Thursday, February 14, 2013

Oregon is for Lovers!

I completely forgot about my favorite thing about Valentine's Day until this morning when my cousin posted about it on Facebook.

Valentine's Day is Oregon's birthday!

So I guess I should like Valentine's Day a lot more, because I absolutely LOVE Oregon! And what's not to love, am I right? Rain, you say. Ah, but did you know that roughly two-thirds of Oregon is high desert? There's something for everyone in Oregon. I happen to live on what I consider to be the transition zone between raininess and desert. It's perfect, if you ask me! Right now I'm looking at sunshine and mountains, can't get much better than that!

For your Oregon's Day pleasure, here are some fun facts about the Beaver State:

1) Oregon is the only state with a double-sided flag. We have a beaver on one side and the state seal on the other.

2) Heceta Head lighthouse near Florence is the most photographed lighthouse in the nation.

3) Our state nut is the hazelnut. Oregon is the only state with a state nut. Explains a lot, right? Incidentally, a lot of state nuts are grown near Corvallis.

4) The Oregon Caves are naturally carved within solid marble.

5) Haystack Rock in Canon Beach is the world's third largest coastal monolith. Who knew?

6) Oregon and New Jersey are the only two states where you can't pump your own gas. Because of this, I did not learn to pump my own gas until last year. Now I feel lazy when I go to the gas station.

7) The world's tallest barber pole is in Forest Grove (for all you Pacific alums out there!)

8) Oregon is home to the world's shortest river, D River, 121 feet long.

9) Oregon has more ghost towns than any other state. Yay?

10) Odd Oregon laws: in Myrtle Creek, it is illegal to box a kangaroo; in Portland, you cannot whistle underwater; it is illegal to buy or sell marijuana in Oregon, but you are permitted to smoke it in your own home; in Oregon, it is illegal to use canned corn as fish bait.

11) Oregon is the most romantic place in the world (What? It's a fact! Our birthday is flipping Valentine's Day!)

Happy 154th Birthday, Sweet Oregon!


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Last Minute V-Day Decorating?

If Valentine's Day and I were a couple, we would be completely dysfunctional.

I don't know why, but I've just never really connected with Hearts Day. It was all fun in elementary school. Candy, games, an afternoon off from lessons, what's not to love? But somewhere around high school, things just soured. When my husband and I got engaged, we just had this kind of unspoken agreement that Valentine's Day would go largely uncelebrated for us. We would do little gifts, maybe go on a date, but for the most part, I just feel very "meh" about it. I am really lucky in that I married a guy who feels "meh" about it too.

But this year, something's different. Maybe it's because we have little kids now, and everything is more fun with little kids (in my opinion. OK maybe not everything...fine dining comes to mind...) I'm actually kind of excited for Valentine's Day! And since we had a pathetic amount of decorations, I decided to whip some up. I ended up making three garlands, a sign, and Hound Dog and I made borax hearts. I love Pinterest.

I think my favorite garland is the shabby chic bunting. I began by rifling though my scrap bags and came up with some white lace trim, some off-white lace trim, pink lace, and white tulle.

I cut each piece of fabric into several small strips, about 6 inches for the laces and a little longer for the tulle because I wanted to double it up since tulle is so wispy. I think I ended up with about 8 strips of each fabric.

I found some hemp twine I had lying around. Yes, I am doing this project on the back of the couch as it is longer and taller than the table and Bubba is getting very good at standing and grabbing stuff.

Someone got into my scrap bag when I wasn't looking!

All that's left to do now is tie the fabric strips onto the twine. For the laces I just tied an overhand knot around the twine as close to the end of the strip as I could. The tulle I doubled up and tied in a lark's head knot around the twine. I didn't worry too much about even spacing, since it was shabby chic and all. And the fabric will still slide along the twine once you tie it, so you can adjust if something looks off.

I decided this would look good on our mantle, and I dug out some other Valentine's decor to go with.


Notice that little box in front of the sign I made? That's the first Valentine's present Dave ever made for me. It's like a little movie that says "I love you" when you turn the crank. Awwww...

And just so you aren't dying of suspense, here's a look at the other two garlands hanging in the window. The top one is just some hearts that I cut out of felt and then sewed in a long line. The second one consists of two hankies (I love vintage hankies. It's kind of an addiction), a doily, some more lace trim, and some ribbon. I took clothes pins and clipped everything together. Bam, done.

