Friday, August 21, 2009

Truth or Dare and All that Glitters (Two books!) by Nicole O'Dell

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 books:


Truth or Dare

Barbour Books (August 1, 2009) )


AND


All That Glitters

Barbour Books (August 1, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Nicole O’Dell lives in Illinois with her husband and six children—including triplets! Nicole has a heart for young girls and a special passion for the relationships between mothers and daughters as they approach the teen years. Her new book series, Scenarios Interactive Fiction for Girls, is designed to help girls develop sound decision-making skills and debuts in August 2009 with the release of the first two books. Her writing also includes devotionals and Bible studies for women of all ages.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

Truth or Dare:
List Price: $7.97
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books (August 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602603995
ISBN-13: 978-1602603998

All That Glitters:
List Price: $7.97
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books (August 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602604002
ISBN-13: 978-1602604001


MY REVIEW:



I was excited about these books for a couple reasons. Number one, I LOVED reading the "Choose your own Adventure" books as a kid. My friends and I constantly bugged the librarian for the new ones and passed them around. These books are like "Choose your own Adventure" but have a good moral lesson as well. The second reason I liked these books is that I want to be able to give my children good reading choices. I think my 3rd grader, who is almost 9, is still a bit young for them, but I think in a year or two, these will be great for her.


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTERs:


Truth or Dare
Scenarios—Interactive Fiction for Girls

Nicole O’Dell

Chapter 1

Rule the School

The first bright, yellow light of day was starting to peek through the blinds covering her window. Lindsay Martin stretched and yawned as she slowly woke up. After tossing and turning much of the night, she was still sleepy, so she turned over and pulled the puffy pink comforter up to her chin and allowed herself to doze off for a few more minutes, burying her face in her pillow.

But wait. She sat up quickly, remembering it was the first day of school. With no time to waste, she jumped out of bed.

She had carefully selected her clothes the night before, and the khaki pants and screened-print tee were still hanging on her closet door just waiting to be worn. But, after thinking about it, they seemed all wrong. Frantically plowing through her closet for something different to wear, Lindsay pushed aside last year’s jeans and T-shirts, and found the perfect outfit: not too dressy, not too casual, not too anything. As an eighth grader, she wanted to look cool without looking like she was trying too hard—which was the fashion kiss of death. Confident she had selected the perfect outfit, she padded off to the bathroom to get ready to face the day.

Happy with how she looked—jeans with just the right amount of fading down the front, a short-sleeved T-shirt layered over a snug, long-sleeved T-shirt, and a pair of sunglasses perched atop her blonde hair—she bounced down the stairs, slowing as she reached the bottom. Just wanting to get out of the house and be on her way, Lindsay sighed when she recognized the smell of bacon coming from the kitchen. “Mom, I’m really not hungry, and I have to go meet the girls!”

“Now, you know I’m not going to let you head off to school without breakfast, so at least take this with you.” Mom held out Lindsay’s favorite breakfast sandwich: an English muffin with fluffy scrambled eggs, cheese, and two slices of bacon.

Lindsay wrapped it up in a napkin so she could take it with her and gave her mom a quick kiss before rushing out the door. “Thanks, Mom. You’re the best!”

Hurrying toward the school, Lindsay munched on her sandwich along the way. Nerves set in and, halfway through her sandwich, her stomach wouldn’t allow her to finish it; so she tossed what was left into a nearby trash can where it fell with a thud.

After her short walk down the tree-lined streets, she arrived at the meeting spot—a large oak tree in the front yard of the school—about fifteen minutes early. Shielding her eyes from the sun and squinting in eager anticipation, Lindsay watched the street for the first sign of her three best friends. She expected Sam and Macy to arrive by school bus—they lived too far away from the school to walk, so they generally rode the bus together. Kelly didn’t live too far away, but her mom usually dropped her off before heading to her job as an attorney in the city. Lindsay was thankful she lived so close to the school. She loved being the first one there to greet her friends each morning. Since her mom didn’t have to leave for work, and Lindsay didn’t need to catch the bus, she had a bit more flexibility and could save a spot for them under their favorite tree.

The bus pulled into the driveway, squealing as it slowed. It paused to wait for the crowds of students to move through the crosswalk. When it finally parked, the doors squeaked open and students began to pour off the bus just as Kelly’s mom pulled up to the curb right in front of Lindsay.

