Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The world is full of crazy people

I know, I know... You are all saying, yes, Audra, we know. What brings you to this conclusion today?

I watch, or listen, to way too much TV while on the computer at home. Last night while working away, I had TLC on. Not sure what was on at the time. Maybe it was Cake Boss. Why are there cake shows on at least three networks now? Not to mention cake competitions on at least two. Can no one have an original idea? I don't know about you, but I question eating any of those cakes as many days as they work on them and the fact that their hands have been all over them before and after the use of power tools.

But, I digress. I'm not blogging about cake. Well, I am, but I'm not.

As if Toddlers and Tiaras was not bad enough -- and now I have King of the Crown on for some reason, not to be confused with the show about the pageant dress designer, something about a dress (but not Say Yes to the Dress) -- I have found a show that I really, really refuse to watch. I place it next to Kate +8, which is now a train wreck, when it comes to TLC shows.

The new show is entitled My Monkey Baby. Show synopsis from TLC.com, "Meet the Johnsons, and their beloved 'child' Jessica Marie, problem is she's a monkey! But call her that, and her parents will go bananas. Just what motivates these people to raise a monkey as their child?"

It's not even a chimp that might be considered cute. It's a tree monkey or something. I don't know the exact primate term, however, I know my term for the Johnsons. INSANE!
(And no, this picture to the left is not Jessica Marie. It's a monkey from the National Zoo.)
I commented about this on my Facebook, and later said, "why hasn't anyone commented on my Monkey Baby comment."
My co-worker Rick said he was too afraid to because he didn't know what "My Monkey Baby" meant. I called him laughing, "it's just a monkey, treated like a baby. It's not code for anything."
It's not like "my baby's daddy" or something like that. If it were though, I guess it could be the opposite of Toddlers and Tiaras, but you really shouldn't talk about your children that way.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Melody Carlson's Three Weddings and a Bar Mitvah

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:


Three Weddings & a Bar Mitvah

David C. Cook (2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Melody Carlson has published more than one hundred books for adults, children, and teens, with many on best-seller lists. Several books have been finalists for, and winners of, various writing awards, including the Gold Medallion and the RITA Award. She and her husband live in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon and have two grown sons.

Visit the author's website.

Three Weddings and a Bar Mitzvah, by Melody Carlson from David C. Cook on Vimeo.



Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 320
Vendor: David C. Cook (2009)
ISBN: 1589191080
ISBN-13: 9781589191082

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Megan Abernathy


“Okay, then, how does the second Saturday in June look?” Anna asked her housemates.


Megan frowned down at her date book spread open on the dining room table. She and Anna had been trying to nail a date for Lelani and Gil's wedding. Megan had already been the spoiler of the first weekend of June, but she'd already promised her mom that she'd go to a family reunion in Washington. Now it seemed she was about to mess things up again. “I'm sorry,” she said, “but I promised Marcus I'd go to his sister's wedding. It's been scheduled for almost a year now, and it's the second Saturday too. But maybe I can get out of it.”


Lelani just shook her head as she quietly rocked Emma in her arms, pacing back and forth between the living room and dining room. The baby was teething and fussy and overdue for her afternoon nap. Megan wasn't sure if Lelani's frustrated expression was a result of wedding planning or her baby's mood.


“Is it possible you could do both weddings in one day?” Anna asked Megan.


“That might work.” Megan picked up her datebook and followed Lelani into the living room, where she continued to rock Emma.


“Or we could look at the third weekend in June,” Anna called from the dining room.


“Shhh.” Megan held a forefinger over her lips to signal Anna that Emma was finally about to nod off. Megan waited and watched as Emma's eyes fluttered closed and Lelani gently eased the limp baby down into the playpen set up in a corner of the living room. Lelani pushed a dark lock of hair away from Emma's forehead, tucked a fuzzy pink blanket over her, then finally stood up straight and sighed.


“Looks like she's down for the count,” Megan whispered.


Lelani nodded. “Now, where were we with dates?”


“If you still want to go with the second Saturday,” Megan spoke quietly, “Anna just suggested that it might be possible for me to attend two weddings in one day.”


“That's a lot to ask of you,” Lelani said as they returned to the dining room, where Anna and Kendall were waiting expectantly with the calendar in the middle of the table and opened to June.


Megan shrugged as she pulled out a chair. “It's your wedding, Lelani. You should have it the way you want it. I just want to help.”


Anna pointed to the second Saturday. “Okay, this is the date in question. Is it doable or not?”


Lelani sat down and sighed. “I'm willing to schedule my wedding so that it's not a conflict with the other one. I mean, if it can even be done. Mostly I just wanted to wait until I finished spring term.”


“What time is Marcus's sister's wedding?” asked Anna.


“I'm not positive, but I think he said it was in the evening.” She reached for her phone.


“And you want a sunset wedding,” Kendall reminded Lelani.


“That's true.” Anna nodded.


“But I also want Megan to be there,” Lelani pointed out.


“That would be helpful, since she's your maid of honor,” said Anna.


Megan tried not to bristle at the tone of Anna's voice. She knew that Anna had been put a little out of sorts by Lelani's choice--especially considering that Anna was the sister of the groom--but to be fair, Megan was a lot closer to Lelani than Anna was. And at least they were all going to be in the wedding.


“Let me ask Marcus about the time,” Megan said as she pressed his speed-dial number and waited. “Hey, Marcus,” she said when he finally answered. “We're having a scheduling problem here. Do you know what time Hannah's wedding is going to be?”


“In the evening, I think,” Marcus said. “Do you need the exact time?”


“No, that's good enough.” Megan gave Lelani a disappointed look. “I'll talk to you later, okay?”


“You're not thinking of bailing on me, are you?” He sounded genuinely worried.


“No, but we're trying to pin down a time and date for Lelani.”


“It's just that I really want my family to meet you, Megan. I mean all of my family. And I want you to meet them too.”


“I know, and I plan to go with you.”


“Thanks. So, I'll see you around six thirty tonight?”


“That's right.” Megan told him good-bye, then turned to Lelani with a sigh. “I'm sorry,” she told her. “That wedding's at night too. Maybe I should blow off my family reunion so that you--”


“No.” Anna pointed to the calendar. “I just realized that the first Saturday in June is also my mother's birthday.”


“So?” Kendall shrugged. “What's wrong with that?”


Megan laughed. “Think about it, Kendall, how would you like to share your wedding anniversary with your mother-in-law's birthday?”


Kendall grinned. “Oh, yeah. Maybe not.”


“How about a Sunday wedding?” suggested Megan.


“Sunday?” Lelani's brow creased slightly as she weighed this.


“Sunday might make it easier to book the location,” Kendall said. “I mean, since most weddings are usually on Saturdays, and June is a pretty busy wedding month.”


“That's true,” agreed Megan.


“And you gotta admit that this is short notice for planning a wedding,” added Kendall. “Some people say you should start planning your wedding a whole year ahead of time.”


“Marcus's sister has been planning her wedding for more than a year,” Megan admitted. “Marcus says that Hannah is going to be a candidate for the Bridezillas show if she doesn't lighten up.”


They all laughed.


“Well, there's no way Gil and I are going to spend a year planning a wedding.” Lelani shook her head. “That's fine for some people, but we're more interested in our marriage than we are in our wedding.”


“I hear you.” Kendall laughed and patted her slightly rounded belly. She was in her fifth month of the pregnancy. They all knew that she and her Maui man, Killiki, were corresponding regularly, but despite Kendall's high hopes there'd been no proposal.


“I really don't see why it should take a year to plan a wedding,” Megan admitted. “I think that's just the wedding industry's way of lining their pockets.”


“So how much planning time do you have now anyway?” Kendall asked Lelani. “Like three months?”


“Not even.” Lelani flipped the calendar pages back. “It's barely two now.”


