Reflections on 2015 & My Favorite Books of 2015

This past year has been wild. Adopting James has been one of the most crazy, beautiful, broken, and stretching things we’ve ever done.  In “Grinch” terms, this year, I believe that my heart has grown at least three sizes! Thinking back to the day when James came to live with us, I am reminded of where he was at that point.  Today, I look at where he is, and I’m absolutely amazed.  I look at where we were in January as a family, and I look at my family today, and I’m amazed.  A year can make a huge difference.

I’m a big goal-maker/planner/contemplative type person, so last week, I looked at my goals for 2014. For a minute, I was sorely disappointed.  There was SO much that I didn’t get to cross off that list.  But then, I saw “Add a member to our family through adoption,” and I paused.  That was something that I got to cross off the list.  And even if that was the only thing that I crossed off…that was a big one.  Suddenly, instead of disappointment, I felt thankfulness.  Thankfulness that God saw fit to take us through this journey, with all its ups and downs.  We are all better for it.

So this year, I’m trying something different with my goals. Instead of a long list of goals, I’m giving myself permission to simply rest after a hard, trying year. My goal this year is to set aside time on a regular basis to fill up before I pour out again.  It’s something that I’ve always struggled with and truly, just recently found value in.

One of my favorite things to do to rest and refill is reading. I LOVE to read.  So, in lieu of my traditional goals list, I decided to share with you my top five favorite books of 2015.  Here they are.  I hope you enjoy!

The Chronicles of Kings Series by Lynn Austin:  This is kind of a cheat on my list.  It’s not actually one book, it’s a series of FIVE books.  And every book is as good, if not better, than the one before.  I used to be a fiction snob, but all that has changed thanks to Lynn Austin.  I honestly LOVED reading this series, and it’s prompted me to study my way through the book of Isaiah.  I highly recommend this series.  I’m also starting her series, The Restoration Chronicles.  I’ve read the first one, and it’s fantastic!  Warning:  Once you start, you won’t be able to put it down.  I know…I lost a lot of sleep reading through this series!

My Favorite books of 2015

Chronicles of Kings Series by Lynn Austin-highly recommend!

 

The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis:  This is a MUST-READ if you are an adoptive parent.  I could see James so clearly in this book.  Books that truly capture the heart of adoption are rare, so I treasure my copy!

My Favorite Books of 2015

The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis…a must read for adoptive parents!

Teaching from Rest by Sarah McKenzie:  This is my “homeschool read” pick of the year.  Every year, I read loads and loads of educational information, but this one stood out amongst them all.  I really enjoyed this book, and gained so much wisdom from its pages.  This is a must read for homeschooling mamas!

My Favorite Books of 2015

Teaching from Rest by Sarah McKenzie is a must read for homeschooling mamas!

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin:  This book literally changed how I think about everything!  I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Gretchen caused me to look at life and routine completely differently.  I’ve applied her principles in many areas of my life.

My Favorite Books of 2015

Better Than Before: A fresh look on life and routine.

Walking with God in the Season of Motherhood by Melissa Kruger:  This book came at exactly the right time.  I needed the words tucked inside these pages.  I would highly recommend this to all mamas.  (And I’m pretty picky about my parenting books!)

My Favorite Books of 2015

Walking with God in the Season of Motherhood: A must for mamas of all stages.

And because I can’t leave out children’s literature, I also wanted to share my favorite kid’s books of the year.

Brother Andrew by Janet & Geoff Benge:  We really enjoyed this biographical story of Brother Andrew.  Frequently called “God’s Smuggler”, Brother Andrew smuggled thousands of bibles across the Iron Curtain.  This was one that challenged our faith and lead to lots of great discussion.

My Favorite Books of 2015

Brother Andrew: A fantastic biography of “God’s Smuggler”. It will challenge your faith and spark great discussion!

The Candymakers by Wendy Mass:  This was truly just a really fun book.  We didn’t expect it to be as good as it was.  It was a really long read, but the mystery elements kept us guessing.  The underlying themes in the book make for great discussion.

My Favorite Books of 2015

The Candymakers by Wendy Mass is a delightful read that will keep your kids guessing on what’s going to happen next.

