help Eleanor mix with high class Nashville society so she can secure a match with bank president, Lawrence Hockley.

Complicating things further, Eleanor forms an unlikely friendship with the extremely good looking Marcus Geoffrey who she thinks is her aunt’s undergardener. However, Marcus Geoffrey is much more than he seems. Not only is he a gifted architect and botanist, but is also heir to the Austrian throne.

Eleanor and Marcus’s friendship quickly lead to romantic feelings, but Marcus is engaged to a Baroness back in Austria and will have to return back home soon to assume his responsibilities. Eleanor, on the other hand, needs a husband now as she knows she won’t be able to provide for the cost of her father’s care much longer.

When Eleanor finally goes out to dinner with Lawrence Hockley, she may have found the solution to securing her future. Lawrence, while painfully practical and void of any emotion, seems to be the answer to her prayers, but Eleanor is keenly aware her marriage would be devoid of any love.

Will Eleanor trust God to provide for her needs and continue on in the work she feels called to do? Will she marry the man who can certainly provide for both her needs and the needs of her father or will the thought of a loveless marriage be too high a price to pay?

This hard to put down novel challenges us to trust God in times of uncertainty, to see the people that may be hurting around us, and to embrace the courage to live out lives of purpose. I highly recommend this book….as in go get it now icon smile Book Review: A Beauty so Rare

From the Back Cover:

Pink is not what Eleanor Braddock ordered, but maybe it would soften the tempered steel of a woman who came through a war–and still had one to fight.

Eleanor Braddock–plain, practical, no stunning Southern beauty–knows she will never marry. But with a dying soldier’s last whisper, she believes her life can still have meaning and determines to find his widow. Impoverished and struggling to care for her ailing father, Eleanor arrives at Belmont Mansion, home of her aunt, Adelicia Acklen, the richest woman in America–and possibly the most demanding, as well. Adelicia insists on finding her niece a husband, but a simple act of kindness leads Eleanor down a far different path–building a home for destitute widows and fatherless children from the Civil War. While Eleanor knows her own heart, she also knows her aunt will never approve of this endeavor.

Archduke Marcus Gottfried has come to Nashville from Austria in search of a life he determines, instead of one determined for him. Hiding his royal heritage, Marcus longs to combine his passion for nature with his expertise in architecture, but his plans to incorporate natural beauty into the design of the widows’ and children’s home run contrary to Eleanor’s wishes. As work on the home draws them closer together, Marcus and Eleanor find common ground–and a love neither of them expects.

But Marcus is not the man Adelicia has chosen for Eleanor, and even if he were, someone who knows his secrets is about to reveal them all.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Bethany House. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are entirely my own.*

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Yummy Recipe from author Tamera Alexander

savory custard 225x300 Yummy Recipe from author Tamera AlexanderOne of my favorite things to do is lose myself in the pages of a good book. I am all about going paperless and saving trees, but I still prefer to hold a book in my hand, to hear the rustling of pages being turned, and to watch the pages pucker up as my tears fall. Besides, you can’t leave a coffee stain on your Kindle now can you?

One of my second most  favorite things to do is cook and try new recipes. I am currently reviewing A Beauty so Rare by Tamera Alexander and cannot wait to finish so I can post my review. However, in the mean time I have a fabulous recipe to share with you that our protagonist Eleanor Braddock cooks up in the book.

I think this recipe would make the perfect brunch dish on a lazy Saturday morning. Enjoy!

Eleanor Braddock’s Savory Custard

(or Ham and Cheddar Quiche)

From the novel A Beauty So Rare

by Tamera Alexander

www.TameraAlexander.com

Most people think quiche originated in France. Not so. It’s originally a German dish and people referred to them as “savory custards” in the 19th century. Which is accurate since the egg-based mixture forms a luscious-like custard as it bakes.

In my novel, A Beauty So Rare, the second standalone novel in the Belmont Mansion series, the heroine, Eleanor Braddock, is “a cook with a dream.” But her dreams don’t quite turn out like she thinks they will. However, her savories always do!

I hope you enjoy this recipe (or “receipt” as recipes were called in the 1800s) from A Beauty So Rare. For more about A Beauty So Rare and for recipes from all my novels, visit www.TameraAlexander.com.

Ingredients:

1 old-fashioned unbaked pie crust (recipe below)

1 large onion, diced (or sliced if you like larger pieces of onion in your savory)

2 tablespoons butter

1 pound cooked ham diced into cubes (if using bacon, use 8 slices, fried chewy, not too crisp)

8 large eggs

1-1/2 cups heavy cream or half-and-half

1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper, or to taste (I always go heavier on the pepper, personal preference)

1 3/4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Instructions:

Sauté onion in the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is golden brown. Set aside to cool.

