Monday, January 30, 2017

Life is Not Tried, and Driving, and other Thoughts on Living

I totaled a car when I was four years old.

I'm a miracle, really... but aren't we all, in one way or another?

It was a hot September day and back then there weren't all these safety rules. Nobody thought about getting sued or getting prosecuted or things going viral on social media or broadcast on the 11 PM News.

Mom had a table to drop off on somebody's back porch, and how long would that take?

So she left me in the backseat, buckled up, I'm sure, with the car running...

And I decided I was hot... so I climbed over the seat and tried to fix the air conditioner... while knocking the car out of gear. It crashed through trees and bounced off rocks and landed on a small landing before plummeting to Quicksand Road below... caught by a tree not much taller than the car.

I don't know if I really remember it. I have images in my mind of me curling up in a ball in the driver's side floor... and remember, the driver's door was open, because Mom was just stepping away for a minute.

I have images in my mind of shaking glass from my hair as I crawled out the busted out back windshield, because the tree had wedged against the driver's door, and also, my glasses were broken so I couldn't see.

I'm not sure if those are memories, or just things I've created in my mind about the wreck... but I do know this. I like to imagine that I had an angel covering me in that floor, the wings spread over me, just like the Bible says, "He will cover you with feathers..."

I wrote all that to get to this point... I am not a good driver. I always say I started driving with a bang, and it never really got better.

And driving in traffic? Well, that is NOT my cup of tea.

But when you're a Mom, you'll do things you didn't think you would.

Like drive to downtown Cincinatti when there is snow forecasted so that your boy can go to a Garth Brooks concert.

Granted, he only knew two Garth Brooks songs, but...

Garth Brooks is one of my favorite all-time artists. I don't actually listen to his music much, but it's stuck in my heart. I grew up on The Dance and Friends in Low Places, can remember belting out The River in high school chorus class, and have ALWAYS physically shifted gears when I hear Papa and Mama... even though I can't drive a standard, much less a big rig.

And part of being a good Mom is passing on traditions to the next generation, right?

So even though Caleb only knew two songs, I wanted him to experience Garth Brooks. At one point in the show last night, Garth was talking about how he was so blessed to get to do what he does. He pointed out a dad in the crowd with a little girl who looked like she was about eight, and said, "He might have come to one of those shows 20  years ago, and now he's bringing his baby. Y'all have let me into your lives."

That got me a little teary-eyed... not because I know Garth on a personal level, but because I understood what he was saying. As I stood there, with my Aunt Nora at one end of our section and Alaxandra standing on the other, I thought of my first Garth Brooks concert, when Al was just a baby and Aunt Nora got a ticket as a "labor day present" so that Jen and I and our friends would have an adult to drive us.

And it made me almost sentimental, because at that time it felt like things came full circle and I thought of how blessed we are to have each other...

not just my family, but the people I come in contact with, who choose to let me be a part of their lives. It's not easy, always... because relationships mean vulnerability and that's hard... but one of my goals this  year was to open up to others. To actually LIVE with others...

So I looked at my manchild laughing with his cousin Al and we belted out Friends in Low Places just like we meant every word, even though I've never had a glass of champagne,  nor have I ever had my sorrows drowned out by the whiskey or beer chasing my blues away...

And I thought of my word of the year- LIVE- and how that means taking a chance and driving when you don't want to...

And then I thought of the chorus of his closing song. "Life is not tried it is merely survived if you're standing outside the fire."

Whether it be relationship or job or trying something new, you're not really living if you're standing outside the fire.

We were made for the abundant life.

We were made to step out of our comfort zone.

We might get burnt, yes...

But that's the chance we have to take.

(Although I still stood just outside the fire when I got back to Jackson, calling Wallace to come get me so I wouldn't have to brave Shoulderblade Hill. Baby steps, people... and my word is LIVE.... not drive over a cliff).

Shew... I've taken you for a ride if you've read this whole thing. Now get out there and live!!!

Friday, January 27, 2017

I'm A Coach's Wife

I am a coach's wife.

I have been a coach's wife for almost as long as I've been a wife, except for a couple of years when he took a break and we couldn't go to high school basketball games because he would get so antsy.

It's part of who I am, and while there are times when it's not really fun, I realize what an incredible honor it is.

I know things will change, and one day we may finally be able to go to a game and enjoy it together.

Not spend it breaking down plays. Not questioning what defense would work best to isolate that inside shooter. Not comparing stats.

But right now it's the time of the season that feels like you've been playing forever. Three weeks until district tournament seems like an eternity but I know it will fly by and before we know it we wil be saying goodbye to our seniors (and I don't even want to talk about that!!!).

Tonight, I'll just think of sophomore players who have developed so much.

I'll think of shots that bounced out and shots that shouldn't have gone in.

I'll think of ref calls that I don't agree with and those that I think probably should have been called, even though they would have been against us.

I'll think of how when a team hits a slump it's hard to find redemption, but hindsight is twenty twenty and we've been in this thing a long time and I can assure them they if they will just keep digging, keep fighting, keep hustling, keep shooting, it will eventually pay off.

I'll think of how those girls, my girls, just need a pat on the back and somebody to tell them they've got this. I know he tells them that, but that's his job, and everyone needs a cheerleader when the coach is being the coach.

So I'll pat them on  the shoulder and hug them and tell them how much I love them. How proud I am of them.

A hard-fought game that ends with a loss is no fun. I can say it's character building, but that doesn't make it any better.

Truth is, though, ten years down the road nobody will remember the record and they won't remember the scores of individual games. Shoot, twenty  years down the road, and I can't even tell you who we played the last time I cheered on the hardwood at the Coliseum. I can tell you it was bittersweet, but mostly because I was losing a part of who I was...

I was a cheerleader... and I still am.

These girls are basketball players, and they always will be. It will stay in them and they will teach it to their babies, and revel in the glory years...

