Sometimes The Simplest Food Takes The Most Effort: Making Gnocchi With Rosina from Until Next Sunday

Last week we toured Italy with Audry Fryer, author of Until Next Sunday. On Monday, Audry visited our podcast and shared some of the behind the scenes of writing the book. Today, we dove into the book and decided to attempt to make and share the iconic family recipe for gnocchi.

Until Next Sunday is a book about two Italian immigrants who find each other and fall in love in America during the early 1900s.

Told through the eyes of the female heroine, Rosina, the story opens with the character saying goodbye to everything she knows in Italy to board a ship to America.

The stage is set for a bit of a Cinderella story as we learn Rosina is leaving because of an evil step mother that worked her to death. She doesn’t know if she will ever get to return, but she has an opportunity to join a brother in America and have her own happiness. Though goodbyes are heartbreaking, this one came with a hopeful promise.

In America, Rosina meets Gianni, and they fall for each other. Illness puts Rosina in a sanitarium (at a time in history when bad things happened there), and the budding love has to spend the majority of its time in letters. For years, the family they have together knew nothing of the past hardships that they faced…one Sunday visit at a time…during limited visits. They couldn’t read the letters either because they were all in Italian and in a dialect hard to translate.

Until Next Sunday is an immigrant story. It is upfront about the fact that it is a work of fiction, but what I love about it is the TRUE STORY behind it. Three sisters–who were granddaughters of Rosina and Gianni–inherited a box of mementos. In that box was a scrapbook of over 100 carefully stored letters. Thanks to the sisters and their determination to know more, a translator was found who could read the difficult regional dialect, and a year of stories was unlocked for all of us to hear. Many of those translated letters are in the book.

How precious would it be if you could see a prequel of the life of your loved ones?

Rosina was a storyteller. Family gatherings on Sundays were filled with food and stories. Some of the sisters’ fondest memories were of Rosina’s Gnocchi, so they included her handwritten recipe in the book. For this review, I decided to take it on.

Making Gnocchi

Gnocchi is a potato pasta that is just three simple ingredients: potatoes, salt, and flour. The ingredients were simple. The instructions were simple. The process was not.

First of all, there is a reason that the recipe calls for a ricer. After you cook 4 potatoes, you are supposed to press them through a ricer. This would mash them evenly into fine pieces. That is extremely important as you are counting on the starch in the potato to hold everything together, but it won’t be broken down enough without a ricer.

Boiling water for gnocchi becomes the test that shows what I did wrong

In my case, I didn’t have the ricer, so I mashed the potatoes as well as possible with a masher. What I ended up with was chunks of crystal-like potatoes in the dough that would make the dough fall apart in the water, create a cloud of starchy mash, scorch the pan, and cause me to have to drain and start over multiple times.

So…use a ricer.

Despite this rookie mistake, I did get a reasonable good dough out of it, and I did transfer it to a wooden board as Rosina suggested.

The board made it easier to cut and form the pasta, but it also further revealed how unsteady it was. It was hard to make any pinch of this hold together with chunky potatoes in it.

Still, some of them did hold long enough to rise in the water and be transferred to the sauce.

Success! Gnocchi made it to the sauce.

Gnocchi is pretty plain by itself (it’s a pasta), so you need sauce. I’m sure it would be excellent in cheese, but I wanted to be as authentic as possible and make a scratch tomato sauce.

Tomato marinara from scratch

How to make marinara

If you can get your hands on home canned tomatoes, that would be best, but I used store bought. For this sauce, I started with a generous coating of the pan in quality olive oil and spices. I used Greek cold-pressed oil, Herbs de Provence, and garlic powder. The herbs are extra fragrant, so I knew they would carry a little farther than just Italian seasoning. I sautéed that oil/herb based for a minute till it browned, then I added tomatoes. I added two 16 oz. cans of diced tomatoes (one had garlic and olive oil in it that really added flavor), one 16 oz. can of tomato sauce, and one 8 oz. can of tomato paste. You need that variety to create the consistency of a chunky sauce. The paste is important too because it acts as a thickener but with concentrated tomato flavor.

You want to bring all the ingredients together stirring them in the pan till a light boil pops. Then reduce the heat to its lowest setting and let it simmer. The longer a sauce has the chance to sit and simmer, the better it becomes because all those flavors and ingredients marry each other.

Final plate: gnocchi in homemade marinara, drizzled with Greek olive oil, and topped with grated parmesan

What Cooking With Rosina Taught Me

Making gnocchi was a lesson in itself. To get to that final plate that looks and tastes so good, you have to be willing to put in extra time, effort, and patience.

I’m not a very patient cook. After 30 minutes of messing with something, I am usually over it. I am sure half of my problems making gnocchi were from trying to make this without the proper tools. Nevertheless, this recipe said a lot about the person who wrote it. Rosina had to have been a very patient, loving, and resilient woman. What came second nature to her came because of years of making it so it would become easier.

How many things in life do we practice to perfection?

How many times do we exercise patience and persist when we want to quit?

I had to laugh at myself to keep from crying as I made this first attempt at gnocchi. Next time (and there will be a next time), a ricer will be involved. But making gnocchi with Rosina the cooking grandma, made me want to know her as Rosina the young woman. Until Next Sunday lets you do that.

I encourage you to jump on the author’s website and grab a copy for yourself. It’s worth it.

Travel to Southern Italy: A Region Featured In The Novel, Until Next Sunday 

by Audry Fryer, author of Until Next Sunday

Researching the Campania Region of Southern Italy had to be one of the best parts of writing my latest novel, Until Next Sunday. If only I could have conducted my research in person!

In Until Next Sunday, the main character, Rosina, makes the brave choice to leave her hometown of Torchiara, Italy, in late December 1919. She has a specific reason for her departure (which you’ll discover in the story). Still, leaving everyone and everything she knew for a new life in America is heart-wrenching. 

While someday I hope to visit the setting in Italy at the beginning of my novel, the family with whom I collaborated to write the true story based on their grandparents’ love letters was able to take a trip to this region several years ago. While there, they visited the home where Rosina lived before leaving for America, and they had a visit with the family of Filomena, Rosina’s cousin and closest childhood friend.

Rosina’s hometown of Torchiara, and Naples, where she disembarked for America, are in the Campania Region of Italy. Located in the Southern portion of the boot-shaped peninsula, Campania encompasses the coastal Mediterranean areas of the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, the Cilento National Park, and the islands of Capri and Ischia. 
Campania has a variety of cities, picturesque coastlines, and historical places to visit. Naples is the bustling capital city. The Amalfi Coast hosts dramatic coastlines with mountains that rise steeply from the Mediterranean Sea. And, the ancient city of Pompeii is located in Campania. 
One of the tastiest regions in Italy, Campania offers a variety of well-known Italian dishes and drinks. It’s the birthplace of pizza, especially pizza Margherita. Campania is also known for spaghetti, mozzarella, limoncello, and cannelloni. And it excels in providing some of the best espresso and cappuccino in the country.
Centrally located in the Cilento National Park, Torchiara overlooks the blue Mediterranean Sea with groves of ancient olive trees lining the hillsides. This picturesque village enjoys mountain breezes, lower humidity, and views of Salerno Bay. On a clear day, you can spot the island of Capri in the distance. Torchiara boasts over a thousand years of history along its cobbled stone streets, ancient palaces, and quaint churches. 
Although born in Battipaglia in the Campania Region of Salerno, Rosina spent most of her youth in Torchiara. Her childhood home sat along one of the cobbled stone streets in this hilltop village. Before leaving for America, Rosina worked in the olive groves on the mountainside. 
According to Linda, one of Rosina’s granddaughters, “When I would comment on my Grandmother’s soft hands and beautiful skin, her reply was, ‘I worked in the olive groves of Torchiara, where some of the finest Virgin Olive Oil comes. And the oil from picking olives was the best lotion for keeping my skin so soft. So throw away your expensive creams and use a little olive oil each day! So what if you smell like a salad? It’s worth it!”

These three pictures were taken by the sisters that visited their grandparents’ home over ten years ago.

As the capital city of the Campania region, Naples is a dynamic location. And not just because it sits beneath the shadow of Mount Vesuvius! It’s also the third-largest city in Italy.
Naples has a diverse and complicated history with some triumphs and many setbacks. In my book, Until Next Sunday, Rosina disembarked from the port in Naples for America in 1919.
Although Southern Italy and Naples are considered much poorer regions than Rome and northern Italy, this region still offers many tourism opportunities. You can visit ancient sites and various castles, stroll through art museums, and indulge in a pizza or a shot of espresso.
If you travel West and slightly to the North of the Campania Region, you will come to the Eastern, mountainous coast of Italy known as the Abruzzo Region. Gianni, Rosina’s love interest in Until Next Sunday, originally called Teramo in the Abruzzo Region home. Teramo sits between the high peaks of the Apennines and the Adriatic Coast.
One of the region’s well-known dishes is homemade gnocchi. Rosina would prepare homemade gnocchi for her family at their Sunday dinners. You can find Rosina’s recipe for gnocchi in the opening pages of Until Next Sunday and within the free book club kit download from my website.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed this mini-tour of Italy. This region was fascinating to research. I love how a book can take you on a mental vacation to faraway places like the mountain village of Torchiara or the bustling city of Naples. Someday, I hope that I get to go there in real life! How about you? Is Italy on your travel “wish list”?

About the Book

About the Author

Audry Fryer is an author and professional freelance writer from Pennsylvania. Formerly a teacher, Audry wrote her first novel while her toddler son and twin babies napped. As her children have grown into teenagers, she has expanded her writing career. Audry lives with her family and two pugs in a quiet corner of Southeastern PA. To learn more about Audry, please visit her website at www.audryfryer.com

A Miracle In The Making In Tin City: Wallace Christian Academy

(Previously published in The Duplin Times)

A miracle is in the making in the Tin City area of Wallace. In January 2021, Pastor Chris Jarman of Poston Baptist Church spoke to some of his church members about his vision to start a Christian school in the Wallace area. Together they visited several schools in eastern North Carolina and presented their findings to the church body. The church voted and found 100% approval to move forward with the project. By March, they had formed a committee where each person contributed the best of their expertise in the areas of construction, planning, and implementation. A three-phase plan was born to build a K-12 school. During Phase One, the school will open enrollment for K-2. In Phase Two, enrollment will extend for 3-5. In Phase Three, enrollment will begin for 6-12. By the end of the third phase, a fully functioning private Christian K-12 school will be built on 17 acres of farmland once donated to the church.

Everything you see (behind the church) that was soybeans, belongs to Poston. We decided it needed to grow children for God on this property–not just keep growing soybeans and stuff.

Assistant Principal Charles Blanchard

Right now, Phase One is enrolling for K-2 classes to begin on August 23, 2022. Phase Two with classes for grades 3-5 is expected to be ready to enroll in Fall 2023.  “Our goal is for the children we have in second grade this fall to be able to go into third grade with us the following year,” said Headmaster Steve Le Roux. “We will keep operating like that until the final building can be completed.” 

Headmaster Steve Le Roux with influential director and Assistant Principal, Charles Blanchard

Building for Phase One began last year. The church gutted its existing structure down to the floor joists and rebuilt it as a school. The church sanctuary remained intact throughout the rebuild and will serve as a weekly chapel for the school. The men of the church gave their time and talent to facilitate the rebuild and are still busy finalizing the details of the property today. Construction for Phase Two will begin later this month. “A building has been ordered and will arrive on May 17th (to begin Phase Two),” Mr. Blanchard said. “It will be a shell building that we will frame in and build up for grades 3-5. It will take us till after Christmas to get it finished.”

Charles Blanchard, a member of Poston Baptist Church, has been key in the direction and build of Wallace Christian Academy. Retired from over 40 years of service teaching and administering schools in the Duplin County Public School System, he knew exactly what steps would need to be taken to get the school running and accredited with the North Carolina Christian School Association. He will continue to serve the school in a voluntary position as Assistant Principal. “He has a wealth of knowledge,” said Mr. Le Roux. “He will be an ongoing asset for us.”

Mr. Le Roux also serves as the pastor of Rose Hill Baptist Church (which helped assist and house the Rose Hill UMC church after its fire four years ago). He is excited about the role he will play leading the school. “What Poston has already been able to accomplish in one year has been amazing,” said Mr. Le Roux. Not only did they plan for every detail of the project, but the church also raised $250,000 to fully fund Phase One. As the school grows, the buildings will continue to serve a dual purpose for the church as meeting spaces for church ministries. The final Phase Three building will also serve as a Family Life Center for the church. 

Several families have already taken the step of faith to commit to the school. We are prayerfully interviewing teachers and hope they really have the heart to see this as a mission field the way that we do.” 

Headmaster Steve Le Roux

Mr. Le Roux’s heart for ministry has been a passion throughout his life. He was born in South Africa with a skull injury that was supposed to cause him blindness and a life of pain. Corrective surgery and prayer brought him complete healing. In 2003, Duplin County Schools began recruiting teachers from England. They interviewed and hired Mr. Le Roux. “Those first few years, I was miserable and wanted to go back home. I would come and park behind that dumpster over there,” Mr. Le Roux said, pointing to a nearby convenience store. “I looked out at the field and just thought and talked to God. I had no idea I was looking at the place that would become a school I now get to headmaster.”

Mr. Le Roux’s teaching experience provided the background to know that small class size and the personal touch of reading in a circle matters. That’s why you will see circle tables in each classroom in addition to the individual student desks. The school plans to cap individual class sizes to 18 students. “We don’t plan to turn anyone away,” Mr. Le Roux said, “but we want to also keep the classes manageable.”

Starting with Abeka curriculum, Wallace Christian Academy will provide a thorough education in core subject areas, extra-curriculars, and Biblical training.

We are a Christian school, and we are going to teach a Biblical worldview. Founded on Ephesians 6:10-11, we want to empower our students to know what they believe and be able to defend it in our modern culture.

Headmaster Steve Le Roux

Efforts to teach using the latest technology were important enough to the school to budget for it. “Students will have books as well as IPads to begin their learning process,” Mr. Le Roux said. “Older students will have laptops. We also plan to have fast WiFi and smart TVs in each classroom that teachers can use for instructional purposes.” Technology extends beyond the classroom to the parents as well. Parents will be able to monitor grades and progress online using GradeLink. 

Tuition is competitively priced at $4500 a year per student and it decreases per child for families with multiple students enrolled. “We also have the Opportunity Scholarship for families within certain income brackets that want private school education but think they can’t afford it,” Mr. Le Roux said. The scholarship can cover the whole cost of tuition for approved applicants. 

On April 9th, parents and future students of Wallace Christian Academy had the opportunity to visit the campus for an Open House event. Everyone was excited for classes to start in the fall. 

Enrollment is still open for students to join the 2022-2023 school year. For more information, check out their website at https://www.wallacechristianacademy.com/ or come pick up an application at 4121 S. Highway 11 in Wallace.

The State of Education and How Tutoring to the Top is Making a Difference in Wayne and Duplin County, NC

Recently, a local high-school story went viral when it showed old equipment, broken floors, and rats in the school. That story was further detailed with descriptions of fighting and complete lack of control or respect in the classrooms. Teachers are overwhelmed and physically assaulted in classrooms. Administrators are overwhelmed. Students are ruling the room in anarchy and chaos. It’s not just this one school, nor is it all gang-related activity. This is the state of norm with kids in many schools today.

How can we expect teachers to control a room where they are scared and fear for their lives?

How can we expect proper authority to be established when state budgets are constantly seeing cuts to funding instead of increases?

More and more parents are tired of trusting the broken public education system. As a result, more and more families are pulling their kids out and into private schools. More and more new schools are appearing as well.

But what do you do if you can’t afford to send your kid to private school, nor do you have the time to stay home and homeschool them? How do we tackle the learning gaps when our kids come home with mountains of homework and frustration over all the things they don’t understand?

The best we can do is become active advocates for the care and education of our children. Whenever possible, that should include tutoring to help students overcome the deficiency they are experiencing.

(The following story was originally published in The Duplin Times.)

According to the US Census Bureau, 33-34% of people living in poverty in Wayne and Duplin counties are 18 years old or younger. Research suggests that constant changes, stress at home, and unequal access to learning resources contribute to lags in learning in the classroom. For things to get better, there has to be a concentrated effort inside education to recognize and assist where there is need. Tutor To The Top, part of the non-profit mission of Rones Chapel Area Community Center, is a free K-12 tutoring program that can help. 

Tutor To The Top has been serving southern Wayne and northern Duplin counties since 2016. They offer tutoring with credentialed, experienced tutors to anyone that needs it–regardless of socioeconomic status. Tutoring sessions are by appointment only and one hour a week per child. Appointments are available after school between 4 and 7pm at partnering locations. Sessions are currently offered at the Steele Memorial Library in Mount Olive and Rones Chapel Area Community Center in northern Duplin county. 

Recently, the program opened a partnership with the fitness and wellness center, Dream Works, in Warsaw. Brian Dicicco, the facility director, said they were excited to provide the space for Tutor To The Top because “we operate on a faith-based set of values and want to be able to offer services to the community–not just be a fitness and wellness business”. In addition to low-cost memberships, Dream Works offers rentable spaces and has partnered with other community outreach events such as the Toys 4 Tots Drive with the Salvation Army in December 2021.   

Since COVID and remote learning, 20% more families saw the value in tutoring services and enrolled their children in Tutor To The Top in 2021. The increased demand just makes funding more challenging. Families are encouraged to donate to help cover the cost of tutoring, but they are not turned away if they are unable to pay. Neither are tutors lessened in their pay for the services they provide. What keeps the program alive is individuals and sponsors willing to donate funds to the program. Connie Wells, CEO of the Rones Chapel Area Community Center, said “generosity can come from the most unexpected places. Sometimes parents struggling to put food on the table are the biggest donors to the program because they see the value in investing in their children’s education.” 

Parents with children in the Tutor To The Top program through 2021 had glowing things to say about the program. “In their feedback forms,” Connie Wells said, “they told us that in 2021 one student’s math grades went from 13% to 91% in three months, another student made the honor roll in the first semester, and many more found that tutoring helped bridge the gap for their child’s remote COVID-related learning. Almost all parents recognized their kids have an increased self-awareness from tutoring that empowered them to be better advocates for themselves in classrooms as well.” 

What everyone agreed on–parents, students, and tutors–was that they want more time together. Tutors have invested in growing character–not just better grades–in their clients. Connie Wells said this is because “we are interested in growing professionals not just helping kids pass tests.”

To contact the organization to sponsor Tutor To The Top or to enroll a child in tutoring services, email RCACC@earthlink.net, call (919) 658-0476 and leave a message, or go to their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/RCACC.NC/  

Art of Hope: Where Dreams Come True in Wallace, NC

Art of Hope galleries and framing shops in Wallace and Clinton, NC are evidence of an impossible dream that came true for artist, Hope G. Smith. In the art business for 18 years, Hope has over 1000 paintings, two Art of Hope galleries, and work on display around the world. 

Hope grew up as an artist in a family of creatives and entrepreneurs. Though they have been helpful for her development as an artist and businesswoman, Hope was not encouraged to see art as a viable career early on. She pursued teaching for a more steady income but found herself writing her own business plan after just three years of teaching. In January 2004, she opened a studio out of her home and began the journey of entrepreneurship. “I taught private lessons, made my own art, and did custom framing,” Hope says. “I took on any job possible, and it just grew from there.” In the beginning, Hope went to shows, expos, and all sorts of events to get her work seen. She also kept expenses low by working from home. “Until you get on your feet,” she says, “working from home cuts the overhead.” 

With no formal business training of her own, Hope surrounded herself with a strong support system.

You need to know who you can trust to surround you. It should be a partnership where you help each other out–not just one benefitting from the other.

Hope G. Smith on business partnerships

Hope’s most important partnership is with her husband. He did the hard work of researching the business side of what she needed to do to make her dreams come true.

Two really are better than one if you let it be, but you have to work at it. It isn’t easy; it’s hard work.

Hope G. Smith about marriage

Hope’s artistic style has been described as whimsical, colorful, and loose. She tries to capture “the soul of the moment, not a photo-realistic portrayal of it”. Her art also incorporates Bible verses as an intentional attempt to be a positive light. “If we can be a light in whatever work we find ourselves in (mine is art), we should be one!”

Prints from selected originals are available for purchase within Art of Hope galleries and online. Some originals can be purchased as well as custom framing jobs at either location. Hope is also available for hire to do custom commissions and live wedding painting. 

Hope G. Smith is a founding member of the Downtown Wallace Merchant Association, and she is a strong advocate for the value of a healthy Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber is what visitors look at when they come to a new area. When a Chamber is healthy, it goes to businesses and supports them, it sends customers to them, and it shops locally for its own needs before it looks elsewhere. Good leadership is a partnership with business, and we support each other.

Hope G. Smith on the importance of a Chamber of Commerce

The Downtown Merchant Association works with the Chamber of Commerce to support downtown businesses and bring activities there like the semi-annual Shop Hop in April. This ticketed event includes lunch, coffee, free merchandise, and discounts at 15-20 downtown shops in Wallace, NC. Downtown Wallace is a thriving place with businesses that have been in operation there for many years. When asked about why small-town America is thriving with culture today, Hope’s answer was sincere. “People are hungry for a small-town community. Covid has taught us all that we need each other; we need community.” 

Hope doesn’t take for granted that she has been blessed to be in business as an artist for 18 years. “The art business isn’t easy. Sometimes you overwork and have to be willing to put in the hours that nobody sees. When you are doing what God has called you to do,” she says, “you are doing that thing that fills your soul. The money will follow after that. It is much harder to do something you don’t love, so pursue your passion and don’t feel guilty for doing something you love. We need to be able to embrace people for what they are, not necessarily the 9-5 boxes we want to put them in.”

A lot of people, over the years, have told Hope that they are not creative, but Hope looks at creativity much different. “Creativity breeds creativity,” she says. “People do it all the time and don’t realize it. Creativity is an important part of how we nurture humanity. It is when we aren’t nurturing others that problems arise in society.”

When she is not out painting in the community, Hope G. Smith can be found in one of her two galleries: Art of Hope in Wallace or Clinton, NC. She is also available online at hopegsmith.com.

The Thorn is Not a Thorn

Today is a day of thorns.

When this story goes to post it will be Good Friday, the day commemorated in Christianity as a day of fasting and penance for the torture and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

We remember Christ in his sufferings and call it “good” not because of what he endured but why he endured it.

Since the very beginning of time, God planned to send his only Son into the world to redeem and bring back to himself what was lost and stolen by sin (John 3:16-17). We as a people stepped away from him, but God stepped two steps towards us.

When Jesus Christ came into the world, this promised Messiah, this prophesied King and Redeemer, was expected to come with a mighty army to overthrow the Roman rule–but he didn’t. He was expected to overthrow physical restraints on his people, topple Rome and make Israel politically free–but he didn’t. Instead, Christ preached about freedom of hearts and minds–freedom that can’t be taken or shaken by circumstances.

Jesus was expected to be mighty and physically strong, yet he came as a baby needing the help of others. All hope seemed lost at the end, on Good Friday, when he hung defeated and dead on a cross. A crown of thorns pierced his head and mocked the idea that he was a king at all.

Christ wasn’t the only one to bear thorns.

Thorns became a metaphor, following Good Friday, of putting up with some crippling difficulty.

The Apostle Paul wrote about it in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. He had something he had to wrestle with that bothered him so much that he prayed for God to remove it. We still don’t know what Paul wrestled with, but the response to his prayer stands true still: God shows his power through our weaknesses.

Today, we haven’t gotten away from the crown of thorns.

