Book Review: I Like Giving by Brad Formsma

When I was given the chance to review this book, I immediately accepted! My husband and I both love to give whenever possible, so I couldn’t wait to see what this book offered. I came away with a greater determination to give whenever possible and to encourage others to live a generous life.

I Like Giving: The Transforming Power of a Generous Life alternates between powerful true stories of creative giving and lessons that discuss how giving affects us and those around us, whether we realize it or not. It is filled with practical ideas of how you can live a generous life – and not all of them involve money!

Among other things, the author emphasizes that giving is something that you get to do, not something that you have to do. He also talks about how to raise kids who have a sensitivity to meeting the needs of others – and as a soon-to-be parent, I especially loved those lessons!

Here are just a few of my favorite quotes:

Before we became givers, our lives were pretty empty. We were living the American Dream and were good at it, but it turned out to be more of a nightmare than a dream. Ultimately, it was superficial. When your life is just about your next restaurant dinner, the next remodeling project, or the next lifestyle upgrade, it’s not that rich. Sure, money can buy things, but money can’t buy joy. Joy doesn’t come from filling your life with stuff. Joy comes from giving your life away (p. 20).

…what we’ve learned has convinced us that giving is absolutely essential to life. If you’re not experiencing happiness and satisfaction in your life, giving to others could be the one thing that turns that around. Not only does it result in a healthier, happier you, but it creates a better world for all of us. Because here’s the problem: we live in a world that sends us mixed messages. On one hand, we’re told to work hard and compete and position ourselves in a fast-moving work environment so we can make as much money as possible and get ahead. On the other hand, we sit in churches or go to fund-raisers where we are asked to be generous. We are bombarded with billboards that tell us we need to be less selfish, that we need to give back or feel guilty about how many people live on less than one dollar a day. If we’re not careful, we find ourselves in a lose-lose situation. I believe there’s another way – a better way. Living generously is about giving your life to other people so that everything you do – whether it is your work, your charitable giving, or your contribution to your neighborhood – becomes both a gift to others and rewarding for yourself (pp. 24-25).

If you feel like something is missing in your life, I’d encourage you to pick up this book and give a generous lifestyle a try. If you already love to give, this book will renew that love of giving and provide you with even more ideas for how to serve others!

You can read chapter one here!

I received a copy of this book from Waterbrook Press in exchange for my honest review. 

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First Pregnancy: 37 Weeks!

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It seems so surreal that we are already nearing the end of this pregnancy. After today, she can come at ANY time.

The nursery is ready, the car seat is installed, and the hospital bag is packed. We have taken our childbirth and breastfeeding classes and have one more “newborn care” class tomorrow.

This begins my last week of work, and that is definitely a bittersweet feeling. I have so enjoyed my position (and co-workers) at the Dearden House over the past ten months, but I am really looking forward to beginning the most important job that I will ever have: wife and mother.

I jokingly say that I’m about to become “Director of Operations at the Brackbill Homestead” because that makes it sound more official and “important” in the world’s terms, but titles don’t matter. I’m simply excited to be able to have the opportunity to stay at home and raise our daughter (and future children), even though I know it will be incredibly challenging at times and I’m not sure how well I will do. I am going to take it one day at a time, relying on the Lord’s wisdom to guide me through this journey of parenthood, alongside my husband.

As far as the pregnancy itself is going, everything is fine, despite my designation as “high risk” at this point. They had me start a small injection of insulin last week, at dinner, to try to lower my fasting numbers, and it has lowered them somewhat (still not “within the criteria” though). After my first day of using the insulin I dropped the bottle (which cost $100 out of our HSA) and it shattered. I was so upset. Thankfully we got another one the next morning (for another $100), and I only missed one day. I have to watch for low blood sugar now because the nutritionist said it is a high possibility for me since my blood sugar numbers aren’t high to begin with…so that’s been yet another thing to monitor.

