Personal Growth

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I am a firm believer in learning from our experiences, and if there's one thing that cancer has taught me, it's to slow down and savor life. I am a deeply committed, type-A overachiever. I like to be busy. So it's hard for me to just. stop. doing. When I was forced to do just that last fall and focus entirely on my health and my family, I found a pace that I fell in love with.

I entered 2014 with a resolve to simplify my life. The first thing I noticed is how truly difficult it is to live simply. It soon became clear that if I want my family to eat more simply (and healthy), create wiggle room in our routines, and truly focus on what matters in life, I would need to make some tough choices. It won't just happen; I would have to be intentional about it.

So when I was presented with the opportunity to review Tsh Oxenreider's new book, Notes from a Blue Bike, I planned to decline, proud of myself for drawing some much-needed boundary lines. Then I read the subtitle to the book: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World. Well, given my new lofty goal of simplicity, it would just be irresponsible of me to not review the book, wouldn't it?

So I agreed, and I'm so glad I did!

BlueBike_CVR_hirez_Updated-193x300

Tsh's warm and conversational writing style drew me in instantly. It was less like reading a book and more like chatting with a friend over coffee, hearing about her wild, overseas adventures. I flew through the short chapters easily. Who wants to wade through long and cumbersome chapters in a book about living simply? Tsh nailed it here...short and to the point.

I quickly realized Tsh understood my goals, as well as my dilemmas, in achieving a simpler life. After returning from life overseas, Tsh found herself in the midst of the North American chaos to which most of us have grown accustomed. Realizing her new life competed with her longing for simplicity, Tsh created a list of five areas in which her family would live with intention: food, work, education, travel, and entertainment.

To live with intention means to make little daily choices that resonate deeply in our souls.
~Tsh Oxenreider

The principles Tsh shares for pursuing simplicity, and the wisdom with which she applies those principles in her daily life, are easily worth the read. Yes, living intentionally takes time and energy, and Tsh shows you how to make it completely doable.

Here are some of my takeaways from the areas Tsh addresses:

Woolf

Food
Tsh introduced me to the term "slow food":  contrasting the fast-food culture by growing (or purchasing locally), cooking, and eating good, clean food. I love it! As a cancer-fighter and mother of a child with multiple food allergies, overhauling our family's diet has become a pet project of mine. Plus, she set my all-or-nothing personality at ease with her 80/20 principle: "If 80 percent of my family's food consumption involves whole, seasonal food made with care, then we're doing all right. The 20 percent is the sprinkles on top of the ice cream. Literally."

Jobs

Work
Tsh shares a story in this section of visiting a friend who introduced her to the concept of a "boundary stone" which was simply a tangible reminder to work with intention. Tsh explains it this way, "To give myself the time and freedom to create my best art, and to confidently turn down those roles and opportunities that aren't the best fit." As a chronic people-pleaser, I sure needed that one...anyone else?

Tsh02

Entertainment
Tsh's honest struggle with her family in this area was refreshing...to simply know that we are not alone in the battle is comforting. And to know that she has made intentional choices that fit her family reminds me that, with a little work, it is possible. My favorite line from this section: "When we're intentional about what we watch, it's a lot more interesting to watch it."

Tsh explores two other areas of living intentionally, education and travel. She writes beautifully and compellingly about each, but I'll let you read those for yourself. I don't want to give away all her wisdom!

If you find a longing somewhere inside for a quieter, simpler life, it won't be easy. It will take intentionality and perseverance. But you don't have to go it alone, Tsh has bravely paved the way for us. And if simplicity is a quest you're on, you might want to pick up this handy little guide to help you along the way.

We were made to live slower than our fast-paced Western culture deems normal. But it means paddling upstream through strong currents. ~Tsh Oxenreider

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Happy New Year!

I love ringing in a new year. After the chaos and hustle-bustle of the Holiday Season, it's nice to take a breath and start fresh. It's also a great time for setting goals.

If your goals include reading more, challenging yourself personally, growing in your relationship with God, or any combination thereof, I have five great books you will want to read this year (listed in no particular order).

