In 2005, Allison starting blogging to track the ups and downs of living life as an artist.
Today, she blogs to share our Infinitely More adventures in music and ministry! 
Read, comment, share! 

3 Acts of Love - Join Our Valentine's Day Challenge!  

February is definitely the Month of Love in our family!

Our wedding anniversary, Valentine's Day, and our sweet puppy 
Sebastian's birthday all land in the same week!

That said, like many of you, we're feeling a lack of love in our world these days. 
It seems like we're all more divided than ever, and that those with the ugliest opinions 
often hold the loudest microphones.

BUT, we all have the power to choose what we put into this world.

We have the power to choose LOVE!

In the spirit of this truth: 

We're inviting everyone to take part in our 
3 Acts Of Love
Valentine's Day Challenge 2020!

This week, we encourage you to share a simple & selfless act of love with three people:

#1. A family member
#2. A neighbour (in your office/school, or on your street!)
#3. A stranger

We encourage you to be creative! 

Perhaps you'll choose a Valentine's tradition, such as giving out heart-shaped chocolates 
(who doesn't love getting chocolates??) 
Or maybe you'll perform a much-needed act of service for someone? 
Or pay for someone's coffee?
Or send someone a word of encouragement?
Or ... or ....
the possibilities are endless! 

Bonus points if your Act of Love is anonymous! 

All we really ask is that your 3 Acts of Love are simple and tangible.
If we all join in, imagine the power of hundreds of Acts Of Love 
moving through our families and communities this week...

We can't all change the World, but we can all change our Corner of the World!

So please join us this week for the 
3 Acts of Love
Valentine's Day Challenge 2020!

We'd love for you to share your experiences with us on:


Let's fill our world with countless acts of love this Valentine's Week!

24 Books for 2019 

What a year for reading! 

In 2018, I set a New Year's resolution to read 24 books - a huge increase from my meagre 2017 reading. 
For me, 2 books a month is the perfect number. It's not unattainable, but it does require me to be intentional about it. Carving out more time for reading has been a welcome lifestyle change, and my only complaint is that I can't read even more books! My "To Read List" grows daily!

I don't pick my books with any specific theme or plan. 
Sometimes, they came from recommendations, some I received for review, and sometimes, one book will naturally lead to another. I aimed for a mix of fiction and non-fiction, with mostly first-time reads.

That said, two interesting themes evolved from this year's book choices:

#1. Local Authors
In our touring, I started to ask for local books and added them to my list. Seriously, this was our 5th year touring Canada (9th year touring the East Coast!) Why didn't I start this sooner?? I wasn't looking for travel books. I really wanted either real life stories, or locally inspired fiction. I highly recommend adding this to your reading practice!

#2. Authors I Know
I'm blessed with lots of talented friends! Most of them are musicians, but this year, I read 4 books by authors that I know personally. In most cases, what followed were interesting discussions and a greater sense of friendship. Added reading perk!

Here are my 24 books of 2019.

What did you read this year?
Leave your top picks in the comments below...

By M. L. Stedman

I grabbed this book while traveling through Jasper, and I'm so glad I did! Its January setting and themes of trying to see the past and future in the turns of our lives made it the perfect book for the New Year. Add in a lighthouse, a dramatic setting, and all the emotions and you're in for a fantastic

By Celeste Ng

I read this captivating book our on flights to and from Edmonton to attend the Covenant Awards. An engaging story rife with family drama, small town politics, long held secrets, and the various faces of true maternal love.

By Heather Morris

A fascinating and compelling memoir. There are scenes that will turn your stomach, and others that will have you cheering out loud. And if you can believe it, it has one of the most beautiful love stories I read all year!

By Tara Westover

This was on everyone's 2018 reading list, and I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN!! Tara Westover is a marvel, and her story is beyond amazing. I can't recommend this enough!! The book stands on its own, but due to its popularity, there are lots of fascinating interviews with Westover online if you like to do follow-up reading.