They think the baby is already 7lbs 7oz (as of 07/02/14), and I still have “too much” amniotic fluid, but my fluid numbers aren’t that high (they want you to be at 25 at delivery and I am at 29), and I’ve heard that they tend to overestimate the size of the baby. The next growth ultrasound is on July 21.

I am increasingly frustrated with going to the doctor twice a week, with having to eat on a schedule/take insulin, and with the twice-a-week “non-stress tests” (which are stressful for me because our baby likes to sleep during them). I am averaging two ultrasounds (technically called “biophysical profiles”) a week because she won’t wake up for the NSTs. The doc says that babies have 20 minute sleep cycles, but ours definitely sleeps for an hour and then is active for an hour. She’s already unique :)

But, all of this frustration is also making me more and more ready for her to vacate and join our family, so there are positives to this. :) I also am able to see her face twice a week, which most parents don’t get to do, so I try to focus on that and not be frustrated by the extra time those seemingly useless ultrasounds take (often making me late for work).

photo 1While I am a little sad that the days of it just being Brennan and me are numbered, I also know that she is going to bring such joy and richness to our lives, and that our love for her and for each other is only going to grow. I can’t wait to see how parenthood changes us and how God will use this in our lives to help us grow.

Please pray with us that she will come on her own in the next two weeks so that they won’t induce me (which is what they say will be necessary). Please also pray that she remains head-down so that they will not have to do a c-section on July 29th, as currently scheduled.

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First Pregnancy: 35 Weeks and Counting…

Amazingly enough, we’re already at the end of this pregnancy! It has flown by so quickly and I can’t believe that she’ll be here in 2-4 weeks.

Here are some pictures from the past few weeks since the last post:

Everything is going well with the pregnancy, despite the fact that I am considered to be “high-risk” at this point. I have that “title” simply because I have gestational diabetes (which is pretty well under control) and because my amniotic fluid level is high (though it fluctuates every week and right now it’s normal).

Because of this, I have to go to the doctor twice a week for a “non-stress test” or NST (where they check the baby’s movement compared to her heart rate, a test for which she must be awake and moving – which has proved to be a challenge), and a once a week “amniotic fluid index” or AFI, (where they check to see how much amniotic fluid I currently have via ultrasound). There is no concern at this point because everything is under control, thankfully. It’s all just precaution (but still frustrating because of all of the appointments). The only plus to all of this is that I get to see her face every week – something most mothers don’t get to do. I posted some of those pictures above – baby girl doesn’t like to be bothered during her sleeping ;)

I have another “growth ultrasound” tomorrow to estimate how big they think she is, which will help determine the new due date. At this point, if she doesn’t come on her own by July 27th (39 weeks), they will induce me.

Thanks to my wonderful friends Ashleigh and Cheyenne, the nursery is completely finished and we are ready for her arrival! We spent Saturday morning going through clothing, doing all the laundry, organizing, and decorating. It feels SO great to have her room done weeks ahead of time.

Overall, I still feel fantastic. In fact, I have felt SO good during pregnancy that I’m almost sad that it’s about to be over. I haven’t had any headaches during pregnancy, which is SO unusual for me. I praise the Lord for allowing me to have an easy pregnancy (despite all of the doctor’s appointments that drive me crazy)! I have only gained 27-29 lbs, and that fluctuates from week to week. Not going to complain :)

I still can’t believe we’re having a baby THIS month. Not months from now. Soon. We’re definitely ready to meet her and see her little personality! <3

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Book Review: Chateau of Secrets

Chateau of Secrets by Melanie Dobson is a fascinating historical fiction novel with two connected stories, occurring seventy years apart, being told a chapter at a time. One story takes place in France in the 1940s, during WWII; the other takes place in 2014 in Richmond, VA and eventually in France as well.

