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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Stop the Traffic by Cheri Blair and Steve Chalke

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Stop the Traffik: People Shouldn't Be Bought & Sold

Lion UK (April 1, 2009)


Cherie Blair is a human rights lawyer and campaigner on women's rights and empowerment, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and author of Speaking for Myself. Steve Chalke is UN.GIFT special advisor on human trafficking, and founder of Stop the Traffik. He is the author of several books, including Change Agents, Intelligent Church, The Lost Message of Jesus, and Trust.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $16.95
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Lion UK (April 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0745953603
ISBN-13: 978-0745953601


Wihini, aged nine, and her brother Sunni, aged seven, loved on Thane train station in Mumbai, India with their parents—both alcoholics. Wihini and Sunni went to a day centre where they learned to read and write and were given the chance to play.

One day Sunni and Wihini simply didn’t turn up. Street children often tend to disappear for days, as they try to scrape a living sweeping long-distance trains, but they had been attending the center daily for three months, so when a week or so went by the project staff became worried, and went in search of their parents. The workers found the father lying drunk on the station platform. When they roused him and asked about the children, he admitted that a man had come to him one morning offering money for them. He needed money for alcohol, so he agreed. The trafficker had taken Sunni and Wihini away for the equivalent of just 20 British pounds (currently equivalent to $30 US dollars). The father was angry because he had never received his money. Their mother wouldn’t speak about it. The children were never seen again.

What happened to Sunni and Wihini? Nobody knows. In that area of Mumbai, children often disappeared. They are kidnapped or sold into prostitution, forced labor, adoption, or even child sacrifice. The workers at the Asha Seep center had seen this before. But this was once too often.

Wihini and Sunni’s story proved to be a catalyst. The story was picked up and passed on and as evidence gathered we realized this is happening on a huge scale, around the world—and even on our own doorsteps. Not 200 years ago. Not even fifty years ago. It was—and is—happening today. And so STOP THE TRAFFIK was born.

Human Tafficking—A Definition

Human trafficking is the dislocation of someone by deception or coercion for exploitation, through forced prostitution, forced labor, or other forms of slavery.

-800,000 people are trafficked across borders each year (US State Department)

-It is estimated that two children per minute are trafficked for sexual exploitation. This amounts to an estimated 1.2 million children trafficked every year (UNICEF)

-In 2004, between 14,500 and 17,500 people were trafficked into the United States (US State Department)

-Human trafficking generates between 10 and 12 billion dollars a year (UNICEF)

-Total profit from human trafficking is second only to the trafficking of drugs (The European Police Office; Eurpol)

The numbers tell you the huge scale of this problem. But behind each number is a sea of faces. Behind the statistics are mothers and father, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, torn apart by trafficking; these are innocent lives ruined by abuse. These are human rights violations on a grotesque scale. And the problem is getting worse.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Learning to Live Financially Free by MaryBeth and Curt Whalen

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Learning to Live Financially Free: Hard-Earned Wisdom for Saving Your Marriage & Your Money

Kregel Publications (February 16, 2009)


Marybeth Whalen is a speaker and contributing writer for Proverbs 31 Ministries. The author of For the Write Reason, Marybeth has also written for Parent Life, Money Matters newsletter, The Old Schoolhouse, Hearts at Home magazine, and Homeschooling Today. She contributes regularly to the daily online devotions of Proverbs 31 Ministries. She and Curt are the parents of six children, which has taught them much about how to stretch a dollar.

Curt Whalen is a trained financial counselor through Crown Financial Concepts. He has years of experience helping couples establish budgets, solve financial problems, and learn to communicate more effectively. He has written articles for TEACH Magazine and Money Matters Newsletter and has contributed to books by authors Lysa TerKeurst and Melanie Chitwood.

Visit the authors' website.

Product Details:

List Price: $11.69
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Kregel Publications (February 16, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0825441889
ISBN-13: 978-0825441882


Finding Hope


Several years ago, my husband, Curt, and I traveled to Florida to visit my stepsister, Becky, and her husband, Chuck. Curt and I enjoyed a few days away from our kids and reconnected with family members we don’t get to see very often. One evening the four adults snuck away for a nice, leisurely dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s at Pleasure Island in Disney World. The environment was festive and fun, and all of our spirits were light as we sat around the table enjoying the sights, sounds, and delicious smells.

At one point during the conversation, we got on the subject of struggles we’d experienced in marriage. Curious as to the low points of other couples (we’ve certainly had our share!), I asked Becky and Chuck what their lowest point had been. Without even pondering, Becky blurted out, “When we didn’t have any money. Chuck had just taken a job with his dad and wasn’t making much as a starting salary. I can clearly remember one time when I went to the grocery store and my card was declined because it was maxed out. I’ll never forget having to leave my groceries behind. I felt like every eye in the store was watching me. That was the lowest point in the history of our marriage—and it took awhile for it to get better.”

