Faithfully Thinking: Who Are You Putting Your Trust In?

After scrolling through news and social media sites (for much less time than I once did) this week I felt nervous butterflies and a sick feeling. I wondered how next week’s election would change the lives of my family and myself.

Or would it? Very possibly no, no matter who won.

So I wondered to myself, ‘Why are you even worrying?’

And then as I felt the panic starting to rise and a thought struck me: Who are you trusting, Lisa? Are you trusting in politicians to make your life better?

I realized that yes, to a point, I was.

Let’s get honest with ourselves.

Really think about it.

Who is your trust in?

Are you trusting in men (as the term mankind) to sustain you?

Are you trusting in men to protect you?

Are you trusting in men to provide your security?

Are you trusting in men to provide your happiness?

Are you trusting in men to give you peace?

Because if you are, you are going to be very disappointed.

Mankind will always disappoint us.

They will always disappoint because they are not God.

Only God can provide us peace of mind.

Only God can provide us security and protection and joy.

It doesn’t matter who wins the election tomorrow.

It doesn’t matter if the candidate you voted for isn’t victorious because our victory is not in earthly situations but in heavenly proclamations.

I read a opinion piece this week that reminded Christians in this country that our hope is in Christ, not in presidential candidates.  

“No matter what happens, God is sovereign,” Erick Erickson wrote. “The God who gave us Barack Obama and Donald Trump could choose Biden or Trump. God’s will be done. The God who brought bread from Heaven and water from rocks and raised you from the dust of the Earth and stitched you together in your mother’s womb is going to still be on His throne ruling the universe the day after the election. Too many of you are convinced the country is going to hell in a handbasket if your guy does not win. Well, I have read the end of the book, and I don’t mean this to be a spoiler alert, but everybody is going to hell without a handbasket, except for those who put their faith in Jesus Christ, not a politician or a political party. So, calm down.”

Like Erick says: “Calm down”

All of us need to calm down and look to the one who is in control. If the candidate you voted for does not win, trust that God already knew what was going to happen and he ordained it.

Tough times could face our nation, but God is there in the tough times the same as he is in the good times.

 John 13:7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

Faithfully Thinking: He will lift it soon

My daughter was drawing with sidewalk chalk outside the house. She drew a heart. I doodled some hearts and an angel near her heart.

She’s 5.

Sometimes 5 going on adult.

The song “Trust and Obey” had been going through my head much of the day, though I didn’t know why.

I wrote the word Trust in orange chalk on a step.

“What are you writing?”

“Just a word.”

“What’s it say?”

“Trust.”

“Oh”

She steps down off the step and looks at it. She can’t read yet.

“That should say Jesus after it.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. Trust Jesus and believe in God and He will lift it.”

Watching her.

“He will lift what?”

“He will lift the corona. He will lift it soon. Just believe in God. Write that.”

“Well, that’s a lot to write, but I’ll write, ‘Trust Jesus. He will lift it soon.'”

“Okay.”

And she skipped away.

What’s weird is she rarely says stuff like this.

Sometimes when I say “let’s pray,” she rolls her eyes. She wasn’t brought up in Sunday School like my son was and sometimes I feel like I’m letting her down that way but then she comes out with something like this and I think “oh…apparently she’s listening to the sermons and me more than I think.”

And we weren’t talking about corona before she said this either, but I could tell it had been on her mind and she had reached a point where she just knew — it’s going to be okay.

 

Faithfully Thinking: Finding Comfort in funny memories and in God’s promises

As we cleaned out our house last week for our move, I found old journals and photo albums. I paused a couple of times to look at them, but not too often since we didn’t have a lot time before everything needed to be moved out.

 I found a journal from 2008 and the first entry was titled A Weekend of ‘No!’ ‘Stop that’ “Put That Down!” (I didn’t title journal entries very often. I must have been going through a phase.) I thought I’d share a little of the entry from this particular day for any new mothers, or mothers who remember those crazy toddler years. I think I had forgot how crazy my son was a the age of 2.