By Michael Hyatt

This was a reread, and there's a good chance it might be on my 2020 list too. Probably the best book I've read on goal setting. HIGHLY recommend!!

By Lisa Samson

Even though I'm a Christian who makes my living making Christian art, I never read Christian fiction! Someone once told me she loved Christian fiction because it's "safe", and I could never get over that saccharine impression. So, I was quite shocked when another passionate reading friend recommended I read this "Christian fiction". The book was well written, engaging, with a wonderful protagonist! It led to some great post-book discussions, too!

By Martha Tatarnic

I was so excited when my dear friend, Martha Tatarnic, launched her first book! I wrote a review of it for the Niagara Anglican newspaper that you can read HERE.

By Erin Bartels

I loved this book! You can read my review HERE.

By Lisa See

Lisa See is possibly my favourite author ever! She always opens up a new page of history for us, and fills it with engaging and heartbreaking stories and characters. Her latest novel introduces us to the all-female fishing community of Jeju island (Korea) and takes us on a journey of friendship that will tear you apart. I love this book in so many ways!!

By Alexandra Kuykendall

Loved this challenging and inspiring book! You can read my review HERE.

By Rachel Held Evans

I'd heard of RHE, but really knew her by reputation only. I knew she spoke out about her evangelical experience, and was considered controversial by many. But her sudden and tragic passing brought messages of love and respect from both her supporters and her detractors. That had to mean something, right? I turned to her writing to see what all the fuss was about. I can see why she would have offended many people, and I'm not here to challenge those feelings, but at the core of it all, I read a story of grace, redemption, faith in the face of doubt, and unconditional love. If that isn't the Gospel, I don't know what is...

By Mark Smeby

I met my talented friend, Mark Smeby, when we were on the same worship team in Nashville. He has a fantastic voice and a powerful message of hope. This short book is full of honest, inspiring thoughts on moving with God through the challenging seasons.

By Amanda Dykes

Such a great summer read! You can read my review HERE.

VIOLA DESMOND: Her Life and Times
By Graham Reynolds, with Wanda Robson

Every since she graced our new $10 bill, I've been wanting to know about the elegant Viola Desmond. Hailed as "Canada's Rosa Parks," Desmond's role in our own civil rights movement was almost forgotten until her face appeared on our currency. I was thankful to find this book in a Lunenburg bookstore (thank you, indie bookstores, for still hosting a "local authors" section!) I encourage all Canadians to learn about Viola Desmond, and to continue the ongoing discussion of civil rights in Canada.

By Aja Gabel

Another great recommendation from a book-loving friend. Follows the journey of a chambre quartet from their shaky start through decades of friendship, rivalry, and music. Fantastic book, especially relatable as a music-maker myself.

By Bobbie Ann Cole

I met Bobbie Ann several years ago when we sang a concert in her church in Pennfield, NB. She's since moved to England, which provides part of the backdrop for her latest novel. You can read my review HERE.

TOMORROW IS SCHOOL... And I'm Sick To The Heart Thinking About It
By Don Sawyer

At our neighbourhood Canada Day party, I discovered that the couple across the street had started their teaching careers in a remote community in Newfoundland! They weren't from there, but since I am, we shared a great conversation. A few minutes later, he ran across the street to give me a copy of this book, a memoir of their exciting NL adventure. A great read about the power of creative teaching.

BEARS IN THE ALLEY... Among Other Places
Compiled By Val Delill

After 10 years of touring across Canada, Gerald and I finally had our first shared bear sighting! I celebrated by buying a few bear-inspired treasures in Jasper, including this charming little volume. A compilation of local stories, primarily ranging from the 1930's-1960's when bears were as common in Jasper as squirrels in Toronto.

By Delia Owens

If you haven't read this yet, get it tonight, cancel all your plans, and prepared to be fully engrossed by this awesome tale. Seriously. I'm not kidding. Do it now!! Coming soon as a movie, but of course, read the book first...

