Thursday, July 31, 2008

Important Stuff!

Hard to believe, but tomorrow is the last day of the 40 Day Fast. We invite you to join in with us and take an action of love. You can still fast for the day as well, but we're hoping a lot of people will write a post on their blog about an action they've taken as a result of the fast. Over at Inspired to Action, we'll have a Mr. Linky set up so that you can join in the fun.

Harry
We're getting some more from the Harry Potter 'verse! All this Harry Potter goodness in two days is almost too much for my heart. In any case, The Tales of Beetle the Bard (the book originally hand-written and illustrated by J.K. herself) will be available December 4th. Merry Christmas! You can either purchase the standard edition for a mere 7.59 or the collector's edition for 100 dollars! Don't lose any sleep over that choice for sure! ;)

LOST
And don't forget to sign up to volunteer for the Dharma Iniative! (Yes, I'm a nerd) By the way, I'm thinking of extending the LOST books Challenge to January 31st. Is everyone cool with that? New episodes don't start until February and we'll need something to do.

That's all for now!

Review: Searching for Spice by Megan DiMaria and Book Excerpt

Today's Wild Card author is: Megan DiMaria and her book:Searching for Spice

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Megan DiMaria has fond memories of childhood trips to the public library where, amid the mural of Gulliver’s Travels and stacks of books, she began a lifelong love of the written word.

Searching for Spice is her debut novel. It was written as a response to a running joke she had with some girlfriends because despite being happily married, women still want romance in their lives. Her second novel, Out of Her Hands, will release in October 2008.

Megan is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, HIS Writers, and is assistant director of Words for the Journey Rocky Mountain Region. She received her B.A. degree in Communication from SUNY Plattsburgh. Megan has been a radio and television reporter, freelance writer, editor and marketing professional. She volunteers her talents to her church and local non-profit organizations and speaks to writer’s and women’s groups.

Megan and her husband live in suburban Denver near their adult children. They often travel back to their roots in Long Island, NY to visit family and get their fill of delicious Italian food.

Her next novel, Out of Her Hands, goes on sale October 1, 2008.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 12.99
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (March 5, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414318871
ISBN-13: 978-1414318875


My Thoughts: Linda longs for passion in her marriage and sets out determined to bring the romance back. It isn't as easy as she imagines it will be, but soon she is falling in love with her husband all over again. But soon difficult trials face their family and Linda's true love for her husband is put to the test.

I really enjoyed this book. I thought Linda was a very likeable character and I was cheering her on as she set out to bring the spice back to her marriage. But if you think that's all this book is about, it's about so much more. I was very impressed with the interesting and bold turn the book took about halfway through. It was in many ways unexpected. There were a few times while reading that I wondered why parts were included in the book, but DiMaria neatly wove all of her threads together to paint a very clear picture and tell a very cohesive story. There's a big cast of characters which at times can get a little confusing, but they each play a distinct role in the book. This is a strong debut and very enjoyable. I'm really looking forward to the next book, Out of Her Hands, which releases in October. Recommended.


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

Jerry looks at me as if my head has sprouted petunias. “Linda, the half-and-half isn’t cold.”

I regard him through bleary eyes and swallow a yawn. His silhouette appears soft and gauzy, framed by the daylight pouring through the kitchen window, glowing like a Thomas Kinkade painting. I should have given myself an extra dose of eyedrops when I got up this morning. Ever since my LASIK surgery, I’ve applied a thick, Vaseline-like ointment to my dry eyes at night before dropping into bed. “What?”

He’s standing in the middle of the kitchen, the questionable carton of half-and-half in one hand and a mug of steaming coffee in the other. His plaid robe hangs partway open, the belt loosely tied over wrinkled pajamas. A look of perplexity transforms his intelligent features into a caricature of a hapless sad sack. But truly nothing could be further from the truth. My husband is a PhD chemist. So who is this clueless schmo standing before me?

Jerry raises the hand holding the half-and-half. “Warm.”

“Is the refrigerator broken?” I launch from my seat and open the door of our five-year-old GE side-by-side fridge that I just had to have and, by the way, got at a fabulous discount at the scratch-and-dent sale at Sears.

The interior of the appliance is dark, the first clue that something is amiss. And come to think of it, the refrigerator’s typical hum of electrical activity was absent from my morning symphony of appliances that serenades me while the coffee brews and the microwave heats my favorite tall latte mug.

I peer inside. Oh, rats. Condensation coats the exterior of a large jar of dill pickles on the top shelf. I put my hand on a glass casserole dish to confirm my diagnosis. “It’s not working.”

My dear husband is still rooted to the floor. Some people are dependent on that caffeine jolt to get them going in the morning, and he’s their poster boy.

“Pour some half-and-half in your coffee, Jer. It’s probably okay.”

He follows my instructions and takes a seat at the table. “Well, I don’t think I could stomach warm milk with my shredded wheat.”

I open the freezer door and root around until I find the Sara Lee pound cake I was saving for the weekend. This cake would have been so delicious with some fresh strawberries and whipped cream. I console myself with the knowledge that I really don’t need the extra calories; I’m fluffy enough. That’s the loving word the Revere family uses to refer to those dreaded unwanted pounds. As in, “Don’t you love to hug Grandma? She’s so fluffy.”

“This will have to do for breakfast. Can you run down to the basement and get the picnic cooler? Maybe we can salvage some of the frozen meat.”

Jerry takes a deep swig of his legal stimulant and disappears into the basement. While I pour my tea and set the table, I hear him muttering amid the noise of boxes being shifted across the cement floor.

“What’s Dad doing?” Emma stands at the top of the basement stairs, her ear cocked to the sounds coming from below. At fifteen she’s still my little girl on some days, but on others I see the lovely young woman who’s emerging from within.

I fill her in on the morning’s tragedy.

She flips a strand of light brown hair behind her shoulder and saunters to the table. “Whatever.”

Okay, so today I see that snotty teenage brat who’s hijacked my little darling. Obviously she doesn’t feel my pain and is clueless about the cost or inconvenience of a busted refrigerator. Ah, the bliss of youthful ignorance.

Em picks up the knife and slices a piece of cake. “No juice?”

“Help yourself.”

She pushes to her feet, grabs a glass, and opens the freezer to retrieve three measly ice cubes.

Just as Jerry’s emerging from the basement with the dusty cooler, our son, Nick, joins us, wearing a pair of green sweatpants and a faded T-shirt. His eyelids are at half-mast, and he has a bad case of bed head. Emma’s only too happy to give him our news.

I begin to load the picnic cooler with frozen meat and toss the few anorexic ice cubes left in the freezer on top of our chicken breasts, pork tenderloin, ground beef, and frozen vegetables. “Well, this won’t do the trick.” Too bad it’s springtime. Otherwise I could toss my food in the snow.

No one responds to my comment, so I turn to my college-age son. “Nicky, would you please run to the store and get a bag of ice?”

He grimaces, but he’s maturing nicely and agrees to drive the few blocks to the store to run my errand. Emma plops herself down in front of the computer, no doubt relieved for once that she doesn’t have her driver’s license yet.

I paw through our junk drawer in the kitchen for the stack of business cards to find a repairman. Mechanic. Insurance agent. Day spa. Where did that come from? My nerves begin to dance like a cat on hot pavement. I don’t have time for this. “Jer, who should I call?”

My honey squeezes my shoulder. Ah, marital solidarity. He walks toward the desk that sits between the kitchen and family room. “Em, may I use the computer?”

She glares at him but silently gives up her seat. In a moment, Jerry has the telephone number of the Sears repairmen. He passes the scrap of paper to me. “Here ya go.”

Great. So much for marital solidarity.

I dial the number, navigate the menu, and plead my case to the dispatch associate. “Two o’clock? Um, okay. Thanks. Someone will be here to let him in.” I disconnect the call and secure the handset back on the base. “Jer? What’s your schedule today?”

He grunts out a reply with his back toward me while he pours another mug of coffee.

“What?”

He turns and takes a careful sip of the hot liquid. “Sorry. Faculty meeting. No can do.”

Anxiety builds in my chest. Swell. As usual, I’m the one who has to make the appointment and alter my schedule to accommodate this fiasco.

I’m loading the breakfast plates into the dishwasher when Nick walks in bearing a twenty-pound bag of ice. He opens the back door, then drops the bag onto the brick patio.

“Nick?”