Hound Dog and I made the borax hearts from a tutorial that I found here. They turned out so pretty! Science at its best.

I hope everyone out there has a wonderful Valentine's Day! Don't be "meh" like me. Although, this year could mark the end of my V-day doldrums.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Remnant Infinity Scarf

Let me just start by saying this is my very first craft tutorial, so it's a big moment for me.
*Deep breath*

So today, my kitchen was a disaster and there were toys everywhere. You know, the usual. So what did I decide to do about it? Why, ignore it of course and make a scarf!


I'm just gonna preface this whole thing by saying that I am no seamstress. I don't know much about sewing, I don't know much about fabric, I just pretty much know how to fake it and some tips my mom has given me that I managed to remember. Like, I don't even know what kind of fabric this is. It's a light, crepe-y, billowy type of fabric. I know, impressive, right?

I found this fabric on my last trip to Joann's. If you've never perused the remnant bin at a fabric store, then you need to start doing so. You never know what good stuff is going to pop up in there! Take, for example, this little find. I forget now what I paid for it, but the remnants were on clearance, so I think it ended up being a dollar give or take a few pennies for about 2/3 of a yard. Not too shabby. Then I sat around and stared at it for a while thinking, "What am I going to do with this?" Then it came to me: infinity scarf! I'm an accessories type of girl, but having a grabby baby makes it pretty much impossible to wear jewelry (or even glasses, yikes!). But Bubba can yank on this thing all he wants, and I don't feel so under dressed (like when I go to Wal-Mart. I hate being under dressed at Wal-Mart.)

First up, I laid the fabric out flat. Here it is in all it's glory:

I love the color and the stripes. Makes me think of the ocean.

Then I folded it in half and cut it, trimming off some extra so the two halves would be more or less congruent.

Depending on the fabric you're using, you might be able to skip this next step. This fabric frayed like crazy with tiny, maddening, spider web-type threads. Out came the Fray Check!

Once that's dry, it's time to get pinning! Pretty easy (like everything I sew), just overlap the short ends about 1/2 inch and pin, pin, pin! (My mother taught me you can never pin too much. Go ahead, go nuts with it.) Then thread up that sewing machine and get to it! I used a zig-zag stitch to make the seam more secure and more attractive.

Once that's done, just pin the other two short ends together and sew just like you did before. If I really wanted to, I could have finished the raw edges and whatnot, but like I said, my sewing skills are very basic. Also, I didn't have much time to do this project. Bubba takes short naps. It's great. Also, I'm a little bit lazy. But raw edges are trendy, right?

...And the other side. Feels like we've been here before, huh?
And that's it! Start to finish, with Bubba waking up halfway through, it probably took me an hour. For someone who is actually good at sewing, it would probably take half that time. The finished product is really long when it's all unwound, but I'm a big scarf kind of girl. We like our scarves in Oregon. Plus the fabric was so light I wanted to be able to really pile it up for some volume.

It's as tall as the fireplace, yay big scarves!

Naturally I had to model it.

I love how it turned out! And yes, I wore it to Wal-Mart. I felt pretty fancy.
Let me know what you think, or if you made one too!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rule Breaker

So a little bit about me: I'm a rebel.

Oh yeah. You heard me. For starters, I'm a lefty. When all my friends were learning to write and color, they reached for those crayons with their right hands. I watched them and said, "No, forget that, I'm going to use the other hand." But guess what? Kindergarten rolled around, and it was time to get down with some serious scissor usage. Apparently I was the first lefty my tiny rural school had seen since 1957, because all of their lefty scissors had been purchased around that year. Read: those lefty scissors would not even cut air. So what did I do? I rejected that rusty box of lefty scissors and was all like, "Whatever, I'm using the righty scissors from now on." And I do still use righty scissors.

I'm such a rebel I became a Mormon. What? Not fitting within your "rebel" schema? Yeah, that's how much of a rebel I am.

I have a bachelor's degree in English and writing. Do you know what they drill into you in every writing class? They tell you to WRITE EVERY DAY! Well, not exactly. Usually they say it with more profanity than that. Writing professors love profanity. I also do not use profanity. Rebel.