Becky and Chuck’s financial situation did change. They became financially independent and now enjoy a lifestyle few people do. Yet as they sat at dinner that night—years after that difficult time—Becky could easily recall the humiliation of struggling with money. That period still haunted them and still counted as the roughest trouble they had ever faced—beyond the divorce of his parents, issues related to children, cross-country moves, and several health problems. Not having enough money and struggling to pay for basic needs had left an indelible mark on their marriage.

I never forgot that moment with Becky and Chuck. I think of it often, as it is a telling commentary on the power that financial issues can have in a marriage. Marriages break up every day over money. Mismanagement, miscommunication, and misunderstandings drive a wedge between husband and wife. Instead of getting in the ring and fighting for their finances together, many couples throw their hands up and walk away—from the problems, but also from each other. In a study done by Money magazine, 84 percent of those surveyed said that money causes tension in their marriage, and 13 percent said they fight about money several times a month.1 Another study cited that 37 percent of couples say that debt is the number one issue that will spark a fight. “Numerous studies have shown that money is the number one reason why couples argue—and many of the recently divorced say those battles were the main reason why they untied the knot.”2

Curt and I teetered on the edge of throwing in the towel on our marriage many times. We’ll tell our story throughout this book, and we’ll also share the lessons we learned during our time in the ring as we literally fought to get our finances under control. Our prayer is that this book will help other couples find the freedom that can result from living financially sound lives. The truth is, money is not an isolated issue within a marriage—it infiltrates every other area of the marriage. From the kitchen to the bedroom, money problems will follow you. Once you get a handle on this area of your marriage, you’ll find that other problems seem to evaporate into thin air. It’s been our experience that the stress of money problems adds an air of negativity to the marriage as a whole. Working together to eliminate those problems can breathe fresh hope and life into what seemed like a lifeless, hopeless situation.

If you’ve picked up this book, then chances are you need to make some changes in your finances. And you’re not alone. Our country as a whole is in a downward financial spiral that is picking up speed with each turn of the calendar page. “On average, today’s consumer has a total of 13 credit obligations on record at a credit bureau. These include credit cards (such as department store charge cards, gas cards, or bank cards) and installment loans (auto loans, mortgage loans, student loans, etc.). Of these thirteen credit obligations, nine are likely to be credit cards and four are likely to be installment loans.”3 “Revolving consumer debt, almost all from credit cards, now totals $957 billion, compared with $800 billion in 2004, according to the Federal Reserve. Average car loans are up, too, to $27,397, from $24,888 four years ago. Home mortgages total $10.5 trillion, compared with $7.8 trillion in 2004.”4

Our personal financial choices are now being reflected on a national level. As we write these words, our nation is experiencing one of the hardest economic challenges since the Great Depression. For decades we have lived beyond our means, using debt as a tool to obtain our wants. And now our house of cards is crumbling around us. We find ourselves with a national debt that has surpassed the ten-trillion-dollar mark, a banking system that is undergoing radical change, and billions of dollars of value that has been lost on Wall Street as the Dow plummets from over 14,000 down to lows we never thought possible. Economists have stopped asking if we’re going to be in a recession and started asking how bad and how long it will be.

The national climate of anxiety and uncertainty is also the climate of many homes.

A Commitment to Change

The reality of our poor financial choices hit Curt and I one night four years ago, a few days before Christmas. What should have been a time of festivities and celebrating became just another cause for stress. We didn’t know how we were going to afford the expensive presents on the kids’ lists. We didn’t want to tell them no, yet to buy gifts meant adding to our already overwhelming debt load. Because of our faith, we took God at His word when He said that nothing is impossible with Him (Luke 1:37). And yet, from where we sat, our situation looked impossible.

For years, we’d been trying to do something to change our financial picture, to no avail. We desperately wanted to stop using credit cards, yet financial emergencies always cropped up that drove us back to credit card purchases. We wanted to begin tithing and saving, yet there was never any money left over to do that. We wanted to begin chipping away at our debt, and yet we saw no way to do so. We felt trapped at every turn. We’d gotten ourselves into a financial mess. Never before that night had we felt more strongly about getting out of our mess.

