To Dairy or Not to Dairy

Author, Mary Albers Felkins

To dairy or not to dairy. That’s the question. It’s one that’s been raised in greater frequency over recent years.

Increased health concerns associated with consumption of dairy has led to volumes of research by experts in the field of nutrition. These are objective men and women rather than those who represent the Dairy Council, M&M Mars company, or the USDA and might offer persuasive and slanted results.

A wide range of conclusions have been drawn from the findings of well-grounded researchers. Some conclude there’s no harm in consuming dairy, that cow’s milk, cheese and yogurt provide the body with an essential source of calcium. Others sound the alarm, stating that dairy contributes to health risk and calcium is best absorbed (more bioavailable) when obtained from plant-based foods such as kale, broccoli, beans and tofu.

Research has discovered that countries such as Africa and Asia consume far less dairy yet have lower rates of osteoporosis.


Our need for calcium ranges from 1000 to 1500 milligrams/day and can be adequately consumed with or without dairy. Weight-bearing exercise and adequate, regular sunshine for Vitamin D synthesis is another factor that increases bone density.

If you’re among those who suffer from lactose intolerance (along with a whopping 3/4th of the world’s population), experience digestive upset, stiffness in joints, or struggle with acne flare-ups, you may find relief when dairy is eliminated.

At the end of the day, to dairy or not to dairy is a question only you can answer for yourself.

With dairy-free in mind, I altered one of our family’s favorites and tweaked a few of the common ingredients. We loved the result of this Green Bean Casserole: An improvement on Tradition. As you find ways to celebrate the gift of Jesus this Christmas, set aside time to enjoy this crunchy creamy, savory, and healthful alternative.


Green Bean Casserole. An Improvement on Tradition.

½ cup onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons Smart Balance vegetable spread or olive oil

1 cup button mushrooms, rinsed well and chopped

1 teaspoon sea (or table) salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons whole wheat flour (All purpose is fine, too)

¾ cup vegetable broth

1 cup unsweetened, plain Almond milk

2 cans French cut green beans, drained (or cook ahead 1 pound fresh green beans -rinsed, trimmed and cut in half – in boiling water for 5 minutes)

1 ½ cup Crispy fried onions (use more or less, depending on how you like it)


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large skillet, heat vegetable spread or olive oil and saute’ onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Add mushrooms and simmer on medium high heat for 3-4 minutes until lightly browned.

Sprinkle 2 tablespoons flour over vegetables. Whisk to stir and coat. Cook for 1 minute then slowly whisk in veggie stock. If desired, add another tablespoon or two of flour and whisk thoroughly to thicken.

Slowly add almond milk. If needed, season with a dash more salt and pepper. Reduce heat, whisking several minutes until it reaches desired thickness.

Remove from heat and add ½ cup fried onions and all of the green beans. Toss to coat well.

Pour mixture into a 9-inch square baking pan. Top with remaining fried onions.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until bubbly.


Contact info:

Mary Albers Felkins, Former Registered and Licensed Dietitian with Masters degree in nutrition

Author of inspirational romance, creator of happily ever afters

FB Mary Albers Felkins

Twitter @MaryAFelkins

Insta @maryafelkins


Broken at Christmas

The season of Christmas is lovely. Pine, cinnamon, and gingerbread delight the senses. The sounds of children laughing, holiday music, and bells make us joyful. The lights, nativity, and reflection on the greatest gift of all make us smile. And warm cookies, candy canes and hot cocoa are so delightful too!

But for some, this Christmas is the first without their loved one. For others, sickness has invaded their body, or devastation has impacted a family. Life is just hard. Sometimes we are broken at Christmas.

Psalm 147:3 tells us, He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Decades ago I was in my kitchen trying to open the back of a picture frame with a knife. This doesn’t sound like a good idea now. But at the time, I persisted and the end result was a trip to the emergency room with a deep slice between my thumb and index finger. The doctor stitched me right up and I was home within a few hours, wishing I had been more patient with that frame. I wished I had taken the right steps and sought the right tool in which to pry it open.

The stiches served an important purpose. They hold “hurts” together until the hurt is healed. Time is required for the healing to take place.

The word heal in Psalm 147:3 is the Hebrew word Rapha and means to repair and thoroughly make whole; to mend by stitching. The word broken in the Hebrew is shabar and means to break into pieces. Broken-hearted in this context means crushed or destroyed or torn.

Do you feel shattered emotionally? Are you physically exhausted from the pain of your fragmented pieces?