“Bye, Mom!” Kelly grabbed her new backpack out of the backseat and jumped out of the car. At almost the same time, Macy and Sam exited the bus after the sixth and seventh graders got off.

Excitedly, the four girls squealed and hugged each other under their tree, never minding the fact that they had been with each other every day for the entire summer. They shrieked and jumped up and down in excitement as if they had been apart for months. They were eighth graders. This was going to be the best year yet. With eager anticipation, each one of them could tell there was something more grown-up and exciting about the first day of eighth grade, and they were ready for it.

With a few minutes to spare before the bell rang, the girls stopped and leaned against their tree for a quick survey of the schoolyard. It was easy to identify the sixth graders. They were nervous, furtively glancing in every direction; and, the most telltale sign of a sixth grader, they had new outfits and two-day-old haircuts. The girls easily but not fondly remembered how scary it was to be new to middle school and felt sorry for the new sixth graders.

The seventh graders were a little bit more confident, but still not nearly cool enough to speak to the eighth graders. Most students, no matter the grade, carried backpacks and some had musical instruments. Some even had new glasses or had discarded their glasses in favor of contacts.

“Look over there.” Kelly pointed across the grassy lawn to a student. A new student, obviously a sixth grader, struggled with his backpack and what appeared to be a saxophone case. Two bigger boys, eighth graders, grabbed the case out of his hands and held it over his head. They teased him mercilessly until the bell rang, forcing them to abandon their fun and head in to the school. The girls shook their heads and sighed—some things never changed—as they began to walk toward the doors.

Kelly and Sam both stopped to reach into their backpacks to turn off their new cell phones before entering the school—it would make for a horrible first day of school if they were to get their phones taken away.

“You’re so lucky,” Macy whined as she watched Kelly flip open her shiny blue phone, carefully decorated with sparkly gems. Sam laughed and turned off her sporty red phone, slid the top closed, and dropped it into her bag. Macy’s parents wouldn’t let her have a cell phone until high school.

“When did you guys get cell phones?” Lindsay asked.

“I got mine yesterday, and Sam got hers on Saturday,” Kelly explained. “My mom wanted to have a way to reach me in the case of an emergency and for me to be able to reach her. I’m not supposed to use it just anytime I want to.”

“Same with me. I might as well not have it. I can call anyone who has the same service or use it as much as I want to on nights and weekends, but that’s it,” Sam complained.

“It’s still way more than I have. You’re so lucky,” Macy said emphatically.

Lindsay sighed and agreed with Macy while she smeared untinted lip gloss onto her lips. “I have no idea when I’ll ever get to have a cell phone. My mom thinks that they are bad for ‘kids.’” She rolled her eyes to accentuate the point that she not only thought she should have a cell phone, but that she definitely disagreed with the labeling of herself and her friends as kids. “She won’t even let me use lip gloss with any color in it. She thinks I’m too young.”

With cell phones turned off, backpacks slung over shoulders, lip gloss perfectly accenting skin tanned by the lazy days of summer, and arms locked, the four best friends were ready to enter the school to begin their eighth-grade year. Seeing their reflection in the glass doors of the school as they approached it, Lindsay noticed how tall they’d all become over the summer. Four pairs of new jeans, four similar T-shirts, and four long manes of shiny hair—they were similar in so many ways, but different enough to keep things interesting.

Kelly Garrett was the leader of the group. The girls almost always looked to her to get the final word on anything from plans they might make, to boys they liked, to clothes they wore. She was a natural leader, which was great most of the time. Her strong opinions sometimes caused conflict, though. Sam Lowell, the comedienne of the group was always looking for a way to entertain them and make them laugh. She was willing to try anything once, and her friends enjoyed testing her on that. Macy Monroe was the sweet one. She was soft-spoken and slow to speak. She hated to offend anyone and got her feelings hurt easily. Then there was Lindsay. She was in the middle, the glue. She was strong but kind and was known to be a peacemaker. She often settled disputes between the girls to keep them from fighting.

Amid complete chaos—students talking, locker doors slamming shut, high-fives, and whistles—the first day of school began. There was an assembly for the eighth graders, so the girls head toward the gymnasium rather than finding their separate ways to their first classes.