He retrieves the bag of crushed ice and beams his killer grin—the one that made my sensibilities melt nearly twenty-six years ago when his father favored me with the same endearing smile at a gas station off the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

I have to confess it’s as though Jer saw my heart soar toward the heavens in that moment and caught it in his hand. And that’s where it’s been ever since. I had run out of gas, and he was fueling his 1973 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. Both Jerry and his cute little red car were about the best thing I’d seen in forever. He offered to drive me and my gallon of gasoline to my stranded car, and the rest of the story, as they say, is history.

The grandfather clock chimes from the living room, reminding me that I’m behind schedule. Being late for work at Dream Photography is a major transgression. My stomach knots to think that not only will I be late, but I’ll have to leave early too. A hive of angry bees bounces off the inside of my skull, clamoring to escape, and a deep sigh drains from the bottom of my lungs.

“Mom?” Nick lays his hand on my shoulder. He is so like his father, bless him. “Chill. It’s only a refrigerator.”

He makes me smile in spite of my poor attitude. “I know. It’s just that I’ll have to leave work early, and—”

“What time is the repairman coming?”

Praise God—we must have done something right to deserve this child. “Two o’clock. Will you be home from school?”

He shakes his head. “Sorry. I need to buy a book for my history class.”

Are you kidding me? My hands ball and land on my hips. “Can’t you buy the book another day?”

“I really need to get going on my term paper. It’s due in three weeks.”

My anxiety level rises again. “Won’t the bookstore be open tomorrow?”

Nick rolls his eyes. “I won’t have time to stand in that line at the bookstore tomorrow.” He pours the ice cubes onto the meat, ending our discussion.

I toss the lid on the cooler and scurry upstairs to get ready for work. So what’s our new family slogan? Every man for himself?

***

I walk into the organized chaos that is Dream Photography—one of the best-known portrait studios in metro Denver. The ringing telephone provides nerve-jarring background noise for the pandemonium playing itself out.

A well-groomed toddler makes serious work of tossing neatly arranged brochures onto the floor, while his mother wipes baby spit from her infant daughter’s dress. Another client is tapping her foot and checking her wristwatch. Add to that the family being escorted to the lobby to schedule their image presentation—aka sales session—by none other than Luke Vidal, my surly boss.

My tardiness is noted by Luke with a raised eyebrow and a brief tic of his head, one that goes unnoticed by our clients but hits pay dirt in my always-too-willing-to-accept-guilt gut. “Linda, can you schedule an image presentation for the Murrays?”

Sure, Luke would have to enlist me to wait on clients before I get the chance to clock in and get my bearings. That must be my punishment for coming in late. I hurry behind the reception desk and smile at the Murray clan—the ones who think Luke is the greatest thing since the invention of the daguerreotype.

Luke pumps the outstretched hand of Andy Murray. “The shoot went well. I think you’ll love the images.” He gives a peppermint-sweet grin to the rest of the family and struts from the beautifully appointed lobby of his home away from home.

I take care of business and trot to the break room to clock in and catch my breath.

My coworker Traci looks up from a pile of five by sevens. “Hey, girl. Where have you been?”

“Don’t ask.”

She puts down a print of a gorgeous bride and waits for the information she knows I’ll spill. I unburden my tale of woe, and she nods and gives me the expected platitudes.

She smiles her Pepsodent grin and pats me on the back. “Isn’t life grand?”

I really love Traci, but sometimes she can lay it on too thick. She passes me the day’s schedule, then exits the room.

I glance at the list of appointments. Rats. I better get moving. The bees have begun to swarm in my brain again.

After grabbing the necessary client files and slipping into a salesroom, I power up my Mac and access the network. Within moments I’ve loaded my client’s images and have chosen an appropriately sentimental song to accompany the slide show. I turn on the projector and dim the lights. Clients go gaga over our well-designed salesrooms—I mean, image presentation rooms. They look more like an elegant home theater than a place of business.

I race back to the lobby, discover that my 9:30 sale has arrived, and paste a smile on my face. “Heidi, Ken, it’s good to see you again. If you don’t remember, my name’s Linda.”

They greet me, and I escort them to the salesroom, chatting them up to break the ice.

The freshly baked cookies placed on the coffee table make my mouth water and hopefully put our well-heeled clients in the mood to take an emotional journey while gazing at the incredible images produced in our high-end studio.

“Can I get anyone a bottle of water before we begin?”

“Yes, I would love some water.” Heidi claims a seat in one of the overstuffed chairs. She looks toward her husband, who is inspecting the frame on one of the portraits that adorn the walls. “Ken?”

“Oh yes. Please.”

I excuse myself and go to the fridge to get some of our private-label water bottles. From the first moment our customers call to schedule their appointment and until they have their portraits delivered, they’re treated like royalty. Fortunately, most of them deserve such treatment.

Heidi and Ken are clients from way back. They’ve been through everything with us, from the old days of film to the current high-tech, all-digital studio we’ve evolved into.

When I return, I distribute the water and start the viewing program. The swell of sentimental music explodes from the speakers in the ceiling, and images of two adorable little girls move across the big screen. They sit in a wicker swing under a towering oak tree in a field of tall, natural grasses. The lighting illuminates the canopy of green branches above them, while they are perfectly shaded from the bright morning sun. The girls are wearing off-white linen dresses and holding lovely vintage rag dolls. The camera changes perspective, and the girls are in the foreground, framed by the leaves from the branch of a nearby tree. In the next scene they’re sitting at a small, white bistro table enjoying a tea party with a rose-patterned porcelain tea set and a teddy bear for a guest.

The music plays on as the girls pose by an antique baby carriage. They both gaze off into the distance, their expressions a paragon of youthful innocence.

I’m so sick of these types of saccharine images, I could puke. But day after day, they provide the all-natural, nitrate-free bacon I bring home to my family.

Heidi sniffs and reaches for the box of tissues that sits on the table. The last image fades from the screen, and the music stops. Heidi grasps for her husband’s hand. He nods and smiles.

I hand a price list to Ken, and we get down to business.

Heidi appears to suffer heart-wrenching torment as we narrow the number of images down from thirty-nine to fifteen. You’d think I’m dishonoring her cute little daughters by deleting some, but unless you’ve got a huge bank account, you can’t buy them all.

She clutches a hand to her heart, and her husband says, “I love that expression on Olyvia’s face.”

I slip into sales mode. “That image is gorgeous, but look at the subjects. Your girls are beautiful.”

They smile in agreement. We continue to weed through the images to find their favorites. I’m getting dizzy from comparing similar poses and going back and forth while Heidi hems and haws about the merits of each picture.

“Ah, can you pull up number twenty-two?”

I maneuver the program to display an image of the girls sitting at the bistro table.

“And can you compare it to number twenty-four?”

Could this woman say please just once? Would it kill her to treat me with a modicum of respect?

She turns to her husband. “What do you think?”

Poor Ken looks as though he’s pulling himself out of a stupor to respond. “Uh, I don’t like the way Trynity’s hand is curled on the table.”

Heidi stands and moves closer to the screen. “Really? I think that’s cute.”

He sighs. “Okay, keep that one.”

“But Olyvia isn’t looking in the right direction.”

“Heidi, sit down so I can see the screen.”

She flashes him a look that could take the merry out of Christmas. Uh-oh. This isn’t good.

I clear my throat and try to maneuver the sale in the right direction. “What if we take Olyvia’s head from image twenty-five and put it on this image?”

They both study the pictures that I put side by side on the screen.

“And, Ken, didn’t you say you love that expression on Olyvia’s face?”

He jerks in my direction, and I don’t know if he’s pleased that I’m asking for his input or annoyed. “What will this cost?”

Oh, so that’s the way we’re going to be, huh, Ken? “Well, there will be an extra art fee to swap out that head, but if you both love the images and you’re purchasing a wall portrait, it’s well worth the charge.”

“How much?” Ken insists.

Heidi shifts in her seat. “Oh, it will be perfect. We could hang it in the dining room across from the china cabinet.”

That Heidi, she’s my kind of gal. Press on, full steam ahead.

“How much will it cost?”

I wave my hand to minimize the bombshell. “Oh, only about fifty dollars.”

If the room were brighter, I’m sure I’d see steam floating from his ears. “Can you show us what that would look like?”

I don’t know why he’s giving me a hard time. He’s bought images with head swaps from us before. “Sure, this is down and dirty, but it will give you an idea.” My artistry is crude at best, but I do a quick swap. “Of course our imaging artists will make it look 100 percent natural. No one will know this isn’t the original image.”

Ken leans back in his chair, a movement I take for acceptance.

I go in for the close. “Now what size portrait were you thinking of?”

Heidi clasps her hands. “Maybe a sixteen by twenty.”

“Okay. What size is the wall it’s going on?”

She looks confused, as if I’m speaking in Mandarin.