Except our jobs as adults is to show them that the ball doesn't stop bouncing when their season is over. They have to pick up and move on and take all they learned out there on the court and apply it to real life.

They have to draw up their own plays, and hustle just like they did on the floor. They have to face failure, and not wallow in it.

I can see all of this as I watch them on the court. Faces flash before me, of players across our sixteen years, of memories of laughter and also hard times.

I see their potential. I see their weaknesses, but also see that they can overcome them.

He's the one with the dry erase board, hunched over in the huddle, sometimes yelling at them to focus.

I'm the one in the stands, praying that they'll live in this moment and appreciate it for all it is, not worrying about missing a shot or bobbling a pass or making a mistake...

because it is a beautiful thing, this game of basketball.

It's a beautiful thing when they finally come together.

It's a beautiful thing to see them smiling...

Play hard, dear hearts. And know that you'll always have at least one fan up there...

because I'm the coach's wife, and that is my biggest job. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Summer in Sunset Ridge: A Review and a Giveaway

Book: Summer on Sunset Ridge, Freedom Series Book 1

My thoughts:
I had never read this author before but the book description grabbed me. I love Civil War/pre-Civil War era fiction, and have always been fascinated by the Underground Railroad. I don't know much about the Quakers, but I had always heard they were instrumental in organizing the Underground Railroad... so a love story centered around this topic was a must-read.
This book was well-written with believable characters. The plot advanced well and the language was easy to understand. Inner conflict within the main characters spiced up the storyline. I felt like I was right in the story! I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in fiction from this time era. Nice read!

Author: Sharlene MacLaren
Genre: Historical Christian Romance
Brought up on a Quaker farm near Philadelphia at the brink of the Civil War, plainspoken Rebecca Albright is charitable, peace-loving, submissive—and a feisty abolitionist. Determined to aid the Underground Railroad no matter what the cost, her path collides with that of formidable slave-catcher Clay Dalton. When Rebecca is assigned to nurse Clay back to health following a near-fatal gunshot wound, her uneasiness around him and the questions surrounding his mysterious past complicate their strained but developing relationship.
Sherriff Clay Dalton is grimly fighting several battles of his own as he stays on at the Albright farm to work off his debt to the family that has saved his life and taken him in. He is torn between his past commitments in the South and his unlikely present among this quiet Quaker community in the North. Almost against his will, he begins to ponder the impossible idea of a future with Rebecca.…
When tensions between North and South escalate, Rebecca and Clay find themselves propelled on a journey to discover just who God has called them to be, and they soon realize that each holds a key to the other’s answer.

About the Author

Sharlene MacLaren Born and raised in western Michigan, award-winning, bestselling author Sharlene MacLaren attended Spring Arbor University. After graduating, she traveled with a nationally touring Christian vocal ensemble, returning home to Spring Arbor to marry her husband, Cecil, whom she’d known since childhood. Together they raised two daughters. Now happily retired after teaching elementary school for 31 years, “Shar” enjoys reading, singing in the church choir and worship teams, traveling, and spending time with her husband, children, and grandchildren. Her novels include the contemporary romances Through Every Storm, Long Journey Home, and Tender Vow; the beloved Little Hickman Creek series (Loving Liza Jane, Sarah, My Beloved, Courting Emma, and  Christmas Comes to Little Hickman Creek, a novella), and three historic romance trilogies: The Daughters of Jacob Kane (Hannah Grace, Maggie Rose, and Abbie Ann); River of Hope (Livvie’s Song, Ellie’s Haven, and Sofia’s Secret); Tennessee Dreams:  Heart of Mercy, Threads of Joy, and Gift of Grace.

Blog Stops

January 19: Reading Is My SuperPower
January 19: Giveaway Lady
January 19: A Reader’s Brain
January 20: Books. Books. And More Books.
January 20: The Power of Words
January 21: Bigreadersite
January 21: just the write escape
January 22: Moments Dipped in Ink
January 22: For The Love of Books
January 23: Book Bites, Bee Stings, and Butterfly Kisses
January 23: Genesis 5020
January 24: Pause for Tales
January 24: His Grace is Sufficient
January 25:  Book by Book
January 25: A Simple Life, really?!
January 26: A Greater Yes
January 26: Connie’s History Classroom
January 26: A Baker’s Perspective
January 27: Christian Author: A.M. Heath
January 27: Splashes of Joy
January 28: D’S QUILTS & BOOKS
January 28: Christian Bookaholic
January 28: History, Mystery & Faith
January 29: Stuff & Nonsense
January 29: Bibliophile Reviews
January 30: cherylbbookblog
January 30: Daysong Reflections
January 31: Blossoms and Blessings
January 31: Debbie’s Dusty Deliberations
February 1: Reader’s cozy corner
February 1: Rhonda’s Doings


To celebrate Sharlene’s tour, Whitaker House is giving away:
Grand Prize
Brown and tan fashion purse with cross, multiple interior and exterior pocketsand
Five Sharlene MacLaren titles: Summer on Sunset Ridge (Forever Freedom #1); Heart of Mercy (Tennessee Dreams #1); Livvie’s Song (River of Hope #1); Hannah Grace (Daughters of Jacob Kane #1); Loving Liza Jane (Little Hickman Creek #1)
Second Prize
“Keepers of the Light” Orange/Cinnamon/Clove candle from and
Summer on Sunset Ridge
Third Prize
Summer on Sunset Ridge
Click below to enter. Be sure to comment on this post to earn 9 extra entries in the giveaway!

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Letter to Caleb

I think the world has gone a little crazy.

No... I know the world has gone a little crazy.

I just watched an impassioned speech Ashley Judd gave on Saturday during the Women's March on Washington. Apparently it was a recitation of a poem written by a 19 year old about being a nasty woman, a moniker many have claimed since Trump degraded Hillary in a debate or a campaign speech or something, and Ashley quoted it with dramatic flair like only a Southern woman can do.

