Friday, April 21, 2017

Book of the Week [If You Plant a Seed]

This book has very few words, but if you pay attention to the message behind it, it will impact your thinking while also being simple and clear enough to discuss it with your young reader. It very clearly reveals what happens if you plant a seed of kindness or if you plant a seed of selfishness. Whatever you plant is whatever fruit you'll receive.

It's a perfect one for this spring season when seeds begin to sprout! There's so much to talk about!

Such great illustrations go along with the phenomenal message behind it - making it doubly worth a look.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tuesday's Top Ten [Toys For Any Playroom at Any Age]

I made the mistake of watching a couple of minimalist videos. Ever since I've been purging like crazy; all because of this one statement made by a mom during an interview, "I realized I was spending more time picking up the toys rather than spending time with my children!" That's my life. The less I have to pick up, the less grumpy I am about the mess (and the sloth-like mode my children pick up), the more time I have to spend with them, the happier we all are. Win, win.

As I was purging I was picking toys that met the following criteria:

  • Inspire imagination and creativity.
  • Support learning Biblical principles, letters, numbers, shapes, colors, etc.
  • Encourage unity, communication, problem solving, and working/playing together.

I came up with ten toys that children of all ages could enjoy, changing of course as they grow, but the overall idea stays the same:
  1. Books. If a child has a love for stories - fiction and nonfiction - you will foster learning, imagination, and learning. Haha, I could be a minimalist in all areas of my life except for two: books and dresses. 
  2. Puzzles. Develops fine motor skills, problem solving, and spatial skills. Bean loves doing them with me therefore it fosters working together. Plus it's an all around full-brain-workout! 
  3. Artistry stuff (coloring books, crayons, markers, chalkboard, etc.) I still enjoy coloring! This is often one of the first activities my children choose to do together.
  4. Dress up stuff. No matter who comes over to play this is one of the first places in our playroom that is destroyed. Each child, boy or girl, loves to dress up and pretend to be something. Pirates. Princesses. Super hero. Biblical character. Doctor. The options are limitless for any age and any child - no matter their interest! 
  5. Musical instruments. This was an area I realized was lacking in our playroom. We are always singing and music is always on in the background, but the ability to create their own music was missing. 
  6. Age appropriate games. We have match the cards, Chutes and Ladders, Go Fish, etc. all of which support learning, problem solving, working/playing together, etc.
  7. Legos. This is something Kyle and I really do enjoy playing with the girls. Building is therapeutic and beneficial in so many ways! This is a family activity in our home! And one that can easily be added to with each birthday and Christmas season.
  8. Balls. What kid does not enjoy playing catch? Or basketball? Or kicking around a soccer ball? Exercise. Working together. Not to mention the developmental benefits of kicking, throwing, catching, or shooting a ball...
  9. Playdoh or clay. I'll be honest. I hate this stuff, because it gets to be so incredibly messy. BUT it is one activity that meets all of my criteria and I have yet to meet a kid who does not enjoy creating and building with playdoh or clay. It's worth the mess that takes 5 minutes to clean up if it means my kids are happy, learning, and playing together. I have to get over my selfish self for this one...
  10. Play kitchen. Seriously. I remember one of my favorite activities as an older child (8-10ish) was playing restaurant with one of my friends. He was the chef and I was the waitress. It's one of my favorite memories! It's an activity my toddler enjoys as she makes food for her babies and my four year old nephew enjoys making a plate of food for his Poppy to enjoy. Boy or girl, children of all ages, understand the joy found in food.
Not everything in this list will fit every child or family, but I do hope it inspires you as you create a room for memory making, growth, encouragement, fun, laughter, imagination and creativity!

Monday, April 17, 2017

The #1 Thing I Want My Children to Know

While watching an interview of an athlete who credited his success in life to his mother because she taught him from the time he could remember how to shoot a basketball, I began seriously thinking about what it was that I wanted to teach my girls from infancy. And I realized that nothing else in this life mattered more than the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing! Nothing of this world will satisfy, or save, or have eternal value, like the work Jesus accomplished on the cross, was buried and rose again! Suddenly my purpose in life narrowed significantly because the only thing that mattered to me was their knowledge of Him and His saving grace.

Their soul depends on it.

There is nothing more important than focusing on the gospel of Jesus Christ. That He lived, died, and rose again. According to the Bible, there is no other way to God but through faith in Him. I want my girls to know faith alone in Christ alone by His grace alone found in Scripture alone, so their one ambition in life is eternally focused: to glorify God all the days of their life. 

I want my children to know that,
The only way, the only life, the only hope, the only foundation upon which we stand, the only mediator is Jesus Christ. The only hope we have of salvation is through the work of Christ when He died on the cross, taking the wrath of God for our sins, was buried and rose again. 
"I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6
He isn't A way. He is THE way. And the Bible states, very clearly, that if we believe:
"Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve." 1 Corinthians 15:3-5
then we will be saved,
"if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved." Romans 10:9-10
I want my children to know that,
They are justified, or declared righteous, by faith alone in Christ alone. 
"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved -  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:4-10
I want my children to know that,
They are saved by God's grace alone. If God did the work to save them, then He will keep them. They do not need to live in fear of losing their salvation if they screw up. Does that mean they should continue in sin (chapter 6 in Romans) "by no means!" In fact, if they are truly Christians they should detest sin, and because of God's grace, desire a Christ-like life of service to Him and to others. 

Truly understanding that salvation is a gift given freely by God, even when we were dead in our trespasses (Ephesians 2:5), and even "while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8), gives us freedom to live for HIM, 
"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God." Romans 5:1-2
I want them to know that believers are standing, STANDING, in God's grace. And because we are forever standing in His grace, as a result of faith alone in Christ alone, then we have no fear (are at PEACE with God because Jesus took all His wrath for our sin on our behalf), and can REJOICE in God because we have HOPE. 

I want my children to know that,
The only infallible and sufficient source of truth in this world is through Scripture alone. Where do they find hope? Encouragement? The TRUTH? The Bible.
"Every word of God proves true." Proverbs 30:5
"For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." Romans 15:4
Have hope in what? The gospel of Jesus Christ. THAT is the #1 thing I want them to know. I want them to know the Jesus Christ of the Bible. 

