The Warehouse Brings A Community Hangout to Mount Olive NC

When people think about Mount Olive, NC, they think of a charming small town with an annual Pickle Festival celebrating its biggest business–the Mount Olive Pickle Company. Mount Olive is also the home of a private four-year university, The University of Mount Olive (UMO). The University attracts an incredibly diverse and international population, but many of the students do not have access to transportation. Any activity they partake in becomes limited to on-campus or within a walking distance to it unless they have a car. Apart from the student population, local residents of the Mount Olive area have had few places to turn for local entertainment. Many grew up parking in the Rose’s parking lot to hang out on nights and weekends. One of Mount Olive’s newest businesses, The Warehouse, hopes to change all that.

At 506 North Breazeale Avenue in Mount Olive, NC, The Warehouse is an alcohol free family environment with paintball, ping pong, checkers, pool, coffee, dairy-free ice cream, Internet, and comfortable places to sit and meet with friends. “We want to be a place where people can come and hangout and just be,” says Owner Lester Rector.

Lester Rector and his wife Holly moved to Mount Olive in June 2019 to become the Campus Pastor for UMO as well as the Directors of UMO’s renowned acapella choir, Carolina Sound. The Rectors had their own successful career in indie music as Lester and Holly prior to coming to Mount Olive. They had the opportunity to work with artists like the Katinas, manage Voices of Lee, work with Disney, and travel through large and small locations. “It doesn’t cost nearly as much to produce nowadays as it used to. You can cut the overhead and make hits in your own room. Music is all about connections if you are ever going to grow beyond your community. If there is any downfall to being an indie artist, it is the lack of professionalism. There are a lot of hacks mixed into the sea of artists creating now,” Lester says.

“My wife and I felt like part of the reason we had to come here from Orlando was to invest in the university where we work but also in the community,” Lester said. They revamped all of campus ministry then began to recruit and develop Carolina Sound. Later, driving around the area, Lester saw the location that would become their community outreach. The building had been a gas and service station in the 50s and 60s then it turned into Charles Swinson’s cabinet shop. For almost a decade, the building sat vacant, fell into disrepair, and was overrun by rats. Then owner, Gerald Bell, began making repairs and renovating it to rent it, and the Rectors stepped in. For a year, they rented it and continued to transform it with a vision for what it could be. In March 2022, the Rectors bought the building completely and opened to the public that August.

The Warehouse is actually part of a three-phase plan led by the Rectors’ non-profit, Face to Face Worship, Inc. The vision for this part of the plan was inspired by Pins Mechanical in Nashville–a bar that offers similar games but is not family friendly past a certain time of night. “The simplest things can be fun in the right environment,” Lester said.

Phase Two of the plan was to launch five need-based programs: Counseling for children and families, Health and wellness nutrition, Spiritual counseling, Financial counseling, and Strategic planning for businesses. “The goal is to bring in people who are experts in their field and offer a night where anyone can come and hear the expert share their particular thing. Then if anyone wants counseling, we would be a facilitator for connecting them to the right people to help them,” Lester said.

Phase Three of the plan will be to launch a place of worship where people can enjoy the community and discipleship elements already established and have a place of worship as well. “Our route for ministry is different. We feel that there are already enough Sunday morning gatherings. My goal is just to engage with people, man,” Lester said. “506 is our address but it is also our mission. It comes out of the place in John where Jesus asked the man at the pool in Bethesda if he wanted to be well. We want people to feel like they can release everything negative they are dealing with right now and just come in here and find a place of refuge and encouragement…There has always been negativity in the world but accessibility of one over the other has changed over time. It seems now that all you ever hear–what sells more–is bad news. Good news seems harder to find. There is nothing new under the sun, it’s just more downloadable.”

The Warehouse is already a popular place for meetings, studying, and games. The paintball course is also steadily booked. “Our paintball park is a pay and play all day fast course that is wide open with all inflatable bunkers. You can never memorize the course because we move them every week. We are always trying to keep it as fresh as possible,” Lester said.

People can support the vision of The Warehouse by either making a tax free donation to the non-profit, or by purchasing from any of the for profit entities in The Warehouse: Real McCoy paintball and Cafe 506 coffee with AMR non-dairy ice cream. To see upcoming events and videos inside The Warehouse, check out their posts on Facebook and Instagram.


Life Lessons From A Generational Farmer

To sit a while with Garrett Strickland of Strickland Farming Partnership is to sit with a man so deeply entrenched in North Carolina that he can regurgitate 150 years of its history from a life that lived much of it. “To know about the whole county, you have to be involved in politics and the agriculture community–which of course I was,” Mr. Strickland said in his signature guttural Southern drawl.
Garrett Strickland is a former Sampson County Commissioner and a Board Chairman of his family’s farming operation now. According to their website, Strickland Farming Partnership is a “progressive 7th generation diversified crop and livestock family farm operation. Garrett and his son Reggie still farm much of the land their ancestors farmed as far back as 1861…in Wayne, Sampson, and Duplin counties farming corn, soybeans, wheat, tobacco, pickle cucumbers, and sweet potatoes and finishing over 22,000 swine each year for Prestage Farms and grow out over 120,000 turkeys for Butterball.”

Farming has changed a lot over the years because of the white rabbit of consumerism that farmers are always chasing. “The population of the United States hit 100 million during my early lifetime. It’s 360 million now. The population of the world has gone from 5 billion to 7.5 billion. Land is being taken up for highways, housing developments, and shopping centers. We are feeding more and more people on less land. The only way we can continue to do that is to increase the productivity of the basic crops we are growing. So much of the basic food of the world is based on two crops: corn and soybeans,” Garrett Strickland said.

Having more people to feed on less land is not the only problem farmers face today. The other threat is a global market with unequal standards. “It used to be that we consumed all we made here. You could look around where you live and know all the crops there. Now other parts of the world determine what we grow more than we do. South America, Australia, and now Africa are large agricultural countries. Farms here average 1,000 acres while farms there average 10,000 and do not have to comply with regulations and government oversight as much as we do,” Garrett Strickland explained. “Compliance makes us have a disadvantage in the world market because we can’t do it as cheaply as them. Where we can get ahead in the global market is with specialty crops like sweet potatoes and tobacco that only grow in limited locations. Another way is through partnerships with companies that need our products. The world’s largest producer of hogs, for example, is right here in Sampson and Duplin counties.”

Reggie and Garrett

Reggie Strickland is following his father’s example in terms of staying involved in all aspects of farming life. His passion is to keep the farm moving forward, but he does that first by valuing his family. He will be the first to tell you that his father is his “best friend”, his wife is his “secret weapon”, and his children are “his whole world”. Still farming keeps him on the road more times than not. Reggie stays busy traveling the country on the boards of various committees advocating for the quality of US products as well as learning what is new and upcoming in grain crops and other agricultural products. He not only knows cutting edge facts when they matter, but he finds time to promote education in all its forms from agriculture students in college to media tours of the farm or answering phone calls from other farmers needing advice.

One of the biggest things that the public can do to support agriculture today, according to both Reggie and Garrett Strickland, is to understand that farmers are good stewards of the land and the environment. “We have a lot more interest invested in the land than other organizations outside of it,” they said.

The vision to diversify and expand the business really came from Reggie. He knew from an early age that he wanted to go into the family business, and he was excited to work hard and put in the time to make it grow. It was under his vision that the farm diversified into animal production as well as crops. “You want to diversify but not past what you know you can control,” Garrett said. “When things are good, it is easy to over expand and outgrow your management abilities. Learn to use all the tools available to you such as insurance, leasing vs. purchasing, technology, etc. Make decisions after you have made a list of the pros and cons of doing so.”

Farming is full of life lessons, and Garrett shared some of his. “Every generation is going to have hard times, but we get through it by mentoring and learning from each other. It is the bad times that show you what is important as well as who and what you can lean on…Everything that happens in life, good and bad, is a direct relation to your decisions and relationships with others. If you have a disagreement with someone, you are responsible for going to them and correcting it. In life, it is important to learn how to take care of things and then shed them (don’t hold on to grievances).”

The Stricklands find it very important to stay informed about scientific and market research such as the altering of plants to be able to grow in different climates and produce higher yields. “I am always learning. It is important to me to be a lifelong learner. If we ever quit learning, we quit living,” Garrett says. “Farming today is about studying the market and projecting growth for both the crops and the needs of the consumers. It isn’t just putting a seed in the ground and waiting. Most of the time, it is a well calculated risk and an educated guess mixed with a lot of faith.” The Strickland Farming Partnership also leverages technology to help them make the most of their farm. GPS precision planting and equipment that creates field records available via satellite are just part of the tools they use.

