Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hanging On a Little Bit Longer!

What, you may ask, am I hanging on to??? The answer, my friends, is CHRISTMAS! At this time of the year, it seems everyone is ready to start UNdecorating, take down the tree and the lights, put all of the ornaments carefully back in their Styrofoam containers and then into their boxes, stash the old year and all of the events that took place during that time frame in a folder in the picture program on their computer. And usually I'm one of those eager individuals, but not this year. Maybe it's because the time leading up to Christmas seemed especially busy this year. I don't know, but it makes me sad to think of taking my pretty tree down.

Now I know you're saying, "Decorations are just decorations, but we can keep the spirit of Christmas alive all year long." And that's true, and, for the most part, I do, but I really like the lights and the garland, the stockings and the big red bows. They make me happy. And I was VERY happy this evening!

This evening we went to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel tonight with my very best friend from high school, Patty Smith, and her precious family. It was a very special time being with Patty and her family, but it was also special because the Opryland Hotel knows how to do Christmas! If you ever get the chance to visit Nashville at Christmas time, you must put this hotel on your "to-do" list. It is truly amazing! The lights are unlike anything I've ever seen anywhere. Chris and I have been there in Christmas's past and have, of course, been delightfully impressed with the display, but this year to add to it they actually put up a beautiful, ENORMOUS nativity! I was like "Hallelujah! Yes! The victory is ours!" The picture at the right is of Ali and Livi in front of Joseph and Mary on their way to Bethlehem. Below is the full nativity. It's hard to fully appreciate the beauty of it in this picture, but it was exactly what I needed to battle the "after Christmas let down"!

I had a wonderful visit with Patty. I am amazed and inspired by my friend - the struggles she's endured and the strength of her faith through it all. I'm so proud to call her my friend . . . I'm even prouder that she calls me her friend! I love you, Patty! And, Patty shared some great news with me. She recently had a CAT scan that revealed that the specific cancerous spots the doctors have been closely watching are GONE! That's right! GONE! Praise the Lord for the wonderful work He is doing in my friend! Patty still needs your prayers because her blood work still indicated that something is there. She will continue with her regular chemo treatments until her blood work is normal. But we Christians know that the Lord could make that happen right now! Keep praying for healing and strength, healing and strength!!!

My girls made a new friend tonight - Patty's step-daughter, Aubrie! Patty has a wonderful, blended family that maybe I will tell you all about one day if she will let me, but for the time being, I wanted to share this beautiful, talented young lady with you. The thing that impressed me first about Aubrie was that she immediately went to my girls' rooms to see their toys from Santa - she validated my girls and what is important to a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old, even though she is getting ready to drive. Aubrie made my little girls (who now want to grow up to be Aubrie!) feel special and important. That in itself is a wonderful gift! Thank you, Aubrie! Then I was blown over by her singing voice! I don't know for sure how angels sing, but I imagine that Aubrie sings just like them! She has won talent shows and probably more competitions that we didn't get to talk about because she was so focused on my girls and NOT on her! Which was another thing that impressed me about Aubrie - she is so humble! Maybe too humble. While we were walking along (getting lost) in the hotel she so easily compared herself to the teeny tiny cheerleaders who were there for a competition. I pray that Aubrie knows what a gem she is in this fallen world we're living in, what a wonderful role model she is for little girls like mine. In her heart I'm sure she knows because Ken and Patty have done such a good job instilling Christian values into her. The Lord has big plans for Aubrie, and I just can't wait to see what they are!

I've so enjoyed spending time with my family this Christmas. Chris, Ali, and Livi are such gifts to me! I wish it hadn't gone so fast this year - wish I could just bottle up that time and pop it open whenever I need a haven from this crazy world. Next year will be different, as every year is. My girls are getting older and I wonder how long will that child-like magic last? I'm hanging on a little bit longer - with two hands! :)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Miraculous Conversion

What a busy time of year this is! So sorry for not posting sooner. (I especially apologize to Deanna and Mom who have shared prayer requests with me.) This past week has been CRAZY - fun crazy, though. Christmas crazy. We had our school Christmas program on Thursday which was so fabulous and then our church Christmas program was last night which was also very special. Ali was in both of them and Livi was in the church Christmas program (adding to the comedic relief, no doubt!). I want to real fast give a shout out to my dear, sweet friend, Ashley Bolger, who is the director at our school AND church (I'm so blessed!). She absolutely does NOT get the credit she deserves and, really, if you have kids, what would Christmas be without having the pleasure of watching them in a Christmas program??? Ashley, I don't know how you do it every year. You are an angel and I'm so, so happy that you are one of my bestest friends!!! Now relax and have a merry Christmas with that new, sweet baby boy! :)

Now, onto my topic: Miraculous Conversion. It's is really self explanatory, I think. According to Mr. Webster, "conversion" is: the act or state of changing to adopt new opinions or beliefs; a formal acceptance of a different religion. You see it all the time at this time of year. Just about every single made for T.V. movie is about some cold-hearted scrooge who through new found relationships discovers the TRUE meaning of Christmas and is changed forever. My very favorite example is who else but the Grinch! Now, his grinchiness may not have totally been his fault - he had a medical condition. According to the tale, his heart was two sizes too small. But when he heard the Who's down in Whoville singing a sweet song on Christmas morning AFTER they had discovered that he'd stolen everything in the town he had the thought that maybe, just maybe Christmas was about more than packages and, well, stuff. Then the miracle of all miracles occurred! In that instant, his heart grew 3 SIZES and there was quite obviously an overflow of joy in his eyes! (Either that or he had to go to the bathroom really bad!) Now, I'm poking fun at a classic children's Christmas tale, but the question still remains: Why are there so many tales of changed hearts and converted souls at this time of year???

I'm just gonna take a stab in the dark with this one and offer a simple-minded possibility: BECAUSE JESUS CHANGES PEOPLE! How could He not? I saw a banner this season that states that we cannot separate Jesus' cradle from His cross. He was born to die! To me that is a hard concept to digest. There is so much that I want to do in my time here on this earth that I can't fathom being born just to die. Of course, during His short time in human flesh, Jesus taught people how to live, how to love. He healed people. He gave people hope. He gave them something very special to believe in. And, amazingly, He still does all of this today through Scripture and through the Holy Spirit. But the very bottom line according to John 3:16 is that Jesus was born a sweet, innocent, baby boy just to save all of humanity from Satan's evil, nasty clutches.

So, Jesus changes people. But why do we want to watch story after story on the Hallmark, Lifetime, or ABC Family channel of the power of the Christmas goodness? I'm going out on a limb again with my own opinion on this, but I really believe that on the whole humans want . . . no, CRAVE, the warmth and tenderness that can only come from the Lord. And they crave stories of His love. And I think they want to believe that people can, and do, change for the good. Maybe I'm naive, but I believe that everyone wants to be loved unconditionally. Everyone wants to feel wanted and appreciated and admired. How much more could Someone love, want, appreciate, and admire us than to sacrifice His one and only Son just so that we won't ever have to die? I get a lump in my throat every time I ponder the depth of God's love for me. I'm so unworthy.

I confess. I love watching those sappy, heartwarming movies of miraculous conversions. Even more, I LOVE reading a great novel that tells the story of a character(s) in the midst of a spiritual journey - working out issues, and finally seeing the Lord's hand through the struggles in their life. Is there anything more satisfying than witnessing someone (either in real life or fiction) FINALLY turn their hearts back over to the Lord?!?! Makes me want to shout, "Hallelujah! Yes! The victory is ours!" I hope I can do that for you in The Heart's Journey Home. One of my characters will go through a slow, somewhat painful conversion process with the help and guidance of a wise, old mentor. This has been a tender part for me to write because it is a very tender topic and I want more than anything to make this character believable and easy for all of my readers to relate to. I just pray that I am able to illustrate even a fraction of the Lord's goodness and mercy through this character's situation and that at the end my readers are saying, "Hallelujah! Yes! The victory is ours!"

PRAYER REQUESTS AND UPDATES: Again I apologize to Deanna and to my mom for not getting these up sooner. Please pray mightily for Deanna's friends, Kristin and Jason. Kristin has Marfan's Syndrome. According to the small amount of research I've done, Marfan's Syndrom affects the connective tissue in the body and therefore can affect many areas of the body. Unfortunately, Kristin's heart has been affected. A few years ago she spent two months-plus in the Cleveland Clinic after a heart surgery that was only supposed to have her hospitalized for five days. Fortunately, she recovered well, but is now faced with another surgical procedure that she was supposed to have scheduled this past Thursday at a doctor appointment. I'm sure Kristin and her husband, Jason, must be feeling some anxiety so I'm asking you to please pray for the Lord to cover Kristin and Jason in a peace that passes all understanding. And, Deanna, if you're reading this please post a comment on how the doctor appointment went and if you have any new information regarding procedure date and time. Thanks! Also, please pray for my mom, Donna Otto. She has been layed off until at least the middle of January. Her specific prayer request is that it does not last longer than that. Please pray that the Lord is merciful and that this can be a BRIEF time of much deserved rest and renewal for her. Updates: My step-dad, Tom Otto, is feeling much better and is back to work! Thank you for praying for him! My best friend from high school, Patty Smith, is doing well with her chemo and is actually planning a trip to Tennessee later this week! Yay! I can't wait to see her! On a side note, I'm not adding this to my list of prayer requests, but please say a prayer for my step-mom, Shirley, my sister, Bonnie, my Grandma Dominick, and me tomorrow. On the 23rd it will be 8 years since my daddy, Frank Dominick, went to "live with Jesus", as my nephew had said on that day. Time has done a lot to heal our broken hearts, but the loss we all feel is still so great. *Shrug* I just miss my daddy.

