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Tuesday

Makeover Giveaway! Win a $15 Sephora Card!

Hey, everyone! Hope you are having a good year so far and staying warm. Can you believe we're supposed to get several inches of snow tonight here in Florida? It's crazy cold around here!



As you may've noticed, my blog has recently had a makeover, and I've decided to share the makeover love by giving away a $15 Sephora gift card to celebrate!

To be eligible to win, simply comment by Saturday, February 1st, and tell us one reason you're excited about 2014. I'm looking forward to hearing from all of you!

Sunday

Postcards at Christmas by Julie Carobini-- A Cup of Christmas Cheer Blog Hop!


First things first, I want to announce the winner of the Christmas mug featured on Anita Mae Draper's blog last week is Katie J! Congratulations, Katie!

On the blog today, I'm so happy to be reviewing Julie Carobini's "Postcards at Christmas," which can be found in the A Cup of Christmas Cheer collection, Volume 2. I think you're going to really enjoy this story! Be sure to read the end of the blog for details on how you can WIN a copy of Julie's book, Fade to Blue! And if you'd like a chance to win the GRAND prize, be sure you stop at each blog on the tour and leave comment!

If you're a fan of Julie's other work, you won't want to miss this charming Christmas story. As usual, Julie has created a host of colorful, charming characters. Put that together with a small town at Christmas, and you've got the setting of "Postcards at Christmas." 

What would you do if you discovered an elderly woman is missing at Christmastime, and her son might not even know she's gone? 

That's exactly the situation Olivia, the main character in "Postcards at Christmas," finds herself in.

The story starts off when Olivia, who runs a thrift shop and longs to travel the world, discovers a box full of classic books and postcards from beautiful locales. When she sees the signatures on the backs of the postcards, she realizes the donation must be a mistake . . .  or is it?

Her search for the box's owner soon turns into an even greater investigation as she realizes the elderly woman whom the box belongs to is missing. What follows is a search involving everyone from Olivia's mother, to a neighbor, and even the postman, in a story sure to put you in the Christmas spirit.

But when Olivia does find the box's owner, she's in for an even greater surprise when the woman's son turns out to be quite different from what she expected. And, in the end, Olivia gets her own sort of Christmas gift as a result of all the work she's done to help others.

You'll just have to read it to see how it all turns out!

I thought Julie's story was such a fun read because the pacing was quick, the setting and characters were quaint, and it really had that wonderful Christmas feel! I always love a story with a happy ending.

Have you ever done something to help someone else, only to find yourself the one helped?

To be eligible to win a copy of Fade to Blue (B&H Books), be sure you leave a comment as well as an e-mail address where I can contact you next week in case you win. 

Fade to Blue is set on the California coast, in the shadow of the famed Hearst Castle overlooking the sea. The local is not unlike those depicted on the postcards that Olivia finds in "Postcards at Christmas." You'll definitely want a chance to snag this book right up if you don't already have a copy!



Julie Carobini is a fiction writer living in a non-fiction world. By day she shepherds non-fiction titles through the editorial and production process for Gospel Light/Regal Books. By night she writes novels set by the sea--five published to date. Romantic Times says, "Carobini has a talent for creating characters that come alive ..." Married to Dan and mom to three, she loves all things coastal (except sharks). www.juliecarobini.com

Now for a little more about our blog hope and the prizes! Each blog "hop" or stop will have a giveaway. And at the end of all the hops there will be a Grand Prize to someone who has visited and commented on every blog stop.  A $70.00 porcelain tea set from Yorktown's Victory Center will be part of the Grand Prize along with other gifts such as a $10 Amazon card, special hot cocoa packets, the two-book set of "A Cup of Christmas Cheer" and more!
Here's the complete Blog Hop schedule:
Friday, November 8th, Carla Olson Gade is on 
Carrie Fancett Pagels' blog 
Saturday, November 9th,   Ashley Clark is on 
Anita Mae Draper's blog.Saturday, November 16th, Anita Mae Draper is on Johnnie Alexander Donley's blog.
Sunday Nov 17th  Julie Carobini on 
Ashley Clark's blog
Friday, November 22nd,  Carrie Fancett Pagels is on 
Carla Olson Gade's blog.
Saturday, November 23rd,  Johnnie Alexander Donley is on 
Julie Carobini's blog 
Friday, November 29th,  
Colonial Quills Blog to announce Grand Prize winner.

The Grand Prize winner must have left a comment on each of the Blog Hop blogs.
A $70 porcelain tea set from Yorktown Victory Center, a $10 Amazon gift card, special cocoa packets and more will be given away. So be sure you stop at each blog and say hello! 


Friday

The Phantom Boot


When I was a little girl, I used to slip on my mom's heels and walk around the house. I dreamed of growth. I dreamed of having my own heels. I dreamed of being like my mom.

