Small Acts of Kindness: Wedding Roses

By Sarah Van Diest

It was my wedding, well, it was my second wedding. I never dreamt I would have been divorced, much less get married a second time, but here I was, and ever so thankful to be here after such a long and difficult road.

I was nervous. And though I had an idea about how I wanted things to go, I didn’t have a solid handle on how to pull it off. I called in some friends to help make it happen. One did my hair. One did the food. One did the flowers. It was simple and it was perfect.

The wedding we planned was very small. Only family and a few friends were invited. Our pastor’s house served as our wedding venue. We had cheesecake and punch, the music was one guy with a guitar, and the kids played out in the backyard. It was cozy and sweet. I wouldn’t change a thing.

After our small ceremony, my wonderful groom took me off for our honeymoon and to the start of our new lives together. We left our five boys with various family member and went away for a week of learning to be us.

The boys were really the only thing I thought about back home.

But one of my sweet friends thought of something else. After the wedding, she grabbed my bouquet of red roses and dried them, preserving them beautifully for me. When we returned home from our honeymoon, she came over to deliver the bouquet. It was such a sweet surprise!

I had no idea how much that gesture would mean to me, but when she handed them to me, I cried. I’m still not exactly sure what the tears meant, but I think it was all things combined together: a second marriage, a blended family, a new start, and the knowledge of dear friends to support and cheer us on.

I still have those roses, 13 years later. I keep them as a reminder of that day and of my thoughtful friends and all they did to help make that day so special. They remind me that tiny gestures of kindness can be enormously impactful. They encourage me to be thoughtful of others. And they tell me that the kindness doesn’t have to be huge to be meaningful.

Click to tweet: Small acts of kindness. Kindness doesn’t have to be huge to be meaningful. #kindnessmatters #amreading


Sarah Van Diest is a writer and editor. She’s the mother of two boys, stepmother to three more, and wife to David. Sarah wrote this book as letters to a dear friend whose life was turning upside down. She’s done this for years for numerous friends and will continue to, Lord willing. It’s her gift to them. It’s hope written down.


God in the Dark

When you are in the dark places of your life, Sarah Van Diest offers a companion for the path you are walking. You will find a voice of comfort and truth to call you back to the light, to help you see that you are never alone, never too far gone, and never unloved. This collection of 31 devotions doesn’t minimize the reality of your struggles, but rather points you to where God is—walking right alongside you. Receive this hope in the pain, God in the Dark.

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Why I Decided to Get a Tattoo-Part 2

By Jennifer Hallmark

**If you missed it, you’ll find part 1 here...

Hello, world! It’s Sunday, January 21. I’ve just left the church, and I’m driving home. After the service, standing in the parking lot, I showed my daughter my tattoo. I can’t help but smile because I’ve just totally shocked her. I didn’t think it was possible.

She asked if it hurt. In fact, even today, that’s the question I’m asked the most.

Yes, it hurt. A lot.

But really not as bad as I imagined. I’m a writer, and I have a big imagination.  I went in with a large cup of iced coffee and my friend, so I was ready. The artists were very professional and the parlor was super clean, which was the main thing I’d been researching for the last six months.

The lady and I discussed again what I wanted (we’d already been chatting on FB messenger), I paid her, and she went to get the template for the word “fearless.” I’d picked a specific font, one where the letters were in cursive, but the “r” wasn’t joined to the “l.” That way, it could read fearless or fear less.

In life, I’ve always been cautious, conservative, and reserved. Nothing wrong with that except when I let it affect my walk with God and my witness. Or it comes between me and my family and friends. So this year, I want to fear less and faith more.

I love the little story that says, “Fear knocked on the door. Faith answered. No one was there.” That’s how I want to live. I’m not there yet. Every day, I ask God to help me recognize fear and shut the door by my faith in Him.

Anyway, the whole process from when I entered the shop lasted about an hour and a half. I’d already purchased the soap and ointment and things for aftercare. It’s healed well.

Am I ready for another one?

No. I broke through that wall and it is enough. It’s taken me a few months to get up the courage to share it with y’all. I shake my head as I think how crazy I am to get so worked up over a tattoo. But one of my fears throughout my life has been fear of rejection. So, it makes sense.

