Book Review: A Home For My Heart by Anne Mateer

downloadA Home For My Heart is one of the best works of fiction I have read this year! I wasn’t able to read it in one sitting due to my schedule, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what was going to happen next and was so excited to continue reading it.

This is the story of a 23-year old woman named Sadie. Sadie works in a home for orphaned and abandoned children and receives the opportunity she has always wanted – the chance to run the home. However, this decision comes with consequences, as she is forced to rethink her future as she had hoped it would be in order to have this position.

This book is a great example of God working things out even when we can’t see what He is doing. Through the twists and turns of the novel, the end ends up being far better than Sadie ever could have imagined, and despite her efforts to take control of her circumstances. The outcome required her to have faith that God was truly in control.

The book is set in Central Pennsylvania in 1910, and the author did a wonderful job with capturing both the time and setting throughout the novel.

This is a great piece of historical fiction!

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest review.


Family, Memories, and Meatloaf…

My great-aunt Dee passed away at some point this past weekend. I realize that I am fortunate to have known her as well as I did – she lived across the street from my parents’ house so we saw her often. She was always present at family gatherings, and much joy was had in her home. I know that many people don’t know their great-aunts and uncles; however, I knew most of mine well and cherished my time with them. I am so thankful for a family that loves the Lord because that brings hope in situations like this. I know she is reunited with her husband and her parents, and they’re having a great time in Heaven together.

Aunt Dee is my grandmother’s sister, and I believe that my grandmother met my grandfather as a result of Aunt Dee. Aunt Dee married Uncle Virgil, my grandfather’s brother, making all of their children “double cousins” as they like to say. Because of these two sisters marrying two brothers, our family has always been extra close, and I’m so grateful.

Aunt Dee was an incredible woman with so many talents and passions. Her full name was Descygne, which is French (I believe) for swan. Living up to her name, Aunt Dee was graceful and gentle like a swan. She was a great example to us all of what it means to be a loving, godly mother and wife, and I’m so thankful to have known her for thirty-one years.

I remember so many things about spending time with her – here are just a couple of memories: I remember that she was one of the first people in our family to have a computer and the Internet, and she would let us use it. I remember camping in her backyard with my cousins, staying up with Uncle Virgil singing and laughing for hours. I remember spending time with her talking about our family history and trying to glean as much knowledge from her as possible.

Aunt Dee made many priceless contributions to our family. Without her, our family wouldn’t know nearly as much about our family history and genealogy (including the fact that we are distantly related to the Earnhardt family!). Without her, we wouldn’t have our “reunion books” from each annual Madole Family Reunion, chronicling each year’s gathering with stories, pictures and relevant family updates – truly treasured possessions of us all. She recognized the importance of capturing these memories so that future generations would know their relatives. I’m also fairly sure she was responsible for our two Madole Family Cookbooks, which are not only filled with recipes contributed from many family members, but also with short stories about the recipes and why they are special/where they came from/where the person lived at the time of publication.

I had planned to make our family’s meatloaf recipe yesterday for dinner well before I heard the news of her passing. When I looked in our family cookbook to find the recipe, I noticed that my great-aunt is the one who contributed our now beloved meatloaf recipe to the cookbook so many years ago. It seemed fitting that we had planned to enjoy that beloved meal on that day, and we did so through tears.

My family in California had just gathered last week to enjoy meatloaf for my grandfather’s birthday (photo below), and Aunt Dee was happily present as always.

So now I share with you our favorite meatloaf recipe (in fact, the only one our family makes), in memory of my precious great-aunt Dee.

Everyday Meatloaf

2/3 cup dry bread crumbs
1 cup milk
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
2 slightly beaten eggs
1/4 cup grated or chopped onion
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp sage

  • Soak bread crumbs in milk.
  • Add meat, eggs, onion and seasonings and mix well
    (hands work best).
  • Form loaf into loaf pan
    (use a “meatloaf pan” if you have one – it drains the fat).
  • Bake at 350 for 1 hour.
  • After 30 minutes, add sauce to the meatloaf and return to oven for remaining 30 minutes. If you use a regular loaf pan, you may need to remove grease before applying sauce.

Awesome Sauce: The sauce is definitely the best part
*note: we recommend doubling the sauce :)
3 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp dry mustard

  • Mix all ingredients together and apply to meatloaf after first 30 minutes.

Farewell, my dear Aunt Dee. I can’t wait to see you and our other loved ones someday on those streets of gold.

