Friday, December 31, 2010

Trying to decide whether or not to rebel

I stay up until midnight often. Therefore, I've been known to rebel and go to bed early on New Year's Eve. So, I'm debating what I'm going to do. Sitting at home alone working on something is nothing new, exciting or different.

I did go to Sonic and get a Diet Coke with cherry and vanilla. I splurged 40 cents and had them throw a couple of cherries in. And I have Pawn Stars and American Pickers on. That's real exciting. I blame my parents for that. Never watched either of them before they got me into it. Before we went to LeClaire, IA, I had seen American Pickers all of one time. Since we weren't able to go into their building because of taping, I can't tell you how many times I've seen the show. I guess if I ever go back to Vegas that I'll have to go meet Chumlee.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Passport Through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second Chances

Life on the Edge
One Woman’s Extreme Journey
to Finding a Life That Matters

Each one of us longs to know we matter. We hunger to know that we have purpose, our life has meaning, and God dreams great dreams for us. In Passport Through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second Chances, Kimberly Smith invites us into her own struggles as an ordinary woman who feels those aches, asks those questions, and stumbles through a quest to find her place in a broken world.

Smith was an average American woman—a wife, mother, corporate executive, and faithful church member. But she knew something was missing from her life. When a bone-chilling experience awakened her desire to find true purpose, Smith and her family began a lifelong adventure serving those who never knew a greater purpose could exist.

Traveling around the world and deep into the darkness of her own heart, Smith’s worst fears collided with her faith as she and her family discovered the atrocities of human trafficking. But in that broken place a self-centered life was transformed into an international effort to save thousands from modern-day slavery, persecution, disease, and genocide.

As Smith and her husband risk everything for orphans in Eastern Europe and Africa, they see God work again and again in impossible situations, especially in their own lives and marriage. They see God change them—even in their exhaustion, marital struggles, and physical limitations. They see the beauty of living out God’s dreams.

This is a book of hope for anyone who longs to see God’s redemptive power heal broken hearts, fill empty bellies, and shelter uncovered heads. It is a call to take one more step on your own journey to know God’s heart and purpose for your life. It is a guide from one ordinary person to another to find a life that matters.

Smith writes, “My prayer is that God will use my wounds and my transgressions to encourage you to risk losing everything to discover the life God dreams for you. It’s life on the edge, where so much is uncertain, maybe even scary, certainly out of our control. But it’s also where true freedom lives.”

Your story may be different from hers, but God’s hopes for you are just as big. “Your destination,” Smith writes, “is the same as mine—an intimate encounter between you and your Creator. But your route will be filled with adventures, both mild and wild, made just for you. It will lead you to where God’s pleasure and your purpose meet.”

Let Kimberly’s remarkable story show you the grit, the pain, and the beauty of letting go of it all to find the dream God dreamed when He shaped you in His Hands.

About the Author: Kimberly L. Smith is the president and cofounder of Make Way Partners, a mission organization committed to ending human trafficking. She is currently leading Make Way Partners to build the only private and indigenously based anti-trafficking network in Africa and Eastern Europe. A devoted wife, mother, and grandmother, Smith lives with her husband, Milton, in Sylacauga, Alabama.

Passport Through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second Chances
by Kimberly L. Smith
January 1, 2011/ISBN 978-1-4347-0212-8
224 pages/softcover/$14.99

For review copy and interview information, contact:
Audra Jennings - 800-927-0517 x104

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Health Care You Can Live With: Discover Wholeness in Body and Spirit

Dr. Scott Morris calls on the Church
for true health care reform

Have we considered what Jesus’ response would be to health care reform? And as Christians called to be influencers of culture, shouldn’t we be informed and knowledgeable enough to dialogue intelligently about the subject? Medical doctor and ordained Methodist minister G. Scott Morris tackles the thorny issues surrounding health care and answers the ultimate question of what is true health in his upcoming release, Health Care You Can Live With: Discover Wholeness in Body and Spirit.

Health Care You Can Live With is an astute and biblical perspective of total wellness that empowers the individual to ultimately see from Jesus’ example what it means to be human and to be intimately connected to God in that humanity. “Jesus asks us to care about what he cared about—wellness and wholeness. Healing that flows through personal care, preventive activities, medical methods, and technology announces that the kingdom of God is here,” says Morris. “We cannot separate healing from the gospel message. If we’re going to do what Jesus did, and as his first century followers did, we must find some way to be involved in a ministry of healing.”

An ordained minister with twenty years as a family practice physician serving a diverse population in Memphis, the nation’s poorest major city, Morris is uniquely experienced in the challenges of our health care system today. Health Care You Can Live With offers a surprising behind-the-scenes visit into the troubles we are currently facing around the issues of health care and health care reform. With a thoughtful yet candid approach, Morris invites the reader to question what we really know about health care. Who does our health care system serve and what does it do or not do for others? And, most importantly, what should be the response of the Church—and the individual Christian?

Morris offers an insightful and biblical approach to health care, its history, and the Church’s role, as well as a multi-dimensional examination of health care today and what health care reform will and will not do. How many Christians today know that respected leaders of the Faith like John Wesley and Cotton Mather were instrumental in the early development of health care as they lived Jesus’ example of treating the whole person, body and spirit, in their own ministries? With chapters such as “Cherish Being Human,” “The Body Brings Us Together,” “Nutrition: Food Is a Gift from God,” and “Faith Life: Don’t Wait for a Crisis,” Morris calls the Church and individual Christians into true life change according to the life lived by Jesus. What makes Morris a unique Christian voice is not only how he intelligently puts politics aside and tackles the facts of this issue, but also how he strips away the layers to get to the book’s ultimate purpose—true and total wellness. Morris’ desire is that the reader be transformed by what he or she reads and to experience lasting change.

Living what he preaches, Morris is founder of Church Health Center in Memphis, Tennessee, a community health center that today provides 36,000 patient visits a year and handles 120,000 visits to the wellness facility. A staff of 250 people shares a ministry of healing and wellness while hundreds more volunteer time and services. A network of medical specialists makes certain the uninsured working poor get the same quality of health care as anyone with a Cadillac insurance plan. Fees slide on a scale based on income, and no one is turned away. The center has grown to become the largest faith-based clinic of its type in the country and has become a model for others to follow.

Morris is the recipient of numerous awards, including The Peacemaker Award for Innovative Health Care awarded by the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, The Award for Excellence in Community Service from Yale Divinity School, and The Distinguished Physician Award for the state of Tennessee by the Tennessee Medical Association. Morris is a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Memphis/Shelby County Medical Society, and the Tennessee Medical Association. He is ordained in the United Methodist Church and remains a board certified physician who continues to do rounds and see patients at Church Health Center.

Health Care You Can Live With: Discover Wholeness in Body and Spirit
by Dr. G. Scott Morris
Barbour Publishing/January 2011
ISBN: 978-1-61626-247-1/Hardback with Dust Jacket/256 pages/$19.99
Simultaneous Spanish Release - ISBN: 978-1-61626-257-0

Visit for more information
and to find out how to follow Dr. Morris on Twitter and Facebook.

For review copy and interview information, contact:
Audra Jennings - 800-927-0517 x104

Dr. Scott Morris is available for speaking engagements.
For more information, contact Ellen Lewis
of The Barnabas Agency - 800-927-0517 x110.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas to all

Alas, another Christmas has come and almost gone. I started with that sentence about two hours ago once I got home and sat upon my couch. Once I had made my blog post, I had planned to start dismantling my decorations and packing them away for next year. I got sidetracked.