By Alan Bennett

What if an unidentified queen (who happens to own corgis...) discovered a passion for reading? A charming and enjoyable quick-read from the creator of stage and film hits "The History Boys" and "The Madness of King George III".

By Katherine Govier

This was another travel find, this time recommended to me in the absolutely gorgeous Cafe Books in Canmore. A sweeping historical fiction, inspired by the sites and history of Canmore, Banff, the original trail guides, and the birth of Parks Canada. As bonus, you can visit the bar and hotel that inspired the title just a few doors down from the bookstore...

By Ann Patchett

I'm a big Ann Patchett fan (her heartbreaking "Truth & Beauty" was a favourite 2018 read), so I snapped this up as soon as I saw it on the shelf. We follow three generations, and their relationship with the imposing Dutch House, in their discovery of home, family, and place. This one took me a while to get into, but once I got into it, I was hooked.

By Louisa May Alcott

I read this when I was a little girl, and in my excitement for the upcoming film, I decided it was time to read it again. What a book! I think I love it now more then I get when I was a child. The characters and relationships are bold, relevant, and completely endearing. It's both of-its-time and timeless. From what I hear, the film is true to the spirit of the book, so I can't wait to see it!

By Ruth Chou Simons

What a lovely book to round out the year! Gracelaced takes us on a journey through the year, with gentle and inspiring thoughts on God's faithfulness in all seasons. Light on text, the book encourages a slow pace, with page upon page of Simons' stunning artwork, filled with Scripture and nature images.

So, there were my 24 books for 2019!
Did I read any of your favourites this year?

And I'm making up a list for 2020... 
Let me know if you have any recommendations! 

Why I Remember... 

This is my maternal grandfather, Charles (Charlie) Ryall.

He served in the 166th Newfoundland Regiment.

When he came home, he didn't talk about the war much, or the things he saw.

The closest he would come was when my Mom or my Aunt would leave food on their plates.

"I wish I could pack that up and send it to the starving children in Italy," he would say.

There was no lack of poverty in Newfoundland, so I can't imagine what he saw in Italy that would have prompted such a consistent response.

I never met my grandfather. He died just before I was born. But I know I would have loved him. He loved the outdoors, a great time, and a good laugh. He was beloved by everyone who knew him.

And he's why we are free.

He, and the thousands of men and women who fought for our freedom during WWII,
and countless conflicts before and since that time.

They looked at what was happening and thought, 
"Nope. This is not the world I want for my children and my grandchildren."

For my Mom and my Aunt.

For me.

He didn't know me, didn't even know I was going to be born, 
yet he fought and suffered for me.

My story is not unique. There are thousands of us who have war heroes in our families. Some can remember the coming home stories. Some, sadly, don't have those stories to tell.

And yet, because of their bravery, 
to fight for the future of unknown generations, 
we are free.

Charlie Ryall and two of his fellow soldiers.

I can't help but think about the parallels to the cross. How Jesus bled, died, and sacrificed it all so that unknown generations could also be free.

Most days, I wear a cross 
to remind me of that gift.

This week, I'm wearing my poppy,
as a simple and public declaration: 

We remember your service.
We give thanks for your sacrifice.
We honour your gift to us all.

And in addition, I'll be praying...

... in thankfulness, for all who have gone before, risking and sacrificing in countless ways for our freedom.

... for all those who continue to put themselves in harm's way for our safety and security.

... for those in power, that they may be wise and compassionate in all their decisions.

And my loudest prayer of all:

Bring peace in our time, O Lord!

This Remembrance Day, please join me in wearing a poppy, 
giving thanks to our men and women in uniform, 
and praying for a peace that will transform our world.


Thankful For My Journey Of Pain 

I only left the worship because of my allergies.

I never leave church mid-service, but something in the fall air had me sneezing. Thankfully, it was a rare Sunday where I was in the pew and not leading worship. As a matter of fact, I wasn't even in my home church. I was attending with a friend in a different province. The worship was beautiful but I was sniffling and needed a tissue, so off I snuck to the ladies room.

