Friday, May 27, 2016

Hello Summer!

It's Memorial Day Weekend! Woo hoo! We are FINISHED with our school year (well, the kids are, I need to log their grades), baseball season is over, and the days are growing warm. I am taking this weekend to spend with family and friends, and I hope you're doing the same.

And always, always, always remember to be thankful to all those who've given their time and lives for us to enjoy our everyday freedoms.

I'll see you next Friday, friends:)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Stamping out Self

I've been working through Jennie Allen's Bible study "Stuck" and this week was the chapter called MAD. A quick temper is something God's worked on a lot in my life, and I figured this chapter would bring another step in that journey. As I find typical in my life, God had another idea:) He brought it back to "selfishness". He challenged me to look at what I feel are my rights, and how I need to give those up so that I can have all I need. Strange, right? The idea that to gain something we need to give something up? But I was reminded of 2 Corinthians 9:6-8

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all thingsat all timeshaving all that you needyou will abound in every good work.

Now, I know Paul was referring to monetarily giving here, but that wasn't the issue God needed to peg in me. Selfishness was. And as I re-read the Scripture, here's how I heard it:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly (of yourself) will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously (of yourself) will also reap generously. Each of you should give (of yourself) what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all thingsat all timeshaving all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

It's that good-ol' backwards thinking. The more we give, the more we have. As we sow generously, God gives generously so that the circle can continue, and in doing so we will IN ALL THINGS, AT ALL TIMES, HAVE ALL THAT WE abound in every good work--for HIM. Because that's really what it's all about, right? All of our good works (wife, mom, friend, ministry, writing...) should point to Him. Every time we choose to die to ourselves we are giving him glory. We become a living testimony of Who God is and what he can do. Which is why that little adjective "cheerful" is added. Complaining through giving isn't obedience friends. That's living by the letter of the law without allowing Christ to change your heart. See, the cheerfulness comes when we understand all he's done for us! How can we remain selfish when the selfless love of Christ runs through our blood? It's all about shifting our focus to the Cross. When we do that, when we live in the shadow of his sacrifice for us, we cannot help but be cheerful givers of all we've been given: time, money, forgiveness...grace.

AMEN! Oh, Amen!

What is he calling you to set aside today? Step into it cheerfully and let him show you his abundance in a huge way:)

Friday, May 20, 2016

Bookshelf Friday - Upcoming Summer Reads!

Hey all! I am filling my bookshelf and preparing for summer. Thought you'd love a heads up on some of the books that'll make great beach reads this summer because I don't know about you, but I am SO ready for fun in the sun:) So here's a few of what's currently on my shelf--a little of everything! I'll bring the reviews to you over the next few months, but keep an eye out for these great reads!

This novella has already released and is part of Beth Vogt's Destination Wedding series. Here's a blurb on it and you can currently purchase it here.

When Elisabeth arrives in Denver to be the maid of honor at her friend’s wedding, the last thing she expects is to run into Jamie Travers, her high school boyfriend, who is also the groom’s best man. A bitter breakup when they were in college destroyed their hopes for a future together. Seven years later, is it possible for Elisabeth and Jamie to forgive one another and have a second chance at love?

You Can't Hurry Love is perfect for a day by the pool or on the beach and will have you all ready for the next full length in this series, Almost Like Being in Lovewhich releases in June. Here's the scoop on that one!

Winning an all-expenses paid Colorado destination wedding might seem like a dream come true for some people—but Caron Hollister and her boyfriend Alex Madison aren’t even engaged. How is she supposed to tell him she’s won their wedding and honeymoon when he hasn’t asked her to marry him? Being “perfect for one another” seems like the absolute best reason to get married. But what if their supposedly faultless relationship is merely a safe place to protect his secrets and a way to keep their families happy? After quitting her job, Caron accepts her best friend’s offer to visit Colorado. She needs to catch her breath. Who knows, maybe visiting the destination wedding site will make a future with Alex seem like a reality.

Kade Webster just landed the biggest deal of his life with his company, Webster Select Realty, participating in the Colorado Springs Tour of Homes. He never imagined he would run into the woman who broke his heart—Caron Hollister—right when his career is taking off. Seeing her again, Kade can’t help but wonder why Caron walked away from him years ago, leaving him with no explanation. When Kade learns his home stager won’t be able to help with the Tour of Homes, he vaults past all the reasons he should stay away from Caron, and offers her a temporary job helping him on the project. This time, their relationship is purely business.

