Book Break: The Crimson Cord

I LOVED this book from Jill Eileen Smith on Rahab’s Story. This is the first book in her series Daughters of the Promised Land, but she is also the best-selling author of three other series: The Wives of King David, the Wives of the Patriarchs, and the Loves of King Solomon. If you haven’t read any of her books before (which I have not), and you enjoy biblical/historical fiction, I believe I have found a new author to recommend to you.

The Crimson Cord

And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from
Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially
Jericho.” And they went and came into the house of a
prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there…
Before the men lay down, she came up to them on
the roof and said to the men, “I know that the Lord
has given you the land … Now then, please swear to
me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you,
you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and
…that you will save alive my father and mother, my
brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and
deliver our lives from death.”

Joshua 2:1, 8-9, 12-13 (ESV)

From the Back Cover

“Rahab’s story is one of the most moving redemption accounts in Scripture. The Crimson Cord perfectly captures all the drama of the original, fleshing out the characters with care and thought. Jill’s storytelling skills kept me reading late into the night. A beautiful tale, beautifully told!”–Liz Curtis Higgs, New York Times bestselling author of Mine Is the Night

Wife to a gambler who took one too many risks, Rahab finds herself sold as a slave to cover her husband’s debt. Forced into prostitution, she despairs of ever regaining her freedom and her self-respect. But when Israelite spies enter Jericho and come to lodge at her house, Rahab sees a glimmer of hope and the opportunity of a lifetime.

In one risky moment, she takes a leap of faith, puts her trust in a God she does not know, and vows to protect the spies from the authorities. When the armies of Israel arrive weeks later, Rahab hopes they will keep their promise, but she has no idea what kind of challenges await her outside Jericho’s walls–or if she will ever know the meaning of love.

Under Jill Eileen Smith’s talented hand, the familiar story of Rahab bursts forth in high definition. Immerse yourself in a world of dark and dusty streets, clandestine meetings, and daring escapes as a mysterious biblical figure claims her full humanity–and a permanent place in your heart.


Joshua 2

My Review

Most people only know about Rahab from what they have read in the Scripture passages in Joshua, chapter 2, and 6:25. But she is also mentioned in Matthew 1:5 in reference to the lineage of Jesus Christ (“Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab”), as well as in Hebrews 11:31 (“By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.”) The author, Jill Eileen Smith, took these brief glimpses in Scripture, her own historical research, and a lot of speculation on what might have led Rahab to the position she found herself in and wove it all together into an incredible story of despair, guilt, forgiveness, redemption, and love.
I found the characters and the story line to be believable and well-crafted. I loved how Smith connected a very relevant Scripture passage from Matthew 18:23-34 (The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant) to this story. The two stories do not actually connect in the Bible; however, it fit the characters and it worked for me.

Rahab’s story doesn’t end when the walls of Jericho come tumbling down. Instead, as promised by the Israelite spies sent by Joshua, she and her family are saved from destruction, and she is given a chance to begin a new life as a member of God’s Chosen People. This beautiful and amazing journey of faith–sometimes sad, sometimes uplifting–is one that you will want to read for yourself.

What Drives Travelers

Thank you to Revel Publishers
for providing me with a free copy
of this book for my honest review.

Practice Gratitude

The thoughts that I wanted to share with you on today’s post actually comes from another blogger – Brooke – author of Slow Your Home {The Simpler Life You Want}. Although her article “21 Actions You Can Do Today to Simplify Your Life” is from September of 2012, I believe it is still relevant today. I enjoyed all of her suggestions and just signed up for emails from her blog. I think her articles fit well with Fuller Way of Life {on living simply and living well}, and action #2 from this specific post that I linked to ties in to my word for the year – Gratitude – so I wanted to share her comments for this step here. I recommend that you follow the link above and read the whole article.

Joy

Action # 2: Practice Gratitude

Recent studies have shown that those of us who are regularly grateful for the good in our lives are likely to be more physically active, feel more content in our day-to-day lives and suffer less health problems.

Sound good?

How to Practice Gratitude and Reap the Benefits:

Once a week, spend ten minutes writing down 5-10 people/acts/events/things you are grateful for. Just one sentence per entry is enough.

