Suffering is Not an “Automatic Godliness” Button

I write this post with tears still soggy on my lower eyelashes.  I have read in the news of yet another compounded tragedy – where one tragedy added to the pain of another and beget another tragedy.  And a family is left torn up and wounded beyond recognition in its wake.  It reminds me of so many other stories and things I’ve been pondering lately.

The choices made that led up to this second tragedy devastate me, and would have seriously confused me as well a mere two or three years ago. But God has been teaching me something so seriously sobering as I enter into the sufferings of others, and experience it myself.

Suffering is not an “Automatic Godliness” button.

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I think that we Christians give ourselves pep talks for trials by thumping our flimsy, unarmored chests and saying, “No worries.  It will make me a better Christian.  Everything will happen to make me grow.  I’ll come out the other side more Christlike.”  As if we can sit back in our lawn chairs and wait for the magic happen.

The thing is, we’re told to PUT our armor on (Ephesians 6:10).  We’re told it’s a battle.  We are not spectators in our own trials, lying in surprise pain and waiting for it to be over when we can be awarded with instant Spiritual Hero trophies.

I’ve seen family members go through the exact same trial, and one is a light and beacon for her faith, while the other walks away from God completely.

172013316I’ve seen very similar adults go through nearly identical rejections and hurts, and one man is bitter and angry, assuming the worst about all of humanity, while the other embraces those around him, counseling and promoting God’s goodness.

It shocked me – the unpredictability of the response of humans to suffering.  The unpredictability of my own heart.  And that’s when I realized that suffering changes you, in one direction or the other.  You can’t stay stagnant.  You’re either going to fester and blister and wound, or you’re going to be cleaned out and refined like gold.  But it’s something in which you have a say.

I’d even go so far as to say that trials are not to GIVE you faith, but to TEST your faith.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

James 1:2-4 says that the trials are to test our already existing faith, to make us more Christlike.  To do a work, not to have you stand still.  And the passage implies that we should already have the faith necessary to withstand and produce steadfastness.  That we should be waiting on WHEN, not IF these trials come – expectant and ready.

Maybe what’s important isn’t the outward specifics of any trial – “big” or “small” – but how bad the inward yuck you have to battle in the midst of it.

If it’s not actual faith that we have inside, it’s sin, or most likely, some mixture of both.  Suffering WILL bring out our yuck.  And every little sin has the potential to be exposed when we go through a tough time.  They come to the surface, often shocking our family, surprising our friends, mortifying ourselves.  Some of us have a whole host of yuck that come spinning out of the deepest crevices of our hearts.

Absolutely no one can sit there and assume that sin will just flee in the face of suffering.  Throw on your armor, wipe your sweat, and fight.  Otherwise, that heart will be unrecognizable at the end of your trial if you choose to lie around in the mud and wait it out, lazy and unhappy.

God clearly is the one fighting with you and for you, but He desires our action and our 220px-bowser_-_new_super_mario_bros_2hard work alongside of Him – it’s the way He planned it to be.  I want to start a list of the sins I’m aware of, the yuck that lingers and are hard to beat, and I want to get diligent about a spiritual military regimen to fight them today. I don’t want to wait for a trial to explode them into giant bosses like at the end of a video game level.

One thing is for sure: suffering may not be an instant godliness button, but it will definitely, always, 100% of the time, change you. 

There is no option to just stand still. Do you want it to change you to be like Christ?  Or do you want it to change you into a monster that no one, least of all yourself, ever would have expected to be your future?

“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” 1 Tim. 6:12

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12

“But clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its improper desires.” Romans 13:14

“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Rev.12:11

“For You have girded me with strength for battle; You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.” Ps. 18:39

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21

“Through You we will push back our adversaries, through Your name we will trample down those who rise up against us.” Ps. 44:5

“We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Romans 8:37

 “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.” 1 Pet. 5:8-9

 

 

Open Letters to Persecuted Christians – From My Children

We’ve been praying through Voice of the Martyrs prayer calendar – praying for a different persecuted country every day.  This has been very eye-opening to my two oldest

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girls – children who’ve known peace, safety, and security all their lives.