“Which is why we need to nail this date today,” Megan said. “Even though it's a small wedding--”


“And that remains to be seen,” Anna reminded her. “My mother's list keeps growing and growing and growing.”


“I still think it might be easier to just elope,” Lelani reminded them. “I told Gil that I wouldn't have a problem with that at all.”


“Yes, that would be brilliant.” Anna firmly shook her head. “You can just imagine how absolutely thrilled Mom would be about that little idea.”


Lelani smiled. “I actually thought she'd be relieved.”


“That might've been true a few months ago. But Mom's changing.” Anna poked Lelani in the arm. “In fact, I'm starting to feel jealous. I think she likes you better than me now.”


Lelani giggled. “In your dreams, Anna. Your mother just puts up with me so she can have access to Emma.”


They all laughed about that. Everyone knew that Mrs. Mendez was crazy about her soon-to-be granddaughter. Already she'd bought Emma all kinds of clothes and toys and seemed totally intent on spoiling the child rotten.


“Speaking of Emma”--Kendall shook her finger--“Mrs. Mendez is certain that she's supposed to have her on Monday. But I thought it was my day.”


“I'm not sure,” Lelani admitted. “But I'll call and find out.”


“And while you've got Granny on the line,” continued Kendall, “tell her that I do know how to change diapers properly. One more diaper lecture and I might just tape a Pamper over that big mouth of hers. Sheesh!”


They all laughed again. Since coming home from Maui, Kendall had been complaining about how Mrs. Mendez always seemed to find fault with Kendall's childcare abilities. In fact, Mrs. Mendez had spent the first week “teaching” Kendall the “proper” way to do almost everything.


To be fair, Megan didn't blame the older woman. Megan had been a little worried about Kendall too. But to everyone's surprise, Kendall turned out to be rather maternal. Whether it had to do with her own pregnancy or a hidden talent, Megan couldn't decide, but Kendall's skill had been a huge relief.


“Now, back to the wedding date,” said Lelani.


“Yes,” agreed Megan. “What about earlier on Saturday?”


“Oh, no,” Anna said. “I just remembered that I promised Edmond I'd go to his brother's bar mitzvah on that same day--I think it's in the morning.”


Lelani groaned.


“Edmond's brother?” Megan frowned. “I thought he was an only child. And since when is he Jewish?”


“Remember, his mom remarried,” Anna told her. “And Philip Goldstein, her new husband, is Jewish, and he has a son named Ben whose bar mitzvah is that Saturday.” She sighed. “I'm sorry, Lelani.”


“So Saturday morning is kaput,” Megan said.


“And Lelani wanted a sunset wedding anyway,” Anna repeated.


“So why can't you have a sunset wedding on Sunday?” Kendall suggested.


“That's an idea.” Megan turned back to Lelani. “What do you think?”


Lelani nodded. “I think that could work.”


“And here's another idea!” Anna exclaimed. “If the wedding was on Sunday night, you could probably have the reception in the restaurant afterward. I'm guessing it would be late by the time the wedding was over, and Sunday's not exactly a busy night.”


Lelani looked hopeful. “Do you think your parents would mind?”


“Mind? Are you kidding? That's what my mother lives for.”


“But we still don't have a place picked for the wedding,” Megan said.


“I have several outdoor locations in mind. I'll start checking on them tomorrow.”


“We'll have to pray that it doesn't rain.” Megan penned 'Lelani and Gil's Wedding' in her date book, then closed it.


“Should there be a backup plan?” asked Anna. “I'm sure my parents could have the wedding at their house.”


“Or here,” suggested Kendall. “You can use this house if you want.”


Anna frowned. “It's kind of small, don't you think?”


“I think it's sweet of Kendall to offer.” Lelani smiled at Kendall.


“I can imagine a bride coming down those stairs,” Kendall nodded toward the staircase. “I mean, if it was a small wedding.”


“I'll keep it in mind,” Lelani told her. “And your parents' house too.”


“It might be tricky getting a church reserved on a Sunday night,” Megan looked at the clock. “And speaking of that, I better get ready. Marcus is picking me up for the evening service in about fifteen minutes.” She turned back to Lelani. “Don't worry. I've got my to-do list and I'll start checking on some of this stuff tomorrow. My mom will want to help with the flowers.”


“And my aunt wants to make the cake,” Anna reminded them.


“Sounds like you're in good hands,” Kendall sad a bit wistfully. “I wonder how it would go if I was planning my wedding.”


“You'd be in good hands too,” Lelani assured her.


“Now, let's start going over that guest list,” Anna said as Megan stood up. “The sooner we get it finished, the less chance my mother will have of adding to it.” Megan was relieved that Anna had offered to handle the invitations. She could have them printed at the publishing company for a fraction of the price that a regular printer would charge, and hopefully she'd get them sent out in the next couple of weeks.


As Megan changed from her weekend sweats into something presentable, she wondered what would happen with Lelani's parents when it was time for the big event. Although her dad had promised to come and was already committed to paying Lelani's tuition to finish med school, Lelani's mom was still giving Lelani the cold shoulder. Make that the ice shoulder. For a woman who lived in the tropics, Mrs. Porter was about as chilly as they come. Still, Lelani had friends to lean on. Maybe that was better than family at times.


“Your prince is here,” Kendall called into Megan's room.


“Thanks.” Megan was looking for her other loafer and thinking it was time to organize her closet again. “Tell him I'm coming.”


When Megan came out, Marcus was in the dining room, chatting with her housemates like one of the family. He was teasing Anna for having her hair in curlers, then joking with Kendall about whether her Maui man had called her today.


“Not yet,” Kendall told him with a little frown. “But don't forget the time-zone thing. It's earlier there.”


“Speaking of time zones,” Lelani said to Marcus. “Did I hear you're actually thinking about going to Africa?”


Marcus grinned and nodded. “Yeah, Greg Mercer, this guy at our church, is trying to put together a mission trip to Zambia. I might go too.”


“Wow, that's a long ways away.” Kendall turned to Megan. “How do you feel about that?”


Megan shrugged as she pulled on her denim jacket. “I think it's cool.”


“Are you coming with us to church tonight, Kendall?” Marcus asked. “Greg is going to show a video about Zambia.”


“Sorry to miss that,” Kendall told him. “But Killiki is supposed to call.”


“Ready to roll?” Megan nodded up to the clock.


He grinned at her. “Yep.” But before they went out, he turned around. “That is, unless anyone else wants to come tonight.”


Lelani and Anna thanked him but said they had plans. Even so, Megan was glad he'd asked. It was nice when Kendall came with them occasionally. And Lelani had come once too. Really, it seemed that God was at work at 86 Bloomberg Place. Things had changed a lot since last fall.


“So are you nervous?” Marcus asked as he drove toward the city.


“Nervous?” Megan frowned. “About church?”


“No. The big interview.”


Megan slapped her forehead. “Wow, I temporarily forgot. We were so obsessed with Lelani's wedding today, trying to make lists, plan everything, and settle the date … I put the interview totally out of my mind.”


“Hopefully, it won't be out of your mind by Monday.”


“No, of course not.”


“So … are you nervous?”


Megan considered this. It would be her first interview for a teaching job. And it was a little unsettling. “The truth is, I don't think I have a chance at the job,” she admitted. “And, yes, I'm nervous. Thanks for reminding me.”


“Sorry. Why don't you think you'll get the job?”


“Because I don't have any actual teaching experience.” She wanted to add duh, but thought it sounded a little juvenile.


“Everyone has to start somewhere.”


“But starting in middle school, just a couple of months before the school year ends? Don't you think they'll want someone who knows what they're doing?”


“Unless they want someone who's enthusiastic and energetic and smart and creative and who likes kids and had lots of great new ideas and--”


“Wow, any chance you could do the interview in my place?”


“Cross-dress and pretend I'm you?”


She laughed. “Funny.”


“Just have confidence, Megan. Believe in yourself and make them believe too. You'd be great as a middle-school teacher.”