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Book Review: The Inscribed Collection

I have been going to church and learning about Jesus my entire life. While this has certainly been a blessing, the downside has been that I rarely that I see a study or book that addresses something I haven’t already sat in a class studying or something about which I haven’t read a book. It seems that most studies tend to discuss the same major points in the Bible rather than digging into the lesser known parts.

When I was asked to review this collection, the titles immediately grabbed my attention, and I agreed. At this point in my life, especially, I’m in great need of fresh thoughts and teachings to inspire me, so I dove in. Every one of these books discusses topics that are rarely studied!

From the very first page of the first one that I began to read, my heart became excited and I could tell that these books were different…relevant…fresh. Each word is written with contagious passion and it made me want to keep reading!

For just one example: the book “Living So That” takes a look at the times in the New Testament when those two words are used – something I have never thought about before! Whenever those words are used, it shows a purpose, a plan. This happened “so that” this would happen. Fascinating and challenging!

I can see these books being used for personal or group study, for teenage girls and up.

Pick them up today and prepare to be challenged and refreshed as you dive into God’s Word with these women. :)

I received copies of these books from BookLook in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review: A Gift of Love: One Woman’s Journey to Save a Life

I could not put this book down today. I finished it this afternoon, completely drawn into the story and the incredible work of God in this family’s lives!

A Gift of Love: One Woman’s Journey to Save a Life by Amy Clipston is the story of her husband’s terrible battle with kidney failure and two transplants. She is a gifted writer and it was apparent throughout the entire book. She weaved in relevant parts of their history while still maintaining the direction of the story – the road to transplant. I felt like I was right there with her through it all because of her writing style.

I was struck by her honesty about the struggles that they endured emotionally, as a family and as a couple. Going through kidney failure and dialysis took a toll on her husband and she was left to provide for their family and to deal with all of the accompanying stress. I loved that she was real and didn’t try to make herself appear to be a saint – she handled things like any one of us would! It gives me hope that if I (God forbid) am ever faced with this kind of situation, that I will rely on the Lord as she did and come out stronger in the end.

This book reminded me of the importance of being an organ donor, and I’m so glad that I am.

This is definitely worth the read. What a beautiful story of God’s healing in unique ways!

I received a copy of this book from BookLook bloggers in exchange for my honest review.


Book Review: The Essential Atlas of the Bible

This book captured my attention immediately: I love maps, history, photography, and the Bible, and this book has ALL of those things in one place!

The Essential Atlas of the Bible is a concise, easy to navigate atlas for all types of study – whether you’ll be traveling to the Middle East and want to get to know the history of the area, or whether you want to learn about the places of the Bible, this book is perfect for you.

It is in full color and offers a great deal of history on every page. The photography gives you a glimpse of what the areas look like today and helps you to imagine what it would have been like to have been there thousands of years ago. If you love maps, you’ll really love the detail and context that this book provides. It’s easy to read and it is organized into chapters that help make the research process even easier.

This is a book I would highly recommend for every household, as I could see children really loving it as well! After all, we can never learn too much about the places of the Bible.

I received a free copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review.

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Guatemala Stories: How I Became “Team Photographer”

I found out that I was pregnant on December 6th, 2013. This was welcomed news, but in the back of my mind I was wondering how this was going to impact my ability to serve in Guatemala just two months later. I knew that I would be in the beginning of the second trimester when we left, so in theory I would be feeling well enough and would have the energy to serve; but, I also knew that pregnancy places restrictions on a woman and makes her more “high maintenance” than a non-pregnant woman, so I wasn’t sure what I’d be able to do.

I spoke with one of our team leaders about it and she assured me that there would be plenty for me to do that would still allow me to take care of my baby. What I didn’t realize at the time was that God was planning to use me in a way I never would have expected.

I discovered last summer that my dream job was to do photography for missions organizations…to tell the stories that need to be told and to inspire people to act.

My dream...

I have had the privilege of doing missions photography in Tunisia, Brazil, Haiti and New Orleans in the past…


…but I didn’t go to Guatemala thinking I would be able to do much with it. We had a full and exciting schedule of service and I was ready to jump right in alongside the team. I hoped that I would be able to take pictures along the way, but it was in no way something I expected to be able to do.

When we got to Guatemala and were talking through the projects for the first few days, our leaders mentioned that they (and many of the team members) wanted shots of several of the group activities that would be going on simultaneously and asked if I would focus on capturing everything for the team during this trip.