Over the past few months, we have seen this divisiveness continue to grow. Some blame it on Trump's fiery and rude statements. Others say we have been divided for years (and I tend to agree with the latter, although Trump's nonchalant attitude toward mockery and sarcasm somewhat disturbs me).

Feminism is not a new term. The "Women's Rights Movement" that I learned about in history class focused on women having the right to vote. The idea that women are equal to men is one that has continued to be an issue in politics, in religion, in education, and in the workplace, and women still have not been deemed "equal".

I have never  thought someone was better than me just because of their gender. I have never felt inferior to a male. I have been made to feel stupid by a male, but I have also fell prey to condescending words from a female.

I understand that women face many challenges. My conservative viewpoints do not try to wipe away domestic violence, sexual assault, and the realization that in many parts of this world women do not have the voice that they should. I read a post someone shared that talked about while they had not personally been marginalized, they were marching because they could... and some women can't.. .which is true. I AM NOT saying in this post that women are not often victims... globally, the atrocities many women face on a daily basis are unimaginable to me, and too often those same things covertly happen here. I am not blind nor deaf, nor am I naïve enough to believe that women have shattered the glass ceiling. I empathize with women who daily face abuse, who are afraid to say no, who know the heartbreak of abortion, who feel shame on all sides. It's not right, and I am not minimizing this...

However, I don't quite see how wearing a large hat shaped like a vagina on your head is any less degrading than words spoken...

but that's  neither here nor there, because the greatness that is (and always was, even before Donald Trump vowed to bring greatness back) America is that peaceful protests are not just accepted but often encouraged. From a young age, I have been taught by my parents that my voice matters, and my opinion matters, and if I think something is wrong I should stand up for it.

That's what many of those women chose to do on Saturday. I'd like to point out that it doesn't make any of us who chose not to march any less of a woman, and marching or protesting doesn't make anyone a monster.

I write all of the above to get to my main concern. I am the mother of a teenage boy. An impressionable young man, for sure. A young man trying to navigate his way through the landmine that is social media and misrepresentation by main stream media.

I'm responsible for teaching him right from wrong, and not to pat myself on the back, but he seems to have a pretty good head on his shoulders. This weekend left  him questioning, though... particularly the fact that women were wearing large vaginas on their head and also a post he saw of two women holding a sign that said, "If Mary had had an abortion we wouldn't be in this mess."

(No.  We wouldn't.  We'd be in an even bigger one... but that's just my humble opinion.)

Regardless of your political stance or your beliefs on abortion or women's rights or whether it serves a purpose to wear a large vagina on your head, you must agree with me that it's our responsibility to teach our young people... while encouraging them to figure stuff out for themselves. A daunting task at best. And I recognize that my views may be entirely different if I were the parent of a young, impressionable daughter, but...

Here  you go.  This is my message to Caleb in this upside down world in which we live...

You are a man. Maybe not emotionally, but for all intents and purposes you are one physically. You stand a head taller than me and you wear a size 12 shoe. It's been ages since you could pass for a child at the movie theatre.

I can't tell you all that being a man entails, because I have never been in that position. I have never been inclined to think like a man. Admittedly, I am not the perfect Mom or wife, but I have always been more than happy to allow Wallace to pay the bills in our household. I rather enjoy the fact that he is concerned with our welfare and that  he is a good provider. I have no qualms with admitting that he is the breadwinner in our household...but that doesn't make my vocation any less important. A woman can be important when working like I have, or when staying at home with her children. The choice is hers.

One day, you will grow up and fall in love. (Or maybe this puppy love between you and Lauren Green is the real thing. If that's the case, then you have already fallen in love). You will know that there is no one else on the planet for you. You will desire to move heaven and earth to make her happy. You will do everything in your power to make her smile.

Not all men do that... but I think that is one component of being a man. Loving even when it hurts, and knowing that it's ok for a real man to cry. Cherishing those you love. Knowing it is ok to admit when you are wrong.

Women and men are different. We are anatomically different, but we are also emotionally different. You have already experienced that as you've seen firsthand how your dad and I sometimes relate to one another... or fail to do so.

We can be different but equal. Women are not less than. Women deserve your respect. They are just as smart as you. They are just as capable as you. Do not ever handicap anyone just because of their gender.

If anything, treat them a little better, because  your Mama has raised you to treat a woman special.

Your dad will admit that he isn't a romantic, and I'm ok with that, but I see in you the makings of a very special guy. You're the guy who will send flowers. You're the guy who will write cheesy love notes. At times I see how caring you can be, and I appreciate that. Keep it up.

Know that your words are ammunition, and no one ever deserves to be treated poorly, woman or man. You can make or break somebody with  how you treat them. Respect, always.

Know that the loudest roars often come from people who have deep-seeded hurt inside them. I don't personally understand every situation, but I do know that I'm called to be empathetic and to show love. You need to show love, too. Not always acceptance, but before you call a spade a spade make sure you have thought through and have a reason for it. And also recognize that in some people's perception, a diamond will be a spade and you're wasting your breath, energy, and mental capacity to try to argue with them.

Know that a woman's body is her body and no means no. No woman needs to be belittled because of her boobs or her butt or her stomach size. This isn't a cattle market, and you remember that. I think we both know how I feel on the pro-life issue, but not every woman feels the same as I do. Respect that.

I have great expectations for you. As I mentioned, I feel like you've got a good head on  your shoulders, no thanks to your Mom. You are capable of making decisions that will influence others around you. Make  those decisions. Be smart. Be loving. Be kind. Be respectful.

Whether you're dealing with a man or a woman...

Because we all deserve that.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Never Forget: A Review and a Giveaway

For as long as I remember I have been fascinated with lighthouses. They have always seemed so romantic. I've been blessed to get to visit a couple on vacation and as I climbed the steps up, up, and around I was amazed. The lightkeeper's job had to be a difficult one, both physically and mentally!