God heals our hurts by stitching us back together. Unlike the physical stitches I received by the doctor, we can’t see what God is doing on the inside. We can’t know the healing that is happening within our heart and soul. But the Great Physician is sewing us back together piece by piece and in His perfect timing.

The Hebrew for bind up is chabash and means to wrap up our wounds or hurts. Can you picture God wrapping a bandage around your pain?

Whether a bleeding finger or a bleeding heart, they both require time to heal. But God is willing to stitch up the heart that is torn.

Do you need to be “stitched up” this Christmas? Are you broken or alone? Unwrap God’s promise: He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.


Written by Debbie Presnell



Being a Life Giver in a Dying World

And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her ~ Esther 2:15

Esther, a beautiful young woman with a lovely figure, was an incredible life giver in the midst of a corrupted culture. Not only did she save her people, she gave life to everyone she encountered along the way.

Here she was, experiencing the equivalent of the “Bachelor” as she’s held in closed quarters with many young women vying to be picked by the king. The title of queen was at stake. With this glorious title comes influence and glorious living accommodations that would leave many of us a bit intimidated to unmake the bed and actually get it in. Imagine these teenage girls all in the same living quarters competing for one man who has the power to grant the title of queen.

Have you seen mean girls? Have you experienced mean girls? I can only imagine the back stabbing, comparing, competing and scheming that was going on in this harem. And Esther rose above it all and chose to be a life giving influence.

Esther not only won the favor of the King, but she won the favor of all who saw her. A young woman can’t do that by joining in on the slander, the backstabbing, or the corruption; especially a beautiful young woman with a lovely figure. A young woman with a beautiful figure tends to arise a defensiveness in others who may not feel as beautiful as the “competition” before them.

She rises above all the temptation and choses to be a life giver instead.

Moms, we can do this. Not only can we do this because we have a Holy Spirit in us that desires to, but we can encourage our daughters to do this. We can influence them to seek good and not give way to those temptations seeking to draw us away. It begins with us. We as moms need to stop giving in to the competing, comparing, back stabbing, jealousy and slander that subtly lurks underneath our well-rehearsed thoughts.

We must press on past temporary popularity when our girls desire to give in and give way to the corruption and destruction that seeks to steal their joy, their life. Model for them how to be lights in a dark world. We model to our daughters, not by beating God’s Word over their head…but by being God’s Word in their lives.

I don’t listen to someone who tells me the right thing to do…I listen to someone I see doing the right thing.

Esther had such an influence on a corrupted king that before she met him, he was hosting drinking parties for the purpose of showing off all his riches and getting drunk. When Esther was queen we find a king proclaiming holidays and generously distributing gifts. That is the power of a life giver.

If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, you have been given this life giving Spirit – the Holy Spirit – inside of you waiting to burst out giving life to those around you. Never underestimate the power one life can have on another, a community and a nation.

Start being a life giver by asking yourself ~

  • Who would God have you bring life to by encouraging them not competing with them?
  • What corruption in your own heart do you need to bring before the Lord so that He can fill you with more of Himself?
  • How has comparison and jealousy robbed you and your daughter of joy and life?
  • Where can you bring life giving influence that impacts people who are headed down a destructive road?

By: Kelly Vance

Identity and Worth

As I scrubbed dishes after lunch I kept telling myself to just get over it, it wasn’t a big deal and I needed to stop ruining my day. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that my life may never amount to anything… and then getting upset with myself for thinking that.

Confused? I would be too! Let me back up.

Several hours earlier, I had gotten caught up on Facebook playing one of my favorite games from college: the comparison game. For some reason, I’d come across an old college friend’s page and I gazed amazingly at her life according to social media. As I caught up (aka: creeped) on her life, I started feeling worse about my own life. She was living her dream and was taking fashion photographs in NYC and being paid to travel and take photos.

After that I happened upon another classmate who is taking amazing photos in Hawaii and traveling. Next I searched out another old acquaintance, who I knew was in the NFL now. Which led me to another college acquaintance who had recently been in the Miss Virginia pageant…

After scanning through pictures and statuses of their glamorous lives, I started sinking into a hole of comparison and depression. How was I successful? All I’d done that day was clean some laundry and cook some lunch. There was nothing glamorous or social-media worthy about that.


I work at a church, and I have a novice business in photography and design. I’m married to a fantastic man, who loves and cherishes me. I have friends and family who love me. And while I tried to tell myself those things, in the moment, all that mattered was that I wasn’t famous. I wasn’t being paid to travel. I wasn’t beautiful enough to be in any pageant. I was just… me. And that wasn’t enough.

