Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How to Stay Sane This Christmas

Do you know someone going through a hard time this Christmas? Check out my "When the Holidays are Hard" series for helpful tips and suggestions.

Hey Friends ~

How many times have you declared that this is the season you will not be frazzled, crazy and stressed out?

Am I the only one who has tried to live intentionally (and peacefully), but somehow gotten pulled into the holiday cyclone of baking, buying, wrapping, crafting, decorating, caroling and more?

Instead of enjoying the Christmas season I find myself dreading it, waiting for it to be over, and frantically search for my missing peace and joy.

But not any more.

I will stay focused on what really matters this Christmas, and will remain sane, calm, joyful, Christ-centered and overflowing with love....please help me God! :)

One idea that has helped me is by keeping a jar filled with 5 rocks right by my desk.

I came across the little “Rocks, Pebbles, Sand” story many years ago. Do you know it? (I have the story in its entirety at the bottom of this post).

I've found it to be very helpful to think about my "Rocks", my "Pebbles" and my "Sand" as I prayerfully plan my days...especially during the holiday season when there are so many good things to do (but are they the BEST?).

The rocks represent the important things in life that if everything else was lost and only they remained your life would still be full…relationship with Christ, marriage, kids, parents, your health.

The pebbles represent other things that matter…job, your house, your car (and yes, Christmas activities and responsibilities).

The sand is the small stuff. The little things that can easily fill our day (surfing the web, TV, Facebook, etc...).

As we head into the month of December, I wonder if you'd like to take a minute and jot down your rocks, your pebbles, and your sand. Ask God to help you keep first things first.

Let’s be honest, during the busy Christmas season, it is so easy to get distracted on the "sand and pebbles" and forget what are our real "rocks"/priorities are. Right?

At the end of the day if we’ve crossed everything off of our TO DO list (shopping, check; baking, check; another holiday party, check) ~ but didn’t take time to read the Word, hug our husband, or snuggle with our kids…was it really a good day??

Are you filling your day with your rocks first?

Or sand?

When we are led by our long list of expectations and shoulds, we often get to December 25th and wonder why we're empty, frazzled, and spent.

If we are going to stay sane this Christmas ~ we must live intentional lives.

We might have to say NO to some good things. Ask for help. Go off-line for a bit. Pass on one of the parties. Be content with "good enough" rather than perfect. Buy pre-made cookie dough.

What are your rocks? Your pebbles? Your sand? What steps have you put in place to stay sane this Christmas season? I'd love to hear (and learn) from you!

Thanks for stopping by *She Sparkles*. God's richest blessings to you!

P.S. Here is the "Rocks, Pebbles, & Sand Story – The Important Things in Life"

A professor stood before his class with some items on the table in front of him. When the class began, he picked up a very large and empty jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks.

He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks.

He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.

He then asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “Yes.”

“Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.

The rocks are the important things – your family, your marriage, your health, your children – things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter – like your job, your house, your car.

The sand is everything else. The small stuff.”

“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued “there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life.

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Play with your children. Take your spouse out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal.

Take care of the rocks first – the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand. "

Monday, November 28, 2011

Marriage Mondays: Party Language

Hello dear Bloggy friends!!

I am thrilled to join my dear friend Julie from Come Have A Peace for Marriage Mondays!

Today is a special day for our family. It's my husband John's birthday!! Woo Hoo!

After my amazing 40th birthday roller skating party, I want John to feel as celebrated as I did for my birthday. (Plus, you know me, I'm just always ready to celebrate!)

However, I have learned over the past 11 years of marriage, that there are different "party languages".

Whereas I love family, the more friends the merrier, decorations big and bright, encouraging words, and tons of fun....

John prefers family, a few friends, and special, meaningful conversations.

After a few "mishaps" over the years, I think I finally understand John's "party language" a bit more, and intentionally plan events/surprises HE would like, not just what I would want.

What are we doing this year?? I can't tell yet (there are more surprises yet to come) ~ but here's a snapshot of what we did last year.

How did I do at paying attention to HIS party language??

My hope and goal was to coordinate a a whole day that would serve John well and help create a birthday he would never forget!

We started off by going to the JW Marriott's six*one*six restaurant for a special brunch (John's favorite brunch place in the whole wide world!).

We were joined by John's parents, grandma, brother and his fiance. It was a perfect birthday morning! :)

After brunch, our family headed out to find the perfect Christmas tree. John has enjoyed cutting down a Christmas tree since he was a little boy, so it was the perfect way to spend a birthday afternoon together.

