Love – My Baptism Story

Stories.  We all have one.

A piece of mine goes like this…

I was raised in a Christian home, where heritage and tradition played a huge part in my faith experience.  My great-grandparents immigrated from Patrica, Italy (outside of Rome), so our Roman Catholic roots were very strong, not just our family, but also in our community.  My family attended mass every Sunday, didn’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent and basically did all that was required of us in terms of faith and religion. I followed the rules.  Or selectively followed the rules, right?  Isn’t that what all Catholics do?

When I think back on my understanding of the Christian faith during that time, it would be what I later heard Andy Stanley describe as having a ‘vertical’ relationship with God.  I understood that being a good Christian meant that I always had to be in a right standing with God; sin, confess, repent – and repeat, show up for mass every week, participate in the Eucharist. Not only did I not understand other religions, I knew one thing that I was likely subliminally taught – they weren’t the right one.  I remember questioning as a child if my friends that were not Catholic would also go to heaven someday.  At the same time, I didn’t understand how God could pick and choose one religion over another.  I questioned if mine was actually the right one and if possibly I wouldn’t get in.  I wondered if my friends thought theirs was the right one too.  My version of Christianity was filled with a whole lot of confusion and complication.

I went through the motions because Catholicism was part of my identity. Did I believe in God? Yes, absolutely.  Did I really understand Him?  No.

After leaving home and heading to college, my weekly attendance in church was more out of obligation than desire to grow my faith or relationship with God. It was keeping with that right standing. I attended mass and even confession during my first couple of years in college.  I have vivid memories of sitting in front of the college priest, who felt that instead of having you confess your sins, would list out sins one by one and you could easily just respond yes or no. I remember one thing about those experiences and those questions. Guilt. Shame.

“Shame is that warm feeling that washes over us, making us feel small, flawed, and never good enough.” Brene Brown

As you can imagine, I stopped going to confession – and then to mass.

Fast forward many years later, I was married and had started a family. I had a strong desire to have a shared faith with my husband and children and have this be a their foundation as well.  There was really no question that my children had to be baptized Catholic and raised in the church because it was just what had to happen. The issue was that my husband wasn’t raised Catholic and really had no desire to convert.  I found myself in church each Sunday, alone with my babies on my hip, feeling empty inside.  I prayed for something to change, but I wasn’t sure how it could.

In 2007, we moved from Pittsburgh, where we were born and raised, to Georgia. I began meeting people who weren’t afraid to talk about their faith journey, their trust in God, and their desire to grow spiritually.  This was a new experience for me, as most of the people in my life prior were much like myself, where church was more of an obligation, and honestly, no one spoke much about it. Hearing friends so openly speak of Jesus lit a fire inside of me.  Quite frankly, I had no idea about this Jesus they spoke of.

Our journey brought us through a couple of different churches in Georgia, each serving a purpose in growing my faith.  We moved back to Pittsburgh for an 18 month period and began attending an Anglican church.  We found a home in this lovely place.  God firmly planted us there and opened all of our hearts.  We knew it was different.  It was scary stepping away from the known and the fear of what people would think.  But in this place I found the comfort of some tradition mixed with teaching that opened my heart to Jesus.

There was a moment in this church that began to shift my faith journey.  Bill, one of our Pastors, stood during service before Communion began.  He explained that ALL WERE WELCOME at the table. All, meaning – zero exceptions, zero rules. ALL WERE WELCOME?  I remember something in my heart, let’s call it God’s voice, saying ‘YES, ALL ARE WELCOME JACKIE!’  Well, this was news to me!  There was no ‘if’ or ‘unless’? What joyful news! I remember feeling like I could finally breathe.

This beautiful church was the beginning of a change inside of me.  I knew God was pursing me and my family, and for the first time I felt ready to take a brave step and follow His lead.

Upon moving back to Georgia, we began attending Watermarke Church in the Fall of 2014. Watermarke, which is now Woodstock City Church, is a network church of North Point Community Church, led by Andy Stanley.  This network of churches is very large and it is non-denominational.  And it is completely different from anything I had ever experienced in my past. It was at this church that I stepped out of my comfort zone, walked away from the obligation of religion and into relationship with Jesus.  I was able to do this because what was taught each week shifted my understanding that it wasn’t a ‘vertical’ relationship that God wanted to have with me, it was a ‘horizontal’ one.  Jesus’ greatest command – to love one another.

I feel deep connection to others in the largest church I’ve ever attended.  I feel impact and I feel hope for the future and for the next generation of Christian men and women. I feel a deep passion for the mission of our church.

As believers of Jesus, as Christians, we are called to love.  I believe with my entire being that it should be this simple.

Faith is a journey.  Relationship with Jesus is a journey.  My journey led me to a decision to be baptized at our church – to acknowledge and recognize the belief in what Jesus has done for me and is continuing to do in my life.  I don’t have this all together. I don’t have all the answers. But I believe in the freedom I’ve found in Jesus.