"Jonathan! Stop that! No! Put that down!"
I've said that so many times this weekend I can't even count. 
Jonathan has been into everything, torn up, everything, knocked things down, spilled things, climbed on thinks and broke things. 
He knocked the Christmas tree over twice; broke another bulb (bringing the grand total over two weeks to six, I think); tried to climb over the back of the recliner twice; tried to hammer the wall once; threw a handful of change in his mouth once; pulled toilet paper off the roll once (dragging it into the living room to wrap around his daddy's feet); grabbed two bulbs and ran under the table with them. And all of this is why he was taken up to bed rather quickly tonight.
Despite all the craziness, Jonathan has been a lot of fun. 

On another day my son was pushing his boundaries:

Jonathan just had his hand on the Wii. I told him 'no, don't touch that." 
He said. "Oh." Then he touched the DVD payer. 
"That?" he asked.
"Yes, you can touch that," I said.
"That?" he asked and touched the RF converter.
"Yes, you can touch that," I said, on to him by now and watching him shoot me a smart-but grin.
"That?" he asked, looking at me and touching the Wii again.
"No," I said.
"That?" he asked, looking at me and touching the receiver for the Direct TV.
It's going to be a long night.

I also found this entry from the next year when I got a weird call from an older friend of ours:

“Lisa, I just had a premonition about you! You’re going to have a girl and you were so happy. I was there. I don’t know why I was there, but I was there and you had a girl. You had a name picked out for her already, but I can’t remember what it was.”

I did not remember this entry at all. And why that stood out for me is that I did have a girl, five years later. I had had her name picked out since I was in college, had never told this woman (that I remember) and this woman was not at the hospital with me when I had her, but she was at my house sitting with my then 8-year old until my dad got up to our house to watch him when I went to the hospital.

We know this woman but we’re not super close to her in that we don’t get together all the time or talk every day or even for months at a time, but for some reason she had asked if she wanted us to stay with our son if I went into labor when my husband wasn’t home.

Finding that last entry came at an important time for me. I’ve been feeling very alone, very lost, very anxious (of course, with all that is going on) and like the future is frighteningly uncertain, but to see that entry, to know that 11-years ago God was using our friend as a messenger to tell me that he had our future happiness on his mind — that he has us and me on his mind — was a balm to my fearful soul.

A few years that entry was made our family faced some extremely big challenges, challenges that were a few inches from destroying our entire family. God kept his promise, though, kept us together, and gave us the girl he promised us we would have, while also giving us the gift of our son (big bonus!).

Sometimes, in the moment, in the every day stresses of life, we don’t see how God has been working or is working now. We don’t always remember the promises he gave us, the hope he instilled in us at times we needed it most.

Keeping a journal to remember what promises have been kept and what promises are still to come might help us to not lose focus on what really matters, but simply looking in the Bible and seeing what promises were kept and realized for other followers of God can encourage us as well.

What promises has God made to you and kept or what promises are you still waiting on? Share in the comments to encourage others as they face dark and uncertain times in their lives.

Faithfully Thinking: When the church disappoints you

The Church has disappointed me, time and time again. By The Church, I mean the Christian Church.

I have stood in offices of private Christian schools and overheard gossip about others within the school; gossip that never should have been repeated. I have been told information I should never have been told by Christians who never should have known it, let alone shared it. I have heard Christians run down people who are struggling with cancer, mock people who were struggling with parenting, and betray people who were supposed to be their friends.

I have listened to people who call themselves Christians speak sarcastically and condescendingly to other Christians. I have been rejected by many Christians and I have been pushed to the outside of circles because I wasn’t the “right kind of Christian.”

And I have also done some of these things in the past myself.

I have been disappointed in myself.

I open my mouth or use my fingers at times I should not. I get annoyed and instead of praying, walking away and asking God to seal my mouth, I blurt out that annoyance. I have a quick tongue (and quick fingers) that God has been taming and has tamed in the past, only for me to lose control again. It may not seem like it to some, but I am so much better than I used to be. If people only knew how far I’ve come, they’d be so proud of me, even though I never recognize my progress and am rarely proud of myself.

That’s the issue when we judge people from only what we can see. Sometimes we see where a person is and not how far they’ve come. Trust me, I am very, very guilty of this.

