Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tea & Read: Never Say Never

Title: Never Say Never

Author: Lisa Wingate
Rating: Two cups of tea

Blurb: Kai Miller floats through life like driftwood tossed by waves. She's never put down roots in any one place--and she doesn't plan to. But when a chaotic hurricane evacuation lands her in Daily, Texas, she begins to think twice about her wayfaring existence. And when she meets hometown-boy Kemp Eldridge, she can almost picture settling down in Daily--until she discovers he may be promised to someone else. Daily has always been a place of refuge for those the winds blows in, but for Kai, it looks like it will be just another place to leave behind. Then again, Daily always has a few surprises in store--especially when Aunt Donetta has cooked up a scheme.

I discovered Lisa Wingate at the library. My local branch often sneaks in Christian authors under the radar. I often have to go to the library with my CBD catalog to find them. Something to Talk About was the first book in the Daily, TX series that I read and immediately fell in love with Wingate’s storytelling style. Never Say Never is more of the same great storytelling and memorable characters.

I loved the way Wingate captured two very different personality types, overprotective grandmother and orphaned drifter, and how beautifully the two types intertwine in this story. I love Kai longing for family and Donetta longing to know the truth about her family. Their longing keeps the story moving. And of course, who could forget the Holy Ghost Church members. It was amazing because they collectively seemed like one person, but the ones Wingate focused on were quite unique and memorable.

Another thing I loved about this story is how real the hurricane felt. I’ve never been caught in a hurricane or tornado, but I can imagine how it would feel. Wingate did a great job of capturing the panic and desperation people escaping the storm. But I must admit, if I’m going ride out a storm, the characters in her book would make some great companions.

The pacing was great and I love Wingate’s feel for Texas slang. Part of my family is from North Carolina, so I know southerners can come up with some odd sayings and this book is full of them. It’s also full of downright laugh out loud moments. If Donetta, Imagene and Lucy had their own TV show, it would be called “Old Ladies Behaving Badly.”

I’ve got one more book to read in this series and I’m looking forward to it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Monday Meditations: Quirky and Thankful

My middle name is Jeanette, but is should be Quirky. I have so many odd traits that I stand out wherever I go. For instance, when I eat cream-filled sandwich cookies, I have to pull them apart and place perfectly divided portions of cream on each of the sides before I eat them. That’s weird. I eat my macaroni and cheese with mustard. Strange. How about the fact that I talk to my Bible? Now if that doesn’t earn me the title of being quirky, I don’t know what will.

Sadly, I talk to my Bible much like talking to myself. I don’t know if it’s intentional, but sometimes, I have a running dialog with whatever I reading. Like, while reading the miracles of Jesus, I may whisper, “That’s amazing.” Or if David’s laments in Psalms 3 touch my heart, I’ll say “Dude, I know exactly how you feel.”

But sometimes, my dialog gets a little on the snarky side. Like, I may yell at Solomon, “Ok, I get it. It’s all vanity! Please don’t say it again.” Paul often incurs my sarcasm because he says things that boggle the mind.

For instance, Paul says in Ephesians 5:20, “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” To which I said “You’ve got to be kidding me. Everything? Really, everything?”

How in the world am I supposed to do that? Talk about quirky behavior. Imagine walking around saying, “I’m broke. Thank you, Lord.” Or “I’m going to be evicted next week. Thank you, Lord.” How about “Thank you, God for this pink slip. I appreciate being unemployed.” Now that kind of talk will earn you a psychological evaluation.

As much as I think it would be challenging to live out that commandment, Paul admonishes us to do so loud and clear. But since were talking about being weird, what if we actually tried? Most of us would think being thankful in difficult situations is utterly ridiculous and we don’t even try.

But I think that if we do one thing, which is follow the instructions in the previous scriptures, it may be easier than we think. Ephesians 5:18-19 reads, “Don't be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you. Then you will sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, making music to the Lord in your hearts;” When we are filled and controlled by the Spirit, we can give thanks in everything.

This passage shows a clear picture of joy. The Holy Spirit fills and controls us, and we go around singing like drunken people. Because being under the control of the Spirit means that bad things aren’t really bad things. If we are controlled by the Spirit, whatever situation we find ourselves in, we are in the will of God. And when you are walking in God’s will, all things work together for the good.

So you can say, “Lord, I thank you that I’m broke because You’re going to supply all my need.” And you can say, “Lord I thank you because I may be evicted from this physical house, but I dwell under Your shadow.” When you’re filled and controlled by the Spirit, you rejoice in trials, celebrate when people persecute and you can give thanks in all things.