When I opened the door, I found that I wasn't alone. A young woman turned into one of the stalls. I could hear her sniffling, but not from allergies. She was crying. 

Not just crying...


I was a guest in this church. I knew from the morning's prayers that they had just lost a senior member of the congregation, but I didn't know the depth or extent of the loss. 

I wanted to step lightly...

"Worship songs make me cry sometimes, too..." I shared softly.

She turned to face me.

"Are you okay?"

With that, her floodgates opened. The senior church member was her grandfather. He'd been sick for a while, and was quite old, but the loss was still so powerful. She shared the difficulties of sitting in church this morning - the same space where, just a few days ago, she and her family had gathered for the funeral. Her eyes overflowed as she talked about seeing her strong tough uncles break down in tears, and the heartbreak of watching her grandmother bury the only man she'd loved.

I wanted to step lightly, 
but so often when we're with someone in grief, 
stepping is barely needed.

Just standing...

Standing, listening, being present.

I listened to this young woman pour out her pain.

But I also listened for God.

"Okay Lord, I'm here in the ladies room, with a worship service happening just on the other side of the door. I know you brought me in here for a reason. What do you want me to do? Is there anything I can say that will help? If not, please keep me quiet. Just don't let me say anything that will make it worse!"

As she spoke, my heart was taken back to my own experiences with grief. I thought about the recent loss of my beautiful aunt, and the pain that moved through my family. I remembered my own grandmother's funeral. I was just a teenager when it happened, and I also remember being shaken by the tears and grief of the "strong tough" men in my family.

So, when I felt she needed a breath, I gently shared a bit of my story.

We talked about things that can make grief harder, like holidays or familiar spaces.

We acknowledged the very real hurt of loss, and the heartrending struggle of watching those you love in pain.

And we also talked about Heaven. How it doesn't erase the pain of losing someone, but that the promise of seeing one another again brings hope into the most unbearable of seasons.

And after a while of chatting, her tears lightened, and I was able to see her beautiful smile.

As I returned to my pew, I lifted a quiet prayer.

First, I prayed for this young woman and all those grieving in the church that Sunday.

And second, I lifted a prayer of gratitude for my own pain.

I've had some very dark seasons of grief in my life. And this particular year, I've experienced two terrible losses, both tragic in their own ways.

I will never be thankful for the loss of someone I love. 
But today, I was thankful for the lessons that I've learned in my grief.

I'm thankful to know what it is to be in pain, so that I can empathize with someone whose heart has been broken by loss.

I'm thankful that I've had terrible things said to me in my grief, because it's taught me to be gentle in my own choice of words.

I'm thankful that I've had people ignore me in my grief because they "didn't know what to say," because it's taught me that it's okay to be be present but silent with someone who's hurting.

And I'm thankful that I don't need to rely on my own limited strength or wisdom in these moments. I can be still, and listen for the One who always responds in love, and encourages us to do the same.

Being grateful for our own pain doesn't come easy. It's been a long journey for me. 
But today, I felt the fulfilment of that journey, and I am thankful for every step.

Book Review: Being Lena Levi by Bobbie Ann Cole 

One of the perks of being an artist is enjoying the art of your talented friends. 
Today's review falls into that category!

I first met Bobbie Anne Cole when she attended our Infinitely More concert in Pennfield, NB. At that time, she gave me her inspiring first book, She Does Not Fear The Snow. Since then, Bobbie has moved to England and continues to write and teach.

When I saw she had written a new novel, I jumped at the chance to review it. If you saw my reading list from 2018, you'll know that WWII became an unexpected theme in my choices of fiction. Well, it seems to be a theme I can't escape! (Or maybe, a theme I keep pursuing? I'll let the psychology students hash that one out...)

Being Lena Levi starts five years after WWII. Young Marlene returns home from school one day to find her mother acting uncomfortably and a strange woman in their living room. When Marlene asks about the stranger, her mother tells her, "She's your mother."