I stand and pick up a twenty-by-twenty-four-inch frame that holds a white piece of foam core. “Let’s look at this size, and tell me what you think.” I step into the middle of the room and center the image on the blank canvas.

They respond with the usual sigh of desire.

“You may even want to see the next size up.” No sense in not trying.

“Okay, let’s see . . .”

Cha-ching. Looks like I’m well on my way to exceeding my weekly goal. By the time they’re ready to leave, I can tell Heidi wants nothing more than to go home and hug her little darlings. For the amount of money I collected from their mom and dad, I want to hug the girls too.

If only the rest of my day goes as well. After the refrigerator crisis, I could use a break.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Book Spotlight: Falcon and the Sparrow by M.L. Tyndall

About the Book: When Mademoiselle Dominique Dawson sets foot on the soil of her beloved homeland, England, she feels neither the happiness nor the excitement she expected upon her
return to the place of her birth. Alone for the first time in her life, without family, without friends, without protection, she now faces a far more frightening prospect, for she has come to the country she loves as an enemy-a spy for Napoleon.

Forced to betray England or never see her only brother alive again, Dominique has accepted a position as governess to the son of Admiral Chase Randal, a harsh man, still bitter over the loss of his wife. Will Dominique find the strength she needs through God to follow through with the plan to rescue her brother? Will Chase find comfort for his bitter heart in God's arms and be able to love again?

And what new deceptions will they both find in France when they arrive to carry out their plan?

Check out Falcon and the Sparrow on Amazon.

All Manner of Coolness

I can't wait!!!!!!!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Question of Gone Baby Gone


A couple of weeks ago I watched the movie Gone Baby Gone. If you can get past the f-bomb every other word, it's a pretty interesting film.

I have yet to read a Dennis Lehane novel (the source material for this movie), but I thought he was interesting when I heard him speak at BEA and I have an ARC of The Given Day that I really need to read.

Have you seen Gone Baby Gone? If you have any plans to watch it and don't want to be spoiled than you might want to skip this post. This is your warning.

In the movie Gone Baby Gone, a little girl goes missing. We quickly discover that her mother is not going to win mom-of-the-year anytime soon, as she's a junkie who frequently mistreats her little girl. Yet our private investigating heroes look relentlessly for her anyway until it all ends badly one night. They believe the girl to be dead despite not finding her body. Some times passes, some conversations take place, and eventually our main character discovers that the girl is in fact not dead, but has been kidnapped in an elaborate scheme by the (now retired) chief of police for her protection. Upon making this discovery he immediately wants to call the police. The girl looks happy and she is in a safe happy place far from the hellish place she was before. Yet, she is not with her mother. And there is no way Patrick can allow her to stay. His girlfriend begs not turn the chief of police in and let the girl stay safe, but he does anyway.

Whew, long explanation. But I wonder...what would you do? If faced with a child who had been living in near intolerable conditions who has suddenly found a new family who loves her, where she can run about in the country and where she is cherished...would you hesitate to call her back to a mother who can't be bothered and a life where she is little more than a nuisance? Patrick was unwavering and determined, but I think I would be torn and strongly conflicted.

I suppose this post will make more sense for those who have seen the film...but I'd love to know your thoughts on this. Ultimately, it's a question about the authority of law and is it okay at times to make your own decisions based on your moral convictions? Reach deep inside...what would you do?

I am submitting this post to Watercooler Wednesday. Check it out for more posts on art and culture.

My Imaginary Nightstand


I don't actually have a nightstand! But I do have a towering pile of books next to my bed. I wanted to take a clever picture for this feature, but time got away from me, so here are some of the books I'll be tackling in the next week or so.

Searching for Spice by Megan DiMaria is about a woman who wants to have an affair with her husband! This is actually due for review tomorrow, so come back and see what I have to say about it! :)

Daphne by Justine Picardie This book already released across the ocean to great reviews by the Brit book bloggers. I've been dying to read it and was thrilled when I was sent an ARC. It's the story of Daphne du Maurier who wrote Rebecca, but also wrote The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte. I've always been a bit fascinated by the Brontes.

The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein. I have a great fondness for stories that take place in Asia and Julie at Booking Mama gave this one a great review.

And finally Watership Down by Richard Adams. I think. I need to complete a book for the LOST books challenge by the 15th and I think this is the one I'm going to tackle. (Unfortunately, I chose a bunch of really chunky books)

Head on over to 5 Minutes for Books to see what everyone else is reading!

But first tell me if you've read any of the books on my nightstand or what's on yours!

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Healing Choice by Brenda Stoeker and Susan Allen + Giveaway

About the Book: n the wake of betrayed intimacy, you may feel nauseated, angry, humiliated, desperate. Why am I not enough for him? Can our marriage be saved—and do I even want to try? Will this unbearable ache ever go away?

Amid the devastation that follows a spouse's sexual disloyalty, you need to know that you are not alone. God walks alongside you, offering comfort and a promise to transform the pain of the present into hope for the future. In addition, there is a community of women who know firsthand the agony caused by a husband's sexual compromises and who offer the compassion, strength, and biblical wisdom you need to make healthy decisions for yourself and your family.

The Healing Choice reveals the hope-filled stories of two such women, authors Brenda Stoeker and Susan Allen, who draw on their own experiences and those of many others to offer step-by-step advice for rediscovering intimacy with God and finding the support you need to move toward genuine spiritual and emotional restoration.

Their down-to-earth insights light the path toward help and healing for every woman who longs to move beyond the pain of broken trust and experience God's promise of hope.

About the Authors: Brenda Stoeker is a registered nurse, mother of four, and seasoned marriage teacher with life experience in rebuilding a broken marriage. Together she and her husband, Fred, have counseled hundreds of couples struggling with issues related to sexual brokenness.

Susan Allen is a counselor who specializes in helping women create and maintain effective healing groups in churches and communities across the country. With husband Clay, she is the cofounder of Avenue, a ministry centered on healing and restoration from sexual brokenness.

Check out the Healing Promises book on Amazon.

Check out the Healing Promises Workbook.

I have one copy of this book to giveaway. If you would like to read it or know a friend who could use it, simply leave a comment by Friday August 1st. You must have a United States or Canadian mailing address and you must leave a valid email address. Thanks everyone!

I am submitting this the quarterly Bloggy Giveaways Carnival. Be sure to go crazy entering a bunch of contests!

Loving the Villain


The Dark Knight is breaking records. It's making money. And it's still in my head. I kind of want to see it again. It didn't change Brody's life. He says, what movie does? I think movies can change your perspective...if not your life.

Everyone's talking about Heath. About what an incredible job he did portraying the Joker as a complete psychopath. Without remorse. Without conscience. Without purpose. At the Pushing Daisies panel at Comic Con, Lee Pace talked about how much he loves playing Ned. Then he said to the person asking the question(I can't remember what the question was), "I see you have Heath Ledger on your t-shirt and everyone's talking about whether or not his role as the Joker played a part in what happened to him, and I think yes absolutely it did because you can't play that kind of role without it hurting your soul." (not an exact quote, just the best I remember it)

I saw lots of Jokers this weekend. Little kids dressed up as jokers. The Joker on t-shirts. At the Heroes panel, a young boy got up and said to Zachary Quinto, "I just have to say Silo (yeah, Silo) you are the most awesome hero ever!" Sylar is a psychopath, too.

Why do people love villains? I agree that for a good story, you need a good villain. I love a well written villain as much as the next person. (Ben on LOST anyone?) But I love cheering for the good guy, and I don't so much understand cheering for the bad guy. Even when he's really sympathetic. So...
If you love villains, please enlighten me. Tell me why people want to dress up as someone as clearly evil as the Joker was in Dark Knight. I want to understand. :)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sunday Salon and a few Quick Catch-Up Reviews

I am currently reading and was able to read only about 40 pages today, of Somebody Else's Daughter by Elizabeth Brundage. What's that about? I was asked. I'm not exactly sure yet, but I'm enjoying it so far! :)

Yesterday I was at Comic Con all day so I didn't get any reading done. It's strange, but I count on at least a few reading hours each day and when one day gets knocked I get all thrown off schedule. Does this happen to anyone else? I'm also way behind on reading blogs. If I haven't been by your blog for awhile please forgive me, I hope to do some catching up this week. I actually have some posts starred in my reader that I want to go back to and leave comments on!

So instead I thought I'd bring you some quickie reviews of books I promised to review, but hadn't gotten to yet!

