My COVID Scare, Why I Quit Social Media and Blogging for a Year, and What it Taught Me

Teaching During The Pandemic

When the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic hit America, I was teaching in a local community college. We didn’t know much at the time but, as a precaution, we all switched to remote learning. The school went dark for a month to allow teachers to transition courses online. When we turned back on, it was in a whole new world.

No one expected it to last long. We were midway into the Spring semester and still making plans for a normal graduation celebration. We resumed classes as online only but planned to have fully in-person classes available by July. That didn’t happen.

I was more prepared than most for transitioning to online teaching; I already had a lot of the systems in place in my classes. My students were prepared to maintain their workload online, so I didn’t experience the drop in attendance as bad as my peers. What did change, however, was the hours when we worked. Because many of my students were parents working in the service industries, they were working more and sharing their internet (with their kids also doing school from home) more. My students didn’t have time for their own education till late at night, so I adjusted my time to match them. When their peak work hours were midnight to 3am, mine were too. I found myself stretched. On one end, I had to be alert and active during the day for work Zoom meetings. On the other end, I had to be present for my students to interact and answer questions when they were available to work.

I was exhausted, but I didn’t tell my supervisors. If I had, they would have advised me to keep normal office hours and tell students I would respond to them within 24 hours. I tried that, but I didn’t feel like it was the right response for me or my students. We were all scared. We were all searching for some semblance of normal pre-pandemic life. Keeping a rapid connection–even though it was just responding to emails and questions on the learning management system–made us feel like we were still connected…still human.

Fear of Human Connection

I stayed online with my students for a year. My students and I supported each other through race riots, pandemic, and economic losses, but I still couldn’t write about it.

I went silent on this blog and most of my social media for a year. Everything in the world was chaos, and I didn’t want to be another trite voice adding thoughts to the discussion of it. I underestimated my role and value in the world, and I let my feelings dictate my actions.

Working remotely was more freeing than anything I had experienced in my career, and I loved it. I could work in my pajamas. I could do house chores that I never had time for before. I could visit with family and friends within my safe circle–all while still doing my job as a teacher. I was no longer tied to schedules or office hours; I was free!

I did everything from home and only returned to the office once a month for paperwork as needed. When I did return, I was wearing a mask and staying socially distanced from everyone. The first thing I noticed was that the office culture changed. People didn’t gather and talk anymore; everyone stayed in their separate offices and barely acknowledged when someone else was nearby (except to put on a mask if they were).

The very thing that made us human–our communication, connection, and care for each other–became the first thing we shed in our fear.

I found myself afraid of being around others. For a year, I isolated myself from friends and community involvements like my church. The mere thought of returning to in-person classes caused me anxiety. I wanted to care for others but keep my distance, so I leapt at an opportunity to work remotely full-time for more money than teaching. I left eight years of teaching for the security of never having to see another person face-to-face unless I chose to. The irony of this choice is that I was already given special permission to work remotely as long as I wanted to, but I knew there would come a point where that choice would no longer be given to me.

I thought that isolation was a good thing. I was staying out of the public (with all the germs). I was ordering my groceries and online shopping for everything else. I was watching more church online than I experienced in person. I was socializing with people I lived with and a few close friends I trusted. I was distancing myself from the rest of the world, and I thought I was safe. I had no idea how much that distance was toxic for me.

Loss Becomes Real and Personal

Isolation was supposed to keep myself and my loved ones safe, but it didn’t. My only living grandparent–more isolated than me–got COVID, ended up in intensive care, and almost died. We couldn’t go see her. Our only communication was the hospital phone or the personal phone she had taken with her. If either line stopped working, we had no way to know what was happening to her, if she was safe, or if she was coming home to us.

I still remember the sound of her voice on the phone. Hooked up to machines and heavily drugged, her voice was low, gargled, and strained for breath. She was afraid and said a lot of things that didn’t make sense. Nevertheless, she said she would fight to stay with her family as much as possible, but she also kept saying her goodbyes like every breath would be her last. It was heartbreaking. I was powerless. All I could do was pray and surrender, so that’s what I did–every day, every moment that I thought of her and feared I was losing her.

I guarded her story. I didn’t share my life on social media or my blog, nor did I allow my friends to do so for me. In many ways, I gave up on the world and ever being part of it again because I was convinced it had nothing but hurt to give me.

When our prayers were answered and my grandparent got better, I knew that time with loved ones was something I didn’t want to take for granted anymore. I took it a step further. I determined to spend more time with the people I loved, and I devoted my energy to being present as much as possible. I helped care for sick loved ones, I spent time with extended family, I visited close friends, and I made plans to see family out of state.

Life became complicated in May 2021 when I lost my job (the one I left teaching for) and couldn’t go back to teaching. All the pain and angst from isolation were intensified by fear over money. Loss of income derailed my plans for connection and made me feel powerless, but those were just feelings (and feelings are temporary).

A month later, I lost three people that were important to me: my brother-in-law died of a sudden non-COVID-related respiratory problem, an 8-year relationship ended, and a former student died in a boating accident.

So much loss derailed me. I wanted to succumb to my feelings and just die, but God said…

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7, NIV

Change Your Perspective

Doubt, anger, guilt, sadness, and fear circled me. I allowed myself the freedom to feel my feelings while they were raw, but I did not allow them to root in me. Feelings, both the good and the bad, are temporary and they lie to you. You can’t let your self worth and perspective of the world be determined by them.

I took control of my thoughts as best as I could–even though it felt like holding a balloon in the wind by a thin sewing thread. I reminded myself of scripture and the truth of Christ that makes up my moral compass.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.

Philippians 4:8, NIV

I found that if I took control of my thoughts and pushed out the ones based on fear and pain, I could fill my mind with thoughts of strength, love, and affirmation. The more I allowed God’s peace to fill me, the stronger I became for the challenges that surrounded me and the more I saw God’s hand directing me through them.

COVID made me afraid of being around others. Loss, loneliness, and sadness made me need to be around them more.

It is a basic human need to crave in-person connection with others; we were not meant to live life alone. I craved fellowship beyond a mask. I craved community without fear. I longed for a new normal where I could hug or shake hands with a stranger and not immediately fear exposure to a life-threatening disease.

Something had to change, and it started with who I was listening to. I stopped reading the CDC website because it kept changing its mind on what to do and left me more confused and afraid of others. I stopped listening to the news because they had nothing good to say and capitalized on fear and anger. In case you were wondering, fear and anger are emotions we have historically used to control the public. This article from The Conversation website, does a fair job of explaining the history and how it has been used for COVID but experienced backfiring results.

I limited who and what I allowed to speak into my life. (Which is a policy I think showed more wisdom than fear and still saves me today from unnecessary confusion.)

  • I started filling my mind with advice from people I trusted including family, friends, and ministers.
  • Next, I started studying the Bible more and seeking God in worship and community at church.
  • Next, I sought wisdom on issues from authorities that were dealing with them first hand. I found doctors and hospitals online debunking COVID myths. This website was particularly helpful for countering some of the lies I was fearing.

With self-education, I felt safe enough to be in public as long as I maintained social distancing and sanitation. I didn’t consider the germs a child is exposed to in a public learning environment and then brings home to you. I had been taking my nieces to and from school every day for weeks. I didn’t question their lack of hygiene in a time of COVID. They are teenagers and what teenager EVER stops touching their face, phone, and every other surface long enough to sanitize or pull their mask up over their nose these days?

Photo by Charlotte May on Pexels.com

Then my eldest niece got sent home to be quarantined. She had been exposed to a COVID-positive person at school and had to stay out for ten days unless she tested negative. We had to isolate her and not let her socialize with the rest of us unless she was wearing a mask and distanced. I had to keep enforcing those protocols like a relentless dictator, however, because teenagers don’t pay attention to their actions. While I waited and watched for symptoms, I also lived with the fear that I had already been exposed and that this was no longer in my head–it was real threat.

I fought my fear with facts and self-educated.

  • I found out that COVID-19 is easy to kill with soap and water, so I washed my hands more and made my nieces shower when they got home from school.
  • I shut down any of our plans to be in the public, and I found ways for us to stay social but distanced together indoors.
  • I found out that people with the COVID vaccine can still get sick and still have to quarantine if they experience exposure–which made me wonder how the vaccine is helping at all if vaccinated people are still getting COVID.
  • I learned that COVID takes a minimum of five days to germinate and present enough bacteria for an accurate test result and ten days before symptoms begin to show.
  • I also learned that very few symptoms often present in children. That meant that my niece–who struggles to focus on schooling when she is home–would be stuck self-motivating herself to do well in school for a whole week of work before she could get tested. It also meant that all her household chores fell on me and her sister because all her energy and time were spent on staying focused on school.

I watched the girls and myself closely for symptoms according to the CDC and WebMD. The girls didn’t exhibit any signs, but I had almost all of them. While I could explain away the nausea, dry cough, fatigue, muscle ache, headaches, sore throat, and congestion, I couldn’t explain my loss of taste and smell. I was pretty sure all my symptoms were allergy and med related, but I had never had allergies take away my senses of smell and taste. What was worse: if I did have COVID, I had been exposing the family far longer than the school because I had all the symptoms before school began. The choice was clear: I had to get tested and quarantine myself.

