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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Introducing The Work at Home Girls!

Let's face it: a lot of people want (and in some cases need) to set their own hours and work from home. Are you one of those people? What's stopping you? If you're serious about making money from home, you'll do what it takes - including investing in your own learning-either to get your company off to a strong start or to help you move to the next level more quickly. Work at Home Girls is designed to help you.

WAHG Affiliate button

The Work at Home Girls is the brainchild of Jill Hart and Mary Byers, two successful work at home moms and authors. They've teamed up to offer help, ideas, challenges and mentorship from for women that work at home. Jill and Mary have over 20 years combined experience running a business from home. One is a techie (Jill, founder of Christian Work at Home Moms and author of So You Want to be a Work-at-Home Mom) and the other is a wordsmith (Mary, freelance editor and author of five books, including Making Work at Home Work).They've teamed up to share what they wish mentors had shared with them when they started their businesses over a decade ago. The Work at Home Girls share their Simple Secrets to make your business a SUCCESS -

Traits of Successful Work-at-Home Business Owners
By Mary Byers and Jill Hart

While many people like the idea of working in their pajamas and having a minute-commute down the hallway, not everyone is cut out to work from home. Those who do so successfully have the following traits:

Passion. It’s essential to love what you do and do what you love when working from home. Passion will keep you going even when the going gets tough, as it does in even the best of jobs.

Self-Motivation. It’s important that you’re a self-starter, especially when you are your own boss. There’s no one to motivate you other than yourself when you are self-employed.

Resourcefulness. Work -at-home CEOs aren’t just the head of the company, they ARE the company. That means being the janitor, the technology guru, the marketing manager, and the brains behind the operation. Often, this requires skills you don’t possess. But when you’re resourceful, you’ll be able to find the knowledge you need to keep your business moving forward.

Confidence. It takes guts to run your own enterprise and confidence to manage it effectively. Though there will be times you experience self-doubt, overall you need to have the confidence that you can, and will, figure things out when you run into obstacles.

Like this? Want more? Join the most recent teleseminars!


* Making Your Business Work for You: How to Choose, Launch and Run a Winner (available soon as a download)

* Realistic Expectations: What You Need to Know About Working from Home Successfully (available soon as a download)

* Marketing Your Business Online (October 26)

* The Business of Business: Rev Up Your Profit! (November 2)


Work at Home Girls give you specifics, examples and personal business experience that you won't find anywhere else! Check them out today!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

It's all about relationships!

Today as I read Mary DeMuth's devotional ezine: Inside reNEWal - one of her articles (below) totally struck a cord with me. As a publicist, I'm constantly discussing strategies for marketing with my clients. While we'd love to do a quick one-time campaign that will Spread the Word (oh that it would work that way - nice to be famous overnight. :) ), it just doesn't (usually) work like that.

Often the successful author is the one who connects and build relationships with their readers. Yes, it takes time, but it is SO worth it! Mary's article sums it up perfectly! (oh, and be sure to subscribe to her ezine - it's AMAZING! You can sign up on her homepage.)


Mary's A Slow Burn (Defiance Texas Trilogy, Book 2) just released last month (I haven't had a chance to read it yet. I'm waiting for time to slowly savor it. I LOVED the first book in the series, Daisy Chain (Defiance Texas Trilogy, Book 1) - great story, great writing.) Read what people are saying and pick up copies for yourself!

Connecting

Recently a friend said to me, "Mary, you're truly gifted at bringing people together." I smiled. What an amazing compliment! I do love to gather folks. I love creating and fostering community in all sorts of different ways. I love for people to meet other fascinating people.

After my daughter read The Tipping Point for class, she told me, "Mom, you're a connector." I sensed I might be after I read Gladwell's words. He asserts connectors are the people who "link us up with the world . . . people with a special gift for bringing the world together . . . a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack for making friends and acquaintances."

Although I struggled as a child in social situations, feeling small and awkward at times, God saw fit to deeply heal those insecurities enough to help me look beyond myself, to notice others, to see a friend who had a need and connect her to another friend who could fill that need. Recently my friend Ashley wrote, "One more thing ... you are the queen of networking queens. Do you know anyone who plays the Cello? Of course you do! You are Mary DeMuth, queen of the networking queens!"

I don't write this to draw attention to my networking or connecting prowess. There are many of you reading this who share the same gifts. But here is what I'm learning. This God-given connecting trait is not one that automatically helps me succeed as a writer. It's more of a gradual, piece by relational piece building.

And I'm finally seeing some fruit after years and years of connecting, networking, talking, interacting, and bringing folks together. The Lord reminded me of this yesterday as A Slow Burn launched. On the day of the launch, Amazon boasted 45 reviews. I've never seen that happen before. I believe the myriad reviews aren't a result of some fluke. I am guessing it's a combination of the years of work I've done behind the literary scenes doing two things:

Learning the ins and outs of writing well.
Learning the ins and outs of loving people well.

Again, I truly don't want to make this post a lovefest for Mary. But what I do want to do is encourage those of you who feel your own particular style of marketing and promotion is unseen. It may be. But with perseverance and diligence, over years, your efforts will eventually pay off. Just don't give up. Keep connecting your friends to each other. Keep listening to folks. Keep doing little things that don't seem to add up. Keep on your own you-shaped path, even if it doesn't look flashy or markety. Be you. Every day. And trust that God will bless the works of your hands.

Find out more about Mary, her books and her writing critique site, The Writing Spa here!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A few of my favorite reads for fall!

I'VE LOVED THIS SERIES!

and the book:

Pièce de Résistance

WaterBrook Press (September 15, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Sandra Byrd is a best-selling author of books for adults, teens, and children. Her notable series include the Friends for a Season series, the Secret Sisters series and the French Twist series, which includes the first two Lexi Stuart novels, the Christy Finalist Let them Eat Cake and its sequel, Bon Appetit. A regular contributor to newspapers and magazines, Sandra lives in Washington state with her husband and two children.

Visit the author's website.


Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (September 15, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1400073294
ISBN-13: 978-1400073290

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Everything you want is out there waiting for you to ask.

Everything you want also wants you.

But you have to take action to get it.


Jules Renard


If I had known exactly where and in what kind of trouble I was about to land, I’d have stayed in Paris.

“Come on, dear.” A wizened woman dragged a shuffling friend past me and down the long carpeted hallway. “We don’t want to get in the way of Rosa’s granddaughter, even if she’s sitting on our couch.” She threw a dirty look over her shoulder.

I started to stand up and get out of her way, but she disdainfully waved me back into my seat.

“WHO?” her friend shouted as I sank back down.

“ROSA’S GRANDDAUGHTER. She’s sprawling on our couch.” I flinched at the vocal hurricane, but no one else seemed to notice. Or maybe they just couldn’t hear it.

For the time being, I was crashing at the guest apartment at my nonna’s retirement community. Where else could I get in on such short notice? It was twenty dollars a night, and only for a week or so…I hoped. “Well, they do have a lot of singles,” I’d told my best friend, Tanya, as she laughed at the news. “And they do love what’s left of life.”

“I think it’s cute,” she’d said. “You can get a personalized pill container and swap horrible doctor stories.”

“Ha ha,” I’d answered. “Be careful, or I’ll hold your bridal shower there on bingo night.”

I’d stayed with my parents on Whidbey Island for the two weeks since I’d been home from France. Yesterday they’d dropped me and my gear off at the retirement community, though most of my stuff was still in storage awaiting my “real” apartment. And now I sat in the common room, not realizing I’d poached what someone considered her personal couch, waiting for the afternoon bus to take me to my new job.

I checked my watch again. To pass the time, I thumbed through the Gideon’s Bible sitting on the side table, flipping by chance to the first chapter of Philippians and scanning the extra large print until my eye caught something that hooked into my heart.


And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and

more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be

able to discern what is best.


Oh yeah, I thought. Bring on the discernment. I was starting a new job—the job I’d been hoping for all my life and at which I desperately wanted to succeed. And I found myself embroiled in a romantic crisis where I not only didn’t hold all the cards, but the men involved had turned surprisingly poker-faced about their intentions.

Lost in thought, it took me a minute to realize that a kindly looking man had sat down next to me. He tried valiantly, but unsuccessfully, to clear the phlegm from his throat. I scooted over to both accommodate him and to offer us some personal space. He kept looking at me, but as soon as I looked back at him, he glanced away.

Finally he spoke. “Who are you?” he asked quietly. “And what are you doing here?”

That was indeed the question, and not only for my current living situation. I wished I had an answer.

Nonna breezed in through the lobby, snapping her mauve umbrella shut with a force that belied her age. She kissed the cheek of her companion, Stanley Jones, who tottered off to his own apartment, then came to get me.

“Lexi, love,” she said. “I’m glad I got here in time to see you off. Let’s wait by the door. The bus will be here soon.” On the way through the foyer, she whispered, “I thought I’d mentioned, dear—don’t sit on any upholstered furniture in the common areas. When you get to be my age, many of us have incontinence problems.”

Shocked, I reached around and felt my backside, not caring who saw me. Whew. Dry.

Nonna giggled at my distress, taking everything about aging in stride, as she always did, and looped her arm through mine. “I’m glad you’re home.”

I grinned back at her. “Me too, Nonna.”

“Why can’t one of those nice young men drive you to work today?” she asked.

“I don’t want to ask them. It’s…awkward. I’m not sure where I’m going with either of them right now, and they both have their own jobs.”

“Seems to me a man who likes a woman would offer her a ride,” Nonna sniffed.

“I’m sure plenty of men hitched up their buggies and took you to work back in the day,” I teased.

She grinned wickedly and leaned over to kiss my cheek. “So tell me about the Frenchman.”

“His name is Philippe. He’s really nice, a great baker, and has the most adorable daughter named Céline. He’s taking Luc’s place, the one who moved back to France.”

“He’s one of the owners of the bakery?” she asked, checking creds, as always.

“Yes, Nonna,” I said. “He’s an owner. He’s Luc’s cousin, and the whole family owns all the bakeries.”

“What about that lawyer you were seeing before you went to Paris?”

“Dan?” I kept my voice even.

“Mm-hmm.”

“He’s…here still. Of course. I just talked with him a few days ago. It was his suggestion, actually, for the Delacroix Company to lease the space I’ll be working in. The new bakery.”

“That was nice of him. Who’s the better looking of the two?”

“I’m glad to see your values haven’t changed!” I said, but com- pared them in my mind anyway. Philippe was definitely good looking in a continental way, dark blond hair that just touched his shoulders, a bit taller than me. Dan was built bigger, taller, with broad shoulders I loved to see set off by suspenders. His strawberry blond hair perfectly matched his lightly tanned complexion.

“You’re thinking about it, aren’t you?” Nonna poked me out of my daydream. “Gotcha!”

She laughed, and I laughed with her as the rain slid down the outside of the window, my hometown Seattle lights blinking away in the drops. “Thanks for seeing me off today. I won’t be long. Just meeting Margot and getting a quick run-through.”

“Of course I’m seeing you off ! Everyone is jealous that my granddaughter is here. I need to brag.”

I saw the bus rounding the corner about a half mile down the road. Nonna saw it too.

“Go get ’em,” she said. “And bring something home from the bakery. Anything with fruits and nuts will be right at home in this place.” She grinned, but I knew she loved her home and her friends.

I walked out the door and started toward the covered bus stop. Not a moment later, though, a motorcycle pulled up and parked in front of the retirement center door a few feet away. Even with the helmet on, I recognized him immediately.

“Philippe!”

What is he doing here? Quickly followed by, He looks good!

“Good afternoon, mademoiselle.” He hopped off the bike and walked toward me, holding out a helmet. “As your employer, it’s my responsibility to get you to work on your first day at the new job, n’est-ce pas? And I was eager to see you again. Sophie told me where to find you and what bus you were likely to take.”

“Oh, thank you,” I said. I introduced him to Nonna, who’d come running out as soon as she’d seen me talking with a guy. “This is my grandmother, Rosa. Nonna, this is my…friend, Philippe.”

“Enchanté.” Philippe kissed her hand.

“Enchantée,” Nonna responded, pulling back her shoulders and making sure the gathering crowd, their noses pressed against the retirement center’s front windows, witnessed the exchange.

As I got on the back of the bike, I said, “I had no idea you had a motorcycle here. Do you also have a car?”

“Oui,” he said, “I do. Luc left his car for me, and I gave him mine in France. But I thought a motorcycle would be fun too.”

He sped up a little, and as he turned the corner out of the retirement center’s curved driveway, I recognized the truck pulling in.

Dan!

I’d told him I’d be staying with Nonna and had planned to take the bus.

I caught his eye, and he caught mine, and I saw the bouquet of flowers carefully propped in the passenger seat. I had no time to wave before Philippe accelerated and we sped off.

I turned my head and squeezed my eyes shut to avoid seeing Dan’s reaction. Nonna would explain it to him.

Nonna was liable to say anything.

A few minutes later, Philippe pulled the bike up in front of a long, black marble-fronted building in the Fremont district.

“Eh voilà!” he said, parking and then holding a hand out to me. “This is it. Do you like it?”

I took his hand, got off the back of the bike, and looked at the building. There were already two gold fleurs-de-lis over the front door, with the gold-lettered word Bijoux—meaning “jewels,” the name of the bakery—centered over the door. Otherwise, it was a blank slate.

“It’s beautiful!” I walked to the huge picture windows and looked in. The room was mostly empty, holding only a jumble of boxes and supplies, and some tarps left over from a recent paint job. But what lines, what bones. What this place could be!

“I can’t believe I never noticed this building before,” I said. “It’s perfectly perfect.”

Philippe laughed. “It’s been recently restored. That’s one of the reasons Luc was drawn to it…until he found out it couldn’t be used for a restaurant. But, ooh la la, what a bakery, n’est-ce pas? Après toi, mademoiselle,” he said, holding the front door open for me.

I expected to be greeted by the chic calm the exterior promised. Instead, I was blasted by a streak of blue French from the kitchen.

“Margot?” I asked in a small voice.

Philippe grimaced. “Oui. La Margot.”

Philippe’s sister Margot was the one downside to this dream job. Since she was a great baker and a member of the family, she didn’t worry that her attitude might lose her a job. She didn’t bother to sweeten it either.

“Bonjour,” Philippe called in what I recognized as his fake singsong voice. I felt torn between my desire to see my new kitchen and my desire to flee at once. Philippe decided for me, pushing me forward.

“C’est Lexi,” he introduced me to Margot.

“Nice to see you again,” I said in English. It was the polite thing to say, even if I didn’t mean it. She ignored me.

“I’m glad we’ll be working together,” I tried in French, an even graver lie. She didn’t return the favor or grasp my hand, but she grunted. French it was, then.

“Alors.” Philippe led the way toward the back of the kitchen. “This part,” he indicated with his hand, “will be mostly for pastries, which Margot will do. She’ll be here part time and at the other bakeries part time too.” He smiled widely and indicated the largest part of the kitchen. “And this will be for the cakes and catering. That’s you!”

I looked at my part of the kitchen. Marble and stainless counters, and lots of tall glass-fronted cabinets for ingredients. A pair of gleaming industrial mixers. Drawers full of equipment, but not in the easiest-to-reach places. I didn’t know who placed some of the utensils and tools. Maybe the guys who’d brought equipment over from the other bakeries.

“It’s everything I could want,” I said. And it was. My own kitchen. Tiny though it was, it was mine.

Philippe opened an armoire. “Here’s where you’ll store the paperwork and computer, and the phone even fits in there. Will this be enough space for the accounting books?”

I blinked and answered, “I guess so.” He’d be a better judge of that than I would.

Margot slammed a drawer, and when I turned around, I saw her grab her cigarettes and a lighter from the countertop. I wrinkled my nose. They should at least be hidden. As she headed out back, Philippe followed her. “Un moment,” he said, winking.

While they were gone, I turned the radio to a warm, low-key favorites station and began rearranging my work drawers. After ten minutes, I had them just so. I also rearranged my countertops and cake decorating materials so it made sense to me.

When Margot and Philippe came back in, I asked him, “How will the front be decorated? Will there be furniture arriving?”

He took my arm, and we headed to the big front room. I could already envision engaged couples choosing their cakes in a chic, refined, leather-furnished room.

“Hmm,” Philippe said. “I hadn’t thought too much on that topic. I am so busy at L’Esperance…” He shrugged, and I knew the burden of taking over their biggest US bakery. “Would you like to do it?”

“Would I?” I grinned. “I would!” I pictured deep blue drapes framing the windows and subtle gold cording. I’d make an appointment for a window etcher to etch the company name in gold on the glass, just like the Delacroix bakery in Versailles.

It was going to look fantastique.

When we got back to the kitchen, my countertops had been completely rearranged back to the previous nonsensical order. Margot’s back was turned toward me, and she quietly hummed along with the radio—not the station I’d turned on. I looked through my utensil drawers. All returned to the way they’d been before I’d fixed them moments ago. I looked at Philippe. He shrugged. I determined not to escalate things and left everything where it stood—for the moment.

“Lexi?” His voice softened. “I have a few questions about some things for Céline…”

“Oh, yes, when is she coming?” I asked, delighted at the prospect of hugging that sweet little bonbon again.

“She’s at her grandparents’ in London but will be here in a few days,” he said. “I’ve signed her up for the French-American school, but there are some other things…” He opened his briefcase and held out a folder. “Do you know a good doctor? a good dentist? And many other questions I need your help with.”

I found it endearing to see him a little vulnerable for once; he was always so in charge. It made him even more appealing.

“Of course I can help you.”

He smiled. “Perhaps we can talk about it at dinner tonight? Incredibly, I have found a quiet little bistro…”

He must have caught the look on my face, because he stopped mid sentence.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ve got dinner plans tonight.”

“Ah well.” He shrugged, but looked a little forlorn. “Perhaps another time.”

“Certainly,” I said. “Anytime this week. Stop by for lunch or let me know when it’s convenient.”

With that, he handed me a key and took his leave, and Margot left too. I locked the doors behind them and then sat on one of the bar stools next to the counter. I looked around.

It was all mine, my kitchen. Well, and Margot’s too. But I was no one’s assistant anymore. I was a chef.

I checked my watch, saw I had fifteen minutes to get to the restaurant where I’d agreed to meet Dan for dinner, and went to brush my hair. On the way out of Bijoux, before turning the lights out in the kitchen, I did two things.

I put Margot’s cigarettes and lighters into a drawer near her work station, and I turned the radio station back to the one I liked.

As soon as I walked into the restaurant, I saw him at a corner table. My eye caught his, and then my breath caught too. Dan was a good looking man in any pose, but when he smiled, he was downright divine. Though he’d picked me up at the airport and taken me to my parents’ house when I first got home from France, I hadn’t seen him since.

“The world traveler has returned,” he said, standing to pull my chair out and then scoot me back to the table.

“Do you mean from my travels in Paris or the urban oasis of Whidbey Island?” I grinned.

“Both.” He held out a bottle and a glass. “Wine?”

I nodded, and as the waiter came to take our order, we shared the last few weeks’ happenings, culminating in my announcement that I had been to Bijoux that day.

He nodded. “I left work early to come pick you up, but I arrived just a little too late.”

I knew he would bring that up. I knew it. And yet, we weren’t at the exclusive dating level yet, as far as I understood, so I didn’t have to explain myself to him, right? “Philippe thought it would be good to take me to work on my first day,” I said as casually as I could. “And he had the keys.”

Dan nodded and showed absolutely no emotion. Lawyer’s training, I supposed. A minute later, he loosened up again and asked about the kitchen and the countertops and what kind of oven it had—things nearly no non-baker would think to ask.

“Why are you interested in the ovens?” I teased.

“Because you are,” he said simply and without guile. And that was even more appealing than the dreamy smile.

I asked about his job too, and he regaled me with his latest case, somehow making the law funny, something my brother was never able to do. Then his phone rang.

He looked mortified. “I’m so sorry. I thought I turned it off. It’s new.” He took it from his pocket and fumbled for a minute to locate the Ignore button. Before the backlight went off, I saw the caller ID.

Nancy.

I met his eye and he looked away, and then the waiter brought our salads. While he ground some pepper for Dan, I reminded myself, You’re not at the exclusive dating level yet, as far as he understands, so he doesn’t have to explain himself to you, right?

Right.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


and the book:

Fear Not Tomorrow, God is Already There: Trusting Him in Uncertain Times

Howard Books (September 29, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:





Ruth Graham is the daughter of the revered American pastor Billy Graham. She has appeared on a variety of radio and television shows and is the author of the bestselling In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart.

Visit the author's website.




Product Details:

List Price: $22.99
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (September 29, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416558438
ISBN-13: 978-1416558439

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Trust at My Doorstep


Chapter 1




It had been a difficult few months. One of my children was struggling, and I didn’t know how things would play out. I was anxious, frightened, and continually preoccupied. I could imagine what might be ahead. The questions were relentless: What could I have done differently? Was it my fault? What could I do to change it? How could I protect my child? Was there another step I could take? I felt as if I were being sucked under by a whirlpool of scenes, conversations, and hypothetical outcomes. I lost weight. I battled headaches. I felt like I was constantly vibrating. The fear was overwhelming.