Why have I shared this over the last two weeks? I guess it’s mostly for me. I have my first novel coming out in June of 2019 with Firefly Southern fiction, and I’m already struggling a little with what people will think of my book. Will they cringe? Laugh? Love it? Or reject it?

I give these fears to God. I like to say I don’t write for God; I write with Him. We laugh and cry together as I pen words that reduce me to a transparent, vulnerable state I’d rather not be in, at times. But it’s a healing place.

And it’s me.

Hello, world!

Click to tweet: Why I decided to get a tattoo. My daughter asked if it hurt. In fact, even today, that’s the question I’m asked the most. #tattoo #faith

Me signing my contract

Flowers and a Birthday Cake

It was July of 1985 and I was an exchange student in France that month.  I would turn 16 while I was there. I stayed with the Martinellos in a small village called Gap.  Doesn’t sound French, does it? But that truly was its name. It’s near Lyon, in the southeastern part of the country. Map of France--for blog post

The Martinellos owned a flower shop in town and they were there all day, every day.  Their mornings started about 7:00am and they didn’t return home till after 6:00pm.  Natasha (their daughter) and I had a good time wandering the streets, shopping and talking to other shop owners.  She knew many of them since her parents owned the flower shop. Many times I wandered around alone enjoying the sights and sounds, noting how it all compared to what I experienced at home.

We traveled to many different villages each week, setting up a booth to sell the flowers in the street. It was completely different from everything I’d ever seen, having grown up in the desert.

I did grow homesick after a few weeks there.  I missed my family and friends.  There were a couple times that I’d think about them, wishing I were back there. Especially as my birthday drew near.

On my birthday, I discovered Mom had snuck a present in my suitcase.  I opened it and smiled. It was costume jewelry—a colorful bracelet and necklace. I was still sad, though.

That evening, after the shop had closed, Mrs. Martinello served diBirthday Cake with Candlesnner and then came out with a surprise.  She’d bought me a birthday cake!! “Bon anniversaire Ellen”, they cried. Really? They remembered?  I smiled from ear to ear.

I was their guest for another week or so before returning home.  It was my first time overseas and I enjoyed it a lot.  Spending time with a family and being involved in their daily lives was eye-opening and holds fond memories for me. Celebrating my birthday was one of them.

Favorite Friday Fiction: The Moon-Spinners by Mary Stewart

The Moon-Spinners. I love, love, love this classic book by Mary Stewart. She is considered one of the pioneers of romantic suspense. The book was made into a Disney movie in 1964 with Hayley Mills. As a kid, I adored the movie but the book is ten times better. Don’t miss reading this one…

Click to tweet: The Moon-Spinners by Mary Stewart. A classic novel and #Disney movie starring Hayley Mills. #FridayReads #FavoriteFridayFiction


The Moon-Spinners

The pioneer of romantic suspense Mary Stewart transports her readers to the idyllic hills of mid-century Crete in this tale of peril and intrigue that will keep fans of Agatha Christie and Barbara Pym on the edge of their seats.

‘Mary Stewart is magic’ New York Times

‘One of the great British storytellers of the 20th century’ Independent

While on a walking holiday through the beautiful, deserted hills of Crete, Nicola Ferris stumbles across a critically injured Englishman, guarded by a fierce Greek. Nicola cannot abandon them and so sets off on a perilous search for their lost companion – all the while being pursued by someone who wants to make sure none of them leave the island . . .

“When the big white bird flew suddenly up among the glossy leaves and the lemon flowers, and wheeled into the mountain, I followed it.”

Why I Decided to Get a Tattoo-Part 1

By Jennifer Hallmark

Hello, world! It’s Saturday. January 20, 2018 at 10:15 a.m.

Guess where I’m going today? I’ve kept it a secret from most of the people I know. Before I tell you, I’d like to explain how I got here. Or try anyway.

I’m the oldest child in my family, a melancholy introvert and a creative perfectionist (in recovery). 🙂

When I was six-years-old, my dad became sick. Really sick. It started with numbness in his feet and legs and progressed until he was unable to walk. No one could diagnose what was wrong with him. Within a couple of years, he was unable to work, even in a wheelchair.

We lived in Florida at the time but moved back to Alabama to be close to the family. Within a year, my parents and I gave our hearts to Jesus.

