Monday, September 4, 2017

Vacation Book Reviews - "Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, and Do Work That Matters"

Vacation Book Review #4 - Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, and Do Work That Matters by Jon Acuff

I'm including this in my vacation book reviews because I started this while on my vacation, today is a Holiday - so technically still vacation, and because this is my blog & I can do that. :)

I started following Jon Acuff on social media a few months ago. I honestly don't know what drew me in but I'm sure that it was some silly picture with a clever caption that was the perfect blend of sarcasm & dry humor. That's my kind of humor. So, he started promoting his next book, Finish, and I'm not sure exactly why but I pre-ordered it. I clicked the "pre-purchase" button on Amazon and in exactly one week from tomorrow it will arrive in my mailbox. And then I found out that he wrote a book called Start...and I'm all about reading things "in order" I bought this one.

I enjoyed the book immensely. It's full of humor but, more importantly, it is full of practical advice based on his own experiences in going from average to awesome. I enjoyed the real life examples from his own life, as well as other successful people. What I most appreciated about the book was the action guide in the Appendix. So many books in this genre lay out a great plan for moving toward a goal & then pat you on the back & send you on your way...and 6 months later you the reader are thinking "remember that great book with all that great advice that I'm doing nothing with?"

Also, I think this book would be GREAT for high school/college graduates trying to start their own path toward awesome. Although I would recommend it for anyone who feels like maybe they should be moving in a different direction. I think the book gives some very tangible & concrete methods for determining your own path to "awesome".

I will most likely re-read this one with a notebook & pen close by. I feel like I need some notes...and I will need to use the action item section.

My only complaint about the book has nothing to do with the book itself. I purchased the book on my Kindle because I wanted it instantly and didn't want to hope that Amazon Prime would deliver my book before I was going out of town on Sunday. The Action Guide refers back to page numbers in the book; my Kindle edition only has "locations" not page numbers (this annoys me for every e-book that doesn't provide page numbers). This is going to make it a little harder for me to refer back to the specific sections that are referenced in the Action Guide. Come on Amazon...get it together.

I really blame myself...EVERY time I buy a book like this on e-book I regret it because I can't highlight pages...which I KNOW I can highlight electronically, but I can't flip through the electronic version as easily to see exactly what I've highlighted. I really should have been more patient and waited for the hard copy...

This is the last of my vacation reviews...and I did write this at 11:30pm on Monday night because I knew if I waited until tomorrow at 5pm, the vacation/holiday magic would be over and I would not write it. Life & reality. *sigh*

I am in a weird reading place right now...for months I've had a stack of books (not the same ones) that were next on my reading list...and now...there is no stack! I have a few that I would like to re-read...maybe I'll tackle a few of those while waiting for Finish to arrive in my mailbox. Or I will attempt to read one of the 3500 that I've downloaded (mostly for free) on my Kindle. :)

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Vacation Book Reviews - "The Replacement Wife"

Vacation Book Review #3 - The Replacement Wife by Eileen Goudge

Confession: I'm not sure I really read the description of this book when I saw it on Bookbubs or Early Bird Books...or the description was more vague than I realized. Also, I DO tend to judge books by their cover...and the cover on this one may have caught my eye.

This book was somewhat many ways. Camille is a successful modern day matchmaker in New York City. She is diagnosed with a reoccurrence of cancer at Stage 4 and has pretty much accepted her death sentence. Using her skills as a matchmaker, she decides to find a new wife for her husband.

As could be predicted, this causes all kinds of issues. It's an interesting idea of a terminally ill loved one trying to take care of her family, even though it's a bit unorthodox for the loved one to find their "replacement". The characters are likable & even if you don't agree with the method, there are back stories for both the husband & wife that help you to understand why this would even been an option.

The book was alright. I can't say I loved it, although I feel it was a very good read. Perhaps my more traditional ideas of family & marriage have influenced my "like" of the book.

Not altogether terrible.