In this lovely read by Jody Hedlund, Abbie finds herself facing the challenge of keeping the lighthouse running because her Grandfather is no longer able to. The lighthouse has served as the only true home Abbie has ever had, and the thought of having to leave it causes Abbie to make a decision that she may not have otherwise made.

Deserted by her husband, caring for an ailing grandfather, and facing eviction from the lighthouse, Abbie is at her wits end... until Nathaniel washes up on shore. He doesn't know who he is or where he is at, and immediately assumes he is Abbie's negligent husband. As he tries to make up for lost time and poor decisions by a man he doesn't even know, Abbie finds herself falling for his kind heart and gentle ways.

Hedlund's characters are well-developed. Through their speech and actions, the reader gets a good view of their heart, and both Abbie and Nathaniel are likeable. The description of the day to day life of a lighthouse keeper allows the reader to feel as though they are right on the island with them.

This book is a part of a series, but can be read as a stand-alone. I had not previously read the first four books (although I probably will amend that!).

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes historical romance. Nice, well-written read.

I did receive a free copy of this book for reviewing for Celebrate Lit.


About the Book


Book: Never Forget
Author: Jody Hedlund
Genre: Historical Romance
Release Date: January 4, 2017
Rose Island Lighthouse, Rhode Island
June 1880
Will she betray his trust to stay on the island she loves?
Abbie Wilson is content to spend her days clamming, crabbing, and tending Rose Island Lighthouse. Her grandpa is the head light keeper, but his senility may lead to their eviction. Since leaving the island would kill her beloved Gramps, Abbie will do anything to keep him in the one place he knows and loves.
Wealthy Nathaniel Winthrop III’s wild living has gained him a reputation as the ‘bad boy’ among the elite social circles of Newport. After a blow to the head in a yachting accident washes him up on Rose Island, Nathaniel has no memories of his past.
Abbie tends the wounded stranger in her home only to realize he assumes they’re married. Although she knows she needs to correct Nathaniel’s mistake, his presence calms Gramps and provides a way to prevent eviction from the lighthouse.
The longer the charade continues, the harder it gets for Abbie to tell Nathaniel the truth, more so as she begins to fall in love. Everyone she’s ever loved has abandoned her. Will Nathaniel leave her too, once he discovers he’s not really her husband?

About the Author

Winner of the 2016 Christian Book Award and Christy Award,  best-selling author Jody Hedlund writes inspirational historical romances for both youth and adults.
Jody lives in central Michigan with her husband, five busy children, and five spoiled cats. Although Jody prefers to experience daring and dangerous adventures through her characters rather than in real life, she’s learned that a calm existence is simply not meant to be (at least in this phase of her life!).
When she’s not penning another of her page-turning stories, she loves to spend her time reading, especially when it also involves consuming coffee and chocolate.

Guest Post from Jody Hedlund

Which Do You Prefer: Series or Standalones?
By Jody Hedlund
Readers usually have strong opinions about whether they like series or standalones.
Some readers refuse to read books that are inter-related. Others can’t get enough books about their favorite characters.
I see the pros and cons of both.
For series, I don’t like feeling lost as I try to wade through previous characters along with their backstory. I recently started a series by a well-known author and was disappointed to realize the first book was connected to a previous series she’d already published. From the get-go, I felt left out as though I didn’t quite know who all the characters were or their significance.
On the other hand, for standalones, I sometimes feel as though I would like the story to continue. I’ve invested in the setting and characters and so enjoy when I can return to that place and continue to glimpse the characters I’ve fallen in love with—even if from a distance.
My favorites are books that fall in the middle between standalone and series. I like to think of them as standalones within a series. Becky Wade’s Porter brother series is like that. Each of the books centers around one of the brothers (and a tomboy sister). While characters from other books make an appearance in the stories, each plot is separate and complete without any reliance upon another book.
My Beacons of Hope lighthouse series falls in the middle too. The books are related in that they all take place at lighthouses and share a symbolic “cross of hope” that is passed on from one book to the next. A minor character in a previous book becomes the hero or heroine in the next book. But each book can be read by itself without having read any of the others.
In other words, readers can pick up my newest release, Never Forget, which is the fifth and final book in the series, and they wouldn’t be confused about who the characters are or what their history is. The plot starts with a bang and ends with a satisfying sigh. It is complete story unto itself.
And yet, for those who’ve read other books in the series, they’ll get to see the happily-ever-after of a character from a previous book. And they’ll also get to find out where the cross of hope finally ends.
If you’re not a fan of series, I encourage you to give the Beacons of Hope series a try. It might satisfy the need for standalones and series all in one neat little package.
To that end, I’m giving away all FIVE books in the series as part of the Celebrate Lit blog tour to one lucky winner!
Tell us: What is your preference: Standalones, Series, or Standalones within a Series?

Blog Stops

January 10: Karen Sue Hadley
January 10: Bookworm Mama
January 11: Faithfully Bookish
January 12: Genesis 5020
January 13: The Scribbler
January 14: Daysong Reflections
January 14: Blogging With Carol
January 16: A Greater Yes
January 16: Bigreadersite
January 18: Book by Book
January 19: Carpe Diem
January 19: Splashes of Joy
January 20: Stuff and Nonsense
January 21: Radiant Light
January 21: cherylbbookblog
January 22: Neverending Stories
January 22: A Path of Joy
January 23: Henry Happens
January 23: Onceuponatime



To celebrate her tour, Jody is giving away the entire Beacons of Hope series. Click below to enter. Be sure to comment on this post before you enter to claim 9 extra entries!


Monday, January 16, 2017

A Call to Action: My take on Hillbilly Elegy

I am an Appalachian.

My 37 years have been spent at around eight different addresses less than 1 mile apart.