I hope you all have a very merry and memorable Christmas and a blessed New Year!

P.S. Mrs. Alber, I got your tag. Thank you! I will post on it later in the week . . . after I've had time to think of 6 interesting tid bits about average, ordinary ME!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Heavenly Peace

As a teacher, I love to research the story behind different subjects - you know, "the rest of the story", as Paul Harvey would say. (Unless, of course, it's the "story" behind one of my students' missing assignments! Grrr!) As a writer, I particularly love researching the inspiration behind written works, especially novels and songs.

Just this past week, my students and I researched the story behind "Silent Night" and I found some very interesting tid bits revolving around what is probably the most well known Christmas carol of all time.

First of all we found out that it's OLD! The lyrics were originally written in German 192 years ago by an Austrian priest, Father Josef Mohr. The melody came two years later by composer and primary school teacher, Franz Xaver Gruber, and was originally slightly different than the version we all know and love.

We learned that "Silent Night" was first performed with guitar accompaniment in the Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, Austria on Christmas Eve 1818. It is supposed that the church organ was no longer working, possibly due to flooding that ended up destroying the church, so Mohr and Gruber composed a song that would be every bit as moving on the guitar as on the organ. I think they succeeded, don't you? Since then "Silent Night" has been performed with the accompaniment of a wide variety of instruments and even a cappella. (By the way, the picture above is that of the Silent Night Memorial Chapel which was built where the Church of St. Nicholas once stood after it had been torn down. Isn't it beautiful?!)

This research led us to the story of the "Christmas truce". I'm sure many of you have already heard this story, but it touched my heart so deeply I want to recap for you. It was Christmas Eve 1914. The whole world was in upheaval as we were in the midst of World War I, but on that particular night, the German troops began decorating the area around their trenches by placing candles on trees. Imagine! Decorating in the middle of war! They continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols, most notably "Stille Nacht", or as we know it, "Silent Night". The carols floated through the stagnant air, which I'm guessing reeked of gun powder and . . . well, death, and before long the British troops in the trenches across from them responded by singing English carols. The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were calls for visits across the "No Man's Land" where small gifts were exchanged — whisky, jam, cigars, chocolate, and the like. The soldiers exchanged gifts, sometimes addresses, and drank together. There are even stories of football matches that took place between the opposing forces! The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently-fallen soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Proper burials took place as soldiers from both sides mourned the dead together and paid their respects. Against the orders from higher ups, the artillery in the region fell silent that night, and in the name of human kindness and decency, enemies came together to celebrate our Savior's birth! That gives a whole knew meaning to "heavenly peace".

PRAYER REQUESTS AND UPDATES: I have one new prayer request that came to me a few days ago. Please pray for new mama and daddy, Jennie and Garth, and especially their amazing miracle baby Nicholas. The detail that I have are as follows: Jennie's water broke at 23 weeks gestation, and Nicholas was born at 25 weeks. Sweet baby Nicholas remains in the NICU and is making strides every day. He had the benefit of in utero steroid shots to help with his lung development (isn't our medical field amazing!) and Jennie recently got to hold him for the first time. He is off the ventilator. And the hope is that he will be able to come home before his due date, Feb. 26. So things are looking up, but sweet Nicholas still has a long road ahead of him. Please, please pray mightily for Nicholas' continued growth and development. I believe that the Lord has big plans in store for this sweet baby. Pray for the doctors, nurses, and any specialists Nicholas might need. And please lift up Jennie and Garth during this time of complete and utter joy, yet gut wretching concern. I remember the emotional rollercoaster very well when my firstborn, Alison, came into this world. My heart just soared to hold her and look into her precious face, yet I was bracing myself for all of the challenges I knew she would have to face since she was born with a cleft palate. It can be draining. I pray that Jennie and Garth's spirits are heightened exponentially with every little milestone that is met in the days to come. I pray for strength and patience and the comfort that only our Lord can provide.

I have an update today also. My step dad, Tom Otto, is feeling much better. He had a minor procedure done this past Thursday and it went very well. I want to keep him on our list of prayer concerns for one more week as he recovers. And remember, if you or someone you know has a prayer concern (even if it is unspoken - God knows all of our needs after all) please email me personally through my profile and I will be more than happy to post it. There IS power in prayer!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate???

Well, I thought since my last post might have gotten filed under the "downer" category, I'd liven things up this evening and maybe even give you something to think about. The sweet Senior from our school that I've mentioned in past posts "tagged" me (actually I asked her permission to use her idea first and then she just tagged me) and I think once you're tagged you get to copy and paste the questionaire into your blog and then answer the questions and tag someone else to do the same. Is that right, Hannah?

I am going to "tag" two people. I guess that's allowed because Hannah did it. I'm tagging my good friend and mentor Ramona Richards and my buddy from my writer's group, Krista Phillips, who is a gem of a writer just waiting to be discovered. Please check both of their blogs out under my blog list and please check out Hannah's under the tab Set Apart For The Grandeur Of My Master. She is truly a very special young woman.

Now, (drum roll, please!) onto the Christmas Questionaire . . .

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? I love egg nog!

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? He sits them under the tree with a big bow and a tag with either Alison or Olivia's name on their toys.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? Colored lights definitely!

4. Do you hang mistletoe? Nope! Chris and I don't need it! ;-)

5. When do you put your decorations up? Within a day before or after Thanksgiving.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? Hmm . . . I'd have to say my ham. Simply Delicioso!

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child: So many! I remember the year that Santa came early because my youngest sister was very close to being born. I think Mom called Santa because she didn't want him to come and have us not be there. I remember the year we drove to my dad and step-mom's house in Michigan in a BLIZZARD! That was a little hairy, but it's funny how now that I'm an adult, all of my holiday memories are special.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? What do you mean "truth"? I still believe in Santa! ;-)

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Yes. We usually start a few days before Christmas and let the girls open one a day. We find they're a lot less overwhelmed on Christmas Day if we do it that way. And plus, it just get too durned exciting! I JUST CAN'T WAIT!!!!

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? We have one tree in our living room decorated with multicolored lights and tons of precious keepsake ornaments that the girls have made or that have been given to us by family members over the years. I love looking at the ornaments every year and recalling all of the memories that go along with it!

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? LOVE it! It's one of the two things I miss about Ohio. (The other is our family, of course!)

12. Can you ice skate? I could when my ankles were healthy. I haven't been on skates since I injured my right one so I'm really not sure.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? Yes! When I was, oh, probably around Alison's age (7) my mom made me a yellow two story doll house for my glamor girls (the equivalent of a Polly Pocket). It was sah-weet! If I remember correctly, it was hinged and I think it even had working lights, didn't it, Mom? I remember I actually found it snooping around in Mom's closet! She said something to cover it up. Then Santa hid it behind the tree under my mom's red and white afghan. Too funny! I also loved my first Cabbage Patch doll, Daniella, that Santa brought me at my dad and step-mom's. She had dark brown long pig tails and came in a yellow dress with a little pink satin heart stitched on it. I loved her!

14. What is the most important thing about the Holidays for you? Going to church, reading the Christmas story, and watching my girls open their gifts. Joy, pure joy.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? Probably our "Happy Birthday, Jesus" cake that the girls help me make every year. Sometimes it tastes just okay - a little dry or whatever - but we have fun and make memories making the cake! Ooo, and I LOVE the Holiday Peppermint icecream from Purity Dairy. I start craving it before Thanksgiving and can eat it until Valentines Day!!!

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Probably opening presents and then calling everyone on the telephone to thank them and wish them a merry Christmas.

17. What tops your tree? An angel that lights up. She's 14 years old and she's gorgeous!

18.Which do you prefer giving or receiving? Giving, hands down.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? I love all of the traditional songs and carols. Oh Holy Night was actually played at mine and Chris' wedding which took place 10 years ago this coming Friday so it holds a very special place in my heart. But my all time favorite ever is (drum roll again, please!) Little Drummer Boy.

20. Candy Canes​!​ Yuck or Yum? From Dec. 1-31, yum. Every other time of the year, YUCK! :)

21. What do you want for Christmas? A million dollars! LOL! But I'll really be very happy with a quiet, peaceful day with my husband and two little girls who are tickled at what Santa has brought them!

