Monthly Archives: July 2011

My sister’s bridal shower

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Veggie Pizza
The bridal shower was ’50’s themed, and veggie pizza was not really that, but it was the brides favorite.
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Fruit tarts

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Cupcake sundaes

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Cream puffs!! I am pretty proud of myself for these! They were not that hard and they turned out great! I made chicken salad to eat with them, but also we filled some with whipped cream for later! They were wonderful.

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Mom and my sister…..

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My little sister

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Decor

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Me ironing….

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Filed under Bargain Dinners, Daily Happenings

When Bad Christians happen to good people by Dave Burchett

My Review: I have recommended this book so many times in the past while, while reading it. It is such a timely and true topic. I am not sure there are any of us who are Christians who have not come in contact with a “bad Christian”. They come in many forms, shapes and sizes. But we all know what I am talking about when I say the title of this great book! This book deals with the hurt that many have suffered at the hands of Christians and how to live as followers of Jesus, not trying to make everyone follow the rules we think they should. It also speaks on judging others in the church and out. There are some wonderful points in this great book! -Martha

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

When Bad Christians Happen to Good People:
Where We Have Failed Each Other and How to Reverse the Damage

WaterBrook Press; Reprint edition (July 19, 2011)

***Special thanks to Lynette Kittle, Senior Publicist, WaterBrook Multnomah, a Division of Random House for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Dave Burchett started his career as a disc jockey in Ohio, and later moved into sports broadcasting. An Emmy Award-winning television sports director, he has directed events ranging from baseball Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan’s sixth no-hit game to the Summer Olympics. The author of Bring ’Em Back Alive and a blogger on Crosswalk.com and theFish.com, Burchett writes honestly and authentically out of his personal experience. He and his wife, Joni, live in Texas and have three adult sons and a daughter in heaven.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:


Have you been wounded by bad Christians? Author Dave Burchett experienced that kind of pain and offers authentic help and understanding. In this revised and updated edition, he states, “I am not the same guy who first wrote When Bad Christians Happen to Good People. Writing that manuscript was part of a refining process that God used to bring me to the Throne of Grace and then to begin to create a room of grace around me.”

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press; Reprint edition (July 19, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307729923
ISBN-13: 978-0307729927

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

The Unfriendliest Club in Town?

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

—Brennan Manning

Author Flannery O’Connor once noted in a letter to a friend, “It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the church as for it.” I believe her. The most painful experience of my marriage came courtesy of the church.

In 1985 my wife, Joni, gave birth to our daughter, Katie. We were thrilled, but our happiness dissolved into grief when we learned that Katie had a terminal neural tube birth defect. Her condition was known as anencephaly, meaning that in the womb her brain had not developed normally. She basically possessed just the brain stem and was not expected to live more than a few hours or days. The delivery-room doctor described her situation in physician-speak that I will never forget. “Her condition is not compatible with life,” he said.

Our shock and grief were immediate because Katie would have no chance to enjoy a normal life. There would be no cure, no hope for even modest improvement. I went through the painful process of calling family and friends. And I had to tell our two sons about their sister.

But Kathryn Alice Burchett confounded the doctors and lived. She was never able to open her eyes, nor could she smile. Katie also lacked the ability to regulate her body temperature, so her room temperature had to be monitored. Part of Katie’s deformity was an opening with exposed tissue at the back of her skull. It had to be covered regularly with a new dressing.

Joni loved and cared for Katie in a way I will always respect and never forget. She insisted that Katie come home with us. I worried about the effect that caring for Katie at home might have on the boys. Truthfully, I was probably more concerned about the effect bringing her home would have on me. But Joni would not have it any other way, and when she sets her mind to something she is scrappy. So I showed my spiritual wisdom by agreeing with her.

Katie found her place in our family’s routines. She could drink from a bottle. Katie responded to her mother’s touch and even grew a little. We took her on a camping trip with us, and she was a regular at the boys’ ball games and other events.

Sometimes people would make hurtful or mean remarks. A kid at school taunted our oldest son because his sister didn’t have a brain. (That was something the classmate had no doubt heard at home, and it reminds me that we should always be cautious about what we say in front of our children.) Once, when we wanted a family photo taken, we dressed up the troops and went to a photography studio. The photographer insisted that Katie needed to open her eyes. We explained patiently (for a while) that she physically could not open her eyes. He informed us that we couldn’t get our picture taken because their lab would not develop a picture if any person in the group didn’t have their eyes open. Katie totally upset their system, and they would not flex. We finally left without the photos and ended up going to a private photographer. Still, all things considered, our life with Katie went about as well as it could.

Then the church entered in.

One Sunday morning before church, a friend called to tell us that Katie would no longer be welcome in the nursery. The moms had met and decided (without any input from us) that Katie might die in their care and traumatize some volunteer worker. They worried that the opening at the back of Katie’s skull could generate a staph infection. In truth, however, the nursery workers did not have to deal with potential infection because the opening was covered with a sterile dressing and a bonnet, and it required no special attention during the brief time she was in the nursery each Sunday. And there was almost no danger of spreading infection because Katie did not interact with other babies. Clearly, a little caution would have eliminated any possible risk.

As to the possibility that she might die while in their care, we knew she was going to die. No one would have been to blame. Since we were in a church of only one hundred fifty people, I think they could have found us fairly quickly in an emergency. If they had come to us with their concerns, we might have been able to put the volunteers’ fears to rest. But the decision was made without us. Katie was no longer welcome, and our church had done what I had not thought possible: they made our pain worse.

Joni was devastated, more hurt than I have ever seen her before or since. I am sure our church didn’t intend to wound us as they did, but the hurt lingered for years. And the pain was multiplied by the method. We had no warning that there were concerns. We received no invitation to come and address concerns. Instead, a secret meeting was followed by a phone call to tell us what had already been decided. I’m not the only one with this kind of story.

I know a pastor in the Midwest who suffered the tragic loss of his wife to leukemia. Within a matter of weeks the board asked him to resign because they did not want the church to be led by an unmarried pastor! This grieving man had to change denominations in order to continue his ministry.

It is a miracle and tribute to God’s grace that he kept going at all.

In my hometown of Chillicothe, Ohio, an acquaintance finally decided it was time to get his family into a church. He loaded up the crew and visited one nearby. The church immediately showed a tremendous and heartfelt concern for his…grooming issues. You see, Roy had the audacity to show up in God’s house with a full beard, not unlike Jesus’ in the picture hanging in the foyer. A church leader met Roy on the way out.

“So are you going to start worshiping with us?” he asked.

“Why, yes,” Roy replied. “We want to start coming to church.”

The church leader looked at him and said, “Well, I hope you will have shaved by next Sunday.” Because of that comment, it took another twenty years before Roy found a regular church home.

Stuck in Legalism: The Airing of Grievances

And at the Festivus dinner, you gather your family around, and you tell them all the ways they have disappointed you over the past year!

—Frank Costanza, Seinfeld episode “The Strike”

Most of us chuckle over the invented holiday of Festivus. In the famous Seinfeld episode, Frank Costanza explains how he grew frustrated with the commercialism of Christmas:

Frank Costanza: Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way.

Cosmo Kramer: What happened to the doll?

Frank Costanza: It was destroyed. But out of that, a new holiday was born: a Festivus for the rest of us!
Part of the “tradition” of Festivus was the airing of grievances to all who came to dinner. Frank Costanza’s frustration with Christmas commercialism mirrors my angst over the odd brand of Christianity that we’ve too often foisted on our culture. I am borrowing Frank’s concept of the airing of grievances. Actually, churchgoers are pretty good at the airing of grievances, even without the Festivus excuse. In the Seinfeld episode, the airing of grievances is followed by the traditional “feats of strength.” The head of the household selects one person at the Festivus celebration and challenges that person to a wrestling match. Festivus is not over until the head of the household is pinned. Wouldn’t that be a fascinating addition to our church bylaws?

Section 7: Resolution of Conflict

The elders shall invite the congregation to an annual church potluck, followed by the airing of grievances. The potluck shall be followed by praise songs and then the feats of strength. The congregational meeting shall not be adjourned until an elder is pinned to the mat by a church member.
Perhaps the sight of a volunteer wrestling with an elder would be silly enough to help us understand that 98 percent of our grievances are pointless in the context of the Great Commission and the Greatest Commandment. But there is a place for the airing of grievances, especially in reference to the way we do Christianity in this culture. But I pray that I will always come around to grace and truth that enable the real feats of strength to be our focus. I hope we will learn how to trust God to demonstrate truly amazing feats of strength, such as forgiveness, selflessness, serving, and unity.

My Personal History with Legalism

My own grievances date back more than four decades (gulp) to a legalistic church in Chillicothe, Ohio. I have to start with my spiritual pedigree, since that figures prominently into my dysfunction. I was raised in a non-church going family. At the age of fifteen, I started going to church for a very spiritual reason: a cute girl I knew attended that church. Unfortunately, my first church experience was with a congregation that was so legalistic it went out of business.

Seriously.

The denomination this church was part of is not even around anymore because they couldn’t round up enough miserable people to keep it functioning. My nickname for our dysfunctional church body was “The First Church of Misery Loves Company…But We Probably Won’t Love You.” We sang “Amazing Grace” but wouldn’t have recognized grace if it had snuck up and bit us on our self-righteous backsides.

This church featured a lengthy altar call every Sunday to target the one or two unsaved folks who might have stumbled in. I was the target one memorable Sunday. They sang fifteen verses of “Just as I Am” and then the preacher told a tragic story about a man who rejected a moment like this and then was flattened by a steamroller on the way home. According to the preacher, the man was now being tormented in hell. Meanwhile, my ADD brain was wondering why a steamroller was out on a Sunday. Then we shifted to singing “Softly and Tenderly” about a dozen times. Apparently, all of this was designed to give me a little taste of what eternity would be like.

One of the pillars of the church was a matronly lady who was—how can I say this kindly?—not underfed. In a scene that would have been hilarious if it hadn’t involved me, this substantial saint tried to drag me to the altar. I was like a Labrador retriever being pulled into the vet’s office with legs splayed out and fighting every inch of the way.

This church wasn’t acquainted with the role of the Holy Spirit in salvation. Getting sinners to the altar was the goal, whether that sinner wanted to be there or not. Their philosophy of ministry was simple: “You will get saved, and you will like it!”

I resisted this church pillar’s gentle headlock to heaven that Sunday in spite of the risk of being flattened by a steamroller on the way home. But a couple of days later I did pray the sinner’s prayer, without being dragged anywhere. And that began a journey of good, bad, and ugly that has lasted for more than forty years so far. While it is true that I heard and accepted the gospel message after attending that church, my early doctrinal exposure would prove to be an ongoing problem.
Hypocrites or Healers?

The word hypocrite comes from the Greek word hyprokrites, meaning one who plays a part, an actor. Probably no word is more destructively used in describing Christians than hypocrite. André Gide once defined a true hypocrite (an oxymoron?) as the “one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity.”

Inevitably, my first and natural reaction upon hearing the word is to think of people I consider guilty of hypocrisy. When it was revealed that Reverend Ted Haggard had been engaged in inappropriate relationships, my first reaction was to smite him with my hypocrite hammer. But instead I should have asked God to shine a light in my own dark places to see if a similar lack of integrity lives in my own heart.

One of the most stinging rebukes Jesus ever issued concerned the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (see Matthew 6). These religious leaders liked to be seen and heard when praying, recognized when giving money, and pitied when fasting. Had the Jerusalem Broadcasting Network been on the air, you just know that slick-haired Pharisees would have hosted the prime-time programs.

Today, the church condemns those who drink and smoke and live immoral lives, while churchgoers freely engage in gluttony and gossip and selfishness and bigotry. The un-churched stand by in amazed, bemused, cynical, or angry observance of our hypocrisy. And they lose respect for our message.

As a young man, I sat through many sermons in which the preacher condemned tobacco and “devil alcohol.” Immediately following, the congregation would enjoy a potluck dinner where apparently the demon of calories was a welcome guest. It seems to me that morbid obesity is also a desecration of the temple (our body). Is that not also wrong? Overweight churchgoers often explain their extra pounds by citing low metabolism or thyroid disorders. I acknowledge that, for many, there could be a legitimate medical reason behind the weight gain. But if church members can fall back on metabolism as an excuse, shouldn’t we allow for the possibility that someone else’s addiction to nicotine might be similarly genetically predisposed? Or that someone with a weakness for alcohol or drugs could suffer from a brain-chemistry imbalance that exacerbates the problem?

We all are broken people, whether we are gluttons, gossips, smokers, drinkers, or hypocrites. I believe with all of my being in the life-changing power of God. I know He can empower an alcoholic to become and stay dry. I have witnessed that truth. I believe God can give a smoker the strength to snuff out his last cigarette. I am convinced God can enable a person to flush pills and drugs down the drain once and for all.

Church members love to condemn addictions. But not all addictions. The uncomfortable flip side is that Christians too often overlook God’s power to help us overcome certain of the “favored” addictions. Why don’t more Christians acknowledge the truth that God can give us the power to walk away from the buffet table? That He can give me the strength to bridle my tongue when I am privy to gossip that would hurt another person? Should I not recognize that God might want me to keep driving my unsexy old car or keep watching a conventional, low-tech television instead of a giant screen 3-D HDTV in order to free up my resources to help someone in need?