Chloe’s life isn’t going exactly as she had imagined – her fiance isn’t the person she thought he was, and her family’s history is filled with mysteries that her grandmother continues to reference vaguely in her dementia. Chloe has an opportunity to go to France to help with a documentary being made which includes stories from her family’s chateau near Normandy, and while she is there she begins to unlock the secrets of her grandmother’s involvement in WWII.

I really enjoyed this book! It kept my attention throughout; and, because each story was told in alternating chapters, the suspense continued to build as the stories became increasingly intertwined. It’s a beautiful story of redemption, of grace, of standing up for what is right no matter the consequences. It also gives a glimpse into what life was like in Nazi-occupied France during WWII – a perspective that is not frequently discussed. We must never forget what happened to the Jewish people during this terrible war, and fiction like this helps to remind us.

I received this book from Howard Books in exchange for my honest review.

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Easily Offended…

of·fend·ed (əˈfendid) adjective: resentful or annoyed, typically as a result of a perceived insult.

Of all the things that bother me about the way our culture in America has changed during my lifetime, the tendency to be so easily offended is probably at the top of my list. It’s something I don’t understand, and, unfortunately, I don’t see it changing anytime soon.

You don’t dare say something that might “offend” anyone, even if it is the truth. This goes hand-in-hand with our culture’s lawsuit mentality – another thing that drives me crazy. People live their lives in fear that they might accidentally say or do something that someone will sue them over, and it has become absolutely ridiculous.

I worked in the political arena – as a volunteer and as an employee – for several years, and I saw this all the time. In the political world, people allow party lines to be roadblocks to open communication. In the legislature, simply knowing that a bill was written by someone of the opposite party can mean that it won’t pass, despite its merit and worth to society. People choose to be offended simply because someone sees something differently than they do. This is especially amusing because our culture says that everything is relative…

One of my favorite quotes about this topic is from the movie The American President – which is one of my favorite movies of all time.

‘America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”‘
– The American President

Our Founding Fathers didn’t agree on everything, but they didn’t let these differences prevent them from coming up with solutions. They had reasonable discourse, even if heated at times, and they were respectful of different ideas (as evidenced in many documents from that time). They realized that we all come from different backgrounds and have different ideas, and all of them are worthy of consideration. If we all thought the same way and believed the same things, life would be incredibly boring and we would have nothing to discuss. Yet, our culture has lost the ability to respectfully dialogue and discuss issues with the intent of truly learning from the other side.

Our country was founded on the concepts of several freedoms, one being the Freedom of Speech – and that freedom only works if you are willing to respectfully listen to those who disagree with you (as the quote above says). History aside, this is a significant problem in our culture today.

In terms of the Freedom of Religion, the best example I can come up with at the moment is Christmas: Christmas is a holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus. It is a religious holiday – more specifically, a Christian holiday. But, don’t you dare mention Jesus or have a Nativity scene set up to celebrate, because you might offend someone.

Yes, I realize our culture has largely changed Christmas into a secular holiday as well and has made it all about gifts and Santa and whatever else, but it is supposed to be about JESUS. It’s not called “Christmas Vacation” anymore in schools because you might offend someone who doesn’t celebrate the holiday (which, really, is a very small amount of people since it has become so secularized). People say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” for the same reason (even though holiday comes from “holy day” so it’s essentially the same thing). When did we become so sensitive, and why?

This is something I simply cannot understand, because I have never been offended by a Jewish menorah or Star of David. I have never been offended by Kwanzaa or Ramadan. I have never tried to secularize these holidays so that I can benefit from the celebrations. Why? I recognize the right of these groups to celebrate what they believe in openly and publicly. As long as what they are doing is not destructive or harmful, then why does it matter what they celebrate? It doesn’t. So why are Christians and Christian holidays singled out as being so offensive?

From a theological standpoint, I understand why people are offended by Jesus. The Gospel offends because it acknowledges sin in our lives and we don’t like to be told that we are wrong. There is also a very real enemy who roams around the earth trying to turn people against Jesus. I get all of that. But it seems like the only religion that brings offense in our culture is Christianity. 