First: A Mile in my Flip-Flops by Melody Carlson
This was a fun light chick lit read about a girl named Gretchen who is obsessed with HGTV and decides to flip her own house. Flipping the house is an obvious metaphor for the renovation she does in her own life as well...losing weight (this is chick lit), recovering from a broken heart, etc. The read is super fun, but I did feel some things got resolved a bit too quickly. Like really fast at the end. Still, it's fun to read and has a great dog character which I love.

Try Darkness by James Scott Bell
A legal thriller that is more detective work than courtroom drama. I have to admit one of my favorite things about legal thrillers is the courtroom drama but this book is still highly enjoyable. It's written in quick chapters and sets up a very interesting love story which I need the resolution, too! Let's just say it reminds me of Tess Gerritsen's Maura Isles character's love relationship. It's also really funny which I wasn't expecting. I didn't read the first book in this series, but I quickly grew fond of Ty Buchanan and I look forward to catching more of his stories. I hope this is a long series.

What's the funniest book you've read lately?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Disneyland for Nerds--My Day at Comic Con

I went to Comic Con today for the first time ever. I'm not really all that knowledgeable about comics though I suspect I would really enjoy them if I took the time to. That doesn't matter though, because these days, Comic Con is more a celebration of the popular arts.

My main objective was to attend the LOST panel, but I had a few others I was interested in seeing. I didn't spend much time looking at booths because I needed to stand in line. Plus, there was no room to breathe in there. I heard much grumbling from attendees about how overcrowded it was this year.

I met lots of interesting people while standing in line for the LOST panel. The Heroes panel was right before the LOST panel and the entire cast was there so Heroes fans started camping out in line the night before. I'm not even kidding. I enjoy Heroes, I'm somewhat obsessed with LOST, but I would never do that. Thankfully, showing up a couple of hours early I still managed to snag a decent seat. The Heroes panel was loads of fun because the energy was so high among the fans. They also showed us the season three premiere! It was typical Heroes, but very good, lots of laughs, lots of drama, and of course some surprises. I had somehow managed to forget how hot Sendil Ramamurthy is too, but he was looking good. ;)

The LOST panel was Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. They were funny and gave gifts to the fans who asked questions and that in itself was amusing. Of course they didn't really give us any of the answers we all really want, but they did say that Rousseau's story will be told in season 5! That's good news. Matthew Fox showed up as a surprise guest, and that was nice. He was also looking good. (sorry guys, but these things have to be said sometimes.) They also showed us a new Dr. Marvin Candle video in which we learned his real name. He seemed very distressed. He said...."Time is not of the essence, time IS the essence" hmmm... I'm sure it's already available in multiple places online. ;)

After the LOST panel I decided to head out and check out the rest of the Con. But having learned my lesson about the lines, I soon headed up to where the Pushing Daisies panel was to be held. That line was also massive. In order to guarantee my seat for Daisies, I sat through the panel before it, which is something I never would have chosen on my own but turned out to be incredibly fascinating. It was called Comics Across Media and was about the influence of comics in all media with a variety of guests (mostly writers). I might share more about that later.

Pushing Daisies also had the full cast and I just love Lee Pace! :) They were all very fun and interacted well with the audience. It's always fun to be with other fans. Pushing Daisies is really such an original and sweet show and unlike anything else on television right now. They teased the season ahead and Kristen Chenoweth even sang an impromptu song for us!

After Daisies, I went to the Fringe Q&A session. I missed my chance to see the pilot, but I was delighted at the chance to see J.J. Abrams in person. He had a hand in two of my most beloved TV series (Felicity and LOST) and this one looks good as well. It turns out he talks a lot. In any case, Josh Jackson and the two of the other actors were there as well (sorry to tired to look up their names) and while this panel was interesting, it's hard to think too much about it since I don't yet know the show.

One thing I have to say that I loved about all of this is that the writers and showrunners are truly the stars. I couldn't help but notice that the actors and actresses said very little and that most questions were for the writers. I love that!

So even without being a total comic geek, I still had the sense that these were my people today. :) I met a lot of interesting people and learned a lot. And it was good fun.

But I'm dead exhausted. So if you read this thanks for reading! (btw, the title is what someone I met called Comic Con...not me!)

Why I Don't Use the Library Part 2 The Continuing Saga


It has to do with fines. And report cards. And guilt.

So replacement fees aren't the only thing you might have to pay at the library. As many of you mentioned in comments of my last post...there's also late fines. I am spectacularly good at getting late fines. As I mentioned I would check out ten books at a time (and CDs and such as I got older) with fines at ten cents a day per item? Added up very very quickly.

But while in high school and college, I still needed to do those pesky research papers. And needed source material. So I checked out books. There is no excuse for turning books in late to your own high school library by the way. I mean, I was there everyday. But I still managed to get threats. No report card until you return those books. Yes that seriously was my life. And high school libraries have late fines, too.

I just don't think I am capable of getting things back on time. It's the reason I adore Blockbuster Online.

I have one more story to share next week...til then...what's the highest library fine you ever paid?

(Read the first post in this series.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Her Blogging Debut

My sweet as pie niece Emily made her blogging debut yesterday with a review on The Friendly Book Nook. If you haven't read it yet, you should defintely stop by and check it out!

Something for the Girls

Jen at Daily Mish Mash hosts something called Friday Eye Candy. Anyway, after awhile she realized she kept putting up pictures of the same fine gentlemen so she offered to host our lists. And I totally took her up on it!

So, if want to see my list, pop on over for a visit. If that's not your thing, happy Friday anyway! :)

4 Tips for Deepening Your Blogging Friendships


I really enjoyed the discussion over last week's 5 Tips for Being a Friendly Blogger and well, I thought of some more tips! These are not necessary but are excellent tools for ease of use and building strong ties.

1) Register Your Blog with Technorati.
Technorati is the devil we all rely on. It gives us bloggers the gentle little pat on our egos as we slowly watch our authorities tick upwards. Does it say anything about our self-worth? No. Does it say anything about our blog's worth? Not really. Yet a high Technorati authority will provide greater opportunities for your blog and get you a little attention. Always nice. Unfortunately, it seems Technorati has been having problems lately, but so far nothing has really stood up to take its place.

2) Ping your Blog Regularly.
Once registered with Technorati you can set this up automatically. Or you can use a service like Ping-o-matic. Last week, I mentioned the importance of linking to other blogs. It's important that once you link to them, you also ping your blog so that everyone else out there in internet land knows that link exists. This is also good for your own blog! When they see you've linked to them, they will most likely come visit you. (Unless thousands of people are linking to them everyday)

3) Make Subscribing to Your Blog Easy.
The best way to do this is to use Feedburner. Feedburner offers your readers the chance to subscribe via RSS in a reader or by email. It's very user friendly (I'm not techie at all!!!) and once you get it set up be sure to put that big orange button in an easy to see spot on your blog. I always look for that when I come across a blog I want to remember. There's so little time and so many blogs competing for attention that if it takes any extra effort, I'm unlikely to bother. (sorry!) Feedburner also lets you see how many people are subscribing to your blog which is another way to get one of those self-pats on the back. (and then wonder why none of them comment....;)

4) Invite Other Bloggers for Guest Posts or Interviews.
A great way to strengthen your ties with other bloggers is to invite them to write something for your blog. Who doesn't like to be hosted at someone else's party? It's a great compliment to be asked to contribute something to another blog. I would recommend inviting bloggers that you love or who have a similar niche. Or, you can have a theme and invite bloggers to submit posts. (I recently tried this and it was almost a complete bust--you live you learn! I have seen it done very successfully) Or maybe you just want to interview them about something you blog about. For example, Kat at The Secret Life of Kat has done this with her Parent's University.

So if you are really interested in going deeper with this blogging thing, believe me..other bloggers are going to love it if you're registered with Technorati, you are pinging your blog, you make subscribing easy, and you show your love for them by sacrificing some precious blog time to highlight them.

Any more tips?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Book Spotlight: Painted Dresses by Patricia Hickman

About the Book: In this story of sisterhood and unexpected paths, Gaylen Syler-Boatwright flees her unraveling marriage to take refuge in a mountain cottage owned by her deceased aunt. Burdened with looking after her adult sister, Delia, she is shocked to find a trail of family secrets hidden within her aunt’s odd collection of framed, painted dresses. With Delia, who attracts trouble as a daily occupation, Gaylen embarks on a road trip that throws the unlikely pair together on a journey to painful understanding and delightful revelations.

Steeped in Hickman’s trademark humor, her spare writing voice, and the bittersweet pathos of the South, Painted Dresses powerfully captures a woman’s desperate longing to uncover a hidden, broken life and discover the liberty of living authentically, even when the things exposed are shrouded in shame.