One of the strongest women I know comes from the hills of Kentucky. Though she has traveled the world and lived in other cultures like Japan, she still has the pluck of a mountain woman. All the time I have known this ginger-haired woman, she has been thin and frail. While she worried about feeding her children, they worried about putting meat on her bones. Even as a teenager, you could lift her feet off the ground with a good bear hug. When you thought she couldn’t get skinnier, she got sick, couldn’t eat, and lost more weight. She developed COPD and struggled to breathe, but she kept smoking.

One day, I stepped outside to light a cigarette, and I went to take in a breath of air, and I couldn’t get one. I literally couldn’t breathe.

Betty Eubank

That was the end of cigarettes for Betty. Still, it didn’t resolve her COPD. There were expensive treatments ahead but no cure. The disease itself was painful; medicine could at least ease in that. Still, for the most part, Betty rejected it.

How can I call this a Thorn in my flesh when I look at all Christ went through for me? This little bit of stuff I deal with is nothing compared to that.

Betty Eubank

Instead of worrying about her disease, Betty focused on her faith. She turned to Christ and developed a deep faith and patient trust in God’s will for her life. She doesn’t fear COPD. In fact, most days she barely acknowledges it. If she is in pain, she doesn’t talk about it. Instead, she lets her weakness remind her of Christ and all he has done to reconnect her with the love of the God that made her.

SPOILER ALERT: Christ doesn’t stay dead on a cross. He ends up coming back to life after three days in a burial tomb. He walked and talked and was seen by others for a short time. Then he went to Heaven to prepare a place there for all that believe in him and choose him as Lord. The end was just the beginning.

What end are you facing in your life today?

What thorn stands between you and happiness? Pray and ask God to help you through your weakness.

If you are still not sure about this Jesus, it is not too late to get to know him. Read what he did in the Bible’s Gospel of John. The heart of the Father in Heaven is to love you and restore a relationship with you. It has never been to condemn you. Return to Him today.

Pumpkin Donuts, Burned Churches, a Confident Hope, and Rising from the Ashes of Defeat

It wasn’t your normal doctor’s appointment. It wasn’t a date night either. It was a chance to sit across the table with a friend, share a meal, and listen. It was a chance to debate whether or not two diabetics should be ordering pumpkin donuts with cream cheese frosting…then ordering anyways and laughing.

If you had told them in that moment that the pumpkin donuts story would go on to mean so much more, they would have snapped you a quizzical look as if to say, “girl! Stop playin’!”

But that is exactly what happened when, just a few weeks later, Covid took the life of one of them.


We never really know what moments will last forever. Sometimes, it is a text or a phone call. Sometimes, it is a picture or a long string of words. Sometimes, it hides in the pockets of a stranger. Sometimes, it is the arms of a friend.

Still, 1 Thessalonians 4:17-18 and 1 John 2:27-28 encourage us to have confidence and hope in the fact that we will be reunited with our passed Christian loved ones if we remain steadfast in our faith in Christ.

I believe that when you truly love someone, you love them without borders. You give of your time and talent sacrificially, and you listen more than you speak. It is the kind of love that empowers you to be your best self and bring out the best in those who know you and experience your love.

That influence doesn’t stop with a grave. You listen to a song or go to places you once shared together, and you hear their missed voice again. Love that is true and whole lasts forever and transcends death.


On New Years Eve ringing in 2018, the Rose Hill United Methodist Church at 314 E. Church Street didn’t know their special service would be their last. The next morning, January 1, 2018, an accidental electrical fire completely destroyed the century old church.

Firefighters at the scene of the Rose Hill UMC fire in 2018
Early 1900s church destroyed by fire
Burned out and destroyed stained glass windows
A cross forms in the rubble as the church burns

That moment could have ended the congregation, but it didn’t. With support from the community, the people continued to meet together wherever they could till a new church could be built. After four years and nearly four months, on Sunday, March 27, 2022, the church celebrated its first service in the new church building.

  For us, the fire was a new beginning.

Long-term Rose Hill UMC member, Ronda Rivenbark
The new church building at Rose Hill United Methodist Church

Hope rises like a Phoenix, from the ashes of shattered dreams.

S.A. Sachs
The Bible saved from the Rose Hill UMC fire still carries ash from the church fire

How do you start over when everything you have loved and held dear is gone?

Where is there room for joy in the midst of suffering? Peace in spite of pain?

Can you ever truly be happy again when all you feel in this moment is the ache of loneliness and disappointment?

Whether it is the loss of a loved one or the loss of something you held dear, the pain you feel–though deep–is temporary. Somehow, you have to determine that this loss, this pain, this diagnosis will not stop you from living your life to the fullest possible. You give it your all; you don’t let feelings dictate your outcome. You remember the good and let go of the bad. You rebuild better with vision for the needs of your future. You keep looking forward…pressing forward. THAT is what hope does.

When Rose Hill UMC needed help, they found out that they were not alone. “Our community really stepped out to support us in a lot of ways,” said Ronda Rivenbark. “We didn’t do any fundraisers, but other churches, organizations, and even kids did them for us and gave the money to us. There was a Gospel Sing for us and many love offerings. One man even gave us his house to sell to benefit the church. Meanwhile, our lawyers were going above and beyond to get what we were owed from the insurance.” All the donations helped with repairs to bring the congregation safely back to their own fellowship hall where everything had to be stripped and replaced because of the damage. Community partnership helped propel the congregation forward from the fire and is honored in the new building today. “The Baptist church down the road took us in for a while, and they really loved on us. Before that, we missed only two services before Pastor Chris Leak took us to a nearby motel to meet,” said Rivenbark.

Resilience isn’t something we always know we have until we are challenged to use it. Truly surviving tragedy is not really the goal, though; you want to make it through the hard times and live better on the other side of them. THAT takes the wisdom of a visionary leader. Sometimes, that is someone else like a friend or mentor giving you sound advice about your life. Other times, it is a business partner coaching you. In the case of Rose Hill UMC, it was the new pastor and his wife, Dave and Linda Bundy.

Dave and Linda bring an exuberance about youth and community outreach that is evident in the new building. The new building cost 3 million, and it accounted for space for every considerable need of a family-oriented church. Space for children and youth ministry, workout classes, and community meeting space was included in the new building. A gym with a basketball hoop is the dual purpose of the new fellowship hall. “We wanted to provide a place for kids in the community to come and shoot hoops if they want to because we have nothing in our community recreation center for basketball,” Rivenbark said. A new kitchen and pantry space make room for a food pantry open to the community every Tuesday morning. “We are a small congregation with country people,” Rivenbark said, “but we rebuilt with community outreach in mind.”

Community outreach was the heart of the message on the first Sunday in the new building. Pastor Dave Bundy preached about the prodigal son from Luke 15, and he challenged the congregation: “What role do you see yourself playing as we move forward? For four years and (nearly) four months, are you looking from afar to see (the people in need in our community) and proclaim ‘welcome home’?” 

That message is echoing here today. Beyond the ashes of your defeat, have you put much thought into the life you want to lead after all this? Do you have a safe place to confide your feelings that can give you wise, Biblical council?

The Rose Hill UMC congregation will be celebrating the new building officially with a service the whole community is invited to at 11am on April 9th. It is a service that reflects the thankfulness they have felt for all four years and four months of support they had from others.

As you push forward past the pain in your own life, look closely at your life and the people who have supported you. Remember that friend or family member who brought you a meal, took you on errands, cleaned your house, watched your kids, or just sat and listened to you. Don’t dismiss all that effort as something you were owed because you didn’t earn it; it was a free gift to you. What are some tangible ways you can show thankfulness to those who have been there to support you in such ways? Challenge yourself to be more intentionally grateful today.

Walton’s Distillery in Jacksonville, NC: A Family Heritage Publicly Shared

Donald G. Walton Jr. at the gift shop at Walton’s Distillery

When Donald G. Walton, Jr. left Onslow County to pursue a law degree in the 1980s, he never knew he would return to the area with a heart for distilling spirits much like his ancestors. “I fell in love with the distilling of bourbon while studying law in Kentucky. (When we started the distillery in 2013), bourbon was a very difficult spirit to start, so we began with our very own corn whiskey,” Mr. Walton said.

Distilling bourbon or whiskey is a time-intensive process involving locally sourced corn that is blanched to produce an enzyme-rich liquid. The spent corn is sold back to local farmers for their cattle, while the liquid stays to become the base of most distilled spirits. It is cycled through layers of fermentation to create grain alcohol. “The objective for whiskey,” Walton said, “is to condense alcohol and clarify the spirit.” For bourbon, the highest proof alcohol is then also exposed to a new aged oak barrel for 2-3 years. “During that time, the liquid breathes in and out of the wood, infusing its flavor, and letting the charcoal remove any impurities,” Walton said. Without any additional flavors, the final product is a clean flavor of earthy corn and smoked oak within the fire of a 90 proof alcohol. 

Bourbon aging in oak barrels at Walton’s Distillery

Perhaps more approachable than the bourbon is the moonshines made by Walton’s Distillery. “My family had been distilling moonshine for generations in the woods,” Walton said, “and after some persuasion, I decided to continue on with the family recipe and distill moonshine as well.” At 40 proof or less, the moonshines are considerably lighter and come in fun flavors to pair well with drinks and cooking. My favorite was Mag Walton’s Peach Shine. Many guests raved about adding shots of it to sweet tea or champagne, but I think the bright fruit and floral notes will be especially fun to cook with. Equally beautiful is Kitty Walton’s Apple Pie Moonshine. Infused with real apples and all the spices of an apple pie, this shine has all the flavor of its name with the kick of the shine. I expect it to make fall cooking with apples extra special.

“Moonshine is more of a novelty product,” Walton says, “everyone wants to buy it thinking of the Prohibition era, and, in my family, our ancestors were making it here and transporting it to New York during that time (illegally). Most makers that make shine now do so as a hobby following the same regional methods of their ancestors to create a quick liquor with a cheap and fast yield.” That novelty is often quite personal for the guests at Walton’s Distillery; many come as descendants of moonshiners with familiar ties to what the Walton products offer legally today. Some have gifted Walton with photographs and memorabilia for display at the distillery. 

Vintage truck from the Prohibition era at the distillery

Moonshining was such a source of pride in Walton’s own family that the cousin that helped start the moonshine still, Norwood Rochelle, shared his version of the generations-old family recipe without a penny of payment. “When he wouldn’t take payment,” Walton said, “I told him I would never sell a jar of shine without giving him credit for it. To this day, his picture is on every label.”

Portrait of Norwood Rochelle hanging in the gift shop at the Distillery

Family remains the heartbeat of Walton’s Distillery. Built in 2013 on the site where numerous illegal stills had previously operated, Walton’s Distillery is a family-owned and operated business. “All our products bear the names of my ancestors as a lasting tribute to them, the hardships they endured, the goals they obtained, and the legacies they have left,” says Walton. 
Unlike beer and wine, distilled spirits cannot be sold online. This makes distribution and growth a real concern for the business. “The easiest part of this business is making the spirits,” Walton says. “The hardest part is marketing and selling. You’re out if you can’t get into an ABC Store. Without that, you limit yourself to local customers.” Growth and marketing for distilleries has to be creative. To that end, Walton’s Distillery hosts five open house events with live music and free food for the public. You can visit the distillery for tours and free tastings throughout the year, Monday through Saturday, from 10AM to 4PM at 261 Ben Williams Road, Jacksonville, NC 28540. For more information, check out their website at www.waltonsdistillery.com

Greece in America: Celebrating Greek Independence Day with Isaak’s International in Wallace, NC

Today, March 25th, Greeks all over the world are celebrating blue and white pride in honor of Greek Independence Day. On this day in 1821, Bishop Germanos of Patras raised the Greek flag with a cry “Freedom or Death”, and a revolution against over 400 years of Ottoman Empire rule was born. Other European countries joined in the fight, and a treaty ended it all with an independent Greek state in 1829.

Greeks live all over the world today. In fact, the highest concentration of Greeks outside of Greece–approximately 3 million–live in the United States today. Greek Independence Day is celebrated with parades, flags, and traditional folk dress, but it is also a holy day honored with church services. This day is celebrated in the Christian liturgical calendar as the Feast of Annunciation, the day the angel told the Virgin Mary she would bear the Christ child. Many Greeks celebrate their independence by also celebrating the holy day in church services.

Greek culture is about far more than a Mediterranean diet or grabbing a gyro for lunch. To learn about Greek culture, we went to Isaak’s International, a marketplace catering to imported Greek, Italian, and Middle Eastern food at 308 East Southerland Street, Wallace, NC. The Greek owners, Isaac and Soteria Georgiadis, took time to tell me about life as a Greek and shared their culture through food, music, and pictures. It was the kind of hospitality that makes you homesick for a country you have never been to. Isaak’s International is open 11AM to 6PM Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 910-665-1464 or email the store at isaaksinternational@gmail.com.

Soteria and Isaac Georgiadis with Store Manager, Jody Hoffmann, and General Manager, Mary Blair Young.

Finding authentic international culture in the middle of a small, southern town, is not as odd as it may seem, but this location was the result of a direct need. The owners moved to North Carolina from New York and had to make trips to New York to purchase the products they cook regularly with. After years of dreaming of opening their own store, in April 2021, they finally got the opportunity to do so. Isaak’s International is an oasis for imported foods used in many European cultures.

Food

Greeks have a saying that “food is life.” The very flavor of the earth itself transfers into the food it creates–even the processed foods coming out of Greece. Olives grow better there. Lemons are happier there. Even the pasta tastes different. Food is a celebration of life that transcends nationality, but the Greeks make it a social event.

Greeks are everywhere and in more of us than you may think. Greek culture has been influenced by invading cultures since 350 BC. Those influences later became the cultures of Italy, England, Turkey, and other European countries. As we immigrated from those countries to America, we brought the ancient Greek roots with us. Many of those influences can be seen in our food from the tall hats chefs wear to much of the vegetarian cuisine we eat today. Like many clean eating diets, Greek cooking involves food cooked in season and with little to no preservatives.

For my attempt at Greek food, I asked for guidance at Issak’s International, bought authentic Greek ingredients, and made Greek Manestra. Click here for a recipe to make your own.

Religion

Though it is officially a secular state, 98% of Greeks identify as Christian and associate with the Greek Orthodox church. The Greek Orthodox Church has many conservative beliefs, but one that is pervasive is the idea that life is not separate from the church. Therefore, Greeks tend to be deeply devout people throughout the week–not just on Sundays. Orthodox faith is focused on the ancient roots of the Christian faith. For more about what they believe and how the church as a whole came to America, check out the Orthodox church website.

Work-Life Balance

In Greece, people work to live not live to work. As a nation made of over 2000 islands, many Greeks were traditionally farmers or fisherman. Today, Greeks can be found in all available commercial occupations, and many of them work multiple jobs. Work shuts down from 2-6pm for afternoon meals and rest time called “messimerino”. Most work days start at 8 or 9am and resume from 6-8pm after the afternoon break.

Family comes first in Greek culture, and they show that by how they spend quality time together. For example, it is traditional to welcome guests with a spoon sweet: a thick flavored sugar that is usually offered by spoonfuls in a glass of water to guests. The spoon sweet flavors the water and is eaten slowly off the spoon while you sit and talk.

When Greeks get together, it is usually coupled with food, music, and dancing. The type of dance and music differs slightly based on the region, but all Greeks can say hello and goodbye with a simple “Yassou!” It is the Greek version of “aloha”.

Cultural Dances

Here’s an example of traditional Greek dance that is recognizable to most cultures today. The Zorba dance seen here is actually from an older all-male dance, the Syrtaki, celebrating the butcher guild and connecting the dancers with aprons, napkins, and a butcher knife.

In Northern Greece along the Black Sea, dancers wear traditional dress involving tobacco, smokers, pouches, a knife, a prayer box, and a cross charm.

In mainland Greece, traditional dance involves kilts and tights, and the instruments include clarinets.

Interested In More Stories Like This?

Check out our story on Afghanistan featuring writing from an Afghan native, Merzae.

Why We Love Afghanistan And The Lessons You Could Learn From Us

From the mark of Alexander the Great in 329 BC to the Asian culture in the 6th Century at Bamyan to the Sultans in 1194 creating a World Heritage Site at the Minaret of Jam, Afghanistan is an intersection of many of the cultures that formed our world. Long sought after for its natural mineral resources and geographic location, the country of Afghanistan has suffered at the hands of brutal tyrants for centuries. This weekend marks the Persian celebration of Nowruz which many Afghanis enjoy in a way similar to American Thanksgiving with special foods and time with family and friends. Yet, the Taliban does not consider it to be an authentic holiday to the Afghan culture, so they discourage the celebration of it. The following article written by an Afghan friend of mine shows the beauty of the country and what lies beneath the layers of war outsiders see. I think the pride he has in his country is something we all can identify with and learn from. Please continue to pray for Afghanistan and encourage American support of our allies there; it is not a safe country and won’t be till the Taliban are removed from it.


by Merzae

There is an innate sense in all of us to love the land we are in. It is the ultimate thought of beauty that exists for all human beings more or less, I do not think there is any human being on earth who does not love his land–even those of us who must live in lands plagued by bad economic times, bad politics, war, and natural disasters. Even when your native country is an unfavorable atmosphere forcing you to leave it for a season, there is still a love for that country beating from the depths of your heart that will not rest until you can return to it. It is the will of every Afghan–wherever we are in the world–to be buried in my land so that, after death, we may sleep peacefully in our land.

Afghanistan is one of the saddest countries in the world because of the suffering we see here. We see death daily through war and hunger. Jobs are hard to find and even harder to keep. We struggle to find safe places to live and raise our families, and we worry about the future we have to give our children. We have become the victim of wars fought by foreign empires seeking to control our land for its natural and historic resources. They come to take from us and leave us in the dark ages–unadvancing into the current opportunities for growth and technology.

Our country is strategically placed geographically to provide intelligence for other surrounding countries in the region. This has made us become the graveyard of all the empires that have tried to conquer us, yet they keep coming. As a people, we have become extremely xenophobic; we show love to strangers as our guests, but we don’t want them to become our lords and rulers.

You may ask why such patriotism has not been met with prosperity and development in Afghanistan. The answer to that is complex and goes through centuries, but it is also a simple one. We do not move forward because we are constantly held back by war. Those who temporarily conquer us don’t have the vision to develop us into a globally contributing country either. They seek to use us and move on from here to conquer more lands. The majority of Afghans do not know who to blame for this dysfunctional existence. The multidimensional and complex question we keep asking ourselves is: do we live like this because of something we have done, our conquerors, or both? Despite all of its problems, we Afghans still love our country.

We hold everything dear here. We enjoy a mild climate most of the year and have some of the best natural foods because of it. We love to pack picnics and escape to places like Band-e Amir National Park when the weather is nice, and we can safely do so. We are also deeply cultured and prideful about our roots. This has led us to nurture many scholars and poets such as Maulana Jalaluddin Balkhi, Ibn Sina, and Abu Rihan.

We are the land of fire and smoke, of antiquity, and of the war-torn. We burn to build. We love this ruin and mourning. We stay and fight to improve our situation, and we won’t give up till our country has its own path to prosperity. Problems will never stop us from loving our homeland. We Afghans are hardworking people with a rich, ancient culture and beautiful land to call our home.

There is no Afghan who has left the country because of loss of interest. Only the circumstances of the times they are living in can force them temporarily away. Still, when they go, their hearts are filled with the love of their country. There is a famous Afghan song when our people emigrate. It says:

I went homeless, I went from house to house
Without you, I always went shoulder to shoulder with sadness
My only love from you is my sign
Without you, my poem and song have no salt
My land is tired of persecution
My land is silent and silent
My land is suffering from incurability
My Land
When did my land make you sad?
When did my land open for you?
When has my land been faithful to you?
My Land
My Moon And Star My Way Again
My proposition is not everywhere
They stole your treasure for their own sake
Break Your Heart Whoever Turns
My land is tired of persecution
My land is silent and silent
My land is suffering from incurability
My Land
My land is like a waiting eye
My land is like a dusty plain
My land is like a heart of sorrow

Afghan Immigration Song

The love for our homeland is so great that we consider living and dying abroad as a disgrace. We love Afghanistan as one loves a child; it is a feeling that comes from the soul. It has nothing to do with the facilities and comforts that are provided. Though a tyrannical and terrorist regime (the Taliban) currently rules our land, we know their end is destruction. Though we struggle to live through poverty and economic problems, through war, burning houses, and a reign of darkness, still love remains. We are ready to sacrifice our lives for this great love.

Learn from us! America, you have the best country in the world in terms of facilities, sweetness, blessings, comfort, and standards of living. Enjoy your freedom and the light you have there. Create a stable and peaceful atmosphere and use the climate and resources afforded to you to enjoy your life. Love your country with all the gentle tenderness of a lover–it is your gift to steward and maintain for future generations.


Nowruz is the celebration of the start of Spring in the northern hemisphere. It’s exact date changes annually as it depends on when the Earth’s equator passes the Sun and day and night become equal in length. This happens between March 19th and 21st.

Specific foods and celebrations differ depending on where it is celebrated, but it is generally a shared cultural holiday observed by over 300 million people worldwide. To learn more about how it is celebrated in Afghanistan, read this article.

One of the primary dishes used to celebrate Nowruz in Afghanistan is a mixed dried fruit and nut dish called “Haft Mewa” or “Seven Fruits”. One of the seven ingredients in the recipe from my friend was not able to be sourced in America. I was not able to source the Oleaster (Lotus tree fruit or Russian Olives) to make this myself. However, Afghani Humaira Ghilzai uses another recipe that replaces the Oleaster with dried cherries. You can find most the ingredients at nuts.com including some pre-blanched nuts to save you that step. Here is a video touring Little Kabul in Northern California and showing you how to make the modified version of Haft Mewa.

Shabbat, Sabbath, and Lent: Religious Traditions of Christianity and Why They Are Important

What Is Shabbat?

In the language of the Jewish culture (Hebrew), the word for Sabbath is Shabbat (pronounced shuh-baat). In Jewish culture, work of all kinds stops for 25 hours from the sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. Special meals, prayers, gatherings, and services are performed over the course of those 25 hours, but the prep for them starts as early as midway in the week before them. You can read more about those traditions here.

What is Sabbath?

Like so many Jewish traditions, Shabbat celebrates God’s providence in the past. The Sabbath celebrates God’s providing and protecting hand throughout the past, present, and the future. Sabbath is also about God the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and it was moved to Sunday for multiple reasons. According to this article from Christianity Today, it has been suggested that the Sabbath changed to Sunday as more people outside of the Jewish culture came to believe in Christ. To pick a day that was not tied to Jewish tradition alone, the early church chose to remember both the start of Creation and the resurrection of Jesus Christ by making the Sabbath on Sunday (since both happened on that day).

How Sabbath Differs

Shabbat and Sabbath are both a day off work to rest and draw closer to God. However, the Sabbath has far less traditional obligations in Christian culture. Most Christians just go to church on Sunday and are done with it. Others go out to eat or cook something special at home that they don’t normally have through the week. Still, others make intentional sacrifices–like going without tech devices for the day–to show reverence to God. In short, religious traditions for a Sabbath revolve around church attendance and personal convictions.

Where Do They Both Come From?