The Hundred Dresses:  This is a MUST-READ for all children.  This is one of those wonderful books that puts the reader in the shoes of someone else.  I read this to my girls this year, and plan to read it again to all my kids at some point next year.  It’s a great book for boys and girls of all ages.

My Favorite Books of 2015

The Hundred Dresses: All children should hear this book at least once in their lifetime. A great tale that shows the heartache of bullying and teasing others.

The Green Ember:  Don’t even get me started!  Quite possibly my favorite book of the year, overall.  This one is a real page turner.  My kids beg me for “just one more chapter” every day.  I get hoarse reading this book every day, but we absolutely love it.  Not only is the story phenomenal, but the themes and the appreciation of the arts and God’s creation is an underlying theme that just jumps out of the page at you!  All children need this book in their life.

My Favorite Books of 2015

The Green Ember by S.D. Smith…possibly taking the overall winner of the year award in the Wood household. We adore this book and can’t wait to read the prequel!

Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare:  I can remember being presented with this book as a child, and thinking…”I DO NOT want to read a BOY book!”  But all that changed the minute I read the first chapter.  The entire book, from cover to cover, is just wonderful.  It was such a pleasure to read it to my boys and see the same look of interest on their faces.  It’s one of our favorites of the year.

My Favorite Books of 2015

Sign of the Beaver: A classic for a great reason. This is a must read for boys AND girls!

 

That’s my list. If you need some good reads, these are my favorites from 2015.  Here’s to many, many more pages read in 2016!  Happy New Year!

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Great Bible Study for Moms

I was prepared to hate this book.  This is my first book that I’ve received for free in exchange for a review, and I was totally prepared to give a scathing review.  After all, I don’t want to be a softie…but as I opened the cover and began reading the introduction, I knew this would not only be a book that I would give a glowing review of, but it would be a book that I would actually treasure for all my years of mothering.

Walking with God in the Season of Motherhood is an excellent bible study for mothers in either individual or small group settings.

Walking with God in the Season of Motherhood is an excellent bible study for mothers in either individual or small group settings.

Walking With God in the Season of Motherhood by Melissa B Kruger is an eleven-week Bible study full of nuggets of wisdom.  I found Kruger to be conversational in her writing style, which I really enjoyed.  Her words spoke directly to my heart at a time when I need guidance (of course, when do I not need guidance in this whole mothering thing??).  With each page turn, I felt as though she knew what I was walking through at that very moment in my motherhood journey.

Each day, I sat on my front porch with a pen in hand and underlined, circled and starred my favorite parts of the book so that I could highlight a few of those in my review.  However, now that I have finished the book, there are so many underlined, circled and starred portions that I may as well just type out the book again for you.  I think one of my absolute favorite parts came from Week 7 entitled, Walking in Peace.  As a mom, anxiety and fear is something that I am continually battling.  Kruger’s words really encouraged me in this area.

“…anxiety is actually a lack of trust in the Lord and a form of prideful independence.”

“There is no greater threat to the peace of our homes than anxiety and fear directing our actions.”

“While it might not be in my plan to have a sick child, a diaper leaking all over my clothes, or a teenager’s moodiness to address, these tasks take on significance when I realize this is God’s plan for my day.”

I highly recommend this Bible Study for mothers.  I believe it will bless you and encourage you as it did me.

I highly recommend this Bible Study for mothers. I believe it will bless you and encourage you as it did me.

I think one of the greatest comforts I received from this study was that Kruger knew every struggle a mother faces, and while she calls out sin, she also gently shows how to find your way to repentance as a mother.

“I cannot protect my children from my weaknesses.  As hard as I may try, at some point my sin will affect their lives.  However, the way I deal with my failure can provide an example for them to follow.”

 I appreciate the many practical suggestions concerning common struggles such as comparison, contentment, fear & worry, and anger.  I also enjoyed the last few pages in which the author included a list of verses for moms to memorize and a list of verses and character traits to teach your children.

I would highly recommend Walking with God in the Season of Motherhood to any mother.  I believe that mothers will be incredibly blessed by the study in both individual or  small group settings.

*As stated above, I received this book free of charge in return for an honest review.  The opinions expressed are solely my own. 

To see more Bible Study Ideas, check out my Pinterest Board by clicking here.