I've kind of thought that my heater wasn't working just right at my house. The past two nights, I have walked in and smelled gas. My dad tried to assure me that if I smelled gas that my house would have already blown up. I was more skeptical.

When I got home tonight, I called him and said, "are you sure I would have blown up by now?"


So, he calls back in about 30 minutes. "Is it any better?"

"Well, I don't notice it now that I've been in here a while."

"Do you want me to come over?"

"Well, I would like a second opinion before I call Atmos."

"Fine, I'm on my way."

As he is on the way over, I'm thinking, "I sure hope he brings Mom. As bad as his sinuses are, he will be no help whatsoever."

Mom smells it immediately. Dad smells nothing.

I ended up calling Atmos. The service guy did not smell it either. However, he had just had sinus surgery on Thursday. He vividly told us about a previous procedure to cut out a bone in his sinuses, followed by this four procedure in which they cleared out his sinuses and removed ick the size of the biggest jumbo shrimp you ever saw. He said he was smelling better, but that really didn't mean anything.

He tells Dad that it could just not have ENOUGH gas to explode yet. ENOUGH being the operative word.

Sure enough, a small leak in the heater valve. He had to cut it off until someone can come out to fix it. He did tell Dad that Mom and I had to have pretty good noses.

For now, staying at my parents house. It's actually the first time to do so in this house. If it had been earlier in the week when it was 80 degrees during the day, and I had the air on at night, I'd be taking down Christmas ornaments right now and sleeping in my own bed.

The thing I'm most thankful for today? That I didn't just take my dad's word about exploding gas.

Merry Christmas ya'll!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Whimsy

Mischievous matchmakers,
Two special tickets,
One unlikely couple

An evening for romance at the annual Christmas Ball

Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball: A NovellaIn a sleepy, snow-covered city, Cora Crowder is busy preparing for the holiday season. Searching for a perfect gift, a fortuitous trip to Warner, Werner, and Wizbotterdad’s (a most unusual bookshop) leads to an unexpected encounter with co-worker Simon Derrick. And the surprise discovery of a ticket for a truly one-of-a-kind Christmas Ball.

Every year, the matchmaking booksellers of the Sage Street bookshop host an enchanting, old-fashioned Christmas Ball for the romantic matches they’ve decided to bring together.

This year, will Simon and Cora discover a perfect chemistry in their opposite personalities and shared faith? Or will the matchmakers’ best laid plans end up ruining everything this holiday?

My review: 

Every year I try to read a little Christmas book, making it a tradition of sorts. Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball was the book that filled this year's bill. Actually, I usually read a book by Donna VanLiere (I think I did Fannie Flagg one year), but I didn't get her latest because I didn't want to do a fictional take on the birth of Jesus. That's a whole other story though.

It is a Christmas fairy tale of sorts, yet at the same time, could actually happen. Technically, nothing happened in the story that couldn't have happened in real life. :)

What I really liked about the story is that the romance aspect was actually cute and charming rather than unlikely and rushed. You know how I get about rushed, unrealistic love stories. Cora and Simon actually have real life struggles and doubts and you were able to witness and identify with. No over dramatic, catastrophic events. There's no fairy tale perfection, but they have a believable happily ever after.

Everyone needs a little Christmas magic this time of the year and Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball provides that touch of whimsy.
I'm just sorry that I didn't get it read and posted about before now. I just finished it earlier today.
A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Uh, can we talk later?

Last Tuesday, I had to go to the dentist to get a cavity filled. It was a quick in and out, but I think I got an elephant's dose of Novocaine. Not because of how numb my mouth was, but because of how woozy I felt afterwards. I was out at 4 PM and could have gone back to work, but thought, "no, don't really feel like that. I feel like a nap. I should go on home."

So, I came home, settled on the couch and was about ready to close my eyes when the phone rang. I really don't know why I have a home phone. I knew no one without a real purpose would be calling me at home before 5:00. "No, I'm not interested in credit card protection, but thanks for calling." Thank goodness I'm not a credit card phone solicitor though I do feel like a phone solicitor at times.

I settle back down. The phone rings again. A few minutes before 5:00. SERIOUSLY?!?! I answer the phone. "Is this Audra Jennings?" Great. Another person sort of stumbling over my full name. Sigh.

"This is Audra."

"This is ******* ******** from *********." (*to protect the caller)

This is when I am completely caught off guard. Oh-my.

"I was just wondering if you were dating anyone."

Short answer "uh, no, I'm not" or long answer "surely you jest. I do barely remember the last time I went out with someone, but I'm not revealing how long ago that was." I keep it short.

"Well, a guy's got to get up his nerve, and my parents said I should ask out someone from... And you never know until you ask."

"That's true, you don't know."

I choose to believe it was the shot Dr. Pete gave me and the fact I hadn't had much lunch that day, but my brain wasn't firing all correctly. My mind was on a tilt a whirl.

"So I wanted to see if you wanted to go out one night..."

"Well, I've got a lot going on until after Christmas." This was not a lie. I did have a number of things going on between that day and this coming Saturday.

"Oh. Really?"

"Yeah, I do. Actually, I just got home from the dentist and my mouth is half numb, and I'm really not feeling well. Can we talk later?"

"Yeah, my phone number is in the ********** *********. That's where I got your number."

"OK, well..."

And we ended the call. My mind was racing. I know who this person is, but really haven't ever had a conversation, but from what little I know, we have nothing in common and honestly, this really is not a "person of interest" for me.

I manically grab my BlackBerry and start trying to call my mom or Jenny. One or the other. Both. As I am trying to dial them, my home phone rings again. I let the machine get it like I should have the first two times.

"Uh, Audra, this is ******* ******* from ******** again. I meant to give you my number. It's my cell and I have it with me all the time, even when I sleep."

I cannot reach Jenny, but get my mom who is wondering about my altered state from my dentist visit and wants to make sure I am at home and not driving myself anywhere. She gives me, "well, you can just do something once. You don't have to get serious."

Jenny meanwhile has phone issues and does not get calls, messages or texts.

The next day, I tell Christi at work about my phone call. She determinedly tells me I need to give him a chance. I probably stuck my tongue out at her because that is not what I wanted to hear. He sounded shy, and I felt bad, but I still didn't want to go.

So, that evening, I had somewhere I needed to be. I stopped by Jenny's to make sure her dog had not eaten her phone again and that she was alive and told her she had abandoned me in my moment of need. I also told her I didn't have time to talk, but she better call me later. I jumped in the car and left. I get to the place I am going and lo and behold ************* had been looking for me, and I had just missed him. He had talked to my mom while he was waiting for me to show up. He also had tried to stop by my mother's office that day while she was at lunch.

Since I did a very good job of avoiding him, that night when I got home, I sent a text saying, "I got your message last night, but I was out of it. Sorry about that." I figured that was the polite thing to do, all things considered.

That night Jenny told me I should give him a chance. I chastised Jenny for not saying what I wanted to hear.

Next morning, I post on Facebook, "yes, I am a bad person." or something like that. Someone replied back asking why. This person does know the caller and I have a hunch to ask her a few questions. Turns out he had asked this friend out previously, and I found out enough to not feel so bad about not being interested plus some.

