Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Gorton's Smart and Crunchy Fish Review and a Giveaway (Ends 4/12)

FTC disclaimer:  I received a Gorton's Smart and Crunch review kit in exchange for a fair and honest review.  All opinions are my own.

Comfort foods are often foods that many times aren't too healthy for you.   I am thankful to say one of my comfort foods is Gorton's fish!   When I was growing up, it was a staple in our freezer, and one glance in my freezer now shows with all the yellow bags and boxes that it's a staple in my life now.  I've been very busy lately with house renovations, wedding planning, growing my blog, work, plus everyday life, and I don't often have time to do more than wander to the kitchen, stick something in the oven, and wander back to my computer while it bakes.  Right now I'm wanting my prep time for meals to be as quick as possible.  Another bonus is I can buy several packages of Gorton's products and don't have to shop for groceries as often.  

I've been trying to watch what I eat a little more with my wedding in less than two months.  The new Gorton's Smart and Crunchy fish has 50% less fat than Gorton's regular fish and are only 180 calories per serving.  That means I can throw a few frozen potatoes in and have a quick and easy meal staying within a normal calorie range, or even better, I can microwave some single serve veggies, and have an even healthier meal!  (But let's be honest, it's often potatoes.)

Tonight's Dinner -- Gorton's Smart and Crunchy with potatoes.  Quick, Easy, and good for me!

The new Gorton's Smart and Crunchy fish sticks and fillets are made with 100% wild-caught Alaska Pollock.  They are also breaded in a tasty panko breadcrumb that gives them a great crunchy taste.  While I love some of the other Gorton's fish, I am glad that these are low in calories, easy, and tasty.  Fish and seafood are natural sources of lean protein and critical nutrients like vitamins and minerals including iron, zinc, and vitamins A, B, and D.  My doctor has encouraged me to eat more fish and Gorton's is always what I reach for in the frozen foods section!  

But Smart and Crunchy sounds healthy, does it actually taste good?   YES!  The night I first tried it, I was swamped with trying to get my wedding invitations addressed, and I took the bag out of the freezer and just tossed dinner in the oven.  When the timer went off, I had even forgot I had thrown dinner in, I was so concentrated on wedding details.  I made my way to the kitchen, and on my way there thought, "This smells really good."  It looked tasty when I opened the oven, and then when I allowed it to cool slightly and took a bite, I was thinking that I would have to make Smart and Crunchy my go-to meal when I'm cooking for myself between now and the wedding.  I'm normally a picky eater, and so finding a style of fish that is even healthier for me AND that I like is a win-win in my book.  

It's also been great to have during Lent as when I do cook for my boyfriend on Fridays, I can fix the exact same easy meal for the two of us as I have been fixing for myself when I am busy.

As you all know, I love coupons.   So I was happy to find a $1 off coupon at SmartAndCrunchy.com  There is also information about their national tour where they are visiting spots across the country to give out samples, coupons, and even chances to win!  Not only that but while on their site, you can sign up for a great sweepstakes to try and win a vacation for four.  Of course, while there, you want to sign up for their newsletter and find a store near you that sells Gorton's Smart and Crunchy fish.

 And now for the giveaway:   Open only to the USA, 18 and older.  Winner will receive a Gorton's Smart and Crunchy Prize pack which includes:

TWO full-value product coupons
TWO Gorton's Aprons (one adult size and one child size)
One Smarty Crunchman Plush Stuffy

Winner has 48 hours to respond to winning e-mail or another winner may be chosen.

Monday, March 30, 2015

It's POSSIBLE to change the world Review and giveaway

FTC disclosure:  I received a copy of the book Possible in exchange for a fair and honest review.  I also received an appreciation certificate from Family Christian for hosting this giveaway.  This post contains an affiliate link to Family Christian.  This post is merely telling some of my experiences in helping with Nuru International.  Family Christian, Stephan Bauman, are in no way connected to Nuru International, although it's a great organization and I thought it appropriate to share about this organization.

When I was in college, we used to sit around and dream of changing the world.  I think a lot of college students do, but some friends of mine started a non-profit that has been amazing with results and as a result I feel I have a part in changing the world.   Because of this when Family Christian offered the opportunity to review Possible  by Stephan Bauman who is president and CEO of World Relief, I was excited because I know changing the world is possible.   I do it every time I list an item for sale online.  No, not impossible but Possible.

When I first received this book I couldn't wait to start reading it.  I knew that my friends had a new and innovative way to help include people in their fight against extreme poverty.  I wanted to read more of what they knew that I didn't.  This is a great book for anyone who wants to change the world, if you are on the front lines or if you work behind the scenes.  Just be warned, you will come away from this book knowing it can be done, and the "It will never work" excuse will no longer fly!  I also received a copy of Imagine What is Possible which is sold both as single copies or as 10 packs.  This booklet sums up the book in one short reading.  This is great for church groups to start finding their vision!