Over the course of time, I did grow. I did get my own heels--plenty of them. And I did--I hope--become like my mom.

Then one month ago, I broke my foot. It did hurt, especially at first, but beyond the physical pain was a growing frustration. I couldn't walk normally, couldn't wear normal shoes, couldn't do a whole host of things I had grown accustomed to doing. My independence was slashed, and some of my confidence went down with it. I learned such a greater empathy for those with disabilities, and such a greater sense of appreciation for the capabilities I enjoy every day. I hobbled around the ACFW conference last week trying hard to act like normal, but really, feeling a bit disheartened. Everything--even going to Starbucks for a sweet tea or two--required so much effort and energy than it used to.

This week, my doctor gave me glorious news. I can now start wearing normal shoes again! Can you say, "Hello, glitter flats"? But you know what? A funny thing happened when I took that heavy black boot off.

I still couldn't walk.

Well, not well, anyway.

The heaviness I'd grown accustomed to--the phantom boot as I like to call it--had changed the way walk. I had to adjust to this boot--this thing that was used to help me, but when it was gone, I kept assuming a heaviness that wasn't there.

For the past few days, I've been walking around in my flats, practicing.

I'd forgotten what it means to walk with freedom.

Today, you may have just come through a season of struggle, like me. Or maybe you're still in that season. You have grown into your high-heel dreams. It has taken time, and effort, and a lot of prayer and wishing. Then maybe, one day you fell, and it all came crashing down.

Take time to heal. You need that for your heart, especially if we're talking writing dreams.

But after you have taken that time, and after the healing is well underway, I want to ask you a question.

Are you wearing glitter flats, but walking with the heaviness of a phantom boot?

Jesus took that weight from you. He has set you free. So, go in freedom. Dance with joy. You are no longer broken. You and your dreams have been healed, indeed.

Monday

Brokenness



Take a close look at this picture. What do you see?

I took this picture while we were in Tofino, BC-- one of the most beautiful places my eyes have ever beheld, by the way-- so it has a particularly special meaning to me.

This is an old-growth forest, one of the rarest environments in the world. Some of these trees are over 800 years old. Tofino is home to rare and endangered wildlife, like bald eagles, grey whales, all sorts of sea lions and otters, and cool birds--many of which I had the chance to see.

When you look at this picture, there are several things that may call your attention: the green leaves of the trees, the sun shining brightly through the branches, the tall stretching trunks, or the huge grandfather of a tree that has fallen at the bottom.

When I saw these "nursery trees," I was really stricken with sadness. These are trees that have grown huge over a long period of time, and then something like a wind storm comes by, and they fall. Beholding that kind of majesty fallen feels somehow deeply saddening. Deeply wrong.

See, the thing is, we don't like to see things that are broken.

I've experienced this the past week with my foot. There have been so many times when I just wanted life-as-usual. To walk on my foot. To wear my cute shoes. To drive my car to a bookstore and get a tea while I write.

This whole thing has made me more conscious of how fake we can be with one another, especially on social networking websites. It's easy to post a picture of your food or your cat on Facebook or Twitter, and lie to the world, when all the while, you are feeling broken. And let's face it. We all feel broken sometimes.

None of us like brokenness, so we hide it. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, we grow ashamed of our weaknesses and hurt. We try to pretend everything is just peachy all the time because we've got Jesus. But I believe this propensity to fake it is weakening our witness to the gospel.

See, the thing is, God is big. Redemption is real. And so are sin and pain.

God can handle the truth about where we are, right where we are. Maybe everything is just peachy for you right now, or maybe it isn't. God is the very same loving God, no matter where you stand. He hasn't forgotten you. He hasn't let you go or lost control.

When we pull back from others and refuse to acknowledge our brokenness--in whatever form it may take--we refuse the power of Christ's redemption and the glory of his sacrifice for us.

Going back to the "nursery log," I learned in Tofino that these fallen trees serve a very important function. It can take hundreds of years before some of them decompose, and in the meantime, they actually serve as a sort of nursery to young plants. They shelter these seedlings from the harshness of the world until the plants are strong enough to withstand them. They provide nutrients even in their decay. They provide homes for wildlife--some of which won't nest elsewhere. In essence, the brokenness matters. It sustains the future. It can be redeemed.

Have you ever felt frustrated social media that may feel like a charade? How does getting honest about our pain point toward the depths of Christ's redemption?

Tuesday

The Tiny, Broken Bone


Friday was a normal day. Until I went into the garage for a screwdriver of all things, and fell. I heard a snap sound when I went down, and I knew it wasn't going to be good. Before I knew it, I was on the concrete of our garage, with a rushing pain like when you stub your toe. I called for Matt, and he and Schroeder came running. Two hours and a trip to urgent care later, I got the prognosis: I had broken the 5th metatarsal of my foot. 5th metatarsal breaks can be tricky, so they put me in a splint and referred me to a specialist.