I marvel at Christ’s approach to sinners. Obviously He could not have condoned the lifestyles and actions of many who surrounded Him. Yet He was drawn to the spiritually needy and they to Him. Prostitutes, lepers, and tax collectors all felt the need to hear what Jesus had to say. (Note to my IRS friends: In first-century culture, tax collectors were turncoats who unfairly extorted their own people for personal gain. Nothing at all like the honorable members of our fine government tax organization evaluating my home-office deductions on this year’s tax return.)

It seems the people who were the most uncomfortable around Jesus were the ones known to be the most religious—the churchgoers, as it were. Those who are most ill need the physician’s time, and Jesus gravitated to the ER cases. I have friends who are physicians, and probably no patient annoys them more than a hypochondriac. These unfortunate people drain the resources and time of medical personnel that could be far better used healing the truly sick. It seems to me that Jesus dealt with the hypochondriacs of His day (the Pharisees and other religious people) with that same attitude. Jesus had little patience with those who failed to recognize their true spiritual symptoms. But He was always willing to see the spiritually ill.

The church should be in the business of addressing spiritual illness. When you are deathly ill, you don’t start thinking of going to the health club: “Well, this will be a lovely time to get in shape. I feel horrible, and I think I’m going to die, but at least I’ll be a trim corpse.” Yet many churches have communicated that only the spiritually healthy are welcome there. The result is that the spiritually needy think their lives are too far gone to be accepted at church, when in fact their brokenness makes them ready to receive God’s amazing grace. But too many avoid the ER, thinking that going to church would make them uncomfortable or heighten their guilt. They sense they would be judged and treated with condescension.

Yes, some of these feelings are self-inflicted wounds. But many are not. We must face the possibility that we are doing things that make hurting people stay away from the church. Do you ever think your health is too messed up for you to go to the hospital? Does a hospital ever communicate that you are just a little too sick to come in? When did the church step away from its responsibility to heal emotional pain and meet physical, emotional, and spiritual needs? Steve Martin used to say, “Comedy isn’t pretty.” Sometimes ministry isn’t either. Sometimes it requires us to pay a price.

Most of us don’t much like to be around the truly spiritually ill because it makes us uncomfortable. Treating the spiritually ill is draining, and it comes with no guarantee of success. We would rather hire someone to clean up the mess and report back to us at a praise service. Yet how can we preach Christ’s love and not care about those with HIV/AIDS? How can we talk about God’s grace but ignore other people’s physical needs? How can we talk about the importance of giving and then spend money on things we don’t need, often to curry the approval of people we don’t really care about? How can we minister to others when we don’t first meet the spiritual needs of our own families? How can we win the respect of the world when we cruise around in luxury vehicles and turn our faces away from hurting people?

Do we think that if we ignore the problems, perhaps God will not hold us accountable?

My family had a wonderful golden retriever for fourteen adventure filled years. If Marley (of book and movie fame) was the “world’s worst dog,” then our dog, Charlie, would have been an honored runner-up. Charlie was an aficionado of used Kleenex and paper towels. He knew I disapproved of him running off with tissues, so each time he nabbed one, Charlie would dash to the family room and stick his head and front quarters under a Queen Anne chair. He didn’t realize that 75 percent of his body was sticking out, with his tail wagging wildly. He thought he was safe from retribution because his face was hidden.

Is it any less ridiculous to think that we Christians can avoid our responsibilities as Christ’s representatives on earth? Are Christians any smarter than Charlie when we avert our gaze from the needs of others and convince ourselves that God won’t notice? Somehow I don’t think

God smiles and says, “Oh, that Dave, he was just too busy to notice his friend was in pain. But that’s okay.” No. Instead, my selfishness sticks out just as noticeably as Charlie’s rear end. (There is a certain symmetry in that comparison.) Adam’s first impulse was to hide when God held him accountable in the Garden of Eden, and not much has changed since then in people’s hearts. It was just as futile for Adam as it was for Charlie and me to try to hide from our sin.

Country Club Christian

The rules and regulations at the legalistic church I attended when I was young smothered the concept of grace. No jewelry for women. No mixed bathing. (That one was a wild fantasy for my adolescent hormones, until I realized they meant swimming.) No musical instruments in the church, other than a piano or organ. I never did find the biblical basis for that one.

“And thou shalt have no stringed instruments or percussive idols.”

No long hair for men. No short hair for women. No shorts. No cussing. No makeup. No pants for women. No card playing. No movies. No dancing. No smoking. No drinking. I actually sat through a sermon in which the preacher spent sixty minutes trying to explain that the wine of the New Testament was actually grape juice. So Jesus turned the water into Welch’s? What a wedding feast that must have been, with great food and a fine vintage grape juice. “It’s a lovely little vintage…stomped just this morning.”

On and on the list went. If any activity involved an ounce of pleasure, you could be reasonably certain that it was forbidden. People in our church used to put a sheet over their television set when the preacher made a house call. As if the good reverend wouldn’t know that a “devil’s box” was hiding under the cover. Obviously God wouldn’t know either. I mean, how could the Creator of the universe possibly know that the big, box-shaped object under the oddly placed sheet was a TV set? The effect of the long list of prohibitions was predictable: We experienced no joy, no peace, no assurance of God’s forgiveness—and no interest from anyone outside our miserable little circle. And while we were told to never play cards, dance, or attend a movie, nothing was said against a long list of much more repulsive things. Things like pride, racism, and bigotry. There was not a stated policy, but you would never have seen a “colored” (our term for African Americans) in our church. Actually, only the more “open-minded” in our body called African Americans “coloreds.” The less enlightened used the term “darkies”—or worse. It was mentioned that black Christians had their own churches, and it was assumed that having separate churches was somehow God’s will. That memory still hurts my heart. Members of our church also railed against Jews. I heard it stated from the pulpit that Jews were ruining our country, while the fact that the Savior happened to be a Jew was ignored. And don’t even begin to mention “sodomites,” as we so colorfully called the gay population.

I was attending a church for people who looked like all the others, talked like all the others, dressed alike, believed the same things, and even shared the same prejudices. No wonder so many people feel excluded. If you don’t look or sound or dress like a promising candidate for club membership, of course you’ll feel alienated. Even some who are already members feel alienated.

Jesus’ church is not a highbrow country club. And believers who hang around with a homogeneous group of carbon-copy Christians limit their growth. The church should exclude no one. The church should welcome those who are unwelcome in other places. And yet most churches are not places where people feel comfortable, especially if they are found to be in open violation of any of the proscribed activities. In fact, a person could be living a completely normal life and still feel uncomfortable in church.

Passing the Test

Outsiders have good reason to be wary, but so do insiders. Christians often accept (and enforce) a hierarchy within the church. Have you ever wished that certain people would remain on the sidelines, or even completely out of sight, in your congregation? You would be more comfortable bringing un-churched friends if the slightly embarrassing brothers and sisters weren’t out in the open.

How amazing that our prideful minds can even think like that. My own family reunion—as much as I love my relatives—would look much better if attendance were by invitation only. Let’s face it, when you include the entire family, there are some embarrassing, even tense, moments.

So it is with any church family, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, consider what we are dealing with: sinners. The “acceptable” members as well as the ones who sometimes cause embarrassment—and even the ones behind the pulpit—are all sinners. And that invites problems. I recall dating a girl long before I met my beloved Joni. I asked her to go to church with me. Since she wasn’t a Christian, she was unaware of the official rules. She arrived at church wearing a dress that didn’t completely cover her shoulders. She had simply worn her best outfit; she had no idea she was doing anything wrong. (Of course, she wasn’t doing anything wrong, but you get the point.) From the moment we walked in, the two of us felt the saints’ reproachful, laser-beam stares of righteousness drilling into us. Instead of asking God to make her heart receptive to His Word, I spent the service worrying about what the pea-brained congregation thought of me. (I could almost hear their thoughts: How could Dave bring a hussy like that to church? ) There were a handful of gracious people who welcomed us, but most folks were too busy being appalled.

This would not happen in a sinner-sensitive church. The sinner sensitive church (SSC) is my proposal for a new church movement committed to making everyone feel welcomed and loved. The SSC would model nonjudgmental attitudes. Issues such as having tattoos, body piercings, weird hair, or ugly shoes would not be equated with demon possession. The SSC would pledge not to gossip, because we would realize that it’s only by the grace of God that we are not the current targets. The sinner sensitive church would value every spiritual, physical, and financial gift, no matter how big or small. This church would appreciate but not elevate the person who made possible the new multipurpose wing through his or her enormous financial gift.

The SSC would make it a practice to reach out and care for one another sacrificially because we know that we all fall down in life. At the SSC we would have corporate executives holding hands in prayer with laborers and not thinking twice about it. Blacks and whites and Hispanics and others would break bread together because we all are sinners in the eyes of a color-blind God.

The sinner-sensitive church would give freely out of profound gratitude to a God who somehow saw fit to give us an undeserved chance. The sinner-sensitive church would practice the prodigal-son ministry, running to welcome those who are returning home from mistakes and bad decisions and sin. Our members would get involved in other people’s lives. We would lovingly hold our brothers and sisters accountable to godly standards. Marriage would be cherished and taken seriously as a body of believers. Families would have a community of support during problems and trials.

Congregation members would not be so self-centered that they would demand the undivided attention of the pastor at every little crisis. Other believers would help meet many of the needs that Christians often prefer to leave to the “professionals” on staff. The people of this church would come on Sunday with hearts ready to be fed but also realizing that God has provided resources beyond any available in history to meet their spiritual hunger. Should they walk out the church doors still feeling needy, they would know they can draw from the marvelous resources of Christian books, music, radio, video, digital downloads, and studies to meet their needs.

The sinner-sensitive church would also delight in the company of other spiritual travelers and make it a priority that no one would ever feel alone. We would make each other feel valuable but, on occasion, a little uncomfortable. Being comfortable in church is not the primary goal. I am not always comfortable at the dentist’s office. I often arrive in pain because I have neglected to do what I should have done. The staff always makes me feel welcome and even cared for. Then the dentist confronts me with the truth: “You have let this go too long, and I must hurt you (a little) in order to heal you. You will have to pay a financial price and spend time recovering before you are completely well.” Those are the facts of my dental-hygiene sin.

Likewise, the sinner-sensitive church would not back off the truth, but we would seek God’s love to communicate that truth with grace so healing could take place. Decay, whether it appears in tooth enamel or the soul, must be addressed. We will tell one another the truth and explain that the process might be painful. We would participate in ongoing preventative maintenance and help one another deal with problems as soon as possible, before they become even more painful and expensive to fix.

The SSC would worship with enthusiasm, whether singing hymns or praise choruses, because God is worthy of that praise. The sinner-sensitive fellowship would have a sense of profound reverence because we have received God’s grace, the most amazing gift ever offered. The sinner sensitive church would be so excited about this grace that the incredible news of the gospel would be as much a part of who we are as our jobs and our families.

Our Lord’s ministry style was sinner sensitive. He made Himself available to people who realized their need. Merely being a seeker did not necessarily merit His time. The wealthy young man came to Jesus to find out what he still needed to do to receive eternal life. However, the jarring truth of Christ’s answer—telling the man to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor—revealed that he was not ready to follow Christ (see Matthew 19:16–22). But when sinners came with a humble confession of need and a willingness to obey God, Jesus never turned them away. The church of Acts was sinner sensitive and functioned much in the way I have described above.

Frankly, sometimes we try a little too hard to attract the un-churched. A church that functioned like the one described above would be such a societal miracle that you couldn’t keep people away if you locked the doors. And while the majority of my idealism has been beaten out of me, I still believe that such a church will be possible when we finally get tired of faking it as a church. The needed change will not come until we are willing to pay the price for a sinner-sensitive church. Receiving grace is easy, but giving grace is costly.

The harsh reality is that most of us are afraid to commit to this radical type of fellowship because we aren’t sure what it would require of us. My own natural reaction is, “Praise the Lord, but keep the Lexus!” I’ll hazard a guess that you are the same. When the rich young man in Matthew heard Jesus’ words to him, “he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (19:22).

Governed by Grace

Author Philip Yancey shared a compelling illustration about a recovering alcoholic friend who attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. His friend said, “When I’m late to church, people turn around and stare at me with frowns of disapproval. I get the clear message that I’m not as responsible as they are. When I’m late to AA, the meeting comes to a halt and everyone jumps up to hug and welcome me. They realize that my lateness may be a sign that I almost didn’t make it.”

Twelve-step support groups have become what the body of Christ could and, in fact, should be. And while the roots of Alcoholics Anonymous are firmly planted in Christian grace, why did the movement have to be launched in the first place? Shouldn’t the church be the place that welcomes hurting men and women so that they would instinctively be drawn to receive the help they need? Shouldn’t the church be a place of abundant grace where people have your back because they realize their own condition? Shouldn’t followers of Christ understand that at any moment they could need that same grace?