Today we studied a passage on heaven and Jesus’s second coming.  At the end of the passage, Paul tells people to encourage each other with these words.  I mentioned that thinking about eternity in heaven was probably very encouraging to those being persecuted, and my oldest daughter got a lightbulb idea from the Lord.

“Let’s write a note of encouragement to them about heaven!” she said.

So that became our English assignment for the day.  ❤

I copied down exactly what both girls wanted to say.  These are 100% their words, not mine.  As we look for a place or person to mail these, I thought I’d share them here as well.  ❤

 

Dear friend in Christ,

            I’m writing to you because I want you to know that Christ is always with you and you can depend on Him to always be there.  Even if your enemy is hurting you, you can know that Jesus, our Lord and Savior, will always be there in your heart and around you.  You can know that at some point you will be in heaven and you will enjoy it.  You will get to see the Lord who you’ve been waiting for – the One you believe in!  If any of your Christian family members have been hurt or persecuted or killed, you will be able to see them up in heaven too.  Just remember that Jesus, your Lord, is still with you, and you can depend on Him to help you.  Every day, in every way, He will always keep His eye on you, so that He knows what is happening. Everything that is happening to you is all in His sight and it is all for good.  Even though you might be alone, you can still have the Holy Spirit in your heart and you can keep Him there. He will never leave or go away.  You will never leave Him.  You will always be in God’s arms. Even though we, in America, haven’t gone through the persecution you have, we still have a very bad sin of not focusing on God.  😦 We can learn from you because you and your family focus on God and keep up standing up for who you believe in.

Love,

R.S., 7 years old, USA

 

Dear friend in Christ,

            God loves you and He will always be there for you, no matter how hard your troubles are.  He’s there with you! When Jesus comes back again, there will be a great celebration.  He will take all of the Christians up, and, if you are one, He will take you up too.  🙂 At the end of the world, God will create a new earth and it will be part of heaven. Everyone will be satisfied in heaven and there will be no sadness. There will be no anger.  There will be no dying.  Everything will be happy in heaven! Whenever you have a trouble, just pray to God and He will figure out a way to solve the problem. I will meet you in heaven too!  🙂

Love,

R.J., 5 1/2 years old, USA

Top Posts of 2016!

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It’s time for the list of the top 10 posts of the year!

This was a slower year for me, mostly due to pregnancy and all that comes with that, so I only wrote almost half of the amount of posts of the previous year.  In 2015, I wrote 93, and this year I wrote an exact even 50.  BUT, even with half the posts, I actually, just barely, got more views and visitors this year than last year, meaning that my posts are bringing in more readers than ever!  Hooray for that!

This year, I had 11,687 visitors to my blog with 16,043 views and ended the year with 118 blog followers.  *cheer*  (To follow this blog, click FOLLOW on the right hand side of this page) 

Without further ado, what were the most popular posts of this year?  Well, not all of them were even actually published on this blog this year – some have remained super popular from previous years, and have lived on with lives of their own all over the Internet.

Sitting at #1, by far, with no competition, and with around 35 hits A DAY is:

Anime Characters by Myers-Briggs Type (with 7,164 individual views this year!!)mami_tomoe_render_by_moeblueberry1771-d5evnl7

This post is also #1 on any Google search for “anime characters by Myers-Briggs type and continually brings in guests to my blog.  Kind of exciting, even if it is very niche.  So if you like anime AND personality typing, this is the post for you.  Identified by name, show title, and picture, I have anime characters from various shows in neat little groups according to their types.  🙂

 

The Day I Met Job (with 996 individual views)PCOS Challenge Infographic

This makes me so happy that it’s #2.  This is the deeply personal testimony of what God did in my heart and life last year after suffering with secondary infertility.  It is also about my best friend and her daughter, an appreciation of my mother-in-law, a nod to a fellow author, and mostly a testimony about a hero of the faith I met last year.  Please read the article.  I hope my vulnerability and sharing of God’s greatness touches your heart!