I meet Jenny for lunch to catch her up on what I have found out. Basically, he wants to find him a nice girl, but I think I'm just the next on the list, for one thing. I get a text message saying, "is this Audra? You doing anything for lunch because I'm on the way into town."

Hmmmm... just how many people did you leave messages for yesterday? "Yeah, it's Audra. Met a friend for lunch."

The message I get back as I part ways with Jenny to go back to work, "That's alright, I'm going to... anyways good lookin."

OH NO, you just didn't! All of a sudden Mr. Shy is pulling a line? From the information I had acquired, I was not buying. I ignored.

I got another "busy tonight good lookin?" text that I ignored.

I got a phone call from my mother, "you have to do something about this guy because he showed up at my office again today." And he showed her the text message he sent me.

And I get a third asking if he had done anything wrong since I ignored the previous two. I politely replied back after the third saying that he was trying too hard and was making me uncomfortable. I asked him to please not text me back.

I have gotten one text since that I ignored. When it all comes down to it, I am very thankful that I was loopy and had an excuse. I just hope that I've effectively shown no interest so that I do not get another call after Christmas when I have less going on. He's under the impression that I am nice and sweet and anyone who knows me would laugh at that and agree he doesn't know me very well. I'd really rather not have to be blunt and to the point.

Wish me luck!

Monday, December 20, 2010

A strange experience

This past week has been rather strange in more ways than one. If I weren't trying to blog on the berry again I would start with last Tuesday. At the moment I am glued to my couch and do not consider getting up and turning on my computer on.

Ironically, I am watching the Sing-Off and Neil Diamond is on. Ironic as that fits in with the story I was going to tell.

A few weeks ago, I heard the Trans-Siberian Orchestra would be in Dallas. I decided this sounded like a good Christmas season thing to do. Jenny agreed, so we went yesterday.

Strangest three hours of my life. Almost a full three hour concert. I figured it would be a bit different, but figured it would be mostly instrumental. I mean who has heard TSO sing on any of their songs on the radio? No one. There is a reason for that. It would have been one thing if they just sang your everyday Christmas songs, but their original material was beyond odd. I have no clue what the original songs were talking about. Jenny asked me if the lead singer was Neil Diamond. I thought he was Terry Fator doing Louis Armstrong. In between songs was a narrator that was channeling James Earl Jones. He was telling the story of a story exchanged one Christmas in a bar. I really got lost as to what he was talking about too.

Then there was the homeless character that recited poetry. With all the odd songs, laser lights and weird screen graphics of helicopters felt like was witnessing someone's acid trip.

Jenny said she felt as though she has finally made her first big hair band concert. All the head banging gave me whiplash just by watching.

The best part was when it was just instrumental. Simply bizarre, but I can say that have checked it off my list.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I never realized it was a horror flick

One time I read something about how TV Guide once described the Wizard of Oz. Something about a runaway girl meeting strangers on a journey or something like that. I don't remember exactly what it was, but you would think it was a movie with a lot more fright than some flying monkeys.

That's not the point of my story tonight though. That was sort of like a preacher's tease going into his sermon. (You know what I'm talking about and you're already laughing.)

The point of that illustration is to say it's all in how you tell the story. While factual, the TV Guide version, whatever it actually was did not really relay the movie as most people think of it. Well, I'm a bad aunt and told about a movie in a way that made my poor, sweet 6-year old PeyPey cry. Completely not my intention to scare her to tears, but what I did in this case.

Last night, I was making them hot chocolate and told them to pick out a mug. I had several Christmas mugs, and I collect mugs on our trips. I have a mug from Dyersville, IA, home to the Field of Dreams, the actual corn field from the movie. The mug has this black mass on it until you pour hot liquid in it. When it gets hot, the corn stalks appear along with baseball players. I pulled out the mug to show Peyton and Paige what it did. Neither had ever seen the movie, and Paige asked me to tell her about it from the beginning.

"There was this man and his family who had a farm, but the bank told them that they were going to lose their house because they were behind on payments. The man started having these dreams and hearing these voices."

I lower my voice to a whisper, "'If you build it, he will come.' But the man was the only one that heard the voice. His wife didn't hear it. His daughter didn't hear it. But he decided to build a baseball field. Then he heard the voice again."

Again, I lower my voice to whisper, "Go the distance." As I'm saying this, Peyton is standing next to me, getting antsy and grabbing my arm like a blood pressure cuff cutting off my circulation.

"Peyton, it's alright. So, he finds this author of this book who is a hermit and they go to a baseball game and hear the voice again." I also explain what a hermit is.

"ZIP IT!!!," Peyton screams at me.

"Peyton, it's not scary."

"So, anyway, they end up coming back to the farm, and these baseball players start coming out of the corn field. They were ghosts of baseball players." About this time, Peyton runs around from the kitchen upset and goes around to the couch where she and Paige are looking at me over the counter to me at the sink.

I try to explain who the players were and how Shoeless Joe Jackson was thought to throw the World Series. "And they hear the voice again, "ease his pain.'"


"Oh, and one of the players was the ghost of the guy that owned the corn field's dad."

This is the point where the tears start flowing, and I start feeling terrible."Peyton, it's ok, it's really not scary," I try to assure her as I hug her and ease her pain (get it - ease her pain?).

But think about it. Weird voices whispering out of nowhere and a bunch of ghosts showing up at your house. Yeah, I guess that does sound scary if you haven't actually seen the movie.

So, today, I had to order the DVD off of Amazon, so we can all watch it together and prove that Field of Dreams is not a horror flick. That is, if she'll watch it with us.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I have changed my position

I think I'm going to tell part of the story that I did not tell last night, but I have to decide how much to tell and how to tell it. That means you're going to have to wait a little while longer.

Let's just say I have to laugh or I think I would cry.

Here, I'll ask a question to see if we can get a discussion going. What is a no-no to say to someone if you want them to go out with you? What would scare you off before a first date?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

the best stories sometimes cannot be told

I sort of really have a funny story to tell at my own expense. It involves being woozy and numb on Novocaine and being caught off guard with a phone call.

To protect the innocent, I need to refrain.

Do you know how hard it is to blog on a Blackberry and watch the Sing-Off at the same time?  I got home from church and had to catch up with Jenny, so I am just now starting it. I really like On the Rocks. Anyone else watching it?

I would say more, but my cursor will not stay put and I keep typing all over the place which is frustrating. So is fixing errors via Torch.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Want chocolate? You've Got a Deal!

Fitness expert Chantel Hobbs
inspires readers to lose weight,
get fit, and taste life at its very best

You don’t have to hide it. You can love food right out in the open—and lose weight at the same time. With the latest release from Chantel Hobbs, Love Food and Live Well, you’ll know when to have carrot cake and when it’s time to just have a carrot.

Let life coach and fitness expert Chantel Hobbs show you how to lose pounds to reach the weight that is right for you and then maintain it while enjoying healthy, delicious food. Built into this amazing plan is knowing that you can count on the occasional splurge with absolutely no guilt.

Using personal inventories, original recipes, and simple eating plans, plus new exercises for strength training and aerobic fitness, Hobbs will inspire you to live well in every area of life. Her positive and highly motivating approach is changing the way dieters look at food and will inspire you to pursue a life of lasting health in body, mind, and spirit.