Let me just say, you don't realizing how your life will be turned upside down by something like this until it happens. Sure, you can imagine. But when you can't actually get a glass of water when you're thirsty or peppermints when your stomach feels sick from the pain medicine, when you can't look out the kitchen window to watch hummingbirds or go get the mail, you get a new appreciation for mobility. And getting around on crutches is HARD! The receptionist at the doctor today told me she read that using crutches burns twice as many calories as regular activity because it's so physically challenging. I don't know what I would've done without the help of my husband.

And then there is the emotional slap in the face when you get a splint and realize there is a good chance you will not be able to walk for 6-8 weeks. And that's a pretty conservative diagnosis. Some people end up with surgery. I kept going back and forth between jokes--asking Matt to get me some jello like I was in a nursing home--and feelings of defeat. How was I going to manage? How was I going to teach classes and attend my conference? Would I have to put my entire life on hold while I sat on the couch each day with my leg propped up with water and snacks in reach? This on the tails of a super painful ear infection and really bad allergies?

Today, God answered my prayers in a big, gracious way. The orthopedist took a look at my x-rays and said that because my bones are so close together, he would give me a walking boot immediately, and I can start walking on it little by little as I'm comfortable. I'm planning to continue babying it for at least a few days because I don't want to overdo it, but this was a huge relief. Getting the split off alone was wonderful--the back of my heel had started developing a sore from the splint being on too tight. He said I may even be able to wear regular shoes in another month or so.

This got me thinking about I Corinthians 12:21-26:

"The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!' On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parks that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parks that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the  body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."


Let me just say, division in the body--division in the bones-- hurts. Badly. Division bleeds internally, and inflames, and takes time to repair. So for starters, let's be sure that when division does occur in the body, we allow the whole process to take place. Sometimes a blood clot has to form at the site of the fracture, and that place remains sensitive as we heal. Don't try to rush people with fractures. You will only hinder (and possibly prevent) their healing.

The other application I want to draw from all of this is that every little bone in the body matters. I thought about attaching an x-ray of my foot but was afraid that might freak some people out, so let me just tell you, my fractures are tiny. If you just glanced at the x-ray, you probably wouldn't seem them. And yet, a small little fracture (or three of them, in my case!) can cause problems for the whole body. The whole foot becomes inflamed. My ankle has been hurting even worse than my foot because of improper attempts to fix the problem (how often does the church try to fix one thing in a person and inadvertently create a bigger problem?!). My wrists and good knee are sore from hobbling around on crutches. I haven't been able to sleep well.

Three tiny little fractures in one tiny little foot bone have affected everything about my life.

Did you catch that?

God taught me today that even in the tiniest fracture in the body of Christ affects us--and Him--in a huge way. You may think that your sin, or your struggle, or your pain-- or even your calling-- is insignificant. That's not a lie. The enemy wants us to believe we don't matter, and that assuming we do matter is equivalent to pride. But that's not what God says. God says you matter. I matter. Immensely. 

God has given each of us unique roles in the body. Maybe you feel insignificant because your role isn't flashy enough. Maybe you wish you had a different career or town or lifestyle. I mean, who hasn't wished to be on Dancing with the Stars? But your purpose--your calling-- is vital. You may be a tiny little bone in the foot that no one notices, but without you living out your purpose every day of your life, we all suffer. The world suffers--because you were created to bring something unique and beautiful to it. If you don't serve your purpose, no one will. If you don't take up your calling, the whole body will be crippled because of it.

Did you know that when you break a bone, your body pulls nutrients and antioxidants from other parts of the body to repair the injury? Bone healing can even be encouraged and sped up by taking multivitamins and getting plenty of good-for-you things like antioxidants and zinc. Likewise, when someone is broken, we ought to pool all our resources together--no matter how long it takes or how debilitating the injury--to help bring forth healing.

So be encouraged today that you matter. No matter how small or insignificant your daily tasks seem, they matter immensely. Without you, your world hobbles. So hold your head up. And be careful when walking through the garage. :)

Wednesday

What Are You Racing Toward?


A couple days ago, I was driving to meet my parents for lunch when one car ahead of me almost sideswiped the car in the next lane. I almost honked to alert them to the danger, but it was so surreal, I found myself just watching, stunned. We had just come from a red light, so most likely no one would've been hurt, but the second car would've been badly messed up. We're talking... these people just decided to drive into the other lane without looking at all.

Well clearly not looking before changing lanes is Bad Driving 101. But what came next is what I found really interesting.

The woman in the nearly-sideswiped car didn't even honk. She just pulled as far to the right as she could, and pretty much stopped her car. But then a few seconds later, as if everything that'd just happened suddenly registered, she lost it. Like, really. I watched as she flew up to the other car, seemed to yell something through her window (and I'm guessing it wasn't "let's go to Krispy Kreme for some chocolate frosted"), and then she sped around them and cut them off! When they tried to change lanes and slow down to get away from her, she did it again. All down the road, she kept zipping through traffic and slowing down just so she could cut them off.