That’s it. Just ten minutes a week will have truly positive impact on your happiness and well being.

Is That All? Ten Minutes a Week? What if I Do More? Will I Be Happier?

Gratitude studies have shown that over-doing the gratitude journalling may have the opposite effect. Over time we become immune to the feeling of well-being gained through gratitude and lose the positive benefit.

Although I personally tend to think it would take a lot to over-do this. I can see no harm in thinking on the positives each morning or as you go to bed at night.

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How do you practice gratitude? Do you find that it comes easier the more you focus on people, things, and situations you are grateful or thankful for? What are you grateful for at this very moment? 

Happiness cannot be traveled to,
owned, earned, worn or consumed.
Happiness is the spiritual experience
of living every minute with love, grace,
and gratitude.  ~Denis Waitley

Wishing you much happiness today!

My Focus for 2015: Gratitude

Sunset Sky

Just as I did at the start of 2014, I pondered, prayed, and reflected over the past month to come up with one word that I would try to focus on for the year. The word that came to me was “gratitude.” Gratitude

Gratitude is easy when you are clearly surrounded by life’s blessings and you feel like things are going well for you. But what about when you are going through a tough time? Unfortunate circumstances can make it difficult to see the good and to be grateful for what is happening to you or around you. It can be especially hard to discover the silver lining in the dark clouds at this time. But, I believe, in many cases, if we look hard enough, we can find something in each moment to latch onto and to be thankful for.

“I have learned to be content
whatever the circumstances. I can do everything
through him who gives me strength …
God will meet all your needs.” 
Philippians 4:11, 13, 19 (NIV)

Attitude of Gratitude

My goal for this year is to “Maintain an Attitude of Gratitude” despite my circumstances. I created a place on a whiteboard (see above) to remind myself of some of the things I am grateful for on an ongoing basis. Currently, it shows things like family, friends, Bart, Bella, work, nature, and books. What I’d like to do throughout the year is to replace these easy-to-come-up-with concepts with things that might not at first seem to be something one would be thankful or grateful for. I want to dive deeper into my feelings and my life situations and attempt to discover the good within the “bad” or the uncomfortable.

Gratitude_Tip

 I invite you to join me on this journey. I’m thinking about creating some “Growing in Gratitude” kits (including colorful string, mini-clothespins, and pieces of paper in various shapes, sizes, and patterns) for my Etsy shop, depending on interest level. So, let me know if you might be interested in something like that and if so, I’ll put some kits together. Otherwise, it’s very easy to create your own gratitude journal or board, using regular paper and colorful markers or pencils, or whatever strikes your fancy. You can update the concepts daily, weekly, monthly, or whenever the mood hits. There is no right or wrong way to highlight or reflect on your blessings.

Too many blessings

“God, send me anywhere, only go with me.
Lay any burden on me, only sustain me.
And sever any tie in my heart except the tie
that binds my heart to yours.”
David Livingstone

As Zig Ziglar says: “Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.

What helps you maintain an attitude of gratitude? I would love it if you would share some of your thoughts on this with me, as I plan to continue writing about this topic throughout the year.

Thank you, and have a blessed day.

Grateful for trees

“The dominant characteristic of an authentic spiritual life is the gratitude that flows from trust—not only for all the gifts that I receive from God, but gratitude for all the suffering. Because in that purifying experience, suffering has often been the shortest path to intimacy with God.”  —Brennan Manning

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Book Break: The Christmas Cat

Oreo (companion to Rita Job)

Okay, so I know it is the day after Christmas and I’m a little behind on posting this review (the book came out September 9th and the holiday season is almost over), but I hope you all will grant me some grace, as the last couple of months have been pretty hectic for us. We moved cross-country just a few days before Thanksgiving and with all the unloading, unpacking, finding places to put our stuff, locating dog-friendly parks and daycare, shopping for Christmas, wrapping, decorating (last-minute), holiday trips to see family, etc., etc. … things have been more disorganized and out-of-control than any holiday season we’ve had so far. But, despite all that, we’ve had some great times with family and friends and are especially thankful we’ve had my stepson Noah with us for Christmas this year. He goes back to Florida soon, but I think he has enjoyed his week here in Texas–mostly getting to spend time with his dad, but also hanging out with his cousins and other family members. 2014-12-23 21.04.26

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So, moving beyond all of that, I still think with a week left of 2014, those of you who like Christmas-themed books will find The Christmas Cat by Melody Carlson an entertaining and uplifting read. Even if your Christmas celebration is over, perhaps you can hang on to the season just a little bit longer by curling up with this book and a hot cup of [insert beverage of choice here].