I was amazed, humbled, excited, and ready to dive in. I couldn’t believe that I was being asked to use my passion, my gift, my dream to bless the team in such a unique way. 

Because I was taking pictures for everyone, they were able to focus solely on ministering to the beautiful children in our care. They were able to set their cameras aside when necessary in order to just be in the moment, while I did something that I love to do and could do even while pregnant.

I may have been unable to help paint the bedroom or the hallway at Mi Pequeno Refugio.
I may have been unable to lift things and carry boxes of food.
I may have been unable to be outside at The Ravine due to the burning trash and smoke.
But, I was able to use my gift to capture the team doing all of these things while still serving the Lord in Guatemala, just not in the way I had planned.

Thank you, Ronne and Courtney, for seeing this gift in me and allowing me to use it.
Thank you, team, for being so supportive and excited about what I was capturing.

I came home with over 5,800 images of our week. I’m currently down to 3,800 images with the promise of a snow day tomorrow during which I can edit. This experience gave me a glimpse of what it really would be like to do photography for missions organizations, and it confirmed in my heart that this is what I was made to do. I can’t wait for what God has in store for me next!

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Guatemala Stories: The Ravine

“All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all”

We had been told about The Ravine. We had been briefed on what we should expect and the few things we should/shouldn’t do while there.

But, words can only go so far; some things have to be seen, touched, smelled, experienced for full impact to occur. The Ravine is one of those things.

Entrance to The Ravine

The Ravine is a garbage dump in Chimaltenango. There are over 50 families there who live and work among the heaps of garbage, hoping to scrape a living out of the waste of others.

Our team traveled there on Friday morning to bring small bags of staple food items and soap to 50 of these families and to pray with them.

Gathering the families...

Their situation seems hopeless. They have been stuck in the cycle of poverty for generations, with seemingly no way out. Each day is the same: work until dark, hoping to find treasures that can be reused/cleaned/recycled and sold to buy food for their families.

“All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all”

Hope is present...

Hope doesn’t seem to exist here at first glance. However, we have seen first-hand that God is indeed redeeming and restoring these people, starting with their precious children. We saw hope in the eyes of each person with whom we prayed and spoke that day. We saw hope in the eyes of their children when we visited them later that day. He is literally taking them from the ashes and making them new, opening doors to a life they never dreamed would be possible. And this is all because of the love of two precious people: Cesar and Carol.

Cesar and Carol decided that they needed to open a school for the children of The Ravine – a school where they could break free from the cycle of poverty and literally change their community forever. That’s how The Ravine School was born only a little more than a year ago – completely out of faith in God. Carol and Cesar did not have a “nest egg” or any riches to speak of, but they believed in a God who redeems, and had faith that He would rescue these children.

There are now 114 children in The Ravine School who are learning to read, write, use computers, and grasp their full potential instead of carrying on the work of their parents and grandparents in the dump with no hope of escape. From a one room building to a beautiful space with classrooms and plenty of light in only a year, God’s redeeming love and faithfulness is abundant in this place.

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new

- Gungor’s “Beautiful Things” (lyrics throughout post) is the perfect song for what God is doing at The Ravine…Hear the song here.

The color and lighting are imperfect due to shooting from inside a vehicle (in order to avoid making the families feel uncomfortable), but these images still show how God is continuing to make beautiful things out of bad situations.

Stay tuned for more about The Ravine School and the beautiful things happening there.

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Guatemala Stories: The Avocado Lady

I first saw her after our first day of ministry at The Ravine School in Chimaltenango.

She was sitting on a stool with her produce to the left of the school’s entrance. She was beautiful, and she was selling my favorite thing: avocados. With my photographer’s eye, I noted the perfect contrast of her green sweater, the green-blue building, her colorful dress, and the gorgeous avocados in the orange basket. I had to take her picture.

I took a few stealthy shots but they weren’t at an ideal angle. Unfortunately, that’s what happens sometimes when trying to be sneaky.

Avocado Lady

I worked up the courage to ask her if I could take her photo, only to be told “no” by this beautiful lady. I respected her wishes and retreated to the van.

I couldn’t get her out of my mind, and as I talked with the other ladies in the van about her, we came up with a plan for the next day to try to win her over – not solely for the purpose of taking her picture, though. We had something bigger in mind.

I mentioned that I would love to buy some of her avocados, and one of my teammates said, “Why don’t we buy ALL of them?” And the plan was set.