22. Do you attend an annual Christmas Party? Yes, one for our school faculty, one for my students during the school day (Of course I attend it! I'm the teacher!) and one for church.

23. Do you dress up on Christmas or wear PJs? Not PJs, but casual lounging pants and t-shirt. On Christmas Eve we get all fancied up for church and sometimes dinner if Chris isn't running too late.

24. Do you own a Santa hat? Yes. We have 4 in this house! Two are actually purple FedEx Santa hats!

25. Who do you normally spend Christmas with? Chris, Alison, and Olivia.

That's it! Hope you liked reading about my holiday traditions and memories. It's really fun to think back on Christmas' past. How about you? Any of these little questions make you think of a fun tradition or memory that you have? Please, share!

I'll be blogging again soon. Until then, please continue to pray for those on our list of prayer concerns. Happy Advent to you all!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

Of course it is! This is an exciting time of year, full of eager anticipation for kids and adults alike. It's a cheerful time of year - who in the world couldn't possibly have cheer in their hearts with all of the lights, decorations, parties, and happy tunes pouring out lyrics such as "It's the most wonderful time of the year" and "It's the hap-happiest season of all."

The answer is: a lot of people. The reason? Life. Life doesn't go on vacation just because we do. It causes a powerful chain reaction: "life" happens (death, illness, divorce, financial struggles, etc.), that leads to the inevitable change in holiday traditions and rituals, and the leads to the feelings of loneliness, despair, maybe anger or other feelings of hurt and anguish. The question, "Why can't it be like it was back when . . . ?" I think can be the most damaging one to ponder and yet most of us can't help but ask it occasionally.

I ask it. Not a lot, but every now and then, I remember the magic Christmas held for me when I was about my girls' age. Then again, sometimes I just wish I could go back 9 years and enjoy that particular Christmas a little more. Why 9? Because this year on December 23rd (yes, two days before Christmas) it will have been 8 years since my daddy went to celebrate Christmas with Jesus Himself.

Now, I don't mean to drag you down or make you not want to come back to visit because I'm blogging about gloomy topics. I certainly don't want you to feel bad for me because one thing I've learned is that there IS hope and that Christmas IS hope. I LOVE the hope that came to us that first Christmas! I also know that time has a certain way of taking situations and putting them on the other end a kaleidoscope. Have you ever looked through a toy kaleidoscope? The image on the other end fades slightly as these beautiful stain glass-type patterns form, changing with the twist of the end, each uniquely beautiful. With time (sometimes a whole, whole lot!) the initial heartache fades as you enjoy beautiful new creations. My beautiful new creations? Alison and Olivia, of course. They are so much fun and I've found that some of that child-like Christmas magic comes back to me as I watch them every year. I have many, many other blessings, too. My life is very good. The same as it was 9 years ago? No, and it won't ever be that way again. And for me, personally, that is what will sometimes catch me off guard in my weak moments - the ever again part.

This Christmas is shaping up to be one of the "hap-happiest" that we've had in our household for, well, 9 years. But my heart is terribly burdened this year for those who are hurting. You all know someone. Maybe it's you. The loneliness at this time of year can just become unbearable and my heart is so heavy for the lonely. Maybe it's because my main character, Kate, in The Heart's Journey Home, is going through this very thing and I'm just so saddened for her. Please, keep those that are hurting this holiday season on the top of your prayer lists. Pray for supernatural joy and peace to fill their hearts. Oh, and if you have time (I know everyone is super busy during this time of year with Christmas programs and parties) visit someone who might be alone during the holidays. I promise that they won't be the only one whose day is brightened! :)

PRAYER REQUESTS AND UPDATES: Many of these requests and updates are of people who are hurting and it is because of them that I wanted to blog on the "holiday hurting". Deb Clay and her family recently lost her seventeen-year-old daughter, Krista, in a car accident. Krista was not driving - her boyfriend was and he survived. Unfortunately, I don't know his name, but he desperately needs prayer as does Deb. I could not imagine tuying to make it through one day, let alone the holidays, without both of my girls. Please cover her family and this young man in your prayers for peace, comfort, and supernatural strength for the days ahead. Also, please pray for Jen Morris, who just lost her husband. He apparently had medical issues regarding his heart and was on a transplant list, but didn't get a new heart in time. He left Jen and their three young children. Pray for this young family. Please pray for strength for Jen to be everything to her three children that they will now need and to have enough left over to get her through each day. Please pray for peace and comfort to fall on them like a warm and fuzzy blanket in the days, weeks, and months ahead. This is a prayer request AND an update: Phyllis Gentry has been on our list of prayer concerns because of an injury to her back. Fortunately, her back is much better, but unfortunately she just unexpectedly lost her husband. He had been suffering with MS, but no one expected that he would be taken so quickly, least of all Phyllis and she is taking this loss extremely hard. She needs prayer for strength to make it through each day until this shock wears off. Then she will need prayer for peace and comfort, for the companionship of the Lord to sustain her during her lonely times. Also, I want to add my step-dad, Tom Otto, who has not been feeling well. Please pray for healing for him and pray for the doctors that he will be seeing to have wisdom that comes from the Lord, that they will treat him effectively and efficiently. More updates: My grandma, Angela Dominick, who fell and broke her hip several moths ago, is doing much, much better! Praise the Lord! She is actually gone back to work at ToysRUs for a few hours a couple days a week. Of course, that has helped her a lot because she doesn't like to sit still for too long! :) Please pray for continues healing and a full recovery for Grandma! Kelly M., the daughter of a fellow author with the publishing company who is putting out The Heart's Journey Home, had gall bladder surgery today. I haven't heard an update from her mother yet, but Kelly has been very ill for a very long time, so please pray that this surgery was successful and that this poor young woman can finally have some relief! My dear friend from high school, Patty Smith is going in for another round of chemo tomorrow. Please pray for her for strength - physical and mental. She has been very strong through this (that I've seen anyway), but I'm sure she has her moments as I'm sure any wife and mama would. I just pray healing over her body and strength for her spirit. Kim Baird, is a single mother of two teenage boys who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Just a few days ago, she was informed that genetically she has a certain chromosome that would make chemo ineffective and actually harmful so it is NOT an option. She will have to undergo surgery and then they will go from there. Please pray for the supernatural healing of Kim. No chemo or medicine or doctor can even come close to the mighty work that the Lord can do! Pray for Kim to have the strength she needs to take care of her boys and most of all herself in the days ahead. Pray for peace and joy for Kim and her family this holiday season as they look forward to the miracles the Lord has in store for her. Robin Baughman, the 40-year-old mother of 4 who was diagnosed several months ago with stage four cancer in her brain, breast, and lung, is responding to treatment! Her brain has healed enough after emergency surgery to start chemo for the spots in her breasts and lungs and those spots are responding to the chemo! Please pray mightily that the Lord will heal her completely and restore her health. I am praising the Lord right now for the healing that has already taken place in Robin's body! It has been three months since Larry Harris checked into the hospital to have his bypass surgery and about ten weeks since he's been home. While he's obviously still not 100%, he has not had a major problem since coming home. He has a lot of restrictions—and a huge deficit of energy—not to mention a very weak immune system, but he and his lovely wife, Kathy, are adjusting to this new life style. He began cardiac rehab two weeks ago so please pray in the weeks to come that the rehab will continue to strengthen his heart and that his health will be restored. As always, if you or someone you know is in need of prayer, email me personally through my profile and I will be happy to add them to our list of prayer concerns. There IS power in prayer!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sick and . . . well, Tired

No, I'm not fed up with anything. I'm sick and I'm tired. Not sick like can't-lift-my-head-off-the- pillow sick. Sick like chest and throat hurting, nose running, voice disappearing sick. So, I took a sick day today from school. The girls, much to their dismay, didn't get to stay home too so the house is ridiculously quiet (forgot what "quiet" sounds like) and I'll get plenty of rest today. Maybe, just maybe, I'll get some work done on The Heart's Journey Home. It's already major progress that it's been less than a week since my last post!

I added a few new items to my blog. I added the little music player at the bottom. Let me know how you like it. I LOVE Jim Brickman! I write with him in the background all the time. Also, I added a new favorite blog. It's listed under Musings. This blog belongs to author Kathleen Fuller. She is a beautiful person with a great attitude and I'm so glad we've become friends! So check her out!

PRAYER REQUESTS AND UPDATES: Sadly (or not, as the case may be), I don't have anything new to share with you. Please continue to pray for the names listed to the right and I'll pass along updates on them as soon as I get them. And remember, if you or someone you know has a prayer concern (even if it is unspoken - God knows all of our needs after all) please email me personally through my profile and I will be more than happy to post it. There IS power in prayer!

Monday, November 10, 2008


Alas, it has once again been over a week since I last made a post, and I suppose I can't hide it any longer. It's time that I 'fess up.