My next book is Start by Jon Acuff. I've recently started following him on social media & actually have pre-ordered his book coming out September 12th, Finish. Although he's made it clear that you don't have to read one before you read the other, I decided to get into it. Probably won't finish this one before the vacation ends, although Monday is a holiday...which means my "reality" doesn't really start until Tuesday! :)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Vacation Book Reviews - "Serafina & the Black Cloak"

Vacation Book Review #2 - Serafina & the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

I was most interested to read this book for two reasons - #1 - It is Young Adult Fiction. I love YA is one of my favorite genres. #2 - The book is not only set in NC (I love most books set in my state) but it is set at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. The book did not disappoint.

Serafina is a 12 year old who has lived most of her life hidden in the basement of the Biltmore mansion. Her father is one of the original builders and stayed on to take care of the electrical system serving the mansion in the late 1800's. Serafina befriends Braeden, the orphaned nephew of the Vanderbilts who has come to live at Biltmore Estate. Together they try to discover who is kidnapping the children of the guests at Biltmore and who is ultimately trying to kidnap Braeden.

The book is written for middle grades and follows a great story line. Even while Serafina & Braeden are trying to solve the mystery of the Man in the Black Cloak, Serafina is learning about who she really is. I believe the book also pays proper homage to the grandeur of Biltmore Estate and also to the Vanderbilts, who by all accounts were kind & generous people. Various aspects of the Biltmore house are mentioned in the book, including many of the popular rooms and areas that can be seen on the present-day public tours. It is apparent that the writer has researched the history of the house, mentioning things such as Cornelius Vanderbilt's desire to build a self-sustaining estate with modern amenities including indoor plumbing & electricity, things that weren't available in many the homes of even the most wealthy at the time Biltmore was constructed.

The book almost has a Harry Potter feel, not exactly like HP but the same general feel of a bit of magic, a bit of mystery, and a young adult trying to learn exactly who they are in the world. I believe that this story may have originated much in the same way as HP, as bedtime stories for the author's children; Robert Beatty lives in Asheville. I am surprised that these are the first stories that have been imagined about life at Biltmore. That may be a narrow viewpoint, since I do live in NC & have been to Biltmore several times.

Serafina has been published by Disney * Hyperion, the publishing arm of Disney. I expect this book to be made into movie format in the next few years. I think it would translate excellently to film. I was hoping that filming had already begun - I did find this book trailer on Youtube...which I was pleased to find out features the author's daughter portraying Serafina:

All in all, an excellent read. There is no "language" or "suggestive themes" in this book and has the right amount of mystery without being terrifying. I think that younger children would enjoy the story, even if they aren't old enough to actually read the book on their own. It would be a great read aloud book!

Next book on my vacation reading list is The Replacement Wife by Eileen Goudge. This is another that I saw in one of my discount e-book e-mails & requested from the library.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Vacation Book Reviews - "Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour"

I read a lot. Not as much as I would like to, but a lot. I'm hoping to read 45 books this year; next year I'll up it to 50. My favorite genres are fiction...non-fiction is a struggle for me but sometimes I'll find a good biography that will suck me in. I posted a couple of books that I had read & was planning to read on vacation & someone mentioned doing a review. I have never done a book review before, not even on Goodreads...mainly because I read the reviews, pick them apart, roll my eyes at the shallow views that these people sometimes can probably see why I wouldn't write a review.

But since I have a little more you go...

Vacation Book #1 - Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour by Marti Rulli with Dennis Davern

First of all, a confession - I didn't really know who Natalie Wood was. I had heard the name & perhaps a bit about her suspicious death, but didn't really know WHO she was. I was shocked to find out she was little Susan Walker in Miracle on 34th Street, a movie I've seen at least 100 times. This book showed up in my Bookbub or Early Bird Books as a discount e-book. The description intrigued me & I requested it from the library. I actually renewed this book 4 times before I actually dove in...mostly because I had other things come in that had to be read before I could move on and also because I had read another "true crime" biography that was horribly boring. So, I wasn't sure what to expect here.