Actually....

I had an unexpected day today. Yesterday I noticed my brakes were grinding so I had to go get them fixed. I hate that, wasting a precious day of paid time off on a task like this, but my neighbor told me I really shouldn't wait and I plan to drive to San Diego this weekend, so I know he's right.

However, that allowed me the chance to listen to Charley's radio show. And hear Brody say amazing a lot, and me say "actually" a lot. And laugh. A lot.

Now I will have more empathy for my students when I record them reading and understand if they don't want to hear it back! (though it's always the coolest part for me--to hear the improvement)

Thanks Charley for the interview and for all you are doing to promote the 40 Day Fast!

Be Last by Jeremy Kingsley Book Excerpt



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!




Today's Wild Card author is:




and his book:


Be Last

Tyndale House Publishers (Jun 15 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Touching the hearts of more than 65,000 people a year, Jeremy Kingsley is passionate about seeing the lost come to Christ and the saved walk more intimately with Him. Jeremy, the founder and president of Onelife Ministries, is a highly respected teacher and one of the most sought-after speakers today. He has interacted with hundreds of thousands of people in the United States and has also been involved in ministry in Africa, Mongolia, India, and Central America. His servant spirit, transparent heart, and deep love for Jesus challenge listeners to live authentic lives dedicated to Christ. Jeremy and his wife, Dawn, live in Columbia, South Carolina, with their sons, Jaden and Dylan.

Visit him at his website.

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


1

How Do I Become Great?

“Being Last” by Living a Life of Service

What tops your list of things that you’re good at? Is it writing or cooking or dancing or accounting or music? Are you an accomplished engineer or the chairman of a board or a decorated athlete? Maybe you’re the guy who can fix any computer problem or the woman who can parallel park on any street in the city. The options for showing off what you do well are nearly endless.

But being good at something and being great at it are not the same. There is a difference between having strong skills and being great with those skills. The same is true for our Christian experience. Maybe you’re known as “pretty good,” a Christian who can teach well or sing well or lead well or memorize well or serve well. Have you ever wanted your Christian experience to become great? Maybe you’re not even very good at following Jesus right now but you still want to become great. That kind of hunger usually resides in those who have met Jesus and have seen how amazing he is.

When you think about your Christian experience, would you call it “great”? Would you say that you have achieved “greatness” or at least are headed in that direction? The question may be a bit too hard to ponder, but the quest for greatness is a topic worth pursuing. Of course, there is no way to determine the “greatness” of one’s life with Christ until we define the word itself. And that can be a difficult task because our presumed definitions are often skewed by the surrounding culture’s values.

When it comes to business, music, or sports, greatness is easier to define. For example, the statement that Michael Jordan was a great basketball player is hardly contestable. His six championships, Olympic gold medal, MVP awards, appearances on All-Star teams, scoring records, and game-winning shots prove it. His actions and awards place him above all his competitors. Boxer Muhammad Ali, football receiver Jerry Rice, and golfer Tiger Woods have accomplished similar feats in their own sports, feats that demonstrate greatness. But how do we define greatness in the Christian life? Can checking stat sheets and lists of awards provide a clear standard for evaluating the greatness of a Christian? How do I become great?

Is it worth expending the energy required to experience God’s great life for us? Well, if I’m defining greatness, I don’t know whether it’s worth pursuing. And if you’re defining greatness, I’m not sure you’ll want to chase an arbitrary idea that you made up for yourself. But if the greatest One of all defines greatness for us, we would be wise to learn what he says—and the greatest One who has ever lived has spoken about greatness. The King of kings and Lord of lords has told us how we should approach the journey toward greatness. So just like golfers who pay thousands of dollars for instruction from Tiger or computer software engineers who listen intently to Michael Dell, we should drop everything and tune into Jesus’ approach to greatness.

God’s Cheering Section

The John 12:41 the writer explains that the prophet Isaiah saw and described the glory of Jesus in Isaiah 6. So if we want to get a taste of how great Jesus was before he came to earth as a human being, we should check out what Isaiah saw in his vision of the Messiah’s glory hundreds of years before Christ came. It may take a little time for us twenty-first-century Americans to understand how profoundly Isaiah’s vision depicts Jesus’ greatness, but stick with me, and I’ll try to explain. First, let’s see what Isaiah 6:1-4 says:

It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. They were calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.

Words certainly do not do justice to what this experience would have been like for Isaiah. One moment he is praying, and the next moment he is swept into a vision of the Lord himself. He sees the inside of God’s heavenly home—a temple different from the one Solomon built on Mount Zion because of the giant throne in it—and he encounters a sanctuary full of creatures bringing down the house with their alternating chants focused on Jesus.

In this vision Isaiah sees a room filled with seraphim. Now these are not the type of angels who look human or your classic “two wingers.” These are special beings that have three pairs of wings. Each pair of wings has a specific purpose. When these beings are in the presence of Jesus, they use one pair of wings to cover their faces out of humility. With the second pair they cover their feet out of respect. They use the third pair to maintain flight. Apparently it takes specially designed body parts to give Jesus the honor he deserves when you’re in a room filled with his magnificence.

The job of the seraphim is simpler to describe than their unique physique. The seraphim have only one reason to exist: to tell God all the time how awesome he is. All they do is shout back and forth, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” and let their chants about his global glory blow up the decibel meter. They were created to be his constant cheering section, like a “divine dawg pound”! What a life! Imagine constantly getting to cheer for your favorite sports team in its home stadium and knowing that your team is the eternally undisputed world champion.

Do you understand what all this hoopla means? These heavenly beings have been created for the single purpose of chanting and cheering about Jesus’ glory. That’s all they do. Think about it. You’ve got to be indescribably great if angels have been created just to shout about you forever. Suppose you went up to one of these angels and asked, “Excuse me, Angel 3058, what is it that you do?”

Angel 3058 would reply, “I yell about how amazing Jesus is.”

If you asked him, “What do you do after work?” he’d say, “There is no ‘after.’ I just keep calling out how great Jesus is.”

If you begged him to come help you with something, he’d have to respond, “I can’t stop telling Jesus how amazing he is. We’re about to start the MVP chant, and there’s just no way we can have one less voice publicizing God’s fame. I’ve got to go!”

That gives Jesus the right to define greatness for us if he desires.

When Does Jesus Teach Us How to Become Great?

If Jesus is so great, then he knows that we need him to show us how to become great. A few times in his life would have seemed prime opportunities for him to do that. Maybe his birth would have been a great time? If he was going to teach us how to be great, he should probably have started off his time on earth with a grand entrance. Christmas morning should have been more like the Fourth of July, with fireworks coming out of heaven to light up the whole earth. Jesus should have flown in like a comet whose blazing light dwarfed the radiance of the sun so that every human being would have been awakened by his arrival and overwhelmed by the warmth of his presence. Then he could have ordered his seraphim posse to start up a universal chant and shake the atmosphere with their shouts of his holiness. The ensuing light, heat, and earthquake would certainly have moved all the people on the planet to cover their eyes, tremble in awe, and acknowledge that someone greater than all others had descended on their world.

He could have been born in a palace to a great king and queen. Lived in the most luxurious “crib” ever built. Had silk diapers, cashmere blankets, the purest baby food, gold teething rings—the whole nine yards. But nothing of the sort happened. Jesus took an entirely different approach.

Instead, he came out of Mary’s womb to an audience of animals in a small Judean town called Bethlehem. His parents were from Nazareth, a town in the Galilean backwoods with a reputation for producing nothing good (see John 1:46). His adoptive dad was a blue-collar worker struggling to make an honest shekel, and his mom got pregnant with him before she was married. That had to have had people talking—a pregnant girl “showing” before the wedding. That was not a great situation. To all appearances, Jesus came on the scene like just one more illegitimate child, born into a poor backwoods family, with little hope of doing anything great in his life. Remember, there was no room for him in the inn. But suppose there had been room in the inn. What if you had been born in a Motel 6? Would that be embarrassing to you, or humiliating? Well, Jesus didn’t even get that. When he was born, his mother laid him in a manger, a feeding trough for farm animals. Why would Jesus—the One with angels created to tell him how great he is—come to earth that way, birthed around smelly farm animals and dung droppings? Now God did supply angels to make a special announcement to a group of local shepherds, but otherwise the world went on essentially undisturbed. Only some rich guys from the Far East saw any other sign that the glorious One had come to earth. Few people even knew he had come. That just doesn’t seem to communicate greatness.