Somehow, in the years to follow, I imagined that if I could only do everything right, maybe my dad could get back to how he once was.  Between the seventh and twelfth grade, I only made three B’s. Two in typing (yes, I’m that old) and one in physics. I did well in sports and was very involved in our youth group at church.

At the age of fourteen, I sincerely sought God for two weeks and saw prayers answered as He drew closer and became more real to me than ever before. By the age of sixteen, I was as sold out to God as possible and made a vow during a time of prayer. I told God I would never drink, smoke, do drugs, have sex outside of marriage, or go to R-rated movies. For a good Baptist teen, these were the five worst things I could think of.

A few years later, I married, moved, and joined a new church. Unfortunately, the church was steeped in legalism and by the time I reached my late twenties, I was well on my way to being a modern-day Pharisee. I couldn’t see it at the time, but I was judgmental, critical, and all the other things that make up a “religious” person. I’d lost sight of my first love.

Then, when I was twenty-eight, my dad died suddenly of an aneurysm. My world crashed. I didn’t know what to do. My works had not lengthened my dad’s life like I thought. So, it must be my fault he died. If only I could have done better. I despised myself.

A few years later, I changed churches again, and God slowly brought me back to my first love. Then He began to show me who I’d become.

For the last twenty years, He’s been peeling back layer after layer of law and works from me, where I had tried to earn His love instead of accepting the free gift. It’s not that wanting to do the right thing is bad; it’s the ulterior motive behind our actions. In my quest to be perfect, I listened to anyone and everyone who seemed to have the answer to what I needed to do rather than listening to God.

If a preacher on television said you need to pray for an hour, I added it to my list. If my church said don’t smoke, I didn’t. If a teacher said my kids needed to do something, I tried to do it. Occasionally, God broke through my bent to the law of works, and I was actually led by the Spirit, but so often I wasn’t. Instead, I was driven by people’s opinions and my fear of what others thought. I didn’t like who I was, but I couldn’t seem to change.

This resulted in my health steadily declining in my thirties. I experienced burnout over and over again as I continually struggled to change. But as much as I wanted to change, I still wanted validation from people for everything I did. I wanted to always ask permission before doing something. But the problem was, especially in gray areas, people differed.

As a teen, I had obeyed God out of my love for Him, looking to Him as a Father. At some point, I let my fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of people’s opinions, and fear of God’s disappointment take control. In my mind, God was no longer a Father. He had become my taskmaster.

It took years in the Word and stepping out time and again in faith to break the hold of Phariseeism to begin trusting God and His grace.

Today I’m taking another step. I’ve stressed over this decision to the point of a full-blown panic attack. But I’ve decided to look at it as an adventure instead. An exploit, which me, my friend, Joyce, and God are going on together.

I’m getting a tattoo on my foot that says “fearless.”

Some of you might think I’m crazy for stressing and worrying about it. Others probably think I’m crazy for getting a tattoo. My mom probably won’t understand.

I don’t know if I fully do.

But after six months of thinking about it, I’ve reached a place of relative peace. I asked Joyce to go with me and talked with my husband about my decision.

It’s so not me. But deep down, it is me. The creative writer part of me. So, I’m diving in, taking the plunge, stepping off the cliff and building my wings on the way down.

God’s with me and I’m okay.

Come back next Wednesday and I’ll let you know how it went.

Until then…

Click to tweet: Why I decided to get a tattoo. It’s so not me. But deep down, it is me. #tattoo #faith

God in the Dark by Sarah Van Diest

**I’m excited about the release of my friend, Sarah Van Diest’s, book! I’ve read it already and it’s wonderful. Here’s the link to buy it…

God in the Dark

Life’s painful trials can bring shame about our inadequate and broken faith. There is relief in hearing the expressions of desperation in the psalmist’s voice. He didn’t experience this life perfected, and we don’t either. But the psalmist was loved. So are we.

God was so kind to give us the Psalms.

To walk through darkened days is part of the human experience. To walk through them with faith, comfort, strength, joy, and hope is part of the divine experience. Our eyes, though, are often clouded to those blessings by the thing oppressing us. When we remember and recognize our Father’s faithfulness, when we see reality with the eyes of understanding, the darkness ebbs and the light of hope grows. The impossible, unbearable, and unthinkable becomes the hidden passageway to truth, hope, and joy in Christ.