Even a cursory study of the life of Christ will reveal that any of us could have quite comfortably walked into His “twelve-guy” program and announced our status as sinners. In fact, that little confession would have moved us to the head of the class and could very well have made us Teacher’s pet. So why has the church repelled so many of those who have the needs Christ has equipped us to address? I realize that it is not entirely the fault of the church that the spiritually ill stay away. But it seems to me that we had better examine the part of the problem we’re responsible for.

When I was a kid, the spread of tuberculosis was a big concern. Those with the disease were isolated in a hospital-like dormitory with the scary name “sanatorium.” Whenever I’d pass the sanatorium in our town, I would look fearfully at the building. I knew the people inside had something I did not want to come into contact with. Knowing that many people today drive by a church with the resolve to avoid contact with Christians at all costs gives me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Every person should find the most level playing field of all in the church. In Jesus’ eyes, the soul of a Fortune 500 CEO is no more valuable than the soul of a meth addict. That sort of thinking is scandalous to most of us because it contradicts our culture’s values. We honor looks, money, power, and fame. Jesus cared about none of those. In Luke 16:14–15, the gospel writer talked about “the Pharisees, who loved money, [and] heard all this [Jesus talking about the parable of the shrewd manager] and were sneering at Jesus. [That is a phrase that I hope to never see next to my name.] He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.’” I am constantly amazed that the words of Jesus apply just as accurately to the stories that appear in USA Today as they did to stories in the Galilee Gazette two thousand years ago.

Through the years I have thought about what would have happened if Jesus had walked into the nursery where our daughter, Katie, was unwelcome. I am convinced of several things based on my study of His life. He likely would have been drawn straight to her. He might have chosen to heal her. He probably would have shed a tear, because the suffering of children always touched His heart. And I am absolutely sure that He would not have rejected her. I believe that He would have comforted Joni and me with the reassurance that Katie’s affliction was not the result of our sin.

The once-popular saying “What Would Jesus Do?” has the ability to confront us with an important and necessary spiritual question. Sadly, the church Joni and I used to attend never asked that question concerning little Katie Burchett. In order for our family to worship together at the same church, we had to find a different congregation. Christians, like physicians, should vow to do no harm. But forgive us, Lord, because too often we do inflict harm.

Note: In honor of the late, great Paul Harvey, I will tell you the “rest of the story” about little Katie in chapter 16.

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Filed under Book Reviews

Life as we know it…..

will change once again. The news hit our house hard that our local Borders store would be closing. As a faithful customer of this store, many people in our small town have been effected. Yes, there is another bookstore, a nice used bookstore, which we also frequent, but sometimes it is fun to go to the bigger store and browse. I love to sit and talk to people about books as you generally find other book lovers there as well.

 

I understand that online bookstores have effected our business, and I know this as I receive book packages in the mail almost daily. Most of them are for book reviews, but I do buy a good deal of books as well. I find it sad that they could not make a go of it!

Life goes on though, I am sure….we will find something else to replace it. Hopefully another coffee shop and bookstore.

Our Menus have been scattered, but here is the menu for this week.

Wednesday: Pizza, cabbage salad

Thursday: Pasta with chicken, salad

Friday: Pancakes, peaches and cantaloupe

Saturday: Soup, bread, Dark Chocolate Cherry dessert

Sunday: Leftovers, ice cream, popcorn

Monday: BBQ chicken thighs, potato salad, carrot sticks

Tuesday: Black beans and rice, avocado salsa

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Shadows on the Sand by Gayle Roper

Shadows on the Sand
By Gayle Roper
Reviewed by Martha Artyomenko

Carrie Carter owns a small café on the beach in New Jersey. This idealistic town sounds like a place I would love to live and relax! Carrie has love on her mind though! A wounded widower who is recovering from the loss of his wife and children and a recovering alcoholic, he seems to have everything else on his mind except for Carrie. Carrie finds herself drawn into a mystery involving a mysterious cult, her missing waitress and worse yet, her dead dishwasher.
Before he can help it, Greg is helping Carrie try to solve the mystery and catch the bad guys. Will this be the right time for him to notice her in a romantic way? Or will it just bring back bad memories?

This story had some interesting twists and turns. The cult leader was typical with the leader mentality, the charm, but the young people saw through it when they witnessed something they shouldn’t have. I would love to see a story with a cult leader that was more subtle than that!
I love Gayle’s mysteries though! They are fun, keep you reading, gripping the pages a little even, and the touch of romance is always a nice twist. – Martha

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Shadows on the Sand: A Seaside Mystery

Multnomah Books (July 19, 2011)

***Special thanks to Laura Tucker of WaterBrook Multnomah Publicity for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Gayle Roper, a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America, is the multi-award-winning, best-selling author of Fatal Deduction and more than forty other books. She teaches and leads mentoring clinics at writers’ conferences across the country. Gayle lives in eastern Pennsylvania.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Carrie Carter’s small café in Seaside, New Jersey, is populated with a motley crew of locals … although Carrie only has eyes for Greg Barnes. He’s recovering from a vicious crime that three years ago took the lives of his wife and children—and from the year he tried to drink his reality away. While her heart does a happy Snoopy dance at the sight of him, he never seems to notice her, to Carrie’s chagrin.

When Carrie’s dishwasher is killed and her young waitress disappears, leaving only cryptic clues in her Sudoku book, Greg finds himself drawn into helping Carrie solve the mysteries … and into her life. But when Carrie’s own painful past becomes all too present, her carefully constructed world begins to sink.

Will the fragile relationship she’s built with Greg implode from the weight of the baggage they both carry?

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Multnomah Books (July 19, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601420846
ISBN-13: 978-1601420848

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

So Bill punched him in the nose, Carrie!” Andi Mueller swung an arm to demonstrate and nearly clipped me. “He was wonderful!”

I leaned back and held up a hand for protection. “Easy, kiddo.” I smiled at the girl and her enthusiasm.

Andi giggled like the smitten sixteen-year-old she was. “Sorry.”

“Mmm.” I rested my elbows on the pink marble counter that ran along one wall of Carrie’s Café, located two blocks from the boardwalk in the center of Seaside, New Jersey. I was the Carrie of the café’s name, and Andi was one of my servers, in fact, my only server at the moment. She’d been with me almost two months now, taking up the slack when the summer kids left to go back to college or on to real jobs.

“Let me get this straight,” I said. “On Saturday night Bill, who is your true soul mate, punched Jase, our Jase, for paying too much attention to you at a party.” I didn’t think my voice was too wry, but soul mates at sixteen made me both cynical and scared, teen hormones being what they were.

Andi just grinned with delight of the even-mentioning-his-name-givesme-the-vapors kind and nodded as she sat on a stool at the counter. “Isn’t it romantic?”

I was hearing this tale today, Monday, because now that the season was over, Carrie’s was closed on Sundays. My staff and I had earned our day of rest over a very busy and marginally profitable summer. We might be able to stay open for another year if nothing awful happened, like the roof leaking or the dishwasher breaking.

Listening to Andi made me feel ancient. I was only thirty-three, but had I ever been as young as she? Given the trauma of my growing-up years, I probably hadn’t. I was glad that whatever her history, and there was a history, she could giggle.

“How do you expect to continue working with Jase after this encounter?” I was very interested in her answer. Jase was one of three part-time dishwashers at the café. All three were students at the local community college and set their schedules around classes. Jase worked Tuesdays and Saturdays from six in the morning until three, and the last thing I wanted was contention in the kitchen between Andi and him.

Andi looked confused. “Why should I have trouble with Jase? I didn’t punch him. Besides he’s an old–” She cut herself off.

I wanted to pursue her half-thought, but the door of the café opened, and Greg Barnes walked in, all scruffy good looks and shadowed eyes. His black hair was mussed as if he hadn’t combed it, and he had a two-day stubble. He should have looked grubby, but somehow he didn’t. He looked wonderful.

All thoughts of Bill and Jase fled as my heart did the little stuttery Snoopy dance it always did at the sight of Greg. Before he could read anything in my face, assuming he noticed me as someone other than the person who fed him, I looked down at the basket of fresh-from-the-oven cinnamon-swirl muffins I was arranging.

Andi glanced from me to him and, much too quick and clever, smiled with a knowing look. I held my breath. She wasn’t long on tact, and the last thing I wanted was for her to make some leading remark. I felt I could breathe again when all she did was wink at me. Safe for the moment, at least.

Greg came to the counter and slid onto his favorite stool, empty now that the receding flood of summer tourists left it high and dry this third week in October, a vinyl-covered Ararat postdeluge.

“The usual?” I asked, my voice oh-so-casual.

He gave a nod, barely glancing my way, and opened his copy of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The Press of Atlantic City waited. I turned to place his order, but there was no need. Lindsay, my sister, partner, and the café’s baker, had been listening to Andi’s story through the serving window. She waved her acknowledgment before I said a word. She passed the order to Ricky, our short-order cook, who had stayed with us longer than I expected, long enough that he had become almost as much of an asset to Carrie’s as Lindsay was.

My sister gave me a sly smile, then called, “Hi, Greg.”

He looked up from his paper and gave Lindsay a very nice smile, far nicer than he ever gave me.

“The sticky buns are all gone,” he said in mild accusation, nodding toward the glass case where we kept Lindsay’s masterpieces.

She grinned. “Sorry. You’ve got to get here earlier.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Or you could make more.”

“I’ll take the suggestion under advisement,” she said agreeably.

“Haven’t you heard the adage about making your customers happy?”

“Yeah. So?”

He laughed and turned a page in the paper. I brought him a glass of OJ and a cup of my special blend.

“How’re you doing?” I asked, just as I did every morning.

He gave me a vague smile. “Fine.” Just as he said every morning.

But he wasn’t. Oh, he was better than, say, a year ago, definitely better than two years ago, but he wasn’t well. Even three years after the tragedy that had altered his life, he was far from his self-proclaimed fine. If you looked closely–as I did–you could see the strain never completely left his eyes, and the purple stains under them were too deep and dark, a sure sign that a good night’s sleep was still little more than a vague memory for him.

But he was sober. More than two years and counting.

“Keep talking, Andi,” Lindsay said as Ricky beat Greg’s eggs and inserted his wheat bread in the toaster. “This is better than reality TV. It’s really real.” She walked out of the kitchen into the café proper. “Bill bopped Jase,” she prompted.

“Our Jase,” I clarified.

Greg looked up. “Your dishwasher?”

I nodded.

“Hmm.” And he went back to his paper.

“And Jase went down for the count.” Andi’s chest swelled with pride at her beloved’s prowess.

I flinched. “Don’t you think knocking a guy out for talking to you is a bit much?”

Andi thought for almost half a second, then shook her head. “It wasn’t for just Saturday. He knows Jase and I work together, and he was staking his claim.”

I’d seen Jase and Andi talking in the kitchen, but there never seemed to be any romantic overtones. “Jase is a nice guy and a good worker. I don’t want to lose him because of your boyfriend.”

“He is, and I don’t want him to go either,” Andi agreed. “I like talking to him.”

“Me too.” Lindsay rested an elbow on the counter and propped her chin in her palm. “I think he’s sad.”

“What do you mean, sad?” But I’d sensed he was weighed down with something too.

“He’s funny and open most of the time,” Lindsay said, “but sometimes when no one’s talking to him, I see this look of sorrow on his face.”

I nodded. “All the more reason to hate that he got punched.”

“Yeah.” Lindsay got a dreamy look in her dark brown eyes. “But there’s something about a guy defending you, even if what he’s defending you from isn’t really a threat.” She sighed.

“Lindsay!” I was appalled. “Get a grip.” Though if Greg ever wanted to defend me, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t mind. Of course, that presupposed he’d notice I was in trouble. I glanced at him bent over his paper. Not likely to happen. I bit back a sigh.

“Tell me, Andi. Does Bill plan to punch out any male who talks to you?”

“Come on, Carrie,” Andi said. “Don’t be mad at Bill. You know how guys can be when they’ve had a few beers.”

I did know how guys could be, beers or no beers. “What were you doing at a party where there was drinking?”

She became all prim and prissy. “I did not drink.”

“I should hope not, but you shouldn’t have been there.” Good grief. I was sounding more and more like her mother–or how her mother would have sounded if she weren’t missing in action somewhere. Part of that history I didn’t know.

“Order up,” Ricky announced as he walked to the pass-through. “The food is never better than when I plate it.”

You’d have thought he was Emeril or Wolfgang Puck or one of Paula Deen’s sons, not a stopgap cook who couldn’t find any other job after graduating from college with a psychology degree and who stayed around because he had a crush on the baker.

I grabbed Greg’s scrambled eggs and wheat toast and served them. He accepted them with a nod and a grunt.

“So what happened to Jase?” I asked Andi. I found myself hoping Bill had bruised a knuckle or two in his violence, though I was pretty sure it meant I was a terrible person too. I didn’t wish for a broken hand or anything that extreme, just something to remind him that punching wasn’t the way to handle a perceived rival.

Andi waved her hand vaguely. “Bill and a buddy carried Jase to his car. They only dropped him once.”

I imagined the thunk of poor Jase’s head hitting the ground and flinched in sympathy. No such thought bothered Andi. She was too busy being thrilled by Bill, who rode in like her shining knight, laying waste to the enemy with knuckles instead of the more traditional lance.