If Jesus’ greatness was not revealed in a big way at his birth, then maybe that revelation came during his adult life? The closest we do come to an event where Jesus reveals his glory on earth is the Transfiguration. As Mark 9 records, Jesus took three of his disciples and went up on a mountain, where he was transformed into a figure shining with glorious light. The disciples who were with him fell down in awe and could only stumble for words. They were getting a view of Jesus’ true glory and didn’t know how to react. At one point Peter even asked if they could build shelters for Jesus and his two glorious companions, Moses and Elijah, to inhabit.

For the three disciples, this experience would have been a lot like Isaiah’s experience. Is that what Isaiah saw? They got to see God’s glory glowing around Jesus and hear the thunderous voice of the Father say, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him” (Mark 9:7).

And we should. But seeing a bit of Jesus’ glory for a few moments was different from having him teach the disciples how to be great. All of his miracles—healing the blind, bringing people back to life, walking on water, and casting out demons—showed his greatness, but then Jesus was fully God and fully human. What about giving us humans a chance to be great? Where was the recipe for greatness?

The friends Jesus made and the people he touched showed no signs of having achieved greatness through meeting the right people in places of power and influence. Jesus himself was actually known as a friend of low-life Jews who collected taxes for the oppressive Roman government. He spent time with drunks and prostitutes in his effort to call Israel back to holiness. He did not wine and dine at fancy Roman parties or get chummy with the priests who controlled the Temple and ran the Jewish law courts. His compatriots were anything but great, and he did more to make the famous and powerful leaders of Roman Palestine angry at him than he did to win their respect and honor. So he certainly did not teach us how to be great by working his way up the ancient corporate food chain into a place of authority and prominence.

So if not at his birth and not throughout his life, maybe he would teach us greatness during his final entrance into Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover, just a few days before he died? That would have been a great time to show us. He could have slowly gathered a mass of followers who would all rise up and crown him king when he entered the city. He could have taken a patient and covert approach that waited until enough people recognized his greatness before he called on them to declare it publicly in word and deed. In this approach, the disciples could have organized music and choirs. There could have been a Jewish army of 500,000 soldiers and an angelic army of one million, with other followers dressed in fancy robes and carrying banners. All of these could have descended on the city in full battle array with a thousand chariots and great stallions leading the charge. Now that would have been great!

But no such rise to greatness occurred during the Triumphal Entry. Instead of a parade of chariots and stallions leading an army marked by banners proclaiming Jesus’ kingship, Jesus came waddling down the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem on a young donkey. Instead of a band with music echoing through the valley, a crowd of ordinary people came out, shouting his praise and throwing branches and clothes on the ground in front of him. Those with power and influence in Jerusalem gave him no respect, and a few Pharisees even told Jesus to make his little followers stop shouting. Although his small band of followers showed their support, Jesus did not show us how to unleash greatness and ascend to status and prestige at just the right time in one’s career. He came to a city where influential people plotted his death.

In our search to find out where Jesus teaches us how to become great, we seem to be running out of time. He didn’t seem to show us how to do it when he came on the earthly scene or while growing up here, and he didn’t seem to show us how to do it when he arrived at Jerusalem for his final days. Or did he? He certainly had a ministry full of great acts, but he spent most of his time with the poor and rejected elements of the Jewish population instead of working his way up to the top. But now, with only days left before his death, there’s another chance. Do you remember? He broke up a conversation among his disciples about who was the greatest, and he dropped a huge bombshell: The last will be first. The humble person is the greatest. Jesus had actually been showing us the whole time, from his birth all the way to this point. But he had been saving a special final lesson for the night before his death. And now for everyone who had missed it being displayed his whole life, he would show us very plainly how to become great.

Getting Down and Dirty

In John 13 we find Jesus around a table with his disciples for the Last Supper. They have all just come in from a day of ministry in the dusty streets of Jerusalem. Their feet are dirty, and there is no servant to wash the filth from them. So Jesus picks up a towel, gets some water, and decides to be the humble servant among his disciples.

Now the other men in that room knew how inappropriate it would be for any of them to touch one another’s feet, much less the One who had angels created to praise him! The job of foot washing was saved for the lowest of the low, the servants of the servants. Only the least important, most underprivileged people—in other words, those who had been born poor, among a bunch of farm animals—got stuck with that duty. In fact, rabbinic documents show that rabbis and Pharisees in the time after Christ would force their disciples to serve them in every way that slaves would serve their masters except for one thing: They were never, ever to touch anyone’s feet. That was simply too demeaning for any “respectable” human being to endure.

So the statement Jesus made by washing his disciples’ feet would have been profound. He had said before that greatness came from humbling oneself. He had said, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first” (see Matthew 19:30), but now he was showing it. He was getting down and dirty. Most kings get served. His greatness would not be achieved by working his way up through the political or religious ranks. He did not try to schmooze powerful people or gather an armed crowd that could rise up against the establishment and make him king. His greatness was being worked out as he went out of his way to serve those around him. In a move that ran counter to his culture, he descended to greatness.

Do I Know How to Serve?

When I was twenty-two, I spent a couple of years as an intern under Adrian Despres, an itinerant evangelist with Kingdom Building Ministries and the current chaplain for Steve Spurrier and the University of South Carolina Gamecocks football team. I was under the impression that the internship was designed to help me improve as a speaker. I traveled with Adrian to different speaking events all over the world to see what he could teach me about effective communication.

To my chagrin, I found myself attending a bunch of events for my “speaking internship” but never speaking. Adrian would invite me along, tell me where to sit, and then have me listen to him. Eventually he let me start introducing him before I took my seat, but still I didn’t get a chance to speak. I constantly wondered whether I had misunderstood the point of the internship. Did Adrian not know that he was supposed to help me become a better communicator, a professional speaker, and not a better audience member? He did finally carve out a one-minute opening spot where I could share a story before sitting down, but that hardly gave me a chance to warm up before taking my seat.

As I kept tagging along to different events, I became more and more bewildered about how I could learn to improve my communication skills. Instead of speaking and getting his feedback, I got to participate in his strange “rituals” before and after his presentations on stage—offstage actions that I thought had nothing to do with speaking. Sometimes we would arrive early at a camp or a church, and he’d have me set up tables and chairs, maybe even vacuum or volunteer in the kitchen. Adrian was the kind of guy who picked up trash and put away shopping carts that other patrons had left scattered around the parking lot. I tried to remind him that “people get paid to do those jobs,” but he didn’t much care. He would say, “I know. I just want to help ’em out!” Those “rituals” were part of his approach to life and ministry. Maybe somehow these things were linked to Adrian’s speaking ministry.

One day, about a year into my internship, Adrian asked if I thought my internship was going okay. On the inside I was thinking, Not really! How in the world can I get better at speaking if I don’t speak? Doesn’t practice make perfect or something like that? Of course, I didn’t come out and say those things. I just answered his inquiry with an affirmative and waited for an explanation. That’s when he said something that I’ll never forget: “Before we started this whole thing, I knew you could speak. I didn’t know if you could serve.”

Adrian’s comments changed my life. I wanted to be a great speaker. Adrian wanted me to be great spiritually.

Let those words ring in your head for a while, and fill in the blank with whatever you are good at. I know you can organize; I just don’t know if you can serve. I know you can set up a network in a day; I just don’t know if you can serve. I know you can lead a Bible study and pray in public; I just don’t know if you can serve. I know you are good at any number of things; I just don’t know if you can serve.

You see, Adrian knew that humility + service = greatness. Prideful people usually don’t serve unless they do it out of wrong motives. Do you know how to be last? Let that question sink into your conscience. Let it measure your true greatness. And ask yourself, If someone tested you for the next year on whether or not you were a humble servant, what would that person find? Would you show yourself to be great? Would you imitate Jesus and descend to greatness? Or do you have trouble taking a backseat and being last?

I Came to Serve

Jesus’ ultimate act of humility is described in a poetic formula that Paul likely borrowed from a first-century hymn. The song tells the story of Jesus in his glory making the tough choice to get down and dirty on earth as a human servant. Paul writes, “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). What “divine privileges” did he give up? Jesus did not give up his deity. But he did give up his rights to full glory, complete majesty, a sinless environment, and continuous praise. The Greatest gave all that up to be last.

When you think about it, Jesus gave up majesty for a mud hole. He came from a trophy room to a cold, smelly manger and a sickly world. Hollywood’s Cribs has nothing on the mansion and glory Jesus left behind. He gave up a throne room of perfect peace for a place of conflict, where abuse, criticism, suffering, ridicule, and indescribable pain would follow him for thirty-three years and ultimately take his life.