I am proud of my heritage... proud to be from Breathitt County, where no man had to be drafted during WWI because we met our quota with volunteers.  (and yes, I knew that, even before I read this book)

Proud of my great-grandfather who was a school board member.

Proud of my other great-grandfather who was a school bus driver and mechanic, who was a well "witcher" with the best of them.

Proud of my grandparents who aspired for more for their children... and expected more.

Proud of my Christian heritage.

Yet Appalachia, and Eastern Kentucky, and Breathitt County also make me sad.

Sad for lost opportunities. Sad for a sense of pervasive hopelessness. Sad because we seem stuck...

As I finished Hillbilly Elegy, I had to look up the word elegy because I wasn't sure of it's exact meaning. According to, an elegy is a mournful lament or song, especially for a funeral or for the dead.

I can't help but think that Vance's title is double-sided. His memoir tells his story of "upward mobility", two generations away from these Eastern Kentucky mountains, and a large part is dedicated to his Mamaw and Papaw, who are both deceased. I'm sure his elegy was for them... two of the most influential people in his life.

My elegy, though, is for our region.

Many have said we are dead.

Many of us act as though we are dead.

The statistics don't lie. We have higher rates for drug addictions. More of our children are being raised by grandparents, in single parent homes, or in foster homes. We have high rates of unemployment and high rates of poverty and high rates of nearly every health problem known to mankind.

As an adult, I mourn that this beautiful region I love is fast fading away.

I mourn that traditions such as family and loyalty seem to be vanishing.

I am discouraged that a sense of entitlement seems to pervade just as the sense of hopelessness... because too many have been reared on the notion that hard work isn't possible and the next handout will fix it all.

We are jaded. We are tired. We are overwhelmed with all the bad...

and as our young people graduate high school and move off or shoot up and overdose, we throw our hands up and shake our heads and wonder what the solution is.

Why won't someone fix it?

The thing about Hillbilly Elegy is... it could have been written by anybody that I know. Maybe not the beautiful prose or the grammatical correctness... but the storyline.

My grandpa and grandma moved to Michigan so he could find work in the steel mill and make a better life for his family. Brothers and sisters and nephews and nieces followed, and their house overflowed. He worked long, hard hours so that he could put food on the table. They had three kids and lived in Michigan until family duty called them home.

My grandpa was the smartest man I ever knew, and never had a college degree. Each of his kids went on to graduate college. All four of his grandchildren graduated college. It was expected of us.

Expectations are paramount to making changes.

On the flip side, Vance talks about those in his family who struggled... who continued the cycle. We can tell those stories here, too. I know several people who LIVE those stories. People who see financial stability as the ultimate goal, who work hard but struggle with shaking the mentality that they are poor, that they are hopeless.

This book is a hard read, namely because it doesn't offer solutions. In Eastern Kentucky, we sometimes get mad at outsiders who "look down" upon us... and Vance got some heat for that, because he didn't actually grow up in Jackson... but the way I look at, your home isn't necessarily your address. I don't live at Hollybush Farm, but there's not a place on earth where I feel more at home at than sitting gazing out over the pond. And his premise that you can move a family out of the holler but you can't always take the holler out of the family was a very interesting point.

We are all products of how we grew up. There's always been a nature versus nurture debate, and I think it is a little of both, but we learn what we see and what we hear.

What makes this book even harder to read is because Vance places the ball in our court. He cites numerous support systems he had growing up, and then talks about how he would have surely fallen through the cracks without these.

So many of our kids in Eastern Kentucky don't have those support systems. One line that really struck me: "I don't know what the answer is, precisely, but I know it starts when we stop blaming Obama or Bush or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better." 

What can I do to make things better?

This is a question I'll be pondering over the next few days.  I'd like to think that I am part of the solution. I'd like to think that the way I treat others, that the kids I come in contact with who may not have strong support systems, know that there is a way out of the hopelessness.

I'm not sure I convey that message loudly enough.

We are not less than because we are Appalachian. We come from hearty stock. Our heritage has been one of self-sufficiency. We have allowed ourselves to become crippled...

or paralyzed, maybe, because it seems as though we can't recover.

I don't know the economic answers or the solutions to our drug problems or our health problems.

I do know that the solution to hopelessness is hope, and I can offer that.

I can offer a helping hand. I can open my eyes to the people who are trying their darndest to act like they don't need anything. I can care when it seems as if nobody else does. I can love someone where they are, regardless of their social status or the number of times they have gone off the wagon and chose to use again.

I can be the change... and you can, too. It has to come from within.

One small act of kindness... one affirmation of worth.

These build upon each other.

We are worth saving. Our young people, our communities, our storied pasts...

they are worth saving.

Thank you, J.D. Vance, for putting into words a call to action for our area.

May we all be a little bit more brave and step up to the plate.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Some Ramblings on Sports... and other things...

I love football, y'all. 

Especially when the Steelers when big, like they did yesterday.

Which, by the way, I had to follow on my ESPN app on my phone, because we had more important sports action going on in the Bates house...

Will made his debut as a basketball player. He won (they don't keep score) because he "made it" when he shot the ball.

If you've never seen a youth basketball game with kids aged 5 and under you've missed a real treat.

My goal to laugh more this year?

Yep.  I belly laughed several times.

The kids roll around on the floor. They have no idea which basket at which they are supposed to be shooting. They wave at Mom and Dad and run into the bleachers and run off the court at will.

But they have fun...

which is what sports is all about.

Well, not always about fun. And there's never anything fun about losing, even though it builds character. And I'm NOT  a believer in the trophy generation... I think you should earn every stinking trophy you get. No participation trophies.

I can safely say that because I've lost a lot over the years. I never was an athlete... but I tried. Somehow my Dad convinced me to play tee-ball. I had a lot of fun spinning circles in the outfield, and picking dandelions, and chasing butterflies... which may have been why the other team's coach was so mad when I made the game-winning run in the end of the season tournament game.

