Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Read the first chapter of The Mailbox

Thanks to everyone who posted 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:


The Mailbox

David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Marybeth Whalen is the general editor of For the Write Reason and The Reason We Speakas well as co-author of the book Learning to Live Financially Free. She serves as a speaker for the Proverbs 31 Ministry Team and directs a fiction book club, She Reads, through this same outreach. Most importantly, Marybeth is the wife of Curt Whalen and mother to their six children. She is passionate about sharing God with all the women God places in her path. She has been visiting the mailbox for years.

Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0781403693
ISBN-13: 978-0781403696

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Sunset Beach, NC

Summer 1985


Campbell held back a teasing smile as he led Lindsey across the warm sand toward the mailbox. Leaning her head on Campbell’s shoulder, her steps slowed. She looked up at him, observing the mischievous curling at the corners of his mouth. “There really is no mailbox, is there?” she said, playfully offended. “If you wanted to get me alone on a deserted stretch of beach, all you had to do was ask.” She elbowed him in the side.


A grin spread across his flawless face. “You caught me.” He threw his hands up in the air in surrender.


“I gotta stop for a sec,” Lindsey said and bent at the waist, stretching the backs of her aching legs. She stood up and put her hands on her hips, narrowing her eyes at him. “So, have you actually been to the mailbox? Maybe the other kids at the pier were just pulling your leg.”


Campbell nodded his head. “I promise I’ve been there before. It’ll be worth it. You’ll see.” He pressed his forehead to hers and looked intently into her eyes before continuing down the beach.


“If you say so …” she said, following him. He slipped his arm around her bare tanned shoulder and squeezed it, pulling her closer to him. Lindsey looked ahead of them at the vast expanse of raw

coastline. She could make out a jetty of rocks in the distance that jutted into the ocean like a finish line.


As they walked, she looked down at the pairs of footprints they left in the sand. She knew that soon the tide would wash them away, and she realized that just like those footprints, the time she had left

with Campbell would soon vanish. A refrain ran through her mind: Enjoy the time you have left. She planned to remember every moment of this walk so she could replay it later, when she was back at home, without him. Memories would be her most precious commodity. How else would she feel him near her?


“I don’t know how we’re going to make this work,” she said as they walked. “I mean, how are we going to stay close when we’re so far away from each other?”


He pressed his lips into a line and ran a hand through his hair. “We just will,” he said. He exhaled loudly, a punctuation.


“But how?” she asked, wishing she didn’t sound so desperate.


He smiled. “We’ll write. And we’ll call. I’ll pay for the longdistance bills. My parents already said I could.” He paused. “And we’ll count the days until next summer. Your aunt and uncle already said you could come back and stay for most of the summer. And you know your mom will let you.”


“Yeah, she’ll be glad to get rid of me for sure.” She pushed images of home from her mind: the menthol odor of her mother’s cigarettes, their closet-sized apartment with parchment walls you could hear the neighbors through, her mom’s embarrassing “delicates” dangling from the shower rod in the tiny bathroom they shared. She wished that her aunt and uncle didn’t have to leave the beach house after

the summer was over and that she could just stay with them forever.


The beach house had become her favorite place in the world. At the beach house, she felt like a part of a real family with her aunt and uncle and cousins. This summer had been an escape from the reality of her life at home. And it had been a chance to discover true love. But tomorrow, her aunt and uncle would leave for their home and send her back to her mother.


“I don’t want to leave!” she suddenly yelled into the open air, causing a few startled birds to take flight.


Campbell didn’t flinch when she yelled. She bit her lip and closed her eyes as he pulled her to him and hugged her.


“Shhh,” he said. “I don’t want you to leave either.” He cupped her chin with his hand. “If I could reverse time for you, I would. And we would go back and do this whole summer over.”


She nodded and wished for the hundredth time that she could stand on the beach with Campbell forever, listening to the hypnotic sound of his voice, so much deeper and more mature than the boys at school. She thought about the pictures they had taken earlier that day, a last-ditch effort to have something of him to take with her. But it was a pitiful substitute, a cheap counterfeit for the real thing.


Campbell pointed ahead of them. “Come on,” he said and tugged on her hand. “I think I see it.” He grinned like a little boy. They crested the dune and there, without pomp or circumstance,

just as he had promised, stood an ordinary mailbox with gold letters spelling out “Kindred Spirit.”


“I told you it was here!” he said as they waded through the deep sand. “The mailbox has been here a couple of years,” he said, his tone changing to something close to reverence as he laid his hand on top

of it. “No one knows who started it or why, but word has traveled and now people come all the way out here to leave letters for the Kindred Spirit—the mystery person who reads them. People come from all over the world.”


“So does anybody know who gets the letters?” Lindsey asked. She ran her fingers over the gold, peeling letter decals. The bottom half of the n and e were missing.


“I don’t think so. But that’s part of what draws people here— they come here because this place is private, special.” He looked down at his bare feet, digging his toes into the sand. “So … I wanted to bring you here. So it could be our special place too.” He looked over at her out of the corner of his eye. “I hope you don’t think that’s lame.”


She put her arms around him and looked into his eyes. “Not lame at all,” she said.


As he kissed her, she willed her mind to record it all: the roar of the waves and the cry of the seagulls, the powdery softness of the warm sand under her feet, the briny smell of the ocean mixed with the scent of Campbell’s sun-kissed skin. Later, when she was back at home in Raleigh, North Carolina, she would come right back to this moment. Again and again. Especially when her mother sent her to her room with the paper-thin walls while she entertained her newest boyfriend.


Lindsey opened the mailbox, the hinges creaking as she did. She looked to him, almost for approval. “Look inside,” he invited her.


She saw some loose paper as well as spiral-bound notebooks, the kind she bought at the drugstore for school. The pages were crinkly from the sea air and water. There were pens in the mailbox too, some

with their caps missing.


Campbell pointed. “You should write a letter,” he said. “Take a pen and some paper and just sit down and write what you are feeling.” He shrugged. “It seemed like something you would really get into.”


How well he had come to know her in such a short time. “Okay,” she said. “I love it.” She reached inside and pulled out a purple notebook, flipping it open to read a random page. Someone had written about a wonderful family vacation spent at Sunset and the special time she had spent with her daughter.


She closed the notebook. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. She couldn’t imagine her own mother ever wanting to spend time with her, much less being so grateful about it. Reading the notebook made her feel worse, not better. She didn’t need reminding about what she didn’t have waiting for her back home.


Campbell moved in closer. “What is it?” he said, his body lining up perfectly with hers as he pulled her close.


She laid the notebook back inside the mailbox. “I just don’t want to go home,” she said. “I wish my uncle didn’t have to return to his stupid job. How can I go back to … her? She doesn’t want me there any more than I want to be there.” This time she didn’t fight the tears that had been threatening all day.


Campbell pulled her down to sit beside him in the sand and said nothing as she cried, rocking her slightly in his arms.


With her head buried in his shoulder, her words came out muffled. “You are so lucky you live here.”


He nodded. “Yeah, I guess I am.” He said nothing for a while.

“But you have to know that this place won’t be the same for me without you in it.”


She looked up at him, her eyes red from crying. “So you’re saying I’ve ruined it for you?”


He laughed, and she recorded the sound of his laugh in her memory too. “Well, if you want to put it that way, then, yes.”


“Well, that just makes me feel worse!” She laid her head on his shoulder and concentrated on the nearness of him, inhaled the sea scent of his skin and the smell of earth that clung to him from working

outside with his dad.


“Everywhere I go from now on I will have the memory of you with me. Of me and you together. The Island Market, the beach, the arcade, the deck on my house, the pier …” He raised his eyebrows as

he remembered the place where he first kissed her. “And now here. It will always remind me of you.”


“And I am going home to a place without a trace of you in it. I don’t know which is worse, constant reminders or no reminders at all.” She laced her narrow fingers through his.


“So are you glad we met?” She sounded pitiful, but she had to hear his answer.


“I would still have wanted to meet you,” he said. “Even though it’s going to break my heart to watch you go. What we have is worth it.” He kissed her, his hands reaching up to stroke her hair. She heard his words echoing in her mind: worth it, worth it, worth it. She knew that they were young, that they had their whole lives ahead of them, at least that’s what her aunt and uncle had told her. But she also knew

that what she had with Campbell was beyond age.


Campbell stood up and pulled her to her feet, attempting to keep kissing her as he did. She giggled as the pull of gravity parted them. He pointed her toward the mailbox. “Now, go write it all down for the Kindred Spirit. Write everything you feel about us and how unfair it is that we have to be apart.” He squinted his eyes at her. “And I promise not to read over your shoulder.”


She poked him. “You can read it if you want. I have no secrets from you.”


He shook his head. “No, no. This is your deal. Your private world—just between you and the Kindred Spirit. And next year,” he said, smiling down at her, “I promise to bring you back here, and you can write about the amazing summer we’re going to have.”


“And what about the summer after that?” she asked, teasing him.


“That summer too.” He kissed her. “And the next.” He kissed her again. “And the next.” He kissed her again, smiling down at her through his kisses. “Get the point?


“This will be our special place,” he said as they stood together in front of the mailbox.


“Always?” she asked.


“Always,” he said.


Summer 1985


Dear Kindred Spirit,


I have no clue who you are, and yet that doesn’t stop me from writing to you anyway. I hope one day I will discover your identity. I wonder if you are nearby even as I put pen to paper. It’s a little weird to think that I could have passed you on the street this summer and not know you would be reading my

deepest thoughts and feelings. Campbell won’t even read this, though I would let him if he asked me.