Yes, join me on the quirky side. Give thanks in everything. For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tea & Read: Beguiled

Title: Beguiled
Author(s): Deeanne Gist, J. Mark Bertrand
Rating: Two cups of tea

Blurb: Rylee Monroe, a dogwalker in Charleston's wealthiest neighborhood, never feared the streets at night. But now a thief is terrorizing the area and worse, someone seems to be targeting her. Reporter Logan Woods is covering the break-ins with the hope of publishing them as a true-crime book. The more he digs, the more he realizes this beguiling dogwalker seems to be at the center of everything. As danger draws ever closer, Logan must choose: Chase the girl, the story, or plunge into the shadows after the villain who threatens everything?

I’ve read several of Deeanne Gist’s books and I must admit I was a little nervous about this one. Each book seemed to slide downward on my enjoyment scale. A Bride Most Begrudging stole my heart, but Courting Trouble made me angry. One thing to Beguiled advantage was that it had a co-author, J. Mark Bertrand. I am glad to report that Beguiled has put Gist back in my good graces again and put Bertrand on my list of writers to watch.

The first thing that hooked me in this book was the characters. In previous books, Gist’s characters were always well rounded, even though their actions seemed a bit inconsistent. Not in this story. Rylee’s girl-next-door wins you over before the end of the first chapter, but she has just enough spunk to make her stand out from other “sweet” characters. Logan is a man’s man, but with a tender side and a very amusing phobia.

Second, Gist and Bertrand manage to create a good solid mystery. Normally, I have a pretty good idea of who the bad guy is by the end. But this time, I must say I was a little surprised when the villain was finally revealed, and not in a bad way. I also loved the villain’s motivation for what he was doing. It was the perfect balance of credibility and wickedness needed for a bad guy.

The only issue I had with the book was the setting, and I admit, I’m being a little nitpicky because I’m a writer. The authors never said where Charleston was (there’s one in West Virginia and South Carolina), although I got the feeling it was in SC. Whether Charleston, SC or not, Gist and Bertrand nailed the feel of old southern money.

Great book. I would be willing to read another book from the Gist/Bertrand team.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday Meditations: AM or FM?

My husband told me tonight that I’m tuned to the wrong frequency. A good description for me. You see, I don’t always have an appetite. Some nights I eat dinner solely because I know my husband is going to harass…I mean, gently remind me that I need to eat something. In his family, food was the cure for everything. Not eating is like a cardinal sin. My husband said that maybe my body was sending me the hunger signal but because I was tuned to the wrong frequency, I didn’t hear it.

I laughed, mainly because I think he’s totally wrong about that. But after a moment, I realized his words applied to another area of my life. Sometimes, I don’t pick God’s signals. Now, I know the scripture “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me.” I cling to it as proof that God speaks to me since I’m one of His sheep. But there are times and seasons that I feel like we aren’t on speaking terms.

And of course, I do what all good Christians do: I blame God. I turn my tear-stained face to heaven and cry “Why did you stop speaking to me? Why haven’t you shown me the answer to my problem?” What arrogance. Why is it so easy to believe that God broke His promise and stopped speaking instead of checking my hearing?

In the end, the problem is me. I’ve tuned from His frequency to my own. I want Him to speak on my terms instead of zeroing in on His voice. Almost every time, I was tuned to FM and He’s speaking on AM. I think we all wish God would speak on FM where it’s loud and clear, but He don’t always speak that way. Remember Elisha? God definitely spoke to him on AM, the still small voice. All those loud noises were FM, but Elisha had to tune in to God’s frequency.

And once I realize that I’m the one off frequency, it makes perfect sense that I haven’t heard anything. How did I expect to hear from the great I AM on FM? And as soon as I flip the switch, there He is jabbering away. Then I have to repent for accusing Him of going off the air.

Do you feel like you’ve tuned to the wrong frequency? Turn to I AM. He’s on the air and He’s got something to say.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Monday Meditations: For All Saints

I’ve recently rekindled a rewarding habit I used to have: my prayer journal. It’s a little different than the traditional journals. It’s just a record of what prayers I’ve prayed (when I remember to write them in the book). Some entries are only one line long and some are more than a page long. I also like to record what the impressions I get while I’m praying. I also use it to encourage myself. I read through the prayers that God has answered, particularly helpful when I feel like my prayers are bouncing the ceiling and hitting my head.

As with many things in life, my journal started out of adversity. My husband and I were going through a terrible season of persecution. God used Ephesians 5:18 as a call to action. It reads:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

I committed to pray for this particularly trying situation. Each night, I would get the journal, my Bible and put on my purple socks (to keep my feet warm so I wouldn’t get distracted) and bombard heaven.

