Monday, June 19, 2017

Unfinished Heart

There are days I get it all right. There too are days where I get it all wrong. Isn't it a wonderful knowledge to know that each day God's mercies are new? Not just for those who get it right most of the time, but for us, for people like me, who get it wrong a lot of the time. 

Last night I finished a baby afghan I had been working on for a few months now. I chose the colors, and then I created the pattern. I had a vision of how I wanted it to turn out. Somehow over a matter of these months it all came together. Each stitch created room for another and another. There are times that it all so easily flowed together. But then all of a sudden a pup, (That would be Stanley), will jump as high as he can reaching up on the bed, pulling down the skein of yarn attached to the afghan, and thinking it's hilarious he runs through the house and the yarn ends up twisted and jerked like a big hot mess. 

I then have a choice. I can sit down and work through the yarn or I can just cut it and start all over. I gotta tell ya, there are times it is much easier to just cut it off right there in the mess of it all. Sometimes I had it off to my husband and say, "I need help." In all his patience he will unravel it all for me. Just thinking about this brings me to ponder how Jesus willingly takes it all. I am learning that sometimes it's best to cut it off and start new, but there are those times it's well worth it to unravel. This is where patience comes in and gives me the death stare. Not to mention my glares at Stanley as he is sitting next to me in anticipation for me to leave my work and let him at it again. 

Ah, but right there, that's what Satan does to us, right? He lays in wait. He just wants a chance to distract us, to get us all twisted up. Life was going so smoothly and then it just unraveled. We are left wondering how to put it all back together again. But in those times when the mess is heavy, God gives us the grace to say, "Enough". His grace is sufficient. 

God created us for a magnificent purpose. To bring Him glory. He pours Himself, His love,  into our lives each and every day. We have to willing to receive Him. See, He would love us no matter if for the our lives every day  was a mess. If it were possible for Him to love me any more than He does right this minute, I would think it would be on those messy days where I try with all my might to get it right, but get it all so wrong. Grace. 

I figure the more I try to control it all the more of a mess I'm going to make things. It takes courage to be real, to show people the real me. It's not always so pretty. In fact, on most days I'm a mess. But, even in my mess, it's important to remember that I am a work in progress. God will make glory even out of my greatest mess. Let us never forget. He is always bigger!!

See, being unfinished makes me have such hope. I am a work in progress. He is still stitching. Still creating. Still molding. I may unravel as life takes off running in twists and turns. But, He isn't going to leave me that way. He loves me to much to leave me in the mess. The best part of that is that He is going to stop until I reach heaven. Can you imagine the finished work in us? Lay out the red carpet. It'll be something that Hollywood has never seen. It will be glory revealed. If there were Facebook in heaven the status update would read, "Look at her! Just look at her. She's all finished. She's perfection in My image, created by love. I always knew what she would turn out like. She didn't see it, but I did. My daughter, I am so proud, My child." Okay, now that gives me goosebumps of glory. How about you? 

Friends, it isn't all we do every day. It isn't how much we work or what we get accomplished. It's not our gorgeous magazine style home. Not the number of zeros on our paycheck. It has nothing to do with that designer label. Oh, don't look to other women and wish you could be like them. You don't know the mess of their story. Some of us show our messes, but most of us try to hide them. We bury them deep and try so hard to keep up with everything. If we could just work on us, without shame and condemnation, but look at ourselves grace and transparency. 

You know, there are women just waiting for another to be real about the mess. It gives way for others to live a transparent life. Oh, we don't have to share all the personal details, but the life of real, at the moment, that we are living. It's worth being real. See, Jesus is in the struggle with us. He's working in our lives and that is what this world needs to see. This world needs to see that we aren't perfect. We are far from it. 

Being women, wives, mothers, oh gosh, all the hats we wear, is tough. It doesn't matter if our children are young and at home or if they are grown and out of the house. Whether we work outside the home or work inside our home, let us not get caught up in comparing, but let's encourage and inspire. We do that be being honest, not being perfect. Those girls who look like that have it all together, maybe they do, maybe they are on the brink of having their work jerked off the bed and tossed into a tornado of a mess. 

The more I look to Jesus the more I just wanna be me. Not a perfect me, but a me who is content and is willing to allow the Lord into my life do His thing so that the day of my last breath He will be able to say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." I guess the bottom line is, I just wanna be His girl. So, no matter the mess, I know He when it's all twisted around my ankles He will give me what I need to face the mess, the hot mess sometimes created by others, and sometimes created by me. After all, I'd rather my tagline be, "Created by Him", rather than, "Created by me".

"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:10

"But now, O Lord, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You are the Potter; And all we are the work of Your hand." Isaiah 64:8

"Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in your will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:6

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Real of my Nightmares

It's not real. It's not real. Sitting up I woke with a mighty fear. My breath was caught, but yet my heart was beating out of my chest. Wait. Where's Steven? Is he home? Okay, it was a dream. He's sleeping. Jake is home. Did they hear me screaming? Not again. Not another dream like this. Please, Lord, when is this going to end? 

I was in the truck with Steve. We are sitting side by side, laughing at something he said. I look over, a split second, I see it coming. There's no time to escape. I can hear myself say, "Sweet Jesus, No!" I hear the truck crash. I hear the roar of metal clashing with metal. I feel the truck flip end over end. I hear the screams. But wait..Steven pushed me out before we crashed. In my dream I hear and see everything. There isn't a detail that is unknown. But, I am not in the truck. I am safe. But where is Steven? 