Spending time with Kade has Caron questioning everything. The man intrigues her—at times infuriates her—and reminds her of what she lost. Has she been settling for what everyone expects of her? Just because others believe she and Alex are an ideal couple, does that mean they should get married? And how can Caron say “I do” to one man when she’s wondering “what if?” about another?

Another great upcoming read is Jody Hedlund's Forever Safe, which is part of the Beacons of Hope series. This is one Jody is releasing herself as an ebook on June 1st. It promises to be another great addition to this series. Here's a little info on it:

Heiress to a vast fortune, Victoria Cole has everything she wants, including the perfect fiancĂ©. Having left two other men at the altar, Victoria is sure that now she’s found her true love and will finally live happily ever after. As her wedding draws near, however, Victoria’s life is threatened. To keep her safe, Victoria’s father hires a bodyguard. 

Tom Cushman’s number one priority is protecting his clients, which means no personal entanglements. But he’s never guarded someone as beautiful and winsome as Victoria. After a near-kidnapping, the wedding is cancelled, and Tom hides Victoria at Cape Cod’s Race Point Lighthouse until her attacker can be found. Appointed as assistant light keeper with Victoria posing as his wife, Tom believes the isolation of the lighthouse will keep her safe. 

As Victoria struggles to live without familiar luxuries, her heart betrays her with growing feelings for her protector. Determined to help Tom stop fleeing from his haunted past, can the runaway bride learn to face her own fears? With the attacker closing in, will both of them ever be able to stop running and find the safety they long for?

Another great read releasing in June is Jessica Patch's next LIS, Protective Duty. I've already read this book, and I'll have my review up soon. But just a head's up--it was GREAT! Another book that makes an easy weekend read, this is one you'll definitely want to stash in your beach bag.

Minutes into FBI profiler Bryn Eastman's first case since a near-fatal shooting, a brazen serial killer sets his sights on her next. Now her life—and career—is in the hands of her new partner, Detective Eric Hale, the man she once loved and lost. Racked with nightmares of the shooting and regrets for the tragedy that tore her and Eric apart, Bryn doesn't want Eric to discover the secrets she carries—but she needs him. Seeing Bryn brings back memories Eric can't control. Memories of a once-in-a-lifetime love. But the tough detective knows their only path to a second chance goes straight through a relentless killer…one who won't quit until he counts Bryn as his fifth victim.

Also releasing this summer is Cathy West's The Things We Knew. I'm smack-dab in the middle of this book an loving it. Look for my review in July when this book releases.

After her mother’s death twelve years ago, Lynette Carlisle watched her close-knit family unravel. One by one, her four older siblings left their Nantucket home and never returned. All seem to blame their father for their mother’s death, but nobody will talk about that tragic day. And Lynette’s memory only speaks through nightmares.

Then Nicholas Cooper returns to Nantucket, bringing the past with him. Once Lynette’s adolescent crush, Nick knows more about her mother’s death than he lets on. The truth could tear apart his own family—and destroy his fragile friendship with Lynette, the woman he no longer thinks of as a kid sister.
As their father’s failing health and financial concerns bring the Carlisle siblings home, secrets surface that will either restore their shattered relationships or separate the siblings forever. But pulling up anchor on the past propels them into the perfect storm, powerful enough to make them question their faith, their willingness to forgive, and the very truth of all the things they thought they knew.

And if you're looking for a fun, Jazz age read, Kristy Cambron delivers with her latest release. Between glittery estates and circus big tops, this is a must for your summer bag.

In turn-of-the-century America, a young girl dreams of a world that stretches beyond the confines of a quiet life on the family farm. With little more than her wit and a cigar box of treasures to call her own, Mable steps away from all she knows, seeking the limitless marvels of the Chicago World’s Fair. There, a chance encounter triggers her destiny—a life with a famed showman by the name of John Ringling.

A quarter of a century later, Lady Rosamund Easling of Yorkshire, England, boards a ship to America as a last adventure before her life is planned out for her. There, the twenties are roaring, and the rich and famous gather at opulent, Gatsby-esque parties in the grandest ballrooms the country has to offer. The Jazz Age has arrived, and with it, the golden era of the American circus, whose queen is none other than the enigmatic Mable Ringling.

When Rosamund’s path crosses with Mable’s and the Ringlings’ glittering world, she makes the life-altering decision to leave behind a comfortable future of estates and propriety, instead choosing the nomadic life of a trick rider in the Ringling Brothers’ circus.