Only because I somehow miraculously managed to get on base, and the next guy hit a homerun, but still...

I have always remembered the impassioned way that coach behaved after that game.... and it wasn't pretty, y'all.  And sometimes I behave that way.  And I shouldn't.

I also remember a parent from another team during my ponytail league years. This was where you actually had to hit a pitch, and I think we should have realized that if I could barely hit a ball OFF A TEE I probably wasn't going to be a pro at hitting a ball that came sailing through the air at me (thank God it was slow pitch!!) but I'm a slow learner so I actually played a couple of seasons.  (And my Mom and Dad PAID for it.  With money.  Paid for this punishment.)

I was a member of the team and the dug out was a nice place to gossip. I also learned lots of cheers, like "I see a hole out there..." although I never saw said hole because. 1. I was almost blind and 2. I had no hopes of the ball ever making it that far...

Anyway...I digress. One day I took my turn to bat, with a girl I considered a pretty good friend pitching. (I don't know if we were actually friends at that time... but we were friends in 7th grade. I even spent the night at her house a couple of times... and reflected on these words...)

So I'm up there at bat. The sun is beating down and I'm probably sweating and my glasses are probably sliding down my nose. And this parent, as I clutch the bat and swipe my feet in the dirt at home plate, yells, "Don't worry about your pitch. She's not going to hit it anyway. And if she does, you can throw her out at first."

Yep.  I heard it. I don't remember if I hit it or not, but I do know my Mom was blazing mad.

We never know what our words can do. They stick with others... good and bad.

I didn't need that dad telling me I wasn't too good at softball. I knew it. I had no ideals of pursuing a college scholarship in the sport... but I enjoyed being a part of a team. Looking back on it now, it's funny... but it wasn't then.

What you say to your kids... to other kids... they internalize it. Some of them can shake it off, but others take it to the bones.

We're told in the Bible that our words can either bring death or life. Now I'm not saying that those words killed my softball career.  I pretty much had already dug that grave and was getting ready to attend to the burial myself... but the point is, if I had truly loved softball, those words might have hurt me immeasurably.

We have to walk a fine line with our kids. They need criticism. They need to understand they aren't always going to be the best at everything, and sometimes a good ride on the bench helps them see that picture a little clearer... but we never have the right to criticize another kid.  Especially loud... in public.

This is the height of basketball season, an intense time at our house. (And I realize I've covered the gamut of sports in this post, except maybe bowling, and I apologize for skipping around).

As I watched Will run up and down that court Sunday, pure joy on his face, I started thinking about how we don't always let kids be kids. Youth sports are about teaching kids to compete fairly, being good sports, and learning to love the game.

If you're going to play, you have to love the game.

I'm glad that I got a little glimpse of the heart of a game... in those little ones who truly love it.

In parents who may have been keeping the score in their head, but cheered for both teams when they made a basket.

See, you can support your team in a way that doesn't demoralize the other team... and most importantly, that doesn't demoralize your teammates.

If you're a student athlete reading this, remember why you started... unless it's because your parents made you. (If that's the case, that's a whole other post).

Think about the love of the game you had, the exhilaration you felt when you first held that ball in your hand, when you first slipped on that uniform, when you first ran on a court.

Hold onto that. That feeling can never be replicated, but it can guide you every other night.

And parents, think about how proud you were that first time your kid made a shot. You work hard, too... driving them to and from practices and games. It's hard work, being a sports parent... but you'll only have that for a little while, and then it will be gone. Cherish it. Let them know you're proud of them, and support their teammates and coaches, even if you don't agree with every call made.

Because sometimes, the magic ends. The lights go out in the gym and you've laced up your last set of tennis shoes as a player, and you'll find yourself sitting in the stands with crazy people like me, and you'll hear a parent say something like that parent said about me and you'll shake your head because...

only you know what it's like to be on that free throw line with the game on the line.

But we know what's it's like to cheer as it bounces in. 

Ah... the joy of sports.

One of my favorite things in the world...

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Meet Ellie!

I am not an animal person.

Not cats. Not dogs. Not fish. Not gerbils.

But Caleb somehow decided that he wanted to be a dog person.

He's obsessed over it for months.

When we asked what he wanted for Christmas... that was it.

Even over a new computer, y'all...

So after much pleading, cajoling, and begging, and a lot of research from Caleb, we broke down and decided he could get a dog.

I've seen him excited about a lot of things... but I don't know that I've ever seen him this excited.

Meet Ellie. She's kind of cute. She does pretty good on car rides, just wanting to snuggle, and she didn't even get sick.

We've yet to determine potty training status, but I'm crossing my fingers it will go well...

because Caleb is over the moon.

And surprisingly, I'm pretty smitten, too. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Five Minute Friday: Connect

Sometimes I sit in the bleachers of the gym and feel like I'm all alone.

The crowd will be cheering. Wallace will be yelling. The girls hustling on the floor...

but I still am in a daze.

Sometimes I feel like I'm on the outside looking in.

I know I'm an introvert, and I'm ok with that.

And being the coach's wife, I often separate myself. I'll sit by myself because let's face it, Wallace isn't always the most popular guy. And that's ok...

Because every parent is doing his/her job by loving their kid, which means that sometimes, they may be mad at the bully who is the coach... even if he's giving that kid tough love.

Understanding this doesn't mean I want to hear what they have to say about it, though...

One of my goals this year was to be intentional about friendship. I don't know that I would call myself a good friend. A lot of that goes back to being an introvert... I don't always know what to say and to be honest sometimes people exhaust me...

But I'm reminded about how in Hebrews we are told to forsake not the assembling of ourselves together, and while I know that is talking about the church, I can't help but think maybe God meant friends, too.

After all, one of the highest compliments He paid someone was to say they were a friend of God...

