Thursday, September 30, 2010

Jackson Jones: The Tale of a Boy, an Elf, and a Very Stinky Fish - Book Review

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:

Zonderkidz (August 6, 2010)
***Special thanks to Pam Mettler of Zonderkidz for sending me a review copy.***


Jenn Kelly lives in Ottawa, Canada, but her heart lives in Paris. Or Hawaii. She hasn’t decided yet. She is an undercover garden guru, painter, and chef, which has absolute nothing to do with this book. She won a writing award in grade 4, failed English Lit in university, spent many years writing bad poetry, and then decided to write a book. This is it. She is married to her best friend, Danny, and is mom to a five-year-old boy and a dog who worries too much. She embraces the ridiculousness and disorganization of life.

Visit the author's website.

Ari has worked as a freelance illustrator for a variety of projects, mostly in children’s media. Her specialty is character design and she most enjoys illustrating humorous and wacky predicaments.

She studied editorial and children’s book illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and the DuCret School of Art in New Jersey. She uses a variety of media to create my images both traditional and digital.

Visit the illustrator's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Zonderkidz (August 6, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310720796
ISBN-13: 978-0310720799


My thoughts:
I started reading this and then had to put it down and never got back to it. It looks as if it's going to be a really cute book for young boys. :)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 Review & Giveaway

I don't wear a lot of jewelry. I like it. I think it's beautiful and I wish I could be one of those women that are gorgeous all the time. Sorry, that's not me. I wear my wedding rings (most of the time) and earrings. Not those fancy ones that hang down or hoops - well cause I got a little boy who will pull them.

I was given the chance to try out a pair of these gorgeous earrings seen below.

Simulated Diamond Earrings - 5mm stud - Cubic Zirconia and .925 sterling silver

 Beautiful aren't they? I wore them out to my mom's house a couple weeks ago and mom noticed them immediately. She said they looked real. And I think they do. The stone is clear and sparkly. I love that they are set in a silver setting. Gold is beautiful but silver is a nice change. :)

You can get these earrings for free ... well almost free, you just need to pay shipping and handling on the website. S&H is just $3.77. So it's a really great price for these awesome earrings. 

BUT has offered a giveaway for one lucky reader here! You can enter for a chance to win one pair of the same earrings I got. Yay!!

To enter all I want to you do is leave a comment telling me your favorite piece of jewelry. 

That's it. Very easy.

Giveaway will end on October 23rd at 11:59PM EST. Winner is chosen using

*Disclaimer: This is a Mama Buzz review. The product was provided by: for this review.*

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Prayers that Release Heaven on Earth - Book Review

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:

Charisma House; 1 edition (August 3, 2010)
***Special thanks to Anna Coelho Silva | Publicity Coordinator, Book Group | Strang Communications for sending me a review copy.***


Apostle John Eckhardt is overseer of Crusaders Ministries, located in Chicago, Illinois. Gifted with a strong apostolic call, he has ministered throughout the United States and overseas in more than eighty nations. He is a sought-after international conference speaker, produces a weekly television program, Perfecting the Saints, and has authored more than twenty books, including Prayers That Rout Demons, Prayers That Break Curses, and God Still Speaks. Eckhardt resides in the Chicago area with his wife, Wanda, and their five children.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Charisma House; 1 edition (August 3, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1616380039
ISBN-13: 978-1616380038


God’s Plan for a Kingdom

The establishment of the kingdom of God included the restoration of the tabernacle of David (Acts 15) with the coming of the Gentiles into the church. The righteous will flourish, and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. God plans to accomplish all of this through the Messiah-King, His Son, Jesus Christ.

During Bible times, the prophets saw the coming kingdom as a time of great joy and rejoicing. They prophesied that everlasting joy would be upon the head of the righteous, and they would obtain gladness and joy (Isa. 35:10; 51:11). Zion would be the joy of many generations (Isa. 60:15). Those who believe the gospel would receive the oil of joy (Isa. 61:1–3), and they would receive everlasting joy (v. 7).

The Lord would cause rejoicing to fill Jerusalem and to fill her people with joy (Isa. 65:19). This indicates new-covenant Jerusalem, the church (Heb. 12:22). The nations would be glad and sing for joy because of the rule of Messiah (Ps. 67:4). Mount Zion (the church) rejoices (Ps. 48:11).

Israel had never experienced earthly peace for any extended period of time. The peace they desire would come only through Messiah, and it would be spiritual. The peace they needed was hidden from their eyes, and it was prophesied that they would experience a Roman invasion (Luke 19:41–44). They were looking for an earthly peace and missed the spiritual peace that comes through Christ. Peace is the Hebrew word shalom, meaning “prosperity, health, wholeness.”

Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6). The increase of His government and peace will have no end (v.7). The gospel is called the gospel of peace (Rom. 10:15). Fulfillment of the kingdom of God began to come to the nations because of the preaching of the gospel. Today the preaching of the gospel is still taking place, and as believers we can usher in God’s kingdom plan through our prayers. Those who preach the gospel publish peace, which is part of the plan of God for His kingdom (Isa. 52:7; Nah. 1:15). The new covenant is the covenant of peace (Isa. 54:10; Ezek. 34:25; 37:26), and the prayers of believers fulfill the plan of God and expand the peace of God.

The prophets spoke of the coming kingdom in terms of peace. The King would bring peace to the people (Ps. 72:3), and the righteous would have an abundance of peace (v. 7). The Lord would ordain peace for His people (Isa. 26:12). The work of righteousness would be peace (Isa. 32:17). The kingdom of peace would come through the suffering of the Messiah. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him (Isa. 53:5). We are led forth with peace (Isa. 55:12). God would extend peace like a river (Isa. 66:12). He would speak peace to the heathen (Zech. 9:10).

It is God’s plan that righteousness would reign in His kingdom. The Old Testament is filled with references to the righteousness of the kingdom. In the New Testament, we learn that we are made the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). He is our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30). Israel could not attain righteousness through the Law. Righteousness comes through faith and the new covenant. Today, as believers in Christ and His righteousness, we are living in the kingdom. The Christian—the new man—is created in righteousness and true holiness (Eph. 4:24). Yet we have not yet experienced a world filled with peace and righteousness. As we pray these prayers, we can expect righteousness, peace, and joy to increase from generation to generation.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue - DVD Review


Disney's Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue
Debuts On Blu-rayTM Combo Pack, DVD, and movie download
September 21

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment Celebrates Spring Solstice with the Announcement of an Exciting New Adventure!

BURBANK, Calif. March19, 2010 – Tinker Bell, the world’s favorite fairy, will be spreading her mirth and magic for audiences of all ages, as the worlds of fairies and humans meet for the first time in Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue. An all-new, original full-length CG animated film featuring breathtaking animation, spectacular music and an all-star cast of voice talents debuts September 21st, 2010 on Blu-ray Combo Pack (includes Blu-ray and bonus DVD of the film & movie download).

Before she was ever introduced to Wendy and the Lost Boys, Tinker Bell met Lizzy, a girl with a steadfast belief in fairies. Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue begins in summertime in the beautiful English countryside. An enchanting encounter unfolds when Tinker Bell is
discovered by Lizzy, and as their different worlds unite, Tink evelops a special bond with the curious girl in need of a friend.

As her fellow fairies launch a daring rescue, Tinker Bell takes a huge risk, putting her own safety and the future of the fairies in jeopardy. This action-packed adventure takes the fairies of Pixie Hollow on a daring flight to London to save Tinker Bell and all of fairy kind.
Produced by DisneyToon Studios, Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue is a captivating and exciting adventure for all the family.

Disney Fairies has become one of the Walt Disney Company’s most successful franchises -- driven on multiple platforms and across numerous business units of The Walt Disney Company, including Disney Consumer Products, Parks and Resorts, Disney Interactive Media Group, and Disney Channel.

STREET DATE: September 21, 2010
Suggested retail price: U.S. $29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray Combo Pack
Canada: $35.99 DVD, $44.99 Blu-ray
Feature run time: TBD
Rated: This movie is not yet rated
Technical specifications may only apply to feature
Aspect ratio: Family-friendly wide screen, 2.35:1
Sound: DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound
Blu-ray: DTS-HD
Languages: English, Spanish and French
Subtitles: English, Spanish and French

About Disney's Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack:
To provide consumers with unprecedented quality, value and portability of their favorite
Disney movies, in 2008 Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment pioneered the Combo Pack –
a Blu-ray Disc plus a DVD in a single package.

About Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Walt Disney Home Entertainment is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Worldwide Home Entertainment, Inc., a recognized industry leader. Walt Disney Studios Worldwide Home Entertainment is the marketing, sales and distribution company for Walt Disney, Touchstone, Hollywood Pictures, Miramax, and Buena Vista Blu-ray, DVDs and Digital Downloads.