As I write, Campbell is down at the water’s edge, throwing shells. He is really good at making the shells skip across the water—I guess that’s proof that this place is his home.


Let me ask you, Kindred Spirit: Do you think it’s silly for me to assume that I have found my soul mate at the age of fifteen? My mom would laugh. She would tell me that the likelihood of anyone finding a soul mate—ever—is zero. She would tell me that I need to not go around giving my heart away like a hopeless romantic. She laughs when I read romance novels or see sappy movies that make me cry. She says that I will learn the truth about love someday.


But, honestly, I feel like I did learn the truth about love this summer. It’s like what they say: It can happen when you least expect it, and it can knock you flat on your back with its power. I didn’t come here expecting to fall in love. The truth is I didn’t want to come here at all. I came here feeling pushed aside and unwanted. I can still remember when my mom said that she had arranged for my aunt and uncle to bring me here, smiling at me like she was doing me some kind of favor when we both knew she just wanted me out of the picture so she could live her life without me cramping her style.


I tried to tell her that I didn’t want to come—who would want to spend their summer with bratty cousins? I was so mad, I didn’t speak to my mom for days. I begged, plotted, and even got my best friend Holly’s parents to say I could stay with them instead. But in the end, as always, my mother ruled, and I got packed off for a summer at the beach. On the car ride down, I sat squished in the backseat beside Bobby and Stephanie. Bobby elbowed me and stuck his tongue out at me the whole way to the beach. When his parents weren’t looking, of course. I stared out the window and pretended to be anywhere but in that car.


But now, I can’t believe how wonderful this summer has turned out. I made some new friends. I read a lot of books and even got to where I could tolerate my little cousins. They became like the younger siblings I never had. Most of all, I met Campbell.


I know what Holly will say. She will say that it was God’s plan. I am working on believing that there is a God and that he has a plan for my life like Holly says. But most of the time it feels like God is not aware I exist. If he was aware of me, you’d think he’d have given me a mom who actually cared about me.


Ugh—I can’t believe I have to leave tomorrow. Now that I have found Campbell, I don’t know what I will do without him. We have promised to write a lot of letters. And we have promised not to date other people.


A word about him asking me not to date other people: This was totally funny to me. Two nights ago we were walking on the beach and he stopped me, pulling me to him and looking at me really seriously. “Please,” he said, “I would really like it if you wouldn’t see other people. Is that crazy for me to ask that of you when we are going to be so far apart?”


I was like, “Are you kidding? No one asks me out. No one at my school even looks at me twice!” At school I am known for being quiet and studious—a brain, not a girl to call for a good time. Holly says that men will discover my beauty later in life. But until this summer I didn’t believe her. I couldn’t admit that no one notices me at school because, obviously, he believes I am sought after. And I knew enough to let him believe it. So I very coyly answered back, “Only if you promise me the same thing.”


And he smiled in that lazy way of his and said, “How could I even look at another girl when I’ve got the best one in the world?”


And so now you see why I just can’t bear the thought of leaving him. But the clock is ticking. When I get home, I swear I will cry myself to sleep every night and write letters to Campbell every day. The only thing I have to look forward to is hanging out with Holly again. Thank goodness for Holly, the one constant in my life. In math class we learned that a constant is something that has one value all the time and it never changes.

That’s what Holly is for me: my best friend, no matter what.


I wonder if Campbell will be a constant in my life. I guess it’s too soon to tell, but I do hope so. I’m already counting down the days until I can come back and be with Campbell. Because this summer—I don’t care how lame it sounds—I found my purpose. And that purpose is loving Campbell with all my

heart. Always.


Until next summer,

Lindsey

©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. The Mailbox by Marybeth Whalen. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

I have a to do problem.

I haven't forgotten the stack of books that I said I was going to review, including what promises to be a funny video review if I ever get around to it. My best intentions aside, I have a to-do problem.

I know that it can't be just me, but does life ever seem like one big fat to-do list? Maybe it's just the OCD in me, but every seems to fall under, have to do, need to do, should do, want to do, or don't have time to do until it gets to the point that I just don't want to do anything.

And let's just say, I've come to the don't want to do. I have needed to clean my house for a while now until it finally got to a point that I had to do it or I really was going to have a bug problem. It's all well and good that my house is straight enough that it seems clean enough, but the layer of dust and dirt on the floors was getting to me. Most of the time straight is good for me, as long as I'm ok with it seeing as I'm the only one who lives here. But if anyone were to come by my house, namely my dad, for example, I can hear the speech now. (He has 3 days left until retirement - if he gets bored, he has my permission to really scrub down my house). Yesterday, I did get the cleaning my house checked off of my list. Well for the most part. There's still a couple of things I can't put in the dishwasher that I need to tend to. And the laundry basket sitting in the kitchen. And the clothes on my bed that I move to the couch every night so I can sleep - and move back to the bed when I get dressed in the morning.

Then, there's the baby blanket I've been working on crocheting that's sitting in the basket next to my chaise. It's a good thing 107 degrees outside and the baby who was born a few weeks ago will not need said blanket for a while. I would, however, like to get it done before the child goes to kindergarten.

Oh, and I bought some scrapbook supplies that have been sitting on my table for a month - with photos I finally printed from early April. I'd really like to do that.

VBS is in three weeks, and while I'm not prepping hundreds of crafts this year like I usually do. But, it would help if I read the materials and got the craft stuff together that we are doing this year. I ended up volunteering for being in the skit. Well, actually, I was asked and said yes since I had been saying no a lot. Three days of script to memorize - thankfully not many lines on a couple of the days.

It seems as if everything lately has become a task. Some things I probably should do get delegated to the "I don't have to" list because I just can't bring myself to getting something else done.

Shoot. I just remembered something else I was going to do today, but I can actually do that tomorrow when I get home.

In part, many of the home to-dos have been pushed aside by work to-dos. There's no need in going into that.

How does one get past all this to-do list mess? My brain doesn't turn off. I to-do in my dreams. And in my dreams I never get it all done either. It all gives me a headache. I have one right now. One thing I will do is go get some Advil.

So, for tonight, dear readers, I bid you good night. Hopefully, I will get around to the funny video this week. I hope.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Read the first chapter of Chasing Superwoman

Thanks to everyone who posted 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; New edition (June 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Susan DiMickele serves as partner in a large law firm and has practiced law for nearly fifteen years. She has won numerous professional honors, including being named Ohio Super Lawyer since 2004 and being selected for The Best Lawyers in America. She has written dozens of articles in her field and has served as a contributing author to several national publications. For the past seven years, her greatest accomplishment and challenge is raising her three children to know and love God. She is happily married to her husband of eighteen years, Doug, and they are the proud parents of Nicholas, Anna, and Abigail.


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434764621
ISBN-13: 978-1434764621

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


The Superwoman Within


In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out

your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.

Matthew 5:48 (MSG)


Most people hate lawyers. This is why so many lawyers marry other lawyers—no one else likes them. Fortunately, I met my husband, Doug, before I became a lawyer, and he still likes me. At least that’s what he tells me.


If I have to be honest, I really don’t like Lady Lawyer. She brings out the worst in me. Given the choice, I would much rather put on my mommy cape and play Devoted Mommy. But most days and more nights and weekends than I would care to admit, Devoted Mommy is busy playing Lady Lawyer. I didn’t set out to give Lady Lawyer this much power. It just sort of happened. I always insisted my career would take a back seat to the more important things in life—my family, my faith, my soul. I never thought Lady Lawyer would move in, take over, fire the staff, and change my identity. She’s known to get her way. Lady Lawyer is shrewd, self-sufficient, demanding, impatient, and arrogant. She gets right to the point and doesn’t waste your time. Why would any of her clients pay her exorbitant hourly rate in six-minute increments for anything less than the best? She doesn’t make mistakes, and if you work for Lady Lawyer you’d better not make any mistakes either. The standard is perfection. Who said anything about forgiveness? There are no second chances.


Devoted Mommy is quite the opposite. She’s warm and patient. She wastes lots of time picking up toys, reading books, and sitting on the floor playing patty cake. As much as she likes to be efficient, her children always want to help her, so everything takes twice as long, and she makes lots of mistakes and lots of messes. Devoted Mommy knows the important thing is to say you are sorry and ask and receive forgiveness. After all, no one is perfect.


Okay, maybe Devoted Mommy isn’t warm and patient all the time and maybe she would turn into Evil Mommy part of the time if she stayed at home with her kids all day, but you get the point. Lady Lawyer would make a terrible mother, which is why I have to keep her away from the children. Not to mention she has a terrible mouth on her. It’s not intentional. It’s just that most lawyers don’t understand plain English unless it is laced with heavy profanity.


If only I could play Devoted Mommy more often.


The Evils of Television


At least Lady Lawyer and Devoted Mommy actually have something in common. They both hate television. Lady Lawyer has better things to do. For her, TV is the ultimate waste of time and exercise in inefficiency. Simply put, TV is for idiots. It’s mind numbing, unenlightening, and unproductive. Why watch TV when you can bill hours instead? So Lady Lawyer watches TV only as a last resort, when she’s multitasking. Sometimes it’s faster to catch the local news and major world events on the tube. It becomes a necessary evil.


Devoted Mommy hates TV for different reasons. It’s not a necessary evil, it’s just plain evil. It’s like inviting the devil into your home and asking him to raise your children. “Gee, Satan, would you do me

a favor and watch the kids for a few hours, ‘cause I’m really busy right now and I’d prefer to have them hypnotized and brain dead so that I can get some work done.”