This particular day, the postman arrived at my door with a padded envelope. It was addressed to me in familiar back-slanted handwriting—something from Mother. Feeling the envelope, I knew it was too light to contain a book. What could it be? My birthday was still a long way off. As I tore at the flap and reached inside, I took hold of what felt like a long, narrow picture frame. Pulling it out, I stopped for a moment and stared. It was the framed print from the wall in front of Mother’s desk. In black calligraphy bordered by a flowering vine I read the familiar words: “Fear not tomorrow, God is already there.”

Instantly, I was transported back to the mountain home of my childhood in Montreat, North Carolina. My mother’s plain wooden desk flanked by a tall chest of drawers and a bookcase took up much of one wall in her room. Always lying open on the desk, surrounded by various reference materials, was her well-marked, dog-eared Bible. On the wall facing the desk hung a collection of precious photographs and artifacts: a crown of thorns woven for Mother by the head of the Jerusalem police, a slave collar given to her by Johnny Cash, a rude wooden cross fashioned by my brother Franklin, photographs of loved ones and of those for whom she was praying. Centered above these artifacts was the print I now held. I’m not sure where Mother got it or who gave it to her, only that I cannot remember a time when it wasn’t hanging there like a banner.

I imagined my mother standing on a chair in front of the desk, reaching to take the print off the wall. Sending me such a gift was just like Mother. All my life, since I left home for boarding school in the ninth grade, she had been sending me letters filled with encouragement from the Scriptures—bits of what she was learning in her own study time or wisdom for some situation I might be facing. Now here she was identifying with my mother’s heart, sending me a poignant reassurance. We had not talked much about the circumstances of my struggle. Mother just intuitively knew I might need something like this—a reminder that God was working in our lives and that he cared about our future. I appreciated her sensitivity. She didn’t blame or condemn me; she didn’t unload a lot of advice. She just sent me something that had been of value to her, something that had reassured her, no doubt, as she had mothered us. Standing on my doorstep, holding that print, I felt the words penetrate my heart and mind, almost as if I had never seen them before, as if they were a message written directly to me. I read them again slowly: “Fear not tomorrow, God is already there.”


Little Foxes

Since that day on my doorstep, I have faced quite a few threatening tomorrows, and I have battled fear and anxiety as resilient foes. Perhaps you have fought this same battle. We may experience moments of clarity, as I did reading my mother’s framed print, but then we return to daily life and to the struggle. We wonder how we’re supposed to “fear not tomorrow” in the worst-case scenarios of our lives: a frightening diagnosis, betrayal, separation from a child who has gone off to war, the loss of a job, the evaporation of our retirement, the drug addiction of a loved one, abandonment by a spouse, failure at our workplace, the loss of a home, a legal verdict that changes our lives, the death of a loved one, the exposure of a secret, the loss of our possessions to flood, earthquake, tornado, or financial disaster.

Fear not tomorrow? It is easy to say it but another thing to live it out. We drown in our questions: But what about . . . ? How will I . . . ? What if . . . ? But if I can’t even . . . ? Who will . . . ? And what does it mean that God is already there? Where? In our crises, God can seem silent, remote, or worse, even imaginary. You may feel as I have at times. I have real problems, and they are too big, too hard, too painful for me to solve. I don’t have time for theology. I’m in trouble here! I’m inadequate, and I need something real. Something practical. Something secure. Give me some solutions, some guarantees. Can’t you see that I’m terrified of tomorrow?

Fear and anxiety can exhaust us. King Solomon writes about the “little foxes that spoil the vines” (Song of Solomon 2:15 NKJV). Fear and anxiety are like that. Fear can wipe us out, burn up whatever energy we have, and hinder us from entering into the full experience of life that God desires for us. Certainly, fear and anxiety can become so severe they incapacitate us. But the majority of us live with fear and still function. I have heard fear compared to a jack hammer buzzing just outside the window. The noise is constantly there. When you sleep, the jack hammer quits, but when you wake up, it starts again, sapping your strength and attention until you’re no longer really living—just enduring.

Fear takes the air out of life. When we live with fear, we lose our capacity for fun and spontaneity. We can’t love others wholeheartedly. We become like that frog being boiled slowly. The water gets steadily hotter until we realize, “I’m not having any fun. I have no joy. I’m not alive. I’ve forgotten how to laugh.” During the difficult period with my child that I described above, I experienced fear in different ways. At times, I would have trouble functioning; at other times, I would be able to get up in the morning and do what was necessary. Up and down. Fear was that steady buzz or hum. I wasn’t able to hear the music of life clearly. Everything was filtered through that fear.

My mother was a master at finding ways to enjoy life despite the intense pressures she faced. She knew how to move fear out of the way and keep joy alive. Stories of her antics and pranks have become the stuff of legend in our family. As a young parent, for instance, I would tell my children, “Now don’t draw on yourselves.” Then I would leave the kids with Mother, only to find them covered in inky smiley faces that Mother herself had drawn! Once Mother made a mudslide for the grandchildren on the side of a steep embankment near our Montreat house. She turned on the hose and then promptly took her turn as the first one down. When much older, she accidently drove her car down that same steep embankment. Thinking she was stepping on the brake, she had stepped on the accelerator instead. She and her friend escaped unscathed, but afterward, Mother arranged for a stop sign to be staked at the bottom of the incline, lest other wayward drivers be tempted to take the same route!

Life is a gift from God to be enjoyed. Fear suffocates our spirits and robs us of that gift. It is human to experience the emotion of fear. Fear entered the human experience in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve rebelled against God and hid themselves from Him. But Peter describes Satan as a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” and I believe fear is also Satan’s paw print (1 Peter 5:8). It is true that some kinds fear can help us—the kind that keeps us from stepping into oncoming traffic, for instance, or putting our hand on a hot stove. At times, God may use fear to keep us from making wrong choices or wrong decisions in life. But these moments of fear are different from what the Bible calls the “spirit of fear,” which I might describe as the condition or attitude that takes hold when our emotion of fear consumes us (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV). As Paul writes, the spirit of fear does not come from God.

Shifting Our Focus

God is concerned about the way fear affects our lives. The Bible says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment” (1 John 4:18 NKJV). Fear involves torment. Torment is not God’s will for us. God is committed to our peace. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you” (John 14:27 NKJV). We read of Jesus, “He Himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14 NKJV). God has ordained peace for us (Isaiah 26:12). He did not design us to live in fear and anxiety but in peace. In Scripture, we find God repeatedly urging, commanding, people not to be afraid. God is not condemning us for feeling the emotion of fear, but He doesn’t want us to get stuck there or to set up camp in torment. The question is when we are at our wit’s end, how do we “fear not”? At such moments, peace can seem nothing more than an abstraction. We struggle even to imagine the experience.

Often, when we experience fear, we have allowed our circumstances to overwhelm or alter our perspective. Our perspective has become skewed. I have discovered that defeating fear in my life begins with shifting my focus. I take my eyes off the circumstances, off the source of my fear, and put my focus on God. Instead of mulling over the “what ifs” in my future—instead of looking ahead with anxiety, trepidation, dread, or even horror—I make the choice to look at God, to consider His character, and to trust that the One who loves me is “already there.” The message on Mother’s framed print helped me to make that kind of shift as I faced uncertainty with my child. I had been focusing on tomorrow; the words on the print brought my focus back to God.

Shifting our focus is first a decision, then a process. When we turn to God, our decision opens a door for peace and reassurance to enter our hearts. The Bible says of God, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You” (Isaiah 26:3 NKJV, emphasis added). When we focus on God, peace follows. I find that as I concentrate on God, as I examine facets of His character, as I spend time with Him in prayer, sharing my heart and quieting myself to listen, as I meditate on what His Word says about Him, as I read about Jesus and observe the way He handled life—as I “stay” my mind on God—my problems begin to lose their power over me. Instead, I become absorbed in the power, the beauty, and the love of God. He is my focus now. I am learning about Him and getting to know Him. And the more I learn, the more I discover I can trust Him.

In the coming chapters, we will be doing just what the verse above from Isaiah says—staying, or fixing, our minds on God. We will examine some of God’s attributes and consider His ways. We will study the character of Jesus, for in learning about Jesus, we learn about God. Scripture calls Jesus the “express image” of God (Hebrews 1:3 NKJV). Jesus Himself told His disciples, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9 NKJV). If we want to know what God is like, we can look at Jesus. We can ask: How did Jesus deal with people? What were His relationships like? How did He respond to people’s distress? As we focus on God this way, we can expect God’s peace to crowd out the fear in our hearts.

For some of us, focusing on God, or considering that He is “already there” in our tomorrow, is not exactly a comfort. We may be afraid of God. What little we know of Him, or what we don’t know of Him, frightens us. We fear He is out to lower the boom on us, that He is looking for our faults and eager to point out our failings. We are afraid of His power. Afraid of His judgment. Afraid of being overwhelmed by Him. It is our human nature to fear what we don’t understand, and we don’t understand God. He is unfathomable. He is so much more than we can imagine—far more. He is not accountable to us. He is mysterious, and mystery can be frightening. On seeing the Lord on the throne, Isaiah said, “Woe is me, for I am undone!” (Isaiah 6:5). Isaiah saw his frailty in light of God’s almightiness; he was awed by God’s holiness and glory.

But Scripture also calls God “Abba,” an intimate word for Father that we would translate “Daddy” (Romans 8:15). While God is overwhelming, He is also tender with us. In the New Testament, we see Jesus touching, healing, and relating intimately with people. Bette Midler recorded a song with the lyric, “God is watching us from a distance.” That line is only half-true. God is watching us. But not from a distance. Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23 NKJV). God comes close. He makes His home with us. He longs for us as a lover for his bride. We take God for granted, we don’t develop the relationship, we ignore Him, we don’t spend time with Him, and yet He stays with us, longing for that intimacy. God makes covenant with us, and He keeps it. To me, that is one of the most reassuring truths about God. He will never give me up. Never desert me. Never leave me alone. Never (Hebrews 13:5).

As we learn more about God in these pages and spend time focusing our attention on Him, our relationship with Him will deepen. The Bible promises that when we draw near to God, he will draw near to us (James 4:8). As our relationship with God grows, so will our trust in Him. We will discover His constancy. When everything around us is unstable, God is stable. His character is consistent, unchanging. His love is secure. My prayer is that the more you learn of God and the closer you get to Him, the more you will be able not only to trust Him with your tomorrow but also to take comfort in the fact that He is the One who is already there.


Overcoming Our Misperceptions

Part of our challenge in learning to trust God involves overcoming misperceptions we may have of Him. If my view of God is not accurate, then my trust in Him will be more hesitant than hopeful. Often our picture of God is colored by our experiences with our own fathers or with other figures of authority in our lives. If your father was cold and demanding, then you may see God that way. If your father was gone, as mine often was, then you may see God as far away or busy with other things. If an authority figure was angry or abusive, then you may see God the same way and want nothing to do with Him. We are relational beings, and as such, we are hardwired to measure God by our experiences with significant people.

I did not always view God as someone with whom I could be comfortable. As I shared, my father was gone much of the time, fulfilling his calling to preach the gospel. I knew my father loved me; I knew I was important to him. But I also knew the world needed him, and for many years, I saw God as being similarly occupied with others and unreachable. I have since learned that God is not like that.

In my book In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart, I share in detail about my life, my failures, and some of the ways God met me in my brokenness and redeemed it. I tell the story of what it was like to go home to Montreat after a major personal failure. Driving up the mountain to my parents’ home was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I had no idea what they would say to me or how they would respond. I had gone against everyone’s advice. As I saw it, I had failed myself, my family, my children, and God. I felt deserving of condemnation and rejection. What would my parents do? Would they say they had told me so? That I had made my bed and now would have to lie in it?

As I approached the top of the mountain, I saw my father standing there in the driveway. I parked the car and opened the door to get out, but before I could as much as set my feet on the asphalt, my father was at my side. He wrapped his arms around me, and I heard him say, “Welcome home.” His acceptance instantly silenced my shame. I was broken, but I no longer feared. My father had embraced me at my worst and loved me anyway. I experienced grace. I would not compare my father with God, but that day my father showed me in a very practical, gracious way what God is like.

Through that experience, I was able to get a glimpse of the unconditional love God has for me. It has taken me a while to get to a point where I finally see God as “Abba,” as Daddy. Learning to know God intimately has been a process. But through the fog of doubt, anxiety, and fear, I do see Him now as warm and embracing. He loves me, enjoys me, and wants me to know His joy. He will do anything to draw me in. He wants my heart. He wants my trust.

Many years ago I taught a Bible study entitled “Enjoying God” for the women at my home church. I was convinced most of us did not enjoy God. Even the title of the study made us a bit uncomfortable. Was it sacrilegious to “enjoy” God? Wasn’t He austere and stern? Holy and unapproachable? I wanted to explore the possibilities.

The first week’s homework was to imagine crawling into God’s lap and calling him Daddy. I think many were slightly put off by the assignment. Some had to deal with the damaged image of an earthly father. Some had difficulty seeing God in such an intimate way. Each week the assignment was the same. Gradually, I began to hear reports of breakthroughs. Some people took longer than others to connect with God, but we sensed God doing something profound in the group. My own life changed over the course of that study as I too began to see God intimately—as a secure place of comfort and peace. As I focused on Him, God was chipping away at my misperceptions, helping me to open my heart to His love. And He can do the same for you.

Why, God?

Our misperceptions of God can also be formed in the trials and heartaches of life. You may have a long scar of pain running through your life—a spouse leaving, the loss of a child, bankruptcy, illness, addiction, things that take the breath out of you. Perhaps you feel that God abandoned you in those experiences. That He must not care about you. That if He loved you, He wouldn’t have let you go through all that hurt. You wonder, “Why should I trust Him now?”

Why, God? This is a real question we ask when life happens and things seem to go badly. Why are You letting my life unravel? Don’t You love me? Didn’t You promise to protect me? How could You let this happen? In the valleys of life, we can feel as if God has betrayed us. That He isn’t trustworthy, as we once thought. That we’ll never again have a stable or secure place to stand. When devastation occurs and we can’t see God anywhere, our trust in Him can crumble to dust. We may even reject Him for a time.


I’ve lived through personal events that have left me reeling. I have written about suffering in a broken marriage. As the marriage began to come apart I couldn’t “feel” God. I couldn’t hold myself together. I described the way I felt back then: “Raw. Lonely. Exposed. Like an egg without a shell.” I wanted to know why those circumstances were happening to me. Perhaps you have felt this way too.

I’ve seen loved ones suffer through crushing experiences, and I’ve asked God why. Why did my friend’s first grandchild die just hours after birth? Why did a young missionary couple’s two-year-old child drown in the backyard? Why was my friend diagnosed with lung cancer though she never smoked a day in her life? We witness or live through destruction caused by tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes. We call them “acts-of-God,” and we wonder why God would allow them. Fear not tomorrow? How can we do anything but fear after all the devastation we’ve already seen?

God is not threatened by our why. People say we can’t ask why, but we can—we should. We’re in good company when we ask why. Jesus, Job, David, Jeremiah, and many others we would call “heroes of the faith” have asked why. Asking why is part of the human experience. When we ask God why, we are expressing our innermost emotions, our hurt and disappointment, and God wants us to do that. He works with honesty. He is not threatened by our questions and doubts. He invites us to express our feelings. We’re in a relationship with Him—He doesn’t want us to shut our emotions down. While God already knows how we feel, we need to know; and often we discover what is in our hearts as we express ourselves freely to Him.

But we can also get stuck at why. While asking why can be a stimulus for further exploration, understanding, and honest grappling, sometimes it can become a defense—a way to keep God out and to keep intimacy with Him at bay. We can go round and round in circles with why, never really intending to get anywhere. We can get comfortable with why. We would rather stay where we are than do the hard work of learning how to trust God again. And if we’re not careful, some people will keep us there. They will feed our why as long as we let them. At a certain point, what we actually may need is someone to pull us forward and say, “Hey, let’s explore why you feel this way. Let’s not give up on God.”

God invites us to wrestle with our why, our questions. He wrestles with us, as He wrestled with Jacob (Genesis 32:24–32). But finally the angel of God touched Jacob’s thigh and put it out of socket. I can hear the angel saying, “It’s enough now. Let’s go forward.” My Uncle Clayton Bell, my mother’s brother, died suddenly of a heart attack at age sixty-eight. He loved God passionately and was pastoring a thriving church. Those who loved him asked God why. Why take this dynamic man at his prime? Why not leave him here to serve You? Aunt Peggy, my uncle’s wife, suffered greatly, but there came a time when I remember her saying, “I’m going to lean into the pain.” Whatever her questions, she was going to “lean,” trusting God and expecting Him to be there.

At some point, trusting God becomes a step of faith. No one can prove God. You will have to make the choice to trust Him for yourself. Making that choice doesn’t mean you have settled your questions; you may not see those questions resolved in this life. But you can make the decision to try trusting God again. You can take a step forward with all your unresolved questions and invite God to reveal Himself. It’s okay to live with what I call “unfinishedness.” I think about my mother and how “finished” she looked in her relationship with God—as if everything were settled, everything clear. But when you read Mother’s poetry, you discover she was anything but finished. She simply learned to live with her questions and to trust God anyway.

Walking Forward

Why not bring your questions along as you walk forward to discover more about God in this book? You can invite God to work with you as you read. Ask Him to help you in your battle with fear. Ask Him to help you overcome your misperceptions of Him so you can trust Him for tomorrow. God longs to reveal Himself to you. Jesus said about those who love God, “I too will love them and show myself to them” (John 14:21 TNIV). God wants us to see Him for who He really is.

We don’t have to get it all at once. Trusting God is a process. Just as there are stages of life, there are stages of faith. Trust comes bit by bit. Our part is to be willing—willing to move, willing to try. God wants our willingness. Someone once said you can’t steer a car that isn’t moving. If we can just make the choice to move, God will meet us. I want to challenge you. Open yourself up to the possibility of what God can do in your life. Let Him show Himself worthy of your trust. Walk forward into these pages and decide for yourself about God. See if His intimate love is real. See for yourself. Don’t let your questions or misperceptions be hindrances. They don’t have to stop you from moving. Let’s get to know God better. Let’s discover Him. We can bring our baggage, our questions, our “why” right along with us.

****************************************************

Fear Not Tomorrow, God is Already There:

Trusting Him in Uncertain Times

Ruth Graham


Howard Books

West Monroe, Louisiana




[Refer to P4P regarding inclusion of purpose statement.]

Our purpose at Howard Books is to:

Increase faith in the hearts of growing Christians
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Scripture quotations not otherwise marked are from the New American Standard Bible®. Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. Scripture quotations marked AMP are from the Amplified Bible®, copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission (www.Lockman.org). Scripture quotations marked KJV are from the Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version. Scripture quotations marked NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked NLT are from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked The Message are from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked TNIV are taken from the Holy Bible, Today’s New International Version®. TNIV®. Copyright© 2001, 2005 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


and the book:

Think No Evil: Inside the Story of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting...and Beyond

Howard Books (September 22, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Jonas Beiler grew up in a strict and traditional Old Order Amish family during the 1950s. Now he is the cofounder and chairman of the Angela Foundation. He is also a licensed family counselor and founder of the Family Resource and Counseling Center in Gap, Pennsylvania.

Visit the author's website.




Product Details:

List Price: $23.99
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (September 22, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416562982
ISBN-13: 978-1416562986

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One: Gates Wide Open


It has become numbingly familiar. A man walks into a church, a store, a dormitory, a nursing home, or a school and begins shooting. Sometimes there is panic, sometimes an eerie quietness. But always bodies fall, almost in unison with the shell casings dropping from the gun. And always there is death. Senseless, inexplicable loss of innocent life. Within seconds, we begin hearing reports on our Blackberries or iPhones. Within minutes it is “Breaking News” on CNN, and by the end of the day it has seared a name in our memories. Columbine. Virginia Tech.

Or for me, The Amish Schoolhouse Shooting.

As I write this, it has been nearly three years since our community watched as ten little girls were carried out of their one-room school and laid on the grass where first responders desperately tried to save their lives. As a professional counselor and the founder of a counseling center that serves this area, I saw firsthand the effects this traumatic event had on our citizens. And as someone who grew up in an Amish household and suffered through my own share of tragedies, I found myself strangely drawn back into a culture that I once chose to leave. I know these people who still travel by horse and buggy and light their homes with gas lanterns, yet as I moved among them through this tragedy I found myself asking questions that, surprisingly, led me to back to a hard look at my own heart. How were they able to cope so well with the loss of their children? What enables a father who lost two daughters in that schoolhouse to bear no malice toward the man who shot them? And what can I learn—what can we learn—from them to help us more gracefully carry our own life burdens?

That last question is what prompted me to attempt to share what I have learned from the families who lost so much that day. The Amish will be the first to tell you they’re not perfect. But they do a lot of things right. Forgiveness is one of them. In my counseling, I have seen how lesser tragedies destroy relationships, ruin marriages, and turn people’s hearts to stone. Life throws so much at us that seems unfair and undeserved, and certainly the shootings at the Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania were both. And yet, not a word of anger or retribution from the Amish. Somehow they have learned that blame and vengeance are toxic while forgiveness and reconciliation disarm their grief. Even in the valley of the shadow of death they know how to live well, and that is really the story that I want to share—how ordinary human beings ease their own pain by forgiving those who have hurt them.