These letters were originally written as encouragement to a friend when the darkness began to overtake his path. Each day for 22 days, a letter arrived with one of the eight-verse sections from Psalm 119 along with a small thought to bring light and hope and to be a reminder that we do not fight our battles alone. The letters, along with nine more devotions on the subject of experiencing God in the dark, make up this powerful, honest, hope-filled 31-day devotional.


Sarah Van Diest is a writer and editor. She’s the mother of two boys, stepmother to three more, and wife to David.

Sarah wrote this book as letters to a dear friend whose life was turning upside down. She’s done this for years for numerous friends, and will continue to, Lord willing. It’s her gift to them. It’s hope written down.

Favorite Friday Fiction: Ready to Fumble by Christy Barritt

Ready to Fumble by Christy Barritt is book one in her Worst Detective Ever series. The name of the series is actually what caused me to look into buying the book and I’m glad I did. Her books are as humorous as the series name. I love her main character, Joey Darling, and the mysteries she gets tangled up in. I enjoyed this one so much, I’ve read the other five in the series. You won’t go wrong with these cozy mysteries…

Click to tweet: Ready to Fumble by Christy Barritt is a humorous book and fun to read. I loved the whole series. #FridayReads #FavoriteFridayFiction


Ready to Fumble

I’m not really a private detective. I just play one on TV.

Joey Darling, better known to the world as Raven Remington, detective extraordinaire, is trying to separate herself from her invincible alter ego. She played the spunky character for five years on the hit TV show Relentless, which catapulted her to fame and into the role of Hollywood’s sweetheart.

When her marriage falls apart, her finances dwindle to nothing, and her father disappears, Joey finds herself on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, trying to piece her life back together away from the limelight. A woman finds Raven—er, Joey—and insists on hiring her fictional counterpart to find a missing boyfriend. When someone begins staging crime scenes to match an episode of Relentless, Joey has no choice but to get involved.

Joey’s bumbling sleuthing abilities have her butting heads with Detective Jackson Sullivan and kindling sparks with thrill-seeking neighbor Zane Oakley. Can Joey channel her inner Raven and unearth whodunit before she ends up totally done in? And where is her father anyway? Can she handle fame, or is disappearing into obscurity the wiser option?

Small Acts of Kindness: The Love of a Child

By Jennifer Hallmark

No one can show kindness like a child. Young children have a generally happy, carefree look at life, not yet jaded by the pain and sorrow associated with growing up.

My granddaughter, Phoebe, came to visit one day, bearing the gift of a picture she’d drawn for my refrigerator. The simple drawing of me and her with lots of love touched my heart and I still display it to this day.

If you have children you care for, encourage them to draw or make simple gifts for people around you that need to be lifted up. This doesn’t have to be expensive but it can make the world of difference for someone struggling.

The difference made by the love of a child…

P.S. And I love that she drew me with long hair 🙂

 

Favorite Friday Fiction: Storms in Serenity by Fay Lamb

Storms in Serenity is a complex, engaging story by Fay Lamb. The way she weaves her characters brings them to life and makes you want to know what happens to them. The suspense is terrific and I didn’t want to put it down until I could see how it would end. Another great novel by Fay.

Click to tweet: Favorite Friday Fiction: Storms in Serenity by Fay Lamb. A tempest has been brewing for thirty years, with only one island town in its path. #FridayReads #suspense


Storms in Serenity

How can one man save the town he loves when he’s the reason for the destruction?

Serenity Key, Florida, has seen its share of hurricanes, but this time, one foul weather system is about to collide with another storm, and this one has nothing to do with atmospheric pressure. 

David New has guarded his secrets for years, but when two brothers, John and Andy Ryan, arrive in town and he gets news that the daughter he’s never told anyone about has disappeared, possibly the victim of a heinous crime, and the lives of many of the town residents begin to unravel in the gale force consequences of Jake’s past, he has nowhere else to turn.
God is the only one Who can calm the storms, but can David and the good folks of Serenity Key survive until He does?
A tempest has been brewing for thirty years, with only one island town in its path.