Paul’s words in Philippians 2:6-8 make it clear that Jesus’ painful and humble service was no accident. He didn’t come expecting to receive glory and the accolades of the world. He knew all along that true greatness lives in the form of lowly service. He knew that the path to success in God’s economy required a descent to greatness—an unusual twist in our expectations.

Our culture presumes that being first, richest, hippest, happiest, and most liked is the key to finding joy and contentment, the key to being great. The good life is marked by convenience and freebies. Even the church, in some instances, mistakes a blessed life with an easy and unchallenged life. But Jesus calls us to give up our pretensions of greatness defined by fame, carefree living, or accomplishment. Contrary to popular opinion, greatness is defined by the humble and often hidden actions of a person who has given up on coming out on top. It’s consistently putting Jesus and others first. Living a life of greatness is actually walking a difficult path of self-sacrifice and inconvenience, driven by a greater concern for others. A truly great person does not need to be served but is bent on serving others. Jesus said it himself: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 28:20).

So now, let us begin the journey of being last and descending to greatness.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Try Darkness by James Scott Bell

About the Book: Ty Buchanan is living on the peaceful grounds of St. Monica’s, far away from the glamorous life he led as a rising trial lawyer for a big L.A. firm. Recovering from the death of his fiancĂ©e and a false accusation of murder, Buchanan has found his previous ambitions unrewarding. Now he prefers offering legal services to the poor and the underrepresented from his “office” at local coffee bar The Freudian Sip. With his new friends, the philosophizing Father Bob and basketball-playing Sister Mary Veritas, Buchanan has found a new family of sorts.
One of his first clients is a mysterious woman who arrives with her six-year-old daughter. They are being illegally evicted from a downtown transient hotel, an interest that Ty soon discovers is represented by his old law firm and his former best friend, Al Bradshaw. Buchanan won’t back down. He’s going to fight for the woman’s rights.
But then she ends up dead, and the case moves from the courtroom to the streets. Determined to find the killer and protect the little girl, who has no last name and no other family, Buchanan finds he must depend on skills he never needed in the employ of a civil law firm.
The trail leads Buchanan through the sordid underbelly of the city and to the mansions and yachts of the rich and famous. No one is anxious to talk.
But somebody wants Buchanan to shut up. For good.
Now he must use every legal and physical edge he knows to keep himself and the girl alive.
Once again evoking the neo-noir setting of contemporary Los Angeles, Bell delivers another thriller where darkness falls and the suspense never rests.

My Thoughts: I love legal thrillers and I love this one! I'm just a little half way done with it, but it's so fun! I can't wait to find other James Scott Bell books! Full Review to come!

Really Important Stuff! An Award! Announcements!!

First, the winners of Love as a Way of Life are Jen and Jenn! Jenn didn't leave a comment but she sent me a note via the contact form. She's an old friend and new to blogging so I'm showing her some grace. :) Ladies, please email me your addresses so I can mail you your books!

Annonymous Comments Now Allowed
J. Kaye featured my post on 5 Tips for Being a Friendly Blogger on her blog today and I learned a major unfriendly thing I've been doing! I block annonymous comments. So I am allowing them now, but if anyone is rude to another commenter or to me your comment is going! This is a place of friendship. ;)

My First Interview
I did an interview about the 40 Day Fast with Charley of Cross Driven Radio. (go to his website to find the link) It will air tomorrow at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Well, I'm sharing air space with the famous Brody Harper, so my part will start at 2:30...it will be available in podcast form later, so if your computer blocks radio, you can hopefully hear it later. You know, if you're interested. :)

Mark Your Calenders
August 15th is the first review day for the LOST challenge. I look forward to hearing about your progress and hope to have a prize ready, too. So get reading!

August 25th-29th is going to be Daughters of Boston week around here as we celebrate the follow-up to A Passion Most Pure. There will be giveaways and a new interview with Julie. Yay!

September 15th-19th I'm going to host something brand new...Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Details to come, but I will need everyone's help in getting the word out.

I Got an Award!
TWO awesome bloggers awarded me with this new award! I'm so thrilled because I love them both. Visit their blogs now! Tara's View of the World and Booking Mama.
I'm supposed to nominate seven more, and so here goes...

Welcome to Married Life. Okay get this. Krista stumbled onto my blog and then we found out we had a connection! She knows my sister from having spent time at Portantorchas! Amazing! Krista doesn't post multiple times daily like myself, which means she only shares if it's really important. :) Her blog is always fun to read.

This is Kristin Kristin inspires me. We work together on Inspired to Action and she seems like a very genuinely nice person. Her blog is about her life and motherhood.

5 Minutes for Books This blog is brand new and inspired from the site 5 Minutes for Mom. I love that they are doing it and they will be starting a new feature for us feature loving book bloggers called What's On Your Nightstand next week.

Camy's Loft Camy is the author of Sushi for One?, Only Uni, and the forthcoming Single Sashimi. She posts regularly and I always love the pictures of her dog. She's friendly and she answers my tweets. She rocks!

Vader's Mom Ok, I totally love the pictures of Stacy's dog, Vader, too. We share in common a deep love for all things Buffy. Need I say more? Oh and she's a friendly blogger!

The Law, Books, and Life Cara Putnam is a newly published Christian author who always has interesting things to share about the law, books, and life! :)

Fashionista Piranha Suzi is a LT buddy who writes great reviews. And your books are coming, I promise!

Once an award is received, the rules are:

1. Put the logo on your blog.

2. Add a link to the person who awarded you.

3. Nominate at least seven other blogs.

4. Add links to those blogs on your blog.

5. Leave a message for your nominee on their blog.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I'm Just Another American--My Thoughts on Dark Knight

So, here's the thing. I wasn't really all that interested in seeing Dark Knight. Don't get me wrong, I quite typically adore Batman...after all Batman was a favorite in my house growing up. Kapow!

Ahem. Anyway, I remember watching Batman Begins and feeling.....bored. I don't really know why, I just thought it was long and...I don't know.

So I wasn't all super pumped to see this one. And I thought the Joker seemed over the top creepy in the trailers. Quite honestly I was looking forward to the X-Files about a million times more.

And then I read Brant Hansen's post. And it actually made me kind of curious (and depressed). Could this really be emptiest movie ever? I know, I know, Brant says his post was not really about the movie so much as our bread and circuses culture.

So on a whim, I went and saw it tonight. And guess what? I liked it.

So I guess I'm just another American. Yes, I do get a tiny rush when I watch big summer blockbuster movies with lots of things crashing and shooting and blowing up. I admit it. I also enjoy a fine looking Christian Bale (who will always be Laurie to me). I'm only human. I also like stories about the superhero I've known about almost as long as I've known about Jesus. I love stories about inner conflict, good vs. evil and all that jazz. I didn't think this movie was empty at all, nor did I think it was lacking in story. Sometimes movies can achieve things visually to assist the telling of a story that other mediums of storytelling cannot. Like a complete landscape of darkness.

Brant didn't like the movie. But I think there have to be more pointlessly violent (I actually didn't think it was that violent) films than this. Like maybe Kill Bill (even though I liked those too...what's wrong with me???)

I actually thought the portrayal of the Batman/Joker relationship was not all that different from the flawed cop/serial killer sort of storyline.

So there you have it. Do we like entertainment in America? Yes. Are we addicted to it? Yes. Is it all bad and pointless and unredeemable? No way. Is it what you make of it? Maybe. In the same a classic novel can be read for entertainment by one person and change the life of another. Do I think Brant has a valid argument? Yes, but I don't think using this film was the best way to make his point.

Did you see Dark Knight? Your thoughts?

(by the way LOST fans...Richard Alpert is in it!! That guy is everywhere!)

Kristy Dykes is Home with the Lord

The very wonderful and bizarre thing about the blogosphere is that it opens doors into the lives and hearts of people you would not have known otherwise. This is the case with Kristy Dykes for me.

I didn't actually even know her, only that she posted comments on a blog I lurked on so I started lurking on hers sometimes, too. I learned a little bit about her and her family...that she loved God and yes loved her family. She published some books, some Christian love stories. (the name of her blog)

Last year, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her blog transformed into the chronicle of an ultimate Christian love story as she and her husband invited their friends and readers into the circle of their suffering and thus also displayed the depth of their love for each other and for God.

Yesterday Kristy passed away. She is now in a place where there is no suffering, no tears and where she can fully know just as she has been fully and lovingly and tenderly known all along. There is still pain for the family left behind and I pray for them today and ask you to pray for them, too.

You can read Milton and Kristy's story at Kristy's blog, Christian Love Stories

This is my contribution to Positive Post Tuesday.