As we sat in our parked car at a shopping center near our home. I watched as the other shoppers bustled past us, intent on their lists and last minute errands. I vaguely wondered how many of them were slipping deeper into debt as they charged purchases they couldn’t really afford. Meanwhile, Curt and I talked for over an hour, working through what it would take for us to change our spending habits and take steps toward achieving our dream of being debt free. Though neither of us realized it yet, that night was the beginning of a major change in our lives. We were embarking on a journey that would enable us to escape the bondage of debt and begin to enjoy financial freedom. It would be a journey of many years as we endeavored to live differently from the rest of the culture and swim against the current on money issues.

I’ve often wondered why that night was different than our many other conversations throughout our marriage that had begun, “What are we going to do about our money problems?” Although some of our past efforts had resulted in temporary changes, nothing we did ever stuck. We quickly slipped back into our old ways and debt always seemed to creep back in. Even if we closed a door, debt seemed to find a window. So what made this night—this conversation—different?

First, just a few days before, we’d learned we were expecting a baby. This news had prompted us to evaluate how we could become more financially stable as we prepared for this additional responsibility. In short, it was time to get serious. Second, this impending life change and the urgency we both felt resulted in a unity of purpose that we’d never had before. In the past, our convictions about getting out of debt and making hard changes were usually separate, with one person not as sold on the necessity of the plan. We had never been on board at the same time.

Finally, and most importantly, God met with us that night in the car, allowing Curt and me to feel the same conviction and urgency. God went before us and prepared our hearts, as He is faithful to do. We looked across that car at each other and decided that, not only could we do this, but that together we would do this. Whatever it took. In our ignorance we were actually excited about working together to slay this debt monster and change our financial picture. God created unity where once there had been anger and blaming.

Heart Attitudes

Since that night, I’ve learned that getting out of debt requires allowing several basic attitudes to take root in our hearts. Notice I did not say in our minds. The Bible points to the heart as the center—the very essence—of who we are. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” All of our thoughts and actions flow from our hearts. It’s funny how we seem to relate money to our heads and not our hearts. But we miss the mark when we do that. Without allowing these attitudes to take root in our hearts—at the very center of our being—our plan for debt reduction would have quickly fallen by the wayside as unexpected expenses and “opportunities” came our way. By presenting a united front in our battle with debt and allowing these attitudes to determine our actions, we’ve been able to stick with our plan. Though we’ll go into the specifics of our plan in other chapters, I first want to cover these four heart attitudes.

An Attitude of Commitment

Because we saw the necessity of reducing our debt and were committed in our hearts to doing that at all costs, we were not tossed about by the waves (Eph. 4:14) when real life hit. We set a goal and held each other accountable to reaching that goal. We are committed to God and to each other as a team. Our plan to become debt free was a long-range plan. In a world of fast food, microwaves, and instant access, it’s not easy to walk out every agonizing step in a long-range plan. We knew that results would be long in coming and that we had to fix our eyes on the goal, not the circumstances, and hang onto the Lord to get us through. We’ll spend all of chapter 4 talking about how to become a team.

An Attitude of Obedience

A key to obedience is recognizing God’s ownership of all things. We were both convinced that God would help us get out of debt if we were obedient to Him. This obedience required me especially to obey not only God, but my husband as well. Though submission is a dirty word in most circles, it was essential on our journey. I had to let my husband lead—even when I doubted his decision and even when he made mistakes. I couldn’t step out of the chain of command, and at first I had to continually confess this struggle to the Lord. The good news is, it got easier for me, and my husband became a natural leader for our family. The more power I handed over to him, the more I saw him grow. I am the direct beneficiary of the blessings of obedience. Through this journey, I’ve had many opportunities to show my husband my respect, trust, and honor as our provider and leader of our home.

An Attitude of Surrender

This period of getting out of debt hasn’t been all rosy, as we’ll relate later in this book. Obedience has required sacrifice. I’ve had to surrender my wants and reduce my expectations. I’ve had to learn to go without, to trust God to provide, and to lay down my desires. We’ve both had to make adjustments in our spending and truly “count the cost” of every spending decision. We’ve learned to surrender our desires in the name of honoring God’s plans for our family, trusting Him to continually bring about the best outcome possible—more than we can ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20).

An Attitude of Prayer

As we’ve laid down our wants, we’ve had to go to God and cast all our anxiety on Him (1 Peter 5:7). He has shown Himself to be a great listener and comforter. We are learning to go to Him with our specific financial concerns and to give Him all the praise when He meets our needs in miraculous ways. Our time of financial readjustment has truly increased my prayer life as I’ve become more intimately acquainted with Jehovah-Jireh, my provider. I have learned what a detail-oriented, personal God He is. This experience has deepened my faith—a benefit I did not expect.

As we’ve walked through this time of going to God for everything we need, I’ve learned to trust in Him more completely. Though I’ll talk about this in more detail later, I want to share some things that happened just last summer that illustrate how God answers even what most would call silly, insignificant prayers. Know, though, that nothing we pray is silly and insignificant to God!