One of the things I liked about this book was the author mentioned different times that bloggers have a huge influence in our world.  We can help spread the word about causes and rally support.  I love how he emphasizes we find our talent and use it!  If we aren't talented in public speaking, that's not how we will likely change the world.  I'm good at social media, getting people involved in ideas, and spreading the word about causes.  I have a friend who uses her talents of crafts to raise money for missions and donate blankets and sweaters to newborns in need. She also crochets sleeping mats for the homeless. I have a talent of finding bargains, so it's not uncommon for me to walk away from a garage sale with a bag of yarn I got for almost nothing to give her to use in her projects.  Unusual ways of changing the world but it is giving to others.  Another lady I know loves using coupons and donates items she purchased almost free to her local food bank.  

In Possible, Bauman talked about finding our passion and sticking with it.  In another book I read recently, it said how we are all the church and if we have a passion, we shouldn't just say to our local church, "We need to do this thing that is my passion."  We are all the church, so we should follow our passion and ask the Church for help if needed.

I have two dear friends from college who have found their passion in adopting special needs children from Asia.  Sometimes special needs can be something as small as a cosmetic surgery. My friends have taken six children into their hearts and home.  My heart has been breaking for them because they were told their daughter Ami had epilepsy, but that's not what is wrong with her.  She actually has a very rare disease and is needing a major surgery that will leave her physically handicapped just so she can have quality of life.  She doesn't weigh enough at the moment for surgery.  Please pray for Ami.  She is so loved, and she is so seriously ill, even though she doesn't look it in this photo.

Ami and her mother.  Photo courtesy of Marjorie S.

Finding your passion makes world changing POSSIBLE.  You might not be able to change the entire world but you can change a corner of it.  Ami's life has been changed because of a couple who see the need for finding orphans a family.  Marjorie also helps others navigate through the adoption process.  

 Another passion of mine is a local public school.  I truly believe in education even though I don't currently have children.  After a big project I did to help out the school, I was quoted in the paper about helping others, "Everyone can do something."  A lot of those "somethings" add up.  Just find what you can do and anything is POSSIBLE!

A chemist, a magician, and a developer all walk into a meeting bringing different skills, but but wearing one common t-shirt.  If you can't read it, it says, "This t-shirt will not end extreme poverty, but you can with Nuru".   Each time I list something for sale online, I usually donate 10% of the amount to a charity, often times Nuru.  I have mentioned Nuru in an interview I have done about how I donate from auction sales.  I give, and I spread the word.  I might not be able to be on the ground in Africa making a difference, but this is how I make a difference from West Virginia.

Photo courtesy Billy Williams of Nuru International

What do my donations and spreading awareness make POSSIBLE?  A farmer has more maize than his family needs and he can sell some for a profit.   The lady in the photo is making her first deposit in a banking system and was so excited she was able to save some money that she asked for her photo to be taken.

Photos courtesy Billy Williams of Nuru International

Just like Stephan Bauman says in his book, let's find our cause, raise awareness, and change the world because it truly is possible.  If I can help change the world, you can too!  Find your passion.  Hone your skills, and let's see lasting change!

Needless to say, I highly recommend the book Possible.  This is great for every college student who is dreaming great dreams.  I recommend it to pastors, mission boards, those interested in the poor. Basically, if you care about people, I would say you should probably read this book.

Believe it or not, this was a book review sponsored by Family Christian.  They are a fantastic go to place for all your needs, it doesn't matter if you are having a VBS at your church or the jungle on a mission trip, they have the supplies you would need to make changing your world POSSIBLE.    They want to give one reader of this post a $10 Appreciation certificate to Family Christian.  This giveaway is open to the USA only and ends April 9.  Winner has 48 hours to respond to the winning e-mail or another winner will be chosen.

Enter in the widget below!  :)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Review Purex Crystals ScentSplash (And Giveaway Ends 4/5)

FTC disclaimer:  Most of my posts contain affiliate links where I get a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you when you purchase something through a link.  Thank you for starting your shopping here at Books, Bargains, Blessings.  I received a free bottle of Purex Crystals ScentSplash to help facilitate this review.  All opinions are my own

There is a new product by Purex called Purex Crystals Scent Splash.  This is an in-wash fragrance booster that gives your laundry a fresh smell for months!  How cool is that?  I just used it for the first time today, and I know my fiance is going to love the smell.  He prefers laundry to have a fresh scent, and my allergies prefer it not, so this is perfect for us because I only have to buy one laundry detergent, and as long as I keep this on hand, we both can be happy!  Plus I love smelling fresh laundry, just not to wear things laundered with a scented product because of allergies, so this is great!  I can enjoy the smell of his clothes as they come out of the wash, and as I fold them!  Plus it helps eliminate laundry odors -- even on nasty smelling socks!  I've tried the Purex Crystals before, but this one is in LIQUID form.  I liked the Crystals, but this seems to allow you a stronger scent, so this is my personal pick over the Crystals.

It comes in three scents:
Fresh Spring Waters, Fresh Lavender Blossom, and Fresh Mountain Breeze.  

This is a great product, and one I know we'll buy again and again.  

And now for the giveaway:  USA only, one entry per day per person.  Winner has 48 hours to respond to winning e-mail or another winner will be chosen.  Giveaway ends April 5, 2015.  Winner will receive TWO coupons for totally free Purex ScentSplash.