Okay, here goes . . . My creativity has gone and run off with my time! That's right. They both just packed up and moved out and now The Heart's Journey Home is progressing at a snail's pace. Much like the dish that ran away with the spoon, my time and creativity go hand-in-hand. And there are so many things at this time of the year vying for my attention that I can't possibly give my creativity the time it needs to come alive.

It's different for every writer, but for me (and most of the writers I know) I can't just decide at the snap of my fingers to be creative and *poof* it happens. I have to have time to move from real life to "the zone". The aforementioned zone for me is kind of like a portal that actually transports me to my fictional town where my characters are real. I know it sounds weird, but really it's essentially no different than what kids do the minute they hit the playground and they are instantly on Jack Sparrow's pirate ship or at East High singing and dancing with Troy, Gabriella, and the gang. The only problem is that kids have all the time in the world. They can snap their fingers and cross from real life to make-believe. It's not quite so easy when you become a "big person" and you have daily responsibilities and . . . well, STRESS!

Fortunately, this situation is not permanent. My time and my creativity always come slinking back to my door step - usually my creativity before my time. (More often than not I actually have to go hunt down my time and force it to come back!) At this time of year, whether a result of the dropping temperatures or the rapidly approaching holidays, my creativity can never stay away for long, especially when I meditate on what a creative Lord we love and serve.

Here in Tennessee the fall colors have just recently peaked and I'm once again in awe of the magnificent tapistry that is visible from my back deck or even along the highway as I'm on my way to school. Every sunset and sunrise is a masterpiece to behold. I mean, really, just look at the human body! Talk about creative! :) One of my favorite examples of the Lord's creativity, though, is the way He taught. Jesus was a storyteller - and to those who took (and still take) the time to experience Him, I believe, He was (and still is) the most effective storyteller ever!

He certainly didn't ramble as I am now!

So, now tell me, I want to know what you do to nurture your creativity - to keep it from running off with your time!

PRAYER REQUESTS AND UPDATES: Please pray for Kim Baird, a forty-year-old single mother of two teenaged boys who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Right now details are sketchy. I will certainly give you an update as soon as I have one. In the meantime, please pray for strength, comfort, and most importantly, I think especially for moms who have children and households to take care of, pray that Kim has a peace that passes all understanding - that defies logic. More updates to come in the next few days. And remember, if you or someone you know has a prayer concern (even if it is unspoken - God knows all of our needs after all) please email me personally through my profile and I will be more than happy to post it. There IS power in prayer!

Now, go on and click the comment button. You know you want to! ;->

Friday, October 31, 2008

Trick or . . . Blessings!

It's October 31st, otherwise known as Halloween. Chris and my little "ghouls" (ha! ha!) are out trick-or-treating right now while I'm passing out candy. (Aren't they cute? Ali is a Spanish princess and Livi is, yep, you guessed it - SUPER GIRL!) In between the doorbell ringing, I'm pondering Halloween's evolution. Believe it or not, Halloween was not always just about dressing up and certainly not about getting candy (which is always what it was all about when I was a kid).

After some research, I discovered that Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain. The festival of Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture, and is sometimes regarded as the "Celtic New Year."

So where did the ghosts, ghouls, and witches come from? Turns out the ancient Gaels believed that on October 31 the boundary between the living and the deceased dissolved, and that the dead could actually walk among the living. The Gaels became concerned that the dead would cause problems for them such as sickness or damaged crops. Their festivals would frequently involve bonfires, into which bones of slaughtered livestock were thrown. Costumes and masks were also worn at the festivals in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or placate them.

The transatlantic migration of nearly two million Irish following the Irish Potato Famine that took place during the years 1845–1849 finally brought the holiday and the traditions to the United States. Of course, we took it and added our own unique twists. That is, after all the American way, right?

Anyway, I thought it would be nice for a change to focus on the celebration part of Halloween and not in a trick-or-treating sort of way but a celebration of Thanksgiving as I'm sure the Gaels did when their harvest came in. What did you say? That's what Thanksgiving is for next month? That's true, but it is stated several times in the book of Psalms, "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever." So I think it's okay to count my blessings more than just once a year, hmm?

A beautiful young lady who is a Senior at our school and who is an amazing witness for Christ at her young age (Really. See for yourself. The link is under My Favorite Blogs and it is the one titled "Set Apart for the Grandeur of My Master".) came up with the idea on September 30th to name 30 blessings, 1 for each day of the month that had just past. So, I hope she won't mind if I "borrow" her idea for October.

I have compiled a list of 31 blessings in my life, not counting the Lord, my family, or my friends. Obviously, there is nothing in this whole world more important to me than my Lord and the ones I love. These are the little blessings (listed in no particular order) that sometimes I forget to be thankful for. Read on and you'll see what I mean:

#1. Clean sheets. I LOVE the feeling of snuggling down into freshly laundered sheets.

#2. Gut busting, roll on the floor laughter. Whew! There's nothing like it!

#3. "Holy Spirit tears" - the ones that come when He's moved you. It's so cleansing.

#4. Imagination. I love slipping off into my fictional world, and I love watching my kids play make-believe.

#5. Parents at our school who show their appreciation by taking time out of their busy days to make lunch for the teachers. We've got the best parents in the world!

#6. Children at our school who ask Jesus to come and live in their hearts. A little girl from my class did yesterday during our chapel time and I am just so thankful that I get to be a part of that. It was beautiful, truly beautiful!

#7. My little girls' teachers. Thanks to the wonderful ladies who have dedicated their life to serving the Lord, Ali and Livi are already getting a firm foundation in the Lord at 7 and 4 years of age. It makes my heart just soar! I'm so thankful, SO thankful!

#8. Cool mornings that warm up into beautiful, sunny afternoons - like today!

#9. I'm also thankful for the gloomy, damp, cold days that are good for putting a fire in the fireplace and curling up on the sofa with a cup of coffee and a good book.

#10. The patchwork landscapes you can often see driving down any road at this time of year in Tennessee. Truly the work of an Artist!

#11. The doctors at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital. Man, they are the best!

#12. Our health. Oh, I'm so thankful for our health!

#13. Good medical insurance . . . for when we do need it.

#14. Okay. I'm gonna sound a little shallow here, but . . . texting. I am thankful for texting. It's just so convenient.

#15. While I'm going in this direction, I might as well add digital cameras. Now, I would HATE to wait to get a roll of film developed to see what kind of a picture I took!

#16. And even though it crashed on me, I'm thankful for my laptop.

#17. I'm thankful for my dishwasher. Quick story: when my sisters and I were growing up we'd tell my mom she really, really needed to get a dishwasher. Her response? "I have four of them!" (My three sisters and I!) Love you, Mom! :)

#18. Ooo, and along that line, I'm really thankful for indoor plumbing. Just imagine what our lives would be like today without it! Let's just say it would really stink! Ha!

#19. Serious now, I'm thankful for the sound of children singing, especially during our chapel time.

#20. I'm thankful for the sight of children worshiping. I promise there is nothing in this world more honest and pure than to see a child worship our Lord and Savior.

#21. I'm thankful for what the Lord reveals to me in His Word.

#22. For His peace, especially in uncertain times like we're facing.

#23. I'm thankful for the excitement that builds from now until Christmas.

#24. And for little, fun surprises like SNOW DAYS! (I love my school. I adore my class. But snow days are FUN! Every teacher reading this understands that!)

#25. I'm thankful for lazy Saturday mornings (especially after late but productive Friday nights)

#26. I'm thankful for the Charlie Brown T.V. specials that are on at this time of year. I have favorite parts in each one, but my very favorite is in "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown" when they all make fun of Charlie because of the puny tree he picked out so he goes home and decorates it himself and "the gang" shows up, says, "It wasn't so bad after all." Then they all gather around the tree and sing "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing". It makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.

#27. I'm thankful for the lights that will be coming out soon. Who doesn't look forward to taking a drive through the neighborhood to see the lights???

#28. I'm thankful for my home, humble as it may be, and that our cupboards are stocked. There are so many needy people in this world!

#29. I'm thankful for hardships. Yes, I am. They may not be fun, but they build character. It took me a while to learn that - a long while.

#30. I'm really thankful for the hugs and kisses I get from my girls. They keep me going.

#31. I'm thankful for prayer. I've seen what prayer can do. It's surely a supernatural weapon of defense in any situation.

There you have it. A list of random blessings. I'd love to hear what you are thankful for at this time of year and all year long! Doesn't it make you feel so much better to focus on the blessings in your life than on the worries of the world that is plaguing us from every branch of media? Come on! Count your blessings with me!