Chop the ham into bite-sized pieces (or fry your bacon until chewy, then chop). Set aside to cool. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll out pie crust and press into a deep dish pie plate. A medium-sized iron skillet works wonderfully for making a savory custard (and is what Eleanor used). The crust comes out divine. I just happened to use a pie plate this time.

Whip the eggs, cream, salt and pepper in a large bowl, then mix in the onions, ham (or bacon), and cheese. Pour the mixture into the pie crust. Cover the pie plate (or skillet) lightly with aluminum foil and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the quiche is set and the crust is golden brown. QUICK BAKING TIPS: The quiche may still seem a little loose when you first remove it from the oven, but it will firm up nicely once removed from the heat. Also, watch that lovely crust so the edges don’t get overly brown. I use a silicone pie crust shield if that starts to happen. Those are a fabulous invention (but foil crimped around the edges works just as well).

Remove from the oven and allow the savory custard to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before diving in. It’s so good, and just like Eleanor Braddock would make. It’s also delicious left over and warmed up the next day.

Eleanor Braddock’s Old-Fashioned Pie Crust

(makes two large crusts)

From the novel A Beauty So Rare

by Tamera Alexander

www.TameraAlexander.com 

This is a wonderful crust that I’ve been using for years. Eleanor would likely have used lard in place of Crisco (since lard was cheaper than butter in her day), and you may too, if you prefer. Yes, lard is still available on most grocery shelves, although I’m pretty sure I just felt you shudder!

This pie crust “freezes beautifully ” as they say in Steel Magnolias (instructions on freezing below), so even though I may need only one pie crust at the moment, I always use this recipe and make a second, and freeze it for later. Makes that next pie (or savory custard) go twice as fast!

1 ½ cups Crisco (or lard)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 egg

5 tablespoons ice water

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, using a pastry cutter (or two knives will do the job), gradually work the Crisco into the flour for 3 to 4 minutes until it resembles coarse meal. In a smaller bowl, whip the egg and then pour it into the flour/shortening mixture. Add 5 tablespoons of ice-cold water, 1 tablespoon of white vinegar and 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir gently until all ingredients are blended well.

Halve the dough. Form the 2 evenly-sized balls of dough and place each into large sealable plastic bags. Using a rolling pin, slightly flatten each to about 1/2 inch thickness to make rolling easier later. Seal the bags and place them in the freezer until you need them. (If you’re using the crusts immediately, it’s still a good idea to let them chill in the freezer for about 15- 20 minutes. They’ll be much easier to work with.)

When you’re ready to roll the dough for your crust, remove from the freezer and allow to thaw for 15 minutes (if it’s frozen). On a well-floured surface, roll the dough, starting at the center and working your way out. Sprinkle flour over the top of the dough if it’s too moist. If the dough starts to stick to the countertop, use a metal spatula and gently scrape it up and flip it over and continue rolling until it’s about ½ inch larger in diameter than your pie plate (or iron skillet).

Using a spatula, carefully lift the dough from the surface of the counter into the pie pan. (I sometimes fold my well-floured dough in half and then “unfold” it onto iron skillet. Or you can lop it over your rolling pin. That works well, too.) Gently press the dough against the sides of the pan or skillet, getting it all tucked in. Then crimp the edges in whatever way you prefer. And now, you’re ready for that yummy savory custard filling above, or maybe for a fruit pie.

If you make this recipe (or if you’ve read A Beauty So Rare), I’d love to hear from you. You can write me through my website at http://www.tameraalexander.com/contact.html.

Why my brain surgery was one of the best things that ever happened to me!

“There is no way you can start over and move on from this.” That is the lie Satan whispered and my fragile heart believed.

Every time I entertained a small glimmer of hope that healing was possible, flashbacks would come haunt my memories and that vapor of hope would disappear as quickly as it had come leaving the carnage of discouragement in its place.

I was only fifteen when I lost my innocence. I was only sixteen when I ran away from home. I was only seventeen and finishing up my senior year of high school when I found out I was pregnant. This was supposed to be the time of my life when the world was my oyster. When I was blazing a trail, leaving my mark on the world, and embracing my destiny. Instead I bore the scars of a soldier who had fought a war and lost….in every way possible I had lost. I had lost my self-respect, my dreams, my faith.

So I tried to patch my wounds. I was successful in my career, enrolled in college classes, and tried to be Martha Stewart in my home. All those things kept me busy and at times numbed the gnawing pain in my soul, but the wounds were still there… unhealed. I was going through the motions of life, but never really living. I was like this dead tree. Just existing. Taking one painful breath after another. I had all but given up.

Dead tree 150x150 Why my brain surgery was one of the best things that ever happened to me!