Hobbs isn’t like other fitness and nutritional experts. She doesn’t just have the knowledge of what to eat. She’s experienced the heartache of feeling unworthy. In her book she says, “We’ll look at the deal the world has been selling us all of our lives—the message that we’re not good enough, not pretty enough, not thin enough, and just basically that we’re not enough.” Hobbs doesn’t just offer expert advice. She offers hope.

She exposes the lies that trap dieters in self-defeating habits and shows them how to break free from destructive attitudes toward food. You will no longer need to hate food or be limited to eating boring, bland, unsatisfying meals. You can learn to live with freedom.

Chantel Hobbs is a life coach, marathon runner, personal trainer, wife, and mother of four. Her amazing story of losing two hundred pounds and keeping the weight off has been featured on Oprah, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Fox & Friends, Life Today with James Robison, The 700 Club, and Focus on the Family Radio—and in People and First magazines. Hobbs hosts a weekly radio show and is the on-air fitness expert on the WAY-FM radio network. She is also a regular guest on the KLOVE radio network. Hobbs is a frequent speaker to women’s groups and makes personal appearances at fitness conventions. The developer of The One-Day Way Learning System and the author of four books, including Never Say Diet and The One-Day Way, Chantel lives with her family in south Florida.

Love Food and Live Well by Chantel Hobbs
WaterBrook Press/December 2010
ISBN: 978-0-307-45784-4/240 pages/hardcover/$19.99

For review copy and interview information, contact:
Audra Jennings - 800-927-0517 x104

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Shopping complete?

I sure hope so! Last night, I contemplated going to Waxahachie last night after work to finish up. I ended up passing through there today on my way to Arlington to fight the crowds. I did stop back in Waxahachie to buy the last gift because I was determined to finish before I got back home to Corsicana. There are certain members of my family that are difficult to buy for and knew coming home empty wouldn't be pleasant.

I did see the items I ordered online and paid shipping for on one of my stops today. I am thinking of it as  paying $15 to have the three boxes to wrap the items in.

At least I checked several license plates off my list to compete with my mother and Paige because it's a family battle. I even got a Delaware Nation, not to be confused with Delaware the state. I learned something today. The Delaware Nation is located in Oklahoma (that makes two Indian Nations that I've knocked off of my list). The reason it was so crowded in Arlington today is because people flocked all the way from Montana, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, Missouri, Idaho and Washington state. Surely, they could have found something closer to home.

Speaking of far from home, I tried to Google South African Christmas lyrics, but they are not as easy to find as the Australian ones were the other day. I can't read Spanish well to try the South American locations.

So instead of entertaining you further, I guess I'll do some wrapping.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A kookaburra up a gum tree

Of course, I always knew this, but never thought about it much...

Last week while the Rockefeller Center Christmas lighting was on, they had a singer on from Australia. I forgot who the singer was. They pointed out that while it was cold in New York, it was summer in Australia at Christmas.

(By the way, did you catch the live TV glitch where they started playing the Boyz II Men track when the "Internet sensation" girl from the Philippines was supposed to be singing with the piano accompaniment. Proof of the whole thing being lip-synched. I don't really have a problem with that, I'm just asking if anyone watched.)

So, back to the point. Yes, I knew that it was summer at Christmas, but did you ever think about what their Christmas songs talk about. I mean, "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, jack frost nipping at your nose." In South Africa or Brazil, you're not going to get frost bite on your nose, you're going to get sunburned.

"Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow" sure isn't going to happen. Frosty the ??? Is a sleigh ride through the sand an appropriate summer activity? I guess silver bells really don't have anything to do with cold weather.

Yes, I know, I live in Texas and have experienced many a warm Christmas with temperatures 70 degrees or so. At least we have a greater likelihood of our dreams of a "White Christmas" coming true.

Now, I am Googling some lyrics. This is on an Australian lyric site, but I think these are spoofs. Surely, this is not what they really sing...

Deck the sheds with bits of wattle*, fa la la la, la la la la,
Whack some gum leaves in a bottle, fa la la la, la la la la la,
All the shops are open Sundies, fa la la la, la la la la,
Buy you Dad some socks and undies, fa la la la, la la la la la.

So help me, I promise I had already thought up the bit above about the sunscreen before I found this:

Dashing to the beach
With my boogie board and towel
Look at all the waves
Hear the surfers yell, YEE HAA
Put your sunscreen on
Don't forget your hat
Because you will get sunburnt
If you don't remember that

Summer time, Christmas time
Mosquitoes, bindies
BBQ's, sausages
Tomato sauces and flies

Here's another version of "Jingle Bells":

Dashing through the bush
In a rusty Holden Ute
Kicking up the dust
Esky in the boot
Kelpie by my side
Singing Christmas songs
Its summer time and I am in
My singlet, shorts and thongs


Oh, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells
Jingle all the way
Christmas in Australia
On a scorching summer's day
Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells
Christmas time is beaut
Oh what fun it is to ride
In a rusty Holden Ute

I'm so going to Australia next year for Christmas...

On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
A kookaburra in a gum tree

On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Two cockatoos, and a kookaburra in a gum tree

Three parakeets.........
Four great galahs.......
Five opals black......
Six 'roos a-jumping........
Seven emus running.......
Eight koalas clinging.........
Nine wombats waddling........
Ten dingoes dashing.......
Eleven snakes a-sliding.......
Twelve goannas going.......

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Twelve goanna goin, Eleven snakes a-sliding,
Ten dingoes dashing, Nine wombats waddling,
Eight koalas clinging, Seven emus running,
Six 'roos a-jumping, Five opals black,
Four great galahs, Three parakeets,
Two cockatoos, And a kookaburra up a gum tree.
I really do have things I need to accomplish tonight, but join me throughout the coming weeks. I'm going to try to make more posts from other countries although, I would venture to say it will be downhilll from here. I'll leave you know with "Six White Boomers" one of Australia's most popular songs from what I can tell.

Early on one Christmas Day, a Joey Kanga-roo
Was far from home and lost in a great big zoo
Mummy, where's my mummy, they've taken her a-way
We'll help you find your mummy son, hop on the sleigh

Up beside the bag of toys, little Joey hopped
But they had'nt gone far when Santa stopped
Un-harnessed all the reindeer and Joey wondered why
Then he heard a far off booming in the sky

Six white boomers, snow white boomers
Racing Santa Claus through the blazing sun
Six white boomers, snow white boomers
.. On his Aus-tra-lian run

Pretty soon old Santa began to feel the heat
Took his fur-lined boots off to cool his feet
Into one popped Joey, feeling quite OK
While those old man kangaroos kept pulling on the sleigh

Six white boomers, snow white boomers
Racing Santa Claus through the blazing sun
Six white boomers, snow white boomers
.. On his Aus-tra-lian run

Joey said to Santa, Santa, what about the toys
Aren't you giving some to these girls and boys
They've all got their presents son, we were here last night
This trip is an extra trip, Joey's special flight

Six white boomers, snow white boomers
Racing Santa Claus through the blazing sun
Six white boomers, snow white boomers
.. On his Aus-tra-lian run

Soon the sleigh was flashing past, right over Marble Bar
Slow down there, cried Santa, it can't be far
Come up on my lap son, and have a look around
There she is, that's mummy, bounding up and down

Six white boomers, snow white boomers
Racing Santa Claus through the blazing sun
Six white boomers, snow white boomers
.. On his Aus-tra-lian run

Well that's the bestest Christmas treat that Joey ever had
Curled up in mother's pouch all snug and glad
The last they saw was Santa headed northward from the sun
The only year the boomers worked a double run

Six white boomers, snow white boomers
Racing Santa Claus through the blazing sun
Six white boomers, snow white boomers
...On his Aus-tra-lian run

Rolf Harriss (1965)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Anyone want to go shopping for me?