As I struggled to make sense of all that was going on in my head, Marc came in for lunch. He could tell something was wrong (despite my sad efforts to act cheery and normal), so he asked me if I was okay.

I said everything was fine and asked him something about the farm. Halfway through his story, I half interrupted and said, “I’m no good at anything. Like, I’m not traveling or making bucko bucks doing what I love…”

He just looked at me with confusion on his face. “Where is this coming from?” He asked. Then he followed up saying everything I was saying wasn’t true, and that he believed in me.

But I didn’t want to hear it. I wanted to sit in my misery for a bit. So it wasn’t until after he left and I was washing dishes that I started to work through why I was letting the comparison game creep into my life again.

I started thinking about my life. Since I was little, I always wanted to be a wife and mommy. While I’m not a mommy yet, I was learning how to be a wife and helpmeet to my husband, and I love every bit of it. And then I remembered what I was praying for the middle school girls I help lead at church: that they would find their identity in Christ.



The very thing I was trying to teach and pray over these girls, I realized I was struggling with. I was trying to find my identity in my job and how “successful” I looked on social media.

My worth does not come from my social media accounts. My worth doesn’t come from how successful a designer or photographer I am. My worth doesn’t come from how beautiful I look. Because I am a child of the King, my worth comes from Him.

The most I may do in this life is take a few photos, (hopefully) raise a few children, and cook a few meals, but if I’m doing it for God’s glory and finding fulfillment in Him, then my I’ve lived life to the full.

By: Brianna Molitor

Build It!

Psalm 127:1-Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.

My first experience with building a house was when I lived in California. I was in the fourth grade and we were studying the 21 missions of Old California. Using sugar cubes, I cleverly constructed a magnificent replica of one of the beautiful Spanish-style missions. When the day arrived to bring in our projects, I proudly carried mine to school. But when I removed one of my hands from the cardboard foundation to open the door to the school, I dropped my mission and it shattered into pieces. Thankfully, my teacher came to my rescue and helped me put the mission back together piece by piece. Although it looked like shattered glass, my teacher could envision its prior loveliness and speculate the hard work that went into creating it. In fact, I worked for weeks and it crumbled in 10 seconds.

Bible teacher and commentator Warren Wiersbe writes, “A wrecking crew or a demolition team can destroy in a few hours or days what it took engineers and builders months to plan and construct. Even a weak child can heedlessly destroy something valuable, and some adults go through life just tearing things down. God has called us to build—our lives, our homes, our churches, and the kingdom of God around the world. Whether we are building structures with bricks and mortar and steel, or building lives, families, and churches with truth and love, we cannot succeed without the help of the Lord.”

Unlike my temporary 4th grade project, what God builds lasts, has purpose, and is significant. What a sweet relief to be reminded that we are not supposed to build anything on our own—for failure is the outcome.

As we build homes, lives, and churches—it is imperative that we guard them by guarding our hearts.

Warren Weirsbe goes on to say, “Strong walls around the city and alert watchman on those walls are essential to protect what we have built—and how foolish it is to build and not protect!

So, we fight—fight for our home and family. Lamentations 2:19 tells us, “Rise during the night and cry out. Pour out your hearts like water to the Lord. Lift up your hands to Him in prayer, pleading for your children.”

Whether we think we know what to do, or we haven’t a clue, turn to God and allow Him to build that which will with stand.

Nehemiah 4:14 reminds us, “fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.”

What God builds through us needs protection. Fight for it ladies!


Written by Debbie Presnell


“Mom, you know I can hear you.”

“Mom, you know I can hear you.”

Recently, my husband and I were talking and enjoying some alone time before dinner.  He was updating me on the events of his day and I was briefing him about the highlights of my day at home.  In the midst of my rather uneventful summary, I mentioned the name of one of our kids along with something amusing he’d done earlier in the day.  Immediately, we both heard “Mom, you know I can hear you,” coming from the next room over.  Although he was supposedly listening to music in the study, he was still able to hear what I had said about him.

I am always amazed by this.  Why is it that when I want my kids to fully listen to what I have to say, they often seem to tune me out?  And when I am not speaking to them at all, but happen to mention their name, they hear every single word?

This frequent scenario has had me wonder what lies behind our teen’s ability to listen incredibly well at one moment and totally tune people out at other times.  I did a little googling to see if there are studies about this phenomenon.   While I could not find any hard research, I repeatedly came across the oft repeated quote below from Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Remember that a person’s name to that person is the sweetest and most important sound in any language.

Although I cannot prove or disprove whether these words are always true,  I do know that my own kids don’t always act like their name is a sweet sound to their ears.