In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth and everything in it. He did all this work in six days and rested on the seventh day. That seventh day of rest was later made into a rule for God’s people to follow:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 20:8-11, NIV

Why Sabbath Is Importantp

As Season 1, Episode 2 of The Chosen demonstrated, Sabbath Rest is about spending time intentionally off work and with loved ones and fellow believers to pursue the presence of God. It comes as an overflow of our act of faith and God’s gift of provision. In Exodus 14, Israel was rescued out of slavery in Egypt and sent into a “promised land” full of impossibilities. Every step into the new world took extraordinary Hebrews 11 kind of faith, and God rewarded them with protection (Exodus 13:12-22), food (Exodus 16:4), clothing (Deuteronomy 29:5), and conquerable land. Still we find ourselves fearful, wandering, questioning God, and reluctant to take even one day to think about our relationship to Him and try to get closer to Him.

Selah: Pause and Consider This

In Isaiah 43:2, God made His people this promise: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

In Exodus 14, God parted the Red Sea to help the Israelites escape the Egyptians, and he folded it in on and drown those that dared pursue them. In Joshua 3, God parted the waters again all the way down to dry land by carrying the Ark of the Covenant across a body of water. In Daniel 3, three men were thrown into a blazing hot fire for not worshiping a statue. A “fourth man” showed up in the fire and kept all of them from burning or even smelling of smoke. It was so miraculous that the King who threw them in the fire removed them and made a new law showing support and allegiance to the God able to do that miracle.

Does looking back on the God that did all of this make a difference in how you approach the impossible things in your life today? Does thinking about his past deeds help you desire to spend more time with him today? What gets in the way of you truly resting in the presence of God on your Sabbath? When you compare yourself to the characters in the show, are you tripped by your past like Mary? tied to religious rituals like Nicodemus? stuck in relational conflict like Matthew? or too afraid to stop working like Simon?

The Chosen Episode 2 from THE FATHER’S HOUSE on Vimeo.

What is Lent and the Liturgical Calendar?

At the time of writing this post, we are in the first week of Lent on the liturgical calendar. The liturgical calendar is a year-round cycle of events that helps Christians get into a rhythm of prayerful, thankful acknowledgment of God at work in their lives. The calendar transcends denominations because God didn’t make them; it focuses on specific events leading to the two most holy events in Christianity: Christmas and Easter.

Lent is a period of 40 days of fasting honoring what Jesus went through in the wilderness prior to Easter. It runs from March 2nd to April 16th and excludes Sundays so Christians can break their fast and celebrate their faith. Lent starts with Ash Wednesday, and on this day, many Christians put ash on their foreheads to remind themselves of how finite life is; we all return to dust eventually. For the next 40 days, Christians choose some food to avoid, and they become more intentionally prayerful and generous. They give to the needy more. They think about Christ more. They read more of the Bible and devotionals. It is a time to remember the suffering of Christ on the cross, examine our own hearts, and allow God to further shape us into the image of Christ we are meant to bear in this world.

Closing Thoughts

We have the right to take physical rest whenever and wherever we want to, but our souls only find rest in the presence of God. As we surrender to our need for Him, God calms our anxious minds and fills our reservoir with peace. Surrender is not a passive thing. Consider Matthew 11:28-30. The same God who said he would do whatever it takes to buy your ransom in Isaiah 43:2 also says you have a yoke and burden to bear (just not a heavy one).

What burdens have you allowed yourself to take on lately? What does the Bible have to say on those issues? Never take a thought as a truth in itself; always hold it up to the light of Truth by comparing it to the Gospel. More of what we hear in our heads is coming from a negative place not a scriptural one.

Consider joining Sacred Ordinary Days to help you get into a practice of communal living in God’s presence through the liturgical year. It can also help you to create a sustainable rhythm in your prayer and personal worship time as you learn to live in harmony with key events in your field of faith.

Living With A Gypsy Heart: How To Solo Traveling Without Breaking The Bank

When you love to travel as I do, the most frustrating thing is waiting to have the money to hit the road again. What if you didn’t have to? In today’s post, I will share with my favorite ways to travel within a budget as well as how to save money when more expensive travel is necessary.

Traveling Within A Budget

One of the tricks I learned when I was a young, poor college student was to simply explore the new town I was in. I went to places I had never been to before, and I window shopped. When I wanted to spend money, I gave myself a reasonable limit. Sometimes, I even made myself go with cash only, so I couldn’t add debt with my spending.

Today, I still find this to be my favorite way to explore and travel on a regular basis, but I have expanded it. Now, I go to new towns I haven’t visited before, within a reasonable commute of my home. I will go almost anywhere as long as I can drive there and back in a day. If it takes longer than that or is too much mileage to drive, I have to consider flight cost, housing, and food. In those cases, I would probably refer to Nomadic Matt for advice on how to work my way through my travels.

When you compare the cost of gas to the cost of food and housing, day trips really do save money. I drove all the way across my state and back for a recent adventure and only spend $100 plus my shopping money.

Bonus: Daytrips are a great way to find new favorites. One day, I drove south the same distance I used to commute daily north, and this one little change helped me find a town I absolutely love now. I’ve been back multiple times to explore more locations and meet new people. Now it feels like home.

Saving Money On More Expensive Travel

Sometimes a day trip just can’t cut it, and you need to go somewhere for a couple days. Whether you are celebrating a special event or just getting away for a breather or purposefully seeing the wonders of the world beyond your commutable distance, longer travel is always something worthwhile to do, AND you can still save money doing it.

A 2018 article suggested many different ideas to save money while traveling. Here are some of my favorites and my take on them:

Bring your own food; don’t eat out all the time.

It is easy to spend money on food and not even realize how much you spent, but you can limit that running faucet of spending by bringing food from home. Pack simple groceries that you don’t have to refridgerate much, and consider a stay with free breakfast to cut down on more food cost. Let yourself slurge on a local lunch more than dinner because lunch is always cheaper.

If food is important to your experience, give yourself more room to splurge. If shopping and activities is more important, this is an easy place to cut costs and put the money where you really want to spend it. I can think of times when both shopping and food were important in my travels, but the older I get, the more I want mementos and good pictures more than great food at exorbitant prices. For my next adventure, I went to my favorite little international grocer, bought some special canned and refrigerated foods, and plan to pack them on ice to carry with me to my room. That should help cut at least a little of the food costs there.

Travel during off-season.

Believe it or not, even fancy resorts open up for less than $100 a night during off season. The trick to resort booking, however, is the extra fees for simply having resort amenities. To be able to stay in a historical site and get discounts to food and events, you can end up paying an extra $10-35 a night! For that price, I lose whatever deals I found online, and I am back to comparing a room to a hotel.

Resort or hotel, you almost always find the best prices during times of the year when few people frequent that location. For example, mountains are popular during the fall, and the beach is popular during the summer. If you want a deal on either location, go during seasons when they are not popular. Even last minute same day deals can be better booked online because locations would rather slash prices to fill rooms and make some profit than leave the rooms empty.

Research your stay options on Google and be flexible with your dates.

Google gives you real-time comparison data for prices, reviews, and reservations. Usually, staying during the week is cheaper than a weekend stay, but you really want to read reviews before you commit to a place. A lot of hotels trick you with good pictures, but the reality is far from them. Read the most recent reviews possible and watch, too, how the management responded to them. I read one property arguing with guests over their negative reviews, and that alone made me feel uncomfortable staying there as a guest.

If certain amenities are important to you, consider calling before you book to make sure they are available. Depending on the season and Covid restrictions, a lot of amenities are unavailable right now.

Consider alternative housing such as hostels, AirBnB, or VRBO.

You can find a cheap bed almost anywhere in the world at Hostels World. If you are not afraid of sharing bathrooms and living quarters with only your bed for privacy, you can sleep cheaply (even $20-30 a night) and save the difference for use in your travels for food, transportation, events, and more.

I know a world traveler that swears by this method of travel. She has been in over 80 countries and met a lot of people through hostels and never had a problem yet. It is a minimalist way of traveling, though. There really isn’t room for an entourage of luggage or your hogging the bathroom for hours.

If you want a unique experience, check our Airbnb or VRBO. You can still find cheap deals and stay cool places like treehouses or antique farms on Airbnb. However, the cleaning fees since Covid has made rooms on Airbnbs as much as hotels in most places. I prefer a lot more privacy and hotel amenities like a pool when I travel, so I find myself opting for hotels more.

How to determine what is too much to pay for a hotel room

I use Google, free rewards clubs with hotel chains, and discount programs available through my health insurance to help me find the best price on a hotel room in a location.

I have learned to follow customer reviews to see what is fair to expect for pricing. Generally speaking, $60 and below is often a budget motel with bug problems, odors, old furnishing, bad service, and cleanliness issues. $70-100 seems to be the average good deal price right now for a room in a hotel with a good clean room, fitness and business amenities, and breakfast. Don’t take for granted free parking and mini fridges either; some places charge extra for that.

If a stay is too expensive, I look somewhere else in a neighboring town or on Airbnb. Sometimes, hosts give discounts for longer stays on Airbnb. If it is still too expensive, I rethink the whole timing of the trip.

Concluding Thoughts

Don’t ever tell yourself that you have to wait to be rich to travel. If you have that wanderlust of a gypsy, that itch to move like a pioneer, scratch it! You don’t need much to go somewhere new. Somewhere new is probably just 30 minutes from your house. Start small, explore neighbor cities, and shop local. The more you explore, the more you learn, and the easier it is to stretch beyond those small beginnings.

Don’t ever be ashamed to share your rambling heart. Embrace who you are, and go share your love with the world. The world needs more light like you in it.

Stranger Danger: The Human Trafficking Threat in North Carolina and Beyond

When we were kids, many of us were taught to see strangers as potentially dangerous. This was especially true for unknown adults talking to children. But does stranger danger end when you are kids, or is it just beginning? In this article, we talk to Wallace Police Chief, James Crayton, Cry Freedom Missions CEO, Beverly Weeks, and COO, Jonathan Chavous, to learn about claims that human trafficking is increasing in Duplin County, how to recognize it, and how to act against it.

On December 16, 2021, a story circulated Facebook claimed that a woman was targeted at the Walmart in Wallace for an attempted abduction by human traffickers. Though the woman never filed a police report on the incident, it started conversations of concern that there may be a rise in human trafficking in Duplin County. Beverly Weeks, CEO of Cry Freedom Missions, stated that “most cases go unreported because the victims don’t even realize they are victims.” Furthermore, she said, “I would argue that poverty, drugs, pornography, social media, Covid leaving kids unsupervised and releasing inmates into the population, our close proximity to military bases, major highways, and coastal waterways have all increased cases of human trafficking in North Carolina—and in this area.”

What is Human Trafficking?

US law defines trafficking as when a person 18 or older is enticed to have sex for money because of force, fraud, or coercion. For persons below the age of 18, any act where the person is induced to perform sexually or in other forms of forced labor including involuntary service, peonage, debt bondage, and slavery is considered human trafficking.

Human traffickers make an estimated $150 billion in profits from the manipulation and bondage of others. In the United States, North Carolina ranks consistently in the top 10 for states with high trafficking cases. Though the government has increased its efforts to fight this problem, real change ultimately lies with the public becoming aware of their tactics and proactively acting. 

The Stranger You Know

According to Cry Freedom Missions, a ministry helping trafficking victims walk out healing and restoration in our area, most stranger danger starts in your home on your devices. Both male and female traffickers stalk their prey online through social media and gaming systems. They look for insecurity and weakness posted freely online, and they build a profile of how to get to you. They reach out as a friend request or message from a stranger complimenting you on your beauty or niceness. They entice you with promises of love, acceptance, and opportunity better than what you currently live in. They build trust with you and convince you that they want the best for you. Victims can be any age or gender, but the targeted age for most human traffickers now is 11-14 years old.

Force, Fraud, or Coercion

Human trafficking happens by one of three ways: force, fraud, or coercion. Force is when someone is abducted physically such as kidnapping, rape, or following someone in their vehicle. Force is the one you hear about the most, but it actually happens the least. That is because most traffickers prefer to work from the shadows where they are less likely to be seen or caught.  

Most trafficking cases come in the form of fraud or coercion.

Fraud is when a lie is used to convince someone that they must give themselves willingly to avoid some other greater trouble. This tactic is often used on immigrants who are unaware of our legal system. For example, a trafficker can claim to be able to save the person from deportation in exchange for their service in free labor or the sex trade.

Coercion is when the person is threatened harm if they do not perform the service. The threat can be mental harm such as the threat of exposing nude images of them to friends and family. It can also be physical harm such as getting them hooked on drugs and threatening to remove the drugs if they don’t perform the service. Because of this method of control, it has been suggested that many of the people facing criminal charges in court right now may actually be victims of human trafficking.

Take Action

If you are a parent, check your child’s devices, online activity, and gaming systems. Know the strangers they are welcoming into your home and what they are saying to them. Conversations online are everywhere from comments on YouTube to forums buried inside apps like Roblox. Shine a light on every area of communication in your household, and verify they are who they say they are. Screen conversations and get to know the online strangers in your home; it is important to know what is influencing your children.

Not everyone online is a predator, but you need to be proactively screening them as if they were. Don’t be public with your whereabouts or personal details, and don’t publish all your feelings where everyone can see them. Set boundaries for the interactions you have online. Some people delete new friend requests and only talk online to people they know in real life. Others screen new connections through mutual friends and video chat to confirm they are who they say they are. Wallace Police Chief James Crayton suggests that you also follow local law enforcement on social media. Many scams are reported through social media to help keep the public aware, cautious, and protected.  

Safety in Public

When you are in a public place, it is still possible to be a victim of human trafficking by force. The best way to combat this tactic is to be vigilantly aware of your surroundings. Parents, it is a good idea to always check on where your kids are and who they are with.

When you are in public, you are most vulnerable when you are in transition from a building to a car or by yourself in a public place. During these moments, it is especially important to think defensively and not be distracted by devices and other things. Take note if someone is loitering near your vehicle, making you feel threatened, or looking suspicious in some other way. Avoid dark, lonely alleys and taking the attacker home with you when you feel you are being chased. Know your surroundings well enough that you always have an escape plan if something goes wrong. Wallace Police Chief James Crayton says that if you feel like you are being watched or followed, go to the police or sheriff’s department–don’t go home.

How To Help

If you see something that looks suspicious, report it to the local law enforcement. Your action can help stop the effectiveness of trafficking circles in your area. If you or someone you know is being trafficked and needs help to get out, connect with Cry Freedom Missions at 919-988-9262.

How To Love A Soldier

Graphic by Rebecca J. Whitman

When you love someone in the military, the thing no one tells you is that you get conscripted too. You are required to move when and where the military dictates. You have to sacrifice your career, family, and friends to keep your marriage together.

In addition, you have to be flexible to enjoy downtime with your service member when they have it–whether scheduled or random. Sometimes you are all alone and feel like you are living single even when you aren’t single at all. If that wasn’t hard enough, you do it in strange places where you have no familiar support to lean on. 

Military life is isolation and trust. It is hardcore faith in someone that you chose to love even when your feelings of love are far from you. If you think it is glamorous, don’t. Being a military spouse is a calling; it is not for the faint of heart. The Military Wife and Mom wrote an insightful article about this with more details about what it takes to date and love a service member. Read her article here.

All branches of the military are different, but I think the Marines say it best concerning the reality of how most military spouses are treated. They say “if the Marines wanted you to have a spouse, they would have issued you one”.

Think about that for a moment. Let it sink in. That statement means that loving someone in the military is an uphill battle because command ALWAYS comes before love and family. Can you respect that? Can you still love and honor someone whose first priority is not you or your kids? Unfortunately, in military life the job and mission come before anything else.

What are the long range payoffs of military service?

Military service is a short-term commitment with a long-term payment. Service members serve a certain number of years, retire with full benefits, and go on to live a whole new life with a pension that carries them for the rest of their lives. Some get out before building up their pension. Others stay in service even longer with contracted work.

But that long-term payment is bittersweet. If you stay long enough for the financial benefits, you get a lot more memories to leave emotional scars, too. The things service members see in combat follow them for the rest of their lives. It can take a toll on relationships. PTSD is a real disease treated now in civilians as well as military personnel, but it used to be excused as a weakness in the military. This article explains in more detail how it affects veterans.

Beyond these involuntary physical responses to trauma, military relationships often suffer the fallout of stress that long distances and time apart can cause. Far too many service members get Dear John letters from lovers who can’t stay faithful to them while they are deployed.

Many more return home to a distant spouse and family because they got used to life without them. The emotional toll of military life is a lot harder and a lot longer lasting than it seems. Hear how several military spouses identify signs of love in their relationships, and you will see it is attention to detail in the little things that make survival long term possible.

So, how do you protect yourself from trauma within a military relationship?

The answers are not easy and are numerous.

  • Choose to make your love an anchor and honor that person no matter how unfair your sacrifices to do so seem sometimes. You remember why you loved them in the first place, and you surround yourself with those memories when the dark times come.
  • Make the sacrifices for your family and career, and you don’t blame them for the times they are away because of their command.
  • Countdown the days, weeks, months, hours, and years to their military retirement and make plans for the future to give you both hope.
  • Make friends with other military spouses and journey through this hard life together.
  • Give it your all like the good all-American warrior that you are because you ARE a warrior.

Every day you choose to love someone difficult to love is an act of war and a battle worth winning, in my opinion. 

So, how do you handle important decisions and disagreements when your military spouse is away? 

You need to realize that the most important thing to both of you right now is not arguing over minor problems between you: it is getting your soldier home safely.

Your service member is trusting you to be strong enough to take care of yourself and your family while they are gone. Don’t give them something to worry about because worry takes their mind off the mission and on you.

It might be romantic to think your soldier is overseas worried about you, but it isn’t. Every minute that a soldier is more concerned about life back home while he is in the battlefield is a moment he puts himself and his entire company in danger. Think twice before you pick a fight with a deployed soldier. No matter how alone you feel, you have to remember that military life is about protecting the ones you love the most and defending the ideals that make us all proud Americans.

When your service member is away, it is YOU they fight for–not that location or that country. Don’t steal the heart of their fight by making problems for them. Save the tough conversations for when they are home. Keep your conversation positive but authentic while they are away. Your love is life to them; your trust and commitment is more powerful than all the weapons in their arsenal.

Let this time of deployment be a time of growth and development for you as well. The Chicago Tribune wrote an article about how to deal with deployments that included many helpful tips for establishing reliable communication with your service member before and during deployment to reduce anxiety. Check out the article here.

How do you guard your heart if the service member you love is someone you only met online?

First of all, take your time. Before you can really love someone, you need to meet them in person. Call it chemistry, but anyone can be anything they want to be online. Before you fall in love with a lie, wait untill you meet them. The Soldier Project wrote a great article on this subject with advice to also be able to tell when your service member is “into you.” Check out the article here.

Secondly, don’t spend a dime on them. I mean it! Don’t even buy them a present! Until you meet in person, you are potentially falling for a lie, and the number one scam with Stolen Valor (when someone steals a military person’s identity to create a persona meant to steal from others) is circling around you paying for them to come see you. Military leave is something that is earned not bought. Even if you do exhaust your credit and pay for that $4-10k leave, you aren’t getting your service member home with it. You just paid a scammer their paycheck. 

Lastly, knowledge is power. Immerse yourself in military culture. Get to know real military members and their families in all branches of the military. The more you know, the harder it is for someone to snow you. If someone tries to present you with Stolen Valor, you will be able to see it easier when you already know the culture they are trying to rip off. Scammers don’t understand military rank, branches, job descriptions, or technical details. Everything they get comes from Googling it, and guess what…you can do that too. If something sounds fishy, Google it. Your best defense is a good offense and that is ALWAYS verifying what someone tells you online before you fully believe in it.

How do you protect yourself online if you are in the military?

No matter how proud you are of what you do for a living (or your private gun collection), don’t post pictures online of yourself in your uniform or with weapons. Especially as you go up in rank, you are a target. I don’t even have to be your friend on social media to steal your pictures and become you, so stop sharing damaging Intel.

If you want to be online, be online with an alias. Don’t even let the world see your real name. I would even go so far as to edit pictures to mark out your real name. It is just much safer for you to hide in cloaks and daggers than it is to trust your identity is safe online. No one is safe online, but it is the high profile targets like military officers and celebrities that scammers target to copy the most. 

Don’t be naive, soldier, you are loveable. The uniform alone is swoon worthy for a lot of us, but you don’t need a lover who just wants you for your rank. Wait for the warrior who loves you for your heart and partners with your dreams. Look for that person who is not afraid to walk through fire with you. Wait for the person whose love is like a slow cooker–harder to earn but always warm for you. Don’t love anyone online only; meet in person before you get serious and drop the “Love” word on your relationship. 

Dear reader, if you have been the victim of an internet scam, know it is not your fault and you are not alone. Stolen Valor is a federal crime. Report it and try not to hold the military at fault for what happened to you.

Some scammers can actually be human traffickers that have been casing you out on social media. Read more about this crime and seek help. Don’t stay isolated and don’t believe the lie that this happened to you because of something wrong or ugly about you. You are beautiful. THEY are ugly.

Criminals have no other intentions than to make money off you and make you so scared you trust no one. If you don’t give in but still talk to them, all you are doing is helping them become better at their craft to hurt someone else.

Be better than that.

Cut them off and report it before it goes more than even a couple of weeks in communication. Read this article to help you better know if you are a victim and how to deal with it.

Mindset Medicine: Overcoming Obstacles Through Journaling

Recently internationally best-selling author, Mari L. McCarthy, sent me a copy of her new book, Mindset Medicine: A Journaling Power Self-Love Book. In the book, the author shares 14 writing prompts and ways to heal from mental, emotional, and physical trauma through journaling. I accepted the book to write a book review, but I picked it up to read it at a time when I desperately needed it.

Mari’s book came to me at a time when the absolute last thing I thought I needed to learn about was disciplined writing. When I opened it to the introduction, it read like Mari was talking directly to me.

If you’ve slowly developed a feeling that big tech, mass media, and our cultural and government institutions are doing everything they can to brainwash you, you should pay attention to this feeling. You should pay attention to it and trust it, because it’s your intuition feeding you the truth. Make no doubt about it, your heart and soul are under siege by societal forces that don’t have your best interests in mind….These forces want to separate you from YOU….view this book as an invitation to journey inward and deprogram what you’ve been conditioned to believe you should be.

Mari L. McCarthy

The Mission

The book is about helping you reclaim your mental, physical, and spiritual health. Pulling from her personal experience overcoming Multiple Sclerosis (MS) through journaling, Mari leads readers to overcome their own greatest challenges through focused introspection. She doesn’t just lean on her own experiences either. Ms. McCarthy cites examples of other published medical studies that saw real change as a result of writing. Fourteen short chapters teach readers to apply the technique of writing to self-heal.

The Challenge

The first chapter really got me thinking about something. In my circles, I have seen a lot of harm come from social media. Friends pose pictures of themselves in their best lives, outfits, and moments. All the perfection makes you feel like you are missing out on the way life is supposed to be.

Then random strangers message you “hey beautiful” trying to get at your heart. If you are curious and lonely, you say “hi” back and open a door. If you are smart, you ignore them.

The question I find myself asking is why social media even wastes our time if it hurts our hearts so much. This idea is part of what I wrote about in response to the first prompt from the book below:

If you could really change the world, what would you want to change about it? Consider getting your own copy of Mari L. McCarthy’s Mindset Medicine and join the revolution of changing the world through writing.

Mindset Medicine book cover

About the Author

Author holding some of her books

Mari L. McCarthy, Founder and CEO – Chief Empowerment Officer  of CreateWriteNow.com, teaches curious health-conscious action-takers how to use Journaling For The Health Of It®️ to heal the emotional, creative, physical, and spiritual issues in their tissues. She also shows them how to use this powerful personal transformation tool to know, grow and share their True Self. Mari is the multi award-winning author of Journaling Power: How To Create The Happy, Healthy Life You Want To Live, Heal Your Self With Journaling Power and Mindset Medicine: A Journaling Power Self-Love Book. She’s also created 20+ Journaling For The Health Of It® Self-Management 101 Workbooks including Who Am I?, Take Control Of Your Health! and Start Journaling For The Health Of It® Write Now.