We found our tree! I love this picture of my son Jake carrying the tree, with our other kids trailing behind him! Special memories! :)

Lastly, we ended the day with a special 40th birthday celebration in our home. I asked our family/friends to bring 40 of something for John (thanks for the great idea, Erin!). It worked out great!

John received....40 pennies from our little Sarah

40 gift cards to Lowe's (from his brother Jim)...

40 dollars from my mom and dad....

PLUS 40 packs of hot chocolate, 40 gummy bears, 40 kisses (from guess who?? ~ smile!), 40 dollars to our favorite family-friendly restaurant, 40 Milk Duds, and $40 in gas gift cards. What fun!

And last, but not least, here is a picture of the birthday boy with his mom (my mom-in-love Jackie!) sharing in our traditional "birthday toast" with non-alcoholic sparkling juice.

It was a joy to celebrate John!

The best part for me ~ at the end of the day when John shared it was one of his best birthday's ever. Woo Hoo!!

What about for you, dear bloggy friend...what's your "party language"? What have you learned about celebrating your husband/wife? I'd love to hear from you!

Thanks for stopping by *She Sparkles*! May your week be filled with much joy, love, and CELEBRATION!!

P.S The winner of my "Mariacle on Hope Hill Giveaway" are
Courtney M., Susie F., and Karried by His Love. Thanks to all who entered! And a huge note of thanks to Jennie and Carol for writing such an amazing, encouraging book! :)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Truth in the Tinsel: An Advent Experience for Little Hands

Hey Friends!

Are you ready for the Christmas holidays to begin??

Well, ready or not - here they come! :)

Every year about this time I start to receive e-mails from friends wondering if I have ideas about how to keep Christ in the center of the holiday season.

As a former Children's Ministry Director (@ Mars Hill Bible Church) and mom of 4, I love coming up with creative ways to focus on Jesus with my family (and, of course, enjoy passing on ideas to others!).

This year I am SUPER excited about a BRAND NEW RESOURCE that makes teaching Truth simple, fun, organized, kid-friendly and Christ-centered.

Can I get a Woo Hoo!?! :)

Truth in the Tinsel: An Advent Experience for Little Hands

Amanda White - another former Children's Director :) and blogger from
Oh Amanda and Impress Your Kids - has written an amazing e-book that will make your Christmas experience memorable and fun!

Truth in the Tinsel is filled with Scripture, discussion questions, craft and activity ideas, and so much more!

The e-book provides 24 days of Christmas Truths (for kids ages preschool through early elementary age). I love how Amanda does an amazing job of keeping everything organized, focused and clear. (You can tell she's a mom!).

This e-book is formatted in a simple (yet fun), easy to follow manner. She also provides alternative plans if 24 days doesn't fit with your schedule. LOVE IT!

My favorite part? I appreciated everything, but if I had to pick, I'd say that having 24 picture & word clues available to download, print, and insert into an advent calendar was my favorite. (Some of you may remember my Starbucks Advent Calendar? Amanda's clues will work great!)

I could go on and on about why if you have preschool/elementary age children you will appreciate this resource....but trust me, you will love it. Amanda has clearly put a ton of time, prayer, thought, wisdom and skill into this book. (Job well done, Amanda!)

And get this - she's also hosting a Black Friday special! For today only (11/25) you can purchase Truth in the Tinsel for only $2.99 (that's cheaper than my favorite latte!) Yippee!

For more information or to purchase Truth in the Tinsel - click here for special Black Friday price.

After Black Friday, you can purchase Truth in the Tinsel for only $4.99! What a bargain!

I'll close with words from Truth in the Tinsel's author, Amanda White,

"The key to this entire advent celebration is to have a daily focus and meditation on God’s greatest gift. Your children will learn the ins and outs of the story because you’ve facilitated a time to discuss, play, and create. And in those moments, God will speak to their hearts and yours.

The little Baby is no longer in the manger but alive and sitting on a throne—waiting to have a relationship with you and your children. Help your children get to know Him this Christmas!"

Yes! May we all help our children get to know Him better this Christmas!

Thanks for stopping by *She Sparkles*! Have a wonderful, Truth-filled weekend!

Disclosure: I did receive an advanced copy for Truth in the Tinsel, but I was not compensated for this "Truth in the Tinsel" review. As always, all opinions expressed in this post are fully my own. :)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

When the Holidays Are Hard - Pt 2

Today I continue my 2 part series on how to help others when the holidays are hard (Check out Part 1 here) If you know anyone who has gone through a recent loss (death, divorce, job loss, etc.. - you may find this helpful). Enjoy!