Going back to #31, it's time for PRAYER REQUESTS AND UPDATES: I don't have any new requests at this time, but I do have several updates. Our 2-year-old, Tyler, has had about a 50% reduction in the size of his cancer. Praise God! Please continue to pray for Tyler that God will heal that last 50% and that little boy will be a walking talking miracle. Also, please continue to pray for strength for Tyler's parents. Larry Harris continues to improve. Just the other week he drove himself to get his hair cut so that was a big step for him. Please pray for continued healing and returned strength. I have a feeling it won't be long before we have to take Larry off the list. :) My best friend from high school, Patty Smith, is feeling pretty good. The cancer seems to be negatively affected by the chemo, but her blood platelets are down so that is a concern. Please pray for her continued healing and strength. Kelly M. is still very sick and the doctors are having a hard time diagnosing her illness. Please pray for her, her mother who is is nervous wreck, and her doctors. I have a great update to share. My sister and brother-in-law, Julie and Jon, just found out that they will be having another little girl in March! Their 2-year-old daughter, Mallory, is thrilled to be having a sister! Always remember, if you or someone you know has a prayer concern (even if it is unspoken - God knows all of our needs after all) please email me personally through my profile and I will be more than happy to post it. There IS power in prayer!

Wishing you all a happy harvest celebration!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Has It Really Been Almost 3 Weeks?!?!

This is terrible!

I can't believe that it has been almost 3 weeks since I last made a post! The only reason I can give is . . . well, let me put it to you this way:

Have you ever watched a juggler juggle? Have you ever noticed that his eyes are on each ball and yet at the same time not seeing them? He's just making sure it's right where it needs to be so he can keep it moving. If you're an expert juggler, I'm sure you don't lose track of any detail . . . or maybe you do and are just able to cover it up really well. As for me, suffice it to say that I'm NOT an expert juggler and some details get overlooked sometimes.

What I haven't overlooked is my list of prayer concerns. This ministry is very important to me and I'm going to vow right now to update the list of prayer concerns, if nothing else, weekly.

So what has caused me to lose track of my . . . juggling objects? My priorities, I guess. After I made the last post, I had parent/teacher conferences that I had to prepare for, which went very well, but is still always a little nerve wracking for a teacher. Then most of last week we spent in Ohio visiting our family and friends. It was great to visit with everyone. We kept up some old traditions (Chris got out his dad's guitar and we had a little jam fest in his parents' living room) and started some new traditions (My granny, grandpa, and Chris taught me how to play pinochle. It was Grandpa and me vs. Granny and Chris. Who won? GRANDPA AND ME . . . but the important thing is that we had fun, right???) Fall was in the air and it was very inspiring creatively.

So now, though I've had to revise my personal writing goals, I'm invigorated and ready to work steadily on it again starting this weekend. I know I promised you a snippet last time, but today I want to tell you another story of a little boy to touched my heart very deeply. I hope you don't mind.

This little boy was a nominee in my contest - his grandmother nominated him and his mother. Now, mind you, all of the entries that I received were very touching, truly, but this story touched me especially because little Kole would be about the age of my oldest daughter. He didn't win, but his story (and his mother's) is one of courage and perserverence and in these troubled times I think our world needs a little more Kole. These are the words I read from Kole's Grandma Nancy:

My nomination is Kole, my 6-year old grandson, who died 4/9/07 from a brain tumor. He touched everyone’s heart – especially Grandma & Grandpa’s. Because of what he went through and the pain he had to endure, I’ve developed a deeper meaning for our short life on earth and life after death. On 12/1/05, Kole (who was 4 at the time) was diagnosed with a growth in his brain. He was immediately transferred to Cleveland Clinic and on 12/2/05, Kole underwent surgery to remove the tumor. At first he was afraid. What he had to go through, no one was prepared for – especially Kole. After the tumor was removed, he couldn’t walk any more. But by Christmastime at St. Jude’s Children’s Cancer Research Hospital, he mastered his skill to walk again. Poor Kole had so many setbacks. Just when we thought everything was going in his favor, he had another setback. He never complained or asked, “Why me?” He just dealt with whatever was handed to him, and kept moving forward. He was a VERY smart little fellow. They tested him (now at the age of 5) during his stay at St. Jude’s, and his reasoning skills were that of a 5th grader. I had the pleasure of taking care of Kole by myself for a weekend at St. Jude’s without his parents being present. He’d have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and it wasn’t easy moving slowly along with his IV, and I expected to help him, but at the age of 5 he did it by himself and was proud of himself that he could. I praised him and told him, “Kole, you never cease to amaze me.” It brought a great big smile to his face. I also had the privilege to give him a shot in his internal port. Even though I’m not nurse material, I felt honored to help with Kole’s medical needs. And when I say I’m not nurse material, I truly mean it. As I was giving Kole his shot (breaking out in a sweat from nervousness), he pointed out to me that I was doing it wrong. At first I didn’t believe him, but he was right. He observed every move and learned from every experience. Grandma & Grandpa had the honor of allowing Kole and his family (Mom, Dad & his 2-year old sister) to live with us while their new house was being built. Kole loved life – he loved his trucks, he loved writing notes and mailing them, he loved making gifts for others, he loved learning and was working on mastering his reading skills. All this he did while he was recuperating from the surgery, the radiation and the chemotherapy. He even re-learned to ride his bicyle without training wheels. If Kole was faced with a challenge, he stepped up to the plate with much courage, and accomplished the task at hand. Kole hung on to this life to see his new brother, Judah, enter into this world. Judah was born April 1, 2007 and Kole was delighted to see him and hold him. He shared in the joy of Judah’s birth even though Kole’s days were numbered (now just 8 more days with his wonderful family on this earth). He turned 6 two days before his death. Even though he had been comatose for a short while, two days before his birthday he asked that my friend bake his birthday cake with Superman, Spiderman and Batman all on it. He was delighted with the cake (his last cake) and even asked for a few of his friends to stop by and celebrate with him. When they arrived, he knew exactly who they were and why they came. He even asked that the mother of his friends sing his birthday song solo to him (she is a music major with a beautiful voice and he even had enough faculties two days before his death to know this). On his 6th birthday, he and his family moved into their new home. He was able to enjoy the bedroom he helped decorate. It was blue (to match the colors of his Dad’s school colors) and was decorated with all his gifts from so many loving people who honored Kole throughout his illness. Two days later he died in his bedroom. It was his dying moment that probably touched us the most. After struggling with his breathing for a whole day, he cried two tears and smiled a BIG smile. When that happened, we all knew that he had seen something glorious and was happy to be with his heavenly Father. Thank you Kole for your bravery, your courage, your positive attitude and especially for your gift to us of that one last wonderful smile.

Rereading it now I have tears in my eyes. You know I have a weakness for kids. I cry for the pain and suffering Kole had to endure, but I'm also reminded that the Bible tells us that Jesus cried before He was crucified but He told His followers that He wasn't crying for what was about to happen to Him. He was crying for His friends stuck here on this sin-filled earth. (Of course, I'm paraphrasing.) Still, I cry. I cry for the shame I feel at knowing I couldn't have been so brave. I cry for his family as I'm sure they still deal with heavy grief everyday. I cry for Janni, his mother, who was nominated by Grandma Nancy for the female entry. Janni had to go through Kole's sickness with him while caring for Kole's younger sister AND becoming pregnant with Kole's little brother! I don't know if you caught it or not, but Janni had Baby Judah just 8 days before Kole went Home to be with his Heavenly Father. 8 days!!!! I don't know about you, but I can't go there mentally - the extreme joy coupled with the extreme grief. Truly this is a remarkable family and I thank you, Nancy, so much for sharing your precious family with me and giving me permission to share Kole and Janni with my blog followers.

: I don't have any new requests this time, but I do have some updates. Amanda Belsich unfortunately has not had a good report. The cancer was found in lymph nodes all throughout the 16-year-old's body. Please pray for healing for this young lady, that the Lord will do a mighty work in her and all will know the power of God! Pray for strength for her and her family. Please pray for wisdom and guidance for her doctors. Also please pray mightily for my very dear friend from high school, Patty Smith. She had a chemo treatment last Friday and I think she had one today, but in between she also had to have a blood transfusion because her hemoglobin count was down. Also, she asked for prayer specifically because her "cancer marker" was up and they suspect that the cancer will be a tougher opponent than they originally hoped. Please, please, lift my friend Patty up. Pray for her strength and healing. She has a son, three step children, and a foster child that they are wanting to adopt. Patty MUST be healthy to care for these little people who need her! According to 1 Kings, when Elijah prayed for the Lord to bring rain and end the famine, he prayed tirelessly and sent his servent up the mountain 7 times to look for rain clouds, but he also thanked God IN ADVANCE for the mighty work that He was going to do. And on that seventh time, the servant reported that there was a cloud the size of a man's hand on the horizon. By the time it reached Mt. Carmel it was a full out rain storm!!! I thank God in advance for the healing that is going to come to Patty and I pray that the tiniest sign of hope will multiply exponentially until she is receiving showers of blessings. I saw my grandma, Angela Dominick, while we were visiting in Ohio and she seems to be healing little by little. I think she has almost graduated from the walker to just using a cane. She still has some pain so please pray for that and she is still adjusting to her lifestyle change as she was a very active person. Carie Lawyer's father is home from the hospital and still recovering after having a stroke. I believe he is doing well, but please continue to pray for complete healing for him. I have had several families on the list who have lost loved ones. After speaking with the contact person for each family, I can report that they are all doing "as well as can be expected". Anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows that it's a long road ahead filled with some good days and plenty of hard moments. The Lord will continue to heal their broken hearts as the days go by. I believe our prayers got these families through the very difficult and most likely shocking devastation before the rebuilding has to come. So, I am going to take these families off our list, but I will continue to update you on them as I receive updates. Until then, if you or someone you know has a prayer concern (even if it is unspoken - God knows all of our needs after all) please email me personally through my profile and I will be more than happy to post it. There IS power in prayer!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

And Now For . . .