• In past summers, we’d gone to a farm and picked buckets of blueberries. But it was not cheap to buy the blueberries—and I knew that we didn’t need to spend the money. So I told the Lord about how I wanted blueberries. I didn’t really ask Him for blueberries, per se, I just told my Daddy how I was longing for some blueberries for making pancakes, muffins, cakes, and other dishes. Just a few days later, I was talking with a woman I barely knew, and she mentioned that she and her family would be going out of town for a few weeks. She said that she worried about their large blueberry bushes with no one to pick them—and would we like to come and help ourselves while they were gone? Would we! We were able to pick bags of blueberries—for free!

• My son needed a new bike to ride up to our neighborhood pool because his had been stolen. We simply did not have it in the budget to buy the new bike—and yet the mother’s heart in me broke every time I saw him walking up to the pool while all the other kids rode past him. I told God how much it hurt and asked Him to provide my son with a bike when I could not. Just a few days later I was at a children’s consignment store and there, for a very inexpensive price, was a bike that looked almost new and was the perfect size for my very tall son. Why was this bike at a children’s consignment store that day? Because God orchestrated it so that I would find it. At least that’s what I believe, and that’s why I praised Him that day for answering this mother’s prayer and taking care of yet another detail in my life.

• One day I was craving a good, old southern tomato sandwich, a staple of my summer diet. But we had no tomatoes. I was just about to get in the car and drive to a produce stand to buy the tomatoes when I felt God tell me not to go, but to wait for the tomatoes. What a strange response, I thought. But I obeyed, wondering what God was up to. Within the hour, my son ran in from the neighbor’s house with several large, juicy ripe tomatoes in his hands. “Mom,” he cried. “Miss Joyce had too many tomatoes and I told her you’d love to have some!” I didn’t miss that opportunity to let my son know how God had used him to answer his mom’s prayer.

• A new necklace was all the rage and caught my eye several times as I saw it on the necks of other women. Usually I’m not much of a jewelry person, but there was something different about this particular necklace. I even found one for a reasonable price at a little home jewelry show and had it in my hand to buy it when I felt God nudging me to put it back. “But it’s a great price,” I told God—as if He didn’t know that. Again, I felt Him telling me to put it back. I will provide, I heard Him say. The following month we were visiting my stepsister, Becky, in Florida and I noticed that she was wearing that same necklace. I told her how much I liked it. “Oh,” she replied. “Do you want one? Because I got one for a gift and certainly don’t need two!” And just like that, I was the proud owner of a necklace I really wanted. And I didn’t have to spend a dime.

These are a few just examples of the countless times that God has shown us that He hears our prayers, He cares about the details, and He will move on our behalf. Sometimes we just have to be patient. And sometimes we have to learn to take no for an answer. Because I’ve seen God provide in miraculous ways, I’ve learned that when He says no, there has to be a good reason. And I must accept his no and move on instead of brooding over it. This process has taught me much about holding the things of this earth lightly—and has drawn me closer to the Father’s heart in the process. Through it all, we’ve indeed found hope in what could have been seen as a hopeless situation.

Do you need to find hope for your finances? The God of hope (Rom. 15:13) is waiting to show you the way out of debt and into freedom.


Read Genesis 6:5; Luke 2:19; and Hebrews 4:12. How do these verses relate our thought lives to the condition of our hearts?

Reflect, Discuss, Plan

1. Was it a different concept for you to think of money as being tied to your heart attitude instead of your thought life?

2. What heart attitude do you struggle with the most—commitment, obedience, surrender, or prayer? Is there a part of you that still wants to control the situation and is hesitant about involving your heart in the process?

3. In the car that night prior to Christmas, we took a big step toward getting out of debt, as we verbally committed to each other to do whatever it took to get out of debt. Has there been a time when you’ve taken this step with your spouse? Does there need to be?

4. Have money problems been the lowest point in your marriage? If so, why do you think that is?

Take Action

Are you facing a particular situation that feels hopeless? (A bill that’s due, large amounts of debt to pay off, a purchase that needs to be made but no money to make it, etc.) Write down Romans 15:13 and then spend time praying that verse aloud. If you’re working through this book with your spouse, pray together.

Want to read more? I'm giving away a copy of this book! Post a comment by Friday, May 1st to be entered in a drawing for the book.

Friday, April 24, 2009

And quitting my job was supposed to give me more time, when?