Unlike the younger students who had to sit with their classes, eighth-graders could choose where they wanted to sit. The girls filed into the bleachers together, tucking their belongings beneath their feet carefully so that they wouldn’t fall through to the floor below. The room was raucously loud as 150 eighth graders excitedly shared stories of their summers and reunited with friends.

The speakers squealed as the principal turned on his microphone and tried to get everyone’s attention. “Welcome back to Central Middle School. Let’s all stand together to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Conversations slowly trailed off to a dull roar as teachers attempted to create some order in each row. The eighth-graders shuffled to their feet and placed their right hands over their hearts to recite the Pledge, and the principal began, “I pledge allegiance to the flag. . .”

Lindsay joined in, but her mind wandered as she looked down the row at each of her best friends. She remembered the great summer they had. They spent many days languishing in the hot sun by Kelly’s pool. She remembered the day when Sam got a bad sunburn from laying on the tanning raft for hours and not listening to the girls when they suggested she reapply her sunscreen. She wanted a good tan, and she paid the price. Kelly had the bright idea of using olive oil and lemon juice to take away the sting—she thought she had heard about that somewhere—but all it did was make Sam smell bad for days along with the suffering that her burns caused.

They also had gone shopping at the mall whenever Sam’s mom would pile them into her SUV and drop them off for a few hours so they could check out the latest fashions and watch for new students—boys in particular. Their favorite mall activity was to take a huge order of cheese fries and four Diet Cokes to a table at the edge of the food court so they could watch the people walk by.

They had a blast burying each other in the sand at the beach whenever Macy’s dad took a break from job-hunting to spend the day lying in the sun. One time, they even made a huge castle with a moat. The castle had steps they could climb, and the moat actually held water. It took them almost the entire day, but the pictures they took made it all worth it.

They had also shared a weeklong trip to Lindsay’s Bible camp. It was a spiritual experience for Lindsay, who used the time to deepen her relationship with God. She enjoyed being able to bring her friends into that part of her life—even if it was just for a week. Macy, more than the others, showed some interest and said that she’d like to attend youth group with Lindsay when it started up again in the fall. All four girls enjoyed the canoe trips—even the one when the boat capsized and they got drenched. They swam in the lake and played beach volleyball. The week they spent at camp was a good end to what they considered a perfect summer.

Although there was a certain finality to their fun and freedom with the arrival of the school year, there was excitement too, as they took this next step toward growing up together. Lindsay took a moment to imagine what it would be like in the future. Next year, they would start high school. After several years, they would head off to the same college and room together as the plan had always been. At some point, they would each find someone to settle down with and get married. They had already figured out who would be the maid of honor for whose wedding. That way, they each got to do it once. And they would each be bridesmaids for each other. Then, they would have children. Hopefully, they would have them at around the same time so they their children could grow up together too. Beautiful plans built on beautiful friendships. . .what more could a girl ask for?


“…One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” The Pledge of Allegiance ended, and all of the students sat down to hear about the exciting new school year.


All That Glitters
Scenarios—Interactive Fiction for Girls

Nicole O’Dell

Chapter 1

Time for a Change

A fancy sports car on one side and a shiny, brand-new SUV on the other, Mrs. Daniels slid her car into a parking spot at the mall. More than any other year, shopping for school clothes this year was a very important task. Dani and Drew, identical twins, were starting the ninth grade—freshman year, the first year of high school. They knew full well how important their first impression was— well, at least Drew did. She had spent most of her summer planning and researching fashion trends, hairstyles, and makeup tips by reading fashion magazines. Not that it would do her much good, she often thought. Their parents didn’t allow them to wear makeup; and her long, straight, dark hair looked just like her sister’s and was cut and styled in the same style they had always had.

“Mom, I think it’s time for a change,” Drew announced as they walked through the parking lot toward the mall.

“What kind of change?” Mrs. Daniels asked hesitantly.

“You know, change isn’t always a bad thing.” Drew thought her mom might need some convincing before she tried to state her case. “Change can just be a part of growing up and a sign that a girl is secure and comfortable with herself.”

“Yes, Drew, I’m aware of that. Why do I have a feeling that I’m not going to like what you’re about to suggest?” Mrs. Daniels sighed good-naturedly and looked at Drew’s twin sister, who shrugged her shoulders not knowing anything about the big change that her twin was proposing. “Well, let’s have it. What have you got cooked up?”