Farming is increasingly made difficult by politics and competition, but it is still the vital heart of our society. Ask any farmer today and they will tell you they do not own the land; they are simply caretakers of it. More than any other profession, farmers are keenly aware of the cycle of life. For farms to exist through generations in one family, however, there has to be a love of the land and a desire to continue in that way of life. It is the one concern that can bring both Strickland father and son to tears. “I hope that someone in our family will see fit to carry forward caring for the land after me or at least put it in a land trust to keep it agricultural,” they said.

To All My Followers: A Message About All The Silence

With this post, I want to take a moment to thank the many subscribers I have that watch for regular announcements of my work. Your support has been amazing and helped me grow my writing business. I couldn’t do what I do without you, and I hope you will continue to follow this journey.

That said, I went quiet without explanation about August 2022. I want to apologize to all my fans for that abrupt pause, and I want to explain what happened here now.

What Happened

When I started blogging, it was a side thing to help my students. In 2021, however, I left teaching to pursue other opportunities including building a full time writing business. I loved being able to travel freely and write all over the place. It was liberating to finally have control of my own time. But to be successful, I had to cut expenses, think outside the box, market myself like crazy, take on jobs outside my passion, and hope it all worked out. I was scared a lot but also building faith in God to be my provider.

I struggled financially a couple of times and by July, I cried out to God to help me because I didn’t see a way forward anymore. I was stressed and tired of trying to talk people into the value of my work. I’ve never liked sales, so the marketing side of my work was sucking the fun out of my writing passion. I was also growing anxious and living in a lot of fear. It wasn’t healthy for me.

Family suggested that I get back into teaching. I did not want to teach at all, but I went looking to appease them. I found a couple open positions in a nearby school and started applying. I got halfway through the process and talked myself out of it.

Then one day one of my writing commissions asked me to take a bus ride with the district’s superintendent. Not only was he a nice guy, but everywhere we went seemed happy to see him. That impressed me. One of the schools we visited happened to also be the one where I left a partial application.

I went into that school and met the teachers and administrators as a reporter. The next day, they called me in for an interview and offered me the job. Thereafter, I found out that the job wasn’t supposed to be listed and my application wasn’t supposed to be in a pool to interview because it was incomplete. The job came to me when it wasn’t supposed to be mine at all. I took that as God moving and orchestrating things in my life.

My New Chapter

I accepted the teaching job with great joy. I had a lot of support from my colleagues and comfort in the subjects I had to teach because I was already familiar with the material.

What I was not prepared for was the students. Teaching teens really is a lot different than adults. For one, they are not there by choice, so you are fighting uphill against apathy for their attention. The other thing is they are driven by their emotions. Teenagers love, hate, and fight before they even think twice about consequences. In my first semester of teaching them, I had more lockdowns than in all eight years of teaching adults.

Where I am now has been scary, but it is rewarding when even one kid feels safe enough to come to me with his problems and talk them out. Making a difference in their life will be a legacy of change I can be proud of. Teaching teens has started a new chapter in my life.

What Now

I’ve decided to stay the course with teaching, and that means I also have to become a student again to get my teaching license. Every age group has qualifications required to teach it, and I never pursued qualifications to teach kids before. Now I will have to in order to keep my job.

I haven’t stopped the writing business, but it has slowed down to give me room to focus on this new chapter.

The Good News

Expect to see new content on here starting on Mondays at noon this month!

As much as possible, I am building new content for you now. I didn’t have time amidst my other writing jobs and teaching, but I am working on all that now.

I hope you enjoy the new stories. Thank you again for reading.

Guilt: What It Means and How to Overcome It

Recently, I was asked to write on the topic of guilt, and I was surprised to realize I hadn’t already done so. Interwoven between all of the stories I have written so far has been this elusive and plaguing emotion. How do you know when guilt is a good thing? How do you learn from it? What do you do when it’s bad? These are all questions I want to discuss today.

Good vs. Bad

Guilt alone is actually a good thing. It is a warning sign that you may have crossed a moral, ethical, or legal boundary. Feeling guilty is a good if it helps you identify where you have done something wrong and how to fix it. The Bible called this type of guilt “Godly sorrow” because it actually helps point us to how to rebalance ourselves. For example, you may feel guilt for dinging your neighbor’s car, and you won’t feel right until you go tell him and share insurance information.

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

2 Corinthians 7:10

“Worldly sorrow” is guilt that festers into a sense of negative self worth and hopelessness. It is a feeling like you will never be worthy of anything good; it’s feeling you are only ever going to be a disappointment and failure. This kind of bad guilt feeds depression and suicidal thoughts. It keeps people trapped in negative spirals and unable to get ahead in life.

How to Learn From Guilt

The first question I ask myself when I feel guilty is why.

To get to the bottom of why you feel guilt, you have to be honest with yourself. Assess your own actions and cycle through your activities. Consider the following questions:

  • When was the last time I felt free of guilt?
  • What happened to change that?
  • Were these events or actions something I did wrong that I need to correct?
  • If my guilt is not from something I did or said, is it from something I contemplated?
  • If my guilt is not from anything I have done or thought about, is it from something done or said to me?

The second question I ask myself after I discover the why is whether or not this is my responsibility.

If you know why you are feeling guilty, it is important to screen if your guilt is because of your own values or the expectations of others. For example, you can feel guilt for saying something hurtful to a friend, but you can also feel guilt because someone asked you to do something you haven’t done yet.

Appropriate Guilt vs. Irrational Guilt

Feeling guilt is appropriate for regulating behavior, but it can take a turn for the worst. Some people feel strong connections to their own emotions and the emotions of others and are said to be prone to guilt. Others suffer from irrational guilt where they feel responsible for stuff that is not their fault or they think things are worse than they actually are. For more about how to keep guilt from spiraling out of control, check out this article.

Concluding Thoughts

Guilt is incredibly uncomfortable–but it is meant to better us. I remember, when I was a child, I always felt guilty when I picked on my sibling. That was a good thing because it led me to change my behavior and treat her better. As I got older, I wrestled with guilt over decisions. For example, I felt guilty about choosing a college closer to home versus one that gave me a scholarship to move two states away. In both cases, my guilt caused me to evaluate my beliefs and make better choices.

Sometimes, however, I do struggle with guilt over things beyond my control like hidden secrets or hurting someone’s feelings by accident. What I am learning in these situations is to not obsess about what I cannot control. Rather, I must take life one day at a time and one decision at a time moving forward based on the ideals and values I choose to build my life on.

Your mental health is important, and guilt left unchecked can contribute to anxiety, depression, and a lot of other toxic things. If you struggle with guilt more than occasionally, consider discussing your feelings with a medical professional or counselor to avoid long-term negative effects.

Winners: Yecheilyah’s 5th Annual Poetry Contest 2022

Hello readers, I have been silent here for a bit but working quietly on some transitions. Here is some good news I want to share with you.

The PBS Blog

22 Dope Participants
4 Dope Winners!!!


Today, I introduce you to the four winners of this year’s poetry contest followed by their Instagram handles. Get on over there and follow them neoww.

#1: Buddah Desmond

“Ghosts, Ghostbusting History + Visible / Invisible Lives (Freedom is Ours)”


#2: Daphne Ayo


(@dee_.vox )

#3: Renita Siqueira

“Allowed to Exist”


#4: Rebecca Whitman

“Moment of Truth”




And congratulations to everyone who participated! There would be no contest without your support.

This is the first time we’ve had such a diverse group of winners!

We even have winners from India and Nigeria! Can you guess who it is?


We ultimately chose our winners for receiving high scores in several areas, including beauty, power, education/message, originality, creativity, how closely they followed the submission requirements, and overall impact.

I am incredibly proud of what they will bless you with in these…

View original post 159 more words

Yecheilyah’s Self-Publishing Checklist

Many of you have asked about self-publishing and what steps you need to do to get into it. This post by indie author, Yecheilyah, streamlines the process into a valuable checklist. Check out her other posts for more details about the self-publishing process.

The PBS Blog

You are gonna wanna bookmark this one!

1. Professional Edit

Editing is first for several reasons, one being that I can’t get the book formatted before it has been properly edited. I determine my production schedule on the date the book comes back from editing.