This book definitely exceeded my expectations. It was an interesting look at the suspicious death of Natalie Wood Thanksgiving weekend 1981 (BTW...I was only 5 when she yet another reason I didn't know who she was). I thought the writing was done well and the book definitely followed a very logical telling of the events that transpired that weekend. One critique I saw in Goodreads reviews was that the book was too long. It is fairly lengthy, but the book explores how Woods' death affected one of her friends, one who knew more than he originally told. It took years (almost 30) for Davern (former Splendour captain) to be able to reveal everything and to be in a place where he felt comfortable divulging the facts of that night.

If you enjoy "true crime", I would definitely recommend this book. I think you will find, just as many others have, that there were key things overlooked in the very brief investigation of Natalie Woods' death, things that should've given investigators pause & reason to investigate further than they did.

My next vacation book is Serafina & the Black Cloak. Another friend read this over the summer...and when I looked at the description I realized it is a Young Adult Fiction set at Biltmore House...two things I love! Stay tuned! :)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Struggle

This post may be fact, I may split it in two. And I have to go ahead & qualify, some of this is going to be vague...because while there are things that didn't happen to me directly they impacted me greatly. But they are not my stories to tell or they aren't the stories that I can tell right now. And finally, this post is going to be a little raw...a little transparent...a little hard to put "out there" and even harder to know that people are going to read it; however, I think it's important. And I've had these words swirling around in my brain for months...they demand to be put down on paper...or computer screen...or what have you...

So here goes...

In 2015 I participated in 2 missions trips...both extremely life changing. In ways that I couldn't have even imagined. The effects of these combined trips have affected my life from henceforth and, I believe, directly altered the path of my so many good ways. There will be more to this in the future...but for right now, vagueness #1. ;)

In coming back from Armenia the first time, I struggled. Struggled with seeing the world from a different viewpoint...struggled with reconciling my life here in the US after being out of the country...and, quite honestly, struggled to regain a normal sleep schedule after crossing basically 8 time zones. Jet lag is serious business & a monster that almost took me under. I could not sleep regularly for about 2 months. I don't really know if it was the jet lag or just the combined stuggles...but this was a tough period in my life. Jet lag is the only thing I really remember about the time period other than a small bit of depression. There were days that I had to make a chore list - do laundry, paint toe nails, watch this show - or I would just sit in a chair & stare at the TV aimlessly until I felt it was sufficient time to go to bed...and not sleep. Slowly, the fog lifted and life became "easier" know, as easy is life can really be. God had already been working to reveal some pretty major things in my life BEFORE I went on this trip...all good stuff...and He was continuing to work in my life.

Early in 2016, I committed for another trip to NYC & then with Dylan to Armenia. But what was more significant was the awareness that God was asking me to leave the Children's Ministry at our church. It was bizarre to me...and I truly struggled. I didn't understand. Children's Ministry had been my passion for as long as I could remember. I had been serving in one capacity or another in our children's ministry since the day they told me I could be a nursery 13 or 14. I had taught Sunday School, Children's Choir, worked in Children's Church...and I felt like that's where God had gifted me...but all of the sudden, He said "It's time to go." So, in June of 2016, I taught my last Clubhouse lesson and said farewell to Children's Ministry.

I don't find it coincidental at all that our church began to discuss hiring a Children's (& Youth) Minister as I was struggling to determine how God could ask me to give up this ministry. It was the confirmation to me that I wasn't mistaking what God was telling me; but it was still confusing to me.

When someone has their identity so tied up in a ministry, even if they aren't a "full time minister", leaving that ministry is hard. Even when God says to go. All of the sudden, I didn't really have a "place" in our church. And as much as I struggled to leave children's ministry, it was a struggle to find a new identity within my church. I re-joined our church's Praise Team because this was something I had done before I completely committed to children's ministry service full time on Sunday mornings. It was the one thing that I had missed so much and was so excited to come back to. I love music...I love God speaking to me through music. But once again, I struggled...I struggled with insecurity about my place in this team...even if I should be doing this. It was a hard place...

In October of 2016, I found out some news that left me reeling. Vagueness #2 coming your way. This one is certainly not my story to tell, but the impact of this left me hollow...grieving for a loss that I couldn't comprehend...that I couldn't wrap my mind around. This began a hard season in my life...watching, waiting, praying, hoping, etc, etc, etc.

