When You Need A Little Mercy


My Mother's CamFor the past several months I have spent my days adjusting to life as a mother of three. Seven months have passed since my baby girl was born and for the most part I feel like “Allen Party of Five” has settled very happily into our new normal.

Just the other day, during a family stroll around the block, I grabbed my husband’s hand and with a contented sigh told him how much I love my life. How much I love being a mom of three.

It’s good to be in this place but believe me I’ve had my moments. I knew all along this season of adjustment would be tough at times, what I didn’t know was how discouraged I would sometimes feel.

Surprisingly, at least to me, the discouragement I’ve felt the most hasn’t come from late night feedings or nursing dilemmas or middle child meltdowns, but from a lack of time to write.

Before Promise was born I had a solid writing routine that supplied me with the chance to work on my novel almost everyday. I didn’t know how spoiled I was or how vital this time had become to my ability to function. When my routine went haywire, replaced by feeding times, rocking times, and a few extra minutes of much needed sleep, I found myself feeling like I couldn’t breathe. Without my time to write I was suffocating.

I needed a little mercy. Just an hour, please, to sit and write.

In the midst of this season God has been good, giving just the mercy I need. His mercy has surprised me, coming not in hours to write, but in hours to sit and read.

For a writer reading is the next best thing to writing, and while I don’t get the chance to write everyday, nursing and rocking my newborn has given me a newfound chance to enjoy the words and pages and joy of a book. 

You see, God and me, we have this thing. This thing with books. This thing in which He always seems to bring just the right book at just the right time into my life.

Most recently He’s done just this thing through My Mother’s Chamomile by Susie Finkbeiner. For almost a year this lovely novel sat on my shelf, and now I know God was saving it for a time such as this. For a time when days go by without putting pen to paper because so much time is spent being a mom to three little ones.

Sometimes I fool myself into thinking that God wants me to read nothing but non-fiction books that help me grow in my walk with Christ. That draw me closer to Him through a better prayer life, a cleaner house, a smaller waist, a thankful heart. And while these books have their place in my life, My Mother’s Chamomile has reminded me that God also speaks to me and draws me close through stories.

It wasn’t until I picked up this book that I realized how starved I am for fiction, for story. For words that make my own words better. For a book that reminds me to dream, to write, to keep writing, even when I feel discouraged.

So many heart lessons were learned as I read this book. Lessons I know I’ll return to again and again. Discoveries my heart needed to wake up to. Reminders of what I already knew to be true.

God knew I needed this mercy. My need wasn’t lost on Him. He knew what my heart needed, (even more than I did), and came through with just the thing. With a book that spoke to my heart. With waters of mercy for a thirsty soul. With grace so I could breathe.

All of this is to acknowledge the fact that we all need a little mercy. 

Whether you’re discouraged, grieving, drowning, or just needing a reminder of what your heart is for and Who’s for your heart we all need His mercy. His gifts of grace in our lives.

No one knows this more than He does and that’s why He’s waiting, that’s why He’s here. That’s why He keeps showing up morning by morning with brand new mercies and baby fresh grace. 

Mercy for this mama’s heart. 

Mercy for all hearts in need of more of Him.  


~ From the cover of My Mother’s Chamomile ~

“Desperate for the rains of mercy…

 Middle Main, Michigan has one stoplight, one bakery, one hair salon…and one funeral home. The Eliot Family has assisted the grieving people in their town for over fifty years. After all those years of comforting others, they are the ones in need of mercy.

Olga, the matriarch who fixes everything, is unable to cure what ails her precious daughter. She is forced to face her worst fears. How can she possibly trust God with Gretchen’s life?

A third generation mortician, Evelyn is tired of the isolation that comes with the territory of her unconventional occupation. Just when it seems she’s met a man who understands her, she must deal with her mother’s heartbreaking news. Always able to calm others and say just the right thing, she is now overwhelmed with helplessness as she watches Gretchen slip away.

They are tasting only the drought of tragedy…where is the deluge of comfort God promises?”

Susie Headshot 2

Author Susie Finkbeiner

Susie Finkbeiner is the writer of fiction, both short and long. Her deepest desire is that her fiction reflects the love of Jesus in a broken world. She and her husband are raising their three children in the beauty of Michigan.

With many thanks to author Susie Finkbeiner I am SO, SO, SO excited to giveaway a copy of Susie’s latest book A Cup of Dust to one of my readers. (Now that’s a mercy AND a grace! Thanks, Susie!)

To enter my Cup of Dust giveaway please leave a comment below and share this post on Facebook or Twitter. The winning name will be drawn next Saturday and the winner will be announced in next week’s post.