An Announcement for Redeeming the Days Blog

 

I have been blogging on and off for about 9 years now. Yeah, I know…crazy. It began as a journal, or a way to post pictures of Isaac. Then, it kind of morphed from there. I tried my hand at some crafting posts and some recipe posts. Now, three blogs later, I’m still at it. The funny thing is that I’ve never really cared if anyone read it or not. It’s always really been for me. If anyone read it and enjoyed it, that’s just been an added bonus in my book. That’s why you don’t see ads on my blog. That’s also why I have never made money off my blog. When I recommend a book, I get no commission. It’s sincerely because the book impacted me deeply and I want to share it. I’ve come to realize that blogging is really and truly an outpouring of what’s in my heart. And, as much as I have tried to put it on the back burner, it keeps on bubbling up. But, recently, God has taken me in a new direction for this blog, and I’m excited to share with you the journey that I’ve been working through.

I am a reader-always have been. But, I have a confession…I LOVE children’s fiction. And I can’t stand adult fiction. It’s just not something I’ve ever been able to read and really enjoy. Therefore, for “pleasure reading” I always end up reading Christian non-fiction or books about homeschool or rearing children. I know, it’s weird. I just feel really good about making my leisure hours somehow productive. Ha! Anyway, I stumbled upon a book called, Revolution in World Missions by K.P. Yohannan, the founder of the Gospel for Asia ministry. It was a free book, as in a they-will-mail-it-to-you free book-not just a Kindle edition. I couldn’t pass it up! When I got it, it sat on my shelf for a while as I read through some other books, but finally curiosity got the best of me, and in all honesty, I will admit, I ended up putting it in my bathroom so I could read a little bit at a time in peace. Yes…this is the only way I get any reading done. I take extra long bathroom breaks. I know that’s probably too much information….just keepin’ it real for you-it’s a good technique when you have four children. So I read through it really slowly, and every day, the few pages I read just cut me through. I mean, I felt so convicted with every page turn, so changed, so moved to action in world missions. I literally mentioned to Tim a few times that we could just head on over to India and be missionaries and it would be just fine with me. If you know me, I rarely leave Morrilton, I can count on one hand how many states I’ve visited, and I’ve never been to another country. Yeah, I’m a homebody. So you can see that this book really and truly was doing a work in me.

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After a while of reading this book and the Holy Spirit really beginning to move in me, I knew that I had a part in this. I knew that while jetting off to India was not the right thing for us at this point, that still, God had something in mind for me to do. But, I just couldn’t figure it out. And in the meantime, my head was so clouded with so much I was mulling over that I felt as though it might just burst. I couldn’t rest, I couldn’t think clearly, I was cranky.   And if I can just be totally frank with you, in my mind, I was going through a huge adjustment with our adoption, and I kind of felt like God should just give me a little rest from any other conviction, right? That makes sense doesn’t it? But, that apparently is not how God works with me. Not in this case. So finally, one night I just broke down and shared my thoughts with Tim, and he felt that all of my crankiness and poor outlook on things was due to the fact that I was supposed to do something that I wasn’t doing. When he said that, it clicked, and I knew. I was supposed to be writing. I was supposed to be pouring my thoughts onto the computer screen.

blogger-gospel-for-asia

So, I went back to the Gospel for Asia site, but this time, I wasn’t looking for somewhere that we could go. I was just looking….and sure enough, tucked away in the site menu, I found a little button that said, “Sign Up to be a Blogger for Asia”. And my heart leaped. I knew that was it. I couldn’t go be a teacher across the ocean, but I could be a voice. Maybe a tiny voice in a great, big world, but a voice all the same.

And it occurred to me…that’s what God has called me to do on a few accounts. It is my prayer to be a voice for those who don’t have one….for the orphans in our own community to the women and children destitute and starving in Asia. It may not be much, but I have to do my part to contribute. So, the big announcement is that I am now officially a “Gospel for Asia Blogger”. And periodically, I will be bringing you stories from across the world. It is my hope to write these stories in a family-friendly way, so that you can share my posts with your children. Because we need to raise up children who are more passionate about the things that God cares about and less passionate about the things of the world. And I will tell you that when you begin to read some of these stories, the things of this world look so very pale. I also plan to share with you missionary studies that you can do together with your family. I’m really excited about the direction that the Lord is taking my blog. I have realized in the past few weeks that writing is something that I have to make time for…it’s something that is good for my soul. It’s actually what I do for me just as much, if not more, as I do it for others. And while I don’t think that I’m an amazing writer, I hope and pray that these stories will challenge you, encourage you, and empower you, as they have me.