 

An Open Letter to My Pregnant Sister (with 460 views)beautiful-wedding-tiara

Still going strong.  This is a writeup I did for baby showers that I first composed for my sister 2 1/2 years ago, and have tweaked a few times since to share with other expectant moms.  There must be a need for this, as people continually search for this online and find my site.  🙂

 

Tied with “My Pregnant Sister” is: Setting up the Romance Ship (with 460 views)austenland-holding_13254521245

How fun that my breakdown of the smart secret to writing a winning romance story did so well!  I thought this one was a bit obvious until I read (and watched) many people miss this key point to setting up their relationship story. Thinking I had nothing to lose, I threw my own theory out there, and it did very well!

 

Should Married Women Vote Against Their Spouse? (with 349 views)your_vote_counts

This one was a hot button when I first posted it a few years ago, and it continues to be something people search for and find through my blog. Read at your own risk…  🙂

 

Could You Love This Genderless Person? (with 287 views)5

Maybe it was just a catchy title, but this was a very niche article about genderbender dramas that I posted. A “genderbender” is when a guy dresses up and pretends to be a girl, or vice versa, and the opposite sex falls for them.  I explore this trope and why it means so much to women, and maybe what’s spiritually at the heart of this “forbidden romance” story.

 

In Memory of Victoria Mercy Conte (with 262 views)conte-052

A year and a half after the sudden and tragic passing of my husband’s baby sister, this post, written by *him* not me, still makes the top 10 on my list.  Please read my husband’s beautiful, tear-jerker tribute to a lovely life that sits very dear to our hearts.

 

NAME THE BABY! (with 221 views)namebabygirl02

I’m legitimately shocked that this made the top 10!  Last year I teamed up with lovely author Melanie D. Snitker to do a giveaway and promote each other’s books.  Readers named the baby that her main couple was pregnant with, and we got some great responses.  I need to do more on this blog with fellow authors next year!  In the meantime, check out Melanie’s very successful books on Amazon.

 

Asian TV for the American Newbie Viewer (with 188 views)patemainverted_dvd-f

This is a fun list that I kept on my sidebar.  Always hearing me talk about anime and kdramas but have no idea what’s safe or good to watch or where to start?  Not sure you’d even like Asian TV?  I put together a “starter” list of Asian TV for people who don’t like Asian TV, so to speak.  These are storylines and shows that I think any American could love without feeling too “eastern” in the storytelling style.  Give any of these shows a chance, and let me know if they did not disappoint!

 

And last but not least: Sarcastically Realistic Movie Descriptions – Name That Movie!2a3

This one also surprises me that it made the list.  This was a funny little game I posted on my blog a while ago, and it’s done well recently.  Someone must have reposted them.  If you’re looking for a comedic way to describe popular movies, as a game for a party you’re hosting, this might be the post for you.

 

So which blog post of mine was YOUR favorite this year?  Leave a comment!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being a Minor Sufferer

I have the most mediocre, run-of-the mill trials.

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And, since I know You’re listening, Lord, that doesn’t mean I want them ramped up to a Daniel or Job on the scale of suffering!  Just making sure You know I’m okay with my Mary and Martha level.  I’m good with that!  😉

Unlike my Job-like friends I talked about in this article, I’m kind of this mediocre sufferer.  My trials are always highly obnoxious, only a little scary, and a bit sad.  Not real earth-shattering.  Let me make a “RJ’s Suffering List” in a Paul-like way.  You remember the Apostle Paul’s list, right?  Involves a lot of beating, people trying to kill him, and even a shipwreck? AND his list is all stuff done in the name of Christ!  Like real persecutions for his faith.  MY list is just regular life woes.  Would only count as “thorns in the flesh”!

So, that disclaimer being said, RJ Conte’s very vulnerable, honest, and pretty complete list would go something like this:

Separated her shoulder and ankle ligaments – twice each

Had hormonal imbalances.