“How much older than you is Bill?” Lindsay asked.

Good question, Linds.

Andi studied the cuticle of her index finger. “He’s nineteen.”

Lindsay and I exchanged a glance. Those three years from sixteen to nineteen were huge.

I couldn’t keep quiet. “So he shouldn’t have been drinking at this party either.”

Andi slid off her stool. If looks killed, Lindsay’d be sprinkling my ashes in the ocean tomorrow morning.

“What does Clooney think of you and Bill?” Lindsay asked. Clooney was Andi’s great-uncle, and she lived with him.

Andi cleared her throat. “We don’t talk about Bill.”

“Does he know about Bill?” Lindsay’s concern was obvious.

Andi stared through long bangs that hung over her hazel eyes. The silky hair sometimes caught in her lashes in a way that made me blink but didn’t seem to bother her. “Of course Clooney knows. Do you think I’d keep a secret from him?”

“I didn’t think you would.” Lindsay smiled. “I’m glad to know I was right.”

So was I. Sixteen could go in so many different directions, and I’d hate for this pixie to make wrong choices–or more wrong choices.

“Is he going to college?” I asked. “Bill?”

“He was, but not now.” Her fingernail became even more absorbing. “He dropped out of Rutgers at the end of his freshman year.”

Uh-oh. Dropped out or failed out? “Does he plan to go back? Try again?”

She shrugged. “He doesn’t know. Right now he’s happy just being. And going to parties. And taking me.” By the time she was finished, she was bouncing at the excitement of it all, her strawberry blond ponytail leaping about her shoulders.

Greg looked up from his newspaper. “So this guy took you, a very underage girl, to a party where there was lots of drinking?”

Andi looked at him, eyes wide, acting as if he’d missed the whole point of her story. “Don’t worry about me, Mr. Barnes. Or any of you.” She included Lindsay and me with a nod of her head. “I can handle any problems that might develop at a party. Believe me, I’ve dealt with far worse.”

I was intrigued. I’d stared down plenty of problems in my time too, and I wondered how her stare downs compared to mine.

She grinned and waved a hand as if she were wiping away her momentary seriousness. “But I’d rather talk about how great Bill is.”

“So how great is he?” Lindsay asked. “Tell me all.” At twenty-seven, she was an incurable romantic. I wasn’t sure how this had come to pass, since she had every reason to be as cynical as I, but there you are.

I frowned at her. “Stop encouraging the girl.”

Lindsay just grinned.

I looked at Andi’s happy face and had to smile too. “So what’s this wonderful guy doing if he’s not in school?” Besides being and partying.

“Uh, you mean like a job or something?”

“Yeah.” Lindsay and I exchanged another glance. Greg looked up again at Andi’s reluctant tone.

“Well, he was a lifeguard over the summer. He’s got this fabulous tan, and it makes him so handsome.”

Soul mate stuff if I ever heard it. I half expected her to swoon like a nineteenth-century Southern belle with her stays laced too tightly. “What about now? Postseason?”

“And he was the quarterback on the high school football team two years ago when they won the state championship.”

“Very impressive. What about now?”

“He was named Most Valuable Player.”

“Even more impressive. What about now?”

She began making sure the little stacks of sugar and sweetener packets in the holders on the counter were straight. “Right now he’s just trying to figure it all out.”

Being. Figuring. And punching guys out while he thought. “You mean he’s trying to decide what he wants to be when he grows up?”

She glared at me. In her mind he was grown up. She turned her back with a little sniff and went to clean off a dirty table.

Lindsay swallowed a laugh. “Your sarcastic streak is showing, Carrie.”

Mr. Perkins, another regular at Carrie’s Café and at eighty in better health than the rest of us put together, rapped his cup on the pink marble counter. He’d been sitting for several minutes with his eyes wide behind his glasses as he listened to Andi.

“No daughter of mine that age would ever have gone to a party where there was drinking,” he said. “It’s just flat out wrong.”

Since I agreed, I didn’t mention that he was a lifelong bachelor and had no daughters.

He rapped his cup again.

“Refill?” I asked, not because I didn’t know the answer but because the old man liked to think he was calling the shots.

He nodded. “Regular too. None of that wimpy decaf. I got to keep my blood flowing, keep it pumping.”

I smiled with affection as I topped off his cup. He gave the same line every day. “Mr. Perkins, you have more energy than people half your age.”

He pointed his dripping spoon at me. “And don’t you forget it.”

“Watch it,” I said in a mock scold. “You’re getting coffee all over my counter.”

“And a fine counter it is.” He patted the pink-veined marble slab. It was way too classy and way too pricey for a place like the café. “Did I ever tell you that I remember when it was the registration counter at Seaside’s Grand Hotel? And let me tell you, it was a grand hotel in every sense of the word. People used to come from as far as Pittsburgh, even the president of U.S. Steel. Too bad it burned down. The hotel, not U.S. Steel.”

“Too bad,” I agreed. And yes, he’d told us the story many times.

“It was in 1943,” he said with a faraway look in his eyes. “I was thirteen.” He blinked back to the present. “It was during World War II, you know, and people said it was sabotage. Not that I ever believed that. I mean, why would the Germans burn down a resort hotel? But I’ll tell you, my father, who was an air-raid warden, about had a seizure.”

“I bet he was convinced that the flames, visible for miles up and down the coast, would bring the German subs patrolling offshore right up on our beaches,” Lindsay said with a straight face. “They might have attacked us.”

I glared at her as she repeated word for word Mr. Perkins’s line from the story. She winked unrepentantly.

Mr. Perkins nodded, delighted she was listening. “People kept their curtains drawn at night, and even the boardwalk was blacked out for the duration, the lights all covered except for the tiniest slit on the land side, so the flames from the fire seemed extra bright. All that wood, you know. Voom! ” He threw his hands up in the air.

Lindsay and I shook our heads at the imagined devastation, and I thought I saw Greg’s lips twitch. He’d heard the story almost as many times as we had.

Mr. Perkins stirred his coffee. “After the war some investor bought the property.”

“I bet all that remained of the Grand was the little corner where the pink marble registration counter sat.” Lindsay pointed where I leaned. “That counter.”

Again she spoke his line with a straight face, and this time Greg definitely bit back a grin.

Mr. Perkins added another pink packet to his coffee. “That’s right. The buyer decided to open a restaurant around the counter and build a smaller, more practical hotel on the rest of the property.”

Even that hotel was gone now, replaced many years ago by private homes rented each summer to pay the exorbitant taxes on resort property.

I walked to Greg with my coffeepot. “Refill?”

He slid his mug in my direction, eyes never leaving his paper.

Be still my heart.

2

The café door opened again, and Clooney sauntered in. In my opinion Clooney sauntered through life, doing as little as possible and appearing content that way. I, on the other hand, was a bona fide overachiever, always trying to prove myself, though I wasn’t sure to whom. If Clooney weren’t so charming, I’d have disliked him on principle. As it was, I liked him a lot.

Today he wore a Phillies cap, one celebrating the 2008 World Series victory. His gray ponytail was pulled through the back of the cap and hung to his shoulder blades.

“You work too hard, Carrie,” he told me frequently. “You’ll give yourself indigestion or reflux or a heart attack or something. You need to take time off.”

“If I didn’t want to pay the rent or have insurance or eat, I’d do that very thing,” I always countered.

“What you need is a rich husband.” And he’d grin.

“A solution to which I’m not averse. There just seems to be a shortage of candidates in Seaside.”

“Hey, Clooney,” Andi called from booth four, where she was clearing. She gave him a little finger wave. Clooney might be her great-uncle, but try as I might, I couldn’t get her to call him Uncle Clooney. Just “Clooney” sounded disrespectful to me, but he didn’t seem to mind.

“Hey, darlin’.” Clooney walked over to Andi and gave her a hug. Then he came to the counter and slid onto the stool next to Greg. He did not take off his cap, something that drove me crazy. I’ve developed this manners thing, probably because my childhood was so devoid of anything resembling pattern or politeness. I know people thought me prissy and old-fashioned, but I am what I am, a poor man’s Miss Manners.

Clooney pointed at a muffin, and I placed one on a dish for him. He broke off a chunk, then glanced back at Andi. “She tell you about that fool Bill?”

I grinned at his disgruntled expression. “She did.”

“What is it with girl children?” he demanded. “I swear she’s texted the news around the world.”

“She thinks it’s a compliment–her knight defending her.”

Clooney and Greg snorted at the same time.

“Slaying a dragon who’s threatening the life of the fair damsel’s one thing,” Greg said, actually looking at me. “Decking a kid for saying hi to a pretty girl is another.”

“Your past life as a cop is showing,” I teased.

He shrugged as he turned another page of the paper. “Old habits die hard.”

The door opened again, and in strutted the object of our conversation. I knew it had to be him because, aside from the fact that he looked like a very tanned football player, he and Andi gazed at each other with love-struck goofy grins. I thought I heard Lindsay sigh.

Andi hurried toward the kitchen with an armful of dirty dishes from booth four. She squeaked in delight as Bill swatted her on the rump as she passed. Clooney stiffened at this unseemly familiarity with his baby. Mr. Perkins tsk-tsked his disapproval.

“Can I have breakfast now?” Andi asked when she reappeared empty- handed.

The wait staff usually ate around ten thirty at a back booth, and it was ten fifteen. We were in the off-season weekday lull between breakfast and lunch, and the three men on their stools were the only customers present. I nodded.

Bill looked toward the kitchen. He appeared overwhelmed at the prospect of food, unable to make a selection. He draped an arm over Andi’s shoulder as he considered the possibilities, and she snuggled against him. Clooney’s frown intensified.

Bill was a big guy, and it was clear by the way he carried himself that he still thought of himself as the big man on campus in spite of the fact that he was now campusless and unemployed. As I studied him, I wondered if high school football would end up being the high point of his life. How sad that would be. Clooney drifted through life by choice. I hoped Bill wouldn’t drift for lack of a better plan or enough ability to achieve.

Careful, Carrie. I was being hard on this kid. Nineteen and undecided wasn’t that unusual. Just because at his age I’d already been on my own for three years, responsible for Lindsay, who was six years my junior…

Bill gave Clooney, who was watching him with a rather sour look, a sharp elbow in the upper arm and asked, one guy to another, “What do you suggest, Clooney? What’s really good here?”

Clooney’s relaxed slouch disappeared. I saw the long-ago medal-winning soldier of his Vietnam days. “You will call me ‘sir’ until I give you permission to call me by name. Do you understand, boy?”

Bill blinked. So did I. Everyone in Seaside, no matter their age, called him Clooney.

“Stop that, Clooney!” Andi was appalled at her uncle’s tone of voice.

“Play nice,” I said softly as I realized for the first time that I didn’t know whether Clooney was his first name or last. I made a mental note to ask Greg. As a former Seaside cop, he might know. “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, darlin’.” Clooney gave Andi an easy smile. He gave Bill a hard stare. “Right, Bill?”

Bill blinked again. “Y-yes, sir.”

Andi took her beloved’s hand and dragged him toward the back booth. “Ignore my uncle. He’s having a bad day.” She glared over her shoulder at Clooney, who grinned back at her.

“She’s got spunk, that one,” he said with pride.

“How’d she end up living with you?” I’d been longing to ask ever since Clooney showed up with Andi just before Labor Day and asked me to give her a job. I did, and I guess I thought that gave me the right to ask my question.

Clooney disagreed because he said, “I think I’ll have one of your amazing Belgian waffles with a side of sausage.”

“I’m on it.” Lindsay headed back to the kitchen before I said a word. “Got it, Ricky?”

“Got it.” Ricky tested the waffle iron with a flick of water. He smiled as the water jumped and evaporated. He was a handsome kid with dark Latino looks of the smoldering kind, a young Antonio Banderas. Unfortunately for him, his smoldering looks appeared to have no effect on Linds.

Another victim of unrequited love.

Andi came to the counter and placed an order for Bill and herself. I blinked. We could have served the whole dining room on less.

Mr. Perkins eyed me. “Are you going to make him pay for all that? You should, you know.”

True, but I shook my head. “Job perk. He’s cheaper than providing health benefits and not nearly as frustrating.”

“So say you.” Clooney settled to his waffle and sausage.

I watched the parade of laden plates emerge from the kitchen and make their way to the back booth, making me reconsider the “cheaper” bit. Andi took her seat and stared at Bill as if he could do no wrong in spite of the fact that he leaned on the table like he couldn’t support his own weight. Didn’t anyone ever tell the kid that his noneating hand was supposed to rest in his lap, not circle his plate as if protecting it from famished marauders or little girls with ponytails?

“Look at him,” Clooney said. “He’s what? Six-two and over two hundred pounds? Jase Peoples is about five-eight and one-forty if he’s wearing everything in his closet.”

“Let’s forget about Jase, shall we?” Andi’s voice was sharp as she came to the counter and reached for more muffins. “The subject is closed.”

I grabbed her wrist. “No more muffins. We need them for paying customers. If Bill’s still hungry, he can have toast.”

“Or he could pay.” To Mr. Perkins a good idea was worth repeating.