First of all, I really need to go to the grocery store. My milk was 4 days past this morning, and 3 really is my limit. I hate going to the grocery store.

Then, I only have one person completely checked off of my Christmas list. If anyone would like to shop for my brother and sister-in-law especially, I would be very appreciative. If you know either one of them and have suggestions, that would be wonderful as well.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Your chance to read the first chapter of City of Tranquil Light

Thanks to everyone who took part in today's tour!

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:

Henry Holt and Co. (September 28, 2010
***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***


Bo Caldwell’s short fiction has been published in Ploughshares, Story, Epoch, and other literary journals. Born in Oklahoma City in 1955, she grew up in Los Angeles and attended Stanford University, where she later held a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing and a Jones Lectureship in Creative Writing. She has received a fellowship in literature from the National Endowment for the Arts, an Artist Fellowship from the Arts Council of Santa Clara County, and the Joseph Henry Jackson Award from the San Francisco Foundation. Her personal essays have appeared in O Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, and America Magazine. Her first novel, The Distant Land of My Father, was one of The Los Angeles Times’ Best Books of 2001, and was selected for community reading programs in Pasadena, Santa Clara County, and Claremont. She lives in Northern California with her husband, the writer Ron Hansen.

Product Details:

List Price: $25.00
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (September 28, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0805092285
ISBN-13: 978-0805092288



Suppose it is an autumn day, fine and clear and cool. Late afternoon, when the sun nears the horizon and turns the sky into a watercolor of pastels. It is beautiful, as though God is showing off. As you approach the city you first see its wall, an immense gray brick structure that is as solid as it is imposing, nearly as wide as it is high, some thirty feet. If you are coming from the east, it will be in sharp silhouette against the lovely changing sky. Near the city the air begins to smell of smoke, but mostly it has the sweet, clean scent of the ripening winter wheat in the surrounding fields.

From a distance the city may not look like much; only that dark wall is visible, and what can that tell you? Some say the cities in the North China Plain are by and large alike, one indistinguishable from another; to them this one might look like any other. But it is not; I can testify to this, for it is the place on this earth that I love the most, the city in which my wife and I lived for nearly twenty-five years among beggars and bandits and farmers and scholars and peasants, people whom we deeply loved. The name of the city is Kuang P'ing Ch'eng—City of Tranquil Light—and although I now reside in southern California and have for many years, that faraway place remains my home.

And it is often in my thoughts. Above my bed hang three Chinese scrolls depicting New Testament scenes, painted by our most improbable convert and given to me when we left China. In the first, the prodigal son kneels at his father's feet as the father rests his hands on the young man's head. The son's pigtail is disheveled and his blue peasant's tunic and trousers are dirty and torn, while the father's violet silk robe is immaculate. In the second, an oriental woman lovingly washes our Lord's feet with her tears and dries them with her long black hair, her own bound feet tucked beneath her, and in the third, a slight but sturdy Zacchaeus, wearing a gray scholar's robe and with his long braided queue hanging down his back, climbs a persimmon tree for a glimpse of Yeh-Su, Jesus. A Chinese lantern of bright red silk—red is the color of happiness—hangs over my writing table, and a small carved chest made of camphor wood holds my woolen sweaters. My Chinese New Testament, its spine soft and its pages worn, sits on the table by my reading chair, with a strip of faded red paper, a calling card given to me long ago, marking my place. I still read the Scriptures in Chinese; I find I am more at home in it than I am in English, just as my Chinese name, Kung P'ei Te, given to me at the beginning of this century, seems more a part of me than my legal name, Will Kiehn.

On my dresser is the photograph taken on our wedding day, November 4, 1908. Katherine and I were married at the American Consulate in Shanghai, and we are wearing Chinese clothes in the picture; our western clothes were too shabby for the occasion, and by then we had dressed in Chinese clothes for two years. Next to the photograph is my wife's diary, a thin volume I never read while she was alive but whose pages I now know by heart. Reading her sporadic entries is bittersweet, for while they bring our years together to life, they also show me my flaws and the ways in which I hurt her, unintentional though they were. But her pages make it seem that she is near, and if the price I pay for that closeness is regret it is a bargain still, albeit a painful one. I was her husband for over thirty-seven years, during which the longest we were apart was thirty-one days. She taught me the self-discipline I lacked, believed I was capable of far more than I did, and loved me as a young man as well as an old one. She was the one and only love of my life.

When I was twenty-one and on my way to China, I tried to envision my life there. I saw myself preaching to huge gatherings of people, baptizing eager new converts, working with my brothers in Christ to improve their lives. I did not foresee the hardships and dangers that lay ahead: the loss of one so precious, the slow and painful deprivation of drought and famine, the continual peril of violence, the devastation of war, the threat to my own dear wife. Again and again we were saved by the people we had come to help and carried through by the Lord we had come to serve. I am amazed at His faithfulness; even now our lives there fill me with awe.

Last week when I was sitting in the small reading room of the retirement home in which I live, a man selling Fuller brushes visited. It was a hot day, and the man was invited in for a glass of water. He looked to be about fifty years old. There were several of us in the reading room, and as the salesman approached and awkwardly began to show us his great variety of brushes—nailbrushes, hairbrushes, toothbrushes, scrub brushes, whisk brooms—I heard his difficulty with English, and because he was oriental I asked if he spoke the standard language, Mandarin. He nodded and I began to speak in our shared tongue, and when he asked my Chinese name and I gave it, he stared at me in wonder.

"Mu shih," he said urgently, Mandarin for shepherd-teacher—pastor—"you baptized me and took me into church fellowship when I was a young man. I am your son."

I am retired now, and while at the age of eighty-one I know this is as it must be, it is strange not to be involved in active ministry; gone are the responsibilities that filled my life for so many years. I continue my work by praying for those who still serve, which I am able to do as my mind is sound. My physical health is also good; my nephew, John, a medical doctor, keeps careful watch over me, and I am well taken care of in these years, measured and monitored as never before. My niece, Madeleine, and my great-nieces and -nephews and their children also visit, and I am doted on by these younger generations.

I am also in the good company of many who have placed the Great Commission foremost in their lives. I live at Glenwood Manor, a home for retired missionaries in Claremont, California, a small town some thirty miles east of Los Angeles. With its parades on the Fourth of July and Homecoming Weekend, its parks, and its tidy downtown, Claremont is wholesome and wholly American. From my room I look out on a small vegetable garden that thrives despite my come-and-go attention. Beyond the garden are the city's eucalyptus-lined streets, and beyond them citrus groves and the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and Mount Baldy. Each morning I walk to Memorial Park and the Public Library, and afterward I answer letters and read a daily Chinese newspaper and books to which I had no access during my years in China. Once a week I read a newspaper in German, the language of my parents and my childhood. At the start of the day when I read the Scriptures, I see truths I have never seen before, even after several decades of preaching the Gospel. And I dream of Chung-Kuo, the Middle Kingdom: China.