“What makes you so sure?”


“Because I remember middle school.”


“And?”


“And most of my teachers were old and dull and boring.”


“That's sad.”


“And I would've loved having someone like you for a teacher.”


“Really?”


He chuckled. “Yeah. If I was thirteen, I'd probably sit right in the front row and think about how hot you were, and then I'd start fantasizing about--”


“Marcus Barrett, you're pathetic.” Just the same, she laughed.


“What can I say? I'm just a normal, warm-blooded, American kid.”


“Give me a break!” She punched him in the arm.


“Is that your phone?” he asked as he was parking outside of the church.


“Oh, yeah, a good reminder to turn it off.” She pulled it out to see it was Kendall. Megan hoped nothing was wrong. “Hey, Kendall,” she said as Marcus set the parking brake. “What's up?”


“Guess what?” shrieked Kendall.


“I have no idea what, but it sounds like good news.” She stepped out of the car.


“Killiki just called.”


“That's nice.”


“And he asked me to marry him!”


Megan raised her eyebrows and looked at Marcus as he came around to meet her. “And you said yes?”


“Of course! Do you think I'm crazy?”


“No. Not at all. Congratulations, Kendall. I mean, I guess that's what you say.”


“So now we have two weddings to plan.”


Megan blinked. She walked with Marcus toward the church entry. “Oh, yeah, I guess we do.”


“And I'm getting married in June too!”


“That's great, Kendall. I'm really, really happy for you. And Killiki seems like a great guy.”


“He is! Anyway, we just looked at the calendar again. And we finally figured that I should just get married the same day as Lelani, only I'll get married in the morning. That way we'll all be able to go to both weddings.”


“Wow, the same day?”


“Otherwise, you'll be at your reunion or Marcus's sister's wedding. Or Anna will be at the bar mitzvah. Or Lelani and Gil will be on their honeymoon.”


“Oh, that's right.”


“And I want all of you there!”


“Yes, I suppose that makes sense.”


“It'll be busy, but fun.”


“Definitely.” Then Megan thanked Kendall for telling her, and they said good-bye. Megan closed her phone and just shook her head. “Wow.”


“Kendall's getting married?” asked Marcus as he held the church door open for her.


“Yes. Can you believe it?”


“Good for her.”


“And her wedding will be the same weekend as your sister's and the same day as Lelani's.”


Marcus held up three fingers and wore a perplexed expression. “Three weddings in one weekend? That's crazy.”


“Yep.” Megan nodded. “Three weddings and a bar mitzvah.”


“Huh?” Marcus looked confused, but they were in the sanctuary, and Megan knew she'd have to explain later.


©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. Three Weddings and a Bar Mitzvah by Melody Carlson. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Action-packed weekend

Last weekend, I told Paige that I would take her (and Peyton) to the Ranger game since she had not been all year. So, yesterday I did. Peyton didn't get to go with us (long story).

It was the first time just the two of us went by ourselves. The Rangers won - even had an 11 run inning after what started off as a slow game.
And because Peyton didn't get to come along. I promised that I would take her and Madison to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs this afternoon after church. It was a cute movie and we had a good time.
That's what I did this weekend. How about you?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Greg Garrett's No Idea

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:


No Idea

David C. Cook (2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Greg Garrett is a popular writer, teacher, speaker, workshop/retreat leader, and media guest. The critically acclaimed author of the novels Free Bird, Cycling, and Shame, the memoir Crossing Myself, numerous nonfiction books on faith, culture, and narrative, and an array of essays, articles, reviews, and lessons, Greg is also a primary writer for the Scripture project The Voice. An award-winning professor of English at Baylor University, Greg serves the church as Writer in Residence for the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest and as a lay preacher at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas.

Visit the author's website.

No Idea, by Greg Garrett from David C. Cook on Vimeo.



Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 208
Vendor: David C. Cook (2009)
ISBN: 1434767965
ISBN-13: 9781434767967

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


No Idea

At the Ranch


It's sometimes a challenge to know where to start a story. My fiction-writing students are always asking me where to begin, and I usually tell them, “As late as possible. Right when things start to happen and not a moment before.”


Of course, when you're telling your own story, it can be harder to know exactly when that moment occurs. Is it in the big events of our lives, the births and deaths?


Or is it the moment that you have a realization that changes you?


It had been raining all afternoon at Ghost Ranch, sometimes just a spatter of drops, sometimes a torrent. I had been writing since mid morning and hoped to take a break and go out on my bike--why was it raining in the desert?--but the rain kept falling, sometimes more, sometimes less, but always steady. So I worked until late afternoon, when I finished a draft of the chapter I was working on. Then I put on my anorak and walked out from Casa del Sol, the isolated retreat center where I was staying on the ranch, and down to the nearby creek, mud clumping on the bottom of my Tevas, my feet gathering weight as I walked, rain tapping on the hood of my jacket. The old timber bridge down at the creek was shuddering with the violence of the water rushing beneath it. Most summers the creek was a tiny trickle of clear water over stones far below, or even just dry creek bed. Now it was a fast-flowing brown liquid, not quite as thick as chocolate pudding, but certainly thicker than chocolate milk, and it was swooshing by just a few feet below me. Down at the next bend, the current had washed out a bank and pulled a tall cedar into the water--a tree that had lasted for long years in the desert, and now was going to drown.


I felt bad for the tree. But I felt good away from the computer, out in the rain and the cool air, and I walked across hillsides and up at last onto a mesa across from the painted rock that surrounds Ghost Ranch. People have been traveling here from all across the country for at least eighty years to see this sight, and one of them, the great painter Georgia O'Keefe, had actually strong-armed the ranch into selling her the house across the valley from where I stood, a place where she painted some of her best-known landscapes.


Man, I am so lucky to get to see this, I thought as I looked out across the valley at the multicolored cliffs of sandstone, at the dark gray clouds behind and above them.


Then I saw a jagged flash of lightning, heard the thunder follow a second or less afterward, and knew that I was in real danger. There were no trees anywhere near, and I was the tallest thing for some distance; never a good thing when there's lightning around. So, bent over like Groucho Marx--if Groucho Marx were also a sprinter--I dashed across the pasture, panting with the altitude (Ghost Ranch is 5500 feet higher than Austin, Texas, where I still live), rain pattering off my head and shoulders.


I clambered down hills and climbed with some delicacy over a barbed wire fence. I followed a pickup track back to where I had diverged from the road, and by then it was raining harder.


When I got back down to the bridge, where I was surrounded by lots of things taller than me, I felt some relief. But I also paused for a second, smiling as the rain ran down my face and cold down my back. And then I started laughing.


I wished I'd been able to see myself on the mesa, ducking and running as I made a dash for safety, and I could still feel that pinprick of fear that had grown at the thought of not seeing my boys or my Martha again, of not finishing the book sitting on the table in the common room in Casa del Sol.


I laughed again, and the rain came down in sheets as I made the long walk back. I was soaked and chilled to the bone and amazed at how much I loved being alive.


I laughed, although not because I found the thought of getting struck by lightning funny--or because I enjoy courting pneumonia. But one of the things you will need to know about me if we are going to walk together is that not so long ago, if I'd been up on the mesa with lightning flashing around me, I probably would not have been induced to quicken my pace back to the ranch. During long stretches of my life, I had very little interest in preserving my life, and for some few horrible years I actively thought about ending it, and so this storm would have seemed like a godsend.


Bring it on, I would have told God. I'm ready whenever you are.


No, I laughed now because I was alive, and because I received that life as a gift and wanted to protect it--and because I know how much I have to live for, and because I know more than most how wonderful it is to feel this way, even with red-spattered legs and cold mud squishing between my toes and cold water running down the small of my back.