Friday, March 27, 2015

7QT: Wedding planning, Pepperoni Rolls, and Guinea pig Cake Toppers

Most of my posts contain affiliate links where I get a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you when you purchase something through a link.  Thank you for starting your shopping here at Books, Bargains, Blessings.

It's been a while since I did a Quick Take Friday.  But I decided today it was time to take a break from my currently busy life and write a blog post about wedding prep.

1.  I have the cake toppers but have no idea what we are doing about cake.

I wanted something different, something that screamed with my personality, and I found it thanks to My Custom Cake Topper on Etsy.  These have arrived, and I love them.  They are my guinea pigs Lucky and Archie. She created these from photos I provided. Aren't they adorable?  (No, I didn't receive anything by mentioning this Etsy store, I am just pleased with them and wanted to share.)  I do want a simple three tier cake to have a photo taken of us to look like my parents' wedding photo, but beyond that we aren't sure what we are doing about cake.  We are thinking of doing cakes that recently won in a contest for my fiance and that way we can do them ourselves.  We just aren't sure yet what we are going to do -- budget wedding but we also want things to be unique.  But I have the cake toppers.  

2. Candy Buffet

I thought a candy buffet would be a good idea.  Someone please tell me it will be.  Right now, I'm a bit frustrated at all the blue candy being blueberry or raspberry flavored.  We are currently planning on making some "hard tack" also known as "glass candy" and coloring it blue but flavoring it tangerine or some other yummy flavor.  I'm nearly ready to give up and make the candy buffet a rainbow.

3. Entertainment

I'm finally able to announce that master illusionist Scott Humston will be doing the entertainment for our reception.  He has even taken his show to the White House.  As both an entertainer and illusionist, it's going to be one wedding reception that no one in attendance will ever forget.

4. Pepperoni Rolls.

One of our food offerings at the reception will be pepperoni rolls.  If you aren't from West Virginia, you may never have heard of this delicacy.   They vary depending on what area of the state you are in, but we will be buying ones that are rolls with pepperoni and cheese baked inside them.  The grease soaks into the bread and they are one of the best treats you'll ever have.  Kind of like pizza rolls, but better.  They are a bit of heaven from the state of Almost Heaven.  Not even traditional, but nothing about this wedding is. 

5.  Flowerless Wedding.

I'm allergic to flowers.  I've had suggestions that I should go with silk flowers.  But the church we are getting married in is gorgeous.  It's an old time log cabin church with exposed beams.  I think flowers would take away from the beauty of the church.  And. . . . 

6.  A Bible instead of a Bouquet

I found my mother's bridal Bible -- the one she carried down the aisle when she married my dad.  The one my grandmother gave her.  Since my mother passed away last year and my father passed away 9 years ago, it seems appropriate I would carry her Bible.  Instead of a pillow, the ring bearer with be carrying Dad's Bible with ribbon around it.  What a wonderful way to make my parents part of the ceremony.

7.  I'm too busy.

I was telling my fiance last night I bit off more than I can chew at the moment.  I'm upgrading and renovating my blog.  I'm planning a budget wedding.  I am doing major renovations to the house.  And I'm tired.  I feel like I have too much on my plate right now, but there's no way I can back out of any of it.  Hopefully the major work with my blog will be done by next week and then I can just concentrate on content.  But the house renovations have revealed surprises in nearly every room so far and not good surprises.

For more 7 Quick Takes Friday posts, you can visit This Aint the Lyceum.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dial Sugar Cane Husk Scrub Review and Giveaway Ends 4/1/15

FTC  disclaimer:  The Dial brand provided me with a sample of Dial Sugar Cane Husk Scrub Hand soap in exchange for a product review.  However, all the opinions expressed here are my own. Most of my posts contain affiliate links where I get a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you when you purchase something through a link.  Thank you for starting your shopping here at Books, Bargains, Blessings.

I love moisturing hand soap.   A few years ago I found some from a specialty store at a really good price, but I used them up.  What's a girl to do when she doesn't want to specialty prices for soap?  I don't like using lotion after I wash my hands because they feel all greasy and between doing crafts and listing items for sale online, I don't want to risk staining something I'm working with.

When I had the opportunity to try this new conditioning soap from Dial, I was excited.  Could it be that I have found the economical answer to my soap problem?  Would it be a deep cleansing hand soap as well as keeping my hands from drying out?  A girl could only hope.

When I received the bottle, I put it in the bathroom.  As you can tell, it's a great family soap because that's everyone's soap of choice right now!  It has a micro scrubber and it gives refreshing moisture.  

I'm quite happy with this soap.  Low cost, high on cleaning, good moisture.  Dial gets an "A+" in my book for this one.

For the giveaway:  One winner in the USA will receive three totally free coupons for Dial soaps:

Complete Omega Moisture Foaming Hand Wash 7.5 ounces
Dial Liquid Hand Soap 7.5 ounces or larger
Dial Boutique Collection Sugar Cane Hand Soap 8 ounces
Limit one coupon per store visit.