When the Holidays are Hard

1. Do Something.

Don't say, "if you need something, call me" - do something!

When someone is grieving, it's hard to think of what you need (and even harder to reach out for help).

Make a meal. Send a gift card. Shovel their driveway. Bring postage stamps. Do something!

2. Offer to help decorate for the holidays.

Trust me, when you are grieving, the thought of putting up Christmas decorations can be overwhelming (but if you have kids, you feel like you should). If you know someone struggling this season, offer to come and decorate their house for them.

True story...the first Christmas after David's death
, I couldn't face putting up holiday decorations.

A friend from church (named John) couldn't imagine me and Jake not having a Christmas tree - and took Jake out to cut one (Jake's first time cutting down a tree).

Aren't they cute? 12 years later, John's still cutting down Christmas trees for me and Jake! :)

3. Say Something.

A simple, "I'm sorry for your loss. You are in my prayers" ...or "I'm sorry this is a hard season. How are you doing, really?".

Rather than ignoring the pain/loss, say something.

(My friend Shauna wrote an awesome chapter on this in her book Bittersweet. I'd highly recommend it!)

4. Listen

If your friend wants to talk about the deceased love one and/or feelings associated with the loss, LISTEN. Active listening from others is an important step to healing. Don’t worry about being conversational or having "the right thing to say"…. just listen.

5. Cry with them.

If tears flow, don't feel you have to "be the strong one". Tears are cleansing and an important part of the healing journey. Just be sure to bring lots of Kleenex!

6. Be Flexible.

Be flexible and supportive of the way the person chooses to handle the holidays. Some may wish to follow traditions; others may choose to change things up. There is no right way or wrong way to make it through the holiday season.

When David died just 2 weeks before Christmas, I didn't have a clue about what I wanted to do on Christmas eve or Christmas day. Every hour was painful and hard to get through. My friends and parents were super supportive, and their flexibility was just what I needed during an extremely difficult time.

7. Be Available.

If you say, "Call me anytime" ~ mean it. Be there!

One cold winter day I was having a hard time. I called a girlfriend and left a message. When she heard my phone message, she immediately hopped in her car and drove right over.

Being available makes a huge difference. Grief can come in available for when the wave hits!

8. Extend Invitations

When you are going through loss, nothing is worse than feeling all alone. If you know someone grieving, extend an invitation to your holiday gatherings. Leave it open ended (i.e. We'll be getting together on Thursday night. If you would like to come, we would love to have you. No need to bring anything, you can just show up anytime between 5 -10. Stay as long as you'd like. If it doesn't work, it's ok. Just know we'd love to see you.")

Sometimes just having different options without the pressure of committing to anything can be very helpful.

9. Offer to Take their Kids.

If you know someone struggling (or a single mom), call and offer to take their kids. Let them get some rest, time to think and/or pray, or just have a break. You could even say, "Could I come and play with your kids while you stretch out/do some laundry/etc..." Big help ~ trust me!

10. Pray.

Keep your friend in your prayers. Lift them before the Lord, and ask God to reveal Himself to them in very personal, specific ways during their difficult time.

Can I share one more true story?! :)

Two days after David's death, I went to Calvary Church (my church at the time). My friend/pastor Rob Bell Jr. asked me to come on stage. Friends layed hands on me, while Rob, Ed Dobson and others prayed over me and lifted David's family in prayer.

When I listen to the tape of that church service now, would you know that God answered EVERY SINGLE PRAYER?! Prayer works, friends, of this I am sure! :)

Whew! There's my list! Again, I'm not a trained professional ~ just an ordinary girl who has been healed and transformed by an extraordinary God. :)

What did I miss? What would you add to the list of how to help others when the holidays are hard. I'd love to hear from you!

Thanks for stopping by *She Sparkles*! Sweet blessings to you!

P.S. #11 - You can always send your hurting friends to Disney World. My friends did! Although Mickey Mouse doesn't heal a broken heart, he does help!

Thanks again Karen, Michelle, and Michele! Jake and I still talk about our amazing Disney trip.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

When the Holidays are Hard

Hey Friends ~

Happy almost Thanksgiving to you!

Although the song will soon tell us "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" ~ the reality is that the holidays can be an extremely painful, stressful and lonely time.

I know this all too well.

As you know, it was during the Christmas season that my fiance David was killed

While everyone was singing Christmas carols, baking goodies, and wrapping their presents ~ I was a heartbroken single mom left with a pile of broken dreams.

It was horrible.