Find out more about Mari by visiting her website CreateWriteNow.com, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or YouTube.

Something Extra

For more from Mari including a look at her venture into music, join us Monday for a visit to the Bohemian Princess Podcast.

Christian Dating Sites: What To Expect and What To Avoid

Living single has its charms, but no one wants to be lonely. For those of us who want more than just friends to hang out with, online dating becomes an option. However, making connections with people online is extremely dangerous. If you can go into it with your armor on, you may be able to find someone worth exploring.

When I was actively looking, I tried dozens of dating sites and apps. They were all buggy and plagued with issues. When I finally decided to pay for something, I chose Christian dating sites. I wasn’t on both sites at the same time, and I couldn’t have afforded that if I wanted to. However, my experiences across a gap of about 5 years should give you some perspective of what to expect online dating on these sites and others like them.

Christian Mingle

Christian Mingle (CM) is a dating service that promises to be exclusively faith-based with their matches. Clients purchase a paid membership, answer a detailed intake questionnaire, and are matched to potential partners. Though there is an app version of the service, it is so buggy that it is a wonder the service still exists. Nevertheless, many reviewers have left positive reviews for the service and negatives for the app.

What you should expect from Christian Mingle is that you won’t get anything for free. Even the stuff they say is free to try is extremely limited on purpose to try to hook you in. No service can guarantee you a match much less a faithful Christian one, but this service does a fair attempt at trying to keep a safe, exclusive environment.

When I tried CM, there were a lot of legitimate good people on the site but not necessarily good prospects. I would say it was a lot of lonely people looking for connection without much to offer that connection. Nevertheless, I did meet a good person and move forward with dating him. We were able to stay together for two years, but it ended because we were long distance.

eHarmony

eHarmony is a dating service that promises to make a match every couple of minutes, and they claim to have done so successfully for years. They do this based on a highly detailed algorithm and intake questionnaire used to match you to potential partners, but they don’t exclusively stick to it. Let me explain why they have that statistic and why it isn’t true…

What you should expect from eHarmony is a fairly decent app with advanced connection capabilities. You can also expect higher level prospects for your matches and a more closely scrutinized list of things they are looking for. What you can’t expect is for them to stick to your list or even honor it when they DON’T have the right matches—even if that means sending you same sex gender matches when you are heterosexual.

About five years ago, I tried eHarmony and that is what happened to me. They had more general prospects than Christian ones, and those that claimed to be Christian were either wearing the badge loosely or had already left. eHarmony kept their profiles active and used it to fluff their numbers. I know this because when I finally got tired of messaging people and hearing no response, I tried to leave. In the exit process, I was told that deleting my profile was not an option.

Setting Your Expectations

If you are thinking of giving up and that it is all hopeless anyway, don’t. There as just as many lonely hearts looking for legitimate connection online as there are scammers. If looking for love online is part of your journey, go in hopeful but not with your efforts all in one place or your heart so open that it is easily scarred.

There are plenty of free and paid dating apps and services out there, but you need to prepare for the majority of the people you meet to be scammers. Until you meet on a video chat, don’t even consider falling in love with them. More than that, don’t let anyone talk you into sending them money for the privilege of their time and company. You can read more about how that happened to me on a secular site in this article.

Stay safe out there!

The Unfiltered Advice I Wish I Could Tell The Younger Me

Advice about boys

That guy you are so focused on, the one you think hung the moon and stars, he didn’t. In fact, he will pull you away from the actual one who hung the moon and stars if you are not careful.

You are not a trashy person. Stop dressing like one. And stop giving the boys whatever they ask for. If you are not worth waiting for, they are not worth having as king of your castle. Don’t expect a Prince Charming out of an ugly toad no matter how much you kiss him.

Advice about dreams

So you want to be something that seems impossible, good! You are in good company with a lot of giants who changed the world. Know it isn’t easy to do that kind of work. Find someone who is doing what you want to do and doing it successfully–they aren’t broke or spending frivolously or being dishonest–and get them to mentor you.

Hold on and don’t give up! You have a God-sized dream which means it is one you can’t do without Him. Get serious about Jesus and get committed in your time spent building that relationship.

Advice about friends

Good friends are a lifeblood; bad friends corrupt even the little good you have. Friendship is an investment of time and resources. You don’t get to the good, life-long relationships without taking those sacrifices along the way. Unless you want to spend the rest of your life alone, get choosey about who you spend time with.

Don’t be afraid to say “no” to people. In fact, start now before you have a chronic habit of over committing yourself. If they are really your friends, they will understand. If they get mad, they probably weren’t your friends to begin with. Hold all those types of people loosely because they aren’t supposed to stay in your life forever.

The ones who are good life-long friends are the ones who support and encourage your dreams and aren’t afraid to challenge you when you get off the path in your goals or character. Make whatever sacrifices you need to make in your time and schedule to keep those people in your life. When you are old, your house will never lack for love or laughter because you made the effort to build relationships where they mattered.

Godmothering: The Power of Mentoring To Change Lives

“Profound Accord” by Tracey Penrod

A year ago or more, I bought this print from my friend Tracey Penrod. The image spoke to me of friendship and motherhood…of dreams yet to be fulfilled. I kept both the impressions and the artwork to myself until today. With permission from the artist to reprint her work here, I tell you that today, this image speaks to me about mentoring others.

What is Mentoring?

Mentoring is about giving back to the world some portion of what you have learned in it. When I write to you, dear reader, it is my attempt to help you learn and grow from my experiences.

But, actual mentorship gets more personal than a conversation like this. Mentorship is face-to-face and walking out life together with someone that can learn from you.

Why Do You Need Mentorship?

If you are young, the Bible says you are supposed to be mentored (into godly character and living) by older, more experienced Christians. So, in part, you can say mentorship is a part of developing your faith. But it is more than that.

To be a mentee makes you have wings to fly in your business, relationships with others, and personal life. It helps you more clearly define who you are to yourself and others. That clarity is immeasurably important–especially in business–because you have to be able to advocate for yourself to get ahead in this world.

Why Should You Be A Mentor?

If you think back to when you got started in your adult life, you did not do it alone. You had parents, teachers, or other business owners answering your questions. Most of the time, they did that all for free just to help. That is what mentorship is: selfless sacrifice for the good of others.

If you still don’t get it, think about how you want to be remembered and celebrated when you die. Will your funeral be Ebenezer Scrooge with one faithful employee that shows up–if you are lucky? Or will it be Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose passing was felt around the world and, when he died, a funeral train carried his body 3000 miles through 9 states for people to gather at the tracks and say farewell to his body as it passed.

What I find surprising about death is how much it tells you about the person. You learn things you never knew about them when they were alive, and you find out just what they meant to you emotionally.

Such was the case with my friend, Juanita Green.

What is a Godmother?

It wasn’t till she passed that I realized who she was to me. Juanita was a godmother to me, and by that I mean she poured her life sacrificially as a mentor. Pastor Jim Wall, the Senior Pastor of The Bridge Church, used 1 Corinthians 4:15-17 to show us that the church “is desperate for some spiritual mommas and daddies”. Do the needs of the early church still stand true today? The answer is: absolutely!

Lisa Bevere coined the term “Godmother” for this in her latest Bible study, Godmothers. It means someone who is investing actively in the lives of other people around them. They do life with these people and show them God’s love in practical ways. They invest even to the point of taking a risk because they see value even when it isn’t there yet. They make sacrifices and sometimes live frugally because it is more important to them to make other peoples’ dreams come true than their own.

Show God’s Heart

1 John 2 has some strong words for those who claim to know Christ but hold on to hatred and unforgiveness towards others. I have to admit–I struggle with this one two. What it is trying to say is that God is not a god that plays favorites; if we want to be like Him and claim to be his, we have to be less and less prejudiced with our love. It also means that we have to be willing to forgive when people mess up–because they will…we all do. If you are honest with your own relationship with God and you show who you are with actions not just words, you will exhibit the character of a person who is what they say they are. THAT is a person people will follow and trust.

Make Room For Love In Your Timeline

All throughout the New Testament, Paul’s letters open and close with reminders of what he did in the presence of the people he was writing to. They also talk about people he left or sent to them as examples and witnesses of what he was saying. All those verses are good examples of what it looks like to make yourself available. Paul wasn’t always able to physically be where someone needed him to be, but he was always with them in spirit. I think that is an important thing to note because we all struggle with time management. Nevertheless, he made it a point to make time to communicate to the people he cared about. We should do likewise.

When is the last time you sat down with the people you loved and spent quality time with them doing something they cared about? When have you last told your loved ones that you love them? As a mentor, you need to be clearly communicating all that to your loved ones, but you also need to be available for the people you mentor.

Being a spiritual momma and daddy is about every interaction you have. It’s being available and sharing your life–not just leading a meeting.

Jim Wall, Senior Pastor of The Bridge Church

Deuteronomy 6:5-9 gives us a picture of what this looks like in a family setting. It shows us parents who make their faith a part of their everyday living. They teach their faith to their children and children’s children. They set up reminders around the house of the goodness of God.

How does that translate into mentorship?

Mentors need to see themselves as spiritual parents and grandparents. They should make faith a part of their everyday lives and live it out with their mentees in a true honest friendship relationship.

Believe To The Point Of Taking A Risk

Every great person in the Bible had someone believing in them when they were not yet great. That is what Jesus did with the disciples—especially Peter. How could Christ look at the man that would deny him three times and still say, in Matthew 16:18, that he would be the rock on which the church would be built? He said this not just because he was God. He said this because he believed in Peter and saw his potential even before there was evidence of it.

To be a good mentor, you have to be willing to do the same thing. Sometimes you have to trust someone when they are not currently getting it right or being trustworthy. This can be a risky thing to do because sometimes you have to invest in them in ways you don’t know how they will end up. Paul did that with a former slave in Philemon 1:18-19. He offered to pay off the debt he owed for him! And guess what happened to Philemon after that? Scholars believe he went on to pastor a church that changed a whole city!

The Risk Reward is a Legacy

The legacy you leave behind when you are a mentor is the people you invested in. It is their lives living on after you, leaving a mark in the world, that you have made different. Whether that is one life or one million doesn’t matter. What matters is that you didn’t keep it all to yourself. What matters is that you took the risk to gain the reward of a legacy of lives touched by your presence in it.

That is the risk Juanita Green took at the end of her life. She did not always live life well, but at the end of it all giving and mentoring was the refining fire of all her former selfishness (as she would have called it). She was not the first important mentor in my life nor will she be the last, but I think it is important to note here that she left the impression she did on me in just four months. It doesn’t take a lot of time to make a difference that changes a life for a lifetime. It just takes a heart open and willing to love.

A father [or mother] who serves the destiny of others above serving his own, will, in the end, fulfill his destiny.

Pastor Bill Humphries

Be Kind To Yourself And Your Body: Wisdom from Tiffany Cleveland

For some reason, the beginning of the New Year feels like the perfect time to start something new.  I’m not sure if fitness center marketing started that or if it really feels like an organic time to Get. On. Track. 

The old habit: 

  • Start a workout program with full vigor.
  • Watch it fizzle into a twice a week half-hearted treadmill jaunt.
  • Watch that turn into equal parts “I’m too tired” and self-shame.
  • Give it another go in a few month ‘cause New Year, New Me

Setting Goals That Matter

I’m talking about prioritizing changing the shape of your attitude before your abdomen. I know, the term “self-love” is really thrown around a lot.  It sounds like a big task but it is really important and it takes practice and discipline–just like getting that booty you’ve always wanted.  But it can help change your life, not just your body.

The Things We Tell Ourselves

I think the part that I always struggled with is: How do I love myself when I’m just so imperfect? How do I believe that I’m perfect AND have so many goals to be better? 

The truth is that you ARE perfect right now. You are a miracle!  And like a miracle of perfection you have the inner push to be better every day. So, be your own today’s version of perfect and it’s okay to push for tomorrow’s version of perfect sans the self-shame of not being perfect. Clear as mud?  

The New Habit List

This new habit list is a starting point.  Take what resonates with you and leave what doesn’t. I do recommend trying them a few days in a row before completely disregarding them.  

Change is almost as uncomfortable as the day after lunges. You can make them fit your agenda, beliefs, and timelines. I just ask that you stay curious and make sure they feel good to your soul.

  1. When you wake up and go into the bathroom, look into the mirror.  Look into your eyes and smile at your reflection.   

A few things can happen here.  There is a good chance you’ll say, “This is stupid”. I ask that you stare a little longer. This isn’t easy for everyone, so have patience. You might get emotional.  

Looking into your eyes might feel a lot like looking into your pain points, your sleeplessness, your insecurities. Notice the thought and let it go. Smile again. 

No matter how you feel about what you see, this IS you. This is where you get to start your new journey today. Have gratitude that you’re standing and you have another opportunity to start a mini-adventure.

  1. Do your bathroom business to include any self-care that lifts your mood.
  1. Before you leave, put your hands on your hips, pick your chin up and close your eyes. Take a few deep-cleansing breaths. 

On every inhale, count to five and imagine breathing in fresh, clear, clean air. 

On every exhale, count to seven and imagine breathing out any thought or worry you’ve ever had. 

  1. Keep your eyes closed.  Now imagine how it feels to be who you want to be. 

If your goal is to be a healthy person, embody that feeling. What does it mean to you? What does it mean for you? How would you feel in your clothes? How would you feel in front of strangers or at the gym? 

With your eyes closed, put that costume on and walk like a boss. Own your body and your attitude and everything that comes with it. Know that you are that healthy person and take that with you throughout the day.

  1. Make decisions as that healthy person.  

During the day we make hundreds, even thousands of decisions.  When you come to a valid choice point, ask yourself “Which one of these would a healthy person choose?” The answer is usually clear, if it’s not then it might not be relative at all.

  1. Use discretion and not judgment. 

If you choose the cake over the oatmeal for breakfast, say it out loud: “I am choosing to have cake for breakfast instead of oatmeal.” 

You have the opportunity to be honest with yourself without shaming your choice. This is a concept that I did not grow up understanding, and it is one that brought a huge shift in my perspective. But clearly, sometimes cake for breakfast is a must.

  1. Be patient with yourself.  

If you have any trials with anxiety or insecurities, this work may be almost as exhausting as the first day back to the gym.  Keep going. You got this. 

Final Thoughts

Try this method for a few weeks.  Notice the ease that comes with smiling at you.  Notice how other people respond to you. 

When negative thoughts pop in, let them. They are just thoughts; notice them and let them go. 


Author Bio

Tiffany Cleveland is a light and encouragement to all who know her. She dabbles in all the things she loves: volunteering at the Food Bank, writing, mountain biking, and Youtubing. She describes herself as “just a girl who understands that unconditional love is a slow dance of choice and a practice of repetitive choice”.

Tiffany grew up in a small town in eastern PA and blossomed into her “ever-changing self” in North Carolina, Italy, Japan, and the desert that speaks to her soul: Tucson, Arizona.

When she is not busy serving as a Master Sergeant in the Air Force, Tiffany embraces experiences that take her out of her comfort zone, deep conversations over decaf espresso, and sitting in stillness to hear the inaudible nudges from above.  She has a passion for learning, and she loves brave, incredibly compassionate people doing wildly good things in this world.

How to Hold A Dream That Hasn’t Happened Yet

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. 

Proverbs 13:12

If you have been a long-term reader of this blog, you may remember a 2019 post about the dream of my son. In that post, I shared the very real hope of motherhood though I was neither a wife nor a mother.

I wish I could tell you that in two years everything changed…that I found my husband and we did, indeed, have that son. But that hasn’t happened for me yet.

In my thirties, I felt all the ticks of my biological clock. I was the only aunt of my two-now-three neices and nephew. I thought of all my happy childhood memories with cousins and felt the burden to provide them. I didn’t have the resources to adopt; all I could give them were fur cousins. I resolved to be the best Auntie I could be as I waited–somewhat grumpily–to be a mother.

The weight of that motherhood burden was so heavy that I used to periodically check in with my neices and ask how they felt about not having cousins. At first, it bothered them. Over time, they became thankful and didn’t care; they were happy to have Auntie Becca all to themselves. I played with them. I listened to them. I encouraged their dreams. When they grew older, they protected that investment and wouldn’t let anyone call themselves an “aunt” in their lives but me.

There have been moments when I have felt nothing but bitterness and rage over my lost dreams. How could God give me such a vivid dream if it is never to come to pass? Was it even God at all? Does He even exist/care/see me?

I have been through more than my fair share of negative spirals over this. Nothing hurts quite like having a dream deferred. Then God broke through with a different perspective:

Stop seeing what you lack, and start seeing what you have.

Be loving to those I bring you who are unloved.

Be motherly to those who don’t have a good experience with their mother.

Be a good steward to what I have given you, and I will give you infinitely more.

God

Within me there is a tidal wave of love for my husband and children, but I hold back the tide for when they arrive. I have learned to hold the dream of them loosely in my heart, and I don’t live my days with my head on swivel trying to find them.

I let God into my everyday life.

Now I live choosing daily to focus on Him and what I do have not what I don’t. Sometimes that takes playing the same worship song over and over till I get the anthem that God loves me and that really is enough. Other days, it is joyous adventure led by His Hand. Either way, it is a better life than the life before focused on tragedy and lack.

Patience is not a virtue I wear well; I have to fight for it.

I have to fight to have it at all, really. Time itself is a reminder of patience. Having just 24 hours in a day when you need 28 makes you realize not everything happens as quickly as you may want it to. I can struggle and work hard and give myself barely a minute to eat of sleep while I try to get everything done, or I can accept my limitations, do my best, and trust God with the rest. Life always turns out better with option 2.

God’s waiting room is not a punishment; it is how He works. It took 15 years for David to go from the anointing to becoming King. It took 25 years for Abraham to go from the promise of fathering nations to hearing that first cry of Issac.

God guides us one step at a time expecting us to do the best we can, and what happens next hinges on the faithfulness to the step–the opportunity–he has for us right now.

Pastor Andrew Price, The Bridge Church, Mount Olive, NC

There are things I have to do right now to be a good steward of all my resources and a prepared home for the blessings I believe God has in my future. I take that responsibility seriously. I guard my investments of time, money, and talent diligently. Sometimes that means I have to say “no”–even to people counting on me to say “yes”.

Trusting God is not passive.

I’ve come to believe that my life is no longer about achieving a certain goal in my personal life or career. I think, more than anything, it is about living life with Christ, being a good steward of all He gives me, and finding joy in the journey.

I don’t want to just store up treasures for some future glory; I want to find treasure in my everyday life and enjoy it too.

The treasure looks like many different things:

  • It is that friend that has been encouraging me for years.
  • It is the money slipped into my hand at Christmas to protect my pride and honor my commitments.
  • It is the play put on with excellence at my local theater that filled my heart with pride and artistic comfort.
  • It is the moment spent enjoying a good meal with loved ones.
  • It is sitting unplugged from electronics and crocheting or knitting something new to wear.
  • It is meeting new people and hearing their stories.
  • It is watching the birds come to my window and eat the treats left for them.

All these moments and thousands more are what I look for and treasure. They are reminders of a loving God and assurance that I am headed in the right direction. God has so much more in store than I can plan for today.

I keep hope alive and don’t listen to naysayers.

There are a lot of reasons why a woman of my age should give up on the dream of motherhood. In terms of childbirth, I became geriatric twenty years ago and having a child is a health risk.

Yet, I dream on. If it is truly God’s will for me, He will open doors no man can shut, and I will have a baby in my arms to laugh and rejoice with. If it is not God’s will, I have nothing to lose from living a life of love and service now.

I choose to listen to hope dealers like Pastors Steven and Holly Furtick from Elevation Church, Pastor DJ Coles from The 4 Day Movement, and Pastor Andrew Price from The Bridge Church.

Hope is not gone, friends. As long as you are breathing, there is still room for your circumstances to change. Focus on what you have and what you can contribute to, and let God take care of the rest. Life is too short for anything less.


So how do you hold a dream?

You hold it loosely and trust the Author to fulfill it or rewrite it as necessary along your life’s journey.

How To Protect Yourself Online: A Catfisher On Social Media and What Finding Him Can Teach You

Listen to this post on our podcast on Spotify

Identity Theft…Fake IDs…Cyber Bullying…Catfishing…Cyber Terrorism…these are all ugly things to talk about and definitely not what you want to start a year on, but if you have ever been a victim of it, you know the truth: it can stop life as you know it from then forward. Some victims are so embarrassed by what they let themselves believe that they never get past that dark moment. Unfortunately, I know at least one reader who killed herself after what happened to her. That is why I hope you take very seriously what I am about to tell you and alter your life online going forward.

Cyberbullying and catfishing are a very real and rising crime. In 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimated that nearly 20,000 people were victims of some form of online romance or confidence scam. In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported $304 million in losses to such scams. Statistics on such crimes are astounding and confirm victims and criminals are not who you think they are; this is a problem effecting all age and genders especially men.

Catfishing is deliberately creating a fake character and story to interact with others online, and cyberbullying is abusive behavior done online with or without a fake character to protect the abuser. Cyber terrorism is using the internet to perform acts of terror on others. In my experience, being the victim of catfishing feels like experiencing all three of those things.

How To Protect Yourself Online

  1. Protect Your Images Online
  2. Insist on Video Chatting with Strangers Before You Trust Them
  3. Create Alternate Phone/Email Information To Use Online
  4. Never Send Money or Gift Cards to a Person or Organization You Haven’t Met in Person
  5. Report and Block Abusers When They Are Discovered

Protect Your Images Online

When I was catfished by a man claiming to be in the military, I was really angry at the real man in the photos for not protecting himself more. The truth is that I can just as easily take a screenshot of my friends’ social media accounts today and recreate a persona of them online that isn’t them in five minutes. If you choose to be online, you need to understand that EVERYTHING you put online is there forever no matter if you delete it, so choose wisely what you share–and don’t overshare. The whole world is not your friend, nor is it the place to share every detail of your life. Share the important stuff privately in protected groups or emails not on your newsfeed. Change the status to “friend” or “friend of friend” on most of your posts. If your social media platform offers it, remove the ability for your images to be downloaded. You can’t stop someone screenshotting what you share, but you can stop them from downloading the pictures of your kids and using them as their own.

Insist on Video Chatting with Strangers Before You Trust Them

This is a real big one and it stops the fakers EVERY time–so do this early in your conversations and before you invest your heart or time more than a few days. You can’t make a static image talk, walk, and breathe; video will force the real person to be revealed. Either they shuffle and come up with excuses for why they can’t connect, or they give you a hard time for making rules for them to jump through, or they show up but the person you see doesn’t match the person you have been talking to in text and still images. One catfisher went so far as to string a series of still images together and talk to me like a voice over on a “bad connection”. The most recent attempt asked to call me on WhatsApp. When he did, his voice was clearly not who he claimed to be. He turned out to be “a black boy” most likely from Nigeria instead of the German/Scottish white man in my pictures.

Side Note: It pays to be a student of language, accents, and cultures. Don’t be naïve and take people at their word; know what their claimed culture should look and sound like. If you can’t get them to video chat but you can get them to call, knowing the difference in sounds is enough to often confirm or deny their identity.