Bob Goff said in his book, ‘Everybody Always’, “For a long time, I saw Jesus from a distance and thought we’d met.”  I surely relate to that sentence.

There are many people that have helped me grow in my faith over these past few years. I know they were placed in my path for a reason and I’m grateful.

I wanted to share this story with you to encourage you.  I’m not writing this to judge those that have chosen different paths, religions, churches.  I want everyone to feel the hope and the love that I have come to know.  I want everyone to know that you may have questions, it may not make sense – and that’s ok.  I want everyone to know that it’s ok to follow your heart and the journey that God has laid out in front of you, even if it means you may disappoint family & friends.  Have the courage to take the steps that keep your faith journey true to you.  I understand that change can be hard.  I also understand that religion and faith can be complicated.  I share this story with you because I believe Jesus does not want any of this to be complicated.  He just wants to love you and wants you to love others.

All are welcome at his table. ALL ARE WELCOME!  Praise hands for that!

Blessings to each of you!

Georgia Pine

Springtime in Georgia is so beautiful.  Before moving here in 2007, I can’t say I ever thought much about the state of Georgia or any of the beauty it contained.  I had no idea that the oak trees and tall pines went on for miles and miles.  Zac Brown had yet to sing these lyrics…

“Well I was raised up beneath the shade of a Georgia Pine
And that’s home you know
Sweet tea, pecan pie, and homemade wine
Where the peaches grow
And my house it’s not much to talk about
But it’s filled with love that’s grown in southern ground”

This new little slice of home, beneath those Georgia pines, also gifts us each year with something Zac forgot to mention in his lyrics; an invader that I’ll call ‘Agent Yellow’.  That first Spring in Georgia, I remember making a big Southern rookie mistake. It was a beautiful day in early May; sun shining, warm temps, nice breeze.  I did what all of us raised in the North would do – opened up every window to let the fresh air in, because there is nothing better than the smell of the fresh air blowing through the windows.  Little did I know that my hardwood floors would soon glow yellow and, for what felt like days, I would wipe up this pesky ‘Agent Yellow’ powder from all over every surface of my home.  So, THIS is why no one opened a window (because I was wondering why every home had their windows closed on these beautiful days) and turned the A/C.

Fast forward a decade; our windows stay closed in the spring (well, always) and we rotate between the A/C and heat every other day for about a month. Our screened porch gets covered with thick plastic that still does not keep the yellow glow fully on the outside.  I dream of the weekend that I can get out the power washer to the surfaces on the outside and remove it all (which by the way, is coming soon).

When the rain comes, my praise hands go up.  Wash it away, Lord, wash it away.

Despite ‘Agent Yellow’, Spring really is beautiful here.  We live in a planned community, our neighborhood and surrounding ones.  When the leaves come back for another year, the trees that line the main road seem so much bigger, so much more beautiful.  When I look out my back window (or eventually through the screens minus the plastic), I see a florescent green glow, and my view of the other homes around me is almost completely blocked.  The flowers have bloomed everywhere and are already due for a replacement, since the tulips have shed their petals.

When we had the opportunity to move to Georgia, God had big plans for our family.  We didn’t know what awaited us, but we were hopeful for a change and a step forward.  Neither my husband or I were raised to comfortably fly away from the nest, yet we were ready to create something new.  It reminds me of those trees glowing florescent green in my back yard.  They don’t know what’s coming; it could be days of sunshine, it could be the worst hurricane.  But they are ready to take it on and begin new again.

Just as the leaves are glowing and growing, so is my hope and my faith.  The dust falls, and from time to time, poisons my heart.  I’m so grateful to have someone to wipe it away.  Someone to rest my faith in when everything around me makes no sense.  When parenting is HARD.  When people are mean.  When I’m mean.  When my selfishness takes over.

This spring in Georgia has reminded me of the hope that awaits us when we step in faith and courage.  The complete trust that comes with knowing that we have a God that loves us and calls us worthy of the calling we have received.

It took a courageous and faithful step, but I’ve found gratitude in that courage and decision (that we actually made twice).  What we have found is that – ‘Up beneath the shade of the Georgia pine IS HOME YOU KNOW’.

 

What They Think – Middle School & Social Media

** I recently conducted a survey to gain an understanding of what middle school children (grades 5 – 8) think about their experiences with cell phones usage & social media.  The survey was conducted on the website http://www.surveyplanet.com and was anonymous.  I wrote all of the questions.  I received 94 responses and they are detailed out in this post.  The statements, thoughts and opinions made about the responses are mine. **

Recently, our middle school hosted a meeting for parents of upcoming sixth graders.  I sat in this meeting and listened to one of our Vice Principals passionately speak about his experiences & opinions with cell phone and social media usage with our middle school children.  He spoke of the challenges that he faces as a school administrator on a daily basis that could be prevented if, 1) children of middle school ages did not have cell phones, 2) children that have cell phones did not bring them to school, 3) children that have cell phones and bring them to school followed the rules and left them in their lockers during the day, 4) social media was not being used by middle school children.  I absolutely agreed with his statements, concerns and advice, which centered around the following:

  • Middle school children do not need a cell phone to be successful in their middle school experience.
  • Middle school children should not be using social media – the dangers outweigh any benefit at their age.