I’ll begin sharing more soon. In the meantime, check out the free book that completely changed the way I think about almost everything. Click on the banner below:

 

Missionary from the Past, Lesson for Today

jim elliot

For the past three years, my life has been deeply impacted through homeschooling my children. One of the reasons for this is that our curriculum has included studying missionaries. Never in my life have I given much thought to missionaries. ..although I am really ashamed to say that. But over the past three years, we’ve had the pleasure to read and RE-read stories of great missionaries like George Muller, Gladys Aylward, and my most recent favorite, Jim Elliot. For several weeks, every day we would read a little bit of the Jim Elliot biography, and every day, my kids would beg me not to stop reading. Truthfully, I didn’t want to stop reading either. I mean, I knew what was going to happen, I knew that Jim Elliot and his missionary friends died (sorry for the spoiler). And I even prepared my kids for it so they wouldn’t be shocked and surprised. But I think that what kept us reading was just wondering how on Earth God could actually cause good to come from that terrible, awful situation. After reading the book, the kids and I all agreed that it was the best missionary story we had read yet (and we’ve read some really great stories). Then, we watched the Torchlighters movie of Jim Elliot and the documentaries which followed, which I highly recommend. And oh my…Jim Elliot and his work for the Lord has been on my mind ever since.

Let me give you a brief synopsis of the story, made popular through the movie “End of the Spear”, although I can promise you I won’t do it justice, so I strongly urge you to read one of his many biographies.   Jim Elliot, along with 4 other friends and their families, moved to the jungles of South America to minister to unreached native groups. At first they worked with the Quichua (KIT-choo-uh) Indians, but all the while, they had in their hearts to reach the Aucas (Ow-kahs). The Auca Indians were the most feared Indian group around. Every tribe was scared of the Aucas. No one knew where they lived, and they killed anyone who came close for any reason. There was never peace between the Aucas and surrounding natives. Therefore, no missionary had ever been into the heart of Auca territory to carry the Gospel to these people. So, Elliot and his team began to pray and devise a plan to reach these people. They began by dropping gifts in a bucket from a helicopter and shouting friendly Auca phrases from a loudspeaker on the helicopter. Then, they finally felt it was time to make contact, so they set up camp in Auca territory. At first, they had three Auca visitors. That visit went incredibly well. Then, a few days later, out of nowhere, Auca warriors came and speared each one of the men. The amazing thing is that each of the missionaries carried a gun….and although there was plenty of time, not one of them took it out to use it. They willingly gave their lives because they knew that retaliation would only strengthen the fear of the Aucas to the outside world along with destroying any chance of them hearing the gospel.

Though the story itself is amazing, what’s even more astounding is what happened after the death of this missionary team.  After the horrifying incident, rather than coming back home, the missionary wives continued their work with the Quichua Indians. However, by an incredible string of events, the Aucas found out that the missionaries had guns yet chose not to use them.  Because of this fact, they asked Jim Elliot’s wife and the sister of another man who was killed (Nate Saint) to go and live among the  Aucas , and they were able to bring the gospel to them. Their willing sacrifice did not come back void. In fact it drove the Aucas toward this message that these men so willingly gave their lives in order to share. As time went on, Nate Saint’s son, Steve, also went to join his aunt and live among the Aucas. They became like family to him, and one of the men who had speared Saint’s father actually “adopted” him as his own son. The Auca tribe is vastly different today because of these five missionary families. They no longer hold the derogatory name Auca which means “savage” but now go by their true name, the Waorani. The Saint family has taught them to provide medical treatment for their own people, and now they are beginning to share the gospel and teach other tribes around them this technology. Wow. What a story for the Father’s glory.

auca

This got me to thinking….I told you that Jim Elliot and the Aucas have been on my mind the past several weeks, didn’t I? There is no other group on the planet that is willing to give their life to spread a message. There are many religions that would honorably die in defense of their religion or even kill others through their own suicide in the name of their religion, but who else would willingly die just to offer someone a chance to hear the gospel? Wow, what a sacrifice! These men didn’t know exactly what was going to happen but from day one, they were willing to face death if it were part of the Lord’s will.