In my dream I am rushing, but I don't know where it is I'm headed. I hear sirens. He is alive. But I see every detail of his injuries. I see staples in his head. I see the cuts on his face. I see the bruises and blood. It's all so real. He appears in front of me. He wipes my tears away and says, "Rob, it's okay. I'm okay. We're alive." 

This is the third dream I have had that has invaded my night. The first two were just as frightening. When did they begin? Shortly after my husband was in a severe crash where he was hit by a drunk driver. I haven't shared these dreams with anyone except my son. And even then I didn't share all the details. For me to even speak them brings tears. It is unimaginable how this crash has touched my life, bringing with it such devastating fear. Debilitating fear.

I have lived this real nightmare in seeing how every aspect of our lives is now different. I witness the struggles my husband faces each and every day. But for me to be affected in such a way with dreams goes beyond the day to day struggle. I can't even escape when sleeping. It makes you not want to close your eyes at night.

It's taken me seven months since the crash to be able to sleep at night. When my husband went back to work his route for delivering mail was a night. I couldn't get that early morning call out of my head. And then the dreams began assaulting me. 

There have been six times now where I have been watching a movie or a television program and in the story-line travels to a car crash where the car is air born after being hit or is rolling to a dead heap after it took a hit. Before the car lands motionless I find myself shaking, my fists are balled, my heart is beating uncontrollably. I tell myself, "It's okay, Rob.  It's okay. Breathe. Just breathe." Tears stream as I ask the Lord to intercede. "Lord, what is going on with me? Why is this happening?" I am taken right to that very crash that altered the life we knew. 

I wasn't there when this woman crashed into my husband. That morning, the first time seeing the truck after the crash, my knees buckled. It was raining, but I knew it was warm tears flowing freely as my heart pounded. I couldn't speak. "No, Jesus. This can't be true." I can visualize the crash today as if I was there with him. I will never forget the emotion in his words has he shared with me what he endured. He was fully conscious and knew every single moment of what was happening. For me to envision this, for me to know that this is was reality for him, to know the man I love lived this frightening crash, brings me to a place of complete fear.

If you asked anyone who knows me they would tell you that I am fearless. There isn't anything that terrifies me. That was before October 12, 2016. It seems fear has encapsulated me. I hate driving. I am nervous just sitting in the passenger seat. I don't watch the news because I don't want to see any crashes. Even listening to the radio they share the accidents on the highway. There are moments it's impossible to watch television without having to walk out of the room. I have become someone I don't recognize.

This fear is now my daily battle. It's a fear I never imagined living. I am now waiting for that next phone call. I worry that, well, when is our world going to be rocked next? Who is it going to be? Our sons, daughters, grandchildren? Is it going to be me? Yeah, I have a real fear of leaving the house. Here I may feel safe, but I don't feel safe for anyone else. I feel like I'm losing my mind. This is something I have never faced before.

Feeling overwhelmed at times is a part of life. But this is just something I am not sure how to escape. As soon as I feel calm and comfort is it going to happen? This fear is like igniting a monster. You know those dreams when you're being attacked, you fight back, but the bullets don't hit them, the blows you send do nothing but hit air? That's how I feel.

I cannot feel this way. There is too much to do. Life is too precious. I have to be strong. I have to face this attack. Yeah, I know it's an attack from Satan. He isn't letting up. I refuse to let him win. I refuse to give in to anymore fear.

I recently finished a book penned by Nicole Johnson entitled, "Creating Calm in the Center of Crazy." Here is a quote from that book. 

"One thing I discovered during that time is that when the mind can't make sense of something important, it is reluctant to let it go. It's almost as if your mind says, "Wait, don't move on; I need more information before I can go forward." It keeps returning to the trouble spot over and over, trying to figure it out. Like some weary detective stuck in the rain, my brain kept returning to the scene, retracing the steps, looking for clues, trying hard to solve the mystery of The Day Life Fell Apart. If I could have solved it, I could have moved on. But the mystery remained a mystery and more questions surfaced and my brain could not let it go. The detective became a stubborn donkey and sat down, refusing to move. I was stuck." Nicole Johnson

I read these words and I knew this was God ordained perfection for me. These were words my heart needed. These are words my brain has to figure out. This is profoundly powerful for me. I haven't been able to let go. This traumatic event in our lives has affected me in such a powerful way that I haven't been able to move past the impact of what this woman caused. Why? Because we are still living it. My husband isn't healed. He struggles greatly and it breaks my heart to see my strong and fearless husband face this giant that just shouldn't be. 

Sure, there's anger. I try to make sense of it all, but you know, you cannot make sense out of what makes so sense at all. So, I try to focus on Jesus and see His direction. I know He is guiding us. He is teaching us. He has given such grace. Without Him I just cannot imagine where we would be today. We are awaiting this driver's trial and praying she receives the fullest measure of punishment for her crime. But regardless of that outcome, we have to place ourselves in the right mindset and remain focused on what Jesus is doing in our lives. 

I don't want to be stuck in fear. I want to move past this horrific day. I don't want to see my husband's truck in my memory any longer. I think I have been waiting for everything to settle, for my husband to heal, for everything to make sense, before I put it all behind me. But, that isn't what I should be doing. I have to open my hands, my heart, my everything, and give it all to Jesus. If I have to give it over to Him every single day that's what I must do. I can't hold it all any longer. It's too much. 

Have you ever felt like this? Have you ever wanted to much to move past something, but fear has stalled you in such a way you feel immobilized? Nightmares are never fun. We never wake saying, "Yeah, let's do that again!" When nightmares are coming from such a fear in your life they are paralyzing. 

