Thursday, October 20, 2016

Fraying at the Edge by Cindy Woodsmall

Fraying at the Edge is the second book in The Amish of Summer Grove series by Cindy Woodsmall. The first book, Ties That Bind, was the beginning of Ariana's journey of learning who she really is. Ariana Brenneman learned that she was switched at birth by accident in the first book. That story takes her on a wild journey of realizing that her whole world is crashing in around her.

Her biological father makes a deal with the Amish community that the Brenneman's are a part of. In exchange for not suing them (because the midwife who switched the two girls at birth is Amish) Ariana would come to live with him and the biological mother for one year while the biological daughter of the Brennaman's would come to live with them.

That is where we pick up in Fraying at the Edge. Ariana has come to live with Nicholas and Brandi (her biological parents). They don't live together and she finds out she has "step-siblings" (which is never heard of in the Amish community). She also learns that when she was conceived, her parents were not married at the time. This is devastating news to her.

During her year with her biological parents, the only person she is allowed to contact is Quill, an ex-Amishman who helps others leaving the Amish community. He is also an old friend of Arianas. No matter how hard she tries to avoid having contact with him, because of their past and her anger toward him in coordinating this whole debacle, she has no one else to turn to.

Her biological father, Nicholas, is very anti-Christian. He tells Ariana how wrong her religion is and it puts a wall between them. He also gives her a "bucket list" of things she must accomplish in the year she is with them. Some of the things will compromise her faith but she agrees to the rest. Some of the things are: get a drivers license, go out on a date, go to a bar. Amish people don't do any of those things.

As Ariana continues to get to know her biological family and overcomes a lot of fears and reservations about them, Skylar is "stuck" with her biological family, the Brennemans. Skylar grew up with Brandi and Nicholas as parents. She is addicted to drugs and lives a very hard life. In order to return to her bio parents she must stop doing drugs and get clean.

Little did Skylar know that no matter how hard she tries to push the Brennemans away, they love her and want her. The relationships are hard at first. Her drug addiction gets her into a lot of trouble and she can't seem to see how much she really means to the family. After a while, she realizes that this is her life now. She has peace about it and gets better.

So much happens in the course of three months that Nicholas decides it's okay for Ariana to return to the Amish and for Skylar to come home to them. But, there are lots of things that still need to be dealt with as each girl tries to come to terms with their new and changed lives. They realize that things are different and they may not be able to return and just be okay with their old lives.

Cindy Woodsmall is an amazing Amish fiction writer. I enjoy everything she writes and this new book is no exception. I am looking forward to the next installment of the Summer Grove Series.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed here are solely my own.*

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Purpose In The Pain

We are all going through something or just coming out of something or getting ready to go through something. No one is immune to the consequences of a life lived. We all have things we wish we could do better or different. No matter where you are, there is purpose.

For me, life has dealt me a card that is so hard to bear that only God can get me through it. Pain. Physical pain. The kind of pain that you cannot escape from with a magical pill or potion or essential oil. The kind of pain that shakes you to the core and has you wondering why you are even alive.

When I first started having symptoms of chronic pain, I didn't know it would last this long. I didn't know that four years down the road I would still be there. Stuck in the pain. Stuck in the deep, dark pit of self pity and anxiety and depression. But, it's my journey. God knows my pain. He has been with me every step, tear, and scream of the way.

God has also been with me when I questioned Him. I questioned why He would do this to me. Why would He curse me with this terrible disease? But, I knew the answer all along. Sin. Sin did this to me. I don't mean I am being punished. I mean, sin entered the world and gave us pain, heartache, depression, separation from God.

Through the years I have gone through every single emotion a human can go through. Anger, sadness, joy, hope, resentment, self pity, jealousy, fear, depression. That last one sticks with me. I bury it under many layers of other emotions but it is there. Always wanting to rear its ugly head. Always taunting me to give up hope. Give up any thoughts of being healed.

