Earning Money While Searching The Web

swagbucks

Our family has a fun tradition.  During Hanukkah, each of us children has our name written on a piece of paper and put into a hat.  Then each of us draw a name and don’t tell anyone (except our parents) who it is!  Come springtime, everyone has gotten a gift for “their person” and these gifts are given during the feast of Purim.

Nearly two years ago, my sister Sarah drew my name and you can imagine my surprise when she presented me with a Kindle Touch!  I love to read and this was a great way to fit a lot of books in a small space.  Plus, the high-contrast e-ink screen reads like real paper, with no glare. Do you want to know how much I paid for the hundreds of books now downloaded on my Kindle?  Zero.  I had no idea they offered so many free books, mainly older classics, but I have thoroughly enjoyed them!

So you’re wondering why I’m telling you about family traditions and Kindles?  Because Sarah paid for most of my Kindle with Swagbucks gift cards.  Are you familiar with Swagbucks?  I had heard about it for a long time … supposedly you could make money just by searching the web … but I never gave it much thought.  Then one day I decided to sign up.  It didn’t cost anything and I figured I might as well see if the stories were true.

And they are!  You can earn points while searching the web and turn the points into cash (Paypal) or gift cards from many different stores.  The other day I spent 450 points on a $5 amazon gift card because I needed to replace the French Press beaker that I dropped and broke 🙁 .  It took me a few weeks to earn that many points with normal use.  And when I say normal use, I mean “searching the web”.  Whenever I need to look up anything or go to a website, I type it into Swagbucks.  Even if I know the web address, I still type it in the search so that I can get credit.  There is no rhyme or reason to the timing or the amount of points that you receive.  Sometimes I’ll earn 6 or 7 … the other day I earned 15!  Of course, your usage will affect how many points you earn but it is possible to earn more than 20 points per day just by searching the web.

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There are many ways to get other rewards – one that I recently took advantage of was their Shop and Earn program.  When I placed a $20 order with Staples, I received 80 points.  They are affiliated with many companies so if you’re going to place an order, it’s worthwhile to see if you can earn any points at the same time.

I only have one complaint about Swagbucks.  About two years ago, they shut down my account for violations and would not tell me what the violations were.  That was really frustrating!  Trying to get help from their tech support was a dead end.  I lost my account and my points and just gave up on the whole thing for awhile.  Recently though, I decided to open a new account and it has been smooth sailing since!  So while I was really unhappy about the trouble with my first account, I do have to admit that I really didn’t lose anything … I just lost what I had expected to receive!  So I’m back with Swagbucks and hope that my account will last a good long time!

I strongly encourage you to sign up with Swagbucks.  It doesn’t take any initial investment on your part and if you’re going to be on the internet anyway, why not earn some money while you’re at it? 🙂

Disclaimer:  I am recommending this company of my own free will and initiative.  I am not paid for this review.  If you choose to sign up through one of the links in this post, I may receive some extra points.  I’ll probably turn them into amazon gift cards and buy organic coffee beans for me and my family 🙂 .

Why Would I Want To Leave Home?

Why Would I Want To Leave Home?

When my siblings and I were quite young, and even before we were born, my parents started studying the Scriptures for instruction on how to raise a family.  They made some decisions that went against what the world calls normal.  In some ways, we lived a very sheltered lifestyle, and by saying that I mean that my parents were very careful about the influences in our lives.  We met all sorts of people with all manner of theology, ideologies, worldviews, etc.  In fact, we were recently discussing some of the most unusual and odd characters that we had come in contact with over the years, and we had to laugh about the fact that some people think we are too sheltered or have not been exposed to people who are not just like us!

One of these decisions was that my mother would not work a regular job, but would be a keeper at home.  My mother has been “at home” since before I was born and as a young girl, I also decided to be a wife and mother and keeper at home one day.  It seemed so simple – it was what women were created to do!  My father always told people that my mother worked much harder than he did, even though she only worked at home!  He honored her (and still does!) for her devotion to her family’s welfare and as I grew up, I was convinced that being a homemaker was the best and most important thing a woman could possibly do.