Thankfully my family was very understanding, and the homeless teens I worked with at The Salvation Army made me, Jake and my mom a Christmas dinner that year I'll never forget.

Do you know someone who is having a hard time this Thanksgiving/Christmas season?

A single mom?

Someone who is facing a "first Thanksgiving and/or Christmas"?

(I try every holiday to think of anyone who will be going through this holiday for the first time without their husband, dad, mom, grandparent, etc.. Even though the death may have been months ago, "first's" are extremely difficult. Trust me.)

A family with a recent job loss? Health crisis? Family estrangement?

Obviously I'm not a trained therapist (just learned stuff the hard way), but
I'll be back tomorrow to share my Top 10 ways to come alongside of others when the holidays are hard....

Have you been through a difficult holiday season? What was helpful to you (or not helpful). I'd love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and stories!

Thanks for stopping by *She Sparkles*. See you tomorrow for Part 2! :)

Happy Thanksgiving ~

Tasty Tuesday: Super Easy & Yummy Italian Chicken

Hey Friends!

Do have your Thanksgiving BINGO cards ready? If not, head on over here for BINGO and many more family fun ideas for this Thanksgiving. Let's not let Black Friday shadow our Thanksgiving Thursday ~ a day to say THANK YOU to God for all of His amazing blessings! :)

And now, for a quick and yummy Tasty Tuesday recipe!

Although it is Tuesday, I'm giving my dear husband John a break from our Taco Tuesday's. Poor guy thinks he's served a little bit too much spicy food here (is that possible??)

So for today's Tasty Tuesday, we're switching from Mexican food to Italian....and making Quck and Easy Crockpot Italian Chicken!! Yum!!!

Quick and Easy Italian Chicken

1 1/2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 26-oz jar nonfat pasta sauce

1/4 cup nonfat Parmesan cheese

Spray inside of slow cooker with cooking spray. Place chicken breasts in slow cooker; pour sauce over top and sprinkle with cheese.

Cover and cook on low heat for 6-7 hours or high heat for 3-3 1/2 hours.

Enjoy!! :)

Does it get any easier??

Trust me, your house will smell amazing with this Italian Chicken. I'm planning to make a side of noodles, salad, applesauce, and french bread. Voila!! Dinner is served!!

What's for dinner at your house tonight?? I'd love to hear your Tasty Tuesday ideas!!

And for more great recipes, head over to All Thingz Related, Tempt Your Tummy Tuesday and Tuesday's at the Table recipe exchanges. What fun!

Have a Terrific Tuesday!!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Boy with No Underwear

Today is the last day to enter my "Miracle on Hope Hill" Giveaway (an amazing, inspirational new book by Carol Kent & Jennie Dimkoff)! Be sure to check it out! :)

Hey Friends ~

As we enter into this Thanksgiving week/pre-Christmas season, I need your wisdom!

First, some background...

One of my close relatives works at a local public school with emotionally impaired children ages 3-5. This relative is the most kind, hard-working, and generous woman I know ~ so it is a perfect environment for her to work.

However, some of the stories she shares with me (without disclosing names, of course) are heart-breaking, to say the least.

Most of the kids come from homes with little to no money, minimal parental support, and lack the basic everyday living necessities. Stuff like coats. hats. underwear.

Typically we pass along to her any coats, hats, and mittens my kids have outgrown. I was amazed to hear how many kids get off the bus in the freezing cold (remember, I live in Michigan!) without wearing anything to keep them warm.

This week my relative called to see if Benj had another coat he had outgrown. She also asked if he had any old underwear.


Yes, underwear.

One boy at her school arrives most days with pants that are broken, zippers that won't zip, and no underwear.

On Friday, the bus driver didn't want to help him, and said to my relative, "The boy can't even keep his pants up and smells like pee everyday. Yuck"

When I heard this story, my heart broke.

And God is using this real life example to mess with me in the best possible way.

When I think of the many things I'm grateful for ~ I forget to say I'm thankful we have the undergarments (and outer garments) that we need. Thank You, God.

As we enter in the Christmas season (even though it's still November), and we are bombarded with Black Friday ads (are they driving anyone else crazy?!)...I think about this little boy who has no underwear and smells like pee and no one cares (but my relative).

I don't need one more blanket, or appliance, or even new sparkly sweater. Instead I'll buy some size 4T underwear.

As my kids make their lists of stuff they want, when truth be told we have a basement filled with unplayed trinkets and toys, I think of this little boy and countless boys and girls like him in my neighborhood, my community, the world.