But, God. He sustains me. He has given me purpose in this pain. I don't know what that purpose is other than to make me stronger. Stronger in my faith. Stronger as a wife. Stronger as a mother. Sometimes I don't feel the purpose. Sometimes I feel it so much that my heart could burst.

Through my relationship with Jesus, my Savior, I can say, "I am Healed!" I am still in pain. But, I am healed. This body is not my forever body. My eternal body won't have this pain. But, my purpose is to get through this life proclaiming God's love and mercy and grace and healing.

I have been to the bottom of the pit. Probably even below the bottom of the pit. God didn't give up on me. He never gives up. His strength becomes my strength. His endurance becomes my endurance. I press into Him and He guides me through every painful moment. He sees me. He comforts me and shelters me and redeems me.

So my point is this: There is purpose in the pain. God's purpose. Not mine. His plan. Not mine. His mercy. His love. His faithfulness. His strength. Not mine. Physical pain is hard. It messes with your mind. It makes you feel hopeless and helpless. But those are not of God. Those are the lies of the enemy.

Jesus suffered a greater pain than I have ever felt. He died in my place on the cross. He took on all of my sins (and yours). He loves us so much that He died the death we deserved. He lived a sinless and perfect life and CHOSE to carry that cross to Calvary. He humbled Himself and felt all the emotions and pain that a human can feel. He saw how ugly and sinful and ungodly we are and still chose to save us. Wow.

Whatever pain you are going through (there are so many types of pain), God's got a purpose for it. His plans are always higher. Always. I have to remind myself daily that this world is not my home. This body is not my body. It is only temporary. Whether I am healed here on earth or when I get to Heaven and have a new body, I will get through it. I will sing God's praises and shout for joy!

"For I know the plans I have for you,
Declared the Lord,
Plans to prosper you and
not to harm you.
Plans to give you a hope
and a future."
-Jeremiah 29:11

Monday, October 10, 2016

Chronic Pain Update (A Crack In The Door)

I haven't been writing on my blog like I should. Life happens. I do a ton of reviews (which I love). But, I want to get back to writing on this space of mine. I wanted to give an update on the chronic pain issues that I have and also let you know what we have been doing in our homeschool journey.

Last year I was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. This was after 13 other doctors told me I was crazy, had "new mommy syndrome", and needed some rest. Finally, a doctor actually listened to my symptoms and ran the proper tests. I am so glad to have a diagnosis but not very happy about the type of illness I have.

You see, there is no cure. There are medications to mask the pain. But, there is no cure. I not taken any medications for the pain (even though it is unbearable at times) because they are opioids and I don't want to be addicted and strung out all the time. After going to several "pain specialists" (who just wanted to drug me up), I decided to see an actual Thoracic Surgeon.

The one I chose was a 2 hour drive from my house. I was so relieved when he told me that I wasn't crazy and had TOS. He told me I needed to have a first rib resection (have my first rib removed), a scalenectomy (my scalene muscle removed), and I needed my pec minor muscle clipped. Yikes!! It sounds as scary as it actually is. That is major surgery. But, this doctor is not the one for me. He only does this surgery once or twice a month. I need a more skilled and specialized doctor if someone is going to rip my body apart.

The reason for the surgery is to release the nerves, artery, and vein that are trapped in my brachial plexus. They are all being crushed by my first rib and my collar bone (that is called the brachial plexus). My body reacts by having my muscles tense, my arm to go numb, and so much more. It has been 4 LONG years of constant, debilitating pain.

My journey took me to a support group where I heard about a wonderful doctor at Johns Hopkins. That is the closest one to me that has a doctor who specializes in TOS. I immediately began the process of getting an appointment with him. After months of waiting (the local doctors and hospitals here took their time releasing my medical records) I finally have an appointment with the TOS doctor. It isn't until December, but I have hope.