When I was eight years old, we moved into a community of plain people.  These are what most of us would refer to as Amish or Mennonite, but our neighbors did not use those titles because they had left their Amish and Mennonite churches.  We were able to get some property there and my father built our home off grid.  We lived there for six years and it was a wonderful experience.

Why Would I Want To Leave Home?

Being in that community helped to form and shape the values that I grew up with.  We were surrounded by families … mainly large families.  The fathers worked, sometimes in the fields, sometimes in their shops, or on construction crews. The mothers took care of their homes and families.  It seemed a normal way of life and it made sense!  The children, for the most part, lived with their families until they were married.

We moved away from there when I was fourteen but as I entered my upper teens and neared the end of my homeschooling days, I never dreamed of leaving home and going out on my own.  It seemed like such a crazy idea!  In fact, I remember the night before I turned sixteen we were visiting with some friends.  The father of the family, who is a strong supporter of daughters staying at home with their families, heard that I was turning sixteen, and he said, “You have to move out now! Get your own apartment! Get a job! Be independent!”

And we all laughed because … it was laughable!  Maybe it was the influence of the people in the plain community, but I just could not understand how parents could send their sixteen year old … or eighteen year old … or twenty-one year old daughters off to face the world on their own, instead of letting them stay at home and be part of the family.  At that point in time, I really had not given much consideration to what I would do after graduating – I guess I assumed that I would continue on as a part of the family, and perhaps just have more time for some extra projects or studies.

Why Would I Want To Leave Home?

It was also right about then that I was going through a time period that I really wanted to be married.  That was kind of laughable too, seeing that I was barely sixteen!  But nevertheless, I was struggling with contentment.  I remember reading an Above Rubies magazine that was full of suggestions for ways that women could bless their husbands and children, and as much as I enjoyed reading all of the thoughts and ideas, I was really discouraged because none of them applied to me.  So I thought to myself how I wished there was a resource that could encourage unmarried young ladies – those who really wanted to be married and have their own families, but who were trying to wait patiently and be content in the meantime.

Why Would I Want To Leave Home?It was out of that desire, that the idea for Shining Stars Magazine was born and about one year later, we published our first issue.  During that year, I had begun to realize that my perceptions of what unmarried daughterhood was supposed to look like were very different than most people in our world.  I realized that once a girl graduated, she was expected to enroll in college, to move into her own place … even if she lived at home, she was supposed to get a job and start making some income.  I found that girls who just wanted to be wives and mommies and keepers at home were looked down on and condemned.  I learned that women were expected to prepare for a career, even if they did want to be homemakers, because they might have to provide for themselves one day.  If you didn’t get a college degree now before you got married, then what would happen if your husband died or was seriously injured or ran off with someone else?  How would you provide for yourself?

I found that the biggest struggle most young ladies were facing was not that of pining away for their Prince Charming, but rather trying to figure out what to do during this in-between time, after school and before marriage.  And I realized that I didn’t really know why I believed it was right to stay at home and serve my family, other than it just seemed like the best thing to do!  So I had to study and learn and be able to defend my actions with Scripture.  There were several resources that were very helpful to me, but what I want to share next are some of the things that I learned from the Bible about a young woman’s role and how these things convinced me of my duty and responsibility as a daughter of King.

(stay tuned for Part Two: Biblical Reasons For Being At Home)

The Battle With Fear

The Battle With Fear

“… as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.” 1 Peter 3:6

In the passage above, we see that it is a blessing to be considered a daughter of Sarah.  But there are two requirements:

  1. doing good,
  2. not being afraid.