Cup of DustA Cup of Dust is available online and at Baker Book House and releases everywhere October 27th. 

Also don’t miss an exciting chance to make a Kindle version of My Mother’s Camomile your own, October 9-14th for just $.99! 

For When You’re Just Plain Ready for a Break (Plus Giveaway)


11703596_10207774708269587_5031492076919605996_o (1)This week I’m excited to welcome my friend and fellow writer, Brenda L. Yoder to Once Upon A Writer. Brenda is launching the release of her latest book, Balance, Busyness and Not Doing it All, and I recently had the chance to preview this amazing resource for busy moms. With loads of fresh truth and practical ideas I found this book to be a much-needed refreshment for all the weary places of my mama’s heart. Part workbook, part Bible Study, part heart-to-heart talk with a trusted friend, Brenda’s book is a must-read for moms of all ages and stages.

 The following is a conversation between Brenda and me as we discuss a few of the topics from Balance, Busyness and Not Doing it All. Be sure to check out the end of this post for your chance to win a copy of Brenda’s book!

 Brenda, what inspired you to write this book and who is this book for? 

“Balance” was written in response to a retreat I do on the same topic. After the first retreat, my inbox was flooded with emails from moms asking where they could find the book so they could go over the material or give it to a friend or daughter they thought should be at the retreat. I only had articles I’d written on the subject to offer them. At first I developed an e-book, but then an editor encouraged me to develop it into a trade book. The target audience is for moms who are raising kids, whether they are in their twenties or fifties, married or single. Women who previewed the book mentioned they appreciated that it spans a wide range of ages.

In Chapter Eight, “What’s Most Important,” you write about being available to your kids when they want to play and/or talk? How does a busy mom stay available to her family and their needs and still take time to nurture her own heart? 

There’s so much in the book that addresses this, but a simple answer would be developing priorities that allow you to do both. Many women are involved with activities that drain them, or involved because they feel guilty if they say “no” to a request to serve or volunteer. When women function in their strengths and essential needs for their current season of parenting, you’re not as drained emotionally or physically. This chapter talks about learning what’s essential for your current season of parenting. It’s the heart of defining priorities and busyness. When you’re busy doing what you love, you eliminate unnecessary busyness. This, in turn, allows more time to be available for your kids and inherently fosters self-care.

I love what you wrote in this book about marriage and the practical wisdom you share. What are a few specific ways you keep your marriage simple?

Letting things go and seeking God exclusively. For years I was critical of my husband, focusing on what he wasn’t doing to meet my needs. After fighting over things in which we would stalemate, I realized he couldn’t meet my needs in the way I was expecting. This wasn’t easy. I’ve found the more I pursue God to meet my needs, the less I look to my husband to do so. It’s freeing to be able to let things go.

Brenda, I know you and I are both blessed with husbands who support our work, our dreams, and our goals in many special ways, but I also know there are moms out there who are single or have husbands who don’t make their needs a priority. What words of wisdom and advice do you have for either a single mom or a mom with an unsupportive husband? 

As a counselor, I know many women don’t have husbands or parenting partners who are cooperative or even kind. I tried to be sensitive and practical in the book for women whose parenting partner is absent. I was encouraged by moms who previewed the book for a book party I hosted. One single mom said how important the chapter, “Don’t Parent Alone,” was to her. She was encouraged to reach out to her support system as she parents her son. A few moms whose husbands are less supportive said the principles on developing an intimate relationship with Jesus were crucial to them. It’s not natural for women to seek out help or assistance in parenting, but God doesn’t intend for us to parent alone.

When life gets crazy-busy at your house what’s your go-to stress reliever that gets you off the tight-rope-way of doing life and into a more balanced lifestyle? 

Time alone is essential for me, and taking the time when I need it is important. This may include an afternoon or evening going someplace just by myself, without even spending money.  I’ve been known to tell my family that from 8-11 on a Saturday morning I’m going to be outside working or in my bedroom reading and they’re not to disturb me. I’ve learned when my limit of being around people 24/7 has reached its threshold, and how ugly I get when I don’t take a break.

These mini-breaks often include time with God. Sometimes I keep my Bible and notebook with me at work and even spend extra time at work talking to God before I come home to the busyness and noise.

What specific things do you try to do on a daily(ish) basis to keep your love affair with God alive and well? What are some ways a busy mom might incorporate her children into this love affair lifestyle?

 One thing I do is carve out time for non-rushed quiet time during my week. It’s not always daily, but I choose 3-4 times a week, either in mornings or after kids are in bed, to spend time in God’s word. This, above all, has brought balance to my life. When I taught, I often used time right before school to spend time with God at my desk. It made a difference in my day.