But then I always seem to be having these flash-epiphanies at Ghost Ranch, which shouldn't surprise anyone, since that is why it exists. Formally speaking, Ghost Ranch is a conference center in the high desert of northern New Mexico affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA, and it has been since its former owners, the Packs, gave it to the Church in the 1950s. Informally speaking, Ghost Ranch is a thin place, a nexus, a site where people have come and returned, because they felt something beautiful and sacred when they were here.


The guest list over the years has been a cross section of American culture. First there were cattle rustlers, and then ranchers, and then the property became a dude ranch. The DuPont family built a summer home here in the 1930s after the Lindbergh kidnapping freaked out the rich and famous and sent them seeking safe havens. Cary Grant visited several times over several summers. The atomic big brains working on the Manhattan Project down in Los Alamos came to the ranch under assumed names for R & R while they were trying to perfect how to make things go boom.


And then there was O'Keefe, who lived here or in her home in nearby Abiquiu for something like sixty years while she painted the play of light across the cliffs and the texture of skull on desert sand and the flat-topped mountain, Pedernal, which dominates the skyline across the valley.


The first time I came to Ghost Ranch was in the summer of 2001, in the midst of that dark period when I was wondering if I might find a way to stop hurting myself and everyone who loved me, preferably a permanent solution that would leave at least a nagging doubt about whether or not I had meant to kill myself.


I had been camping in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains two hours away, hiking, thinking, and trying hard to get a handle on the life that seemed to have flown as completely out of my control as a rain-swelled stream in a desert arroyo. I could almost grasp it--I was at the point of having some conscious understanding of how my depression worked and what it was costing me--but I could not imagine how I could possibly have the strength or the energy to stagger on much further--and healing? Well, healing seemed completely out of my control, as of course it was.


My writer friend Joan Logghe had invited me to talk to a writing class she was teaching at Ghost Ranch, and that, at least, I could manage. I was, as they say, high functioning, even during my least-functional periods. In public, at least. So I expected to come to this place called Ghost Ranch, be clever and funny and maybe the tiniest bit wise for Joanie's class, and then go curl up in a dark room somewhere.


But on the drive from the Sangre de Cristos, the landscape turned from desert to textured and colored rock, and even the light seemed different, more intense, more luminous, which I know doesn't make any sense, but how else can I account for pulling up over the top of the rise and seeing the multicolored cliffs--the Piedra de Lumbre, or Valley of Shining Stones--spread out in front of me, and knowing immediately that it was one of the most holy places I had ever been?


“In the desert you can remember your name,”1 America sang, and this may be true. But what's even truer is this: In the desert, you must remember your name. There's nowhere to hide. What you see is what you are.


And once you get used to that, an amazing freedom emerges from not having to pretend--or even being able to pretend.


I pulled into the main campus, a pocket of green in the midst of the sand and colored rock and met Joan and talked to her class, and all that day I felt peaceful, as though I had entered a place where the normal rules of my life no longer applied. That night I sat under a tree on the grass with Joan and some of her friends, and they had mixed a pitcher of margaritas; one of them who had heard the sad story of “my life so far” formed an attachment to me as one might to a wounded puppy, and we stayed up talking while the stars came out, big and bright and so close to earth you could make some kind of haul with a butterfly net.


It was a magical day and a magical night, and I've been coming to the desert ever since. I connived my way into teaching a writing class at the ranch the next summer and began coming a couple times a year to write, something I still do for at least part of every book I've written since (including, obviously, this one).


And it was in the summer of 2003, on my way to finish a novel at Ghost Ranch, that I realized the depression that had bedeviled me for years was gone--that, as Jesus told the woman who touched the hem of his garment, I could go in peace: I was healed. As I got closer, the sky seemed bluer, the mesas even more colorful, and when I reached Ghost Ranch, I was ready to celebrate. For one of the first times in my adult life, I was experiencing joy, real out-of-the box joy.


So although I come to Ghost Ranch to do hard work, writing or teaching or leading people on spiritual retreats, I also come here because I continue to experience that joy and the same sense of being on holy ground.


One of the things that resulted from my survival is that I have gained a real and living faith, and have become both very spiritual--which wouldn't surprise the old me much--and very religious, which would surprise the old me and everyone else who knew the old me. In the years since I decided to live, I've gone to seminary; I've studied Christian history, theology, and tradition; and now I know that in the Jewish and Christian traditions, people have always gone to the desert or passed through the desert to get themselves sorted out, to come to the realizations that will change their lives.


Abraham crossed the desert to reach the land to which God was calling him. Moses heard the voice of God from a burning bush while he was in the desert, and he led the children of Israel back through the desert so that they would be purified by the time they reached the land God had promised them.


One of the most important stories about desert testing in the Bible is that of Jesus' temptation. It immediately follows the account of Jesus' baptism at the hands of John the Prophet in the three Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke), and it seems to do what desert has always done--to serve as a place where people can look hard at themselves and at the world, and see what they need to keep and what they can dispense with:


Filled then with the Holy Spirit, Jesus left the Jordan River and the Spirit led Him into the desert, where for forty days He was tested by the Devil. During that time, He did not eat, and by the end, He was starving.

Then the Devil told Him, “If You are the Son of God, command this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.”


But Jesus answered, “Scripture tells us human beings do not live merely on bread.”

Then the Devil raised Jesus high and instantly showed Him all the nations of the world. “I will give You all this power and glory,” he told Jesus, “for it has been given into my hands, and I can give it to anyone I choose. Bow down and pay me homage, and it will all belong to You.”

But Jesus answered, “Scripture tells us, give homage only to God, and serve only Him.”

Then the Devil took Jesus to Jerusalem and raised Him to the top of the temple. “If You are the Son of God,” he said, “then throw Yourself down from here, for Scripture tells us that God has given the angels orders to guard You and keep You safe. They will lift You in their arms so that You will not even stub your toe.”

But Jesus answered, “Scripture tells us, do not test the Lord your God.”

When the Devil had exhausted every test, he left until the right moment, and Jesus, carrying the power of the Spirit in Him, returned to Galilee. (Luke 4:1-14a)2


Jesus is tempted with material things, with power, and with glory, but He passes the tests (every test, the Scriptures tell us) with flying colors. In His responses, Jesus reveals that if life isn't centered in and on God, it's not life at all, and He walks out of the wilderness and back into the world, knowing at last who He is and what He's called to do.


Now, I'm no Jesus. Not that anyone has confused us. But one thing we do have in common is an experience of the desert, both the physical one and the metaphysical one. Jesus responded much better than I did to both. But in my own life too, the desert experience has been a crucible that burned away everything that didn't matter and left just the tiny sliver of me that did matter still. It's been a preparation for what comes next. And in the lives of many people I love, it's been the place they've had to pass through before they could enter into the land of promise.


My dear friend Roger Joslin had waited for what must have seemed like half a lifetime--and it had certainly been the entire lifetime of our friendship--for ordination into the Episcopal priesthood. Of all my friends from seminary, it was Roger whose path seemed longest and most difficult, and his desert experiences had direct parallels in my life.


So I took joy in Roger's ordination to the priesthood in the Diocese of Arkansas--for him certainly, although a part of me was also celebrating the possibility that someone like Roger could be-- had been--faithful to a process that bounces you around like dice in a cup before releasing you at last into the life you're meant to lead.


My son Chandler and I had driven across a big chunk of Texas, Oklahoma, and part of Arkansas to be at his ordination--just as we had been there in northwestern Arkansas when Roger was ordained as a deacon, an intermediary step on the road to becoming a priest in the Anglican tradition. Sometime after that ceremony, Roger told me about the ritual itself, which involves the laying on of hands of a bishop and as many priests as happen to be present. When there are a lot of them, as there had been when Roger was ordained, it looks a little like a rugby scrum, all these hands reaching in and down onto something--in this case, Roger himself.


“Man,” Roger told me later, “I have to tell you, there was a second there when I was scared to death. I felt all this weight pushing down on me, and I thought it was going to flatten me. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to get up.”