Friday, March 20, 2015

From Good to Grace and Giveaway (ends 3/29)

Most of my posts contain affiliate links where I get a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you when you purchase something through a link.  Thank you for starting your shopping here at Books, Bargains, Blessings.  I received a free copy of this book from Family Christian in order to do a fair and honest review.  I also received an appreciation certificate for hosting the giveaway.

From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel appealed to me.  I was the classic good girl in high school and college.  In fact, I once made a checklist of all the "Good Christian Things" I could think of and would see how good of a Christian I was each week.  Going to Sunday School?  That got a point.  Memorizing a Book of the Bible?  Another point.  Choir Practice?  It was on there, too, even though I can't sing at all.  I lost points if I didn't write a missionary, pray through my entire prayer list, and another 27 other things that would tell me at the end of the week if I passed or failed at being a Christian.   Needless to say I never was able to live up to my expectations, and I failed.

I was hoping to love this book.  I wanted to rave about how wonderful it was.  Yet, I can only say it was good.  There were two chapters that stood out as  excellent (Receiving His Freedom and Love Shows).  This book is good, but I think I have been a bit too well read on grace over the years for this to be something outstanding to me.  Still, I would highly recommend it for a women's Sunday School class, Bible study or book club.  My boyfriend tells me I am intense about my faith, and because of that and being the voracious reader I am, I have read countless books on this topic.  Yet, it was still a good reminder that being good doesn't equal grace.

It is rare that I agree with everything in a book, and the one problem I had with this one was where she told someone, "I know exactly how you feel."   Because each person is different, they will view each situation uniquely.  I've always felt that a more loving way to say basically the same thing is say, "I have felt. . ." and then say how you interpret the person is feeling.

I did like that this is nearly a Bible study book but the author uses many personal examples of how she has given or received grace.  She's married to a pastor, a church planter, no less, and has an autistic son.  I would say she has a lot of experience giving and receiving grace.  She also dispels the myth that if we are good enough, we will be blessed by God.  That was a very popular teaching among my friends for a long time. I no longer buy into it.  Life happens.  Accidents happen.  If being good meant a perfect and prosperous life, then the Pharisees  (either ancient or modern day) wouldn't have a care in the world.  This book helps remind us of the truth of what good doesn't accomplish and what grace does.

From now until March 31  Family Christian is having a special sale, 25% off your entire online purchase of regularly priced items.  Just use coupon code MARCH25.  This is the perfect time to purchase this book or another item that Family Christian sells.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A New Name

Most of my posts contain affiliate links where I get a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you when you purchase something through a link.  Thank you for starting your shopping here at Books, Bargains, Blessings.  It also helps allow me to sponsor giveaways like this one.

This is a five year blogiversary and name change giveaway wrapped up into one.  I decided to change the name of my blog recently.  It had been "The Radar Report" for years because of a little newsletter I did in college with the same name.  But I have so many people who don't know me who read my blog and who don't know the inside joke of "Radar", I have wanted to change the name of my blog for some time.  I finally settled on Books, Bargains, Blessings.

My guinea pig is named "Lucky", and if you think you might have the Luck O'The Irish, be sure and enter!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Our Online Dating -- And Marriage Story

FTC disclaimer:  This is a sponsored post from U.S. Cellular.  I am part of their Better Moments Blogger Brigade and I was compensated for this post.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.

U.S. Cellular offers a FREE PRINTABLE Parent Child agreement to help you discuss safety of the Internet, cell phone usage, limits, and courtesy with your teen or tween.  You don't even need to be a U.S. Cellular customer to access this, although I have been for 10 years and highly recommend them. 

I remember chatting on the phone for hours with one of my best friends when we were in high school.  These were the stone ages.  It would be common for a pesky brother to pick up the phone and listen in or demand to call his best friend.  For privacy, we'd often take the phone in a closet.   When I think back to those times, I'm so thankful for my iPhone!  If I want privacy, I can just walk to another room -- or take a walk.  I was first on the Internet in 1985 and it was nothing like it was now.  I was at a computer camp and we were able to use a clunky modem to connect to a teacher's bulletin board.  We only got to experience this amazing thing for a couple minutes because of long distance charges.  (Remember those?)  I never would have guessed when I first saw the Internet that I would meet my husband online someday.

Back in 2002 I tried eHarmony, but never really found anyone.  I have friends who have had success there, so that's why I tried them first.  There is now even an eHarmony App but back when I was on it, I was using a clunky desktop computer.  (This was five years prior to the iPhone coming out, and back then when I thought of an app I thought of the nachos supreme at the local casual dining restaurant.)

Then I went to Match.com  Of course, it's got an app now, too, at Match.  I even saw a friend of a friend there but I didn't have much luck there either.  I tried a few others. Then I decided to go the more inexpensive route.  Most people love these two services because they try to match you on so many things more than just surface qualities.  I remember finding a man on eHarmony who we communicated a few times, and I was hopeful but it didn't go anywhere.  One that didn't exist at the time was Coffee Meets Bagel where you can meet someone who is friends with at least one person on your Facebook friends list.  That would have been very interesting, but like I said, that didn't exist then.