That is when I got very sick, was diagnosed with chiari, and scheduled for brain surgery. I knew my life was in jeopardy and I started questioning everything. Just months earlier, I had told God I couldn’t live like this anymore. I didn’t dare ask Him to fix the mess I had made of my life, but I did ask Him to help me heal. And he answered that prayer the day my brain herniated out of my skull. Of course I didn’t even faintly understand that then.

The day of my surgery it was just me and God. I had hundreds of people praying for me, my husband was out in the waiting room, but only God could go through it with me. (I talk about my encounter with God the day of my brain surgery in my post Reflections of a Zipper Head.)

mustard seed 150x150 Why my brain surgery was one of the best things that ever happened to me!You see my healing would have to begin with a mustard size seed of trust. I had to believe that God was not only capable of bringing me through brain surgery, but That He was also capable of handling the rubble of my past. I no longer wanted to just survive. I was sick of repeating the same destructive cycle. I wanted to be free.

Progress was slow, but with each small step in faith I took, life began to course through my veins. I had to leave my career when I was left with permanent neurological symptoms and chronic debilitating pain. I was unable to continue my college studies and my house that I once could so easily keep meticulously perfect, now I struggled to maintain at all.

Everything that I had used as a vice to heal my own pain, God lovingly stripped me of. Until all I was left with was battle scarred me. I had no more accomplishments or achievements to cover up my endless amounts of failures.

“You are enough beloved. I love you. You are mine. There is nothing you have been through that I can’t redeem.” Those are the words God whispered and my fragile heart dared to believe.

I began to study the Word of God with a fervency I had never experienced before. My parched soul couldn’t get enough. And God began to remove the lies I had been clinging onto and replaced them with His truth.

There is no wound that His love cannot heal. ”The Lord has appeared of old to me saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness I have drawn you. Again I will build you, and you shall be rebuilt, O virgin of Israel! You shall again be adorned with your tambourines, and shall go forth in the dances of those who rejoice.’” Jeremiah 31:3-4

There is no limit to His mercy and grace. “For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.” Psalm 100:5

He can redeem the years we have wasted. ”So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust, my great army which I sent amount you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; and my people shall never be put to shame.” Joel 2:25-26

I no longer just exist. He has given my life meaning. He is my life. Every time I stand before a group of woman and share the story of how my chains  to bondage were broken, I silence the lie that I had once believed. My wounds are now beautiful scars. They no longer represent what ugly things I have done, but rather declare the unending love of my Father who never let me go.

Awakened Anew Tree 300x226 Why my brain surgery was one of the best things that ever happened to me!

The Two Token Challenge

Lorikeet 300x200 The Two Token ChallengeWe went to the Nashville zoo last Friday and one of my favorite things to do there is to feed the lorikeets. I love having several beautifully colored birds standing on my arms and watching them drink the sugary nectar.

We waited on line for about 20 minutes until it was our turn to enter the exhibit. I ordered three cups of nectar and handed the zoo worker a twenty dollar bill. He explained that he could only accept tokens for the nectar and that he didn’t have any change to break down my twenty dollar bill. My only two options were to buy twenty dollars worth of tokens or to not feed the birds.

Honestly, I couldn’t afford to waste twenty dollars on tokens and I was so disappointed. I really wanted to feed the birds. There was a dad and his two young children that had been in line behind us. He overheard our dilemma and quickly handed me two tokens to buy one cup of nectar. I tried to give it back to him, but he insisted.

He then knelt down and told his kids, “Hey guys. Daddy gave these nice people two of our tokens so they can feed the birds too. We will have to share a cup of nectar and take turns.” I again tried to give him back the tokens, but he assured me that they wanted us to be able to feed the birds.

Here is the best part. Both kids seemed just fine with the decision their dad had made. There were no complaints. No tears. No meltdowns. It was obvious that these kids were used to sharing and that doing nice things for others was something they watched their parents do on a regular basis.

The gift of those two tokens meant the world to me. That dad had no way of knowing that because of my chiari and muscular dystrophy, I don’t get to go on trips to the zoo very often. He couldn’t have possibly known that I rarely have good days and that this trip away with my family was about so much more than seeing the animals. His two dollars worth of tokens held infinite value to me.

The smallest of investments can mean so much more to the person receiving them. So I challenge you to take the two token challenge with me this week. If you can, make it a family affair. Our kids need to see us actively investing in the lives of others.

Here are a five ideas to help get you started:

card 150x150 The Two Token Challenge

1) Send an encouraging card to someone you know who is hurting or going through a hard time. Most stores have a section of cards that are under a dollar or if you are feeling really creative you can make one yourself. Facebook messages and emails are great, but there is something very special about opening your mailbox and finding a card.