So that's just a few to keep your eye out for. I'll be posting books and reviews all summer plus bringing back giveaways. I'd love to hear what books you're looking forward to reading on lazy summer days! See you back here next week:)

Monday, May 16, 2016

Be Unshakeable

I was recently reading a section of Acts where Stephen recounts what we now call the Old Testament. Stephen summed up all the major plot points and kept it short. I was marveling at what appeared his natural ability to give a summary when something stopped me. It was one line about the Israelites and that golden calf:

“They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made.” Acts 7:41

What their hands had made…

Wow. They’d just been freed from over 400 years of captivity. And not just freed but witness to some of the most amazing miracles God has ever performed. Like parting an entire sea. Or how about once they left Egypt, they actually saw God’s glory…it led them in a cloud by day and fire by night. His presence was visible. Oh! And He dropped manna from the sky. And quail. And made water come from a rock.

Yet in their first instance of waiting without the visible, they turned back to themselves.

See, God called Moses up to Mount Sinai, and Moses was God’s mouthpiece for them. They knew he would come back with a Word from God. What they didn’t know was how long it would take—because God didn’t tell them. In the end, Moses was gone forty days.

Forty days. That was all it took to shake their faith.

For forty days they were at the base of the mountain, and while they could see the cloud covering the mountain top, they couldn’t see or hear God at work. They had no clue what God was doing. And it was taking longer than they’d thought it should (don’t you love how we put time limits on a timeless God? He’s not bound by time…yet we constantly try to tie Him to it). So in the absence of God’s visible and tangible presence, they took matters into their own hands and made something they could see and touch.

Oh, I am so an Israelite. I mean, how easy is it to follow God when He’s moving and we can see results? When we haven’t even finished our prayer and the answer is delivered? I love those days when my manna falls from the sky. When God’s presence is blowing me over, and He’s parting my Red Sea. But when He’s up Mount Sinai and I'm down below? Not to mention I’ve waited way past my forty-day limit.

My hands itch to take things into my control. To make my own golden calf—just so I have my answer. Waiting is so hard…and what if He’s not working? What if He’s not coming back?

Here’s the kicker. Faith has nothing to do with what we see, hear, feel, taste, or even smell. It’s what we know. What we believe. What we cling to when our senses scream at us to give up hope. Because faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. (Hebrews 11:1)

Whatever mountain you’re sitting at the base of today, have faith. He is there, working. You may have waited much longer than forty days, but know this…He hasn’t abandoned you. Take those hands reaching for control, throw them in the air, and begin to praise Him—and trust Him to finish the work He’s started in you.

Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Bread and Water

Anyone else ever battle feeling overwhelmed? I've been there more times than I can count, and whenever I reach that word I think of the story of Elijah...

Elijah. Great prophet of old. Used by God in amazing ways. Strong man of faith. Have you ever read about the amazing things God did through him? The widow’s jar of flour that never emptied, raising a boy from the dead, calling down fire from heaven—which, by the way, is my favorite story of him, from 1 Kings 18. I identify with his sense of humor (dare I say sarcasm) as he taunts the followers of Baal. And I love his complete faith in his Lord. But look at what happens immediately following this scene. I’m talking the very next chapter.

Elijah finds himself fleeing for his life. Ahab, King of Israel, wants him dead. Elijah spent his life in dedicated service to his Lord, and now must run to keep it. It’s not the first time his life has been in peril. And he’s had enough. He journeys into the desert, finds a tree and slumps down under it. I can just imagine him uttering the phrase often found on my lips when I’ve had enough: “I’m done.” In fact, the NIV version says He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.

Oh, I can feel his heart—can’t you? We’ve all been there. What I love so much is that God left us these stories so we don’t feel quite so alone. I mean, if Elijah felt this way at one time, how surprising is it that we may too? And even better, we get to see what to do when we’re in the same spot. And what's the first thing God does for Elijah when he’s in this place of giving up?

The Angel of the Lord wakens him. God heard the cry of Elijah's heart and arrives to strengthen him. With what, you ask? A cake of bread and a jar of water. Seriously? God could have given him a feast, yet He picks bread and water. And He doesn't simply offer it one time, but he awakens Elijah a second time to eat it again. Only look what God says this time: “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”

See, God wasn’t depriving Elijah. He wasn’t punishing him, and he didn’t tell him to “buck-up”. No, He leaned down and in essence whispered, “I know you’re tired, my Child, I’ve asked a lot of you, but I am here. Let me strengthen you. You weren’t meant to do this alone.”

Yes, God could have given him anything to eat, but He fills him with the One thing he needs: Himself. Jesus tells us in John 6:48 that “I am the bread of life,” and He goes on in John 7:37-38 to say “if anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him (Living Water, as in the Spirit of God. Love that!).