I want my children to know that,
Because of the work Jesus Christ accomplished on they cross, they have reason to rejoice all the days of their life. Glorify His Name and His Word. This should be a Christian's chief goal in life!

If they live with this truth, the truth that Jesus died on the cross was buried and rose again, they will die well. And we will all die, so the #1 thing I want my girls to know is Jesus Christ. That He came to this earth, delivered by a virgin, performed so many miracles that John declared the world itself could not contain the books had they all been written down (John 21: 25), He claimed Himself to be God, lived perfectly, was beaten to the point He was unrecognizable as a human being, died on a cross, endured the wrath of God for our sin, was buried in a tomb, and then defeated death by rising again. And that He promised that He will come back, bringing His own home to heaven with Him for all eternity.

If they believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they will be saved. THAT is what I want my girls to know, with all certainty. Nothing else saves, therefore, everything else is as trivial as this one truth.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Book of the Week [Only God Can Make a Kitten]

This is one of those children's books that will forever be on my shelf. It is one of our all-time favorite children's books. It begins with Genesis 1:31, continues with adorable rhyme dialogue between a mother and her son and ends with poetry.

This little boy in the book is curious about the world he explores with his mom and asks lots of questions beginning with, "Mama, look!" But it's the mother's response that amazes me...

"Mama, look!"
A tiny sprout!
Who made this sprig of spring pop out?

He who knows our every need. 
Only God can make a seed."

My favorite is the poem at the end when mom explains the world around him,
"God shapes the birds, the plums, and trees. 
He makes the rain and salty seas. 
Ancient stones he molds just right. 
And distant stars that shine so bright. 
God makes seeds to grow and grow. 
He paints the flowers, blows winter's snow. 
God fashions fish. 
Kittens too. 
Yes, God makes wondrous things it's true. 
But best of all, God made YOU!"

It's a wonderful book that I highly recommend adding to your forever library. It teaches. It's thought provoking. The illustrations are wonderful. The theology is biblically sound. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tuesday's Top Ten [Ways to Celebrate Easter with your Kids]

After a conversation with my sister about how Easter needs to be as big or bigger than Christmas, my husband and I decided we needed make Easter a BIG holiday in our home. After all, it's the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ that defines us as Christians! The gospel needs to be our central focus It just makes sense that the time we celebrate Christ's resurrection should be a HUGE celebration. Through Christ alone we have life, why not make the day as big and special as Christmas itself?

Here's ten ideas on how to do that:

1. Easter Countdown. Like an advent calendar, do something that gets your kids excited about the upcoming day, while focusing their minds on Jesus. This year we did 20 Easter eggs. Inside each egg was something that gave a clue to one of the names of Jesus. (Examples: Lindt's lamb chocolates to introduce Jesus as the Lamb. Miniature books to discuss Him as the Author.) We had 20 names and verses we learned, and my understanding of Jesus grew ten-fold, I can only hope and pray the same for our girls. 

2. Easter Coloring Book. There are endless ideas floating around out there. I just googled events in the Easter story (i.e. Palm Sunday coloring page, Jesus on the cross coloring page, empty tomb coloring page, my favorite: Jesus on the throne) and then created a chronological coloring book to color and discuss together.

3. Come Celebrate Easter Sticker and Activity Book that coincides with The Beginner's Bible my Briella Bean owns. It is definitely for younger children, but it goes through each event and has the kids do an activity. Some of the activities are not as good as some, but my girls thoroughly enjoyed doing a page a day.

4. Make Easter themed snacks! There are lots and lots of ideas out there, like the empty tomb rolls or this one: 
From: Today's Kids Ministry
5. Eat Jelly Beans alongside the Jelly Bean poem (downloaded here):
Red is for the blood He gave.
Green is for the grass He made.
Yellow is for the sun so bright.
Orange is for the edge of night.
Black is for the sins we made.
White is for the grace He gave.
Purple is for His hour of sorrow.
Pink is for a new tomorrow.

6. Like Christmas, decorate your home. There's lots and lots of wonderful ideas for this season. One of my favorites that we did together was an empty tomb garden. The girls LOVED doing this together and it made a wonderful addition to our decor.

7. Like Christmas, wake up to gifts! We are filling their egg hunting bucket with goodies. Some ideas for little girls that I hope gets your brain rolling for kids of all ages, boy or girl:
8. Crafting. Do you know how many Christ centered crafts are out there. I had so much to choose from it was overwhelming! Like a cross centered stained glass window we did when we talked about Jesus being the light. Or the plethora of ideas for a lamb and lion when we talked about how Jesus is the Lion and the Lamb. etc. etc. 

9. Read Paul E. Maier's The Very First Easter that offers thought provoking details to the events leading up to Jesus' death on the cross and His resurrection. Or Rhonda Gowler Greene's One Lost Sheep where children learn that God, like a faithful shepherd, will never let them stray. 

10. Read the Bible story together beginning when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey leading up to His resurrection, each day talking about a specific section.

Go to my Pinterest board titled, Spring is in the air! to see more ideas for Easter fun, so you don't forget IT IS FINISHED! HE IS RISEN! And those two facts are worth celebrating!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tuesdays Top Ten [Things In My Existence That Give Me an Eternal Perspective]

I feel like things are finally back to "normal" after the crazy month of March. When craziness happens there are only 4 things I focus on: God, Husband, Children, Discipleship (in that order). Since "blogging" doesn't fit into that list, it takes a back burner when I don't have time. So if you don't see a post, I'm busy. Crazy busy. These last few weeks I've barely had time to sweep my floor, much less read my Bible. Honestly, I hate that kind of crazy, so you have no idea how good it feels to have the time to write this! And today's particular topic has been on my mind a lot lately, because crazy busy schedules made the list (see #9).

The top ten things I encounter that help me look forward to an eternity of perfection with Jesus because of my faith in his death on the cross, burial, and resurrection:

1. Seasonal Allergies. Oh man the stuffy nose is one thing, but when you add itchy eyes, nose, tongue and ears, I would be extra celebratory if Jesus came back when ragweed pollen was good and strong.

2. Spiders. I'm not saying there won't be spiders in heaven, I'm just saying that the fear of them will be gone. They seriously give me the hebejebees.

3. Stomach bug, especially when it makes the rounds in my family. Being sick is one thing, but when you're sick and you have to take care of your sick children, it's ten times more miserable.