And to be a friend, one has to show Himself friendly... and I know that sometimes I may seem stand-offish. It's not because I mean to. I genuinely care about other people and want to be liked, for the most part.

I just have trouble making a connection.

I don't know what to say. I'm horrible at making small talk. I spend my time thinking about what I should say next.

I have thousands of friends on facebook... but still sometimes feel like I don't have anyone with whom to talk. I think that's a problem with social media in general... we connect, but it's shallow.

So, tonight I'm thinking of how I can make a real-life connection this coming week. Somehow, I'm going to go out of my way to make it a point to show myself friendly to one real-life person.

To connect with them...

And then to try to connect them with the Father because of His light in me.

*Linking up with Kate Montaug and Five Minute Fridays, where we write for five minutes, unedited, on a single prompt. This week, the word was connect... and I may or may not have cheated and written for a little bit longer...

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Throwback Thursday

Night before last I was staying at my Grandma's house. I wasn't able to get on the treadmill, and since one of my new year's goals is to get 10,000 steps a day, I decided to walk in the house.

Not my favorite way to exercise. So I circled the kitchen table and walked between the bathroom and the living room, and then decided to venture upstairs.

The upstairs of my Grandma's Bert's house used to be our hiding place. Brandon and I spent many hours up there, playing detective, investigating murders. The collection of books Grandma kept from her teaching always kept me occupied, and the small desk under the window gave me the perfect view of my favorite climbing tree.

It was always piled high with old toys and picture albums and other treasures that have absolutely no value other than sentiment.

That night, it did not disappoint.

Stowed away in the bookshelf, there was a stack of old movies. Two piqued my curiosity. One was an old family movie. Another had "David Kyle" written on it. David Kyle is Wallace's assistant coach and his family were close friends with my Uncle Dennis. I thought it might have been some good stuff to show after ball practice one day.

What I discovered was four hours of cartoons, probably taped to occupy David Kyle as Carol worked at the office.

That got me thinking of all of the great cartoons when I was little... like He-Man and She-Ra. The Smurfs, of course. The Snorkels. Pound Puppies. My Little Pony. Rainbow Brite. Care Bears. Strawberry Shortcake.  And some show that I can't remember the name of that had a dog dressed as a cheerleader with a D on the sweater and a moose. (I can remember that because I had the playset and I loved it).

So that got me thinking of some of the things I loved as a kid.

1. I loved books. Obviously.
Sweet Valley High. The Babysitters Club. Fear Street. I collected them and read them voraciously, then read them again.

2. A Cabbage Patch General Hospital playset that I had. I don't remember if it had figures or what, but I do vaguely remember playing with it in the living room at my Grandma Bert's house.

3. Singing. Loudly. With a wooden microphone or a hairbrush in front of my mirror.

4. My caboodle. I didn't even like makeup but I sure liked that thing. Mine was peach and was full of Bonnie Bell lip smackers lip gloss.

5. The telephone my cousin Jennifer had that was clear, showing the insides of the phone, which were made of neon parts. It lit up when it rang, too.

6. Garbage Pail Kids... and the stickers. Everywhere. On all of my folders and notebooks.

7. Colorforms.  You know... the clingy things that you could rearrange over and over until they lost their cling.

8. New Kids on the Block.  As in I really loved them.

9. Going to Pizza Hut and feeding quarters into the juke box to listen to Bon Jovi, Poison, and Guns n Roses.

10. Mint chocolate chip ice cream from the ice cream store in North Jackson Plaza. I don't remember the name, nor do I remember how long it was there, but I do remember walking over from Dad's office and making the purchase.

11. Icees from the Dime Store.

12. Running down the ramp at Rose Bros. and walking down the steps into the basement at Martins' Department Store.

13. Also running down the ramp at Maloney's.

14. Playing Wheel of Fortune and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiago on my computer at home.

Sometimes it's good to look back on a simpler time.  Funny, though, when you're a kid or a teenager, you can't wait to grow up... and then you get there and realize it really wasn't so bad.

So, what's some of your favorites growing up?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

His Word Will Not Go Out Void

I set my alarm for 420 AM, and y'all...

I rolled out of bed.

I am not a morning person, but this morning I felt compelled to get out of bed.

Even though I don't always manage "quiet time" first thing in the morning.

Ok, let's be honest.

I rarely ever manage "quiet time" in the morning. The snooze button is too inviting.

This morning, though, was different.

I heard it as I walked from my car to the building yesterday at work, and again as I walked back to the car that evening. I couldn't make out the words, only the inflection coming from the speakers, but I knew...

Once you get into His Word, It gets into you, and It settles in you and settles you.

Even though I couldn't understand the words, I knew it was good.

Because He is good, and His Word is one long love letter to us.

So I drove through the rain with Klove on this morning, chugging my Diet Coke because have I mentioned I'm not a morning person?

And as I read from Isaiah 52, knowing that in counties across the state of Kentucky there were other people who very well may be reading that very same chapter at exactly the same time, something about this verse hit me in the feels. "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!"

In this passage, the bearer of good news is considered beautiful. The publisher of peace is beautiful.

Not always so in today's world of gossip and he said/she said.

And just read these words slowly... "upon the mountains are the feet".

The feet... meaning that good news was spread by word of mouth. Oh, sure, they had scrolls... but only priests could read those.

(Let's pause and let me mourn not being able to read... because if I was a woman in Biblical times, I'd have some very different hobbies. Ok... let's not go there).

So the good news of salvation came by people going from town to town... like Jesus. And the disciples. Hence the great commission...

Which is still alive and well today.  And as I read, I felt a part of that great commission. Kind of like that song, "In the highways and the hedges"... because God's Word is powerful. Speaking God's Word is powerful.  A group of Christians agreeing together is powerful...

As I sat there and listened to the other people read, it moved me. It was beautiful.