One opinion he shared with us that night –

We go to great lengths to protect our children.  We lock our doors at night.  We have elaborate and expensive security systems in our homes.  Yet, we are handing our children devices, paying FOR them out of our own pockets, that are putting them at greater danger than any locked door or alarm system.

I went home that night and began thinking of our family’s experiences, which I understand may be different than yours.  My husband and I have made it a priority to create guidelines and boundaries with devices and social media.  With one child that has almost completed her middle school years and another child entering the experience, we feel it’s top priority to be knowledgeable and proactive.  Although I agreed with our principal, I thought about the children.  What do they really think about this?  We can do our best as parents to learn, but are we asking the questions to them that may guide our future decisions?  Are we educating ourselves and in turn, educating them?

It is my belief that we live in a society that values ‘fitting in’ more than being left behind or doing what’s right.  I believe that even more than the children, we as adults want to fit in, and we model this behavior to our children on a daily basis.

What happens when your 9, 10, 11, 12 year old child comes home daily, begging for a cell phone?  What happens when this child begs for an Instagram or Snapchat account?  The child definitely will claim that they are the ‘only ones’ without one and they will likely detail out all of the ways that they are suffering because of it.  As parents, what is our response?  More often than not, we give in.  We give in to fit in. 


“I tried to hold out as long as I could….”

This statement was made by a grown adult of an 11 year old child that was begging for social media.  Perhaps you are also shaking your head, wondering why this child’s desire for fitting in pushed this parent beyond a perceived point of no return?  Is it the parent’s own desire to be accepted or the desire for her child to be?  Does this alarm you?  It should.

When we succumb to beliefs like this and openly make these statements to others, we prove that we are simply desiring to fit in rather than parent appropriately.  And other parents follow suit, because – if it was ok for that parent to do, then it should be ok for me and my child too.  And here we find ourselves in a bit of a pickle.  Children of immature age, immersed in topics, feelings, emotions and desires that they are not equipped to deal with.  Parents that are likely equally unequipped in dealing with the fallout of these emotions at the child’s young age.  School administrators, teachers and counselors, that have had to become equipped to deal with this fallout.

I write this because I have been there.  I gave my middle school daughter a phone and permission to have an Instagram account when she was 12.  It wasn’t long after she started using Instagram that she decided to stay clear of it.  She removed the app from her phone, and although she still has an active account, it is rarely touched.  Why?  Because she didn’t like the way it made her feel.  She was aware of the complexity, the feelings, the emotions – and she knew it was beyond what she should be experiencing.  I realize that all children are different – but this was her experience.  And it sure did teach me a lot.

Because of our personal experience with our daughter, after listening to our administrator speak, I really wanted to know more about what the kids were thinking. I decided to construct this survey and I asked that middle school children answer it honestly.  I wrote the questions with our students in mind, with the hopes that their answers and experiences will help to educate those parents that will soon face these decisions.


The following questions & responses were gathered anonymously by middle school students in the 5th – 8th grade (approximate ages 10-14 years old).  I received 94 responses to the survey.