5-books-to-read-in-2014

youll-get-thru-this1. You'll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times by Max Lucado

In the way only he can, Max takes you through the life of Joseph and shows you how the very God who was with Joseph in the pit and the prison, and the same God who placed Joseph in an Egyptian palace, is the very same God who is working in your circumstances, no matter how bleak or grim they may seem. If you know someone facing a difficult life-circumstance, this is the book for them!

2. The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson circle maker

Prepare to have your prayer life revolutionized. If you desire a stronger prayer life in 2014, you need to read this book. It will answer questions you've always had about why/how prayer is answered, and it will challenge you to go deeper in prayer and in faith. I read it last year and just pulled it off the shelf to read again.

3. My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers

This timeless devotional grows better each time I read it. In fact, it's the only devotional I've read multiple times. I'll be reading it again this year. Yes, it's that good!

1000 gifts4. 1000 Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp

Ann will challenge you in ways you never realized you needed to be challenged. With her comfortable and friendly writing style, she will gently urge you to "fully embrace" every moment you experience and learn to be truly thankful for it.

5. The Bible

I don't include this to be trite, or even because it's a "given." The truth is, it should be a given. As the highest all-time selling book, and the only one ever written by God himself, it should be at the top of the list. But I put it last intentionally. Because too often we (myself included) are quick to give lip-service to the promises and truths of the Bible, but we neglect to crack it open on a regular basis.

Now's the perfect time to change that. I intend to do so, and I would love for you to join me. I did this challenge last year on the blog. This year, we are doing it on Facebook. Here's how it will work:

  • Starting tomorrow (January 2), I commit to spend at least 30 minutes every day for 30 days in the Bible and in prayer. (You can do this in two, 15-minute increments if your schedule will not allow for a whole 30 minutes. And you can divide the time into Bible and prayer however you want.)
  • Each morning I will post a passage from what I've read on the There Is Grace Facebook page. (If you haven't already "liked" it, do it now so you won't miss any posts!)
  • I'll invite all of you to leave a comment and share a verse or two (or a thought) from what you read that day.
  • Don't know what to read or where to start? Here are some great tips to get you started.

Thirty 4 30-250

I can't wait to see what God does in 2014...let's get started!

What books would you add to the list?

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When we met with the specialist in August, he recommended I start chemo right away. Then he said, "Three weeks after you start chemo, all your hair will fall out." (He's not one for sugar-coating.) So, as I sat in his office trying to process all the information about the tumors, my diagnosis, the treatment options, and the "non-curative"-ness of what I have, I also attempted to wrap my mind around the fact that within a few short weeks I would be completely bald.

Granted, in the grand scheme of things, losing my hair is a minor issue. I mean...it's just hair, right? It will grow back. But combined with everything else, it was a difficult pill to swallow.

As I mentioned last time , I've always had thick, naturally curly hair. While I have often longed for straighter, "simpler" hair, my hair is the outward feature people comment on most: "Oh, I wish I had naturally curly hair." (Trust me...it's not all that glamorous.) "I bet you don't have to do anything to your hair!" (Yes, if you consider applying a mountain of product to tame the beast "not doing anything," then sure.)

Hair collage

To make matters worse, after a 35-year battle, I had finally tossed the straighteners and flat iron and embraced my God-given curls. I even began to like them... a little. And I was just waiting for 80s hair to come back, because let me tell you, this girl can rock some big-hair-band hair (see middle picture above)!

The Many Phases of Chemo Hair Loss | thereisgrace.com

I didn't really intend to approach my hair loss in phases, but that's how it happened. And I think it made the whole process a little more bearable.

Hair-4Phase 1: Short
Going into my first treatment, I still wasn't sure what to do about my hair...face it head on and shave it all, or wait for the inevitable to happen? I had read that short hair is easier to manage as it begins to fall out, and that seemed like a logical first step. A good friend who is a stylist by trade came over one evening and gave me this cute new 'do! I loved it so much I was sad I hadn't done it months ago! (Thank you, Sheila!)