Speaking of children...

4. Whiny, weepy, disobedient children. Disobedient is one thing, but when they constantly whine and cry over the most insignificant things - I think I despise that more than disobedience. It grates on every last nerve. It's in these moments I think, "Lord, if you came back now that would be fantastic."

5. Dramatic Facebook posts and the horrible comments I see with it. That is the #1 reason why I "un-follow" people. We lack filters, kindness, respect, and self-control. It is completely evident when I scroll through my Facebook feed, which makes me disgusted. I have not been perfect with self-control and kindness myself, so it's something I'm constantly working on. I definitely do not want to be the source of someones irritation. And I am deeply sorry if my words did not reflect or glorify the almighty God I serve.

6. Horrible Events in the news and the equally as horrible comments I see with it. This is related to #5 with people lacking filters, kindness, respect and self-control. When something happens and I want to read about it, I have to steer clear from people's comments. Too many people ignore the facts, immediately react to their emotions, and say something really, really, really stupid and heartless. Whenever I find myself reading the comment section, I also find myself praying, "Jesus, I can't stand it anymore here! I just want to be with you!" 

7. Political seasons. Talk about heartless, and people lacking in kindness, self-control and respect! Politicians are absolutely horrible in how they treat one another. I hear more about the person they are competing against than I do about their own stance on a particular issue. I do not care about what the politician thinks of so-and-so, but I do care about what they believe about the constitution and their job to uphold it. When I see another one of those berating commercials I pray, "Jesus! Every knee will bow to YOU as our King! Just come back now!"

8. Back pain. God has promised that if we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior that we will spend a painless, tearless eternity with Him. Whenever my back injury from 11 years ago rears it's ugly head, I cannot wait for the day I meet Jesus face to face.
9. Crazy busy schedules. When life gets so busy I feel like I haven't had the time to truly enjoy time in God's Word, or take the time to love on my husband and my girls, I cannot wait for the eternity with Jesus praising His Name forever and ever and ever. Time will never be an issue and when people ask "How are you?" I'll never have to say again, "Crazy busy."

10. Voice Of the Martyrs. I recommend all Christians to subscribe to this free magazine. The stories in it will inspire you in your faith. VOM supports persecuted Christian's all over the world and when I read their stories, I beg Christ to come back and relieve these individuals suffering for HIS NAME SAKE. Reading their stories make this particular list of mine so insignificant. They have many more reasons to pray for Christ's return and ache for eternity with Him. I admire their steadfastness, their undying faith, their willingness to spread the gospel no matter the cost. If they can endure, then I can too. How much more do I have to be thankful for in this blessed life I live? While I'm thanking Him, I'll also continue to look upwards, when my faith becomes sight and I finally meet Jesus face to face.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Book of the Week [A Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent]

Honestly, this should've been my first book of the week. This is the book, that after studying the book of Romans, transformed my thinking - giving me comfort that is only found in the gospel. I try to read this book every year because Milton Vincent did an excellent job of taking the gospel and explaining the life-transforming, powerful truths behind Christ's work on the cross. He beautifully outlines 31 valuable blessings the gospel bestows upon the life of a believer. 

It's impossible to read this book without gaining wisdom, without absorbing these benefits deep into ones heart, mind and soul, without treasuring the gifts given through Jesus Christ, without being utterly transformed!

It is less than 100 pages, but these few pages offer diamonds - shining brilliantly against the black backdrop of our sin - preaching "life-giving, soul-reviving, heart-rejoicing" truths behind Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. (Quotations taken from Mike Bullmore's forward on page 4.)

If there is any book (other than the Bible) that I suggest a Christian must read - men and women alike - it is this one. I encourage you to read this book because it is not only a useful tool to help us digest the truth in the gospel daily, but it reminds us what is important and encourages to continually praise God for his gift of salvation. Plus, there is no better way to praise and glorify Him than to understand what the gospel is continually doing in our lives because of the work of Jesus Christ!

If you need further convincing, read my book review from October of 2013 here.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Book of the Week [A Bride in the Bargain]

I picked up this book, published back in 2009, on a whim. A Bride in the Bargain by Deanna Gist was in a bargain bin somewhere and I only picked it up because the plot reminded me of childhood readings. At 12 years old, the idea of a mail-order bride during the 1800's fascinated me.

I can't say I had high expectations for this book. I do not know why this particular piece of history was so interesting, but I wanted to see if the plot synopsis was as stupid as it now sounds.

At page 231, this book surprised me and I could not put it down.

Want a love story worth your time? Self-sacrifice? Biblical perspective? A historical fiction written because of an author's excellent research? Read this one!

My Goodreads review:

A Bride in the BargainA Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This became one of my favorite books on page 231. It is not that it was a bad book up to that point, but it was at that point the book went from average to phenomenal. All because of one character who helped Anna see how big God really is using my favorite Scripture; a turning point in my own life becoming one for the main character. Despite her being fiction, I felt a connection. She drove me crazy with her nonsensical reasoning behind the biggest moments of her life and was saddened to read the note her father wrote was one that actually existed. Which brings me to my next point: I enjoyed the book all the more when I finished with the author's note detailing her research behind this fantastic historical fiction novel. One that I did not go into with overwhelming confidence but would now recommend as a must read! And one that will stay on my shelf to read again someday.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tuesday's Top Ten [Signs of Life]

As we chatted in my pastor's office one afternoon my daughter began writing on a piece of paper hanging on the wall. He stopped me from stopping her, "Signs of life, our church is full of them." Ever since then I have been thinking about that simple statement so much! Our home is also full of life signs and there are so many that I decided to share my top ten. I also encourage you to look around your home and see the "mess" as signs of life. Sometimes "signs of life" can discourage me (after the umpteenth time of picking something up or wiping something down) so this outlook has been so good for me!

1. Little fingerprints. They are everywhere. Walls. Oven door. Furniture. Windows. Mirrors.

2. Cracker crumbs. I finally had to ban them from the play room and bedrooms (sleeping in cracker crumbs = restless night). Every time we cleaned I found half eaten crackers and crumbs everywhere. Despite my best efforts to keep food in the kitchen and at the table, cracker crumbs seep into every nook and cranny. Including computer keys or hoodie pockets or ground into the living room rug or between the couch cushions... 