Andi laughed at the absurdity of such a thought.

Ricky had left his stove and was leaning on the pass-through beside Lindsay. “Four slices coming up for Billingsley.”

“Billingsley?” I looked at the big guy as he downed the last of his four-egg ham-and-cheese omelet. With a name like that, it was a good thing he was big enough to protect himself.

“Billingsley Morton Lindemuth III,” Ricky said.

“I should never have told you.” Andi clearly felt betrayed.

“But you did. And you got to love it.” Laughing, Ricky turned to make toast.

“He hates it,” Andi said.

I wasn’t surprised.

Greg drew in a breath like you do when something terrible happens. We all turned to stare at him.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

He was looking at the front page of The Press of Atlantic City. “Jase Peoples.”

“What?” I demanded.

Clooney grabbed the paper and followed Greg’s pointing finger.

I could see the picture and the headline above it: “Have You Seen This Man?”

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The Eternal Messiah by W.R. Pursche and Michael Gabriele

The Eternal Messiah

By W.R Pursche and Michael Gabriele

 

This book is a science fiction  story, reminding me of a Star Trek episode with a Christian twist.  Treb Captain Win’s research ship is commandeered by the military to undertake a covert mission to find illegal weapons. Along the way, they are finding more discoveries about Jesus and relating it to happenings that happened on earth.

 

This is for sure not your typical book, but if you are a science fiction fan, you will enjoy this one!

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card authors are:

and the book:

The Eternal Messiah: Jesus of K’Turia

Varzara House (January 4, 2011)

***Special thanks to Bill Pursche for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Ever since a child, Bill Pursche was fascinated by the question of how people would react if Jesus were to appear again. What would people do? What would they believe?

This was the catalyst for The Eternal Messiah. Bill spent years researching ancient texts such as the lost gospels and the Dead Sea Scrolls, and also spoke to many theologians, ministers, priests, rabbis, pastors and religious experts, trying to answer the question: would the message of the ‘future’ Jesus be any different?

Bill is also the author of the popular book Lessons to Live By: The Canine Commandments, about life lessons we learn from dogs. All of the net profits from that book are donated to animal rescue groups. The Eternal Messiah is a continuation of his exploration of how religion and spirituality can lead to a more fulfilling life.

Bill lives near the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with his wife, two rescued orphan horses, two dogs, and a cat who can’t seem to remember he was feral. He writes and continues his quest to understand his place in the great universe God has created. Work is already underway on the next two books in the Eternal Messiah series.

Michael Gabriele is a professional musician and artist. For information about Mike’s music, please visit www.myspace.com/michaelgabriele

Visit the authors’ website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Kalinda Prentiss is a renowned expert in her field of cultural anthropology. In her work with indigenous cultures she begins to see amazing similarities in their path to advancement — similarities based on their acceptance of a religious Messiah. Yet when she documents her work and presents it to the scientific community, she is ridiculed for her belief that societal advancement could in any way be connected to God.

Treb Win has left his home and joined the military to escape the memories of the loss of his life mate. Bereft of purpose, he tries to lose himself in his work, his goal of achieving personal enlightenment now an impossible dream without the support of his mate and his people.

Prentiss is demoted from her prestigious position and sent to work on Win’s obscure research ship. Though convinced of her theory of the link between religion and technical advancement, she vows never to trust the scientific establishment again to have an open mind toward her ideas.

Win and Prentiss become embroiled in a secretive military mission neither of them want any part of. They end up on another planet searching for a missing freighter carrying illicit government weapons which, if discovered, could start a cataclysmic war.

Here they witness something extraordinary: a religious preacher named Jesus appears. He brings a compelling message of faith and sacrifice, encouraging the people to break free from their meaningless lives. His gospel threatens both the local religious leaders and an oppressive occupying power.

Win knows little of Jesus but is curiously drawn to this preacher, kindling a spark in his long lost sense of purpose as he listens to Jesus’ gospel. Prentiss believes she has the ultimate proof of her theory, but as she witnesses events unfold which are eerily similar to what happened on Earth, she must make a desperate choice between her work, her faith, and trying to stop what she fears may be the final outcome for Jesus.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.95
Paperback: 310 pages
Publisher: Varzara House (January 4, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0975379356
ISBN-13: 978-0975379356

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

The path to Paradise is lined with the sacrifices of love, not of fear.

—The Teachings: 2:2

“What’s going on?” Prentiss asked. “I thought this is where Symes said Jesus was going to be speaking.”

“They seem to be making a lot of noise for an audience,” agreed Win, as he led them up the back side of the temple. They had spent much of the day searching for Garrick, to no avail. As the day wore on the locals began moving toward the arena, leaving the crew vulnerable in the deserted streets. The frantic Symes kept looking over his shoulder until I’Char told him to leave and go ahead separately. But it was only after Prentiss explained to the old man that it was for his own safety had he obeyed.

At the edge of the clearing around the temple they had immediately entered into a throng of people who all seemed intent on something in the opposite direction from the grand temple portico. The noise of the crowd was loud and incomprehensible.

Prentiss, her hood pulled tight, forced her way through the crowd, not waiting for Win and I’Char. Win tried to keep her in sight; he could sense I’Char right behind him, intent on any possible threat. But it appeared to be just an excited group of K’Turians; there wasn’t a Lemian in sight.

Yet Win’s gheris sense threatened to overwhelm him. He staggered, recognizing it as the same sensation he had felt when they had first landed. That feeling had never really left him, but he had muted it. Now it was back, even stronger than before; it could not be muffled. Whatever it was, it surpassed even the emotion of the crowd.

Without warning Prentiss stopped and spun around, colliding with Win. She grabbed his arm. “My God, I saw him!”

“Where?” asked Win, as he was jostled by someone. They were in the midst of it now.

She did not answer but pushed forward, only stopping at the edge of the knoll, blocked by the mass of people filling every inch of the stone amphitheater.

“There!” She pointed down into the arena.

* * *
To Prentiss, the figure of Jesus was both simple and awe inspiring, even from a distance. She had not expected Jesus of K’Turia to look like this at all, and yet she could not imagine Jesus looking any other way. From him emerged a force that she could not describe, a power she knew must have some scientific explanation, as she had long argued. But right now she was unable to think of science and fact gathering but was only able to watch in wonder. Never before had the sight of any single person moved her so much. Her body reacted without her conscious control, trying to move closer.

All at once the yelling and pushing stopped. Prentiss pulled her eyes from Jesus to see what had happened. Four richly dressed men stood at the top steps of the amphitheater. A small space had cleared around them, the people averting their gazes.

Prentiss heard whispers: “Priests!”

One of the priests, his voice haughty with command, yelled out, “Why have you come here?” and his voice echoed through the amphitheater. “Beware those who would confuse you, and distract you from the Way. Go back to your homes!”

No one moved, and the crowd began to mutter. Across the amphitheater, far away from the priests, someone called out, “We only want to listen!”

“Listen to what?” demanded the priest, his voice filled with disdain. “You should listen only to the Pertise, and those who speak for the Temple. What does this Jesus know of the Way?”

Prentiss sensed the unease in the crowd as people turned back toward Jesus, awaiting his response.

But Jesus said nothing. He seemed neither disturbed nor rebuffed. His quiet strength encouraged the crowd. A few called out, “Leave us alone—we have done nothing wrong!”

Prentiss could see that the priests were taken aback, apparently not expecting such open resistance. Emboldened, the crowd grumbled, the noise increasing to a clamor. The people closest to the priests crowded in.

Jesus raised his hand, and the crowd quieted. He slowly walked across the arena and began climbing the steps of the amphitheater toward the priests. The people opened a way for him, some reaching out shyly to touch him. As he drew near, the priest who had spoken took a step back, drawing his robe about him. Jesus stared at the priest, who looked away.

“Would you like to join us?” Jesus asked. His voice was not threatening or angry, but calm and welcoming.

The priest laughed, but no one joined in; instead, another wave of muttering broke out. Jesus again held up his hand for silence. “The people would like to know why you have interrupted them.”

The priest stepped forward and said sharply, “We don’t have to explain anything to you. Do you know you could be banished for your words?”

“Banished?” Jesus seemed slightly amused. “Why? This is a place of public assembly, is it not? Have I broken a Temple Law?”

The priest turned from Jesus and addressed the crowd. “Do not listen to him! Those who do not keep the Way will be punished!”

Instead of cowering the crowd reacted with a tumultuous noise. People began to climb over the tiered seats toward Jesus and the priests, pressing against each other. “If this is wrong, why do the Pertise not come here and say so? Can we not listen to who we please?” In their whispered questions, Prentiss heard anger, frustration. Fear.

Jesus raised his voice, quieting the tumult. “I have come in peace, to speak about love and of the Sacrifices of the Way. Do the Pertise say we should not speak of love and sacrifice? Or that we cannot speak of the Way?”

The priest stared at him, but said nothing.

“Come, come,” said Jesus. His voice was soft, yet incredibly strong, carrying clearly to Prentiss across the large amphitheater. “Tell me what Law I will break, if I speak of peace, what tenet of the Way I will taint if I speak of love and Sacrifice in one breath?”

Still the priest said nothing.

“Love and peace are equal parts of the Way,” said Jesus. “And so, if you wish to keep the Way, as these people do, stay here in peace with us, and listen.”

“Who are you to tell us about the Way?” responded the priest, his voice full of scorn. “You should watch your tongue.” His voice rose to a yell. “No one but the Pertise can translate the Way! No one!”

The priest turned and pushed his way through the crowd, the other priests following, the people quickly moving out of their way, shouts of anger following them as they climbed the temple steps and disappeared inside.
* * *
“Now that we are alone . . . ,” said Jesus, as he made his way back down the steps. The crowd laughed. His tone became more serious, but a certain gaiety still lingered as he continued. “Let me tell you a story.”

At this the crowd became animated again, the tension gone. They clapped and yelled, “Yes, a story!”

“One day, two farmers who lived near each other woke up very early in the morning, preparing to go to the fields. When they met in the street outside their homes, they looked up at the sky, which was dark and foreboding. One of the farmers said, ‘I think we will have a very bad storm today. We should not go to the fields, for tonight is the eve of the worship day. If the storm becomes so bad that we are unable to return from the fields, we will not be able to make it to the temple for prayer.’

“The second farmer said, ‘But it is harvest time. If we do not go to the fields the crops will die, and all our work will be in vain. Does not the Way teach us that such waste is wrong? Yes, we may be caught in the storm. But that is a small hardship, compared to the loss of what we have sown.’ The first farmer replied: ‘No, we cannot risk not being at the temple, for if we are not there others will notice and say we have not kept the Way. How will you explain it if other farmers make it to the temple, and we do not?’ The second farmer shook his head, and said, ‘If we cannot return we can still hold the worship day, and pray in the fields. We can face the temple, and in our hearts we will be there, not in the fields.’ But the first farmer gathered his things and would not go to the fields. And so the other went by himself, and he was caught in the storm, and was unable to make it to the temple. Yet instead of being angered, or saying, ‘I should have listened, for now I cannot be in temple with the others,’ he simply stopped his work and began to pray, and in his heart he kept the worship day holy.”

Win could sense the emotions of the others around him as they listened, mesmerized. What he had not expected was how much he himself would be affected by Jesus. Jesus spoke with an intimacy that made Win feel he was being spoken to personally, as if no one else was there. Even the movement of Jesus’ hands, gesturing as he spoke, seemed to reach out to Win. His hands seemed to have an acute awareness of their own, as if they were a part of his communication, an added dimension of his speech.

Win made a deliberate effort to pull his eyes away.

He whispered to I’Char, “I have never felt anything like this before.”

“This man is very powerful,” said I’Char. “Even I can feel his energy.”

Without fully entering the heightened state of nore, Win turned his focus inward, trying to separate his own emotions and reactions from that which his gheris was picking up from the crowd. He felt nothing wrong, but the entire sensation was totally new to him. It was more—powerful, more direct, than anything he had ever sensed. He tried to think of a scientific reason. “Is it possible he is doing something to us, manipulating us in some way? Crowd control, perhaps? Some kind of mass hypnosis? It is far more than just his voice, it’s him.” He touched I’Char’s arm and indicated Prentiss, just ahead of them. She appeared to be awestruck.

“Look at these people, they’re all enthralled.” The K’Turians around them seemed unaware of their conversation.

The crowd waited for more, but Jesus had stopped speaking. Someone called out, “Jesus, what does this story mean?”

“Before I answer that,” said Jesus, “let me ask you this. Why do you go to the temple to pray?”

There was a hesitation, as if no one wanted to be the first to speak. Then a young boy in the front row called out, “So that we may keep the Way!”

Jesus smiled at the boy. “It seems you have been well taught! But how does praying in the temple keep the Way?”

After a moment, a timid voice called out, “Because that is the Law, as explained to us by the Pertise.”

“Ahh,” said Jesus. “Let me see if I understand. The Law says that to find the Way, you must pray in the temple, and only by praying in the temple can you stay within the Law?”

Win sensed the confusion in the crowd. Someone said, “It is the Law, that is why we pray in the temple.”