It is a story that began decades ago when I knew it was time to choose.

-----

Little has changed in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania from the time I was a young boy to that fateful October day when shots pierced the stillness of our countryside. Towns like Cedar Lane and New Holland and Gap and Iva might have grown slightly, but as you drive through the hills and valleys along White Oak Road or Buck Hill Road, you’ll see the same quaint farms and patchwork fields that the Amish have worked for generations. Like most Amish boys, I learned to read in a little one-room schoolhouse and could hitch up a team of horses by the time I was twelve years old. I didn’t feel deprived because we didn’t have electricity or phones and it didn’t really bother me to wear the plain clothes that set us apart from my non-Amish friends. As far as I was concerned, being Amish was fine with me, except for one thing. I loved cars. I mean I really loved them. I couldn’t imagine never being able to drive one, but knew that’s what was at stake if I remained Amish.

In Amish culture, you may be born into an Amish family, but you must choose for yourself if you want to be Amish and that usually happens somewhere between the ages of sixteen and twenty one. You may have seen documentaries about Amish teenagers sowing their wild oats for a year or so before deciding to leave or stay within the Amish faith. While it’s true that Amish young people are given their freedom, in reality few teenagers stray very far from the Amish way of life. But all eventually must choose, and once you decide to stay and become baptized as Amish, you can never leave without serious consequences including being shunned by other Amish, even your own parents and relatives. I couldn’t imagine never being a part of my loving family, but I also felt a tug to explore life beyond my Amish roots, and I worried that it would hurt my father if I chose to leave. I remember once asking my dad why we did the things we did and he told me it was all about choice. We choose to live the way we do. It is not forced on us. So when I finally told him at age fifteen that I did not want to stay Amish, I know he was disappointed, but he was not harsh with me, nor did he try to talk me out of it. He respected my choice, which has profoundly shaped my thinking about the Amish. You can always trust them. They live up to their word. If they say they will do something, they will do it. You may have heard the expression, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Well, you would never hear that from an Amish parent. Whatever they teach their children, they back it up with their actions. My dad told me we had a choice and when I made a choice that he obviously wished I wouldn’t have made, he did not turn his back on me. He taught me an important lesson the way most Amish teach their children: by example. Many years later, in the wake of the tragic shooting, I would see Amish mothers and fathers teach their children about forgiveness the same way.

I left the Amish community, but I never left my family, nor did they abandon me. Because of that, I too would learn about forgiveness from my father’s example. Most of my brothers and sisters made the same decision to leave for their own reasons. But my parents remained Amish, and much of my world view is still seen through the metaphorical front windscreen of an Amish buggy.

-----

During those winter months after the shooting so much about our community was covered in stillness. The shortening days felt somber and subdued as we were constantly reminded of the girls that had perished. Normally the sights and sounds surrounding my home in Lancaster County filled me with a sense of nostalgia: the rhythm of horse and buggies clip-clopping their way down our back country roads or the sight of children dashing home from school through a cold afternoon had always been pleasant reminders to me of growing up as a young Amish boy. But that feeling of nostalgia had been replaced with a solemn feeling of remembrance.

Lancaster County is a unique community, the kind of which seems to rarely exist in America anymore. Many of my friends come from families that have lived in this same area for over two hundred years, some even before our country was formed—often we are still connected by friendships held long ago by our parents, or grandparents, or great-grandparents. You will find roadside stands selling produce or baked goods, and it is not unusual for them to be left unattended, the prices listed on a bucket or box where you can leave payment for the goods you take. The vast majority of the county is farmland, and in the summer various shades of green spread out to the horizon: beautiful forests line the hills and drift down to waving fields of corn and tobacco and hay.

In the fall months many of the small towns sponsor fairs or festivals, some established for seventy-five years or more. They were originally conceived for local farmers to bring and sell their harvested goods, but like much of the commerce in this area, they were also social events—an opportunity to get caught up with friends you hadn’t seen in a while. I can imagine that back in the day they were joyous times, the crops having been brought in, the community coming together to prepare for a long winter. Nowadays we still go to the fair every year and sit on the same street corner with all of our friends, some of whom we haven’t seen all year but can count on seeing there at the fair. The parade goes by, filled with local high school bands and hay wagons advertising local businesses. Our grandchildren vanish into the back streets together, another generation of friendships, riding the Ferris wheel or going through the haunted house. I like to think that in thirty years they will be sitting on that corner, with their children running off to ride the rides with my friends’ great-grandchildren.

The Amish people live easily among us: good neighbors, hard workers, a peaceful people. They attend the same fairs with their children. Their separateness goes only as far as their plain clothing, or their lack of modern conveniences like telephones and electricity, or the fact that they have their own schools. I have many good friends who are Amish. While they choose to live their lives free of cell phones and computers, they still walk alongside us. They mourn with us when we lose loved ones, and we with them. We talk to them about world events. They volunteer on our local fire brigades and ambulance crews and run businesses within our community.

When the media converged on our community on that fateful October day, I guess I was an ideal person for the media to talk to: someone who grew up in the Amish community, now a family counselor familiar with the effects of grief and tragedy on people’s lives. So I served as a contact for the media, doing countless interviews and sitting on various panels, almost all of which were directed at the Amish response of forgiveness. It immediately became the theme for the media and the millions of people who watched in their homes or listened in their cars—this unbelievable ability to forgive the murderer of innocent children. But tragedy can change a community, and I wondered how the acts of one man would change ours.

Like many individuals, I had already experience my share of personal turmoil over things I could not control. I knew that when these overwhelming experiences of hurt and loss occur, the very core of your being is altered. In fact, having experienced these tragedies in my life, and being counseled through them, led me to pursue becoming a counselor myself. Eventually I went back to school to do just that, and I studied quite a bit on my own as well. In May of 1992, just up the road from Nickel Mines, my wife and I opened the Gap Family Information Center (later it became the Family Resource and Counseling Center), a place where people from our community can come to find healing from a variety of ailments, whether physical, emotional or spiritual.

As a trained counselor I spend a lot of time listening to people pour out the pain of their lives and can see with my own eyes how it has affected them. Nearly every time I speak with a couple whose marriage has been torn, or visit with a family who has lost a child, I am reminded that there are some hurts in life that never completely disappear.

But now, after the shooting, I understand even better how tragedies can affect individuals and communities. I think back to places like Columbine or the areas in the south affected by Hurricane Katrina and I can relate to the trauma they faced and continue to live with. Our community felt shattered after the shootings in that small schoolhouse. Sometimes, as I drove those back country roads or stopped to talk to Amish men, I could hardly bear to think about the pain those girls’ parents felt, or the innocence that our community had lost. But tragedies can also bring communities closer together, if forgiveness is allowed take hold, and if any good can come out of our loss it is this unique practice of forgiveness that characterize the Amish response to evil and injustice.

Word of the Amish communities’ decision to forgive the shooter and his family spread around the world through the media in a matter of days (ironically, from a culture with little or no access to the media). This in itself seems like a miracle to me—if you or I wanted to market a product or a concept to the entire world we could spend millions of dollars and take years and still probably could not accomplish it. Yet the Amish, who do not own phones or computers, captured the world’s attention with a simple, preposterous act. It was almost as if they were illustrating the lyrics of that chorus from the Seventies: “They will know we are Christians by our love.”

While the public was fascinated with the Amish take on forgiveness, they didn’t quite know what to do with it. Some people refused to believe that anyone could offer genuine forgiveness to their children’s killer. They suspected the Amish were either lying or deluding themselves. Others believed the forgiveness was genuine but thought the stoic Amish must be robotic, lacking the normal emotions experienced by you and me, in order to offer up such a graceful sentiment.

Neither is the case. Both misunderstandings find their origins in our culture’s false perception of what forgiveness truly is, and the state of mind of someone offering such unusual forgiveness. The Amish are neither liars nor zombies. They are just like you and me and offer a sincere forgiveness with no strings attached, no dependence on any reciprocating feelings or actions. But they also hurt as deeply as the rest of us over the loss of a child, or a loved one. True forgiveness is never easy, and the Amish struggle with the same emotions of anger and retribution that we all do. But they chose to forgive in spite of those feelings.

-----

About a year after the shooting I heard a story about one of the young girls who had been in the schoolhouse when the shooter entered. She was a survivor. She, along with her family and her community, forgave the man who killed those girls. But forgiveness does not mean that all the hurt or anger or feelings associated with the event vanish. Forgiveness, in the context of life’s major disappointments and hurts, never conforms to the old Sunday-school saying: “Forgive and forget.” In reality, it’s next to impossible to forget an event like the shooting at her schoolhouse.

This young survivor was working in the local farmer’s market when she noticed a man standing quietly off to the side of her counter. As she tried to concentrate on her work she found herself growing more and more agitated over the man’s presence. He seemed to be watching all the girls behind the counter very closely, occasionally starting forward as if he were going to approach, then stopping and standing still again, always watching and fidgeting with the bag he carried with him. There was something eerie about him. Was it the way he stood, or how intently he seemed to stare at them?

All around him the farmer’s market bustled with activity. The Amish were often the center of attention for first-time visitors to the market, so the Amish girl was somewhat used to being stared at, but something about that particular guy made her want to hurry the customer she was working with and then disappear into the back of the store. The difference between a curious stare and the way that stranger looked at her seemed obvious and stirred something inside her from the past.

Meanwhile, other customers walked between the long rows of stands, eyeing up the goods, making their cash purchases. The vendors took the money from each sale and crammed it into old fashioned cash registers or old money boxes. The floor was bare cement smoothed by years of wandering customers. The exposed ceiling showed iron cross beams, pipes and electrical wires. The whole place smelled of produce, fried food, and old books.

For many people outside of Lancaster County, farmer’s markets are the only place they interact with the Amish and their conservative dress—the men wearing hats, mostly black clothing with single-colored shirts and long beards, the women with their head coverings and long hair pulled into tight buns. Amish from Pennsylvania often travel to New York City, Philadelphia or Baltimore to sell their wares: fresh fruit and vegetables, home baked pies and cookies, quilts and handmade furniture. For some of the Amish that is their main interaction with people outside of their community as well. The Amish are hardworking, provide quality products, and almost all are outgoing in that environment and give friendly customer service.

But this particular girl, only months removed from the shooting that took place in the Nickel Mines school, got more and more nervous—she found her breath coming shallow and faster, so much so that her own chest rose and fell visibly. She looked around but no one else seemed to notice the man or her reaction to his presence. Her gaze darted from here to there, first looking at him, wanting to keep an eye on him, then quickly looking away if he looked in her direction. She tried to help the customer in front of the counter but concentrating was difficult.

Then she saw him approach. He strode forward, fishing around for something in his bag, then sticking his hand down deep and drawing an object out with one fast pull.

The girl cried out and fled to the back of the stand, shaking.

The man pulled the object out of his bag and placed it on the counter. It was a Bible, a random gift to the workers at the farmer’s market stand. He disappeared among the hundreds of browsing shoppers. The gentleman had no idea the scare he had just given the girl. No one outside the stand had noticed that something intense had happened. Everything continued on as normal—the shoppers wandered and the vendors shouted out their sales to the lingering crowds.

But in the back, the traumatized girl wept.

Not too long before, her schoolhouse had been hemmed in by police cruisers and emergency vehicles while the sound of a handful of helicopters sliced through the sky. And the thunderous crack of rapid gun shots had echoed back at her from the rolling hills.

Forgiveness is never easy.

-----

During those solemn winter months following the tragedy in our community, my wife, Anne, was running errands in the countryside close to the place where the shootings had taken place. That particular area of southern Lancaster County, about sixty miles east of Philadelphia, was an alternating blanket of farms and forest. The trees stood bare. The fields in November and December and January were rock hard, and flat. Where spring and summer bring deep green and autumn blazes with color, winter often feels quiet and stark.

Anne, my wife, also grew up Amish, and we both understood the questions blazing up within that community in the wake of the killings: Should their schools have more secure steel doors with deadbolts to keep intruders out? Should they install telephones in the one room school houses in case of emergency, a serious break from their traditional decision to shun most modern conveniences? Should the gates that guard the entrance to most of their schools’ stone driveways be kept closed and locked to prevent strangers from driving on to the premises?

Anne came to a stop sign at a “T” in the road. She could only turn right or left. The roads rolled with the gently sloping landscape or curved along the small streams. A handful of scattered homes broke up the farmland that seemed to go on almost indefinitely. But as she paused at that intersection preparing to turn, she noticed something: directly in front of her was a one room Amish schoolhouse, not the one where the shooting took place, but one of the many within that ten mile radius.

Most of those schools look the same: a narrow stone or dirt lane leading from the road and up to a painted cement block building with a shingled roof and a small, covered porch; a school bell perched on the roof’s peak; separate outhouses for the girls and the boys. In some of the schools’ large yards you can see the outline of a base path where the children play softball. Some even have a backstop. The school grounds often take up an acre or so of land in the middle of a farmer’s field, usually donated by one of the student’s parents, surrounded by a three- or four-rail horse fence.

Yet there was something about this simple school that made my wife stop her car and park there for a minute. Part of it had to do with her thoughts of the children at the Nickel Mines school and all they had been through. She was also affected by visions of the parents who had lost children and their long road ahead, knowing as she does how heart-wrenching it is to lose a child. But on that particular day, in the wake of all the questions brought up within the Amish community about how they would deal with this disaster, there was one thing that immediately stood out.

The front gate was wide open.

We have all seen what happens in a community when people allow unforgiveness to rule their hearts. Lawsuits abound, separating the perpetrator and their family from those who were wronged, and in this separation the healing process is slowed dramatically. When forgiveness is withheld walls are built within a community and division occurs, leading to isolation and further misunderstanding. Anger and bitterness take hold.

The parents of those girls who were killed, along with their family members and neighbors, decided not to allow the shooting to further separate them from their neighbors. There were no lawsuits filed by the victims’ families against the shooter’s estate or the emergency services or the government, as is so often the case. They would not permit anger or fear to drive them into installing telephones, modern conveniences that their way of life had survived so long without. They would trust God to protect them, leaving the gate open to their hearts and to their communities, and move forward with forgiving hearts.

Given what happened, could that really be possible?

******************************************************************
Think No Evil
Inside the Story of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting . . .
and Beyond


Jonas Beiler
with Shawn Smucker


Howard Books

West Monroe, Louisiana


[Refer to P4P regarding inclusion of purpose statement.]

Our purpose at Howard Books is to:

Increase faith in the hearts of growing Christians
Inspire holiness in the lives of believers
Instill hope in the hearts of struggling people everywhere
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Think No Evil © 2009 Jonas Beiler


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[Permission information regarding Bible translations used (See "Bible Version Lines" list) TK]




~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I LOVED JENNIFER'S FIRST BOOK! AND THIS ONE DOESN'T DISAPPOINT!

and the book:

Cottonwood Whispers

Tyndale House Publishers (August 17, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Jennifer Erin Valent is the winner of the Christian Writers Guild’s 2007 Operation First Novel contest for Fireflies in December, her first published novel. She lives in Central Virginia, where she has worked as a nanny for over fifteen years. A lifelong resident of the South, her surroundings help to color the scenes and characters she writes.

Visit the author's website.




Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (August 17, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414333269
ISBN-13: 978-1414333267



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


I’ve heard the dead whisper.

Every time I tell my best friend Gemma that, she frowns at me, says, “There ain’t no such thing as ghosts,” and then tells me I’m crazy. But I’m not crazy. The dead really can whisper, only it isn’t their ghosts that do it. It’s the memory of them.

There’s a place around the bend from my momma and daddy’s house where a stone cross rests beneath a cottonwood tree. That cross is where I first heard the whisper. It’s not really a grave so much, but a marker to remind people of what we lost that day. I was only seventeen when we placed that marker there, but it still looks pristine, like it was made just yesterday. Only yesterday was a long time ago, and time has brought a whole lot of changes since—some good and some bad.

And that’s just what I was looking for in that summer of 1936 . . . changes.

The last day of the school year saw me and Gemma meeting up at the pharmacy for a soda to celebrate another year of my surviving school. When I got there, she was standing outside the building, swinging her purse by one hand.

“Where you been?” Gemma asked when she caught sight of me. “I’ve been waitin’ ten minutes.”

“Teacher took a long time givin’ her end-of-year speech. She sure does like to talk.”

“Sounds a lot like you.”

I wrinkled my nose and gave her a shove, but she was the only person who could talk sharp to me and not get an earful back. We were like sisters, Gemma and me, and the way I figured it, sisters should be able to say near about anything to each other.

We sat down at the pharmacy counter with confidence because Mr. Poppleberry, who ran the place, didn’t have a thing against colored people, and he welcomed Gemma in all the time.

“I’m gettin’ a job this year,” I said determinedly once we were settled with our chocolate sodas. “I’m tired of not havin’ money to do things with.”

“Where you gonna work? Ain’t much open around here these days.”

“I’ll find somethin’. Everyone in Calloway knows I’m a good worker.”

She shook her head. “Work ain’t so fun as you think. It ain’t all independence and extra pocket change. It gives you backaches and weary bones, too.”

“You’ve only been workin’ at the Hadleys’ for two months, and you sound like you’re old hat at it.” I took a long sip of my soda and sighed. “Heck, you get to spend your days in that big old mansion of theirs.” I rested my chin on my hand and gave her a sideways glance. “All the same, you won’t catch me workin’ for no Hadleys. They’re just a bunch of uppity do-nothin’s.”

Gemma shushed me with a kick on my shin, and I gasped, pointing an angry glare her way.

“What’d you do that for?”

She didn’t say anything, but I saw her straighten up in her chair a little bit and look up past my head.

“You girls gettin’ somethin’ cool to drink?” a man’s voice asked from behind me. “Sure is a fine day for coolin’ off any which way you can.”

I spun around in my seat and turned back just as quickly when I saw it was Joel Hadley walking our way. Joel was the youngest son of the Hadley family, but his dangerous reputation belied his twenty-one years. I knew Joel Hadley for a charming scoundrel, and I was disgusted that my end-of-school celebration would be marred by his presence.

Gemma smiled at him with an extra twinkle in her eye. “Just givin’ Jessie somethin’ special. She finished school today.”

“Good ol’ days,” Joel said with a sideways smile. “Seems a long time ago, all that school stuff. Seem long to you, Gemma?”

“Not so much, Mr. Hadley. I’m not too long out.”

Joel patted my head as though I were a five-year-old instead of the almost-seventeen-year-old that I was. I sat up a bit straighter. “You got some business we’re keepin’ you from, Joel? We don’t mean to hold you up or nothin’.”

Gemma glared at me so quickly that I barely noticed it between the dumb smiles she kept giving that boy, but I knew it was there all the same.

“Well now, I was just takin’ a break from my work. I came on over for some cigarettes and lo and behold, I got an extra treat, seein’ such pretty faces.”

Charm oozed from his pores far too easily to be natural, and I couldn’t believe for the life of me that my wise Gemma could be taken in by such nonsense.

I fingered my straw and avoided looking at either of them. “Guess you’d better get back to the bank, then. Seein’ how it’s your daddy’s bank and all, we’d best not keep you from your work.”

Joel eyed me for a minute, slowly rolling a toothpick back and forth in his mouth.

After several seconds, I met that gaze with a forthright one of my own. “You got need of somethin’, Joel?” I asked innocently.

“Nope.” He stared at me for a minute longer, and I didn’t like his look one bit, all narrow-eyed like a rabid fox. I just looked casually back down at my soda, stabbing the cherry at the bottom of the glass. I fished it out and popped it in my mouth like nobody was even there.

Gemma cleared her throat. “Tell Mrs. Hadley we’re right grateful for the tub of strawberries she sent home with me yesterday. We all appreciate it, I’m sure.” With those words, she turned to me for agreement, nudging me beneath the counter.

As it was, I knew nothing about a tub of strawberries, so I shrugged and said, “S’pose we are. I ain’t tried one yet to tell.”

I could see by Gemma’s face that she thought me rude and undignified, but I was of no mind to give notice to men who put on faces that didn’t match their insides. Pretty pictures were all well and good, but if there wasn’t a good story behind the picture, it meant nothing. And that’s what I thought the whole lot of Hadleys were: just pretty pictures with no meanings.

Joel finally took his eyes off me to reply to Gemma, but his manner toward me remained charmingly hostile, and I was surprised that Gemma didn’t notice the coldness he showed me. Or maybe she did, I thought, and she just didn’t care. No matter what she thought, she was now giving all her attention to Joel.

He tipped his hat at her and smiled. “Plants are full this year. Don’t see any need in lettin’ them rot.”

Gemma nodded in reply, her docile mood making me doubt her true identity. The Gemma Teague I knew didn’t get flutters over men and strike fancy poses like she was doing now.

“Well,” Joel said, “best get goin’. Time and money wait for no man.” He tipped his hat at Gemma again, flashed me a wry sort of grin, and walked off to buy his cigarettes, leaving us to sit in a moment of tense silence.

It was only after Gemma had stirred her soda for about a minute that she looked up at me with chagrin and said, “Jessie, what’d you have to go and do that for?”