About Disney Fairies
Disney Fairies is rooted in Disney's rich heritage of children's storytelling. The franchise builds upon the enormous popularity of Tinker Bell and introduces girls to her secret, magical world and a new circle of enchanting fairy friends – Fawn, Iridessa, Rosetta and Silvermist – each with an incredibly diverse talent, personality and look. Launched just a few years ago, the $1B franchise boasts a thriving publishing and lifestyle merchandising program. To date,
over 675 Disney Fairies and Tinker Bell titles have been published in 57 countries and 31 languages, selling nearly 30 million copies; Disney Fairies magazines have sold over 7.5 million copies in 28 countries and an array of products from apparel and toys to electronics, home décor and stationery has extended storylines into many girls’ homes across the globe. is now available in more than 20 territories across North America, Latin
America, EMEA and Asia Pacific. Fans have created more than 25 million personalized Fairy avatars to date that can take flight in the virtual world of Pixie Hollow. Disney theme parks have also launched a Pixie Hollow attraction where fans can meet the Disney Fairies. The Disney Fairies are highlighted in the production of Disney On Ice presents Worlds of Fantasy, and additionally, Tinker Bell is in four other Disney On Ice shows touring the world. Following the success of Walt Disney Pictures Tinker Bell on Disney Blu-ray and hi-def DVD, Disney released Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure in 2009 as the second title in the series.

My thoughts:
What an adorable movie! We really really love Disney around here. Ever since Gracie discovered the Princesses. :) And Tink was soon to follow. Gracie said she liked the movie and was very "into" it. She sat and watched it all the way through...which for my little bouncy buns is a major accomplishment. Wonderful movie!!

*Disclaimer: I received this dvd free for review. The opinion is my own.*

Friday, September 24, 2010

It’s No Secret ~ Book Review

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:

David C. Cook; New edition (September 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Karen Davis, Assistant Media Specialist, The B&B Media Groupfor sending me a review copy.***


Rachel Olsen is a writer, editor, and speaker on staff with Proverbs 31 Ministries. She serves as Editor-in-Chief of their online devotions, “Encouragement for Today,” with a readership of more than 375,000. She also writes for and serves on the editorial board of the P31 Woman magazine. Olsen is a national women’s speaker who enjoys interacting with audiences at women’s retreats and conferences from coast to coast.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (September 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434765377
ISBN-13: 978-1434765376


Always RSVP

Revealing the Secret to Responding to God

Everyone has a story. Everyone chooses to ignore God, (re)define God, or search for God and respond to Him as He truly is. I’ve done all three.

When I was growing up, my family attended church in a brown brick building with stained-glass windows and bright red carpet. The sanctuary smelled faintly of wood. I’m surprised I remember the smell; we weren’t there often—a few times a year.

I don’t remember much about going to church other than feel­ing embarrassed by my mother’s singing. We rarely went, but each time we did Mom sat us front and center, and then she sang as loudly as she could. She sang with passion, but she couldn’t carry a tune with a U-Haul. Being from the South I’m required to follow that criticism with “bless her heart.” (So let it be noted here that I blessed my momma’s can’t-sing-a-lick heart.)26 It’s No Secret

I listened to the pastor’s sermons, but I didn’t understand much about the subject matter. From what I could gather, God was good and He didn’t do bad things. So I concluded that if I wanted God to like me I, too, needed to be good and not do anything bad. Being a proper Southern girl, I very much wanted God to like me.

I thought believing in God and trying to do the right thing was what church was all about. I didn’t realize that—because Jesus lived, died, and rose—I could have a dynamic relationship with the God of the universe and He would delight in empowering me to live well. Instead, I assumed it took willpower. Like a diet or a marathon.

Glimpses of Revelation

When I was twelve, my mother called me into her room and patted the edge of the bed. I sat down beside her. With an unsettled look on her face, she revealed she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. The room started to spin, splintering my carefree world within its centrifugal force.

She explained something about cells and masts. Then she braced me for the likelihood that the treatments would cause her hair to fall out. That did it. I ran from the room crying inconsolably. My momma, sick, without her pretty auburn hair? It was too much for a tweenager to take in. I might have been only twelve at the time, but I understood the importance of big hair to Southern women.

During the months of cancer treatments that followed we went to church more often. About this time our church employed a new minister, and I really liked him. I understood more of his sermons, perhaps because I was desperate, or maybe because I was growing Always RSVP 27

up. All I know is I sensed something stirring in a dormant chamber of my heart.

I asked Mom to buy me a Bible; she did. I sat on the floor one Saturday, sunlight streaming through my window, and read through Genesis. (OK, I might have skimmed a little bit.) Then I skipped to the middle—because I’d never read a book this long—and read through Matthew, Mark, and part of Luke. Then I skipped to Revelation to find out how the book ended.

I don’t know if you’ve spent much time in Revelation, but it isn’t exactly light reading material. Challenging concepts make it difficult to grasp, especially for a clueless tween with no decoder ring. I closed the book, remembering the stories about Jesus. He lived doing good, which reconfirmed my notion that I had to be good and do good to make heaven’s invitation list. I’d finally made a Jesus-sighting, but I was still missing His point. I didn’t hear His message of mercy.

I set out to be and do good. I unloaded the dishwasher without being asked. I invited less-popular kids to sit at my lunch table. I even said “yes ma’am,” and “no sir” to my teachers. But inevitably something would happen to throw me off my good game. Someone would insult me, something would depress me, or some boy would pass a note my way.

After a year or so of mastectomy recovery and radiation treat­ments, my mother’s cancer went into remission. Things returned to normal around our home. Sadly, the preacher I liked so well left to pastor another church, and my interest in the things of God faded as my interest in the things of my peers grew. I didn’t give God much thought during my high school years, preferring to focus on fashion, sports, boys, and music.28 It’s No Secret

Halfway through my freshman year of college, my brother called to tell me Mom had again been diagnosed with cancer. This time, it was a brain tumor. His words sank into my own brain, creating a mass of stress and fret.

One night, I lay alone in my dorm room trying to sleep when I thought I saw Jesus standing in the corner. He didn’t say anything; He just looked at me, His arms extended toward me. He looked just as He did in the statues you see in old churches—long brown hair and white flowing robe. I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or hallucinat­ing, but I decided it meant that my mom was going to be OK.

Turned out, the tumor was inoperable. The doctors resorted to chemotherapy and radiation, but I could tell they didn’t think it’d work. I spent my spring semester driving the two hours back and forth between college and home. By exam week I was sick with a sinus infec­tion, probably stress-induced. I’d take an exam, drag myself back to my room and sleep, then stagger—coughing and sniffling—to the next test. At the end of the week, I lugged myself home.

Hope Deferred

That Sunday, Mother’s Day, I visited Mom at the cancer center, determined to keep a smile on my face and do my best to cheer her up. I didn’t want her worrying about me. I purchased a sweet card and wrote, “Thank you for being my mom.” When I arrived, the nurse told me I couldn’t enter her room because I was sick.

I still remember the sterile feeling of the cold, hard floor in the hall outside her room, where I sat and cried. But it’s Mother’s Day, my mind protested between sobs, but she’s dying anyway…. Even today, the memory stings my eyes with tears.Always RSVP 29

A few days later I was better, but Mom had worsened. She came home from the cancer center with hospice care. A couple days after that, she couldn’t respond to me beyond raising her eyebrows at the sound of my voice. Panic set in as I realized I was losing contact. She was sliding away, and I was powerless to stop the inevitable.

Later that evening, my dad and I went out to grab dinner, leav­ing Mom under my grandmother’s watch. As we returned, I spotted a police car parked out front—and I knew. I ran to the bedroom to find my beautiful, vibrant mom lying lifeless.

She was gone. I was seventeen.

That night my life passed before me. Not my history with my mom, but my future without her. Where my prospects once looked promisingly bright, I now saw a haze of uncertainty.

I cried on the shoulder of a family friend. Gasping for breath and wiping away tears, I questioned, “What will I do when it comes time to graduate and my mom isn’t there to pin on my cap and clap? Or when I set out on my own and I don’t have my mom to advise me? What happens when I get married, and have babies, and I don’t have a mom to help me?”

Placing her hands on my trembling shoulders, she stared into my moist eyes. “When those times come, Rachel, God will make sure you are taken care of.” She spoke the words with enough cer­tainty that I resolved to believe her.

Filing that promise away in my heart, I held on to the hope that God would somehow become a mother to me. I had nothing else to cling to. My dad and brothers argued over Mom’s will, then went their separate ways. I didn’t just lose my mom; I lost my whole family that May.30 It’s No Secret

Coming Undone

In the fall I headed back to college, where I majored in journalism. I spent weekends trying to drown my sorrows at fraternity parties. I recall stumbling home one evening and walking into my closet, where I caught sight of one of my mom’s sweaters. My knees buckled beneath me as heavy sobs ensued. I realized the party life wasn’t fixing anything; it was an insufficient distraction. But I didn’t know how else to find relief.

My junior year I met a corduroy-clad young professor with uncommon wisdom and peace. He taught two of my classes, sched­uled back-to-back. As the weather turned cool and leaves crunched underfoot, we’d walk across campus together from one class to the other. I learned he was a Christian. He felt like a safe place. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt that way around anybody.