Roger did get up, of course, and has served with passion and joy in Bentonville, Arkansas, where he has planted a countercultural Christian community in the home of the largest corporation in the history of the world, Wal-Mart. But that image of hands, of weight, has stayed with me. Even though others among my priest friends have said that their ordination experience didn't feel like Roger's, this is what I imagine it might feel like for me, because I think the call to serve God is about as serious a call as there is, and if you don't imagine the weight, then maybe you should.


When I was confirmed into the Episcopal Church in December of 2003, the bishop laid his hands on my head, and as he inducted me into the life of the Church, I felt pressure and heat, half-expecting marks on my temples when he lifted his hands away. The bishop who confirmed me is no longer in the Church, and the place where I was confirmed was not my home congregation of St. James in Austin, but nonetheless it was a strange and holy experience that left me temporarily stranded between worlds.


When I came back into this one, after a confirmation lunch with my friend Carissa and our fellow St. James parishioner Ora, I continued to think about what I was supposed to be doing in this life and how I could be faithful to a God who had saved my life and given me purpose.


Ten years ago, if you'd told me my life would be filled with people who are priests and pastors--if you'd told me that I'd even be hanging around with devout Christians--I would have laughed in your face, and it would not have been a joyful laugh like my caught-in-a-thunderstorm laugh. (If I even felt capable of laughing, that is--in those days, I rarely was.) But since I came into the Church, my life has increasingly centered around trying to discover and do what God wants me to do, and so not surprisingly, I find my pathway crowded with other people who are trying to do what God wants them to do--which naturally includes a disproportionate number of Professional Christians.


The Christian tradition tells us that we are all called to follow Jesus, and in my tradition, we are taught that the job of priests and other ministers of the church is to equip all believers for ministry to the world. But Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who gave his life in the struggle against Hitler, observed that most people ignore the call or act as if only Professional Christians need to pay attention to it, that a simple belief in God and God's saving grace is enough. Bonhoeffer's famous term for the belief that many Christians have about their lives in God is “cheap grace,” a belief that God's grace will cover their transgressions and wrongdoings without requiring any effort on their part.


Bonhoeffer said that we couldn't be more wrong because what God actually offered was “costly grace,” grace offered only within a life of service and faithfulness: “Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”3


In the history of the church, Bonhoeffer said, monastics--that is, men or women living in contemplation and prayer--were considered to be professional religious people, and everyone else lived in the world and like the world. But Bonhoeffer argued that this setting apart of professional religious people ignores the fact that all of us are called to discipleship, and that the real lesson of Martin Luther's reforms was that for most of us, the way we are called to follow Jesus is not in convents or cloisters, but in our everyday lives.4 The Gospels often talk about “the Way,” as though Christianity is a path rather than a single limited event in our lives, and that's what I believe too, because that has been my experience.


I do believe that following Jesus--discipleship, as Bonhoeffer called it--is the task of everyone who wants to call herself or himself a Christian, and that's the path that I'm trying to walk in this life I never expected to have. But what does it mean to say I am trying to do what God wants of me?


Well, that's the question, isn't it?


I know that whether or not anyone ever lays hands on my head and makes me a priest, whether I ever feel the press of responsibility pushing me toward the ground, I am called to faithful discipleship, since we all are. But what should that faithful discipleship look like?


What am I called to do in this miraculous life?


I have no idea. But by listening and praying, by walking in companionship with others, I do know I'll have a better chance to find out.


And that practice, the practice of discernment, is what I'm doing now.


©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. No Idea by Greg Garrett. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Cowtown Cattlepen Maze

One of our activities at the Stockyards was the Cowtown Cattlepen Maze. It was my auntly duty to go in with the girls. I had to fight them to convince them we had to eat something first because I was feeling a bit woozy.

It was about 5:00 and had only had 3 1/2 cheddar peppers since breakfast. Going through a maze would not have bothered me in the past, but I've developed some claustrophobia or something. I'll blame it on being stuck in the truck through Custer State Park. The thought of going in the maze surprisingly a little hesitant. I didn't want to pass out.
This picture is an overview of a large part of the maze.

So, anyway, after we ate, in we went.

Paige demanded that she was going to do it all by herself, so Peyton and I needed to head on in. A couple of years ago, Peyton led me plum through a mirror maze in Branson, so I figured she could wiz me right through this one. Well, she ran ahead of me and it was each of us on our own.
Here is me and Peyton as we made our way in. Yes, that is another tattoo on her cheek (opposite one of last time), but she got this one off before church this morning with rubbing alcohol vs. the wash cloth like last time.
And here is Paige as she entered.

Not only did you have to find your way out, but you had to find find four letters - M-A-Z-E and punch your card. I got to wondering round and round unable to find all of my letters. My parents were watching overhead laughing. I did not find it funny. If Mom were down in the maze, she'd be freaking out. I mean freaking. She held on to me so tight in the above mentioned mirror maze the first time we went through it that I swore never to take her through one again. At least Dad acknowledged what a good aunt I was. This picture is me telling them to quit talking to me.
At one point, Peyton was on the other side of a wall, and she yelled for me to come there. Like it was that simple!

Paige swears to me that she was behind me yelling at me one time and I ignored her. I did not knowingly do so. Here I am wondering around again.

I was yelling for anyone who was listening, "does anyone know where the 'Z' is?" I was asking everyone I passed.

Finally, I found the "Z", the letter I had left and was about to high tail out of there regardless of who was left wandering around in there. Yes, I would even leave a five year old to fend for herself.

Right as I was heading from the "Z" to the exit, I ran into Peyton, who also needed the "Z", we punched her card, and exited, punching in at 19 minutes.

We were able to semi-direct Paige to the "E" (here is the picture of her on the "E" platform - the "A" and "E" were on decks),
then I kept telling her as best I could to find the illustrious "Z" as best I could. I couldn't see over the wall that the letter was hanging on from where we were perched.

Finally, Paige made it out in 31 minutes.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bull riding

This afternoon, my parents and I took Paige and Peyton to the Ft. Worth Stockyards. More stories to tell over the next couple of days, but I'll share with you videos of their mechanical bull rides. The loud voice you hear on the videos is mine.

The funniest part of Paige's ride is her getting on the bull. I would have been sick if I started spinning around like she did.

Paige's bull ride from Audra Jennings on Vimeo.

Peyton only decided to do it after Paige did. Her video isn't as long as Paige's because her ride didn't last as long. She was ready to get off quicker.

Peyton's bull ride from Audra Jennings on Vimeo.

I'll share more pictures and stories tomorrow.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

My shorter hair and Spot in the Pot

First of all, for those of you who were wanting to see a picture of my new, shorter hair, here it is. I had to convince the woman who cut it to cut as much as she did. Probably about 4 inches.

Anyway, I look weird because I was trying really hard to get a decent picture of myself without the glare from the flash being too close and looking like I had 4 chins. That, and I kept blinking so I had a hard time keeping my eyes open. That's why I look bug-eyed.

In other news, a kitten - not a tiny one - has decided to make the palm tree pot on my back porch it's home. It's a huge pot, and I guess it's just homey feeling. The heck if I know why.

Anyway, this cat has been there several times when I've gone out the back door in the mornings and has been there some when I've gotten home. It's not always there, just more often there.

It's scared to death of me and shoots off in a flash. It's kind of an ugly little thing in a way. It's gray, orange and white splotched. I was over at my parents house talking about it, and said that I was going to name it. I just have a thing about name whatever. Even a cat I don't really want. When Mom asked what color it was, and I answered, Dad said, "it sounds ugly."

I decided instead of coming up with a name myself, that I would call Peyton and ask her what a good name for an ugly cat would be. So, I called her up, told her I had this cat in my palm tree pot and that it needed a name. She asked what color it was, and I said it had these different colored spots, so she proudly and confidently says, "we should name him Spot."

"That's a great name Peyton!"