“And which is more important, obeying the Law, or finding the Way?” asked Jesus.

Some of the people called out, “The Law!” while others cried: “Finding the Way!”

“You see, the Law is supposed to be the clear guidance for you, and yet you cannot answer this simple question. You are confused, just like the farmer in the story, the one who will not go to the fields. He has confused the Law with the reason for the Law, which is to find the Way, the road to Paradise. He worries about not keeping the letter of the Law, but he does not understand its spirit. But the other farmer—he sees. He understands. He knows that as long as he keeps the Way in his heart, it will be right to pray in the fields, and he does not have to be in the temple.”

There was a silence as the crowd digested this, a few heads nodding.

“To reach Paradise it is the Way which is important; the Laws are just rules that have been created. Living the Way requires much more than just following laws.”

From the top of the amphitheater, on the knoll, a tall man stood and called out, “The Pertise have long told us that the Law and the Way are one and the same, that we cannot find the Way without following the Law exactly. And the Law says that we must keep the Order, and make our Sacrifices, so that stability and harmony will be maintained. We have been taught that this is how we reach Paradise, and how we avoid suffering in this life, and in the next. Are you saying this is wrong?”

“You have heard,” said Jesus, “but you have not yet understood. You have heard my story of the two farmers, but you have not understood that the Way is more important than the Law.

“Let me tell you another story. A rich builder is walking along a road. Behind him come the farmers who work his land, pulling a cart laden with food. Now a poor village woman happens to be walking on the same road, just behind the farmers, carrying a very small sack. Sitting along the side of the road are two invalids. The invalids call out to the rich builder, ‘Please, share with us some food!’ The builder stops and sees the farmers and the old woman watching him, and he puts on a great show of giving the invalids a large basket of food, and then he goes on his way. As the poor village woman passes the invalids, she stops and empties her sack at their feet, and two shriveled pieces of fruit tumble out. ‘Here,’ she says, ‘you can have this fruit.’ And she picks up her empty bag and walks away.

“Now I ask of you, who has made the greater Sacrifice? The rich builder, because he has given them a large basket of food, or the old village woman, who has given away her only two pieces of fruit?”

No one answered, and Jesus continued, “There is nothing wrong with Laws, but they cannot become more important than the Way. And the Way is one of Sacrifice, not because the Laws demand it, but because love demands it. The Way is about love and compassion. Sacrifice is about helping others, as you are able, to the best of your abilities, no matter what your place in the Order.”

Jesus pointed at the temple steps. “Those steps lead into the temple, where they continue on, up and up, to the altar. When you are there, the rich sit closest to the altar, and on the steps behind them and below them come those lower in the Order, all the way down to the traders, who have to strain their necks just to see the priests.”

He pointed at the people in the front rows. “You here, you are builders. And you back there are craftspeople, and behind you, the caretakers, the farmers, the traders. You have sat according to the Order! Yet here in this amphitheater, the rich are down below, and the poorest are above. Who is to say which Order is right?

“Wake up! You must not be willed to sleep by the rituals of the Laws. You live as sleepwalkers, blindly groping in the dark. Before you can see, you must awaken! Do not allow the Laws to trap you in a life of stagnation. You have so come to rely on those who tell you what to do that you no longer think of what you need to do yourselves!”

Someone called out, “But Jesus, if we do not follow the Order, how will we survive?”

“By not letting the Law become an empty ritual. If you do, you will live only out of habit or out of fear. If you live out of habit, you simply expect everything will fall into place for you. There is no sacrifice in this. You must do more than what the Law tells you to do. You must think of what you are responsible for, and what you need to do for others. And if you live out of fear, you will not be making true sacrifices. A sacrifice is not a payment of a debt or a tax, it is an act of love and compassion. Sacrificing because you want to help others is what will keep you alive! It is what will keep you in peace, and show you the Way to Paradise.”

The crowd was silent. Finally the tall man spoke again, almost beseechingly. “But if we do not make the Sacrifice as we have been taught, how will there be anything ready for us in Paradise?”

Win’s gheris surged as Jesus replied, “The sacrifices of the Way are not about things! Your life is about who you are and how you act, not what you own. Those who covet possessions, who keep what they do not need, who dress themselves in finery—none of these people will find the Way, for you will not need things in Paradise! Material things are a sign of greed, not sacrifice!”

There was a shocked silence. People shifted uneasily and cast wary glances toward the temple.

* * *
Prentiss turned to Win and I’Char and whispered, “No wonder they don’t like him.”

“Excuse me, my friend, I did not hear you.” It was Jesus.

At first Prentiss thought he was speaking to the tall man, but Jesus seemed to be looking right at her. Or was she imagining it? He was in the arena far below; how could he have heard her comment?

“Yes, you, my sister,” said Jesus.

Now Prentiss was sure Jesus was speaking to her. For a moment she remained silent, and then, almost as if the words were drawn from her, and she was speaking to no one else, she said, “I’m sorry. I was saying it is no wonder that the Pertise do not like you.”

Someone grabbed her arm, and she knew it must be Win or I’Char, but she did not turn around, she was not sure if she could have taken her eyes off of Jesus. She felt the crowd around her move away.

But Jesus smiled, and said, “I noticed that you and your friends were speaking before. Is there something troubling you?”

How could he have noticed us speaking? They were but faces in a multitude. She heard Win whisper, “Careful,” and squeeze her arm in warning, but she ignored him, and said, “Don’t you ever worry that the Pertise might do something to you for preaching as you do?” Then she caught herself, becoming aware that everyone was staring at her, and she felt as if she were one of the crowd, watching herself, and knowing what they were all thinking.

Who was this woman?

“I will leave that up to the Pertise!” exclaimed Jesus, without a trace of anger in his voice. He laughed, and this seemed to calm the crowd. Then his voice turned very serious, more serious than he had been before. “I see your concern, and it is a generous thing. I say to you: you must have faith, and believe that all who hear my voice will come to see the Truth. For you, the truth of sacrifice is to help those who are lost, for only with your help can they find the Way, and only thus can you yourself find the Way. For while even one is lost, there can be no true peace in the universe.”

Prentiss felt a jolt. It was as if Jesus had seen through them, and especially her, their purpose discovered. She looked around, suddenly realizing their risk, but the audience was already once again absorbed in Jesus, who was answering another question. Prentiss turned and stumbled away, as if in a daze, back through the crowd, trying to get free, free of the people and the bright light shining into her very soul.

© 2011 by W. R. Pursche & Michael Gabriele

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Summer Dream by Martha Rogers

My Review:
Rachel Winston is responsible, bright and willing to work hard to help her family, but she also longs for a family and husband of her own. She fears the only way she will ever find a husband is if she goes to stay with her aunt in Boston. However, her father’s concerns about the safety of the trip delay her, and a meeting with a young man on business in the small Connecticut town makes her think about something different. She may be able to find love right in her own home town!
Nathan has his own secrets and reservations about being involved with a Christian, in fact, it is against his code. He looks elsewhere, trying to find someone perfect for him, without them being a Christian.

I found the story sweet and charming, one of those books you read when you want your brain to relax a bit. I found it a little odd though that in that time period it seemed like Rachel was not as well trained or expected to do as much as I felt like she might have in real life. But other than that, each book by Martha Rogers seems to be more well written and enjoyable. – Martha

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Summer Dream

Realms (June 7, 2011)

***Special thanks to Anna Coelho Silva | Publicity Coordinator, Charisma House | Charisma Media for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Martha Rogers is the author of Becoming Lucy; Morning for Dove; Finding Becky; Caroline’s Choice; Not on the Menu, a part of a novella collection with DiAnn Mills, Janice Thompson, and Kathleen Y’Barbo; and River Walk Christmas, a novella collection with Beth Goddard, Lynette Sowell, and Kathleen Y’Barbo. A former schoolteacher and English instructor, she has a master’s degree in education and lives with her husband in Houston, Texas.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

This is a new series by Martha Rogers.

“Summer Dream is a sweet, heartfelt, and well-written story about faith in action and a love that never fails. I can’t wait to read the rest of this series.”—Andrea Boeshaar, author of Unexpected Love and Undaunted Faith

A Heart in Need of Redemption. An Unlikely Love. And a God Who Can Bring Them Together.

As the daughter of a small-town minister in Connecticut, Rachel Winston fears that the only way she’ll ever find a husband is to visit her aunt in Boston for the social season. But when Nathan Reed arrives in town, she can’t help but wonder if he could be the one.

Although attracted to Rachel, Nathan has no desire to become involved with a Christian after experiences with his own family. What’s more, until he resolves his anger with God and his family, he has no chance of courting her.

When Nathan is caught in a devastating blizzard and lies near death in the Winston home, Rachel and her mother give him a lesson in love and forgiveness that leads him back to his home in the South. Will he make peace with his family and return before Rachel chooses a path that takes her away from him?

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Realms (June 7, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1616383607
ISBN-13: 978-1616383602

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Briar Ridge, Connecticut, February 5, 1888

Why did Papa have to be so stubborn? Rachel Winston stared at the gray clouds outside her window and fought the urge to stomp her foot like a spoiled child. However, young women of twenty years must behave as befitting their age, as Mama so often reminded her. Perhaps she should have shown the letter to her mother first. Too late for that now; Papa would tell Mama as soon as he had the opportunity.

The back door closed with a thud, and Rachel shuddered. Papa had left for the church. His departing meant she needed to finish dressing or she’d be late, and then Papa would be even more upset with her. It wouldn’t do for the preacher’s family to be late for the services.

The paper in her pocket crackled when she moved toward the bed to retrieve her boots. Rachel fingered the crumpled edges of Aunt Mabel’s letter. There was no need to read it again, for she knew the words by heart. Her aunt’s invitation to come to Boston for an extended visit had arrived at a most inopportune time with the winter weather in the northern states at its worst. Even so, she shared the letter with Papa, hoping he might be agreeable to the visit.

A metallic taste soured her mouth, and she swallowed hard in an attempt to squelch it. Papa argued that the unpredictable weather of February made travel from Connecticut to Boston dangerous. If only one of the many Boston trains came to Briar Ridge. Aunt Mabel meant well, but her timing left something to be desired. Papa didn’t even want her going to Hartford or Manchester to board a train. It took over three hours by horseback to make the journey to Hartford—longer in bad weather.

She grasped the wrinkled letter in her hand and pulled it from its resting place. “Oh, Auntie, why did you wait until now to invite me for a visit?” she said to the letter, as if Aunt Mabel could hear her. “Last spring when I graduated from the academy would have been perfect, but you had to travel abroad.” A deep sigh filled her, then escaped in a long breath and a slump of her shoulders.

Aunt Mabel believed that a young woman should go to finishing school before she thought of marriage and had offered to pay for Rachel’s tuition. Papa had frowned on the idea, but her mother finally prevailed. For that, Rachel was most grateful, and she wouldn’t have traded those years at the academy for marriage to anyone. But now that she was twenty, she found that the pool of eligible bachelors in her area was slim to nonexistent.

Going to Boston would have provided the opportunity to meet more young men.

Rachel sat on the bed to ease off her slippers and bent over for the winter boots thatwould protect her feet from the slush. The frozen ground outdoors called for them, but they were not the choice she would have liked to wear to church this morning. Rachel shoved her feet down into the sturdy boots designed for warmth, not attractive appearance.

Of the eligible young men in Briar Ridge, only one came to mind, but then Daniel Monroe didn’t count. His sister had been Rachel’s best friend since Papa came to be pastor of the Briar Ridge church nearly seventeen years ago. Daniel treated her more like his sister anyway. Two years older, and just starting out as a lawyer, he was far more knowledgeable than she, and keeping up a conversation with him took more effort than she deemed it to be worth. Rachel had finished at the seminary with good marks, but Daniel’s conversation interests leaned more toward science and new inventions like electricity and the telephone than things of interest to her.
Rachel’s anger subsided as she pulled on the laces of her boots. As she reflected on her father, she remembered that he loved her and wanted only the best for her. He had promised that when spring came, he’d talk to her about the trip. Until then she would be the obedient daughter he wanted her to be and dream of the trip ahead. The Lord would give her patience, even though that was not one of her virtues.

She smoothed her skirt down over her hips and picked up the letter to place it on the table beside her bed. A response to Aunt Mabel would go out with tomorrow’s mail to express her regrets in not being able to accept the invitation. Papa would probably write to her as well, but Rachel wanted her aunt to know how much she appreciated the invitation.

If Seth were here now, he could give her good counsel. He’d always been the one she’d turned to when things didn’t go well with Mama and Papa. She loved her older brother and missed him, but he’d be home from the seminary in May, and she could talk with him then. Since he studied to be a minister like Papa, he’d most likely leave Briar Ridge if his ministry took him elsewhere after his graduation.

She’d met a few young men while at school, but the strict rules and regulations set forth at Bainbridge Academy for Young Women in Hartford had given her few opportunities to develop a relationship. Not that she would have considered any of them, but she would have appreciated the chance.
Mama called to her, and Rachel hurried to the front hall. She noted the firm set of Mama’s jaw and braced for the scolding that would be in order. “I’m sorry to take so long, Mama.” She grabbed her cloak from its hook.
“You know how your father hates for us to be late to church. It is unseemly for the minister’s family to be the last to arrive.” Mama turned and walked outside, her back ramrod straight.