  1. What age were you given, or allowed to purchase a smart phone?
    • 10 or under – 19%
    • 11 – 42%
    • 12 – 23%
    • 13 – 9%
    • I do not own my own phone – 6%
  2. Do your parents monitor your phone usage (time limits that you are allowed to be on your device)?
    • Yes – 70%
    • No – 30%
  3. Are you permitted to have your device in your room during the night?
    • Yes – 58%
    • No – 42%
  4. Do your parents have an app where they can turn off the apps on your phone at any given time?
    • Yes – 33%
    • No – 67%
  5. Are you permitted to have social media (even just one type)?
    • Yes – 78%
    • No – 22%
  6. If you use social media, on which apps do you have an account?
    • Instagram – 40%
    • Shapchat – 28%
    • Facebook – 6%
    • Twitter – 6%
    • Other – 9%
    • N/A – 11%
  7. Do you believe your parents monitor your social media accounts?
    • Yes – 69%
    • No – 9%
    • Only the ones they know about – 3%
    • N/A – 18%
  8. Have you ever hidden a profile from your parents?
    • Yes – 11%
    • No – 67%
    • N/A – 12%
  9. Are number of followers important to you?
    • Yes – 29%
    • No – 71%
  10. Do you feel that there is a correlation between number of likes on your posts and how liked & accepted you are by others?
    • Yes – 36%
    • No – 64%
  11. Do you compare yourself to others based on what you see on their social media feeds?
    • Yes – 44%
    • No – 56%
  12. Do you ever feel ‘lesser than’ others when looking at social media feeds?
    • Yes – 42%
    • No – 58%
  13. Have you ever witnessed cyber bullying on any of your social media accounts?
    • Yes – 38%
    • No – 62%
  14. Have you been a victim of cyber bullying?
    • Yes – 17%
    • No – 83%
  15. Do you believe parents that are monitoring accounts are aware of everything that goes on on social media?
    • Yes – they know everything – 21%
    • Maybe – they know some things – 59%
    • No Way – they are clueless – 21%
  16. Have you used social media in school when you know it’s against policy to do so?
    • All the time – 18%
    • Once or twice – 35%
    • Never – 47%
  17. Have you take pictures in school classrooms that you have posted to Snapchat and/or Instagram?
    • Yes – 38%
    • No – 62%
  18. Do you believe that your teachers are aware that students are using social media during class time?
    • Yes – 62%
    • No – 38%
  19. Do you feel addicted to social media?
    • Yes – 25%
    • No – 75%
  20. Do you think social media makes middle school easier or harder to navigate?
    • Easier – 38%
    • Harder – 62%
  21. Do you often feel excluded when looking through your feeds?
    • Often – 14%
    • Sometimes – 55%
    • Never – 31%
  22. If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend (if applicable), how do you feel about sharing about it on social media?
    • Proud/Important – 10%
    • Popular/Cool – 4%
    • Embarrassed/Uncomfortable – 5%
    • Indifferent – 10%
    • N/A – 71%
  23. When you are spending time with friends, do you feel you spend more time taking pictures to post than actually enjoying your time together?
    • Yes – 25%
    • No – 75%
  24. Do you feel social media is being used to spread kindness/positivity or create tension/negativity?
    • Most of what I see is positive – 17%
    • A little of both – 68%
    • Most of what I see is negative – 15%
  25. Use a few words to describe what social media means to you (not every response is noted).
    • It is a fun way to express yourself.
    • I would be much more popular if I had social media.
    • Annoying.  Kids don’t talk to one another anymore.
    • A way to compare yourself to others
    • Judges yourself, dumb, not needed
    • A way for people to share the good parts of life
    • Social media means drama and rumors
    • Keeps me entertained
    • A way to keep up with friends and family
    • A way to show an image of you without meeting you
    • Social media is a good way to communicate.
    • It is fun sometimes but annoying
    • I think social media is just to get attention.

I would love to put some interpretation on these results and give you some things to think about if you are trying to determine when the best time to explore cell phones and/or social media with your child.

PHONE USAGE/SAFETY:

  • 19% of the children received their own smart phone at the age of TEN OR BELOW.
  • 30% of the children’s phone usage is NOT MONITORED.
  • 58% of children are permitted to have their phone in their BEDROOM AT NIGHT.
  • 53% of students are using social media during school when they know it’s against policy to do so and 62% believe their teachers are aware of this!

SOCIAL MEDIA:

  • 29% believe that number of followers are important to them.
  • 36% feel that there is a correlation between number of likes on their posts and how liked & accepted they are by others.
  • 44% compare themselves to others on their social media feeds.
  • 42% feel ‘lesser than’ others based on what they see in their feeds.
  • 69% feel exclusion of some kind when looking at their feeds.
  • 38% have witnessed cyber bullying, 17% say they have been bullied themselves.
  • 25% feel addicted to social media.
  • 62% feel that social media makes middle school harder to navigate.

There are many things that are uncovered in these questions, but I will make my conclusion on that final statement.

62% of children surveyed feel that social media makes middle school harder to navigate.


Parents, consider this.

Middle school years are likely some of the hardest that your child will experience.  We all want our children to grow and develop into strong, confident young adults.  And we all want to help them.  I believe that we are living in the lie that fitting in with their peers helps them in their middle school experience – that it eases their burdens.  I’m not sure about you, but when 62% of children say that social media makes middle school harder to navigate, does that give you second thoughts?  Do you see the percentages of students that feel ‘lesser than’, that are comparing themselves to others and are feeling addicted and excluded?

What price are we paying for them to fit in or for US to?

I believe there is a time when social media is beneficial and can be used for good.  And it’s up to each of us to decide when that time is for our children.  I hope these results help you in that journey.

Not Today…. I’m Reading

When 2018 began, I had disconnected from Facebook and made it a point to have a book in my hand more often than my phone.  It’s a goal I don’t regret crafting and sticking to. I can hardly believe it, but I just finished my 20th book of the year so far!

I know there are many readers out there, so I’d love to share what I’ve been reading & what I’ve loved.  First off, let me recommend that if you are a reader, create an account on Goodreads.  Here is a link to my profile, where we can connect –  www.goodreads.com/JSandora.  I always have my current read posted.  This is also where I get recommendations from many trusted reader friends.  I’m sure you agree that time is precious, and I want to be certain I’m picking a great book to fill it!  Goodreads absolutely helps with that.

Now onto the FIRST 20 of the year:

Screen Shot 2018-03-16 at 7.56.05 AM

 

5 STARS:

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (Fiction) – I have two ABSOLUTE favorites so far and they are both by the same author.  Fredrik Backman is knocking my socks off.  I absolutely love his writing.  This particular book is about a grumpy old man called Ove (pronounced Ovay) that is completely irresistible. YOU WILL LOVE IT.