So, I came home in the pouring rain, made my way up the stepping stones to the back door, and sure enough Spot was in his pot. I called Mom back to tell her that, "Spot was in his pot. Peyton didn't realize how great a name she had come up with - Spot in the Pot."

I tried to get a picture of Spot in the Pot, but he ran off when he saw me through the windows, and I wasn't able to get a good picture through the glass with the amount of light outside at the time.

I'll try to get one the next time I see him or her. Suffice it to say, he doesn't look like a Dalmatian.

Ginger Garrett's In the Arms of Immortals

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:


In the Arms of Immortals: A Novel of Darkness and Light (Chronicles Of The Scribe)

David C. Cook (2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



An expert in ancient women’s history, critically acclaimed author Ginger Garrett (Dark Hour, Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther, and most recently In the Shadow of Lions) creates novels and nonfiction resources that explore the lives of historical women. In addition to her writing, Garrett is a frequent radio and television guest. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 304
Vendor: David C. Cook (2009)
ISBN: 0781448883
ISBN-13: 9780781448888

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


In the Arms of Immortals

Chapter One


Thirty thousand dollars bought her the right to avoid being scalded alive.


Mariskka Curtis did not miss the shoddy built-in shower that had been in her old apartment. Now she owned a penthouse, and one of her first decisions as a new millionaire was to have a high-end luxury shower installed.


“For thirty grand, it should make my breakfast, too,” Mariskka said to no one.


At least the bathroom was warm, making goose bumps and bad leg shaves a thing of the past. The maid had lit the fireplace in the master bath an hour ago and brought a fresh careen of coffee up. The milk still needed to be frothed, but Mariskka didn't mind that.


She pumped the handle six times and the milk bubbled up. She poured coffee into her monogrammed cup, then the foamy milk over the coffee. Mariskka inhaled, surprised that coffee could still bring her so much pleasure.


Rolling her neck to get the morning kinks out, she swung open the shower door and sat inside. The shower began as a slow warm mist around her feet, giving her a few minutes to finish her coffee before the gentle raindrops started from the overhead faucet and the dawn lights bounced pink off the shower glass.


Later this morning she was scheduled for an appearance on yet another talk show to dazzle America with her rags to riches tale. She hated the hollow feeling in her stomach that came from lying. She had stolen her best-selling manuscript from a patient's room. The patient, Bridget, had been a famous editor, and left it behind when she died. Mariskka stole it on impulse, thinking it might be valuable if sold on eBay. Only later, when packing the editor's belongings, had Mariskka seen the business cards thrown in the bottom of her bags. One was for an agent. Mariskka had contacted the agent, passing the manuscript off as her own. It couldn't hurt anyone, she had thought. Mariskka had also stolen Bridget's watch, but only because she intended to return it to the family. Only later did she realize Bridget had no family.


When the agent sold that manuscript in a seven-figure deal, it was as if God answered her prayers. Mariskka made a pile of easy money. She bought things she never dreamed of owning. She even donated some of it, paying hospice bills that threatened to bankrupt families and sent worn out care givers on vacations. Good things had happened to plenty of people because of her decision to steal.


As the mist rose she finished her coffee and waited for the overhead shower to turn on. Hard rock blared suddenly through the shower speakers, and she dropped her coffee cup in surprise. It shattered at her feet. Instinctively she yanked her feet out of the scalding puddle. Losing her balance in the wet mist, she hit her head on the imported tile and blacked out.


The smoke stung Mariskka's eyes.


She blinked, trying to clear her mind, groping in the darkness for the shower door. The shower had stopped, and the music was dead. She wondered if the building had lost electricity.


She crawled over something sharp and jagged. The lights must have shattered above. It was too dark to see anything; she wished she had windows in her bath as she pushed back the shower door.


Something was coming.


She felt the vibrations through her legs, shaking her to her stomach. Straining to hear above her thundering heart, she heard a heavy scraping against her hardwood floors, the sound of a sharp tool being dragged over the floors, catching every second or so, bumping over a seam. Heavy footfalls shook the floor, and metal screeched together with each step. She thought of the armored boots she had seen on medieval knights in museums.


Something slammed against the door, making the wood split.


It hit again.


“There is no Blood here,” someone said.


“God help me,” she whispered.


When she said the word God, the thing outside the door shrieked like an animal. A sword pierced through the door, creating a jagged seam as the intruder jerked it back and forth in the split wood. Light streamed in from her bedroom windows, but she could see nothing except a sword sawing its way through the door.


They should be testing the microphones for the television hosts right now, she thought. Amber-Marie Gates, her publicist, was going to be furious when Mariskka didn't arrive on time. Or when she didn't arrive at all.… Mariskka's mind was gone, traveling down more familiar tracks, unable to process her death.


Then the door burst apart, and she was showered with wood fragments. A figure too large to pass through the doorframe stood, stood, twisting its head in different directions, staring at her. The glowing blue dawn outlined its frame. Morning sunrays shot up from behind its head and between its flexed arms, illuminating dust particles spinning down and turning the shifting light into a kaleidoscope.


Metal wings reflected the light at their sharp ice-pick tips; below these, the shoulders of a man were layered with scales. Each finger was tipped with dozens of iron claws, all pointing backwards. Once it grabbed her, she wouldn't get free without tearing herself to shreds. It was built for death.


“There is no Blood here,” he said.


“What?” she screamed.


“You have no Christ.”


A tail with an iron tip, long and scalpel sharp, raised behind him as he pointed his sword at her. He turned his shoulder to come through the door. As he thrust his wings against the frame, cracks ran up the walls above the door.


He lifted his sword, aiming for her neck. She wondered if her lips would still be moving after death, the way Anne Boleyn's had.


He spun back around, his sword in motion.


A shower of sparks was burning her.


She remembered lights like this.


She was a child at Disney, watching the Magical Parade of Lights. A green, scaled dragon floated past her as she sat on the sidewalk, full of lemonade and ice cream. When the dragon swung its head in her direction, with its blind paper eyes and red paper streamers coming from its mouth to look like fire, Mariskka vomited right between her shoes. No one noticed, not the least her mom, who had taken the wide white pills so she could get through the day, one of their last together. Mariskka wanted her to take the pills so she wouldn't be in pain, so she wouldn't groan in the night, but the pills made her dull and distant. Either way, Mariskka lost her mother a little more each day.


She stood, grabbing her mother's hand, pulling at her to run. Her mother laughed, tipsy from the combination of opiates and Disney princesses, swinging her around in a dance, not understanding the panic in her daughter's eyes. Mariskka struggled to get free, to see where the dragon went, but it was gone. She would lie awake for years after that, wondering where it was now. The eyes had only been paper, but she knew. It had seen her. It had seen something inside her.


Mariskka was still remembering herself as a little girl when she noticed her impending death had been delayed. Another creature was here, holding a sword, blocking the iron-winged monster from killing her. He had gold-and-straw colored dreadlocks that ran down his back and the body of a linebacker. Judging from how close his head was to her ceiling, Mariskka guessed he was about eight feet tall.


The man picked up the dark iron angel by the neck and slammed it against the wall. Plaster rained down.


“She is ours,” the iron-angel said. “We can take her.”


“Not yet,” the new creature said.


A dark stain spread underneath the iron-angel on the tile floor. The stain shimmered as teeth began to appear, ringing the edges.


The new creature yelled over his shoulders. “Cover your eyes!”


Mariskka stared at the stain, which was devouring the iron-angel as it moved up it his legs.


The new one screamed again, “Mariskka! Now!”


Mariskka obeyed.


She heard the sound of an animal screaming in pain, and then all was quiet.


She looked up to see the new creature staring down at her. His nose was inches from her face, and his dreadlocks fell forward, tickling her cheeks. If he were human, she thought, he would be beautiful. But he could not be real, not with his strange eyes that were like big, gold saucers and canine teeth that peeked out from his lips. His breath smelled of meat, too. She collapsed, losing all control over limb and thought.