The other day while I was playing Weekend Mommy, Doug and seven-year-old Nick were watching The Bad News Bears. I was appalled. The language was filthy. These snotty-nosed kids and their recalcitrant coach had no respect for authority or each other, and Nick would soon be talking like a potty mouth if we continued to let this trash into our living room. Suddenly, Devoted Mommy transformed into Fundamentalist Mommy.


“I don’t want to hear that language in our house ever again, and I want that filthy show turned off.” Doug and Nick just looked at me. I continued, “TV is straight from the pit of hell and I can’t sit by and watch you fill your brain with this garbage.”


Doug may be incorrigible, but I still have to exercise some moral authority over my children.


I learned that from my own mother. We had knock-down, drag-out fights over Three’s Company and Charlie’s Angels. I would sneak downstairs and watch these shows with my older sisters over my mother’s deep disapproval. (Which was worse, Jack and Chrissy living in sin, or Farrah

Fawcett showing her cleavage? I never got an answer, I just knew they were both bad.) What kind of mother would I be if I let The Bad News Bears ruin Nick’s innocence and lead him down a path of destruction?


So later that night, after I put the girls to bed, I told Nick that we needed to talk. We sat in his bed before prayers, as we do every night, and I explained to him that some things on TV are wrong, and the

Bad News Bears really shouldn’t say bad words.


“Did you hear bad words in the movie today?”


Nick responded, “I’m not sure. I know stupid is a bad word.” Nick is a smart kid, so he saw this as an opportunity to ask me, point blank, what the other bad words were that had caused me so much

concern. Now I was stuck. Fundamentalist Mommy was going to have to feed her own son swear words. So we talked about how “hell” is a bad word, and why you wouldn’t want to tell someone to “go to

hell,” because that’s where Satan lives.


Nick asked, “Is it still okay to say ‘for heaven’s sake’?”


“Yes,” I said. “That’s still okay.”


I was thankful he still had some innocence left. And I didn’t have the heart to tell him the other bad words in the show. We’ll save that for another day. Fundamentalist Mommy can take a rest for now.


Sunday School


I don’t turn into Fundamentalist Mommy very often. But Devoted Mommy clearly needed to have more of a spiritual focus, especially with Lady Lawyer sucking her dry all those hours during the week. I actually prefer the term “Spiritual Mommy.” The Fundamentalist label has way too much baggage, even though I’m thankful for my roots.


So Spiritual Mommy decided to teach Sunday school. I could kill two birds with one stone and spend quality time with the kids on the weekend while exerting Spiritual Mommy’s much-needed moral

authority. Maybe I could even reverse some of the brain injury from all that TV.


Given my schedule during the week, Doug and most of my friends thought I was downright crazy for taking on another weekend responsibility. “Suz, just what you need, another thing to add to your schedule. Haven’t you ever heard of the word ‘no’?”


Actually, since I became a mother, ‘no’ has almost evaporated from my vocabulary. I reserve it for when I really need it—like being asked to make cupcakes for the bake sale, organize the parent phone tree, or volunteer to be the lunch monitor during lunch bunch. After all, I can’t do everything, right? But when it comes to the spiritual development of my children, Devoted Mommy reminds me that, unlike baking cookies or being a lunch monitor, I really can’t delegate that one very easily.


To my pleasant surprise, Sunday school became my favorite hour of the week. I wear casual clothes and comfortable shoes, sing silly songs, play duck-duck-goose, and sit on the floor with the children while teaching them that God is your friend, even when you can’t see Him.


I remember my own Sunday school days vividly like they were yesterday. I’ll never forget that poster in my classroom of Jesus knocking on the door to your heart. Of course there’s no door handle because the door can only be opened from the inside. It was during that Sunday school class that I asked Jesus to come in my heart. Some people say that young children can’t understand spiritual things, but I beg to differ. Life has become much too complicated. Sometimes I want to go back to the simple faith of my childhood, but I can’t. So I do the next best thing. I live vicariously through my children. I never realized until after I became a parent how entirely normal it is to live vicariously through your children. Every parent does it. That’s why so many of us spend inordinate amounts of money on Christmas gifts and Disney World. (Who said anything about the kids?) I barely remember going to Disney World with my parents, although they love to talk about it like it was yesterday. I hear the same stories over and over again: “Remember when Susan screamed and cried because she wanted to go on the rides with her older sisters, and then we had to ride ‘It’s a Small World’ over and over again.”


I used to think, “Don’t they get tired of telling these old stories? Do they really think anyone is listening?”


Now I understand why.


Lady Lawyer, of course, doesn’t have time during the week to prepare for Sunday school. It would cut into her billable hours. Yet sometimes Spiritual Mommy convinces her to help gather Sunday

school materials, particularly if it involves Internet shopping. I looked all over the Internet for that picture of Christ knocking and finally found one that is similar to my own childhood memories. I ordered it immediately—the shipping and handling cost more than the poster, but I willingly gave over my credit card number. It was worth every penny.


The Unveiling of the Mona Lisa


When the Jesus picture arrived, Nick and Anna were bursting with curiosity. How many of my online purchases arrive in a long tube the size of Texas? Lady Lawyer had outdone herself. A new toy? A treasure map? The possibilities were endless. Unfortunately, the kids always raid the mail before I get home from work. I should have had the picture sent to my office, like I do with Christmas gifts. Last Christmas I bought Doug a new office chair online and sent it straight to my office. The only problem I hadn’t considered was getting it home. The box was too heavy for me to carry from my office tower to the parking garage, so I had to beg a few guys in my office to help. That cost Lady Lawyer a few favors. But a poster? I could have carried that myself.


Nick and Anna desperately wanted to open it, but I told them they would have to wait for Sunday school. It was going to be like the unveiling of the Mona Lisa. I could hardly wait myself. At minimum, I needed a sneak preview. After all, what if they had sent the wrong picture? It might be a poster of Daniel in the lion’s den, the last temptation of Christ, or worse yet, what if they had mistakenly sent

some trash from a pornographic site? I couldn’t take that risk with the spiritual future of fifteen preschoolers resting on my shoulders. So after the kids went to bed, I pulled out the poster. I gazed at the

picture longingly, relieved to see Jesus knocking in the familiar scene. For the next fifteen minutes, I couldn’t stop staring. Could faith be this simple? Maybe when I was five years old, but not now. Not in

my world.


For most people, seeing is believing. “Show me the money.” “Do you have the goods?” “The proof is in the pudding.” I get tired of living by these rules all week. Preschoolers are different. Their hearts have not yet been hardened by the cold reality of the real world. Most of them haven’t been sued yet.


Maybe if I just brought the picture of Christ knocking and put it in my office, in place of my diploma, things at work would be more spiritual. I know that Jesus is there, even when I can’t see Him, but I frankly forget about Him when I step into my office. Spiritual Mommy thought it was an excellent idea to bring the poster to work. That way, when Lady Lawyer gets out of line, she can just look at Jesus knocking and be reminded of her deep faith. I’ve been told my office really needs to be redecorated.


Lady Lawyer quickly squashed that idea. People would think I had completely cracked. Besides, lots of people would be offended. What would happen if the six o’clock news came to get a headshot of me at my desk and the picture of Christ knocking was hanging in the background? The audience would think my law firm was some kind of religious cult, and I’d never hear the end of it.


So I left the picture of Christ knocking at home. One of these days when Lady Lawyer is shopping on the ‘net, I’m going to make her order a frame. We’ll hang the framed picture right next to the

TV. That way, when Doug and Nick are watching the Bad News Bears or some other trashy show and I’m not there to turn it off, Jesus will gently remind them that TV is evil.


Better yet, we’ll hang it in place of the TV.


One of the Sunday school parents asked me if I was a teacher. I laughed out loud. When I told her I was a lawyer, she looked surprised. Spiritual Mommy had successfully kept Lady Lawyer muzzled, which isn’t easy to do. I took her surprise as a compliment, and said thank you. I explained to her that the reason I enjoy teaching Sunday school so much was because it is so dramatically different from my everyday life. After dealing all week with grown-up problems, complex legal issues, and the politics of a large law firm, I welcome Silly Putty and puppet shows.


I’ve gotten good at checking my lawyer cape at the door when it comes to church. No suit, no high heels, not too much lipstick, no cell phone or BlackBerry, no dirty looks, no potty mouth, and lots of confession and forgiveness. I wear my hair down with comfortable shoes and suburban clothes, smiling pleasantly while I’m holding Abby in one arm and my Sunday school bag in the other. Let’s face it, most parents don’t have high expectations of a Sunday school teacher. They just want an hour of peace.


But teaching Sunday school has its low points too. Even Devoted Mommy gets tired of cutting out crafts late on Saturday nights and waking up early on Sunday mornings to get three kids out the door. Sometimes I wake up on Sunday morning and I’m sick and I can’t find a substitute, or my kids are sick and I want to stay home and take care of them, but I can’t. Sometimes my class is rambunctious, and I don’t have a helper and they all have to go to the bathroom at the same time, or one of the kids freaks out, or I just feel like being with my own kids instead of spreading myself so thin. Sometimes I think it’s not fair to leave Abby in the nursery for another hour and I miss her and wish she could join us in Sunday school, but the few times I have brought her I have been completely unable give the rest of the class any attention.


Sometimes the whole class is staring into space and I don’t think anyone is listening to the lesson, but I still know I am planting seeds.


My Sunday school class is filled with your typical upper-middleclass children, and while most of them are from loving homes, some of them are beginning to struggle with things that no one can adequately explain. Terminal illness of a loved one. Divorce. Even death. One little boy in my class, we’ll call him Charlie, lost his daddy last year. When I pulled out the picture of Jesus knocking, Charlie’s eyes locked

mine, and I knew that he needed to know that Jesus would always be there and would never leave him, so I looked into Charlie’s eyes and said, “Once Jesus comes into your heart, He will never leave.”