3. Art work. It is also everywhere. Like on the kitty chair in the playroom's reading corner. On the walls. And thanks to my sister-in-law, who gave the girls bathtub crayons, art work is alllllll over the bathtub. I think my favorite is the octopuses that Bean drew and refused to let me wipe off because, "I would miss them Mommy!" Some isn't a surprise (like what I hang on the refrigerator) or the snowflakes in the window or the heart window stickers the girls LOVED hanging, but they are all signs of life.

4. Toys. Briella Bean loves making beds for all her stuffed animals and dolls. Sometimes she'll have 20+ beds scattered around the living room alone. I dislike this game so much because she drags each and every blanket from her room and the giant bucket of stuffed animals with a book for each of them and of course each of her animals need something to sleep with....! If she plays this game in her room, we can't open the door (which we have worked on). This perspective has helped tremendously with this particular game because it takes so much time to clean up, but my daughter loves playing it. So when the game begins I begin praying about my attitude because this sign of life isn't one where I should let my panties get in a bunch.

5. Piles of books. I actually love this particular sign of life. I might actually encourage it. The more time my family spends in books the better. There is always a pile of library books, a pile of books Bean looks at during her rest time, a pile of books I've put aside for the letter of the week, a pile of books I'm reading (which always includes my Bible), a pile of books Kyle uses for his personal study time before teaching for Sunday school or youth group, a pile of books I just purchased and need to put away (yes, this is common)... 

6. Noise. Right now Brielle is "working" on her computer while I work on mine, so I keep hearing "K. K is for Kite." because it's the letter of the week and she keeps hitting the button over and over again. Also, Ele is singing to her baby. Marley is on the watch and feels the need to growl at the neighbors (I've spent the last 10 years trying to break him of this annoying habit). I love having music in the background. After typing all of that Ele has now moved on to her play phone that is singing a different version of the ABC's and Brielle's computer keeps saying, "Use your mouse to pick an activity, press the letter button..." (can you tell I've heard all this before?) Now Ele is yelling at something that isn't doing what she wants it to... signs of life.

7. Dirty dishes and messy counters. Breakfast was finished and lunch will be started in an hour. I wait until after lunch is done and the girls are resting to clean up, so if you were to visit before then, you'd see lots and lots of signs of life. 

8. Shoes and clothes. Does anyone else struggle putting clean clothes away right after washing and folding them? Or get tired of reminding the children (for the umpteenth time) to put their shoes in their closet? Or snow clothes hanging out to dry during the winter and swim suits and towels during the summer? Or PJ's shed on the floor to dress in today's princess dress? All signs of life.

9. Strange smells. Haha, or this could be a sign of death. But seriously, we have dogs and they can be stinky (do I need to elaborate?) And we also have a baby in diapers. And children who hysterically laugh every time they burp or fart. And children who carry food around with them (which we had to outlaw, but can sometimes slip from our watchful eyes) and sometimes the combination of all these things creates a strange smell somewhere in the house that is incredibly hard to find. 

10. Items in weird places. I've found a half eaten sucker in the blender (no joke), toys in our shoes, play food in the fridge. Brielle loves to bring styrofoam cups home from church and I'll find those in the fridge as well. I once found a magic wand in my underwear drawer. Books are a normal thing to find the dirty clothes laundry basket. Also, Brielle is a master at hiding items in the craziest spot, so this particular sign of life could go on forever...

Plus one: Markings in my Bible. Every day I try to read my Bible. During that time I use many colors to mark sovereignty verses, important phrases, wisdom to live, gospel/grace/mercy, etc. etc. My girls see me do this everyday and so my Ele decided she would do it too. Upon finding these cute markings I could not be angry. This is one way I desperately want my girls to mimic me. Read your Bible girls! 

I have so much content to share just from the time it took me to write this post! Like Ele finding random leftover Nerds hidden in some crack in the floor, showing me it was in her mouth, yelling "EAT!" - all proud of this fact. (I can't make this stuff up.) Or this adorable moment where the girls were making beaded jewelry and Bean was teaching Ele colors; "ruined" because Ele decided to chuck the beads all over the living room, stuff as many as she could between the couch cushions and spilled her animal crackers during her ornery laughing fit. (I think I'll be finding beads for the next few months, and as I do I'll remember this 5 minute moment and smile.) Also, Bean got the beads out so she could make me a necklace, which I love, of course.

Thanks to these signs of life we buy magic erasers in bulk and do our very best to teach our children behavior that isn't destructive, what is appropriate to color on, when messes are okay and when it's best to have one or two toys out at a time... all of this takes time. So with the time given, I truly believe mommy's need to spend it creating a home that is welcoming and child friendly. I also believe there is a balance between being a slob and embracing the signs of life; find the balance because your children are making memories. I can't say I do that perfectly day in and day out. Some days are better than others because, quite frankly, sometimes the signs of life The job of picking up and scrubbing clean never ends! Ahhhhh! BUT if there's one piece of advice seasoned parents always give me, it is this: treasure your time because it goes by so quickly. Take their advice because if it's true (which I'm 110% sure it is) once they are gone and the house is quiet and clean - you'll be begging for those little signs of life. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Book of the Week [The Jester Has Lost His Jingle]

The Jester Has Lost His Jingle by David Salesman is one of our absolute favorite books in this house. We love the story line of a Jester who tries to make the king laugh, but the king lost his laugh so he banished him. From there the Jester desperately searches for laughter. His journey helps him understand that it's hidden deep within.
But it isn't the story that gets me, or the clever rhyming, or wonderful vocabulary, or even the creative style.

It is the story behind the story.

I recently wrote ten reasons why you should never skip the author's note at the end of a book, here's one example why! I never would have learned that David Salesman wrote this book as a result of some grumpy classmates that ruined his good mood. Or that afterwards he drew a jester and captioned it, "The jester has lost his jingle." According to the note at the end of the book, it was this same drawing that captured his attention moments after learning he was diagnosed with cancer. He realized that no matter his circumstances, he needed to laugh and make the best of life.

The book was born.

It was the continuation of this particular story that made the book for me! I found the author inspiring. Even more so when I read that this book was his senior project at Yale where he graduated Magna Cam Laude of his class. However, it wasn't just his work ethic or intelligence that pulled on my heart strings, it was that this book was published after his death at age 22. A promise fulfilled by his family, so that it's message of laughter would be shared with children coping with cancer and other illnesses.