Luckily, COVID-19 testing is federally mandated to be free right now, but that doesn’t mean it is easy to get tested. You still have to prove exposure and/or symptoms to be eligible to get tested. Here is what I did to get tested.

  • I googled “Covid testing near me”, answered some questions online, and scheduled an appointment.
  • When I got to the appointment, everything was handled through a drive-thru window and dropped in a LabCorp box for analysis.
  • Though I didn’t do the rapid test, I had my results within roughly 24 hours.
A negative test result for COVID.

Panic over COVID made me treat others like parasites and live in fear in my

own household. It created a

wound in people I loved and built a barrier between important relationships. It

exposed a lack of faith in an Almighty God to protect and restore us. It

revealed an area of growth and healing I needed to pursue.

What My COVID Scare Taught Me

Testing negative for COVID-19 gave me back a sense of power in my life–but it came at a cost. I had created wounds with my own fear that needed restoration. I grabbed up my nieces and hugged them tightly. I wanted them to know they were not the Black Plague of germ death to me (even if teenagers sometimes seem like they are).

No matter what happens with the pandemic in the months and years to come, we can’t let our “new normal” become a place of fear about connection with others. We need to stay alive and aligned with our core values, and we need to stay in a place of safe in-person contact with other people.

Pamela Taylor’s “Pestilence: Second Son Chronicles, Volume 3”

Blog Tour for Pamela Taylor’s book, Pestilence: Second Son Chronicles Volume 3

Welcome Back!

If you are just joining us, this blog is part of a book tour promoting a new historical fiction novel by Pamela Taylor, Prestilence: Second Son Chronicles Volume 3.

Note: The author sent me an autographed copy of the book in exchange for this review.

Pamela Taylor’s book series, Second Son Chronicles, is a historical fiction series using familiar historical settings to tell the story of a family that is fictional. It is not a reimagining of actual people or events–like some historical fiction–and readers may have to remind themselves of that as they read.

The book opens with the sudden death of a beloved king and his rapid replacement by an impetuous son. It doesn’t take long to see that this new king is going to lead the realm in a downward spiral. The story is all told to us by a second son and brother of the new king who has some mysterious destiny of his own yet to be fulfilled.

This book begins mid-action with characters and plots that have been brewing for two books prior to this one. Though the writer does provide a family tree and a sketch of the kingdom at the start of the book, it is hard to understand what is happening if you haven’t read books one and two first. If you read excerpts of the books on the author’s website, linked here, you get a sense of the story without the full depth of it. This is about a family of royals where the second sons–unlikely to become kings–have value and voice. This is also a story that rarely sits still; some scheme or battle is always in the middle of happening or being plotted.

Though there are uncanny resemblances to Henry VIII in some of what happens in Pestilence, the author makes it clear that this is a work of fiction inspired by events of the past but not about any person(s) in particular. The author responds to this idea in the book:

Readers will note similarities with northern Europe, but my decision to fictionalize the setting was a matter of practicality for my characters. European history from this period and its major actors are too well known for it to be plausible that a different set of kings and nobility might actually have existed.

Taylor, Pamela. Pestilence: Second Son Chronicles Volume 3, “Author’s Notes”, Black Rose Writing: Texas, 2020. pg 218.

Pamela Taylor’s work is particularly well designed to showcase language. At one point, the narrator creates a historical record of the new king’s reign that looked and sounded like an actual document that I could research and find. The characters, too, feel real because of the depth of research behind authenticating them within their era. Taylor transitions seamlessly from formal to casual speech; she is surprisingly eloquent as a noble as well as an accented servant. I can only imagine this book series would come to life in full cast audio production.

Taylor’s work would have every right to be laden with words we cannot understand outside of the context, but she makes it a particular point not to do that. Language is intentionally modernized slightly to save readers from referencing dictionaries to understand her work. It is a subtle nod to the audience that does not affect the story but greatly assists the reader.

I greatly respect the work Taylor has put into creating this entertaining series, and I plan to order books one and two to get the full story. If you are looking for an adventurous, mysterious, historical novel full of scandal and glory, check out the Second Son Chronicles. It will not disappoint.

Memorial Day Gifts

A guest post by Rev. Shelton Whitman

On this legal holiday that so many have turned into the day to start their summer vacations, backyard barbecues, or simply another day off, I’ve wondered if the original reason for the day has been horribly obscured.

I was in a local store recently and noticed a few flags and wreaths meant to decorate grave sites. There were markedly fewer of these then I remember in the past years.

We have been celebrating Decoration Day since the days following the Civil War, but Congress made it an official holiday in 1971. This day was meant to be a day to commemorate those who gave their ultimate sacrifice— there lives—for our freedom.

Our veterans have contributed to our freedom about as much as our Charlotte’s Web friend, Wilbur, has contributed to our breakfast meal of bacon and eggs. Plainly, there would be no freedom to enjoy without the veterans’ contribution.

Memorial day is a time to remember those that sacrifice for our freedom. I include the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the son of the Living God, in this too because if it wasn’t for his willingness to lay down his life for us, we would not have the hope of Heaven.

Christ committed his life to us just like our troops commit their lives to us every time they step out in service. Take time to remember and be thankful.

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!!!

Winners_5

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)”

(@buddahdesmond)

#2: Daphne Ayo

“Uncaged”

(@dee_.vox )

#3: Renita Siqueira

“Allowed to Exist”

(@renitasiqueira)

#4: Rebecca Whitman

“Moment of Truth”

(@rebeccajwhitman)

97024

Congratulations!!

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?

31393

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…

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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…

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Don’t Judge Your Year One by Someone Else’s Year Ten

The PBS Blog

One complaint I hear from new Self-Publishers (a lot) is how much they wish they could do what they see other authors doing.

Usually, these are authors they perceive are more successful. I say perceive because you really don’t know what that person is going through, has gone through, or what they sacrificed to be where they are now.

But know this:

You are doing yourself a disservice when comparing your progress to others.

If you’ve published your first book, it is not fair for you to compare yourself to someone publishing their third or fourth book. Your journey will not be the same. Never measure your year one with someone else’s year ten.

My first few books were duds. I’m talking bootleg covers and crappy editing. The only people who bought them were members of my organization at the time—like someone whose church family buys their book.

The problem…

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Old Becomes New At Sand Box Farms: What I Learned Visiting A Young Farm and How It Changed Me

In May 2022, I had the opportunity to visit the farm you are about to read about, and what I saw impacts me still four months later. You are about to meet two people who believe in hard work and never giving up on a dream. You are about to meet two people whose enthusiasm for farming made me want to be a farmer too–almost.

The one thing I learned that I hope you do too is that enthusiasm is a fire that can set a forest ablaze. When you truly believe in something and pursue it with tenacity–don’t give up, you are living the American Dream.

This elusive thing we all aspire to live looks successful in the long run, but it sometimes looks like failure in the daily grind. The American Dream is not for the faint of heart; it’s for the visionary.

Some people say that younger generations have lost the work ethic to get anything done, but that is not true of all of us. It certainly is not true of the folks at Sand Box Farms. As you read this story, I hope it inspires you to see innovation, hope, and promise in agriculture and in young people with a dream and a steady hand on the plow.


Sand Box Farms

In a little white 1920s farmhouse in Warsaw, one young married couple is proving that the American Dream is still alive. Sand Box Farms was just a high school dream for AJ Searles, a first-generational farmer, who is as comfortable with a power tool as he is behind the wheel of a tractor or standing in front of a crowd talking about his business. “Because AJ is doing this as a new start-up not something he grew up in,” his wife, Krystle Owen explains, “he gets invited to speak often about his experiences and how he got started in the agriculture business.” 

Krystle is equally busy and accomplished. She works as an Agronomy Sales Manager for Southern State when she is not busy farming pumpkins, raising cattle, baking cakes, and balancing several upgrade projects at the farm. “We all wear multiple hats and have to be capable of doing any of the jobs here on the farm,” Krystle says. “We couldn’t possibly do this business alone. We are so thankful for the workers we do have and the other business partners that work with us, but turnover in the labor force is high for agriculture. We have to always be ready and moving quickly to stay ahead of the demands of our consumers. In the industry, seasoned farmers are aging out. Soon there will be a gap of need as great in food production as anything we see in other career fields,” Krystle explains. 

Beef cattle say hello to an inquisitive visitor.

AJ Searles and Krystle Owen are members of the NC Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Association (YF&R), an organization of people between the ages of 18-35 who are interested in agriculture. Members of the organization benefit from the Farm Bureau’s larger mission of advancing the agricultural community through networking and educational opportunities. As members, AJ and Krystle have been able to explore operations and learn new practices in states like Florida, Arizona, and Iowa. AJ Searles and Krystle Owen now serve as Duplin County Representatives on the state committee for YF&R. As representatives of the state, AJ and Krystle had the opportunity to meet with legislators in Washington, D.C. to discuss the long-term impact certain bills would have on young farmers and ranchers.

Your voice does matter, and you need to make it matter by getting involved, making the meetings, and having the face-to-face conversations with leaders who make policies affecting you. You don’t have to travel to D.C. to make a difference. Local town governments are important too, and Duplin County has been extremely welcoming to future generations expressing their needs and concerns.