I am an ordinary man and an unlikely missionary. The talents I have been able to offer my Lord are small and few and far outnumbered by my faults. I am often slow in getting things done, and at times I exhibit a marked willingness to avoid work. I have never considered myself an intuitive person, and I am inexperienced in many of the ways of modern life. I have, for example, never learned how to drive—I gave up after twice failing the required test—and I know little about the world of finance. I am absentminded and I often misplace things, and while I struggle with pride, I am rarely angry. Nor am I greedy, for which I have my heritage to thank; I am the son and grandson of Mennonite farmers who came to America for religious freedom, and I was raised to aspire to a simple life of farming the land and following Christ. But despite my ordinariness and the smallness of my talents, I have led an extraordinary life. This is God's grace, His unearned favor.

When I was twelve years old, a missionary spoke at the small schoolhouse in Washita County, Oklahoma, where my three brothers and two sisters and I were taught weekdays for six months of the year. We spoke English at school, but at home and in church we still spoke the mother tongue, low German, though our parents had been in America for more than twenty years. German must be God's language, my uncle told me with great seriousness, because that's what the Bible was written in. He did not see the humor in this.

The missionary was from India and he said he was returning there the following month, which I found startling, for he was old and frail. He told our class that in foreign lands the need for those to share the Good News and to care for people's bodies and souls was great, and that a missionary could be a doctor in the mission field as long as he had a good strong brush and plenty of soap and water. "A missionary brings light to the darkness," he said. "We are called to go where there is little light, and where there are people in need of help."

It seemed he was speaking directly to me; my face grew hot and I felt a pull somewhere inside. At the end of class when the offering was taken, I gave all I had—the quarter I had earned for work on the farm, plus six pennies.

At that time, I had not yet been baptized. As Mennonites we believed that faith comes not as an inheritance but as a personal decision; it is a gift freely offered and up to each individual to accept. My parents worked hard to help their children be ready to receive that gift; my mother knelt and prayed with us each morning, and in the evening my father read to us from Scripture. I was taught that faith should be apparent in every area of one's life, and I saw evidence of my parents' faith in their actions. They shared what they had with those who had less, they never turned a stranger away, and they showed me that loving our neighbor often meant feeding and clothing him, even if that involved less comfort for us. These things were as much a given in our home as taking your hat off when you were spoken to.

While faith was not my inheritance, it was my heritage. My German ancestors were people who lived apart from the world and much to themselves in Prussia, preferring not to unite with the state and its church. They wanted no part in government affairs and refused to take up firearms, for doing so would violate the commandment Thou shalt not kill. Czarina Catherine II of Russia, hearing that the community was skilled in building dikes, offered its members a deal: she would give them large tracts of virgin farmland in Polish Russia and the freedom to practice their beliefs, in return for which the people would improve the land.

Mennonites believe in the dignity of labor, and they accepted Catherine's offer. Six thousand souls left Prussia for Polish Russia, where they built their own churches and schools and were exempted from military service. They were allowed to substitute an affirmation for an oath—swearing of any kind was forbidden by God—and they were allowed to bury their own dead. They began to work the swampland along the Vistula River, where they built dikes high enough to keep the river's overflow from the lowlands, eventually transforming vast expanses of swampland into thousands of acres of wheat. They continued to speak German and they thrived for many years.

Until 1873, when Alexander II, Catherine's great-grandson, revoked their special privileges, causing the community to look once more for a place where they would be free of the demands of an aristocratic government. The United States seemed to be the answer; its Constitution promised equal rights to all, and Congress had passed a bill that excused conscientious objectors from bearing arms. The community sent a delegation to America to spy out the land, and they returned with good news: fertile farmland could be had for very little, and the state of Kansas exempted Mennonites from military service. The Santa Fe railroad sent an agent to Russia to offer free transportation on a chartered steamer.

Thus in October of 1874, after selling their land for a fraction of its value, it was to America that everyone went. With their families and friends, my parents traveled by rail to Antwerp and from there to New York on the Netherland. The group settled in Kansas, but my parents soon found that their one-hundred-and-sixty-acre farm was too small to support a family of six. In 1885, the year I was born, they traveled to the western part of Oklahoma territory and leased a section of land that had never been cultivated.

Again and again, my ancestors said yes to God, and as I grew I saw those around me say yes as well. Over the months then years I watched one person after another in our community walk forward at Sunday services. At times I looked wistfully, even enviously, at the new church members and wished that I, too, could say the words, could produce the faith. But I could not; I was suspicious of God and was afraid that, if I said yes to Him, He would change me in ways I would not like and ask of me things I did not want to do. I thought of the visiting missionary, and of what I had felt as he spoke. What if God should ask me to leave home? That I could never do. So I tolerated the restlessness that dwelt in my heart and decided that faith could wait.

Which it did, for four years, until early one morning in late summer when I was in the fields. I was sixteen years old and farming was what I loved. I knew how to prepare seedbeds, plow the fields, plant and tend our crops, and harvest wheat and fruit at the optimal time, and I felt a deep satisfaction in watching things grow. Our property was bound by a creek to the north and a line of dogwood trees to the south, with the Washita River running through the center of our land. To the south of the river we grew wheat and to the north was grassland for cattle, with orchards on either side. We harvested more grain and fruit than we could haul to market, and nearly everything on our table came from our farm: cheese and sausage, bread and eggs and jam, apples and peaches and corn.

That morning I fell to my knees behind the plow to pray before I began the day's work, just as I did every morning, for while I was unable to surrender myself to God, I was equally unable to turn my back on Him, and I could not discard my habit of cautious prayer. The day was already hot and the sun warmed my back as I knelt in the cool red dirt and thanked God for my life and asked Him to help me plow a straight line.

I was about to stand when something stopped me. It was the quiet, a deep calm that I did not want to leave or disturb. I stayed very still, and as I gazed out at the wide expanse of rich red earth, my mind and heart grew still as well. I felt a Presence that seemed to surround me and pursue me at the same time, a Presence that I knew was God, and I had the sense that I was deeply loved and cared for. I had been told of this love since I was small, but on that morning it seemed to move from my head into my heart; knowledge became belief. As I remained kneeling in the red soil, it seemed that the gift of faith was being offered to me. I whispered, "Help me to believe," and a feeling of great relief came over me as I realized how I had been longing for enough faith to give myself over. From somewhere inside I felt a yes, and an unfamiliar peace replaced the restlessness in my soul.

Two weeks later, I gave my testimony at our meetinghouse. As I looked out at the congregation, my face grew hot and my voice trembled and I felt myself perspire, but I persevered. Four Sundays later, with our congregation gathered around me, I walked into the clear rushing water of the Washita River. As I knelt, our pastor cupped his hands behind my head and I lay back in the water and felt it rush over me. Then I was up, gasping and wet and cold, and I felt new.

When I finished school three years later, my father sent me to the Gemeinde Schule—community school—a small Bible academy established by the church in nearby Corn, Oklahoma. The younger members of our church community were trained to take on the work of the older ones; my father hoped that when I finished at the academy I would attend the church's Bible College in Hutchinson, Kansas, then return home to become superintendent of our Sunday school.