As we prepared to leave the school that day, “Avocado Lady” laughed at us silly Americans because we were so excited about a man with two cows walking down the street. That broke the ice a little. I waved to her as we drove away and she was still smiling at us.

Silly Americans, so easily amused...

When we returned to the school the next day, we were so excited about our plan. Sure enough, as soon as school was finished, she was there with her goods, hoping to sell enough to provide for her family.

We approached her and I asked her, in Spanish, how much each avocado cost. She replied that they were 1 Quetzal each (about $0.13). The three of us had decided to give her $20 for all of them, so I held up the money and told her that we wanted to buy them ALL. Her eyes widened and she smiled as she gladly accepted the money. She put the avocados into my teammate’s backpack with a smile on her face the entire time.

To give perspective, had she sold all of her avocados at the normal price, she would have made $4. Most of the time, these ladies who sell produce don’t sell everything that they prepare (fruit in bags, etc.), and it goes to waste. We paid her $0.75 an avocado (a great price here in Pennsylvania!) in an effort to bless her and provide some extra money for her and her family because we could.

Because $20 isn’t a whole lot of money to most Americans, but to a Guatemalan woman who is working hard for pennies a day, it’s an abundant gift (about 150 Q). It was worth every penny to see the gratitude in her eyes. We didn’t just make an impression on her – there were quite a few children around who kept saying (in Spanish) “$20!” and smiling in wonder at the $20 from the strange American women.

After we bought all of her produce, she agreed to let us take a picture with her.


She may not be smiling in this picture, but she was definitely smiling inside.

Hopefully she decided that these crazy Americans weren’t so bad after all.

Hopefully she’ll wonder what we were doing in the school next door. And if her children aren’t already in school, hopefully that will change.

We decided to give some of the avocados to our team’s drivers, and we gave the rest to the orphanage at which we served that afternoon and the next day so that Papa Cesar could make some more of his famous guacamole for the girls, which made this mutual blessing stretch even further.

I can’t think of a better way to spend $20.

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Tomorrow’s the day! I can’t believe it’s already been six months since I began preparing for this journey. I cannot thank all of you enough for your support, prayers, and encouragement! Between your financial generosity and all the supplies you so generously provided, I’m fully-funded and taking FIFTY POUNDS of supplies with me!

For updates on our trip, you can check out this blog  and I will also try to post updates on Facebook when possible.

Here’s our general itinerary:

Sunday, February 2nd - Team arrives in Guatemala City and prepare for ministry (shopping, orientation, supply sorting, etc).
Monday, February 3rd - Team travels to Xela and meets children at Little House of Refuge. There will be cooking classes for the older girls, a cardboard boat regatta for the boys, and playtime for the younger girls.
Tuesday, February 4th - Team serves at Little House of Refuge (project work and teaching in the morning and time with the kids in the afternoon).
Wednesday, February 5th - Team travels to Antigua (a 3-5 hour journey), and has an afternoon of respite before preparing for ministry on Thursday.
Thursday, February 6th - Team distributes food and shares the Gospel at a local garbage dump called “The Ravine” in the morning in Chimatenango (a 45-minute journey), and spends time with the girls at Mi Especial Tesoro in the afternoon.
Friday, February 7th - Team serves at the Ravine School in Chimaltenango in the morning, and spends the afternoon with the girls at Mi Especial Tesoro.
Saturday, February 8th - Team serves alongside girls of Mi Especial Tesoro, ministering to the elderly at Cabacitas de Algodon in the morning, followed by a special farewell lunch. Team returns to Guatemala City in the afternoon.
Saturday, February 9th - Team returns to the United States.
Here is some information about the ministries with which we will be serving, as provided by our team leaders:
Casa Hogar: Mi Pequeño Refugio (Little House of Refuge or Little House) – Xela, Guatemala
(on a map, look for the city of Quetzaltenango)
Pequeño Refugio is a private orphanage run by sisters Lourdes and Teresa. This Christian children’s home houses up to 70 kids at a time ages 4 – 18.  All of the children that reside at “Little House” have been removed from their families due to abuse of some kind.  In addition to the home, there is a school on the property. In addition to education, each child receives psychological counseling and Bible teaching. These children are amazing when it comes to Biblical knowledge – chances are, they’ll be able to recite all the scriptures we’ll use in our time with them! Courtney and Ronne (the team leaders) have considered Little House our “home away from home” since 2009, when we were privileged to be a part of the first team of missionaries to visit the orphanage.  Orphan Outreach “adopted” Little House that same year, and now church teams from all over the US have answered prayer after prayer. These teams have done construction & painting, helped provide livestock and clean drinking water, taught job skills, established a sponsorship program, and most importantly, just spent time loving on kids.