Krystal Owen

AJ and Krystle hope to encourage young people to see agriculture as a career field with endless opportunities–especially in Duplin County. “We have advantages here because we are within thirty minutes of a lot of what we need. We produce a lot of our own food in North Carolina, and our products are being sent to other states and countries. In Duplin County, we have some of the best soils, and others are interested in investing in that for what we can do here,” Krystle explains. “You don’t have to leave your county to have a good job, and you don’t have to be a farmer either. There are plenty of other jobs that intersect with farming here.” 

Even just a day’s experience on a farm can change a person’s life forever. “Farming gives you the opportunity to see and experience the circle of life firsthand,” Krystle says. “Just interacting with the environment teaches you to be incredibly grateful and not wasteful of the food you have. It also builds confidence, leadership skills, and critical thinking skills.” One of the big pushes in the industry now is to monetize this benefit by increasing agri-tourism opportunities. Even though Duplin is a rural county, it still has opportunities to explore in this area. 

Farming today is nothing like it was a hundred years ago. While it may look simple and peaceful, farming life is incredibly complex and diverse. Profitability for farming now is a balancing act of monitoring trends, precision planning, and being as efficient as possible with the resources that you have. “Farming is a business. There is more time spent planning than in a tractor or a field. It is a very strategic, thought-out process,” Krystle says. 

Stock market supply and demand determine prices; farmers don’t have a say in it. Government regulations hold US farmers to high standards concerning food safety and business practices all the way down to how a plant or animal is fed, produced, and processed. These standards set a high bar for quality that is further backed by distributors wanting GAP Certification to sell their goods. “Many stores like Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, or Harris Teeter won’t even take your product unless it is GAP Certified,” Krsytle says, “but there are lesser quality countries able to produce the same products cheaper with less regulation. Most farmers want to market on a level playing field, and GAP certification is part of that.” 

One positive of all the regulations, however, is that it contributes to giving US-made goods a reputation for being better and worth the extra investment. “We have some of the safest food sources around,” Krystle says. “Companies like Carnival Cruise Lines choose us and our products over cheaper options on the market because they know we offer quality goods that are regulated and tracked.” 

Technology for farming is continually growing and making it easier for farmers to control what they do from the cab of their tractors, but all that advancement comes at a price. Many farmers live frugal lives and save with the goal of investing in some of this better equipment. “It’s something we all work towards,” Krystle says, “but sometimes we have to start without the technology and use what we’ve got to build the business and make it grow. Not having everything perfect makes you get creative to get the job done,” Krystle says. “For us, success is measured by being smart and diversifying our business to be able to overcome challenges, be good at what we do, and justify our equipment.”

A lot of creativity is required to do well in the farming business. “This year and last, our fertilizer cost went up significantly. It now costs at least three times as much to fertilize the same amount of fields. Also, many of the products we relied on are just going back into production which means they are going to be at least two weeks behind making it to the farms,” Krystle explains. “We have to look for alternative sources of fertilizer or we are forced to buy more expensive options and find other ways to offset cost in other areas of the business.” 

Despite all these challenges, most farmers describe what they do as a lifestyle and a calling; they feel drawn to protect and steward the land for the next generations. Even though AJ and Krystle don’t have children yet, they still plan for them today. From the small details of having a bolt bin for parts to the larger details of planning how to repurpose the older buildings and bring new ones, they think about the lives that will be lived on their farm. 

“What I hope, is that more land owners will be interested in partnering with new growers to rent their properties and keep the land producing agriculturally instead of turning it over into commercial land,” Krystle says. Landowners interested in connecting with potential renters for their land or young persons interested in developing an agriculture business are encouraged to reach out to YF&R.

How to Study the Bible

Do you struggle to pick up the Bible and read it? Are you someone with multiple versions and study tools but no clue how to use them? The purpose of this post is to help you find a way to ease Bible reading into your life and create sustainable reading patterns.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Matthew 5:6

From one of Christ’s most known sermons comes an admonition with a promise: thirst for righteousness will be filled. Why? Because God desires a people that desire Him; He won’t leave you stranded when you search for Him. The point is not perfection. The point is just to start.

There are many ways to approach the Bible. One of the easiest methods is known as the S.O.A.P. method.

S.O.A.P. is a simple way to break down any scripture and make it practical. The anacronym stands for:

  • Scripture
    • Read a passage from the Bible and write it down in your journal. Some people choose to write out the whole scripture because it helps them remember it. Others paraphrase it or just write the reference.
  • Observation
    • Write down any observations that you make about the passage. For example, note who is speaking, who are they talking to, why they may be talking about that subject, etc.
    • This is also a good time to note any questions you may have about the text. For example, note any terms you are not familiar with, so you can research them and find their meaning.
  • Application
    • This is when you start translating the scriptures you read into your everyday life. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and find answers by digging deeper for contextual meaning.
    • Write down questions you have about the Scripture. Dig deeper with a concordance to find other scriptures related to the one you read, and read them too. Use a dictionary and commentaries to discern contextual meaning of words.
    • Translate what you learn into actionable steps you can apply to your life.
  • Prayer
    • This is where you connect with God and talk about what you have learned. Ask Him to help you commit the Word to memory and apply it to your life.
    • It’s a good idea to write down prayers in your journal because they can serve as mile markers on your journey when you look back on your writing and see how God has answered them.

S.O.A.P. is an effective way to approach any scripture and make it practical, but it is not the only way to read and learn. You can also do a noun study focused on a specific person, place, thing, or idea. You can also focus on a specific book and read that. This article goes into detail explaining five ways to approach Scripture. This article shows you how to deep dive on a scripture with the Inductive method.

Whatever method you choose, commit to it daily for at least a week. New habits form into lifestyles after a month of exposure to them.

What tools do you need?

First and foremost, you need a Bible. There are many different translations available. Choose a Bible that translates the established Canon with accuracy. Some of the reputable versions include the New International Version (NIV), New Living Translation (NLT), New King James Version (NKJV), and the Amplified Bible (AMP). Pick one that is reputable, in your native language, and clear enough that you can read it without too much of a struggle over language. While it is not harmful to read a translation Bible, it is important to know the difference between versions and translations. Only versions go back to the actual original text to translate them forward into modern language. This can be an important distinction when it comes to accuracy in the text.

When you study, it is a good idea to have something to take notes. It is helpful to keep a journal. Journaling records progress and can be a source of encouragement when you are feeling low. Many new journals have a space at the front for an index. If you list your prayers by page number, you can easily go to specific ones as God answers them, update them, and reflect.

If you are not opposed to writing in your Bible, it is a good idea to have Bible-safe pens and highlighters to mark Scriptures that stand out to you. Because Bible pages are usually thin and printed on both sides, you want a highlighter specially made for it. Anything else will bleed through to the other side of the page. Bible highlighters are available at any major book store. Safe writing pens are also available.

If you are finding yourself studying on the move, consider screenshoting what you read and type your notes in a writing app on your phone.

Need a Plan?

If you learn best by having a plan to follow, you are in good company. Most readers respond well to being told a given plan of verses to read through a specific frame of time. There are even Bibles organized to read them in chronological order.

Many Bible reading apps offer free reading plans. Here is a link to a free reading plan from Billy Graham ministries.

Do you connect to better to music than writing?

If music is your thing, consider downloading the free app, Verses.

Verses gives you scripture in theme-based playlists. Most of the songs have a gentle, folksy acoustic style, and they are sung by talented artists. It is a good way to get scriptures stuck in your memory. A reader is also available to audio read the Bible.

Final Thoughts

Reading the Bible is all about connecting with God on a daily basis and inviting Him into our everyday lives.

The goal is to hear from God and find direction and comfort for your personal situation.

The most important tool you have to accomplish that is your consistency.

Overcome your fear and doubt by turning the page and doing the work.

From Genesis to Revelation, God’s Word is your guide to abundant living–so do not neglect it.

Charles F. Stanley, “Jesus, Our Perfect Hope”

10 Tips to Create a Social Media Platform That Promotes Your Business (Not Controls It)

10 Tips to Create a Social Media Platform That Promotes Your Business (Not Controls It)

By Rebecca J. Whitman

No matter how long you have been in business, you have most likely heard that you need to have some sort of presence online. Some advise having a page on Facebook. Others say that’s not enough; you need a website too. Still, others say you are going nowhere without a presence on major social media channels including Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. With so much busy work involved in promoting your business, where is the time left to work on your business? In this post, we will debunk the myths surrounding social media marketing and help you get started with creating an online presence that works for you and your business.

What is an online presence?

An online presence is when a business does not just exist in a physical location but is also represented online. In most cases, an online presence consists of a website or public page and social media accounts on at least two different platforms. 

Why is being online important for small businesses?

According to Forbes magazine, most potential customers check out an organization online before they ever consider supporting it in person. If you want to increase readership, bring in new clients, and increase customer conversions, you need a website and social media presence. 

Who manages an online presence for a small business? 

Social media marketing encompasses most of the busy work of having an online presence. Some businesses have employees hired exclusively to manage media and marketing. Others hire marketing firms to handle the work externally. For most of us, social media starts very do-it-yourself with what you can personally understand and maintain. 

Regardless of where you are in the scale of your social media marketing, the important thing is to have a plan, have fun, and be consistent. 