How do I incorporate a love affair with scripture with my kids? I wish I could say it’s something structured, but it’s not. Other than our family worship times I explain in the book, the best way I share my love for God’s word is just in conversations with them. It might be telling them about something God’s taught me, using biblical principles to address everyday problems, or praying with them at bedtime. I suppose that’s what God means in Deuteronomy when He instructs parents to talk about His word “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut. 6:7).

What is your number one nugget of advice for a mom with…

Young children? Don’t take for granted what they’re able to learn. Teach the moral reasons for why you’re telling them yes or no, and instill an honor of God and His word in your home. Take time to play with them.

Teenagers? They need you now more than ever before. Listen to what they’re not saying and look beyond their behavior. Don’t get into power struggles and listen more than you talk.  Spend time with them doing things that are fun. Look beyond the moods and emotions. As Josh McDowell says, “Rules without relationship equals rebellion.” Let them know you trust them when they’ve proven themselves trustworthy. Don’t make a big deal over little things.

Adult children? Release. Don’t enable, and don’t steal their struggle. A friend of mine once told me, “They’ll figure it out.” They will. It’s important adult kids develop their own identity, faith, and life apart from you. God intends for kids to separate and grow up.

What message do you hope to leave in the hearts of busy moms through the writing of this book? 

What you live is what your children will remember you by. Don’t be busy with non-essential things for the wrong reasons. Stop doing what you think you’re supposed to do to please people or out of guilt. Pull back and listen to God for His priorities for your stage of parenting. Then live it.

I’ve watched Brenda hold my four-month-old baby in her arms so I could write for a few uninterrupted minutes, and I’ve been blessed by her servant’s heart as she lugged a car seat all over downtown Holland to help me during a weekend retreat. She is, in everyway, the epitome of friendship and motherhood. In keeping with her giving nature Brenda has provided a copy of Balance, Busyness, and Not Doing it All for one of my readers.

To enter my “Balance Giveaway” please post a comment below or to my Facebook link between now and next Saturday. All names will be entered into a drawing, and the winner will be announced in next Sunday’s post.

Many thanks to Brenda for all her help with today’s post. If you’d like to learn more about Brenda, her books, and her ministry please visit her at www.brendayoder.com, and be sure to look for Balance Busyness and Not Doing it All on Amazon and at www.balancebusynessandnotdoingitall.com.

IMG_1886edcr Brenda roundBrenda L. Yoder, LMHC, is an author, speaker, educator and counselor. Her books, Balance, Busyness, and Not Doing It All and Who Do You Say I Am released in 2015. Her ministry, Life Beyond the Picket Fence, can be found at brendayoder.com where she writes about faith, life, and parenting beyond the storybook image. Brenda’s also a parenting columnist for 10 To 20 Parenting, Choose Now Ministries, and Whatever Girls. She has a mental health column in her local paper, and has been featured in Chicken Soup For The Soul: Reboot Your Life. She was twice awarded the Touchstone Award for teachers.

When Brenda’s not writing, working, or speaking, she’s a wife and mom to four children, ages teen to young adult. You can connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Periscope (@BeyondPicketFenc) and Twitter.

How to Make Your Canvas, Your New Year, Your Life, a Masterpiece

Nativity 2Sheldon Rhodes had had enough. After 40 years of children’s ministry he was tired of people mistaking his home and Jest Kidding headquarters in Nashville, MI as some kind of daycare center.

Something had to change. Something about his property needed to proclaim God and his glory, needed to show anyone and everyone driving by what he, his wife, Vicky, and their ministry were all about.

The seed had been planted years ago. While visiting a church in Niagara Falls, New York, Sheldon and Vicky became aware that the church was doing a live nativity display. In years to come they watched this display become a beacon drawing people from miles around to come and see the Christmas story as they’d never seen it before.

Camel 2AngelA dream was lodged in their hearts, a vision to someday use their home and ministry headquarters to declare God’s glory not just at Christmas but all the year through.

On a December afternoon in 2013 Sheldon received a call from yet another person inquiring after his supposed daycare center. It was the last straw and perhaps a providential one.

A few days later on Christmas Eve he went to bed but couldn’t sleep. His mind kept thinking of ideas, of ways he could transform his home, his yard, his driveway into an epic nativity. He thought of lights, music, and scripture readings. He pictured Christmas brought to life and a drive-thru village that would tell the story from beginning to end of Jesus Christ and His love.

Christmas in July 2He saw his home and property as an empty canvas and with all his heart he wanted to use it to paint a masterpiece for God.