Yep. I'm still feeling the eight ball on the backs of my ankles. I suppose it's proof of how behind I've let myself get. Plus, I spent a good part the week with an intestinal bug, praying for death. See, sometimes it's a good thing when our prayers aren't answered. :)

Today, however, I did make progress. My inbox, for the first time um, since, um, 6/14/2004, is empty. I know! I know! I'm so ashamed, really, but the truth is, it's just easier, letting it hang there rather than deal with it, so today, I dealt with it. Made myself a "just in case file" so I don't have a total meltdown, but baby, I deleted a lot of emails today! Thank you, Michael Hyatt.

I also attended a parent teacher conference for my preschooler and found out that she's a perfectly normal child about ready to enter Kindergarten. They see no problems with her adjusting to the rigors of going to school all day. They did not visit the Science Fair, where her big sister's display of "how a dog's digestive system works" failed to wow her, but I caught her sneaking peeks at chemicals and semi-explosives. Perfectly normal? She's going to be the first terrorist operating dressed as Cinderella. You should see her swinging from the monkey bars like a pro in her ball gown. No, I am not kidding. Our new wardrobe fight is that she has to wear shorts under her dresses so she doesn't flash people.

Although... that gave me a great story idea. You know, what if Cinderella was really a secret agent? What if, in between balls, she was out kicking bad guys' butts and taking names? What if the prince was really just a mindless puppet she used as a cover?

Ohhh... thank you God. My creativity is back. Yes, it's still a little on the "you really mental help" side, but oh!!! Yes!!!

Right. But first, I actually do have more work to do. The good news is, I'm truly feeling like I've gotten a lot of the backlog slogged through. Did I mention my inbox is at zero? And all my messages in all my folders are read? Wahoo!! (Although if I owe you an email, um... send it again. I got a little delete happy and could very well have um...)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Blood of Lambs by Kamal Saleem

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

The Blood of Lambs

Howard Books (April 7, 2009)


Kamal Saleem was born under another name into a large Sunni Muslim family in Lebanon. At age seven, he was recruited by the Muslim Brotherhood and immediately entered a Palestinian Liberation Organization terror training camp in Lebanon. After being involved in terror campaigns in Israel, Europe, Afghanistan, and Africa, and finally making radical Islam converts in the United States, Saleem renounced jihad and became an American citizen. He has appeared on CNN, CBS News, and Fox News programs, and has spoken on terrorism and radical Islam at Stanford University, the University of California, the Air Force Academy, and other institutions nationwide.

Collaborator Writer, Lynn Vincent: Lynn Vincent, a U.S. Navy veteran, is features editor at WORLD Magazine, a national news biweekly. She is the author or co-author of six books, including the New York Times bestseller, Same of Kind of Different as Me.

This true story of an ex-terrorist reveals the life and mindset of radical Muslims. Now a US citizen, Kamal heralds a wake-up call to America.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $23.99
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (April 7, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416577807
ISBN-13: 978-1416577805


Beirut, Lebanon


It was at my mother's kitchen table, surrounded by the smells of herbed olive oils and pomegranates, that I first learned of jihad. Every day, my brothers and I gathered around the low table for madrassa, our lessons in Islam. I always tried to sit facing east, toward the window above the long marble sink where a huge tree with sweet white berries brushed against the window panes. Made of a warm, reddish wood, our table sat in the middle of the kitchen and was surrounded by tesats, small rugs that kept us off the cool tile. Mother sat at the head of the table and read to us from the Koran and also from the hadith, which records the wisdom and instruction of Allah's prophet, Muhammad.

Mother's Koran had a hard black cover etched ornately in gold and scarlet. Her grandfather had given the Book to her father, who had given it her. Even as a small boy I knew my mother and father were devout Sunni Muslims. So devout, in fact, that other Sunnis held themselves a little straighter in our family's presence. My mother never went out without her hijab, only her coffee-colored eyes peering above the cloth that shielded her face, which no man outside our family had ever seen. My father, respected in our mosque, earned an honest living as a blacksmith. He had learned the trade from my grandfather, a slim Turk who wore a red fez, walked with a limp, and cherished thick, cinnamon-laced coffee.

Each day at madrassa, Mother pulled her treasured Koran from a soft bag made of ivory cloth and when she opened it, the breath of its frail, aging pages floated down the table. Mother would read to us about the glory of Islam, about the good Muslims, and about what the Jews did to us. As a four-year-old boy, my favorite parts were the stories of war.

I vividly remember the day in madrassa when we heard the story of a merciless bandit who went about robbing caravans and killing innocent travelers. "This bandit was an evil, evil man," Mother said, spinning the tale as she sketched pictures of swords for us to color.

An evil bandit? She had my attention.

"One day, there was a great battle between the Jews and the sons of Islam," she went on. "The bandit decided to join the fight for the cause of Allah. He charged in on a great, black horse, sweeping his heavy sword left and right, cutting down the infidel warriors."