Marlene, born Lena, discovers she's not a born-and-bred English schoolgirl. Instead, she's German Jew, who had been sent to England on a Kindertransport to escape the horrors of Hitler and the Holocaust. Her birth mother, her "Mutti," has finally returned to bring her home.

What ensues is a romp through England and Israel as Lena takes on the challenge of discovering her true identity. Who is her "real" mother? How can she reconcile her Christian faith with her Jewish heritage? And what is the real country that shapes us?

Lena, Mum and Mutti are all strong and wonderful characters. 
Through each, we see different versions of passion, family, and independence, 
all reflecting their unique upbringing and life circumstances. 

One of the reasons I love historical fiction is the opportunity to learn about little known chapters of human history. With all my WWII reading, I'd never heard of the Kindertransport and its legacy on the lives of German and English families. To save their children, German parents put their children on trains and sent them off to England, with the hopes that they'd be safe through the war. The initial separations caused tremendous pain to German families. Over the years, many children, especially young ones, made deep bonds with their English foster parents. Reunions were often complicated, especially as German parents struggled with the physical, emotional, and financial toll of the war and the Holocaust. Many parents never returned, leaving a lifetime of unanswered questions for their children. Bobbie uses detailed research to share a fascinating piece of history with heart and passion.

Being Lena Levi is categorized as "young adult" or "adult fiction" and I think it works for both age groups. The fast pace makes it a quick and engaging read for adults. I think teenagers, in particular, will identify with Lena and her fierce independence in the face of a such a life-changing discovery.

I encourage you to pick up your copy of Being Lena Levi 
and discover this charming heroine and her fascinating journey!

You can learn more about Bobbie and her beautiful writing at 

Book Review: Whose Waves These Are, by Amanda Dykes 

Lghthouses, lobsters, poetry, and just the right bit of romance...

Whose Waves These Are 
is the perfect summer read!

Amanda Dykes takes us to the fictional Maine town of Ansel-by-the-Sea - a sleepy cove where everyone knows everyone, and community ties run deep.

After losing his brother in the horrors of WWII, Bob, a great fisherman but an unlikely poet, writes an inspired verse. Its clarion call: send me a rock for the person you lost, and let's create a tribute to their lives. Only meant for his grieving community, the poem takes on a life of its own, and his world begins to change.

By the time his great-niece, Annie, discovers the odd treasure trove of stones, a lifetime of hurt and secrets have passed. One fateful summer, the waves bring new stories, and all is revealed in this epic tale of love, loss, family, and redemption.

So many things I enjoyed about this book:

- I love the ocean, and if I can't be there myself, reading a tale inspired by the waves is the next best thing! The only way to make it better would be to actually read it by the sea. 

- I'm always excited by fractured narrative, multiple time periods, and historical fiction. Amanda handles all these techniques beautifully to tell a story that's engaging and emotionally satisfying.

- Technically, this falls under the category of "Christian fiction". If I'm being completely honest, that phrase can scare me. I'm wary of books that will get too preachy, or will start to feel too agenda based. The people of Ansel-by-the-Sea remind me of Christians I know. Just normal people, who happen to believe in a loving God. They have doubts and imperfections, but they're on the path of love. Faith is simply woven into the story and characters in the same way that's it's woven into most of our lives: a prayer or quote when needed, a doubt or question in the tough times, and a reminder of the Creator when amazed by His creation.

Oh, and one more fun thing: if you visit Amanda's site, she's created the quiz, 
"Which Ansel-by-the-Sea Locale Are You?" 
You know, if you just need to dig in a little deeper!

If you're looking for a great summer read, I highly recommend Whose Waves These Are
Grab a spot by the ocean, and enjoy...

I received this book to review from the Nuts About Books Blogger Program and Graf-Martin Communications Inc.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Book Review: Loving My Actual Neighbor, By Alexandra Kuykendall 

When I read this title on the list of books for possible review, I knew I had to grab it:

Loving My Actual Neighbor 
By Alexandra Kuykendall

In a world where most of our "friends" are represented heavily curated profile pictures, could there be any more timely book for us to read?