But how? And when? And where would they get the tools, the resources, the help they would need to make their dream a reality? It was all a little crazy wasn’t it? Could God really be in this?

On the day after Christmas Sheldon and Vicky got in their van and drove to Frakenmuth, MI home of the world’s largest Christmas store. For an entire day they roamed the aisles searching for ideas, dreaming of possibilities.

In January Sheldon shared his vision with his board of directors, and with their input and support a yearlong journey was launched.

It was a monumental task. There were setbacks, fears, and doubts but Sheldon and Vicky knew that God was with them, helping them, guiding them, supporting their plans.

Christmas In JulyChristmas in July 3Little by little God provided in many amazing ways. Expensive patterns and materials for a life-size nativity set were donated to the cause. Volunteers came in late July to prepare the grounds and other materials. Gifted painters helped to transform mere pieces of plywood into beautiful works of art.

Almost a year to date from the beginning of their venture, Sheldon and Vicky added the last piece of their nativity to their front lawn. With only days left until Christmas their vision had become a reality.

It was the end of yearlong project but it was also a beginning. With plans to keep adding to their nativity and ideas for other holidays Sheldon and Vicky can’t wait to see what God has in store.

If you were to take a drive to Nashville, MI, headed East off Hwy 66, traveling down State Rd, you’d be sure to see the Rhodes’ home and a lavish display of God’s love. It’s just what Sheldon wanted, it’s a testament to God and His glory, and it’s also a reminder to us.

Vicky Painting 2It’s a reminder that our lives, our resources, and the gifts we’ve been given are all empty canvases on which we can paint a display of God and His glory, a declaration of His love.

Seeds are planted all the time, dreams and visions of what could be. When we’re faithful with those seeds, as Sheldon has been faithful with his, there’s no limit to what God can do.

What stirs your soul? What keeps you awake when you dare to let your mind wander, when you dare to let your heart dream? Is it a life-size nativity display, a blog post, a business plan? Is it righting a wrong or fighting injustice? Is it a Saturday feeding the homeless or a home cooked meal for a tired mom?

Whatever comprises your canvas, make no mistake God is there. He’s in your vision, He’s in your dreams. He’s in your plans, your pursuits, your wonder.

Look close and you’ll see it, every time. When you step out in faith, when you work for His glory, His fingerprints, there on your canvas.

The colorful strokes of His glory turning plywood into art.

Turning everything all around into beacons of His story. Your heart, your vision, the work of your hands into the masterpiece of His love.

For more information on Sheldon’s nativity and/or Jest Kidding ministries please visit www.jestkidding.com.

Sheldon’s nativity will be on display 24/7 throughout the holiday season. Sheldon and Vicky welcome you to load up your family, take a drive, and see their display located at 10230 E. State Road, Nashville, MI, 49073.

How to Survive in a Spiritual Desert

My Mother's CamThis week I am so excited to welcome author Susie Finkbeiner to Once Upon a Writer. Susie is the author of two amazing books, Paint Chips and My Mother’s Chamomile and is currently working on her third novel. A long time fan of Susie’s, I am delighted for the chance to share her writing with you today…

(Be sure to read to the bottom of this post for special details on how you can purchase both of Susie’s books this week for only $0.99!!!)

~ Post and pictures provided by Susie Finkbeiner~

My in-laws live in Roswell, New Mexico. Yes, it’s a quirky place. McDonalds is built to look like a UFO and Walmart has an alien painted on the wall. Most of the town is devoted to the tourists who come, looking for evidence of extraterrestrials.

It’s a fun place to visit.

Fun, but dry. Desert spans for miles. It’s hard to tell how many. Blaring sun and dry sand make depth perception fail. The aridity wicks away all moisture. All day, the goal is to keep from becoming dehydrated.

During my whole visit, I was reminded of one very important thing: the desert is dangerous. It could mean death to someone ill prepared. To someone who is not mindful of its perils.

In my novel “My Mother’s Chamomile”, my character Olga Eliot finds herself in a desert of grief. A wilderness of loss. Dry and hopeless and isolating. She feels a kinship with the Israelites who wandered on their trek to the Promised Land.

The desert seemed to have no end. For her and the Children of God. In that desert, they question God. His love for them. His power.

My pastor reminds us often that, in the desert, faith either grows or dies. I believe he’s right about that.

How many times have I been in a Spiritual desert? Too many to count. Feeling alone. Terrified. Near the end of hope. Wandering aimlessly, wishing for a little direction. Not knowing that what I needed more than anything was mercy. Comfort. A flood of relief.

That, not only did I required it, I would need to accept it. Not only for myself, but for others.