What are the different social media platforms good for? 

Social media platforms continue to grow, evolve, and change over time. What is important is not what seems popular to someone else but what you personally enjoy using and what you think is a platform your potential customers use. Social media marketing only really works when you are consistent, and you won’t be consistent if you can’t stand using the platform. 

When you think about your customers, look for a platform that also serves your ideal customer base and product line.

Currently, the top 4 social media platforms are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. This fluctuates over time, but Facebook and Instagram have stayed pretty consistent for many years. 

Facebook

Facebook is the oldest of the four and keeps the oldest demographic. Most Millennials consider it outdated, but older generations gravitate to it because they understand it. Social groups connect easily through Facebook Groups and Pages. Media can be scheduled to appear on Pages but not individual Profiles. Live video, stock video, still images, and text can be posted freely on Facebook, but they will be monitored. If anything is deemed a copyright infringement (like singing the cover of someone else’s song) or is even remotely offensive (like an anti-vaccination post), it will be pulled from the internet. Facebook is highly censored.    

Instagram

Instagram is actually owned and operated by Facebook, but it is a completely different platform. Instagram is image-driven material; no text can post without a still image or video reel. It makes Instagram appeal to visually motivated crowds including travelers and artists. Mini reels of vacation getaways, art tutorials, performances, and more are shared on Instagram. Some Millennials have Instagram accounts, but it is primarily used by GenX, Celebrities, and Influencers. Instagram does stick to a distinctive square shape, so images shared from other platforms can often get the edges of their graphics cut off. Instagram is also not friendly with hyperlinks to external sources, so it is hard to use it to link to a personal website or resource. 

Twitter

Twitter has faced some controversy recently concerning fake accounts and buyouts, but it is still  an account used by many real people too. Twitter focuses on very short phrases and links to external sources. It is news-driven and appeals to a politically charged audience. It is not a good place for a rant because the character lengths are limited, but it can be a great place to share business-minded posts.

TikTok

TikTok is a relatively new platform that focuses on a constant stream of short videos. There is very little room to add text or link to external sources on TikTok. It appeals to those who love to consume massive amounts of content with little to no filters. Imagine a social media version of YouTube, and you have a close idea of how it works. TikTok is primarily popular with Millennials.

How do you create an online platform that is not overwhelming? 

Managing social media for your business can be overwhelming, but you have to keep it in its place. Remember that it is a necessary part of marketing yourself, but it is not the business, it is not you, and it can’t run you. The key to not being overwhelmed by social media presence is to 1) Focus on one or two platforms that you enjoy using NOT all of them, 2) Create a plan for what and how often you want to post, 3) Have fun with it, and 4) Stay consistent.

Social media is a great place to try out new ideas and poll your audience for their likes and dislikes. With active followers, you can often learn as much from their engagement as you can from anything else you do for your business. Learning how to be more effective makes it fun.

I also find it really helpful to chunk as much work together as possible to save time and avoid scrambling the day a post is due. Remember: you set your own schedule, so make it something you can reasonably maintain. With the exception of influencers, most people post new content once a week. 

What is a social media calendar?

A social media calendar is a schedule showing what you are going to post, when you will post it, and where you will post it. Calendars are extremely helpful for pre-planning media and structuring campaigns. This is how a post can build on a prior post and point readers to specific actions. Planning creates positive outcomes. 

Planning also makes it clear where you need to put in extra work and where you can chunk work and save time. When it comes to technology, always allow more time than you thought it would take to get the job done. The power goes out, and the internet dog eats your homework in social media marketing too. 😉 

How and why should you schedule posts?

Scheduling posts takes the stress out of social media posting and blogging. As much as possible, you should use these tools to be proactive in your business and work ahead of your deadlines. Working ahead gives you the freedom to do other things–especially create more content and work on the projects that you love.

Depending on the platform, there is usually a way to schedule a post to appear at a later date. This feature is often only available on the desktop version of the platform. With Facebook and Instagram, there is a wonderful free tool called Meta Business Suite that lets you schedule posts across both platforms, individualize them, and work months in advance. The Meta Business Suite also gives audience insights including what days and times are best for you to post to reach your followers. (All that creepy “they are watching you” info is finally put to good for your business.) 

What are some tools you can use to create graphics?

Some graphics tools are built into the sites for you. TikTok has its own audio clips and filters. Instagram has formats and filters for reels and photos. What I like best is creating graphics using Canva. Canva is a mostly free app that can be used on your mobile device or desktop. It cloud stores all your work, so you can access it across multiple devices easily. It keeps on top of the trends for good-looking graphics, and it auto-formats them to fit the space you are putting them in. If you are like me, you can make one graphic to share across all platforms by using a standard Instagram size or leaving a ¼-inch bleed around the edges of your image.  

How do you learn new trends and techniques for social media marketing?

There is always something to learn for social media and marketing. Challenge yourself to learn something new about your technology as well as what the market trends are currently. HubSpot is a marketing firm that knows a lot about its business. You can research topics in their blog or sign up for free newsletters to learn something new throughout the week. 

If you are a visual learner, you have a wealth of tutorials on YouTube. Curious how to create a reel on Instagram? Google it, and you will find a list of tutorials available on YouTube. This one with Stephanie Kase was very helpful, and it led to a whole channel of other helpful videos. 

When do you know it is time to change your online presence? 

Changing your online presence and marketing plan is usually necessary if you have been doing the same thing for a considerable amount of time but not creating new traffic to your business. You may need to do more research or switch to another time and day for posting. You may also need to consider moving to a different platform. For consultations about your existing media and personalized help to make it better, feel free to reach out to me. 

Leave a comment below if you found this post to be helpful.

Thanks for reading!

The Story of Brendan Hooker: How Internship Inspired a Recent College Grad to Make Life-Changing Decisions

By Rhonda Jessup, Director of Public Relations at the University of Mount Olive

Brendan Hooker of Garner had a rocky start in life.  A child of divorce, he struggled with his identity, family connections, and friend choices.  

“I considered myself to have been a rather difficult person to get along with until I found religion near the end of high school,” he admits.  “Mental health issues and a general feeling of being unwanted made me act out in ways I’m not proud of.”  

Once Hooker found Jesus Christ, he said, “I began to improve myself on moral grounds, as well as tackle the internal struggles that were negatively influencing my well-being.”

Hooker became a kinder and more outgoing person.  Rather than avoiding him, people began to gravitate toward Hooker.  “I was finally able to accept myself, and I became comfortable associating with others,” he said.  “I began to form positive relationships that opened up fantastic opportunities to me.”

One of those opportunities came about during his studies at the University of Mount Olive (UMO), where Hooker was a student from the fall of 2018 until the spring of 2022.  Majoring in English and minoring in psychology, Hooker accepted an internship during the spring of his senior year with the History Department at Wayne County Public Library.  “One of my English professors, Dr. Alexis Poe-Davis, actually recommended the position to me,” he said.    

During the six-week internship, Hooker’s responsibilities included attending lectures, helping teach classes on genealogy resources, and assisting other librarians.  His favorite part of the job was writing for the library’s monthly newsletter, “The Big Ditch.”  “I was really able to put my writing skills to work,” he said.  

Hooker enjoyed the experience so much that, at the close of the internship, he applied for and accepted a position as a Digital Navigator.  Since then, he has been promoted to Library Assistant/Public Relations Coordinator, effective August 1.  In this new role, he will soon relocate to the Mount Olive branch of the Wayne County library system.

“My internship helped me to realize that libraries have so many great resources to offer in addition to books,” Hooker said.  “My ultimate take-away is that you should take an opportunity when it is presented to you.”  

Hooker plans to seek his librarian certification as he continues his passion of public service within Wayne County Government. He currently resides in Warsaw, NC.  

“I am so grateful for the life-long bonds I formed while at UMO,” he said.  “The quality of education that I received from my professors will help me achieve anything I set my mind to accomplishing.” 

The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University is sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists.  For more information, visit www.umo.edu.              

Mentorship: Finding Purpose in Helping Others and Knowing When To Invest in Being Mentored

If you ask Google about mentorship, you will get all kinds of results. It will define the term, explain its purpose, tell you there are different types, and even advise about romance between mentors and mentees.

There is nothing wrong with Googling how to do what you want to do, but at some point you need guidance specific to you. That’s where mentorship comes in. Mentorship is available everywhere at every level from close friends who can give you free advice to paid memberships and hired professionals.

Mentorship is a Biblical concept. It is the idea that one generation (often older) has something to teach or give to another (often younger). It is about generations working together to glean wisdom that only time and experience can give you.

Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximize their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be.

Types of Mentoring

Traditional One-on-one Mentoring

A mentee and mentor are matched, either through a program or on their own.

Distance Mentoring

A mentoring relationship in which the two parties (or group) are in different locations.

Group Mentoring

A single mentor is matched with a cohort of mentees.

Every major decision of your life ought to be confirmed (through prayer and fasting, going to the Bible, talking to your spouse, getting counsel from your pastor, and talking with close Christian friends).

It should not just be you alone. You don’t just walk through any opened door.

Jantzen Franklin, The Legacy Study Bible

How To Know When You Need A Mentor

I believe it is important to seek out mentorship for any major decisions or life changes in your life. It is an act of wisdom to seek the wisdom of people with more experience and success in the areas that you are stepping into.