I found myself telling him about my mom, my fractured family, and my uneasiness about the future. I asked him questions about his faith. He answered convincingly, and when the semester ended, he invited me to his church.

Inside that prefab metal building I witnessed vibrancy. Those people possessed hope, joy, and peace, all of which I coveted. I learned about Jesus and how His shed blood washes away my sin and unites me with God—even though I don’t deserve such kindness.

I discovered God doesn’t just want me to be good, He wants me to be in Him—hand in hand, heart to heart. I realized it isn’t just a matter of willpower and proper performance He’s after, but a grow­ing relationship through which He’ll shoulder most of the burden to make me vibrant. Yahweh so desires that I bear His image, I learned, He will transform me into His likeness through His Spirit. He can Always RSVP 31

make the most tarnished Southern belle glorious. In fact, in Him my purpose is found and fulfilled. In coming to Him I’d become a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a bride. All in Him, and all to Him.

After attending church two Sundays, I responded to this divine truth. I walked to the front, acknowledged my need for Jesus, and handed Him the jumbled mess of my broken heart. I asked Him to forgive me, clear the haze, and untangle my knotted-up hopes and dreams.

Inside a priceless decoder ring, God inscribed my initials with an eternal beam of light. In the instant I responded to Christ’s call, I became a beloved daughter of the Most High God and a member of His Yahweh Sisterhood.

The Favor of a Reply Is Requested

You and I need a jeweler’s loupe of sorts to see the secrets Yahweh wants to reveal to us—indeed to see Yahweh Himself. Our basic eye­sight needs some spiritual amplification. We need a divine ointment to anoint our eyes for the task.

Remember that Greek word musterion, meaning a sacred secret revealed by God? Its root word is muo, which means locked up or shut, as in eyes that are closed. In Revelation 3:17–18 Jesus told the people of the church at Laodicea that, although they didn’t realize it, they were spiritually blind. Their eyes were locked shut and could not see God. They were neither seeing nor responding. Jesus counseled them, “Buy from me … salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” (v. 18 ESV). Jesus affords us the ability to see, hear, understand, and respond to God. Only Jesus can provide that divine salve we need.32 It’s No Secret

In Matthew 5, we find Jesus perched on the side of a moun­tain near the ancient city of Capernaum to preach. Massive crowds gathered to watch and hear what He had to say. Some in the crowd followed Jesus; they had already opened themselves to His teach­ing. Others desperately sought a miracle or healing. A few counted themselves Jesus’ enemies. Others showed up out of curiosity. They’d heard the rumors and came to decide for themselves if Jesus was a fake, a prophet, or a Savior.

Jesus gazed across the mountainside at the congregation of people. Many eyed Him skeptically, wondering if they would see something that proved a connection to God. He told them, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt. 5:8 NIV). A pure heart; an authentic heart; a humble, believing heart open to Jesus’ teaching—that’s the currency that buys the salve to allow our eyes to see God. That’s what enables us to respond to God. Lacking it, many heard Jesus’ words without understanding Him or watched His moves without realizing they were staring into the face of Yahweh.

God’s gals understand that only Jesus can open the eyes of a woman’s heart, cleansing them pure enough to see and respond to Yahweh. Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” Did you catch the secret Jesus reveals here? He said He’s the only way to God, the full embodiment of truth, and the only source of vibrant, lasting life. Jesus is the way we want to go, the truth we need to know, and the eternal life that we crave. You just can’t get to God without going through Jesus. Jesus is our way to God, and God’s way to us.

Jesus is who God wants us to respond to.Always RSVP 33

All religions do not lead to heaven, despite popular opin­ion (John 3:3). God is wise beyond wise and has a purpose for everything He does, and He designed salvation in such a way that believing in God is not sufficient. We must also believe in His Son, who ushers us to Yahweh and shows us how to live His way.

So our membership in the Yahweh Sisterhood—our becoming a daughter of God—happens at Christ’s invitation to follow Him. You cannot buy, earn, or bluff your way in. You must be invited—and you have been. God’s own hand addressed your invitation some two thousand years ago, at the desk of the cross, on the parchment of Christ’s body, in the ink of His blood.

Have you RSVP’d?

A year of high school French enables me to inform you RSVP stands for “répondez s’il vous plaît.” It means “please respond” … don’t put it off … don’t wait and see … say you’ll join me!

If you’ve never responded to Jesus’ invitation to come to God through Him, now is the time. Don’t wait for tomorrow. Don’t put it off until you get your act together—RSVP right now through prayer. Receive the gift of forgiveness offered through Jesus, and ask God to take charge of your life and future. Receive your divine decoder ring. Tomorrow may be too late. Be Jesus’ guest today.

Guest List

In Jesus’ day, a person throwing a soiree sent out servants to issue invitations to the guests and gather their responses. Invitations noted the day of the gathering but not the hour. The hour depended on when everything was ready. 34 It’s No Secret

Once everything was ready on party day, servants again went out to call in the guests. Those who’d said they’d come were expected to be dressed, ready, and waiting that day. When the ser­vant knocked on their door, they were to head immediately for the banquet room.

This scenario mirrors what happens in the spiritual realm. God sent His Son and Servant Jesus to issue our invitation on the cross. Those who accept are born anew spiritually—then expected and empowered to live in such a way that they are ready for the day Jesus will return, calling us to God’s heavenly banqueting table.

Though we don’t know the day or the hour, we will be ushered to a great wedding feast, the marriage banquet for Jesus and His bride. Jesus’ bride is the church, meaning you and me—all who have RSVP’d to His invitation.

I read about this feast in the book of Revelation that day in my room. What I couldn’t grasp fully back then now sets my heart aflutter in a way that nothing else can. I am loved, chosen, adopted, prepared, and betrothed—to the King of Glory. You are too! The wildest thing about this Yahweh Sisterhood? We’re all engaged to the same Man—Jesus—yet no one seems to mind.

You and I must RSVP and ready ourselves for our heavenly wed­ding day. The rest of the divine secrets in this book will purify and prepare us to take our Groom’s hand as He replaces our decoder ring with a wedding band. I don’t want to miss it. Nor do I want to get there and find myself underdressed and unprepared.

Understanding and responding to the twelve divine secrets that follow—internalizing and enacting them—will keep us dressed Always RSVP 35

and ready for the future party. While simply responding to the cross secures our seat at the grand banqueting table, keeping these secrets assures us that our heavenly Groom will look on us with utter delight.

My fellow belles, have you saved the date? Because a wedding feast looms on the celestial calendar. It’s part of your story. And savvy Yahweh Sisters are always dressed and ready for a party!

A Garden Wedding

Twenty days after I graduated college, I had my own wedding feast. I married that young professor, Southern style, in a garden surrounded by azalea bushes in full bloom, three-hundred-year-old oaks drip­ping with Spanish moss, and swans swimming on the lake behind. It was gorgeous.

God not only adopted this lonely girl into His heavenly family, He placed me into Rick’s earthly family. He presented me with three sisters-in-law and countless Sisters-in-Christ. I learned the truthful relevance of Psalm 68; it became the story of my life:

Sing praises to God and to his name!Sing loud praises to him who rides the clouds.His name is the LORD—rejoice in his presence!

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, whose dwelling is holy.

God places the lonely in families;he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. (Ps. 68:4–6) 36 It’s No Secret

He’s a Father to the fatherless, and I can testify He’s a mother to the motherless as well. God has guided me, protected me, com­forted me, taught me, and provided for me. He also untangled my hopes and fears and brought me the joyful desires of my heart.

So now you’ll find me in church each week, singing praises to Yahweh and His great name. Oh, and I sing rather quietly when I praise Him in public. It’s not that I’m not extremely thankful—I am. It’s not that I don’t like to sing—I do. And it has nothing to do with embarrassing memories from my church past in that brown brick building with the red carpet.

Truth is, I sing every stinkin’ bit as off-key as my momma did.

Shhh, don’t tell anyone. Sisters stick together, right?

But you can go ahead and bless my heart over that vocal deficit. I need all the help I can get.


1. Check out this parable Jesus told about a man throwing a feast:

A man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!”

Jesus replied with this illustration: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When all was ready, Always RSVP 37

he sent his servant around to notify the guests that it was time for them to come. But they all began making excuses. One said he had just bought a field and wanted to inspect it, so he asked to be excused. Another said he had just bought five pair of oxen and wanted to try them out. Another had just been married, so he said he couldn’t come.

“The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was angry and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the city and invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.’ After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. For none of those I invited first will get even the smallest taste of what I had prepared for them.’” (Luke 14:15–24)

What struck you when the people in Jesus’ story made excuses for not being prepared to attend? List the things that preoccupied them.38 It’s No Secret

What excuses do you make for not responding to Christ, or not living “dressed and ready”?

2. Read about the coming wedding feast in Revelation 19:6–10. What does it say about the bride (you) and her wedding dress?

3. Next time you throw a bash at your plantation, Jesus offers this advice for planning the guest list:

Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” (Luke 14:12–14)

That’s precisely what God did when He created the Yahweh Sisterhood. He sent out invitations welcoming every one of us to His supper club. The glass slipper fits each gal here. Everyone gets the rose. The King of Glory doesn’t require Always RSVP 39

designer gowns or shiny black limos for us to dine with Him. What a relief!