The bottom line is that it is almost inevitable that at some point in our life The Church will disappoint us.

Its’ members will hurt us.

We will hurt them.

They will make mistakes.

We will make mistakes.

They are humans and we are humans and the only way for us all to get better is to commit to trying our best to live like Christ.

Church is not a place for perfect people.

It’s a place for hurting, broken, struggling, and failing people.

The people who hurt, break, and fail us.

No matter how many times The Church or its’ people disappoint us, God will never disappoint us.

Humans are ever-changing.

God is never changing.

I find that fact that God never changes comforting in the moments when I fail; when I fall off the wagon of keeping my mouth shut and get myself in trouble – once again.

I am not proud of those moments, but I know that even in those moments God loves me.

He knows I’m human and I’m going to fail.

He knows I want to change and I want to make amends where I can.

And he knows that The Church, his imperfect people, are simply learning as they go and they may hurt each other but that he will never hurt us and will always be there to comfort and hold us in our pain.

Don’t let the pain and hurt the people of God’s church have inflicted on you keep you from the never-changing love of Christ.

He’s with us even when The Church isn’t.

 

Faithfully Thinking: The Blessing

So many times we dismiss a pastor or a movement or a singing group because of one thing they did we didn’t like. Maybe we listened to critics who said this pastor or that person presented something against God’s word, but we really don’t know if that’s true or not. Maybe we feel their theology is off in one or two sermons so we completely dismiss every word that comes from their mouth or every song they help to pen.

I hope you can put aside any preconceived ideas you might have about anyone in this following video and just listen to the words behind it and know God can work through people we do not think he can work through. I don’t have any preconceived ideas, any negative views of those here, but maybe someone else does.

God can work through people who we don’t see as blessed by God.

God can work through people who seem to be against us with everything within them.

God can use those who stand on the opposite of our morals, or values, everything we stand for.

He can use world leaders who don’t hold our beliefs.

He can use pastors we don’t think are on point with their theology.

Don’t limit God.

Don’t label God.

Don’t try to put him in a box.

He won’t stay there.

He wants to bless you and that blessing could come from somewhere you never thought it would.

Lyrics:
The Lord bless you
And keep you
Make His face shine upon you
And be gracious to you
The Lord turn His
Face toward you
And give you peace

Amen

May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family
And your children
And their children
And their children

May His presence go before you
And behind you
And beside you
All around you
And within you
He is with you
He is with you

In the morning
In the evening
In your coming
And your going
In your weeping
And rejoicing
He is for you
He is for you

He is for you

Written by Steven Furtick, Chris Brown, Kari Jobe, Cody Carnes
©2020 Music by Elevation Worship Publishing, Capitol CMG Paragon / Writers Roof Publishing, Worship Together Music / Kari Jobe Carnes Music
CCLI #: 7147007

Faithfully Thinking: The little girl who brought a community together

*feature photo credit: Brown Photography

I generally skip past blog posts with sad stories, especially those related to childhood cancer so I would certainly understand if you skip this one. What is different about this one, though, is that there is some hope mixed into the story: hope for humanity, I suppose you might say. Or at least it restored within me some hope for humanity.

Back in the fall, probably Septemeber or October, we started to notice Christmas lights on houses in a tiny town we drive through to get to my parents and my husband drives through to get to work. In addition to the Christmas lights, Christmas decorations were starting to appear — like inflatables of Christmas related characters and Frozen characters. It’s not uncommon for Christmas decorations to remain on houses in our areas for months after Christmas, but this was a bit unusual to say the least. My husband soon learned the lights had been put up to cheer up a little girl in the town who had been diagnosed with a rare, aggressive brain cancer. The community had joined together to hang the lights for her to see when she came back from treatments.

One member of the community had even gone as far as writing the little girl’s name in lights on the side of his barn. For a full two months, I cried almost every time I drove through the town, amazed by the kindness of the community and the way they had gathered together to encourage this little girl in her battle. Not only did residents hang the lights, but businesses and the township also decorated in her honor.

Last week the family was told there is nothing more the doctors can do for her and a candlelight vigil was held for her at the tiny park in town. Members of two other communities, one where her church is located, another about 20 miles from Ulster, also held vigils, praying for her and singing her favorite song, “Let It Go” from Frozen.