So here I am on my honeymoon, writing on the beach. I'm pretty sure this journal was never seen again.
So, since every teacher I've ever had has told me to write every day, guess how often I write? I'll give you a hint, it's not every day. Not even close. Maybe there was a time when I used to write every day, out of necessity, just trying to get things done and handed in. But when that was all over and I was left to just write for me, I didn't quite know how to do it. And then I was married. (They told me not to get married in the middle of my graduate program. So I did. Rebel.) After Dave and I got married, I suddenly stopped writing. I stopped because I was happy.

For so long, writing was an escape for me. When I couldn't sleep, I would write, pouring stress and anxiety and anger and loneliness and confusion and anything else trapped inside me into poems, short stories, letters that were never sent, until I lay exhausted on the floor of my little college apartment. I don't want to say that getting married solved all my problems overnight, but it sure did make me happy. And I didn't know how to write from happy. At least, not without it sounding like the opening of The Sound of Music. I guess now I have to finally learn how to be a happy writer. I found this great list on Pinterest. If I had a studio or a room just for my writing, I would seriously paint this all over an entire wall:

My husband has been encouraging me to write for a long time now. He is wonderful beyond belief. He buys me books for Christmas. Swoon. Two years ago he bought me The Complete Works of Flannery O'Connor and the Writer's Market. I almost cried. A few weeks ago, he came home from work and set The Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market down on the kitchen table.

"We're going to write a children's book," he said, like he was telling me we were going to wash the dishes after dinner or something. Here's the thing about my husband: he is so not a rebel. If something is going on with someone in his family, they call him because they know he will give straight-up level-headed advice in the most loving way possible. So when he says we're going to write a children's book, or that I can be a real writer who, you know, writes stuff, I think I should believe him more. After all, if he were lying to me, that would make him a rebel, which he is not. He's my husband for a very wise reason.

So I guess I need to stop being a rebel, at least at this one thing in my life. I need to write. Do you know, this makes two days in a row for me? Could be the start of something big.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

True Happiness

Hello again, Friends!

We have taken quite the hiatus at Blessed Defeats. Maybe you noticed. Like, a year and a half long hiatus. Well, I can explain. But not here. I have stories to tell here. You can check out the new Living the Dream page if you want to read my completely inadequate excuses for neglecting my blog for a full 18 months. But now it’s time to share another conversion story with you.

The honor of the first post-hiatus story goes to my good friend, Avery Lemmon. There was a time when I thought I was just going to walk away from this whole blogging thing (again), but then there was always sweet Avery, Facebook stalking me and saying, “When are you going to start your blog up again?” So, as thanks for her motivation, I made her share her story. Ah, friendship.

Avery grew up agnostic. She was always interested in religion, but never found one that felt like a good fit. Little did she know that a simple conversation one day would eventually change all of that.
She was attending Portland State University, and the winter term had just begun. In fact, she remembers the exact day of the week: “Wednesday, January 7, 2010,” she says. She sat down next to Brian, a classmate of hers, and they began talking. After class, they went to lunch together. After lunch, they went to dinner. Seven months later, they were married.

Brian, as you may have already guessed, was a member of the LDS church. The weekend after they met, he took her to church with him. But on that first Sunday, Avery seriously doubted she had found herself a religion.

“I thought it was weird and creepy that everyone was so nice and happy,” she says, “I was sure that everyone was faking, because normal people aren’t that happy about anything.” But there were things about this new church that made sense to Avery. The doctrine relating to the Godhead, that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are three separate personages united in purpose was particularly appealing. 

Another teaching that brought her comfort was, “people not being sent to Hell for not believing in God, but just being sent to the part of Heaven furthest from God instead. That made a lot of sense, because I never liked how certain religions would condemn non-believers to burn in fiery torment, even if they were good and kind people.”

And then, about four months after she had met Brian, Avery was at home, relaxing by herself. As she describes it, she suddenly felt like God was all around her, and she perceived the Holy Spirit prompting her to accept Jesus Christ into her heart.

“So I did,” says Avery. It’s hard to argue with the Holy Ghost. Wanting to be sure she made the right decision, she looked into different Christian churches and questioned her Christian friends about their faiths. But in the end, the one that made sense and felt right to her was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She prepared for baptism, and entered the waters in July of 2010, soon before she and Brian were married.