As we moved into 2017, my aunt lost her fight with cancer. I simply had no idea how the loss of her life was going to impact me so greatly. The loss was bittersweet - no more suffering, in the arms of Jesus...but the loss on earth was a tough one. She left behind children and grandchildren that will miss her dearly...but she also left a legacy of literally hundreds of children that were taught by her as 4 & 5 year old children. She had been passionate about children's ministry for the majority of her life. My small 25 years or so in children's ministry paled in comparison to her 40+ years in children's ministry. It's not a contest...and that's not my point. But as I looked across her grandchildren, my eyes continually found James...the baby...the one who would not have the benefit of his MawMaw West. And I grieved for the loss that he would never understand.

The same weekend of my aunt's funeral, my car "died" for lack of a better word...which launched me into about 4 months of waiting, looking, trying to find a new (to me) car, and a lot of frustration.

As 2017 has continued, I have struggled in many ways...but I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the victories. In January, we were awaiting word on Dylan's scholarships. His sophomore year was tough...he had his own struggles but just slipped by with the minimum required GPA for his scholarship to renew...and it only renewed for the Fall semester pending his performance in the Fall. He worked hard & I know it sounds sappy (because he told me so) but I was so proud of him. He gave it all he could...and if he wasn't able to continue, he was OK with that. There was a small back up plan that would keep him in school, but it wasn't one we wanted to go to.

On January 4th, I received his statement...where I had been expecting about $4500 to be due for him to continue, his statement was showing double that. I remember sitting on my bed, praying & weeping. I had no idea how we were going to make this happen. One thing I noticed, though, was that his loans were not showing against the balance...which made up the difference between what I was expecting & what was shown. I emailed Financial Services and received the explanation that the statement was dated January 1...the loans hadn't been applied yet, but if I looked at my "daily status" I would see that they were applied. I logged on and about fell out of my chair. Instead of the $4500 due, Dylan's account showed a $500 credit. Not only had the loans applied, but his scholarships had renewed.

Later in February, I was able to sell my "dead" car to a lady who had offered to buy my car several times. I didn't get what I could've gotten for an "alive" car, but I got enough to pay off Dylan's car a year early. And in May, I was able to buy a new-to-me car that is just amazing.

So, why do I share all of this?

Because I'm still in, day out. There have been victories...but there has still been grief & disappointment...heartache...sadness...pain...etc...etc...etc.

And I see others around me struggling as well. And I guess I want them to know...they aren't alone.

Even if...God is still good.

This is something that has been resonating with me lately. A month or so ago, I was heavily into the life of David. I listened to Andy Stanley's messages about the life of David and in my own personal Bible reading (oh yeah...I've struggled with this too) I was reading about the life of David at the same time. I have been fascinated with David. "A man after God's own heart"...certainly not a perfect man...and that's what has caught my attention & made me just sit in awe of David. Even before he "messed up royally" with Bathsheba, David's life wasn't easy. David was anointed as the next King of Israel while another king was still on the throne...another King that David not only respected, but went up against a giant to honor the King & rid Israel of this enemy. Later, David is hunted down by this same King who is jealous of David. And I have to wonder...when David was running for his life from King Saul...when he was hiding in other countries...hiding in the very cave where King Saul came in to "do his business"...knowing the whole time that God had called him to more...I think David must have struggled himself. In fact, I'm fairly certain of it when you read the Psalms. David was a man after God's own heart...but I know from the book of Psalms that he often wondered where God was in the midst of his struggle. BUT over & over, David reminds himself...and now us thousands of years later...that his trust is in the Lord. The Lord who brought victory over the giant...the Lord who has promised to bring him to the other side of this...the Lord who surely protected him from King Saul...and finally made him victorious over King Saul.

Even if...He is good.

Even through my struggles...I'm reminded that God has brought me through so much that I can't NOT believe that He has left me in this. Every day I pray (or as often as I pray...because, you guessed it...struggle) that God will use these struggles to refine strengthen make me a woman after His own heart.

And I'm clinging to the fact that God's goodness is not dependent on me or my circumstances...but His goodness is constant. Even if...

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

So...Here We Are...More than a Year Later

Well...what I wanted from this blog and what actually happened are two different things.