That is what makes this book phenomenal.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tuesday's Top Ten [Reasons to Never Skip the Author's Note]

At the end of every book is a note from the author. Here's 10 reasons to never skip it...

1. It adds depth to the story. When you learn why an author wrote a book it may blow your mind. For example, after reading one of my all time favorites, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I learned that the original author became ill and asked her niece to finish the story. She died before it's completion, but how the story began is one that I thoroughly enjoyed reading, nearly as much as the book. Plus it helped me to understand the work she did to uncover the history behind this phenomenal historical fiction novel. The niece wrote the author's note as a tribute to a story teller I wish I had the chance to listen to in real life! 

2. You will learn something new. After reading, and loving, A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist, I found out that the letter she based her book off of was one that a father actually wrote to his daughter during the Civil War (it will break your heart) and that a schemer actually did put an ad in the newspaper for men to purchase brides. THEN he created separate contracts! The women signed a contract stating they were going to work and the men signed a contract thinking they were getting a wife. Can you imagine the chaos when they met?!

3. The story behind the story will inspire you. After reading one of my all time favorite children's book (written in the 80's) titled The Jester Has Lost His Jingle by David Saltzman I was awed by his story. After being diagnosed with cancer (which took his life at the age of 22) he made the choice to be joyful. This book is all about that choice and if I had not read the author's note, I would have missed out on how one man's struggle forced him to find the joy in life, thus inspiring me to do the same.

4. It will make the story come alive! After reading about how Suzanne Collins is an expert on how war affects children, I took her books more seriously. Wow, they are depressing, but they are also eye-opening. She knows what she's talking about and she chose science fiction to tell us about it.

5. You will respect the author that much more. If an author writes a really good story that's because there's a lot of prep to be done beforehand. Research. Reading. Interviews. Travel. Research. Reading. Reading. Reading. So many times the author talks about that hard work and not only does it add depth to their story - making it come alive, but I typically learn something new, and walk away inspired. 

6. You make a friend. Although I have yet to meet my favorite author's face-to-face, I can honestly say I would call each one of them a friend based on their writing alone. Writing reveals a lot about a person - their wit, intelligence, work ethic, etc. And it's usually their note to their reader that makes me like them all the more.

7. It makes the author human. I know that sounds crazy but it's upon learning about their struggles, dreams, hard work... that I realize, hmmm they're more like me than I realize! 

8. It helps you understand the why, the who, the what, the when, the where, the how. The author typically reveals quite a bit about their story and there are so many times that my understanding of the story increased ten-fold because of that little note at the end.

9. The writing is just as good as the story itself. If you liked the writing style of the book, you will like the writing style of the author's note. The same person wrote it. So read it.

10. Sometimes it's like a continuation of the story. If the story is good I don't want it to end, so this is one way of making it last just a little bit longer. I savor every word. Sometimes, just sometimes, the author gives a little bit extra. It's like finding hidden treasure!

Plus One: Sometimes they share their testimony. In Atonement Child by Francine Rivers she tells this incredible story of a young woman who was raped, became pregnant and faced the decision on whether or not to have an abortion. Her testimony sounds very similar. It forces you to respect the content for which she was writing, because she has personal experience, but it adds so much depth, her testimony is inspiring and made her book come alive! Everything I listed was accomplished by reading Francine's note. I'll never forget the story because of this particular author's note.

If the book is good and the author has something to say about it, don't skip it! Seriously.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Most Amazing Thing I've Ever Heard a Parent Say (From a Teacher's Perspective)

"I know that if I want my child to learn something, it's my responsibility to teach it to them."

I wanted to scream from the roof tops, "THANK YOU!"

But I resisted the urge and instead quietly told her how much I appreciated hearing that. I've been in too many situations and heard too many parents say that it is the school's job to teach __________. Nope. That is yours. Want your kids to know how to do their taxes? Handle finances appropriately? Act responsibly? Know right from wrong?

Teach them.

Teachers in the public school system typically have 20+ kids in their classroom. Over half of them are not where they should be, and the government has a whole host of requirements that come with the job of teaching abc's and 123's. If you want to know what I mean just Google your state's teaching standards by the grade per subject. That is what we are required to teach, along with the curriculum provided from the school, along with Title 1 and special education requirements, along with meeting the needs of high ability learners and multicultural requirements, all while not letting any of them fall behind academically, so each and every one of them can pass a standardized test that we all agree is stupid.

Time is not a luxury.

So with the time that you have, learn from this momma. Teach them to grow into responsible citizen's of society, so that when the day comes that they are to go out in it, you have raised a hard working, kind, contributing individual who is able to think for themselves. And pay their taxes. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Favorite Passage in Genesis

I began writing a top ten, the title being 'favorite passages in Scripture' but when my list began with my favorite in Job, to multiple pieces in Ecclesiastes and Romans and Ephesians and Hosea and Isaiah... Proverbs... Psalms... I quickly realized that I could not narrow it down to a mere ten. Sooooo I scraped that idea because it became an impossibility to pick ten. Therefore, I'm going to pick my favorites from each book, beginning a series of blogs about my favorite passages in Scripture. Who knows how long this will take, but I cannot wait to share with you my favorite part in Genesis!

The story of Joseph is a favorite because it is quite clear that God at work setting up the story of the passover where He reveals Himself as the only true God - establishing His mighty name and the giving of His Word. The Israelites had to be in Egypt in order for any of this to happen and He used Joseph in amazing ways.

The Background Story
First God gives Joseph dreams that illustrate the power he'll have in Egypt, but his lack of humility to his brothers gets him in a bit of trouble. They act on their jealousy by selling him into slavery. He ended up in the home of Potiphar, who was an officer of Pharaoh and there he became the overseer of the home because, "The Lord was with Joseph and he became a successful man." (39:2) But Potiphar's wife tried to seduce him and when she failed at doing so, she accused him of trying to rape her. He was sent to jail, "where the king's prisoners were confined" (39:20). These things were horrible, but they were not an accident! He was a slave to one of the most powerful men in Egypt so that he would end up in a specific prison so he would interpret the dreams of the man who tested PHARAOH'S cup. God orchestrated each of these events to put Joseph in a place of power so that Israel would bring his family to Egypt so that years later God would deliver His people with a mighty and outstretched arm! 