There are many belief systems in this world but only one that has such a pure sweet message that would invoke such a response when met with hostility. 2 Corinthians 4:7  “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us not knowing any kind of truth.”

This made me think about us today with the Muslim community, particularly the radical Muslims. The Aucas feared a people who offered grace just as many Muslims do today. Muslims do not understand grace and fear people who believe in a God who offered grace. They fear people who do not live scared of their god. We Christians fear our God but we are not scared of him because we have experienced his grace. As a person who has dealt with my fair share of fear in my life, I understand what fear can drive people to do. It causes us to shut others out, to dislike (even hate) others in order to protect ourselves, to constantly live on “go”, never in the perfect rest that only comes from God.

I just wonder….what if more people were like Jim Elliot and his friends? What if more of us decided to truly “lay down our life” to take the gospel to the ends of the earth? What if rather than saying that these people deserve to go to hell, our hearts ache for them to know Jesus? Because we deserve to go to hell too. I deserve nothing more than hell myself. It’s simply by grace that my eternity is sealed with God the Father. I’ve heard so many say that it’s impossible to take the gospel to these “radical”, “savage” people. Guess what? They said the same about the Aucas. And I believe that the same was probably said about Saul, who became our beloved Paul. Oh, if only we better understood the love of Jesus and walked in it daily. How different our world might look. I am so thankful for the examples of Elliot, Saint, Youderian, Fleming, McCulley and their families, who so selflessly gave that even today, fruit is springing up from their ministry for the Lord.

Oh Father, forgive me when I have found people to be “unlovable”. Forgive me when I have failed to see them as a soul and simply viewed them as a barbarian deserving of nothing more than hell. Help me to remember that I am deserving of nothing more than hell too. Thank you for your grace through Jesus Christ. God, help us to do what you have called each of us to do…to walk and to love like Jesus did. May this always be in our hearts as we go through our days, and may we always, at the very least, be praying for the people groups who have yet to know you, and for those who can do more, please give a willing heart.

Check out these resources for families to learn more about Jim Elliot.  I promise it will change you and your family.  You can’t read a story like his and be the same person.

Jim Elliot Biography for Children & Families

jim elliot bio

Jim Elliot Torchlighters DVD

jim elliot torchlighters

The Best Yes

the best yes

I have a disease.  Lysa TerKeurst calls it “The Disease to Please”.  And I’ve got it bad!  I’ve known it for a long time, and I’ve been on a bit of a journey over the past few years to really hone in on what it is that I do best, what I’m called to do, what God wants me to do now.  I actually started working on this through reading MoneySavingMom.com.  She really focuses on goals and realizing your limits.  As someone who is easily overwhelmed, this speaks to me!  I’ve learned a lot from her.  I also learned a lot from Lysa TerKeurst in her newest book, The Best Yes.

Apparently, this disease is something that many of us suffer from.  It’s the feeling of,

“What if I don’t do that…what will they think?” 

“Will they still like me if I say no?”

“Will they think that I’m not very godly if I don’t volunteer for everything?”

“Will I be seen as a ‘team player’ if I say no to this?”

Yes, all these thoughts have played through my head at one time or another.  And yes, I’m almost ashamed to admit it, because they sound so ridiculous sometimes.  But let’s be honest here…how many of us are just plain tired?  We’re not just tired, we’re more than tired…we’re exhausted.

I’m no expert in this area as I am in the midst of one of the busiest, most stressful months that I’ve had in a long time, but I wanted to share a few things with you that I’m working on that I’ve gleaned from reading The Best Yes, MoneySavingMom.com, and attending a session on Margin at a recent retreat.