But as usual, there were bumps along the road to membership in the church, and Avery experienced opposition from friends and family. Most meant well, and were concerned that she had joined a cult, rather than following the example of Jesus Christ. Some had heard terrible rumors about the LDS church and passed these on to Avery. Her mother warned her that Brian would one day want to take other wives. It went so far, in fact, that many of her friends boycotted her wedding and even her baby shower a year later. It was all very frustrating for Avery.

“It mostly bothered me that they thought so little of my judgment and intelligence that I would fall for something that wasn’t true,” she says. Things gradually turned around, and today her friends and family can see the change that accepting Jesus Christ has wrought in Avery; not so much in her personality, but as she puts it, “they can see how much happier I am, and they’re happy that I’m happy.”

True happiness was something that eluded Avery for much of her life. She describes herself before her conversion as being angry, bitter, and self-destructive.

“I came from an abusive home,” she confides, “And I carried my anger and regrets and mistakes around with me like a festering wound in my heart. Becoming a member of the Church and learning about the Salvation and the redeeming power of Christ's sacrifice, along with the presence of the Holy Spirit, have helped me slowly but surely let go of those negative feelings, and to forgive those who have wronged me, and also to forgive myself for wrongs that I've done.”

Now a mother herself to an adorable little boy, Avery finds comfort in the companionship of the Holy Ghost and thanks Heavenly Father every day for her blessings. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has truly changed her perspective of the world. As she puts it: “Having the knowledge of Christ's sacrifices for me has seriously reduced my stress and…I've learned self-control and how to be happy because of the Gospel.”

Avery says that her testimony grows with each kind, loving, righteous member that she meets. Through their works, she can see the positive effects that faith has on their lives, and it serves as an affirmation to that the Church must be true, and that God is good.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Clear as a Bell

For those readers who are married, let me ask you this question: how long did you date your spouse before you got engaged? And how long after that until you got married? I know that most of my audience so far is LDS, so I’m guessing most of you dated for a few months, but probably less than a year, followed by an engagement that lasted somewhere between 3 to 6 months. And I also know that if you’re not LDS, you’re probably astounded right now (I’m talking to you, Della!), just thinking about how someone could plan a wedding in 3 to 6 months.

Well, try picturing this instead. You go on one date with a guy, and then realize he’s your husband-to-be. You go on about three more dates with him, get engaged, and get married a couple months later. This is exactly what happened to Sarah Bell and her husband Scott. About four years ago, Sarah was a single mom in the Medford Singles’ Ward when she met Scott. It wasn’t exactly love at first sight.

“He was really irritating!” Sarah says, “He asked questions all the time!”

One day while watching Scott pass the Sacrament at church, however, she felt prompted to become friends with him. Eventually, they went out to dinner. As a divorced mother, Sarah was cautious about dating, and Scott knew of her feelings. When they discussed seeing each other during that first date, he made a suggestion that few of us have probably heard.

“He said, ‘Let’s pray about it,’” Sarah recalls. So she did, praying that same evening about where her relationship with Scott should go. As she prayed, she felt the Holy Spirit with her, and then and answer came to her.

“I felt that I shouldn’t date him, that I should marry him,” she remembers. But knowing that most people don’t decide to get married after one date, she asked again, “Where did this come from? Are you sure?” At that moment, a burning in her heart answered her question, and she knew she had to follow the answer to her prayer. But, she worried, what would Scott think if she told him?

Little did she know that Scott too had prayed that night, and received the same answer to his question. He was so certain that it was the right path to follow, in fact, that he went out the very next day and bought a ring.

In fact, from the first time he saw Sarah, Scott knew she was special.

“I could tell that there was something that she knew that no other girl knew, but I didn’t know what that was,” he says.

It didn’t take Sarah long to understand why Scott was the one for her.

“There was no denying that the priesthood was what I was missing, and what I needed, and Scott would be able to fulfill that, and be the father that I needed for my daughter.”