Don't get me wrong. I love social media. I'm sort of active on Twitter, and completely active on Facebook. I'm thankful that I can keep in touch with friends from across the country with a simple login.

But when we moved to St. Catharines, things started to change. We bought a house. We had no plans to move in the next year. Suddenly, my neighbourhood became a much more important place. Who lived near me? What does my community value? How can I be part of the larger picture of caring for my neighbours?

Alexandra Kuykendall presents a thoughtful, practical, and generous approach to changing your relationship with those around you. This isn't about your friends and family. As the Sesame Street song taught us all: "these are the people in your neighbourhood." The people who live near you, the colleagues at work, the staff at your local store, and the members of your community group.  Inspired by the first chapter of 2 Peter, Alexandra creates a 7-step system for getting to know and love your neighbours.

Each chapter combines relatable stories with easy practical advice. What are the simple things we can do? After these become second nature, what are the bigger things we can do to get into deeper relationship with those around us?

Steps are reinforced with "Questions for Reflection," 
"Practicing the Practice" list of tips, and "Scripture to Digest." 

Alexandra also has a beautiful and inspiring concept called "Saturday Living." It's that tension we feel when we strive to live an earthly life with a spiritual focus. The name references the first Holy Saturday, that day when the cross was reality, but Sunday was coming. Grief on one side, freedom on the other. Finding ways to love those who are different than us, to communicate with those who speak a different language or have an opposing worldview, or remaining humble when making bold steps. Saturday Living is how we take the theory of love and live it out in a practical way.

As people of faith, we are particularly called to love our neighbour. When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, he very boldly stated "Love your neighbour" right after "Love God." Not only are we called to do it, but we're designed to do it. We love because we are loved.

Wouldn't it be awesome if Christians and the Church were known 
by our generous, creative, limitless love for all humanity? 

This is our call to live out that love.

Buy this book! Read it. Share it with your neighbours. 

Let's change our communities, one step at a time...

I received this book to review from the Nuts About Books Blogger Program and Graf-Martin Communications Inc.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

When Was Your Last Day Off? 

Today, I found myself looking at painted furniture online.

Now, this isn't unusual for me. I'm happy to spend hours looking at before-and-after shots, learning new skills, and dreaming of my own projects.

As any crafter will tell you, the dreaming is almost as good as the doing!

But this wasn't normal looking. I was looking a lot. Like, a lot! I kind of couldn't stop. 
And then I realized it. I wasn't just looking at furniture...

I was procrastinating.


I've got lots of faults, but I'll admit: I'm not a procrastinator. 
For me, one of the keys of being successfully self-employed is self discipline. 
I'm good at making my list, sitting down, and doing the work.

But not today. 

Today, I dreamily drifted over photos of chalk paint and thrift store finds while my To Do List sat abandoned.

I was a little taken aback when I realized what I was doing. Why was I procrastinating? There's nothing too intimidating or burdensome on my list right now. Everything's pretty straightforward. We did a concert last night, but I got a good night's sleep. I should be good. Wait, we've been on the road for a while now...

When was my last day off?

So, I pulled out my calendar and started scrolling back. Back through the ten days in New Brunswick, back through East Coast Music Week, back through the final days of tour prep, back through our busy Easter season, and then I found it.

My last day off was SIX WEEKS AGO!!!

And if I'm really honest, my day off six weeks ago was technically a sick day, so not a proper day off at all...

Many years ago, when we were working on staff at a church, I started insisting on taking Mondays off. I realized that, if we didn't claim a day, everyone else would claim our time for us. Now, in freelance ministry, we continue to recognize the need for time off, so Monday is our day. I'm pretty strict about it. I keep it free of appointments, set up a vacation reply so I don't check email, and hide my phone.
Monday is our day...

Until it isn't.

I could tell you all the reasons why my busyness has been justified over the last few months - full performance schedule, tour planning, grant writing, and just to complicate things, a puppy in need of medical treatment and surgery.