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You don’t even have to be a cat lover to enjoy this feel-good story. Although if you are, you will probably find it even more charming and amusing.

 Here is a description of the story from the book jacket:

From the Inside Flap

After years abroad, Garrison Brown finds himself at the home of his beloved grandmother who has just passed away. He must sort out her belongings, including six cats who need new homes. While he hopes to dispense with the task quickly–especially since he is severely allergic to cats–his grandmother’s instructions don’t allow for speed. She has left some challenging requirements for the future homes of her furry friends. Can he match the cats with the perfect new owners? And is it possible that he might meet his own match along the way?

From the Back Cover

He felt his face flushing as Cara opened the door. Wearing a garnet-colored knit dress and with her dark hair pinned up, she looked even prettier than he remembered. Suddenly he wished he’d thought to bring a hostess gift. Like a cat.
*********

While I have to admit that the story was fairly predictable, I thought that the characters were very likable, and the book was a pleasant and easy read.

I have never read any books by this author before, but will probably pick up some of her other books before next Christmas.

Melody Carlson is the award-winning author of over two hundred books with sales of more than five million. She is the author of several Christmas books, including the bestselling The Christmas Bus, The Christmas Dog, and Christmas at Harrington’s, as well as The Christmas Pony and A Simple Christmas Wish. She received a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award in the inspirational market for her many books, including the Diary of a Teenage Girl series and Finding Alice.

Hope you get a chance to read this one and let me know what you think about it.

Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas,
a Happy New Year, and the gift of discovering
true peace, happiness, and contentment.

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Featured photo is courtesy of Rita Job and her cat Oreo.
(He reminds me of Sylvester, pictured below.)

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Disclosure: I received this book free of charge from the publisher, Revell, in exchange for my honest review.

Experiencing Change This Year? Be of Good Cheer.

IMG_7303

For those of us who are lucky enough, Christmas is a special time steeped in rituals and tradition that we celebrate with family and friends. We have favorite foods that we look forward to, special services where we worship together, games we play, stories we share, and certain days or times when we gather and exchange gifts with various members of our families or groups of friends. It can be a wonderful time of year full of joy and anticipation.

As a friend of mine recently shared, “It’s the most wonderful time of year because the spirit of Jesus Christ fills the atmosphere. We talk about Christ more than ever. We walk around saying, “Merry Christmas”; we sing songs about Jesus; we read Christian stories, etc. When Christ gets all of the attention, His love, joy, patience, and peace fills the atmosphere!”

Christmas

Peace — While it’s definitely something we can hope to experience at this time of year, it may also require a bit more focus and work to achieve.

The stress of trying to do too much in too little time; the strain of attempting to appease too many people with different ideas; the tension of putting personal issues or preferences aside to enjoy a harmonious holiday … all these things can actually lead some to dread what should be a joyous and special time of year.

So, what can we do to counter this?

Consider this …

Marriages, births, merging families, cross country moves, and, sadly, deaths can all change family dynamics. Sometimes, with these changes, we have to be open to readjusting our expectations and perceptions of the holidays, and modifying our traditions to accommodate the new family members we have acquired, the locations we find ourselves in (and the logistics of travel), and the various physical and emotional situations some of our loved ones are dealing with.

We need to look at the traditions we have followed in the past, and ask ourselves, “What’s really important about them? … Are they still providing the original meaning? Is a tradition creating more stress than value? Is there another way to convey meaning that would be simpler or more effective … When there’s too much [to] do with too little time; it is vital to scrutinize every activity in terms of the value it adds to your life. Time-honored traditions are no exception.” (Aila Accad, Changing Holiday Traditions)

Christmas Trees2

Just remember that changing or eliminating traditions can sometimes lead to hurt feelings and family quarrels. The most important thing to do when anticipating change is to COMMUNICATE. If you are the one suggesting changes, let others know as early as possible so they have time to adjust. And give them time to adjust; don’t expect immediate acceptance. Also, keep in mind that additions are often more comfortable than deletions. If possible, modify rather than delete a tradition.