Our kids hear their names many times throughout the day.  Unfortunately, many of the phrases or sentences that contain their name are often filled with commands, criticism or even correction.  Over time they begin to distinguish and even predict the tone of voice that is linked to these types of statements or requests.   The slightest detection of that tone from mom or dad and they begin to enter tune out mode.  But, when that particular tone of voice is absent or replaced with delight, their brain suddenly tunes into the “sweetest” sound they’ve known since they were an infant.  Curious to know what is being said about them, they listen well.

As a mom I must admit I probably do the very same thing.  When my kids were younger, I heard “Mommy” so much throughout the day that I often chose to delay my response until the demand became so desperate or determined that I could no longer ignore it.  That word, “mommy” had been such sweet music to my ears the first time I heard it uttered.  Nonetheless, over the years I somehow learned to tune out the mommy melody as well.

I can also think of moments, however,  when my name was used by a child, a spouse or a dear friend in the midst of statements that contained heartfelt words of encouragement, blessing or affirmation.   In those moments, I fully tuned into the phrases attached to my name.  The words were filled with blessing and deeply touched my heart.  

The Lord is kind to bless us in this way as well.  Quite often, the Holy Spirit will whisper my name followed by a word of Scripture or words of encouragement that I longed to hear.   Whether these gentle words of endearment, encouragement or even admonition included my name, they often washed over me like a gently, flowing stream.

Teachers, parents, siblings, peers and many other people speak my child’s name on a daily basis.   I wonder, however, how often their name is followed by life giving words that are intentionally spoken toward their heart and soul.   No wonder they seemingly tune out their name when they hear it; especially, when they detect “the” tone.   Like you and me, they can predict what will follow by the way their name sounds.  Could it be that they are so used to hearing requests or reprimands after their name that they stop listening?

We must remember how many adolescents feel torn down instead of built up during this season of life.  If the words aren’t coming from those around them, they are often beating themselves up in their own head.  I am certain that many are eager and ready to hear their “favorite word” in phrases or sentences that include kind, gentle, affirming and life giving words that will fill them.

What would happen if you intentionally said the name of your teen in conjunction with words of encouragement, delight, positive observation or love at least two or three times per day?

Together, let’s commit to do this over the next week.  I encourage each of you reading to become more intentional about the phrases or sentences that include your child’s name.  Of course, you will need to continue to give them direction, instruction and even correction.  But intentionally increase the amount of words, sentences, phrases that include words that build them up when you say their name. These can be directed toward him or spoken in front of him.  Pray that the Lord will fill you up with His perspective of your child so that you can speak to their heart in a special way.  Ask Him to give you the actual phrase or insight into how your words should be composed so that your teen can hear them well.  Moreover, take time to tune into Him so that you can hear what words He has to say to you.

If you are willing to try this for at least seven days, I would love to hear from you.  Please share your thoughts, observations, struggles and triumphs in the comment section below.  May God bless you as you speak the name of your child in conjunction with words that bring life to their soul.

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.    Proverbs 16:24

By: Jackie Perry – MS, LPCS, NCC

Creating Conversations with Teens: Personal Observations and Insights

Two weeks ago I shared a challenge I had given myself.  Recognizing that much of my conversations with my own teens revolved around COMMANDS, CRITICISMS OR CORRECTIONS, I decided I needed to be more intentional to create conversations centered upon creating a richer CONNECTION.   I invited my readers to join in this challenge to increase our efforts to create deeper conversations with our teens. Whether you were able to join me or not, I would love to hear about your triumphs as well as your struggles in this area.  And if you have any great ideas or insights , please comment on this blog.  My own observations and insights are listed below.

Before I say anything, I must say that God sure does have a sense of humor.   Because of winter weather, school was released early one day. The next two days were snow days and the final day of the week, they reported to school on a delay. The Lord definitely increased the amount of time I had to work on this area with my teens!  And while I absolutely love snow days, I am not a fan of the messiness that seems to be associated with these days in our home.  I think you know what I mean- wet snow pants, boots, jackets and gloves all over the place; empty cups, plates and snack wrappers; socks, blankets and pillows left in the family room from after they lolligagged on the couch for hours.   While their time at home was indeed a blessing, there were definitely moments where it was much HARDER for me to minimize the three C’s in conversations with my kids in order to increase the connection!  Throughout the last two weeks, however, I did learn a bit about what interfered and what added to my ability to remain intentional in our dialogues with each other.

Here are a few things that hampered my willingness/ability to focus on connecting conversations.