In the space below, write a thank-you note to your King.

Dear Jesus,


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Jump: Into a Life of Further and Higher - Book Review

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:

David C. Cook; New edition (September 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***


Efrem Smith uses motivational speaking, comedy, and preaching to equip people for a life of transformation. He is the Superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference for the Evangelical Covenant Church, and an Itinerant Speaker with Kingdom Building Ministries. He is a graduate of Saint John’s University and Luther Theological Seminary, and the author of Raising Up Young Heroes and The Hip-Hop Church. He and his family live in the Bay Area of California.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (September 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434764575
ISBN-13: 978-1434764577



My pastor friend Darrell once told me a story that has given me a new vision for living the Christian life. Not long ago Darrell took his son to the zoo and became intrigued with an animal known as the African impala. It just so happened that a female staffer from the zoo was standing near the enclosure giving background information on the impala, so he stopped to listen. I must be honest and say that at that point in my life the only thing I knew about an impala was that Chevrolet made them. As I said, Darrell is my friend. He could tell my thoughts of Chevy automobiles were distracting me from really listening to his story. But he’s also a pastor, so he put his hand on my shoulder to regain my attention.

The zookeeper told Darrell and his son some interesting facts about the impala. She said this animal has the ability to jump thirteen feet high in the air from a standing position. this allows the impala to escape predators that try to sneak up on it from behind. The impala has the ability to jump not only up but also out—thirty feet out. An impala’s back is like a shock absorber, which is crucial since the animal’s leaps are like explosions. Impalas can reach maximum running speeds of close to sixty miles per hour. Again, a

natural survival skill. But it was what the woman said next that really caught Darrell’s attention. “Notice that even though the impala has the ability to jump thirteen feet high and thirty feet out, the African

impalas are contained here at the zoo by a three-foot wall!”

This grabbed my attention too. “Stop right there! How is it that an animal with the ability to jump thirteen feet high and thirty feet out can be contained by a three-foot wall?” I asked. Darrell went on to explain that when the impalas are young, they are taught they can’t jump over the three-foot wall. Zoo personnel do this by emphasizing a weakness of the adults. An adult impala is hesitant to use its ability to jump if it is unable to see where it’s going to land. the inability to see the end of the jump somehow hinders the impala from something it is naturally able to do. I’m a pastor too, like Darrell, so let me put it this way: the inability to live by faith keeps the impala from doing what God created it to do, what it was

born to do. It grows up to become an adult with the ability to jump into freedom, to live out its purpose, but it won’t because it doesn’t believe it can. Darrell finished his story there and said, “Anytime you want to use that in a sermon, feel free.” I’ve been connecting that story to every sermon ever since.


The Christian life in so many ways is about a series of jumps that can take us higher and further into a life of intimacy with and identity in Christ. The Christian life is about the love relationship that God desires to have with us, so that we become His beloved, advancing the Kingdom of God on earth. And on many days this involves taking leaps of faith into the unknown.

From my pastoral point of view, I look around today and see believers all across the land behind three-foot walls. Like African impalas, they’ve been taught one thing or another, many times things completely unscriptural, that keeps them from jumping into the life God wants for them.

For example, maybe they’re taught early on that Christianity is a bunch of rules, and if you don’t follow the rules, God doesn’t love you. I know for a fact that this has kept more than one Christian from ever knowing the freedom of jumping into an intimate relationship with God. Or maybe some people were warned not to learn about spiritual gifts. As a result, they have never taken the leap into knowing their spiritual gifts and God-given mission to advance the Kingdom of heaven on earth.

All that explosive God-potential just sitting behind a three-foot wall.

I think about the life of Peter in the gospel of John as a picture of this. In the first chapter, Andrew, Peter’s brother, brings him to meet Jesus:

One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). John 1:40–42

Peter had to make a decision to take the jump of following Jesus without fully knowing where this jump would end. Yet these jumps into the unknown are the key to freedom in Christ and our ability to advance the Kingdom of God on earth. Peter had to deal with some three-foot walls in making the initial decision to follow Jesus. Maybe his three-foot wall was leaving his fishing business behind. Or maybe it was dealing with what his friends and other family members would think of him for following one

who proclaimed to be the Son of God. Whatever the specifics, it’s clear Peter had to deal with a three-foot wall of some kind in making his initial jump. When we make the decision to follow Christ, we have to deal with a three-foot wall of some kind too.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12–13

We may not be able to see what’s on the other side of the wall, but we know one thing: God is there. We are, by faith, jumping into God’s love! We can’t see God, but we hear His voice on the other side calling us into love, forgiveness, and freedom.

Though freedom waits for us on the other side, the walls around us can be overwhelming. Three-foot walls often feel more like skyscrapers. This is one reason why we must be loving and patient with people who have not yet come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. We don’t know what they’ve been through.

We don’t know the multiple walls they may be facing as they consider this faith jump. Evangelism today must be loving, gentle, patient, and in some cases very slow. Some people may take the jump into God’s love at events or on a Sunday morning through an experience of corporate worship; but I believe most

will make the jump only after coming to trust a community of believers over time. It took time for the three-foot walls to be built, and it will take time to take the risk of that initial jump. This first jump into the Christian life is not easy. Maybe it was the same for Peter.

But this initial jump was not the only one that Peter had to make. The impala does not have the ability to jump only once in its life. The impala has the ability to jump over and over again, each time experiencing the liberation that it brings. Peter had many other occasions where he had to decide to jump.

The story is told of Peter and the rest of the disciples on a boat waiting for Jesus. Out of nowhere, Jesus approached them, walking on the water. Peter looked, wondering if it was truly Jesus approaching them in this miraculous way. Jesus called to Peter to come out onto the water himself. Right there, Peter had

a decision to make: Jump or don’t jump. He had already made the initial jump to follow Jesus; now he had to decide whether to say yes to an invitation that most would say was impossible. It’s one thing to follow a man; it’s quite another to jump out of a boat and walk on water.

On another occasion, Jesus was presenting a hard teaching about His identity and the cost of following Him. Many people began to turn away. Peter was faced with another jumping opportunity:

As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” John 6:66–69

When given the opportunity to go to a deeper place of understanding with God, will you take the jump? Even if the teaching presents challenges and issues that seem impossible to take on in daily living? Jumping is seldom easy. Sometimes it even feels like the more you jump, the harder the next jump is.

About a year ago, I took a trip to El Salvador through a partnership with Compassion International and Kingdom Building Ministries. We visited many of the Compassion International projects that are run in partnership with local churches. As part of a team of itinerant speakers with Kingdom Building Ministries, I connect my messages on Kingdom laborship and advancement with the Kingdom values

of compassion, justice, and mercy. The ministries of Compassion International that seek to advance God’s Kingdom and deal with poverty through child sponsorship are a great expression of this.

On our last day in El Salvador, we went zip-lining. I had never zip-lined in my life, and I have to say that I was dealing with a lot of fear. One of the other itinerant speakers, Adrian Dupree, seemed really excited about the chance. I told him I wasn’t going to do it, but he insisted: “Efrem, you need to face your fears.” After a lot of prayer and encouragement from both Compassion International and Kingdom Building staff, I decided to take the jump.

Zip-lining is traveling down a cable while in the air from one point to another. It’s like coming down a mountain on a ski-lift chair except there’s no chair—it’s just you, holding on to a cable rigging.

Our zip-lining adventure took us up in the mountains, four hundred feet above the ground. As we traveled up the mountain by truck, I became very nervous. I didn’t know what was on the other

side of this experience. We finally stopped to put on our gear and then hiked farther up the mountain to get to the proper elevation. Remember now, I was doing this for the first time.

The instructors gave us directions for zip-lining—how to go, how to slow down, and how to stop. They also showed us how to initially get ourselves hooked on to the cable that would take us down the mountain. To get attached, you literally jump up and connect to the cable. When I stopped thinking about how high up I was and focused more on jumping up and getting connected, facing my fears

was a little easier. It didn’t take away my fears, but it made it more manageable. Since I am a pastor, the spiritual comparisons were racing through my head. In our relationship with God, it’s not just about making a jump; it’s about trusting the One we’re connected to, even though we can’t always see the destination. The key is to abide in God through Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit:

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:31–32


I want to go back to Peter for a moment. As I look at his life and faith, I see three jumps that were defining for Peter. Even though the Christian life is made up of multiple jumps, these three were vital for

Peter. I believe they are for you and me as well:

1. The jump into the beloved self

2. The jump into the beloved church

3. The jump into the beloved world

The Beloved Self

Everything begins somewhere. For Peter, everything began when Jesus said, “Follow Me.” I don’t believe Peter understood all that invitation meant, but he made the decision to take that initial jump. From there he kept on following, even when many turned away. Peter’s jump took him to a moment of denying Jesus (John 18:16–27), but that moment was later redeemed. The resurrected Christ made sure Peter knew His forgiveness and grace and love (John 21:15–17). Through time and trial, Peter learned what it means to be the beloved of God. What about you? Do you live like you believe God loves you?