Oh friend! Life will overwhelm us—guaranteed. But you weren’t meant to do it alone. If you’re tired and weary, fill yourself today with the Bread of Life and all the Living Water you can drink. He will sustain you. Everytime.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Bookshelf Friday - Her One and Only by Becky Wade

I'm not normally one who likes a series to come to an end--especially when I've thoroughly enjoyed the series! However, Becky Wade's final book in The Porter Family series centered on the youngest Porter (and only girl), Drew. I've waited for Drew's story through each book, so in this case, while ending the series was bittersweet, I was extremely excited. Here's a small blurb and we'll chat on the other side!

Gray Fowler, star NFL tight end, is being pursued by a stalker, so his team hires a protection agency to keep Gray under the watch of a bodyguard at all times. When Gray meets Dru Porter, an agent assigned to him, he's indignant. How can an attractive young female half his size possibly protect him?

But Dru's a former Marine, an expert markswoman, and a black belt. She's also ferociously determined to uncover the identity of Gray's stalker. And she's just as determined to avoid any kind of romantic attachment between herself and the rugged football player with the mysterious past. But the closer they get to finding the stalker, the closer they grow to each other. As the danger rises, can Dru and Gray entrust their hearts--and their lives--to one another?

I'll start off by saying what fun it was to get to know Drew better in this book. She's played so well as a support in her brother's books, and we've watched her grow up into the woman we see on these pages. And while having seen Drew before enriches your read of Her One and Only, Wade does an expert job of making new readers welcome. If this is your first book with the Porters, you won't feel lost.

Drew is a very strong female lead which lent itself to the need of a strong male. Wade delivered. And while Wade writes heroes for a living, she never makes them cookie-cutter. It's an aspect of her writing I love. Dipping into the world of the NFL, you can tell she researched players and teams which only added to the depth of the storyline. Gray was as well fleshed out as Drew and the two create a dynamic on page that keeps the reader turning pages. Adding a hint of suspense to this book only brought freshness to the pages. It wasn't something one expects in a Wade novel, but it was perfectly placed within these pages and well done. It never overshadowed the romance between Drew and Gray which remained center court.

As typical with a Wade novel, the secondaries provide a richness to the story that make each scene enjoyable. And while I loved seeing every Porter, at times those threads took me from the main story. It was a hard balance to strike--bringing a full ending to the Porter family while also telling Drew's story. When I put the book down after the last page, I couldn't imagine it being written any other way What a perfect bow to one of my now-favorite series.

I happily give Her One and Only 5 out of 5 stars. You can purchase it here.

I thank NetGalley and Bethany House for my copy of this book in exchange for my free and honest review.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Exchange Rate

Over my morning coffee recently I began contemplating the week I was having. There'd been some bumps and bruises brought on from misunderstandings with other people. Sometimes when we only have snippets of conversations or limited interactions with others, we may think we know them but our picture isn't quite as clear as it could be. And being on the receiving end of that my thoughts began to spiral. As I sipped my morning brew, I chatted with God all about how desperately I wanted people to know my true heart. How I felt that in some situations I'd been misrepresented and it frustrated me. But then something subtle began to see, I'd struggle that week with a bit of sadness. I worried that my worth, my value, wasn't significant, and God brought this small shift in thought into the light.

Because what was I doing? I was measuring myself by other people's standards.

It's like the dollar bill. Depending on where you travel, our dollar is worth more or less--all based on what that country sets the exchange rate to. Does that dollar in your pocket actually change in form or in its worth here at home? Nope. But step outside of its place of origin, and it does. And that's exactly what I was doing every time I entertained the thoughts of others; I was stepping out of my place of origin (which is living in God's presence).

Friends, not everyone in life is going to like us. (Crazy, right?) Misunderstandings occur that you won't have the ability to correct. Personalities conflict. Slander is believed or at least entertained. And that is hard because we desire for people to know our truest heart--but that might not happen with some people. Yet that does not affect our worth!

God knows our hearts. God knows us. Let that sink in! He knows you! What others see or believe, especially when misguided by people or circumstances, should not shape us. They are measuring using the scale of their exchange rate, but only the One who knows every facet of us can truly deem our worth.  Which means we must only use God's exchange rate when it comes to seeking our value.

So today I challenge you to see yourself through God's eyes. Let him calculate your value using his exchange rate. I promise you, your worth will be off the charts:)

"You are precious and honored in my sight..." Isaiah 43:4