But how do you tell the difference between needing mentorship for a moment, a season, or a lifetime?

Mentorship length is determined by the need. If what you are needing council on is just a few decisions, you may only need to consult someone in a few sessions. If you are experiencing a roadblock or needing to gain knowledge in a certain area you are stretching to, you probably need a mentor for a season. If you are experiencing continuous transitions like business startups, growth, and expansion, you probably need a mentor that can help guide you through all those changes over a lifetime.

How do you pick a mentor?

When you are looking for a mentor, look at two things: what you need them for and who you know that has done that work successfully. If you don’t know someone successful in that area, do research and find someone. A lot of times friends and mentors who have helped you in the past can suggest good resources for your next level of need. Remember to be mindful to consider mentors that reflect like-minded faith.

Mentorship is a partnership that is often long-term, so you want mentors that you can get along with personally as well as admire professionally. If they are where you want to be or past it, that is a good sign. Of equal or greater importance, however, is that they share your faith.

Where do you find a mentor?

Once you determine who you know that has had success in your area of need, you have a list of contacts to approach for mentorship. Start by asking the successful people you know if they would be willing to mentor you. If you don’t know anyone successful in your area of need, research people who are and message them about mentorship.

Be reasonable in your expectations and vet the people you research. You can’t expect Jeff Bezos to personally teach you how to be the next big online marketplace, but you can find people online who will teach you how to sell well in an online market. To prove they are worth your investment, check out their work and Google their customer reviews. What other people say about working with them can be very telling. Don’t invest time or money unless you see proven results of what you want to achieve.

Why is a person’s faith important when determining who you should get for mentorship?

Scripture teaches us that we become what we believe, and we become like those we spend our time around. While it may be possible to takeaway universal truths from people outside your faith (like when you read a book from a secular artist), it is more likely that the outside faith will influence your belief system if you build a relationship with them where you are seeking their guidance.

The Christian faith is one that grows based on individual study of the Bible and partnership with Godly Christian mentors. Our faith waters down and steps away from Christianity completely if we step away from the Bible and follow guidance not based on it. So it is very important who you choose to be your mentor.

Should you pay for a mentor?

This is one I struggled with, but the answer is that sometimes paying for a mentor is necessary. There is an old saying that says “you get what you pay for”. In mentorship, if your only advice is free advice, you are not always given priority. When you pay for mentoring services, you are investing in yourself and your business as if you were pursuing a college degree in the area you are needing help with. Don’t be ashamed of needing to pay for someone to help you, and don’t be too cheap to think everything you pursue should be free. The best counselors charge for their time, and those rates vary often by how successful they are. Even if the rates are high, find a counselor that will work with you on a payment plan. It is worth it.

Final Thoughts

I have had both free and paid mentorship. When I first started my business, I relied a lot on close friends to help me with their free advice from their experience in the business. I also did a lot of research and signed up for all sorts of free resources like the amazing wealth of knowledge about remote jobs at Home Working Club and marketing insight from HubSpot.

Later, I realized I needed to grow in knowledge beyond our areas, so I invested in subscription-based mentorship with Matt Tommey Mentoring and Hope Writers.

The problem with subscription-based mentoring for me was there was little to no accountability. I had paid a lot of money to get into the system, but I was barely using it, so it made little impact on my business. Later, I made friends with other users in the subscriptions, and that helped me use them more for learning.

I got to a place where I was roadblocked personally and professionally. I didn’t know how to move forward, and it was effecting my mental health. I started to not care about life. I discovered I was actually afraid of being successful. That’s when I realized I needed to hire a recruiter and relationship coach.

Making that decision was hard for me because it was a big financial investment, but the return on my investment was immediate. I had daily texts, insight, and assignments. I had a whole path to follow to get out of my roadblocks, and I had people with proven success guiding me.

No matter where you are in your level of need, I hope you realize that your life and time is valuable. Don’t waste time trying to figure out everything on your own. Seek a mentor.

Phinite Drying Systems: Innovation from Australia Brings Revenue and Problem Solution to Pork Farmers

(Previously published in The Duplin Times)

On Wednesday, June 29th, an Australian inventor from Crocodile Dundee country visited Duplin County to show pork farmers a way to turn the sludge in their lagoons into additional revenue. 

Inventor and founder of Phinite, Jordan Phey, was a water engineer working to bring “simple and robust safe water treatments” for aboriginal people in northern Australia. He discovered two technologies to make money from water, and he began the process of developing them. In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a contest called the Nutrient Recycling Challenge. Phey entered his invention in the challenge and won an award at the White House for being one of the 10 best ideas in the world. Smithfield Foods was a judge in the competition, and they were so impressed with Phey’s work that they invited him to North Carolina. 

First, Phinite partnered with the NC Department of Soil and Water Conservation to conserve water in a wetland in Bladen County in 2019. In 2021, The Department of Soil and Water Conservation secured a Project Impact Grant to help make the technology accessible for farmers. “We have spent 16 million dollars in projects so far,” Executive Director Amanda Sand said. “We consider ourselves a conservation incubator.”

Phinite learned a lot from the wetland project and began to see the changes necessary to make their product commercially helpful for farmers. “Lack of access to cost effective drying systems is why farmers have such a big problem with waste today,” Jordan Phey said. “I felt this was a problem worth solving.” 

Jordan explains his drying systems process to farmers.

Phinite is a drying system that mines solids from hog lagoons and dries them in onsite drying stations using natural air flow and remotely operated equipment. Within 4-6 weeks, a batch of manure–approximately 100 tons–is dried. Then it is crushed and put through screen filters to prepare it for market. “We are in the business of mining solids,” Jordan Phey explained. “Solids are where the good minerals are, and 30% of them are within a foot of the liner in lagoons.” Phinite uses long-reach back hoes and other custom designed equipment to mine lagoons. They are able to harvest two years of manure for every one year of waste production. Set up in a research and test site on Dexter Edwards’ farm, they plan to have all the kinks worked out of the product and able to use them on farms as early as this October.     

Phinite handles the whole process from mining to market sales and returns a percentage of the sales to the farmer as a return of investment on their asset. Initial costs to install the equipment as well as some small maintenance is the responsibility of the farmer, but the difficult technical operations and everything else are managed by Phinite. 

Dexter Edwards, Don Butler, and Jordan Phey talk to pork farmers about Phinite Drying Systems.

Long term pork farmer, Phinite investor, and Phinite North American Representative Don Butler said, “in order to be successful, we have to address one of the biggest issues in North Carolina and that is our accumulating sludge. Phinite takes a problem and turns it into an asset. We think we have a valuable product that is perfectly timed for what is happening in the market (with fertilizer availability and cost). We view this as an ongoing mining operation with a revolving service.” 

Dexter Edwards, an executive with Smithfield Foods and one of the largest pork farmers in the state, said, “we’ve had a lot of people come to us claiming they had a solution. (We are well known for and made rich by our pork, turkey, and chicken products.) We are overproducing our product but today we have a solution that turns the waste burden into a product itself. I invested in bringing this to my property as long as Phinite was committed to making the changes to make it work. We are only time away from having this become a money maker for Duplin County. What we are going to be able to have is something that helps everyone. We will remove the argument that we are over producing (and we will have) a product to return to the farmland.” 

Dexter Edwards is known for being a frugal investor, but the Phinite operations on his farm are considerably large. He is not the only investor that sees Phinite as a working solution. HogSlat, Prestige Farms, and several other large family farms have invested in the company.
Farmers interested in having a Phinite Drying System are encouraged to contact the company through their website, via email to: info@phinite-us.com, or by calling 910-337-5662.

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.

Art Happens in Wilson, NC

Originally published in Summer SENC Magazine, Adams Publishing Company

By Rebecca J. Whitman

Stained glass is nothing new to artist Kim S. Joy; she’s been creating in it since 1982. Kim found the beauty of making art in glass through a stained glass class in New Mexico, and she followed that experience with an apprenticeship there to really learn the business. By 2004, she became a full-time stained glass artist living in eastern Virginia, selling her work, and teaching classes. In addition to teaching classes out of her home studio, Kim taught stained glass to interested students in community centers such as Fort Belvoir Arts and Crafts Center, Arlington Adult Education, and Fairfax County Parks and Recreation.  

Swirls of color and geometric shapes with a recognizable nod to Frank Lloyd Wright capture Kim’s personal style. Sometimes Kim allows the glass itself to speak to her. Like the Tiffany glass that was custom created to create drape within the glass itself, sometimes the glass pour is so beautiful that Kim frames it as is without any cutting. Other Kim S. Joy pieces capture your imagination–like the non-traditional mixed media of round blue and purple waves cut around a hanging fabric of woven fibers. “It’s not your grandma’s stained glass,” Kim remarks. Originality is important in all art forms including stained glass. “If you are going to just create not for sale pieces, there are plenty of pattern books, but once you start working in glass then you want to make it yours and unique instead of like everybody else’s work,” Kim said.  

In 2018, Kim moved to North Carolina and opened Art Happens at 106 Tarboro Street in Wilson. Above the door to the store, there is a stained glass panel of a thistle. Kim designed the panel as a nod to her Scottish heritage, and it has served as the original logo design of her business. Guests to the studio are welcomed by the colorful pieces throughout the studio, the expansive work space, and a playfully exuberant pup, Fred. 