Amnesia: Simply put, I forgot what I was trying to do.  When this challenge was not on the forefront of my mind, I sadly found myself commanding, directing, correcting or even criticizing.  While my goal was not to completely avoid directive interactions, if I wasn’t consciously thinking about my desire to be intentional in my conversations, I often failed to create deeper dialogue.  Change is hard and it’s easy to forget about our goals.

Agenda/Activities: My agenda, my wishes, my needs.  These all trumped my ability to have deeper conversations.  Rushing from one activity to the next, wanting/needing something for myself and getting caught up in the busyness of my day kept my eyes and heart turned inward instead of outward.

Attitude:  Just like our teens, our own emotional state can interfere with our desire to discover what is going on in the heart and mind of our kids.  Exhaustion, anxiety, and irritability often made it difficult to move beyond the three C’s.  If I was not in the word daily and talking with the Lord on a regular basis, oh how I could become a big grump.  Lord, how I need you.

Despite the problems that hampered my ability to remain intentional, there were some things I noticed that really aided me in my challenge to be more intentional.  Perhaps, they will spur you on in your efforts.

Continual Prayer/ Surrender:  Constantly praying, confessing and leaning into the Lord helped me to stay present, focused and committed to creating a deeper conversation.  Thankfully, when I am weak, He is strong!

Communicating with a Confidant: Sharing this challenge with my husband as well as a friend helped me to work harder at minimizing my commando language and maximize my caring words.  God bolsters us up as our friends spur us on.

Connecting with their Friends: This may seem odd, but when my teens had friends in our home, it seemed easier to create dialogue with all of them.  The conversation with friends in the kitchen or family room seemed to offer me a bridge to my kids’ hearts. Even after their friends left, sweet conversations often continued.

Creating an Atmosphere: Snow days most certainly helped me in this regard.  A fire, bowls of chili, hot cups of cocoa, and delectable delights all seemed to foster connections in our homes.  With two teen boys at home, I was repeatedly reminded that good food or lots of food surely is a way to a young man’s heart!

Calling on their Expertise: I am a techno-dummy and my teens are techno-savvy.  When I asked my boys to help me out with anything to do with media or technology, they jumped in and longed to show me all that they knew.  This jump started conversation about their interests and passions.  I now have a Sound Cloud account and can tell you about “all the cool things you can find on there!”

Whether my observations and insights help you or not, remember that Jesus offers us the perfect example of selflessly interacting with others.  Read the Bible and study His example.  And, remember with Christ in us, we have the ability to deeply love and connect with our teens as well.   Romans 12:1 says,  “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.”  I think it is awesome when we consider that listening and loving our teens well as a “spiritual act of worship”.   As you consider being intentional in your conversation with your teens, I pray that you will find streams of living water flowing out of you as you ask Him to help you move toward a healthier connection with your teen.

Jackie E. Perry: MS, LPCS, NCC


My friend, Jan, moved from Florida to Western North Carolina. She is passionate about taking pictures of our beautiful mountains. Having lived here now through a few rough winters, Jan shared with me how she observed that evergreens and other types of trees snap in half or become uprooted in high wind or a storm. She compared this to the storms she’s witnessed in her hometown in Florida. She said, “During tropical storms and hurricanes, Palm trees bend over and protect themselves. When the storm is over, they stand back up.”
Psalm 92:12 tells us, The righteous flourish like a palm tree.
God’s words are intentional. Every word He utters carries intense meaning.
While living on earth all of us experience personal storms—the righteous included. These trials shake our foundation. Everything we thought we knew or depended on suddenly becomes foreign. We’re whisked away by the wind. The hail-stones pound our hearts and minds. Some trials are hurricane-type storms with lasting consequences, changing the landscape of our circumstances. Other storms can be compared to a heavy rainstorm that keeps us inside all day.

Regardless of the type, storms we experience in our personal lives are for a season, have a purpose, and will be used for God’s glory—meaning, to show others what He has done.

Romans 8:28 tells us, We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (NASB)

Not everything that happens in our life is good. But collectively God takes the painful things and turns them into something good.

When times are hard it is helpful to remember what 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 tells us: We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; We are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted but not forsaken; Struck down, but not destroyed. (NIV)

In time we will gain a godly perspective and realize that even if we don’t understand the trial or see the purpose in it, we can choose to trust the One who has allowed it. Our tested faith will become a stronger faith; God’s faithfulness will become more real.

The storms we face in life are hard but God is our anchor. When the storm passes, we will not be left defeated and ripped apart. We will be like the palm tree and stand back up.
To Think About:
Are you currently facing a storm? What impact is this storm is having on you?

Written by Debbie Presnell