Congratulations to Brenda Olien who won the “What a Difference You’ve Made in My Life” contest. Brenda nominated her husband, Dan Olien, a gentleman who made a difference in many lives as you will soon see. A special thanks to Dan’s sister, Jenna Harris, who shared with me some additional factual information and special memories which helped me to tell Dan’s story and create his character to the best of my ability. Now, it gives me great pleasure to introduce you to . . .

Dan Olien

Dan Olien was a runner. He began running competitively in middle school and continued to run track and cross country at Newark High School and Otterbein College. As an adult, he ran the Columbus Marathon twice and qualified for the Boston Marathon in addition to running dozens of smaller races.

It was only natural that Dan would choose a career as a physical education teacher and a track and cross country coach. While Dan enjoyed teaching, coaching was his calling, his passion. He loved his runners. He was thrilled to see them succeed and cried with them when they had a bad race. He motivated his team before each race by quoting positive sayings such as, “Go give them the business.” He even designed the team’s shirt each season. Dan was district coach of the year for multiple years and was a district representative for the Ohio Association of Track and Field and Cross Country. He always did his best to promote the sport of running.

The only things Dan loved more than running and coaching were his wife and his son. Unfortunately, his time with them was short. Dan and Brenda met at New London High School where they both taught. They went on their first date on December 6th, 2002. On January 6, 2003, Dan was diagnosed with brain cancer. Deciding not to waste any of the precious time they had together, they got married on June 7, 2003, just six months after their first date, and a little more than two years later, on September 20, 2005, Dan became a daddy. If Dan was happiest when he was coaching, he was proudest when his baby boy, Jon, was born. He would say of little Jon, “He has my profile.” Dan and Brenda took Jon to his first cross country meet when he was just two weeks old, and to the state meet when he was only two months old. Dan loved to show off his little “profile.”

In early 2006, Dan’s health began to rapidly deteriorate. On July, 6, 2006, after running a three-year race against an unseen opponent, his body finally succumbed to the cancer. But Dan Olien’s legacy as a loving husband, a proud father, and a dedicated coach will live on forever as illustrated by the crowd of people that attended his viewings and funeral.

In The Heart’s Journey Home, Dan’s character is a strong, healthy cross-country coach and physical education teacher who helps Kate, the main character and a former runner, train to run her first marathon. I pray that through this experience Dan’s memory is honored in the utmost way: that everyone who reads The Heart’s Journey Home will be inspired by Dan and filled with the desire to “go give them the business.”

I am going to ask you to pray today for my dear friend and fellow teacher, Jana Iwanowski. I mentioned her two posts ago. She doesn't know that I'm adding her to my list of prayer concerns so I hope she's not too mad at me :) but she has been trudging up a mountain here lately that would make most of us want to give up, I think. Jana is a wonderful mother of beautiful, 5-year-old triplets (two boys and one girl) and a very dedicated and effective fourth grade teacher. Recently, Jana had to face the grim reality of admitting her mother, whose health has been rapidly deteriorating due to Alzheimer's, into a nursing home. My heart has been so heavy for my friend and I just can't imagine the burdens she is having to shoulder. She is a very, very strong Christian - one of the strongest I know, but that doesn't mean that her heart isn't breaking or she isn't feelign the pressure of having to care for her three children and her mother. Thankfully, she has a wonderful, supportive husband and mother-in-law, but extra prayer can never hurt so please lift my friend Jana and her mother up today. Pray for them for peace and patience, for understanding and discernment. Also, I'm asking for prayer for my friend, Carie Lawyer, whose father has recently had a stroke. I don't know his name, but the Lord does. Please pray for healing for Carie's father and for peace for Carie. Now for the updates . . . my best friend from high school, Patty Smith, is still going through chemo for ovarian cancer, but I'm pleased to report that she's doing okay with it. She is in between treatments right now and her mother and father are taking her, her husband, her sister, and her sister's husband to Williamsburg, Virginia, for a little, much needed get-a-way. I'll be seeing her next week (the week of the 13th) and I'm sure I'll have plenty of photos to share with you after we get back. Her next treatment is scheduled for Friday the 17th so be in prayer for her about that - that it can continue to go well and be effective. My sister, Julie Roeder, who is expecting her second child in March (and who I will be seeing next week also) continues to do well. She has a doctor appointment at the end of this week so pray that everything keeps moving along smoothly and that my little niece or nephew is developing perfectly. Our little friend, Tyler, the two year old with cancer, has been undergoing treatments and is very sick. The good news is his tumors are shrinking! Praise God! The not-so-good-news is that the poor little guy has already has a bone marrow transplant and may have to have another. It's so much for a little boy to have to bear. Please, please, pray for little Tyler. Pray that God continues to shrink those nasty tumors and that the Lord will restore his health. Pray for his parents to have a supernatural strength to help their precious baby boy through this. I can't imagine the heartache they must been feeling. Pray for his doctors to have the wisdom to know exactly what to do to help our little friend battle this rotten opponent.

I guess that's it for now. Stay tuned. My next post will include a snippet, I promise. And remember, if you or someone you know has a prayer concern (even if it is unspoken - God knows all of our needs after all) please email me personally through my profile and I will be more than happy to post it. There IS power in prayer!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Introducing . . .

As promised, I want to publicly congratulate Tammy Ruthsatz, the first of my two contest winners. Tammy nominated her niece, Cassie D. Ground, a remarkable young lady as you will soon see. As I wrote Cassie's bio, I received a lot of help from Cassie's mother, Mindy Nutter, who provided me with factual information and memories so that I could tell Cassie’s story and create her character to the best of my ability. Now, it gives me great pleasure to introduce you to . . .

Cassie D. Ground

Born on September 19th, 1985, Cassie quickly became a faithful servant of our Lord. At just three years old, Cassie sang in front of the entire congregation at Faith Memorial Church in Sandusky, Ohio. At the age of 11, Cassie was crowned Honor Star, part of a program called Missionettes Girls Club that required reading the Bible all the way through, memorizing many scriptures including some whole chapters, writing reports, and a list of other criteria. She then went on to be involved in youth ministry where she was the worship leader for several years along with her two younger sisters, Carlie and Cristina. Cassie was also a member of the adult choir and played the acoustic guitar in the worship band. According to her mother, Cassie “sang with the voice of an angel”.

Cassie was also an excellent student. She attended Bay Area Christian Academy in Sandusky through the 8th grade, and then Monroeville High School, where she graduated in June of 2003. Cassie then went on to work toward a degree in Elementary Education at BGSU-Firelands College where she had repeatedly made the Dean’s list. Cassie simply loved being in college and was so excited about accomplishing her dream of becoming a teacher!

It was during her senior year of high school that Cassie met the love of her life, Jordon Berberick, and they planned to get married on July 27, 2007. Everything seemed to be falling in place for Cassie . . . until that fateful afternoon on August 30, 2005. It had been raining heavily, and as Cassie was on her way to pick her sister up from school, she was in an accident and was killed. She never got the chance to teach a classroom full of third-graders as she had hoped to. She never got the chance to marry her true love. But I truly believe that Cassie D. Ground will spend all of eternity faithfully serving her Lord and singing “with the voice of an angel”.

In The Heart’s Journey Home, Cassie’s character is a vibrant, beautiful high school senior who was highly recommended by the pastor of her church to provide child care during a newly established ministry for single parents. On several occasions, Kate, the main character, watches from a distance as Casssie sings, dances, and plays “Go Fish” with the children, who instantly adore her. I pray that through this experience, Cassie’s memory is honored in the utmost way and that everyone who reads The Heart’s Journey Home will come to know and love Cassie the way all of her family and friends still do.

Tammy and Mindy, thank you for sharing Cassie with us!

