The Broken Road: how disease changed my life

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It started out as a normal summer day and we couldn’t have been more thrilled. My husband and I had just purchased our very first home. And it was yellow. I had prayed for yellow. Moving day was set, our boxes packed. We were moving right along with our list of goals: New house, check. Jobs, check. Furniture, check. Search for a dog, check. Our future was looking bright.

And then it happened. Something didn’t feel quite right. My energy started to fail and I found myself getting easily fatigued. Over the next few weeks my knees began to swell until they became the size of cantaloupes. As the swelling increased, the pain grew. It hurt to walk, it hurt to stand, it hurt to move.

I spent my 30th birthday and a good part of that year battling a crippling disease. Instead of gracefully waltzing into a new decade, I hobbled my way through. Within two weeks of our move I became confined to our couch, utterly fatigued without even enough energy to make myself a sandwich. Even hobbling across the floor to the bathroom became a tremendous feat. My body was rapidly breaking down before my very eyes and there was nothing I could do about it.

Severe fatigue, weight loss, deficient memory, insomnia, night sweats, and inflammation took control of my life. Within two weeks I lost 25 pounds and in less than a month my ability to walk was impaired. I found myself forced to use wheelchairs and motorized carts, shame and embarrassment filling me as I hid my gaze from others. I visited doctors from ten different departments and had more tests and blood drawn than I ever thought possible, yet answers continued to escape us. My test results were normal, leaving us even more perplexed. This was anything but normal.

And so I sat. Daily. On my couch. Gazing out the window watching people breeze by, wishing with all my heart I could join them. My world had been completely turned upside down without a reason why or a promise that it would get better. [Read more…]

Favorite Fall Recipe: Paper Bag Apple Pie

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One of the many things I enjoy about living in the Midwest is harvest time! We are so blessed to have many local farms and orchards bursting with produce this time of year. Our family always makes at least two trips to pick our own apples. We all love homemade applesauce in the winter so I make several batches for the freezer. The first question from my husband when he sees the bags of apples is, “Are you going to make a pie?” Then he flashes me his dimpled grin that won my heart over 20 years ago. Yes, dear… I will make a pie!

This is a fun and über-delicious recipe with a butter-crumb topping that puts this pie over the top! [Read more…]

Godliness: What’s My Role?


If the Holy Spirit lives in me, why is my life so ordinary? Why do I fall into sin so easily? Why do I never see anything that seems truly miraculous?  Why does there seem to be little difference between me and my unsaved neighbor?  

Have you ever asked yourself those questions?  I have.

For a while I thought the problem might be that I needed to be “baptized” in the Holy Spirit, something my more charismatic friends told me about. I asked for this “baptism”, begged for it, and once even fasted and prayed for a week, but to no avail! For many years I wondered if the problem might be [Read more…]

The Empty Nest: It doesn’t need to be so empty

I remember when I brought my first-born home and realized I was a “mom.” It was overwhelming!  I felt so responsible. This little life depended on me for everything. For so many months he was all I could think of. Even though I wished I had been a little less in demand, I never felt so needed. Or so important. When he first called me “mama” it felt very personal and unique. No matter every other woman in the world is called by the same or similar name. The title of “mom” gave me meaning and defined my identity. I would always protest I was so much more than a mom but my activities and thoughts couldn’t help but revolve around my children. 

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Then one day they were gone! All of them! It seemed rather sudden, but looking back there were warning signs: like waving goodbye at the bus stop on the first day of school, or sending her off to summer camp, stressing over his driver’s license, and then her after-school jobs, and finally… college.

In no time at all it seemed I was less needed. And not only less needed, but also just as confused about my purpose as my kids were as they tried to figure out their future.  I was officially on the threshold of the infamous “Empty Nest.”

I was told the Empty Nest can be our most exciting and productive season ever, and I wanted to believe that but I needed some direction. I didn’t realize there would be so many relationship transitions as we adjusted our marriage, dealt with a quiet house, and learned to relate to our adult children. Then there was the biggest question of all: [Read more…]

Sunburns and Laundry Piles: Are Family Vacations Worth It?