The Beloved Church

The beloved self overflows into the beloved church. Peter began to see this when he preached on the day of Pentecost and became a leader in the first Christ-centered community. He had no idea where all this would lead.

What does it look like to live in community with others? I’m not talking about just showing up for church on Sunday but actually living the Christian life with others and being willing to be held accountable. Now that is a major jump!

I served as the senior pastor of a church that is intentionally evangelical, multicultural, and urban. This type of church is rare in the United States of America. Race and class still can be very challenging issues in our society, so for a church like this one to be healthy and missional takes people willing to make the jump to build relationships and trust with people who are different from them; in other words, jumping from “God loves me” to “God loves us.” The three-foot walls in this case could be fear, ignorance, prejudice, and past hurts. Taking the jumps over the long haul to be a reconciling gathering is essential to being the beloved church.

The Beloved World

But it doesn’t stop with the church. In Acts 11, Peter was given a vision that challenged him to jump further and higher into the beloved world. Peter had no idea where taking the gospel message to the Gentiles would land him, but he took the leap.

This jump is about understanding and acting on how God has uniquely designed us to advance His Kingdom; in other words, jumping from “God loves us” to “God so loved the world.” It’s about becoming a vehicle of compassion, mercy, justice, and truth.

My “beloved” language comes from the vision of civil rights leader and pastor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke often of “the beloved community”—a community of peace, love, reconciliation, and justice. But the origin of the civil rights movement came not from the speeches of Dr. King but from the jump of a woman named Rosa Parks.

Ms. Parks refused to go to the back of a bus and give up the seat she was sitting in for a white person. She ignited a movement by taking that jump. She had no idea where it would land. There was something Rosa Parks believed in: that God loved her, regardless of what the segregated South thought at the time. Her jump was based on seeing herself beyond how she was seen by those of the dominant racial group. She took the jump into the new self, a self that could live equally with whites and have equal access to all open seats on a bus. She sat still and jumped into the pursuit of the beloved self.

Rosa Parks’s courage spilled over into the churches. But the people needed a leader, someone to take the jump and organize and strategize for the many. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took that leap. His jump resulted in a movement that hit the streets through bus boycotts, lunch-counter sit-ins, and freedom marches. This was a going public, jumping into the beloved world, the very transforming of society.

Ms. Parks and Dr. King had no idea where their jumps would end. Dr. King’s cost him his life. But our world is so much better for it. Every faith jump you take has a risk factor, including the possibility of losing your life in order to find that faith.

But think about the alternatives: A world full of African impalas behind three-foot walls. Fishermen invited to become something more but don’t because they’re afraid. Pastors who might never experience the thrill of a zip-line. Or men and women forced to the back of the bus or the back of living. Jumping is the difference between a limited life and a liberated life, between just getting by and going further and higher.

What about you—are you ready to jump?

©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Jump by Efrem Smith. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Very Private Grave (Book 1: The Monastery Murders) - Book Review

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:

Monarch Books (August 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Donna Fletcher Crow for sending me a review copy.***


Donna Fletcher Crow is the award-winning author of more than 30 books, primarily novels dealing with British history.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Monarch Books (August 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1854249681
ISBN-13: 978-1854249685


Felicity flung her history book against the wall. She wasn’t studying for the priesthood to learn about ancient saints. She wanted to bring justice to this screwed-up world. Children were starving in Africa, war was ravaging the Middle East, women everywhere were treated as inferiors. Even here in England—

She stopped her internal rant when she realized the crash of her book had obscured the knock at her door. Reluctantly she picked up the book, noting with satisfaction the smudge it had left on the wall, and went into the hall. Her groan wasn’t entirely internal when she made out the black cassock and grey scapular of her caller through the glass panel of the door. She couldn’t have been in less of a mood to see one of the long-faced monks who ran the College of the Transfiguration which she had chosen to attend in a moment of temporary insanity. She jerked the door open with a bang.

“Father Dominic!” Felicity was immediately sorry for her surly mood. Fr. Dominic was an entirely different matter. She was always happy to see him. “I didn’t realize you were back from your pilgrimage.” She held the door wide for him as he limped down the hall to her living room.

“Just returned, my dear. Just returned.” As he spoke he smiled with a twinkle in his eyes that belied his 85 years, but he couldn’t quite suppress a small sigh as he lowered himself stiffly onto her sofa.

“I’ll put the kettle on.” Felicity turned toward her small kitchen. “I’m so sorry I don’t have any scones.”

“No, no. Just tea today— black.”

She looked at him, puzzled for a moment, then remembered. Oh, yes— today was Ash Wednesday. Solemn fast and all that. Felicity mentally rolled her eyes as she filled the kettle with water and clicked it on.

A few minutes later she filled his cup with a steaming, amber stream of his favorite Yorkshire Gold tea. The Community had a year or two ago started serving a cheaper blend of tea and donating the money saved thereby to the African Children’s Fund Fr. Dominic chaired— a worthy cause, but the tea was dreadful.

He raised his cup, “Oh, who could ask for more? The nectar of the gods.” Still, she knew he was missing her scones for which he sometimes provided little jars of quince jam from the community kitchen. And at Christmas he had brought her favorite— slices of dark, rich fruit cake encased in marzipan an inch thick.

And yet today she wondered if he noticed what he was or wasn’t eating at all, he was so animated with his plans for the major funding drive the Children’s Fund was set to launch. “If one puts together abortion, infant mortality, AIDS and traumatic deaths, South Africa’s daily death toll is appalling. Thousands die in a matter of months. If this were a war, such troop causalities would not be acceptable. The entire future of that nation— the whole continent, really— is at stake. They simply cannot afford to lose so many of their people— especially the children who are the future. If you don’t maintain health and keep order, instability, violence and poverty tear a country apart.”

Felicity nodded vigorously. Yes, this was more like it. This was what she wanted to hear about, not some useless church history nonsense. Fr. Dominic had spent his life working in South Africa, and today his passion made every word strike her heart. “And it isn’t just South Africa, the rest of the continent looks to them— to us— for stability. If South Africa fails, millions of Africans will curse us— we who stand by and let it happen.”

Still, there was hope, Dominic had talked to key people while on pilgrimage and had secured a source for a vast amount for the fund, although he didn't say what that source was. “This will be enough to build a first rate hospital for AIDS babies in Africa and fund a research wing for prevention and cure. There are good leaders in the government. There are people working for justice. If we can just give the people hope to hold on— "

His eyes took on a dreamy look and a little smile played around his mouth. "Hope. That’s what it’s always been about. Through the centuries . . . At last, the treasure to be put to a truly worthy use. . ." He ducked his head and took a quick sip of tea. “Forgive me, I’ve said too much.” He became suddenly thoughtful and lapsed into a most uncharacteristic silence. All Felicity’s best efforts couldn’t coax any more stories from him. Perhaps it was just the solemnity of the day, but Felicity did miss his stories— even the ones she had heard multiple times.

He drained his cup and set it down. “Ah, thank you my dear. Always a pleasure to be in your bright company. But now I must be getting back up the hill. Father Superior has asked me to do the ashing at mass, so I must prepare.” He struggled to his feet, his broad-shouldered, once-muscular frame revealing gauntness under the weight of his black woolen cassock, as did the folds of flesh that hung beneath his square jaw.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” he patted the canvas scrip which hung at his side from a strap slung across his chest. “I thought this might interest you.” He held out a small parcel wrapped in brown paper and tied up with old-fashioned string. His hand shook ever so slightly as Felicity took it from him. The gesture was so endearing: his shyness charming; his eagerness humbling. If the circumstances had been vastly different he could have been a suitor offering jewels to his beloved, or perhaps in an earlier age a troubadour bestowing an ode to his lady. And oddly enough, Felicity had the distinct impression that he hadn’t at all forgotten, but rather that delivering this small package had been the sole object of his visit. One might almost say his mission.

Felicity couldn’t help herself. She stepped forward and kissed him on his cheek. “Thank you, Father.”

Unexpectedly he placed his hands on each side of her forehead. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you always.” She felt a warmth from his hands that infused her whole head and radiated toward her body as if she were being bathed in warm oil. She almost fancied a faint scent of spice as he made the sign of the cross over her.

Moving inside a bubble of hushed awe, she held the door for him and he walked out slowly, as if reluctant to leave, stepping carefully to avoid limping. “I’ll see you at mass, Father.”

She shut the door behind him and turned to the window to watch his slow progress down the uneven sidewalk, his grey scapular blowing in the wind. Somehow she wanted to call out to him, to cling to the moment, but already it was passing, the normality of the day moving in on a holy moment. Yet even as she turned away from the window, the warmth of his touch remained on her head. She turned back one last time, her hand held out to him, but no one was there. Only a fleeting shadow brushed the corner of her eye. She shivered, but when she blinked the sky was clear.