: I also promised that I would have some updates for you. I've been like a fish out of water since I had the computer problems and I apologize profusely that I haven't updated you before this. An update the the computer issue: Rob McCabe, the hubby of our computer teacher at school, was able to retrieve my ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT and some other less important documents that I had wanted! Bless you, Rob! And, surprise, surprise, I got on the phone yesterday with Dell, they had me do a few things, push a few buttons and decided I needed a new hard drive. DUH! But, I can't complain because they sent one out, no questions asked, and I got it TODAY! Yes, right now I am working on my laptop (with all of my documents backed up on flash drive AND email) so we are back in business! :) Onto the important stuff . . . Sarah Grundler, my cousin, had her baby - a littler girl named Marina. Both mama and baby are doing fine though Sarah is tired, as to be expected. I'm going to keep her on the list a little while longer though because every new mama can use prayer! Please pray for strength for Sarah and for continued good health for Baby Marina. Larry Harris is out of the hospital after being there for almost two weeks! His surgery went fine, but now his wife, Kathy, tells me that he is having some nausea and is having a hard time eating anything. Please continue to pray for healing for Larry and that his heart will strengthen daily. Pray for the nausea to subside so that he can eat and get his strength back. And, for Kathy, pray for strength and peace. Phyllis Gentry is recovering, however, the doctors want her to have a bone scan and an MRI on her back before she can go back to her regular duties as being a care giver to a physically handicapped young woman. Please pray for continued healing for Phyllis and strength for Ramona (the young woman's mother) who is doing all of the lifting in Phyllis' absence. Robin Baughman had emergency surgery on the tumor on her brain and, amazingly, within just a few days she was up and walking! She is in good spirits now. She is experiencing some headaches possibly from swelling. She has to wait for her brain to heal before she can start the chemo for the cancer in her breast and lung. Please, lift Robin and her family up today. Pray for her supernatural healing. Pray for peace and comfort to surround her like a warm, fuzzy blanket. Pray for her husband to have the strength to be all that she needs him to be right now and pray for her four children see the love of Christ through their mother's struggles. William Hickson's seizures are under control now which is wonderful news, but a recent MRI indicated that he has some brain atrophy (or a decrease in size). Please, pray for little William. Pray for his doctors and especially for his mama and daddy, Alice-Lyle and Stan, as they search out what this means. Pray that Alice-Lyle and Stan can experience a peace that passes all understanding and can make decisions regarding their son's health and care with a godly wisdom. Pray that they can experience a supernatural strength - in themselves, in the Lord, and in each other. And pray for little daily miracles for William.

In a few more days, I will introduce you to my second contest winner, Brenda Olien, and her nominee so make sure and visit again soon!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Walking for the Lost

It was a beautiful day . . . Of course any day is beautiful if you're winning souls over for Christ.

This past Saturday was "Soul Walk" in downtown Nashville. I wrote on it a few posts ago, but for thos eof you who may be new to this blog and don't feel like going back and hunting it down, Soul Walk is a fundraising event where people sponsor the participants to walk/run a 5k. Half of what I (and everyone else from our school who participated - pictured at the left) raised went right back into our school (YAY!) and the other half goes directly to funding programs that gets the message of the Gospel to those who need to hear it most. (DOUBLE YAY!) THAT was what this event was supposed to be about and what I was all set for it to be about at 8am Saturday morning.

But as the race got underway and the air horn blew, this race took on an even more personal meaning. First, let me explain that I have never ever been involved in any kind of a race before. I'm just not the racin' kind. Really. For field day in elementary school I tried to sign up for every event that did NOT involve racing. It's just not my cup of tea. And this wasn't really a race, race, but the air was charged with enough positive energy to light up the New York City skyline. As you can see, by the picture to the left, I was pumped! (And so was our school superintendent who is just behind me to the right.) So we start out and I make up my mind to stick with someone from our group because, not having participated in a race like this before and not realizing how well they were going to mark it, I was really afraid of getting separated, turned around, and . . . well, lost.

I had a group of gals that I work with (pictured to the left - the three in the white shirts and the one in the back with the white sun glasses) around me to start the race so I just decided to hang with them so I wouldn't end up on the wrong path, never to find my way back to the bus. Obviously, the adrenaline must've gotten to my brain because these ladies are fit. Elizabeth and Beth, the two in the front on the right, walked the Music City Half-Marathon this past April! And Kim in the back with the white sunglasses has coached volleyball in the past not to mention she has legs about as long as I am tall . . . well, okay, that's a slight exaggeration. Kim on the left is spunky and full of energy. And here I am with an ankle that had been hurt and I thought, "Okay, God, I may not BE lost, but I sure FEEL lost."

Lost. How many different kinds of "lost" are there? There are those that are lost to the Lord - those that I was walking for. Then there is being physically lost - what I was afraid of. And then, more often than anyone will ever admit, is the state of knowing where you are and knowing you're a Christian but not knowing much of anything else - just feeling lost. I've spent some time there. Recently, my laptop crashed with my entire manuscript and some other documents on it (which is partly why I haven't made a post in over two weeks). I felt really lost then. Other times, I allow myself to fully consider the responsibility of being a godly mother to Alison and Olivia, and I know I do so many things wrong. I want to give 100% of myself to each of those two precious girls . . . and to my husband . . . and to my students . . . and to my coworkers . . . and to my readers and sometimes I end up feeling really, really lost - like I want to say, "God, where am I now, where am I going, and how on earth am I going to get from here to there?"

So, back to the race, I decided that I was going to "draft" the Kim with the long legs. So I got behind her and kept my eyes on her stride and I drafted her . . . And I kept on . . . And I did some more. Granted, Kim was not walking as fast as she could've been, but it gave me hope that I wasn't going to go through the race alone and, more than that, since she has such long legs, even though she wasn't going as fast as she could've gone, she really, really pushed me. And she cheered me on and kept encouraging me so that I never felt like I couldn't do it. It's one thing to just make it through the race, and certainly that would've been an accomplishment, but it's an astronomic difference to be pushed to achieve far beyond what you thought you could have. God sends you people to make sure you don't go through your "race" alone and sometimes those people don't just lead you when you are lost. THEY PUSH YOU!

I've been blessed to have had lots of people push me in my life. One of my dearest friends, Jana (pictured with me at the left), has helped and encouraged me so much on my spiritual journey and I feel I've grown a lot because of her lead. She (and God, of course) also get the credit for me being at the wonderful school that I'm privileged to teach at. It's quite a story. Really. I've had my friend and superintendent of our school push me to be a better teacher and coworker. I've had my publisher, Joan, and a wonderful mentor, Ramona, encourage and push me with my writing. I have my mom who has always been the best example of a wife and mother that I could learn from and now I'm pushing myself to be just like her. I love you, Mom!

I know we can't push ourselves continually or we would fall apart. That why we are human beings and not machines. But I hope that I can regularly push myself - like Kim pushed me on Saturday - and maybe, just maybe, through my children, my teaching, and/or my writing, I will lead more lost souls to the finish line.

PRAYER REQUESTS AND UPDATES: It has been a while since I've been on here and I apologize. I should have at least posted the prayer request that my manuscript could be recovered from my laptop. Bits and pieces have been retrieved. I'll find out exactly how much tomorrow. Either way, it's okay. I've got the whole story in my head and there are more important things to pray about. I will have prayer updates for you by mid-week when I post the first of the two bios of the contest winners' nominees. In the meantime, I am going to ask for you to pray for one of the contest winners. Her name is Brenda Olien. She lives in Norwalk, Ohio but her job has recently taken her to Cleveland - about an hour from Norwalk. Obviously, with the housing market the way it is, she is faced with possibly a long commute for a considerable amount of time. She needs her house to sell. Please pray for that. You'll learn more about Brenda and her husband, Dan, next weekend. As a praise today, I want to give you an example of the quality of student that our school turns out. Please check out One of our high school seniors has created a wonderful blog where she is using her resources to serve God to the best of her abilities at this point in her life. She is truly a remarkable young lady with an incredible home and church life in addition to a Christian education. I'm so proud of her and of many of the students we have that are as dedicated as she is. I think you'll find her passion and fervor for serving the Lord and her zeal for life to be similar to that of the young woman I'll be introducing you to mid-week, so make sure to check back! And in the meantime, if you have a prayer request, even an unspoken, feel free to email me personally through my profile and I will be happy to post it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Life, Love, Loss, and Letting Go

September 11th. I don't think today's date typically brings to mind cheerful thoughts. (Unless it's your birthday like it is my nephew's. Happy birthday, Dev!) Bottom line - our country and the mindset of just about every American was changed on that day seven years ago. Can a person get on an airplane any more without the word "TERRORIST" crossing their mind for at least one brief second? I know that people have said, "I'm not going to quit living or that'll mean the terrorists have won!" But certainly those individuals don't live the same carefree way they used to, especially if they have children.

But the sad fact of life is that . . . well, it goes on. As much as we want it to stop when a tragedy occurs, it doesn't. I am certainly not by any means an expert in this area. I'm not a philosopher or a theologian. I have experienced a great loss in my life, though, the December before our country suffered her great loss, and this is what I think on the topic of life, love, loss, and letting go:

I've come to believe that it is absolutely essential for life to go on after loss because for your typical, average, ordinary person (like me) if it didn't go on, if there was a way to stop the world from turning, to stop Father Time from marching right on as if nothing ever happened, then the grieved would have no reason to let go, move on, and experience all the richness and fullness life still, even still, after a devastating loss, has to offer them.