We have ample opportunities to practice both of these actions every day.  All throughout the day we can “do good”.  There are many opportunities to serve others.  We have many opportunities to choose to be kind … or to respond in irritation.  There are many opportunities to choose to be joyful … or to be heavy-hearted.  We can be thankful … or ungrateful and unsatisfied with what we have.  We can speak words of encouragement and life … or we can complain and bring discouragement.  Daily we are given opportunities to “do good”.

In the same way, all throughout our day we can overcome fear.  I think one of the biggest problems with fear is how well it disguises or hides itself.  Fear slinks behind wisdom and “common sense”.  In some areas in which the Heavenly Father has asked us to walk by faith, like home-birthing or trusting Him for our healing, fear tries to hinder us by questioning the “wisdom” or “common sense” of our choice.

Fear tries to influence daily activities like being overly concerned about what our children may get sick from, or play with, or touch (have any of your children ever picked up bird feathers off the side of the road?).  Bad weather can strengthen fear.  Different conversations with others, especially about world events, can feed fear.  If our husbands are delayed without an explanation, we can give fear an opportunity to paint a vivid picture in our mind of him being involved in a 40-car pile up.  Financial stresses or health concerns are often magnified by fear.  And if by chance you listen to the radio or watch TV or see things on the computer, there is no end to the ability of fear to attach itself to your thoughts.

Something about fear: it is a very sneaky entity.  I often am not aware that fear is present and motivating me, until I notice an old familiar yucky feeling within me.  Sometimes it feels like confusion.  Sometimes it feels like despair and hopelessness.  Sometimes there is a lack of peace.  Whenever I notice I am feeling these things, I start to question why.

It does not take long to realize that fear has been whispering lies into my ears.  At that point, I rebuke the fear.  If I don’t feel any better, I ask the Heavenly Father where I let in fear … where did I open the door?  The Heavenly Father reveals fear’s entry door and I then repent for allowing it an in-road.  After repenting, I pray and tell it to leave me.  I then ask the Heavenly Father to come fill any areas within me, that had been occupied by fear, with His Holy Spirit.  It is an enjoyable and freeing experience.

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”  – 2 Timothy 1:7

The battle between faith and fear rages on.  Which side will you empower?

The Battle With Fear

Shining Stars Magazine Calendars Available To Order!

Hey everyone!

Many of you are probably aware that I publish a magazine called Shining Stars.  We have started a recent fundraising project and are now offering a 2014 calendar!

promocalendarThis calendar contains twelve months of beautiful photos from amateur and professional photographers.  Each month features an inspirational quote or Scripture verse, specially selected to complement the photo.  The calendar is professionally printed and measures approximately 8.5”x11” when closed … 11”x17” when hanging on your wall.

All of the profits from the sale of these calendars will be put toward magazine expenses, helping  cover costs for those who are unable to afford donations.  This is a great way to support the SSM ministry, while at the same time adding a beautiful and useful accessory to your home!

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The calendars are $9.99 each.  Shipping for 1-3 calendars, in the USA, is $2.99.  Shipping for 4-7 calendars, in the USA, is $4.99.  If you order 8 or more calendars, in the USA, shipping is free.  You can find out more by visiting the Shining Stars Calendar webpage.

Hanukkah Heroines – Women Of Courage

Hanukkah Heroines - Women Of Courage

While we do not place apocryphal literature, like the books of Maccabees, on the same level with Scripture, it makes for some incredible historical and inspirational reading!  There are two examples of women from this time period that I would like to bring to your attention.

The first is two women, names unknown, who defied the Gentile king’s decree in favor of obeying the law of YHWH. 2 Maccabees 6:10 – “Thus, two women who were arrested for having circumcised their children were publicly paraded about the city with their babies hanging at their breasts and then thrown down from the top of the city wall.”

Most, probably all, of us have never known what it is like to be physically persecuted for our faith.  We have read the stories, watched the movies … but we have never personally experienced it.  We don’t know what it is like to have our lives threatened because of a determination to follow our consciences.  Yet many of us have probably considered this possibility and would hope that if we were ever in that situation, we would not be ashamed of our Savior, regardless of what it might cost us.  But think about if your decision not only threatened your life, but that of your family.  Your children.  Your babies.  I would like to think that the decision would be the same regardless … but that is a scary thought!  It’s one thing to sacrifice your own life – another to sacrifice your children who are dependent on you.