Beartown by Fredrik Backman (Fiction) – The second favorite by Backman is 100% different from Ove.  Again, his writing kept me turning pages fast with this one.  There was suspense, surprise and a lot to think about by the end of this one.  Don’t pass on it by thinking that hockey may not be your thing.  This book packs a big punch!

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (Non Fiction) – AHHHHHHH…..  Hard to begin to describe the beauty of this one.  Dr. Paul Kalanithi was a 36 year old successful neurosurgeon that faced his own mortality with a Stage IV lung cancer diagnosis.  Paul explores beautifully – ‘What makes life worth living in the face of death?’

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (Fiction) – Yes, it’s Oprah’s latest book club pick.  And yes, that may be why I picked it up.  But I loved it.  I really did.

Small Great Things by Jodi Piccoult (Fiction) – My word, this book.  I had never before explored the topic of white supremacy and if you haven’t either, be ready for your eyes to pop out of your head.  Although fiction, this gave me a 100% different perspective on race, tolerance, privilege and compassion.  I recommend it highly.  We can not ever understand that which we do not attempt to see.

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter (Historical Fiction – based on a true story – WW2) – For some reason, I am slightly tired of the World War II non fiction stories.  But this one got me, the main reason being, it was based on a true story of the author’s family.  It is a beautiful story, weaved together in a way that will keep you 100% all in until the last page.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (Fiction) – Eleanor, she’s quite an interesting character!  This was a quirky book, but I came away with so many surprises.  In case you are wondering, Eleanor Oliphant is everything but fine.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Fiction) – This book isn’t something I’m normally drawn to, but I’m glad I spent time here.  It was a scandalous story, but heartbreaking too.  Evelyn spent her life – through seven husbands – hiding the biggest secret of all. You will empathize and likely cry.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande (Non Fiction) – I call this a must read for absolutely everyone that will face their own mortality – yes, all of us.  It’s just a must read.  So often we are focused only on the good life, and doctors are trained to keep us enjoying it.  Unfortunately, doctors are not trained as well on helping people experience a good death.  This doctor had the courage to face the topic.  I learned a ton and gained much insight.

 

4 STARS:

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn (Historical Fiction – WW1/WW2) – I could give the second half of this book 5 stars, but the first half of it for me was like 2 stars.  It’s a long book and it took me at least 200 pages to want to keep going.  I’m glad I did and I recommend you do too.  There are two story lines – the second much more interesting to me, but the story came together with excitement and suspense by the end.  This was highly recommended.  I see why, but I don’t recommend it as highly as others.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (Historical Fiction – WW2) – Another World War II novel that came highly recommended.  Beautiful, heartbreaking stories.  I liked it.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (Historical Fiction) – Good story, also heartbreaking.  I enjoyed it!

Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson (Non Fiction) – Wow – this book opened my eyes to the criminal justice system, those left un-defended and wrongly accused.  It made me re-evaluate my thoughts on capital punishment.  Another novel that caused me to learn and grow.  Also a page turner.

The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham (Thriller) – This thriller was better than ‘Girl on the Train’ for me.  Agatha – ya, she’s crazy.  You’ll like this page turner!

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Thriller) – Good thriller – not the best I’ve read, but had me turning the pages quickly!

What Alice Forgot by Laine Moriarty (Fiction) – Loved this book.  Alice has an accident that causes her to wake and think it is 10 years prior.  This one was sad & funny – loved so much about it.  It made me think a ton about how 10 years can change a person!

The Night the Lights Went Out by Karen White (Fiction) – Karen White is one of my favorite authors.  I am guaranteed to be engrossed in her stories.  I’ve read almost all of them!  This one was no different.  It wasn’t my absolute favorite, but very very good.  Karen is an Atlanta based author that writes of the South so well.

Church of the Small Things by Melanie Shankle (Non Fiction, Christian Memoir) – Melanie – love her books.  She is fun to read, makes me laugh and cry, often in the same chapter.  This one was more of 3.5 stars and mainly because I felt there was a lot of filler in her chapters.  Great topics, lots of filler.

 

3 STARS:

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (Young Adult, Historical Fiction – WW2) – This book was a hard one for me.  Three stars may be generous here.  I had a hard time getting into these characters – just could not connect.  This was an interesting part of WW2 that I didn’t know about, though, so learning more about the single greatest tragedy in maritime history (surprisingly, NOT the Titanic).

Radium Girls by Kate Moore (Non Fiction) – Fascinating history about girls that worked in Radium Dial factories – their stories are absolutely heart wrenching (be prepared for that), but seeing justice finally be done made this a bit more rewarding.  I give it 3 stars because it’s long and difficult to read because of the real-life goriness. So so sad what these women experienced.

 

Stay tuned – here’s what will be coming in my next 20!

UP NEXT:

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (Fiction)

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (Fiction)

Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan (Non Fiction, Self Help)

The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn (Fiction)

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (Fiction)

Last suggestion for everyone – please support your local library!  I decided to do that this year, and wow, what a money saver.  These 20 books alone would have likely cost at least $150 on Amazon, but probably more.  I have found gratitude in our public library system!