Now, on to our homeschool journey so far this year. We just celebrated my oldest son's 8th birthday. I cannot believe I have an 8 year old. My middle son turned 6 over the summer and my youngest is 3 1/2. He thinks he is 12 though.
We are doing Classical Conversations this year again. It is such a blessing to be able to do this curriculum. We meet on Wednesdays at our own church building. On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays we stay home and do our normal school work (which usually takes about 3 hours total) and chores. I leave Fridays open for field trips, library visits, family visits, and catching up from the week with school work and chores.
We have started reading all of the Chronicles of Narnia books. We already read The Magicians Nephew and are on The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe right now. I have never seen my boys more excited to listen to me read. My oldest son has taken off with his reading. He is so smart. My middle son is just beginning to understand that letters actually make sounds that form words. It is amazing to watch them grow and learn.
Jensen Family Academy has already been on one field trip this year to a pumpkin and apple farm. It was so much fun! Our Classical Conversations group went (well, a few families) and we had a ball.
We did just go through Hurricane Matthew but it wasn't much here in VA. I am praying for those going through the aftermath right now with flooding and loss of life. We are truly blessed that we didn't take the brunt of it. I have actually been very ill for two weeks. We didn't do school work at all the week before last and last week was bare minimum. Not sure what I came down with but now I have a cough that won't go away. Oh, the beauty of someone sharing their germs. The children have escaped with no signs of illness, Praise God!
Life is pretty much routine around here.We are enjoying all of the fall activities, festivals, and weather. It has cooled down here and is now sweatshirt weather. I hope you have a great fall! It is my favorite time of year. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Unreasonable Hope By: Chad Veach

Life's circumstances can sometimes be overwhelming. They take you for surprise and leave you feeling helpless and hopeless. A death in the family, a devastating illness, financial ruin. Whatever it is, God sees you and He loves you. He gives you hope to keep pressing on in the storm. Chad Veach has written a new book called Unreasonable Hope. He tells the story of how his daughter was diagnosed with a terrible disease and how his family overcame the feeling of hopelessness.

Chad Veach is the pastor at Zoe Church in Los Angeles. He has a wife and three children. One of which this book was written about her disease. In Unreasonable Hope, Veach takes us on the journey that he and his wife began when they had their very first child. A daughter named Georgia. When she was only a few months old, Georgia was diagnosed with a disease called lissencephaly (or smooth brain). It is a neurological illness that develops between 12 and 24 weeks gestation.

The Veach's were hit hard by this news. They felt sad for their daughter and feared for her future. As they struggled to find balance between their "normal" lives and trying to tend to their special needs daughter, God gives them hope. In the midst of their storm of finding a new "normal" they find Jesus and His ever-present help.

Veach gives the reader a new way to cope with the pain life can bring. Pain can bring so much hopelessness and helplessness. But, with God and His hope, you can overcome any of life's storms. When something unimaginable happens to us, we immediately start asking why and how and what did I do to deserve this. The author shows us how his family chose to have hope and look forward to what God brings to their lives each day.

Even though they have gone through their worst nightmare, they cling to Jesus and the hope that only He can provide.

This book read more like a memoir but it was easy to read. It answers some important questions about our faith in God during trials.

*Thank you to Book Look Bloggers for providing this book to me in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed here are solely my own.*

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Biggest Story by: Kevin DeYoung (Review)

Teaching my children the Word of God is the most important part of our homeschool. It is the biggest reason why we homeschool in the first place. Each morning we read a passage from the Bible out loud and discuss how it pertains to our own lives. Kevin DeYoung, a Pastor in Michigan and author of Christian books, has put together a beautiful Bible story called The Biggest Story. He teamed up with illustrator Don Clark (who did an amazing job!). I received a copy of the DVD (an animated short film) as well as the audio book both narrated by Kevin DeYoung himself.

In The Biggest Story DVD, Kevin DeYoung takes us back to the beginning of the Bible in Genesis. We have to start there because that is where God started. As beautiful and elaborate pictures are shown on the screen the author tells Bible stories with such enthusiasm and meaning. He gives each account from the Bible in a child-like way in order for people of all ages to understand the concepts.