Phase 2: Thinning
True to my doctor's prediction, my hair started thinning a couple of weeks after my first treatment. Just a few strands at first, and I thought it would be a slow transition...maybe I wouldn't lose my hair at all. (I had heard of that happening.) It continued that way for several days. Then, suddenly it started coming out in clumps...HUGE clumps! It happened so quickly, I wasn't prepared to take the next step yet. Thankfully, I had plenty of hats to wear!

Phase 3: The Razor
The thinning phase didn't last long. Now I had reached the point I'd been dreading. I really wrestled with the timing of when to shave my hair. I wasn't worried about "looking different" or not having hair. I struggled with the fact that everyone would know what I was going through. I couldn't go to the store, or out to dinner, and pretend like nothing was wrong. Once my hair was gone, everyone who saw me would know I have cancer.

But I finally reached the point where I grew weary of sweeping the bathroom floor and vacuuming my shirt multiple times a day. I knew what I needed to do.

L: baldy, R: my look for the first time I went out without hair

My friend again came over and shaved what was left of my hair. Once it was done, I was fine. I could move forward and start thinking about how to work in all those fabulous accessories I had been collecting.

scarf2-aPhase 4: Scarves and Wraps
I quickly discovered that without any hair on one's head (or neck), one tends to get very cold...especially when one lives in Missouri...in October. For that reason, I prefer to wear hats that came down farther on my head. I also started wearing more scarves (around my neck or on my head) and head wraps.

My absolute favorite head covering for warmth and comfort is this inexpensive method (Seriously, if you know someone going through chemo, forward this video to her. It will change her life!):

Phase 5: Cranial Prosthesis
Yep, that is what it's called (especially if you get a prescription from your doc, which you might want to do for insurance purposes...just sayin'). I wasn't sure I wanted to get one (a.k.a. "a wig") because I had heard they are incredibly uncomfortable and unnatural. But on a whim a couple of weeks ago, Hubby and I stopped in a wig shop specifically for cancer patients. I decided to have fun with it, because honestly how many times in your life do you get the opportunity to try so many hair colors and styles at one time?

wig5aI finally tried on a cute little pixie cut that my husband swore was very natural-looking. It is eerily close to my original hair color, although not a style I would have ever chosen for my own hair. Still, I liked it. It's fun. It's cute. It's warm.

And bonus...I it looks great with a cute scarf tied around it!

So, if you see me out and about, chances are you will see me in a hat, a wrap, or my cranial prosthetic. 😉 Pretty sure you won't catch me walking around in my bald head, though...it's just too cold for that!

hope-cancer-250This post is part of the series, Embracing Hope. In the coming weeks, we'll look at why we can put our hope in God, how we put our hope in God, and what we can do when it feels all hope is lost. Won't you come along for the journey? Consider subscribing via e-mail so you can receive new posts delivered directly to your inbox! Simply enter your e-mail address in the box to the right. To view the entire series, click here.

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Plus: Read the full story of my journey through cancer to healing in Unshakable: Finding Faith to Weather the Storm. Available now at Amazon.

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It began so simply...

She needs encouragement, God whispered to my heart. Pray for her.

Easy...I can do that.

Send her a note to tell her you're praying for her. She needs to know.

Um, well. I guess I could. I mean, I hardly know her, but I can't imagine anyone would be offended by someone saying they're praying for them, right?

Invite her to that event at your church.

Wait. Let's not get crazy here, God! I mean, she doesn't really know me. It's a pretty big event, I argued; I'm sure she's heard about it by now. She'd probably think I'm some kind of weirdo if I just up and invite her--a complete stranger--out of the blue.

There it was: the edge of my comfort zone. And God was asking me to step out of it.

It was such a small step, but even the tiniest step outside of my comfort zone is...well, uncomfortable. If given the choice, I prefer to remain comfortable, thank you very much. It didn't matter that I had never--ever--regretted following that still, small voice. That I had always looked back and been glad I had stepped out...every. single. time.

That was then; this is now.

Tips for Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone | thereisgrace.com

How do you muster the courage to take that dreaded step outside your comfort zone?