Create Alternate Phone/Email Information To Use Online

You live with real people and places you love and protect, so don’t give away your real personal information online. I have a separate Gmail account just for social media and interacting with strangers. On that account, I also have a Google Voice phone number and attached it to WhatsApp and Signal. If someone needs to call, text, or video chat, they have to go through those channels first if I don’t know them AND I am honest about it. I tell people up front that I have to be guarded and don’t share personal information until I know you better. That should be a deterrent, but it is a worm on a hook to predators. They don’t mind the chase if they think their is a prize at the end of it.

Never Send Money or Gift Cards to a Person or Organization You Haven’t Met in Person

Not everyone is going to ask you for money, but a lot of them are in it for the long haul to get you to offer it. There are a lot of different reasons why people catfish, and it isn’t all just money either. Some do it for emotional reasons. Others do it just to mess with you. The last guy that did it to me said he “wanted to try it” and “needed help” with financial costs. Unfortunately, some parts of the world treat catfishing like a job and operate in teams to get as many people on the hook at the same time as possible.

Report and Block Abusers When They Are Discovered

Don’t feel sorry for them when you catch them in their lies; they are counting on that! A novice liar is easy to spot. They are over anxious, have broken English, and there are all sorts of holes in their stories. An experienced catfisher is well polished and in it for the long haul. He/she creates a believable lie with enough images and encouraging words in proper English to make you think they are legit. They even get the time zone differences right! They are perpetual students of you. They watch your social media, know what makes you tick, and see your bleeding heart to rescue people from the error of their ways. They are counting on you caring enough to give them what they want even after they are discovered–enough people have done it already to make them think you will too.

DON’T CONTINUE TALKING! Screenshot your conversation and images for proof. Then block and archive them. Report them to your social media or whatever platform they met you on. I had so many catfishers to report to one dating website that they ended up telling me I was “too picky” and needed to “lower my standards”. Most social media platforms take your reports into consideration and act on it following an investigation. At Daily Testify, reports are taken seriously and abusers are shut down quickly with less hesitation than every other site on the market.

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

How To Heal From An Attack

  1. Allow Yourself Time to Cry
  2. Educate Yourself to be Better Prepared Next Time
  3. Let Trusted Friends Know and Reach Out For Their Support
  4. Seek Professional Counseling for any Deeper Issues
  5. Get Back on the Proverbial Horse

Allow Yourself Time to Cry

It is not easy being human. Sometimes the cost is so high we just want to ball up and choose to hate the world or leave it. Neither option is a good one. No matter how many times I have been through it, it still hurts to be catfished. Though I didn’t let myself trust or give anything really personal away to the last two scammers, I did have the hope they were real and that hope deferred made my heart sick. It’s okay to cry. Let yourself express those emotions. I’ve gone on walks through the rain-soaked countryside talking to God and crying till I found peace again. He met me there, and he can meet you too. Allow yourself the room to feel, but don’t let the bad experiences close the gift of your loving heart.

Educate Yourself to be Better Prepared Next Time

We don’t live in a sinless world where you can take strangers at their word and trust them. The people you trust and invest in should be people who earned your trust over time. Learn more about the ways of the world and online community through organizations like The CyberSmile Foundation that help teach you safe ways to interact online. Read reputable articles like the ones linked in this story and on our blog. Begin to see yourself as less of a victim and more of a warrior loading up for battle. Knowledge is an arsenal that never fades or requires a concealed carry permit.

Let Trusted Friends Know and Reach Out For Their Support

Most victims have people in their lives that love them, yet they feel isolated. Whether they physically live alone or they are in a house with other people, some need in their heart was being missed and that need was the hope the abuser claimed to fill. As public as I am online, none of my abusers read my blog or claimed to know anything from it. Unless they are stalkers, abusers don’t put much effort into chasing you past your social media, yet–in that moment–you think they are the only person in the world that really cared about you. That is the opposite of the truth. You don’t need to tell the whole world like I am literally doing here, but you need to tell someone what happened to you. You can’t navigate the dark thoughts alone. Share your experience with someone you trust and lean on them for emotional support.

Seek Professional Counseling for any Deeper Issues

Depending on how deeply connected you were to your abuser, you may need to talk to a professional. This may also apply if you knew the abuser a few days but have deeper baggage to work through. Sometimes being vulnerable emotionally reveals places in our hearts and experiences that we haven’t dealt with and didn’t know how to. There is no shame in seeking help to work through it. In fact, that is the brave thing to do. It is the ones who needed it but didn’t pursue it that end up caving to the dark thoughts and ending their life.

Get Back on the Proverbial Horse

No matter how many times you have been the target victim, it is not an excuse to hide forever from social media. Maybe you need to learn better practices and change what you do online, but you don’t have to leave it completely to be safe.

I don’t look to social media for my real world connections. The people I trust the most are not people I met online, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have meaningful relationships with people online. I met a couple online last year that are sitting in a country on the other side of the world right now reading this. We haven’t met in person, yet I consider them friends.

I get messages almost daily from strangers on my social media platforms, and almost all of them are men. Instead of feeling flattered by the attention and remaining vulnerable to every possible risk, I have to be wise enough to realize they could be scammers. I treat social media as a marketing space and share what I do there, so I will friend strangers on social media, but I follow my own advice to stay safe. If someone turns out to be a predator, I report them.

Maybe someday the bad ones will hurt less. What I share next is to show you just how real this can be. The screenshots below were captured over roughly three days of communication with a catfisher that contacted me through Daily Testify. Read on to see how I caught him in his lies and ended it.


Following this conversation on a private email channel, I screenshot everything, archived the message, and blocked the person. I then went to Daily Testify and reported him, stored the images elsewhere, and deleted them from my phone. Seeing the images later can cause setbacks in healing.

If you have been a victim of a scam, waste no time in reporting it and moving on. Don’t let them steal your joy or make you think you are the problem. Seek God! Let Him fill the places that you lack, and give Him the responsibility to play matchmaker with your heart.

It’s A Wonderful Life In Mount Olive: How I Launched Into a Full-Time Writing Business in 2021

In 1946, Frank Capra told a story about how the life of one ordinary man in one typical small town made a difference that impacted the world. This story went on to become an icon of the holiday season and a movie many of us watch every year, but this year became the year I lived it.

For eight and a half years, I taught proudly at Wayne Community College. It was a job I had prayed for and thanked God for daily. Then Covid-19 happened, and we all shifted to working remotely. I worked primarily from home but went into my office occasionally. When I did, everything had changed. Fellowship was truncated. Everyone kept masked in their separate offices and rarely socialized anymore. Covid-19 stole the heart of our connection to each other. That impacted me more than I realized.

I thought the grass was greener in other departments, but I had no opportunity to move there. Then I thought the grass was greener outside the pasture, and I left Wayne Community College.

It was a golden opportunity that promised to pay me double what I made teaching and let me stay home all day building curriculum. Within three months, I was putting down money on land and finally building my house. Before the land was fully in my name and the contractor was hired, I was fired.

Closed Doors = Opportunities

I didn’t see it coming, and I was in shock. Then I got angry. God and I had a few choice words as I walked my property and realized I couldn’t move forward with the dream and everything I had longed for was on hold once more.

I felt so foolish. If I had known it would end like this, I would have never left Wayne Community College. Sitting in a field full of weeds looking like I’d lost my mind, I cried out to God for answers.

God didn’t answer me in that moment or even the next ten, but He did answer. First of all, He showed me that the cost of building during Covid was so high that I would have been upended if I started the house build when I wanted to. It was better to let the ground rest for now.

Secondly, He showed me that He had to let me go through all that to pull me out of my comfort zone and into my calling as a writer. As a teacher, I didn’t make time for writing. I thought I would just wait till I retired. God said, “nope, I need you now.”

The Difference One Life Can Make

What proceeded to happen was a series of open doors that only could have happened by God’s hand. I walked into small businesses, corporate offices, and local government and found favor to tell stories about all sorts of people and places. The blog grew to an international readership in over 30 countries with over 10,000 views. That gave me a platform to talk about social issues and advocate for change on a national and global level. All of a sudden, this little ordinary girl in a little ordinary town was making a big world difference.

Doing the right thing doesn’t always pay you back monetarily. In fact, this year closes out on the lowest bottom-line in my bank. But what God and I have built together this year on faith is something I couldn’t have imagined with thousands of dollars and plenty of job security.

What God Saw That I Couldn’t

In the Fall, parents across the country were enraged with Covid-19 restrictions hurting learning for their kids, LGBTQ agendas forced into education, and Critical Race Theory being taught in school. Even at the college level now, curricula are being rewritten to divide people over issues of race and sexuality. As I watched the news unfold, God spoke to me:

If you had stayed in that curriculum creation job, you would have been forced to write something you didn’t agree with. I took you out before that could happen.

God

I was contacted by a K-12 school in Minnesota. The administrator and I had met in a small group online, and she had been reading my work at The Bohemian Princess Journal. She called and asked me to write her school’s entire curriculum.

With 75 committed families on the line, it just got serious. God started putting people in my path to partner with me in the vision. All of a sudden, I knew what to do and who to pull in to help make the best curricula possible for them. The biggest project of 2022 will be creating this curriculum.

Simultaneously over the summer and fall, I was busy networking with small businesses, local government, and non-profit organizations. God opened doors for me to walk into places I never thought I would go, and He gave me favor with important people when I went there. Out of those meetings came paying writing gigs and networking connections that would build into 2022 and beyond. From those opportunities came bigger opportunities to help my town and community in tangible ways including partnerships with Wayne Community College to bring classes into the community. That’s when God revealed another truth.

Your time at Wayne Community College in the specific department you were in was strategic. I needed you to have those relationships to form the alliances we need now in ministry to the community. Your faithfulness there created a bridge here now that will help people in crisis as well as your friends back at the college, and that couldn’t have happened without removing you from your comfort zone and putting you in this place of complete dependency on me.

God

What’s Next…

This year didn’t start out to be anything I thought it would be and, like George Bailey, I had some dark moments where I didn’t want to be part of it anymore. But God saw me and all the talents I was hiding and called me out of hiding forevermore. Rebecca J. Whitman Writing Services and The Bohemian Princess Journal are here to stay. I can truly say, now, that it is a wonderful life in Mount Olive.

I am not sure about God’s timing, but this year has taught me to discern God’s voice and follow it no matter what it tells me to do because there is always a reason for it. God has sent me on some crazy adventures this year and shown His hand in more ways than I can count. Here are some of the adventures slated for 2022:

  • Build a non-denominational Christian curricula for K-12 instruction that is also applicable to Adult Education
  • Launch The Bohemian Princess Journal into weekly podcasts on Mondays.
  • Streamline the content and change the look of the website; make blog posts follow a theme and post once a week on Fridays.
  • Work with non-profits, churches, and small businesses to write promotional materials and branch into social media marketing.

Please pray for the success of these adventures and consider donating to keep the work going.

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May you be blessed and may God shake your own foundations and send you on new adventures in 2022.


For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.

All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:6-18, NIV

The 4 Day Movement: A Non-Profit Serving People in Crisis

Pastor DJ Coles and his wife, Ruth, have been givers and servers in ministry for as long as I can remember. Chaplain, youth pastor, recording artist, public speaker, mentor, father, husband, and a friend are just a few of the hats that Pastor DJ has worn. In 2013, Ruth began to pray that they would find something that used all their gifts. God answered that prayer audibly on June 4, 2013, at 4:00 in the morning:


I’ll do more in four days than normally happens in four years by My hand.

Message from God to Pastor DJ Coles

The Roadmap of Matthew 25

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison, and you came to visit me…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Matthew 25:35-36, 40 NIV

God got really specific with what He wanted The 4 Day Movement to look like. He set up a structure for service that would strategically position The 4 Day Movement to serve the underserved populations in Wayne and surrounding counties in North Carolina. It would be a structure based on Matthew 25 that spread the good news of hope and Jesus Christ to the North, East, West, and South. It would be a ministry that sought neither glory nor fame; a ministry that served in the shadows with many people not even knowing their name.

In the early years of The 4 Day Movement, it was just Pastor DJ and his wife, Ruth. Before they had the means to do much, the Coles were “hope dealers” by themselves. They connected people in need with resources to the best of their ability. Over time, God added volunteers to the team as well as funding to expand their efforts. 

Focused on sheltering and feeding, The 4 Day Movement strives to see that no child goes hungry, no house sees a deficit in food, and short-term housing options are available for the homeless, displaced, and/or single-parent families in Wayne County and surrounding areas in North Carolina.

Pastor DJ Coles

Today, The 4 Day Movement is  moving towards the creation of its own affordable housing community with wrap-around services to assist and empower their clients within a structured environment. These efforts fall into four categories called the pillars of 4 Day.


The 4 Pillars of 4 Day

We were told to spread the Good News to the North, East, West, and the South. Wherever we get an “assignment”, we step in, plant a seed of hope, and God does the rest. He brings prosperity and provision to the people we serve, 4 Day itself, and all those who volunteer with 4 Day.

Pastor DJ Coles recalling the 2013 vision from the Lord

Assisting in Crisis and Emergency (Project A.C.E.)

The biggest pillar of need seen on a daily basis is the one where people are in a crisis and need help. This is the area that helps single-parent families and individuals find temporary shelter and food when their resources are limited or unsafe.

The phones ring off the hook for this need, but The 4 Day Movement uses discernment and a team assessment approach to determine which cases fit the scope of its mission. Requests for assistance must go through an intake process to screen out those aiming to misuse resources versus those with a legitimate need.

Serving and Assisting Veterans and Elderly (Project S.A.V.E.)

This pillar involves reinvesting value in the aged community as well as those who have served our country. This is the area that helped a veteran evicted from his three-bedroom home after missing just one payment. It is also the pillar that gives Food with Favor Boxes to the vulnerable elderly  populations within the community.  When we are all safely on the other side of Covid-19, one of the operations in this area is to go into the homes of the elderly and build relationships between the young and the old.

E4: Employment, Education, Enrichment, & Empowerment

Education and employability are key components of everything that The 4 Day Movement does to help people get back on their feet and become successful members of society. This is the area that helped pay an adult’s college tuition and books as well as sent six students on a school trip to a ballet.

Education is an important value to The 4 Day Movement and will be a requirement going into 2022. However, it can be a source of pain to the clients because many of them have repressed dreams that require education. The clients have lived in survival mode for so long that they have forgotten how to dream. With the help of The 4 Day Movement, the client pictured here went from being homeless living on the streets to graduating with his G.E.D., becoming gainfully employed, and having an apartment of his own.

Caring and Loving Every Adolescent and Teen in Sports (Project C.L.E.A.T.S.)

This pillar involves adopting a team or individual and paying for their gear to play in sports. This is the area that saw a child in tattered clothing show up to tryouts, got him new clothes and gear, and saw him become that team’s starting pitcher. It is also the area that took on feeding 12-15 players on a bus trip where no one had the money to buy food following a game.


4 Day Heroes: Volunteer and Paid Staff

Some 4 Day Heroes are here for a reason, some are here for a season, and some are here for a lifetime. We thank God for all of them.

Pastor DJ Coles
2021 4 Day Hero Team

It is no secret that The 4 Day Movement couldn’t be where it is today (or where it is headed) without volunteers. While some of those volunteers have moved into paid staff positions over time, most started as unpaid volunteers and were happy to do so. 

Volunteers and businesses that partner with The 4 Day Movement to accomplish the vision are known as 4 Day Heroes. A great example of this relationship is the partnership between The 4 Day Movement and Cornerstone Church. Pastor Ryan Rasmussen and the church have welcomed 4 Day to house its food pantry as well as staging for events and many of its meetings at the church. They are a truly giving congregation with a heart for the military and for the needy. 

From providing 1100 Thanksgiving hot meals to the second and third shift active-duty airmen at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base to providing weekly Food With Favor Boxes into the community, The 4 Day Movement can’t do what it does without the help of business partners, prayer warriors, financial investors, and volunteers.

The Heroes of 4 Day are a tribe of their own. They come to serve because they want to give back to people who are struggling in areas they have personal experience with as well. The sacrifice of their time and resources is an investment, not a burden. They find joy in the fellowship they have with each other and in the service they are able to provide to the 4 Day clients. Most of the Heroes serve because it is something God led them to do, and, when they obey that direction, God has provided for their personal needs as well–even supernaturally.


The Burden and the Need

Leading a non-profit is a navigation of faith, funds, and communication. You have to be a good communicator because you are asking people to come in for a portion of what they could make in the for-profit sector. I believe what we are doing is more rewarding; you can have hundreds and thousands of dollars and still feel empty at the end of the day. Dollar amount aside, at 4 Day we feel very full like we have done something that meant something. You can’t put a dollar amount on that.

Pastor DJ Coles

Moving into 2022, The 4 Day Movement has several initiates in play to expand its role and influence in the community beyond Goldsboro, NC. It is also actively working to remove barriers to education for its clients.

In 2022, they are set to partner with a non-profit tutoring organization to provide K-12 tutoring to all the clients that need it.

It also will begin a partnership with Wayne Community College to bring classes to its clients and provide pathways into the college for further education.


We Need You!


Please consider helping The 4 Day Movement in one of the following ways:


Contribute financially to The 4 Day Movement online by PayPal or send a financial gift to: Attn:  4 Day Movement, Inc., 2822 Cashwell Dr., Box #146, Goldsboro, NC 27534 

Tax deductible receipts are available.

Go shopping with 4 Day through Amazon Smile.

Volunteer with 4 Day by mentioning this article and requesting an application via email to: 4daymovement@gmail.com

Pray for 4 Day. We know prayer softens hearts and opens doors, and many areas where The 4 Day Movement will stretch will require God’s providence and movement on their behalf.

Using Our Gifts: Sermon by Pastor Bill Adams

December 19, 2021, I had the privilege of hearing this sermon in person at the beautiful 175 year old Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church in Wilmington, NC.

This sermon is shared here with permission by the author: Pastor Bill Adams


Consider This…


Dr. Oswald Golter was a missionary to China more than 60 years ago.  After World War II he was asked to leave that country.  So his missionary society wired him a ticket and Dr. Golter made his way to India to catch a ship home to America.  While he was there he noticed that there were many Jews living in the area–in attics and sheds and barns.  They were there because India was one of the few countries in the world that welcomed the Jews following the War.  And Dr. Golter was excited to see them and went around and greeted them.

It was Christmastime and he said to them “Merry Christmas to you!”  And they said “We’re Jews.”  “Well, I know,” said Dr. Golter, “but Merry Christmas anyway.”  “I tell you,” they responded, “we’re Jews.  We don’t celebrate Christmas.”  “I know” he said, “but if you did, what would you want for Christmas?”  “Well if we did,” they replied, “then we probably would want some fine German pastries.”  So Dr. Golter cashed in his ticket home and found a shop that sold fine German pastries.  Then he bought up boxes and boxes of pastry.  He took it back to the barns and attics and sheds and handed it out to the Jews saying, “Merry Christmas to you.  Merry Christmas.”

Years later that story was told when Dr. Golter was being introduced to speak at a seminary gathering.  As he got up to the microphone a young seminarian stood up and said to Dr. Golter, “I can’t believe you did that.  Those people aren’t Christians.  They don’t even believe in Jesus Christ!”  Dr. Golter nodded his head and said, “I know.”  Then he added, “But I do.” (modified from a note by Rev. King Duncan) 

There’s a lesson in this for us as we go about our daily lives in an unbelieving world.  We are not to live as the rest of the world does – we’re to live as we are led by Christ, even when it seems like something that most people wouldn’t do

We’re different!  We’re children of God and we’re supposed to be different!

Consider This…

Nicholas was born of wealthy parents in 280 AD in a small town called Patara in Asia Minor.  He lost his parents early by an epidemic but not before they had instilled in him the gift of faith.  Then little Nicholas went to Myra and lived there a life full of sacrifice and love and the spirit of Jesus.
Nicholas became so Christlike that when the town needed a bishop he was elected.  He was imprisoned for his faith by Emperor Diocletian and released later by Emperor Constantine.

There have been many stories of his generosity and compassion: how he begged for food for the poor, and how he would give girls money so that they would have a dowry to get a husband.  The story most often repeated was about how he would put on a disguise and go out and give gifts to poor children.  He gave away everything he had.  And in the year 314, he died.  His body was later moved to Italy where his remains are to this day.
But the story of Nicholas has spread around the world.  There are more churches in the world named after St. Nicholas than any other person in all the history of the church.

People have done strange things to his memory.  The poet, Clement Moore, gave him a red nose and eight tiny reindeer.  Thomas Nast, the illustrator, made him big and fat and gave him a red suit trimmed by fur.  Others have given him names like Belsnickle, Kris Kringle, and Santa Claus.  But what’s important about him is that he had the mind of Christ. Because of his gentle selfless love, he touched the whole world.  And this same mind of Christ can be in us. (modified from a note by Rev. James S. Hewett)

As I pondered St. Nicholas’ life, it occurred to me that we really don’t follow in his footsteps.  By the world’s standards, we are wealthy.  And the people we give gifts to are wealthy.  This was not the ministry of Nicholas –he ministered to those who were poor and needy.  We each need to consider what we can do to make our gift giving more like that of St. Nicholas.           

Sermon: Using Our Gifts                                          

If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:32-35

We’ve all been thinking a lot about gifts lately, especially what gifts we’d like to get for the people we love.  Some of us may have been thinking about the gifts we’ll be getting.
We love gifts.  Some of us dream about getting a great gift in life – that’s why so many people play the lottery.  They want to invest little and get a lot.  They think, wouldn’t it be great if I won a million dollars?  What a gift that would be!  Well, maybe it would be great, but maybe not.  Not everyone has the same idea of great.  One person’s wish may be another’s person’s nightmare. 
Take, for example, the story of three men who were sailing together in the Pacific Ocean.  Their vessel was wrecked and they found themselves on an island.  They had plenty of food, but their existence was in every way different from what their lives had been in the past.The men were walking by the seashore one day after they had been there for some months and they found an old lantern.  One man picked it up, and as he rubbed it to clean it off, a genie popped out.  The genie said, “Well, since you have been good enough to release me, I will give each of you one wish.” 
The first man said, “Oh, that’s perfectly marvelous.  I’m a cattleman from Wyoming and I wish I were back on my ranch.”  Poof!  He was back on his ranch.
The second man said, “Well, I’m a stockbroker from New York, and I wish that I were back in Manhattan.”  Poof!  He was back in Manhattan with his papers, his telephones, his clients and his computers. 
The third fellow was somewhat more relaxed about life and actually enjoyed life there on the island.  He said, “Well, I am quite happy here.  I just wish my two friends were back.”  Poof!  Poof!  And so they were.  Everybody’s idea of a good thing isn’t the same! But wouldn’t we all like to have a little more money?  Don’t many Americans sit around thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great …if I won the lottery…if I had my dream house…if I was famous….?”  We know its true.  That’s why lotteries make so much money for the state.
But as Christians…as the people of God…what if instead of wishing for money or fame or success or more “things,” we would just wish with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength that we could love the Lord and our neighbor as ourselves?  A wish like that could change the world.

This morning I’m going to talk about the gift of love – it’s a gift that God gives to us and the gift we offer back to Him. 

Jesus was a gift of love to mankind.  God didn’t have to send Jesus.  He could have just let us go on killing and mistreating each other.  He could have just let mankind remain ignorant of his love for people.

But, because of God’s love, Jesus came to earth and he literally loved us until his death.  On the last night he was on earth, he washed the disciple’s feet, shared a meal with them and then taught them.
And one of his last teachings that night was about God’s love.  It is our scripture for this morning from John 13:32-35.