The first and only time I ever heard my mother swear was on one of our annual summer vacations. Yes, family vacations can be stressful.  But I can also say our summer road trips seemed to be the only times I saw my mother and father hold hands and giggle with one another.

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When I was in elementary school my dad traveled Monday through Thursday and would only be home on weekends.  Back then he believed he was doing what any good father would do as a “Good Provider”. Yet I missed him, and later on he expressed regret.

But thank God he was committed to summer time and family vacations!  As a kid, they were the highlight of my summer, maybe even my year! Our road trips gave me my sense of adventure, my sense of family identity and a connection with my dad. [Read more…]


I just saw my hairdresser today. She has 5 lovely children aged 10 months to 10 years old. Upon parting, I mentioned the EOS phrase. Yes, it was the dreaded “end of summer” that came out of my mouth. The look on her face was a familiar one, in fact it gave me the visceral feeling I had years ago when raising my own kids. Yes, it is upon us.  BTS—Back to School.  Ugh, and Hooray!transitions pic monkey

It happens every year. We move from season to season, we change out swimsuits for sweaters. We cry when our favorite outfit won’t fit our favorite little one anymore. Transition is upon us. And like most women, we want this year to go smoothly, seamless, swiftly. (I can hear a chorus of sisters out there saying “Yeah, right”.) Well ladies, I can offer you this analogy—think of the change like a light switch. Only not one that flips from the “on to off” position, but the kind that has a dimmer. Just like the dimmer switch slowly but surely makes its way from one end of the spectrum to the other, gradual changes are easier on our emotions, our physical selves and our relationships. Easier on our eyes and our hearts.  

Granted, we cannot always do change in this way (“I said we have to leave now!”), but in general, if we give our children and ourselves the margin we need to transition, we allow ourselves to turn to a new routine, a new set of expectations, and new relationships that God is bringing us into. Then, transition becomes an invitation, not an ultimatum. Parents can help themselves by [Read more…]

Welcome to Our Haven

Welcome to Haven Help Us!

I am so excited to introduce Haven Help Us, our very own Appleton Alliance Women’s website! We know how living in this crazy world can drop us off at our doorstep battered, bruised and breathless. We all need a respite, or a haven where we can be refreshed, regroup, and inspired.   

At Haven Help Us we have found a True Shelter in our faith in Jesus Christ.  Psalm 91:1-2 are our theme verses, and we want all of you to be able to experience this Safe Haven, and bring it into every area of your home and life, including the everyday routines and the unexpected interruptions.

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A big part of what we want to do is introduce you to the “havenistas” in our community of faith here at Appleton Alliance Church. We are women who are not perfect, but are on the journey to living out our faith. On a daily basis, in our messy homes and hectic jobs, we seek what it means to live with the knowledge of a “haven” to sustain us along the way.  

It is our hope that sharing our stories can help us form a picture of what this “haven” can look like for us.  It is also another important way we as women at Appleton Alliance Church can connect with other women in our congregation whom we might not otherwise know. All of us need to be encouraged and supported in our faith journey.

We will be sharing a wide spectrum of ideas from fun activities, photos, music, creative homemaking ideas, parenting and marriage insights, fun things to make you smile and inspiring stories to make you cry.  All of it will be categorized under the topics of  Faith, Family, Favorites, Fitness and Featured  that seek to strengthen your connections not only to your family and friends but also to the God who loves you.  

Because we want you to get to know us here at Appleton Alliance Church, let’s start off by introducing you to the women who are working behind the scenes on staff and in volunteer roles to bring you regular posts here at Haven Help Us. Please click here to meet our Women’s Ministry staff members and blog contributors.

I hope you will find this website to be a place of refuge, fellowship, and encouragement. To stay up-to-date on our posts and other news from AAC Women’s Ministry, please follow us on Facebook and Pinterest, and subscribe by e-mail to receive every post in your inbox.

Thank you for joining us on the faith-filled adventure. Blessings from our homes to yours!