Sarah had been baptized almost four years before she met Scott. She was raised in a home with beliefs that she describes as “mixed.” Her mother was a Lutheran, but not very active in her church, and her father was thoroughly nonreligious. In high school, some friends invited her to a non-denominational youth group activity and Sarah was introduced to religious life. At the same time, she also had an LDS boyfriend, and although she says she knows he believed in the restored Gospel, he was inactive and unwilling to act on his faith.

Still, says Sarah, “Had he not been unwavering in his faith, and the knowledge of what he should be practicing, I might not have been introduced to the Church.”

Life at home got tougher and tougher during Sarah’s senior year of high school. It became so negative, in fact, that she moved in with her boyfriend’s family after graduation. She attended church with them once, but it was not anything like what she was used to.

“I went to a church that was all jumping up and down and ‘Praise Jesus!’” she says, “And I thought, ‘How can you just sit here and sing like this?’” She didn’t go back to church with them.

Then, when she married her boyfriend the following year, Sarah decided that it would be important for her family to have the same faith. She talked to her new husband, and he agreed to attend the non-denominational church she had been part of since high school. She says that at first her church family welcomed her husband into their midst, but when they discovered he was LDS, the negative comments and Mormon jokes began. They even went so far as to show anti-Mormon videos to Sarah.

“I kept thinking, if you have to beat someone else down to build yourself up, then where is your foundation, where did your foundation go?” she recalls about that time. Still, Sarah continued to go to the church that had taken her in and introduced her to religion. It was still home to her.

Then, about a month after their marriage, Sarah’s husband invited her to take the missionary discussions. She agreed, since he had been willing to attend and learn about her church. She remembers the first lesson, and that it felt good and validating of the ideas she already had about spiritual matters, and she could not find any contradictions with what the missionaries taught and what she observed. The second lesson, however, would be a game changer.

In the second lesson, the missionaries told Sarah about the Plan of Salvation, the premortal existence and the Spirit World. When she heard these things, she felt the Holy Spirit in the room, stronger than any other feeling in her life to that point, and she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Church was true. When the missionaries came back for the third lesson, she told them she wanted to be baptized. Two weeks later, she was.

Sometimes, people feel that a convert’s story ends with baptism. After all, that person has taken the lessons, obviously felt something, and acted on their newfound faith by entering the waters of baptism. However, most of the time, the convert’s story is only beginning at this point. So it was for Sarah, who spent nearly her first two years in the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints as an inactive member. As she describes it, she was, “In a relationship that wasn’t equal on the terms of religion…he was never really level with [the Church], and so it was hard for me to maintain the conversion that I had first experienced.”

Sarah recalls waking up one Sunday morning, when her daughter was only a few months old, and thinking, “I’m going to start going back to church. I want to go to church.” She went to her closet and soon discovered that she didn’t have any appropriate church clothes. The thought came to her mind to just forget it, and wait until the next week, but at length she found a nice pair of slacks, a blouse, and an outfit for her baby.

As Sarah walked out the door, she recalled that suddenly, “There was this really strong feeling that, ‘nobody’s going to be there that you know, nobody’s going to like you there, you don’t know anybody, why are you going?’” In response, Sarah slammed the door, got in her car, and went to church. When she arrived she saw her in-laws, and people greeted her warmly at the door. It was the first step she toward finally becoming a part of a ward family.

“It was just right, it was good. And I never missed a Sunday after that…throughout singles ward, throughout my divorce, throughout college and working full time,” she says, “I went to church every Sunday.”

Eventually, that first marriage did end. Sarah wanted to grow in the Church, and her husband was still unwilling to change his habits. For Sarah, having access to the Melchizedek Priesthood in her home had become a priority, and her husband was unable to attain it. I ask her what it means to have the Priesthood in her home now.

“Without it I would be nothing,” she answers immediately, then adds that she is trying not to cry, “The Priesthood is God’s evidence of miracles on Earth. The Priesthood is imperative in my existence and I would be unable to be the mom and wife that I am without it. It’s a huge part of my testimony.”

Sarah and Scott will celebrate their fourth wedding anniversary this summer. In August, Sarah will have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for eight years. Their third child (which will make a grand total of four with Sarah’s daughter from her first marriage) will also be born in August. Their lives are incredibly busy, running an in-home adult foster care facility and caring for 3.5 children and a couple of dogs. Our interview had to be paused several times, in fact, so that Sarah could tend to a resident, talk to a child in need of his mother’s attention, or instruct Scott on what to buy at Wal-mart. But overriding the busyness is a sense of love and compassion in their home. It’s no wonder, considering what Sarah strives to teach their children.