2. Digital and Print Formatting

Now that the book has been edited, it can be formatted for digital and print. Formatting for digital ensures that it flows properly when you read it on your kindle, phone, and other e-devices.

Print formatting is vital to ensure the intended finished size of the book is how I want it. The most common size is 6×9 for a standard paperback. Poetry books tend to be smaller, 5×8, and workbooks are larger, maybe 8×10.

When I published my first poetry book, I chose 8×10. Imagine a poetry book the size of the 8×10 picture on your wall. Yes, it…

View original post 597 more words

Overcoming Defeatist Thinking: Relationship Advice from Bishop T.D. Jake’s and Pastor Steven Furtick

In last week’s post we discussed overcoming loneliness by getting outside of your social isolation and meeting people. Something we didn’t discuss is the attitude we have towards others that can hold us back. Something else not in that conversation is the diversity of different cultural experiences coming together to learn from each other.

The following video is an excellent discussion from two respectful authorities in Christian leadership. Please take the time to watch the full video. It’s excellent insight into what it means to be culturally diverse and share your heart with others.

The Dangerous Place of Loneliness

Wise thinking leads to right living; Stupid thinking leads to wrong living. Fools on the road have no sense of direction. The way they walk tells the story: “There goes the fool again!”

Ecclesiastes 10:2-3 MSG

Whether you are alone in a crowded room or struggling in isolation trying to connect with real people, loneliness is something we all face at different times in our lives. How you choose to handle it can change the course of your entire future. There are predators right now banking on you getting it wrong.

Loneliness is a dangerous place because we want connection so desperately that we often bend our rules to get it. In today’s post, we will talk about the dangers to avoid and some positive ways to tackle loneliness when it comes.

If it is a normal part of life, how is loneliness dangerous?

Loneliness becomes dangerous when it is coupled with isolation, bad thoughts, and negative influences.

In isolation, we tell ourselves we are ugly and unlovable. We build up others to be our arch nemesis, and we seek retribution. In extremes, this plays out as gun violence, suicide, online scams, and so much more.

Is it really extreme to connect loneliness to violent, tragic behavior? I think not.

A recent study found that loneliness brought on by social isolation can profoundly alter one’s brain chemistry, shorten longevity, and even bring the onset of serious illnesses. Another study argues that suicide rates are increasing since all the social isolation of the Covid-19 pandemic. Suicide and social isolation are now considered public health crises.

4 Ways to Counteract Loneliness

Read The Bible

When your heart is discouraged and your mind fills with negative thoughts, the Word of God is living and active to cut through the noise.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

Reading Scriptures that encourage you to take control of your thoughts and think positively will help you keep perspective in the hard times of life.

Meet People In Real Life

As long as you are being careful, there is nothing wrong with having friends online. Several friends I dearly care for are online, overseas, and in places where I may never see them in person. With that being said, I reserve my deepest friendships for those whom I can see in person.

I think it is important to be able to trust others in person. I don’t tell my personal business to the entire world—even if I do get quite transparent here to all of you. The truths I struggle with on a daily basis, I talk to a few close friends about.

Some people have social anxiety. Some are afraid of meeting others because of Covid-19 and all its variants. Bottom line: you can’t let fear control you. Challenge yourself to do something different that makes you meet others.

Get A Hobby

If you struggle to meet others, the easiest way to do so is through your hobbies. Find something to do that is not isolating you or keeping you online.

If your hobby is gaming, look at what you like about that game and how you could do something positive in real life with it. If you are an active shooter gamer, maybe there is a gun range you can practice shooting at or some hunters you can connect with and go hunting. If you are a VR and lifestyle gamer, maybe there is an animal shelter you can volunteer at and meet people there or a short course at the local community college that speaks to your enterprising, creative, and entrepreneurial spirit.

If you are really good at handmade crafts, find a group that likes to craft together and donate to charity. Consider making stuff to sell and setting up at a craft fair. You can make more than money from that hobby; you make friendships with other crafters.

Get Outside

Exposure to sunlight is said to increase the brain’s release of the hormone, serotonin, that makes you feel happier, calmer, and more focused.

Think about that! Your body’s basic chemistry is telling you that it is not good to be inside all the time.

Go for a walk around the block. Go to a park or nature reserve, take a picnic, and spend some time there. Jump in a kayak and explore the river. Put on a harness and scale a rock wall. The world is your oyster.

Final Thoughts

When you challenge yourself to do something positive and different, you change the norms that you have been living in. When you change your norms, your life becomes better almost overnight. When your life becomes better, you attract people you want to be like and be around. When you start spending time together, your loneliness loses its voice.

Being busy doesn’t end loneliness. Being vulnerable with people you can trust does.

Mankind was not built to live life alone. Find people you are interested in that can uplift you, and invest the time it takes to earn their trust. Use your words to communicate clearly, and be patient with the time it takes to develop that connection into a deep relationship.

Fake Social Media: The Dangers, Cons, and Corruption and Top 5 Recommendations to Protect Yourself on Social Media Platforms

Early this month, Elon Musk backed out of a 44 Billion dollar deal to buy Twitter because of “a continual disagreement over the number of spam accounts on the platform”. According to this article in the NY Times, the deal was made on a whim in the first place and Twitter will most likely fight him in court to keep it. Twitter claimed to have 217 million active users by the end of 2021, and Musk was supposed to pay $54.20 per share to own it. Even if his personal love of using the platform got him into the talk, it only makes sense for Musk to look into it more before seriously spending that much on it.

I think this hesitation is an opportunity to expose a much bigger issue at play on all social media platforms.

Con Artists and Human Traffickers on Social Media

I’ve written about this before with some of my own experiences with romance scams, but the biggest problem with social media now is the unknown percentage of it that is either a bot or a physical person lying about who they are. When someone lies for financial gain, they can say beautiful heartfelt things but the truth is that they became heartless long before they met you.

My experience was with a lot of stolen valor and romance scams. First, there was the Army Ranger who really stole my heart with his incredible honor, respectful words, and military service. Then it was dozens of fake accounts on dating websites like POF. I thought it would be better on Christian dating sites, but it wasn’t; even the sites themselves were corrupt. So I gave up on online dating and tried to make meaningful relationships in person. That is hard to do when everyone you meet just wants to keep you in the friend zone. Then, as my business grew, so did the number of strangers reaching out to me online for business. LinkedIn and Instagram accounts propositioned me for business investments and partnerships. If it wasn’t a multi-level marketing deal with a 4-digit buy-in, it was something similar investing in Crypto-currency.

Beverly Weeks of Cry Freedom Ministries says that human trafficking starts with stalking prey online as friends. Whole relationships are formed over a cyber connection before they ever meet in person and, when they do, sexual favors become a requirement of the interaction. Today, people I don’t know like my posts online and follow me on social media. Many of them go forward and message me compliments about how I look. Many people now don’t feel safe to even entertain comments on social media from strangers. I didn’t want to close that door myself, so I let myself say hello back. What ensued was probably the most hurtful experience of my dating past online.

An Example of Social Media Manipulation

John Fedrick Williams was a single father–an E7 Gunnery Sargeant in the Marines deployed to Yemen. He messaged me through Instagram then Google Hangouts/Google Chat.

We talked about everything. We talked about “our daughter” and made plans that moved very quickly. He sent me pictures and videos; I made him special graphics. He proposed to me; I tried on and bought a wedding dress!

When I received a large sum of money, it seemed only natural to tell him about it.

One day when John was talking to me, enemy gunfire rained in on him. He survived, but it scared him so badly that he became convinced that he would die if he went on the next mission–to pursue the invaders. I tried to talk and pray him away from his fears, but he became obsessed with applying for leave. He had his daughter’s babysitter reach out to me via email and vouch for his character, and he sent me bank information to pay for his leave. The account showed that he had over a million dollars in the bank but no access to it. When that bank payment fell through, he asked me to pay. When I refused, I was told I was “leaving him to die” and how could I do that to “our family”. When I still didn’t budge, he called me (on my VOIP number). I heard his voice and knew it wasn’t the same person I had fallen for in all the pictures and videos. I ended it cold right then, but I still missed him. Even knowing he was a lie, I wanted to have him in my life.

Why People Lie Online

Unfortunately, a lot of people get stuck in that spiral. They feel ignored, and they long to be loved, so they accept attention wherever they can get it. Social media fills that void.