While abstract art is her favorite, Kim recognizes the need to do other things. “What I like and what other people may like is not the same thing, so you have to do a little bit of everything,” she says. To meet that diversity, Kim carries everything from stained glass jewelry to lamps, boxes, and simple panels. 

More than sold pieces, Kim finds that a lot of her business is actually in teaching classes and selling supplies. “A supply store that everyone used in Raleigh closed,” Kim said, “so many of those customers found me to buy their supplies from.” Kim carries all the necessary basic tools, solder, and flux as well as an impressive glass collection. Her glass collection includes vintage makers that no longer exist as well as known brands like Spectrum, Oceanside, Bullseye, and Youghiogheny. Imported glasses like Verrerie de St. Just from France are also in her collection. Stained glass artists can buy sheets of glass for $5-95 a sheet, or they can buy scraps by the pound for $3 a pound. 

Though she stays busy and could drive sales for supply in our area, that is not Kim’s passion. “I consider myself a teacher more than a salesperson,” Kim said. “I like creating stained glass and working with people on commissioned pieces. A lot of repairs come in here, and I love that too because it’s like trying to fix a puzzle without taking the whole thing apart.” There are limitations to the types of projects that Kim can take on. Church windows, for example, are not something that she will take on restoring. 

Many people interested in stained glass can get surprised by the cost involved in just having the right equipment. “If you had to buy all new equipment, it would be over $400 in tools and you don’t even know if you’re going to like doing stained glass or any good at it really,” Kim says. Kim suggests people interested in stained glass sign up for a class first. With classes at Art Happens, the tools are provided on loan as part of the cost of the class itself, and students have the benefit of an experienced artist helping them avoid making mistakes that can ruin their projects. 

In Art Happens classes, students only buy the glass and sundries (copper foil, solder, etc.) used in their specific project. “We start out with a 12×16 panel with 14 different patterns to choose from..but you go home at the end of it all with a finished product at the end of the class,” Kim explains. “It just makes it a lot easier if everybody is on the same plan in the class…and it is less stressful for everyone. If this is the only piece they will ever make, we want to make it worthwhile.” The stained glass panel class is a seven week long course that meets once a week for 2.5 hours each session. Other classes include nightshades, lamps, boxes, jewelry, yard art, kaleidoscopes, and pet memorials. “It’s just things that people have asked for,” Kim says, explaining the diverse mix of classes. 

Following COVID, people spent a lot more time at home and began looking for something to do with their down time. Kim believes that this led to an across the board interest in the arts. “Classes are pretty full around here, not just in stained glass,” Kim said. “The Arts Council here has sold out classes as well. Doing any form of handiwork is therapeutic. It gets you out of the stress you had that day and gives you the chance to explore your own creativity.”

After 20 years of growing in skill and mastery of her craft, Kim has a lot of wisdom to pass on to future glass artists. “Stay true to yourself. When you think that stained glass isn’t alive or worthwhile doing, keep doing it. There were times, over my life, when the market died out, but I kept making stained glass. I can’t imagine my life not doing this. Think about your legacy and how you are going to be remembered. I don’t think I will be remembered for all the pieces I sold at craft fairs. I think I will be remembered more for the students that I taught, and that’s fine with me. I’d rather share it than have it be lost.” 

For more information about the artist, check out her website at: https://www.kimsjoy.com/#/. For information about classes or to visit the studio, check out the Art Happens page at: https://www.kimsjoy.com/art_happens_on_tarboro.html#/

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.

The Enemy Within: Overcoming Procrastination With Exercise

Physical exercise is one thing many of us avoid. But what if I told you that making it a purposed part of you day would make the rest of your day better? What if doing that activity you avoid could actually lengthen your days and make the quality of them better too?

The Oxford Dictionary says that procrastination is to “delay or postpone action”. At the beginning of a new year we often reconsider doing the things we have been neglecting. What about in the middle of the year?

If you are like me, the absolute last thing you want to do in the heat of summer is exercise. Recently, I found myself on a beach not liking the selfies and on a boat unable to step in and out of it without assistance. I knew if I wanted to be better on either of those fronts, I needed to make a conscious effort to add strength training gym activity to my life. But how am I supposed to have time and money for that when the cost of everything–especially gas–is increasing but my wages aren’t?

I’m not a great swimmer, so I don’t trust myself in the depths of the ocean. Standing in the ebbing ocean waves, letting them push and pull my hips, my heart longed for more time in the water. I had a few hours over two days to dip into the salty sea, and I was saddened to leave it. Why? Because time away in peace and exercise is nourishing to the soul.

Health Benefits of Exercise

According to research on PubMed Central, exercise is important for mental and physical health.

Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal. Exercise is especially important in patients with schizophrenia…patients…who participated in a 3-month physical conditioning program showed improvements in weight control and reported increased fitness levels, exercise tolerance, reduced blood pressure levels, increased perceived energy levels, and increased upper body and hand grip strength levels. Thirty minutes of exercise of moderate intensity, such as brisk walking for 3 days a week, is sufficient for these health benefits. Moreover, these 30 minutes need not to be continuous; three 10-minute walks are believed to be as equally useful as one 30-minute walk.

Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for mental health. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry8(2), 106. https://doi.org/10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a

Though some argue that time in exercise has to be consistently brisk for 15 minutes or more to be beneficial, I would argue that ANY amount of time is better than no time at all–especially if it creates a habit of doing so continually over time. Exercise is not about clicking a bell at 15/30/60 minutes or more; it is about establishing lifestyle changes that effectively change the quality of life you have for a lifetime.

Further research in the article confirms that exercise plays a role in making you sleep better, have a better sex drive, increased endurance, increased mental clarity, and so much more.

Just Do It!

It’s a Nike slogan but the point is still true; the only way to go from procrastination to living an active lifestyle is to just do it. It may start small and that is okay. Do whatever you can afford and maintain with consistency. Let it grow over time from there.

You have to find your motivator.

For me, I thought about what I wanted my life to look like over the next 10-20 years and the health I would need to do those things. I also think about people I know who struggle with health issues that could have been prevented if they were proactive when they were younger.

You have to let go of misperceptions.

I used to think that working out in a gym was for people who already had toned bodies and were trying to keep it so. That is SO not true! Most people are working out to overcome health issues in their lives that are both seen and unseen. One of my dear friends lives an active lifestyle and has the body to prove it, but she does so because of internal issues that would leave her nearly bedridden if she were not actively addressing those issues in the gym. Like there are suits for all sizes of swimmers, so there are gyms for all sizes of workers. Don’t feel intimidated by the person beside you who has more experience than you, and don’t look down on those who are fumbling on equipment trying to find their way. It doesn’t matter if you can press 15 or 80lbs. What matters is that you are doing it at all in the first place.

Develop Consistency

There are no end to negative thoughts and voices telling you to quit a good thing when you get started. You don’t overcome procrastination by ending the negatives; you overcome it by not listening. Establish a routine that you do consistently and keep it up for one week, one month, one year. The longer you do something, the easier it becomes to do it again.

Plan With Caution

If you have certain health risks, consult a physician and personal trainer before you take on any particular activity. Never attempt a new activity without proper training on equipment lest you hurt instead of build your muscles. If you have joint, back, or weight issues, consider joining workout classes in water that use Newton’s Law of Inertia to increase the intensity of your workout without harmful pressure from weight on your joints.

My Experience

My first week back at the gym was exciting. When I got in the pool, I felt like I found my tribe! It was a little unnerving working out in the gym around all these guys watching me pull small weights while they huffed through big ones. I almost didn’t go in one day, then I thought of how much better I would feel with the strength to walk beaches without losing my breath or climb stairs with strength in my knees to do so. I think about the things I will be able to do because I am caring for my body now–while I still have the options to control it. I think about the way my body will begin to reflect shaping from all my efforts and look better in the clothes I own. THAT makes the time and effort worth overcoming the obstacles.

I hope this inspires you to take a proactive role in your personal health.

Be blessed!

Top 5 Important Lessons Learned From My First Year Of Entrepreneurial Business

Has it really already been a year?! WOW!What a whirlwind it has been!

Whether you are a seasoned business person, a curious contemplator considering a startup, or a faithful reader of this blog, thank you for taking a moment to let me share about my first year in full-time business for myself and some of what I have learned from it. My hope is that this transparency will help you in your own businesses and aspirations.

1. Bring God Into Your Business Plan

When I first started, it was easy to get overwhelmed. My mind was racing in a thousand directions. I knew I wanted to make writing my business, but what did that look like?

One of the most important things I did was let myself freewrite (in my case, paint) what I thought my business would look like. Freewriting pulls out the heart of what you want to be without all the edits and filters that “be reasonable” will put on it. It helped me see what was most important to me as a person as well as a business.

Next, I needed to translate that into a written vision and mission statement. People call this all sorts of things in business, but it is generally your articulation of who you are, what you do, and why you exist as a business. Writing your vision like this is an important part of guarding yourself in business too.

The most important part of planning your business is praying and inviting God into it. I gave it all to Him. I would be nothing today if I hadn’t done that.