Rachel breathed a sigh of relief. No time for a scolding now. She set a dark blue bonnet firmly over her hair and fastened the ties. She followed her mother out to the carriage, where the rest of the family waited. As usual, Papa had gone on ahead to open the church and stoke the two stoves to provide heat on this cold winter morning. Rachel climbed up beside her sister, Miriam, and reached for the blanket.

“What delayed you, Rachel? There’s no excuse for not being ready with everyone else.” Mama settled in her seat beside Noah, who had taken over his brother’s responsibilities until his own departure for college next fall.
“Time slipped away from me.” No need to tell her everything now. Rachel tucked a blanket around her legs and glanced at Miriam beside her. Miriam’s eyebrows lifted in question, but Rachel shook her head.

Micah piped up from the front seat. “Did you make Papa angry?”

“Micah! Of course not.” Rachel glanced at her brother Noah and noted the smirk on his face. She frowned to let him know she didn’t approve.
His gaze slid to her now. “Oh, then why did he stomp through the kitchen and ride off without a word to anybody?”

Mama clucked her tongue. “Now, children, it’s the Sabbath. Papa was late and in a hurry to get to the church.” But the look in Mama’s eyes promised she’d speak to Rachel about it later, especially after Mama learned the real reason for the tardiness.

Even though his decision disappointed her, Papa simply wanted to protect her from danger. She should be grateful for his love and concern, not angry because he said no. The promise of a trip to Boston when the weather improved would have to be enough to get her through the remainder of winter.

A recent snowfall still covered the frozen ground. Most of it in the streets had melted into a hodgepodge of brown and black slush caused by carriages and buggies winding their way toward the church. Rachel breathed deeply of the clean, fresh air that seemed to accompany snow in winter and rain in the spring.
If not for the inconveniences caused by ice and snow, she would love this time of year, even when the leafless branches of the trees cracked and creaked with a coating of ice. She gazed toward the gray skies that promised more snow before the day ended. If it would wait until later in the day, she might manage a visit with her best friend Abigail this afternoon.
However, a warm house, a cup of hot tea flavored with mint from Mama’s herb garden, and a good book might entice her to stay home on this cold, winter afternoon. Tomorrow would bring the chores of keeping the woodpile stocked and the laundry cleaned. She enjoyed the winter months, although this year she wished them to hurry by.

Miriam snuggled closer. Rachel smiled at her sister, who had recently turned thirteen. “I see you’re wearing your Christmas dress today. Is there a special occasion?”
Miriam’s cheeks turned a darker shade of red. “Um, not exactly.”

“Then what is it . . . exactly?”
Miriam tilted her head to one side and peered up at Rachel. She whispered, “Jimmy Turner.”
So her little sister had begun to notice boys. “Well now, I think he’s a handsome lad. Has he shown an interest in you?”

Miriam nodded and giggled. Rachel wrapped an arm around her sister as the buggy slowed to enter the churchyard. She stepped down onto the snow-covered ground muddied by all the wagons crossing over it. Now she was thankful for the thick stockings and shoes she wore to protect her toes. She then reached up for Micah while Miriam raced ahead.

The little boy pushed her hands away. “I can get down by myself.”

Rachel couldn’t resist the temptation to laugh. At seven, her younger brother expressed his independence and insisted on doing things for himself. He jumped with his feet square in a pile of snow and looked first at his feet then up to Rachel. She shook her head and grabbed his hand to go inside the building. How that little boy loved the snow. He’d be out in it all day if Mama would let him.

When she entered the foyer with Micah, she spotted Miriam already sitting in their pew with Jimmy Turner in the row behind her. Rachel hastened to sit down beside her sister. Miriam stared straight ahead but twisted her hands together in her lap.

When had Miriam grown up? Even now she showed signs of the beauty she would one day be. Thick, dark lashes framed her brown eyes, and her cheeks held a natural pink glow. Papa would really have to keep an eye out for his younger daughter.
Rachel glanced around the assembly room and once again admired the beauty of the old church built not long after the turn of the century. Instead of the quarry stone and masonry of the churches in Boston and even New Haven, Briar Ridge’s church walls were of white clapboard with large stained-glass windows along the sides. On bright days, sunlight streamed through them to create patterns of color across the congregation.

Brass light fixtures hung from the high vaulted ceilings, and the flames from the gaslights danced in the breeze as the back doors opened to admit worshippers. As much as she loved her church here in Briar Ridge, she remembered the electric lights she’d enjoyed in Hartford, one of the first cities to have its own generating plant. How long before electricity would become as widespread in Briar Ridge as it was in the larger cities? Probably awhile since Briar Ridge wasn’t known for its progress.
When the family first came to town, Rachel had been three years old, so this was the only home and church she could remember before leaving for school. Familiar faces met her everywhere she gazed. A nod and smile greeted each one as she searched for her friend Abigail and the Monroe family.
Unexpectedly a new face came into view a few rows back. A young man with the most incredible brown eyes stared back at her. Rachel’s breath caught in her throat, and the heat rose in her cheeks.

She felt her mother’s hand on her arm. “Turn around, Rachel. It’s not polite to stare.”
With her heart threatening to jump right out of her chest, Rachel tore her gaze away from the stranger seated with the Monroe family. Papa entered from the side door and stepped up to the pulpit. The service began with singing, but Rachel could barely make a sound. Everything in her wanted to turn and gaze again at the mysterious person with the Monroe family, but that behavior would be unseemly for the daughter of the minister.

However, her thoughts refused to obey and skipped to their own rhythm. Rachel decided that whoever he was, he must be a friend of Daniel’s because Abigail had never mentioned any man of interest in her own life. In a town like Briar Ridge, everyone knew everyone’s business. She hadn’t heard any talk of a guest from Daniel or her other friends yesterday.
A prickling sensation crept along her neck as though someone watched her. She blinked her eyes and willed herself to look at Papa and concentrate on his message. However, her mind filled with images of the young man. Who was this stranger who had come to Briar Ridge?

Nathan Reed contemplated the dark curls peeking from beneath the blue bonnet. When she had turned and their eyes met, his heart leaped. He had never expected to see such a beauty in a town like Briar Ridge. His friend Daniel’s sister was attractive, but nothing like this raven-haired girl with blue eyes.
When she turned her head back toward the front, he stared at her back as if to will her to turn his way again. When she didn’t, he turned his sights to gaze around the church, so much like others he’d once attended. He wouldn’t be here this morning except out of politeness for the Monroe family. He’d arrived later than intended last evening and welcomed Mrs. Monroe’s offer to stay the night with them. The least he could do was attend the service today.

Nathan had no use for church or things of God. He believed God existed, but only for people who needed something or someone to lean on. God had forsaken the Reed family years ago, and Nathan had done quite well without any help these four years away from home.

He shook off thoughts of the past and concentrated once more on the blue bonnet several rows ahead. Perhaps Daniel would introduce him. She would be a nice diversion from the business he must attend to while in town. He blocked the words of the minister from his mind and concentrated on the girl’s back.
The little boy seated next to the young woman seemed restless, so she lifted him onto her lap. The child couldn’t be her son. She didn’t look old enough. Then the older woman next to them reached for the boy and settled him in her arms. In a few minutes the boy’s head nodded in sleep.
Nathan resisted the urge to pull his watch from his pocket and check the time. Surely the service would end soon. Potbellied stoves in the front and back of the church provided warmth, and the additional heat of so many bodies caused him to wish he had shed his coat. He fought the urge to nod off himself. Oh, to be like the young lad in his mother’s arms.
Finally the congregation rose, and the organ played the final hymn. It was none too soon for Nathan, for he had grown more uncomfortable by the minute. Long sermons only added to his distaste for affairs of the church. The singing ended and people began their exit, but he kept his eye on the girl in blue until the crowd blocked her from view.

He stayed behind the Monroe family, who stopped to greet the minister. Mrs. Monroe turned to Nathan. “Reverend Winston, this is Nathan Reed, our houseguest from Hartford this week and a friend of Daniel’s.”

The minister smiled in greeting and shook Nathan’s hand. “It’s very nice to have you in our services today, Mr. Reed. I hope you enjoy your stay in Briar Ridge and that we’ll see more of you.”

“Thank you, sir. I look forward to my visit here.” But the minister wouldn’t be seeing any more of him unless they possibly met in town.

When they reached the Monroe carriage, Nathan turned and spotted the girl coming down the steps. He watched as Daniel waved to the young woman and she waved back. Abigail ran to greet her, and the girls hurried over to where Nathan stood with Daniel. Abigail tucked her hand in the girl’s elbow.
“Nathan, this is my best friend, Rachel Winston. Rachel, this is Daniel’s former roommate in college, Nathan Reed.”

Rachel Winston? Nathan’s hopes dashed against the slushy ground on which he stood. Could she be the preacher’s daughter? He didn’t mind a young woman being Christian, but he drew the line at keeping company with one so close to the ministry.
When her blue eyes gazed into his, a spark of interest flamed, and it took him a few seconds before remembering his manners. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Winston.”
Her cheeks flushed red, and she glanced away slightly but still smiled. “Thank you. I’m pleased to meet you too, Mr. Reed. Perhaps we’ll see each other again if you’re in town long.”

Rachel’s smile sent a warmth into his heart that caused him to swallow hard. Although the length of his stay was uncertain, his desire to see the lovely Miss Winston again might just override his pledge to avoid anything or anyone with ties to the church.

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When life hands you lemons….

…make lemonade…Right?

I know we are all told these things. Make the best of things that life hands you, give your all.
I know sometimes though, it feels like life has handed you a bit more than your share of lemons. You wonder how much lemonade you can make before you drown or run out of sugar. Everyone else is just saying with a cheery smile “Make Lemonade!!!” and you think if one more person says it, you may be facing strangling charges.

So, what really can you do? Can you sit down and honestly evaluate your situation? I found when I take a step back from the situation and really look at what am I doing? What can I do to change this? What is not changing? How can I handle it better?

Sometimes our emotions get us wrapped in the situation and we shut down. We stop functioning and others can see it, while we cannot.
I think sometimes “Help” is one of the hardest words to say in the English language. It breaks down our pride, we have to humble ourselves and expose our weak areas. This is never easy. But sometimes asking for help, is the absolute best thing we could do.

When you find that your “lemons” are effecting your daily life, in and out. You are finding it hard to cope with daily activities, you are snapping at people for no apparent reason, and you checked the calendar and it is not that time of the month. = ) It is time to ask for help. It does not have to be therapy, it can be a good friend that you let know that things really are hurting right now and you need prayer. It can be an online forum even. If you find it continues and you cannot pull yourself out, it might be time to look at physical reasons, look into a therapist, or outside help. There is no shame in getting help.

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade, but don’t forget that lemonade is still a liquid and too much of anything can drown a person. It is no shame in wearing a life-vest!

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Someone to Watch over me by Michelle Stimpson

Someone to Watch over me
By Michelle Stimpson
Reviewed by Martha Artyomenko

Tori is stuck in a profitable marketing career, she has a love/hate relationship with it. It keeps her from developing any type of relationships, even her live in boyfriend is gone all the time, and they have a comfortable relationship.
When a sudden appendectomy lands her in the hospital, she starts thinking about what is important to her and her Aunt Dottie, who was always there for her, comes to mind. Discovering, that Aunt Dottie is ill, Tori takes a leave of absence and learns about some of the most important things in life.

I loved this book! DeAndre was adorable! I loved him! This was a great book showing how we get so absorbed in our lives, life passes us by sometimes and we can learn what we really want and need, if we stop and smell the roses for a minute. You will love to read and examine your own life along with Tori, as she reevaluates her relationship with her boyfriend, her family, and learns what she really wants. -Martha

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Someone to Watch Over Me

Dafina; 1 Original edition (June 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Michelle Stimpson for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Michelle Stimpson is an author, a speaker, and an educator who received her Bachelor of Science degree from Jarvis Christian College in 1994. She earned a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2002. She has had the pleasure of teaching elementary, middle, and high school as well as training adults.

In addition to her work in the field of education, Michelle ministers through writing and public speaking. Her works include the highly acclaimed Boaz Brown, Divas of Damascus Road (National Bestseller), and Last Temptation. She has published several short stories for high school students through her educational publishing company, Right Track Academic Support Services, at www.wegottaread.com.

Michelle serves in the Discerning Hearts women’s ministry at her home church, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship. She also ministers to women through her online newsletter: http://www.womengrowinginchrist.com.

Michelle tours annually with the Anointed Authors on Tour. She regularly speaks at special events and writing workshops sponsored churches, schools, book clubs and other great organizations.

