For Such a Time – A book Review

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Good morning, friends,

Since good stories can have the power to change lives, I’ve decided to do an occasional book review on this blog. Happy, blessed reading!

For Such a Time caught me right away. Stella , Morty, and every other character crawled into the soft places of my heart, illustrating a fabulous parallel to the book of Esther.

I thought the idea to place the story in a World War II concentration camp was spot on. Every chapter began with a verse from the book of Esther which couldn’t have been more appropriate. Stella (Hadassah), secretary to a Kommandant of a concentration camp, struggles to keep her Jewish identity hidden, while fighting to help save her people. She faces impossible circumstances (much like Queen Esther), fearing for her life, her uncle’s life, while falling for the handsome Konmmandant, Aric.For such a time photo

Traumatized from her time in a concentration camp and losing loved ones to the horror of the holocaust, Stella loses faith in God. But a Bible mysteriously appears, and shows up at opportune times for her to consider not only the existence of God, but the possibility of a Savior as well. When she finally gets confirmation from God ,He tells her to do the unimaginable.

Kate Breslin does an extraordinary job weaving the story together and giving readers a great read and a reminder of the ultimate power and love of God. I give this book five stars.

 

I received this book from  Bethany House Publishers

The Story of Us…a (rerun) favorite.

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I’m taking some time off this week, so I decided to post an old favorite. This blog also appeared on Christian ebooks today last year.

Blessings as you approach the cross this week. May Christ’s sacrifice outshine the Easter Bunny (not that I don’t like the Easter Bunny).

 

Stories that breathe – ghosts of family legacies, the mishaps, failures and the champions of our past are the myriad steps to a life well-lived for those big eyed-pink cheeked souls sitting around our dinner table.
Chloe loves to run; the destination not necessarily tangible. Mud puddles, my mom’s place in the country, sidewalks and fiercely windy days have been pounded by 5 year old feet. When I see her face, I know she is feeling the joy of doing something that has been designed into her precious soul.

On a family outing to the park, we split up to race each other home. Noah and John went one way; stroller and straight paths, Chloe and I went another direction on foot and ready to win. Our path was a little more challenging, and Chloe slowed to a walk half-way into our race.

“Your Papa won a trophy in high school. He was the fastest runner in the state of Arizona.”

Before I finished the sentence, she grew wings. We won. She just needed to know that she had the blood of a champion.

My great uncle wrote a family history with the good and the bad; everything tied up in an honest bow. There were stories of the warriors, the civil war cousins – one who camped on the others lawn, and then there were the details that sent prickles up my spine; the artists and writers and those in medicine whose passions trickled down the line more than a hundred years later.

What do we see when we look back?100_1331

Failures, victories, heroes and villains. One step forward, two steps back until a leap of faith makes a hero.

I tell Chloe about her Papa, and how he had his own struggles, but had feet like wings. He had little education but worked hard and found his final job working with N.A.S.A. He tried and failed, and tried again and again until his work literally reached the stars.

Family histories are a lifeline. We must tell our stories to our children, so when they need that extra push, all they have to do is reach back and grab the baton. We propel them forward by running our race hard enough to reach them, even when we have passed into the land of spirits.

But those that hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

To Stretch a Canvas

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I don’t roll out of bed. I slowly morph from one-with-blanket to kind of awake. It takes me a minute or two to realize that I’m not really running from a phantom at the speed of geezer, but was dreaming. I blink the dry from my eyes and stare at the new day – except it looks like an out of focus impressionist painting without my glasses. I have to feel around for them because I’m too blind to see them sitting on my nightstand with the low light. Once I get them on and get dressed, my little guy bursts in.

“Morning, Mommy!”

He’s in his Thor costume and wants to wear his Spiderman flip flops to take Sissy to school because he can’t find his tennis shoes, “So can I wear them, Mommy, please, please, please?” I’m still trying to separate dream from awake and he’s asking me this before I get my daily dose of caffeine and….

“Uh, okay.”

“Yay, thank you, Mommy! Can I go wake up Sissy, can I have oatmeal today, CANIHAVEHOTCHOCOLATE?!!

The stinker knows Mommy is too groggy to say NO.
I grab my pants and pull them over my had-two-babies belly. It’s not that I’ve eaten too much chocolate but my skin is as stretched as thin as I am. You know – how we get our kids ready for school – making lunch and breakfast at the same time while loading the dishwasher and trying to brush teeth while handling a toddler meltdown? Working to pay the bills, and then writing novels—dreaming dreams—well after the sun goes down?