“Do what?” I asked, though I knew full well what she meant.

“You was downright rude to Joel Hadley. Downright rude!”

“Me?” I argued. “Did you see the looks he was givin’ me? He could’ve near burned a hole in my skull.”

“He had every right to after the way you talked to him. Sakes alive, Jessie, he’s a Hadley.”

“That make him the king of England or somethin’? I ain’t got to bow to Hadleys no more’n I have to bow to Peeboe the milkman. Since when do I got to give people extra respect just for bein’ richer than me?”

“That ain’t got nothin’ to do with it,” Gemma said in exasperation, though I could see she wasn’t quite sure herself what she meant. “It’s just . . . well, I work for them and everythin’.”

“Don’t mean you gotta worship them.”

“I don’t!”

“Way you looked at him, a body would think you did.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said in a huff. “I just don’t want to talk about it.”

We sat there for a bit in an uncomfortable silence while Gemma slowly sipped her soda, and I wished I hadn’t finished mine already so I’d have something to do. I leaned on the counter and tapped a rhythm on it until another thought came to my mind. “He smokes cigarettes too.”

“So?”

“So? It’s a smelly old habit. And Momma always says it’s a stumblin’ block.”

“There ain’t no commandment about smokin’.”

“There ain’t no commandment about tippin’ cows, neither,” I said abruptly, “but we ain’t supposed to do it.”

“Luke Talley himself works in the tobacco factory, and you want to marry him.”

“But he ain’t smokin’ it!”

“What’s the difference between smokin’ it and makin’ it for other folks to smoke? Besides, your daddy don’t smoke hay in that pipe of his.”

I glared at her, not sure which way to go in this argument since I’d only brought it up by fishing for something else to blame Joel Hadley for. I went back to tapping my fingers and avoided looking at her.

Gemma tossed her napkin down and grabbed up her purse. “I don’t want to talk about work today,” she announced. “I don’t want to talk about nothin’.”

That’s exactly what we did as we walked home. We talked about nothing. We didn’t talk about her job or school or anything else. To avoid the tension, I tried thinking of other things, like what I was going to wear to church that Sunday. I thought about asking Gemma if I could borrow her red hair bow, but I wasn’t sure I should speak to her about anything just then, much less about something so trivial as a red hair bow.

We often borrowed each other’s things for church seeing as how we went to different congregations and the people there wouldn’t realize we were swapping. Gemma went to a colored church a few miles down the road. It was a sticking point with me that four years after her momma and daddy died, Gemma still had to stay away from certain places we went to even though she lived with us. But the way Gemma saw it, we weren’t going to cure all the world’s ills in her lifetime, and the fact that we were at least untouched by violent prejudice lately was advancement enough for her.

“A body’s got to wait for change sometimes, Jessie,” she said to me once. “We done gone to hell and back just to get rid of the violence, and it’s a miracle itself for us to see Calloway at peace with me still livin’ at your place, even if some do turn a cold shoulder. I’ll take that to my heart and be happy we got this far.”

I’d assumed she was likely right, but I still had parts of me tied up in knots over people’s strangeness. Nonetheless, I’d had to get used to the fact that Gemma had gone to a different school and a different church and couldn’t freely walk into any store in town she wanted to.

I glanced over at her and studied her face, thinking it didn’t look so angry as it had before, so I cleared my throat to get her attention and said, “You wearin’ your red hair bow on Sunday?”

“Probably not,” she murmured.

“I was thinkin’ I’d wear my white dress.”

She swung her purse by her side and continued to watch her feet as we walked along, kicking up the dry dust. “Guess you want to wear my bow.”

“I was thinkin’ on it.”

“You can wear it.”

We walked on for a couple of minutes in silence before Gemma seemed to decide there weren’t any real good reasons for us to keep fighting. She kept looking down at the ground, but her voice got a little lighter when she said, “Guess you think Luke will think you look right pretty in that red bow.”

I snapped my head up. “No ma’am, I don’t! I just like lookin’ nice on Sundays, is all.”

Her eyes glittered. “You talk a big talk, but come Sunday, you’ll stew over how to wear your hair and whatnot. Just like you always do. And you’ll swoon over Luke like always.”

“Don’t matter none, I told you.” I took my own turn to watch the ground, since looking at Gemma only told me she knew how I truly felt despite the lying words I was saying. “Anyhow, Luke wouldn’t notice me in a month of Sundays.”

“If he did show you attention right now, your daddy’d kill him. You best be happy he don’t see you as more than a sister yet.”

“I’m nearly seventeen,” I argued. “I’m enough of a woman to be courtin’.”

“Not courtin’ a man of twenty-three. The minute Luke were to show you some attention, your daddy would be loadin’ the shotgun.”

“Oh, he would not. Daddy wouldn’t kill Luke.”

Gemma waved a hand in front of her face to dismiss the subject. “If it’s meant to be, Jessie, it’ll be. That’s all there is to it. It just ain’t meant to be yet.”

I shrugged, guessing she was probably right, though I hated to admit it. Gemma went on inside, but I stood on the porch steps for a minute giving a little thought to her idea that Daddy would have the shotgun on Luke if he came courting. I shook my head at the notion and sighed. It seemed every other day I heard my momma moan about how fast time was flying, but the way it seemed to me, I couldn’t get old fast enough.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

MAUREEN IS AN AMAZING AUTHOR WITH A KEEN EYE FOR DETAIL. GREAT STORY!

and the book:

Look to the East (The Great War)

Tyndale House Publishers (August 4, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Maureen Lang has always had a passion for writing. She wrote her first novel longhand around the age of ten, and it was so fun she’s been writing ever since. She’s published nine novels and won several awards, including the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart award and the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Noble Theme award. She lives near Chicago, Illinois, with her husband and three children.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (August 4, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414324359
ISBN-13: 978-1414324357

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Briecourt, Northern France

Julitte Toussaint sucked in her breath and shut her eyes, as if by closing off her own vision she, too, might become invisible. Stuck high above the ground where someone so grown, just turned twenty-and-two, should never be caught, she shot a fervent prayer heavenward. Please let neither one look up!She clutched the book-sized tin to her chest and went death-still in hopes of going unnoticed.

“. . . those days may be behind us, Anton. At least for a while.” She heard his voice for the first time, the man who had come to visit the only château within walking distance of her village. The man whose blond hair had reflected the sun and nearly blinded her to the rest of his beauty. The perfect nose, the proportionate lips, the blue eyes that with one glance had taken her breath away.

Now he was near again, and her lungs froze. She feared the slightest motion might betray her.

“You’ll go back, Charles? Join this insanity, when you could follow me the other way?” She recognized Anton Mantoux’s voice without looking. He was the closest thing to aristocracy the town of Briecourt knew. Though Julitte had never spoken to him, she had heard him speak many times. Whenever the mayor called a village meeting, M. Mantoux always held the floor longest.

Charles . . . so that was his name.

“Who would have thought I had a single noble bone in my body?”

M. Mantoux snorted. “You’ll follow your foolhardy king, will you?”

“Much can be said about a man—a king, no less—who takes for himself the same risks he asks others to bear. I should never have left Belgium. I know my sister never will. How can I do less?”

“Ah, yes, your beautiful and brave little sister Isabelle . . . What is it you call her? Isa?”

“Careful with your thoughts, Anton,” said the man—Charles—whose voice was every bit as lovely as his face. “She’s little more than a child.”

“A child, but not much longer. And then you may have me in the family!”

Feeling a cramp in her leg, Julitte wanted nothing more than to climb down the tree and scurry away. Let them move on!she silently pleaded to God. Send a wind to blow them on their way before—

As if in instant answer to her prayer, a gust tore through the thick leaf cover of the beech tree in which she hid. In horror she watched the tin, dampened by her perspiring hands, slip from her grasp and take the path designed by gravity. She heard a dull thud as it bounced off the perfect forehead of the taller of the two men below, grazing the blond hair that so intrigued her.

A moment later both men looked up, and she might have thought their surprised faces funny had she planned the episode and been a bit younger to get away with such a prank.

“I thank you for the answered prayer of the wind, Lord,” she whispered in annoyed submission, “but not for the result, as You well know.”

“You there.” M. Mantoux’s voice was as commanding as ever, and it set her heart to fear-filled pounding. “Come down at once.”

Giving up any hope of dignity, Julitte shook away the cramp in one leg, then shimmied back along the thick branch until reaching the trunk that was somewhat wider than the span of her arms and legs. Her foot found the knothole she knew so well, and in a moment she stood on the ground, pulling at her skirt to cover pantaloons and the single petticoat she owned, a hand-me-down from her adoptive mother. From the corner of her eye she saw the towering blond man bending to retrieve her tin, a look of curiosity on his handsome face.

M. Mantoux stepped in front of Julitte. “What were you doing up there, girl? Who—”

Enlightenment reached his eyes before his voice faded away. Of course he knew who she was—everyone in and around her village knew she was the étrangère, the outsider. Not only because at least half of the village wouldn’t have welcomed an adopted child of Narcisse Toussaint, but because she had been born far away on the Island of Lepers, off the coast of Greece. Though Julitte had lived among the French villagers for nearly fifteen years, some still whispered of her heritage to this day, to passersby or children too young to already know.

“Come here, Julitte Toussaint.” He pointed to a spot a few feet away. “Stand there, not too close.”

M. Mantoux had an angry look about him, but she knew he always seemed that way from the curve of his nostrils to the arch in his brow. Even when he laughed—and she had seen him do that once—his face held the edge of ire whether with intent or not.

Intent was there now.

She obeyed his order and stopped where he’d told her, at the same time reaching for her property. The man holding the tin started to extend the item but took a moment to study it before completing the motion. His thumb traced the amateurishly tooled design, fashioned by her adoptive brother. Then he shook it and the items inside rattled. But he did not open it, for which she was silently grateful.

Both had to bend forward to pass the tin between them. Heplaced it, about the size of one of his hands, into both of hers.

“What were you doing on my property and what have you there?” M. Mantoux’s intimidating manner was the same he’d used when her cousin had lost one of his pigs and found it burrowing holes in the Mantoux Château garden. Only behind his intimidation today was a tone familiarly aimed her way—distaste mixed with a hint of the fear common to those who knew only her background and not her. “And why did you accost my guest?”

Julitte wanted to raise her gaze to M. Mantoux, to stare him down as she stared down her brother when he teased her the way brothers could. But M. Mantoux was not her brother. And standing in the handsome stranger’s shadow had stolen her courage.

Gazing downward, she mustered a respectful tone. “I was in the tree to retrieve the tin and decided to stay there until you passed by so to escape notice. The breeze whipped the box from my hold.” A quick glance at the blond cavalier revealed that his eyes stayed on her. Perhaps he was not so gallant, after all. What sort of man stared so boldly? Despite such thoughts, she knew what she must do. Keeping her gaze downcast, she turned to the handsome man she’d unwittingly troubled. “I offer you all my excuses, sir.”

“Accepted.”

The single word was issued softly and with a smile. Julitte let her gaze linger, welcoming his ready forgiveness. Her rapidly beating heart took a new direction.

“My friend is more magnanimous than needs be,” said M. Mantoux. “You are aware, Julitte, that this tree is on my property? If you fell and hurt yourself what should I have done?”

“I expect it would have been entirely my own fault, monsieur, and I would blame neither you nor the tree.”

“In any case, you’re far too old to be climbing like a waif. Narcisse shall hear of this.”

“I’m afraid he sent me on my mission before he left once again for the sea, Monsieur Mantoux.” She held up the tin. “This is my brother’s, you see, and I was told to fetch it and tell him to find another favorite spot to whittle. Closer to home.” She didn’t mention she had been the one to introduce her brother to this particularly dense and knotty tree.

The stranger—Charles—patted M. Mantoux’s shoulder. “There you see, Anton, it’s all perfectly understandable. Why berate the girl?”

Girl. But then, what else should he have called someone dallying about in a tree? Suddenly a vision of having met him under other circumstances filled her head, of her offering a brief and graceful curtsey and extending her hand for him to kiss. They would be formally introduced and have an intelligent conversation, about books and history and faraway places. Oh . . .

Instead M. Mantoux dismissed her as the peasant she was, unworthy to be presented to any guest of his noble household. And the two were already walking away.

#

Charles Lassone glanced back at the girl from the tree, unable to resist one last look. He could tell from her dress—clean despite her foray up to the branches—that she was a peasant from the village. For a moment, he wished circumstances were different. She was lovely, peasant or not. Her hair had shades of red and gold softened by strands of bronze . . . like a sunset. And her eyes were as dark as a black ocean reflecting the night sky. He’d caught himself staring but somehow couldn’t right his manners even when she’d noted the lapse.

Charles shook the reflection away, tagging such pointless thoughts as a premature product of war. He hadn’t even signed up! Yet. Now was most definitely notthe time to become entangled with a women, peasant or otherwise.

He was leaving France, returning to Belgium and to the side of King Albert. Rumor had it the king was leading his troops to battle. Charles just hoped he wasn’t too late.

#

Julitte walked the half-mile to the village, growing thirsty in the heat. Soon the cobbled square in the center of town came into view. Beneath the shadow of the church’s tall brick bell tower sat one of the two pubs in town. It ceased to be a stark contrast to the place of worship since the proprietor had at the behest of his wife stopped partaking in spirits—and consequently stopped serving them. He’d even rolled the piano out of his door and into the church, since so many of the songs sung in the pub no longer seemed the same without the local brew or some other liquor in hand.

Those in the de Colville family had protested the loudest since it was one less place their spirits were served, the one area to which they did not have to smuggle their goods.

Julitte was surprised to see a cluster of women and children gathered in the square. There were a limited number of huddles Julitte could join, even among women. She was restricted to those of the same Toussaint name or to those linked in some way. Even among Toussaints, she had to be careful.

Toussaint or de Colville . . . to be born in Briecourt was to be born into loyalty to one or the other. It was a simple fact no one questioned.

Ignoring her parched throat, Julitte circled the square until she found Oriane Bouget, Ori as she was called, who was with her grandmother Didi.

“What’s happened?”

“There . . . see for yourself.” Ori pointed with her chin to yet another bunch off to the side. There were the men of the village, near the town hall. The grand two-story brick structure would have fit any fine town, but here it sat in Briecourt, as out of place as a gem among pebbles. It housed the mayor’s office and garde civiquesquarters, the jail and the postal services all in one. A table had been brought outside and a man sat behind it taking down names, then sending the men one by one into the building.

“What is it?”

“They say we are at war,” Grandmother Didi said in her loud way, “and all the men must go and fight.” The tone of her voice accommodated her own lack of hearing, but just now it had quivered.

“War! With who? Not the English again?” Her father had told her about the many wars between the French and the English.

“No, the Germans, so they say.”

“Again?” It wasn’t all that long ago that France had feuded with their neighbors to the east, too. Julitte stared at the line of men, all of whom she knew. Including her adoptive brother.

“Pierre!” She left Ori’s side to rush to his.

“Have you heard the news?” A wide smile brightened his youthful, handsome face. Brown eyes as sweet and guileless as anyone as naïve as he, and here he was lining up . . . for war?

“What are you doing? Papa only left two days ago. Without his permission I don’t think—”

Whether it was her words or alarmed tone, Julitte caught the attention of men on both sides of Pierre. She had sat in schoolrooms with many of those in this line and knew the majority were best fit for harvesting—the sum of most dreams, the same as their fathers before them.

“Leave him be, woman!” Though his words were firm, the face of her long-ago classmate was lit with exhilaration, as if it were a holiday when anyone could be forgiven anything. “We’re off to be heroes the likes of which our town has never seen. Soon this very square will be filled with statues to our bravery.”

She lifted one brow. “Statues or bodies?”

“It would be a privilege to die for our country!” Pierre joined with his friend to recite the words, making Julitte believe they repeated whatever pronouncement they might have heard to form this line to begin with.

“Julitte,” Pierre whispered, pulling her aside. “I must go, don’t you see? Every man between the age seventeen and thirty is being called to service. I have no choice. And I wantto go.”

“Seventeen—but you’re not seventeen until—”

“Tomorrow is close enough, so he said I must go.”

Julitte found no words to counter such incredible information. How had this happened? Briecourt minded its own business; why couldn’t the rest of the world do the same?

“I will go, Julitte.” His words, soft but firm, left no room for doubt or argument.

She shook her head, wishing words to convince him otherwise would fall into place. None did. Instead of speaking, she handed him the tin she’d retrieved, full of his favorite woodcarvings that were little more than toys. How could it be that he should be signing up for war when that box proved he was still a child? Such thingswere not the stuff of soldiers.

Turning away, she headed to her cottage, ignoring Ori’s call. No one was home, with Narcisse at sea and her adoptive mother long since gone to heaven. But Julitte could go nowhere else just now. Her prayer corner was here. Her spirit, weighted with fear for her brother and all those in line, longed for the reassurance of knowing none were outside the boundaries of God’s loving concern.

She needed to pray.

#

“Arrête! Arrêterez votre véhicule ici.”

The French poilupounded the butt of his rifle on the pristine hood of Charles Lassone’s Peugeot. He had enough sense to hide his annoyance with the soldiers who’d set up this roadblock—that seemed the wisest choice when facing the barrel of a rifle. The blue and red clad officer spoke rapid French, motioning at the same time for Charles to exit the vehicle.

He did so, skyscraping above the agitated soldier who couldn’t have been more than five feet tall. Another soldier, this one taller but still not equal to Charles’s six foot one, came to stand before him, both of them waving their rifles in Charles’s direction.

“What is this about?” Charles inquired in perfect French. Though his mother was American, his father was Belgian and a Walloon at that, so Charles had grown up speaking at least as much French as English.

“We regret to inform you, monsieur, that you may go no farther in your motorcar. You may take your personal belongings, and then take yourself elsewhere.”

Rifles or not, Charles lost his hold on hiding annoyance. “What do you mean, take myself elsewhere? With my motor, of course?”

“No, monsieur. Without your motor.”

“Listen here, I have dual citizenship between Belgium and America. France has no claim to me or to my possessions.”

“Necessity outweighs all laws of any country, monsieur. Now please empty the vehicle of your belongings and then be off.”

“I will not.” Grabbing the handle of his motorcar door, Charles moved no farther until the tip of the soldier’s rifle grazed his temple.

“All motors are being requisitioned for service, monsieur. If not here, then several miles down the road, by your own Belgian government. We are now united against a common enemy, and whether you donate the motor here or there makes no difference. You see?”

Charles did not see at all. If his motor had to be requisitioned, he far preferred to surrender it to a Belgian soldier. But as one could not be found, there was no point in arguing.

He retrieved his bag and jacket from the rear seat, then watched with a heart nearly as heavy as the motor itself while yet another French poiluresumed Charles’s seat behind the wheel and drove off, the crunch of crushed stones sounding beneath the little-worn tires. No doubt the 1913 blue Peugeot would be in the hands of a French officer before nightfall.

“Can you direct me to the nearest train station?” he asked of the remaining soldiers. They had regrouped into the same circle they had been in when Charles spotted them alongside the pile of logs they’d set up as a barrier on the old Roman gravel road leading to the Belgian border.

A snicker here and there gave him little hope of the easy answer he sought. One, the man who had first pounded on the hood of the motor, faced Charles.

“A station will do you no good, monsieur. All trains between our two countries have been requisitioned. They are now used exclusively for troops.” He lifted one of his feet and tapped a dusty boot. “A hike is in store for you.” Then he laughed along with the others.

Without a word, Charles started walking. At first his steps were slow, but after a moment he picked up his pace. Maybe he should be grateful only his motorcar had been impressed into duty.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

VERY THOUGHT PROVOKING - A GREAT WRITER!

and the book:

Lost Mission

Howard Books (September 15, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Athol Dickson is an award-winning author of several novels. His Christy Award-winning novel River Rising was name one of the “Top Ten Christian Novel of 2006” by Booklist magazine. He lives in California with his wife.


Visit the author's website.





Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (September 15, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416583475
ISBN-13: 978-1416583479

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Lost Mission

By Athol Dickson


[Howard Fiction Logo] Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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www.howardpublishing.com


Lost Mission © 2009 Athol Dickson


All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address Howard Subsidiary Rights Department, Simon & Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.


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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data TK


ISBN-13: 9781416583479

ISBN-10: 1416583475



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HOWARD and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


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For information regarding special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact: Simon & Schuster Special Sales at 1-800-456-6798 or business@simonandschuster.com.


Edited by Nicci Jordan Hubert

Cover design by DesignWorks

Interior design by TK


This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or publisher.


The two angels arrived

at Sodom in the evening,

and Lot was sitting

in the gateway of the city.

When he saw them,

he got up to meet them

and bowed down

with his face

to the ground.

—The Book of Genesis




In the event of a suspicious find

those exposed should be re-vaccinated

and placed under medical supervision for 21 days . . .

The potential risk to public health is so great

that a contingency plan must be in place.