"Right. Back to the real world." Felicity spoke aloud to make herself focus. She looked longingly at the small brown package in her hand. It felt like a book. A very slim volume. Had Father D. found a publisher for his poetry? Her fingers plucked at the string. No. If this was a collection of her friend’s poetry perusing it must not be rushed. Reading it would be her treat when she finished the work she had set for herself for the day. Lectures had been cancelled to mark the solemnity, but essays would still be due when they were due. With a sigh she slipped the gift into one of the copious patch pockets of her skirt and returned to the tome on the Anglo-Saxon church Fr. Antony had assigned, forcing herself to concentrate on its obscure irrelevancies.

That had been the hardest thing she had found about adjusting to her first year at theological college— the constant pressure for work, the lack of time to pursue her own interests— and that in a monastery, even. You really would think, living with a bunch of monks and future priests you'd have all the time in the world. Felicity shook her head.

And besides that, there was no margin for error on her part. As one of only four women among the student body of forty-some— and the only American— Felicity felt a double burden to reach the highest standards possible. This was the first year the Anglo-Catholic College of the Transfiguration had accepted women as ordinands, although they were still housed off campus awaiting alterations to the dormitories. Before "the Great Change" a few women enrolled as students, but were not allowed equal status with the male ordinands. Last year, however, the college had submitted to the winds of change and the powers that be, so now the women had full status— and double pressure.

Felicity, however was never one to let such barriers discourage her. She could rise to any challenge and her determination to succeed in this male-dominated world knew no limits. Anyway, she had few complaints. She had been warmly welcomed— by most. A handful of ordinands and perhaps two or three of the monks or lay teachers were less warm— whether because she was female or because she was American she wasn’t sure.

Two hours later the insistent ringing of the community bell called her back from her reading just in time to fling a long black cassock on over her shetland sweater and dash across the street and up the hill to the Community grounds. Her long legs carried her the distance in under three minutes— she had timed it once. Once inside the high stone wall enclosing the Community she slowed her pace. It never failed. No matter how irritated she became with all the ancient ritual and nonsense of the place, there was something about the storybook quality of it all that got through to her in her quieter moments.

The spicy scent of incense met her at the door of the church. She dipped her finger in the bowl of holy water and turned to share it with the brother just behind her. Shy Br. Matthew extended a plump finger without meeting her eyes. They each crossed themselves and slipped into their seats in the choir.

“Miserere mei, Deus. . .” The choir and cantors had practiced for weeks to be able to sing Psalm 51 to the haunting melody composed by Allegri. The words ascended to the vaulted ceiling; the echoes reverberated. Candles flickered in the shadowed corners. She had been here for six months— long enough for the uniqueness of it all to have palled to boredom— but somehow there was a fascination she couldn't define. “Mystery,” the monks would tell her. And she could do no better.

What was the right term to describe how she was living? Counter-cultural existence? Alternate lifestyle? She pondered for a moment, then smiled. Parallel universe. That was it. She was definitely living in a parallel universe. The rest of the world was out there, going about its everyday life, with no idea that this world existed alongside of it.

It was a wonderful, cozy, secretive feeling as she thought of bankers and shopkeepers rushing home after a busy day, mothers preparing dinner for hungry school children, farmers milking their cows— all over this little green island the workaday world hummed along to the pace of modern life. And here she was on a verdant hillside in Yorkshire living a life hardly anyone knew even existed. Harry Potter. It was a very Harry Potter experience.

She forced her attention back to the penitential service with its weighty readings, somber plainchant responses, and minor key music set against purple vestments. Only when they came to the blessing of the ashes did she realize Fr. Dominic wasn’t in his usual place. Her disappointment was sharp. He had definitely said he was to do the imposition of the ashes and she had felt receiving the ashen cross on her forehead from that dear man would give the ancient ritual added meaning. Instead, Fr. Antony, one of the secular priests who lectured at the college, not even one of the monastic community, stood to hold the small pot of palm ashes while Fr. Anselm, the Superior of the Community, blessed them with holy water and incense.

Felicity knelt at the altar rail, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The ashes were cold, a sooty mark of grief, gritty on her forehead.

“Amen,” she responded automatically.

She was back in her seat, turning ahead to the final hymn, “Forty Days and Forty Nights,” when she heard the soft slapping of sandals on the stone floor. Oh, there’s Fr. Dominic. She relaxed at the thought, putting away her worries that he had been taken suddenly ill. But her relief was short-lived when Fr. Clement, the Principal of the college, and Jonathan Breen, a scholar making a retreat at the monastery, slipped to the altar for their ashes.

The final notes of the postlude were still echoing high overhead when Felicity rose from her seat and hurried outside. Dinner, a vegetarian Lenten meal, would start in the refectory almost immediately and it wouldn’t do to be late. If she hurried, though, she could just dash back to her flat and pick up a book of Latin poetry for Fr. Dominic. She had a new volume of Horace, and she knew Fr. D loved the Roman's half Stoic, half Epicurean philosophy. He would have time to enjoy what he called his “guilty pleasure” while he recuperated from his indisposition.

She bounded up the single flight of stairs, flung open her door and came to a sudden halt. “Oh!” The cry was knocked from her like a punch in the stomach. She couldn’t believe it. She backed against the wall, closing her eyes in the hope that all would right itself when she opened them. It didn’t. The entire flat had been turned upside down.

Felicity stood frozen for perhaps a full minute, trying to take it all in: books pulled from shelves, drawers pulled from her desk, cushions flung from chairs. Hardly breathing, she rushed into her kitchen, bath, bedroom— all chaos— sheets and duvet ripped from her bed, clothes pulled from her wardrobe. She picked her way through scattered papers, dumped files, ripped letters. Dimly she registered that her computer and CD player were still there. Oh, and there was the Horace book still by her bed. She pulled her purse from under a pile of clothes. Empty. But its contents lay nearby. Credit cards and money still there.

Not robbery. So then, what? Why?

Was this an anti-women-clergy thing? Had she underestimated the extent of the resentment? Or was it an anti-American thing? The American president was widely unpopular in England. Had he done something to trigger an anti-American demonstration? Felicity would be the last to know. She never turned on the news.

Well, whatever it was, she would show them. If someone in the college thought they could scare her off by flinging a few books around she’d give them something new to think about. She stormed out, slamming her door hard enough to rattle the glass pane and strode up the hill at twice the speed she had run down it. Not for nothing her years of rigorous exercise at the ballet barre. When she reached the monastery grounds she keyed in the numbers on the security lock with angry jabs and barely waited for the high, black iron gates to swing open before she was speeding up the graveled walk.

Felicity's long blond braid thumped against her back as she charged onward, her mind seething. If those self-righteous prigs who posed as her fellow students thought they could put her off with some sophomoric trick—

She approached the college building, practicing the speech she would deliver to all assembled for dinner in the refectory: “Now listen up, you lot! If you think you can push me around just because your skirts are longer than mine. . .”

She punched a clenched-fist gesture toward her imaginary cassock-clad audience, then saw the Horace book still clutched in her hand. Oh, yes. First things first. She would have missed the opening prayer anyway. She would just run by Father D’s room— then she would tell them.

She hurried on up the path beyond the college to the monastery, ran her swipe card through the lock, and was halfway down the hall before the door clicked shut behind her. She had only been to Dominic’s room once before, to collect a poetry book he was anxious to share with her, but she would have had no trouble locating it, even had the door not been standing ajar.

She pushed it wider, preparing to step in. “Father D— ” she stopped at the sight of a man in a black cassock standing there praying. He jerked around at the sound of her voice and she recognized Fr. Antony, her church history lecturer.

She took a step backward when she saw the look of horror on his sheet-white face. “Felicity. Don’t come in.” He held up a hand to stop her and she saw it was covered with blood.

“Father D! Is he hemorrhaging?” She lunged forward, then stopped at the sight before her.

The whole room seemed covered in blood. Bright red splotches on the pristine white walls and bedding, on the open pages of a prayer book, on the statue of Our Lord, forming lurid stigmata on His hands extended in mercy. . .

And in the center of the floor, in a pool of red, his battered head all but unrecognizable— her beloved Father Dominic. The smell of fresh blood clogged her nostrils. Gorge rose in her throat.

“Felicity— ” Fr. Antony extended his reddened hands to her in a pleading gesture.

“No!” She screamed, wielding her Latin book as a shield against the blood, a red haze of shock and horror clouding her vision.

She couldn’t believe Antony's face could get even whiter. “Felicity, wait. Listen—”

She dimly registered his words, but the voice in her head shouted with far greater force. No! It can’t be. It's a mistake. She was in the wrong room. Must be. She shook her head against the nightmare she had seen yet couldn't accept that she had seen. Blackness rolled toward her.

She staggered backward into the hall and slumped to the floor as the room spun before her. She closed her eyes against the darkness as her mind reeled, groping for a coherent thought. How could this be?

Only a short time ago she had been reveling in the peace of this remote holy place. Where could such violence have come from? How was it possible here? In a place of prayer? To a holy man. Why?

If Fr. Dominic wasn't safe who could be?

And even as the questions tumbled, half-formed through her head, even as her mind denied the act her eyes saw, she knew she had to find an explanation. How could she continue studying— believing in— purpose and justice if such senseless irrationality reigned free?