My favorite passage explains this, but just to clarify this fact, look at the rest of the story: The keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners. Why? Read 39:20: "BUT the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison." "Some time later" (it could've been many years) two men were thrown in prison for angering Pharaoh. It 'just so happened' that they were put in the prison with Joseph, where he attended them. They each had disturbing dreams and were distraught because of them. Joseph's response to them both, "Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me." (40:8) Once they did, Joseph told them the interpretation and they came true. It wasn't until two years later that the cup-bearer remembered Joseph and it was all because Pharaoh had disturbing dreams! As a result, Joseph gave God the glory for the interpretation, "It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer." (41:16) Once Joseph told Pharaoh about the seven years of prosperity followed by the seven years of famine, Joseph makes this amazing statement, "God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do." 41:28 Pharaoh was so amazed at Joseph's wisdom that he Pharaoh put him second in command. During the seven plentiful years (that God brought about - reread 41:28) Joseph stored up food to prepare for the famine (that God brought about - reread 41:28) and when his brothers heard of Egypt having food, they went to get some for themselves, and once they realized it was Joseph they bowed down to (remember the dreams that began this fiasco in the first place?), the entire family came to Egypt and Joseph took care of them!

*You should know that this portion of my Bible has a lot of purple underlines and highlights. Purple = God's sovereignty (In other words, every piece that illustrates that God was in control is purple.) I encourage you to read this story beginning in Genesis 37.

My Favorite Passage
I do not know how long Joseph was a slave or how long exactly he was a prisoner or how many years he had to wait to see his father, brother Benjamin, or how long it took to see his first dreams fulfilled (where his brothers bow down to him), but this story illustrates God's sovereignty beautifully: God works all things out for good according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) ALL things. Not just some things. He works out the good and the bad for His purpose and my favorite passage in Genesis proves it:

"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." Genesis 50:20

Joseph forgave his brothers and in doing so relayed this message: when you sold me into slavery, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. Nothing was an accident, or happen-chance. God did it because He had a plan to save lives and He was going to fulfill the promise He made way back to Abraham, which Joseph reminded his brothers on his death bed, "I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob." Genesis 50:24

Which brings me to my next favorite passage in Scripture... so stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Tuesday's Top Ten [Biggest Moments of Failure and Success]

Beginning with 5 failures...

When things get hard or painful my natural tendency is to simply give up and quit. I hate that about myself. Most of biggest failures come from giving up and quitting for all the wrong reasons like when I quit playing college basketball. Or gave up sprinting the last 100 meters of the 400 meter dash all through high school simply because it hurt. Knowing what I know now, I never reached my full potential.

Some of my biggest failures in life come from moments of pride or anger. Unfortunately, many of them happened in the classroom when my actions shamed students into a behaving rather than dealing with the heart of the matter in a way that respected each individual.

In my short 4 years of motherhood there have been many moments when I have failed my children immensely. I have said "I am so sorry. Will you forgive me?" to them more than anyone else in my life.

Okay, perhaps second only to my husband. Not only did I fail him in my past choices, but I continue to fail him in my role as a biblical wife. Do I love him as God has called me to love? Do I submit, not just in my actions, but in my heart and mind as well? Do I honor and respect him as the leader in our home? No. Not perfectly day in and day out, or moment by moment, so I am so incredibly thankful for his constant forgiveness in my failings.

I also fail daily by being emotionally impulsive. More times than I can possibly count I have made a fool of myself because I say and do things based on the first thing I feel. I am constantly learning how to be the person who is not controlled by my ever-changing emotions and displaying them with appropriate timing and in a God glorifying way. Some of the things I regret most were because I was overcome by an emotion and immediately reacted on it rather than praying, reflecting on Scripture, asking questions, and seeking advice.

In each of these failings I know I cannot be perfect, so I am praying that God does a good work in me as He draws me to Himself. The more time I spend in Scripture the more I realize just how much I fail Him daily and it is because of my failings that I learn to appreciate Jesus all the more. He has forgiven me once for all through His work on the cross and God does not see my failings because of my faith in Christ. Does this mean I continue in this sin? Nope. I need His help daily! 

Ending with 5 successes...

Graduating from high school felt like the beginning of adulthood for me. It was thrilling to be able to walk off the stage, diploma in hand, ready to go out on my own. It was even more thrilling when I graduated from college. This time I walked off the stage with purpose. I was ready and excited to begin my teaching career. When I finished my Masters in Education three years later, I felt like an expert in my field.

And yet those degree's pale in comparison to the moments one of my struggling junior high or high school readers successfully read a book by themselves for the first time. Or when test results came back revealing a student who came into my class reading at a 3rd grade reading level at the 7th grade and grew in a years time 2 or 3 grade levels. Or when a student who previously hated books excitedly walked into my classroom to tell me all about a book he was enjoying. Those moments they were successful made all the hard work worth it!

Still, even those moments of success were nothing compared to giving birth to two beautiful girls, Brielle and Eleanna. That was by far the hardest work I have ever experienced, with the biggest reward. Every day as a mommy has it's ups and downs, challenges, struggles and rewards, but if being a mommy is all God asks of me for the rest of my life, I feel it's been a "successful" one.

Some of my proudest moments of "success" has been because of my children's success. Like when they took their first steps. Or when Brielle wrote her name for the first time all by herself. 
Or when a concept I've been trying to instill in them sinks deep into their soul. Or when Brielle successfully memorizes her Bible verse of the week. When I pour my heart and soul into their successes I can't help but calling it one of my own biggest moments of success. So much of who I am is because of my children...

... and my husband.

This February marks 10 years of togetherness with him.
One of our first pictures as a couple.
This July will be 8 years of marriage.
That is a huge success in my book because we barely made it through our first year (read a bit about that here). But thanks be to God and the work He's done in our lives - we are happily married as a result of HIM. Has it been easy? Will it be easy? Is it perfect? No, no, and no. We've learned that as long as our focus is on Christ and His Word - in all of life's "successes" and "failures" - we have a foundation that cannot be broken.