Thank You, God, for all of our stuff. We don't need more ~ we just need more of You.

How do we live differently in a culture that shouts, "Buy me. You need me. Life is all about stuff"?????

I miss the days I worked at The Salvation Army with homeless teen moms and their kids.

I want to be reminded daily of the needs, the opportunities, the call.

I don't want to get so comfortable, complacent, lukewarm in my faith that I forget that there is a lost and hurting world and God wants us to be a light that shines bright for Him.

An agent of Truth, hope and healing.

A reflector of His love and generosity and kindness.

This year I am more determined than ever to get my kids to think outside themselves. And that starts with me.

As we enter into this Thanksgiving week, I am grateful for a God who supplies all of my needs, family and friends (like you!) to journey with along the way, and the opportunity to bring hope and joy (and underwear) to others in Jesus name.

*She Sparkles* friends, I'd love to hear from you. How do you live differently in a culture that shouts, "Life is all about stuff"? How have you reached out to help those in need in your community? Please share your stories and ideas!!!

Thanks for stopping by *She Sparkles*. God's richest blessings to you!

Friday, November 18, 2011

I'm Done.

Photo source

Hey friends ~

And how was your week??

Mine started off GREAT!

I spent Monday praying and preparing, excited for this fun "surprise project" I'm working on (I can't wait until I can tell you about it!), and spent the afternoon praying for tons of friends & family near and far, feeling just overall blessed and grateful.

Then life hit.

Sick kids.

John out of town.

No sleep.

Another day of sick kids.

Girlfriends out of town.

More laundry. And school notes. Hockey details. The piles and clutter begin to take over.

Thankfully, my mom came to babysit Wednesday night so I could go to my Prayer Class (taught by my friend & mentor Mary Swierenga). I spilled my latte all over me and my Bible.

Yep, it's been one of those weeks.

Today is Day #4 with someone home from school, and me stuck in the house. Again.


Thankfully John is back in town now (although he probably wishes he was still golfing in South Carolina. I just called him and had a melt down on the phone. Not my finest moment).

I'm done.

I think I'll declare to Benj it's "rest time" and I'll go back to bed and start over.

And when I get up, I'll focus on the 3 P's ~ God's power, His perspective, and Promises.

I desperately need a fresh filling of His resurrection POWER.

I long to see this week from His PERSPECTIVE.

I must cling to His PROMISES or I'll melt down again (and it's not pretty).

How do you recharge after long, exhausting, draining weeks? I'd love to hear from you!

Thanks for stopping by *She Sparkles*. I'm off to take a nap!

P.S. When I wake up, I might just re-watch this Beth Moore teaching again. It gets me fired up everytime. If you have a few minutes to check it out, you'll be glad you did! :)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Things I Love Thursday: Miracle on Hope Hill (& GIVEAWAY!)

Hey Friends :)

Happy "Things I Love Thursday"!

Today I'm linking up with Jill from the Diaper Diaries to share something I love.....a new book - Miracle on Hope Hill: And Other True Stories of God's Love by Carol Kent and Jennie Dimkoff.

As I've shared in the past, Carol & Jennie have had a huge impact in my life. I've had the opportunity to get to know these ladies both professionally and personally ~ and let me tell you, they are the real deal! I love every minute that I spend with them!

(Picture below: the Afman sisters ~ Jennie Dimkoff, me, Carol Kent, and Bonnie Emmorey)

I've been looking forward to their latest book, "Miracle on Hope Hill" since I first heard about it almost 2 years ago! If you haven't read it yet, trust will LOVE it! :)

What is Miracle on Hope Hill? I'm glad you asked!

Miracle on Hope Hill is a collection of true, inspiring stories that show God’s love and affirmation intervening in the lives of ordinary people. It includes stories of romance, heartache, tragedy, and celebration, but all with the common thread of "God moments" that show his love, intervention, and blessing....

If you enjoy hearing true stories of "God Moments" in the everyday lives of real people ~ you'll want to check "Miracle on Hope Hill" out!

When I first opened "Miracle on Hope Hill" book, I was pretty confident I would enjoy it. (I've not yet read a book of Carol & Jennie's that I didn't enjoy. In fact, did you know that the VERY FIRST book I bought as a Christian was Carol's book, "Becoming A Women of Influence". I still reference it today!).

Also, two dear friends' stories (April & Tanya) are both are featured in "Miracle on Hope Hill". Knowing their powerful, personal journeys ~ I sensed I was in for a real treat.