Is there any room in there for a date night?100_2990

We are strrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeetched tissue paper thin and have the tiger stripes to prove it.

There are those moments in between the chaos that shine beautiful, like when my son opens the door for old ladies at the library, or when my daughter picks up her journal and scrawls in her six-year-old script, “I love how the trees point toward Heaven.” This is when I know the life-scars are not ugly – they’re marks from the Great Sculptor Himself.

“Being stretched thin makes you a canvas for God’s glory.”—Ann Voskamp

God doesn’t stuff our plates full to waste our time. He takes the threads from each generation, dips them in His grace, and makes art.

Lord of the Flies

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When I was little, maybe around five, the front of our house was coated in flies. They came with the dairy farm up the road, buzzing around the faces of cows and outdoor kids, flying in homes as doors were opened. We swatted those pests like no one’s business.

I liked to sweep my arm up and down the exterior wall, making the flies flee in a wave, only to find them coating it like black wallpaper a few seconds later.

It was as if they swallowed the wall beneath – the one stacked and mortared by my parents after work and on weekends. Mom and Pop layered bricks and pounded in beams for ten years, only to have an entire side hidden by flies.
My grandma could catch them in her hand. It was awesome. I took up the hobby for a while until I got bored. What’s one fly in the hand?

But, the dairy farm closed and the fly wall disappeared. They would bring the cattle in for winters, but we were never plagued with flies like that again.

I take that back. They don’t come in buzzing, poo-nesting hordes, but dark things swarm in my face, blocking my sight as I head toward Easter. Maybe it’s the same for you. As we walk toward the Cross this month, the overstuffed schedules and crossforblogheartaches lay heavy. The misspoken words, the mistakes enshroud us. Steps become shuffles and we try to catch at least one of them but what’s one in the hand? Where do we put it?
But that Jesus, He never stops working His Grace. He reminds us He already walked the horde up the hill. He let it devour His body so we could be free of it. He let His love pour down red until every single thing that plagues us is washed away. What’s underneath is His own custom-made design.

There may be flies, but they will forever be frozen in winter.

The HUNGER GAMES As We Know It.

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A beautiful woman walked by me in church last week, hair a shining fan of honey, figure stitched by the best. For a moment, I wanted to be her, this lady who had been sculpted by humanity. She catches many eyes, men and women, and we all pause to see this vision, different than she was a month ago. She pretended not to notice and put some pride in her strut. Something about that strut is wrong but I still feel a bit faded with my wash-and-go hair and years-old blouse.

We come to this holy place to worship the Maker, King of all Kings, Creator of mankind, sculptor of hook noses and romans noses, thin lips, full lips, frizzy hair and various ranks of waistlines. We are walking temples, yet we have bowed to the church of man. Even in the midst of Halleluiahs and salvation tears, our insecurities walk like shadows across our eyes. They weave in and out of the chairs, drawing out attention from God to the woman/man with a better _______ than mine. Who do we put in all this effort for? Not God, for like any parent, He must think His children are beautiful. Of course He does, He made us. Could there be a greater purpose for my ghostly pale skin?

What claws at our insides so sharply that we need to fill in the gashes with another’s approval? No matter how much we love exterior beauty, this is starting to feel like an inspection before the slaughter.

It reminds me of Katniss Everdeen, when she considers the deception of appearances in The Hunger Games: “After dinner, we Hunger_gameswatch the replay in the sitting room. I seem frilly and shallow, twirling and giggling in my dress, although the others assure me I am charming. Peeta actually is charming and then utterly winning as the boy in love. And there I am, blushing and confused, made beautiful by Cinna’s hands, desirable by Peeta’s confession, tragic by circumstance, and by all accounts unforgettable.”

What really gets me is how the devil slithers into church, in holy camouflage. He works hard. Really hard, I mean, if I can obsess over my ghostly skin and how I can get a tan like so-and-so’s, then I have completely missed what God was trying to tell me in that moment. I have given God the proverbial slap in the face when I decided to take control over my appearance because what He gave me doesn’t work. Wait – work for what?

Doesn’t He count every hair on my head? Hasn’t He called me uniquely and wonderfully made? Such attention much be for a greater plan than mine.

My imperfections keep me humble. I accepted my pale skin when too many doses of sunshine burned it into cancer. I had that sucker cut out and thanked God for the skin that was still healthy. What’s tan skin when I can find joy in being healthy?

Katniss was forced to look beautiful to increase her odds of survival. No one would sponsor an ugly woman.

But they would still throw her to the wolves.