The next week, Charlie’s grandma stopped me after class and told me that Charlie had asked Jesus to come into his heart. I gave her a big hug and we both fought back the tears. Charlie doesn’t come to class as much as he used to, and I know it’s hard for his grandma to bring him on the weekends, but I still had the privilege of planting a few seeds.


I like planting seeds. It beats billable hours. Lady Lawyer can’t say, “Sorry I didn’t get the agreement done, but I planted a few seeds.” Or, “I know we lost the case, but I laid some groundwork for next time. Give it a few years and you’ll see some results.” Her clients would fire her.


Sunday school teachers don’t have to worry about getting fired. Why? Because we teach Sunday school for free. It’s not like there’s a long line of volunteers waiting to take over. If you pass the criminal background and reference check and like kids, you’re in.


The second we start paying Sunday school teachers, I’m done. Who wants the pressure of another billable hour? Not me. Some things money can’t buy. Besides, even Lady Lawyer needs to hang up her cape on the weekends. Can Superwoman really live in two worlds? What is really behind the cape, and am I ever going to figure out my true identity? And what does it mean to live out my “God-created identity”?3 I know there aren’t easy answers, but that still doesn’t stop me from asking the questions. Sometimes I wonder, Who am I really chasing anyway?


©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Chasing Superwoman by Susan DiMickele. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Read the first chapter of Lisa Bergren's Claim


Thanks to everyone who posted 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; New edition (June 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Lisa T. Bergren is a best-selling author who offers a wide array of reading opportunities ranging from children’s books (God Gave Us Love and God Found Us You) and women’s nonfiction (Life on Planet Mom) to suspense-filled intrigue (The Gifted Trilogy) and historical drama. With more than thirty titles among her published works and a deep faith that has weathered dramatic career and personal challenges, Bergren is excited to add the Homeward Trilogy to her resume as she follows God’s direction in her writing career. Bergren lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with her husband Tim (a graphic design artist and musician) and their three children.

Visit the author's website.


Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 143476706X
ISBN-13: 978-1434767066

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


1 August 1888

Gunnison, Colorado


“Keep doing that you’ll get yourself killed,” Nic said to the boy. Panting, Nic paused and wiped his forehead of sweat. For an hour now, as he moved sacks of grain from a wagon to a wheelbarrow and into the warehouse, he’d glimpsed the boy daring fate as he ran across the busy street, narrowly escaping horse hooves and wagon wheels.


“Where’s your mother?”


The brown-haired boy paused. “Don’t have a mother.”


“Well then, where’s your father?”


The boy cast him an impish grin and shrugged one shoulder.

“Around.”


“Is he coming back soon?” Nic persisted.


“Soon enough. You won’t tell ’im, will ya?”


“Tell him what?” Nic tossed back with a small smile. “Long as you stop doing whatever you’re not supposed to be doing.”


The boy wandered closer and climbed up to perch on the wagon’s edge, watching Nic with eyes that were as dark as his hair. Nic relaxed a bit, relieved that the kid wasn’t in imminent danger.


Nic hefted a sack onto his shoulder and carried it to the cart. It felt good to be working again. He liked this sort of heavy labor, the feel of muscles straining, the way he had to suck in his breath to heave a sack, then release it with a long whoosh. A full day of this sort of work allowed him to drop off into dreamless sleep—something he hungered for more than anything else these days.


The boy was silent, but Nic could feel him staring, watching his every move like an artist studying a subject he was about to paint. “How’d you get so strong?” the boy said at last.


“Always been pretty strong,” Nic said, pulling the next sack across the wooden planks of the wagon, positioning it. “How’d you get so fast?”


“Always been pretty fast,” said the boy, in the same measured tone Nic had used.


Nic smiled again, heaved the sack to his shoulder, hauled it five steps to the cart, and then dropped it.


“This your job?” the boy asked.


“For today,” Nic said.


Nic loaded another sack, and the boy was silent for a moment. “My dad’s looking for help. At our mine.”


“Hmm,” Nic said.


“Needs a partner to help haul rock. He’s been asking around here for days.”


“Miner, huh? I don’t care much for mining.”


“Why not? You could be rich.”


“More miners turn out dead than rich.” He winced inwardly, as a shadow crossed the boy’s face. It’d been a while since he’d been around a kid this age. He was maybe ten or eleven max, all wiry muscle and sinew. Reminded him of a boy he knew in Brazil.


Nic carried the next sack over to the wagon, remembering the heat there, so different from what Colorado’s summer held. Here it was bone dry. He was sweating now, after the morning’s work, but not a lot. In Brazil a man soaked his sheets as he slept.


“Listen, kid,” he said, turning back around to the wagon, intending to apologize for upsetting him. But the boy was gone.


Nic sighed and set to finishing his work. As the sun climbed high in the sky, he paused to take a drink from his canteen and eat a hunk of bread and cheese, watching the busy street at the end of the alleyway. He wondered if he’d see the boy again, back to his antics of racing teams of horses. The child was probably letting off steam, just as Nic had done all his life—he’d been about the child’s age when he’d first starting scrapping with others.


But that was in the past. Not since his voyage aboard the Mirabella had Nic indulged the need, succumbed to the desire to enter a fight. Several times now, he’d had the opportunity—and enough cause—to take another man down. But he had walked away. He knew, deep down he knew, that if he was ever to face his sisters, Odessa and Moira, again, if he was to come to them and admit he was penniless, everything would somehow be all right if he was settled inside. If he could come to a place of peace within, the kind of peace Manuel had known. It was the kind of thing that allowed a man to stand

up straight, shoulders back, the kind of thing that gave a man’s gut peace. Regardless of what he accomplished, or had in the past. Thing was, he hadn’t found that place of comfort inside, and he didn’t want what Manuel tried to sell him—God.


There had to be another way, another path. Something like this work. Hard manual labor. That might be what he needed most.


Nic heard a man calling, his voice a loud whisper, and his eyes narrowed as the man came limping around the corner, obviously in pain, his arm in a sling. “You, there!” he called to Nic. “Seen a boy around? About yea big?” he said, gesturing to about chest height.


“Yeah, he was here,” Nic called back. He set his canteen inside the empty wagon and walked to the end of the alleyway.


“Where’d he go?” the man said. Nic could see the same widow’s peak in the man’s brown hair that the boy had, the same curve of the eyes … the boy’s father, clearly.


“Not sure. One minute he was watching me at work, the next he was gone.”


“That’s my boy, all right.”


“I’ll help you find him.”


The man glanced back at him and then gave him a small smile. He stuck out his good arm and offered his hand. “I’d appreciate that. Name’s Vaughn. Peter Vaughn.”


“Dominic St. Clair,” he replied. “You can call me Nic.”


Peter smiled. His dimples were in the exact same spot as the boy’s. “Sure you can leave your work?”


“I’m nearly done. Let’s find your boy.”


“Go on,” Moira’s sister urged, gazing out the window. “He’s been waiting on you for a good bit now.”


“I don’t know what he sees in me,” Moira said, wrapping the veil around her head and across her shoulder again. It left most of her face visible but covered the burns at her neck, ear, and scalp. Did it cover them enough? She nervously patted it, making sure it was in place.


Odessa stepped away from washing dishes and joined her. “He might wonder what you see in him. Do you know what his story is? He seems wary.” Their eyes met and Odessa backtracked. “Daniel’s a

good man, Moira. I think highly of him. But I’d like to know what has burdened him so. Besides you.” She nudged her sister with her hip.


Moira wiped her hands on the dish towel and glanced out at him as he strode across the lawn with Bryce, Odessa’s husband. He was striking in profile, reminding her of the statues of Greek gods the French favored in their lovely tailored gardens. Far too handsome for her—since the fire, anyway. She shook her head a little.


“Moira.”


Irritated at being caught in thought, Moira looked at Odessa again.


“Trust him, Moira. He’s a good man. I can sense it.”


She nodded, but inwardly she sighed as she turned away and wrapped a scarf around her veiled head and shoulders. A good man. After Reid and Max and Gavin—could she really trust her choice in men? Odessa was fortunate to have fallen for her husband, Bryce, a good man through and through. Moira’s experiences with men had been less than successful. What made Odessa think this one was trustworthy?


But as Daniel ducked his head through the door and inclined it to one side in silent invitation to walk with him, Moira thought about how he had physically saved her more than once. And how his gentle pursuit both bewildered and calmed her. Daniel had done nothing to deserve her suspicions.


She moved over to the door. He glanced at her, and she noticed how his thick lashes made his brown eyes more pronounced. He shuffled his feet as if he were nervous. “You busy?” he asked.


“No.” Moira felt a nervous tension tighten her stomach muscles.


“Can we, uh …” His gaze shifted to Odessa, who quickly returned to her dishes. “Go for a walk?” he finally finished.


Moira smoothed her skirts and said, “I’d like that.” Then, meeting her sister’s surreptitious gaze, she followed him outside. It was a lovely day on the Circle M. The horses pranced in the distance. She could see her brother-in-law riding out with Tabito, the ranch’s foreman.


“So, you wanted to talk,” she ventured.


“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t want to talk to you, Moira,” he said.


She looked up at him and then, when she saw the ardor in his gaze, she turned with a sigh.


“Don’t look away,” he whispered gently, pulling her to face him. He reached to touch her veil, as if he longed to cradle her cheek instead.


“No, Daniel, don’t,” she said and ran a nervous hand over the cover. He was tall and broad, and she did not feel physically menaced—it was her heart that threatened to pound directly out of her chest. Perhaps she wasn’t ready for this … the intimacies that a courtship brought.