I was not prepared, however, to NOT BE ABLE TO PUT THE BOOK DOWN! What an amazing work. All 39 of the stories are powerful! I laughed. I cried. I was amazed by God! I was encouraged by the uplifting quotes sprinkled throughout the book, and the life-changing Truths referenced in each story. Great stuff!

I immediately bought 2 more copies (one for my mom, and one for my sweet TX friend Donna), and plan to give many as gifts this Christmas!

One friend shared, "I would suggest this book for anyone who needs encouragement, a little pick me up, or a big reminder of the never failing character of God. What a beautiful gift idea for someone who finds themselves in need of a little hope or even a gift of thanks to someone who has been a hope lifter".

I totally agree! :)

And now, dear bloggy friend, I would love, love, love to share this book with you!!

In fact, Jennie was over for lunch a few weeks ago and personally signed 4 copies for me to share with my *She Sparkles* friends. Woo Hoo!

To Win my "Miracle on Hope Hill" book Giveaway: Leave a comment in the comment section answering this question:

Why would you like to win Carol & Jennie's book Miracle on Hope Hill??

Extra Entries:

•Follow *She Sparkles*
•Subscribe to *She Sparkles*
•Add my *She Sparkles* button to your blog
•Tweet about this giveaway including a link to this post

Please be sure to leave me a comment to let me know your extra entries.

RULES: Starts today, Thursday, November 17th and ends Monday, November 21st at 9 PM. Winner will be posted on my blog during the week of November 22nd.

If your email address is not connected to your ID, please leave your email address with your comment or email it to me at with the subject "Giveaway".

Thanks for stopping by *She Sparkles*. Have a hope-filled, day!!

P.S. For more Things I Love Thursday ideas, hop on over and visit my real-life neighbor, the brilliant and hilarious Jill at the Diaper Diaries. :)

Disclosure: I was not compensated in any way for this "Miracle on Hope Hill" review, and, as always, all opinions expressed in this post are fully my own.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Serial Arsonist Update

Photo Grand Rapids Press

Hello dear bloggy friends ~

You may remember my desperate plea for prayer last fall, when a serial arsonist was going through our neighborhood setting garages on fire. In fact, one fire (fire # 8) was five houses away from my home! I watched our neighbor's garage go up in flames from our master bedroom at 2:30 AM. It was terrifying!

Thankfully, after many sleepless nights for us all, the police caught the arsonist red-handed before anyone was hurt.

Here's a brief excerpt from a
Wood TV 8 news article when the arsonist was caught:

"A Silent Observer tip after a fire on Grand Rapid's northeast side put investigators on the trail of the suspect. News 8 confirmed through family members that the suspect is 23-year-old Joseph McIntyre.

Police have been following the suspect practically 24/7 according to one investigator. They busted him about 2:15 a.m. Sunday near the latest fire scene.

After an interview that went on for about four hours, one investigator told News 8, "He's made statements that have tied him to all of the fires."

No one has been injured, but there were some close calls. "

Thank you for praying the arsonist would be caught! We all slept much better when Joseph was behind bars ~ and were so thankful that God heard everyone's prayers and protected us all from harm.

I know many of you dear *She Sparkles* friends around the nation were praying for the arsonist, so I wanted to fill you in on the recent update.

Over the past few weeks, we've been following Joseph's trial in the news. How tragic to hear of the pain and trauma that was a part of the very fabric of this young man's life. I'm certainly not excusing his actions, but my heart still hurts for this young man and the abuse he experienced most of his life.

Although Joseph's defense claimed he was insane when setting the fires, last week a jury found him guilty on all charges.

May the Lord reveal Himself to Joseph McIntyre, and may he get the help that he so desperately needs (while he is behind bars).

`For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' (Matthew 25:35-36)

Will you join me in praying for this troubled young man, his family, and the many lives impacted by the fires? May God redeem this tragic situation, and in His own unique way bring beauty out of the horrible ashes.

Thanks for stopping by *She Sparkles*. I thank God for you!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sick Kid Strategies

Next week is Thanksgiving. Wow! Be sure to check out my Thanksgiving Family Fun Ideas ~ A to-Z Style!

Hey friends ~

The flu bug has hit our home. Ugh.

My little Sarah woke up this morning with a horrible sore throat and stomach ache. :(

Sarah's teacher said there were 3 kids out today. A school friend/mom said she got a call from the bus line this morning. The lady said "Yes, this is June from GRPS. Your son has been throwing up A LOT on the bus. You might want to meet us at school." (Poor guy!) Her other son was home yesterday because he felt "miserable".