I maintain that it is a choice to be offended. It is a choice to refuse to listen to the other side of the issue and discuss things rationally. And the root of this is selfishness - “it’s all about me, so don’t you dare do anything that I don’t like.” We have forgotten how to love our neighbors. We have forgotten that each person has value and deserves to be respected. We have forgotten that there’s a huge difference between tolerance (“the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with“) and acceptance, and we let our emotions and selfishness rule our behavior.

This is a dangerous path and if we don’t take the time to instill within the younger generations what true tolerance is, and encourage them to not be easily offended, things are only going to be worse in the future.

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Book Review: Saving Amelie

If you enjoy historical fiction, especially about the WWII era, this is an absolute MUST-READ.

Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke is a brilliant novel set in Germany in 1939-1940. It follows the story of Rachel, a German-American woman, as she learns the truth about her past along with the truth about what Hitler’s regime is actually doing – not just what the propaganda press will report. She is faced with many difficult and life-threatening situations and has to decide what is most important.

The pace of the book was great – plenty of excitement and suspense balanced with more subdued times to observe the characters as they prepared for what was next. I was thankful for those quieter times because I wouldn’t have been able to put the book down if the author hadn’t created a “pause button” occasionally.

This is an incredibly well-researched book and the author weaved in real people and situations beautifully with her fictional characters. I especially loved that she used a real German/Bavarian village for one of the settings, incorporating their history and passions, as well as a real-life preacher who is still beloved today.

This book made me really think about what it must have been like to live in Germany during this time and what I would have done in similar situations in light of all of the propaganda and mixed messages (along with a comparative lack of access to truth that we enjoy today via the Internet). It’s so easy to look back and pass judgments – but this book will help you to step back and walk in their shoes for a moment.

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

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Book Review: I’m No Angel by Kylie Bisutti

I’m No Angel: From Victoria’s Secret Model to Role Model is a refreshingly honest look at what really happens in the modeling industry and how difficult it can be for Christians to maintain their morals and convictions in this field.

Kylie writes about her journey to becoming a Victoria’s Secret Angel – one of the top modeling careers in the world – and how it challenged her and strengthened her faith along the way. The book is so compelling and moves at a great pace. I found it hard to put the book down because I was so intrigued by everything she experienced and learned. It takes a lot of courage to leave a life like hers behind and to pursue what you know to be right.

This is a great autobiography and a definite inspiration to all women to stand up for what we believe in, no matter what the consequences may be.

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First Pregnancy: 32 Weeks and Counting…

10320414_10100203948552830_3245351653827089556_nAs of tomorrow, I will be eight months pregnant. EIGHT MONTHS. Out of ten. That means that in less than two months, we will be parents. We will have a baby girl to care for and keep alive ;) Our lives are about to completely change whether we are ready or not!

I am so thankful that this has been an incredibly easy pregnancy. I do not take this for granted, as I know that so many women are miserable the entire time. I have had maybe a handful of days that were uncomfortable or miserable, and that has mostly been slight hip pain (and mostly at night). God has been so gracious to me throughout the past eight months!

I have learned to manage my gestational diabetes fairly well. I am on medication to try to bring down my fasting blood sugar numbers and thankfully haven’t yet experienced many side effects from the medicine. I’ve found that I can get away with far more than I had imagined and I’m learning what spikes my blood sugar and what doesn’t. Sonic’s sugar-free slushies have helped with my sweet tooth cravings :)

I have only gained 25 lbs thus far and hopefully won’t gain more than 5 more thanks to the gestational diabetes rules. :)

Our baby is currently 4lbs, 13oz from their best guess and she is a healthy weight. Depending on how much she grows, it is likely that they won’t let me go past 39 weeks (July 27). She is very active and sometimes I wonder if she’s dancing in there! She is still “breech” but has plenty of time to turn over, thankfully. This mama is hoping for a completely natural birth, so she needs to cooperate :) Haha.