“Oh, it’s really not a big deal, Mom. I’d just like to get my hair cut.” Drew pulled a picture of a hairstyle out of her pocket and showed it to her mom.

Mrs. Daniels could see immediately that the softly layered style would cascade to a very flattering place just below Drew’s shoulders. She looked at Dani and raised her eyebrows. “Do you want your hair cut like that?”

“No, Mom, you don’t understand.” Drew interrupted with a slight whine, nervous that she wasn’t getting her point across. “If Dani cuts her hair like that too, then I don’t want to. This is how I want to look. . .by myself. I want to make a change, even just a slight one like my hairstyle, to separate myself from just being ‘one of the twins.’ I want to be an individual; I want to be Drew.”

“Ah, I see, now.” Mrs. Daniels knew that this would happen one day and, she had to admit, high school was a reasonable time for this to occur. It pained her to think of her baby girls reaching such an independent place, though. “How do you feel about that, Dani?”

“Well, to be honest, I really don’t want to change my hair. And I like being ‘one of the twins’ as Drew put it. I guess I don’t see how that’s a bad thing. Why would changing your hair to look like a picture of someone else make you an individual anyway?” She asked pointedly, turning to Drew.

“It just gives me the chance to express myself and be different than I have been.”

“As long as you really mean ‘different than you have been’ and not just that you want to be different than me.” Dani tried not to be hurt, but it was difficult.

“Aw, Sis, I love you. Nothing can change that we’re twins. That will always be a part of us. We’re just talking about a haircut here.”

“I guess you’re right.” Dani laughed. “Let’s go get your hair cut so we can all get used to it while we try on clothes.”

First stop: Shear Expressions for a new hairstyle. The bell above the door jingled as they entered the store. Luckily, there wouldn’t be a wait because Drew was too excited and impatient to wait. She took her seat in the shampoo chair, and the stylist began to lather up her hair. After the shampooing was finished, she patted Drew’s hair dry and moved her to the station where she would be cutting her hair.

Drew struggled to get her hand into the front pocket of her jeans so she could show the stylist the picture of the haircut that she wanted. “Um, Drew, I didn’t realize that your jeans were getting so tight. We’re going to have to be sure to buy some new jeans today.”

“Mom,” Drew laughed. “This is how I bought them. I want them this way.”

Mrs. Daniels looked at the stylist, obviously a mom herself, and shrugged her shoulders. “I know,” the stylist said, “it looks uncomfortable to me too.”

“This is what I want.” Drew showed her the picture, ignoring the comments about her jeans.

“Oh, that’s going to be easy enough and beautiful too. We’ll just take this hair of yours and cut some layers into it. We’ll probably need to take off about three inches, but you have plenty of length so it won’t even be that noticeable. Are you doing the same cut?” The stylist turned to Dani.

“Nope, not me. I’m staying just like this.”

“All right then, let’s get started.”

Thirty minutes later, with dark hair in little piles all over the floor around her, Drew was staring into the mirror in front of her, getting her first look at her new self. She was stunned with what she saw. After looking at her sister for so many years, she was used to having a walking mirror right beside her. But now, as they both gazed into the mirror and took in the changes, they realized that a simple thing like a haircut signaled major changes afoot. Dani was sad when she saw the differences between them, but Drew was thrilled with her new look.

“I love it!” She spun around to the right and then to the left and watched her hair bounce in waves around her shoulders. “It moves, and it’s free.” She didn’t miss the long, thick straight locks a bit. “It has personality. Thank you so much. You did a perfect job,” she said to the hairdresser.

“I’m so glad you like it. I think it looks great too.” Both the hairdresser and Mrs. Daniels were a bit more reserved out of sensitivity to Dani.

“Mom, what about you? Do you like it?”

“You look beautiful, dear. Very grown up.”

“Now I’m ready to shop.” Nothing was going to contain Drew’s excitement as they left the salon; she was thrilled.


* * * * *


“We need to be wise now, girls. There is a limit to today’s budget. My question is whether you want to split the budget and each get your own clothes—or do you want to pick things out to share and get more that way?”

Drew was trying to be more of an individual, but even she could see the logic behind pooling their resources and sharing the clothing allowance; and she knew that Dani would agree. But Drew did have one trick up her sleeve that she decided to save for later in the day.