"We are anxious for a reason. Something, or someone, is making us anxious. To be free from fear we have to specifically name the things that are keeping us up at night. "God, this is what is making me afraid." We can figuratively place them in our heavenly Father's hands, and we can trust them to his sovereign care. We don't minimize the situation; we maximize our view of the only One we can totally trust. We don't simply deny the problem we are threatened by; we relocate it to the hands of the only One who can manage it well. And we leave it there as we close our eyes to sleep. God is able to redeem every situation. He is able to breathe new life into every heart. God is able to restore anything that's been lost or broken or stolen. He is able to do "far more than we dare ask or imagine."" (Eph. 3:21) Louie Giglio

I know God can and will bring me to a place where fear does not hold me hostage. I am not there yet, but I am trusting Him in this journey of unexpectedness. I know in order for Him to heal I have to give Him the room needed. I have to turn over everything to Him and trust Him with a "no matter what" kind of faith. I cannot worry about what could happen tomorrow. That's me trying to control life. In some way that's me saying to God, "Please, let me handle this. Let me keep my family safe. I know what's best. If you just let me do this there won't be any need for fear." This isn't healthy, mind, body, or soul healthy. 

Maybe you are facing nightmares of your own. Please know that you're not alone. Even in the nightmare He is there with us. I have to be honest with myself. I have to face these fears, but I know I don't have to do it alone. I know that no matter what happens God has it in control. There isn't anything that touches us that doesn't first go through His hands. 

Healing can come in a moments breath. It too can take time. Healing isn't always what we envision. Through all of this, this journey we live that is so unwanted, was allowed for some purpose. For me to know this, to ponder God's hand in our lives, gives room for my faith to grow in ways that wouldn't be possible if not for this journey. 

"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us." Romans 5:1-5  

Creating Calm In The Center Of Crazy(Making room for your soul in an overcrowded life) by Nicole Johnson

I have loved Nicole Johnson since the very first time I seen her as a dramatist with Women of Faith. She was always my favorite. She was the girl I most related to. She could make me laugh and cry within minutes, but always bringing me into the presence of Jesus. 

So, knowing her work is why I chose this copy. With Nicole you get real. You get transparent. You get a girlfriend for life. She bares her soul and gives you room to see the real you in the mess of life. She joins us there in the midst of it all with love and grace. She leads us to Jesus. Let me just say that He shines through her brightly!

This is just a beautiful creation. I have been living in crazy. God's perfect timing. I will share a few (lol) of what I have highlighted. Those penned words that give me comfort, room for change, and a heart rummaging for God. 

"I would never wish a crisis on anyone, but if you're in the middle of a catastrophe, don't let it go to waste. It will open you up and refocus your attention on your heart and your life. Don't think, I'll get through this crisis and then figure out how to live a better life. Every crisis has an offering in the midst of the awful. It's redemption for the suffering."

The biggest treasure for me: 

"One thing I discovered during that time is that when the mind can't make sense of something important, it is reluctant to let it go. It's almost as if your mind says, "Wait, don't move on; I need more information before I can go forward." It keeps returning to the trouble spot over and over, trying to figure it out. Like some weary detective stuck in the rain, my brain kept returning to the scene, retracing the steps, looking for clues, trying hard to solve the mystery of The Day Life Fell Apart. If I could have solved it, I could have moved on. But the mystery remained a mystery and more questions surfaced and my brain could not let it go. The detective became a stubborn donkey and sat down, refusing to move. I was stuck."

"I do not have to make everything work all the time for everyone. I am not holding the world together by my effort. I pick up only the things that are mine to carry, and the weight of shouldering the reasonable responsibilities of my life now feels manageable."

"Strike while the iron is cold! It means using restraint "in the moment" to allow intense emotions to calm down before trying to have a productive discussion. When emotions are high, the brain is flooded and cannot function at its designed capacity. Nothing gets solved when people are yelling or not in control of their emotions. Sometimes striking while the iron is cold means waiting until the next day or the next week to bring up a topic that has been fraught with emotion." 

If these were the only highlighted points of the book that brought great insight it would be enough, but there is so much more! I don't want to overshare. It's more amazing for you if you uncover these nuggets in your own reading of this gem. There is something here for everyone. Much is written as being a mom, but with Nicole's great ability she makes it so easy for the reader to connect with everything she is sharing. 

As much as I love reading fiction, it's books like that bring me to better know myself and to call on my Savior all the more. Such great insight. I love when peeps like Nicole share their stories. 

This book was a gift from Zondervan for sharing my review with you. 

Nicole Johnson has a unique and creative voice. As an accomplished author, speaker, and dramatist, Nicole has performed in thousands of churches and arenas, including more than a decade of touring with the Women of Faith conference. She is also the founder and director of Seasons Weekend, a creative spiritual retreat. Nicole lives in Santa Monica, California, with her husband and two children. Find her writing at nicolejohnson.org, and follow her on Facebook@freshbrewedlife.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Consequence of Choice

Drunk drivers are the worst kind of coward. They hide in excuse, never holding themselves accountable. 

They lie.

They have an, it's all about me, mentality.

Sadly, they cannot see that they have a problem. For them, the problem belongs to everyone who cannot understand them. 

They hire high-powered attorneys to fight their battle. Not so they can come forward in truth and face their inexcusable actions, but so they can stand before a judge and court, with the victim in the same room, and plead not guilty to a crime while their defense attorneys fight their ugly. 

They have no remorse. No regard for life. Their worried about their reputation and what society will think of them, but yet, there is no truth in their speech. Their every action doesn't speak of remorse, but of the same behavior. Nothing has changed for them. They hide from truth, unwilling to admit they have caused harm to another because of their choices. How does one live with knowing because of their selfishness they caused death or great harm to another? All because of a choice. Well, a life of choices that led them to take it upon themselves to think they could do no wrong. 