You can be whoever you want to be online!

Life is glamourous and rich there. You can follow your favorite celebrities and be a part of their lives as they share on social media. You can dream about vacations and nice things. You can post your best moments, your best angles, and always look put together and your best online.

No one talks about the times they ugly cry to songs on their Spotify or grunge all day in pajamas and junk food with last night’s makeup on and their hair in a bun.

Even with no bad intentions for the world around us, we all lie a little on social media because of the way we want to be perceived in the world. The difference is that some people make a living out of telling lies and using others.

Legitimate money can be made online through advertisement and marketing, but that all depends on having a product to sell that is worth buying. What happens when the product is an emotional connection? That’s when certain people steal identities, pretend to be someone else, and get others to send them money and/or pay for stuff for them.

The High-Value Haves

A high-value have, in my definition, is someone that generates a lot of attention and potential revenue through their online presence. According to a recent statistic, over 50% of celebrities are active online, and that data is strategic for fan engagement. Social media helps celebrities continue to have the support they need to do what they do–but it also makes them targets for people wanting to catch some portion of their success. Entrepreneur Magazine did an article that suggested 1-in-4 people create fake accounts online. Some of that was for reasons not connected at all to identity theft, but still sad nonetheless.

I followed a page for one of my favorite recording artists, Brandon Lake. I was surprised when he messaged me back personally! The awe and excitement of talking with him wore off, however, when he asked me where North Carolina is. The real Brandon Lake is a worship pastor in Charleston, South Carolina–directly south of North Carolina.

Another group of high-value haves on social media is public service workers and military service members. There is just something attractive–even trustworthy–about a person in a uniform. Real public service workers work as volunteers or low-paid civil servants. Real service members don’t make a lot of money until they move up in rank–and that takes years of service. In both cases, these people serve faithfully for wages that make some of them still qualify for food stamps. Scammers take images of service members and public workers and create accounts claiming to be them. They bank on the patriotic heart of an American to support them in dollars when they ask for it.

One person I met had all his images taken from Instagram and used to create over six different accounts in his name across Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. He kept reporting them, but they kept showing up.

For more about how to love and protect yourself online in the military, read this article.

Final Thoughts and My Top 5 Recommendations

If you are a high-value have, your best bet is to avoid social media platforms altogether.

Social media is useful for inspiring ideas and staying connected with loved ones, but it is constantly putting your identity at risk because it is not carefully monitored.

Between April and June of last year, Facebook reported removing 1.7 billion fake accounts–and that was just one site and not even half a year! Scam accounts are out of hand and, many times, they are barely acknowledged when they are reported by the victims directly.

I recommend the following if you choose to stay on social media:

  1. Limit what you share to only be the stuff you wouldn’t mind even your enemies knowing about you
  2. Set your shares to private
  3. Reduce or cut off completely the number of stranger messages you respond to
  4. Search your own name periodically to identify and report fake versions of you
  5. Migrate to Daily Testify if you are Christian and want a safer place to socialize online

I hope this helps you all stay safer out there.

Thanks for reading! Please share this post with all your friends on social media.

What It Means To Be All-American: Lessons Learned at the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, VA

Earlier this Spring, I had the opportunity to tour the Frontier Culture Museum–a living historical museum–in Staunton, Virginia. The museum uses live interpreters who live in part on-site according to period-authentic ways to be able to explain what life was like for our ancestors. They make their clothes by hand all the way from growing and harvesting the product, weaving it into fabric, cutting and sewing their own garments. They raise livestock, bake in old hearths, and cook meals over open fire spits. It is an amazingly hands-on approach to teaching history. Taking walking tours here taught me so much about colonial and early American life. I finally understood my family tree. I listened and learned from the old ways what it really means to be an American. David McCullough explains the museum best in this video.

A Multicultural Past

Colonial America wasn’t “America” yet. It was a bunch of different countries learning how to live well and coexist in a new wilderness. They had a common desire to be successful and common enemies in pestilence, disease, and bad weather. Native Americans taught foreigners how to steward the land and make things grow in it. Foreigners taught each other how to build better houses, forge better materials, and work smarter. It was a partnership amongst all the cultures to live in peace and unity–to grow from each other not in spite of each other. Friendships were made which led to intermarriage. Families became diverse and multicultural. That was life in the New World.

As one country overstepped its bounds and tried to force the New World to pay its debts through higher taxes, rebellion talk filled the New World. The mix of family trees that had grown together into a forest of tangled roots wanted to become its own country. A then outspoken writer and theologian, Thomas Paine, wrote a pamphlet–Common Sense. It made everyone start to think they had rights given to them by God that they were obliged to protect and defend. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for every man began in those early conversations amongst the mixed cultures of our ancestors.

They didn’t know what a country of their own would look like, yet they knew it was necessary and possible. They knew it well enough to defend it and go to war for it. All odds were against us winning, but we did because God was on our side. He had plans to bless the world and get the glory for our new nation.

Once independence was won, ideas were pulled together to form what our new form of government would be. Ideas from early Native American tribal alliances, Christian theology, and old Greek and Roman politics informed the ideas that would become our American system of government. We still operate with that foundation of government today.

Learning From The Past

In today’s climate, we hear the buzz term “critical race theory”. This is the idea that one race (white) held every other race subjective to them in the past. It teaches people to believe that other races were slaves subjected to that superior race and therefore every aspect of their individual identity was erased by them.

Readers, that simply isn’t true.

We know from written records including first-hand accounts in letters and journals that it wasn’t true. We know from our DNA and family trees that it wasn’t true. Not every colored thread in my family DNA came from appropriation or oppression. Love and choice made those lines cross NOT hate and aggression.

So then, what do we learn from history? We learn to work together toward common goals, accept differences, and learn from each other. We learn to treat different cultures with curiosity and adopt behaviors that help us enjoy life and express ourselves better. We learn to love blind to racial differences and antiquated prejudice.

If it is a pie-in-the-sky idea to live with multicultural love and anti-racism, well then, that is the true all-American pie!

What Does It Mean To Be All American

To be all-American means to be constantly moving, learning, and innovating based on what we learn from the community with our neighbors. Americans don’t sit on their butts; they are constantly moving into the next great frontier.

Being all-American means being inclusive. You can’t be a society snob stuck in your own class structure or ignoring certain race groups that you dislike or don’t understand. An all-American spirit finds ways to learn from the ideas of others and adopt new techniques as their own. We make each other’s food. We build like what we learned from our neighbors. We adopt different values based on what we feel speaks to us in the cultures we call home. This is how musical instruments and genres grew as well as everything else we enjoy in America.

If this weekend finds you rejoicing with fireworks like many of us will be in America, then I challenge you to also consider in what ways your heart and life can reflect a more all-American attitude. In what ways can you be Jesus and love others today? In what ways can you explore other cultures than your own and learn from them?

Christmas Comes Early: The Story of Davis Carr, the Santa of Wallace, NC

by Rebecca J. Whitman (originally published in The Duplin Times)

“If you saw him on the street and didn’t already know better, Davis Carr was the kind of man who made you think, ‘he’d make a great Santa Clause”, long-term former mayor, Charley Farrior said. With a round face, jolly personality, and a full white beard that he wore year-round, Manley Davis Carr looked the part. He didn’t have to act; he was kind, gentle, and generous in his everyday regular life. “He was a wonderful Santa. He loved children, and he was good at handling all kinds of them–from the ones that knew and loved Santa to the ones meeting him for the first time and a little scared of him,” Farrior said. Davis welcomed the celebrity role that his appearance played with children. When they stared at him in restaurants, Davis welcomed them to come sit and talk briefly. When they awed at him in church, Davis always had something to give them–even just a stick of gum. “I don’t know how he did it,” Georgia Farrior remembered, “but he always knew the kids’ names and what they had been up to.” There was just something magical about Davis.

Davis walking with some of the Farrior grandchildren

Manley Davis Carr–known as Davis or Santa or Papa D to locals–was a land surveyor by trade and a successful businessman. He knew the land in intimate detail from who owned it down to what it was good for. Many times this depth of knowledge was put to the test in town meetings as Mr. Carr was called on to give an opinion of land in consideration for different projects. “Even though he didn’t live here anymore,” Former Mayor Farrior remembered, “he came religiously to Wallace town board meetings. We could always count on him to be there and be helpful whenever we needed him.”