Meanwhile, I'm just ambling along at a usual pace, and I ended up passing both of them.

This whole thing got me thinking. 1) Don't change lanes without looking because that makes people very, very mad. 2) where we put our focus determines what we race toward.

I am sure both of those people had places to go and things to do. They started at the red light at the same place as me-- on a normal journey to their destination. But somewhere along the way, something happened. Someone got angry. Bitter. Distracted. Pretty soon, all either car could think about was the other person. How they didn't deserve the way that person had treated them. How frustrated they were.

And the irony is, all this obsession with the near-accident got them nowhere. Literally and figuratively. And here I come along, like the tortoise in the race, passing them all.

We all get sideswiped sometimes. We don't like to admit it, but it happens. It's part of life. Things come in our lane as we're going about our merry way, and they try to wreck us. It's what we do with the near wrecks that matter. Do we let them consume us? Do we dart through traffic just to cut those people off and prove a point? Or do we keep blazing ahead with our eyes on the finish line?

Hebrews 12:1-3 in The Message says it this way:

Do you see what this means-- all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running--and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed--that exhilarating finish in and with God--he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourself flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

I hope you're encouraged today to keep running the race, no matter what might get in your way. Oh, and look twice before changing lanes! :) 

The Persistence of Pain

Happy August, everyone!

I think I mentioned last week that I have been battling with allergies this summer. Well, this weekend, the ear pain started. At first I thought, "Meh, I'll give it a few days and see if it goes away." Then it started getting worse. And worse. Until even the thought of eating Godiva chocolate in Hawaii didn't make it better. So I knew it was time to see a doctor.

The doctor said I have an infection in my ear canal, which is a pretty easy fix, so he prescribed me ear drops. One would think this process would be simple enough, right? Nope.

I get a call from my usual pharmacy stating they don't carry those ear drops but could order them by tomorrow. I'm thinking, "Maybe you don't understand that I currently feel like an army of miniature elves are stabbing my ear canal with their miniature daggers." But instead I just say, "No problem. Thanks." I then call my doctor's office and have the prescription sent to a different pharmacy. I call to check on it a few hours later, and they tell me I'm not in the system and they can't find my prescription.

Lovely.

Long story short, turns out that pharmacy didn't have the medicine either, so I ended up driving to yet another one. I'm standing in the middle of the cosmetics aisle at Walgreens, and the elf-stabbing feeling is getting increasingly worse, and I am just desperate to feel better.

And I started thinking about the importance of pain.

In life, we all try to avoid pain. I think it's generally on the top of everyone's priority list right next to, "don't die." It's human to avoid pain. And so sometimes we blame God when we're hurting. We think, "God, why are you letting this happen to me? Can't you please just make it stop? If you really care, why are You letting me suffer?"

It's a hard issue to grapple with. I don't have the answers to why some people are healed and some people aren't. I know it's not because the un-healed people are loved any less by God than the healed people... despite how convenient it us for us to think that if our faith is strong enough, nothing bad will ever happen.

But I do know this. Pain is important. Pain serves a purpose. Pain points us toward redemption.

When I was standing there in Walgreens so miserable, I would've given my shoe collection for some medication. I was desperate. We're talking, worse pain than my wisdom teeth removal surgery. And in that moment, I realized how serious my infection was.

Had I not experienced that pain, I probably wouldn't have gone to the doctor. I definitely wouldn't have made it a priority. And meanwhile, the infection in my ear would have continued spreading... to the point it could have affected my hearing.

The absence of pain, then, affects our ability to hear clearly.

My pastor is diabetic. Several years ago, he walked for a month upon a broken foot without realizing anything was wrong. As a result of that experience, he had to be in a wheelchair for almost a year as the tiny bones of his foot healed, and he also faced the possibility of an amputation (which, thankfully, did not happen).

The fall is real. Sin is real, and so is its consequence.

If God took away all the pain in the world, would we take that truth as seriously?

For those of you who have children, imagine what their lives would be like if they felt no pain. They would be paralyzed, and they would injure themselves in such catastrophic ways if they never learned that oven burns hurt and fire ant beds can't be played in.

God is looking out for us by allowing us to feel pain. He doesn't want us to become numb to the wages of sin. He doesn't want us to become paralyzed in our lives, to lose our desperation for redemption. Because if we stop believing the infection is real, we'll never go to the physician--meanwhile, we'll be wasting away, and our purpose will go unfulfilled.

I hope this encourages you with whatever you are facing today. So often, people are quick to dismiss the real problems of the world, and I think that does a disservice to the redemptive power and the great love of God. God's got you, wherever you are, and He's not letting go.