They have already lied to everyone. For them a lie is easier to believe than the truth, because the truth tells a great deal about their character. Do they really care? I'm not so sure about that. Oh, they care about themselves. That is their greatest battle right now. Trying to get others to believe their lie.

They make it all about themselves. From the first drink they chose, to getting behind the wheel of a car, and even finding themselves crashing into another. They insist they are the victim. 

In every action there is denial and a mountain of excuse. They place blame on the victim even though they are innocently suffering the repercussions of another's drastic choice to place their lives in their hands. They don't take into account the life they have altered. They just want to escape accountability. 

Once they got behind the wheel of a car they at that point, and most likely even before, had no regard for anyone else sharing the same road. It doesn't matter to them if they kill or injure another. If that was even the smallest of thought for them they would choose to never drink and drive. 

Their defense attorneys stand before a judge and a courtroom as if they are representing a righteous person. But do they even like the person they are defending? Are they just money in to line their pockets? They like to say they defend the law, but in reality they are defending law breakers. Those very people who have no regard for the law, but laugh in it's face. 

It's despicable enough for a drunk to make excuse, but even so for a defense attorney to build a case on the foundation of a lie, "I didn't do it. I am not guilty." That's not only despicable, but inexcusable. Repulsive to think a drink driver can simply hire a defense attorney to try and excuse them from all charges, no jail time, no loss of license, no part in admitting their actions caused great harm to another. 

My question for defense attorneys that fight so hard to free these criminals is this: What if it were your mother?
Your father?
Your child?
Your brother?
Your sister?
Your friend?  

Which side would you be fighting for if it were your loved one who was dead or injured because of a drunk driver? So, how can you defend one who has caused such devastating injures to another? 

If it were child, would you defend the criminal who took his life? 

If it were your husband, would you defend the criminal who injured him for life? 

What has happened to defending what is right, noble, and honorable? That is the very law, right? Not the criminals who chose to refuse it. When did it happen that defense attorneys made the choice that trying to get drunk drivers, those without a doubt are guilty, should somehow walk away from their actions with no accountability? 

I can understand making sure they are not taken advantage of, that the law is working as it was created to work. I understand standing up for those in which criminals have taken advantage of, but for defense attorneys to stand before those whose lives have been altered by a drunk driver as if they are nothing, well, that doesn't settle well for me. 

I mean there is only one reason why someone refuses a breathalyzer test. They are intoxicated. They know they're inebriated and the thought of being caught is too much for them. For they know the consequences of drinking and driving. But see, it didn't seem to matter until they were caught behind the wheel as their car crashed into another. They are terrified at the thought that their poor and selfish choices have caught up with them with the life altering collision they caused because they were reckless and impaired. 

The driver who crashed into my husband and altered his life, my life, our families' life, on October 12, 2016, is the owner of a bar. This woman's life is surrounded by drinking. The choices she makes in her personal life gives way to how she reacts to those leaving her bar. If she isn't concerned about her own sobriety when she is driving how much then is she concerned with those leaving her bar? 

How is it that we can change society's way of thinking that it's okay to drink and drive? We can have those charged with drinking and driving, those charged with a felony, those who have caused a crash and injured another, to stand and be accountable. To face the reality of what they alone have done. Allow these criminals to walk into a prison and accept the time for that felony charged. Allow these criminals who have a problem with addiction to get the needed help they so need. Give them a voice to share with others what their actions of caused. Yes, allow them to make a difference in society by telling the truth of their actions. Until drunk drivers realize they have a real problem this isn't going to change. Until we strengthen the law and defend what is true and right, stopping the allowance of these criminals to walk away from jail time, nothing will change. 

See, a drunk driver can hire an attorney, then stand back and remain hidden from the community about the truth of their actions, in hopes they will walk away from any kind of charges and jail time. Because if there is the possibility they won't be charged guilty, well then, no one has to know. They can keep their secret of addiction with the ability to go out and do it all over again. 

We are free to choose, but we shouldn't be free from the consequences of our choices. Especially when our very choices impact the life of another. You may say, "But, Robin, what about, for if but if not the grace of God there go I?" I strive to walk in grace. Judging another in the sense of hypocrisy, now there's nothing good there. But in judging wrong from right? We are called to do so. We are to wise in our actions. I don't care who you are or where you are from. Everyone knows right from wrong. To learn from what is wrong so that we can aim to live what is right. Bottom line. Our every choice is building our legacy. We can leave behind a life where we placed others first, where we walked with kindness and love, or we can leave behind a life of poor choices that collided with the lives of others, causing them a life they weren't prepared for and one that only happened because of our lack of good conscience. 

Change comes by realizing our every choice impacts the life of others. That can be a good or bad impact. When we wake each day striving to make a difference, it brings into full measure of just what life can hold each day. The possibilities are endless when we make our lives about the Savior. When we choose to hold ourselves accountable it gives way for others to see an example of humility and honor. 

One choice. That's all it takes to impact the life of another. Wouldn't it be extraordinary if with every choice we thought about how it would impact others? That would change the course of our choice making. 

"In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility." Eleanor Roosevelt

"You are the sum total of the choices you make every day." Brit Marling

"Our lives begin and end when we become silent about things that matter." Martin Luther King Jr. 