I am assured of one thing for the rest of my life: I can face my future successes and failures confidently because of the hope of salvation through Jesus Christ alone. No matter what happens in this life, I have bigger and better things ahead of me. I truly believe the biggest "success" of my life is the day I meet Jesus face to face and place the crown of "my" successes at HIS feet.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Tuesday's Top Ten [Date Ideas]

As a wedding present I dug deep into our little community for date ideas, picked my favorite and gave one date a month for an entire year. I was excited by what I found and thought I would share my top ten favorite ideas. Perhaps one of this might strike your fancy this upcoming Valentine's Day or you could create 12 dates for you and your spouse as a gift for Valentine’s Day!

  1. During the month of December, grab a hot drink of choice and complete a holiday light scavenger hunt. Some ideas for the scavenger hunt were more obvious, like a nativity scene or snowman, but some required more hunting like giant ornaments or a twinkling wreath (if you simply Google “Christmas light scavenger hunt” you will find lots and lots and lots of ideas). To end the night, go to a thrift store or dollar store with $5 in hand and pick a gift for your spouse. The more creative the better! If you like this idea and want to do something similar for Valentine’s Day, do a scavenger hunt to see how many homes still have their Christmas lights up! I wonder how many you will find? You could still end the night with a gift! This might be a better date for those couples who do not enjoy the crowds of people in a restaurant.
  2. My husband and I love hiking together. We love the exercise, the gorgeous views, the picture opportunities, the conversation… it is one of our favorite activities together. During the winter months we enjoy snowshoeing. When I saw that the state of Nebraska has an entire week dedicated to wildflowers and that our little town does wildflower hikes through local ranch property, I was super excited. Grab a camera, sport those lovely hiking shoes, grab your spouse’s hand and enjoy a few hours of God’s beautiful creation. Even the flatlands of the Oklahoma Panhandle can offer beauty as you walk through a field admiring the panorama sunset. God made everything, find the beauty in it no matter where you are.
  3. A group date that wildly appealed to me was a paintball war. It is a bit on the pricey side, but sometimes the memories and the laughter far outweigh the money spent.
  4. Another pricey event that I thought would be wonderful is attending an orchestra performance (or any musical event for that matter). And if our small town of 2,500 people has a community concert association that brings in some pretty fantastic artists, then I have no doubt with a little searching you could find the same. It may not be a string orchestra, but I thoroughly enjoyed the folk band we watched the last time we went, so much so we did not leave without a few of their c.d.’s. Call me a nerd for being part of the concert bands from 5th grade on up to a junior in college, but as a result, music speaks to my soul. So dressing up and enjoying the beauty of music with my hubby sounds like a delightful way to spend an evening.
  5. Choose a sporting event where you draw sticks to determine which team you are going to cheer on, dressing to the occasion. We love sports, but know very little about hockey, so the semi-pro team 45 minutes away would be a perfect place to try this date! Before the game agree upon what the loser must do.
  6. Try geocaching. The idea of going on a treasure hunt appeals to me on so many levels!
  7. Dance lessons. Oh man, I have two left feet and my poor husband is an excellent dancer. I would LOVE to learn how to ballroom dance, or even swing dance, and look elegant alongside my better half.
  8. Visit a museum. Every community has history and I have never, ever found it boring. Plus Kyle and I have the most wonderful conversations as we read stories and learn about people and events from long ago.
  9. Go to a bookstore with a coffee in hand, completing a book scavenger hunt and also leaving a note in the pages of a future reader. Walk away with a book picked by your spouse as one he/she thought you would enjoy. Or pick a book to read together. Either way, you will have so much to talk about.
  10. “Sleep” under the stars one summer night (or if you are brave, a night in February, it would require more cuddling up, haha). My husband has a truck and we have some friends who own a ranch with a perfect spot to park, set up camp in the back of his truck and enjoy a night under the stars. I would like to plan this one on a night when a meteor shower is expected. Pack some wine, snacks, a blow up mattress, sleeping bags, flashlights, and enjoy a night outdoors, under the stars. And this is the only night I would encourage technology. Bring your smart phone with the star constellation map app already downloaded. Doesn’t this sound like a night full of wonderful possibilities? If you agree, find a way to make it happen!

Plus one: Enjoy an afternoon at a shooting range! My husband loves hunting and guns and I enjoy letting him teach me about something he enjoys. I also know someone who owns all the stuff required to go skeet shooting, I found I was pretty good at that and had a blast!

When I was planning 12 dates, I searched locally for events and activities to support the people who work hard to make their community a fun-filled, enjoyable place to live. I was super surprised at what I found. Don't limit your possibilities just because of your location. Start with your chamber office or city website and go from there. In the process of creating memories with your spouse, you’ll find new friends and learn a great deal about where you live in the process.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tuesday's Top Ten [Romance Novels Worth Reading]

I debated for so long on what to do with my blog. I want to keep writing, but my schedule is insanely busy. As I hashed out my schedule I began to realize how much time I wasted doing things that do not matter (i.e. scrolling through Facebook). I knew that I needed to get back to doing something that I enjoy, but is not a brainless activity, (like scrolling through Facebook). I've made reading and writing a priority during those rare down times of my daily life and I have forgotten how much I enjoy it! It's like working out, if I don't simply suck it up and do it I'll never get anywhere and then I forget how good it feels when my body is no longer stagnant. Apply the same concept to my brain. I was fueling it with status updates, which of course sounds absolutely ridiculous, but that's how I spent my time when the girls were in bed and everything I needed done for the day was done. That's just silly! I may not have a top ten every Tuesday, but I'm not going to waste 20 minutes of my time on Facebook. Since putting reading back into my life my brain is suddenly swarming with ideas again. (Amazing isn't it?!)

With that said, a top ten inspired by some recent reading and some old favorites...

Let's be honest, I'm a romantic. Stories about how two people fell in love, and then their decisions as they faced conflict together, get me. I'm a sucker for words: poetry, love letters, secret whispers. I love books, so it should be no surprise to my husband that the best way to woo me is through the beauty of words. They speak to my soul.

I truly believe my love for romancing comes from God Himself because He designed marriage to reveal the type of relationship we have in Christ; and my own is an amazing one. This mystery is one that is not easily understood and so I struggle with the words to explain it myself. But what Scripture states about a husband and a wife in comparison to Jesus and His bride give me goosebumps (Ephesians 5:22-33). So when I read stories about love I am reminded of how incredibly blessed I am to have the husband God has given me with my very own love story, and for God's steadfast, unfailing love despite my daily imperfections.