I use my iPad Air and iPhone for everything, so it was natural I would download the OKCupid app.  Interestingly, this is a location based app where you can search for people in your area, as is Plenty of Fish.  However, I just searched for men on OK Cupid who had a high friendship match.  Some of them seemed a little too chummy.  I can only get so excited discussing football. But there was one man. . .

He and I hit it off as we started exchanging messages.  There were a million and one reasons I knew he wasn't for me me.  Distance (he lived four and a half hours away), age (we can crack a joke and the other one look blank because I'm 10 years older than he is.   I had to go on youtube to show him who Clara Peller was!)  But, we kept chatting with each other because there was nothing better to do.  (We met online on Feb 14, 2013.  That's absolute proof we had nothing better to do! Ha!)  As we kept chatting, we started liking each other more and more, and fell in love as much as you can online.

We continued to chat and use Facetime.  I went to a fitness camp for a week in Texas.  Each time I went to gather my gear after a workout, there was usually a text saying something like "I'm so proud of you.  Keep it up."   One of the ladies there glared at my iPhone and muttered something about how her husband didn't text her anything like that.  (Note to men:  you have a cell phone, use it to charm the woman in your life.  By the end of the week everyone knew about how sweet my "kinda-sorta boyfriend" was.)   Kinda-sorta because we hadn't met yet.  I can remember when meeting someone online was kind of talked about, but now it's pretty normal.  After all, we have cell phones with us all the time, and we're no longer confined to a desktop to meet someone.

We finally met, and it was everything we both hoped it would be.  He visited for a couple days and we were dating by the end of it, but not saying anything much to others because he wanted me to meet his family before we were official.   It was during that visit we went to Blackwater Falls State Park and took this photo.  It's one of my favorites, and our first photo together.  In fact, it's on the cover of our guest book!  Of course, I had my U.S. Cellular iPhone with me, and that's what captured this memory.

The next two months there were more visits.  Then my mother went in the hospital.  I was told if she didn't improve in 24 hours I would have to pull the plug.  I remember the first person I called was Terry -- I was bawling and managed to pull myself together enough to say "I need you".  He was able to arrange to be off from work, and as my mother improved she begged him to move to West Virginia to help with her care.  In November he did so.  That is an amazing man to move quicker than he originally intended because the woman he loves needs help caring for her mother.  My mother passed away a few months later, but she knew he was planning on asking me to marry him.

June 13, 2014 Terry asked me to marry him in a room full of fifty teenagers.  You can read the details of that here.  The amazing thing was that we were at a youth camp, and one of the rules was no cell phone usage until after dinner -- so none of them had their phones with them to capture the big moment.  I tossed mine to a college student at the next table in the dining room and he was able to capture this photo.  I never would have had a camera with me if I hadn't been carrying my iPhone in my pocket.   U.S. Cellular has a great Parent Child Agreement Form that is free to help you talk to your children about proper cell phone usage.  I know if I was in a room with 50 teenagers without a phone, it is possible to convey how important rules, safety, and courtesy are to young people.

Of course, one of the first things I did was snap a photo and post it to Facebook.  There was a joke at the camp because it was so difficult for the group to pick up a signal to use their phones -- but none of them had U.S. Cellular.  With the U.S. Cellular 4G network I didn't even have to go to the one spot that had better reception to post:

I said yes!

Our wedding is a little over two months away at this point.  I've done plenty of wedding planning using my phone.  Everything from texting and calling for addresses to mail invitations to posting updates on Facebook.  I've ordered items for the wedding, and even jotted notes I wanted to remember.   Needless to say I've spent a lot of time on Pinterest getting ideas for the big day -- although I have to say it's going to be the most unique wedding ever.  I booked a plane ticket recently for a friend who is a master illusionist who is going to do a show at the reception.  I have done price comparisons for candy for the candy buffet.  My cell phone has been a great tool to help me get organized!

My fiance and I are far from unusual, as about 35% of marriages start with online dating.  Sixty three percent of mobile phone users go online with their phone -- in fact on Valentine's Day 2015 my fiance couldn't even visit because the weather was so bad.  We spent Valentine's Day the same way we had spent it two years prior -- online.  Facetime might not be the way I dreamed of spending Valentine's Day, but I was glad I was able to spend it with him in some manner.  

Monday, March 9, 2015

Rules meant no decisions.

Most of my posts contain affiliate links where I get a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you when you purchase something through a link.  Thank you for starting your shopping here at Books, Bargains, Blessings.

I still feel very shaken by the phone call I had on Friday.  Years of my life trying to join a Church that I just feel doesn't want me -- but feeling a peace about it, too.  I'm not sure why life gave me that leg of my journey.  I just feel relief that it's over.  No more trying to jump through hoops.  No more obstacles put in my way.

I used to think faith was about rules and what I did and didn't do.  When I was in high school, I had a checklist of things to see how good of a Christian I was each week.  Choir practice?  check.  Memorize a Bible verse?  Check?  If I didn't write a missionary, deduct points.