Santa sits and rests at a park event

The generosity of Davis’s character spilled over into everything he did. He appeared as Santa at countless events and photo ops–many times with his wife, Brenda, as Mrs. Claus. “There wasn’t a single time that I asked him to assist with a fundraiser for The Friends of the Wallace Parks that he didn’t help us- even in the early days when we couldn’t compensate him for his time. He was always there for class parties, special events for The Depot Commission, and simple one-on-one visits with children as they inevitably spotted him around town,” Georgia Farrior said. He also served in Wallace’s town government. For many years, he was President of the Wallace Chamber of Commerce. In 2016, he retired from being the Chamber President and became Chairman of the Wallace Depot Committee. During his time in that role, several museum fre wwds a we 3 31st 1 wrestling p Ieatures were established including a hobo display in a railroad boxcar and a learning center in the depot. Davis was also an integral part of the Carolina Strawberry Festival. Several have touted Carr’s commitment to serve Wallace in any way possible–but he did not even live there. He lived in Wilmington and commuted because it meant so much to him.

Wallace may have held a special place in his heart because of his family. Davis was born and raised in Teachey. He was a Wallace-Rose Hill graduate with long-term farming and merchant ties to the area–his grandfather owned one of the largest grocery stores between Wilmington and Goldsboro. Grandpa Willie had a large family, and many of them stayed in the Wallace area to live and work–including Davis’ parents, Manley Alexander and Alice Jones Carr. Davis had a servant’s heart from a very young age. He was active in Boy Scouts of America, became an Eagle Scout, and continued to serve as a Scout Master later in life. As a boy, he was honored with the Carnegie Heroism Award for saving a young man from drowning. Following this early exposure to heroic life, Davis Carr attended UNC Wilmington and then joined the United States Army.

Hard work and dedication were part of Davis’ lifestyle, and they brought him success in his profession. Following his military service, Davis began working for Robert H. Goslee and Associates Land Surveyors. He worked hard to obtain both his Professional Land Surveyor License and his NC General Contractor License. In 1998, he got the opportunity to buy the company and return to his hometown with a Wallace office site. For decades, Davis served as the treasurer of the Southeastern Chapter of the NC Society of Surveyors, and he was named their Surveyor of the Year in 2012. Christian faith was an important part of Davis’ life and upbringing. His family became members of the Rockfish Presbyterian Church–one of the oldest churches in the area–and were buried there. Davis himself was a member of Northside Church in Wilmington, and he served there faithfully as a deacon, Sunday School teacher, and youth leader. When it came time to welcome eternity, services for Davis were held at Northside, but Davis was laid to rest with his family in Rockfish. It seems fitting that such a classic, family-oriented man was laid to rest in a historic location with family.

It is hard to imagine the world without Davis in it. Many have lamented the fact that no one else can quite be Santa in Wallace as Davis was, but he was so much more than Santa for this town; he was a light. His light still shines even to those who never knew him. Isn’t that the example of exactly how life should be lived–making an impact for good in our communities?

Davis was my friend, my inspiration, and a dedicated leader in our community. He leaves behind shoes that could never be filled, but also a desire in his board members to continue his work.

Georgia Farrior

Davis Carr will be remembered through multiple generations of lives in eastern NC. The ripple effect of his love and care will continue to shine his light long after the flame was extinguished.

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.

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 or come pick up an application at 4121 S. Highway 11 in Wallace.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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

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!

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?

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


  • 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!

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.

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.

In the car later, my sister was upset about something that he knew about. The whole ride home, he held her hand and fed her spirit with a playlist of songs. I watched her weep and fall into peace with the melodies. Joey had become a steward of my sister’s heart. Like a gardener protects, tends, and waters his garden, Joey protected my sister and her girls, tended to her needs for organization and cleanliness in her home, and watered her heart with their shared love language of music. Seeing the depth of his intentionality and care is what made me love Joey too.

Quote graphic by Rebecca Whitman

Lately I have been reading Jackie Kendall’s A Man Worth Waiting For. It is a study of the Biblical story of Ruth and Boaz that examines the qualities of a godly man and how to recognize him. Being a steward of the heart of the woman he loves was one of the characteristics. Joey was exhibiting the heart of a man worth waiting for (MWWF) long before I learned what that meant.

Joey was not a perfect man by any stretch of the circumstances, but even his imperfections made him perfect for our family. My neices loved and trusted him. My sister rested her heart with him. Later, his son blossomed with him. He was the Winnie-the-Pooh to my sister’s red balloon.

Joey and son, Alex, at Alex’s 1st Birthday

They had a lot of plans to travel the country together. Joey wanted to introduce his son to the Yankees, but he never made it to his first game. After a non-Covid related respiratory incident, Joey passed away suddenly this summer at the age of 34.

Joey on the waterfront in Florida.

There’s not enough white space to show the gap he left in our hearts. Joey was the kind of man who was kind to everyone but close to few, and those few were people he invested in intentionally. I was one of the few, but I didn’t realize it till he was gone.

What I do know is that he changed me. Joey made me laugh at life again, and he challenged me to take myself more seriously. He encouraged my dreams, but he wasn’t afraid to speak the hard truth when I needed it. That honesty saved me from years of further heartache in relationships with men not right for me.

Joey was more than a brother-in-law to me; he was my friend. I could be myself with him and know I was always welcome, safe, and loved. Even when my sister and I fought and he had every reason to side with her and hate me, Joey was kind to me. Joey was family by marriage, but he felt more like the blood brother I always wished I had.

In the moments following his death, I found myself wondering what my last words were to him. Did I tell him I loved him? Did he know that either way? We didn’t talk often, nor did we see each other much. My sister and her family lived several states away. Was that last moment a hurried goodbye as they left my house or a hug in his living room with the baby in his arms? I don’t know.

It’s hard to know how to deal with the death of a young person. Joey had a lot of life ahead of him and a son not yet two years old to raise. How were we to move on and show his son what an amazing father he had? How could we possibly teach him all his dad would have taught him? Thank God his mother is alive and can be the voice of this knowledge to her grandson.

It’s normal to feel angry when you lose a loved one. All your emotions become raw hamburger in the wake of such a loss. Part of you wants to draw the curtains and hide inside the shell of your life and cry. But the business of death won’t let you have that freedom.

The business of death is the part no one talks about and fewer still prepare for. It’s all the decisions about funeral services, your final resting place, the bills from your life that must be settled, the lack of income your family has to adjust to, your possessions they have to store or disperse, and the memories you left them with. Joey had no idea he was going to die the way he did, but he lived with an eternal mindset knowing his days on Earth were always numbered. He proved this to me in his death by the fact that he prepaid as many of the bills as possible, and he structured the finances of his household to be dependent on my sister’s income alone.

My sister was used to trusting Joey with the finances, but she had to navigate through these muddy waters while also melting into tears whenever she looked at what Joey left behind. We developed a GoFundMe to help her through unplanned expenses, and several caring friends contributed. Nevertheless, she still had to find a way to handle life alone and without the income to do all the extras she could afford with Joey. In a moment, the red balloon of my free-spirited sister was grounded and all the joy was sucked out of her.

Everyone says that grief gets easier with time, but the truth is that it is different for everyone. One person loves intensely, grieves intensely, and moves on. Another holds on to memories and slowly opens the onion layers of their pain over time. Many more find their way through pain in a variation of something between both extremes.

When you are hurting and trying to find your new normal after loss, find someone who knows you and what you truly value and share your thoughts with them. You will need the accountability in the months and years ahead because your emotions will play tricks on you. One more thing: think twice before you throw your family under the bus in your anger. It is easy to lash out at the people closest to you and even feel justified doing it, but those words are hard to hear and even harder to step back. Even if you feel like you are the only person qualified to speak about loss and pain, you don’t have the right to silence another person’s pain.

I was never as close to Joey as my sister and her kids were, but I still grieved him more than I expected too. I still struggled for months to put my pain into words. At the time of writing this, it has been four months since Joey stepped out of this world and into the next. He is gone but still ever present with us through the smile of his son and a thousand other things he left behind.

If you have gone through the loss of a loved one or a young person, I share this very personal story to hopefully help you avoid making some of the common mistakes that have been made in times of grief and heightened emotions.