His arms slipped behind her knees and under her neck, lifting her without effort. He carried her to the bed and laid her down, drawing the curtains and stepping back into the shadows. He sat in a chair, resting one arm on the armrest, watching her. A thick, numbing sensation started in her toes and poured slowly into her body. She felt it filling her, working its way through her abdomen, then her arms. When it got to her eyes, they closed and she slept.


©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. In the Arms of Immortals by Ginger Garrett. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mama's Don't Let Your Babies...

Mama's Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be Insurance Salesmen... I apologize if you hear Willie Nelson's voice for the rest of the night now. I really do.

My brother was a cowboy in a way. Guess he still is, but as I've shared with you before, he is now an insurance salesmen.

Yesterday, my cell phone rings... (imagine the Wicked Witch tune while she's flying through the air on her bicycle - maybe that will change the song going through your head)

My brother. I'll give him a half a point credit for trying to start the conversation about me instead of him by asking a question about my life. Well, it's Brian, so I'll give him a full point.

The next question:

"Do you want to buy some life insurance?"

"No, I really don't. Besides, I have some with my company."

Then comes the sales pitch.

"Brian, I don't really have any money for life insurance right now."

"I'll pay for it for a little while, I just need the applications, you know?"

SIGH!

"I'll catch up with you this week. And you have to have a nicotine swab. Don't have to have a blood test or anything, I can do it. Just make sure you aren't a smoker."

Are you kidding me?

I came back into the office (I had to walk out to get phone reception) with a twitch. Christi asked, "what did your brother want?"

"Did I say something to make you think it was him?"

"No, I can just tell."

Later, I relayed the conversation to my parents.

Mom says, "guess he didn't meet his monthly quota. Tell him you don't have any money." She got a kick out of the nicotine swab part.

Dad tells me, "tell him you don't want it. Ask him who you are going to leave the money to. Besides, not to sound bad, but a person only needs enough life insurance to be buried. If you are trying to get rich on someone..."

"Mom is the beneficiary on my current policy. Does she have plans to off me?"

"Well, that's something to think about."

Mom really didn't have a comment for this.

So, if anyone needs home, renter's, car or life insurance, I'll hook you up with a salesman. He'll come right along with application and nicotine swab in hand. Get ready!

Don Cousin's Unexplainable

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:


Unexplainable: Pursuing a Life Only God Can Make Possible

David C. Cook (2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Don Cousins leads a ministry designed to build and strengthen Christian leaders and organizations. He is a former associate pastor of Willow Creek Church and the best-selling author of Network. Don spends much of his time consulting churches and parachurch organizations, coaching Christian leaders, and speaking. He currently lives in Holland, Michigan, with his wife MaryAnn and their three children, Kyle, Kirk, and Karalyne.


Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $16.99
Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 256
Vendor: David C. Cook (2009)
ISBN: 1434768082
ISBN-13: 9781434768087

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



UNEXPLAINABLE …
APART FROM GOD


“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

ISAIAH 55:8-9


God is beyond us--able to think and act in ways that defy human logic and surpass human understanding. He's limitless in power and He's infinite in knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.


For the sake of relationship, He lowers Himself to our level in many ways. Yet He often chooses to express Himself in ways that are, well, unexplainable--apart from Him. And He does this to point us to Him.


A Story of the Unexplainable


Abraham was seventy-five years old when God told him he would be the father of “a great nation.” God instructed him to leave his relatives and his homeland and to venture out with his wife, Sarah, to a land that the Lord would show him, a land that would one day belong to his descendents. It was an incredible promise, an outrageous offer.


There was just one problem. Abraham and Sarah were childless. It's impossible to give land to descendents you don't have. It's equally impossible to father a nation when you haven't fathered a family. While Abraham and Sarah had certainly tried to bear children, it hadn't happened. And now, at the ages of seventy-five and sixty-five respectively, their chances of doing so were virtually nil.


Nonetheless, Abraham and Sarah, in obedience to the word of the Lord, left home in quest of this Promised Land and the birthing of a nation. They must have believed God would perform a miracle, enabling them to bear a child.


It wasn't long into their journey that they reached the territory God had for them. The Lord appeared to Abraham there and told him, “To your descendents I will give this land” (Gen. 12:7). Now all they needed were descendents to give this land to. But months passed, years passed--and still no child.


God reiterated His promise, telling Abraham, “One who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir” (15:4). In dramatic fashion God led Abraham outside at night. “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.… So shall your descendents be” (15:5).


However awesome this must have sounded to Abraham, Sarah remained barren.


Then one day, she had an idea. Abraham could bear a child by another woman--by Sarah's Egyptian maid, Hagar. Sarah had come to the logical conclusion that the Lord had “prevented” her from having children (16:2); it was no longer humanly possible for her. But Abraham could father a child by another woman.


This made sense to Abraham, so he had sexual relations with Hagar. Sure enough, she gave birth to a son who was named Ishmael. Abraham was eighty-six when the boy was born (Gen. 16:16).


Laughable, But True


At this point, the Bible goes silent for thirteen years. When Abraham's story resumes, he's ninety-nine--some twenty-four years removed from the day God first issued the promise.


Once again He comes to Abraham and reiterates His promise more strongly than ever:


I will multiply you exceedingly.… And you will be the father of a multitude of nations.… For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you.… I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.… I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings…for an everlasting possession. (Gen. 17:2-8).


God also adds this about Sarah: “I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her” (17:16).


How does Abraham respond? “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed” (17:17). This was so ridiculous, so absurd, so inconceivable and incomprehensible, he couldn't help but laugh in God's face.


So Abraham offered God a suggestion--an alternative option that he and Sarah had hatched: “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” (17:18). In other words, “What about the son I already have? Why not make him the first descendent? I'm not getting any younger, so let's get on with things!”


God's answer is direct and unmistakable: “No” (17:19). He tells Abraham, “Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.” Moreover, God promises that Sarah will give birth to this son within a year's time.


When this news reached Sarah's ears a short time later, she too laughed in the face of God (18:12).


But as you know, God's promise proved true. Abraham (at the age of one hundred) and Sarah (at ninety) did have a child, whom they named Isaac.


The Delay Explained

Why then did God have Sarah and Abraham wait so long--a quarter century--to see His promise fulfilled? Was He merely testing their willingness to obey? Was He wanting to stretch their faith?


I think the best answer to this question is found in God's response following Sarah's laughter: “Is anything too difficult for the LORD?” (18:14).


I believe God had them wait because He wanted to do that which could be explained only by His involvement--that which is unexplainable apart from God. In this way, the very life of Isaac and the fulfillment of the promise would point to God Himself. There could be no other explanation. Isaac was unexplainable--apart from God. Ishmael, on the other hand, was explainable: A man has sexual relations with a woman of child-bearing age, and she gets pregnant. But when a baby's born to a century-old man and his wife of ninety after they've tried unsuccessfully for decades to have children--well, there's only one explanation for that: God did it. Isaac's very existence would always point to God. This is what God wanted, and it's why I believe He had Abraham and Sarah wait so long.


This is the sort of thing God desires to do in and through the lives of all His children. He wants to do the inconceivable, the uncommon, the unexpected, the remarkable, the incomprehensible, so that He--God--is the only explanation for what occurs in our lives. In this way, our lives point to Him.


Do you realize that God created you to point to Him? Do you understand that your life is intended to make Him known? God wants the unfolding of your life to be unexplainable apart from Him. As Paul expresses it, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). You've been created for good works that put God on display. Just as a work of art reflects the artist, we are to reflect God.


Jesus said it this way: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).


His Ways Point to Him


If who you are, and the unfolding of your life, are seen as something understandable, expected, common, and explainable in human terms, then your life merely points to you. Like Frank Sinatra, you can sing, “I did it my way.” But if the best and perhaps only explanation for your life is God, then you point to Him and your life plays to the lyric, “I did it His way.”