Happy Reading!

Strong Women

March 8 – International Women’s Day
A spark was lit somewhere deep in my heart recently that I believe coincided with the #MeToo movement of the last few months.  I suddenly had a deeper desire to understand.  You see, we stay closed-minded to that which we do try not understand.
For the past few years of my life, I have been blessed to be surrounded by positive female influences – strong leaders, business owners, world changers.  Many of these women have believed in me and given me the courage and desire to speak and do more with the gifts that God has given me.  These experiences over the last few years have shaped me and my understanding of what’s possible for women both in the workforce and at home today.  Last year on March 8, I joined hands with a group of women I admire greatly and went to work on a project that impacted people and helped them be greater.  This was my current world.  And the voice in my head was screaming, “We are equal! We can do just as much!  We are doing it – just look at us!”
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Interesting, though….
How quickly I forgot what the prior 10 years had been like.  Or maybe even the 10 years prior to that – in both the workforce and in relationships.
I began my career in 1998 in the male dominated industry of public accounting, working 60 hour weeks during busy season and crying in bathrooms because I was talked down to and made to feel foolish for not understanding the intricate rules of Accounting.
Fast forward a couple of years to a male supervisor that talked daily of his extra-marital affair and open marriage to a group of young women that he oversaw, me included.  A man whose ‘office talk’ and inappropriate behavior eventually got him fired.
Fast forward again a couple of years to the male boss that not only was fired, but for as much as I know, still sits in prison for his inappropriate behavior.
How could I forget all of this?  Had I forgotten or just pushed it somewhere back in a deep corner, rarely spoken of?
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I felt it was important to write about this because of these children that I am trying to raise up to be God loving, respectful & kind humans.  They are each going to have their own stories, face inferiority at times in their lives, and hopefully rise stronger and more equipped.  I feel it’s my job to begin to teach and equip them now, as children.  One of the best ways to do that is by example.
I want to show my daughter that she can be all she dreams to be – maybe it’s a mother, maybe it’s a business owner, maybe it’s a hard working woman, maybe it’s all of the above – she’s worthy of all of that and more. May she know she has a voice that should be heard, that she never has to be silent. May she be brave enough to fight for what she believes in.
I want to teach my sons that women are their equal. I want our words and actions to show that we respect each other. I want them to believe that women have the same voice & influence that they possess.
For me, this isn’t just about teaching our daughters.  It’s about teaching our sons.
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I’ve been blessed by women like Nancy, Susanne, Doreen, Elizabeth & Judi (and so many more), who have given me a chance and shaped me with their wisdom and guidance.  I was blessed by Anne back in 1998, when she helped open a door for me in the professional, male dominated world.  Although it wasn’t my forever career, it played a big part in defining who I am today.  I will never forget Anne telling me how she fought to get me that offer.  I’m still so thankful today that she believed in me.
Women have paved the way for me on this journey of life, whether it be in the professional world or at home.  So many of them – beginning with my own mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.  Strong women have helped me to become strong, even if only by their example.  Just today, I heard from a friend that just left her daughter in London for 6 months, an ocean away, to pursue her dreams.  What a strong woman that raised a strong woman.  It’s an example like this that continues to shape me.
We will make mistakes on this journey.  We will feel we aren’t getting it right a whole bunch of times.  But as women, we must continue rise up.  Speak.  Not to be above any other woman or man, but to be on an equal playing field of opportunity and more importantly, respect.
Happy International Women’s Day – may you use your voice for good!

ten

 

 

I recently read the fiction novel by Laine Moriarty, “What Alice Forgot”.  In the novel, Alice, 39 years old with three children and a failing marriage, has a freak head injury and wakes up thinking it’s 10 years prior, when she was happily in love and expecting her first child.

15085193The book was a page-turner. Laine Moriarty has a way of weaving humor and fun into hard story lines.  More than anything, this book had me thinking about my own life.

How can 10 years change a person?

In the story, Alice changed quite a bit in 10 years.  Her situation was much different, yes, but Alice the ‘person’ was also much different.  As she journeyed through those tough days, she learned about the Alice of today and many times was baffled and appalled at what was revealed.

I don’t want to give away too much of the story because it was a great read.  Check it out of the library! (I’m a big library buff these days.)

TEN seems to be a number that’s been swirling around me.  It’s been 10 years (a little over) since we first moved to Georgia from Pennsylvania.  It’s been 10 years since I became a stay-at-home/work-at-home mom.  It’s been 10 years to the day that I gave birth to at 10 pound (on the nose) baby boy.

I’ve changed A LOT in 10 years.

Since reading about Alice, I’ve spent time thinking about that.  Some circumstances have changed.  Some of my roles have changed.  But how have I changed as a person? Has the change been good or not so good?

Alice found the person she had become in many ways wasn’t as true as the 10 year younger version of herself.  Is the same true for me?  I think it’s a bit of the opposite.  I think I’ve become a truer version of myself.