  • Let your pain draw you closer not push you away from your loved ones.
  • Learn to practice patience and transparency with people you can trust who were in your life long before the tragedy happened.
  • Be cautious about making big sweeping changes to your life. Even when you are happy, you are still in a stressed-out-emotional-survival-mode-crisis stage of life. Expect decisions right now to be based on emotions more than sound judgment.
  • Guard your tongue; think twice before you unleash all your hurt on those around you lest you scorch the earth you stand on too and end up causing yourself more trouble.
  • Let the grief have time to settle before you move on to someone new. It’s not fair for either of you to walk with the ghost of a past love standing between you.

The Dream of My Son

You would love my son.
When he was young, his black hair curled around his ears and bounced when he ran outside to play. He had long eyelashes that feathered his light skin like angel wings when he slept.
It was hard for my son to sit still–he was like his father in that. He was always on a mission to build the next fort, fight the next enemy raid, save the next princess, or build the next rocket to Mars. When his imaginary world wasn’t fully booking his time, he was in the garden or kitchen or studio helping me. He was always bringing me flowers or little drawings to make me smile. He was not the kind of son that troubles his parents; he was the one that lived to make them proud. My son’s imaginative and compassionate heart surpassed my wildest dreams for him.
You would have loved my son…if he were here yet.
Sometimes we dream about the future and what is yet to be. That’s the way my son came to me. I knew his name and his character long before I met the man that would be my husband. Though I have never held my son in my arms, I feel the joy and pain of his memory as if it had really happened.
I am not a mother.
Yet the dream of my son rests heavy on my heart denying the truth of that statement.
I am not a mother…yet.
This world is full of injustices:
One woman has an unwanted pregnancy while another tries for years to have one. One woman longs for a godly husband while another cheats on the good one she has. One child wants for nothing while another struggles to find a safe, happy home. One parent sacrifices everything to care for her child while another ignores hers to pursue her own selfish desires. Children are forced to act like adults in a godless world devoid of a moral compass.
All this angers me. All this grieves the heart of God too.
I am not old and yet, at my age, most of my peers are married with children having children now. If I think about it too much, I am easily angered by the fact that I am not there yet.
Why, oh God, do you give me the vision of a happy life, married, and my son…why my son!…when every year my body ages towards infertility or worse!
You may have said something similar to God yourself. God likes to remind me of Sarah every time I do.
Um, you know I made a dream like this come true for a woman in her 80s, right?
Oh Lord, please don’t wait that long!
But that’s the point: WAIT!
When the vision hasn’t happened, prepare your heart and life as if it were. That’s what it means to wait. Get ready in every way possible. If you can save money towards your vision, save. If you can get healthier, get healthy. Some complications and health risks in pregnancy can be avoided by losing weight and getting healthier before you are even trying to get pregnant. You’ll be thankful you put in the effort too when you try to chase around a toddler in your 80s…I hope that isn’t literal for any of us. 😉
During this time in our lives when we don’t really understand what God is doing or why we don’t have the hopes and dreams we planned to at this time, it is easy to start comparing ourselves to others and despairing at our lack. I like what a local friend and pastor said about this:
When you compare yourself to others, you rob yourself of what God is trying to do in your life. –Ryan Barbato
It is very easy to get caught up in comparisons and judgments of others, but we cannot change the world, we can only change ourselves. Furthermore, judging others fills us with resentment and anger about people and situations we don’t know all the facts about. God is writing their stories in the same way that he is writing ours, and he can make lemonade out of our lemons better than we can.
Maybe we need to start asking God to help us judge others from His perspective through eyes of forgiveness and love instead of holding on to our sour lemons.

What Home Sweet Home Looks Like To Me

A house is made of walls and beams; a home is made of love and dreams. –Anonymous

I still remember my earliest dream. I lived in a castle and a winged unicorn flew to my window and carried me away into the clouds. I explored the world in safety on the back of my alicorn. The colors and details were so vivid that when I woke up, I wrote them all down. It became the first book I published. I was seven.

It’s been a while, but I never did get the castle window or the alicorn of my dreams. I think it is safe to say my life is better off without it anyway. But what about the more realistic dreams I’ve had that would make life better?

We all have that list. You know the one. It’s the one that tells you to get a better job, lose weight, buy a house already and stop paying rent, land a ring from that man before you’re forty, have some kids before your ovaries turn into raisins, etc. That list. It is a never-ending fault finder, yet we judge our lives by what it says.

Over sixty years ago, two kids who knew very little about lists fell in love. They were both working class farm kids from the plains of the Midwest. The young man saw the young pretty girl at a church social, but he soon discovered she lived far away from him. That didn’t stop him from pursuing her. Determined to win her, he wore out seven cars driving to see her before they finally were wed.

Three kids, seven grandkids, and sixty years later, there were hundreds of photos proving they lived happily ever after. As one of the seven, I was there to witness and take a lot of them. Yet my favorite is the one taken at the beginning of it all.

They are just home from their honeymoon and standing beside the row of trees they planted on their homestead. Their arms are wrapped around each other and their faces are spread widely with smiles. He stands tall with a puffed out chest, proud of the woman on his arm. She snuggles up tight to him and laughs, her face hidden in the shadow of his. The caption written in her handwriting says, “I caught my man.”

We should all be so deliriously happy.

They jumped into life together without counting costs or making lists. They had each other and Jesus. They were fearless.

Fearless doesn’t mean they didn’t see hard times. It doesn’t even mean they lived blissfully without fighting. But when they fought, when times got tough, they talked it out and prayed it out. The hard times strengthened them.

Their homestead wasn’t fancy, but it was the home of my dreams.

It was a home full of love, encouragement, and creativity. It was a home with too much activity for binge watching tv. It was a home where strangers felt welcome and family piled in to stay. Food stretched farther through generosity, and blankets made comfortable pallets on the floor.

It was a home that believed in the power of prayer. When fear crept in or tried to attack the family, it ignited their warrior prayer. Days and nights were filled with reading and talking about scripture; it wasn’t just words on a page to them.

If this is the dream, how do I get there?

If I want the deliriously happy home I remember, I have to start with myself.

I have to start being the change I seek.

If I want a home that is focused on the power of prayer, I need to pray more now. If I want to live generously, I need to give generously now. If I want to be more creative and less hooked to devices, I need to unplug more now. Eventually, I will find myself in the home of my dreams.

What can you start doing today to further your goals and your dreams?

The Broken Dream: Immigration in America and the DACA Dreamer’s Act

A few months after my student, Azucena Rodriguez, graduated, I was still thinking about her and contacted her about doing a story and photo shoot. She happily agreed and came in to see me again with her children. When I met Fabian, Cruz, and Miranda today, it was only the second time I had met them. In the near 40 shots from our photo shoot, they huddled close to their mother and glared at me. They didn’t fully trust me but, more importantly, they wanted to protect their mother.

This is not the story that I set out to write, but it is the story that came to me.

Born in Mexico, Azucena came to the United States as a child–a Dreamer of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Though she never asked to come, she is thankful for America because she has been able to pursue a better quality of life here than in her home country. Contrary to popular opinion, Azucena gets nothing out of DACA. There are no free government aid programs that she qualifies for. All she gets out of it is the right to continue to apply for a work visa to stay in this country. That’s something that has become even more important to her as an adult since she is married with three children born in the United States.

“Even though my children are born in the United States (and citizens here), we would get kicked out and separated if the current administration ends DACA. Many families leave their kids behind so they can have a better life here,” Azucena said, “but I will not be separated from my children. I would take them with me. In Mexico, however, they would not be eligible to go to school or get any sort of health care.” –Azucena Rodriguez

What kind of life is that for an American Citizen?

When I met Fabian, Cruz, and Miranda today, it was only the second time I had met them. I tried to imagine what it was like to grow up with a mom that is always gone for school or work, a mom that the government can decide to take away in an instant because of what a piece of paper says about her. If I had to live with the constant threat of losing my mother, I would probably glare at an aristocratic-looking white woman too. If words on a paper are enough to identify what should happen to a person, then I would hope these words on this paper mean something too.

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These are the faces of real people, readers. These are the faces of hard-working people that want a better life for themselves in America–the same way my European ancestors did centuries before me when they came here.

Not all illegals crossing the border came here to hurt us and NONE deserve to be kept in cages apart from their families on a non-existent wall. What we are doing is nothing less than what we did to the Japanese-Americans during WWII; those are camps, people, not cages. They were inhumane then and they are inhumane now.

Yes, we need border security, but we also need a fair path for immigrants to become citizens. Azucena grew up in America and only knows it as her home country BUT she can’t become a citizen here. As the law stands now, she has to wait for one of her own kids to turn 18 and choose to sponsor her citizenship in America. Is this what fair citizenship rules look like?