Life was neat and orderly.  There was no gray.  Everything not done in faith was sin, and boy howdy, (as I used to say in high school) there was a lot of sin in those days.

My journey away from that isn't what I want to talk about right now, but sometimes how it would have seemed simpler to live in that, at least in some ways.  I remember friends who even acted dumber than they were so their husbands wouldn't feel like they were not as intelligent as their wife.  It was all part of being submissive to your husband (in the Biblical sense of the word, not as in Fifty Shades!)

I still get a magazine that is well known in some Fundamentalist circles.  I always read it, cover to cover.  Aside from being a voracious reader, there is something in me that feels like their lives are less complicated.  Denim skirts.  (I admit, I'm starting to buy some denim skirts these days but just because my fiance likes me wearing a skirt and I find them comfortable as well as much easier to shop for since I'm short.)  The women in this magazine generally have a lot of children, usually named Biblical names.  These photos look so clean, so polished, so perfect.

But being perfect nearly killed my spirit.  It's been a long journey from there, a lot of study, a lot of change.  I even learned some Ancient Hebrew so I could read parts of the Old Testament in its original language.  What that gave me was an understanding that I couldn't have received otherwise.  One verse that was always held up as a rally cry -- I have read it in the original language.  No one can ever again tell me that it means something it doesn't.  That is a liberating feeling.

I think of a Stephen Curtis Chapman song called "Remember Your Chains".   There's a line that says "No heart loves greater than one who is able to recall when all it knew was shame."   That's what all those rules did to me.  Shame.  I couldn't live up to what I had in my mind that was required from me.

But it was easier.  It was easier than having to weigh the pros and cons of each situation.  It was easier to say all movies in movie theaters were bad and avoiding even the Christian ones because of the "unsavory place" (and more for appearances because it wasn't avoiding every appearance of evil).  Now I have the difficult part of life where I have to make decisions and not all decisions are made for me by someone in "spiritual authority" over me. I have to own the responsibility of my choices and not avoid everything.

The amount of shame was profound.  I couldn't grasp grace.  Just that I was bad.  Not that I should become a Christian because God loved me but because I was bad and I would be punished otherwise.  That's not love.  That's manipulation.  And while I do believe it is true, that's not why we should love God.  I John says "We love because He first loved us."  Notice it doesn't say "We love because otherwise we would be punished."

I don't know if the true Gospel was truly never presented to me or if I was so enveloped in a "do good, don't do bad" world that I couldn't see the real message of faith.

I admit, sometimes it feels as if the days when I was following the rules to the letter were easier because I didn't have to make decisions.  But they certainly weren't as freeing and peaceful.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Do Over by Jon Acuff & $25 Family Christian Giveaway (Ends 3/16)

FTC disclaimer:   I received an advance reading copy of this book for review purposes and an appreciation certificate for hosting a giveaway.  All opinions are my own.  This post contains affiliate links.  Thank you for starting your shopping here at Books, Bargains, Blessings.

I work at home.  I haven't had  an outside the home job since I was in college.  So why did I read Do Over?  Simple, I have to constantly reinvent myself so I don't have to have a 9-5 job.  Some days, though, I feel like that would be a blessing.  My boyfriend works eight hours and he's done.  There are days I work from the moment I wake until I fall asleep.  I like taking overnight trips once every month or two so I have time where I don't feel like I should be doing anything except stuff I enjoy. Someone asked me about my job this week and added the demeaning word "just" in front of it. (Not the time to say that when I worked 14 hours straight one day recently.) When I started this journey soon after graduating college, a church secretary told me there was more to life than selling stuff online.  That's exactly why I chose this journey.  In the seventeen years since I graduated, I have been able to travel to over a dozen countries, take care of my mother when she was ill and needed someone.  Even being able to drop everything to move into a hotel for a week to be near her ICU room.  Yes, there are days that I envy my fiance, but I also realize that I am living what many women consider to be a dream.  So how did the book Do Over help me?   It showed me where I'm doing it right and where I need to improve.

When reading Do Over be prepared and have lots and lots of index cards on hand.  Yeah, he's one of "those" authors.

A rabbi, a magician and a cowboy are all invited to a wedding.   That may sound like a joke, but I'll let you know if there is a punchline after May.  I'm in the middle of addressing wedding invitations.  It has felt like a never ending process because there's a lot of people invited.  I have invested in relationships and the guest list shows that.  I know if I ever need something in Hebrew translated, I have someone who I can ask.  If I ever have a cowboying question, I have a resource.  (although I kind of doubt I ever will, because I didn't know there were real cowboys until I met my friend Jake.)  As I read the first part of Do Over I was patting myself on my back and thinking, "Yes!  I excel at this!" Who of us doesn't want to have an area where we think we rock?  So many of our opportunities in life are created from connections.  They are vital to a Do Over.  (A side note on making connections, Jon Acuff, if you are reading this, you are invited to the wedding as well!)