But the fact is, I needed to take time for myself, and I didn't do it.

So, now I find myself on the road, which is always the busiest time of our year. On any given day, we're either rehearsing, planning, booking, performing, interviewing, driving, or some combination of these. For these two months, we'll drive across six provinces, sleep in about 50 different beds, and interact with thousands of people.

Don't get me wrong: it's amazing and we love it and we wouldn't give it up for anything! I love working hard, and I love what I do. My lifelong dream was to be a touring artist, and here we are, making that dream come true.

But the artist life is intense. Touring is especially intense. We need to be open and present at all times, and that takes energy and focus.

So today, I found myself feeling a little worn, and needing to look at furniture.

As soon as I realized what was happening, I took a deep breath. In the past, I might have reprimanded myself for procrastinating.

Today, I chose gentleness. I reminded myself of how often Jesus took time to rest. He also lived life on the road, traveling and sharing the Gospel. His work was much more intense and important than mine.

If Jesus could take time to rest, 
surely the world can turn without me for a day.

(And if you caught the Jesus Christ Superstar reference in there, you are truly my people!)

This weekend, most of Canada will take a break as we celebrate Victoria Day. We're leading worship, and we can't wait to share Sunday morning with the wonderful people of Shediac Cape.

But Tuesday, we're taking a day off.

A full, proper day off.

On Tuesday, we'll be in beautiful Lunenburg. I'm going to sleep late, walk by the water, eat seafood, and visit gift shops. Or curl up in a cafe and read a book. Or maybe tour a museum. Or maybe, just do nothing.

We'll wait and see what the day holds...

That's the beauty, and necessity, of a day off.

"You Should Be Dead" - 10 Years Later... 

10 years ago today, this happened:

You can see the original post HERE.

We had been leading worship in a little church in Kingston Springs, just west of Nashville. It had been a great morning. We were having that typical Sunday drive home from church, talking about the sermon, and deciding where to go for lunch.

A tractor trailer changed lanes and smashed into our little Toyota Corolla.

He hit us so hard we crashed into the right-side guard rail and spun out in front of his truck, where he began to push us down the highway at 70 miles an hour.

We took another hit and spun around to the left side of his truck where we were trapped between his wheels and the guardrail, being dragged backwards down the highway.

We spun again, this time with the hood of our car spinning under the bed of his truck, and his wheels coming up on the hood of our car.

At that point, the guardrail ended, so instead of crushing us, his wheels pushed us off the road where we flipped, rolled, and landed upside down on the side of the highway.

And we walked out of the car.

With a little help...

There had been a light rain, and the final landing was oddly soft, like the slow-down at the end of a roller coaster ride. We had landed just inches from a stone outcropping which, had the car shifted just a bit in that final spin, would have given us a different ending.

The first person to approach our car was a vacationing paramedic from New Orleans. He talked us out of our seat belts and helped us open a door so we could walk back to the road.

Did we mention our guitar was in the backseat? 
The same guitar Gerald plays in every concert today. 

The car was crushed beyond recognition. Even the veteran tow truck driver had to ask the make and model of our super common Corolla. But somehow, Gerald and I (and the guitar) walked out.

That day, we heard the same words over and over:

"You should be dead."

The paramedics, state trooper, tow truck driver, witnesses. 
Over and over:

"You should be dead."

Those words will play on your heart and your mind.

The months and years that followed were filled with all kinds of struggles - physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual.

We sued the second largest trucking company in the United States. After years of depositions and negotiations, we finally settled for a pitiful amount, sparking a new family debate. Which was worse - the accident or the lawsuit?

And now, it's 10 years later.

10 years today, we stood on the side of the road, shocked and amazed that we were simply alive, with no idea what was coming next.

In those first few years, pain and healing were prominent themes in our lives and in our marriage.

The accident is a before and after moment, shaping us in countless ways.