—Margaret Cox,

“Crypt Archaeology: an approach”

Institute of Field Archaeologists, Paper Number 3



Capítulo 1

La Día de los Reyes, 6 de Enero, 1767

Let us begin the story of La Misión de Santa Delores on the holy day of the three kings, in Italy, in Assisi. To commemorate his twentieth year among the Franciscan brothers, Fray Alejandro Tapia Valdez made a pilgrimage to his beloved San Francisco’s humble chapel, the Porziuncola. For more than a week the friar prayed before the chapel’s frescos, rarely ceasing for food or sleep, But despite his lengthy praises and petitions, despite his passionate devotion to Almighty God, Fray Alejandro was a pragmatic man. He did not believe the rumor, common in his day, that the frescos’ perfection was beyond the reach of human hands. As we shall see, in time the friar would reconsider.

The Franciscan stood five feet four inches tall, an average Spaniard’s height in the eighteenth century. He was broad and unattractive. Heavy whiskers lurked beneath the surface of his jaw, darkly threatening to burst forth. Fray Alejandro’s brow was large and loomed above the recess of his eyes as if it was a cliff eroded by the pounding of the sea and ready to crash down at any moment. The black fullness of his hair had been shaved at the crown, leaving only a circular fringe around the edges of his head. His nose, once aquiline and proud, had become a perpetual reminder of the violence that had flattened it at some time in the past.

For all its ugliness, Fray Alejandro’s visage could not mask the gentleness within. His crooked smile shed warmth upon his fellow man. His hands were ever ready with a touch to reassure or steady, or to simply grant the gift of human presence. When someone spoke, be they wise or not, he inclined his head and listened with his entire being, as if the speaker’s words had all the weight of holy writ. In his eyes was love.

Love does not defend against the sorrows of this world, of course. On the contrary, each day as Fray Alejandro knelt in prayer at the Porziuncola he became more deeply troubled. His imagination had recently been captured by strange stories of the heathen natives of the new world, isolated wretches with no knowledge of their Savior. This tragedy grew in Alejandro’s mind until he groaned aloud in sympathy for their unhappy souls. Other brothers kneeling on his left and right cast covert glances at him. Many thought his noisy prayers an uncouth intrusion, but caught up as he was in sacred agony, Alejandro did not notice.

Then came that holy day of the three kings, when in the midst of his entreaties for the pagans of New Spain, Fray Alejandro suddenly felt a painful heat as if his body was ablaze. In this, the first of his three burnings, Alejandro became faint. He heard a whisper saying, “Go and save my children.” The bells of Saint Mary of the Angels begin to peal, although it was later said the ropes had not been touched. As startled pigeons burst forth from the bell tower, Alejandro rose.

How like the Holy Father to command such a journey on that day of days! Without a backwards glance Fray Alejandro strode away from San Francisco’s little chapel as if following a star, determined to return at once to Hornachuelos, in Cordoba, there to seek permission from the abbot of the monastery of Santa Maria de los Angeles for a voyage to New Spain.

The abbot’s assent was quickly given, but Fray Alejandro spent many months waiting on the vast bureaucracy of King Carlos III to approve his passage. Still, while the wheels of government turn slowly, slowly they do turn.

Finally, in late May of the year 1767 the good friar stood at the bulwarks of a galleon in the West Indian Fleet, tossed by the Atlantic, quite ill, and protected from the frigid spray by nothing but his robe of coarse handmade cloth. In spite of the pitching deck, always Alejandro faced New Spain, far beyond the horizon. His short broad body seemed to strain against the wind and ocean waves with eagerness to be about his Father’s business.

But let us be more patient than the friar, for this is just the first of many journeys we shall follow as our story leads us back and forth through space and time. Indeed, the events Fray Alejandro has set in motion have their culmination far into the future. Therefore, leaving the Franciscan and his solitary ship, we cross many miles to reach a village known as Rincon de Dolores, high among the Sierra Madres of Jalisco, Mexico. And we fly further still, centuries ahead of Alejandro, to find ourselves in these, our modern times.

Accompanied by norteño music blaring from loudspeakers and by much celebratory honking of automobile horns, we observe the burning of a makeshift structure of twigs and sticks and painted cardboard, which seemed a more substantial thing once it was engulfed, as if the trembling flames were masons hard at work with red adobe. The people of the village of Rincon de Dolores were encouraged by the firmness of the fire. All the village cheered as the imitation barracks burned before them. They cheered, and with their jolly voices dared a pair of boys to stay in the inferno just a little longer.

There was much to enjoy on that Feast Day of Fray Alejandro—the floral garlands, the children in their antique costumes, the pinwheels spun by crackling fireworks, the somber procession of the saints along the avenida—but one citizen did not join the festivities.

Guadalupe Soledad Consuelo de la Garza trembled as she watched the flaming reenactment of the tragedy of La Misión de Santa Dolores. Who knew, but possibly this year the boys would stay too long within the flames? Who knew, but possibly this time the sticks would burn, the cardboard become ash and rise into the sky, and “Alejandro” and “the Indian” would not emerge? Spurred to foolishness by those who called for courage, might this be the year when merrymaking turned to mourning? The young woman with the long name—let us call her merely Lupe—feared it might be so, while the imitation barracks burned and the boys remained inside.

As was their ancient custom, after the fire was set by eager boys in Indian costumes, the village people chanted, “Muerte! Muerte! Muerte! Death to Spaniards! Death to traitors!” Their refrain arose in tandem with the flames. Only when the fire ascended to the middle of the mock barrack’s spindly walls did some within the crowd begin to yell, “Salido! Salido! Salido!” Come out! they called, a few of them at first, mostly girls and women, then as the minutes slowly passed this call became predominant, until the entire village shouted it as one, Come out! and the boys inside could flee the fire with honor.

Yet they did not come.

“Agua!” someone shouted, probably the boys’ parents, and nearby men with buckets hurried toward the crackling barracks walls. “Agua rapido!” they shouted, and the first man swung his bucket back, prepared to douse a small part of the flames.

Such wild and forceful flames, and so little water, thought young Lupe. Holy Father, please protect them.

Even as she prayed, the first man thrust his bucket forward. Water sizzled in the burning sticks and rose as steam, and from the conflagration burst two little figures. One boy came out robed from head to foot in gray cloth, the cincture at his waist knotted in three places to bring poverty, obedience and chastity to mind. He carried a bundle, the sacred retablo of Fray Alejandro concealed in crimson velvet, a small altarpiece which no one but Padre Hinojosa, the village priest, would ever see. The other boy came nearly naked with only a covering of sackcloth, his bare arms and legs agleam with aloe sap as protection from the heat. The fire around them roared.

Chased by swirling coals and sparks the two brave boys went charging through the crowd, yet no one turned to watch. It was as if young Alejandro and the Indian were unseen, as if they were already spirits on their way to heaven. All the village chanted “Muerte! Muerte! Muerte!” again. All the village faced the burning barracks. All of Rincon de Dolores called for death to Spaniards, death to traitors as the two small figures fled invisibly across the plaza to the chapel, where they entered and returned the treasure, the retablo handed down through centuries.

Alone among the village people, only Lupe seemed to see the boys escape. Watching from the shop door, she alone thanked God for yet another year without a tragedy; she alone refused to play the game, the foolish reenactment they all loved so well, pretending blindness as two boys cheated death. Lupe’s imagination would not let her join the celebration of their unofficial saint’s escape from murderous pagans. She had never felt the kiss of flames upon her flesh, but she had suffered from flames nonetheless.

Often Lupe recalled the winter’s night when her father had laid a bed of sticks within the corner fireplace. The flames took hold and a younger Lupe drew her blanket up above her head as other children did when told of ghosts. Even now the memory of resin snapping in the burning wood intruded on her dreams, conjuring a thousand nightmares drawn from Padre Hinojosa’s homilies about Spanish saints who perished in the flames, Agathoclia and Eulalia of Mérida, and the auto de fe, that fearsome ritual of early Mexico, the stake, and acts of faith imposing pain on saint and heretic alike. Her most grievous loss, many sermons, dreams and sacrifices of the flesh had left her terrified of fire.

Watching from the doorway, Lupe heard a voice. “Do you think this is how it was?”

Although she had not heard him come, a stranger stood beside her, a man in fine dark clothing with full black hair that shimmered slightly in the midday light like the feathers of a crow. From his appearance this man might have been her brother. Like Lupe, he was not tall. Like Lupe his features called to mind stone carvings of the ancient Mayans. Like Lupe, he had a smooth sloped forehead, pendulous ear lobes, and cheekbones high and proud. His golden skin was flawless, as was hers. Like hers, his lips were thick and sensuous, his teeth the flashing white of lightning, his eyes a pair of black pools without bottoms.

“Pardon me, señor?” said Lupe, unaware she might be looking at her twin.

“Do you think this is how it was?” asked the stranger once again. “With Fray Alejandro, and the Indian?”

Lupe only shrugged. “Who knows, señor? It is a very old story.”

The stranger nodded, his unfathomable eyes focused on the plaza.

Perhaps, being a stranger, he did not know the story of Fray Alejandro, how the Franciscan had walked two thousand, four hundred kilometers to Alta California with two other Fernandino brothers. Because he was a stranger it was possible the man knew nothing of the apostate priests who corrupted Alejandro’s efforts to advance the gospel, how his hope to be the hands and feet of Christ to pagan peoples in the north was undone by Spanish cruelty and indulgence, how Alejandro, forced to flee his beloved mission in the north, had escaped the burning buildings with the Indian, his trusted neophyte companion, the two of them miraculously unseen even as they passed among bloodthirsty savages, much as Saint Peter once had passed his guards in Herod’s prison.

If the man knew nothing of this history he would surely learn that day, for every year at Alejandro’s feast all was reenacted by the village children to commemorate the holy man’s exploits. Rome had thus far not enshrined Fray Alejandro among the saints, but Rincon de Dolores had nonetheless adopted him as their patron, for the man of miracles had settled in their little mountain village when the pagans in the north rejected him, and through many acts of kindness he had become their eternally beloved padre, entrusting them with memories of the mission he had lost up north, somewhere in the hills of Alta California.

Lupe considered speaking to the stranger of these things, but he had departed unobserved. She searched the crowd beyond her door to find him. With the Burning of the Barracks finished now, people strolled throughout the village, passing in the shade of well-trimmed ficus trees around the plaza or along the tiles beneath arched porticos where they haggled with the venders who had traveled from afar to set up booths for the fiesta. Some of the venders offered plastic toys for children: balloons, whistles and balls in a hundred riotous colors. Others hawked recordings of mariachi and norteño music. Sweets, hand tools, shawls and pottery . . . everything was there. Near the chapel on the far side of the plaza one could purchase votive candles and milagros, those tiny metal charms that symbolized the miracles requested of the saints. In spite of so much competition, a few still patronized Lupe’s tiendita, her little shop where soda pop and newspapers and other such necessities were offered to the good people of Rincon de Dolores, Jalisco, high in the Sierra Madres.

Forgetting about the stranger, Lupe left her place in the doorway and tended to the customers who visited her shop all afternoon, both villagers and strangers. She took their pesos as the sun outside moved closer to the western mountains and the shadows lengthened. Finally it was almost time for the best part of Fray Alejandro’s fiesta: the gathering at the plaza. The young woman stepped across the stone threshold of her little shop, where the sandals of a dozen generations had shaped a smooth depression. She closed the wooden door. She felt no need for locks. Dressed in a blue cotton skirt and white blouse with a traditional apron, wearing no jewelry and no makeup, with her pure black hair restrained only by a plastic clip, Lupe approached the plaza.

She followed the familia Delgado along the avenida, Rosa and Carlos in their finest clothing normally reserved for Sunday Mass. Rosa’s blouse was perhaps a bit too tight and too low cut in Lupe’s opinion. Carlos was very handsome with silver tips and silver heel guards on his pointed boots. The three Delgado boys were likewise attired in formal fashion, and the youngest child, darling Linda, toddled on the cobblestones in patent leather shoes, with petticoats and a pretty pink dress trimmed with sky blue ribbons.

Lupe sometimes wished for children. The thought arose in moments such as this, but it was always fleeting. At other times she praised the Holy Father for her call to chastity. It was good to be unmarried unless one burned with passion, as San Pablo said, and her passion was for Christ.

When Lupe reach the plaza, oh, such a festivity! She saw men at their carts selling little whimsies—empanadas and tamales and nopales from the prickly pear—and strolling toy vendors with helium balloons and plastic snakes on sticks, and groups of girls approaching marriage age who moved about the plaza casting covert glances at the boys whom they pretended to ignore. Soon everyone would laugh as mariachis in the central gazebo serenaded blushing grandmothers, then the people would ignore the mayor as he promised vast improvements through a needless megaphone, and they would admire Rincon de Dolores’s own ballet folklorico, the handsome boys in black charro suits with felt sombreros and shoulders proudly squared, and the beautiful girls in swirling multicolored skirts like rose bouquets.

Lupe traversed the plaza, greeting all as friends, for she was a friend to everyone. Like Fray Alejandro, she longed to be the hands and feet of Christ to them. She went slowly, smiling on her way, touching this one, kissing that one, freely offering her kindness. Normally this bonhomie was as natural as breath to her, but that day it was a kind of sacrifice she offered. It came from force of will. She did not feel it in her heart, and she was uncertain why. Perhaps her dread had lingered since the moment when the barracks flames had nearly claimed two boys. Yes, probably it was only that. Yet she sensed something else at work within her heart, a conviction, and a fear.

On the far side of the plaza Lupe approached the embers of the imitation barracks, a mound of charcoal now, a black mark on the beauty of the day. It frightened her, yet drew her closer. Remarkably, it still emitted smoke. Only Lupe gave attention to that fact. All the others laughed and strolled and savored conversations unawares, but Lupe there beside the blackened ruins felt her pulse increase and heard the beating of her heart within her inner ear. She found it necessary to remind herself to breathe. She saw the smoke still rising like a slender column standing far above the village, straight and true, until it met the burning fringes of the sunset. Surrounded by festivities, she turned her face up to the sky and saw the strangest thing among the orange and purple clouds. She saw it, yet it could not be.

“Concha,” she called to a passing friend. “That smoke. Would you look at it?”

The woman, whose seven children swirled around her knees, replied, “I told those foolish men to pour more water on those ashes.”

“But the wind . . . .”

Concha and her perpetually squirming offspring had already passed into the crowd.

Lupe wiped sweating palms upon her apron and tried again to find someone to observe this thing and tell her it was real, but the mariachis had begun their brassy serenades and the people moved away from her, toward the gazebo in the center of the plaza. She stared up at the sky again, and asked, “How can that be?”

Someone behind her said, “Perhaps it is a sign.”

Guadalupe Soledad Consuelo de la Garza looked around and saw the stranger with dark hair that shimmered slightly like the feathers of a crow. She felt comforted immediately, for he too had seen the cause of her confusion; he too stood with face turned toward the sky, toward the smoke arising from Fray Alejandro’s ruined mission, the smoke which drifted north against a wind that traveled south.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

MY SON LOVES THIS SERIES!


and the book:

North! Or Be Eaten

WaterBrook Press (August 18, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Andrew Peterson is the author of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and The Ballad of Matthew’s Begats. He’s also the critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter and recording artist of ten albums, including Resurrection Letters II. He and his wife, Jamie, live with their two sons and one daughter in The Warren near Nashville, Tennessee.

Visit the author's website and website.



Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (August 18, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1400073871
ISBN-13: 978-1400073870

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


The Lone Fendril


TOOOOTHY COW!” bellowed Podo as he whacked a stick against the nearest glipwood tree. The old pirate’s eyes blazed, and he stood at the base of the tree like a ship’s captain at the mast. “Toothy cow! Quick! Into the tree house!”

Not far away, an arrow whizzed through some hanging moss and thudded into a plank of wood decorated with a charcoal drawing of a snarling Fang. The arrow protruded from the Fang’s mouth, the shaft still vibrating from the impact. Tink lowered his bow, squinted to see if he had hit the target, and completely ignored his grandfather.

“TOOOOOTHY—oy! That’s a fine shot, lad—COW!”

Podo whacked the tree as Nia hurried up the rope ladder that led to the trapdoor in the floor of Peet the Sock Man’s tree house. A sock-covered hand reached down and pulled Nia up through the opening.

“Thank you, Artham,” she said, still holding his hand. She looked him in the eye and raised her chin, waiting for him to answer.

Peet the Sock Man, whose real name was Artham P. Wingfeather, looked back at her and gulped. One of his eyes twitched. He looked like he wanted to flee, as he always did when she called him by his first name, but Nia didn’t let go of his hand.

“Y-y-you’re welcome…Nia.” Every word was an effort, especially her name, but he sounded less crazy than he used to be. Only a week earlier, the mention of the name

“Artham” sent him into a frenzy—he would scream, shimmy down the rope ladder, and disappear into the forest for hours. Nia released his hand and peered down through the opening in the floor at her father, who still banged on the tree and bellowed about the impending onslaught of toothy cows.

“Come on, Tink!” Janner said.

A quiver of arrows rattled under one arm as he ran toward Leeli, who sat astride her dog, Nugget. Nugget, whose horselike size made him as dangerous as any toothy cow in the forest, panted and wagged his tail. Tink reluctantly dropped his bow and followed, eying the forest for signs of toothy cows. The brothers helped a wide-eyed Leeli down from her dog, and the three of them rushed to the ladder.

“COWS, COWS, COWS!” Podo howled. Janner followed Tink and Leeli up the ladder. When they were all safely inside, Podo heaved himself through the opening and latched the trapdoor shut.

“Not bad,” Podo said, looking pleased with himself. “Janner, next time you’ll want to move yer brother and sister along a little faster. Had there been a real cow upon us, ye might not have had time to get ’em to the ladder before them slobbery teeth started tearin’ yer tender flesh—”

“Papa, really,” Nia said.

“—and rippin’ it from yer bones,” he continued. “If Tink’s too stubborn to drop what he’s doin’, Janner, it falls to you to find a way to persuade him, you hear?” Janner’s cheeks burned, and he fought the urge to defend himself. The toothy cow drills had been a daily occurrence since their arrival at Peet’s tree house, and the children had gradually stopped shrieking with panic whenever Podo’s hollers disturbed the otherwise quiet wood.

Since Janner had learned he was a Throne Warden, he had tried to take his responsibility to protect the king seriously. His mother’s stories about Peet’s dashing reputation as a Throne Warden in Anniera made Janner proud of the ancient tradition of which he was a part.1 The trouble was that he was supposed to protect his younger brother, Tink, who happened to be the High King. It wasn’t that Janner was jealous; he had no wish to rule anything. But sometimes it felt odd that his skinny, reckless brother was, of all things, a king, much less the king of the fabled Shining Isle of Anniera.

Janner stared out the window at the forest as Podo droned on, telling him about his responsibility to protect his brother, about the many dangers of Glipwood Forest, about what Janner should have done differently during this most recent cow drill. Janner missed his home. In the days after they fled the town of Glipwood and arrived at Peet’s castle, Janner’s sense of adventure was wide awake. He thrilled at the thought of the long journey to the Ice Prairies, so excited he could scarcely sleep.


1. In Anniera the second born, not the first, is heir to the throne. The eldest child is a Throne Warden, charged with the honor and responsibility of protecting the king above all others. Though this creates much confusion among ordinary children who one day discover that they are in fact the royal family living in exile (see On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness), for ages the Annierans found it to be a good system. The king was never without a protector, and the Throne Warden held a place of great honor in the kingdom.


When he did sleep, he dreamed of wide sweeps of snow under stars so sharp and

bright they would draw blood at a touch.

But weeks had passed—he didn’t know how many—and his sense of adventure was fast asleep. He missed the rhythm of life at the cottage. He missed the hot meals, the slow change of the land as the seasons turned, and the family of birds that nested in the crook above the door where he, Tink, and Leeli would inspect the tiny blue eggs each morning and each night, then the chicks, and then one day they would look in sad wonder at the empty nest and ask themselves where the birds had gone. But those days had passed away as sure as the summer, and whether he liked it or not, home was no longer the cottage. It wasn’t Peet’s tree house, either. He wasn’t sure he had a home anymore.

Podo kept talking, and Janner felt again that hot frustration in his chest when told things he already knew. But he held his tongue. Grownups couldn’t help it. Podo and his mother would hammer a lesson into his twelve-year-old head until he felt beaten silly, and there was no point fighting it. He sensed Podo’s rant coming to an end and forced himself to listen.

“…this is a dangerous place, this forest, and many a man has been gobbled up by some critter because he weren’t paying close enough attention.”

“Yes sir,” Janner said as respectfully as possible. Podo grinned at him and winked, and Janner smiled back in spite of himself. It occurred to him that Podo knew exactly what he’d been thinking.

Podo turned to Tink. “A truly fine shot, boy, and the drawing of the Fang on that board is fine work.”

“Thanks, Grandpa,” Tink said. His stomach growled. “When can we eat breakfast?”

“Listen, lad,” Podo said. He lowered his bushy eyebrows and leveled a formidable glare at Tink. “When yer brother tells ye to come, you drop what yer doin’ like it’s on fire.” Tink gulped. “You follow that boy over the cliffs and into the Dark Sea if he tells you to. Yer the High King, which means ye’ve got to start thinkin’ of more than yerself.”

Janner’s irritation drained away, as did the color in Tink’s face. He liked not being the only one in trouble, though he felt a little ashamed at the pleasure he took in watching Tink squirm.