I guess it's that time of year :)

Last year I put together my first "Sick Kid Strategies" list. At the time we had lice. (Sorry Sarah, but I'll take the flu over lice any day). Enjoy my Sick Kid Strategies list! :)

My Top 6 Strategies for staying sane in the midst of sick kids.

1. Send for help.

I used to be a very independant, self-sufficient, "I can do it" type girl. Then I had 4 kids, and I realized I am in way over my head. I have learned to ask for help from family & friends, and share with my husband what I need.

If I need to get out of the house after being "cooped up" for 5 days straight, I'll now share that with my husband. Or if my daughter really is craving jello, and our pantry is jello-less, Grandma's & Grandpa's love to make little trips over. Or for the friend that says, "Can I bring you a latte?" ~ the answer is always YES! :) In the midst of sick kids, it helps to send for help when needed.

2. Snuggle

Now that my kids are 7, 8, 10, and 17 ~ they are usually "on the go" more often than not. While our kids are sick, it's a great time to take advantage of their desire to snuggle. :)

3. Sanitize

...however, be sure to sanitize often! Thankfully I've not caught "the bug" that has been on the loose in our home. And thank goodness for Lysol and other household cleaners! We have wipes, sprays, cleaners and sanitizer in every room!

4. Sick Bell

Last year I purchased a simple bell at the Dollar Store now known as our "Sick Bell". When the kids are feeling under the weather, I sanitize the bell, and then they get to keep it with them at all times.

Not only do the kids enjoy having the bell close-by, it's helpful for me and John too. This week it was especially helpful when my daughter started throwing up in the night. She rang, and I ran. I love our sick bell!

5. Show movies.

Last winter, I had the chance to watch a lot of great movies with my kids. One friend let us borrow the whole Anne of Green Gables series (wonderful! I'd never seen it.), my mentor brought over a bag of movie classics, plus Grandpa Bultema brought over the whole Sugar Creek Gang collection (another new favorite).

Showing good, wholesome, family-friendly movies has helped make all of the time pass by more quickly! :)

6. Surrender

The most important lesson I've learned during "seasons of sickness" is to surrender and trust Him completely. God does know what He is doing (even if it doesn't "feel" like it).

I'll admit, last year right before the week before the Red Hot retreat, I could/should have been a basket case. My plan was to prepare/plan/pray that whole week ~ and instead we had sick kids and lice. Ugh.

I had to let it all in Him wholeheartedly ~ being anxious and uptight wasn't going to solve anything, especially in the midst of a crazy detour.

Looking back, what a gift to spend that time before the Retreat with my little girl, snuggling on the couch, writing out Scripture, while we watched movies and rested together. God doesn't waste ANYTHING, of this I am sure....

My hope is that I won't have to lean on these "Sick Day Strategies" much longer...but I would love to hear from you! What have you learned works best for your family when your kids are under the weather?? Share with us please!!!

Thanks for stopping by *She Sparkles*!! Have a healthy, joy-filled, flu-free day! :)

P.S For more Works for Me Wednesday ideas, head over and visit Kristen at We Are That Family. Get ready to read a TON of great suggestions! :)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Living From the Inside Out ~ Weekend Recap

Next week is Thanksgiving. Wow! Be sure to check out my Thanksgiving Family Fun Ideas ~ A to-Z Style!

Hey Friends!

You may remember last weekend I traveled to Shipshewana, Indiana to speak at Chapel Pointe's W
omen's Retreat. (Sorry I didn't post sooner ~ but with my crazy week, you understand). I can't let the retreat pass by without sharing a glimpse of God's goodness and faithfulness!

The women from Chapel Pointe were incredible! They were gracious, beautiful, fun, authentic, warm and sharp! I loved every minute of my time with them!

I also love when God surprises me with fun "God appointments". Here's one example (of many!)

My new friend Brenda (see picture below). Brenda introduced herself to me because she is related to my pastor. However, we soon discovered that she knows my childhood bff JJ from Kokomo, Indiana (who now lives in Lancaster, PA) ~ but Brenda lives in Grand Rapids like me. How crazy is that? Plus her mom works at RBC (where I was filming my testimony last week). Isn't God fun?! :)

My topic for the weekend was "From the Inside Out". If you've spent any time here at *She Sparkles*, you know I'm pretty passionate about living "from the inside out". I get so discouraged by the media, the culture, the world...that tells us that happiness, joy, contentment, and freedom comes from the outside in.

You know how it goes....that stinkin" when/then" thinking ~

When I lose a little weight,
When I get the right job,
When I get married, then I'll be satisfied.