The Bible says in the book of Romans chapter 8, verse 28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." I believe this whole-heartedly. I believe that in times of hardship, those that love the Lord will rely heavily upon Him and in return grow in their relationship with the Lord. I believe this because I've experienced it. The Bible also says in the book of Proverbs chapter 3, verse 5, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding". Oooo. Lean not on your own understanding. That's a hard one for me. I want things to make sense, but I've learned that despite what your teachers taught you in grade school, there's NOT a clear cut answer to everything . . . at least not here on Earth. I don't understand why our country suffered such an overwhelming tragedy those seven years ago, but I trust in the Lord, and I know that those who love and serve Him are able to see some good come out of the devastation.

For one, I have seen a surge in pride for our wonderful country just in the past seven years and a new respect for our country's men and women in uniform - not just our military men and women who are willing every day that they serve to lay their life down for the freedoms that we take for granted, but also for our police officers and fire fighters. I might be naive or maybe simple-minded, but I believe that within the last seven years many families have grown closer, friends cherish each other a little more, parents hold their children a little closer all in an attempt to savor every precious moment we've been given on this earth. We hear everyday on the news that our economy is falling apart, people are losing their jobs while the price of oil is continuing to rise, recession, recession, recession, but no one reports on the number of men and women who are saved for all of eternity because they've come to the end of their ropes and they have no where else to turn. They have no hope, no way out of the pit they're in . . . until they see Jesus there with His arms out. They jump. And He catches them. Call me an optimist, but it happens! After all, we are promised in Deuteronomy 33:27 "The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms."

I wish that it wouldn't have happened on that September 11th seven years ago today. I wish that the families of all of those brave men and women could have their loved ones back. But, no matter how painful, life does go on. It's been going on now for seven years and it'll continue to go on. I pray that those families have (or will) let go and jumped into Jesus' awaiting, everlasting arms.

In my upcoming posts, I will be introducing you to the two nominees who won my "What a Difference You've Made in My Life" contest. I believe that you will be moved by their story. I also want to share with you a very special nominee who didn't win, but whose story changed my life. So stay tuned!

PRAYER CONCERNS AND UPDATES: I want you all to know that I am honored to be able to serve you in this way. I have seen first hand the difference prayer can make for a person in his/her time of need. Just this week, I (either alone or with a group) have been asked to pray for the needs of five different people. Please add these concerns to your prayer lists at home and pray mightily for these families. (I'm listing them in the order that I received them.): Please pray for the Belsich family, and especially for 16-year-old Amanda. It was discovered that Amanda had an orange-sized tumor in her neck which was removed. However, it was cancerous and had gotten into her lymph nodes so she will be undergoing treatments in the near future. Please pray for strength - both physical and mental, and for both Amanda and her family. Also, pray for health and healing for this young lady. And pray that after her treatments are over, she will experience a strength like she's never known - in her mind, in her body, and in her faith. Please pray for Sue Tatum. Sue was in a boating accident in Alabama and is clinging to life. Lift her up to the Lord and pray for a miraculous recovery. Also, pray for her family during this time of unrest, that the Lord will give them all a peace that passes understanding. Please lift up Kelly M., the daughter of one of the authors published by Sheaf House. Kelly has been very ill so please pray for restored health and returned strength for her and peace for her mama, who has been very worried. I also need for you to pray for the family of Dick Hohler. He passed away on Monday of a heart attack just shy of 67 years old. Please especially pray for his wife, Ron Anne, his son, Mark, and his brother, David. Pray that they will be comforted in a way that only the Lord can comfort in this time of loss and that they will experience the Lord's peace in the months ahead. Lastly (for today) please pray mightily for Robin Baughman, a 40-year-old mother of an 11-year-old daughter, a 10-year-old son, and 3-year-old twins. It was just discovered that Robin has a mass on her brain that has turned out to be stage four cancer. She also has a mass on her breast, and a spot on her lung. She will be having surgery to remove the mass on her brain next week and then undergoing chemo treatments. Please pray for strength for Robin and her husband, Gary. Please pray for healing for Robin. Pray that they are abundantly blessed with help and encouragement from family and friends. Pray that the Great Physician is with the doctors of Robin, Amanda, Sue, and Kelly, giving them guidance and wisdom to know exactly what to do for His children. I have one update: Larry Harris is still in the hospital and not out of the woods quite yet so please continue to pray for him and for his wife, Kathy. And remember, if you or someone you know has a prayer concern (even if it is unspoken - God knows all of our needs after all) please email me personally through my profile and I will be more than happy to post it. There IS power in prayer!

Monday, September 8, 2008

What a Difference YOU'VE Made in My Life!

The contest is officially over, and I just have to take a minute to express how blessed I have been through these past two months. Those of you that entered have allowed me to become a teeny tiny part of your lives, sharing precious memories of loved ones that have entered the church triumphant or very special loved ones here on Earth, making a difference in the lives of others everyday. At the risk of sounding sappy, you all quite honestly made a difference in my life. I never planned on having this contest affect me the way it has. I was just hoping to make others happy by honoring their loved ones, but the stories you shared with me touched me very deeply - the way my mom still misses her grandmother or how my sister learned more about life and herself from her son. I received more nominations than I can possibly mention here, but one that truly changed my life was sent to me by a grandmother who wanted to nominate her precious young grandson (he would have been 7 this past April) who courageously battled a brain tumor for a year and a half and hung on long enough to see his baby brother into this world. And then, unfortunately, he left this world for a life with his Father. Obviously, the female nominee was the boy's mother. I mean, imagine bringing one child into this world as another one is leaving. I wept as I read this entry mostly because I just felt so heavily grieved for this family but also because this grandmother, as was the case with many of you, though she desperately misses her grandson, she maintains a positive outlook. And that's when it hit me - people make a difference in the lives of others when they are able to look at any situation and find the good in it - the "little somethin' special"! That was certainly the case with the winners of the What a Difference You've Made in My Life contest. And, without further ado, the winners are . . . DRUM ROLL PLEASE!

Dan Olien, nominated by Brenda Olien, and Cassie Ground, nominated by Tammy Ruthsatz. Congratulations to all! Both are very compelling stories and I can't wait to introduce them to you. More details to follow in the days, weeks, and months ahead, but keep those names in the back of your mind. You will see them again in the pages of The Heart's Journey Home! (On a side note, aren't my girls cute holding their little cowboy hat for me to pick a name from? They'd just gotten out of the bathtub and were smelling so sweet in their Hannah Montanna jammies. How'd I ever get to be such a blessed mama? Oh, and of course I have to give kudos to my husband, Chris, the photographer. It was a family affair!)

PRAYER CONCERNS AND UPDATES: This has been a busy week! I have two new prayer concerns to add to our list. First, please pray mightily for Larry Harris. He is the husband of one of the ladies in our writer's group. Kathy took him to the hospital Saturday night and from the updates we've received, he needs to have a triple or quadruple bypass tomorrow which will be a risky surgery because his heart rhythms are not good. Please pray for miraculous healing, that Larry's heart strengthens and heals. Also pray for God's loving arms to wrap Kathy up in his comfort and peace. She seems to be a strong person, but I'm sure she'll need a heavy dose of prayers during the days and weeks to come as Larry's recovery may take a while. Also, please pray for Phyllis Gentry, the caregiver of the grown disabled child of another lady from our writer's group. Phyllis has chronic back problems and is in a considerable amount of pain right now - obviously in no shape to care for Ramona's daughter. So please pray for strength and healing for Phyllis. Oh, and btw, Ramona has a new book out. To find out more, click on the link down the page that says "Author Ramona Richards". You won't be sorry! Onto updates . . . I'm very happy to say that Grace Burris has recovered from gallbladder surgery and has been back to teaching now for a couple of weeks. Also, Laura Marske is doing much better from her appendectomy, so I've taken both of those ladies off of the list. My dear friend Patty Smith began her third round of chemo on Friday which was supposed to be "the bad one" but as of yesterday afternoon she was still doing okay. Please pray for continued healing and strength for her. She has FIVE children to help take care of! She needs mountains of strength! So please continue to pray for my dear friend. Little William Hickson has had some trouble this past week with seizures. Please pray for him and for his mama and daddy, Alice-Lyle and Stan, as they work with the doctors to find just the right combination of meds to minimalize the sweet boy's seizures and pray for peace and patience for Alice-Lyle and Stan. My grandma, Angela Dominick, is continuing to heal from her broken hip. She is still getting around with a walker and trying to graduate to a cane, but either way, she's just not able to enjoy the active, independent lifestyle that she'd always known until recently. Please continue to pray for patience and healing for her. Sadly, I do have one update that's not good news. Amber Grant seems to be becoming more lost. She has moved away from her Christian parents with her non-Christian boyfriend and his parents. Please pray that her Christian roots are stronger than anything she is being exposed to and that this road she's on will be an eye-opening journey causing her to do a quick U-turn! God allows and even welcome U-turns!!! Please pray mightily for Amber to come back to the fold. And remember, if you or someone you know has a prayer concern (even if it is unspoken - God knows all of our needs after all) please email me personally through my profile and I will be more than happy to post it. There IS power in prayer!