  1. We must pray daily. We must pray daily that our agenda matches up with God’s agenda for us. If we are doing what He has for us, then we can have peace about every decision no matter how hard it may be.   Stay tuned in to God, and He will lead you to making the best decisions for you and your family.
  2. “No” must be part of our vocabulary.  I hate the word.  I hate to say it.  It feels funny coming off my tongue.  But, we have to say it sometimes.  So we need to practice.  Now this is going to sound seriously silly, but hey, I’m being real here…but I’ve been known to practice my response to something.  If I know it’s something that I can’t do right now (even if I really want to), I will “rehearse” saying no in the nicest, most Deana-ish way possible.  I love how Lysa suggests declining respectfully.  She says, “I just can’t give that the attention that it deserves right now.”
  3. We must stop the guilt.  After you’ve said, “No” there’s a moment of sheer victory…a whole 2 seconds, followed by immense guilt.  Too often, I live in the realm of guilt.  I will live a few days with the guilt of that simple “no.” We have got to let it go (song from popular movie is now playing in my head…grrr). We need to have confidence in what God would have us to do, no more and no less… and leave it at that. End of story.
  4. We need to regularly evaluate our activities to make sure that they are all “Best Yes” activities. You know, I think this is the hardest one especially for families. You want to give your child every opportunity to excel, to find a niche, to discover hidden talent. I understand that completely, but we have to also consider what we are teaching our children by staying busy all the time. What does it show them when the family is so busy that there is no time to be a kid? Will they continue this cycle with their kids, your grandkids? Cycles generally magnify over time. Will the busyness cycle be even worse? Will our kids ever know how to rest? And the BIGGEST question we have to ask ourselves as parents…the one that produces a lump in the pit of our stomachs…Do we have the time to teach our kids about God? Not just teach them about God…but do they see how important He is in our life? Are you a Deuteronomy 6 family? If not, this is a great time to evaluate the activities that can be cut. How can you get more “down time” into your schedule? Take time to think about what is really and truly important to you. Our kids pick up on what’s really important. We can’t just tell them what’s important. We have to show them with our lives.
  5. Make room for serving God. Unlike any other “Yes”, serving God is the only decision where you’ll get back more than you give. Now, I’m not saying that you should say, “Yes” to every single event or class that comes up in your church. But ministering to others gives us fuel like nothing else….so think about and pray about how you’ve been gifted (Are you gifted with children? How about cooking? Do you like to visit?) , and say “Yes” as much as you can in those areas.
  6.  Know that even your “Best Yes” doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy. The Bible never promises an easy life. In fact, in many cases, it’s exactly the opposite. Looking back on the decisions in my life, I can see where many of my “Best Yes” decisions were actually really hard, but really rewarding in the end. Our decision to adopt, for example, doesn’t make sense on the surface. For anyone looking in on our situation, they might say, “You’ve got three kids already, you’re busy, you have a lot on your plate. Why?” The answer is simple. Because God has asked us to do this, and we said, “Yes”. It’s been a hard month of training and paperwork and shuffling appointments, but I have peace, knowing that when this is all said and done, it will be worth it. It is a “Best Yes.”
  7. A “No” now is not a “No” forever.  If you can’t do something now, it’s not a forever thing.  God may just not be ready for you to use that gift yet.  There are a million things that I want to do, but now is not a time to start businesses or write books (how I wish!).  But it may very well be a “Best Yes” later.

So today, I’m trying something new. I’m running my very first giveaway here on the blog! It’s pretty exciting actually!  I’m giving away my copy of Lysa TerKeurst’s The Best Yes along with a little goody or two. Yes, it’s my copy, so it’s been dog-eared in a couple of places, but it’s otherwise in excellent condition, and I’m thrilled to be able to pass it on!  You can earn entries in several different ways, so the more you do, the more chances you get! The giveaway will end Saturday evening, I’ll announce the winner on Sunday, and I’ll get the book mailed out on Monday! Good luck!

Yes, I’m totally doing this the old-fashioned, dinosaur way. Because of some hosting issues that I need to work on, it’s just how I’m rolling these days. We’ll get it done eventually though! Here’s how it works:

Each task is one entry. Be sure to leave me a separate comment for each task that you completed. Just say something like, “Hey I am your newest Facebook Follower!”

  1. “Like” Redeeming the Days on Facebook. Check out the button in the left panel or click:  https://www.facebook.com/redeemingthedaysblog?ref=aymt_homepage_panel
  2. Leave me a comment and tell me what you like to read the most here on Redeeming the Days
  3. Follow the blog on RSS Feed. Click on the “Follow” button in the left panel.
  4. Leave a comment and tell me if you’re a people pleaser.  How do you say No?
  5. Share this post with your friends on Social Media.