"It takes tremendous discipline to control the influence, the power you have over other people's lives." Clint Eastwood

The Heirs by Susan Rieger

For my Christian readers this isn't a selection of Christian fiction. I enjoy reading all genres and this novel caught my attention. It was the cover that hooked me into reviewing it. I am new to this author and I always love being introduced to someone new. It gives a reader great perspective of different styles of writing. 

This novel started out with getting a bit of my attention, but I never really connected with any character. No character stood out for me. I enjoy connecting on some level and having a novel leave me pondering. That just didn't happen here. 

The writing style was a bit slow and there was a loss of detail. The heart of each character just never exploded onto the pages. I guess you could say, it never came to life. I see others truly enjoyed this novel. Remember, this is only my opinion, my take away. You may choose this selection and love every page, closing the last and wanting more. 

The story-line is a great one. A family of seven. The father passes away, leaving his wife and five sons behind. They have lived with a great loyalty to family. This was taught to them by their parents. After their father dies questions come about. There's another woman. She has grown children. She's never told them about their father. That is until he is gone from this earth and now she wants them to sue the estate. This is where the story really takes off. This family is left wondering if anything about their lives was found to be true. 

Now, these are very wealthy people. So, dividing the estate with two other sons wouldn't really hurt anyone. It's not the money that is causing such turmoil. It's the fact that this other family wants to put in question all they knew to be of their father. 

These sons face the fact that the new sons look much like their father. A dad they never knew. So how could they have his mannerisms? They find that there is more about these two young men that are alike their father than anything about them. But that just isn't true. They share much about their father. He is a part of them and no matte what tries to invade this family, loyalty finds a  way to remain strong. 

The novel takes a chapter for each son. So, the reader does get a chance to explore the lives of these sons and their lives. For me it just wasted enough. So, what is the novel about? It's family, loyalty, forgiveness, and acceptance. It's this family battling to understand just who they are in the twist of life. 

This novel was a gift from Crown Publishing for sharing my review with you. 


Susan Rieger is the author of The Divorce Papers. She is a graduate of Columbia Law School and has worked as a residential college dean at Yale and as an associate provost at Columbia. She lives in New York City with her husband, writer David Denby.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sweetbriar Cottage by Denise Hunter

I love a series penned by Denise Hunter. But to have a copy of a stand alone, well now, that's even better. This is one of those unputdownables. I started reading last night and for the next couple hours read straight through. Outstanding! This is one of those "take away" reads. You know, those novels where you close the last page and it leaves you feeling as if you journeyed to Sweetbriar yourself. 

The story-line is one that I could relate to. The writing is excellent. Hunter begins in present day, then takes us back about three years. This wasn't confusing at all. I enjoyed how she allowed the reader to know the complete story. When we are taken back sixteen years, the story hits home and we realize so much about the character, Josie. 

Josephine and Noah fall in love quickly. Sometimes it happens that way. I mean, they knew right off the bat their hearts were connected. Noah is this stand up guy, full of faith, living with a kind character that sets him apart from others. Girls, he's one of the good guys. He's a hard worker and a dedicated man. Loyal to the end. He's the guy that loves big!

Josephine is that knock out girl that gets the attention from every guy in the room and every girl is a little ticked that they don't look like Josie. Even at a young age girls talked about Josie, gave her a reputation before she ever had one. 

My heart ached for Josephine. Maybe because I could relate to her in many ways. She tries so hard to be accepted and loved. She's told at an early age that no one will ever want her, except for one thing. Trauma touches her life in her early teens and it's this impact that changes her life forever. She becomes the girl hated by girls and wanted by all the boys. They want to use her, but she comes to the conclusion she's going to get them before they get her. 

This is where she has trouble when she meets Noah. He's such a good guy. He is respectful and full of love. This is something Josie has never had, never thought she would have, and thinks she never deserves. 

This is one of those stories that grabs hold because you can either picture yourself as Josie, or you know someone close who resembles her life. She is battling such insecurities and trust issues. It's hard for her to believe every guy isn't the same. Even Noah's character. We see our sons and nephews as this stand up guy. The one who thinks there aren't any girls left who will see him for the really amazing guy he is. He's that good guy who gives all he has and then in the end is wounded deep. 

These characters connect. Choices are made. Hearts are broken. But they get a second chance. It's during this second chance where these characters, having nothing to lose, come to reality really quickly, and they share like never before. 

I like that there aren't a lot of characters in this novel. We meet a friend of Josie, a girl she is mentoring, and a few friends of Noah. That's it. The story is simply enough with Josie and Noah. Their story hits home. Bottom line? Unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace. 

This is one of the most amazing romance novels I have read in a very long time. The characters are pure. Hunter allows us to see their hearts through her transparent writing. These two characters assume so much of each other, and it's those assumptions that get them off course. Anger is an obstacle for Noah. For Josie, she faces so much more. A past that wants to keep her in chains. But there's Noah, this guy who is a portrait of our Jesus, willing to give his all to love her unconditionally. 

This is one of those great reads you share with your girlfriends, daughters, and mother. Another aspect I loved about this novel is the faith that is woven throughout. So often this is missing in today's Christian fiction, Hunter stays true in her writing to bring us stories that move the heart and connect us with the faith that we love. 

This novel was a gift from Thomas Nelson for sharing my review with you. 

Denise Hunter is the internationally published bestselling author of more than twenty-five books, including A December Bride and The Convenient Groom, which have been adapted into original Hallmark Channel movies. She has won the Holt Medallion Award, the Reader's Choice Award, the Carol Award, and the Foreward Book of the Year Award and is a RITA finalist. When Denise isn't orchestrating love lives on the written pages, she enjoys traveling with her family, drinking green tea, and playing drums. Denise makes her home in Indiana where she and her husband are rapidly approaching an empty nest. DeniseHunterBooks.com

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Goliath Must Fall by Louie Giglio

Where do I begin? Okay, purchase this book! Yes, that's my first thought here. If I could purchase this book for everyone I know I would. My copy, although highlighted throughout and notes in the margins, will be going to a friend facing one of those nine foot giants. 