My eyes grew wider. I held my breath so as not to miss a word.

"The bandit fought bravely for Allah, killing several of the enemy until the sword of an infidel pierced the bandit's heart. He tumbled from his horse and died on the battlefield."

Disappointment deflated my chest. What good is a story like that?

I could hear children outside, shouting and playing. A breeze from the Mediterranean shimmered in the berry tree. Mother's yaknah simmered on the stove — green beans snapped fresh, cooked with olive oil, tomato, onion, and garlic. She would serve it cool that evening with pita bread, fresh mint, and cucumbers. My stomach rumbled.

"After the bandit died," Mother was saying in her storytelling voice, "his mother had a dream. In this dream, she saw her son sitting on the shore of an endless crystal river, surrounded by a multitude of women who were feeding him and tending to him."

I turned back toward Mother. Maybe this story was not so bad after all.

"The bandit's mother was an observant woman, obedient to her husband and to Allah and Muhammad," my mother said. "This woman knew her son was a robber and a murderer. 'How dare you be sitting here in paradise?' she scolded him. 'You don't belong here. You belong in hell!' But her son answered, 'I died for the glory of Allah and when I woke up, He welcomed me into jannah.' "


My mother swept her eyes around the kitchen table. "So you see, my sons, even the most sinful man is able to redeem himself with one drop of an infidel's blood."

The Blood of Lambs © 2009 Arise Enterprises, LLC

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

So Not Happening (The Charmed Life) by Jenny B. Jones

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

So Not Happening (The Charmed Life)

Thomas Nelson (May 5, 2009)


Jenny B. Jones writes adult and YA Christian Fiction with equal parts wit, sass, and untamed hilarity. When she's not writing, she's living it up as a high school speech teacher in Arkansas.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (May 5, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1595545417
ISBN-13: 978-1595545411


I had the opportunity to read one of Jenny's books last year, and wow, was I hooked! As a general rule, I'm not a YA reader. Jenny is one of the exceptions. I would, in Jenny-speak, wade through a swamp full of crocodiles in my favorite shoes to get to her books. I can't wait until my kiddos are old enough to read her books, so they can enjoy a wholesome, lighthearted read that takes on some pretty tough topics. Not that I'll let them read my copies. They'll have to buy their own.


One year ago my mom got traded in for a newer model.

And that’s when my life fell apart.

“Do you, Jillian Leigh Kirkwood . . .”

Standing by my mother’s side as she marries the man who is so not my dad, I suppress a sigh and try to wiggle my toes in these hideous shoes. The hideous shoes that match my hideous maid-of honor dress. I like to look at things on the bright side, but the only

positive thing about this frock is that I’ll never have to wear it again.

“. . . take Jacob Ralph Finley . . .”

Ralph? My new stepdad’s middle name is Ralph? Okay, do we need one more red flag here? My mom is marrying this guy, and I didn’t even know his middle name. Did she? I check her face for signs of revulsion, signs of doubt. Signs of “Hey, what am I thinking? I don’t want Jacob Ralph Finley to be my daughter’s new stepdad.”

I see none of these things twinkling in my mom’s crystal blue eyes. Only joy. Disgusting, unstoppable joy.

“Does anyone have an objection?” The pastor smiles and scans the small crowd in the Tulsa Fellowship Church. “Let him speak now or forever hold his peace.”

Oh my gosh. I totally object! I look to my right and lock eyes with Logan, the older of my two soon-to-be stepbrothers. In the six hours that I have been in Oklahoma preparing for this “blessed” event, Logan and I have not said five words to one another. Like we’ve mutually agreed to be enemies.

I stare him down.

His eyes laser into mine.

Do we dare?

He gives a slight nod, and my heart triples in beat.

“Then by the powers vested in me before God and the family and friends of—”


The church gasps.

I throw my hands over my mouth, wishing the floor would swallow me.

I, Bella Kirkwood, just stopped my own mother’s wedding.

And I have no idea where to go from here. It’s not like I do this every day, okay? Can’t say I’ve stopped a lot of weddings in my sixteen years.

My mom swivels around, her big white dress making crunchy noises. She takes a step closer to me, still flashing her pearly veneers at the small crowd.

“What,” she hisses near my ear, “are you doing?”

I glance at Logan, whose red locks hang like a shade over his eyes. He nods again.

“Um . . . um . . . Mom, I haven’t had a chance to talk to you at all this week . . .” My voice is a tiny whisper. Sweat beads on my forehead.

“Honey, now is not exactly the best time to share our feelings and catch up.”