I once was talking to a friend and she commented on how she was looking forward to a job where she could use her skills.  I asked her, "What are your skills?"  She replied, "You know, Jenn, I'm not sure."  The second part of this book talks about skills.  Think you don't have skills? You do because you know that thing that everyone asks you to do?  That thing you do as a favor for someone and tell them "Don't tell anyone I did this for you because I don't want to have tons of people asking me".  That's one of your biggest skills.  But there are skills you need that you need to develop.  I remember over a dozen years ago a friend telling me I should start a blog.   I never had heard the term "blog" before.  Had I started when he suggested it, I might be one of the most well known bloggers on the Internet.  I'm still learning.  I've tried to surround myself with other bloggers.  I posted to someone in a group recently that I wanted to be like her when I grew up.  It's a cute way of saying, "I admire you and I know you're better at this than I am, but I'm going to develop my talents so I can be like you in my own way."  So there was the un-fun part of that section of this book.  I have to work on things I'm not good at.   I'm doing that.  Another pat on the back from myself.  Am I doing it as much as I should be?  Let's move along.

The third section is about character.  This, like the other sections, encompasses a lot.  Everything from generosity to empathy to when you use your cell phone.  In this book there is a story of how a boss lost a good employee because of a decision to try and make some money on some football tickets. It hurt him in the end to lose this employee, and being generous and selling them for the issue price instead of the going rate on the internet would have been more worth it to him in the long run.  I loved his advice about how it's not always known what you are doing on technology at a meeting, and if possible use paper.  You might SAY you are taking notes, but you could just as easily be on Facebook or watching a cute cat video.

The final section of this book is hustle.  This is where I'm usually lacking the most.  I might enjoy shopping for items to sell online, but actually getting those listed is something I don't like doing.  No job is ever all fun, you just have to do the unfun parts.  Hustle is putting your neck out there and trying for opportunities that may or may not open up for you.  It is realizing that your dream transforms differently the more you work at it.  When I was in 3rd grade, there was a big emphasis on what we wanted to be when we grew up and our teacher started exposing us to things that would help us in our career.  If I had said what I was going to be doing 30 years later, I would have been told to quit daydreaming.   Selling items internationally from the privacy of my home?  Working in pajamas if I want to?  Reviewing books on a website.  (Think to 1983.  What's a website?  You can't send anything to Russia.  How will you ever attract customers?  You're going to sell enough potato chips to pay for a week of fitness camp?  That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard, especially when you are selling them to individuals across the country!)  Been there, done that, sold the snacks.

We can't see the future.  Even for those of us in work at home jobs, we need to be sure that we are keeping up with the times.  We may not need a complete overhaul, but I recommend the book Do Over to encourage you to keep up with your skills and use them to your advantage.  Plus this is an enjoyable read.  (I've never before laughed out loud while reading a career book.)  Of course, if you want to change careers, I believe this book is vital to that.)

For the giveaway, Family Christian has offered one of my readers a $25 Family Christian appreciation certificate.  Open to 18 and older, USA only.  Winner has 48 hours to respond to winning e-mail or another winner may be chosen.  You can use this to purchase Do Over or another book by Jon Acuff or anything else that Family Christian sells.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

God's Grace doesn't Require Groveling

Many of my posts contain affiliate links where I get a small percentage of your purchase price when you start your shopping here at no additional cost to you.  

I wrote an e-mail last night.  In it I said, "I don't think groveling becomes me."   I also said that if a church didn't want to open its arms to me, it was their loss not mine.  When my fiance got off work yesterday, I told him of a phone conversation I had.  We cried.  We cried for the time I invested in something that didn't work out.  We cried for how Jesus is represented inaccurately.  We cried because I felt hurt.

Yet, I felt a huge relief, too.   I e-mailed another person last night.  I tried to resist.  But I kept feeling like I should.  Her response just felt like salve to an open wound.  It was then, even before my fiance got home, I felt like everything was going to be okay.

What brought on my pain yesterday was a phone call.  But I have the wisdom to walk away from the situation.  During this phone call, many things were said that hurt, but right now the one that stuck out was, "Did you tithe on the inheritance you received?"   My mother died a little over a year ago.  I was only making a FOUR figure income in years prior because I lived with her to help take care of her.  Because of her many doctor appointments and dialysis treatments and limited mobility, I did what I could to make money at home.  But it was never quite enough.  I'm using that money now to remodel the house.  It's not out of vanity.  I want to be able to live in a house where there is no mold growing.  I can't imagine the 60 year old carpet is good for my allergies.  The people who lived here in the early 1980s had a cat that regularly used the carpet as a litter box.   On damp days you can still smell the ammonia.  Yet, I'm asked if I tithed.  If I did or if I didn't, that's something between God and me.  It is no one else's business, especially not someone who is not even my pastor!  I'm not even sure the money will last long enough to get all the mold and such out of the house.  Which is more important?  Padded pews for a church or making sure I have heat in the winter?  (My basement flooded this week and thankfully the motor on the furnace didn't go out.  Still it's over $1,000 to make sure it won't happen again.)  I'm not opposed to tithing and giving money.  I'm actually quite generous but what I give, where I give, how I give, and how much I give is not anyone else's business.