But that is not what happened. On a Saturday afternoon in late summer of 1906, a few weeks before I was to leave for Kansas, we had a visitor. His name was Edward Geisler, and he and my father greeted each other with a holy kiss, the custom among members of our faith. He was nearly family, my father said; Edward had left Russia in the same group as our family, and he had given himself to God's service. He had traveled to China in 1901 with five other young volunteers as part of the South Chihli Mission, and a few years later he and his wife and another Mennonite, the first Mennonite missionaries in China, had formed the China Mennonite Missionary Society. Now he had come home from China's interior to seek an increase in support for their work and to take new recruits back with him to China. "Our friend is following the Great Commission," my father said. " 'Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Gospel to all creation.' "

The next morning Edward spoke at our church. What God asked of us, he said, was nothing less than absolute surrender. "The Gospel tells us this clearly: 'Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.' The question we must ask ourselves is, What are we holding back? What is it that we will not give up?"

I felt found out, as thoroughly convicted as if Edward had addressed me by name. Something tightened in my center, a tense feeling that stayed with me the rest of the day, and at dinner that night I did not speak. My mother asked if I was ill and whether I wanted to leave the table. A part of me did, but I stayed where I was.

I was sitting next to Edward, who seemed to single me out from my siblings. He asked me kindly about school and farming and my baptism, and he said he could see that I loved God and that my faith would bless me all my life. I said no more than what was required, not because I disliked Edward but because I was so drawn to him. He was tall and thin and awkward and not handsome—unexceptional, like me, I thought—but when he spoke of China, I could not look away.

He talked of Keng-Tze Nien, the Boxer Year six years earlier when thousands of Chinese Christians and 186 missionaries and their children had been murdered for following Christ by members of the secret Society of Righteous Harmonious Fists. But Christ's message would not be stopped, Edward said; the people's needs were too immense. They suffered from ignorance about hygiene and lack of medical care. Many infants died at birth, and fewer than half of those who lived survived to their first birthday. Mothers fed their children rat feces to cure them of stomach ailments, men applied the bile from the gallbladders of bears to heal their children's eyes, and opium addicts and beggars slept in the streets.

Yet Edward made no capital of what he had seen. "The suffering is great, as is the need for help, physical and spiritual." He paused, and his expression softened. "But the rewards are also great. The people are the kindest and most generous I have known. They are wise in many ways, and there is much to learn from them and to admire. They have the right to hear the Gospel."

Toward the end of the meal, Edward turned to me. "I return to China in a few weeks. My wife is there, caring for our children and carrying on our work. We need helpers, for the harvest is great, the laborers few. Why don't you come with me, Will? The Chinese language is difficult, but far easier when you are young. Perhaps this is your calling."

I saw my siblings trying to stifle their laughter. Of all our family, I was the least likely to leave. I wasn't good at speaking in front of people; I became nervous and I stammered. I was quiet and shy, I wasn't a good student, and I disliked being away from home.

"I'm needed here," I said, my voice cracking. "I haven't any training or gifts of that kind."

Edward said, "The Giver of those gifts may feel otherwise," and he looked at me, his blue eyes bright. "A torch's one qualification is that it be fitted to the master's hand. God's chosen are often not talented or wise or gifted as the world judges. Our Lord sees what is inside"—Edward touched his chest—"and that is why He calls whom He does." Then he turned to my father and they began to talk about wheat.

In the morning Edward left to visit other churches; he would return in a week. During those days I struggled, for while I felt pulled toward Edward's work, the idea seemed too foolish to even consider. I couldn't imagine leaving home; I suspected I was unfit for anything but farming, and I thought surely God would want me to remain where I had been planted. I decided I was being proud to think I might be remotely capable of meeting the challenges that must face a man like Edward every day, for in the few years that had passed since I joined the church, I did not feel I had made much progress spiritually. I yearned to walk more closely with God, and while I did experience moments of joy, they were often followed by days of despair. I told myself that surely God would not ask me to do work that was so clearly beyond me, and I fervently prayed that China was not my calling.

The night before Edward was to return, I woke suddenly in the night. When I couldn't fall back to sleep, I crept out of bed and down the ladder that led from the attic bedroom I shared with my brothers. I sat down at the table my father had made from the elm trees that edged our land, and for a while I just listened to the nighttime sounds of our home—the even rhythm of my father's snoring in the next room, the soft rush of the wind outside, the neat ticking of the kitchen clock—sounds as familiar as my own heartbeat.

As I sat there, I suddenly knew I would go to China. The realization was as simple and definite as the plunk of a small stone in the deep well of my soul, and despite the fact that it would mean leaving what I loved most in the world, I felt not the sadness and dread I had expected but a sense of freedom and release. The tightness in me loosened like cut cord, and I was joyful.

The next morning I stood nervously in our kitchen, my hands gripping the rough wood that framed the door, as I waited to tell my father of my decision. I was worried about his reaction; I expected disappointment and anger and dreaded them equally. I had not disobeyed my parents since I was a small boy, and the thought that God might ask me to do so now made my heart clench.

I saw my father coming toward me from the chicken house. He had barely entered the yard before I hurried to meet him.

"I have something to tell you," I said. "I feel that God is calling me to serve Him in China. I know it makes no sense; I know I'm unqualified and I'm needed here and my decision must seem all wrong to you. But yes seems the only answer I can give."

I had braced myself for my father's objections, but none came. He stared at me without speaking for a long moment; then he put his arms around me and embraced me tightly. "Will," he said, "you have chosen the better part. How could I refuse you?"

Edward was to leave for Seattle from his family's home in French Creek near Hillsboro, Kansas, in two weeks. My parents went with me to the farewell meeting, which was held at the home of fellow Mennonites, where, with the friends and relatives who were able to join us, Edward, myself, and three other recruits sat outside at rough tables and benches under shade trees while Edward read Scripture and prayed for us and led us in the four-part singing of a few hymns. A few of the group gave their testimonies; then we shared a fellowship meal, and our families and friends wished us well.

At the end of the meeting, my mother took me aside. "Will, do you have money to travel?"

I felt instantly foolish and ashamed, for I hadn't even thought about money; I had somehow thought Edward would take care of it. Out of pride and embarrassment, I said, "I hadn't worked it out. Edward invited me. He'll pay the bills."

My mother shook her head. "Here," she said, and she took my hand and pressed a roll of bills into it, more money than I had ever seen. She smiled at my amazement. "It's my inheritance from my parents, two hundred dollars. Edward says it will cover the train to Seattle and the steamship across the ocean." She held me close for moment. Then she said, "My sweet boy—I will miss you more than you know."

At the railway station, my parents and I stood together awkwardly. When it was time to board, my heart pounded and I suddenly wanted to change my mind; it seemed that doing something right shouldn't hurt so much. But the conductor called out and waved his small flag, and I knew I had to go.

I embraced my mother and father a last time. None of us could speak. I walked to the train and climbed aboard, then hurried back to the last car and watched my parents until I could no longer make them out in the distance; even my father waving his broad-brimmed felt hat was gone. I worked at committing this last sight of them to memory, so I could call it up at will, and I tried to console myself with the idea that I would return in five years. But it did not ease the ache in my chest.

My mother had never sent me off anywhere without food, and this departure was no exception. Packed in a small basket were homemade sausage and biscuits, apples from our orchard, spice cake, and tea, all of which I shared with Edward and the three other recruits, whom I found intimidating, for at twenty-one I knew I was the youngest and least experienced. Jacob and Agnes Schmidt were a married couple who had met at the Salvation Army, and Ruth Ehren was a deaconess, which meant, Edward explained, that she had completed a two-year nurse's training program at an orphanage and hospital in Berne, Indiana, so that she could devote herself to the care of the poor and sick. The long black dress and black bonnet she wore signified her training and position. A fourth recruit, another deaconess, would join us in Seattle.