I wouldn’t say this journey has all been filled with peaches and roses.  It surely hasn’t.  I’ve had love, hurt, pain, sadness, exhaustion, laughter, depression, anxiety, drive & rest.  I’ve made good friends and lost good ones too.  I’ve had thoughts I regret and said words I regret.  I’ve been jealous.  I’ve compared myself to others. I’ve been over-confident and also highly insecure. I walked away from some friendships for selfish reasons.  I’ve felt desperation over friendship. I’ve struggled with acceptance.  Sounds like a bumpy, noisy road.

I also have grown up.  I’ve had courage to walk away from people and things that are no longer serving me.  I’ve used my voice, even in times when it’s shook.  I’ve been vulnerable & authentic.  I’ve grown in my marriage and as a mom. I’ve found a faith and a trust in a God and Savior that I knew of, but really didn’t know.  Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have ever said that I had a personal relationship with my Heavenly Father.  Today, I can say that I do, and that to me, is the best change of all.

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Have you ever driven over rumble strips?  If you haven’t heard of them, the actual definition of rumble strips are “a series of raised strips across a road or along its edge, changing the noise a vehicle’s tires make on the surface and so warning drivers of speed restrictions or of the edge of the road”.  Pennsylvania roads are always under construction (and full of potholes, by the way – blame the snow, ice & salt) and rumble strips were a frequent sound we heard while traveling.  I remember a time when I was probably about 10 years old myself.  We would travel about 15 minutes north of our home to visit my Uncle, Aunt & cousins.   This journey was not far away, mind you, but the rest of my family all lived within 2 minutes of each other, so really, this was a trek for us.  There were rumble strips placed off of the exit for Brighton Township, as they were doing construction work.  I can see (and hear) my great grandmother, my Nonna.  She spoke very broken-English and her ‘R’ sound was definitely a rolling-r.  Rrrrrrrumble streep.  I loved when she said it.  I used to make her say it again.  We’d giggle.  Oh how I loved my Nonna.

Without driving over the rumble strips, how would we appreciate the silence and feel the contentment of the smooth road?

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Yesterday, my baby boy, on his last day of being nine, said in a moment of frustration, “You just don’t understand me!”  I broke down – because we all want to be understood.  I want to be understood.  And more than anything in this world, I want my babies to feel understood.

It was a rumble strip.

Today, he woke up a 10 year-old.  A bright smile, soft skin, sweet cheeks, squinty eyes…  I felt the contentment of the smooth road.

We have to find thanksgiving in the rumble strips of life.  Without them, we wouldn’t savor the joy.

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Jeff came downstairs this morning and gave Austin a huge hug and a kiss on the forehead.

“I wondered how different you would look this morning since you’re 10!”

He smiled.  Giggled.

He posed for a picture by the big cupcake and cuddled on the couch with me.

If I have one prayer for this boy, it’s that he knows joy.

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10 years old.  10 pounds.  Hardest day of my life by far.  But I had to go over that rumble strip to know the love that he could bring.

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Ten years can change a person.  The next ten, God willing, will continue to change me.  But with my roots growing deeper in the love of Christ, I pray that I can find the joy in the most difficult times.

 

 

 

 

hope

When you don’t have the answers, but your mind is flooding with thoughts, the best thing to do is just write.  That’s where I find myself today.

Yesterday marked the 8th school shooting since 2018 began – only 45 days ago. First thing’s first – I do not have all of the answers.  I have thoughts…  opinions…  ideas…  hopes…  and of course, fears…

I dropped my 3 children off at school, kissed their little faces before they went in and prayed for their day, as I do every day.  That sounded perfect, didn’t it?  Ok so actually, the ride to elementary school this morning was filled with some yelling, as my little one was a bit peeved that I threw away the ‘Air Heads’ and ‘Fun Dip’ that he got yesterday during the Valentine exchange (that has now turned into another version of Halloween…  but I digress).  But hey, taffy is bad for your teeth and pure sugar is just evil and that’s just how I feel about those candies. So yes, our ride to elementary school at 7:15am contained some yelling, some frustration, and then some apologies, as I sat thinking about letting my kids out of the van without them knowing that I love them.  Some kids yesterday maybe got out of their cars after arguing with their mom and didn’t hear those words before they entered the school – and the didn’t come out alive.  SO….  Here we are.  This is what we think of now when we drop our kids off at school.  Do they know I love them in case they don’t make it home today?

This is not normal.

This is painful.

This is just nonsense, if you ask me.  Maybe you aren’t asking me, and if so, you don’t have to read anything else.  Because like I said, I do not have all of the answers.  Just some thoughts.