“Just because the world isn’t necessarily good doesn’t mean we can’t be good, and doesn’t mean that there aren’t positive influences out there.”

Saturday, June 4, 2011

I Know that he Loveth his Children

When many people think of Latter-day Saints, a particular word pops into their heads: “perfect.” Sometimes, others think of Mormons as people who are perfect and have always been perfect. Sometimes, this scares people away from the Church, because they think they can never be this “perfect.” Well, I definitely know that I’m not perfect, and I also know that you don’t have to have lived a perfect life to be an excellent member of this church. All you need is a firm testimony of Jesus Christ and a willingness to be more like Him. This week, I’m sharing the story of someone whose life has not always been perfect, but who showed exemplary faith and strength through some exceptionally hard times. I hope her story is as inspirational to you as it is to me.

Kristine Case was twenty-five, living what she calls “a rough life” as the wife of an alcoholic with substance abuse issues of her own. From time to time, LDS missionaries would knock on her door, but Kristine always turned them away, saying she was happy with the Christian church she grew up in, although that wasn’t exactly true.

“I always felt like there was something more,” she says of her life prior to her conversion.

One day, yet another pair of missionaries knocked on her door, and this time she decided to let them in. From that first meeting, she says, “I just felt really warm about what they were saying to me. I wanted to hear more.”

She continued to meet with the missionaries, bringing her questions to them. For Kristine, one of the most important aspects of the Gospel at that point was knowing that she could be forgiven, that even though she had done things in her life that were contrary to the nature of God, they could be taken away from her, as if they had never happened.

“Initially I used the Church as a crutch,” she says, “and eventually developed my own testimony.”

The road to baptism was not an easy one for Kristine. One of the greatest obstacles for her was obeying the Word of Wisdom, a health code that Latter-day Saints adhere to, and a requirement for baptism into the Church.

“I put No Smoking signs all over my house. I quit drinking and drinking coffee,” she says, certainly no easy task.

Even after her baptism, Kristine still faced trials every day. During her first few years in the Church she relapsed into alcohol use several times. Her husband was also still addicted to alcohol and drugs, and the marriage eventually ended in divorce.

“Trying to raise my two children by myself in the Gospel was really, really hard,” she says. Kristine kept trying, even though she entered into what she describes as, “a really, really, dark, dark period” of her life after falling away again after her divorce.

But, as we all know, things are usually darkest before the dawn. Drawing on the firm foundation in the Gospel that the missionaries had helped Kristine to build, perhaps relying on that first knowledge about repentance and forgiveness that had led her to baptism, she was eventually able to pull herself out of that dark place.

“I think eventually I got tired of having to repent, and I said, ‘you know what? I just need to live the Gospel.’ So I did, I lived the Gospel.”

Now with nearly six years of sobriety under her belt, Kristine revels in the blessings that have come from her membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I’m a pioneer in my family,” she proudly states. She relishes the safety, security, peace, and “overabundance of love” that staying true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ has brought her. Being able to teach her children about the Gospel and what it means to her and the strength it gives her even on her hardest days is also a great privilege for Kristine.

Perhaps the greatest of all, Kristine remarried several years ago and is now sealed for time and eternity to her husband. She knows that right now it is not possible for her to be sealed to her children, but as she puts it, “I’m not worried about it…I know it will all work out.” Then she quotes a scripture very dear to her heart: 1 Nephi 11:17.

“And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”

To her, this simple sentence from the Book of Mormon reminds her that, “we don’t need to know the answer to everything, we just need to know that God loves us, and that he has a plan.” It’s a truth she finds herself referring to often, an answer for any adversity that might come her way.

When I met Kristine, I would never have guessed that this was her story, because truthfully, she seems to be pretty perfect. She’s the person in our ward who is always complimenting others, always smiling, always giving hugs. Her eyes shine with a clarity and a strength that tells you even before you speak to her that she is a woman of faith, and she is a woman who has learned from her past experiences and now uses that knowledge to help others, even if only by sharing her story on a friend’s humble blog.