Had a doctor perform the wrong test, which scared her senseless for a bunch of years

Had to deliver two healthy babies by emergency c-section – couldn’t have her perfect births

Lost relatives to spiritual and physical death

Went through 18 months of infertility after having two children successfully 

Lost some cartilage on one side of her knee 

Has chronic environmental allergies to everything, including most animals

Gets pneumonia or some other respiratory infection once a year from colds

Has a couple ex-friends who won’t talk to her due to her infuriating stupidity in her young adult years

Has had other friends get caught in serious sins

Has occasionally been treated selfishly and not loved the way believers should love one another

Has a daughter with a massive amount of food allergies – none that are life-threatening, but all that lend itself to obnoxious hives and maybe vomiting

Has had to move a little bit often, and leave churches a couple times

Doesn’t make money on her novels…

Because her novels are overtly Christian, and the world isn’t quite down with that

Had to have Accutane because the acne went on FOREVER. And, even now, in adulthood, some of it has come back

Has been insulted on her physical appearance…

Maybe because she’s never at a perfect weight, but always has those last 15 pounds she’d love to lose…

And what do you know? Finds out she has gestational diabetes in her recent pregnancy, and probably some insulin resistance, which probably caused her infertility to begin with…

Therefore, has to give up regular Mountain Dew  *sob*

 

Woot!  That’s my LIFE Trial List!  I put ALL of those on there so that you can hopefully identify with one or two or five or all of them.  See?  I’m a normal human being like you. Please tell me Paul isn’t laughing up in glory. No offense to anyone whose list is identical to mine, but it’s kind of measly.

What do you do when you’re the “normal friend” with the normal, daily life trials?

The person who doesn’t have much to say or help to give out because you’ve not gone through much of anything that interesting – or that every other Christian hasn’t gone through to some extent?

And sometimes you wish you could trade in the whole group of the small guys for one big, God-glorifying trial that’s over a few days after it begins but makes you this awe-inspiring Christian with a great testimony?

And then you’re ashamed of yourself for saying so, because the Elijahs and Jobs of the world look at you like, “You’re thirty years old, for grief’s sake, and have it all.  Seriously?”

Okay, maybe they don’t do that, because they’re freakin’ Job, for goodness sake, and have so much love and compassion and godly character that they could drown you in it.  But you’re convinced they probably are tempted to think that way about you.  That they’re secretly wringing their hands at home, staring at your Facebook posts, and hating your guts. Right?

I have a dear person in my life whose short years are littered with a few, scattered, mediocre trials.

“I kind of had a crush on someone but they didn’t like me back.”

“I have some big fears.”

“I didn’t make the grades in college that I liked.”

“My managers didn’t treat me well.”

“Someone close to me moved away.”

But this person has completely walked away from the Lord. They can’t see beyond their own suffering, which they see as horrendously awful, even though very few in their life have any clue what would warrant their dramatic, victim response.

The little ongoing things are REAL, folks.  They’re sneaky.  They creep in and go on and on and on, making us think our life is less than perfect, will never BE perfect, and drive us crazy with their prickly itchiness.  Sure, we may not have lost our entire family to death or been tortured for our faith or be stricken as a paraplegic, but things are still NOT RIGHT.  And, as pathetic as we can feel, those things linger day after day after day and break down the joy that we’re supposed to have.

I’m going to introduce a radical concept: all trials are trials.

Call out!  Ask for help.  Reach out.  Ask for prayer. Get godly advice. Don’t be ashamed.

Sure there’s some validity to saying, “Wow, I’m a stupid, babyish ninny.  Get a grip and move on with life, and don’t let these little things bother you.” But I really don’t think that’s always helpful or productive, and few human beings are in that kind of place. And God totally gets that.  You don’t hear him calling us “stupid, babyish ninnies.”  God only gives us the trials He knows we can survive and also come out the other end (1 Corinthians 10:13). So for some, those may seem “smaller” but there’s no belittling comparison scale in the kingdom of God.