If you feel that change is being thrust upon you, try to understand the rationale or reasoning behind the suggestions being made. Re-examine what you hold dear about the holidays and why. If it’s gathering with as many family members as possible, then whose house you gather at shouldn’t matter; if it’s celebrating the birth of Christ with worship and praise, which church you go to and at what time isn’t that important; and if it’s enjoying specific dishes that your mother, uncle, or grandmother used to make and someone wants to alter the menu, pick the dishes that mean the most to you and volunteer to make/bring them yourself.

Ornaments

Like anything, holidays and family gatherings are what you make them. Personally, I am enjoying seeing a few changes with our family celebrations. I think it’s great that some of the younger members of the family are beginning to find their place in the seasonal preparations. It is a wonderful thing to see the “passing of the baton,” or ladle, if you will, from one generation to the next. While many parents and grandparents have enjoyed baking, cooking, and decorating for the rest of the family for special occasions, it’s a beautiful thing to watch members of the next generation discover the joy of creating, serving, and bringing the holidays to life themselves.

I’m not saying that the older family members should stop sharing ideas or taking part in preparations, unless that’s what they really want to do (some of us really need our rest). But perhaps stepping back some, letting go of some of the responsibilities, counseling rather than doing it all, and sharing the opportunities for memory-making moments will allow them (us) to connect in deeper and more meaningful ways with younger members of the family who will be carrying the family traditions into the future —adapting them as their own family dynamics grow and change.

Christmas celebrations, or any family gatherings for that matter, are not the time to be rigid and resentful. We need to be open to new ideas and open to where the Spirit leads us at this particular time in our lives. Most importantly, we should remember the reason for the season.

Linus_Christmas

Remember that giving is more important than receiving, and that doesn’t only apply to gifts. It applies to our hearts as well. Let’s not give others guilt trips over their personal decisions regarding the holidays; accept them with grace and understanding. Whatever changes we make, whatever new steps we take, we must do them with happy hearts and a more defined focus on what truly matters. Whatever happens, we should try to be of good cheer. Grudgingly going along with things because you have to will only bring everyone else down with you. That will certainly lead to a memorable event, but not one you will want to remember.

If you truly want to fulfill the quest for meaning, joy, and peace this Christmas, re-evaluate your current (or past) holiday plans as a family, and adjust them as needed to create meaningful and simple traditions that are easy to maintain, beneficial for all (or most), and truly serve the family’s purpose and passion. Life moves on and we must be prepared to go with the flow and move along with it.

bible-quote

Book Break: Stolen: The True Story of a Sex Trafficking Survivor

I don’t normally read much non-fiction, but the topic of human trafficking spoke to my heart. It’s one of those things that’s so heartbreaking and horrifying that many of us bury our heads in the sand and try not to acknowledge it. We prefer to think that this is something that happens in far-off lands and not in our own backyards, and if we do feel led to do something about it, we often don’t know what to do. We need to wake up to the sad reality that human trafficking, and specifically sex trafficking of children, is all around us; it’s happening every day all over the world. But there are many different ways that we can make a difference. I will share a few ideas with you after my book review.

 Stolen: The True Story of a
Sex Trafficking Survivor

From the Back Cover:
There is HOPE, even on the darkest of days

Katariina Rosenblatt was a lonely and abused young girl, yearning to be loved, wanting attention. That made her the perfect target. On an ordinary day, she met a confident young woman—someone Kat wished she could be like—who pretended to be a friend while slowly luring her into a child trafficking ring. A cycle of false friendships, threats, drugs, and violence kept her trapped.

As Kat shares her harrowing experiences, her ultimate escape, and her passionate efforts to now free other victims, you’ll see that not only is sex trafficking happening frighteningly close to home—it’s also something that can be stopped. Stolen is a warning, a celebration of survival, and a beacon of hope that will inspire you.