Over this past year, God has led me to do some pretty crazy spontaneous things (which only served to deepen my dependence on Him and joy in what we do together now). He has opened doors for me to meet and have favor with people I would not normally have that with in my own strength. In each step of this journey with Him, my business plan has become more clearly defined, and I have grown in character and confidence. I’ve had to trust God to provide when money wasn’t coming in as well as when it was. I’ve had to learn to be fearless and even excited when my calendar filled one day at a time instead of months in advance.

2. Say Yes To Every Good Thing

In the beginning, you say “yes” to every job you can do. Even when it was a stretch, I said yes to it. Why? Well, the obvious reason is that you need the money. The less obvious reason is that you need the experience.

Writing as a business takes business acumen. You have to learn what is a marketable skill that you can offer and others will pay you to do for them. In my case, I have a talent for capturing the heart of a business or story in words and pictures. I am also good at capturing how to represent someone online with their own website, logos, print graphics, etc.

I’m not just good at this list of tasks, I enjoy doing them. That is important! If you are going to work for yourself, you have to be willing to work harder and longer hours than you would for any other job. That is just how it is–especially in the beginning. If you want to stay in business, you can’t be a slacker. Success in business comes from being a person of integrity that keeps their word, balances multiple tasks at once, and is a good steward with the resources they are given.

Equally important as the things you say yes to doing are the thoughts you say yes to entertaining and believing about yourself and your business.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

Matt Tommey, a mentor to artists and successful artist himself, says that negative thoughts stifle creativity. If you allow yourself to entertain fear, you stop seeing creative solutions to your problems. That is so true! Many times I had to repeat Philippians 4:8 over and over before I could start my work day because I was so paralyzed in fear. Entrepreneurship has no room for fear. You have to keep your mind open and flexible to knew ideas and things to try.

3. Make Time To Learn New Skills

Entrepreneurship takes a lot of different skills at once. On one hand, you need to develop mastery of the craft you are trying to sell. On the other, you need to understand how to handle your finances, taxes, marketing, etc. There are infinite opportunities to grow and learn new things in both directions.

Don’t let the things you don’t know overwhelm or scare you. Believe it or not, it is better to get started than to try to know everything first.

The real truth is that we are always learning and striving to remain relevant. You never fully know all you should know, and if you think you have, you probably aren’t paying attention to your market anymore.

Education is a passion for me, so this was not a hard sell for my business. I made time for mentorship, webinars, workshops, conferences, software training, email subscriptions, and more. If it was even remotely related to what I do and came from a source I trusted, I signed up for it. I learned so much that I became a resource for others.

One other important reason to learn new skills is to expand your portfolio. Learning how to market myself on social media helped catalyst me into helping other businesses do it as well. Learning how to build my own website helped me get hired to build websites for others. Skills learned equate to more dollars earned (and saved) in the long run.

4. Say No To Some Things

Remember that business plan in my first point and how I said it protects you? Well, this is where it protects you. In the beginning, you do say yes to every job you can possibly do that fits within the guidelines of your plan.

You start very open minded. The world is your oyster and you shuck every oyster you can to find your pearls.

But with time, you learn what you like and dislike doing, so your plan becomes a little more clearly defined. You also begin to learn the limite of your time and have to be a little more discriminating. There is only one you, so you have to figure out what tasks are the best use of your time and which you should probably pass on to a colleague. (That means you also need to know good people who do stuff like you that you can send people too. Yes…work can get that hectic sometimes.)

My best example of this was with my sister when she was a massage therapist. Even though she could do anything she could (literally) put her hands to, she realized quickly that she only had a certain number of hours to work each day with full strength in her hands. That made her have to alternate times of services as well as what services she offered to be able to maximize her time each day.

It is not just saying no to jobs that aren’t the best match for your business, it is also saying no to some things so you have time for self care and fun too. Life is not just about work–even for us 5-percenters (the estimated percentage of the world that claims to be entrepreneurs). Making time to do what brings you joy requires saying no to something else.

5. Break The Plan

The most important part of your business is flexibility. You are going to have things that don’t work out the way you thought they would. As precious and essential as that written plan is, it’s not the details that matter as much as the core of who, what, and why you exist as a business.

When I first started, I thought everything I did was for artists only. I wrote to help mentor younger versions of myself. Even my first business cards said I existed as a business to “empower makers and young artists to live out their callings”. Imagine how hard that was to explain when I handed it to a business professional telling them I could help them. The whole first year of making any money in my business relied on proving my worth, necessity, and value to small business—NOT mentoring artists.

One thing I learned was that my passion for the arts (as an artist and business woman) is also my passion for small business. I want to help people get more exposure, expand what they do, and get better at it. Sometimes that is mentorship, but most the time that is marketing. It took time working my business to know that.

You can’t treat every little thing you write in your business plan like it is the holy grail, but it isn’t. You wrote it, and you are not God. Be open to wherever God will take you with your business because the more open you are to Him, the farther He can take you.

One of the things I like to do now is do an assessment at the end of the year of how the business is progressing. I look at my analytics and stats to see what is resonating with you, my readers, and plan how I can create more content like what you love to read. I do the same with my business and see what areas have sold the best and what areas I want to pursue more. I make goals and work towards them throughout the year, but I remain flexible to change them if the Lord clearly shows me something else I need to focus on. I encourage you to find a similar rhythm and pace yourself in your business. Oh, and I made new business cards. 😉

I hope this helps you.

Be blessed!

Celebrating Veterans with The 2022 Tour of Honor and Veterans Rock in Dudley, NC

As we come into Memorial Day weekend, we are challenged to remember those who gave their lives in service to their country. One particular way we can do that blends with another thing we love to do with long weekends: travel.

About The Tour

The Tour of Honor is a first responder and veteran-focused motorcycle tour that visits memorials and museums across the United States and contributes to charity. The tour began after a visit to the memorial at Shanksville, PA following 9-11, and a sub-route continues to honor just 9-11 sites for riders who want to focus on that specifically. “We are well over 1000 riders now,” said NC rider and tour sponsor, John Morton. “You ride your ride how you want to, whether you want to make it a traveling tour or you are a trophy runner racing to win the prize for a particular region.”

Participants register through the tour website and earn trophies based on how many memorials and monuments they visit during the tour dates. Additionally, $25 from each registration fee is contributed to the rider’s charity of choice: Fisher House FoundationGold Star Family Memorial Foundation, or Gary Sinise Foundation First Responders Outreach. According to the tour website, profits after expenses are divided equally between the three charities. The tour runs from April 1 through September 30, and riders are encouraged to visit as many memorials and monuments as possible.

Veterans’ Rock, Dudley, NC

One of the locations on the tour is Veterans’ Rock in Dudley, NC.

Veterans’ Rock is a giant painted rock that honors all branches of the military with a specific nod to its local military installations. The rock was a labor of love and volunteer effort from the community and Discipleship Christian Church. It was painted by the pastor of the church who is also a commercial artist. Visitors to the rock are welcome to come and sit on flag benches and take as much time as they need to pause and reflect.

Final Thoughts

Wherever you find yourself this weekend, take time to reflect on those who have sacrificed in service. No freedom that we have in America came free; men and women fight daily to defend and keep it this way. Sometimes that fight costs lives.

It is easy to forget about this sacrifice because we live in a place that is not constantly a war zone. We argue over gun control and who should be allowed to do certain things in this country, but even that argument is a gift we should thank our military for.

America is a free country–not a perfect one. We are free because of our form of government and the laws in place that protect individual rights and expression. We are unique; no other country is quite like us in their organization. We built a nation on mutual respect and integrity. It is the right to keep it that way that our military defends.

Show thankfulness for the land you live in. Voice respect for those who choose to honor and protect it. Be a gear that keeps the engine of our country moving–not a cog in the wheel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Gnocchi

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

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

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

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

So…use a ricer.

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

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

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

Success! Gnocchi made it to the sauce.

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

Tomato marinara from scratch

How to make marinara

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

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

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

What Cooking With Rosina Taught Me

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

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

How many things in life do we practice to perfection?

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

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

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

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

by Audry Fryer, author of Until Next Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

About the Book

About the Author

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

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

(Previously published in The Duplin Times)

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

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

Assistant Principal Charles Blanchard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Headmaster Steve Le Roux

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

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

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

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

Headmaster Steve Le Roux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope G. Smith on business partnerships

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

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

Hope G. Smith about marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Thorn is Not a Thorn

Today is a day of thorns.

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

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

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

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

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

Christ wasn’t the only one to bear thorns.

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

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

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

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

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

Betty Eubank

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

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

Betty Eubank

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

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

What end are you facing in your life today?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

  For us, the fire was a new beginning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bourbon aging in oak barrels at Walton’s Distillery

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

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

Vintage truck from the Prohibition era at the distillery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food

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

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

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

Religion

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

Work-Life Balance

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

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

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

Cultural Dances

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

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

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

Interested In More Stories Like This?

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

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

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


by Merzae

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afghan Immigration Song

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

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


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

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

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

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

What Is Shabbat?

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

What is Sabbath?

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

How Sabbath Differs

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

Where Do They Both Come From?

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

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

Exodus 20:8-11, NIV

Why Sabbath Is Importantp

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

Selah: Pause and Consider This

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

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

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

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

What is Lent and the Liturgical Calendar?