 

cookies 150x150 The Two Token Challenge2) Bake some homemade goodies to brighten someone’s day. We had an older lady that lived across the street from us. She rarely had visitors and no matter how hard I tried to start a conversation, I never could really get her to respond. When the tornadoes came through a couple years ago and the city was without power for over a week, my husband and I were concerned for her. So every night, I would have one of the kids bring her a plate of whatever we had grilled up for supper. That December, she put some gift cards in our mailbox and told us how much that food had meant to her. It was a small investment on our part, but had held great significance to her. It also opened the door to starting a relationship with our neighbor.

kids 150x150 The Two Token Challenge3) Offer to give a mom with small children a break by watching her kids for the morning. When your kids are small and demand almost all of your time, it is easy to get discouraged and overwhelmed. A morning away to share a coffee with a friend or the chance to go shopping alone can be that moment of refreshment they desperately need.

 

groceries 150x150 The Two Token Challenge4) Purchase some groceries for a family in need. With the economy the way that it is, there are probably several people you know that have lost their job or are suffering some serious financial hardships. These can be very stressful times and putting food on the table can be a real struggle. A bag of groceries will not only help provide for a legitimate need, but can also be a tangible reminder that God will provide for them.

flowers 150x150 The Two Token Challenge5) Fill some mason jars with some fresh picked flowers from your garden and deliver them to someone who may not be able to leave their home due to age or illness. When someone is trapped in their house and cannot leave, those four walls can really feel like they are closing in on them. Having something colorful and lively to look at can really brighten their day. Every time they look at those flowers, they will remember that they are thought of and loved.

We never know what someone else might be going through. We have no idea how far a small investment into the life of someone else will go. Let’s look for opportunities to invest ourselves into the lives of those that God brings across our paths.

Please feel free to share if you take up the two token challenge and what you decided to do.

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Why Facet Nerve Blocks may help with the Management of Chiari Pain

 

Brain Surgery 300x224 Why Facet Nerve Blocks may help with the Management of Chiari Pain

I underwent my posterior fossa brain decompression surgery in January of 2009. Aside from being inducted into the zipperhead club, named for the zipper like scar that starts at the top of my skull and runs all the way down to the top of my neck, the surgery did little to resolve my debilitating neurological symptoms and I was still in substantial daily pain. I was spending most of my days lying flat on my back on multiple ice packs.  I rarely left the house.

About three years after my surgery, the pain got significantly worse. I knew something was wrong and after much insistence my neurologist ordered an MRI of my brain. The findings were devastating to me. My brain had once again herniated. I felt like I was stuck in a nightmare.

I was referred to a neurosurgeon in Birmingham, AL. After he looked at my films, he confirmed that my brain had herniated again, but this time it had herniated not because my skull was too small, but because during my first surgery they had taken out too much of my skull and now the hole was too big. The medical term for this is cerebellar slump. It is considered to be a result of a botched surgery.

So now what? There was no way on this earth I would undergo brain surgery again unless my condition became life threatening, which at this juncture it is not. Since the hole is too big, I was still getting a good flow of spinal fluid. However, I was suffering from all the pain and neurological problems that go along with having a herniated brain.

The neurosurgeon told me about some outpatient procedures that might be able to help. The procedures he recommended were facet and occipital nerve pain blocks. The procedure is done by a special anesthesiologist that often works at a pain management center. During the procedure, a combination of nerve numbing medication is injected into several groups of nerves that can be causing severe pain to a specific organ or body region.

I got a referral to a good pain management center where I live in Huntsville, AL and met with the anesthesiologist. He was unsure if the blocks would provide any significant pain relief, but was willing to try. I underwent my first pain block in the spring of 2012. What a difference they have made!

They definitely improved the quality of my life. Instead of spending almost the whole day in bed, I am now able to get up for several hours only having to rest and ice 4-5 times a day. I can sit up for a few hours without feeling like my head is going to explode or my eardrums are going to rupture. They have also greatly helped with the swelling in the back of my neck and help me not to feel like something is constantly pushing against my esophagus.

Since I have made it a personal decision not to take narcotic pain meds unless absolutely necessary, the pain blocks have been a great alternative and I feel a better one as they last me about four months. For those of you considering having this procedure done here are a few tips I recommend.

  • Make sure you research the doctor you choose and make sure he or she has an understanding of what chiari is and takes appropriate safety precautions.
  • A good doctor will require you to have a current brain MRI before even thinking of scheduling you for a pain block.
  • Please allow yourself about a week to recover from the pain block before expecting to feel any relief. This surprised me and at first I regretted having the block done. However, the relief I get from the procedure far outweighs that week of discomfort.
  • Make sure you do not overdo it once you begin to feel better. You still need to take your normal precautions and ice regularly. The blocks are to help manage the pain and will not cure the chiari. You can still inflict harm to yourself by doing things you are not supposed to be doing.
  • Be prepared for some trial and error as your doctor works with you to find where the injections benefit you the most. For me, I get the best results with having the blocks done as high up towards the back of my head as the doctor can safely get to.