They spent the day trying on clothes. It helped that both girls were exactly the same size and basically liked similar things. By the end of the day, they had successfully managed to supply their wardrobe with all of the basics they would need for ninth grade, including new winter jackets, jeans, tops, sweaters, belts, socks, pajamas, undergarments, accessories, and shoes. They were exhausted by the end of the shopping trip, and Mrs. Daniels was more than ready to go home.

As they were walking toward the exit door, Drew said, “Mom, you mentioned that you have grocery shopping to do. Would it be all right if Dani and I stayed here and meet you when you’re finished? I have a few things I still want to look for.”

“I suppose that would be okay, but I’m done with dishing out money today. So what are you looking for, and what will you do once you find it?” Mrs. Daniels laughed.

“I brought some of the money I saved from babysitting this summer, and I really want to use some of it to get a few unique shirts or something that will be just mine—you know, signature pieces. I promise I won’t spend it all, Mom.”

“Oh, I see. This is part of your search for individuality? Is that it?” At Drew’s nod, she continued, “I don’t see anything wrong with that. But, Drew, just remember what your dad and I allow and how we expect you to dress. No super-tight jeans, no shirts that show your belly, nothing with a saying or advertisement that your dad and I would find inappropriate. Think of it this way: nothing that I wouldn’t let you wear to youth group. Deal?”

“Got it, Mom. Thanks, you’re the best.”

After they discussed their meeting time and location, Mrs. Daniels left the girls to their shopping. They hit all of their favorite stores again. Dani wasn’t too happy about it, though. “Why couldn’t you have done this while we were shopping earlier?” She asked Drew.

“Because, I wanted to finish the shopping for our stuff and then I would know what I still needed.”

“Oh, Sis, there’s nothing else that you need.”

“I know, that’s what makes this part so fun. It’s all about what I want.”

Dani sighed and suggested they get started before they ran out of time. With her own money, Drew selected two snug, plaid shirts to wear over a tight black T-shirt that she found. The flannel shirts barely reached her waistband, but the T-shirt was long enough, so she thought it would pass. She also selected a cropped denim jacket that was covered in studded rhinestones. Dani liked the jacket, but it wasn’t really her style at all. Drew also picked a few cropped sweaters that, if worn alone, would be way too short for Mrs. Daniels approval, but with a T-shirt or tank underneath, would probably get by. Her favorite and most expensive purchase was a black leather belt with a big silver buckle covered in rhinestones in the shape of a big rose. Drew thought that it was unique enough to become her signature piece.

“Well, one thing you won’t have to worry about,” Dani assured her, “is that I won’t be bugging you to borrow any of the things you bought. They’re all yours.”

Their time was up so they hurried to the exit door to find Mrs. Daniels already waiting there for them. As they slipped into the car she asked, “Well, was your search successful?”

“Oh, yeah! Mom, I found some really cute things,” the ever-excited Drew told her mom.

“Yeah, real cute,” Dani said, rolling her eyes.

Sensing from Dani’s reaction that there might be something she needed to see in those bags, Mrs. Daniels said, “Great. Then we can have our own private fashion show when we get home.”

“Sure, Mom. No problem.”


* * * * *


After dinner, Mrs. Daniels remembered that she hadn’t checked out Drew’s purchases yet. “Drew, why don’t you get those things that you bought so we can make sure that everything is acceptable for you to wear.”

“Mom, I know the rules and I followed them. I don’t see what the concern is.”

“There’s no real concern, honey; but I’d appreciate if you don’t argue with me and just humor me. I am only looking out for your best interests.”

“Okay, Okay, I’ll go get them.” Drew left to get her bags from her room. She stomped down the hall, careful not to be disrespectful but made sure that they knew she wasn’t too happy.

Plopping her bags down on the couch, Drew waited for the verdict. Her mom wasn’t too happy at all when she saw how small and short some of the shirts were. Drew said, “Hold on, Mom. Before you say no, let me try them on.”

Skeptically, Mrs. Daniels agreed to reserve her judgment until she had a chance to see the items on Drew.

After Drew had the first outfit on, Mrs. Daniels realized that they were layering pieces and that the shorter items were worn on top to reveal the layers beneath. “Well, now, that’s not so bad. But, Drew, you have to promise me that I’m not going to catch you wearing those clothes alone or in anyway that shows your belly.”