I wasn’t shocked at how fast my prayers got answered, but I was surprised. It seemed that God was simply waiting for me to pray so He could go to work. The wonderful response encouraged me to pray for some other situations in my life with the same amount of fervor. Not only did God answer, I rediscovered that I could really take everything that burdened me to Him. All the situations in my life looked better after I’d prayed.

One day, I was sitting reading through some of my pervious entries and something troubling struck me. All the entries were about me or my family. Funny since the scripture God used to motivate me to pick up the journal again included praying for all the saints. I’d been praying but my prayers were a little selfish. With the same fervor that I’d had for praying for my situations, I endeavored to start praying for others.

Shortly after I started, I realized the enormity of this little command from Ephesians. There are millions of believers in the world. How was I even supposed to pray for them all? I’d grown so accustomed to praying very personalized prayers that praying in general for all saints seemed overwhelming.

So I started small. As I prayed for my vindication from the persecution I was suffering, I prayed that God’s justice would reign on the earth. As I petition for guidance about my life, I prayed for the guidance of other believers. As I prayed for my children, I prayed for all Christian children facing the same struggles mine do. It ended up being a lot simpler than I thought. Pray for everyone else as I pray for myself.

No, I don’t know exactly what situations every Christian in the world is facing but God does. And the chances are pretty high that someone else on this big world is experience similar situations as me. It wasn’t hard to look beyond myself and pray for all Christians. Not hard for you either. Try praying for someone other than yourself. In that simple act and it connects you with other Christians all over the world. And get yourself a really big prayer journal.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Monday Medications: Calluses

My daughter is learning to play the guitar. My husband and I bought her one for Christmas and she’s excited about taking more lessons. She even offered to play one of the songs she’s learned in front of a group of people, a grand feat for a nonplussed teenager. I’ve been trying to adjust to the fact that my very girly daughter wants to be a rocker chick, but it’s true.

During the process, I’ve watched her adjust to the realities of learning guitar. She had to trim her nails and learn how to sit properly so the weight of the guitar didn't cause shoulder pain. Her teacher warned her that she will probably develop calluses on the tips of her fingers. As a mother, I had a slight issue with the calluses. Call me sexist and old fashion but I think women should have soft hands. Besides, calluses decrease sensitivity. I don’t think I like that but she accepted callus as a part of the process.

As I fretted about this, the Lord impressed on me that He doesn’t like of my decreased sensitivity and of course He wasn’t talking about my fingers. He was pointing out the condition of my heart. He gently pointed out several areas in my heart that I’d grown callused. And as if to prove that I’d decreased sensitivity, He poked me with His Spirit and His word a couple of times before I really felt what He was saying.

He drove the point home with Ephesians 4:17-19:

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

Now I know the Lord wasn’t saying that I was still living like a heathen, but He used this scripture to beautifully illustrate the effects of a callused heart. Our understanding gets darkened and worse of all, we are separated from God. That’s not a place I wanted to be. I want to be sensitive to His touch.

When I delved a little deeper into this issue, I realized that the callus on my heart happened the same way natural calluses do. Our bodies protect themselves against overuse by building up layers of skin to prevent injury. Callus is a defense mechanism. I’d tried to protect my heart by building up a tough layer. Unfortunately, this tactic had made my heart less sensitive to God’s touch.

I should have committed my heart to God and let Him be my protector. Isn’t it funny that we as God to protect us from physical injury but we won’t commit our hearts to His care? We quote scriptures about God being our shield and our buckler but we constantly try and protect ourselves. Of course, each time we try, we fail miserable and a few more hard crusty layers end up on our hearts.

No matter how tempting it is, we can’t build up calluses to protect ourselves. We have to trust God to protect us. We also have to trust that He has enough power to heal our hearts when pain comes. If you want to play guitar, calluses are a part of the experience. But callus on the heart is not acceptable.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Introducing a New Book Challenge

First it was the Summer Reading Challenge. Then it was the Twelve Books of Christmas Challenge. Now, get ready for the Spring Cleaning Challenge. Ok, I know I missed the start of spring by a few days, but I really need to get some books off my shelf. I’m adding to my collection faster than I’m reading the ones already there. And in order for me to keep my hubby happy, I’ve got to read as many books as possible.

So this April, I’m going to attempt to read seven books. Here is the list:
  • Hunter’s Moon by Don Hoesel
  • Not a Sparrow Falls by Linda Nichols
  • Blood Ransom by Lisa Harris
  • Sweetwater Gap by Denise Hunter
  • Ghostwriter by Travis Thrasher
  • Wounded by Claudia Mair Burney
  • Vanish by Tom Pawlik
I will post a review of each book once I’m done reading. How about you? What spring cleaning do you have to do?