I am tired of manipulation in any sense of the word.  I don't have to jump through hoops to be loved by God.  Jesus isn't Santa Claus who is going to keep a list and check it twice.

Where did the grace go?  I remember being a student in college and our chapel resounding with the notes of the song "Wonderful Grace of Jesus"

All sufficient Grace for even me.  Wow.  Not because of what we've done, how much we've tithed, how much we've groveled or how many hoops we've jumped through.  It's all sufficient grace.  We don't need to add anything to be worthy.  It's done.

I had a dream last night where I was in a building that was underwater.  I only had so much oxygen yet I needed to get out of the water, and the only way to do that was through obstacles -- I needed to ascend to each floor.  Sometimes I had to do things to be allowed to pass to the next floor.  Only on the next to the last floor did I find a chance to rest.  I woke when I was able to burst out of this building and find freedom.

It seems so appropriate.  I've done so much striving hoping to be worthy for God.

Relationships shouldn't be made out of fear.  We should have the freedom to enjoy them.

Before I fell asleep last night, I picked up my copy of Runaway Radical I recently received to review.  I wanted to flip through it.  I related to the story.  I wanted to read through the last chapter once again.

I had no recollection the word groveling was used in the book as I finished reading it nearly a month ago.  I began reading the book as an outsider looking in, then as someone who felt compassion because of a similar -- but lesser experience.  But there it was.  Even the word "grovel":

Jonathan had finally received a response to his plea: "How long do I grovel at His feet?  He's not there."  And the response was, "I'm here, whether you are or not."  It wasn't too late; that Jesus was still around.  Had always been around.   (From Runaway Radical by Amy Hollingsworth and Jonathan Hollingsworth)

Jesus says in the book of Matthew "My yoke is easy and my burden light."   My desire is someday that all churches will ease up on the things they extra things require and allow Christians to enjoy God's grace, especially those of us who are intense about our faith and strive so hard.  Maybe, maybe it's time we just rest.   The beginning of that passage in Matthew says, "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest."  True rest can't come in following man made rules, but grace gives rest.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Staying Healthy with your Smart Phone

FTC disclaimer:  This is a sponsored post from U.S. Cellular as I am part of their blogger brigade.  All opinions are my own.

U.S. Cellular offers a FREE PRINTABLE Parent Child agreement to help you discuss safety of the Internet, cell phone usage, limits, and courtesy with your teen or tween.  You don't even need to be a U.S. Cellular customer to access this, although I have been for 10 years and highly recommend them. 

Some of you may remember I attended a fitness week a few years ago where we learned about ways to be healthy and lose weight.  On one of our first sessions, we discussed apps where we could use our phone to help us keep healthy.  Usually you see a group of teenagers on their phones, but in that moment, a group of adults grabbed our smart phones and started downloading apps where we could scan items in the grocery store and see how they lined up health wise, count our calories, and track our fitness.  Do you know I even used those very apps to help me decide what was the healthier option when eating out?  I lost 18 pounds with the help of my Smart Phone.  I'm not alone, because 34% of Smart Phone users have utilized apps to help them lose weight, and 66% have used apps to help track fitness and exercise.

There are a myriad of ways that your smart phone can help you stay healthy.  Unfortunately I've had to call 911 way too often when my mother was so sick, and that's probably the number one way most people think of when it comes to health with a phone, but there's so many more ways one can help you.  One of the most amazing ways my smart phone helped us was during a blizzard, a utility line was down across our driveway.  The power company didn't care and wouldn't check it even though I said my mother needed her dialysis treatment.  They merely told me everyone was an emergency, even though dialysis is the matter between life and death.  I posted on Facebook.  Even without electric I was able to use my Smart Phone.  Friends with power really picked up the ball.  Someone even tweeted the governor.  A friend of mine who writes for a newspaper was able to pull a few strings, and we had the line checked and were able to get out of the house so my mother could have her dialysis treatment.  I was never so thankful for the U.S. Cellular 4G network as I was at that time.
photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Another way that your phone can help you stay healthy is through telemedicine.  The Pew Research has shown that 1 in 3 people have gone online to research a medical condition.  Cell phones have made it easier than ever to contact physicians.  While not meant to replace visiting the doctor, it can certainly be helpful for those who live in remote areas or have mobility problems.  I know one of the benefits my mother had with her insurance was the ability to call a trained nurse 24 hours a day.  How handy is that?  It was certainly helpful to know when something needed to be something we were seriously concerned with or if it was a side effect from new medicines.  Some doctors even provide telemedicine for things like colds which account for 25% of all doctor visits.  Be sure and ask your primary care physician and insurance company about any relationships they have with telemedicine providers. They may be part of the Vitals or NCQA which provide even more information on this new frontier of keeping you healthy using your smart phone.

One of my favorite ways to keep myself healthy using U.S. Cellular is with my pharmacy's app.  I can scan the label on my meds using my iPad Air 2, the app will ask what pharmacy I want to pick my prescription up from, and in an hour, I can go through the drive through and hopefully avoid germs from others as I get sick pretty easily.  Who knew that in addition to high resolution and nice screen size the iPad can help keep you from getting sick?