1. Use wisdom. If it's a small, inconsequential step, look at it logically. What do you have to lose by taking this step? What do you have to gain? In my case, I had little to lose (being thought foolish), and much to gain (offering encouragement to someone). If it's a larger leap of faith (for example, a life-altering decision) seek counsel from others who have godly wisdom.

2. Recognize fear. Recognize your hesitation for what it is...fear. What are you afraid of...rejection? The unknown? Being uncomfortable? Sometimes simply identifying the fear gives you enough perspective to help you overcome it. If God is leading you, there's no reason to be afraid. (If you're still not sure it's God, go back to step 1!) I knew it was God nudging me to offer tangible encouragement to a woman in need, but I was afraid of rejection. What a small price to pay for being obedient to the voice of God!

3. Just do it. I've heard runners say the hardest steps are the ones between your door and the end of your driveway. Basically, once you start, it gets easier. It's the same way with stepping out of your comfort zone. That first step is the hardest, but I took it.

I sat myself down and wrote a note telling this dear woman I was praying for her and included an invitation to the event at my church. I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer (something like, "Dear God, please don't let her think I'm a psycho!") and dropped it in the mail. (You remember mail...those things with stamps.)

I have no idea what she thought when she received it, but the sincerity and gratitude in the voicemail she left me a few days later reminded me once again: Sometimes it's worth taking that step into uncomfortable.

What is God asking of you that requires stepping out of your comfort zone?

 

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Quote: Michael Hyatt

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So, here we are a little more than a week into the new year. How are you doing on those resolutions?

Yeah, me too.

Actually, I don't do resolutions. "Resolution" seems so absolute, so do-or-die. I prefer the term "goals." That's much more doable...something I'm working toward, rather than a "pass or fail." If I don't quite reach the goal, but I'm closer to it at the end of the year then I was successful.

So, here are some of my GOALS for 2013: ...continue reading

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It was several months ago, that my friend Lora@MyBlessedLife introduced me to Ann Voskamp. Not in person, mind you, but in the blogosphere.

I'm always intrigued by what Lora is reading. One of my lifetime friends, she is also a fellow book-junkie. So when she first posted about the book, I was interested.

I quickly realized this was one I needed to not just read...I needed to devour it. I needed to read, put it down, step away, and truly meditate on what was being said. It challenged me like no book has in quite some time. ...continue reading

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Today is the day: I made it to my fourth decade.

medium_3621625591photo credit: Aih. via photopin cc

Looking back, I have realized how incredibly blessed I am. I would love to share with you just a few (40, to be exact) of the many blessings in my life:

  1. The Creator of the universe loves me and has a great plan for me.
  2. I get to do life with my best friend.
  3. We will celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary next month.
  4. I have an amazing daughter who is kind, thoughtful, and so very creative!
  5. I have a wonderful son who is sweet and energetic and keeps me laughing!
  6. My parents are now 40+ years in love and a great example of a godly marriage.
  7. I have my dad's love for books and knowledge.
  8. I have my mom's love for people and chocolate.
  9. My sisters are two of my dearest friends (and are the only ones who truly understand how "unique" our family is!)
  10. My two brothers-in-law (on my side) cherish my sisters and respect our parents.
  11. My father- and mother-in-law are are also 40+ years in love.
  12. I have been "thoroughly adopted" into my husband's family...parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins...etc. It's like I have an entire "second" family!
  13. I have a very close (somewhat crazy) extended family whom I am blessed to see regularly.
  14. I have three adorable nieces and three amazing nephews.
  15. I was able to witness my nephew's miraculous journey of healing.
  16. I still keep in touch with a lifelong family friend who consistently encourages me across the miles (and whose blog name I "borrowed" for this post...thanks, Lora! :))
  17. I have an incredibly supportive group of friends.
  18. We are blessed to go to a church where we are fed truth, challenged to grow, and enjoy community like nowhere else!
  19. We have the best small group in the northern hemisphere (I really don't know much about the southern hemisphere...they might be the best there, too).
  20. The same loyal, somewhat-spoiled dog has slept next to my bed every night for the last 11 years.
  21. We live in a fantastic, family-centered community!
  22. Our kids go to good schools where its evident the staff and administration care deeply about the students.
  23. I am privileged to do what I love: 1) stay home to raise my kids and 2) write.
  24. God has been faithful in the good times and the difficult times.
  25. I have survived cancer.
  26. God has given us our dream home.
  27. At age 40, I weigh 30 lbs less than I did at age 20 (yes, it's true!)
  28. At age 20, I could barely run .5 mile; two weeks ago I completed my third 5K!
  29. I have two strong legs on which to run.
  30. I have been privileged to meet, serve under, and be influenced by some amazing people.
  31. I have had the privilege of serving and leading some pretty incredible kids who have grown into such impressive adults. (You know who you are, Reality Drama!)
  32. I have co-authored a book.
  33. I have had the opportunity to travel to 35 states and 4 other countries.
  34. I have been to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
  35. I have hiked a mountain in Alaska.
  36. I have a college degree.
  37. It's almost my absolute favorite time of year...FALL!
  38. I can read...and read...and read...and read...
  39. I am living exactly where I want to be, doing exactly what I want to do at this season in my life.
  40. The next 10 years are looking pretty exciting!