Our view of the world comes from within the four walls of our home.  The things we are taught begin with our parents and grandparents and from those teachings come the core of our being – our values, morals, character.  Next, come our own life experiences. This is the window in which we see the world.  With so many different ways of being taught and so many different life experiences, we all see things in a little bit of a different way.  You know the funny thing is – if we are open to learning from others and understanding WHY they see things the way they do – even if we don’t quite see it the same way – we practice empathy and understanding.  We grow this way.  Unfortunately, in the world we live in today, it’s rather difficult for our society to believe that someone else’s belief may be the right one.  We are so driven by the need to be right that we are blinded to learning and to hearing.  Do you feel it’s possible that two people can actually be right?  That there could be a middle ground?  That one person’s perspective could actually shift your own?  We aren’t listening to one another.  We’re just spouting.  Sometimes we are spouting blame.  And sometimes we are just spouting our stuff.  But we are spouting and not listening – and that is Issue #1.

Next, we come to the sad state of mental health in our country, which honestly, I do not feel educated enough about to even begin a deep discussion – except to say – it is as real as high blood pressure or diabetes.  I know it’s real because I live it.  I know it’s real because I also have a child that lives it.  I have other family members that live it.  Likely, you probably do as well.  Here’s what I see when it comes to conversations of mental health – fear and shame.  Shame from others, stigma from the community, fear of being judged.  All of it.  Personally, I allowed my own fear of being judged to alter how I was treating my own mental illness.  It took two doctors and a counselor to talk me out of the mindset that medication was the wrong path and a cop out.  It took some therapy for me to get the voice out of my head that said, ‘people that take anti-depressants just can’t cope with motherhood.’  GARBAGE.  But I bought into the lie and sacrificed my own quality of life and my family’s quality of life.  I put that fear, or my own ego, before taking care of them.  All this to say, if you have mental illness in your home, you are not alone.  You shouldn’t ever feel alone.  If you have a child suffering from it, even the mildest form of anxiety, it is as real as that broken bone they may have gotten last week.  And it’s up to us, in the four walls of our homes, to take care of it, to take care of them.  It is not shameful.  In the instances of the millions out there that perhaps don’t have a safe four walls they call home, that don’t have a confidant, a mentor, a teacher to help them…  It’s our duty to recognize these individuals and reach out.  Show them love.  Be a friend. We can’t stay silent.

Another topic I don’t know enough about to talk in an educated fashion is gun reform.  Except to say that it is possible to believe in a right to bear arms and gun ownership and NOT believe that we should be able to access assault rifles.  I know there’s big money and a lot of other stuff I don’t understand that is leading the lack of regulation.  And we are all suffering because of it.  It’s a middle road way of thinking and I don’t care, it’s just how I see it.  At the highest levels of this country, people were elected to protect our citizens.  They are paid to do this job.  And with it, seems a huge responsibility.  Please act on your responsibility, whoever you are out there that is not.  This is not blame.  I am not saying that this sole issue lies in lawmakers hands alone.  But I am saying that they can choose to be part of a solution because they have a responsibility to be part of it.  They represent us all.

Deep at the heart of all of this is the growing lack of faith in this country.  I’ve read numerous articles about Christians leaving the faith in ‘DROVES’.  It is my belief that without a relationship with Jesus, without following Him, we are becoming immune to love.  Care for each other, for humanity, is dwindling.  Truly knowing the call to love others as Jesus calls us to love would not result in these mass murders.  It just wouldn’t.  Andy Stanley says it best when he says, “Following Jesus will make your life better and make you better at life.”  I believe that with all of my being.

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Finally, we all have a voice. We all have a way to act and be heard.  And for each of us, our way is different.  But if you are one that is called to love others like Jesus did, let’s stop accepting this ‘problem’ and let’s focus on changing it.  I’m not 100% sure how this looks for me personally, but I know that God wants to use my gifts to bring about change.  As I pray for those, I ask you to do the same.  How can He use you?  It’s going to look different for us all.  Acceptance of this way of life is not the answer, so let’s stop accepting it.  This is not normal.  WE are better than this.

Examine what’s in your heart.  Examine what’s in your four walls.  Look deeply at your people.  Pray over them and pray WITH them.  Teach them to be difference makers.  Educate them on what this world looks like so they can be equipped to go out and make change themselves.  Recognize when things just don’t seem right and have the courage as a parent to step in the direction of help.  You are not powerless.  You mothers, you fathers, you sisters, you brothers.  YOU are not powerless.  And you are certainly not alone, regardless of how you may feel.

Let’s also realize that prayer is powerful.  The privilege of prayer is amazing.  God wants to hear your prayers. God also wants you to act in love.  To believe in Jesus is to believe in that call.  We are really really good at saying the words, but not following through on the action.

The child out there sitting alone, needs love, not shame.  The kids that cheat, they need love, not shame.  The kids that lie, they need love, not shame.  The kids that steal, they need love, not shame. The kids that have mental illness, they need love, not shame.

Oh how I wish we could snap our fingers and change our world.  Lord, can you please make all of this pain and suffering go away?  I believe the tears of Jesus are real today. He told us –

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

We live in a broken world.  We have never been promised perfection.  We have never been promised fairness.  But we have been given hope.  So that is where I’ll rest today. The Air Heads and the Fun Dip are still staying in the garbage, but my boys just walked in safely from the bus stop, and gave me a kiss, so I’ll say ‘Thank you’ for this day.