I wonder where any of us would be if our ancestors were treated like we treat the Dreamers today. Only the Native Americans can claim they sprouted from this continent and very few of us Americans can prove even a thimble-full of their blood.

“…Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door! –from “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

Have we forgotten who we are, America? What enemy, real or imagined, could ever inspire us to treat each other the way we treat each other now?

Santa, Dickens, And The Real Meaning Of Christmas

I remember the first Christmas when I started to wake up from the belief in Santa. I don’t remember how old I was, but I know from the house we were in that I was about in the third grade. Kids were mean back then, as they inevitably always are, so I had most likely been bullied by some classmate for my faith in Old Saint Nick.

The room that I shared with my sister was an enormous one. On the side nearest the hall and the rest of the house was an attached bath with a three-dimensional plaque on the wall of Big Bird from Sesame Street smiling down at me. Opposite the bath was a large bay window that looked out into the yard. Between the two walls were our bunk beds and shelves stuffed with linens, clothes, and toys.  I loved that room.

I remember feeling dismally sad when Christmas Eve came. My sister and I were scurried off to our beds with the advisory that can only be given at Christmas: “You must be in your beds before Santa comes or you may not get your presents”. I was dismally sad because I wasn’t sure there was a Santa to be bringing me presents. I desperately wanted to believe, but I was losing my belief.

At just that moment, I heard sleigh bells coming from the roof of my house! I ran to the bay window in my room and heard them again–louder. This time it sounded like hooves may have been with them. What doubts I had vanished. I flew into bed and pulled the covers over my head, so Santa would find a good girl at my house and leave her presents. Some parents may have climbed on roofs and shaked bells to help their children believe, but mine didn’t. What I heard was as real as it ever could be, and it came at a time when I desperately needed it. Children need to believe in Santa.

There is a wonder and magic to Christmas that hovers in the airy notes of Christmas songs and tastes sweet with Christmas goodies and hot chocolate. It twinkles in the lights on houses and trees. It reflects in the image of every treasured ornament. It laughs with families as they gather and share meals, and as they create tornadoes of torn paper from unwrapped presents. At Christmas it feels like all your best and brightest hopes and dreams can come true. For a moment, they actually do.

But what happens when a child stops believing in Santa Clause? What happens is the child loses their sense of awe and wonder about the world. They can’t dream or aspire to greatness because they can’t imagine a world beyond what they can see or create. They are harder to please and tend to expect everything to be handed to them. They worry constantly about what others think of them, so they spend more time in social media then they do face-to-face and unplugged. Does this sound familiar? We have a lot of Scrooge-like children–and adults–in the world today.

I think the trouble starts when greedy parents want all the glory for the gifts they are giving. They tell the child that they are the ones that bought the gifts with the “from Santa” tags. They tell them this for no other reason than to see all the thankfulness for the gifts be directed to the true person who provided for them.

Another contributing factor to this epidemic is the misguided Christians who tell their children not to believe in Santa because they feel his presence takes away from that of the Christ child. They see the commercialism that comes with Santa as feeding the proverbial sweet tooth of want that most kids have. As the wish lists grow longer, kids step farther away from the true meaning of Christmas and into their own caverns of selfishness and want. I wonder how different Christmas could be if we let it be a learning opportunity to interact with our kids. What if the kind, generous man called Santa giving gifts to others became a spotlight on the fact that God gave the ultimate gift of his Son to the Earth?

I don’t know where Santa is these days, but I know where he isn’t. He’s not in a store increasing sales numbers. He’s not in a movie with no other lines than “ho, ho, ho.” He isn’t in a chapel reveared as a god, nor is he on a name tag borrowed by boozy elves filled with too much Christmas “spirit”. Wherever Santa is, I bet he’s looking at a digitised naughty and nice list–he’s cool with techie stuff like that. I bet he is still eating Mrs. Clause’s cookies with eggnog and giving too many samples to Rudolph and his friends. I bet he is more than a little disappointed by the people on his naughty list and how much longer that list is than the other one. But Santa is nothing if not optimistic; he is still holding out hope for us Scrooges to change.

In the same way, God is holding out hope too. He never intended for us to become embittered by Christmas or enraged by it to rally to a cause. God doesn’t expect his people to tear Santa out of Christmas or, as some are in the habit of doing, refuse to celebrate it altogether. He expects us to love each other and approach the world with childlike innocence and wonder.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child and had him stand among them.  And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. –Matthew 18:1-4, NIV

This is the lesson Scrooge learned himself in the end of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:

 “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

This Christmas, may you find yourself learning to see the world through the eyes of a child. May that sense of Christian wonder, awe, and charity guide you through the coming year.

What Happened to the Lost Boys: A Discussion About Abandoned Children in J.M. Barrie’s Neverland and Beyond

…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Matthew 25:40, NIV

I’ve always been a bit curious–and sad–about what happened to the lost boys in Neverland. Were these poor children abandoned by their parents? Were they kidnapped? Were they orphans? And when Peter Pan leaves the island, do they feel abandoned once more? In this post, we discuss the issue of orphaned children and what we can do to make a difference in their lives.

There are several versions of the classic J.M. Barrie tale and the adventures of Peter Pan. According to the author, the lost boys are children who fell out of their strollers when their nannies weren’t looking and were then whisked away to live in Neverland after they were unclaimed for seven days. These lost children were always boys because, according to Barrie, girls were too clever to get lost that way (though they do in some of the stories).

I think the idea that a child could be missed for seven days suggests the child likely was an orphan.

There are several stories that suggest the boys come and go off the island as they show signs of growing up or desiring to do so. For a full history of the story as it has been told through film and prequels like the Starcatcher series, check out this website.

Though J.M. Barrie wrote about the lost boys based off of real boys he had befriended personally, I have to wonder what happens to the lost boys–and girls–today. What happens to orphans when they become orphans?

I’ve heard horror stories of orphans being abused and neglected first by their biological parents and then by the guardians and system of care that is supposed to protect them. These stories were shared with me firsthand by the orphans themselves as adults in my classroom.

One child remembered being taken from her abusive parents in the middle of the night with nothing but a black trash bag to hurriedly gather her belongings. She didn’t understand that her addicted parents were doing something to her that they shouldn’t. She didn’t know she was being neglected. Therefore, she spent a lot of years bouncing around the system and trying to call her abusers every chance she could get. They would try to manipulate her into getting the money and supplies to continue their addictions. Even when she realized that they were asking her to do something wrong, she still called them. She so desperately wanted their validation of her worth.

Another child remembered being removed from a neglectful home only to end up in a foster home where the fosters pocketed their government aid, kept too many children, and provided minimal food and necessities for them. In this scenario, the heroes became villains as well. Children were left to grow up fast and find creative ways to provide for themselves.

Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.

Psalm 127:3-5, NIV

How many times do adults treat children like burdens, free labor, or worse with little to no consideration of the heritage they are building in them?

How many times do we see examples of adult selfishness playing out on the values of younger generations we see in the groceries stores and streets today?

Many of the orphans I have talked to describe their feelings like being on a rollercoaster. They lash out at people that treat them kindly because they don’t know who to trust and they fear being abandoned again. Because a child’s sense of safety and self-worth comes from their parents and these kids had toxic parents, many of them never found the understanding and sense of belonging they needed to become healthy, balanced adults.

What could we do to make a difference in just one life like this today?

There is good news! Not every lost boy and girl stayed in that place of abandonment.

I have a friend that grew up in a Christian orphanage not far from me. He doesn’t talk about his birth family, but he talks about life in the orphanage and the people that poured into him. You can read more about him and his story on his blog. 

Despite what others experienced, my friend was loved in his orphanage. Employees that saw their job as an opportunity to minister gave him hope and life when his own life “sucked”. He found hope and faith in Jesus, and he became a Christian. Then he realized that he wanted to be a pastor.

Two weeks before his sixteenth birthday, he was adopted by a prominent pastor and his wife. His new family showed him love and kindness. He found a sense of belonging and purpose through his faith and his adopted family. The family mentored him in the career path he would later pursue and introduced him to the woman who would later be the wife and mother of his children. God was looking out for this little lost boy!

Do you know a lost boy or a lost girl?

What can you do to speak hope and life into their world today?