I have faced some giants in my life. When I picked up this book I have to admit I wasn't thinking I had any giants at the moment. Wrong! When we think of giants we think HUGE right? Well, a giant isn't born at nine feet tall. That right there is huge. At least for me it is. One of my giants, that I thought I had under control, is anger. My husband was hit by a drunk driver on October 12. Let me just say, that's a lot of anger. But I thought I was working through it. Nope. I still have a long way to go. But Louie helped me to see that this giant of mine must fall. In order for me to be free, he's gotta go. 

You know what? God's already taken care of my giant. Here in these pages Louie uses a story of searching out, catching, and killing copperheads. This was so right on target for understanding the workings of Satan and our giants. We can't just cut the head off. That head still has poison. That body? Well, it still flings itself about even after it's dead. Oh, there is a way to rid ourselves of giants and Giglio transparently shares with us his own trials, those giants that have made him stop in his tracks. He shares with us how we have giants in our life that we aren't even aware of. Some are addiction, but more so than that they are stumbling blocks, strongholds in our lives, that are holding us back from experiencing all of God. 

"We're facing some sort of insurmountable challenge or problem that rips into our lives. Maybe it's fear. Maybe it's an addiction. Maybe it's anger. Maybe it's the feeling of rejection, a feeling that permeates so many areas of life. Maybe it's the sneaky giant of complacency." 

"Day after day this giant robs you of your power."

"A habit or a memory or a way of thinking we've grown accustomed to."

"Giants come in all shapes and sizes."

"These giants harm you and rob God of his glory in your life. God wants you to live free. God wants your giants to fall. He wants you to live without the chains that bind you, unfettered from beliefs that limit you."

"It's not much different with our giants-the habits, the behaviors, the faulty beliefs, the same old broken ways we're accommodating in our lives. These "pets' started out as cute and cuddly babies. They didn't look like they'd do us any harm. They were comforting. Reassuring. We formed bonds with these pets, and gave them a warm place to stay in our minds and hearts and behaviors. But these same pets have grown. They're showing their true colors-and they aren't pets anymore. They're savage killers. Nine-foot-tall giants. They're ripping into us, mauling us."

"Your killer was camouflaged as a friend you couldn't live without." 

"It's usually not the result of one thing or one moment, but a combination of lots of things that fester over time, rotting us from the inside until we come unhinged." 

This book came at the perfect time. It is jam-packed with food for the soul. There is something here for everyone. For the new believer. For the life long Christian. It's for anyone searching to have a relationship with Jesus. It's for the one seeking to walk with journey giant free. 

Giglio opens us up to the story of David and Goliath. There is so much to learn in that story. Giglio gives us a new perspective. When reading it we can often relate to David. We think of ourselves as David as he faces off with Goliath. We see the portrait of Jesus throughout this story. Giglio uses scripture to bring Jesus to the forefront of everything. 

Louie is transparent in sharing personal stories. He is so amazing to use stories to bring about a lesson that brings us face to face with our Savior. There were a lot of those, "Hey, that's so cool moments." He is as real as you can get. Throughout the book he uses OT and NT scripture, stories of others in the Bible who have overcome. He makes the enemy real. We often try and sugar coat the enemy, Satan. But we can clearly see that Satan is out to destroy us and he will use any measure to do so. 

"This has to become personal for each of us. You have to think: I've got to get rid of my giants. I can't settle into complacency. I've got to see that this giant is a problem. This thing isn't helpful-not ultimately. This thing is trouble. This thing slows me down. This thing kills my relationships. This thing hardens my heart. This thing will destroy me. There's a desperation and an urgency I need to tap into here. I've got to get rid of this thing because I don't want it to kill me. I don't want it to zap the life out of me. I don't want it to destroy every good thing in my life, my relationships, my future, my career, my family. I've got to get rid of this thing-and I've got to get rid of it now!"

I love reading fiction. Well, I love reading. When a book like this comes along it's one I dive into with everything. I quickly absorbed this one. It's easy to absorb when it's personal. But will definitely be going  back through it to put to good use all those notes in the margins. But if you only had time to read one book over the summer I would share with you to grab this up. You are sure to find your giant in this book and not only find it, but understand what it's doing to you and how to get rid of it. This book opens up our hearts to live out our faith in freedom of fear. We don't have to walk in fear, but let us be fully aware and let's build boundaries around us. 

These are just a few, and I mean a few things I have walked away with in reading this book. It's great stuff for young and old alike. This is a book that is so easy to understand and so powerful. If you have never been to church before, if you have never picked up a Bible, never heard the story of David and Goliath, this book is for you. If you are a believer and you want every opportunity to learn on this journey of ours, this book is for you. Giglio is one that I greatly respect. His teaching is Biblical and nothing else. Just pure Jesus. This isn't a self-help kind of book. This is a walk closer to Jesus tool. 

Dive in and be ready to be blessedđź“—.

This novel was a gift from Thomas Nelson for sharing my review with you.