When my husband starts communicating more, or
when we have more $$,
and of course, when I fit into my skinny jeans again
then I'll be happpy.

Can I just tell you, skinny jeans do not equal happiness, regardless of what Sara Rue wants to say!

The truth is our outside circumstances will never bring us true freedom, will they?!

Regardless of the best job, smallest pants size, biggest bank account, most adoring husband, and/or well behaved kids ~ none of it will satisfy the deep longings of our heart.

Only Jesus :)

Let me tell you, the women at Chapel Pointe are committed to living "From The Inside Out"!

The 3 Amazing Retreat Coodinators (Alecia, Sarah & Heather) did an incredible job of creating a welcoming, safe, and fun environment for the women. This great team thought through every detail! Wow!

Over our 3 days together, we studied the Scriptures, we sang, we laughed, we cried, we hugged, we prayed....and we saw a glimpse of God at work in our midst!

I wish I could put into words what God did...but words just wouldn't do it justice. Just know God used YOU and YOUR PRAYERS to change lives for His Kingdom, and I am humbled and grateful.

What a blessing to have women share things like, "Cindy, I just want you to know this weekend was life-changing! I spent 2 hours on the phone with my husband last night crying. I won't go home the same person. This retreat has changed me for the better". Only God.

Holocaust survivor and author Corrie ten Boom is quoted as saying, “When people come up and give me a compliment—’Corrie, that was a good talk,’ or ‘Corrie, you were so brave,’ I take each remark as if it were a flower. At the end of each day I lift up the bouquet of flowers I have gathered throughout the day and say, ‘Here you are, Lord, it is all yours.’

Would you join me as I hand over this beautiful bouquet to the Lord. He is so faithful, good, powerful, and true?! I am in awe of what He is able to do!!

Have you been to a Women's Retreat lately? What was your favorite part? Did you leave with a special "takeaway"? And Chapel Pointe friends (if you've stopped by) what was one of your takeaways from our retreat? I'd love to hear from you!!!

Thanks so much for your faithful friendship on *She Sparkles*! You all bless me so much!!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

It is Finished! Woo Hoo!

Hi friends :)

Just a quick note to say THANK YOU for praying me through my testimony filming
this week. It is now finished! Woo Hoo! :)

What a long, exhausting, emotionally draining, challenging week. I have been taken waaaaaaay out of my comfort zone, but could sense the prayer support every step of the way.


Here are some highlights...

The most awkward moment was re-creating the police officer encounter (right after my cocaine overdose in 1996). Ugh!!

It was no fun being scolded by a police officer for choices I made 15 years ago. Thankfully the police office (actor in "real life") was super nice, and Fred Hollis, as always, is an amazing director/teacher/coach.

Not to mention the Day of Discovery team is gracious, patient, Christ centered, prayerful and fun. What a blessing!

My favorite part was having my husband John and son Benj on set. (Benj played the part of his big brother Jake. What a gift that they both have red hair!) It was a blessing to be reminded how God brought John in the midst of my pain, single parenting and grief.

John was always there for me.... fixing my car (note the oil stained hands!)....

Or helping me and Jake carve pumpkins, or glue gummy worms on a board for the 100th day of school.... :)

It was also fun for us to tour RBC Ministries as a family. I think Benj may have a future in video broadcasting! What do you think?? :)

My hardest part was the Christmas scene (the night my fiance was killed). Ugh.

Thankfully, we finished in less than 90 minutes. What a miracle!!!

Also, doing the voice over in the studio today was hard!!!
I talk fast, choppy, and slur my "s'". (I think my first paragraph had 100 "s's" in it, or so it seemed). How do you re-learn 41 years of talking??

The team was so gracious, we stopped and prayed, and then things started rolling. We were finished within 40 minutes. Woo Hoo!

Whew!! What a week! My finished story should be ready to air on the Day of Discovery in early Spring. Thank You, God!

Please know, my dear *She Sparkles* friends, how much I treasure your support, prayers, and words of encouragement. I thank God for YOU!!
How about for you?? What have you been up to this week? How can I pray for you?? I'd love to hear from you!!

Thanks for stopping by *She Sparkles*! Have a wonderful, joy-filled day!

P.S. A huge note of THANKS to Julie Richardson, Production Assistant Extraordinaire!!! Not only is Julie warm, caring, thoughtful, hard-working, detailed, gracious, and so much more... ~ she also showed up at my house bright and early every morning to do my makeup with a latte in her hand. You bless me, my sweet friend!!!! :)

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