“Yes sir,” Tink said. Podo stared at him so long that he repeated, “Yes sir.”

“You okay, lass?” Podo turned with a smile to Leeli. She nodded and pushed some of her wavy hair behind one ear. “Grandpa, when are we leaving?”

All eyes in the tree house looked at her with surprise. The family had spent weeks in relative peace in the forest, but that unspoken question had grown more and more difficult to avoid as the days passed. They knew they couldn’t stay forever. Gnag the Nameless and the Fangs of Dang still terrorized the land of Skree, and the shadow they cast covered more of Aerwiar with every passing day. It was only a matter of time before that shadow fell again on the Igibys.

“We need to leave soon,” Nia said, looking in the direction of Glipwood. “When the leaves fall, we’ll be exposed, won’t we, Artham?”

Peet jumped a little at his name and rubbed the back of his head with one hand for a moment before he spoke. “Cold winter comes, trees go bare, the bridges are easy to see, yes. We should grobably po—probably go.”

“To the Ice Prairies?” asked Janner.

“Yes,” said Nia. “The Fangs don’t like the cold weather. We’ve all seen how much slower they move in the winter, even here. Hopefully in a place as frozen as the Ice Prairies, the Fangs will be scarce.”

Podo grunted.

“I know what you think, and it’s not one of our options,” Nia said flatly.

“What does Grandpa think?” Tink asked.

“That’s between your grandfather and me.”

“What does he think?” Janner pressed, realizing he sounded more like a grownup than usual.

Nia looked at Janner, trying to decide if she should give him an answer. She had kept so many secrets from the children for so long that it was plain to Janner she still found it difficult to be open with them. But things were different now. Janner knew who he was, who his father was, and had a vague idea what was at stake. He had even noticed his input mattered to his mother and grandfather. Being a Throne Warden— or at least knowing he was a Throne Warden—had changed the way they regarded him.

“Well,” Nia said, still not sure how much to say.

Podo decided for her. “I think we need to do more than get to the Ice Prairies and lie low like a family of bumpy digtoads, waitin’ fer things to happen to us. If Oskar was right about there bein’ a whole colony of folks up north what don’t like livin’ under the boot of the Fangs, and if he’s right about them wantin’ to fight, then they don’t need us to gird up and send these Fangs back to Dang with their tails on fire. I say the jewels need to find a ship and go home.” He turned to his daughter. “Think of it, lass! You could sail back across the Dark Sea to Anniera—”

“What do you mean ‘you’?” Tink asked.

“Nothin’,” Podo said with a wave of his hand. “Nia, you could go home. Think of it!”

“There’s nothing left for us there,” Nia said.

“Fine! Forget Anniera. What about the Hollows? You ain’t seen the Green Hollows in ten years, and for all you know, the Fangs haven’t even set foot there! Yer ma’s family might still be there, thinkin’ you died with the rest of us.”

Nia closed her eyes and drew a deep breath. Peet and the children stared at the floor. Janner hadn’t thought about the fact that he might have distant family living in the hills of the Green Hollows across the sea. He agreed with his mother that it seemed foolish to try to make such a journey. First they had to get past the Fangs in Torrboro, then north, over the Stony Mountains to the Ice Prairies. Now Podo was talking about crossing the ocean? Janner wasn’t used to thinking of the world in such terms.

Nia opened her eyes and spoke. “Papa, there’s nothing for us to do now but find our way north. We don’t need to go across the sea. We don’t need to go back to Anniera. We don’t need to go to the Green Hollows. We need to go north, away from the Fangs. That’s all. Let’s get these children safely to the prairies, and we’ll finish this discussion then.”

Podo sighed. “Aye, lass. Gettin’ there will cause enough trouble of its own.” He fixed an eye on Peet, who stood on his head in the corner. “I suppose you’ll be comin’ with us, then?”

Peet gasped and tumbled to the floor, then leapt to his feet and saluted Podo. Leeli giggled.

“Aye sir,” he said, mimicking Podo’s raspy growl. “I’m ready to go when the Featherwigs are ready. Even know how to get to the Icy Prairies. Been there before, long time ago—not much to see but ice and prairies and ice all white and blinding and cold. It’s very cold there. Icy.” Peet took a deep, happy breath and clapped his socked hands together. “All right! We’re off !”

He flipped open the trapdoor and leapt through the opening before Podo or the Igibys could stop him. The children hurried to the trapdoor and watched him slide down the rope ladder and march away in a northward direction. From the crook in the giant root system of the tree where he usually slept, Nugget perked up his big, floppy ears without lifting his head from his paws and watched Peet disappear into the forest.

“He’ll come back when he realizes we aren’t with him,” Leeli said with a smile. She and Peet spent hours together either reading stories or with him dancing about with great swoops of his socked hands while she played her whistleharp. Leeli’s presence seemed to have a medicinal effect on Peet. When they were together, his jitters ceased, his eyes stopped shifting, and his voice took on a deeper, less strained quality.

The strong and pleasant sound of it helped Janner believe his mother’s stories about Artham P. Wingfeather’s exploits in Anniera before the Great War. The only negative aspect of Leeli and Peet’s friendship was that it made Podo jealous. Before Peet the Sock Man entered their lives, Podo and Leeli shared a special bond, partly because each of them had only one working leg and partly because of the ancient affection that exists between grandfathers and granddaughters. Nia once told Janner that it was also partly because Leeli looked a lot like her grandmother Wendolyn.

While the children watched Peet march away, a quick shadow passed over the tree house, followed by a high, pleasant sound, like the ting of a massive bell struck by a tiny hammer.

“The lone fendril,” 2 said Leeli. “Tomorrow is the first day of autumn.”

“Papa,” said Nia.

“Eh?” Podo glared out the window in the direction Peet had gone.

“I think it’s time we left,” Nia said.

Tink and Janner looked at each other and grinned. All homesickness vanished. After weeks of waiting, adventure was upon them.


2. In Aerwiar, the official last day of summer is heralded by the passing of the lone fendril, a giant golden bird whose wingspan casts entire towns into a thrilling flicker of shade as it circles the planet in a long, ascending spiral. When it reaches the northern pole of Aerwiar, it hibernates until spring, then reverses its journey.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

and the book:

Christianish

David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Mark Steele is the president and executive creative of Steelehouse Productions, a group that creates art for business and ministry through the mediums of film, stage, and animation. He is also the author of Flashbang: How I Got Over Myself and Half-Life/Die Already. Mark and his wife, Kaysie, reside in Oklahoma with their three greatest productions Morgan, Jackson, and Charlie.

Visit the author's website.




Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434766926
ISBN-13: 978-1434766922

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


scandalous


Nineteen months are all that separate my two older sons, Jackson and Charlie. In practically every way, one is the antithesis of the other. They both have their strengths and weaknesses, but smash them together and they fill out the other’s weak spots, becoming one practically perfect human being. Of course, the scattered remains that are left would be a bit messy. In other words, they complete one another, either as a right example or as a wrong one—their choice.


Charlie is currently seven and Jackson just turned nine, which means their choices— at least for the time being—might skew a bit ornery. A few months ago, I walked upstairs to turn off our daughter Morgan’s light for bedtime. It was later than usual and a good hour after the boys had been put to sleep (which means something different for children than it does for pets). They had been told to go right to bed. Unconsciousness isn’t really something that can be demanded of a child, but I—like millions of parents before me— made the attempt anyway. As I opened Morgan’s door to check on her, I caught the two boys in her room. They ceased mid-play, frozen, and stared at me—deer in the headlights. They were standing in the middle of her bedroom, a clump of Lego’s squeezed in each fist. They gaped with wide-eyed guilt on their faces for about three solid seconds. And then they ran like mad wildfire through the adjoining bathroom. I heard the scurry of feet on linoleum, followed by the bounce of springs and the flip-flop of covers as they scrambled into bed.


Reasoning doesn’t enter into the equation all that much at the ages of seven and nine. For some reason, not only was the rationale to sprint away and dive into bed considered a good idea, but the identical urge to flee the scene hit both brothers at the same time.


I sauntered through the hall to their bedroom (the longer path than the bathroom route by about eleven inches) and creaked open the door. They were each in their bunk, feigning sleep. And so, the cover-up began.


Boys?


They attempted to rouse themselves from their faux slumber, “What? Huh?”


Were you out of bed and playing in Morgan’s room?


A beat. A moment of pause. And then—both—simultaneously…


No.


Certainly I sympathize with the gut instinct of the cover-up. It is the defensive urge of the male, not to mention the mischievous pre-puberty male. In later stages of life, it will be replaced in-turn by hormones, rage at injustice, and unnecessary snacking. Throughout my own young journey, I was on the punishment end of the cover-up multiple times.


It felt ironic to finally be on the other side.


No? I responded, You were NOT in Morgan’s bedroom?


Sweat trickled down their tiny foreheads.


Nope. No. Nope.


Just now? Like, fifteen seconds ago, you were NOT holding Lego’s in Morgan’s room?


(Slightly more hesitant than before) Noooo.


I paused for dramatic effect: Well—I saw you.


Not since the Noahic Flood have the floodgates burst open so abruptly. The words “I’m sorry” rat-a-tat-tatted out of their mouths repeatedly in a fusillade of desperate penance.


I know you are sorry, but you lied. You know what the punishment is for lying.


I’m fairly certain there were a couple of “yes, sirs” uttered amid all the slobber and snot.


Go downstairs. You’re each going to get one spank.


Yes. My wife and I believe in spanking. Not “grab-your-knees-while-the-back-ofyour-eyeballs-rap-against-your-brain” spanking. But certainly a recognizable sting that serves as a tangible reminder of why the punishable incident was a bad idea. We want our kids to have a sensory reinforcement that sin is not such a preferable option. It always astounds me when parents don’t believe in appropriate spankings, because the world spanks people every day—especially the people who didn’t receive any as a child. Personally, I would rather feel a short-term sting than the sort the Internal Revenue Service doles out.


Of course, an appropriate spanking is exactly that. Just enough to sting—and definitely on the derriere. And, of course, the act is attached to teaching and forgiveness and a walking through of the issue so that it leads to reconciliation and change and love.


That’s the pretty version.


The boys weren’t seeing the benefits just yet.


Jackson and Charlie have a very different approach to the news of an impending spanking. Charlie just stares. Wide-eyed. His brain immediately begins clicking and whirring. Within fifty seconds, he orchestrates a mental plan of how best to charm his way through the incident with minimal pain. By a sheer act of will and a reasoning through percentages, he determines swiftly that playing the situation down will cause it to end with only a slight portion of hurt to his person.


Jackson destroys everything within his wake.


Not literally. He doesn’t throw things or flail. But within a small eight-inch radius, the planet implodes. Jackson takes the news that he will receive one spank the way most react in a house fire. He hugs his favorite belongings close to his body while screaming and rolling on the floor.


I greeted Jackson into the spanking chamber (our bedroom) first as I knew that the twenty-two solid minutes it would take to actually deliver the one spank would be an epic purgatorial wait (and hence, bonus lesson) for Charlie.


The reason a Jackson spanking can take so long is because we don’t believe in wrestling our kids into the spanking. There has to be the moment of surrender. Charlie can fake surrender like the best of them—but Jackson? Not so much.


Lean over, son.


I CAN’T! I NEED A GLASS OF WATER FIRST!


You can have a glass of water after your spank. It will take ten seconds.


I MUST HAVE A GLASS OF WATER FIRST! I’M THIIIIIRSTY!


You cannot have a glass of water until after your spank.


No one tells a father he is going to be put in a position to say these sorts of irrational things.


You’re stalling. Let’s just get the punishment over with.


NOW I HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM!


What?


YOU CAN’T SPANK ME BECAUSE I’LL PEE! I HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM FIRST!


You can go to the bathroom after I spank you. We would be finished already…


YOU’LL WHACK THE PEE OUT OF ME!


I promise I won’t whack the pee out of you.


See. Irrational things. Of course, this is when Jackson moves from delay tactics and transitions into physical blockers. As I lean him over and pull back the spank stick, all sorts of appendages start

flailing about spastically like Muppet tails, blocking the punishment trajectory. I’ve never seen the kid move so fast as he does when he strategizes a spank block.


ARM HAND ARCH BACK!!


ARM, FOOT, FOOT, HAND FINGERS


PUSHING AWAY ARM HAND, DOUBLE-HAND, FOOT HEAD


BOTH FEET (wow)!


ARM, HANDARCH!


The kid is Mister Miyagi-ing me, suddenly Jean-Claude Van Damme, blocking every attempt to close the deal. He won’t play football, but this he can do. I finally settle Jackson down.


Jackson, I’m not going to fight you. You have to decide that you’re going to accept the consequences for what you’ve done. You’ve fought me so long, that now you’re going to get—


(Wait for it.)


—two spanks.


Son. Of. A.Gun.


I had no idea what the kid had in him. He began to writhe and weep and gnash his teeth. I’d never seen gnashing—but it’s actually very impressive. I believe he may have even utilized sackcloth. The boy just flat-out wailed like he was being branded with a hot iron. To the neighbors, it must have sounded like I was stunning him with a police taser.


And then, Jackson moved away from delaying and blocking—to step three: blame.


IT’S MORGAN! SHE’S THE LIAR!! SHE LIES ALL THE TIME!


Who are you and what have you done with my child?


MORGAN LIES! SHE LIIIIIIIIIIIIES! MOOHAHA!


All right, son. For that, you’re now going to receive—


Somewhere, between the bedrock layers of our planet, a mushroom cloud was forming its power, readying itself for a self-imploding FOOM! Tension built, and a roar and a rumble began to build just beneath the crust of the earth.


—three spanks.


And that is when Jackson vomited.


Seriously.


He barfed.


He wasn’t sick to his stomach or coming down with a virus.


The boy got so worked up over three spankings that he literally upchucked everywhere. He blew chunks all over the proceedings. As a father, you can’t help but debate your own discipline tactics at this point. I helped him wash up and then cooled him down with a cloth. He began to settle.


After a few moments, I addressed him.


You okay?


I told you I needed to go to the bathroom.


Against all of Jackson’s hopes and dreams, the regurgitation session did not replace any of the punishment, and I forged ahead with the three spanks anyway. The beauty of Jackson is, though he fights you all the way, you know where he stands. When the punishment is over, Jackson is quick to reconcile, huddled and sobbing in my arms. At that moment, after the pain, he is truly repentant. And he always comes out the other side changed.


Amid all of this excitement, Charlie sat waiting in the hall.


For twenty solid minutes. Hearing the sounds of torrential screams and human wretching. He sat, stone. Eyes like nickels on a plate of fine china.


Needless to say, Charlie walked in, bent over, and received his one spank in about six seconds flat.


Immensely accommodating.


But alas, not nearly as life-changing as Jackson.


It’s harder to tell whether or not Charlie truly changes because Charlie knows how to charm. During that same spanking, he sat near Kaysie and spoke to her as Jackson’s sobs and moans were muffled behind the bedroom door.


I’m not gonna do anyfing Jackson is doing when I go get MY spanking.


You’re not, huh.


Nope. I’m gonna walk wight in and jus’ get spanked.


That’s a good idea, Charlie.


I do not wike it when Daddy spanks me.


I’ll bet you don’t.


I wike it when you spank me. This piqued Kaysie’s interest and she hesitated before asking nonchalantly–


Oh really? Why?


Because when Daddy spanks me, it hurts—but when you spank me, it does not— Charlie’s gaze finally met Kaysie’s. The realization of the privileged information spilling out of his mouth occurred to him. He stared.


I pwobably should not have told you dat. Kaysie smiled pleasantly.


Tell you what, son. From now on, we’ll let Daddy do all your spankings.


Charlie sighed.


Yep. I definitewy should not have told you dat.


So, there is an inherent difference in the way Jackson deals with disappointment and in the way Charlie deals with it. Yes, Jackson goes off the deep end, revealing his scars and putting his emotions in front of a microphone—but at least we know where Jackson stands when the consequence is said and done. Jackson wrestles his flesh to the ground— and he does so in public. That’s how we know the transformation is real. I know that his repentance is true because I witness his internal journey from resistance to acceptance firsthand.


Charlie? Well, you don’t always know with Charlie. Charlie is good at seeming fine. He keeps his deepest feelings close to his chest. And the rough stuff? You could go a very long time without Charlie allowing anyone to see the rough stuff. The result is an engaging and personable child—everyone’s best friend—though you don’t always know what’s really going on inside there.


And yet, we as a Christian culture seem to think that it is this same positioning and decorating of ourselves that ministers most. In an effort to put our best foot forward, we disguise the ugly, bury the past, and soak the dirty laundry in perfume. We have an emotional need to seem holier than all the “thou’s we encounter while fitting in to the perfect flawless world of those who side-hug us on the way to the sanctuary.


We delay. We block. We blame.


We cover-up.


And we somehow believe that it delivers a better impression of what it means to serve Christ. We believe that seeming the Stepford Wife makes us some sort of demented recruitment tool. But the truth is, we have done more damage to the world’s impression of Jesus by feigning inaccurate perfection than we could ever cause by allowing those who don’t follow Christ to see us wrestling our sins and flaws to the ground.


SCANDALOUS HISTORY


Many cite Matthew 5: 48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” but that verse doesn’t have anything to do with fakery. It is a call, instead, to spiritual maturity. And maturity owns up to the truth. Others refer to Jesus and how it was His holiness that truly ministered. This, of course, is true. But we too quickly forget that His holiness ministered most powerful as it stood side-by-side with His humanness. And, never was His humanness more on display than in His birth.


Jesus revealed the rough stuff with the very way He first came into the world.


It seems to me that the first sentence in the first telling of the Son of God entering into this world would be glorious and filled with holy hyperbole. Not so. Instead, we get a few pragmatic words: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.” This is merely a preamble to the names that follow—names that expose Christ’s lineage. The first chapter of Matthew fires the names off bam, bam, bam: so-and-so was the father of whatcha-macall-him—never taking the smallest breath, diving headlong into historic minutia until ZING! Verse seven delivers the whopper—the first specific detail mankind received about the family Jesus comes from:


“David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.”


Uriah? Wasn’t he the guy David had killed? Murdered so that David could sleep with his wife? That guy? Why on earth, out of all the admirable people in Jesus lineage—and for that matter, all the honorable traits of David—why is this bucket of family dirt given the first and greatest mark of attention? A golden opportunity missed. Here the ultimate history book had the option of paving a red carpet and paparazzi before Jesus, publicizing the elitist line He came from and urging the public down to its knees in awe. This was the proof: that Jesus came from the lineage of the favorite King, the man after God’s own heart—David. But instead of applauding this fact, chapter one in Matthew pauses to remind the reading audience that this great King David whose line led to the Savior—this beloved ancestor of Jesus Christ—was a man of great failure and greater scandal.


Matthew started his history book with tabloid fodder. Why?


Because just like you and me, Jesus came from a scandalous history. But unlike you and me, Jesus was not afraid for the world to know and remember that scandal. As a matter of fact, He welcomed it.


We all come from something scandalous. Perhaps those who came before us, perhaps the life we lived before we lived for Christ, perhaps some aspect of our current life. But in modern Christianity, we have somehow deluded ourselves into believing that priority one is to eradicate this reality.


We bury. We pretend. We deny to others and ourselves.


And, even worse—when the opportunity arises to actually come clean with the soiled spots of our life history—we instead make believe everything is, and always has been, a series of either perfect, fine, or no big deal. And in so doing, we make ourselves into the very fakers we detest. We somehow convince ourselves that this is what Jesus would want: a wiped-clean façade. A steam-pressed, white cotton, buttoned-down church shirt.


We live the rough stuff, but we keep it silent. We believe it to be a lapse in faith to actually comment on the rough stuff or give it reference. We assume that exhaling the rough stuff somehow gives it more power, so we smile and wave and praise the Lord that everything good is permanent and everything not-so-good had zero effect on us. We have a terrible habit of skipping the rough stuff.


I don’t understand why I do this. I look at the way Jesus entered this world and I see very quickly why it was important for Him to make mention of his scandalous history. It softened the blow for the shame and disgrace that would accompany Him into the world. It was as if Jesus said, I know the manner in which I am born is going to start the rumor-mill flowing, so I might as well give it a head-start. And, what rough stuff it was:

a mother pregnant before even engaged

a father who almost broke off the engagement

parents who make their decisions based on angel dreams

a cousin born of the elderly

a birth in an animal barn

adoration from astrologers

a birth that prompts the murder of hundreds of other infants


Let’s just say that if you brought all these needs up during a prayer meeting, the family would be ostracized forever before the first syllable of amen.


The truth is this: Jesus experienced the rough stuff before the age of five in ways you and I could never imagine. We consider Christ’s sufferings and we picture Him at the age of thirty-three, but the beatings go all the way back to the birth canal.


THE ROUGH STUFF


How did we take this life picture and somehow misconstrue it to mean that if we just believed in Jesus, our lives would be wealthy, prosperous, and happy? Jesus doesn’t promise that. Jesus says that many great things will come to those who follow Him, but He also promises a whole lot of lousy.


And, here’s the key: the lousy isn’t rotten. The lousy isn’t sin. The focus of your life is not supposed to be dodging lousy.