That is why I find this account so inspiring.  These women were willing to obey the commands of the Almighty, even at the cost of their own lives and those of their children.  Can you imagine the heavenly reward they received (or will receive)?

The other account is that of a woman named Hannah and her seven sons.  They were arrested, brought before the Greek King Antiochus and forced to eat what is forbidden by YHWH.  Upon their refusal, they were put to death with terrible tortures – one at a time.  Hannah was the last, she had to watch each of her sons suffer and die for their faith.  You can find the whole account in 2 Maccabees 7 (it can be read online here) but I would like to share excerpts that I find challenging and inspiring.

After the record tells of the tortures and deaths of six of the brothers, it says, “Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance was the mother, who saw her seven sons perish in a single day, yet bore it courageously because of her hope in the LORD.  Filled with a noble spirit that stirred her womanly heart with manly courage, she exhorted each of them in the language of their forefathers with these words: ‘I do not know how you came into existence in my womb; it was not I who gave you the breath of life, nor was it I who set in order the elements of which each of you is composed.  Therefore since it is the Creator of the universe who shapes each man’s beginning, as he brings about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life, because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of the law'”.  2 Maccabees 7:20-23

As the youngest brother was being brought forth, the king appealed to him, promising him riches and a high office if he would just eat the forbidden meat.  The boy paid no attention to him and so Antiochus turned to Hannah, asking her to advise her son to save his life.  Her advice was this: “Son, have pity on me, who carried you in my womb for nine months, nursed you for three years, brought you up, educated and supported you to your present age.  I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things; and in the same way the human race came into existence.  Do not be afraid of the executioner, but be worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that in the time of mercy I may receive you again with them.”  2 Maccabees 7:27-29

Hanukkah Heroines - Women Of Courage

The faith and courage of this woman was incredible.  One might think that after watching six of her sons suffer terribly painful torture, she would encourage her youngest son to save his life.  On the contrary, she valued the praise and acceptance of her Heavenly Father instead of a that of a wicked, earthly king.

The last words of her sons provides an amazing testimony to the faith and courage they had as well.  We read of the third son, “He put out his tongue at once when told to do so, and bravely held out his hands, as he spoke these noble words: ‘It was from Heaven that I received these; for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him I hope to receive them again.'”  2 Maccabees 7:10-11

The fourth brother, when he was near death, said to the king and his torturers, “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the God-given hope of being restored to life by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life”.  2 Maccabees 7:14

The sixth brothers spoke to them, “Have no vain illusions.  We suffer these things on our own account, because we have sinned against our God; that is why such astonishing things have happened to us.  Do not think, then, that you will go unpunished for having dared to fight against God.”  2 Maccabees 7:18-19

The youngest son had the most to say, “What are you waiting for?  I will not obey the king’s command.  I obey the command of the law given to our forefathers through Moses.  But you, who have contrived every kind of affliction for the Hebrews, will not escape the hands of God.  We, indeed, are suffering because of our sins.  Though our living LORD treats us harshly for a little while to correct us with chastisements, he will again be reconciled with his servants.  But you, wretch, vilest of all men!  do not, in your insolence, concern yourself with unfounded hopes, as you raise your hand against the children of Heaven.  You have not yet escaped the judgement of the almighty and all-seeing God.  My brothers, after enduring brief pain, have drunk of never-failing life, under God’s covenant, but you, by the judgement of God, shall receive just punishments for your arrogance.  Like my brothers, I offer up my body and my life for our ancestral laws, imploring God to show mercy soon to our nation, and by afflictions and blows to make you confess that he alone is God.  Through me and my brothers, may there be an end to the earth of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation.”  2 Maccabees 7:30-38

After reading something like this, two questions come to my mind:

  • how can I have faith and courage like that?
  • how can I raise sons (and daughters) who will have that same boldness, honor and obedience for the Heavenly Father and absolutely no fear of man?