Rockin’ Summer Row-by-Row Experience: My Journey Into Sewing & Quilting Part 2

As class ended, I didn’t want to leave my new friends…and new passion for quilting. I was midstream designing another quilt on our last day of class when I heard about Row by Row Experience 2015. Row by Row is a quilting challenge that happens annually across the US where quilters travel to various shops to collect patterns and make quilts. The first quilter to use eight or more of the 9 x 36 rows in a finished quilt, wins a stack of fabric. If they use the row from the store they turn their quilt in to, they win an extra prize from the store as well. This year, all fifty states and parts of Canada participated.

My Bobbin Robin (the mascot of the 2015 Row by Row Experience and a contest in herself) was branded by most of the shops I visited.

My Bobbin Robin (the mascot of the 2015 Row by Row Experience and a contest in herself) was branded by most of the shops I visited.

A collage of some of the quilting work I've done since class.

A collage of some of the quilting work I’ve done since class including my first quilt, a runner of drawings done by my nieces, and the start of my own Row by Row water themed quilt.

The idea of throwing travel and quilting together over the summer was a win-win for me. I bit hard on the idea like a fish on a hook. By summer’s end, I traveled all over eastern North Carolina, parts of South Carolina, and all over eastern Florida for patterns. Telling my friends and family members about it had patterns coming in from Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Oregon too. Some of those helpers have bitten the quilting bug themselves now as well. 😉 By summer’s end, I had over 30 patterns and the beginning of a water-themed queen size quilt.

One surprising fact about quilt shops: they are all uniquely different and all uniquely happy, even if they are close together. In one area of Raleigh, NC, for example, there were four shops within a few minutes of each other, but each carried very different materials and supplies from the other. Quilt shops are specialized to certain niche markets and maintain clientele through customer service.

A collage of shops and shopping with my mom and sister.

A collage of shops and shopping with my mom and sister. Notice the bus tour crowd in the bottom corner at Calico Station, FL.

I don’t know if it is the “your husband called and said you can spend all you want here” signs or the bright, colored fabrics, but I rarely found a sour faced, curmudgeoned quilter. Quilters invest in fabric and pattern stashes with pride. They shop in groves (even bus tours), little two-by-twos, or individually. Quilters are young and old, pop artists and antique traditionalists. We are a wide and varied group, but a happy one.

If we count the cost of how much we spend in quilting, we may not be so happy, but I believe we quilters are happy because we feel fulfillment when we sew…and there’s no price tag for that. We are also happy because quilting generates friends. From the old days of quilting by hand in large circles around a loom (which apparently my great-grandmother and grandma did) to going to classes and working on machines to shopping and sharing pictures and ideas with strangers, quilting is a universal language of love.

Rockin’ Summer Row-by-Row Experience: My Journey Into Sewing & Quilting Part 1

A few months ago, my mother and I signed up for a quilting class at our local quilt shop, Thistlebee. I had no experience sewing, but she did. My mother grew up sewing her own clothes and even made her wedding dress. I, on the other hand, didn’t even own my own machine. I was ambitious and didn’t know it.

On a work trip through Little Switzerland, I found a cute little quilt shop. The owner stood in the doorway on double crutches and said to me, “you’re a fabric artist, baby, I know you’re coming in here”. When I told her my story, she told me hers. She had lost everything, and now she was selling away her personal fabric stash to build a life for herself. When I told her I was planning on taking the quilt class and sharing my mother’s machine, she said, “wait right here, baby”, went home and brought me back a machine.

Charlie's Quilts in Little Switzerland, NC.

Charlie’s Quilts in Little Switzerland, NC.

The 1980s Singer given to me at Charlie's Quilts.

The 1980s Singer given to me at Charlie’s Quilts.

I was blown away by this stranger’s generosity and odd prophetic ability to look at me and see me as an artist with fabric. I accepted her gift, and had it serviced and working good as new before the class began.

Joining the quilt class was a good decision. It was good bonding time for mom and I, and we also made good friends at the shop with the instructors and shop owners. Mary Ellen, the shop owner, helped me figure out fabric measurements for the designs in my head. Pat, our teacher, helped me square up my work and learn to love my seam ripper. I went from not sewing at all to sewing a straight line to reading patterns, learning quilt tools, and designing my own quilts. Thistlebee became my home away from home, and something mom and I looked forward to sharing together.

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Mom working on her quilt while Pat helps square up some other work on the ironing board

Pat teaching us quilting lines

Pat teaching us quilting lines

Mary Ellen at the register looking out into the shop from the classroom.

Mary Ellen at the register looking out into the shop from the classroom.

As class approached its end, I realized I would not get my project done in time (I redesigned the project from the original lap quilt to a full queen quilt). I didn’t want to disappoint, so I designed, pieced, and finished a small tabletop pinwheel quilt instead of the rail fence we had started. This little quilt was a big hit in the class (Pat and Mary Ellen wanted to keep it), and it has since been used to teach math in my classes. When I see it now, I smile. I think about Pat and Mary Ellen and Charlie and mom; all the ladies that opened the door for me to learn how to quilt.

My first quilt (designed and pieced in a couple weeks)

My first quilt (designed and pieced in a couple weeks)

The Place Nobody Wants To Go

There is a little white folding chair in a little white room behind a little white wall that you do not want to sit in.

There are beautiful flowers you don’t want to see and kind words you don’t want to hear and tents and tissue boxes you don’t want to use.

There are mementos you never want to gather. There are military honors you plan for but hope to never see. There are bittersweet reunions and strangers and friends you’d rather not see.

Decisions happen quickly and permanently here. They are put down on paper, in a box, and sealed away.

You know the sun will rise again tomorrow, but you can’t feel it. You are numb…barely breathing.

Simple tasks stumble you, and simple tasks keep you going. There are still floors to clean, dishes to wash, and clothes to hang. Life goes on regardless of the pain you feel and sometimes that constancy is a propeller.

One moment you scream, the next you cry, the next you are happy and feeling guilty for it. It is a roller-coaster of emotions that make you feel crazy…but they are all normal.

You wait for the new normal now…the one post-loss, post-death, because nothing is the same as it should be or was.

There is a place you never want to go, a place you never want to see. It is the passing of someone you were close to and loved dearly.

You will never be ready for this.
There is no such thing as perfect timing for this, but it will happen to you.

I hope there is joy in your memories and hope in your future to see them again. In the end, that is all we have left.

May your faith in God grow strong and your home in Heaven brighter by those that goes before you through those Doors.

Freedom Isn’t Free: A Veteran’s Story

I grew up on amazing stories of how the roads got wound into tight knots around my house and lost brides became ghosts. Later, the fairy tales were replaced with war stories of incredible bravery and survival. There were dozens of stories. In these stories, enemy fire landed beside him and didn’t go off or in the place behind him after he left.

Entire teams of guys were killed, and he was the only survivor…multiple times. They were his mates, his buddies, his family. But he had a family back home to get home to too; a wife and three young sons were praying for him. Back then, there was no internet, video chatting, or other instant forms of communication. They wrote letters.

Every time God saved him was a confirmation that there was something more in store for him. After multiple tours, multiple dangers, and multiple saves, he finally returned home. Then he was assigned to a base in Colorado. There his eldest son met the love of his life and married her. He finally retired and moved back to Carolina. Not long after, his newly married son and daughter-in-law had me.

The bulk of my childhood was spent going back and forth between Colorado and Carolina. We spent three days on the road just getting from one state to the other. Instead of theme parks and vacation spots, our summers were dedicated to family. I didn’t mind. For me, nothing could be better than grandmama’s house, curling up in granddaddy’s lap, and hearing his stories.

We were spoiled on local pickles, french fries, and Southern-style barbecue. We dug our toes into the sands of Topsail Beach, went shopping, and stayed up late watching movies. And every year, about this time, I realize it all would not have happened if he hadn’t made it back home alive.

Ernest Whitman is not ashamed of his service; he wears it proudly. He doesn’t hide his stories. Ask him about anything, and he will tell you. Not every veteran came home so freely…especially from Vietnam. Nor were they welcomed as they should have been. But in my family, he is and always will be a hero. To many of those who served with him as well as to the new soldiers fighting in his regiment, he is a hero too. We are proud of him.

Today is not just another day out of work. It’s not a great day for shopping or grilling or beaching it. First, show some respect for the men and women who gave their lives to ensure those freedoms for you. Then, throw an extra hot dog on the grill and enjoy it.

You are blessed beyond measure to be an American and to be free.