Too often we get distracted as we sit in our padded pews on Sunday mornings with our Iphones. I'm just as guilty as the next person. And while I have consciously made myself stop making my to do list during church (a habit I will admit that I have had in the past), I still find myself with my mind wandering...

When was the last time I just sat and really soaked in His Word?

Because it is beautiful.

I started thinking of Nehemiah. In this book, the captives are returning to rebuild their city. They've been in a foreign land and are thirsty for the Word of God. They've not been blessed with it wherever they've been. So Ezra the priest stood to read the Word.

He read from morning until midday...

And the people that listened to him were attentive the whole time.

Standing up.

Y'all.  Let's be honest. Sometimes I'm ready to sit down after a verse...

but they stood there and listened. No fidgeting. No talking to each other. Obviously, no facebook on their cell phone.

And they wept.

As Ezra read those beautiful words, the people who heard them wept.

He tells them not to mourn... and perhaps they were mourning time lost. Opportunities lost. It's easy to do...

but as I sat there this morning listening to those words being read over that microphone, those with the long, unpronounceable names and the years old promises, I understood why they might have wept.

Because when your heart is full of wonder... you can't help but weep.

It comes in you... and then, because it fills you, it spills out of you.

Into your husband or wife. Your kids. Your community. The grouchy person who nearly runs you over with a shopping cart at Walmart.

And His Word doesn't return void... It accomplishes the purpose God has for it.

So, beautiful people, wherever you are... spread that good news. Jesus loves you. Jesus saves. He is the Word made flesh that came to dwell among us and His Spirit is in us...

Let's start acting like it.

And all the people, even the one typing this who is preaching to herself, said Amen...

Monday, January 2, 2017

Tough as They Come: A Review

Some books just hit you in the gut.

You know, give you the feels?

This book by SSG Travis Mills is one of them that does just that.

SSG Mills gives us encouragement by sharing his story of becoming one of only five surviving quadruple amputee injuries, and he tells it with grace, dignity, and honor... fitting of someone who bravely served his country.

SSG Mills was injured during his third deployment to Afghanistan. In this book, he describes his recovery period, including how he determined in his heart to not give up.

The book is well-written, and while the topic is a difficult one, the reader is captured by the perseverance demonstrated by SSG Mills.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who may feel like they are facing something which they can't overcome, or someone who feels like they are ready to give up. His humor and grit shine through and I was encouraged by his story. SSG Mills truly is tough as they come, and he encourages readers to face whatever difficulty they may have with the same courage.

This book can be purchased at Amazon:

I received a free copy of this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review, which I am now providing.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017: A Year to Live

I've anxiously awaited the new year since mid-fall.

Seriously... 2016 was hard for a lot of reasons, and I think most people were ready for a reset.

Me included. As we counted down to the ball dropping, Will was jumping up and down and when it reached one he yelled, "Yay! We won!" and that's exactly how I felt about the end of 2016.

We survived. It wasn't pretty, but we lived to tell the tale.

The new year brings me great joy and hope, even though I know there really isn't anything special. As we were sitting around after the ball dropped, Caleb said, "Well, I don't feel any different."

And while that is true, the clean page of 2017 beckoned me. Even though I knew I could be writing my story all along, there's something about fresh starts that are beautiful.

I don't make resolutions, because I know I'm not disciplined and also because I have learned that we truly never know what tomorrow holds, and things that seem important one day suddenly become very, very trivial at the drop of a hat.

I do, however, like to reflect on where I am and set goals for the coming year.... so, here's my 17 for 2017.

1. Because I've chosen "LIVE" to be my word for 2017, focusing on Galatians 2:20, being crucified to self but alive through Christ, my first goal is to live to the fullest. Embrace life. Die to myself. Take deep breaths and enjoy the experience. Too often we only survive... and while it sounds cliché, this is my year to thrive! (Or at least enjoy the floundering as much as possible).

2. Exercise. Walk 10,000 steps a day, exercising at least a minimum of 30 minutes per day 5 days a week. Also I want to hike as much as possible, do some Pound at least once a week, and just move more in general. Wallace bought us a kayak so that's on the agenda once the weather gets warmer. And I'd love to run a 5K- a goal I've had for several years, so...

3. Read through the Chronological Bible.

4. Bible studies- Scripture memorization through the book Matters of the Heart, and the Scripture Memorization team through Living Proof Live. Other Bible studies I have include All Things New by Kelly Minter, Mark by Lisa Harper, Hosea by Jennifer Rothschild, and Entrusted by Beth Moore. Lifeway is praying through the Psalms the first 40 days of the year.

I want to do it all!

5. Explore KY- visit at least 10 new counties and do something fun and different in each of them, or something unique to that county.

6. Write every day. I'd like to *gasp* write a book. Maybe a devotional, or a collection of stories from my family... I'm debating, but I'm hoping to put some pen to paper and actually get started.

7. Learn something new- Spanish, piano... I don't know. Just learn.

8. And be intentional about learning. Acknowledge what new things I was introduced to. Look for opportunities to learn... about things I didn't really think I'd want to learn about.

9. Random/unrandom acts of kindess- Things that I can do to make life better for other people.

10. Be more intentional about friendship. Reach out to at least one person a week. Facilitate relationships with people of different ages and interests.

11. Read 130 books. This is always my favorite one!

12. Snap a pic every day- make memories

13. Count 1,000 Gifts- Be thankful- and Be the GIFT (giving it forward today).

14. Laugh.  Hard. Everyday.

15. Three 15s a day- 15 minutes to plan, 15 minutes to reflect, using it to grow. 15 minutes of picking up the house every day.

16. Make time for family. My parents. Siblings. In-laws. Grandma. Aunts, Uncles, and cousins. And also those who may not have family.

17. Live out Micah 6:8- Seek justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.

My goals center around becoming healthier physically and mentally. Growing closer to God. Preach my own funeral every day.