Mi Especial Tesoro – Chimaltenango, Guatemala
Houseparents Cesar and Carol provide a loving home for 13 teenage girls as well as an 18-year old daughter and 9-year old son of their own.  Tesoro is a private Christian girl’s home where the girls receive biblical guidance, emotional support, and stability to aid in their healing.  The girls in this home have been removed from their families by the court system due to abuse or neglect.  Orphan Outreach just celebrated their first anniversary ministering to Mi Especial Tesoro, and we have been blessed to be there every step of the way so far. In just a year, tremendous work has been done to provide improvements to living facilities, give the girls much-needed personal items, build a sponsorship program for ongoing care and support of each girl, and establish a loving, nurturing relationship with everyone there.

The Ravine and The Ravine School – Chimaltenango, Guatemala

The Ravine School serves the children of the families that work in the city of Chimaltenango’s garbage dump, which is located in a ravine outside the city. The school was created in the minds and souls of the Mi Especial Tesoro caregivers, Carol and Cesar. The school started from an effort to teach the girls of My Special Treasure about serving others. In 2012, Carol and Cesar starting bringing the MST girls to the ravine dump to assist the children and families each Saturday. Around 100 people work at the ravine dump everyday, searching and sorting for things they can re-sell at the market on the weekends.  These families work from 12 to 14 hours a day of work making roughly between 3 to 4 US dollars a day. Their job is difficult, but it is worthy of admiration and respect because these parents work hard to be able to provide for their children in an honest and worthy way.

Cabecitas de Algodon 
Just a short walk from the center of Antigua, this nursing home provides a place for elderly residents that would otherwise be homeless.  Many of the residents either have no family to care for them or have been dropped off because their families don’t have the resources to provide basic necessities.  Though our visit will be brief, it will bring joy to the residents who are happy to see friendly faces.
  • Please pray for our team as we serve the beautiful people of Guatemala. We are all excited and can’t wait to see what God does in and around us this week.
  • Pray that we will be flexible and open to whatever God has in store!
  • For me specifically, please pray for the continued safety of our little baby (14 weeks tomorrow) as I travel. We’re starting him/her as a traveler from the beginning! :)
  • Please also pray that God will work in my heart this week in mighty ways.
There will be plenty of pictures and stories when I return! :)
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United’s Response to the Letter…

It took United TWENTY business days to respond to my original letter. TWENTY. Okay, nineteen if they were off on MLK Day.

Given the amount of time it took to receive a response, I expected more than what I got:

Dear Mrs. Brackbill:

I apologize for our delay in responding. We’re experiencing a higher
volume of e-mail than normal and we’re working on responding as quickly
as possible. Your correspondence just now came across my desk.

I very much regret learning of your disappointment and discomfort on
Flight 1502 and welcome the opportunity to address your concerns.

We believe all customers and co-workers are to be treated with dignity
and respect and we weave this philosophy into everything we do. There is
never an excuse for unprofessional behavior, and I am very sorry this
was your experience of the services received from our flight attendant.

Mrs. Brackbill, I realize my apology cannot erase what happened. I
hope it helps to know we take your concerns very seriously. It was
especially helpful that you were able to capture the flight attendant’s
name. Please be assured your comments will be forwarded to appropriate
senior management within Inflight Crew Services for internal review and
necessary corrective action.

We understand the value of your decision to fly with us and assure you
we will make every effort to leave you with a better impression when we
again have the privilege of serving you. I ask that you accept my
apology and allow us that opportunity.

We appreciate your business and look forward to welcoming you on board a
future United Airlines flight.


Customer Care

By no means did I write this expecting anything in return. I wrote it because we were treated wrongly and the flight attendant needed to be corrected. However, in the past, people have complained about much more trivial things and were offered vouchers, miles, etc., so I am very surprised that an apology (read: form letter with my name inserted) is the best that United could do.

Also, given that this was so clearly a form letter, I cannot believe it took them twenty business days to respond to it. Their customer care team is likely sizeable; and it takes ten minutes or less to write an email/fill in the blanks in a form letter. If my assumptions are correct, that means that they have THOUSANDS of unhappy customers who are all writing in their complaints.

Needless to say, I will think twice before flying with United in the future.

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