All the waxing and makeup and designer clothes did indeed help her. Because of it, she captured the interest of sponsers. But those gifts from man’s approval are not what stirred a nation to hope. Not what ultimately led to her victory. It was her inner gifts, those things that have become too cliché to mention because people still want it wrapped in a beautiful package.

Clever plan for a devil. And we take credit for it. We glorify his work in magazines, in movies, in the permission we give others to criticize our appearance to death.

A few people who know my history with skin cancer still tell me I need a tan. Thanks a lot. I don’t need your approval and certainly won’t risk my life for your viewing pleasure. Would you?

Katniss and Peeta became a symbol of hope. Not for their looks, not for the acts they put on to earn sponsors, but for the hope they gave a nation. Isn’t that what we all hunger for anyway? Hope?

In the words of my friend and fellow writer Nikki Hahn, “God doesn’t make ugly.”

Rockstar Peter

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I feel like I’ve slipped on Peter’s skin again. The boat reeks of fish as I climb over the splintered sides and push from shore. I probably won’t be catching anything but seaweed today. I can’t see Him.

I can almost feel the breeze, the same that kissed the face of Jesus. Oh, leaders of all kinds make fun of Peter. I’ve laughed along with them as they listed all of his screw ups. He lost his temper and cut someone’s ear off. He walked with the very Son of God and then was mocked by roosters when he denied Jesus in a moment of fear. I laughed until I realized I was him.

I don’t use a knife for anything but a tool, but my words have cut through the skin of more than one person, sometimes out of impatience, sometimes out of complete unedited idiocy.

I’ve believed in Jesus for as long as I can remember, but in seasons of heartache, seasons of stretching $25 into a week of groceries, moments when I just wasn’t good enough, I’ve looked away from the sky to my own solutions, finding shame in my denial of His power, His love.

I cast my nets and sit. I wait.

Sometimes in the waiting, I get impatient. I grab a dirt-coated worm, stick it to a hook and plunk it into the sea. No bites worth keeping.

Do I get a new boat?051909_1346[00]

I tug on my shirt and stare at the frayed edges. I look across the water to the hills.

Suddenly, a flash of white. A form, a bright something hovers over the water and I cry out. It’s a ghost—a haunting of all my screw-ups finally come to devour me!

I’m done for.

“Peter.”
When he says my name my heart winds down to shame. It’s Him. How could I have not recognized my friend?

I look around and take a feeble step. Should I?

Who do I think I am?

I want to – I look at His face, and just for a moment I feel like I’m anything but a dimwitted Peter.

I step onto the water and it holds. “I’m coming”, I say and I start to move forward. The sun burns fierce on my skin, a zephyr nearly knocks me over, but I keep my eyes on Him and I AM WALKING ON WATER.

The wind spins on my shoulder for a moment and blows trash in my ear. It reminds me that I’m not good enough for this.

My feet break through the water and I’m in over my head. I can’t breathe. All the mistakes I’ve made rush into my mouth and I’m drowning.

A hand lifts me up, up, up, toward the light. The surface breaks into a thousand shards as my Friend lifts me into the boat.

He puts His hands on either side of my face. They are bleeding, pierced with a sea full of hooks. Mine sticks straight into His heart and Love spills all over me.

“My blood is enough to pay for all of it,” He says, “Just keep your eyes on Me.”

Then he slips Peter’s skin from me and says,
“You are wonderfully and uniquely made.”

I pop back into my living room and stare at the painting on the wall called, The Word. I see Peter, my brother from the line of Oops, and watch as he leaves the boat behind to follow our friend.

Something happens.

Despite his mess-ups, his denial, his blunders, Jesus takes him and gifts him with grace and strong feet – the kind that keep walking toward Jesus. He keeps walking. He fishes for those stuck in the boat.

And somewhere along the way Jesus made him into a rock star.

“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it.” Matthew 16:18 (HCSB)

I look at The Word again, catching sight of Peter’s last days. His walk has led him to a finely sculpted artwork. All because he kept his eyes on Jesus.