Katariina Rosenblatt, PhD, is living proof of the promise she heard long ago at a Billy Graham crusade that God would never forsake her. Katariina has a PhD in conflict analysis and resolution and an LLM graduate law degree in intercultural rights, and she works closely with law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and Homeland Security to eliminate human slavery. She has also founded Stolen Ones—There Is H.O.P.E. for Me, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to freeing other victims of human trafficking. [She has been featured on CNN and in Today’s Christian Woman and lives in Florida.]

Cecil Murphey has written or coauthored more than 130 books, including the bestselling 90 Minutes in Heaven with Don Piper and the autobiography of Franklin Graham, Rebel with a Cause. He was a collaborator on the bestseller Gifted Hands with Dr. Ben Carson, Cecil resides in Georgia.

Stolen

 ************

In Stolen, Katariina shares her own personal story about how she became a victim of sex trafficking, as well as how she later became a survivor.

She explains how her early life experiences set her up to be victimized. She learned helplessness and powerlessness as a young child from the relationship she witnessed between her father and mother. She admits that a strong, determined part of her personality came from watching her father. But she absorbed a victim mentality by watching her mother’s submission to her dad’s cruel and demanding ways.

In desperate need of friendship and acceptance, Katariina was easily lured in by a woman pretending to be her friend who seemed to show an interest in her life. This was the first person who tried to take advantage of her vulnerability. She was also later lured in by kind daddy-like figures who, at first, seemed to be offering her a safe place, but once she became comfortable, they began to ease her into unsafe situations. She did what they asked of her because she didn’t want to lose what she thought she’d found … what she thought was love and a sense of belonging.

Luckily, her mother had told her about Jesus being God’s Son and God being her heavenly Father when she was about three years old. She later went to a Billy Graham crusade, where she heard him say, “God has a plan for you” and “God will never leave you or forsake you.” She never forgot those words. In fact, those words came back to her time and time again, often serving as the catalyst that reminded her to turn to God for help.

Savior

At one point, she had a moment of clarity where she knew some men were using her and they weren’t planning on letting her go home again. She called out, “God, I’ve been so wrong. Help me. … I’m lost and I want to go home. … I don’t want to do these things. This isn’t love. Lord, I want to go home.”

While in the deepest darkness, she said, “God reached down and rescued me.” She was able to go home but not before being threatened by the men who said they loved her. At this time, Kateriina and her friends didn’t even realize that they had become prostitutes. No one talked about trafficking back then.

Although she says, “God, in his faithfulness, saved me for a second time,” still in Katariina’s mind, the lifestyle she was leading had become normal, and so she kept finding herself in situations where the abuse and violence were repeated. Even after she would get out of a dangerous situation and get back home, she couldn’t really get free of the vicious cycle of drugs, sex, and violence.

“Despite God’s help, nothing had changed inside me. So it happened again …”

Kateriina goes through a lot of challenging times throughout Stolen. Sometimes you want to cry for her; sometimes you want to just shake her. But you definitely get a better understanding of the tragic circle and cycle that affects the situations children like Kateriina get stuck in.

The book does have a positive ending with Kateriina discovering that God has brought her to a place and a position where she can minister to those in the prostitution and human trafficking circles because she’s been there and she can relate to them firsthand. Her nonprofit organization—There Is H.O.P.E. for Me—strives to stop trafficking through the voices of survivors helping other survivors.

“We do our ministry on a biblical basis. We want to give hope to those who are enslaved. Alone, I may only be one survivor, but united we are stronger than all of the traffickers. Together we can stop human trafficking!”

*******

If you have children, think about this: what you say, what you don’t say, how you act or react to situations, and the way you let others treat you—your children will begin to see these behaviors and patterns as acceptable and normal. If you have healthy relationships, this is a good thing; if you don’t, you are setting them up to experience a similar lifestyle. If you don’t have children, perhaps you can serve a role as a friend and an encourager to the children who cross your path. All children need to know and feel that they have value and worth.

For the trafficking problem in impoverished countries, there are missionaries going into those areas to teach the families what to watch for to avoid sending their children into these unsafe situations. You can go on a mission trip (as our friends Julie and Jason Daniel and their daughters did through e3 Partners) or you can support the missions through prayer and/or financially.