My eyes dart across the sanctuary, where one hundred and fifty people are perched on the edge of their seats. And it’s not because they’re anxious for the chicken platters coming their way after the ceremony.

“Mom, the dude’s middle name is Ralph.”

She leans in, and we’re nose to nose. “You just stopped my wedding and that’s what you wanted to tell me?”

Faint—that’s what I’ll do next time I need to halt a wedding.

“How well do you know Jake? You only met six months ago.”

Some of the heat leaves her expression. “I’ve known him long enough to know that I love him, Bella. I knew it immediately.”

“But what if you’re wrong?” I rush on, “I mean, I’ve only been around him a few times, and I’m not so sure. He could be a serial killer for all we know.” I can count on one hand the times I’ve been around Jake. My mom usually visited him when I was at my dad’s.

Her voice is low and hurried. “I understand this isn’t easy for you. But our lives have changed. It’s going to be an adventure, Bel.”

Adventure? You call meeting a man on the Internet and forcing me to move across the country to live with his family an adventure? An adventure is swimming with dolphins in the Caribbean. An adventure is touring the pyramids in Egypt. Or shopping at the Saks after-Thanksgiving sale with Dad’s credit card. This, I do believe, qualifies as a nightmare!

“You know I’ve prayed about this. Jake and I both have. We know this is God’s will for us. I need you to trust me, because I’ve never been more sure about anything in my life.”

A single tear glides down Mom’s cheek, and I feel my heart constrict. This time last year my life was so normal. So happy. Can I just hit the reverse button and go back?

Slowly I nod. “Okay, Mom.” It’s kind of hard to argue with “God says this is right.” (Though I happen to think He’s wrong.)

The preacher clears his throat and lifts a bushy black brow.

“You can continue,” I say, knowing I’ve lost the battle. “She had something in her teeth.” Yes, that’s the best I've got.

I. Am. An. Idiot.

“And now, by the powers vested in me, I now pronounce you Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Finley. You may kiss your bride.”

Nope. Can’t watch.

I turn my head as the “Wedding March” starts. Logan walks to my side, and I link my arm in his. Though we’re both going to be juniors, he’s a head taller than me. It’s like we’re steptwins. He grabs his six-year-old brother, Robbie, with his other hand, and off we go

in time to the music. Robbie throws rose petals all around us, giggling with glee, oblivious to the fact that we just witnessed a ceremony marking the end of life as we know it.

“Good job stopping the wedding.” Logan smirks. “Very successful.”

I jab my elbow into his side. “At least I tried! You did nothing!”

“I just wanted to see if you had it in you. And you don’t.”

I snarl in his direction as the camera flashes, capturing this day for all eternity.

Last week I was living in Manhattan in a two-story apartment between Sarah Jessica Parker and Katie Couric. I could hop a train to Macy’s and Bloomie’s. My friends and I could eat dinner at Tao and see who could count the most celebs. I had Broadway in my backyard

and Daddy’s MasterCard in my wallet.

Then my mom got married.

And I got a new life.

I should’ve paid that six-year-old to pull the fire alarm.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

How Twitter meets real needs in real time for real people

I had a small issue this evening.

Well, okay, not so small.

I was DYING for chocolate cake.

To some, that's not such a big deal. But for whatever reason, I NEEDED it. All I could think about was chocolate cake. So much so that I didn't want to read because I was afraid that someone in the book would talk about chocolate cake and that would be the end of that.

So I tweeted my frustration at not having chocolate cake.

Then my friend, Camy Tang, tweeted back with this.

All I have to say is, God Bless You, Camy Tang!

I didn't quite have all the ingredients, for example, I substituted hot cocoa mix with marshmallows for the cocoa and cherry cordial Hershey's kisses for the chocolate chips. But... oh... it filled the need.

I also agree with her assessment that it's more like bread pudding in texture than cake, but that actually was a good thing, because I almost made bread pudding for dessert tonight, but then got too lazy.

Seriously though... this is definitely a great quick fix for anyone needing that immediate chocolate cake gratification.

Twitter, my friends, is an amazing place. You can find me there at http://twitter.com/danicafavorite. And if you ever need a quick chocolate fix, Camy or I can fix you up.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The end of an era

Yesterday was my last day at my tax job. As some of you may recall, I gave notice four months ago and have been working out the end of my contract. I've only been working there five years, but it definitely feels like the end of an era.

After we sent the final return at about 11pm, we went out for drinks. We reminisced, as we always do, talking about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the tax season. As we told our stories, one of the things I realized is I've left a good legacy.

It was humbling to hear from a number of people how valued I am, how much I am respected, and what an incredible example I was to others. The significance of all this isn't to say how great I am. I'm truly honored by all the wonderful things people said and the awards I've been given. But I do want to share why I think my time there left the legacy it did.