She’d been dreaming about what it would be like to be kissed by him, held by him, but he never made such advances before. Never took the opportunity, leaving her to think that he was repulsed by

her burns, her hair, singed to just a few inches long, her past relationship with Gavin, or her pregnancy—despite what he claimed. Her hand moved to the gentle roundness of her belly, still small yet making itself more and more prominent each day. “I … I’m not even certain why you pursue me at all. Why you consider me worthy. ”


He seemed stunned by her words. “Worthy?” he breathed. He let out a hollow, breathy laugh and then looked to the sky, running a hand through his hair. He shook his head and then slowly brought his brown eyes down to meet hers again. “Moira,” he said, lifting a hand to cradle her cheek and jaw, this time without hesitation. She froze, wondering if he intended to kiss her at last. “I only hesitate because I am afraid,” he whispered.


“Afraid? You think I am not? I come to you scarred in so many ways, when you, you, Daniel, deserve perfection.…”


“No,” he said, shaking his head too. “It is I who carry the scars. You don’t know me. You don’t know who I am. Who I once was. What I’ve done …”


“So tell me,” she pleaded. “Tell me.”


He stared at her a moment longer, as if wondering if she was ready, wondering if she could bear it, and Moira’s heart pounded again. Then, “No. I can’t,” he said with a small shake of his head. He sighed heavily and moved up the hill. “Not yet.”


An hour after they began their search for Everett Vaughn, Peter sat down on the edge of the boardwalk and looked up to the sky. His face was a mask of pain. “That boy was hard to track when I wasn’t hurt.”


“He’ll turn up,” Nic reassured.


Peter nodded and lifted his gaze to the street.


“What happened to you?” Nic said gently, sitting down beside the man. His eyes scanned the crowds for the boy even as he waited for Peter’s response.


“Cave-in, at my mine. That’s why I’m here. Looking for a good man to partner with me. I’m onto a nice vein, but I’m livin’ proof that a man’s a fool to mine alone.” He looked at Nic and waited until he met his gaze. “You lookin’ for work?” He cocked his head to the side. “I’m offering a handsome deal. Fifty fifty.”


Nic let a small smile tug at the corners of his mouth. He glanced at the man, who had to be about his own age. There was an easy way about him that drew Nic, despite the pain evident in the lines of his face. “That is a handsome offer.” He cocked his own head. “But I don’t see you doing half the work, laid up like you are.”


“No, not quite. But I’ve already put a lot of work into it in the past three years, and I’m still good for about a quarter of the labor. To say nothing of the fact that my name’s on the claim.”


Nic paused, thinking about it, feeling drawn to help this man, but then shook his head. “I’m not very fond of small dark spaces.”


“So … make it bigger. Light a lamp.”


Nic shook his head, more firmly this time. “No. I’d rather find another line of work.”


Just then he spotted the boy, running the street again. “There he is,” Nic said, nodding outward. The boy’s father followed his gaze and with a grimace, rose to his feet. As they watched, the boy ran under a wagon that had temporarily pulled to a stop. Then he jumped up on the back of another, riding it for about twenty feet until he was passing by them. His face was a mask of elation.


“Everett! Ev! Come on over here!”


Everett’s eyes widened in surprise. He jumped down and ran over to them, causing a man on horseback to pull back hard on his reins and swear.


“Sorry, friend,” Peter said, raising his good arm up to the rider. The horseman shook his head and then rode on.


Peter grabbed his son’s arm and, limping, hauled him over to the boardwalk. “I’ve told you to stay out of the street.”


“So did I,” Nic said, meeting the boy’s gaze. The child flushed red and glanced away.


“We’d best be on our way,” Peter said. “Thanks for helpin’ me find my boy.” He reached out a hand and Nic rose to shake it. Peter paused. “It’s not often a man has a chance at entering a claim agreement once a miner has found a vein that is guaranteed to pay.”


Nic hesitated as he dropped Peter’s hand. “I’ve narrowly escaped with my life on more than one occasion, friend. I’m aiming to look up my sisters, but not from a casket.”


Peter lifted his chin, but his eyes betrayed his weariness and disappointment. What would it mean for him? For his boy, not to find a willing partner? Would they have to give up the mine just as they were finally on the edge of success? And what of the boy’s mother? His unkempt, too-small clothes told him Everett had been without a mother for some time.


He hesitated again, feeling a pang of compassion for them both. “Should I change my mind … where would I find you?”


A glimmer of hope entered Peter’s eyes. “A couple miles out of St. Elmo. Just ask around for the Vaughn claim up in the Gulch and someone’ll point you in our direction.” He reached out a hand. “I’d be much obliged, Nic. And I’m not half bad at cookin’ either. I’d keep you in grub. Give it some thought. But don’t be too put out if you get there, and I’ve found someone else.”


“Understood,” Nic said with a smile. “Safe journey.”


“And to you.” He turned away, tugging at his boy’s shoulder, but the child looked back at Nic, all big pleading eyes.


Hurriedly, Nic walked away in the opposite direction. He fought the desire to turn and call out to them. Wasn’t he looking for work? Something that would allow him to ride on to Bryce and Odessa’s ranch without his tail tucked between his legs? The man had said the mine was sure to pay.… I’m onto a nice vein.…


Was that a miner’s optimism or the truth?


Not yet?” Moira sputtered, following him. She frowned in confusion. He had been coaxing her forward, outward, steadily healing her with his kind attentions these last two months. But now it was as if they were at some strange impasse. What was he talking about? What had happened to him?


She hurried forward and grabbed his arm, forcing him to stop and turn again to face her. Her veil clung to her face in the early evening breeze. “Daniel.”


He slowly lifted his dark eyes to meet hers.


“This is about me, isn’t it?” she asked. “You attempt to spare my feelings but find me repulsive. I can hardly fault you, but—”


“No,” he said, with another hollow laugh. “Contrary to what you believe, Moira St. Clair, not everything boils down to you. You are braver than you think and more beautiful than you dare to believe. I believe we’re destined to be together.”


Moira held her breath. Then what—


“No,” he went on. “This is about something I need to resolve. Something that needs to be done, or at least settled in my mind, my heart, before I can properly court you.”


“What? What is it, Daniel?” she tried once more.


He only looked at her helplessly, mouth half open, but mute.


She crossed her arms and turned her back to him, staring out across the pristine valley, the land of the Circle M. It hurt her that he felt he couldn’t confide in her as she had with him. She stiffened when he laid his big hands on her shoulders. “I don’t need to be rescued, Daniel,” she said in a monotone. “God has seen me to this place, this time. He’ll see me through to the next … with or without you.”


“You don’t understand.”


“No. I don’t. We’ve been courting all summer, whether you realize it or not. And now you say that there is something else that needs to be resolved? You assume much, Daniel Adams. You think that I’ll wait forever?” She let out a scoffing laugh. “It’s clear you do not fear that any other man might pursue me. Not that I blame you …” She turned partly away and stared into the distance. “Please. Don’t let this linger on. I cannot bear it. Not if you do not intend to claim me as your own.”


He was silent for a long minute. Oh, that he would but turn her and meet her lips at last …


But he didn’t. “We both have a lot to think through, pray through, Moira,” he said quietly.


“Yes, well, let me know when that is accomplished,” she said over her shoulder, walking away as fast as she could, lest he see the tears that were already rolling down her cheeks.


©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Claim by Lisa Bergren. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Check out the first chapter of True Religion by Palmer Chinchen

Thanks to everyone who took part in this 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 (June 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Palmer Chinchen has served as pastor of The Grove in Chandler, Arizona, for the past seven years. He grew up in Liberia, West Africa, and as an adult has led many people on numerous mission trips around the world. He has served in college ministries in Wheaton, IL, and southern California and has taught Spiritual Formation at African Bible College. Chinchen is passionate about Christians responding to affliction and injustice in the world. He holds a PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois and a BA and MA from Biola University in California. He lives with his wife and four children in Chandler, Arizona.


Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook (June 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 078140343X
ISBN-13: 978-0781403436

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


TRUE RELIGION


I believe God wants us all to live bothered by things around us that are not right. The world is a broken place, and He has put you and me here to make it whole. Possibly the most important indicator of true religion is the desire to love and care for people who hurt.



Trues


Some friends told me about a brand of jeans that are popular with the Hollywood crowd and the fabulously rich; they’re called True Religion. I stopped and looked at them in a store the other day—the

price tag read $348. That might become your religion if you spent so much on jeans, but that certainly is not true religion.


Jesus’ brother James said it like this: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless [true religion] is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.”


Can I just say if I were to ever spend $348 on a pair of jeans, then I’ve lost all bearing on life? Seriously, if children in Malawi are being chained to trees because there’s not enough food to go around, or if Africa is filled with children living bare naked because they have no clothes … then how on earth could I make any sense of spending $348 on jeans?


True religion is more about others and less about me. Living out true religion means I’ve stopped being so concerned about what I want and what I get, and I spend my days caring about what others don’t have and what others need. The Christian life is meant to be that way.


Jesus explained true religion like this: “Whenever you feed the hungry, clothe the poor, give water to the thirsty, visit the imprisoned, or loved the unloved—you love Me!”


My favorite introspective writer, Brennan Manning, observes, “Jesus spent a disproportionate amount of time with people described in the gospels as: the poor, the blind, the lame, the lepers, the hungry,

sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, the persecuted, the downtrodden, the captives, those possessed by unclean spirits, all who labor and are heavy burdened, the rabble who know nothing of the law, the

crowds, the little ones, the least, the last, and the lost sheep of the house of Israel…. In short, Jesus hung out with ragamuffins.”