Focusing on the questions gave her strength to get her feet under her again.

Antony was still standing dazed in the gore-splattered room looking as though he could collapse in the middle of the pool of blood. Felicity grabbed his arm, jerked him into the corridor, and shoved him against the wall where he stayed, leaning heavily. He held his hands before his face as if unbelieving they were his own. “When he missed mass I came to check on him. . . I felt for a pulse— ”

“We must get help!” Felicity looked wildly around.

“Yes, of course.” Her energy seemed to galvanize Antony. He pushed himself forward unsteadily. “Forgive me, I feel so stupid. It was the horror. I— we must tell the Superior. He’ll call the police.”

“Police? You mean an ambulance.” Felicity started toward the room again. Yes, that was it— how could she have dithered so when they must get help. “He’s lost so much blood, but maybe—”

“No!” Antony gripped her shoulder with more strength than she realized he was capable of. “Don’t go in there again, Felicity. It’s useless.”

She knew. She had seen the blood.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Stronger - Book Review

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:

David C. Cook; New edition (September 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***


Jim Daly joined the Focus on the Family staff over 20 years ago, initially in the ministry’s public affairs division. Since that time, he has worked extensively in the formation and development of the international outreach of the ministry serving as field director of Asia, Africa, and Australia. Serving in additional roles within marketing and public affairs, Daly continually accepted greater roles of responsibility until his most recent appointment in February 2005 as president and CEO of this internationally recognized family-centered ministry. He is the author of Finding Home: An Imperfect Path to Faith and Family, a deeply personal memoir. He resides in Colorado Springs with his wife, Jean, and two sons.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (September 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 143476446X
ISBN-13: 978-1434764461


When I Am Weak

This isn’t how it works in the movies.

On a chilly Sunday morning in December, David Works and his family—his wife, Marie, and daughters Stephanie, Laurie, Rachel, and Grace—finish worshipping at New Life Church in Colorado Springs. As usual, they stay after the service to enjoy conversation with friends. On their way to the exit, David announces that lunch will be at a nearby hamburger restaurant called Good Times. The members of the Works family pull their coats tighter and step into a brisk breeze, shuffling carefully across patches of snow in the parking lot.

As the family approaches its white Toyota Sienna van, Laurie heads for the left-side sliding door.

“No, no—you have to sit in the back on the other side,” Rachel says.

It is a Works family tradition that everyone keeps the same seat for both parts of a trip. Laurie rode to church in the rear right seat of the van, and Rachel intends to continue the custom.

“Okay, okay,” Laurie says.

She walks around the back of the van, enters through the right side sliding door, and takes her place in the back seat. Rachel, behind Laurie, pauses in front of the open right-side door to look for something in her purse.

That is when it starts.

David, sitting in the front passenger seat and in the process of buckling his seat belt, hears a sharp metallic sound. What was that? He lets go of the seat belt and swivels his head to the right, surveying the parking lot. To his shock, a young man dressed in black stands just twenty yards away. He’s pointing a large assault rifle at the Toyota.

What in the world?

Another shot rings out.

“Get down! Get down! There’s a shooter out there! He’s shooting at us!” David screams. He curls up in the van’s footwell, trying to get as low as possible. He hears the sound of more gunshots mixed with his family’s screams. The sound of the shots changes; David understands the shooter is on the move.

Wait a minute—where is Rachel?

She’d been just outside the van when the shooting started. David twists to look behind him. His sixteen-year-old daughter is still standing next to the Toyota, a dazed look on her face. Her burnt-orange T-shirt has a hole in it at the level of her lower-right rib cage.

“Rachel!” David cries.

“I think I’ve been shot,” Rachel says. Suddenly, she collapses, falling backward onto the blacktop.

David jerks his door handle and jumps out. The instant his feet hit the ground, another volley of bullets whizz past his head. He turns; the gunman is no more than ten yards away, rifle pointed directly at him. Before he can move, David feels pain on his right side, just above his waist. He too falls to the pavement. The shots continue.

“Gracie, get down and play dead! He’s still here!” David orders. His youngest daughter, eleven years old, had been moving from the backseat to help her sister.

The firing stops momentarily, then resumes, but the sound is more distant and muffled. David realizes the gunman has gone into the church.

David has been shot in the abdomen and groin. He stretches his arm in Rachel’s direction, willing his body to move. His daughter needs her father—her protector—yet David can’t even crawl. Through tears, he says, “I’m so sorry, honey. I can’t reach you.”

“That’s okay, Daddy,” Rachel whispers.1

On this horrifying, heartwrenching day, David Works would give anything to turn into a Hollywood action hero. If this were a movie, he would be Superman, leaping in front of his daughter and watching bullets bounce harmlessly off his chest. With his super strength, he would pick up the van and fly his family to safety, then return to catch the bad guy before he could hurt anyone else.

But this isn’t a movie.

David Works has no super strength. He is lying in a church parking lot, weak, helpless, and bleeding, and watching the life ebb from his beloved daughter.

Panic Attacks

Let’s leave this traumatic scene for the moment and visit the mother of a different family. Lori Mangrum is a pastor’s wife. She and her husband, John, have two children. But Lori isn’t thinking about her family right now. She’s slumped in a chair at home. The curtains are

drawn. For months, she hasn’t slept or eaten well.

Lori grew up in a Christian home and learned to smile and appear joyful no matter what was going on around her. Like any family, she and her parents and siblings had their share of troubles, but Lori didn’t want to burden her parents with her own fears and worries. She became the “sunshine” for her family, always working to cheer up others but rarely addressing her own emotional needs.

Years later, after marrying John, having kids, and moving to a new home, Lori started experiencing panic attacks. Without warning, feelings of terror overwhelmed her. She felt a crushing weight in her chest and became nauseous, dizzy, and disoriented. She thought she would die. The attacks increased to the point that Lori couldn’t drive a car or go into a grocery store.

One day, after a series of tests, a physician explained to Lori that she had a benign heart condition that could cause some of the symptoms of panic attacks. Finally! Lori thought. I knew they would find something!

But the doctor wasn’t finished.

“You have another problem,” he said gently. “I believe this problem manifested itself because of some psychological problems. I want you to see a psychiatrist.”

Lori couldn’t believe it. I don’t have any stress, she told herself, and what stress I do have I handle better than many others!

Now, sitting in the dark at home for week upon week, Lori is depressed. Friends have told her, “Pray harder, get yourself together, and stop this!” Yet she doesn’t even have the energy to talk, eat, or take a shower. Lori is disgusted with herself. She would give anything to change her circumstances, but emotionally, she feels weak and helpless.2

Those Uncomfortable Feelings

You may never have faced a crazed gunman or dealt with debilitating depression, but I’m guessing that at some point in life—perhaps many times—you’ve experienced some of the same feelings that David Works and Lori Mangrum went through in the incidents described above.

Weak. Helpless. Useless. Vulnerable.

Some pretty uncomfortable feelings, right?

We all do our best to avoid situations that expose our failings and fragility. But whether it’s a life-or-death crisis or the challenge of simply getting through another day, sooner or later we each confront the undesired sense of being powerless, worthless, feeble, disabled, and dependent on others.

And we don’t like it.

Most of us, especially in America, grow up with the idea that we can shape our own destinies. This, after all, is the land of opportunity. This is a place where dreams come true. We see ourselves as rugged individualists, fully capable of taking control of our lives and rising to the top.

And the weak? “Those people” are not us. Most of us profess to have empathy for the struggling and more helpless members of our society. But many of us are also conditioned to feel, deep down, a certain amount of disdain for the unfortunate few. You’re homeless? That’s too bad—but maybe you need to work harder at finding a job. You’re depressed? Yeah, I get discouraged sometimes too—but enough of feeling sorry for yourself; it’s time to get yourself together.

Part of the problem is that the weak and helpless are all around us, and when we see others having problems, it reminds us that we’re vulnerable too. Some of us cope by closing our eyes and shutting our ears to troubles. I will confess that this can be my attitude at times. But no matter how hard we try to ignore the trials of others, they rise to our attention like steam from a teapot. We think we’ve guarded our minds and hearts, and suddenly we’re faced with:

The distraught mother who watches her teenage son storm out of the house in anger, not knowing what to say or do and wondering when or if she’ll see him again.
The discouraged father of four who has lost his job, has been evicted from their home, and is so deeply in debt that he doesn’t see a way out.
The terrified little girl who is sexually molested by her “uncle” when Mom isn’t home and is told to keep quiet about it “or else.”
The lonely wife who thought she was marrying a soul mate and is desperate because she can’t get her husband to talk to her.
The sullen fourth-grader who repeatedly gets teased and bullied by a sixth-grader on the way home from school.
The worried single mom whose son is being recruited by a neighborhood gang.
The shocked fifty-year-old who has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
The young woman who feels paralyzed by depression and guilt over an abortion.
The husband who can’t forgive himself for an affair.
The despairing grandmother who is watching her children and grandchildren destroy their lives with alcohol and drugs, yet doesn’t know what to do about it.