The Couch Potato Challenge 08...It's On


So about er, 6 weeks ago when I announced the LOST Books Challenge, I promised another non-book, non-LOST related challenge would be coming in a week.

And then I got really busy with the 40 Day Fast and work related things. And I didn't have time to pull this challenge together. Today I looked at my calendar and realized my fun summer challenge needed to get in gear before summer was over! So here it is:

Q: What is this?
A: I have admitted on this blog several times that I haven't seen many iconic films. I have never seen a James Bond film. I haven't seen the Terminator movies. I've never seen Casablanca. And I need a little encouragement to watch some of this stuff I'm interested in watching, but might not be the first thing I put in my Blockbuster queue.

Q: Why are you dragging other people into this?
A: Because it will be fun! And unless you sit around watching movies all the time and do absolutely nothing else with your life, you have gaps in your film viewing history as well!

Q: Do you realize this is the exact opposite of Kat's challenge?
Well, yes. But the good news is you can do both! I am doing the challenge at Kat's blog as well!

Q: Why are you calling it the Couch Potato Challenge then? It's sort of humiliating.
A: I do apologize, but it was the only thing I could think of!

Q: Are there any rules?
A: Yes. You need to make a list of 4-8 films that you think you should see or would like to watch and watch them by September 20th. I lowered the number since summer is marching by without pausing for a breath. You must have one of your choices be from this list and one choice from this list. The only exception to movies is if you choose to watch the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, LOST, The Closer, or 24. Has to be the first season and has to be one of those shows because I'm mean like that. :)

Q: What's in it for us?
A: Everyone who signs up before July 29th and completes the challenge by September 20th will be entered into a drawing for a ten dollar Blockbuster gift card! But even more than that you will be more well rounded culturally!

Q: How do I sign up?
A: So glad you asked! Just write a post on your blog announcing your plans to participate in the challenge and which films you plan to watch. Make sure to include a link back to this post so that your readers can get in on the fun as well. Then come back here and sign the Mr. Linky with the direct link to your post and NOT your general url. I will also put up a post with a Mr. Linky that you can come back to add links to your reviews. Reviews aren't required but a wrap-up post at the end of the challenge is to be eligible for the prize.

Sound good? I hope you join in the fun! It's just a silly summer challenge and way to clear a few movies lingering at the bottom of your Blockbuster/Netflix queue out.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Ten CDs I Love #3: Jane Siberry When I Was a Boy

This CD is one of those cds that I have listened to no less than ten thousand times since I first discovered it in high school. It was the perfect CD to listen to when my heart was all shattered over a boy, and yet I have continued to love it long after that. I have many other Jane Siberry recordings, but none have quite captured the same beauty and longing and wistfulness of this one.

Ok, I just looked up the videos and I'm afraid they will scare you away! This album really is very unique and so I'm just posting a snippet of the song "Love is Everything" which probably is a bit more normal than the rest of the album. It's not the whole song, but will give you a feel for the album.



I'd love to know if any of the rest of you like Jane Siberry!

You can check out more Music Monday posts at The Secret Life of Kat!

Read post one in this series.
Read post two in this series.

Teen FIRST: Watcher in the Woods



It's May 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 21st, we will feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book's FIRST chapter!


and his book:



Thomas Nelson (May 6, 2008)




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Robert Liparulo is an award-winning author of over a thousand published articles and short stories. He is currently a contributing editor for New Man magazine. His work has appeared in Reader's Digest, Travel & Leisure, Modern Bride, Consumers Digest, Chief Executive, and The Arizona Daily Star, among other publications. In addition, he previously worked as a celebrity journalist, interviewing Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Charlton Heston, and others for magazines such as Rocky Road, Preview, and L.A. Weekly. He has sold or optioned three screenplays.

Robert is an avid scuba diver, swimmer, reader, traveler, and a law enforcement and military enthusiast. He lives in Colorado with his wife and four children.

Here are some of his titles:

House of Dark Shadows (Dreamhouse Kings Book 1)

Comes a Horseman

Germ

Deadfall


Product Details

List Price: $14.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (May 6, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1595544968
ISBN-13: 978-1595544964


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

1

At twelve years old, David King was too young to die. At least he thought so.

But try telling that to the people shooting at him.

He had no idea where he was. When he had stepped through the portal, smoke immediately blinded him. An explosion had thrown rocks and who-knew-what into his face. It shook the floor and knocked him off his feet. Now he was on his hands and knees on a hardwood floor. Glass and splinters dug into his palms. Somewhere, all kinds of guns were firing. Bullets zinged overhead, thunking into walls—bits of flying plaster stung his cheeks.

Okay, so he wasn’t sure the bullets were meant for him. The guns seemed both near and far. But in the end, if he were hit, did it matter whether the shooters meant to get him or he’d had the dumb luck to stumble into the middle of a firefight? He’d be just as dead.

The smoke cleared a bit. Sunlight poured in from a school-bus-sized hole in the ceiling. Not just the ceiling—David could see attic rafters and the jagged and burning edges of the roof. Way above was a blue sky, soft white clouds.

He was in a bedroom. A dresser lay on the floor. In front of him was a bed. He gripped the mattress and pushed himself up.

A wall exploded into a shower of plaster, rocks, and dust. He flew back. Air burst from his lungs, and he crumpled again to the floor. He gulped for breath, but nothing came. The stench of fire—burning wood and rock, something dank and putrid—swirled into his nostrils on the thick, gray smoke. The taste of cement coated his tongue. Finally, oxygen reached his lungs, and he pulled it in with loud gasps, like a swimmer saved from drowning. He coughed out the smoke and dust. He stood, finding his balance, clearing his head, wavering until he reached out to steady himself.

A hole in the floor appeared to be trying to eat the bed. It was listing like a sinking ship, the far corner up in the air, the corner nearest David canted down into the hole. Flames had found the blankets and were spreading fast.

Outside, machine-gun fire erupted.

David jumped.

He stumbled toward an outside wall. It had crumbled, forming a rough V-shaped hole from where the ceiling used to be nearly to the floor. Bent rebar jutted out of the plaster every few feet.

More gunfire, another explosion. The floor shook.

Beyond the walls of the bedroom, the rumble of an engine and a rhythmic, metallic click-click-click-click-click tightened his stomach. He recognized the sound from a dozen war movies: a tank. It was rolling closer, getting louder.

He reached the wall and dropped to his knees. He peered out onto the dirt and cobblestone streets of a small village. Every house and building was at least partially destroyed, ravaged by bombs and bullets. The streets were littered with chunks of wall, roof tiles, even furniture that had spilled out through the ruptured buildings.

David’s eyes fell on an object in the street. His panting breath froze in his throat. He slapped his palm over his mouth, either to stifle a scream or to keep himself from throwing up. It was a body, mutilated almost beyond recognition. It lay on its back, screaming up to heaven. Male or female, adult or child, David didn’t know, and it didn’t matter. That it was human and damaged was enough to crush his heart. His eyes shot away from the sight, only to spot another body. This one was not as broken, but was no less horrible. It was a young woman. She was lying on her stomach, head turned with an expression of surprised disbelief and pointing her lifeless eyes directly at David.

He spun around and sat on the floor. He pushed his knuckles into each eye socket, squeegeeing out the wetness. He swallowed, willing his nausea to pass.

His older brother, Xander, said that he had puked when he first saw a dead body. That had been only two days ago—in the Colosseum. David didn’t know where the portal he had stepped through had taken him. Certainly not to a gladiator fight in Rome.

He squinted toward the other side of the room, toward the shadowy corner where he had stepped into . . . wherever this was . . . whenever it was. Nothing there now. No portal. No passage home. Just a wall.

He heard rifle shots and a scream.

Click-click-click-click-click . . . the tank was still approaching.

What had he done? He thought he could be a hero, and now he was about to get shot or blown up or . . . something that amounted to the same thing: Dead.

Dad had been right. They weren’t ready. They should have made a plan.

Click-click-click-click-click.

David rose into a crouch and turned toward the crumbled wall.

I’m here now, he thought. I gotta know what I’m dealing with, right? Okay then. I can do this.

He popped up from his hiding place to look out onto the street. Down the road to his right, the tank was coming into town over a bridge. Bullets sparked against its steel skin. Soldiers huddled behind it, keeping close as it moved forward. In turn, they would scurry out to the side, fire a rifle or machine gun, and step back quickly. Their targets were to David’s left, which meant he was smack between them.

Figures.

At that moment, he’d have given anything to redo the past hour. He closed his eyes. Had it really only been an hour? An hour to go from his front porch to here?

In this house, stranger things had happened. . . .