And His GRACE is sufficient for ALL of them.

If you or I are really struggling in a little Martha trial (“My sister drives me NUTS, Lord.  Make her clean house and play host with me!”) chances are, that’s where my spiritual idols are.  And the feeling of being used as a slave by one’s lazy sister, whether the right perspective or not, has the same capacity of driving us away from the Lord as the massive shooting of one’s whole family does for someone else.

DON’T let that make you feel small, pathetic, or worthless.  All things that make us believe that God is making a mistake (Martha: “Jesus, why are you letting her SIT there?  Jesus, do something differently!”), all of those things that make us doubt that God is good, drive us from Him.  And, before you know it, your “mediocre list” has become a gigantic battleground for the devil.  It’s a fight for your very soul.

Can I highly, highly, highly recommend One Thousand Gifts, which I’m re-reading for the51vwntxh1sl-_sx347_bo1204203200_ 2nd or 3rd time? Ann Voskamp is a very, very average homeschool mom and housewife.  She had her one “big tragedy” in young childhood when she was hardly old enough to even get it. But, besides that, her trials have been run of the mill.  Compared to anyone else maybe.  However, Ann saw that bitterness, ingratitude, and a coldness to God were sneaking in right under her nose while she washed dishes and did laundry and made dinner for the millionth time day after day. And, in beautiful, poetic words, she explores the beauty of all of life – everything God gives – the great and the impossible. And how her entire life’s perspective changed.

This Christmas I asked for butcher paper.  Yep, this giant, larger-than-life roll.  My sweet mother-in-law, without question, went and bought it for me, and it sits under my tree like a giant possibility of gleaming white.

I know what my very first use of it is going to be – the making of a floor to ceiling list.  Of gratitude.  That the Conte family can walk by and add to at any time.

So that those little bugs don’t get in the way – my shoulder is aching again as I type this, and I’m really, really hankering for a piece of holiday pecan pie that I shouldn’t eat.  (Man alive.  Die, taste buds, die!  You cruel villains!) Because those little bugs grow and grow and grow in our hearts to become the most giant of Godzillas. To become life or death to our souls and our First Love (Revelation 2:4).

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This guy has it all.  Pure happiness in liquid form, baby.  😛  😀

So no one is a “minor sufferer” at all.  Even giving up the Mountain Dew can be a giant
battle that leaves you a little breathless, a bit bruised, and more surrendered for the kingdom of Christ.  Hey, if you’re going through a sugar detox, come to me, and I will WEEP with you, bro!

 

It all matters in the Great Fight that is this Christian life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re Invited to My Pity Party!

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You’re invited! Right here on social media – my special pity party.  All 637 of you on my friends list get to come!

I promise to be vague, I promise to provide lots of emoticons, and I promise to give you just a few details so that you can guess the individual that’s hurt me but I don’t say her name outright. Sounds like fun?  Bring your popcorn and gallons of ice cream because I’ll be crying my eyes out.  You’ll know because I’ll make it very obvious.  No leaving your office chair, and all sympathy welcome!  Warning: This post will have a lot of goofy meme examples.  😀

 

Ever been to one of these? Ever found yourself forced to attend one of them even though you never RSVPed?

I am very concerned about the amount of memes and passive aggressive pity posts I have seen on Facebook.

Things like this:

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I feel like these things make injured people feel like they are “being the bigger person” while not-so-subtly letting all their friends know they’ve been hurt.

But instead of being the bigger person, I feel like we are wounding the cause of Christ. When I see Christians post these things, I cannot help but think of one thing only: this is a person who has not forgiven.

We may say you are working on forgiveness, and it is true that we can be tempted to bring back up old (or recent) scars, fighting the temptation against bitterness, but there is no “working on forgiveness.” There is only “forgiving” and “bitter.”  Each and every day that you choose to not get angry about a person’s sin, not dwell on it in your own mind, and not bring it up to others, you have forgiven. Every time you indulge to gossip about that hurt, you choose, in that moment not to forgive.  There is no state of “I will be fully un-bitter and fully forgiving in a matter of months. Every day I might be getting better and get angry about it less.”  There is only, “Today I chose to forgive.  Yesterday I sinned against God and chose to stew about it and talk about it to others.”