First Corinthians 1:3-11 is all about receiving comfort so that we can become a comfort for others.

When we walk through the desert, we are comforted by Christ. Often that looks like a friend bringing over a casserole. Or someone paying a bill we can’t manage. A kind word. A warm hug.

We drink deeply of mercy, having more than our fill. Let the oasis of comfort immerse us. Renew us.

Refreshed, we have the power, the resources, to let that comfort spill over. To wash over those around us.

And, in the cleansing, faith grows.


My Mother’s Chamomile

Desperate for the rains of mercy…
Middle Main, Michigan has one stop light, one bakery, one hair salon…and one funeral home. The Eliot Family has assisted the grieving people in their town for over fifty years. After all those years of comforting others, they are the ones in need of mercy.
Olga, the matriarch who fixes everything, is unable to cure what ails her precious daughter. She is forced to face her worse fears. How can she possibly trust God with Gretchen’s life? A third generation mortician, Evelyn is tired of the isolation that comes with the territory of her unconventional occupation. Just when it seems she’s met a man who understands her, she must deal with her mother’s heart-breaking news. Always able to calm others and say just the right thing, she is now overwhelmed with helplessness as she watches her mother slip away.

Susie Finkbeiner is a novelist and short story writer from West Michigan. Her first novel “Paint Chips” released in 2013 and her second novel “My Mother’s Chamomile” in 2014. She worked with WhiteFire Publishing on both novels. Currently, she is working on her third novel.

Susie is a wife, mother of three, and avid reader. She enjoys time with her family, coffee dates with her good friends, and quiet moments to read and write.

For more information on Susie and her books please visit www.susiefinkbeiner.wordpress.com. Also don’t miss your chance to purchase Paint Chips and My Mother’s Chamomile in ebook format this week for only $0.99 each! Offer is available August 28-31st at amazon.com


What a Dad Sometimes Can’t See

This week I am so excited to welcome my brother-in-law and friend, Landon Brown, to Once Upon a Writer. Landon is an amazing father of three, and when I first read his account of my nephew, Garrett, and his dragon fighting adventures, I knew it was a story of whimsy and wisdom…a story I couldn’t wait to share with you.

~ Written by Landon Brown ~

“Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” C.S. Lewis

I caught a glimpse of skin, stripes, and shiny plastic as I turned from the kitchen towards the living room. 

It was 9:00 pm on a Saturday, traditionally a day to gather up the pieces of family life dropped along the path of the week.  This Saturday, however, found our family scattered to the four corners of our world with Melanie away at a conference and my two oldest children with friends.

I almost missed it as my mind registered the scene of my seven-year-old son and his nine-year-old best friend. 

The call of adventure woke these boys at 7:30 am and they…

Rode bikes through a battlefield fighting the enemy with a Nerf gun…

Scorched the putt-putt course and won a pair of swords…

Broke the swords in a dual…

Ran from an imaginary villain through the Monkey Joe obstacle course…

Fought WW2 after they got home…

Built a fort using blankets, and pillows, and chairs…

All while making those shooting and sword fight noises only boys can make. Now (whew!!!), they were home and not far from bedtime.

It was what I didn’t see as I entered the living room that made the day worth remembering and cherishing…

I didn’t see the band of pirates chasing these “scalawags…” 

I didn’t see the ocean teeming with hungry sharks and giant tentacled octopi (cool word) that dared them to teeter off the ship (couch) and fall into waiting jaws… 

I didn’t notice the helpless princess they were protecting and trying to rescue…

Nor did I see these things for most of that tiring Saturday.

I almost missed it.  I almost saw nothing but a messy living room, and I almost got upset to find two broken swords scattered on the floor. But something (the Holy Spirit) reminded me that this make-believe world in the minds of these boys was given to them by God. 

One day these two “warriors” will grow up to be men…protectors and providers. Families will look to them to fight the enemy of their souls with no less energy and determination.

So let them fight.

Let their imaginary battles rage on, and let them dream of rescue. Let them imagine enemies, and castles, and sword fights. Victory and defeat.

Because the enemies will one day come, and they will be real, and the stakes will be high.

Let’s teach them about The Lord of Angel Armies, who warns us of the ultimate enemy, who fights our battles for us, who rescues us from peril. Let’s teach them about miraculous victories and impossible odds overcome by His power and might. Let’s teach them about the final victory of Jesus over His enemies and of the final restored kingdom of God on this earth.

Tell them stories…don’t lose the opportunity while their imaginations soar.

Tell them God’s story.

Give them hope.

And, dads…remind yourself of these things often. May God grant all of us eyes of faith that we may wonder at the things we cannot see.