Meanwhile, I encourage you to check out various organizations who seek to shut down the destructive industry of human trafficking and the people who profit from it. Maybe there is one that speaks to your heart. Below is a little information from a couple groups and people who are doing just that.

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Trafficking is just one of the critical social issues tackled by e3 Partners (a ministry formed to Equip Christians to Evangelize in other cultures and Establish churches in various regions). In some poverty-stricken cultures, families will send their children off with people posing as religious leaders, successful businessmen, or sympathetic paternal figures in order to give them a chance at a better life. Unbeknownst to them, they are often sending their children right into the arms of slavery. Many are smuggled into neighboring countries and sold into sexual slavery while others are forced into harsh labor environments —often for less than $100.

Trafficking

e3 Partners says:

“Let’s end modern-day slavery by cutting it off from the source. Venture into remote villages where human trafficking rings are convincing poverty-stricken families to sell their own children. Reveal what’s really happening and save the next generation by sharing the simple truth that every life is priceless.”

 *******

 “Ever since I came across a 13-year-old girl being sold for sex on Backpage, I’ve wondered why we tolerate it. Some 100,000 kids a year are trafficked in the US, and a simple way to help them would be to stop Backpage from profiting on them. Now some brave girls are standing up to Backpage. You go, girls!” —Nicholas Kristof, Half the Sky

Sex trafficking in America is one of the issues tackled by Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in the TV show “A Path Appears.” Follow A Path Appears on Facebook to learn more about the individuals and organizations working to end trafficking and other human rights violations.

There is a list of organizations that combat human trafficking on Wikipedia that you might want to check out.

Love OthersThere are many efforts being made to educate families and communities about what to watch for as well as organizations like the one Katariina Rosenblatt founded to reach out to current victims. If you know of other people or groups that are working to end this worldwide epidemic or have personal experience with one, please feel free to post your information in the comments section so that others might learn about them and their efforts. Thank you for your caring heart.

Disclosure: I received this book free of charge from the publisher, Revell, in exchange for my honest review.

Fall, Friends, and the Winds of Change

Fall Forrest

Fall is one of my favorite times of year. Well, since I have been living in Kentucky anyway. I think in Florida and Texas, I preferred spring. But up here, we get to watch as the leaves change from green to yellow (and red and orange in some places), slowly falling along the way, eventually leaving the branches bare and yet still beautiful.

Green

Changing

More yellow

Almost Done

I am trying to breathe it all in and capture what it looks like … what it feels like as the winds of change sweep through, bringing a chill to the air and an anticipation of the things to come. I’m trying to remember it all because this will be our last fall here. We are headed back to Texas. It is something that makes us both happy and sad at the same time. Happy to be seeing those we left behind when we moved up here, sad to be saying good-bye to the new friends we made. Happy that we won’t be experiencing another super cold, snowy winter. Sad that we’ll have the super hot Texas summer instead of the more enjoyable temperatures of Kentucky. Of course our tolerances to the heat and cold have changed somewhat, so we will have some adapting to do … again. But, we look at it all as an adventure to be embraced.

Home is where me, Bart, and Bella are together. It doesn’t matter what state it is. As long as we feel like we are following God’s plan and are operating within his will rather than stubbornly trying to make our own way, all will be well.

Bella_Bart_Nina

And, of course, we’ll always make sure we have a room for Noah. The great thing is we will be closer to Bart’s family again for a while; we’ve missed them. And maybe, one of these days, we’ll be closer to my family for a while. You never know. For now, we are going with the flow and enjoying the show.

Red

To my Kentucky friends, I just want to say thank you. You accepted us and made us feel welcome. In a place where we knew no one and had no family to rely on, you became our brothers and sisters and our friends. You touched our hearts and changed our lives. We will miss you so very much. [So happy to be connected to many of you on Facebook.]

Orange

To our Texas friends and family … WE’RE BACK! (well, almost) We’ll both be there by the end of November. See you all very soon.

For anyone else going through times of transition, you’re attitude makes a huge difference in your ability to get through it. Breathe in the positive, breathe out the negative, and embrace the winds of change.