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Little Ariah being held by a friend at the vigil in her honor. Photo credit: Brown Photography

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Photo Lisa R. Howeler

I know you can think of stories like this one, maybe in your own community or in a community near you. Ulster, Pennsylvania isn’t the first small town to rally around one of its’ own in a time of trial and tragedy. The story is not unique; it isn’t terribly unusual. I think, though, that we need to hear these stories no matter how many times they happen, to remind us that all hope is not lost; that the anger the media shows us has not permeated our world as much as they tell us it has.

There are still good people.

There are still kind people.

There are still loving people who recognize that, yes, indeed it does take a village to raise a family.

And there are still people who recognize we were not created to be alone but to be part of a community, a family tied together not by bloodlines but by our common humanity.

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photo Lisa R. Howeler

It is these people who show us that though there are things in the world that will bring us to our knees in grief, it is still true that”the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

Ariah’s family showed this weekend that they believe and understand that the moment Ariah’s spirit leaves her earthly frame it will be in the presence of Christ.

 

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

Musicians sang in the pavilion that night:

I raise a hallelujah, in the presence of my enemies
I raise a hallelujah, louder than the unbelief
I raise a hallelujah, my weapon is a melody
I raise a hallelujah, heaven comes to fight for me
I’m gonna sing, in the middle of the storm
Louder and louder, you’re gonna hear my praises roar
Up from the ashes, hope will arise
Death is defeated, the King is alive!
I raise a hallelujah, with everything inside of me
I raise a hallelujah, I will watch the darkness flee
I raise a hallelujah, in the middle of the mystery
I raise a hallelujah, fear you lost your hold on me!
I’m gonna sing, in the middle of the storm
Louder and louder, you’re gonna hear my praises roar
Up from the ashes, hope will arise
Death is defeated, the King is alive!

The niece of a woman I knew passed away a few years ago from cancer. She was very young, I don’t remember the exact age. She told her mother, as cancer made her weaker and weaker, that she was going to heaven. Her mother, of course, was distraught, not wanting her little girl to leave her.

“Heaven is closer than you think,” the little girl told her mother.

It’s so hard to sing in our storms.

It’s hard to sing in our unbelief.

It’s so hard to raise a hallelujah in the face of death.

It’s hard to raise a hallelujah in the face of fear.

It’s hard to raise a hallelujah when all hope seems lost.

It’s hard to understand the idea that our loved ones will be gone from earth but alive in heaven.

Even though it was hard, the people of the community raised those hallelujah’s this weekend.

They raised their voices because they believe that one day hope will arise from the ashes, that death is defeated and that the spirit of a little girl who fought so hard for her life here on earth will live in a heavenly realm we can not even imagine, a realm closer than we think it is.

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Faithfully Thinking: God’s kingdom is in your own backyard

As Christians when we hear the term “influencing God’s Kingdom” we often think of pastors, missionaries, preachers, or anyone with a large social media following, selling out stadiums or packing in the church buildings.

Here is the thing though we aren’t all preachers in a global church or even a small one and we’re never going to be.

We won’t all be “influencers” beyond anywhere but our own house. And that’s okay.

Our ministry may only be to our own family, our own children. And that’s okay.

Building faith in our own children is the ultimate way to “influence” the world for Christ.

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Photos by Lisa R. Howeler at Lightstock

What so many of us don’t seem to understand is that God’s kingdom is not “out there somewhere.”

It is here, in our own house.

It is here, in our own backyard.

It is here in our own town.

It is here in our own family.

It is here in our own marriage.

It is here in our own children.

It is here in our own hearts.

God’s Kingdom is not a place, it is a purpose.

God’s Kingdom is not a place, it is a relationship.

God’s Kingdom is a love for those we feel we can not love.

God’s Kingdom is what we do with what he told us to do “Go into all the world and share the gospel.”

Sometimes the world is “the world”.

Sometimes that world is on our doorstep.

Sometimes that world is within the walls of the house we live in.

God’s Kingdom is something to be accepted, not achieved by our own works.