I have had so many of you asking me about the procedure so I wanted to write up a quick post to briefly explain what it is and how it has helped me. Please feel free to leave a comment or question. I am only sharing my personal experience with the facet/occipital nerve block procedures and you would need to discuss the procedurse with your doctor to determine if this is something that might benefit you.

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Am I still going to be considered an Olympian?

Ski Tracks Am I still going to be considered an Olympian?Like many of you, I enjoyed watching all the various sporting events of the winter Olympics. Where else is it okay to ski with a rifle strapped to your back or for a man to ice skate adorned in sequins? Since I love a good story (who doesn’t), I particularly enjoyed learning about the back stories of the athletes that competed. It somehow made these super human athletes relatable and real to me.

One of those stories that touched my heart was poor Heidi Kloser. Remember her? She was the 21 year old skier who tore ligaments in her knee and fractured her femur in a practice run rendering her unable to compete in the Olympic Games. Understandably she was devastated and voiced this question, “Am I still going to be considered an Olympian?”

Her father was quick to reassure her that in no way did her injury take away from the fact that she was an Olympian. It wasn’t the ability to compete in that one event that made her an Olympian, but rather all the years of preparation, all the various wins that it took to even qualify, and all the sacrifices she made to compete at that high athletic level.

Aside from the fact I have only ever competed in a high school track meets and would more than likely accidentally shoot a fellow competitor if ever trusted with a rifle, I can relate to the question Heidi asked her father, “Am I still going to be considered an Olympian?” for I have asked similar questions to God.

“Will you ever be able to use someone like me? Do you still consider me a daughter?”

I really used to struggle with those questions. Like Heidi, I felt like before I had even really begun my Christian journey, I sustained too many injuries and had done too many things to ever allow me to be effective or even used by God. In other words, I knew I my salvation was secure but aside from that I felt forced to sit on the sidelines of my own life.

Thankfully God had no intention of leaving me there. About six months after my brain surgery, I began to attend a weekly Bible study. There was one week I really wasn’t get much out of the material which deeply discouraged me because everyone else was claiming it was the most enriching week for them. What was I missing? The other weeks of the study I had felt filled to capacity with truths from God’s Word, but this particular week I had to force myself to even complete my homework.

We were studying our position in Christ. We were a part of His royal priesthood. We were daughters of the King. One of the passages we looked at was I Peter 2:9-10.

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

It wasn’t until Bible study was over and I was driving back home that the truth of why I hadn’t gotten anything out of the lesson hit me. I just couldn’t relate. I didn’t see myself as a daughter of the King. There was nothing royal about me…just look at my past. I had read those passages of Scripture many times. I just didn’t think they applied to someone like me.

I began to continually go back to those verses of Scripture. I had always just breezed by them before, but this time I read them slowly and inserted my name. It felt awkward. It felt wrong, but I did it anyway. As I continued to read the verses over and over, I began to understand that all this time I thought that somehow I had to earn this royal priesthood. When I lost my way in sin and rebellion, I falsely believed that somehow that had disqualified me from being anything but a second rate Christian.

Someone in the Bible struggled with these thoughts as well. Remember the prodigal son who wasted his father’s inheritance on sinful living? It isn’t until he loses it all that he comes to his senses and longs to return home. He too asks a question.

“Will my father still consider me a son?”

With a heavy heart he heads home. Certainly his father will at least allow him to be a servant in his household. But his father had been waiting with much anticipation for his son’s return. When the father sees his son from afar, he quickly runs to meet him. The father puts new clothes on his son’s back and slides a new ring on his finger. His position of beloved son had never been in jeopardy.

Heidi will more than likely compete again. She will intensely prepare for the next four years for another opportunity to win a coveted gold medal. Her athletic career, while temporarily sidelined, will go on because it isn’t that one moment that makes her an Olympian but all the other moments of training, setbacks, and the daily decision to keep pressing on sandwiched in between.

It is the same for us. We can’t lose our position in Christ because it is He who holds us and He has vowed to never let us go. We can certainly make poor decisions that temporarily inhibit us from experiencing God’s best in our lives, but we are always His.

If you would have told me that one day I would be speaking at women’s conferences, writing a blog about my faith, or sharing my story of how God has brought healing and hope to my life, I would not have believed you. But I am His daughter and He never let me go.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfareand not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

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It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye

goodbye 300x199 Its So Hard to Say Goodbye

My dad was an officer in the army so goodbyes have always been a big part of my life. As I got older and established deeper friendships, the goodbyes became more difficult. This was before the days of Facebook and email so staying in touch wasn’t easy.

Some goodbyes, though, are necessary for us to grow and yet knowing this doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier. Many of us have been reflecting on the past year as we stand at the doorstep of a new one. Resolutions have been made. I will not eat anymore Oreo cookies. Well… maybe I will just not eat them every day.