1. I was never out for the glory. I just wanted to do a good job- using the best of my abilities to help every person I encountered.
2. The connection was just as important as getting the job done. Many of my coworkers and clients became friends.
3. In everything I did, I tried to honor God and to do the right thing. Even when it was hard, even when other people didn't like it, and yes, even when I didn't like it.

I'm going to miss my job. And yet, I am so happy that I am going to have a huge chunk of my time freed up so I can focus on more important things. Yesterday ended an era in my life. Today begins a new one. And I hope, as I take that next step towards whatever God has planned, I'll do so armed with the lessons I've learned, and use them to do greater and better things.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Plucking the Chicken of Fear Part 2

This must be the season of conquering fear. Last week, God asked me to confront one of my writing fears. This week, we (read He) decided to confront another fear.

Rewind to my whining about needing to lose weight and exercise more. My friend, the fabulous Kay Day, suggested at one point that we take a Nia class together.

This week, I saw a flyer for a FREE introductory Nia class at the local rec center as a teaser to join the session starting next week. Unfortunately, this class didn't work for Kay.

The real me does not like being around strangers. I do not like to exercise. And I REALLY do not like to exercise in front of other people. Without a friend there to hold my hand, no way was I going to some exercise class.

Then I heard the refrain of "Bwaaaaaaak."

Today, I went to the class. I spent the entire hour of this class feeling awkward, uncomfortable, and wondering why I skipped Panera for this. Then the thought hit me...

Why do I think that changing something as important as my fitness level is going to be easy? If it was going to be easy, I'd already be doing it. I thought about all the reasons why I wanted to get into shape.

I debated about registering for the class. I tried my no money excuse. Even tried the "it's my Panera time" excuse. But let's be honest here. I didn't want to endure another six weeks of being uncomfortable.

It wasn't awful, and as far as exercise goes, it's actually kinda fun. Still not my thing, still a place I will feel stretched about as far as I can be stretched. But I realized, as our instructor told us to purposely put ourselves in a place where we were off balance so that we could learn to develop balance, that's exactly what God is asking of me.

So I registered for the class. If I want to grow, I've got to be willing to pluck the chicken of fear and go to places where I know I'll be uncomfortable.

What about you? Is God challenging you to confront a fear or visit a place of discomfort?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Stress Much?

It is the last week of tax season. Which means my schedule is crammed full, I'm operating on much less sleep, and I can barely put together a coherent thought together unless it involves explaining tax-ese.

So I am tired. Stressed. Thankful that my time working is almost over. Sad that I'll soon be leaving some great co-workers.

Which means if I'm scarce, it's just what I gotta do for the next week until it's over.

A friend once asked me how I deal with all this stress. My tendency is to hibernate, though that's not exactly possible with everything I have to do. So mostly, I just push through it, do what has to be done, and get through, one foot in front of the other. The to-do list doesn't always get finished, but it's always waiting for me the next day.

How about you? What do you do when you know you're in the middle of a very stressful time?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

My Britney Spears Dilemma

So let's just get this out there... I don't like Britney Spears. I think it's awful that they turned a little girl into a sexy woman-child whose life is now out of control. She is a terrible role model and I don't particularly like her music.

That said, you can't deny that she's popular with young girls. I thought, that at 8 and 4, mine were too young to fall under her spell. I was wrong.

Today, as I sat on my computer, I heard strains of "oops I did it again." And I thought, huh, neighbors must be outside working. Then I thought, um, no, they listen to Mexican pop music. Crap. It's coming from my basement.

And there they were, my two little girls rocking out to that song on You Tube. Apparently, my 8 year old's best friend (also 8) is a HUGE Britney fan. Double crap.

I sat my daughters down and explained to them that I don't think Britney sings about nice things and that I think she's a bad example and I'd prefer they don't listen to her, etc. The 4 year old pipes up and says, "But what about Womanizer?"

*insert hysterical scream*

Then I asked them, "Do you even know what a womanizer is?" Dull looks. I explained that a womanizer is a man who treats women bad and is mean to them. Did they think that was a good thing to sing about? Well, no, they admitted. But it has a great beat they can dance to.

*banging head against wall*

So I am asking, begging, even, for some help.

First, are there good, clean musicians out there who have a good beat like Britney Spears? Any music recommendations? I promised the girls I'd help them find some music we could all be happy with.

Second, I'd love some thoughts on handling the situation in general. Not only can I not control what they watch/listen to outside my supervision, but I don't want to. I want them to learn to make good choices about their music and entertainment. I don't want to be the mean mom who bans all the good stuff. So how do you balance promoting good values with the crap we're bombarded with?