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times…”

“…Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Matthew 18:21-22, 32-35

Every day that you publicly invite questions because of passive aggressive memes and statuses, hinting about how someone has hurt you, is a day you make your Father in heaven angry – the Father that forgave the sins you commit against Him day in and day out.

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Another thing to think about when we post our pity party invitations and proclaim our unforgiving hearts online (or even privately to listening ears) is that we have failed others too.  We have been that erring friend.  We have been that bully. We have been that loud mouth or insensitive jerk. All of us have been there.  And God has brought us through a period of cleansing out our messed up hearts. Some of us have had lots of relationships restored.

When we post our hurts on our pages to all our friends, when we mention “that friend” that did such and such, we give God NO room for reconciliation and restoration.

God is the same God over your friends’ lives and hearts as He is over yours. In only thirty short years of living, I have seen SO many relationships restored to me.  Relationships where I thought the other party would never forgive me – where I was an immature rebel.  And relationships where I thought the other person would never apologize, where they had offended me.  And yet, I’d say about 75% of them have ended with restoration and reconciliation – in the way Christians are supposed to behave with each other.  As they and I have prayed quietly for each other, seeking counsel only from one or two wise counselors (but keeping the whole situation under wraps) restoration and repentance has happened.  Then, when those friends are welcomed back into fellowship with you or you with them – sometimes it’s taken years, but I’ve always been so in awe of the Lord when He makes the impossible happen – you don’t have bitter memes that are clearly about them littering your wall.  You don’t have hundreds of people who have become little detectives in the meantime, totally figuring out which friend hurt you so they can take up offenses for you. They – or you – can humbly walk back into friendship and fellowship knowing that your reputations have been preserved safely. That all has been forgiven and ugliness has not been spread.

Meanwhile, the people who choose not to post but to daily forgive and zip their lips from speaking (and their fingers from typing) are known as gracious, kind, trustworthy individuals. People do not fear messing up around you, people do not walk on eggshells around you, and people do not keep secrets from you, knowing you’re not talking in back alleys about them.

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Do unto others as you would have them do to you.  If you were that friend who sinned and messed up a relationship, would you be thrilled knowing the other party was posting memes about how they were the bigger person and you weren’t worth a second chance?  Is this how God treats us?  No, like the father of the Prodigal Son, He restores us, choosing to forget all that was behind, and pressing forward in celebration of getting His son back.

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Obviously, there are wicked people who shouldn’t be welcomed back into your life and who have done unspeakable things, but that still doesn’t mean you are exempt from forgiving them.  As far as the east is from the west, so are our sins removed from God in forgiveness.  How can we refuse to stop talking about what others have done when we know they will never sin against us as much as we have sinned against God?

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. Mark 11:25

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Let’s wait in quiet hope for our offenders to repent, only seeking godly counsel from one or two, telling people to pray instead for US that we would have pure and godly and forgiving hearts, giving 70X7 endless chances, not thinking ourselves “deserving” of anything from anyone, and not filled with pride that we would not fail in the ways we’ve been failed against.  There but for the grace of God go I.

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30+10 – Remembering Nana

‪#‎30and10‬ Day 3

I visited my grandmother often in North Carolina, and loved the scenery, the nautical feel, and the Atlantic ocean. We drove all up and down the east coast, and setting Dashwood Avenue in South Carolina was simply nostalgic for me.
A pic of my grandmother, two of my siblings, and me – I’m the blonde! (she passed away almost four years ago, and I miss her tremendously. She was the epitome of a perfect grandmother in so many ways. Fun, great sense of humor, gracious, affectionate, loved us all equally, perfect presents, and fantastic sense of style. I love and miss you, Nana!)

Dashwood Avenue, Christian fiction for fourth grade and up, is available HERE.

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