Oreo eating aside, one of the best resolutions some of us can make are to learn to say goodbye more. To be willing to part with the things, people, situations that inhibit us from experiencing God’s best in our lives.

When I first met Aaron and his friends after my sophomore year in high school, I was envious at the freedom they had to do whatever they wanted. They could stay out late and go to unchaperoned parties. They lived life on the edge. When I was with them, life seemed exhilarating.

My life in comparison seemed drab. My parents were controlling and I made the decision at sixteen years of age to runaway from home. It certainly was not the glamorous life I had concocted up in my mind. It cost me more than I could have ever imagined.

The children of Israel experienced something similar as well. During their time in the wilderness, The Lord provided them with manna to eat. The people were as creative as they could be with the manna, but eventually they got sick of it. They remembered the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic they had freely been able to eat in Egypt (Numb 11:5). They began to complain to Moses about it and demand that meat be added to their diet.

Isn’t it rather ironic that as they were remembering the yummy food they had eaten in Egypt, they conveniently forgot about the fact they had been slaves there and that their baby boys had been drowned in the river? Call me crazy, but I don’t think some leeks and garlic was worth the lives of their sons. I can assure you the price I paid for the freedom to do what I wanted was not worth the cost.

God ultimately gives the people the meat they requested, but they too paid a very high price. It cost them leanness of soul (Psalm 106:15). As their physical bellies were becoming fattened with meat, their souls were starving and deprived from fellowship with God. What a heavy price to pay for a seat at an all you can eat buffet! We fool ourselves when we think the things we are holding onto will bring us anything but leanness of soul.

In order to make room for the good things God has planned for our lives, we must be willing to say goodbye to the junk we have allowed to take up residence in our hearts and minds. We must learn to be content with where God has placed us in our lives and not hold onto false memories.

Kelly Minter shares in her study No Other Gods, “Many months after walking away from the situation, I began to remember the whole ordeal through rose colored lenses. I had conveniently forgotten all the pain and angst that was associated with that time in my life. I was only remembering the “leeks” from that season. I had forgotten the disproportionate price I paid for them. I was remembering them at no cost when really they had cost me considerable parts of my life.”

Saying goodbye takes faith. We must believe that where God is taking us is far better than what we are holding onto. He wants to take us down untraveled paths and to new places in our lives. God’s promises are not always easy to hold onto, but He will provide for us during our times of uncertainty if we will allow Him to. Let’s say goodbye to the things we have allowed in our lives as a substitution for God.

I will bring the blind by a way they did not know; I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight. These things I will do for them, and not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16

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The Gem of Stillness

snowy forest 300x168 The Gem of Stillness

Like most of us, I learned about the birth of Jesus when I was just a toddler. I have been in the kiddie Sunday School Christmas plays and now enjoy watching them. Because of the familiarity of the story, sometimes I forget to allow the wonder of what really happened to envelop me.

So I have spent the past week slowly reading through the Christmas story account as recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Each night I reread what I went over the previous night and then go just a little bit further in the story.

I have been searching for a tidbit in the story I may have missed. I want to read this account of Jesus’s birth with new eyes as if uncovering the story for the first time. I never expected to find a glorious undiscovered gem in the beginning of the story, but there it was…

But while he thought about these things…

Have you ever put yourself in Joseph’s shoes? I mean really thought through about how you would handle Mary’s news if you were him?  What must he have been thinking when Mary said, “Um, Joseph. As I was kneading the bread yesterday morning, an angel appeared and told me that I am going to conceive a son by the Holy Spirit. He told me this child is the Son of God. You’re okay with this right?!?”

Talk about dropping a bombshell! It was bad enough that Joseph just found out his betrothed was having a baby and oh by the way he isn’t the father, but instead of Mary admitting what she had done, she had concocted some crazy story.

Here is where we get a first glimpse of the depth of character Joseph possessed. While he wasn’t planning on marrying Mary anymore, he wasn’t bent on destroying her either. He could have publicly announced that she had gotten herself pregnant and even demanded they stone her, but instead he was planning to handle the matter privately. His heart must have been broken and he was probably disappointed and angry, but he did not seek revenge. That says a lot about the kind of man he was.

The truly remarkable thing though, this gem I somehow missed, is that Joseph left room for God to intervene because instead of just plunging ahead with his own plans, he took the time to think about things.

And it was while he thought about things that the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream confirming everything that Mary had told him (Matt 1:20).

Do we leave room for God to intercede when life hands us a bombshell? Isn’t it easier to take matters into our own hands and to exact our own ideas of justice? Joseph didn’t do that. Even though he thought his fiancé had betrayed him and was lying to him about what had happened, Joseph allowed time for God to act.

As I have been thinking about this, a verse came to mind.

Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)

I always thought to be still meant to just take a brief pause, inhale some deep breaths, say a little prayer, and then continue on. To be still means so much more than that though. The Hebrew word for “still” in this verse is raphah (pronounced raw-faw).It carries the meaning to abate, to cease, to be faint, to be feeble, to let alone.

When we choose to be still we are ceasing to take action while allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and frail so that God can direct us. This is what Joseph decided to do. He was emotionally fragile, yet he took the time to cease from going forward with his own plans, and in the stillness an angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream and revealed to him the plans of God. Joseph went to bed that night with unanswered questions filled with uncertainty, but in the morning he knew that God was God. In nine short months, he would cradle the Son of God in his arms.

Let’s learn to be still in our tough moments. To allow our weaknesses to become the tool that God uses to demonstrate His strength. To stop creating our own plans and allow God to orchestrate the masterpiece He has designed for our lives.

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Christmas Blessing Giveaway 2013

 

CBG2013300x413 zps6382dfdb Christmas Blessing Giveaway 2013
I have once again teamed up with Women to Women Ministries and several other fabulous bloggers for a Christmas Blessing Giveaway. This year we are giving away $200 in Paypal cash as we know what a blessing some extra money can be especially during the holidays. All the instructions on how to enter the giveaway are at the end of this post. The contest will end at midnight on December 15th and the winner will be announced on Monday, December 16th.

As I have been thinking about which favorite Christmas memory to share with you, I noticed that all the memories that kept popping up as contenders were family traditions.

Growing up, Christmas Eve was almost as fun as Christmas day. My mom would always put together this delicious deli tray with fancy cheeses and meats for dinner. My dad would read us the Christmas story and then we would watch A Muppets Christmas Carol. After the movie, we would decorate gingerbread cookies and then our decorated gingies would star in several short plays. Oh what fun we had with those silly cookies!!

Our parents would not let us wake them up until 6 am, so my sister and I would sneak upstairs at 4:30 in the morning to look in our stockings. We had fun trying not to make any noise as we rattled presents and tried to decide who had gotten the most stuff. Then at 5 am A Smurfs Christmas would come on and we would watch it knowing that when it was over we could wake up our parents.

The first Christmas after we got married, Glen and I lived in an upstairs 600 square foot apartment. Since it was a huge tradition in my house to pick out a live Christmas tree, I insisted we had to have one too. I picked out a monstrous tree and the entire apartment complex come out on the balcony to watch poor Glen lug it up the stairs. (May I just add I felt so loved watching my man carry up that tree with needles flying everywhere because he knew how much it meant to me.)

You know what some of my worst Christmas memories are? They too are based on traditions…traditions gone wrong. Traditions can sometimes set us up for disappointment when something unexpected happens or when we try and keep up with what our friends are doing. It can feel like we are lacking in the whole tradition department after we read a friend’s status on Facebook where they have sculpted the North Pole out of some branches they found in their backyard and are pulling out a rack of lamb from the oven for dinner.

About twelve years ago, I started the tradition of hosting a family Christmas party. I would do a fancy tablescape and cook a spectacular meal. I would often be tired and exhausted by the time the family actually arrived. I wanted them to recognize all the hard-work and effort I had put into making the party special. If they didn’t notice or mention anything about the decor or do back-flips over the meal, I would get so hurt and disappointed. Even though the party didn’t always gone as I had planned, the point was we were all together. I missed out on the joy of the tradition of just being with one another because all I could focus on was all the effort I had put into the party.

There is a chick in the Bible who got all wrapped up in trying to be the perfect hostess too. Remember Martha and her sister Mary? Jesus pays these ladies a visit and Martha immediately goes into “Martha Stewart” mode. She is trying to live up to the tradition of entertaining an important guest. Ironically as she was looking for her fancy platter and throwing in a batch of chocolate chip cookies, she wasn’t getting to enjoy the company of her Guest.

Her sister Mary was the one listening to Jesus’ stories and quite honestly Martha got a little ticked off. She whines to Jesus, “Lord do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” (Luke 10:40)

Jesus tells her that she is worried and troubled about the wrong things. Jesus didn’t care that the house wasn’t perfect or that the meal wasn’t on the table. (Can I get an Amen?!?) Jesus lovingly points out to Martha that Mary is the one that has chosen the right tradition. The tradition of making time to learn and fellowship at His feet.

The holiday season is upon us. As we send kids to school with holiday goodies, attend the various parties, decorate our houses, bake umpteen dozen cookies, and enjoy all of our family traditions, let’s choose not to get lost in them. Let’s make time to sit at His feet and remember the real reason we celebrate Christmas.