I wanted to blog about my missions opportunities...the process...the struggles...the victories...the actual I was changed.

But it never happened! I looked back and the last entry on this blog was about NYC - BEFORE I went.

And now, I've been to NYC twice on mission, once to Armenia on mission, and am preparing for trip #2 to Armenia.

I have only one excuse - life. Life has remained busy. This summer is crazy. So much to do...and I'm feeling the time crunch. We are half way through July. In less than 2 weeks, Dylan & I will be heading out of the country...and 2 weeks after we return, he will be headed back to school. For his 3rd year of college.

I swear I just blinked...and it all happened. we are.

My trip to NYC last May was amazing. I fell in love with the city. In love with the ministry of Graffiti. As much as I am not a city person, the energy in NYC is something I've never found anywhere else. I can't even explain it. We went to NYC again this past May...and it was still the same. Full of energy, full of people, full of busy-ness. And I loved it all. This time, we took a couple of guys with of them Dylan. He had been to the city before but was not able to spend as much time as we did on this trip. He loved it too.

And Armenia in September of 2015? Equally amazing! I'm not a fan of international travel...the travel itself, that is. 12 hours on a plane is hard - especially coming West. The jet lag when I returned...a BEAR. Two months I spent trying to get back in a regular sleep pattern. But at the end of the day, when someone asked when I was going again...the answer was always "as soon as possible". we are.

T-minus 11 days. It just doesn't even seem real. Dylan & I are going with a different team than I traveled with before. We will be doing different things and in different areas. We will be doing Vacation Bible School in different areas throughout Armenia. I'm looking forward to seeing some parts of this beautiful country that I didn't see before. I'm excited to see familiar faces that I left behind almost a year ago. I'm anticipating meals lovingly prepared for our team. In other words, I cannot wait to be back in Armenia.

Three different times on Sunday alone I was asked about how the events transpiring in the Middle East were affecting our trip. Each time I had to explain that I have to compartmentalize...almost ignore these events. Because, yes, they are scary...and there is a call to safety. But, I know that God has called us to go...and go we must. There is great peace in knowing that the One who physically holds this world in place is holding me...and cares for me...and is protecting me...and will use me in whatever way HE chooses.

Surrender is hard...but so worth it. And almost always, it's easier to submit than to fight. That's what I've learned over the past couple of years. The struggle is not worth it; laying it all down before Him is. we go...into the Land of Noah. To serve. To love. To surrender. To Go.

Friday, May 8, 2015

But first...NYC Mission!

While I'm already looking ahead toward Armenia, making plans, etc., I don't want to neglect my first mission trip of 2015 which is happening TWO WEEKS FROM TODAY! It seems like just yesterday I was signing up to go...never even knowing what was really ahead of me. I, along with my best friend and two others who have become dear friends in a very short amount of time, will be traveling to New York City.

Our NYC Mission Team

While we are there we will be working with Graffitt 3 Ministries, an inner city church located in Brooklyn. I'm not 100% sure what we will be doing right now, but I know it's going to be great!

The process between signing up and our going has been quite interesting. Just a small glimpse of our lives from March to now:

 - Ashley had a stress fracture in her foot.
 - My dad was hospitalized for chest pains, was told he'd had a heart attack, they did a heart cath, and placed a stint. Found out later the artery that was clogged is called "The Widow Maker".
 - Lisa found out that she was most likely going to lose her job in the coming months.
 - Renae turned her life upside down and decided to purge & move.

If I truly tried to list out all of the things that we've faced over the last few months, it would appear to be a laundry list of complaints or negative things...however, I believe that each thing we've faced has just increased our faith! This trip has already been an amazing journey and we haven't even left.

The more amazing part? Our trip has been OVER funded! Less than a month after we formed our team, we were fully funded...and other contributions have continued to come in.

I KNOW that God wants us to go...and I KNOW that he's going to do some amazing stuff.

Please keep our team in your prayers over these next two weeks. I know that anxiety is going to increase, life will seemingly "get in the way", and we will encounter other obstacles. But I also know that God is going to richly bless us through this trip as well!