It’s hard enough to put aside the struggles and weaknesses of family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. It’s harder still when the hurting wife, husband, mother, father, little girl, young man, or grandmother is us.

Do you know what I’m talking about? Are there times when you feel utterly incapable of dealing with the skyscraper-sized obstacle in your path? When you wish you didn’t feel more helpless than a bug on your back? When you wish you were Superman or Wonder Woman instead of plain old pint-sized “me”?

If so, I understand at least some of what you’re experiencing. One of my earliest memories, from when I was four years old, is of a man suddenly bursting through our front door one night as my brothers and sisters and I were watching TV. The man looked like a monster. His eyes were puffy, red, and glassy. His face was unshaven. He carried an oak-handled, ball-peen hammer in one hand and a jug of Gallo burgundy wine in the other.

The half man, half monster was my father, and he was looking for my mother. When he realized she wasn’t there, he roared, “This is what I’m going to do to your mother!” He swung the hammer and bashed a giant hole in the wall. I spent the rest of that night in my bedroom, cowering under a blanket, even after the police arrived and took my dad away.

Up to that point, I’d enjoyed a fairly typical childhood. I was more worried about missing favorite TV shows like Batman than whether I would make it to the age of five. But everything changed for me that night. Although I couldn’t have put it into words at the time, I suddenly learned just how vulnerable and helpless I really was.

It was a pretty awful feeling.

The feeling grew worse when my parents got divorced, Mom remarried, and we moved to an apartment complex in Compton, California. One night soon after, someone was murdered ten feet away from my ground-floor bedroom window. The rumor was that the killer used a shotgun. Knowing that only four inches of stucco and drywall separated me from whatever was out there left me distinctly scared.

I felt exposed. Defenseless. Weak.

The final blow occurred the next year. I understood that my mom was sick. She seemed to get more and more tired and eventually stayed in bed all the time. My stepfather, Hank, was so overprotective that he wouldn’t even let us kids talk to her. Weeks later, when my mom went to the hospital, I still just thought she was really sick. It never occurred to me that she might be dying. When my brother Mike told me that Mom was dead, I was shocked. I squeezed Mike’s arm so hard that I left fingernail marks. In some strange way I felt that hanging onto Mike would keep me from losing my mother.

My dad was out of my life. My stepfather left the family the day of Mom’s funeral and had no real interest in or relationship with my siblings and me. My mother was gone. I felt completely alone—and more helpless than ever.

How I wished it could be different. I wanted something then that I simply did not possess. I wanted strength.

A Different Kind of Strength

Most of us admire strength in its many forms. We all want to be strong. But the word strong conjures up a variety of meanings and images in our minds. For some, it means sheer physical power. We might think of bulging muscles and the ability to handle the next bad guy who crosses our path. For others, strength is about having the persistence to do what we set out to do—such as taking the lead on a difficult project at work or potty training our children. Some may think of strength of intellect—an ability to outsmart any person or problem. For still others, being strong means appearing immune to any irritations or challenges that threaten to disrupt daily life. Some like the idea of being emotionally detached, to embody a “James Bond” approach to life. Whatever comes up, we’ll take care of it, and we’ll do it with style.

Think of the figures portrayed so prominently in the media today: politicians such as our current president; technology gurus such as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs; athletes such as Peyton Manning or

LeBron James; actors and actresses such as George Clooney or Nicole Kidman; media moguls such as Oprah Winfrey.

Each of these people possesses strengths that the public appreciates. It might be physical strength, emotional strength, talent, intellectual capacity, or influence, but the world admires these folks for what they have that the rest of us don’t. They seem to have it together. They appear strong.

But I want to talk with you about an entirely different kind of strength. It’s a quality of strength that David Works and Lori Mangrum discovered. It is so powerful that it overshadows every other kind of strength, like a Himalayan mountain towering over a molehill. It wasn’t the strength that David and Lori were looking for in their moment of crisis, darkness, and greatest weakness. In some ways, it was the furthest thing from their minds. But it was exactly the strength they needed most.

I think it’s just what the rest of us need too.

We’re Going Through

In the instant after David Works was shot that December day in 2007, he realized he was in a situation that was beyond him. He didn’t have the power or strength to control the events around him. He was helpless to protect himself or his family. So he turned to the only one left who did have the power and strength to change matters.

God, what’s going on here? he thought. This is crazy. We’re supposed to be a missionary family getting ready to go around the world for You. What’s this all about? It doesn’t make any sense.

David sensed an immediate answer. It wasn’t audible, but it left a deep impression on him nevertheless: We’re going THROUGH. We’re not going OVER or going AROUND this. We’re going THROUGH.

Most of us would be thrilled to receive a message from the Lord. Under the circumstances, however, that message wasn’t what David wanted to hear.

David survived the attack on his life that morning. His daughter Rachel and his oldest daughter, eighteen-year-old Stephanie, did not. Stephanie was struck by a bullet while sitting in one of the van’s middle seats. She died at the scene. Rachel died a few hours later at the same Colorado Springs hospital where David was treated. The gunman was a twenty-four-year-old who had also killed two people earlier that day at another ministry facility. Inside New Life Church, he’d been shot dead by a security guard before he could claim any more victims.

As the father of two boys, I can only imagine the physical and emotional anguish that David and his family endured in the hours, days, and weeks that followed the shooting and loss of two precious daughters and sisters. I can also imagine that they would have been tempted to curse God for what occurred that day, even to turn away from Him for apparently not intervening when they needed Him most. But that’s not what happened.

That first night, lying alone in a hospital bed, overwhelmed by shock and grief, David tried to make sense of the tragedy. He took it straight to God.

Lord, I don’t understand You at all right now. I don’t get it. How could we lose two kids in one day? You’re not making any sense.

But somehow, I trust You in this situation. Obviously I don’t have any better ideas. I’m not going anywhere. I will stick with You, Lord, because You have the words of eternal life. I need You tonight more than ever.

From that humble beginning, David found a strength he didn’t know he had. After just nine days, he was discharged from the hospital. Gradually, and with persistent effort, he recovered from his physical wounds.

What is more incredible was David’s emotional and spiritual recovery. At times the grief and despair overwhelmed him; at one point he was out of control, thrashing, wailing, and sobbing until his voice was hoarse. Yet he was able to attend his daughters’ burial and memorial service, where he read the Twenty-third Psalm and thanked God for allowing him to heal quickly enough to be there. A few days after Christmas, he addressed a crowd of 350 people and talked about how, through the nightmare of the previous three weeks, God had never left his family.

Most amazing was that when the New Life pastor asked if David and his family would like to meet with the parents of the gunman, they took a day to think about it, then agreed. And when they met, there was no hesitation. David stretched his arms out and encircled another grieving father and mother in a

long embrace, followed by the hugs from the rest of his family. Through tears, he and his family repeated, “It’s okay. We forgive you.”3

Lori Mangrum experienced her own amazing emotional and spiritual renewal. In the midst of her depression, she too turned to God. Though He seemed distant, she began reading Scripture with a new interest and curiosity. She read about the Lord’s relationships with sinful men and women and saw how He loved them despite their weaknesses.

One afternoon, while driving home from a session with a therapist, Lori cried out to God, “I can’t do this alone. It’s too hard. If You’re really there, then show me, and I will trust You!”

Lori sensed an answer in the stillness.

Trust Me first—then I will show you.

Starting with small steps, Lori began to relinquish control of her life to the Lord. She focused more on pleasing Him instead of everyone else. It helped her to say no to some requests—and to speak up when she felt upset, angry, hurt, or scared. She began sharing her fears and feelings with her husband. And when a panic attack did strike, she faced it head-on, reassuring herself that she didn’t have to cooperate with what her body was trying to tell her.4

The grace and courage demonstrated by David Works and Lori Mangrum blows me away. Could I have faced and forgiven the parents of a man who murdered my children? Honestly, I don’t know, and I don’t want to find out. Could I take the brave steps to surrender to the Lord and allow Him to lift me out of a disabling depression? Again, I’m not sure, and I’d prefer not to take that test.

But am I attracted to what David and Lori have? You’d better believe it. Because what they have demonstrated is not simply physical, emotional, or intellectual strength. It’s something far deeper, far more powerful, and far more lasting.

Something spiritual.

Something holy.

David and Lori took the worst that life could throw at them. Did it hurt? Of course. Did it bring them to their knees, both figuratively and literally? Yes. Did they find themselves utterly weak and helpless? Absolutely.

Yet somehow, through that weakness and their connection to a merciful God, David and Lori were transformed. They didn’t just survive. They didn’t just “get by.”

They got stronger.

That’s the kind of strength I want: a strength that never leaves, a strength that actually magnifies during the tough times, a strength that isn’t dependent on me but resides in a power that can’t be stopped.

How about you?

I don’t presume to have all the answers to life. But I know who does, and I know who provides the greatest strength of all. It is a strength that I believe is found and forged only through weakness.

It’s what the apostle Paul meant in his message to the members of

the fledgling Corinthian church: “For when I am weak, then I am

strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

Let’s talk about it.

©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Stronger by Jim Daly. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.