I do not read romance novels because I need an escape from my life, but because I find them encouraging and fun and thought-provoking. I also want to be careful with what type of love story I read because romance novels can be grotesque and painstakingly similar. In fact, I would argue that romance novels are to women what pornography is to men. So if it involves graphic sex scenes and unrealistic expectations (which can be deadly in any marriage) I will not read finish reading it. So these are recommended because they are unique, thought-provoking, encouraging and fun.

1. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers is the very first book I would recommend to any woman. I cannot recommend this one enough. She wrote it to go along with the book of Hosea in the Bible, which illustrates God's perfect, steadfast love when Israel (His chosen people) failed Him time and time again. Michael represents Hosea and the main character, Angel, represents Israel. Angel's life is an extremely difficult one, with quite a past (that readers will find shocking, I will warn you that Francine Rivers does not shy away from details). She fails Michael time and time again, but he remains faithful and steady. The ending is not what you'd expect and will blow your socks off. I wish I could talk about it here without giving it away!

2. I also liked her book The Atonement Child which is about a broken relationship that brought about a love story worth reading. It is a heartbreaking book that will challenge your thoughts on abortion, adoption, and so much more. I encourage everyone to read this book and then follow it up with Francine River's testimony - the whole reason she wrote it - which is a HUGE reason why I enjoyed it so much. She wasn't just writing realistic fiction for the sake of writing it, her own experiences inspired this amazing story.

3. The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks is another favorite. Nicholas Spark books were always "meh" or "okay" until I read this one. I cannot say enough about this book and the surprises in it. It's about one of Noah and Allie daughter's from The Notebook who has been married 30 years, but her marriage is failing. It's told from the perspective of her husband who knows that he must win her heart or lose her. How he does it is phenomenal.

4. The Vow by Kim and Krickitt Carpenter is a non-fiction story told mainly from Kim's perspective. It's one of undying devotion in the face of tragedy. It's a bit dry because, well (let's be honest) it was written by a man, so it's unemotional, but the story will inspire you. Krickitt will inspire you. And the book is nothing like the movie. In fact, it's so different that I was disgusted with the movie and couldn't even finish it. I felt like Hollywood took too many liberties (weird, right?) and they kept God out of the story (another complete surprise), which was the central focus of Kim and Krickitt's life. However, Kim and Krickett see it from a different perspective: they took advantage of the opportunities the movie gave them to talk about how God worked in their life. I was, and still am, amazed by them and their devotion.

5. A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist was one I picked up recently because of the story plot. When I was a 10-12 year old girl the idea of being a mail order bride intrigued me. I devoured historical fiction stories revolving around this piece of history (don't ask me why). So when I found this one I picked it up as a chuckle; a reminder of those innocent days of wondering. I was genuinely surprised. It was an okay book until I hit page 231 where the main character is hit in the gut by my favorite passage in Scripture: Job 38. It's when God answers Job and reveals his greatness, His power, His sovereignty. The author beautifully articulates how Scripture changed her thinking from one of pride to one of awe. I was surprised to find deep theology in a romance! And this wasn't the only occasion. For that reason the author went up a few notches in my book. I am now interested in other books written by her.

6. Eve's Daughters by Lynn Austen is not the happily-ever-after love story of the year. In fact, it's heartbreaking. But it is so incredibly eye-opening and well written. It follows the lives of four women and how their choices affect family generations later. It tells the tale of one woman in particular  whose story will break your heart, but who has determined that her 50 year-old secrets should be told to her granddaughter in an effort to save her marriage.

7. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen a classic, must-read. It might be a sin leaving this one out of any romance novel recommendations (for good reason).

8. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins who also wrote another trilogy I thought was better than The Hunger Games titled Gregor the Overlander. There is a teeny bit of a romance in the story but it's not the central focus, but it is just as dark as The Hunger Games, if not more. I bawled like a baby. Suzanne Collins is an expert on how war affects children. Her study on this particular topic is evident when you read her books and I recommend The Hunger Games not just because it's a story worth your time, but because you can see inside the brain of someone who has seen and done more than we can possibly imagine. It's heartbreakingly eye-opening and depressing, but is also full inspiration to persevere, with a bit of hope sprinkled on top. Plus there is an imperfect romance told throughout.

9. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is an excellent book that I absolutely hated. Oxymoronic I know, but it made me angry, it made me sob, it addressed issues I never thought twice about until reading it, and it was a heartbreaking love story that did not end like I wanted it to. I was angered by how society treats people in wheelchairs. I was enlightened on the difficulties those individuals face daily. And I could not put it down. All of this was heartbreaking and frustrating. I applaud Jojo for writing about these things! I also applaud her for writing an amazing love story. It was full of hope, dedication, perseverance, and potential that was crushed by one selfish decision. I'll let you read it and make your own judgment call on assisted suicide, but I believe, even after reading about the struggles one faces day in and day out with a handicap, that suicide is the most self-centered decision one could make. Life sucks. It can be a mess. Full of trials and sickness and heartache. But it can also be beautiful and full of hope and learning and growing. I cannot even dare to say I understand the trials of living life as a quadriplegic. The inability to even wipe ones own "arse" would be humiliating. To be stuck. Immobile. With own one's memories about a life once lived, driving one mad. I have only my imagination to dredge up the horrors people face day in and day out. No one would choose to live that life, but it's only one life to live and it's not just about you. So read this book and have a good think on it, but make sure you have a box of tissues. The second book titled, After You is also excellent. I had a hard time deciding which I liked more! You rarely get the story after the story. I was so thankful that the author gave a glimpse into the life after losing Will and how she lived with her grief. I wouldn't recommend one without reading the other.

10. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows This one took me at least 30 pages to get into, but once I was able to differentiate between the characters and get past some of the literary references I knew nothing of, I could not put it down! There was so much depth to the story and the formatting was so different than anything I've ever read that I fell in love with the author's ability to tell a story through letter correspondence. Genius! This is one of those eye-opening, rip-your-heart-out books I'll always treasure, especially after reading the extra insight in the author's note (don't skip it).