So, in the name of Jesus, give your life away to love people who hurt! God wants everyday people like you and me to be His hands and feet. So go! Love the marginalized, free the oppressed, show mercy to the hurting, give to the poor, feed the hungry, love the orphans and the widows, and take good news to the lost.



Margins


Jesus always seemed to notice when people were pushed into the margins. They are still there today. But too often they are the invisible ones. We pass them and don’t know their names. We don’t stop to ask about their pain. They are the forgotten ones.


Jesus lived bothered by abuse, injustice, and oppression.


On one occasion He happened upon a crowd of men planning the stoning of a woman accused of adultery. Jesus’ eyes pierced the men surrounding the shamed woman. She stood guilty of adultery and infidelity. But Christ stood close. His fists were clenched, His words were curt: “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.”


The silence was deafening. He slowly bent down and wrote with his finger. Were they words of compassion he wrote? Was it a line from the Torah? Theologians have debated the words in the sand for centuries. Personally, I believe he wrote this: “The first one of you who dares to throw a rock at this beautiful woman … I will personally beat you down!” Okay, I’m probably wrong, but I like the thought, and I might be close. I feel this way because His attitude toward injustice was always—NO WAY! Not on my watch; not as long as I am here.


This must be our attitude as well. We must develop a moral conscience. Injustice should gnaw at our soul. Begin to be bothered by situations that are not right. Start speaking up when things are not right. This is what the Lord requires of His followers.


We all need to live a bit more bothered when something is wrong with this world.



Moral Dilemmas


Christians talk much about conversion and change. An important aspect of the change that must take place in the believer’s life is moral transformation. All people are created with a moral dimension to their human personality. In much the same way we grow and change physically, we also develop morally.


Donal Dorr, who writes extensively on the need for a balanced faith, one that addresses issues of justice, says we need a moral conversion. Because sometimes Christians have a conversion of the intellect, but their soul remains calloused to what is not right in this world.


Harvard University professor Lawrence Kohlberg developed the idea of Stages of Moral Development. He explains that people develop morally in stages.5 For example, children do not understand or comprehend justice the way adults should; that’s why two-year old always say, “Mine!” We’re supposed to outgrow that.


The problem is that as Christians we often only teach moral knowledge. But unfortunately, moral knowledge does not always lead to moral action. The moral conscience can be scarred, callused, or ignored. For example, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day knew the Hebrew Bible inside and out, yet Jesus said if they were to see a bleeding man on the side of the road they would walk on by. Their spirituality was not true religion.


The ancient Jewish prophet Micah wrote about true religion, religion that makes the heart of God smile: “He has shown you all people what is good, and what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.”


Jesus described his own purpose and mission as this: “He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.”


I would argue then that moral transformation often comes when we are willing to step outside our places of comfort and safety and not just think morally but do morally. When you give yourself away to the world, when you live out your religion as God intended, you open your life to being stunned by God and having your moral character transformed.


The world is filled with places and actions that are unjust and oppressive. A primary Christian duty is to put an end to these practices. Live convinced that you can change what is wrong in this world and make it just a little bit more beautiful.



Unsilenced


My friend Scott Erickson, who paints the images that are branded on his heart from his travels to Cameroon, says he paints so that his art becomes a voice for all in Africa who have been silenced.


Part of our Christian duty is to become a prophetic voice. By this I mean you and I speaking out, as did the ancient Jewish prophets, against practices that are not right.


The work of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire has revolutionized the way Christian educators talk about our moral duty. Frustrated with Brazil’s oppressive educational system, Freire began promoting the idea of conscientization.


Conscientization is the process by which people become aware of practices around them that are dehumanizing. People must first realize their oppression before they can confront it and overcome it.

Liberation comes through conscientization. The more people understand their oppression, the more they become human. And once the marginalized can name and verbalize the oppression, they become empowered to take part in confronting, speaking out against, and reshaping that reality.


But you don’t have to go to the Democratic Republic of Congo or Sudan to see oppressive practices that need your voice.


The first time I passed a sheriff’s chain gang in Arizona, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Women in prison-striped uniforms hoeing weeds … chained at the ankles, with shotgun-toting deputies standing watch. I was shocked. It looked like a scene from 1950s rural America.


My soul ached to the gut. Yes, these women may have committed crimes that deserve incarceration—but not this dehumanizing humiliation. I hurt for them. I wanted to cry for them. My thought was, “Palmer, you must do something …” So I hung a U and got out. I approached the deputy and asked if he would give a message to the sheriff. He listened patiently as I said, “Please tell your sheriff that in Chandler, we do not want women humiliated. In Chandler, we believe that every person should be treated with dignity and respect. In Chandler, we want this practice stopped.” He was kind enough to say he would pass my message along.


All human beings have great worth. Regardless of race, gender, ability, wealth, religion, or nationality, all people deserve dignity and respect. This is not only a Christian argument or position. This is a

moral position. To publicly humiliate another person is immoral and unjust. It’s wrong at every level.


Who among us would stand idly by while a person maliciously scarred da Vinci’s Mona Lisa with graffiti? We would scream NO! Stop!—we would take action because this painting is deemed beautiful and priceless. How much more beautiful and priceless is the life of a woman—even one in chains!


The Christian today must be aware of the pain that society, consciously or unconsciously, imposes on people. The suffering is real, it hurts, and it’s time to stop it.



Respond


Solomon, in his great wisdom, explained that empathizing with those who hurt is not enough: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”


About twenty of us Chinchens were standing under the shade of a giant tree at Disneyworld trying to decide where to head next when just a few feet away I noticed a young couple arguing loudly. I turned just in time to watch him raise his hand high and slap her hard across the face.


I couldn’t believe what I just witnessed. Without thinking, I reacted by grabbing him from behind.… Okay, I realize this was not a pastoral response, but I’ve got some Scotch-Irish in my blood.


“What are you thinking?! You can’t hit her,” I blurted out.


“She was asking for it,” he mumbled, still in my grip.


“Well, not here,” I stated with conviction. “Never, ever again will you hit her. Is that clear?”


I’m not sure if it was the headlock or my convincing words, but he agreed.


Anywhere in the world, slapping a woman is despicable … especially at the happiest place on earth!


~~~~~


As I said earlier, Christian morality is not simply about having good judgment on issues of right and wrong; it’s more about moral action—doing what it right.


In the late 1960s, John Darley and Bibb Latane were the first researchers to do extensive studies on the psychological phenomenon of noninvolvement, or why people fail to help when someone is in distress.


Darley and Latane found several reasons why bystanders will simply watch a person drown, for example, and do nothing. One is stage fright: “I may appear foolish if they really do not need help.” Another reason is risk: “They may pull me under, and I may drown with them.” Still another reason is deferred involvement: “If others are not helping, I guess I don’t need to help.”


Here’s what’s most bizarre. The more people present, the less likely it becomes that someone will help! Researchers have put children on the streets of both cities and small towns and had them say to passing strangers, “I’m lost. Can you help me?” People in cities like New York kept walking. I’m not kidding. People in small towns were far more likely to help. Their finding was that it’s better to be desperate in a small town with fewer people than in a city, especially New York, with many passersby.


We can live a lifetime that way. We can see pictures of women chained to trees as slaves in Sudan and say, “That’s sad. I’m sure the U.N. will put a stop to that.” Or we can watch CNN and see men eating dirt out of cans in Malawi to ease their hunger pangs and think, “That’s not good. I’m sure World Vision will ship in some rice.” We do this never realizing the responsibility may be ours!


~~~~~


I was glad to be getting out of Kenya. The county had been going through months of civil unrest. For the first time in decades, Kenya had become a place of violence. Neighbors who had lived for years peacefully next door to one another were now turning on each other because of tribal differences. The mood of the country surprised even Kenyans.


I woke up early to catch my flight to Monrovia and left my hotel by six thirty. But as my taxi driver went past Nairobi’s central park, it was already filling with riot police and water-cannon trucks. In spite of the government’s objections, a new political party was planning demonstrations for this day, and no one expected them to be peaceful. I was really glad to be getting out of Kenya.


We made our way onto the four-lane road that leads to the Nairobi airport and were doing about sixty when suddenly the minivan in front of us abruptly changed lanes, striking the rear quarter panel of a minibus to its left. The minibus was packed full of passengers, at least a dozen. The minibus swerved left, then right, then violently flipped onto its side. It skidded before rolling up onto its roof, which immediately collapsed.


I have to be honest—when I saw the minibus full of people crash onto its roof, my first thought was, “Let’s get out of Kenya. Riots are coming. If you stop you may miss your flight. The road is busy with cars; of course others will stop to help. Palmer, you don’t have to get involved.”


But of all thoughts, in that nano-moment, my mind raced back twenty-plus years to the memory of Mike driving past the upsidedown taxi. And I remembered my promise: I will live differently.


“Driver, stop the car!” I shouted with urgency. We both jumped out running. He was a Christian too; we had been listening to praise songs in Swahili.


The collapsed roof had smashed every window in the van. The openings were now barely wide enough to pull people out. Others joined as we took people by their arms or legs and eased them through the shattered glass. Within just a couple of minutes everyone was out. Some had minor cuts or bruises to their heads, but miraculously no one appeared critically injured.


Just as I was feeling relieved, my driver shouted, “They’re beating the other driver.” I turned to see a mob attacking the driver who had caused the accident. Some were kicking him in the head, others

punching, some throwing huge stones.


In Africa they call it mob justice. If you hit a pedestrian with your car, the mob will beat you to death. If you steal a shirt off a neighbor’s clothesline, the mob will chase you and beat you to death. It’s become a senseless form of law enforcement that, unfortunately, unemployed young men seem to take pleasure in.