Michelle lives near Dallas with her husband, their two teenage children, and one crazy dog.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Tori Henderson is on the fast track in her marketing career in Houston, but her romantic life is slow as molasses and her relationship with Christ is nonexistent. When her beloved Aunt Dottie falls ill, Tori travels back to tiny Bayford to care for her. But when Tori arrives, she’s faced with more than she bargained for, including Dottie’s struggling local store, a host of bad memories, and a troubled little step-cousin, DeAndre. Worse, the nearest Starbucks is twenty miles away…

Just as Tori is feeling overwhelmed, she re-connects with her old crush, the pastor’s son, Jacob, who is every bit as handsome as to remembers. As the church rallies for Aunt Dottie’s recovery, Tori realizes that she came to Bayford to give, but she just might receive more than she dreamed was ever possible for her.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.00
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Dafina; 1 Original edition (June 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0758246889
ISBN-13: 978-0758246882

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

I crossed my fingers in hopes they would name me Top Quarterly Producer for my department. I mean, every single one of my clients had experienced website traffic and sales above the projected estimates, and I had even received two letters from pleased customers. “Tori’s expertise made all the difference in our product launch,” one had commented. “We’ll be using NetMarketing Results for a long time to come!” Planning and implementing online marketing campaigns came with its own sense of fulfillment. After all, depending on who you asked, the Web pushes America’s economy even more than a good old-fashioned mall.

But even as we stood around the conference room waiting for the announcement, I felt queasy. What if they didn’t name me? One look around the room sparked another dose of apprehension.

Lexa Fielder was recently hired, yet she’d already managed to land a pretty impressive list of new customers for the company, though it was rumored she did quite a bit of work on her back.

Brian Wallace was one of the older marketing representatives, but he still had a few tricks up his sleeve. Every once in a while, he pulled off a last-minute record-breaking month for one of his clients and caught management’s eyes.

There were only four eyes I wanted to catch, and all of them belonged to Preston Haverty. Okay, he really only had two eyes, but he did wear a set of insistently thick glasses that took on life of their own at the center of his slight facial features. Every time I saw him, I felt like I was in a scene from The Emperor’s Clothes. Like, why won’t somebody tell Preston that those glasses are ridiculous and we do have technology to free us from such spectacles? Probably the same reason no one talks to Donald Trump about that comb-over.

Anyway, Preston was good people, glasses and all. I appreciated his “hands off” management style – he didn’t really care where or how we worked, so long as we got the job done. I only hoped that I’d done a good enough job to add to my collection of blue and green plaques given to outstanding employees. Lexa and Brian aside, I appreciated being appreciated. And God knows I’d put in enough woman-hours to earn this recognition.

“And February’s project manager of the month is…”—Preston announced as everyone in the room beat a drum roll on either the 16-foot table or some spot on the surrounding walls—“Tori Henderson!”

My cheekbones rose so high I could barely see in front of me. Is that what it’s like to be Miss America? Everybody applauding, confetti flying, the runners-up on the sideline clapping wildly to distract themselves from their jealousy and impending mental meltdowns after the show?

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that serious, but I sure felt like a pageant queen. My fellow co-workers, probably twenty-five people or so, cheered me on as I walked toward the front end of the table to receive my plaque. “Good job, Tori!” “You go, girl!” Their affirmations swelled inside me, feeding my self-esteem. If only my mother could see me now. Then maybe she’d forget about 1996.

I shook Mr. Haverty’s hand and posed for the obligatory picture. In that moment, I wished I’d worn a lighter-colored suit. Black always made me look like a beanpole. Gave no testament of all my hours at the gym and the donuts I’d passed on to keep the red line on my scale below one hundred and twenty-five.

I wasn’t going to pass on the sweets today, though. Jacquelyn, the lead secretary, retrieved a towering pink-and-white buttercream frosting cake and brought it forward now to celebrate my achievement.

Preston offered, “Tori, you get the first piece.”

“Get some meat on those bones, girl,” from Clara, the Webmaster.

But the mention of meat and the sight of the cake suddenly made me nauseous. To appease the group, I took the first piece. Then Jacquelyn got busy cutting and distributing pieces as everyone stood around milking the moment before having to return to work.

I sat in one of the comfy leather chairs and took and ate a bite of my celebratory sweetness. Almost instantly, my stomach disagreed with my actions. My hand flew to my abdomen, lightly stroking the panel of my suit. People were so busy devouring the cake they didn’t notice me catching my breath. Whew!

I pushed the plate away from me, as though the pink mass had the power to jump onto my fork and into my mouth. This was clearly not the cake for me. I thought for a moment about how long it had been since I ate something so densely packed with sugar. Maybe this was like red meat—once you stop consuming it, one backslidden bite tears you up inside.

No, that’s not it. I’d eaten a candy bar the previous week, before my monthly visitor arrived. Renegade cramps? I rubbed my palm against the aggravated area again. No. The pain was too high in my torso for female problems. This had to be some kind of bug. Whatever it was, it didn’t like strawberry cake so, I quietly tossed my piece in the trash on the way back to my desk.

An hour later, I felt like I could throw up so I sat perfectly still at my desk because…well…any movement of my torso sparked a pain in my side that might trigger this upchuck. I just didn’t feel like I wanted to go through the process of throwing up. I would never tell anyone this, but I find vomiting an altogether traumatic experience. Such a nasty feeling in one’s throat. And the aftertaste, and the gagging sounds. Not to mention getting a close-up look at the toilet seat. It’s just not humanlike and should be avoided at all costs, in my opinion.

Thank God I made it all the way to my apartment before I finally had to look at the inside of a porcelain throne, only this time I hadn’t even eaten anything. Bile spewed out of me, but the pain in my side was probably up to 7 on a scale of 1 to 10.

Now that I’d done the unthinkable and temporarily lost all self-respect, perhaps my body would relent. I could only hope the worst of whatever this was had passed (albeit out of the wrong end).

I managed to thoroughly brush my teeth and gargle a great number of times, assuring myself it was safe to swallow my own spit again. The image staring back at me in the mirror was normally me after a good workout—kinky twists dampened slightly at the base by my sweat, light brown face glowing in the accomplishment of burning hundreds of calories. Today, however, my sagging eyelids told the story of a woman who’d…vomited. I tried smiling, elevating my cheekbones even higher. No use. Maybe my mother was right when she’d told me, “You’re not that pretty, Tori, but you can keep yourself skinny and, when you turn fifteen, I’ll let you wear makeup. Fourteen if you’re really ugly by then.”

I closed my eyes and pressed fingers onto my temples, reminding myself that people told me I was cute all the time. One time, I went to this women’s empowerment event my client was hosting and I won a T-shirt that read I’M BEAUTIFUL with some Bible verse on it about being beautifully and wonderfully made. I wore that shirt to Wal-Mart and a total stranger walked up to me and said, “I agree.” So why did the only voice ringing now belong to my ever-beautiful, timeless Margie Carolyn James who bragged of still being carded at age 40?

My side still ached enough for me to call off the evening’s kickboxing class. Good thing Kevin was out of town working. He probably would have called me a wimp and dared me to run at least two miles. And I probably would have at least attempted to make him eat his words, despite the pain now radiating through my stomach.

After downing a dose of Advil, I trudged to my bedroom, changed into a night shirt and gently lay across the bed. I didn’t have the energy to answer my landline when it rang. I could only listen for the message.

“Hey, I’m gonna layover tonight. My flight comes in at seven, I leave out again tomorrow morning at eight. See ya.”

I was hoping that by the time he got home, I would have awakened from a refreshing nap, totally healed and ready to finish up some of the work I’d had to bring home with me in light the unproductive afternoon I endured. Yet when Kevin returned, he found me hunched over the toilet seat again.

“What are you doing?”

“What does it look like I’m doing? Uuuuck!” The wretching produced another plop of bile into the commode.

“Are you okay?”

“Perfect.”

“What’s going on?”

“I’m pregnant,” I quipped, though the hint of mockery escaped my tone thanks to the reverberating bowl.

“Oh my God, Tori, you’re kidding, right? You know how I feel about kids,” he yelled. “How could you—”

“Stop freaking out. I’m joking.”

He balled up his fist and exhaled into the hole. “Don’t give me a heart attack.”

“I ate some cake today at work and got sick.”

He backed out into the hallway. “Let me know if you need me.”

I rested an elbow on the toilet seat and looked up at Kevin. Six foot one looks even taller from my bathroom floor perspective. His deep sandy skin contrasted perfectly with his ivory teeth and hazel eyes which, according to him, had won over many women back in the day. I wasn’t one of those eye-color crazy girls, but I was definitely a sucker for track star legs, and Kevin had those for miles and miles. Watching him unveil those limbs when he undressed was definitely the greatest benefit of moving into his condo eighteen months earlier. Well, the legs and the free rent. And the sex, when my mind cooperated.

Kevin was the modern, metrosexual type when it came to clothes, but he had some pretty old-fashioned ideas about finances. Who was I to argue with him? He paid the major bills. I handled groceries, the housekeeper, dry cleaning, and all things communication-related since I needed high-speed everything for my job. I often wondered if he was just being chivalrous or if he never obligated me to a substantial bill because he still thought of the condo as his place.

At first glance, our living quarters resembled a bachelor pad. Simple furniture, mix-and-match bath towels. Not one picture of us on display, though I had plenty on my computer and stored on my camera waiting to be downloaded someday.

Either way, I’m no fool. Thanks to our financial arrangement, I had a growing stash of rainy-day money I’d earmarked to start my own business after an early retirement.

My stash was chump change compared to Kevin’s anyway. I’d seen a few of his paystubs lying around the condo from his work in telecommunications sales. Made my college degree seem like a huge scam to keep the masses from getting rich, maybe.

Thoughts of my master plan to retire well and get rich later compelled me to hoist myself from the floor to a semi-standing position and shuffle back to bed. Sick or well, I needed to get some work done.

Kevin did check on me, but only be default as he changed into his running clothes.

There went those strong, milk chocolate legs again.

“I’m going for a jog at the track. Might head over to Cameron’s after to watch the game.”

I gave my best big-brown-doe-eyes routine. “But you’re leaving again first thing in the morning. Can’t we spend time together?”

He held up a cross with his fingers. “I don’t want to catch whatever this is you’ve got. You looked pretty distraught in that bathroom there a minute ago.”

“Thanks so much, Kevin.”

“Any time, any time,” he smirked. “I do feel bad for you, if that helps.”

“It doesn’t.”

“You need me to get you anything while I’m out?”

“A new stomach.”

“No can do, babe. How about Pepto-Bismol or Sprite? That’s what my mom used to give me when I was sick,” he recommended.

I scrunched my face. “Didn’t your mom also make you swallow Vicks VapoRub?”

“Yeah,” he supported the madness, “makes you cough the cold up. Worked every time. If you’re getting a virus, you might want to give it a shot.”

My stomach lurched at the thought. “No. I don’t want anything else coming up out of me tonight. Just…call and check on me.”

He detoured to my side before walking out of the room. A gentle kiss to my forehead was his first affectionate gesture since he’d walked into the place, despite more than a week’s passing since we’d seen each other last. I suppose it would have been hard for him to kiss me since I was engulfed in the commode earlier. Still, I wanted him to rub my back or something. What I really wanted was for him to stay home and…I don’t know, watch me suffer. Hover like they do when women are giving birth in those old movies. Put a damp towel on my forehead and encourage me, “You can do it! You can do it, Tori!”

Who was I kidding? Kevin would hire a birthing coach before he’d subject himself to my labor. Not that I’d ever find myself in a position to give birth so long as Kevin stubbornly refused to father a child. I held hope, however, that things would change after a few of his friends settled down. Sometimes guys are the only ones who can convince other guys to grow up. It’s a sick reality.

I decided to put the suffering out of my head for a moment. The Advil had taken the edge off the pain, so I carefully reached onto the floor and pulled my laptop bag onto the bed. The sweet challenge of work carried me into a trance that dulled the pain for a while.

I tapped on the mouse to wake my computer and then resumed toggling between the open programs on my computer desktop, making sure my client’s newsletter matched the updated blog content precisely. Next to update their social media networks with useful information about the company’s new products.

With reviewing several press releases still on my agenda, I really didn’t want to stop working. But the pain in my midsection returned with new vigor, biting into my concentration. I powered down my computer for the night and made my way back to the restroom for another bout with bile and a double-dose of Advil.

If the pain wasn’t any better by tomorrow, I’d have to miss a little work so I could visit the doctor.

Kevin rolled in a little after eleven to assess me again. He slipped a hand beneath the comforter and rubbed my backside. “You all right now?”

“No,” I groaned.

He nibbled on my ear, a sure indication of his intentions. “Mind if I make you feel better?”

“That won’t help.”

“Marvin Gaye says sexual healing is the best thing for you.”

“Marvin Gaye never felt this bad. Besides, I might have germs.”

Kevin tried again, lapping my neck with his tongue. “I don’t care. I miss you.”

Now he doesn’t care about the germs.

His hand moved around to my stomach, warranting a stern reaction. “Kevin, I cannot do this tonight. Move your hand.”

He jumped up from the bed. “Fine. Fine. I understand. I’ll be on the couch.”

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Menu plan

Did not do a good job of sticking to this last week….

Wed: Sloppy Joes,  Salad

Thursday:  Pot Roast, potatoes, carrots

Friday: Shredded beef sandwiches, coleslaw

Saturday:  Hot dogs, salad

Sunday: Leftovers, popcorn, ice cream

Monday: Taco Salad

Tuesday: Taquitos, sour cream, cucumbers

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