Because lousy is life.


And lousy is important.


It is in the rough stuff where we truly become more and more like Christ, because it is amid the lousy where we experience life on a deeper level. With intense pain comes the opportunity to love more richly. With disappointment comes the push towards selflessness. Neither of those come with pleasant because pleasant breeds boredom. And boredom is a moist towel where the mung beans of sin sprout. Life following Christ is not supposed to be a ride. It’s supposed to be a fight because there is a very specific villain—and if we don’t fight, he wins. If our Christianity aims only for pretty and pleasant and happy and rich, the enemy becomes the victor.


But there is another just-as-important reason that we should embrace the rough stuff. Not only because Jesus did. And not merely because it is important.


We must embrace the rough stuff because, for far too long, Christians have skipped the rough stuff. We have pretended it does not exist in order to speak into existence a more promising present. But there is a massive dilemma when the Christianish skip the rough stuff.


Real life doesn’t skip the rough stuff.


And those who do not yet follow Jesus know this. Their lives don’t skip the rough stuff and they know good and well that your life doesn’t skip it either.


So while we as a microcosm of faith have been busy naming-and-claiming, yearning for a better bank account and more pleasant pastures, ignoring the fact that lousy exists— the world watches.

And when they watch, they see the truth:

Life doesn’t skip the rough stuff.

We say that our lives do skip the rough stuff.

Therefore, we are liars.

Or—at absolute best—we don’t understand real life at all.


The world is looking for Jesus, but they don’t know they are looking for Jesus because they believe they are looking for truth. You and I know that truth is Jesus. But they? They do not know that truth is Jesus because you and I are supposed to be Jesus— and you and I couldn’t look less like the truth.


For decades, our focus has been completely skewed. In the eighties, our passion was prosperity, never noticing that the only wealth that is important to Jesus is a wealth of love and compassion for those around us. In the nineties, we were branded by righteous indignation, and Christianity became a political term that meant we were anti more things than we were pro. In the new millennium, the postmodern set poured out bitterness and disappointment on the church of their parents, disregarding everything the previous generation built only to construct the same thing with hipper color palettes and larger video screens. We still worship what we want our lives to feel like more than we worship Jesus. We still major on the minors, debating whether the book of Job is literal or parable when we should be out there pulling people out of the rough stuff. We still spend more money on self-help books than we give money to help others. We have become a club—a clique. A group that is supposed to be a perfect picture of the Father—but instead just acts like a bunch of bastards.


And we wonder why no one wants to be a Christian.


We’ve got to do some serious redefining of what that word means.


I am in the same boat. I am guilty as charged for all these crimes. I look back on my life and I see more times than not that I wish someone did not know I was a Christian. Why? Because my unkind words and bad behavior probably did more damage than good to the reputation of Jesus. Yes, this is spilled milk—but the longer we resist cleaning it up, the more sour it will smell.


The root, of course, comes down to the why.


Why do we as Christians strive for extremely temporal things and call them Jesus? As a people group, we are currently defined by the modern world as unloving and unwilling to gain a better understanding of any individual who is not already a Christian. These characteristics have absolutely nothing to do with Jesus. They are petty and selfish. They are Christianish. And yet, they are our very own bad habits. Why? Don’t we mean well? Don’t we want to live for Christ—to share His love with those around us? Don’t our mistakes stem from our frustration with the state of society? With what we perceive as the rebellion of modern mankind against the ideology of God?


Actually—that is the core of the problem. The world is broken. Completely broken. What we neglect to accept is that we are broken also.


We each come from damaged goods and scandalous histories and then pretend those negatives have no effect on us. The result equals a sea of followers of Jesus who can’t properly see or hear Him beyond the chaos of our own lives. So, instead of following Him, we say we are following Him while actually following a combination of Him and our own chaos. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong, but most of the time it is a mixture of the two. Just enough of God to make a difference. Just enough of ourselves to leave a questionable aftertaste.


So, the world sees that God is real—but at the same time, something doesn’t quite set well with them about Him. What is the negative common denominator?


The navel-gazing.


We are supposed to act as if everything is perfect, but deep down, we know nothing quite is. So, our silent desperate prayer is also a stare. A constant internal eyeball on the broken shards of ourselves. Deep down, most of us feel unglued—in pieces—longing for our Christian zealousness to turn to superglue. We feel that if we just do enough, act out the right formula, all the pieces will melt and coagulate like Robert Patrick in Terminator 2. That we will not only become whole, but indestructible. So, we wall up our compassion and act shatter-proof to a world at large while inside we are falling to pieces.


And we believe this reveals Jesus.


The great news is that Jesus looks down on us with the same tender compassion that He has for the rest of the world. He sees our pain. He sees our scandal. He knows what we are desperately trying to do, and He wants us to succeed.


But there is a realization that we must first accept.

We will never become indestructible by staring at our pieces.

We are not supposed to become indestructible. Untouchable. Safe.

And we aren’t supposed to be staring at our own pieces at all.


Because when we stare at our own pieces, we cannot see the solution.


We only find the solution when we stare instead into the eyes of Christ—and in those eyes, see the reflection of the hurting world.


We know this, but every gut instinct tells us to shout out, “I CAN’T! How can I help a hurting world, when I can’t even figure out how to glue back the broken pieces that make up my life?!” This is when Jesus changes our perspective. This is when He says softly…

You are not pieces.

You are my piece.


The Christianish approach is to see our lives as irreparable shards—always striving for the glue. But that pursuit is fruitless. Because God did not put your glue in you. He did, however, make you the glue for someone else.


Our lives are not shattered pieces. This whole world is a broken puzzle—and each of us fits next to those around us.


YOU ARE THE GLUE


My favorite television show is ABC’s Lost. The masterminds of Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have constructed a vast mythology where none of the bamboo strands make any sense until the day they eventually become a basket. Yes, I adore the convoluted structure and the peel-back-the-layers mystery of it all, but more importantly, I appreciate the fact that the strands in that basket --are people.


The beauty of Lost is that these characters were marooned on an island with no foreknowledge of any of the others. They each carry their own bruises, scandal, and broken pieces onto this island. What they do not know is that each is the glue for someone else’s piece. Sawyer has the information Jack needs from his dead father. Locke knows where Sayid’s long-lost love lives. Eko knows that Claire’s psychic was a phony. Each one is the ghostbuster to what haunts the other—but some never discover this. Some in this story are never healed. Why? Because the answers do not exist? No.


Because the characters neglect to connect.


When Jesus came to this earth, He was bold about His own scandalous history and He was born under tabloid circumstances. Why? Simple.


Because He knew that His rough stuff was the answer to someone else’s—and He did not want to keep it quiet. He knew that the only path to healing was to connect His glue to someone else’s pieces.


In God’s great plan, He created us each the same way. We each have our own brokenness and we each have a God-given strength. However, we continue to sit in confusion because we feel like a life following Jesus should feel less disjointed and make more—well, sense.


And that is exactly the problem.


Our lives don’t make sense because our lives were not intended to stand alone.


Our lives were each made by God as pieces. Pieces of the eternal puzzle.


We are made to fit our lives into one another’s. Our entire lives.


The good. The bad. The strength. And the rough stuff.


As hopeful as we are that our strength will heal someone else, it is far more likely that our rough stuff will. Because, not only does our rough stuff hit another life where it most matters—the acknowledgement of our own rough stuff communicates that we understand this life we live and this world we live it in. Embracing the reality of our rough stuff communicates truth. Truth that the world is able to identify. Truth that will become the glue to their pieces.


This is the profound orchestration of how God intended to use imperfect people to represent a perfect God. It is not in each of us faking our way to an appearance of flawlessness. It is in each of us being true and vulnerable in our pursuit of Christ and taking the glue of His power (even amidst the frailty of our humanness) and connecting with the broken around us. It is this weave—this interlocked puzzle—this merging of shrapnel and adhesive into a beautiful picture—it is this that reveals the real truth of Jesus Christ. If we are ever to escape the Christianish and truly become little Christs, it will only be in this merging—acknowledging that our strengths are from God and not our own, while allowing that strength to mend the broken. But it does not stop there. We also have to be willing to reveal our pieces so that others’ strengths can heal our own pain.


This is the perfect earthly picture of Christ. It requires a new sort of church culture: a culture that no longer positions itself at the prettiest angle, but rather gets down to the scandalous histories for the sake of revealing to a world at large that Christ not only understands, but can transform our pieces through the power of other broken people.


Just like the rest of the world, my sons Jackson and Charlie fit together. They are simultaneously each other’s antithesis and each other’s antidote. Each other’s miracle or each other’s foil. It all depends upon whether or not they are each willing to fit together and allow the collision of their rough stuff and strength—their scandals and successes— to make the sum of both entirely complete.



scandalous


Can you relate to the flawed thinking that positioning and decorating ourselves— pretending the rough stuff doesn’t exist—ministers most?


Do you come from something scandalous? Do you experience the rough stuff? Have you hidden from this? Is that hiding drawing you closer to Christ or driving a wedge between you? Is it drawing you closer to others?


Consider the statement: “We have done more damage to the world’s impression of Jesus by feigning inaccurate perfection than we could ever cause by allowing those who don’t follow Christ to see us wrestling our sins and flaws to the ground.” Do you agree or disagree? What are the detriments to hiding our struggle? What are the benefits of allowing it to be seen?


Do you agree or disagree with the statement: “The lousy isn’t rotten. The lousy isn’t sin. The focus of your life is not supposed to be dodging lousy. Because lousy is life. And lousy is important.” Why or why not?


Have you considered your life “in pieces?” Have you attempted to put yourself together on your own?


What do you think of the philosophy that you are actually a “piece”—that the solution to your life lies in the way you fit together with the other people who make up the community of this world?



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


and the book:

June Bug

Tyndale House Publishers (July 9, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Chris Fabry is a native of West Virginia who hosts the daily program Chris Fabry Live! on Moody Radio. He and his wife, Andrea, are the parents of nine children. Chris is the author of Dogwood, his first novel for adults, and co-author of Jim Tressel’s New York Times best-selling The Winners Manual. Chris has also published more than sixty other books, including many novels for children and young adults.

Visit the author's website.




Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (July 9, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414319568
ISBN-13: 978-1414319568

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Some people know every little thing about themselves, like how much they weighed when they were born and how long they were from head to toe and which hospital their mama gave birth to them in and stuff like that. I’ve heard that some people even have a black footprint on a pink sheet of paper they keep in a baby box. The only box I have is a small suitcase that snaps shut where I keep my underwear in so only I can see it.

My dad says there’s a lot of things people don’t need and that their houses get cluttered with it and they store it in basements that flood and get ruined, so it’s better to live simple and do what you want rather than get tied down to a mortgage—whatever that is. I guess that’s why we live in an RV. Some people say “live out of,” but I don’t see how you can live out of something when you’re living inside it and that’s what we do. Daddy sleeps on the bed by the big window in the back, and I sleep in the one over the driver’s seat. You have to remember not to sit up real quick in the morning or you’ll have a headache all day, but it’s nice having your own room.

I believed everything my daddy told me until I walked into Walmart and saw my picture on a poster over by the place where the guy with the blue vest stands. He had clear tubes going into his nose, and a hiss of air came out every time he said, “Welcome to Walmart.”

My eyes were glued to that picture. I didn’t hear much of anything except the lady arguing with the woman at the first register over a return of some blanket the lady swore she bought there. The Walmart lady’s voice was getting all trembly. She said there was nothing she could do about it, which made the customer woman so mad she started cussing and calling the woman behind the counter names that probably made people blush.

The old saying is that the customer is always right, but I think it’s more like the customer is as mean as a snake sometimes. I’ve seen them come through the line and stuff a bunch of things under their carts where the cashier won’t see it and leave without paying. Big old juice boxes and those frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Those look good but Daddy says if you have to freeze your peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, then something has gone wrong with the world, and I think he’s right. He says it’s a sin to be mean to workers at Walmart because they let us use their parking lot. He also says that when they start putting vitamins and minerals in Diet Coke the Apocalypse is not far behind. I don’t know what the Apocalypse is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was right about that too.

You can’t know the feeling of seeing your picture on a wall inside a store unless it has happened to you, and I have to believe I am in a small group of people on the planet. It was all I could do to just suck in a little air and keep my heart beating because I swear I could feel it slow down to almost nothing. Daddy says a hummingbird’s heart beats something like a million times a minute. I was the opposite of a hummingbird, standing there with my eyes glued to that picture. Some people going outside had to walk around me to the Exit doors, but I couldn’t move. I probably looked strange—just a girl staring at the Picture Them Home shots with an ache or emptiness down deep that I can’t tell anybody about. It’s like trying to tell people what it feels like to have your finger smashed in a grocery cart outside when it’s cold. It doesn’t do any good to tell things like that. Nobody would listen anyway because they’re in a hurry to get back to their houses with all the stuff in them and the mortgage to pay, I guess.

The photo wasn’t exactly me. It was “like” me, almost like I was looking in a mirror. On the left was a real picture of me from when I was little. I’d never seen a picture like that because my dad says he doesn’t have any of them. I’ve gone through his stuff, and unless he’s got a really good hiding place, he’s telling the truth. On the right side was the picture of what I would look like now, which was pretty close to the real me. The computer makes your face fuzzy around the nose and the eyes, but there was no mistake in my mind that I was looking at the same face I see every morning in the rearview.

The girl’s name was Natalie Anne Edwards, and I rolled it around in my head as the people wheeled their carts past me to get to the Raisin Bran that was two for four dollars in the first aisle by the pharmacy. I’d seen it for less, so I couldn’t see the big deal.

Natalie Anne Edwards

DOB: June 20, 2000 Age Now: 9

Missing Date: June 16, 2002 Sex: Female

Estimated Height: 4'3" (130 cm) Estimated Weight: 80 lbs (36 kg)

Eyes: Blue Hair: Red

Race: White

Missing From: Dogwood, WV

United States

Natalie’s photo is shown age progressed to 9 years. She is missing from Dogwood, West Virginia. She has a dark birthmark on her left cheek. She was taken on June 16, 2002, by an unknown abductor.

I felt my left cheek and the birthmark there. Daddy says it looks a little like some guy named Nixon who was president before he was born, but I try not to look at it except when I’m in the bathroom or when I have my mirror out in bed and I’m using my flashlight. I’ve always wondered if the mark was the one thing my mother gave me or if there was anything she cared to give me at all. Daddy doesn’t talk much about her unless I get to nagging him, and then he’ll say something like, “She was a good woman,” and leave it at that. I’ll poke around a little more until he tells me to stop it. He says not to pick at things or they’ll never get better, but some scabs call out to you every day.

I kept staring at the picture and my name, the door opening and closing behind me and a train whistle sounding in the distance, which I think is one of the loneliest sounds in the world, especially at night with the crickets chirping. My dad says he loves to go to sleep to the sound of a train whistle because it reminds him of his childhood.

The guy with the tubes in his nose came up behind me. “You all right, little girl?”

It kind of scared me—not as much as having to go over a bridge but pretty close. I don’t know what it is about bridges. Maybe it’s that I’m afraid the thing is going to collapse. I’m not really scared of the water because my dad taught me to swim early on. There’s just something about bridges that makes me quiver inside, and that’s why Daddy told me to always crawl up in my bed and sing “I’ll Fly Away,” which is probably my favorite song. He tries to warn me in advance of big rivers like the Mississippi when we’re about to cross them or he’ll get an earful of screams.

I nodded to the man with the tubes and left, but I couldn’t help glancing back at myself. I walked into the bathroom and sat in the stall awhile and listened to the speakers and the tinny music. Then I thought, The paper says my birthday is June 20, but Daddy says it’s April 9. Maybe it’s not really me.

When I went back out and looked again, there was no doubt in my mind. That was me up there behind the glass. And I couldn’t figure out a good way to ask Daddy why he had lied to me or why he called me June Bug instead of Natalie Anne. In the books I read and the movies I’ve seen on DVD—back when we had a player that worked—there’s always somebody at the end who comes out and says, “I love you” and makes everything all right. I wonder if that’ll ever happen to me. I guess there’s a lot of people who want somebody to tell them, “I love you.”

I wandered to electronics and the last aisle where they have stereos and headsets and stuff. I wasn’t searching for anything in particular, just piddling around, trying to get that picture out of my head.

Three girls ran back to the same aisle and pawed through the flip-flops.

“This is going to be so much fun!” a girl with two gold rings on her fingers said. “I think Mom will let me sleep over at your house tonight.”

“Can’t,” the one with long brown hair said. “I’ve got swim practice early in the morning.”

“You can sleep over at my house,” the third one said almost in a whine, like she was pleading for something she knew she wouldn’t get. She wore glasses and weighed about as much as a postage stamp. “I don’t have to do anything tomorrow.”

Gold Rings ignored her and pulled out a pair of pink shoes with green and yellow circles. The price said $13.96. “These will be perfect—don’t you think?”

“Mom said to find ones that are cheap and plain so we can decorate them,” Brown Hair said.

“What about tomorrow night?” Gold Rings said. “We could rent a movie and sleep over at my house. You don’t have swim practice Thursday, do you?”

They talked and giggled and moved on down the aisle, and I wondered what it would be like to have a friend ask you to sleep over. Or just to have a friend. Living on the road in a rolling bedroom has its advantages, but it also has its drawbacks, like never knowing where you’re going to be from one day to the next. Except when your RV breaks down and you can’t find the right part for it, which is why we’ve been at this same Walmart a long time.

“You still here, girl?” someone said behind me.

I turned to see the lady with the blue vest and a badge that said Assistant Manager. The three girls must have picked up their flip-flops and ran because when I looked back around they were gone. The lady’s hair was blonde, a little too blonde, but she had a pretty face that made me think she might have won some beauty contest in high school. Her khaki pants were a little tight, and she wore white shoes that didn’t make any noise at all when she walked across the waxed floor, which was perfect when she wanted to sneak up on three girls messing with the flip-flops.

“Did your dad get that part he was looking for?” she said, bending down.

“No, ma’am, not yet.” There was almost something kind in her eyes, like I could trust her with some deep, dark secret if I had one. Then I remembered I did have one, but I wasn’t about to tell the first person I talked to about my picture.

“It must be hard being away from your family. Where’s your mama?”

“I don’t have one.”

She turned her head a little. “You mean she passed?”

I shrugged. “I just don’t have one.”

“Everyone has a mama. It’s a fact of life.” She sat on a stool used when you try on the shoes and I saw myself in the mirror at the bottom. I couldn’t help thinking about the picture at the front of the store and that the face belonged to someone named Natalie Anne.

“Are you two on a trip? Must be exciting traveling in that RV. I’ve always wanted to take off and leave my troubles behind.”

When I didn’t say anything, she looked at the floor and I could see the dark roots. She smelled pretty, like a field of flowers in spring. And her fingernails were long and the tips white.

She touched a finger to an eye and tried to get at something that seemed to be bothering her. “My manager is a good man, but he can get cranky about things. He mentioned your RV and said it would need to be moved soon.”

“But Daddy said you’d let us park as long as we needed.”

She nodded. “Now don’t worry. This is all going to work out. Just tell your dad to come in and talk with me, okay? The corporate policy is to let people . . .”

I didn’t know what a corporate policy was, and I was already torn up about finding out my new name, so I didn’t pay much attention to the rest of what she had to say. Then she looked at me with big brown eyes that I thought would be nice to say good night to, and I noticed she didn’t wear a wedding ring. I didn’t used to notice things like that, but life can change you.

“Maybe you could come out and talk to him,” I said.

She smiled and then looked away. “What did you have for supper tonight?”

“We didn’t really have anything. He gave me a few dollars to get Subway, but I’m tired of those.”

She touched my arm. “It’ll be all right. Don’t you worry. My name’s Sheila. What’s yours?”

“June Bug,” I said. For the first time in my life I knew I was lying about my name.

***

Johnson stared at the sun through the rear window. Pollen from the pine trees and dirt from a morning rain streaked it yellow and brown in a haphazard design. Three Mexicans climbed out of a Ford. Tools piled in the back of the truck and compost and some black tarp. One slapped another on the back and dust flew up. Another knocked the guy’s hat off and they laughed.

The sun was at the trees on the top of the nearby mountain, then in them, and going down fast. An orange glow settled in and Johnson’s stomach growled. He glanced across the parking lot at the neon liquor store sign next to the Checker Auto Parts, and his throat parched.

A newer RV, a Monaco Camelot, had parked at the end of the lot, and the owner pulled a shade at the front windshield for privacy. He wondered what driving one of those would be like. How much mileage it would get per gallon. The smooth ride on the road. Almost looked like a rolling hotel.

He sat up and looked out the front of the RV. The way they were parked gave him a good view of the store’s entrance. An old guy with an oxygen tank pushed two carts inside. The man smiled and greeted a mom and her children.

Johnson hit the down arrow on his laptop. One green light on the wireless network from the coffee shop. He wished he had parked closer to the end of the lot, but he hadn’t planned on getting stuck here.

A loud knock at the door, like he’d just run over someone’s dog and it was under the back tire yelping. Johnson moved slowly, but he was agile in his bare feet. He caught a glimpse of the guy in the right mirror. Blue vest. Portly. Maybe thirty but not much older. Probably got the job through someone he knew. Johnson opened the door and nodded at the man.