With my driver shouting at the mob in Swahili, I ran into the midst. Pushing to the middle I dropped to my knees and bent over the man to protect him from the blows. A thought flashed through my head—“I hope they don’t turn on me.” Strangely, I did not feel afraid. I sensed that a man was dying and I had to do whatever I could to save his life.


I looked up as one man buried his foot in the man’s side and clasped my hands together, a sign of pleading, and yelled, “Palebe, palebe!” (In Chechewa, the national language of Malawi, where

I had just been the day before, this means please. But now I was in Kenya where they speak Swahili.) They seemed to know what I meant. Their faces were still filled with rage, but the kicking and punching stopped. The stones were dropped.


The angry men continued to argue with my driver in Swahili (he later translated): “We want to kill him. He’s a fool. He deserves to die!”


My driver was adamant in return, “No, you will not.”


The man had been struck hard on the back of the head by a cement block. He was unconscious when I first bent over him. I held his head and began to say, “You have to get up, you can’t stay here, they want to kill you.” He regained consciousness, and I helped him sit up. I rubbed the debris from the back of his head and finally helped him to his feet. I waited till the mob dispersed.


Just the day before I had been feeling sorry for myself because during this particular trip to Africa I had missed my wedding anniversary, I had missed my son’s eighteenth birthday, and I had missed a large weeklong event at my church. But as we drove the rest of the way to the Nairobi Airport the thought hit me that maybe this was the only place God wanted me. Because if God used me to save just one man’s life, then it was worth everything I had left behind.


I’m not a hero, just a Christ-follower trying to do what I encourage others to do.


Give your life away.


Pour it into people.


Souls last forever.



Ideas for Becoming the Expatriate


Rent more movies with subtitles. France, India, and Japan, for example, are producing an increasing number of good films that rarely make it into American theatres.

©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. True Religion by Palmer Chinchen. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Check out the first chapter of Linda Windsor's Healer

Thanks to everyone who posted 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; New edition (June 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


With an estimated one million books in print, Linda Windsor is an award-winning author of fifteen mainstream historical novels and one contemporary romance. She has also written another thirteen books for CBA publishers, including nine romantic comedies, laced with suspense, and a Celtic Irish trilogy for Multnomah entitled the Fires of Gleannmara series. A former professional musician, Linda speaks often (and sometimes sings) for writing and/or faith seminars. She makes her home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and prays for courage and strength to meet the needs of today's readers with page-turning stories that entertain, teach, and inspire.

Visit the author's website.




Product Details:
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434764788
ISBN-13: 978-1434764782


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:




Glenarden, Manau Gododdin, Britain


Although cold enough to frost one’s breath, the day was as fair as the general mood of the gathering at the keep of Glenarden. The only clouds were those breaking away, fat with snow from the shrouded mountains—and the ever-present one upon the face of the bent old man who stood on the rampart of the gate tower. No longer able to ride much distance, Tarlach O’Byrne watched the procession form beyond.


Clansmen and kin, farmers and craftsmen—all turned out for the annual hunt, but they were more excited over the festivities that awaited their return. In the yard about the keep, gleemen in outlandish costumes practiced entertaining antics, delighting the children and teasing the kitchen servant or warrior who happened to pass too near. Great pits had been fired. On the spits over them were enough succulent shanks of venison, boar, and beef to feed the multitude of O’Byrnes and the guests from tribes in the kingdom under the old king’s protection.


Below the ramparts, Ronan O’Byrne adjusted the woolen folds of his brat over his shoulders. Woven with the silver, black, and scarlet threads of the clan, it would keep the prince warm on this brisk day. A fine dappled gray snorted in eagerness as Ronan took his reins in hand and started toward the gate. Beyond, the people he would govern upon his father’s death waited.


The youngest of the O’Byrne brothers rode through them, unable to contain his excitement any longer. “By father’s aching bones, Ronan, what matters of great import keep you now?”

Were the pest any other but his youngest brother, Ronan might have scowled, deepening the scar that marked the indent of his cheek—the physical reminder of this travesty that began years ago. Alyn was the pride and joy of Glenarden, and Ronan was no exception to those who admired and loved the precocious youth.

“Only a raid on the mill by our neighbors,” Ronan answered his youngest sibling.

His somber gaze belayed the lightness in his voice. The thieves had made off with Glenarden’s reserve grain stores and the miller’s quern. Ronan had already sent a replacement hand mill to the mistress. But now that the harvest was over and the excess had been sold, replacing the reserves would be harder. It galled Ronan to buy back his own produce at a higher price than he’d received from merchants in Carmelide. This was the hard lot he faced—this farce, or hunting down the scoundrels and taking back what was rightfully his.

Every year on the anniversary of the Gowrys slaughter, Tarlach insisted that the O’Byrne clan search the hills high and low for Llas and Joanna’s heir. But instead of going off on a madman’s goose chase after his imagined enemy—a mountain nymph who was rumored to shape-shift into a wolf at will—the O’Byrnes manpower spent their time ransacking and burning one of the Gowrys mountain settlements in retribution, for they were undoubtedly the culprits. It was the only reasoning the Gowrys thieves understood—burn their ramshackle hovels and take some of their meager stock in payment.


Even so, taking such actions only stalled their mischief for a little while. Then it was the same thing all over again. As it was, Ronan had sent trackers out to mark their escape route, lest the wrong camp be destroyed.


“Can I ride after them on the morrow with you?” Alyn’s deep blue eyes, inherited from their Pictish mother, were alight with the idea of fighting and possible bloodshed—only because he’d never tasted it firsthand. “After the Witch’s End?”

Disgust pulling at his mouth, Ronan mounted the broad and sturdy steed he’d acquired at last spring’s fair. Witch’s End. That’s what Tarlach O’Byrne had dubbed the celebration of the massacre that had made him an invalid and driven him to the brink of insanity. In the old chief ’s demented thought, he’d brought justice to those who had betrayed him and stopped an enchantress forever. Sometimes, as on this particular day, it pushed him beyond reason, for it was a reminder that there was one thing left undone. The heiress of Gowrys still lived to threaten Glenarden … at least in his mind.

“The mill raid is no different from any other raid and will be handled as such,” Ronan answered.

“So I can go?”


“Nay, return to your studies at the university.” The hunt for a nonexistent witch was one thing, but Gowrys were skilled fighters. “’Twould suit a Gowrys naught better than to send a son of Tarlach earthways with an arrow through your sixteen-year-old heart.”


“So you and Caden will go after the brigands.”
Alyn’s dejection rivaled that of Tarlach’s, except the youth’s would be gone with the next change of the wind. The older O’Byrne’s would not leave until his last breath faded in the air.
Ronan opened his mouth to assuage the lad when a downpour of water, icy as a northern fjord, struck him, soaking him through. “Herth’s fire!” Startled, his gray gelding danced sideways, knocking into the door of the open gate. “Ho, Ballach,” Ronan soothed the beast. “Easy laddie.”


“Take that, you bandy-legged fodere!” a shrill voice sounded from above.










“Crom’s breath, Kella, look what you’ve done,” Alyn blustered, struggling to control his own spooked steed. “Called my brother a bandy-legged deceiver and soaked him through.”










Wiping his hair away from his brow, Ronan spotted the cherub faced perpetrator of the mischief peering over the battlement, eyes spitting fire. Lacking the ripeness of womanhood, Kella’s overall appearance was unremarkable, but she surely lived up to her name with that indomitable warrior spirit, bundled in the innocence of youth. It was an innocence Ronan had never known. The daughter of Glenarden’s champion, Kella O’Toole was like a breath of fresh air. For that Ronan could forgive her more impetuous moments.










“And for what, Milady Kella, do I deserve the title of a bandylegged fool, much less this chilling shower?”










Kella gaped in dismay, speechless, as she took in Ronan’s drenched state. But not for long. “Faith, ’twasn’t meant for you, sir, but for Alyn! ’Tis the likes of him that finds the company of a scullery maid more delicious than mine.”










Ronan cast an amused glance at his youngest brother, who had now turned as scarlet as the banners fluttering overhead.










“Ho, lad, what foolrede have ye been about?” Caden O’Byrne shouted from the midst of the mounted assembly in wait beyond the gate. Fair as the sun with a fiery temperament to match, the second of Tarlach’s sons gave the indignant maid on the rampart a devilish wink.










“’Tis no one’s business but my own,” Alyn protested. “And certainly not that of a demented child.”










“Child, is it?”










Ronan swerved his horse out of range as Kella slung the empty bucket at Alyn. Her aim was hindered by the other girls close at her elbows, and the missile struck the ground an arm’s length away from its intended target.










“I’ll have you know I’m a full thirteen years.”










“Then appeal to me a few years hence when, and if, your Godgiven sense returns,” the youngest O’Byrne replied.










Ronan moved to the cover of the gatehouse and removed his drenched brat. Fortunately, the cloak had caught and shed the main of the attack. Already one of the servants approached with the plain blue one he wore about his business on the estate. Irritating as the mishap was, his lips quirked with humor as his aide helped him don the dry brat. It wasn’t as princely as the O’Byrne colors, but it was more suited to Ronan’s personal taste.










It was no secret that Egan O’Toole’s daughter was smitten with Alyn. With brown hair spun with threads of gold and snapping eyes almost the same incredible shade, she would indeed blossom into a beauty someday. Meanwhile, the champion of Glenarden would do well to pray for maturity to temper Kella’s bellicose manner, so that his daughter might win, rather than frighten, suitors.