To me, accounts like these are some of the most important aspects of Hanukkah.  Hannah is an inspiration to me.  What did she do in raising her sons that produced such steadfast and courageous characters?  I think we sometimes tend to gloss over or ignore the accounts like this and focus instead on the happy ending and the joy of the festival.  But there is so much we can learn from these people who suffered for their faith.  I hope and pray that none of us are ever put in the same position as these people but if we are, I hope and pray that we will be emboldened  by the same Holy Spirit that strengthened them.

Happy Hanukkah y’all!

Objections To Blogging … And Their Resolutions!

objections to blogging title

At different times over the past several years, people have suggested we write this blog.  I did not want to for a variety of reasons.

  1.  I did not think people would be interested in our life.
  2. I do not want to portray myself as an expert or authority on whatever I feel led to write about.
  3. Our family has been led on a different path than many families.  I did not want to “open up” and expose our family to who knows who.

After praying and talking with my husband and children about this blog, my concerns were resolved in this manner.  Our family has something many families don’t … shalom, joy and loving relationships.  This is not because we are any better than other families … I think the reason we have been blessed the way we are, is because of the choices we have made and how we walked them out.  I will give you two examples that worked on my heart.

One day, as I was getting into the car at the local hardware store, I heard a car pull into the parking lot.  It sounded like it was on its last legs …. or tires!  My attention was drawn to the three young people as they climbed out of the car and walked into the store.  I could not tell if they were male or female.  They wore filthy, black clothes …. they were covered in piercings with their hair matted and in disarray.  Their walk could be better described as a slouchy gait.  They giggled at each other with unintelligent sounds coming out of their mouths.  My heart was broken for them.  I wanted to run after them and hold them as a mother holds a young child.

Shortly after this, I was driving through another parking lot.  A woman who obviously just got off work, walked out of Five Guys with her two teenage children.  The teens were grossly overweight and, again, dressed in black with tattoos and piercings, with weird hair styles painted an unnatural color.  They all looked miserable.

The choices we have made have given us different results.  If anyone is interested in this, then I am willing to share how we got where we are.  No, I am not an expert or authority on any subject – I will share testimonies of what the Heavenly Father has done and if you choose to glean from them, may they be a blessing to you.

I still feel the same way about my third objection but when Tom and I were first married, we committed ourselves to YHWH and decided that we wanted to let our marriage be used for His glory.  In doing this, He has led us on a different path …. and if He wants us to share about it with others so that maybe they can be strengthened in their faith …… if just one person is encouraged and fortified to walk a different road, holding the Hand of Yeshua, wherever He may lead, then I am willing to share some of our adventures …. for His glory!

Hannah and I thought that beginning this blog with The Higher Calling was a good starting point.  I wrote that article fifteen years ago.  At that time, my children were small lambs and much of what I wrote about were untested theories.  Now, the majority of my children are adults, or near adults and after walking out what was written in that article, I am well pleased with the results.  Please pray for us to hear the Father clearly as to what He wants us to write about in this blog and now … let the fun begin!

Eight Reasons To Celebrate Hanukkah

Eight Reasons To Celebrate Hanukkah

We are halfway into the festival of Hanukkah, also known as Chanukah, or the Feast of Dedication.  Our family has celebrated this feast for nearly twenty years and it is one of my favorite times of the year!