“Just wondering how long you’re thinking of staying,” the man said. There was an edge to his voice, like he was nervous about something.

Johnson stepped down onto the asphalt that was still warm from the sun but not unbearable. “Like I said, I’m waiting on a part. If I could get out of here, believe me I’d be long gone.”

The man looked at the ground. “Well, you’ll have to move on. It’s been—”

“Three weeks.”

“—three weeks and it could be three more before whatever part you’re looking for comes, so I think it’s best you move on.”

“And how do you want me to move it? Push it to the interstate?”

“I can call a tow truck.”

Johnson looked away. Boy Scouts at the Entrance sign were selling lightbulbs. Pink and orange clouds had turned blue, like something was roiling on the other side of the mountain. A black-and-white police car pulled into the parking lot and passed them. The man in the vest waved and the officer returned it.

“I’ll give you one more night,” the manager said. “If you’re not out of here by morning, I’m calling the towing company.”

Johnson wanted to say something more, but he just pursed his lips and nodded and watched the man waddle, pigeon-toed, back to the store.

The girl came out and passed the manager, smiling and swinging a blue bag. She had a new spiral notebook inside. She’d filled more of those things than he could count, and it didn’t look like she was slowing down.

“Did you get your work done?” she said as she bounded in and tossed the bag on her bed.

Johnson opened the fridge and took out a warm can of Dr Pepper. “Enough.”

“What did the manager guy want?”

“He said we’d won a shopping spree.”

“He did not.”

Johnson took a long pull from the can and belched. “He was just wondering how long we’d be here.”

“I met a friend,” the girl said, her face shining. “She’s really nice. And pretty. And I don’t think she’s married. And she has the most beautiful eyes.”

“June Bug, the last thing we need is somebody with her eyes on this treasure.” He spread his arms out in the RV. “What woman could resist this castle?”

“She’s not after your treasure. She just cares about us. She said the manager guy was getting upset that we’ve been here so long. Is that what he told you?”

“Nah, this is a big parking lot. We’re gonna be fine. Did you get something to eat?”

June Bug shook her head and climbed up to her bed. “Almost finished with my last journal. I want to start a new one tonight.”

“What do you put in those things? What kind of stuff do you write down?”

“I don’t know. Just things that seem important. Places we’ve been. It’s sort of like talking to a friend who won’t tell your secrets.”

“What kind of secrets?”

She slipped off her plastic shoes and let them fall to the floor, then opened the bag and took out a dark green notebook. “When you tell me what you’re writing about on that computer, I’ll tell you what’s in my notebooks.”

Johnson smiled and took another drink from the can, then tossed it in the trash.

At the storefront, the police car had stopped and the manager leaned over the open window.


Excerpted from June Bug by Chris Fabry. Copyright © 2009 by Chris Fabry. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


and the book:

A Perfect Mess

WaterBrook Press (June 2, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Lisa Harper is a master storyteller whose lively approach connects the dots between the Bible era and modern life. She is a sought-after Bible teacher and speaker whose upcoming appearances include the national Women of Faith Conferences. A veteran of numerous radio and television programs and the author of several books, she also is a regular columnist for Today’s Christian Woman magazine. Lisa recently completed a master’s of theological studies from Covenant Theological Seminary. She makes her home outside Nashville.

Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (June 2, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1400074797
ISBN-13: 978-1400074792

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Walk This Way

What Psalm 1 reveals about avoiding potholes in the path of life


God’s words, creating

and saving words every one,

hit us where we live.

—Eugene H. Peterson

I’m a sucker for fashionable shoes. Unfortunately, cool “kicks” are often synonymous with wincing in agony. Which was the case a few months ago when I became madly infatuated with a pair of black, knee-high, leather boots while shopping in Chicago. When I tried them on and pranced around in a circle to impress my friends Kim and Sharon, they both looked dubious. Kim even asked, “Are you sure they’re comfortable? Because you look like you’re walking funny.”

I replied flippantly, “Yeah, they’re comfortable. And aren’t they the most gorgeous boots you’ve ever seen?” while intentionally taking slower steps so as not to teeter in front of them anymore.

Of course, they weren’t comfortable at all. I should’ve done the smart thing and put those boots back into the box they came from. I should’ve told the solicitous Nordstrom clerk, “No thank you,” and walked out of the store empty-handed. But I’m more of an impulse shopper than an intelligent consumer, especially when it comes to shoes. So I surrendered the Visa and assured myself, They’re just a little stiff because they’re made of such high-quality Italian leather. It won’t take long for them to get broken in, and then they’ll be as comfortable as a pair of slippers.

I foolishly decided to break them in that very night at a business event because they complemented the outfit I was wearing. I was convinced the cuteness factor far outweighed the possibility of discomfort. Besides, I reasoned, a little pinch is nothing compared to how hip these boots will make me look.

Less than an hour later I was hobbling around like a geisha. And by the time the emcee introduced me, I no longer had any sensation in my toes. I limped mincingly to the podium and tried to focus on speaking while fearing my feet were in the initial stages of gangrene. All the while, my friends sat on the front row wearing “I told you so” expressions. Afterward they teased that I should’ve explained the new-shoe shuffle to the audience. They mused that some people might have wondered if I’d been boozing it up beforehand since I couldn’t walk right all night!

Walking right is the theme of Psalm 1. This first song in the Psalter emphasizes how we must follow our heavenly Father’s path instead of being lured off course by what ungodly people proclaim to be fashionable. And this ode to obedience includes a warning as well: attempting to be hip in ways that aren’t cool with God will ultimately lead to hobbling around in pain, separated from the only One who loves you unconditionally.


“JOY” THIEVES

I can’t help but grin over the fact that the book of Psalms begins with the word happy. And I find it especially intriguing that the happiness in Psalm 1 isn’t associated with eating dark chocolate or finding a pair of designer shoes on the clearance rack. Instead this literary smiley face refers to the profound joy and satisfaction that accompany walking closely with God:1


Happy are those who don’t listen to the wicked,

who don’t go where sinners go,

who don’t do what evil people do. Psalm 1:1, NCV

?When was the last time you hobbled around in pain due to your own foolish choices?



One Sunday when I was in junior high school, I was sitting in church beside a cute lothario named Gary. You can imagine how I felt when this suave young man, who was five years older than I and the object of a huge crush on my part, put his arm around my shoulders. We were sitting a few pews in front of Dad, and although Gary’s attention was so titillating I couldn’t pay attention to the sermon, I could sense Dad’s disapproval wafting through the sanctuary. When the service was over, my normally soft spoken father pulled me aside and declared, “I’d better never catch you swapping slobber with that boy.” Then he tersely told me to get in the car.

We drove home in uncomfortable silence, my dad staring straight ahead and me staring out the window thinking, I hope none of my friends heard Dad. I can’t believe he actually said “slobber”! Ugh, I wish he wasn’t such a fuddy duddy. After we had pulled into the driveway and I had started walking toward the house,

Dad finally broke the silence by saying, “Lisa, come over here for a minute.” He motioned for me to join him by the picnic table. I approached with a cautious “Yes sir,” and he said, “I want you to get up on the table.” I thought, Oh man, Dad’s losing it! But he looked so serious that I obediently climbed on top of the picnic table.

Then he held up his arms and said, “Take hold of my hands. Now when I say go, I want you to try to pull me up while I try to pull you off.” Of course, the minute he said go and pulled, I had to jump down because I couldn’t keep my balance. Dad smiled—sort of sadly—and patted the bench beside him. When I sat down, he said, “Honey, you need to realize that it’s almost impossible to raise someone else up to your standards. If you choose to be with people who have lower morals, nine times out of ten they’ll pull you down to their level.”


PSALMS:

THE INSIDE STORY

The Hebrew word for

“happy” in Psalm 1:1 is

’ašr-ey, which can also be

translated “blessed.”2


It wasn’t until a year or two later, after Gary had thoroughly rebelled against his Christian upbringing and gotten a young girl pregnant, that Dad’s backyard object lesson really hit home. I realized he wasn’t being a fuddy-duddy when he warned me about sharing spit with the community Casanova; he was protecting me. Dad knew what my adolescent heart had yet to learn: bad company is as corrosive as battery acid. Lounging around with unrepentant rebels is a sure way to lose your joy.

Which is the bottom line of the beginning of Psalm 1: happiness can’t keep company with wickedness.


ABBA’S ARBORETUM

My first tour of Israel ranks way up there on the “a few of my favorite things” list. The Mount of Beatitudes left me speechless. The Wailing Wall left me in tears. And the Garden Tomb left me giddy with gratitude. But the parched terrain of the Promised Land initially left me puzzled. I guess I’d always imagined Israel as a lush green landscape dotted with fluffy white sheep and bearded guys playing harps under big shade trees (largely due to the influence of flannel-graph lessons in Vacation Bible School). It took a few days after landing at the Tel Aviv airport for me to get used to the wind-swept panorama of thorn bushes, rocks, and scruffy little acacia


THE JOY OF DOING GOOD

In a recent research project on the

source of happiness, psychologists

found that “the more virtue-building

activities people engaged in, the happier

they said they were both on the day in

question and on the following day.” But

they noted with some surprise, “there

was no relationship between pleasure seeking

and happiness.”3


trees. As if I were using an Etch A Sketch, I had to shake the image of a garden from my mind and twist the dials to redraw Israel as a desert.

The reality of Israel’s arid topography is what makes the lush imagery in the next two verses so striking.


They love the LORD’s teachings,

and they think about those teachings day and night.

They are strong, like a tree planted by a river.

The tree produces fruit in season,

and its leaves don’t die.

Everything they do will succeed. Psalm 1:2–3, NCV


It’s unlikely this psalmist had ever seen a big tree unless it had been transplanted, which is a more accurate translation of the word “planted” in verse 3.4 As a matter of fact, quality lumber was such a scarcity in Israel (except for olive trees, which are more valuable for their oil than their timber) that Solomon actually had to arrange for cedar beams to be floated in from Lebanon when they were building the temple in Jerusalem.5 That’s why this arbor metaphor is an unmistakable reference to God’s blessing; only He could make a tree grow strong and tall in the sweltering heat and sandy soil of Israel. Only He could cultivate vegetation so perfectly that its leaves wouldn’t wither in a drought.

What this means for us is that whoever has been transplanted into God’s garden will flourish. And I really dig (pun intended) the psalmist’s use of the term “transplanted” here, because it implies that salvation is by grace, that because we can’t plant ourselves, God plucks us from the dark, sunless place where we’d been decaying and lovingly replants us in a perfect spot where we’re guaranteed to flourish. We will get bigger and more beautiful, to the point of actually bearing fruit, as we absorb the living water our Creator provides. Plus, when our roots are anchored in Him, even figurative droughts like critical in-laws or financial crises or cancer diagnoses won’t destroy us. The “leaves” of those loved by God don’t die.

Our heavenly Father—who also happens to have a supernatural green thumb—promises to nourish and protect His saplings.

Before we go any further, you may be wondering about the assertion that “everything they do will succeed” at the end of verse 3, which at first glance seems about as truthful as the weight listed on my driver’s license until our government chose to omit that data (maybe because most people fudged on the amount). How can the psalmist label broken relationships or rebellious children or infertility or crippling depression a success? How can he sincerely sing, “Everything they do will succeed,” when all of God’s children experience failure of some kind or another? Has he been guzzling cough syrup, or is he just wearing overly optimistic blinders?

Neither. Because this promise of prosperity is preceded by the context “everything they do”—which in this passage is defined by spiritual obedience—“ succeed” in verse 3 is in reference to walking closely with God.6 It’s essentially an Old Testament version of Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

It doesn’t mean we’ll get everything we want exactly how and when we want it. And it sure doesn’t mean everything we do will be judged successful by human standards. What it means is that ultimately our sovereign Redeemer will work everything out for our good and His glory because we are His people and He loves us. It means being in a real,


PSALMS:

THE INSIDE STORY

Psalm 1 doesn’t have a formal

title or author’s name, which

puts it among the orphan psalms.


redemptive relationship with the Creator of the universe is the true measure of success.


THE FLEETING EXISTENCE OF EVIL

God-haters, by contrast, aren’t deep rooted or taken care of by a divine gardener; they’re more like tumbleweeds that roll across the ground, only to inevitably disintegrate in barbed wire:


But wicked people are not like that.

They are like chaff that the wind blows away.

Psalm 1:4, NCV


I recently had oral surgery because the root of an upper molar had fractured in half, leaving me with no option but to have the tooth yanked out of my head. My dentist advised me to get an implant as opposed to an old-fashioned partial or bridge. This means that after the gaping wound from the extraction heals, the surgeon will drill a titanium screw into my jawbone, then when it grafts sufficiently, she’ll affix a porcelain crown to the screw and—presto!—I’ll have a shiny new molar that, according to the brochure, will last over two hundred years. (I’m not sure why the longevity of the implant is considered a selling point since the rest of me will presumably be long gone by then.)

Of course none of this six-thousand-dollar procedure is covered by insurance, and the whole process takes about a year, but I was too loopy from laughing gas to stop and think about the consequences. The worst one being that in place of my trusty old tooth, I now have a “flipper” (common dental vernacular for the fake tooth patients wear prior to getting the actual implant). Furthermore, because this flipper clips on instead of being secured with adhesive, I have a gap between it and my gum that causes me to talk with a noticeable lisp. Believe me, this is a real bummer when you gab for a living!

My dentist told me the tooth trauma actually started with a substandard root canal I had in college, which left me with a compromised chomper that probably cracked when I fell headfirst off a ladder onto a concrete floor a few years ago. He also broke the news that I’ll likely need another implant in the near future.

Like the hair color I was born with and the steel-trap memory I had in young adulthood, even my permanent teeth have proved to be temporary.

Verse 4 explains that the wicked won’t last either. Oh, they may have their season in the sun when it seems as if they’re sitting on top of the world. But their days are numbered. It won’t be long before God yanks those who defy Him out of their abscessed existence. Their chance of survival matches that of a snowball in the Sahara!


THEIR TRAGIC TRAIL’S END

All three of my aunts have worked in public education. One has been a middle-school teacher for decades, and the other two have taught in the classroom and also worked in administration. One of them recently told me about having to expel a high-school senior for attempting to sell prescription drugs two weeks before the end of the school year. This kid was all set to start college in the fall when he chose to become a Vicodin vendor.


PSALMS:

THE INSIDE STORY

In Hebrew, the book of

Psalms is titled tehillim, which

(when translated) means

“songs of praise.” And since

each psalm was originally

crafted as a song, that makes

Psalms essentially the first

hymnal of God’s people!7


But my aunt didn’t have the luxury of lenience, despite his status as a soon-to-be graduate. She had no choice but to call the police, because her high school has a zero-tolerance policy with regard to drugs.

When this student should have been laughing with his buddies in the locker room, he was instead being handcuffed and hauled off to jail. When he should have been striding across the stage to receive his diploma and then smiling into the camera lens of his proud papa, he was instead ostracized and alone. When he should’ve been listening to the lectures of university professors as a baby-faced freshman, he was instead repeating lessons from his last semester in high school. Because of very bad choices, this young man was severely punished. He was effectively barred from the life he could have enjoyed.

And so it is with the wicked. Instead of being happy and content in communion with our Creator, unrepentant sinners will ultimately be cut off from the land of the living. They will not pass Go, they will not collect two hundred dollars, and they will not get to graduate to glory with their classmates:


So the wicked will not escape God’s punishment.

Sinners will not worship with God’s people.

Psalm 1:5, NCV


OUR CONSTANT OBSERVER

I recently had a motion-activated camera installed on my back porch by the Williamson County Sheriff ’s Department (chapter 7 tells the Paul Harvey part of this story). Unfortunately I didn’t realize that along with the ability to capture burglars in a digital format, it also recorded me every time I opened or closed the back door. A week later one of the detectives came by to change the battery and started teasing about arresting me on animal-cruelty charges. He explained how he and several other deputies had gotten a big kick out of watching the footage of my leg stepping through a crack in the door, followed by my cat Lazarus sailing through the air like a Frisbee.

I was so embarrassed, because I love animals. But my recently adopted, houseplant-shredding tabby is a feisty little critter. Whenever I gently place Lazarus outside, he races back in before I can close the door and then attempts to shred something else before I nab him again. So I’ve gotten into the habit of tossing him a short distance so I can close the door without squashing any part of his anatomy in the process. (Don’t worry. He always lands unharmed on his feet.) Little did I know that my nightly cat toss was being viewed in living color by local law-enforcement officials.


PSALMS: THE INSIDE STORY

The 150 individual psalms that make up the book of Psalms (also referred to as the Psalter) were written over a time span of almost one thousand years, from Moses’s era (1400 BC) until the southern Jews returned from captivity in Babylon (around 500 BC). That means these poems were penned while God’s people were wandering around in the desert, when they made their bittersweet return to Jerusalem only to find the land of milk and honey had become a mess, and every season in between. It’s an understatement to say the historical landscape of these lyrics is diverse; Psalms is like a comprehensive musical anthology that covers everything from Rachmaninoff to rap!


They were privy to everything; in fact, their vantage point was so intimate, they could even tell the color of my pajamas! The next section of Psalm 1 is all about God’s observation of us. In fact, the English Standard Version of the Bible puts it like this:


For the LORD knows the way of the righteous. Psalm 1:6


God knows His people. He has intimate awareness of all our ways…pet hurling and otherwise. Which makes me wonder: if we could actually see the red light of God’s “camera” being activated by every thought that runs through our heads, every word that crosses our lips, and everything we do in public and private, how would we behave? Wouldn’t you rather have holy inscribed on your divine DVD than heinous?

Finally, just as the sheriff-cam was bad news for the convicted criminal who used to lurk around my house, so is God’s complete knowledge of human character bad news for the wicked at the end of this opening psalm:


But the wicked will be destroyed. Psalm 1:6, NCV


Which means that unbelievers aren’t simply sitting ducks who might get wiped out; their annihilation is assured. God’s people will be the ones hiking along the path of hope and happiness, but the wicked dudes are blithely prancing straight toward obliteration. They’re going to be burned up faster than petty cash at Target!


SECURITY COMES WITH THE SHEPHERD

The guaranteed security of God’s people, in contrast with the definitive destruction of those who don’t follow Him, in Psalm 1 reminds me of this sermon Jesus preached in the New Testament:


When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:


I was hungry and you fed me,

I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,

I was homeless and you gave me a room,

I was shivering and you gave me clothes,

I was sick and you stopped to visit,

I was in prison and you came to me.”


Then those “sheep” are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?” Then the King will say, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”

Then he will turn to the “goats,” the ones on his left, and say, “Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—


I was hungry and you gave me no meal,

I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,

I was homeless and you gave me no bed,

I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,

Sick and in prison, and you never visited.”


Then those “goats” are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?”

He will answer them, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.”

Then those “goats” will be herded to their eternal doom, but the “sheep” to their eternal reward. Matthew 25:31–46, MSG


While this story portrays the “good” group as being more giving—they volunteer with Prison Fellowship and cook dinner for down-on-their-luck neighbors and share their soda with cotton-mouthed strangers—they’re only emulating their Master. Because they’ve walked closely with Jesus, they’ve begun to mirror some of His mannerisms. It’s not that they’re inherently better than the wicked guys; sheep and goats are both stinky, hairy manure machines. (Believe it or not, I actually have a bit of firsthand experience on this issue.) Furthermore, my veterinarian friends tell me that goats are actually smarter than sheep. That means sheep don’t have more intrinsic value than goats. The real reason they’re elevated in this gospel imagery is their relationship with the Shepherd. He’s the reason sheep get to be on the right side. He’s the reason they’re spared.

Just like the smelly farm animals in Matthew 25, Psalm 1 reminds us that our salvation is tied to our Shepherd. Without Him, we would surely follow a delinquent gang of goats down the path of destruction. But God’s perfect grace blazes a trail of hope and happiness for messy people like us. When we follow our Father’s directions, we’ll be able to “walk right,” even when teetering on a pair of ill-fitting, too-cool-for-school boots!


The right-now relevance of Psalm 1

God’s love frees us to steer clear of the path of destruction and keep step

with Him in joyful obedience.



ENOUGH ABOUT ME. WHAT ABOUT YOU?

1. It’s been said that the primary purpose of biblical poetry (like that of Psalms) is not so much to teach us as to reach us. What kind of poetry or song lyrics do you emotionally resonate with the most?



2. Reread Psalm 1:1. List the top five people you’re most likely to listen to when you need advice. Do you typically walk away happy after listening to their counsel? Why or why not?



3. Describe a situation in which you were metaphorically “pulled off the picnic table” as a result of hanging around with ungodly rebels.



4. Read Jeremiah 17:7–8 and Matthew 5:3–12. How are the common themes in these passages connected to the overall theme of Psalm 1?



5. Compare Psalm 1:4 with Luke 3:15–17. Why do you think God “winnows” wicked people from His followers? Have you ever felt the need to separate yourself from some people because of their cruddy attitude about our Creator-Redeemer? How did you make the break?



6. What movie or book can you think of that reflects the theme of Psalm 1? Explain the parallels you see.

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