(Photo source: Wikimedia Commons)

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We overslept…every one of us. Consequently there was much rushing around, random barking of orders, whining of children (because no one likes to be barked at), and a mad dash out the door, backpacks and lunch bags dragging haphazardly behind.

On the way out the door I happened to glance down at my bare toes…my disgusting, chipped-polished, neglected, bare toes. I sighed in complete frustration. “How do those moms do it…the ones with hair and make-up in place, manis and pedis freshly done, children fashionably dressed and coiffed, and arriving everywhere in time?” (As if those moms exist outside my imagination, right? Someone, please tell me I’m right.) I threw some nail polish in my all-purpose purse and headed out the door.

An hour-and-a-half later, both kids had made it to the right school with the proper backpacks and lunches. Milk had been purchased and dropped off in the fridge at home. And I had managed to apply a fresh coat of toenail polish in the parking lot of my first appointment (after I parked). Whew! I had made it!

I glanced around the waiting room for a seat and pulled out my phone, thankful for a few minutes of calm to check my e-mail and Facebook before my name was called.

“You can sit here,” a sweet voice caught me off guard. There were plenty of available seats, so the offer took me by surprise. I smiled, thanked her, and, trying to follow social protocol, took the next seat over.

“Are you here for treatment?” came the sweet voice again. That was the first moment I had truly thought about where I was. Of course I knew where I was…my oncologist’s office. The appointment had been on my calendar for months.

I smiled at her. “I had treatment a year and a half ago. I’m here for a follow up.”

“Good for you!” she gushed. I looked up at a tired, ashen, 80-something face, and that’s when I first noticed it…the smile. That weak and weary, yet determined, I’m-going-to-get-through-this-and-be-a-survivor smile. If you’ve had cancer, or known someone who has, you (hopefully) know that smile.

praying-for-saraMy beautiful, new friend, Sarah, told me about the mass in her side. Doctors had removed part of her kidney and her adrenal glands. Her husband had lung cancer. He was on oxygen now, “but he’s doing good.” Her cancer had returned and she was undergoing radiation treatments. If her radiation doesn’t work this time, “it’s just up to God” she said. “He’s big enough. He can do anything.”

Sarah and her husband had to sell their home and move into something smaller and more manageable. She was never able to have children, but her step-daughter drove her an hour one-way for treatments. They were “holding onto God because He always comes through.”

This woman had a laundry list a mile long of things she could be griping about (the least of which was toenail polish!), and yet she chose to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger and bring a little encouragement.

Only a year and a half ago, I had been just like Sarah…waiting for another round of radiation in my sweatpants and T-shirt. I was tired. I was weak. I was working hard to get through my days.

When I completed my treatments, a fellow-survivor told me “This gives you a whole new perspective. You’ll never sweat the small stuff again.” It’s true…cancer changes you like nothing else will. But my friend had no way of knowing how deep my Type-A Personality runs. Not even two years out, and I’m already “sweatin’ the small stuff.”