As we started our journey of healing, we lost all tolerance for petty annoyances. "Life is short." "Don't sweat the small stuff." "Be thankful you're alive." All those cliches became powerfully true.

Family, faith, and purpose became even more important, and we discovered a sharper focus for our art and calling.

As fairly newlyweds (we had only been married three years at the time), we learned to trust in a new way, leaning into our marriage and each other through some truly difficult times.

But as the years went on, the accident took on a different place in our lives.

It's become a source of strength. We conquered a beast of a struggle, and came out stronger and healthier than before. When we doubt ourselves, we remember that journey.

It's a reminder of priorities. I wish I could say that I'm still immune to petty annoyances. Truth be told, I give them far too much attention some days. But when I think back to that fateful day, priorities line up pretty quickly.

It's a source of shared pain and healing. For ourselves and our family, but also for others. We've shared our story in our concerts. We've also spent hours post-concert, holding someone's hand as they share their accident story. Some of these stories have been victories, but many have been tragic. But somehow, sharing them allows each of us to feel seen and loved, and it adds to the healing.

It's become an inspiration for gratitude. When we think back to that day, we're reminded that it could have ended very differently. We will never complain about getting older, because we know that, in a different version of the story, we might not be here to celebrate that next birthday. We are thankful for our whole bodies and our emotional healing. We're overwhelmingly grateful for our amazing family and friends, who fed us, cared for us, prayed for us, and surrounded us with patient and generous love.

I'd be remiss if I didn't name our parents, Helen and Hollis, Sandy and Gerry, and our amazing friends, Tara and Kyle. Words can't express our love and gratitude for how you brought us through that season.

And we are eternally thankful to God. Not only did He see fit to bring us through such an ordeal, but what a plan He had in store for us!

And as Gerald alway says, "It's not lost on us that the God who saved us on the highway is the same God who called us into a nationally touring music ministry!"

So today, I'm going to take a deep breath, and give thanks.

For the struggle, 
the healing, 
the journey, 
the lessons, 
the love 
and the Spirit.

"Praise God, from whom all blessings flow..."

Book Review: We Hope For Better Things, by Erin Bartels 

Every once and a while you pick up a book to review, and you forget that your job is to review it.

That's this book for me.

Elizabeth Balsam is a fast moving reporter on the verge of her biggest story. She gets annoyed when a stranger asks her to deliver a box of old photographs to a distant aunt. But that one task starts to unravel a family story interwoven with race relations, local history, and the power of secrets and truth.

Quite simply: I loved everything about this book.

Erin Bartels is a great writer, creating scenes and characters that are captivating and compelling. Set in Detroit, we experience Elizabeth and two other women of her family in three distinct generations: present day, the 1967 Detroit Riots, and the American Civil War. Each story line is told in revolving chapters, with dialogue and details to create an immersive environment.

Through these three interwoven stories of Elizabeth, Nora, and Mary, we see one family's struggle with racism. Where are our prejudices born, and can they ever be shut down? How do love, hatred, secrets and truth weave themselves into a family history? How can we learn from the past if we never share our stories?

Once I locked into this book, I couldn't put it down. More than once, I was up late, using my iPhone light to brighten my page and not wake my husband. We Hope For Better Things wrestles with vast and complicated ideas but in the context of intimate family relationships. We journey with three women who choose love and family, even when challenged with heartbreak and prejudice. The way the story is revealed kept me turning the pages and riding the emotional roller coaster of this amazing family.

Prejudices of any kind are always based on hating a group, but time and time again we see how hatred can break down when we get to know people as individuals.

Jesus asked us to "love our neighbour." Doesn't loving our neighbour start with getting to know our neighbour? Not as part of a group, with all our biases and assumptions attached, but just as a person, created in the loving image of God? 

I recommend this book as a compelling novel, but more than that, I encourage it as a spark for conversation.

Let it challenge your heart. Learn your own history. 
Tell your own stories. We can always do better. 
We must always hope for better things...

I received this book to review from the Nuts About Books Blogger Program and Graf-Martin Communications Inc.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.