Then there was Alyn, who hadn’t sense enough to see a prize in the making. Ronan shook his head. His brother was too involved in living the existence of the carefree youth Ronan had been robbed of the night of the Gowrys bloodfest.










“So, are you now high and dry, Brother?” Caden O’Byrne called to Ronan with impatience.










Ronan’s eyes narrowed. Always coveting what wasn’t his, Caden would like nothing better than to lead the hunt without Ronan. Would God that Ronan could hand over Glenarden and all its responsibilities. But Caden was too rash, a man driven more by passion than thought.










“Have a heart, Beloved,” a golden-haired beauty called down to him from the flock of twittering ladies on the rampart. Caden’s new bride spared Ronan a glance. “Ronan’s had much travail this morning already with the news of the Gowrys raid.”










“Had he as fair and gentle a wife as I, I daresay his humor would be much improved.” Ever the king of hearts, Caden signaled his horse to bow in Lady Rhianon’s direction and blew his wife a kiss.










“No doubt it would, Brother,” Ronan replied.










There was little merit in pointing out that the ambitious Lady Rhianon had first set her sights on him. No loss to Ronan, she seemed to make his more frivolous brother a happy man. The couple enjoyed the same revelry in dance and entertainment, not to mention the bower. Too often, its four walls failed to contain the merriment of their love play. Neither seemed to care that they were the talk of the keep. If anything, they gloried in the gossip and fed it all the more.










Battling down an annoying twinge of envy, Ronan made certain his cloak was fast, then swung up into the saddle again. Alyn’s problems were easier to consider, not to mention more amusing. “Is your wench disarmed, Alyn?” Ronan shouted in jest as he left the cover of the gate once again.










Beyond Lady Kella’s tempestuous reach for the moment, Alyn gave him a grudging nod.










Ronan brought his horse alongside his siblings, facing the gatehouse of the outer walls, where Tarlach O’Byrne would address the gathering. Like Alyn’s, Caden’s countenance was one of eagerness and excitement. How Ronan envied them both for their childhood. He longed to get away from the bitterness that festered within the walls of Glenarden. His had been an apprenticeship to a haunted madness.










Tarlach straightened as much as his gnarled and creaking joints would allow. “Remember the prophecy, shons of mine,” he charged them. He raised his withered left arm as high as it would go. It had never regained its former power since the night he’d tried to attack Lady Joanna of Gowrys. Nor had his speech recovered. He slurred his words from time to time, more so in fatigue.










“The Gowrys sheed shall divide your mighty house … shall divide your mighty housh and bring a peace beyond itch ken.”










Ronan knew the words by heart. They were as indelibly etched in his memory as the bloody travesty he’d witnessed through a six-yearold’s eyes. The quote was close, but whether Tarlach’s failing mind or his guilt was accountable for leaving out “peace beyond the ken of your wicked soul,” only God knew. If He cared … or even existed.










“Search every hill, every glen, every tree and shrub. Find the she-wolf and bring back her skin to hang as a trophy in the hall, and her heart to be devoured by the dogs. Take no nun-day repast. The future of Glenarden depends on the Gowrys whelp’s death.”










At the rousing cry of “O’Byrne!” rising from his fellow huntsmen and kin, Ronan turned the dapple gray with the group and cantered to the front, his rightful place as prince and heir. He didn’t believe the girl child had survived these last twenty years, much less that she’d turned into a she-wolf because of her mother’s sins. Nor did he wallow in hatred like his father.










A shudder ran through him, colder than the water that had drenched him earlier. Ronan looked to the west again, where thick clouds drifted away from the uplands. May he never become so obsessed with a female that his body and soul should waste away from within due to the gnawing of bitterness and fear. Superstitious fear.










On both sides of the winding, rutted road ahead lay rolling fields. Winter’s breath was turning the last vestiges of harvest color to browns and grays. Low, round huts of wattle and daub, limed white and domed with honey-dark thatching, were scattered here and there. Gray smoke circled toward the sky from their peaks. Fat milk cows and chickens made themselves at home, searching for food. Beyond lay the river, teeming with fish enough for all.










Glenarden’s prosperity was enough to satisfy Ronan. Nothing less would do for his clan. The tuath was already his in every manner save the last breath of Tarlach O’Byrne … though Ronan was in no hurry for that. Despite his troublesome tempers, Tarlach had been as good a father as he knew how, breaking the fosterage custom to rear his firstborn son under his own eye. A hard teacher, he’d been, yet fair—equal with praise as with criticism.










“You are the arm I lost, lad,” Tarlach told him again and again, especially when the drink had its way with him. “The hope and strength of Glenarden.”










~~~~~










Ronan humored the old man as much as followed his orders. At midday, instead of stopping as usual for the nun repast, he paused for neither rest nor food for his men. They ate on the move—the fresh bread and cheese in the sacks provided by the keep’s kitchen. The higher into the hills they went, the sharper the wind whipped through the narrow pass leading to the upper lakelands. Ronan was thankful that the former stronghold of the Gowrys wasn’t much farther.










“Faith, ’tis colder than witches’ milk,” Caden swore from the ranks behind Ronan.










“Witches’ milk?” the naive Alyn protested. “What would you know of such things?”










“A good deal more than a pup not yet dry behind the ears. ’Tis a fine drink on a hot summer day.”










“Or for the fever,” Egan O’Toole chimed in.










His poorly disguised snicker raised suspicion in the youth. “They play me false, don’t they, Ronan?”










“Aye, ask our elder brother, lad,” Caden remarked in a dry voice. “He has no sense of humor.”










Somber, Ronan turned in his saddle. “I have one, Brother, but my duties do not afford me much use of it. As for your question, lad,” he said to their younger brother, who rode next to Caden, “there’s no such thing as witches, so there can be no witches’ milk.”










“What about the Lady Joanna?” Alyn asked. “She was a witch.”










“Think, lad,” Ronan replied. “If she’d truly possessed magic, would she or her kin have died? It was love and jealousy that addled Father.”










“But love is magic, little brother,” Caden put in. “Make no mistake.”










“’Tis also loud enough to set tongues wagging all over the keep,” Alyn piped up. He grinned at the round of raucous laughter that rippled around them at Caden’s expense.










But Caden showed no shame. “That’s the rejoicing, lad.” He turned to the others. “Methinks our Lady Kella has little to fret over as yet.” With a loud laugh, he clapped their red-faced little brother on the back.










Rather than allow the banter to prick or lift an already sore humor, Ronan focused on the first few flakes of snow already whirling in and about the pass ahead of them and the nightmare that already had begun. Twenty years before, this very pass had been just as cold and inhospitable. With possible flurries blowing up, Ronan had no inclination to prolong the outing.










The crannog, or stockaded peninsula, was now little more than a pile of rubble rising out of the lake water’s edge. Cradled by overgrown fields and thick forest on three quarters of its periphery, the






lake itself was as gray as the winter sky. On the fourth was the jut of land upon which Llas of Gowrys had restored an ancient broch, bracing it against the rise of the steep crag at its back. With no regard for what had been, yellow spots of gorse had taken root here and there in the tumble of blackened stone.










Ronan could still smell the blaze, hear the shrieks of the dying.Ignoring the curdling in the pit of his stomach, a remnant of the fear and horror a six-year-old dared not show, Ronan dispersed the group. “Egan, you and Alyn take your men and search north of the lake. Caden, take the others and search the south. When I sound the horn, everyone should make haste back here. The sooner we return to warm hearths and full noggins of ale, the better.”










“I want to go with you,” Alyn declared, sidling his brown pony next to Ronan’s gray.










“I intend to stay here in the cover of yon ledge and build a fire,” Ronan informed him, “but you are welcome to join me.”










“I think not.”










Alyn’s expression of disdain almost made Ronan laugh.










“What if a raiding party of Gowrys happens upon you?” Caden spoke up. A rare concern knit his bushy golden brows.










“Then I shall invite them to the fire for a draught of witch’s milk.”










Caden laughed out loud. His square-jawed face, bristling with the golden shadow of his great mane of hair, was handsome by even a man’s standard. “I misjudged you, Brother. I stand corrected on the account of humor but would still hold that you act too old for your twenty-six years.”










“The Gowrys aren’t given to visiting the place where they were so soundly trounced … and I’m no more than a horn’s blow from help, should my sword not suffice,” Ronan pointed out.










He had no taste for this nonsense. What he craved most at the moment was the peace that followed after the others rode off, whooping and beating their shields lest the spirits of the slain accost them.






The hush of the falling snow and the still testimony of the ruins were at least a welcome change from the ribald and oft querulous babble of the hall. Time alone, without demand, was to be savored, even in this ungodly cold and desolate place. All he had to do was keep the memories at bay.










A movement from just above a hawthorn thicket near the base of the cliff caught Ronan’s eye, raising the hackles on the back of his neck. With feigned nonchalance, he brushed away the snow accumulating on his leather-clad thigh and scanned the gray slope of rock as it donned the thickening winter white veil. Nothing.










At least, he’d thought he’d seen something. A flash of white, with a tail—mayhaps a large dog. Beneath him, the gelding shivered. With a whinny, he sidestepped, tossing his black mane as if to confirm that he sensed danger as well. A wolf?










Drawing his sword in one hand, Ronan brought the horse under control with a steadying tone. “Easy, Ballach, easy.”










The speckled horse quieted, his muscles as tense as Ronan’s clenched jaw. The scene before him was still, like that of a tapestry. At his gentle nudge, the horse started around shore toward the high stone cliff. Dog, wolf, or man, Ronan was certain the steel of his blade was all the protection he’d need.






©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Healer by Linda Windsor. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.