You know, out of his love for us, God gives each one of us talents and gifts.  The other day amid all of the Christmas music on the radio I heard Handel’s “Messiah.”  What a gift that music is for all time.
Handel was a gifted man.  He learned to play the harpsichord by age 7 and was composing music by age nine. His father opposed his gift of music – he wanted young George to become a lawyer. But when the dad went off to work, George’s mother made him practice.
George was obedient to his father, and he entered law school. But after his father died, he abandoned law. He kept true to his gift and became an organist at the Protestant Cathedral.  There his talent quickly began to blossom.
God definitely gave Handel a gift and thank heavens he chose to use it! Today, we still recognize Handel’s gifts and are blessed by his efforts.We also need to remember and recognize that God’s gift of talent to Handel was a gift of love to us. Just imaging how much poorer we’d be if he’d stuck with law.

Each person here this morning also has God-given gifts. They may not be a great as Handel’s but you have them. God makes each one of us unique.
But so often we fail to recognize our giftsWe have to discover them.  And once we do, we have to use them.  

History shows us that people who have achieved greatness using their gifts had to persevere.  Your gifts may not even be recognized until you’re gone. How many starving artists never achieved fame in their life times but are now considered to be great?

Robert Frost, one of the greatest poets, wrote poetry for twenty years without fame or success. He was 39 years old before he sold a single volume of poetry. Today his poems have been published in over twenty languages and he won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry four times.

When Enrico Caruso, the great Italian tenor, took his first voice lesson, the instructor thought he was hopeless.  He said his voice sounded like wind whistling through a window.  Today, he is recognized as perhaps the greatest tenor who ever lived.

So, if the world has failed to recognize your talents, you’re in good company.  When God gives us a gift, He doesn’t want us to just sit and admire it, he wants us to use it.

One of the ways we can be happy in life is to keep using the gifts God has given us.  If you have been gifted in music or math, you’ll probably never be happy driving a cab. If you have great hand-to-eye coordination and athletic skills, you probably won’t be satisfied with a desk job. In so many ways, our happiness depends on us using our gifts.

But what if we don’t use our gifts? Not only will we risk our happiness, the Kingdom of God will lose out on what we could have done. It will miss out on all the love and beauty we could have shared.

As Christians, it’s our job to love and to help other people. God loves us not because we are lovable, but because He is love. Nowhere in scripture does Jesus give us a pass on loving other people – any kind of people.  

Even though Judas was going to betray Jesus, Jesus loved him. Jesus even washed his feet.  He told us we’re to love our enemies. God wants all of us to use his gifts and love to change our world. God needs our gifts and love to help make his kingdom the reality we live in each day.  Because life in the Kingdom of God is not created by just a few people. God’s Kingdom is made up of all of His people.
Because God loves us God has given us gifts and it’s up to us to use them. We are each unique and we each have value. God didn’t craft you carefully for you to live casually. You’ve been wondrously made to do wondrous things!

And so use the gifts God has given you.  Don’t worry about the particulars.  If you’ve built a wall around yourself, tear it down and become available to God.
Remember, God has given all of us the greatest gift – the gift of Himself through Jesus. He made Himself available to us because we cannot save ourselves.
Because He made Himself available, and because He made Himself an offering on our behalf, we have salvation.  Our sinful thoughts and acts are forgiven.
In thanks, we need to take our everyday, ordinary lives and place them before God as an offering.  We should serve God because we want to.  And when we do, we’re operating out of our strongest gift – our love.

Remember the story of the boy who offered his loaves and fishes.  They were offered as a gift to God and God multiplied them.  Five loaves and two fishes were multiplied to feed over 5,000 with leftovers to boot.
But that’s what God does with gifts that are being used; He multiplies them and does even greater things! 

God offered the gift of salvation to Charlie Soong in this very place.  Charlie Soong then carried that gift to China and used it to change the world for millions of people.  God multiplied his efforts!
No matter where we are in life, or what situation we’re in, we can contribute to God’s Kingdom.  God needs every gift in this room to be used to advance His Kingdom.
God needs you and me.  If we don’t open the gifts God gave to us out of love, things will not be changed.  Don’t leave His gift unopened.  It’s one of the most special gifts you’ve ever received.
So, this Christmas go ahead and open His gift, give thanks, and offer your own loaves and fishes up to heaven!  Give the gift of yourself to God.
Open the gifts He has given you and use them and just watch what God will do.  I think you will be amazed.

In the name of Jesus – who was, and lives, and is to come.  Amen.


For more inspiration, visit 5th Avenue United Methodist Church in person on Sundays at 10:30AM at 409 South Fifth Avenue, Wilmington, NC.

Christmas With The Chosen

If you haven’t heard of it already, The Chosen is the first ever television series based on the life of Christ. It presents the Gospel in a way that makes the characters real and approachable. For example, there is a scene when Joseph comes to Bethlehem with Mary and there is no room for them anywhere. In The Chosen, Joseph gets angry at the lack of accommodations but makes the best of it in a stable. We see him shoveling out animal feces to make room for the birth of the Savior of the World. It is thought-provoking, humbling, and human.

The Chosen is intentional about this. It’s goal is to present God as a relationship not a set of rules we must follow. I will let the creator, Dallas Jenkins, explain it more. The following are the first and second Christmas specials with The Chosen. As it approaches its third season fully funded by the fans, there are a lot of reasons to celebrate.

Join us as we celebrate the Christmas season with other artists you may know on the set of The Chosen.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

5 Last Minute Free or Low-Cost Gift Ideas For The Procrastinating Shopper

We are hours away from Christmas today, and excitement is filling the air. If you are not quite done shopping, that excitement feels more like panic. No one wants to get to Christmas without presents for the ones they love. In this post, we will discuss some ideas you may not have thought about and some ideas that cost nothing but your time.

1. Time

The one thing your loved ones want more than anything on their Christmas Wish List is your time. The following are some creative ideas to give your time as a gift. To make it a present for them to unwrap, create and print a gift certificate on the free Canva app or your word processing program of choice.

  1. Do something they have asked you to do for a while such as fixing a door or baking a specific dish they love.
  2. Turn off your phone and devices to spend a certain number of quality hours with them in person.
  3. Complete an act of service for them such as grocery shopping or cleaning the kitchen.
  4. Make dinner (Bonus: Make it dinner and a movie!)

2. Talent

The gifts that have the most “wow” factor are the gifts that are well made by hand. Think of what you do well either as a hobby or business, and turn that into a product you can wrap and give away. The following are some creative ideas to give your talent as a gift.

  1. Make jewelry specific to their style, features, and interests.
  2. Make recycled art. Everything from jewelry to clothing to journals and more is trendy when it is made from discarded wrappers, pop cans, plastics, and other odds and ends.
  3. Make a work of art (painting, drawing, song, poem, wooden craft, etc.) specifically for them.
  4. Make a scrapbook or photo album celebrating something they enjoy or some of your best memories together.

3. Treasure

The gift your loved ones won’t expect at Christmas is the gift that requires you to sacrifice something you own and love. Think of what you have that they have commented on and/or may be something they will enjoy. Look for the gifts that are a little hard to give away not the ones that you got all the goodie out of and should rather throw away. The following are some creative ideas to give your treasure as a gift.

  1. Can you wear the same size? Give away some of your favorite clothing pieces. Don’t give the worn out pieces; give the pieces you put in special storage to protect.
  2. Give tech. Some of us have extra devices and accessories beyond what we actually use on a daily basis. Give your excess away–especially if it is still relevant (not your 8-track player from the 80s).
  3. Raid your storage. It’s amazing all the gently used gifts (kitchenware, house goods, etc.) that can come out of boxes and totes you’ve stored away for some future time and space.
  4. Gift your sparkles. Thin out your jewelry collection of the pieces you don’t really wear. Clean them up and package them nicely to give away. You can make a very professional looking card with some precut cardstock, holiday washi tape, and a hole punch. I wrap carded jewelry in individual jewelry boxes, small bags, or treat bags.

4. Adventure

For the adrenaline junkies and all those who can’t sit still, the gift you need to give is an experience. This type of gift pairs well with gifts of your time because most adventurers really would rather do life with you than on their own. The following are some creative ideas to give an experience as a gift. To make it a present for them to unwrap, create and print a gift certificate on the free Canva app or your word processing program of choice.

  1. Buy tickets to a play, concert, or museum. Go on a musical adventure through the Museum of the Bible with For King and Country. Tour the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Statue of Liberty in New York. Sit down with your favorite recording artist for Christmas. Many events are streaming online to a whole group of people for a single ticket price. Others are available online for free.
  2. Give a scavenger hunt. Whether you lead them to hidden or buried treasure from gift idea number 3 or to something completely new, the gifts they have to hunt for will be the gifts you are still talking about years later. I made the mistake of doing this one year for my sister. I buried her collected treasure in our backyard’s sandy soil. By the time she went hunting it, the gift had sunk lower into the ground, and she had to dig a 6 foot hole to get to it. Lesson to learn from this: Put buried gifts in black trash bags to protect them and bury them closer to the surface.
  3. Go on Groupon or AirBnB. Tickets to all sorts of events from Broadway shows to dancing to sky-diving get cheaper on Groupon than anywhere else. Unique classes and experiences (like horse trekking in Ireland) and places to stay (like an exotic island treehouse) can be found around the world on AirBnB.
  4. Give the gift of learning. Masterclass and other platforms offer short classes with famous professionals on a range of subjects from cooking to dance, sports, and writing. You can learn how to write a children’s book with Judy Blume or a mystery/thriller with James Patterson. For book nerds like this writer, just being in the room with a best-selling author is a dream come true much less in a class with them.

5. Memorials

If you are looking for the perfect gift for someone who wants nothing at all, give the gift of giving in their stead to a charity they would appreciate. Be careful who you give this gift to, however. Givers are often giving from their love language and want something that is just for them too. The person that appreciates a memorial gift is not necessarily your typical giving, humanitarian friend.

This type of gift can also be used to honor the memory of someone you have lost. Whether it is your first Christmas without them or your 7th, a gift in memory of a lost loved one can be a way to keep them a part of your life and honor the causes they championed while they were with you. The following are some creative ideas to give a memorial contribution as a gift. To make it a present for someone to unwrap, create and print a gift certificate on the free Canva app or your word processing program of choice.

  1. Give to education. Whether to a place they worked, attended, or admired, giving to education can establish scholarships in honor of the person you are gifting or honoring. Depending on the organization, those scholarships can be given to specific needs or groups of graduates. For example, a scholarship could be established to sponsor all emerging entrepreneurs with a 3.5 GPA. Note: Establishing a scholarship takes time, so this really isn’t a last minute gift. However, you can print a certificate stating your plans to establish it in the coming year.
  2. Give to veterans. The Wounded Warrior Project and the Disabled American Veterans are two places I would recommend to honor past military service. They are good stewards of your investment and use it help real veterans. To give to active duty military and their families, consider a contribution to the USO.
  3. Give to those in crisis. There are a lot of organizations that help people in their time of greatest need whether they lost everything in a storm or they are hiding from an abusive relationship. If you want to keep your support in specific communities, find a church or non-profit that is stewarding their resources well and servicing the people you want to help. There are too many of those to count, but you can find some we love in the Humanitarian Causes part of the Bohemian Princess Journal. For national and international support, give to the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, 700 Club, or Joyce Meyer Ministries.
  4. Give to the forgotten. Whether it is a single parent, an orphaned child, a homeless person, or the elderly, we will always have the needy among us. Find a charity whose cause you believe in and give a gift in honor of the person you want to gift this Christmas. We like to give in this area to our local church or denomination because we know how they use the funds, but you can also choose to give to a non-profit making an admirable difference. Two of our favorite non-profits are The 4 Day Movement and Hope Centers. (Look for more about both organizations soon on the Bohemian Princess Journal.)

Hopefully these ideas got your creative pot stirring. May you find creative ways to give life and love this Christmas, and may you be challenged to give sacrificially to show the love of Christ this Christmas.

We would love to hear how these ideas impacted your Christmas. Leave a comment below if you use one of these ideas. Let us know what you did and how it was received.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Southern Honor

For Ashley H.

Though she be but little, she is fierce.

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

She commands a ship with one tiny frame, the rutter a finger pointing…

She solicits respect and reverence from peers and elders with a simple “sir” and “ma’am”…

The thick skin of determination built

through tears in times of weakness

did not stop her compassionate heart.

Generations of Celtic pride

and roots burrowed deep in Southern soil

can only describe her

they can’t define her.

She is beauty that doesn’t know it:

She’s unpretentious

but the pride of those that love her.

She is elegant and graceful

in a hoodie on the South side of town.

She doesn’t reserve her strength

for the glitz of a ballroom.

The road rises to meet her

Her burdens, now, are light

Favor opens doors before her

And all her futures are bright.

The Ugly Christmas Ornament

Every time I see her, I want to throw her away. She’s just some ugly ornament, I tell myself. Who’s really going to care about one two-inch Styrofoam ball haphazardly covered in cheap sequins?

Then I look at the white ribbon forming a loop hanger on the ball. In thin blue ink I read: made by Rebecca Whitman, Kindergarten in Peyton, Colorado.

All of a sudden, I am five years old again sitting at a round table, smiling with a pin in one hand and the ball in the other. I feel so much pride at my ability. I’m so grown up to be able to hold this dangerous object: a straight pen. My teacher fills my heart with hope and praise as she tells me how beautiful and well done my ornament is. When I take it home, it is celebrated as a truly wonderful work of art. I feel affirmed as an artist: fully alive and fully seen.

It has been over thirty years since that ball first became a part of our heritage tree. There are ornaments to celebrate every year of our lives across nearly two decades, but this one ugly ball starts and stops the Christmas magic for me.

The magic of Christmas, the hope of Christmas, came as a very imperfect thing. He was the hope of all mankind, the promised king sent to save a nation, but he came as a baby to a barn full of animal dung.

He never lived in a palace. He never wore a crown till it was one made of thorns. His people did not celebrate his progression to the throne, they went into hiding over it.

No one could see the beauty in an ugly life.

Everyone expected a trumpet-blazing, sword-welding, battle-winning King, so what was so amazing about a baby born in Nazareth?

Could anything good even come from there anyway?

We say a lot of things in ignorance when our faith is weak. God chose to save the world not just one nation through the sacrifice of the one thing he loved the most: his son, Jesus Christ. It was a sacrifice of a little bit of ugliness for an eternity of beauty restored in fellowship with us.

When I look at my ugly Christmas ball, I am reminded of all the things that bless our lives from unexpected places. I am reminded that hope is alive even in the darkness. I am thankful again for the happy childhood I had that so many children didn’t. And I begin to see the beauty I saw thirty years ago in my creation.

Magic happens.

A spark ignites.

I celebrate all I have to be thankful for.

What makes you feel the hope and joy—the magic—of Christmas?

Get Used To Different: The Pivot of Hope During Covid-19 and the Heart of The Bohemian Princess Journal

“Get Used To Different” by Mandisa

When Covid-19 happened, the world was turned on its head. People turned against each other and made a cause to fight even if there wasn’t one.

The buzz word everywhere became pivot. We all had to learn to think on our feet and be willing to change quickly to stay relevant. Our culture was evolving into a global one at levels of interdependence we had not experienced before. Instead of a few countries in partnership with each other, the entire world got hit with an invisible enemy and the need to work together to crush it.

In some ways, this was a good thing. People spent more time at home and got a reset on their values. Business increased as more people shopped online. The supply couldn’t work fast enough to keep up with the demand and now, going into 2022, we have shortages effecting every corner of the market. That means opportunities for work are opening across the globe in ways we haven’t seen before in years…perhaps even my lifetime.

We have seen the good and bad in humanity during Covid-19. While all these opportunities are presenting themselves, we also face them with polarized views about health-care, politics, race, and religion. Across the globe, human trafficking, domestic violence, and genocide have increased because of our isolation.

But hope still exists. International dependence also creates International awareness. We don’t have to struggle alone in the dark anymore. The world really is your oyster.

The Catfish Who Was Neither Cat Nor Fish

One morning I got a message through social media from a man I had never met before. I was used to men trying to catfish me on social media, so I had pulled my picture off all my accounts save this one. I approached the message a little guarded. What sort of person messages a lady at 2:00 in the morning that is NOT a catfisher? I thought. As it turns out, a married man on the other side of the world would.

E reached out to me from hiding in Afghanistan. He saw my connection to the Afghan Coalition and hoped I could help them get out. E was in the media during US occupation in Afghanistan, and he was actively promoting equal rights and democracy for his country. His wife, N, was a human rights activist helping women get legal protection from abusive marriages and education to start small businesses. If Wonder Woman were real, I imagine she would be like N.

I vetted my new friends, E and N, through channels of aid who could verify they were who they said they were and who could connect them to help evacuating the country. If I am honest, however, I was already invested in caring about them and wanting to tell their story to anyone who could help or make a difference.

We knew it was just a matter of time before the Taliban found and “detained” E and N. I feared the worst and worried that every word I wrote them in English risked their life. Thankfully, E was smart enough to delete the messages…but I still worry that our friendship is a threat to his safety.

After the Taliban assassinated his father-in-law and threatened him to stop advocating for western ideas in the media, E and N left their home and went into hiding. They have been living off their savings every since. This week, I asked E how much money he had left to live on and he told me: one month. One month before communication stops. One month before hunger becomes so real your body feels like it is eating you from the inside out. One month before two heroes fighting for the lives of their people cease to be.

Then E told me he had two gold rings he could sell to buy another month. I didn’t want to ask–I already knew–but he confirmed it. He would have to sell their wedding rings to buy more food.

Something about that just broke me. I couldn’t stop crying. For a whole day, I went to Christmas parties with my friends and shopping in the local stores all in a fog thinking about him. All the hustle and bustle of Christmas felt meaningless in the light of real suffering and loss on the other side of the world.

E never asks me for money. He blesses me and thanks me for my heart. Talking to me gives him a glimmer of hope in humanity. Talking to him reminds me why this blog exists.

Why The Bohemian Princess Journal Exists

There is beauty in multi-cultural awareness. God did not create us to live in silos or see the world through our own narrow set of lenses. There is so much more color in the world.

Like Jason Aaron’s version of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, there is greater richness and understanding of the heart of God when we embrace other cultures in love. Embracing cultures–trying different foods and traditions not other religions–is at the heart of what Jesus Christ did when he walked the Earth. He loved on people in tangible ways and called people out on their faults when it was necessary. We need to do that too. Loving like Jesus opens the door for conversations that will lead to change, but it all has to start with that intentional hand reaching down to the drowning Peter and helping him up.

What would it look like if all the world were your oyster not your cage?

What could you do for Christ if you thought about life with a Kingdom mindset on a global scale?

For me, those answers became my writing business and the heart of this blog. I chose to become more intentional in my writing and use this platform to make a difference and inspire change. So far, we have been able to reach into over 30 countries with our message, and we look forward to God using us to inspire others for many more years to come.

A Poetic & Auditory Response to A Silent Night at Museum of the Bible

The bleak midwinter settles

in layers of flurries without and within

Crackling fire and a boy hold

a protected book in a one room cabin

Creaking floors and hinges, rattle open

Footsteps in the snow lead

lanterns to a stage floor

where percussion explodes…

Lift up your head! See

the percussion army dance, swing

wide from the shores of burning ships, sink

deep to the lost and hopeless, feel

the heart beats of hope again, watch

footsteps cross continents to bow

on National Mall in Washington DC, dare

to imagine a world where history

comes alive

celebrates The Word of light, the babe

born king, unpretentious, sets

the world ablaze with purpose.

No pit of darkness stands,

when Jesus Christ is in command.

Your army of artists surrender

Pens–Voices–Sticks–Vessels to Your hand.


For King and Country’s Christmas Special is a Partnership with the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. Tickets give you 4 hour access to the 1 hour performance. The show is available for a short time only from December 10-17.

It is a show that blends all the arts–music, theater, writing, and more–to bring to life one of the most important events in world history. Pick up a ticket online before this opportunity passes and grab your headphones for a repeat show. You don’t want to miss this in surround sound.

Two Are Better Than One: How Partnerships Make The Dream Work

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. 

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

As a small business, I hear a lot about partnerships between organizations. This business partners with that one to facilitate this service and now both entites had a point of impact in the community. In fact, greater impact is accomplished because of their partnership than could have been even imagined if they stuck to doing it all alone.

The principles of partnership are as ancient as the Garden of Eden. When God created Adam and looked down on him, he didn’t say, “good job, son, you are killin’ it on your own!” No, on the contrary, he said it is not good for man to be alone, let me make him a helper. Why? Because God designed us to live and work as teams–not individuals.

Business

If you look at the needs of your organization–your specific business plan–you should see a target demographic that you want to reach. To truly accomplish that goal, you can’t do it by yourself, you need to bring in other people who can agree with your vision and have the passion for it that you do.

No organization grows from idea to thriving business with just one person. If you want to be successful, you have to have vision for the future and a plan to mentor others into your seat on the company because eventually you will retire or pass away and you don’t want to build something that just ceases to exist in 10-20 years.

Entrepreneur

It might sound silly to list this separate than business, but the truth is that they are not the same. Though every small business needs to have vision and growth, many are franchisees of bigger businesses. An entrepreneur is someone who is a one-off business: they came up with an idea and pursued it based on their own creativity, vision, and willpower.

Entrepreneurs are the invisible demographic in a community. They are the people like Amy Brogden who look at a town, see a vacancy, and believe they can do something to meet that need. God bless them! We need more people like that everywhere. Small towns are dying without them.

Entrepreneurs work hard to make their vision prosper. They live with the daily reality that the economy can change in a minute and they can be out of a job, so they are always on pivot to stay relevant. The bigger they grow, the more people they carry under them, and the more burden they feel to be successful; no one wants to work as hard as we do to build a business that dies in a couple years.

Relationships

Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord.

Proverbs 18:22 KJV

From the beginning, God set us up to work together in partnership. He took a rib out of Adam to make Eve because he wanted her to be something standing beside him and working with him not ruling over him or trampled by him.

Women of God, you have such an amazing Creator! He saw your worth and recognized you long before Susan B. Anthony or any of those other folks even existed. Get to know Him and praise Him because our Lord Jesus really is a good God to serve.

–Rebecca J. Whitman

It is tempting to live life single–especially if you have faced any heartache in relationships–but I really don’t think that was God’s design for the majority of us. There are far more verses in the Bible about love and marriage and filling the Earth with children than there are about the blessings of singleness. We all must be single for a season, but we are also responsible for being able to see when that season has ended.

Mixing Love and Business

If you are an entrepreneur, it can be really hard to be in a relationship. Sometimes the demands of work make it hard to have room to share your life with anyone else. It is easier to say a relationship will hinder your productivity than it is to say it will help it.

Still, I have seen too many married couples thriving in business to say that single mindedness is really the truth we should hold to—and I am not the only one. According to this article from Entrepreneur.com, research shows that growth in business is tied to a strong and thriving marriage.

Truth Hits Home

When my maternal grandparents came home from their honeymoon, they came home to a box full of baby chicks, and my grandma cried. We were never told why she cried, but I have always believed it was because she knew how much work was ahead of them and the weight of it was frightening. Entrepreneurship is an often scary adventure.

From then on, the adventure was non-stop for them. From chicken farming to dairy farming to firewood to restaurants and everything in between, my grandparents were successful entrepreneurs in Colorado. They were married over 50 years and now rest buried together.

I never saw that entrepreneural life buy them a fancy house or lots of things, but we lacked for nothing at grandma’s house. Their faith and love poured into everyone they knew: friends, family, and strangers. It was a level of kindness and generosity so great, in fact, that it took multiple funerals to celebrate them when they died—and we still talk about them years later today. That kind of legacy doesn’t happen when you live life alone.