After three days on the train we reached Seattle, where we would spend our last night in America with friends of Edward's. At the railway station Edward asked me to stay with the luggage while he took the others to our hosts' home. While I was sitting on the trunks, a young woman passed by. She wore the same type of black dress and bonnet that Ruth did, and when Edward returned for me, he brought this young woman with him and introduced her as Katherine Friesen, from the Deaconess Hospital in Cleveland. "She's also my wife's sister," Edward added, and I heard the pride in his voice. She smiled fondly at him but seemed to ignore me, which was fine by me, for I could not speak. Although slight, she was so sure of herself and so imposing in her black dress that I was in awe of her from the start.

October 3, 1906

I am far away from home tonight, the farthest I have ever been, sitting in the comfortable parlor in the home of strangers in a rainy city I do not know on the edge of this continent. Tomorrow at this time I will be even farther away, miles out to sea—I, Katherine Friesen, who have spent my life in the middle of this country with not so much as a glimpse of the ocean, will be in the middle of it! I have surprised myself this evening, for while I thought I would be anxious or afraid, I am neither. Although I love my family and will miss them, and although I have no idea what to expect of the days, weeks, and months ahead, here is my secret: I am happy. My heart beats strangely; I feel more like I am returning home than leaving it.

These giddy feelings seem wrong. Shouldn't a good daughter, a good sister, a good deaconess, be ambivalent about leaving home? But I'm not, which amazes me. I'm amazed that I've made it to Seattle, amazed at my good health, amazed that one obstacle after another concerning money and the details of the journey has been overcome. Here I am, sitting at this cherrywood table by a warm fire, "en route to the Far East," as our hosts put it; how glamorous it sounds!

The other recruits don't seem to share my high spirits; they already look homesick. The married couple appears to be aware only of each other; I haven't seen them more than two feet apart all evening. Young love, I suppose. Ruth Ehren, the other deaconess, is as somber as if our journey were a punishment. She's what people often envision when they hear the word missionary—a serious soul who travels to faraway lands to turn heathens into Westerners. I don't understand her; being morose seems like such a loss.

Then there is Will Kiehn, who strikes me as awkward and dreamy, but Edward certainly sees something in him; his strong encouragement is the reason Will is going to China. I can see that Edward loves this clumsy boy, for he already favors him every chance he gets; tonight at dinner he passed Will extra crescent rolls (the boy seemed ravenous—I kept wanting to ask if anyone had been feeding him) and afterward he made sure Will wrote a letter to his parents. Edward says Will reminds him of his younger self, that when he talked to Will about China, Will's expression of wonder mirrored his own feelings when he was starting out. That's how I felt too when I began to sense the idea of China in my soul, a kind of irrational certainty that I would go, even though it made no sense. Edward says that when Will told him of his decision to go with him to China he felt a bounce of joy inside; he was certain he'd met a like-minded soul. This is high praise, for while my brother-in-law can be impetuous and unorthodox in his ways, he is as wise as he is kind, which makes me believe there must be more to this Will than I see. Perhaps he isn't as bothersome as he seems.

Edward's excitement is a dramatic contrast to the somber mood of the others. His eyes are bright as he talks of leaving in the morning, and I see the energy in his step and his movements, as though this tidy home in which we are guests constrains him. Of course he really is returning home—to Naomi and the boys and the new baby, all of whom I'm eager to see—so there is reason for his joy. But I think it is more than a homecoming. He is excited about the work.

As am I. I have no idea what this life will be like, nor can I guess whether I'll be gone for five years or fifty. I know only that I am happy—in my heart and mind and soul and even my body, which feels strong and sturdy and healthy. I'm weary too, but I don't mind the fatigue; I am on my way to China, and that is enough.

Early the next morning we left for the Seattle docks and for the S.S. Minnesota, which was to depart shortly before noon. Edward settled us on board then went to secondhand stores to purchase a few last supplies he knew he couldn't get in China. Noon came and he hadn't returned, a problem because he had the tickets. The whistle blew once, then a second time, and finally Edward came charging up the gangplank, awkwardly carrying a load of folding chairs he'd bought at what he excitedly said was a most reasonable price.

The thick ropes tethering the ship to the dock were untied and we were under way. I stayed on deck, and in my mind I said goodbye to my family once again as I watched Seattle and America recede.

Edward joined me, and for a while we were silent. Then he said, "Perhaps it's time to learn your first Mandarin phrase."

I was immediately anxious; I did not feel at all up to tackling a new language. But when he spoke again, I was so drawn to the sound of what he said that I couldn't help asking its meaning.

He smiled and repeated it. "Tsaichien mei-kuo," he said. "Tsaichien is goodbye, mei is beautiful, kuo is country. That's the name for America: Beautiful Country."

I tried to repeat it. Then I asked him the word for China.

"Chung-Kuo," he said. "It means Middle Kingdom, because of the people's ancient belief that their country was at the center of a vast square earth, surrounded by the Four Seas, beyond which lay islands inhabited by barbarians. That's us." Edward turned and faced the front of the ship, and the expanse of ocean spread before us, so that America was behind us. "The strange part," he said softly, "is that after you've been there for a while, it truly does feel like the center of the world. It becomes a place you never want to leave."

I nodded, willing to be convinced. For at that moment, despite the homesickness that had accompanied me like a stowaway since I'd left home, I had a dim hope that, given time, I might come to feel the same.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

As done as it is going to be

Monday night, I put some more lights, some garland, took down some lights that I didn't like and decided to call the whole thing done. Although I could have put up two more small trees, put lots of lights in the windows (but those suction cups drive me bonkers), I decided this was enough.

I could only find one big purple plate at Walmart at a time. (I actually saw one more I didn't get at a Walmart in Kansas City, but didn't get it. I waited out the fall sale to get everything cheaper a few weeks ago. Yes, I am purple obsessed, but it's not tacky.

On another note, my legs ache so bad at the moment. I stood up all day helping my great-aunt pack up some stuff for a move. I wiped out because I got up way early for work Thursday and Friday, and Saturday is usually don't get out of bed until 9-something day. No such luck with that since Peyton awoke at 7:15 this morning. I should just go to bed now.

OH, and here's the popcorn cob we bought in Kansas for the girls to try. A few kernels did not come all the way off the cob.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Fun storybook for your little ones

Thanks to all who participated in today's tour!

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; Brdbk edition (October 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Karen Davis, Assistant Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***


Rev. Dr. Robin Currie is the Early Childhood Librarian/Preschool Liaison for the Glen Ellyn Public Library and serves on the staff of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. She is also the retired pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn. Before and during seminary she was a children’s librarian for public libraries in Illinois and Iowa. She holds master’s degrees in Library Science from the University of Iowa and in Divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, as well as a Doctor of Ministry in preaching from LSTC. Her published books include seven resource collections for librarians and over a dozen children’s Bible story collections.

Visit the author's blog.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Board book: 36 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; Brdbk edition (October 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0781403685
ISBN-13: 978-0781403689

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER (Click on pictures to see them larger):