He builds up the story to "The Biggest Story", the story of Jesus. He explains how every single person, story, and event in the Bible leads us to Jesus. The prophets of old were all telling of a coming Savior. The leaders of the Bible were all sinful and needed someone to come and rescue them from their wicked ways. No matter how hard each person tried, they just couldn't save themselves. God guided them and gave them many chances throughout history. But, God's ultimate gift to His people is Jesus.

My children LOVED this DVD and looked forward to it every day. I wish there were more to it. The only negative (if you can call it that) was that when you get to Jesus and the resurrection that is it. I wanted more from the New Testament. The Old Testament could have been elaborated on a little more but I felt it was enough to keep my children's attention. After each lesson we sat down together and talked about what happened in that chapter. My boys asked lots of questions and truly begged for more each day. My boys are 7, 6, and 3, by the way. So, it is great for all ages.

The Biggest Story Audio Book is exactly like the DVD except it is just audio. We have been listening to that in the car and it really comes to life after having watched the DVD. I think this would make the perfect Christmas gift for a grandchild, niece, nephew, friend, or anyone with children.

Here is a link to the animated short film:

Here is a link to the audio book:

*Many thanks to Propeller Consultling, LLC who provided me with the items in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed here are solely my own.*

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Intercessory Prayer (By: Dutch Sheets)

Prayer is the most important form of communication because we are speaking directly to God. It is our way to connect instantly with our Savior. There are many different kinds of prayers. Prayer can change your life. Dutch Sheets book Intercessory Prayer helps guide the reader into a healthy, fresh, and motivating prayer life.

Though this book was originally written in 1996, he revamped it and republished it this year. It has previously sold over 600,000 copies and I believe it will sell just as many this time around as well.

Intercessory Prayer will challenge you to become more bold in your prayer life. To come before a Holy God and speak to him with courage and wholeheartedness. Humans have become lazy in their prayers. They make up thousands of excuses as to why they don't pray very often. But, Jesus was fearless with His prayers and His ministry.

Through Jesus' example we gain knowledge and wisdom about how we should be praying. Sheets begins this book by answering many questions about prayers and why we should have a prayer life in the first place. Having a solid foundation in God is just the beginning but the most important part of prayer.

The author goes on to give stories from his life and they bring light to some very important issues. Adding personal experiences gives the reader a better sense of how prayer can change situations and lives. Then adding the "meat" or substance to your prayer life becomes easier.

This book was an easy read and the flow was effortless. It will change the way your pray and think about prayer.

*I was given this book by Bethany House in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed here are solely my own.*

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Taste And See (John Piper)

John Piper is an amazing teacher, author, and pastor. He has written many books and founded I have done reviews of his work before and enjoyed it. His newest book, Taste And See, is a book with 125 daily meditations. I chose to use this for my devotions each morning.

The theme of Taste And See is "Savoring the Supremacy of God in All of Life". That means trusting God no matter your circumstances and choosing to give God the credit for everything. God is sovereign and supreme. He is ruler over everything. John Piper gives us lessons on how we can appreciate God's authority and delight in His presence.

Each devotion is set up the same. There is a theme for each day and a sub-theme. The lessons are written by John Piper and are about two and a half pages long. They are easy to read and he gives scripture verses to back up his teachings. He uses the Bible to get his points across and is firm in his faith.

This book is hard bound and easy to use. The author helps to solidify your trust and faith in God who rules over everything. He asks hard questions and gives Biblical truth to back up his findings. God loves us so much and sometimes it is hard to feel that love through life's circumstances. But in Psalm 119:103 we read, "How sweet are your words to taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" God wants us to dig deeper into our relationship with Him. This book gives you the tools and understanding to be able to do that.

*I was given this book by Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed here are solely my own.*