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

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

Closing Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Traveling Within A Budget

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

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

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

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

Saving Money On More Expensive Travel

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

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

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

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

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

Travel during off-season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

What is Human Trafficking?

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

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

The Stranger You Know

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

Force, Fraud, or Coercion

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

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

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

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

Take Action

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

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

Safety in Public

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

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

How To Help

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

How To Love A Soldier

Graphic by Rebecca J. Whitman

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

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

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

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

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

What are the long range payoffs of military service?

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

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

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

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

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

The answers are not easy and are numerous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be better than that.

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

Mindset Medicine: Overcoming Obstacles Through Journaling

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

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

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

Mari L. McCarthy

The Mission

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

The Challenge

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

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

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

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

Mindset Medicine book cover

About the Author

Author holding some of her books

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

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

Something Extra

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

Christian Dating Sites: What To Expect and What To Avoid

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

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

Christian Mingle

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

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

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

eHarmony

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

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

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

Setting Your Expectations

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

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

Stay safe out there!

The Unfiltered Advice I Wish I Could Tell The Younger Me

Advice about boys

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

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

Advice about dreams

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

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

Advice about friends

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

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

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

Godmothering: The Power of Mentoring To Change Lives

“Profound Accord” by Tracey Penrod

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

What is Mentoring?

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

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

Why Do You Need Mentorship?

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

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

Why Should You Be A Mentor?

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

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

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

Such was the case with my friend, Juanita Green.

What is a Godmother?

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

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

Show God’s Heart

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

Make Room For Love In Your Timeline

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

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

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

Jim Wall, Senior Pastor of The Bridge Church

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

How does that translate into mentorship?

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

Believe To The Point Of Taking A Risk

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

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

The Risk Reward is a Legacy

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

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

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

Pastor Bill Humphries

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

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

The old habit: 

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

Setting Goals That Matter

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

The Things We Tell Ourselves

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

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

The New Habit List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Make decisions as that healthy person.  

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

  1. Use discretion and not judgment. 

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

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

  1. Be patient with yourself.  

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

Final Thoughts

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

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


Author Bio

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

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

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

Rico Dawson: Local Artist Brings Music Industry Knowledge and Talent To The Classroom

Making a Difference

If you hear him in church, you may know him for the sharp tenor registers of his voice. Most people know him from the work he has done with at-risk youth, coaching football, or teaching music. Teaching now for over 20 years, Rico Dawson leverages his connection with kids to make a difference in teaching them both music and life.

Kids today are different. They feel entitled to success but don’t want to work for it. They don’t have the work ethic that they should. I tell my students there is a beginning and there is a manifestation at the end, but there is also an in-between wilderness and you have to go through that to get to the end. A lot of kids want to be great, but they don’t want to invest time in themselves to be great. A lot of kids don’t reach their full potential if they don’t have anybody pushing them.

I tell students the things they need to hear as it relates to what is ahead of them. I am intentional about spending time tying in life skills, teamwork, and emotions in what I talk about. In music, their emotions bleed into the music. They don’t know how to seperate that. Professionals learn how to seperate it out, but children can’t do that. When they sing or play, their heart bleeds onto their sleeve.

I tell my students this is business not personal because I am always thinking ahead to how they will be able to perform in the future. I push them hard because they won’t be able to “get in their feelings” in what’s to come as they work a job and perform at a level to meet that industry’s demand.

There is a human element to teaching. If you don’t have a relationship of trust with them and show that you care about their lives, they are going to turn you out.

Rico Dawson
Rico teaching a music class

An Artist In His Own Right

Very few people know Rico Dawson is actually a recording artist in his own right. He was recently ranked #1 Inspirational Gospel music artist in Goldsboro, NC on Reverb Nation and #45 in the region of Fayetteville, Raleigh, and Durham, NC. Mr. Dawson’s music has a global audience with a lot of interest in Europe and France. His music has an R&B feel with God-inspired lyrics.

Mr. Dawson completed a Bachelor’s degree from Elizabeth City State University in Music Industry Studies with a concentration in Business Administration. From there, he interned with a small independent record company in Virginia Beach, VA. As an intern, Mr. Dawson had the opportunity to see how musical talent is acquired and participate in talent scouting, acquisitions, and talent retainment.

Because of my background and training (in music studies), you can know in the first 15 seconds if a song is worth listening to. I would listen to the demos sent to us, write down the songwriter and song, listen to them, pass them on to the president, and contact the artists that he decided to hire for either contract work or negotiations for exclusive agreements.

Rico Dawson

#1 Advice to Young Artists Aspiring To Get A Recording Deal: Work On Your Craft

Many reality shows have chronicled what the gauntlet looks like. Though it is glamorized for entertainment value and details are added for us to have the buy-in in the audience, the real music circuit runs in very similar ways. In music, artists submit their work to a showcase of some sort with significant competition. 500 acts may be present in the beginning for what will widdle down to 3 actual recording deals. It starts with presenting your work to a panel of judges who look for what makes you stand out as new, interesting, and different from everything else they are hearing on the market. If you pass the first panel, you go on to the second with more scrutinizing tastes. It continues in this fashion till the end of the so-dubbed “gauntlet”.

The struggle for young artists is to work on their craft and get in front of the label heads at the time when they are looking for new talent.

Rico Dawson

Advantages of Modern Technology for Musicians Today

Artists today have more direct control over their material and what happens to it than they ever had in the past. With the help of social media and YouTube, individuals are able to connect directly with their audience long before a recording company gets involved in promoting them.

During Covid, a lot of artists were doing performances virtually and were able to monetize those performances through Eventbrite tickets. That helped a lot of artists stay afloat. Virtual is another space to reach the audience now.

Rico Dawson

A service that provides great industry reach and business management now is called Reverb Nation. Reverb Nation provides artists with the ability to distribute and track their music, collaborate with other artists, and submit press kits to active venue listings. It allows fans to contact the artist, and it gives real-time feedback demographics on who is listening to the music. Music is distributed easily through Spotify and other streaming music platforms. Reverb Nation has been a great tool for Mr. Dawson. Interested fans and venue opportunities have been able to reach out to him through the site from as far as England.

Reverb Nation lets the people decide what is important. I let the people decide.

Rico Dawson

#2 Advice to Young Artists Aspiring To Get A Recording Deal: Think About The Bigger Picture, Know Your Rights, and Protect Yourself From Bad Deals

When you are controlling your own content, you have to have a vision for where you want to end up. Do you want to play venues live? You probably need a set list of songs ready to perform and full albums and merch you can sell at the event.

Knowing what you want in the big picture is going to help you know how to navigate the smaller decisions. Don’t be misled by what you see. Some of the artists that look so successful are actually living on credit trying to work hard and pay back the studio for all they paid on them. Contracts with record companies can often keep artists in bondage paying back their debts for studio time, production, video, etc.

It’s industry standard to split 50/50, but some contract opportunities ask for more than that. When you sign with somebody, they control the narrative and sometimes your masters. You don’t want to lose your masters because that is where your big money comes from (in licensure).

Rico Dawson

At the time of this interview, Rico Dawson was working on his second album that will feature a fresh inspiration and word from the Lord. For more information including links to Rico’s music and videos, check out his site on Reverb Nation.

How to Hold A Dream That Hasn’t Happened Yet

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

Proverbs 13:12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be loving to those I bring you who are unloved.

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

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

God

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

I let God into my everyday life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trusting God is not passive.

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

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

The treasure looks like many different things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


So how do you hold a dream?

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

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

Listen to this post on our podcast on Spotify

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

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

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

How To Protect Yourself Online

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

Protect Your Images Online

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

Insist on Video Chatting with Strangers Before You Trust Them

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

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

Create Alternate Phone/Email Information To Use Online

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

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

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

Report and Block Abusers When They Are Discovered

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

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

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

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

How To Heal From An Attack

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

Allow Yourself Time to Cry

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

Educate Yourself to be Better Prepared Next Time

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

Let Trusted Friends Know and Reach Out For Their Support

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

Seek Professional Counseling for any Deeper Issues

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

Get Back on the Proverbial Horse

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closed Doors = Opportunities

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

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

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

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

The Difference One Life Can Make

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

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

What God Saw That I Couldn’t

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

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

God

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

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

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

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

God

What’s Next…

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Corinthians 4:6-18, NIV

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

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


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

Message from God to Pastor DJ Coles

The Roadmap of Matthew 25

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

Matthew 25:35-36, 40 NIV

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

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

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

Pastor DJ Coles

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


The 4 Pillars of 4 Day

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

Pastor DJ Coles recalling the 2013 vision from the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

E4: Employment, Education, Enrichment, & Empowerment

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

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

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

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


4 Day Heroes: Volunteer and Paid Staff

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

Pastor DJ Coles
2021 4 Day Hero Team

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

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

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

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


The Burden and the Need

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

Pastor DJ Coles

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

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

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


We Need You!


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


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

Tax deductible receipts are available.

Go shopping with 4 Day through Amazon Smile.

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

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

Using Our Gifts: Sermon by Pastor Bill Adams

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

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


Consider This…


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

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

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

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

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

Consider This…

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

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

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

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

Sermon: Using Our Gifts                                          

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

John 13:32-35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Christmas With The Chosen

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, everyone!