Louie Giglio is the pastor of Passion City Church and the founder of the Passion movement, which exists to call a generation to leverage their lives for the fame of Jesus. Since 1997, Passion has gathered collegiate-aged young people in events across the U.S. and around the world. Most recently, Passion 1017 gathered more than 55,000 students in Atlanta's Georgia Dome in one of the largest collegiate gatherings in its history. In addition to the collegiate gatherings of Passion Conferences, Louie and his wife Shelley lead teams at Passion City Church, sixstepsrecords, and the Passion Global Institute. Louis is the author of The Comeback, The Air I Breathe, I Am Not But I Know I Am, and Goliath Must Fall. As a communicator, Louie speaks at events throughout the U.S. and across the globe. He is widely known for messages like "Indescribable" and "How Great Is Our God." An Atlanta native and graduate of Georgia State University, Louie has done postgraduate work at Baylor University and holds a master's degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Louie and Shelley make their home in Atlanta. 


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Sojourner's Focus

Life is a daily battle, isn't it? It's all we can do to just open our arms to Jesus and say, "Show me, Lord. Show me the way through the muck and mire. Help me to see the joy." Not only daily, but moment by moment. We can wake to sunshine and in a moment's turn darkness can cover as a storm howls. Sometimes those storms quickly pass. The rainbow appears and we give praise. There are times when the storm seems to hover lowly above us. Rain pelting down, relentless in all ways. I have found even in these times the sun rises. It shines upon me and there is evidence to praise God's presence. It's a no matter what kind of faith. It's a faith we choose. 

"But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts." Romans 13:14

See, we can either choose Jesus or we choose to see only the circumstance. The outcome depends upon our choice. If I choose to focus on the circumstance that has brought me pain, it is only pain I am going to see. I simply cannot see nothing past it if that's all I'm choosing to allow in my thoughts. If I choose to see Jesus, to praise Him through my pain, it gives way to me experiencing a peace that I would not have otherwise known. As bad as it can be there's always a reason to give Him praise. 

"I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law." Galatians 5:16-18

We all battle something. If we say there isn't some kind of giant trying to stand nine feet tall in our lives we are lying to ourselves. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, these are places in our lives where Satan tries to gain strongholds. He sneaks in while we pretend everything is fine and before we know it we are asking ourselves, "How did that happen?" After all, we think we can handle it. We have it under control right? That's not how sin works.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, self-control. Against such there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23

What can we do? I mean if we are believers he is going to attack, right? You betcha! For right now he seeks in every possible way to destroy us. If there is a circumstance plaguing you right now you can bet Satan has something to do with it. Whatever it is there is a root cause. We must protect ourselves. We have to set boundaries. We have to be aware. We cannot wake in the morning leaving our lives wide open for attack. We pray over every inch of our lives, every aspect and every detail. We leave nothing for him. So, in turn we give everything to Jesus. We entrust Him with all.

"Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation." 1 Peter 2:11-12

Prayer is power. Through prayer we communicate with our Lord. He wants us to share with Him. All the good, the bad, and the ugly. He knows, right? But there's something about us speaking it, acknowledging it, and owning it. There are circumstances that touch our lives that our not of our control and then there are those that we ourselves have caused. That's a hard one to admit, right? We like to make excuse and to place a blame somewhere other than ourselves. But facing our sins and admitting them is a huge step in coming to be the people our God has created us to be. Growing with Him is knowing Him intimately. We don't get to know Him without knowing ourselves.

"Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death." James 1:12-15

Each day temptation stares us down. Oh, it's tricky, isn't it? It disguises itself as something good for us, but then we take a bite and somehow we have bitten off more than we can chew. Temptation is like that. It can look so inviting. A little pleasure. I mean, we deserve it, right? What we don't deserve is grace and without grace we would be lost in sin forever.

"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into His grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us." Romans 5:1-5

I don't always get it right. I daily struggle just like you. But that's part of our journey, right? On days when I don't make God my focus everything turns in a direction that I know isn't one He has planned. On those days where I am steadfast to remain focused something happens. Jesus happens. Everything becomes about Him. My actions, my words. There's a heart change. When He is the foundation for my day I find Him in everything. That's pretty spectacular.

"Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you." 1 Peter 5:6-10

So, how do I focus on Him? It isn't always easy. There's much to take our attention. There's much to keep us busy and by busy it isn't always hands and feet in something good. I have been doing something different. If we want to make a change we have to be purposeful in our actions, right? In the mornings I listen to preaching on the radio. Oh, there are some fantastic teachers. Such good stuff for the soul. I tell you, when you love the Word of God, well, you just can't get enough!  I turn it up so it can be heard throughout the house. In the afternoons I will set it on Christian music. I too set my radio station in the truck on Christian radio. I keep my Bibles open and in places that gets my attention. I set a time in the morning to study and at night before bed I will read a Christian fiction. I have to be purposeful or other things will take presence of my mind. It is sometimes a moment by moment battle. I have to tell myself, "Nope. I'm not going there. Get behind me, Satan." We have to take control of our thoughts or they will take control over us. That's a place I don't wanna be. I don't want to be any place where Jesus isn't.

"Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy-meditate on these things." Philippians 4:8

Friends, we are sojourners in this land that is not our home. Although this is where we live. This is where we make our home for now. We don't have to live in fear. We don't have to hurry through. Let's live this life with purpose. There is such love to share. There's so much to explore, so much to witness of God's glory. Remember the Israelites? They were shown so many wonders. They lived it! But yet they forgot when things got difficult. They would lose focus on who their God was and in whom they belonged. We lose that focus and the battle gets rougher. Let's remember who we are battling. Satan is enough. We don't need ourselves to battle. There's enough to stumble over.

"Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way to escape, that you may be able to bear it." 1 Corinthians 10:12-13

What can we do to change our focus? Often we have to rid ourselves of the junk. God is good to show us what doesn't need to be present in order for us to experience more of His presence. Hold tight to what you know and get excited about what you don't yet know. Dive into the Word! Get a great study Bible. Maybe a devotional will help kick start your day. I love them. A Bible study, a group of ladies, a few friends, someone who can encourage you in the journey. There are great tools to aid us in our study. Take time and just talk to Jesus. Give yourself room to experience Him. The more of Jesus we allow in our lives the more we will see that we just can never get enough. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Maggie Bright by Tracy Groot

I was first introduced to Tracy Groot when I read, The Sentinels of Andersonville. Now I have had the pleasure to review, The Maggie Bright. Powerful writing that weaves a beautiful story drawn from great research giving the reader a novel that is historically accurate. 

The characters are deep. This is a multifaceted story where Groot allows the reader to journey back in time to the year of 1940. This isn't just a novel. It's an experience. 

For what seems impossible we see that the only limit we have is the fear we allow to hold us back. We even see the power of prayer. We witness the power of overcoming when people choose to give beyond themselves. We see the unexpected rise above circumstances. These characters are honorable, faithful, and steadfast. 

The writing is beyond superb. I love when history and mystery interwoven. Now, this isn't one of those beachy reads, where all is romance and there's just fun-loving drama. This is deep. Dunkirk was new to me. I am a lover of history and am so thankful for Groot to bring a story such as this to those people like me who had no idea, but now find myself wanting to know more. When you know that 340,000 men were saved from death or imprisonment, that's powerful!! But to read this novel and to know what happened to those men, in which thousands were killed, and to understand that 40,000 were taken captive and held prisoner for five years, brings a heart to a deep place.

This is one of those novels that has a big screen feel. This is why I love reading. I am a fan of Groot and cannot wait to see what's next for this extraordinary writer.

This novel was a gift from Tyndale for sharing my review with you. 

Tracy Groot is the critically acclaimed and two-time Christy Award-winning author of several novels that have received starred Booklist and Publishers Weekly reviews. Her books have been called "beautifully written" and "superior, page-turning" by Publishers Weekly and "gripping" with "exquisitely drawn" characters by Library Journal. Tracy and her husband have three boys and live in Grand Rapids, Michigan. 


Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories by Celeste Fletcher MaHale

When the Secret to Hummingbird Cake was released I missed the opportunity to review it. The title alone caught my attention. I mean, who doesn't love hummingbird cake? And to put it in the title of a book? Well, I just knew when I seen this title, The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories, it was sure to be a novel to fall in love with. 

McHale writes dialog as if you have a front row seat to every conversation. Through their conversations you come to know the characters. She writes easy. Her words flow. The play of dialog brought me to feel much emotion. I could feel the characters emotion just through the words shared. That's something huge in allowing the reader to connect. 

This story is a beauty. Memories submerged. But before these characters can live fully today they are going to have to allow the past to come full force into memory. This is painful for these characters. What I love is that every character, no matter how much they look like they have it together, has issues. No matter how big or small, every single issue brings these characters to a place where they must choose to let go of the past or continue to hang on tight. 

Another aspect I love is that every character has their own story, their own battle to overcome. Each of their stories comes to life in a way that brings the reader to a place where they can relate. 

I love the relationship between the young women. Three friends who know each other so very well. They cheer one another on and they are there to catch each other when one falls. We see what friendship truly is to be between women. Jacey, Georgie, and Willow, are the friends. Although Jacey is the main character, I found myself truly loving Georgie. Her sense of humor and quick-wit was enchanting. She brought such life to this story. 

Colin is a character that brings depth to the story. He has chosen to be a pastor. He enjoys serving people in communities that truly are in need. He too loves building homes. As we see his character grow it becomes evident that maybe being a pastor isn't where he should be. That choice comes from a past that has brought him great pain. We see Colin struggle with making the right choices. We too see his relationship with his parents bring to light the person he is today. McHale allows us to see this battle taking place within his heart. 

Jacey has been through so much. For many it would have broken them. But, we see her overcome. Through tragedy her life has become entwined with others. Connected in such a powerful way that even the strongest storm couldn't separate them. Three days trying to stay alive on a roof changed her life forever. 

This writer brings us a beautiful story of friendship, love, family, and the connection that we have with others when we allow our hearts to fully feel. No holding back, but giving room for the heart to embrace the past, accept the present, and have hope for the future. 

I cannot wait to read more from this writer. I now know that I am going to have to purchase, The Secret to Hummingbird Cake. If it's anything close to this beautiful story it's a must read! 

Now, for that part of the review that I just don't like. Ugh. Okay, this novel is published by Thomas Nelson, a Christian publisher. When you choose a book by this publisher you expect to read a story wrapped in faith. A story leaving you with the feeling as you have just walked a little closer to the Savior through the stories of the characters you just spent time with. Is God mentioned? Yes. But, I would have to say if I choose this book just on the terms knowing it was published by Thomas Nelson and knowing I would walk away with a strong story of faith I would be very disappointed. If I were to walk down the aisle of my local book store this isn't a selection I would expect to find on the shelf. It is disappointing to see Thomas Nelson move continually further away from publishing 'faith-based' fiction.

With that said, this is a selection I would choose again just for the sheer beauty of the story and the heart of the characters. McHale is truly a gifted with the pen as she weaves a story that is genuine and full of deep emotion. 

This novel was a gift from Thomas Nelson for sharing my review. 

Celeste Fletcher McHale lives on her family farm in Central Louisiana, where she enjoys raising a variety of animals. Her hobbies include writing, football, baseball, and spending much time with her grandchildren. 


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