Here are eight reasons why I think Hanukkah ought to be acknowledged and celebrated:

  1. There is strong evidence that Yeshua (Jesus) probably celebrated it – in John 10:22-23, we read that it was during the feast of dedication (another name for Hanukkah), that Yeshua was in Jerusalem at the temple.
  2. Remembering the miracle that happened – legend has it that after the Maccabees and their army defeated the Greeks and reconquered Jerusalem, they cleansed the temple and only found one jar of oil that would only burn for one day.  It would have been eight days before new oil could be purified and prepared for the temple lamps and yet miraculously, supposedly, the one day’s supply lasted for eight days.  While it makes for a good story, it is worthwhile to note that this legend is not found in either book of the Maccabees.  One would think that such an amazing miracle would surely have been recorded, especially considering all the other historical accounts that were expounded upon.  So for our family, Hanukkah is not about one day’s supply of oil that lasted for eight days.  We don’t deny that it could have happened but we have not been convinced that this legend is fact.  But there is no denying that the historical accounts surrounding Hanukkah are miraculous.  The way that a small army of Jews defeated the well-trained Greeks who far outnumbered them, was an incredible feat that shows how YHWH really was fighting for them.
  3. The lights – in a world where darkness, death and destruction are so prevalent, Hanukkah is a festival of lights.  According to the legend, the Hanukkah menorah (Hanukkiah) has eight branches, one for each day of the feast, plus the shammas – the servant candle that lights all the rest.  Traditionally, the shammas is lit every night and and one candle is added each night – one on the first night, two on the second night, three on the third night and so on.  Since our family does not observe the supposed miracle of the oil, we often light all eight candles every night!  Yeshua said, “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” (John 12:46) and “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)  Hanukkah is a wonderful time to study all the Scriptures about light!
  4. No Temple, No Messiah – in Luke 2:22-39, we read the account of how Yeshua’s parents took him up to the Temple “to do for him after the custom of the law” … “to present him to the Lord; (as it is written in the law of the Lord, every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” (v. 22-24, 27)  Since Yeshua was the perfect Lamb, spotless and unblemished (1Peter 1:19), He had to fulfill all of the law (Torah).  If the Maccabees had not defeated the Greeks and rededicated the Temple to the service of YHWH, it would have been impossible for Yeshua’s parents to observe the commandments regarding His birth and dedication and thus He could not have fulfilled the Torah (Matthew 5:17).
  5. The inspiration found in the lives of those who lived during the time of the first Hanukkah – there are some amazing accounts of people who died for their faith and determination to not break YHWH’s laws.  I hope to share more about one of these heroines in a few days.
  6. Latkes and doughnuts – traditionally, fried foods are eaten at Hanukkah to commemorate the miracle of the oil.  And again, while the oil legend is not a focal point of our Hanukkah, we do enjoy the traditional foods 🙂  We also started a family tradition of going to eat at a Mexican restaurant on one of the nights, since much of their food is fried in oil!  And hey – there’s nothing wrong with oil!  In fact, there are many positive references to it throughout the Bible!
  7. Celebrating: righteousness conquers evil – it happens every time!  It may not happen in the timing that we expect or desire, but the good guys will always win in the end.  The story of the Maccabees is an inspiration in that they recognized the persecution of the Greeks was punishment for the sins of their nation. They repented and begged YHWH’s forgiveness.  They removed the sin from their lives first and then they removed it from their nation.  Through YHWH’s mercy, they experienced victory and deliverance.  Hanukkah is a good time to remember our deliverance from, and victory over, sin through the sacrifice of the Messiah.  This feast is a joyful time of celebration and commemoration of the way that the Heavenly Father takes care of His people.  Yes, there may be persecution, pain and difficulties – but good will always triumph.  “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)
  8. A good time to snuggle up and read Hanukkah stories 🙂 – many years ago, we found several books that we fell in love with and it is family tradition to read them each year during this time.  Our two favorites are The Chanukkah Guest and Latkes And Applesauce: A Hanukkah Story.  My younger siblings and I have enjoyed these timeless stories since I can barely remember.

Ima's Latke Recipe (Plus Eight Reasons To Celebrate Hanukkah!)

Does your family celebrate Hanukkah?  If so, what are some of your favorite things about this feast?