This is the purpose for which you were created. In fact, to be unexplainable apart from God is completely normal for the Christian. This is the way life ought to be. You, and the unfolding of your life, should be unexplainable apart from God.


Perhaps in moments of quiet reflection you've wondered, Is this all there is to life? You have a sense within that there must be more to life than you're experiencing. Though you're probably busier than you want to be, you can't figure out why you're bored. You think there must be more to life than this.


Well, there is!


God is issuing an invitation to each and every one of us to join Him in the realm of the unexplainable. God wants to take your life beyond you. This is the kind of life He created you for, the life He designed you to experience. He wants it to be unexplainable apart from Him, so that you point to Him.


If you accept His invitation, then you join not only Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac, but a host of others, like:


Joseph, who took an unexplainable-apart-from-God journey from a pit to a palace, then extended unexplainable-apart-from-God forgiveness to his brothers for the evil they did to him.


Moses, who arrived unexplainably-apart-from-God at a palace, only to be exiled to the wilderness, where he was unknowingly being prepared to return to that palace--so he could lead God's people on an unexplainable-apart from-God journey through that wilderness.


David, who was such an unexplainable-apart-from-God choice to be Israel's next king that he wasn't even invited along with his brothers to the draft.


Esther, who unexpectedly and unexplainably-apart-from-God “attained royalty for such a time as this,” so that her people, God's people, could be saved from annihilation.


Joseph and Mary, very common folk who were asked to do the most uncommon thing of all--give birth in an unexplainable-apart-from-God way to the very Son of God.


Peter, James, John, and nine other young men from meager means and education who were chosen unexplainably-apart-from-God by Jesus to lead a movement that changed the world.


A fellow named Saul, better known as Paul, who fought to wipe Christianity from the face of the earth, but unexplainably-apart-from-God ended up becoming Christianity's greatest ambassador.


The Bible is full of story after story of the “unexplainable apart from God.” So true is this that skeptics have labeled the Bible as largely fairy tale and myth. They ask, “How can these things be?” God answers them as did Abraham: “Is anything too difficult for the LORD?”


For Superstars Only?


At this point you may be thinking, But the Bible tells the stories of the superstars of the faith, and I'm no superstar. While this is certainly a common perception, a closer look reveals that the vast majority of the Bible's primary figures were very common and ordinary folk. They were shepherds, like Moses and David, or ranchers like Abraham, or fishermen like Peter, James, and John, or carpenters like Joseph in the New Testament. They were slaves like the Old Testament Joseph and Daniel, or tax collectors like Matthew and Zacchaeus. Some were even prostitutes like Rahab, and social outcasts like Elijah, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist.


These people lived extraordinary lives, becoming the “Superstars” we perceive them to be only as a result of following God's leading into the realm of the unexplainable. And this is what God desires to do with you as well. Common people become everything but common when God gets involved.


In most cases and on most days, the results of following God's guidance will not be dramatic. While we tend to focus on Daniel's dramatic rescue one night in the lion's den, what's even far more unexplainable is how Daniel chose earlier to continue “kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously” (Dan. 6:10), despite the king's edict that made such prayer a capital offense.


While we focus on David's unexplainable ability with a slingshot, it's even more unexplainable that for ten years he served faithfully under Saul, a king gone mad who even tried to kill David on numerous occasions. When the tables turned, and David had a chance to kill Saul, he refused to do so--a decision explainable only by God's influence in David's life.


Then there's Joseph, revered as the dreamer who rose from a pit to a palace. While his ascent is clearly unexplainable apart from God, it was Joseph's ability to forgive his brothers and to care abundantly for them and their families that truly defies the common and begs for explanation.


Following God into the realm of the unexplainable may produce some dramatic moments, like those experienced by Daniel, David, and Joseph. In most cases, however, you'll find yourself living the unexplainable in the midst of very common circumstances and ordinary days. To embrace life in God, to experience His presence, and to follow His lead will inevitably place you in the realm of the unexplainable. You'll find yourself feeling, thinking, speaking, acting, and relating in ways leading unquestionably to the conclusion that “God did it.” This is how it should be in every Christian's life.


Still True Today


Consider a couple who are friends of mine. They spent two years designing and building their dream home on five acres in a prestigious area, only to sell it four years after moving in because they felt led by God to give more of their resources to the cause of Christ and the poor in particular. Or another friend, a very successful executive, who took early retirement, thereby forfeiting significant financial gain, so he could follow God's leading into volunteer work with several ministries.


In both these cases, some asked, “What are you doing? Have you lost your mind? Your decision makes no sense.” But these friends would tell you today that their decisions made total sense.


God may lead you to stay at a job in spite of a demanding and unreasonable boss--a decision that seems unexplainable when fellow employees are jumping ship.


God may lead you to pass up a promotion and all the perks that go with it, because of the additional hours and responsibilities that would negatively impact your family and current ministry involvements.


You may be led by God to write a check that will be unexplainable to your financial planner. This is exactly what the Macedonian Christians did, as Paul tells us: “For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord” (2 Cor. 8:3).


You may feel unexplainably prompted to share your faith in Jesus with a total stranger or with someone who previously made it clear he or she had no interest in God.


You may feel unexplainably compelled to befriend and express love to someone whom most others choose to avoid.


In other situations, God may choose to do the unexplainable on your behalf--like send His healing power upon your body to do what medical science has been unable to do, or bring reconciliation to a relationship you thought was beyond repair, or provide unexpected resources that ease your financial burden, or open a door to a job that's even better than the one you were hoping and praying for, or anoint a ministry involvement that ends up bearing more fruit than you thought possible.


Whatever it is, God wants to lead you into this realm of the “unexplainable apart from Him”--so your life points to Him.


Paul describes this new realm in these words: “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9). Wow! Count me in!


But How?


The question then becomes, How do I get there?


For this to happen, you'll need to see and approach life differently. Paul makes this truth abundantly clear when he commands our complete makeover in thought and behavior: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Living in conformity to the world can't get you into this new realm. You'll need to undergo a transformation--one that begins with the “renewing of your mind,” and results in conformity to the will of God.


This transformation from explainable to unexplainable is what this book is about. Specifically, I want to encourage and challenge you to make three major shifts in the way you see and approach life. I call them lifeshifts. They're the sort of thing I believe Paul had in mind when he told us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” These lifeshifts will dramatically alter the way we seek to fulfill three of the deepest longings of the human heart--contentment, success, and significance.


The first lifeshift is from outside-in to inside-out--and it opens the door to experiencing the kind of contentment that is unattainable and unexplainable apart from God.


So, if you're ready, turn the page … and begin your journey into the realm of the unexplainable.


Discussion Questions


What's your initial reaction to this book's fundamental premise-- that you and the unfolding of your life should be in some ways unexplainable apart from God?


To what degree do you want your life to be unexplainable apart from God? (Answer not at all, somewhat, or to a great degree.) What do you find appealing or unappealing about experiencing the “unexplainable?”


Can you think of any ways in which you as a person or the unfolding events of your life to date are unexplainable apart from God?


Have you ever made a decision that appeared to make little or no sense to others, but clearly reflected God's leading in your life? Explain what occurred and how you were motivated to follow through with such a decision.


Has God ever done something in or through your life for which the only logical explanation is “God did it”? If so, describe this experience. Also describe anything like this that may have occurred recently in the life of someone you know.


How did the experiences you just described in response to the previous question enable you or someone you know to point to God?


What would you like to see God do in you personally that would qualify as “unexplainable apart from God”? (Some examples: Helping you overcome a bad habit, or be able to truly forgive someone who has wronged you, or to change your attitude concerning something or someone, or to change something else about you).


In what current circumstance or situation do you need God to do something that only He can do? (Examples: Healing a relationship that seems broken beyond repair, meeting a financial need, bringing physical healing, or bringing some sort of resolution to a current conflict or trial.)

©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. Unexplainable by Don Cousins. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.