So if we are going to “influence” God’s Kingdom we can do it on any level – personal or global.

Come set Your rule and reign
In our hearts again
Increase in us we pray
Unveil why we’re made
Come set our hearts ablaze with hope
Like wildfire in our very souls
Holy Spirit come invade us now
We are Your Church
And we need Your power
In us

-Build Your Kingdom Here, Rend Collective

Faithfully Thinking: The battle belongs to the Lord

“I don’t see a change, Lord,” I said one night, laying in bed, thinking about all my health issues. “Some days it almost seems worse. No matter how much I pray for healing. Figuring it all out is so expensive and I don’t want surgery if I even need it. What do I do?”

Silence.

“Should I call the doctor?”

Silence.

“Should I fight to actually be diagnosed with this disease, or should I . . .”

Silence.

Honestly, I sometimes feel as if God really isn’t listening to, or helping, me with some of the health concerns I’ve been having for the last few years, but then, there are days I feel like he’s directing me to “wait.”

Be still and wait.

Two of the things I am the absolute worst at.

“You know what, God, I’ll just handle this!” I cry out in frustration. “Just..never mind! If you don’t want to answer me, then I’ll just fix it myself.”

Be still and wait. I’ve got this.

It’s very hard to trust God when we don’t see things changing. Trust me, I know this first hand.

But the Bible tells us to trust he is working for our good even when we can’t see it.

This whole “trust in God” thing has been a real struggle for me over the last couple of years. There are days I feel so hopeless with situations in my life, from finances to the lack of friendships, to trying to sell our house and chronic health issues that never seem to go away.

I heard a great sermon once entitled “The Battle Belongs to the Lord.” I don’t always agree with the pastor, but for this sermon, I absolutely agreed with him.

Each time I find myself in despair I hear the pastor saying, “The battle belongs to the Lord.”

The devil will tell us, “But your checking account is still empty,” and that is when you say “The battle belongs to the Lord,” the pastor said.

This is exactly what happened to me last week when I looked at our savings and realized we were really going to be struggling to make our mortgage payment this month after some unexpected expenses. I began to fall back into the familiar pattern of panic, trying to figure it all out in my head and fix it on my own.

Then I heard the words: “The battle belongs to the Lord.”

This week my mind, for some reason, started rushing again with thoughts of some inconclusive tests I have had in the last few years for a disease that can only be cured by what some consider a minor surgery (I consider all surgeries major.)

“What if I have this?”

“I need to figure this out.”

“I need to decide what to do right now about it because what if this disease kills me. I mean, they say it could take many years, but still. . . ”

I began “researching” on Google, talking to others on a Facebook support group who have it, looking at all my test results again, thinking and stressing. I started to fall back again into a pattern of negative thinking that three years ago left me almost completely mentally paralyzed.

The battle belongs to the Lord.

The words kept coming back to me. Over and over.

I signed out of Facebook, I stopped Googling, and I turned on a sermon podcast and laid down for bed. A year ago I wouldn’t have done any of those things. I would have Googled and researched and fretted all night long.

“The battle belongs to the Lord,” I repeated to myself, over and over to try to calm myself.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that I fall into these obsessive, worrying thoughts about my health, finances, or future in seasons of my life where I feel God is calling me to continue with a task he has asked me to finish. I have a feeling someone is trying all he can to distract me from the here and now; to lead me down paths of confusion so I will forget my calling, forget that God has asked me

to write and to raise and teach my children. What God has called me to may not seem as important as what he has called others to, but this is the path he has set for me and it is clear to me that Satan prefers that I forget about that path and wander off on some wild goose chase in another direction.

There have been more than a few times I have snapped back to reality while running around an empty left field of life like a chicken with my head cut off. I’ve looked around and noticed that where I was supposed to be is way off in the distance. I then have to toss aside the random worries to get back to where I need to be, but I can only do that with the help of God.

He tenderly takes my hand every time this happens and says, “No. Not here. Over here where I asked you to be and where I am doing a new thing, even if you can’t see it. Stay on this path. I will be here with you, even on the darkest days.”

And God does this repeatedly.

Repeatedly he steps off the path we were on together, and I wandered off from, takes my hand and leads me out of the wilderness of anxiety, panic, and confusion and back to the path he set for me.