The all-too-familiar voice came over the loud-speaker, “Sarah Brown to the treatment room.” Sarah leaned over and gave me a hug. “Congratulations,” she said, “and take care.”

As Sarah shuttled off to the back for treatment, I realized she had taught me two invaluable lessons:

1. Focus on the positive. An old song puts it this way: “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.” Philippians 4:8 says to “think on these things: whatever is…lovely, admirable…excellent, praiseworthy…” Sarah could have easily grumbled about her own health, her husband’s health, or any other trial she had faced in her long life. Instead, she celebrated with me in a victory that had faded for me among the busyness of daily schedules and routines.

2. Take the time to show a little kindness and give a little encouragement. If Sarah hadn’t gone out of her way to offer a seat and strike up a conversation, I would have been content to keep my nose glued to my phone. I would have missed the opportunity to meet a warrior named Sarah who turned my whole day around.

What if we each took time today to focus on, and thank God for, our many blessings? What if we found someone to be a Sarah to? And what if it's just what they need today?

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Dedicated to my fellow first-born, over-achieving, have a hard time letting go, Type-A peeps.

Dedicated to my fellow first-born, over-achieving, have a hard time letting go, Type-A peeps.

Ten years ago I would have been hesitant to admit I’m a Type-A person. (We’re always the last to know, right?) In most of my adult life (and childhood for that matter), I was fairly easy-going. I was often happy to go along with whatever my friends chose, content to just hang out with them. I really had little need to “be in charge.”

So it was with great disappointment that I finally admitted to my husband and friends (who already knew) that yes, I am a control freak. It's not really that I have to control everything. If I’m participating in someone else’s “thing,” I have no problem going along with it. If you’re in charge, we can do it your way.

However, it was in the things that I did have control over that my inner control freak began to rear her ugly head. My house–since I’m here most of the time, it shouldn’t be too difficult to keep it relatively spotless at all times. Meals…how hard is it to have tasty, nutritious meals on the table for my family every evening. Children…it’s not too much to ask that they be well-dressed, well-fed, well-behaved, and content most of the time. I’m not unreasonable. I realize they are children and will have their moments, but I’d say hitting the mark 90% of the time isn’t too much to ask (for my children anyway.) Yeah, right!

As for my personal life….well, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to workout daily, have a quality devotional time, and find time to write on a regular basis, right? It's really just a matter of scheduling and prioritizing. I just need to make the right lists (I do love my lists!) and find the most efficient way of doing them. It’s totally doable. Sound about right?

Fortunately, God has a sense of humor and paired me with someone who helps me take a breath and realize it's OK if we have cereal for dinner and the kids are running around like monkeys. That’s just where our lives are right now. Sure it would be nice to have a peaceful, spotless home in which to unwind each evening. But the sight of toys strewn across the floor and the sound of giggles and pounding feet as our children chase one another through our home remind me that my to-do list isn’t the most demanding issue right now.

So a step on my journey to mature, well-adjusted, middle-agehood is to LET IT GO. (Aren’t you proud of me for not making a list of things to let go of? Believe me, I thought of it!)

Recently, I have hosted gatherings while my kitchen floor remained un-mopped (horror of all horrors!) We have eaten late dinners (and consequently had late bedtimes) so that I could spend time enjoying my family instead of rushing through our evenings. Last Christmas, the kids’ teachers received cookies “creatively” decorated with love instead of Pinterest-worthy gingerbread men. And I have enjoyed coffee with friends while our kids played in our basement which looked like Toys R Us had exploded just before they arrived.

Guess what? No one mocked my sticky kitchen floor, the teachers loved their cookies, and my friends and I had a wonderful chat while the kids relished in the toy rubble. Maybe, just maybe, if I can push past my initial, hand-wringing moment when the door opens to my less-than-immaculate home, and if I can focus on the person and the moment at hand, everyone will have a better time…mostly me.

Now, if you’ll excuse me we are having guests this weekend and I need to go organize my spice cabinet. (Baby steps, right?)

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Plus: Read the full story of my journey through cancer to healing in Unshakable: Finding Faith to Weather the Storm. Available now at Amazon.