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*Disclaimer* 

Giveaway Rules: No purchase necessary. Must be 18 to enter. Void where prohibited by law. This giveaway is in no way sponsored, endorsed, or associated by Facebook. By entering this giveaway, you agree to release Facebook, Woman to Woman Ministries and all participating blogs of all liability. Contest ends at 12:01am EST on December 16, 2013. Winner is randomly chosen by Rafflecopter and will be emailed.

Participating Bloggers:

Women to Women Ministries

Jenifer Metzger – Sweet Blessings

Debi Baker – Treasures Found in Him

Joy Dare Blog

Live ~ Laugh ~ Love

Write the Vision

Young Wife’s Guide

Homemaking from Scratch

A Biblical Marriage

Thankful Homemaker

Shari Miller – Leaving a Legacy

A Mama’s Story

The Chuppies

Whole Family Strong

Our Goodwin Journey

Your Modern Family

Leah’s Cooking

Heather Bixler

Awakened Anew

Tell Me Why

Why 300x269 Tell Me Why

Sometimes I just wonder why. Why is my friend who already battled leukemia and months in the hospital away from her family now battling another serious medical condition? Why did my mom suffer a debilitating stroke at only 55 years of age? Why is one of my dearest friends struggling with the pain of infertility when she would so clearly be a wonderful mother?

Why…

I, personally, have wondered why God has chosen not to heal me. Not from chiari. Not from muscular dystrophy. Not from constant pain.

I think I understand somewhat. The moment of my brain surgery was the turning point in my relationship with God. The moment where I would have to decide whether to trust God or whether to doubt Him. To read about that day click here.

God knew that during my healing (both physical and emotional) He would begin to call me to share my story. I started this blog. I began speaking at women’s conferences. I started a bible study.

And all those things are wonderful and my life is 100x better now than it ever was when I was healthy. However, why not heal me now. What an ending to my story that would be!

And yet, for reasons beyond my ability to understand, I not only am not healed, but my diseases are progressing.

As I was thinking about the “why” this week, I thought about Job. He too wanted an explanation. Why God? Why when I was serving You and doing what was right, did I have to lose everything I had worked for? Why did You allow every single one of my children to be killed all at the same time? Why am I covered in painful boils when my heart is shattered? Why?!?

Job never gets an answer to those questions. At least not the answers he was looking for. God never tells Job about the spiritual battle that was going on behind the scenes. He doesn’t reveal to Job the fact that Satan had accused Job’s faith of being shallow and that God had given Satan permission to mess up Job’s pretty little life.

Instead, God basically reminds Job that his understanding is very limited when compared to that of the Almighty. In other words, Job never got his questions answered on this side of heaven. Job had no idea that God would forever preserve Job’s story and that Christians all over would read this story and it would help them get through their own difficult circumstances. Job didn’t get to see that his faith would help inspire us to hold fast to our faith too.

Or what about that poor guy found in John 9:1-12 who was blind from birth and everyone thought it was because either he or his parents had sinned? This poor man grew up as an outcast because he was born with a disability. I am sure at times he wondered why. The cool thing is Jesus reveals to us the reason.

He explains to his disciples, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” (Jn 9:3)  While the people saw this man as an outcast, God had chosen this man to be the recipient of a miracle. This man who was ignored and slighted would have a one on one interaction with God Himself.

Unfortunately, as a child who just wanted to be normal, as a teen who just wanted to fit in, and as a man who desired to be married, the not knowing why must have been tough. He had to wait until that day when Jesus spit in the sand, put the clay over his eyes, and washed in the pool of Siloam that the “why” was answered. That moment when he saw colors for the first time and knew only God could have restored his sight.

Guess what though? This poor guy wasn’t done suffering. Instead of getting to relish with the gift of his sight, he was brought before the Pharisees. The Pharisees wanted him to say that Jesus was a sinner, but the man wouldn’t. He knew that for Jesus to be able to perform this miracle, He had to be from God. So they cast this poor man out. Even though he was no longer blind, he was still an outcast.

Jesus finds out what happened and He seeks out the man. He tells the man He is the Son of God and the man believes and worships Jesus. This man’s blindness ultimately led him to the Light. This man got an answer to his “why.”

Sometimes God chooses to answer our question of why. It is always nice to understand why we had to go through something awful.

Sometimes, like in Job’s case, God chooses not to answer our question of why . This is where it gets hard. This is where we learn what it means to live by faith.

Bruce Martin in his book, Desperate for Hope, shares: “To live by faith is to believe in the unseen, and to trust God in our troubles even when everything we see around us is bad.”

And for those of us clinging to faith God gives us a pretty sweet promise.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Cor. 4:16-18

The difficult moments. The dark days…months…years are not for nothing. They are achieving for us an eternal glory that FAR outweighs anything (cancer, infertility, chiari, pain).  I am thankful that while we may never understand why God has allowed certain things to happen in our lives, He promises that what He has waiting for us will outweigh it all.

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