He’s never impatient when he guides me back.

He’s never frustrated and never scolds me for walking off and letting my human side rule for a while.

He simply leads me back, leans down close and whispers, “Keep going. This way. We’ll get there together, beloved.”

I know I’ll wander off again.

I know I’ll lose myself in a fog of confusion again.

I know I’ll panic again, cry and ask God, “Where are you?!” because I will forget, once again, that he’s right here, next to me, where he’s always been.

Faithfully Thinking: This Isn’t What I Pictured

This weekend I heard a sermon entitled “This Isn’t What I Pictured” and, boy, was it spot on for where I am in my life right now. I certainly did not picture my life where it currently is, which sounds entirely negative, but isn’t. There are definitely some negative places I’ve found myself, but there have also been some positive surprises along the way.

This sermon brought home for me that sometimes God wants to use us, bless us or grow us in a way we didn’t picture. The problem is not, as the pastor said this weekend, our situation, but that we pictured it differently and because our imagination of what life would be does not line up with what we see, we are stressed. Sometimes we must have faith in what we do not see, which, for me, is the hardest thing to do.

Maybe we thought we’d be a missionary to a faraway country, but instead, our mission field is at home, teaching our children. Maybe we thought God would use as to minister to recovering addicts, but instead, we are ministering to recovering perfectionists.

I know I didn’t picture being 42 and staying at home with my children, homeschooling, without a career to call my own, but it’s where I am and where I am trying to bloom (though I see myself as wilting). And, actually, I’m enjoying this one, even though I didn’t picture it.

I also didn’t picture being 42 with almost no close friends. I thought that I’d be comparing notes with a good friend about our now teenagers, but instead, I’m out on my own, so to speak. I’m not on my own really, of course, because God is still directing and guiding me even during what I see as unexpected turns in my life.

Even Christian often don’t see God in the negatives of life. I know I don’t and I was raised in the church. I rarely that what appears negative to me as something God is leading me through for a greater purpose. Honestly, there have been a couple of situations that were thrust on me that I felt, and still feel, were completely unnecessary.

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I still have trouble seeing why certain situations were allowed by God. The key for me has been realizing it’s not all about me. When I was asking God years ago “why did you let this happen to me,” I would sometimes hear in my heart “It’s not about you.” Even though it wasn’t “about me” it affected me, though, and I often wonder if the same outcomes could have been reached or lessons learned without all the unsolicited pain. 

Often we see pain, loss, or change as a punishment from God, instead of protection. Sometimes God takes away to protect us and sometimes that removal causes pain we did not ask for or expect.

God is always there whether we feel him or not. He’s there in the pain, the hurt, the life lessons.

The worship song, “Here Again” says: “Not for a minute was I forsaken. The Lord is in this place.”

When we feel like God is not in our situation, that’s where faith comes in.

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Do you know how hard it is for me to write that? I am at the worst at feeling like God is in a situation when the situation does not feel right or good to me.

The worship song “Waymaker” says: “Even when I don’t feel it you’re working. Even when I don’t see it, you’re working.”

Even when we don’t think God is in our situation, he is and he’s working and he’s changing things and he is for us. Even when we don’t see him, we can hear his voice. That’s a hard thing to trust in, isn’t it? The unseen.

Sometimes we can’t trust because we can’t hear him through all the noise in our lives – social media, other people’s opinions of us, or our own perceptions of what life was supposed to be at this point.

God is there for us even when our friends are no longer our friends.

God is there for us even when the texts or calls go unanswered.

God is there when we don’t get the job.

God is there when the bank account is dry.

God is there for us when those closest to us reject us, betray us, turn us away.

God is the same yesterday, today and forever and that is a picture that will never change, even when our lives are not what we pictured.


To see the sermon which inspired this post:

To hear the songs that I quoted here:


Lisa R. Howeler is a writer and photographer from the “boondocks” who writes a little bit about a lot of things on her blog Boondock Ramblings. She’s published a fiction novel ‘A Story to Tell’ on Kindle and also provides stock images for bloggers and others at Alamy.com and Lightstock.com.