This godly heritage reminds me every day that true love and business success are possible. The wedding rings that honored that marriage wait to honor my own now. I like to think my grandparents would be tickled pink to know I will wear grandma’s rings someday. I like to think they would be proud to see me in business now much like them—living day to day on my faith in Jesus.

There is nothing easy about being in business for yourself. Some days you want to curl up and cry or just go back to working for someone else so you can sleep at night.

But all those fears are just growing pains. In time, the business you are building will establish itself if you don’t give up and if you make strategic partnerships that will propel you forward.

Don’t be afraid to risk failure for love. When you find someone worth giving your heart to, be bold enough to speak your truth even if that means writing it down in a letter. Pray for them. Invest in them. Make them a priority and trust me in this: the ROI will be worth the effort.

Beautifully and Wonderfully Made: Inspirational Recording Artist, DJ Coles

Recently, I stumbled on the cool, jazzy jams of a local artist, DJ Coles. I think it is so good that I can’t keep it to myself. Watch this short music video and see if you don’t agree.

DJ Coles Music (C) 2012

Vocally, DJ Coles is clearly gifted, but what impresses me most about him as an artist is his lyrics. As you listen to more of his work, the positive message promotes a Bible-based self image–in a way, I have never heard before. The beats are catchy. The words are uplifting. It’s hard not for these songs to get stuck in your head and linger.

So why haven’t we heard anything from this artist since 2012?

All three of DJ’s albums were recorded between 2005 and 2012. They are streaming now everywhere. Prior to, during, and following that time, the artist served in ministry as a youth pastor, military chaplain, husband, and father. While he was happy to wear all these hats, he was actively looking for a way to connect them all in one area of service and have the room to invest more energy in his family. That role presented itself in 2013 with the launch of his 501 c(3) non-profit, The 4 Day Movement.

While the music production has paused on new content, we expect it hasn’t stopped all together. Expect to see something new from DJ Coles music in the near future.

See below for a direct link to play the music on Spotify.

Source: Spotify

If you would like to connect with the artist, he is available on Facebook and Instagram.

Why You Should Block Your Ex

Poem read by author, Rebecca Whitman

You told me every word on your mind, no filters–

And nothing that I needed to hear

You filled silence with your incessant need for attention–

And nothing that asked about my life

You made countless promises, filled my heart with hopes and dreams–

And nothing that took action in five years of waiting

You called and claimed you changed, threw a bone at my wants and interests–

And nothing that reflected them as your own in your voice or character

You left me second guessing my best decisions–

And nothing but a wound so close I’m left…

bleeding out…


I phone a friend and find life–

He binds my wounds and gives me hope again

but his heart

is closed to mine.


I think of all the love I shared with you, and I realize it wasn’t nothing–

but it ended in nothing.

I’m tempted to pick up the phone and try again–

then I read about the eight years we tried and failed and know…

there is not enough life left to repeat it.

For all the love we shared that was real, I wish you well–

May you find a heart that gives you rest and welcome; May her love for you be warm and ready

May you give her the best of you–healed and whole because that’s all a new love deserves

not the ghost of regrets with mine.

Women’s Rights: The Forgotten Fight in Afghanistan

Note: The following article impacts those still in hiding in Afghanistan. To protect them, all names and locations have been purposefully omitted from this publication unless already previously published by one of the articles linked herein.

On August 24, I broke over a year of silence to tell you the story of the Afghan refugees. It was a story that left a lasting impact on me and created bonds with people still fighting injustice today around the world. Following news that the Taliban closed education indefinitely for women, I knew we needed to revisit Afghanistan. What I found was a story that left me in awe of the amazing strength of women. It is a story that has me hopeful we can still see positive change in the world, but it is also a story that needs your help to make a difference.

In Afghanistan, women make up roughly half of the population, and it is for women that we went into war in Afghanistan in the first place. According to this article from Human Rights Watch, an image of Afghan women in flowing blue burqas helped sell the war, but we lost sight of that humanitarian purpose over time. Just before leaving the country in 2021, funds for women’s rights in Afghanistan had been cut to roughly one-fifth of what they were in 2010. Mahbouba Seraj, a longtime women’s rights activist in Afghanistan, says “shame on you” to the whole world for that because these funds were actively saving lives in Afghanistan.

But are American taxpayers really responsible for peace in the Middle East?

Providing aid for foreign countries has been a topic of debate over the years, but we generally believe it creates goodwill and diplomatic relations with other countries. According to this 2019 article, foreign aid has been a bipartisan policy in effect for over 75 years in America. Most Americans believe we give away around 25% of the federal budget to foreign aid. When polled, most of us consistently feel our foreign aid should be about 10%.

How shocking, then, is it to learn that what we actually give is less than 1% of our federal budget?

Since 2001, the United States spent over $787 million to promote gender equality in Afghanistan. During our 20 year occupation, great strides were made legally. A constitution was adopted that claimed women were equal to men. Additionally, the 2009 Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law provided legal protection for women and girls against domestic violence.  These laws were not perfect nor were they easy to get enforced by the predominantly male government, but their mere existence was progress. All that progress for women’s rights was halted when the Taliban returned to power this year.

Still, an entire generation of Afghan women have grown up believing the dark days of the Taliban were in the past with their mothers and grandmothers–not in the future for them. They refuse to sit and take this regression silently.

Not all Afghans caved into fearful submission to the Taliban. On the contrary, many are standing up in bold protest for the cause of human rights. These activists are being met with beatings, sticks, whips, tear gas, and gunfire. An example of that is the cover image of this story. Nevertheless, they fight on. One I know about is busy going into rural areas and educating women on their options for legal aid and entrepreneurship despite the fact that a close family member was assassinated by the Taliban. Another is committed to getting the truth out through media even though it has cost him personal threats that made him leave his home and go into hiding.

Afghan women who have stood up for gender equality, democracy, and human rights clearly face imminent risks.

In this context, the U.S. government and its NATO allies have a responsibility to ensure that Afghan gender equality activists, women journalists, and judges are considered a priority group for evacuation, emergency visas, and relocation support, and to mobilize humanitarian aid for refugees and those who are internally displaced.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, August 18, 2021 article

A Heart for Their Homeland

Most of the Afghan people left behind love their country and have great pride in where they come from. Here is what one of my activist sources had to say about being an Afghan and wanting to leave:

Afghans are patriots just like you. They never want to leave their homeland, but when your homeland is in the hands of an oppressive and terrible regime with no hope of it changing anytime soon, the only dim light that exists is to leave for a while.

(Under the Taliban), you can’t breathe. All rights and concessions are taken from you, and you feel like you are in a prison. Despair and frustration become your friend. You become afraid to even think about the future. You are (functionally) dead though you are still alive…The only hope that remains is a dream in itself: the hope to emigrate elsewhere for a while.

The people who came to us with lessons of freedom, democracy, and human rights want to forget us and leave us alone right when our country is slowly moving towards freedom.

Extremism grows by choking out education and every form of advancement until our country itself becomes a terror effecting other countries and nations. Forgetting Afghanistan is not the solution. We need help to push back against further setbacks.

An Afghan Human Rights Activist

The Dark Days of the Taliban Return

In the 1990s when the Taliban was at its peak in Afghanistan, you couldn’t be a woman in public without a male “guardian” and that public exposure was always limited and purposeful (for shopping, etc.). Modern Afghan women are beginning to see a return to those days. Stories of persecution are leaking out.

For example, one woman was a college professor with a Ph.D. When the Taliban took over, the university sent her home and told her she would be on “unpaid leave until further notice”. A highly educated single woman living alone, she found herself in danger with the Taliban because it is frowned upon for a woman to live alone. She has to find creative ways to provide for herself and hide the fact that she is living alone. 

Another woman was tricked into meeting a boy from a prominent family. When she met him, he raped her and got her pregnant. Though she was a victim, she was shunned by her family, prosecuted for having sex outside of marriage, and forced to give up her baby for adoption. When she tried to get justice against her attacker, he was able to pay off the legal system and avoid charges completely. She was only 17.

Summary and Call to Action

It’s hard to imagine living in a world so hostile to freedom. For those born after 2000 in Afghanistan, the baby America they were building was ripped away from them and a foreign culture was forced on them. Despite their touts of being a new, progressive party, the Taliban has not changed. They are still the same dictatorship that ruled by fear and bullying in the 1990s. The difference now is that they are bullying people who know better. Is it any wonder why so many Afghans try to flee? Would you not do likewise if it were your life, your family, being threatened?

For every Afghan brought to safety since the US withdrawal in September 2021, there are considerably more left behind still begging for a way out. The planes are still moving, but the documentation necessary to get on one is harder and harder to come by these days. Even border countries are closing to assistance because of their fear of Taliban retaliation. What options are left but protest?

We take this risk and protest to show the Taliban that we are not women of 1990 to be scared of whipping and forcing us to wear hijabs or forced marriage.

Taliban should win people’s minds and hearts through talks, not through the whip, beatings and extremism.

Hoda Khamosh, protest organizer, in an interview with CBS News

For lasting change to happen in Afghanistan, it has to start from within. If enough people stand up to the tyranny of the Taliban, maybe the tide will change, but that doesn’t remove the fact that they still need help from outside their country.

For those protesting on the streets today in Afghanistan, it’s not about getting attention, it’s about survival. Silence and compliance are no longer options.

So how can we help this fight?

1. Acknowledge that the fight exists.  US media whitewashes what happens in Afghanistan like it is some unavoidable casualty. Our fear fills in the gaps and makes up lies about the people coming here as refugees. These people are not terrorists or freeloaders. They just want an opportunity to work, make their own way, and live in peace. They don’t want a handout or special accommodations. If all we have for them is a tent in the woods, they will be grateful. It is our freedom they want, not our stuff.

2. Be vocal. Tell your friends, family, neighbors, and strangers about what is happening, and educate them on the truth you have just read here today. Call your government representatives and urge them to take action. If you aren’t sure what to say, consider sharing this letter sent by over 100 non-profit organizations to US National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan. Better still, sign the letter being compiled to President Biden right now. Public opinion matters and, yes, one voice really CAN change the world. Share on your social media accounts. Share in person. Share everywhere and in every way you can.

3. Get connected and serve. There are plenty of organizations still working to get Afghans to safety. Whether it is the logistics of moving them or resources to house them in safe countries, we need help in every area of the mission. Two missions actively working to help on both fronts are Operation Recovery and Task Force Pineapple. Another organization helping those at risk right now is the Human First Coalition.

To Those In Need of Assistance

Immigration options that work take time. If you are reading this and need assistance, reach out to Operation Recovery and the Human First Coalition. Be prepared to be patient, persistent, and cautious; if you get anxious and stop being vigilant about safety, you can jeopardize both yourself and the mission.

To Those In America With Freedom

If you are reading this from a place of safety–especially in America–be grateful. Realize people around the world are actively fighting to have what you get every day for free. Be thankful for the freedom others bought for you, and pray for the freedom and peace of our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan. 


In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility–I welcome it…

The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it–and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

President John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961

The Power of the Written Word: Charles Martin Books

If you love a good story, get ready for a treat! Today’s post is about a modern author whose work is so good, we’ve read every one of his books–multiple times. I don’t recommend every book I have read much less every book by a specific author, so why am I giving Charles Martin this credit?

Martin is a talented author, but it is the presence of God and the anointing he invites into his books that make me return to them as a resource.

(Part of a response I posted to a question on Charles Martin’s Facebook fan page.)

Criticism about Faith

Charles Martin is not overtly honest about his faith in his fiction writing.

Though Charles Martin is open about his Christian faith on his website, his books focus on story content and people–not religion. Some readers have strong reactions when they discover Martin is a Christian author. One threw his book in the trash and wrote to Martin that he needed to “quit all the Christian crap to get more popular”. This is how Martin responded:

First, can I just say that I’m sorry.  It sounds like some Christian somewhere wounded you.  Please forgive us.  We don’t always get it right.  Loving people like Jesus is not easy.  I fail here often.  But that book you threw in the trash is not one of those failures.  My books have a tendency to pick at scabs and that can be difficult for the reader.  I’m not saying I know you or what made you hurt, but the story in my story may speak to and bring healing to the wound you feel.  I wrote it for that purpose: because it’s only the love of The Father that can get past the tough, calloused places in us and touch our hearts where they’re still tender….

Charles Martin, Response to an Angry Reader

Martin’s Writing Process

Charles Martin maintains a strict writing structure of 500-1000 words a day–most days. Though he doesn’t go into great detail about how the magic happens, Martin does acknowledge the Source. In September, after completing his second book in the Murphy Shepherd series, Martin posted the following on social media:

Last Thursday I clicked ‘send’ on the third installment of the Keeper series…I have a whole new respect for authors who write series…this book challenged me in ways I don’t think I’ve ever experienced…I can’t tell you the number of days I doubted me, my craft, everything. 

To all you aspiring writers or artists or anyone who creates – when it gets tough, and you can’t see around the corner, and have no idea what to do next, I have 2 thoughts:

1 – just show up.  Put your butt in the seat.  Sweat it out.  Don’t quit. If it were easy everyone would be doing it. Writing is quite possibly one of the most humbling things on the planet  – Books don’t write themselves. Regardless of yesterday – and whether it was awesome or not – we show up to a blank page.  The book doesn’t care – You get no credit for what you’ve done.  So, sit down and get to work.  AND

2- most importantly, remember that the first verb in scripture is ‘create.’  It’s the first description we get of God’s nature.  It’s who He is.  What He does.  So, everyday I sit in this chair I remember where my strength comes from. The well for the words and usually before I write a word, my conversation with Him sounds something like, “Lord, it’s me. I’m back. Help. Please sit here with me today. Help me create something, which at the end of the day, whether it’s accepted, praised, thrashed or whatever, is a Roadsign to Jerusalem. That it sounds like your heart for us. That it reflects you and points people to you.”

Charles Martin, September 14, 2021 Facebook Post

Publication Schedule

Though no official schedule is posted for Martin books, all the fiction titles tend to come out once annually in June. Non-fiction titles and blog posts have no set schedule. They seem to follow the writer’s inspiration and availability.

The Books (and How To Use Them)

A Life Intercepted

A college football star headed to NFL fame has his life (and marriage) derailed when he is falsely accused of a crime and sent to prison. Can he right the wrongs dealt him and clear his name or will he be doomed to live in the shadows? This book is a sobering read for athletes and anyone at the top of their game with fame and fortune. It is a good reminder of what is important in life.

Chasing Fireflies

He survives a horrible train accident and is eventually adopted, but the shadows of Chase’s identity still haunt him as an adult. When a new journalism assignment reminds him of old questions, he will have to go on a quest to discover the truth. This story is inspiring for anyone in the adoption/foster care system. It is also a good read for writers and those wanting to make a difference in the life of an orphan.

Long Way Gone

The son of a preacher with big dreams to be a famous musician steals from his father and runs away to Nashville. Struggling on the streets, will he make it to the stage or will he find the courage to go home? This book is an award-winning modern Prodigal Son story. It’s an excellent read for musicians and especially healing for estranged loved ones.

The Dead Don’t Dance & Maggie

When Dylan’s wife goes into labor and hemorrhages, his son is stillborn and his wife goes into a coma. He takes a job teaching to pay the medical bills and connects with his students but he wrestles with God. If tragedy leaves you questioning God, this book and its sequel are for you. These books are also inspiring for teachers, gardeners, and those believing God for a miracle.

Send Down the Rain

A Vietnam veteran, a single mother with two kids fleeing an abusive relationship, an old flame, and a 45-year old secret converge on the Florida coast. This book is good for military readers, truckers, and travelers. It is also a good read for those who carry guilt over and haven’t made peace with their pasts.

The Mountain Between Us

When bad winter weather causes their last flight out of Salt Lake City to be canceled, two strangers charter a plane to get to their destination only to crash in one of the largest wildernesses in the United States. This story was made into a movie but, unfortunately, Hollywood altered the story significantly. The book is a thrilling survival story and a good read for those who like the great outdoors.

The Water Keeper & The Letter Keeper (A Murphy Shepherd Novel, Books 1 & 2)

When a young woman is suckered into a human trafficking ring, a man with a boat and spy-like connections sets out on an adventure to find her and save her before she is lost forever. This first Martin series follows the unfolding mysteries of the people affected by human trafficking. This series is good for anyone wanting to better understand how human trafficking works. It is also a good read for those who have been victimized, survived, and struggle with the trauma of their past.

They Turned The World Upside Down

This second non-fiction title uses Martin’s storytelling charm to tell the story of the first-century church in the Book of Acts. This book is good for an approachable Bible study about the apostles, evangelism, and the early church. It is also a good opportunity to discuss Christian theology and why we believe what we do.

Thunder and Rain

A modern-day cowboy and Texas Ranger has survived by developing a tough skin to life, but all that changes when a woman and her young daughter arrive in town needing his help and protection. Capturing the grit of life in the West, this book is a good read for Western lovers and tough guys. It is also good for those who thought love wasn’t in the cards for them.

Unwritten

An actress miserable in her fame, the priest who knows her secrets, and a Boatman with secrets of his own pair up to make the ultimate disappearing act. In leaving the rest of the world, they just may find what is really important. This book is a good read for those with a taste for international travel as well as those who love a good mystery. It is also good for those who live busy lives and long to get out of the rat race.

Water for my Heart

A young street-smart man finds his way through Harvard and into a lucrative business in Miami–in the illegal drug trade. He gets the chance to right his wrongs by going to Central America, but he finds more than he bargained for. This book is a good read for those who love Latin cultural influences as well as travel. It is a story of hope and redemption for even the most unlovable characters.

What If It’s True?

This first non-fiction title uses Martin’s storytelling charm to tell the story of the Gospel and Jesus Christ himself. This book is good for an approachable Bible study about Jesus Christ and why Christianity worships him as the son of the one, true God.

When Crickets Cry

A seven-year-old girl with a vivid scar on her chest sells lemonade to a stranger in a small Southern town. Her kindness sparks a friendship that leads them both toward healing. This book is an inspiring read for those in the medical field or those with a heart for sick children. It is also inspiring for anyone needing a miracle or a touch of healing.

Where The River Ends

When two star-crossed lovers marry against their families’ wishes, they know they have an uphill battle. They build a stronger marriage in their commitment to each other, but that commitment is tested when one of them receives a life-threatening illness. They can take it lying in a hospital bed, but they choose to take it on a 130 mile trip down the river. For anyone battling incredible odds or feeling defeated by sickness, this book is for you.

Wrapped in Rain

When one man’s brother escapes a mental facility, he is forced to face the demons in his past to find him. Along with bringing his brother to safety, he will have to find a way to make peace with the past if he wants to truly move forward. For all those struggling with mental health issues or trying to forgive things in the past, this book is for you.

How to share the books to build community

A Martin book is a great way to talk about issues in small groups. They open the door to discussion of often difficult topics as you discuss the fictional stories organically. They are also really good ways to approach discussions of faith with people strongly opposed to them in any other direct context. You can share life together with a Martin book.

My favorite person to share life with through a Martin book is my dad. He became blind and could only read through audio books. We discovered Martin after this interview.

We started reading his work, and haven’t stopped since. We read the books independently, discuss the characters, and awe over his writing together. We have both reread the books, but dad has read them at least 3x as much as I.

A message to Charles Martin

Thank you for writing such well-crafted stories. You inspire us to take writing seriously and tell our own stories in a similar fashion. We marvel at your talent and hope to write like you.

Thank you for the gift of your faith made real on the page. Thank you for your vulnerability to show how each day is a collaboration with God and, at times, a humble struggle.

Thank you for creating a safe space to talk about hard issues. Whether intended or not, your books have become tools of evangelism on the market today.

A Love For All Seasons

True love is not a flash in the pan; it is something that sparks within friendship and grows into a roaring camp fire. All the water in the world can’t douse its flame. It burns endlessly. A love like that is worth waiting for, fighting for, and protecting.

Eugene Barilla and Song of Songs 8:4;6-7

This is for the friend whose fire is yet to be...

You found me…

In the Winter of my discontent when all my hopes for love felt jaded and I saved myself through freezing to -22⁰C.

You thawed me…

I came to life for you–the first colorful buds of Spring opening cautiously, scared to trust the scorched earth with their beauty and light.

You watered me…

The heat of your Summer as you encouraged and celebrated my dreams brought my garden to bloom.

You harvested me…

In the beauty of Autumn, in the fields full and ripe for picking, you saw the beauty in me and harvested my love for your own.

You give me an all seasons love…

You open yourself to me–unafraid to lay all secrets bare. The sparked flame of your love burns away the baggage of mine and I reciprocate gratefully.

What to Do When Loss and Loneliness Cloud The Holidays

I have to say that Christmas is my all time favorite holiday of the year. We get inundated with romance, mystery, presents, family time, and good food. We get more time off and, if we are lucky, snow to play in. We drink eggnog or hot cocoa and nibble on baked goods while we overdose on Hallmark movies, Christmas music, and light displays. There is an overwhelming sense of magic and belief in happy endings. Nothing is impossible at Christmas.

But what do you do when the thing you want most really can’t happen?

If you have suffered the loss of a loved one, you know that the thing you want more than any present under the tree is more time with that loved one alive again. If you just came out of a breakup or you’ve been single for a long time, the last thing you want is to be reminded of how alone you are romantically. Holiday gatherings get harder when people are missing from them–and that’s true whether it is a lost loved one or a missing partner that you haven’t even met yet.

My paternal grandfather loved family gatherings, and he made an especially big deal of Christmas. Before Christmas Eve, he took my cousins and I out for dinner and a movie at the theater. Then he took us to the local mall, gave us each twenty dollars, and let us shop. He was genuinely happy to see all the things we bought with his money that brought us joy. Then, on Christmas Eve, he would cook a steak dinner for the whole family. After dinner, we would gather in the living room, sing carols, read the Christmas story in Luke, and open presents. Presents were always extravagant toys or collectibles for the kids and nice kitchen goods for the adults. I remember one year when we all got Nintendo 64! My sister and I went home, set it up, and played Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt till our eyes nearly fell out of our heads. After presents at granddaddy’s house, there was still more. Gallon bags filled with candy, fruit, and nuts were passed out along with money envelopes to everyone present.

I never thought about money back when I was growing up, but I do now. I know my grandparents weren’t as rich as they seemed; they saved all year to be able to splurge like that on their family for Christmas. My paternal grandparents had come from less and worked hard to have more. Spending money on their family now made them feel joy and fulfillment. Nevertheless, the first Christmas after granddaddy passed away, it wasn’t the presents we missed from the room. There was a sadness and silence we could only address in prayer as we blessed the meal: we missed him. All we wanted, as we gathered together that Christmas, was more time with him.

Christmas is not Christmas anymore when grief over loss enters the room. Substitute whatever holiday in there that is important to you, and the same is still true: holidays suck when the people you love are missing.

Whether you are in the fresh wake of grief or you are a seasoned veteran to it, it can be hard to be cheerful at the holidays. It is okay to acknowledge your feelings while they are raw, but don’t let yourself be trapped by them. Grief is a process that has no timeliness, but emotions will control you if you don’t take control over them.

What I ultimately found helpful in my own seasons of loss and loneliness at the holidays was this: focus on the good you have not what you are missing and be thankful for the memories.

Sometimes forcing yourself to be cheerful for holidays’ sake brings the good memories to the surface. You begin to remember good times you had with your missed loved ones. Smile-worthy memories surface in the flood of sadness, and you find yourself thankful and happy again.

It may be hard to remember why you celebrate or to even celebrate at all, but do it anyway. Eventually it gets easier as you honor those who are passed as well as those who are still around to enjoy the holidays with you.