10256843_10100203665564940_7227908944016164964_oLast week, Brennan and I went on our “baby-moon” to San Antonio and had a wonderful time. We made sure to balance the need for rest/relaxation with exploring the area and I think we did pretty well. We spent a day in Austin, as well, and we saw the State Capitol and the Lyndon Johnson Library/Museum, both of which were worthwhile visits. The heat was a little much for me, which I know must be due to pregnancy (and the fact that PA hasn’t had any heat yet this year) because it doesn’t usually bother me very much.

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It was so wonderful to spend some much-needed time together before our baby comes. We’ve both been working as much as possible, leaving very little free time to just hang out together; to have six days together was a true blessing! I’m so thankful that we are truly best-friends and that we never get tired of each other. Brennan is an incredible blessing and has taken extra good care of me during pregnancy. So blessed <3

 

 

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When we got home, we realized that we spent less than we had budgeted on our trip (and on car repairs), so we were able to purchase our stroller/car seat off of our baby registry! This was the most important thing left on our registry, as we need to be able to bring her home from the hospital :) The rest of the items we can get as we need them, but this one had to be purchased. The only other thing we need to get in the next two months is the glider that we registered for so that I have a comfy place to feed our baby. Other than that, I think we’re ready for her to arrive!

I still can’t believe that we’re about to be the parents of a baby girl. I can’t wait to see what she looks like, to observe her little personality, and to be in awe of the miracle that God is giving us through her.

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Book Review: Somebody Like You by Beth Vogt

Somebody Like You by Beth Vogt is a wonderful piece of fiction. I still find myself thinking about the characters and the story-line days after finishing the book.

Here’s the synopsis:

Can a young widow find love again with her husband’s reflection?

Haley’s three-year marriage to Sam, an army medic, ends tragically when he’s killed in Afghanistan. Her attempts to create a new life for herself are ambushed when she arrives home one evening—and finds her husband waiting for her. Did the military make an unimaginable mistake when they told her Sam was killed? 

Too late to make things right with his estranged twin brother, Stephen discovers Sam never told Haley about him. As Haley and Stephen navigate their fragile relation­ship, they are inexorably drawn to each other. How can they honor the memory of a man whose death brought them together—and whose ghost could drive them apart? 

Somebody Like You is a beautifully rendered, affecting novel, reminding us that while we can’t change the past, we have the choice to change the future and start anew.

From the very beginning, I was drawn in and fascinated by the characters and the plot. Beth Vogt has a way with words and made the characters so believable and real, and I felt like I really knew them. The plot about Haley becoming a widow resonated with my deepest fear, and it caused me to really think through how I would cope if anything were to ever happen to my beloved husband. There were so many twists in the story that I didn’t expect!

Be prepared to have many emotions touched by this work. It is well worth the read!

I received a copy of this book from Howard Books in exchange for my honest review. 

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Redeeming Grace Church – Guatemala 2014

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God is at work in Guatemala City, and this summer our church’s team will be joining Him there! Our church is headed to Guatemala City for a mission trip! Unfortunately, I will be unable to join them as the trip will be happening on my due date ;) However, I believe that it is my turn to be the “sender” and to help them get there, so I have taken on many of the administrative aspects of the trip preparation, including fundraising.

There are ten people from Redeeming Grace Church preparing to serve the people of Guatemala City from August 2-9, 2014. They will be going with an organization called Good News in Action – a church planting group that has been serving in Central America for over 40 years. They will be going out each day to meet people in certain Guatemala City neighborhoods and inviting them to events, sharing the Gospel whenever possible, and loving the beautiful people of Guatemala.

As a team, we need to raise about $16,000 to cover our expenses. If you are willing and able to support the team financially, we have set up an online giving page that makes it easy! Donations are tax-deductible (as long as you give us your name), and one-hundred percent of donations received will go to missions!

Please pray about supporting this cause and help be a “sender” of RGC’s team!

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