In Christ,

Judy Episcopo




Made To Crave

Have you defined yourself by the numbers on your bathroom scale long enough? Have you been on every diet your friends, family and the Internet have to offer? Have you given up more times than you can count and don’t know what to do next?

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Then come along for Made To Crave by Lysa TerKeurst to learn what the Bible has to say about diet, fitness and your deeper need. Settle the question of Who you are to God! This is a Bible study that will gently and firmly answer all those questions women struggle with weight and self image. Meet other women who are willing to walk with you on this journey to “satisfy your deepest desire with God, not food.”

To register or find out more information about this study being offered on Wednesday mornings at Appleton Alliance Church, click here.

Favorite Summer Side Dishes

 Summer may be coming to an end, but it’s not over yet! Have a look at a few of our favorite summer sides, and get to know some of our AAC women staff and volunteers. 

Zucchini Pie
A delicious side dish that can double as a main dish.
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  1. 4c Zucchini, sliced thin
  2. 1c Onion
  3. 2T Parsley Flakes
  4. 1t Garlic Salt
  5. 1t Basil
  6. 1/2 Tsp Salt
  7. 1/4 Tsp Pepper
  8. 1 Egg
  9. 2c shredded mozzarella
  10. 1 package refrigerated crescent roll dough
  11. Yellow Mustard
  1. Saute zucchini and onion until softened. Add parsley flakes, garlic salt, basil, salt, and pepper. Remove from heat. In a separate bowl, beat one egg and add 2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese. Stir into the zucchini and set aside. Press one refrigerator crescent roll dough flat in the bottom of a 9x13 pan, spread with yellow mustard. Spoon Zucchini mixture onto the dough and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cover with foil in the last 10 minutes if necessary to prevent excess browning.
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barb m pic

Find out more about Barb!

Cilantro Lime Rice
It’s a very simple side that is versatile, really refreshing and great for summer.
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  1. 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
  2. 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  3. 1 tablespoon olive oil
  4. 1 garlic clove
  5. 2T Water
  6. 1C Rice prepared according to package
  1. In a blender or mini food processor, combine cilantro, lime juice, oil, garlic, and 2 tablespoons water (I’ve been known to forget the water – optional in my opinion); blend until smooth. Cook rice according to directions and add to lime juice-cilantro mixture.
  1. Make up a large batch of the cilantro-lime mixture, freeze it in mini ice cube trays, and store it in an airtight container in the freezer for ready access when you need a little taste of summer in the depths of winter.
  2. Cook salmon your favorite way (grilled, pan seared or broiled) and serve over a bed of cilantro lime rice. For an extra special touch, drizzle a bit of raspberry sauce over the salmon for a great combination of summer flavors.
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Find out more about Carol!

Find out more about Carol!

Blueberry Salad
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  1. 1/2c finely chopped onion
  2. 3/4c sugar
  3. 1/3c red wine vinegar
  4. 1t ground mustard
  5. 3/4t salt
  6. 1c vegetable oil
  7. 1 1/2t poppy seeds
  8. 1 head romaine
  9. 1 head lettuce
  10. 3/4c slivered almonds, toasted
  11. 12oz bag frozen blueberries
  1. Combine onion, sugar, vinegar, mustard, salt, oil, and poppy seeds and set aside. Tear or chop lettuces into bite size pieces. Stir in almonds and blueberries. Add half of dressing to salad and toss to combine. Let sit for about 10 minutes. Add more dressing as needed. Serve.
  1. Left over dressing keeps well in the refrigerator. Recipe can easily be doubled to feed a crowd.
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Worn Out From Life’s “Ought-to” and “Should-do’s”?

ought toIt’s that one little word that scares me to death. I can’t say no, but I am learning to.  I come from a family of doers and worker bees. Being worn out from being a busy bee made me realize that I never learned how to “just be”. Saying no scared me because I thought some breathing room in my schedule or a blank day on my calendar meant that I wasn’t doing enough or serving enough. Can you relate? John 15:5 says “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” In order to be productive in our daily lives, we need to stay connected to the vine and let Him prune what is not best for us. God made this lesson very tangible to me when I recently tackled the project of pruning the the bushes in my front yard. [Read more…]