Celebrate the ones you love and the One who gave up His Son, Jesus Christ, as a gift of love for you.

Know that the pain you feel now will dissipate in time. Just don’t give up.

Corn Casserole: A Holiday Recipe With Some Thanksgiving Story

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. It is the celebration of a partnership between unlikely allies, but it is also a time to celebrate the harvest season and all that has to happen to make a plentiful one.

Most of us accept that the first Thanksgiving was a 1600s celebration between the Wampanoag Indians and the Pilgrims. However, some argue the first Thanksgiving was even earlier with the French or Spanish in Florida.

Regardless of which story you believe, we can generally agree that Native Americans were a part of the equation. For those early English settlers, Native Americans were the ones who taught them about corn and how to farm in unfamiliar territory. Since 1990, the month of November has been designated as the month of Native American Heritage and the day primarily known as Black Friday is now also Native American Heritage Day. We think it is only fitting–in honor of Native Americans and Thanksgiving–to share our recipe for a corn casserole.


Recipe: Garlic Corn Casserole

Ingredients:

  • 30 oz. Cream Corn
  • 30 oz. Whole Kernel Corn (drained)
  • 16 oz. Jiffy Corn Muffin mix
  • 2 Cups Daisy Sour Cream
  • 2 Cups shredded Cheddar Cheese
  • 1 Cup melted unsalted butter
  • Garlic (minced or powder) to taste
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350⁰F. Grease a 9×13 pan. In a large bowl, stir together all of the ingredients except the garlic, salt, and pepper. Add salt, pepper, and garlic lightly to taste.*

*For a lighter note, use garlic powder; for stronger garlic flavor, use at least a teaspoon of minced garlic. For a completely mild version, omit the garlic, salt, and pepper.

Once your mixture is fully stirred together, pour it into a greased 9×13 pan and smooth it evenly across the top.

Bake for 1 hour or till browned, bubbly, and cracking on top. Serve warm and enjoy.


Christmas Version:

  • (2) Frozen Birds Eye McKenzie White Cream Corn, 20 oz, thawed
  • (1) Can Whole Kernel Corn, 16 oz, drained
  • (1) Frozen Green Giant Simply Steam Seasoned Honey Roasted Sweet Corn, 9 oz, thawed
  • Jiffy Corn Muffin mix, 2 Cups
  • Daisy Sour Cream, 16 oz
  • Shredded Cheddar Cheese, 2 Cups
  • Melted unsalted butter, 2 sticks

When you make this dish, imagine you are at the table with my family this Thanksgiving. You are having at least one of the dishes on our plates.

As you count your blessings this year, know that you are a part of mine.

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, and I pray for you often.

Go in peace, friends. See you at our next posting!

Green Acorn: A Prayer

We certainly associate Spring with growth, but Autumn is the start. We have to shed our leaves and let things die for them to grow anew.

Millie, editor of Sylvia magazine
Reading by author, Rebecca Whitman

What will you start in me today, Lord?

What gentle bud will cocoon its life and wait for Spring? What leaves will shed and rot to feed the root of this dream? What branches will You prune from me because they bare no fruit? Will it be a wandering branch of thought or a whole arm out of touch with the mission?

I wait and listen…but I’m a little scared too.

It’s been a fear unsettled since I returned here, yet I want You to unearth it. Uproot it like the weed it is and water me with the Miracle-Gro of Your presence. I feel like I can’t hide away enough in You. Isn’t that part of the evidence here of transformation?

I give you…everything.

I surrender everything I have because I know it is a gift from You–a resource given to use not hoard. I know you will take care of me and get resources to me if you know you can get them through me.

I work through my waiting.

I pursue greater trust in You. I write down my dreams, and I’m not afraid to dream big with You! I make plain the steps to fulfill what I can, but, ultimately, it all falls apart without Your hand.

I have looked up at the sky through a world full of acorns.

I have seen the light through the leaves and let them fall on me. I have let brown acorns root and take residence where they should not have been, while the good green ones fell away from me. Why was my soil not good enough for their seed? Why did some other woman grab them with her earth, become their lover–their mother of children?

My ground, though aged and weak, has rested. The once stripped soil is fertile ground once more. I wait–with thanksgiving and expectation–for tomorrow’s planting and harvest. I thank You, Lord, for the green acorn You have chosen and are preparing for me today.

Pickles, Pigs, and Swigs 2021: Inaugural Event in Downtown Mount Olive, NC

On November 20, 2021, Mount Olive, NC will see the inauguration of the second-largest event since its globally recognized Pickle Festival. We think it is a pretty big Dill, so we decided to cover it for today’s story. With some advanced notice, hopefully, no one will be left Squealin’ that they missed out on all the fun. Excitement is Brewing in Mount Olive, and we hope you will be a part of it. 

The Pickles, Pigs, and Swigs event was created to celebrate the role of agriculture in our community. An NC Pork Council whole hog cookoff will feature 20 cook teams competing from 8:00 pm tonight (November 19, 2021) till Saturday morning. On Saturday morning, the teams will be judged and prizes will be awarded. Then the hogs will be chopped up, seasoned, and combined with side dishes to be sold per plate to the public. 4,500 hush puppies, 75 gallons of potatoes, and 63 gallons of slaw will be prepared for the event. Plates are $10 each and include chopped BBQ, slaw, BBQ potatoes, and hush puppies. People can purchase plates through a drive-thru by the Southern Bank building downtown (previously at the old Train Depot) or they can come and sit down and enjoy the festivities.

A fenced-in beer garden will be available for people to purchase and consume beer from a local craft brewer, R&R Brewing. Fifteen local vendors will be set up including vendors making funnel cakes and kettle corn. The Mount Olive Pickle Company will have pickles as well as a pickle train ride for kids. Antique tractors will be out on display. A partnership with the University of Mount Olive will provide corn hole and giant board games like Jenga and Connect Four for people to enjoy. 

Live entertainment will be provided from 11:00AM-6:00PM by North Carolina artists on the following schedule:

  • 11-1PM: Shannon Baker and Sometime Soon, a bluegrass/folk-country band from Wilson, NC.
  • 1:30-3:30PM: The Harmony Boys, a Mount Olive bluegrass favorite.
  • 4-6:00PM: Riggsbee Road, an all-female bluegrass/country/cover band from Raleigh, NC. The lead vocalist, Shelley Kelly, is a Mount Olive native excited to come home and support her hometown.

The event is expected to see between 2-3,000 people come to the North and South 100 block of Center Street, Mount Olive, NC on November 20, 2021. Funds raised from the event will go back into the community through the Mount Olive Community Development Corporation. Efforts are underway to revitalize downtown Mount Olive and bring people back to the downtown area.       

After a year of COVID pandemic isolation, we all need hope and something to celebrate in the community again. Life is far more intentional now. It is the hope that this event will be a part of building civic pride and community spirit as people come out safely and have a good time. If you are in the area, we hope to see you there!

Did You Miss It?

Here are some photo highlights from the inaugural event. If you heard of the fun and were left squealin’, make sure you add this event to your calendar next year.

A Microwave Is Not A Slow Cooker: How to Get Along With Difficult People

Story softens us. Even when your stories differ, they still matter because you can learn from them. Threads of someone else’s story can inform your own.

Ashlee Eiland, Formation and Preaching Pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church and author of Human(kind)

There is something powerful about sharing stories–especially personal ones. It’s why we gravitate to memoirs, biographies, and historical fiction. It’s why we watch and rewatch movies about the underdog finally getting his chance and winning. It’s why we gather in small groups and open our hearts with people that used to be strangers. There is something in all of us that wants to be heard, known, and accepted by others.

But what do you do when you are face to face with someone that is polar opposite to you? How do you interact peacefully with microwave personalities if you are a slow cooker?

Microwave vs. Slow Cooker Personalities

It’s hard to imagine the modern world without a microwave but, believe it or not, I still remember a time in my childhood when we didn’t have one. If you wanted to pop popcorn, you had to cook it slowly on the stove or over a fire. If you wanted a baked potato, you had to prep it and but it in the oven for over an hour. It took time to get to the value we wanted, but it was worth it. Some would argue it even tasted better because of it.

People are like that too. Some people are like microwaves; they have no filter and tell the story of their life to anyone who will listen in person or at a distance through their social media. Others are like slow cookers; they are extremely selective about what they tell and how they tell it and only a select trusted few know the full truth of what is going on with them. Though neither approach is right or wrong, it causes great strife and comparison in relationships.

Personalities Collide

I love family dinners at grandmama Whitman’s house. She pulls out all the stops. Sometimes my uncle puts some meat on the grill or smoker on the porch. Most times, it’s grandmama putting all her tools to use and pacing herself through days to get the work done. Pressure cookers, slow cookers, air fryers, refridgerators, the oven, and the microwave team up to cook country food at its finest, and the counters fill with the fruit of their efforts. Yellow squash and onions. Tomato roast with home canned tomatoes. Pork chops and gravy. Vegetable beef stew. Crispy fried chicken wings. Fresh and hot loaded potato wedges. Warm rolls. Fresh pecan pie with double the pecans. Blueberry or peach cobbler with crispy buttery crusts. Butterscotch pudding with a pecan cookie crust and layers of cream cheese goodness. Rice and tomatoes with more home canned tomatoes. Stewed potatoes and kale. Butter beans. Field peas.. All with a little bacon grease for flavoring.

What would those family dinners look like if the pressure cookers suddenly decided they refused to work with the air fryers? What would we miss if our appliances decided to cop an attitude and refuse to sit in the same room much less partner together with someone who cares for food differently than them? I doubt a single dish would make it to the counter; there would be too much infighting.

People are like that too. We let the differences in our personalities and values dictate how we interact with each other. We dismiss people entirely if we disagree with their lifestyle, but we rarely pause to ask about their story. We rarely listen to the experiences that led them to be who and where they are today. How different would the world be if we listened more with curiosity and kindness than fear and judgment?

Making Peace With The Enemy

We have to get to the place where we can sit around the table with people that are hard to love and realize: I am worthy and so are you and that cannot be disputed.

Ashlee Eiland, Formation and Preaching Pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church and author of Human(kind)

If you are stuck looking at the world through your own values, it is easy to dismiss people as your enemies who don’t measure up to them. You can even feel justified and holy doing so, but that isn’t Christianity. In Christianity, we are taught to be more like Christ because we are the image of him left on the Earth. We emulate Christ by studying how he lived his life, learning from those studies, and practicing faith and generosity in our daily lives. When I study the life of Christ, I don’t see him spending all his time with people that agreed with him. Yes, he shared his closest thoughts with friends he trusted who believed in him, but the majority of his time was spent with people who doubted him, lived ungodly lifestyles, and followed other gods. He came to heal the sick and broken and mentor leaders for them not isolate with the ones already healed and believing.

How does that translate into relationships today? How does this have anything to do with getting along with difficult people at work or around the table with you this holiday? It has everything to do with it.

The first step to dealing with difficult people is realizing you don’t know everything and that someone else’s story has value too.

You can’t put yourself on a pedestal and dismiss others. Jesus didn’t. Stop justifying the ways you are better than someone else and own the fact that you have been hurtful too.

  • Apologize with true heartfelt words if that is possible and necessary; don’t let discord become a root of bitterness in your home or family.
  • Recognize the value of stories and invite the “enemy” into thoughtful discussion, but put a pin in it before the talks turn heated.
  • Cultivate an atmosphere of acceptance and generosity within boundaries. You don’t have to agree with someone’s lifestyle to show them love, nor do you have to empty your bank account to be Jesus to others. Set limits for how much you do for free and how much disagreeable behavior you put up with, and don’t let yourself be pressured to give past those limits.

Different is Just Different, Don’t Make It Worse

Just like all the different kitchen appliances serve their purpose and work together to prepare feasts at grandmama’s house, so do people work together in the family of God to bring to life the Kingdom of God on this Earth.

We are all broken vessels and imperfect people, but God loves to work through brokenness and imperfection because (as the Apostle Paul said) “his power is made perfect in our weakness”.

It is tempting to see ourselves as better than others when our values don’t align. But if you are both serving the same God to the best of your ability, how can competition with each other make you more beneficial to the Kingdom? It doesn’t. In fact, infighting amongst Christians actually has been documented as one of the chief causes of pushing people away from God and the church. Outsiders use that struggle as evidence that God either doesn’t exist or isn’t worth it because he clearly isn’t helping you have a better attitude or be a better person.

Don’t be the one giving an unbeliever reasons to turn further from God. Be the bigger person. Forgive and forget offenses and strive for peaceful interactions within boundaries.

Fresh Bread

The sweet and sour of the yeast comes first

Then the sound of the crack

as your hardened skin breaks

in my hand. I partake,

surround myself in memories of warm laughter and sticky dough in a ceramic bowl in grandma’s kitchen–6,000 feet above sea level

slice some butter and spread it inside you, take a bite and savor

till the bite melts away…

I cup my hands to my mouth, hold my breath, and try to keep the memories from fading.

Church Ministry is a Partnership Not Competition: The Story of Pastor Andrew Price and The Bridge, Mount Olive, NC

I grew up under the ministry of Pastor Ferrell Hardison at Whitley Church (now The Bridge) in Princeton, NC. He raised us to see church ministry like we are all part of the same team. Jesus is the name on the front of the jersey; our church name is on the back. What matters is the name on the front of that jersey. I’ll partner with any church that let’s us work with them (to serve our community) because it is about advancing the Gospel not one church over another.

Andrew Price, Pastor of The Bridge Church, Mount Olive, NC

The Man

Andrew Price is a small town, country preacher with deep roots and agricultural heritage in the community he serves today, but he will be the first one to tell you how surprised he was to end up the pastor of a church in his hometown. Introduced to the Bridge Church (then Whitley Pentecostal Holiness Church) as a teenager with his mother, Andrew has been a part of The Bridge Church NC for many years.

When God called him into the ministry, it began as a job at Falcon Children’s Home and Family Services, an outreach of the Pentecostal Holiness Church serving at-risk children and families. There were many challenges to the work, but the highlight of that time was the fact that Andrew met and married his wife, Nicole, there. Nicole and Andrew both credit their time in service at Falcon Children’s Home for setting important foundational lessons to the ministries they would go on to lead later.

Purchasing a home in Mount Olive, Andrew and Nicole laugh when they recall the early years of their marriage. They say they “really were living on love back then; we didn’t have much.” Nevertheless, God put a seed of hope in their hearts that they could do something for God in the town of Mount Olive, NC.

Andrew took a position as the Children’s Pastor for The Bridge Church in Princeton, NC, and Nicole took a job teaching music in Wayne County then (later) Johnston County Public Schools. It made more sense for them to move closer to their jobs, so they rented out their Mount Olive house and made the move. This could have been a moment to feel defeated because they were leaving Mount Olive, but they didn’t. They knew God was in the move and would not disappoint them in the journey regardless of where the road ended.

Pastor Ferrell Hardison, then Senior Pastor of The Bridge Church NC, became a mentor and friend to Andrew and Nicole. He knew their heart for Mount Olive, but, at that time, that was not part of the vision for The Bridge. The Bridge Church was one church with two locations, Princeton and Goldsboro, and it was very intentional about how any further locations would happen. When the next location was attempted, it wasn’t Mount Olive, it was Smithfield. Pastor Ferrell asked Andrew to take the point on that launch because he knew he had a pastor’s heart. Andrew accepted and learned a lot during his time in Smithfield that would help him later as well.

Family photo of Pastor Andrew with wife, Nicole, and sons Mason and Landon.

Going to Smithfield was short-lived and seemed in the opposite direction of where they wanted to be, but it would not be the only time the Prices were left to question God’s plan. In 2013, the hurt hit close to home with the loss of their first son, Anthony Jordan Price. They still remember and celebrate Jordan every year with family trips to his grave. Jordan was just 40 weeks old when he died, yet he was a part of this world from the moment of conception.

It is hard to come through such devastating personal loss and see beauty on the other side of it, but Jordan is now a big brother to three brothers who have learned to value life more acutely because he existed. No life, no matter how short it is lived, is without value.

The Ministry Structure

Looking from the outside in, it is easy to misjudge The Bridge Church NC. Are they competition to other churches–even in their own denomination? Are they spreading the Gospel or just another rock-star contemporary church with a feel-good message? To all these questions and more, I point you to the Bible. 1 Corinthians 3 teaches us that denominations are not the point; we are all co-workers in God’s service. In John 17, Jesus himself prayed for a spirit of unity not division amongst Christians. As Pastor Ferrell explained it, we are like members of a football team, and when we go out on the field (in ministry in the community) it is as a team united with other churches, not in competition against them. The Bridge Church NC expands into locations the Lord directs its leadership to go, and it reaches people that haven’t been able to be reached any other way. Whenever possible, they work with other churches and organizations to make a bigger impact in the community through acts of volunteer service and giving to the needy.

As a whole, The Bridge Church NC is one church with, now, four locations. In addition to ministry outreaches in Kentucky and Belize, The Bridge Church is located in Princeton, Goldsboro, Mount Olive, and Smithfield. Though the sermon points are generally the same every service across all four locations, the personalities, strengths, and stories of each pastor as well as the locations themselves make each location different.

Since its growth into a multi-site church under the leadership of Pastor Ferrell Hardison, The Bridge Church NC has fostered a sense of volunteerism and community engagement unparalleled in many churches today. Moving forward under the leadership of Pastor Jim Wall, the church is strategically building a legacy to pass on to future generations. Members of The Bridge NC give of their time, talent, and treasure because they want to partner with the vision of the church and with its outreach to the community. They are excited to serve and see Jesus at work in their hometowns, and they volunteer as an act of stewardship and obedience to Christ.

The Bridge Mount Olive Story

When The Bridge decided to go to Mount Olive in 2016, Pastor Ferrell, Andrew, and Nicole rejoiced that things had come back around full circle to answer this desire of their hearts.

The first location was a very humble beginning in a rented auditorium at the University of Mount Olive (UMO). It was the beginning of a beautiful partnership with the college that continues today, but it was not an easy place to serve. Every Sunday was a pop-up that had to be set up and torn down by a small group of volunteers starting around 6:00 AM every morning. When Covid happened, UMO had to press pause on its partnerships with outside organizations–and that included The Bridge Church.

Having to find a new place to meet felt like a punch of defeat. How could they come so far just to be shut down now? With two weeks left at the college and no place to go thereafter, Andrew felt God say in his spirit: “we’re not done”. He made the need for a location known to the people of The Bridge Mount Olive and asked everyone to pray and put out feelers in the community.

From those prayers and conversations came the opportunity to rent the Dudley Christian Disciples of Christ Church’s fellowship hall on Sundays. In less than a year of partnership together, Dudley Christian reevaluated the lease agreement and opened up more opportunities for The Bridge Church Mount Olive to access the property and grow in its ministry. The primarily older congregation at Dudley Christian said they were blessed by the sound of the children everywhere.

We feel like neighbors, but we want to feel like family.

Leadership of Dudley Christian Disciples of Christ Church

The desire to grow together as a family led the two churches to have their first combined service on November 7, 2021. They look forward to more growth and collaboration in the future.

The Bridge is not just a place I go, it is a people with whom my family can pursue Christ.

Ronnie Wise, Congregational Life Director

Where They Are Headed

The Bridge Church Mount Olive has an exciting future ahead of them. Celebrating 5 years in the community in October 2021, they plan to be here for many more years to come. Over the next months and years, they plan to invest strategically in growing their ministries to kids and students as well as outreaches into the community and UMO.

For more information about The Bridge Church Mount Olive, check out their Instagram, Facebook, and website. You are also welcome to join them for Sunday morning services at 10:00 AM here.

The Story of The Bohemian Princess Journal: How This Blog Came to Be

I’ve heard a lot of stories about stay-at-home moms, traveling writers, photographers, and techies starting blogs to earn money, but that’s not my story. My story begins in a little town in western North Carolina: Morganton. While visiting the town for the first time in 2014, I was overwhelmed with the warmth of the people; everyone had a story to tell and was eager to tell it. As a graduate of a prestigious writing program and a life-long writer, I felt a hunger to reconnect with the writer roots I had let go dormant. So the blog began.

I began writing on a private website for the students I taught in adult education. I shared the blogs with friends and family, but I still kept the words privately circulating amongst my friends and students for over a year. Nevertheless, the website got traffic and even pulled in business for some of the people I talked about on the blog. That’s when I decided to take it a step further.

Between 2014 and 2019, I blogged publicly on three different blogs and two class websites. I became well known for it and was even featured in a cover story by a local newspaper for my writing. I was writing in seperate places to keep ideas and branding seperate, but it became quickly overwhelming. In 2019, I decided to take stock of my blog inventory (over 50 blogs at the time) and define my content areas. Using the tools available to me through WordPress, I consolidated the blogs into one site under my name and organized the content by categories and pages.

2021 was a big year for us. Early in the year, I left over eight years of teaching to pursue other career options and, ultimately, start my own entrepreneurial business in writing. We finally gave the blog her own name, The Bohemian Princess Journal, and gradually increased publication frequency to weekly then bi-weekly posts.

Readership continued to grow. By the grace of God, in 2021 we crossed unimaginable boundaries. We were able to touch readers across the entire United States and over 30 countries with 10,000 views and counting.

Before the year was done, I had written more content in one year than almost all previous years combined. It is humbling to realize just how far I have come from the dormant writer I was in 2014 to the prolific book-length content creator I am now.

The Tree

I remember when we planted you:

one small twig in an ocean of sand. You bloomed

where you were planted and stretched your arms into the sky, your feet into the sand. You left me

white flowers in spring and sweet fruit in summer. By autumn, you were yellowing but still offering me shade and a safe place to climb. You fill my yard with golden

shreds of yourself; I let them decay and nourish the earth where you left them. Winter settles in and you are stripped bare. I shudder

at the thought that you’re not here. I remind myself you are just sleeping; green life still oozes inside your warm, wrapped branches. I wait,

for spring to waken you and summer to harvest and share you with the world.

But if I’m honest

I’d be just as happy to keep you

all to myself: my special apple secret beneath a yellow moon.

Joseph Tallent: A Man Worth Waiting For, Lost Too Young

A few years ago, my father was transitioning to rehab after an infection led to a foot amputation. My sister came home to see him and brought a friend with her. He brought his guitar and asked her for a song dad would be able to recognize upon hearing it. She chose an Allison Krauss song. He threw his acoustic over his shoulder, began to play, and walked slowly, confidently, down the halls of the facility to dad’s room. The instrument was understated and scared by cigarette butts of past owners, but in his hands it sang. The melody reverberated through the rooms and made many heads turn. That is how our family met Joseph Tallent, my sister’s second husband.

Joey playing and walking with Ariel in Florida

They had a whirlwind courtship. Within months of meeting online, they were getting married. I was skeptical. My sister’s school girl giggles when they were together confirmed how taken she was with him, but he was stoic. Joey barely spoke. He was reserved with his smiles and laughter. Still he exuded peace and confidence with his silence.

Engagement Photo of Melissa and Joey by Rebecca Whitman

Joey was a petite man with wild Elvis hair and a voice that squeaked into high registers, but there was nothing small or quiet about his personality. I was soon to learn that.

This is one of my favorite pictures because it was rare to catch Joey so vulnerable and happy in pictures. Melissa took this during their dating period.

I went on a trip to see my sister and her two girls from a previous marriage. We took the girls and Joey and went to St. Augustine, Florida. I stood back and watched how he interacted with my nieces and sister. He was protective: he walked beside the girls with his head on swivel for traffic. He was curious: he explored the buildings with us and suggested places to go. He was daring: he threatened to walk the riverfront in his boxers just to show me he didn’t care what people thought of him.