Sunspots

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“Uh huh, I know how that is, Pounce.” I give the old tiger striped thing a nod and watch him stare at the sunspot. He snuggled next to it as it shone over the patch of wall and dusty plant, but after all his efforts it wouldn’t move to his spot on the floor. After he pawed it, nudged it with his head, he sauntered to my bed still soaked in morning shade and fell asleep.
I wanted a moment too. Hot tea and uninterrupted silence to wake, pray, and charge up for what the day brings. Like Pounce, I try grabbing for that comfort, but the house erupts early, before I can open my eyes and I find myself without my sunspot. My body jerks to life like a cold car engine and sputters, reeling in the chaos before I’m ready to go.100_2286
After dropping my daughter off at school, I find a cartoon for Noah. I can’t tell you how Sesame Street and Curious George bless me with an hour and a half of time to get a few things done. Of course, every couple minutes brings an interruption, every commercial break brings who knows—a full body tackle from a rowdy little boy, a temper tantrum, a “Mommy, I need…”
I find Pounce asleep on my bed. His aging frame has shrunk, his paws no longer twitch in his sleep from dream adventures – he just stays curled in a fuzzy ball, waiting for his sun.
The light creeps down the wall, finding the floor when Curious George comes on. Pounce doesn’t know it, but the sun is coming, still shining, still doing its job as he sleeps. The moment I wait for is coming too. The Son I crave never sleeps. When I sit down to write, when I scrub the oatmeal off neon bowls, He comes. Sometimes, when He hasn’t given me that moment to sit, He stays at my side shining on my boy that is rowdy, but…healthy. He shines on those dirty dishes that soak in the filth so easily, but hold all the food we need. He illuminates the small things that rob me of rest, but when I take a moment to be where He wants me, I find they’re blessings. And I can rest in the Son that never fades.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:1-2

What do you do when that thing you want seems unreachable? Tell us in the comments.

The Power of Fiction

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As an older teen I was a teacher’s aide for a semester, and spent the majority of my time at my desk reading for pleasure until a project presented itself. On one of these half-busy days the teacher picked up the book on my desk, read the description and squinted at me for an awkward moment. “There are lots of good magazines and books in my room you can read. They talk about Hinduism, Buddhism, open-minded ideas.”
My book talked about God.
When I walked through the halls of my college dormitory, girls of all kinds engaged in everything their parents told them not to: Drugs, alcohol…use your imagination. Even most of the Christians joined in, extinguishing this little light of theirs. The first taste of independence reigned, leaving not-quite-grownups at the mercy of their insecurities.

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If you didn’t anchor yourself to God, and I mean really held him tight, you became a party favor – a dancer at the base of Mt. Sinai.
Many of the teachers encouraged (not so) “open-minded” ideas. A large portion of them agreed with a camp counselor I had one summer that the Christian way of thinking was harmful and therefore should be eradicated. Nothing much has changed. This is how kids are met when entering college. Out of context Bible verses get thrown in their faces, and unless they know the real deal, the arguments against God become siren’s songs.

Have you walked through the book section in WalMart lately? Take a look and see what the youth are reading.

According the Steve Laube Agency, “There are 200,000 new books published in the United States each year from traditional publishers (self-publishing would more than double that). Of those, less than 10,000 would be Christian books from Christian publishers.”

How many faith-based books are written for late teens and early twenty something’s? Very few compared to the majority of books that hit the shelves. Most of them are permeated with vampires, zombies, and many hopeless messages, submerging our youth in many “open-minded” ideas. These books become best sellers and then get made into movies. They get printed into posters, stamped on itsy bitsy T-shirts and get worn by young mothers who name their children after vampires and other similar influences. Books are powerful.

The New Adult genre popped in the book world a few years ago when a handful of authors thought,” Why aren’t there books for 18-25 yr. olds?” Finally, our readers who are struggling with the shift from childhood to adulthood have relatable characters. The problem? These books are not much different from the YA books for older teens, except they are stuffed with more sex. Yep, that’s their answer for the New Adult generation.

When researching the popular books and movies for youth, my husband and I went to see one of these very-popular-books-turned-movie and I was so disappointed when one of the main characters (a Nephilum) announced the challenges they faced. They would fight, and keep fighting, but they could never win. There was no hope. This was the main theme of the movie.
Parents – reading, yes, even recreational reading, is a huge part of education/inspiration. It is powerful. By throwing your support to Christian writers/publishers, you nudge the faith based books onto the shelves, giving your child options that have what so many of the secular books don’t have: hope, truth.
Christian Writers—if you’re feeling the nudge to write for youth, and are keeping your sights on crossover books – don’t forget the Christian youth surrounded by dark—too dark, influences. They need your support. Meet them right where they drown in the world’s mud (And the Amish books aren’t going to do it for them).
I asked the sales clerk at the local Christian bookstore how many New Adult books she had in stock. After scratching her head and some keyboard pounding she found ONE on the way. ONE. Get writing.
Readers—thank you for your unfailing support. God is bringing his love and His eternal truth to you in the art of fiction. Look for it!

How do books influence you/ your family members? Tell us in the comments.

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