“I already know that, Mom.”

Mrs. Daniels raised her eyebrows, waiting.

“Okay, I promise, Mom. Really.”

“Well, then, everything is fine; and I especially like the belt you bought. It’s definitely a unique piece.”

Dani had been sitting quietly on the other side of the room, watching the process and waiting for the verdict. She quietly got up and went to her room, softly closed the door, and got ready for bed. She wasn’t too happy, but she didn’t really know what it was that was bugging her.

“Too many changes,” she whispered as she drifted off to sleep.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Not so fast by Ann Kroeker

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:


Not So Fast

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


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Ann Kroeker is an acclaimed writer and speaker committed to encouraging and inspiring women as they face the demands of daily living. She is the author of The Contemplative Mom and has contributed to the award-winning Experiencing the Passion of Jesus.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434768880
ISBN-13: 978-1434768889


MY REVIEW:

For those of you who read my blog, you know I am the typical frenzied family. It seems like all I do is rush, rush, and focus on my level of productivity. I'm stressed over everything I have to do, and I can't imagine what life would look like without all the craziness. So I grabbed this book, in my usual way, and sat down to read. Um, no. The point of this book is not to get through it as quickly as possible, but to slow down and incorporate some of the ideas into your life.

Instead of actually reading the whole thing, I read the first chapter, then skimmed the rest. I decided, after chapter one, that I'm going to use this book as a devotional. Next week, the kids go back to school. People keep asking me what I'm going to do with all my time. Trust me, I have lots to fill it with. But the one thing I am going to do more of is use the time to spend with God. I'm looking forward to using this book to help guide that time and find ways to slow down my crazy life. My hope is to find one slow down tip to use each week.

I love that this book has practical tips, advice, and Biblical backing. I definitely recommend it to anyone who needs to slow down a bit.

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


1: What Are We Missing Out On?


Just before eight o’clock on a Friday morning in January 2007, renowned classical violinist Joshua Bell pulled his instrument from its case and launched into Bach’s “Chaconne.” For this special performance, he wasn’t onstage at The Kennedy Center or Carnegie Hall. This particular morning, at the request of the Washington Post, he stood against a bare wall in the indoor arcade of a DC Metro stop, dressed in jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, and a baseball cap.


Wearing such ordinary attire in such a heavily trafficked, unremarkable public spot, playing for average Joes and Janes on their way to work, he’d be easy to mistake for just another nondescript street musician trying to make a buck.


He’d be easy to ignore, that is, if you didn’t pick up on the dazzling sounds of this classical music superstar. Joshua Bell—one of the finest violinists of our time performing some of the greatest music ever written, who only three days earlier performed in Boston’s Symphony Hall where “pretty good” seats went for $100—was playing a bustling Metro stop for free. Incognito. The Post arranged this as an “experiment in context, perception and priorities… in a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?”1


Ah, would beauty touch people’s souls? Would they respond to the music? Would they even notice he was there? Would large crowds gather to take in the world-class performance placed directly in their paths?


During the forty-three minutes he played, 1,097 people passed by.


Only seven stopped to hang around and listen.


Most scurried past, minds full of pressing appointments and projects due. Maybe they noticed, maybe they didn’t. Perhaps they noticed but didn’t want to give any money, so they lowered their heads and continued without making eye contact.


Reporters gathered a few stories. They interviewed those seven who stopped as well as many who didn’t.


One who didn’t stop stood out to me because she was a mom. I could easily put myself in her shoes. Bell was a couple of minutes into “Ave Maria” when this mom, Sheron Parker, stepped off the escalator with her preschooler in tow and rushed through the arcade. She walked briskly, pulling along her child by the hand. She faced a time crunch—she needed to get her son, Evan, to his teacher, and then rush back to work for a training class.


As they passed through, Evan was instantly drawn to the music. He kept twisting and turning around to get a look at Joshua Bell, but mom was in a hurry. With no time to stop, she did what any of us might do—she positioned herself between Evan and Bell, blocking Evan’s view. As she rushed him out the door, three-year old Evan was still leaning around to snatch one last peek at the violinist.


A reporter spoke with Parker afterward, asking if she remembered anything unusual. She recalled, “There was a musician, and my son was intrigued. He wanted to pull over and listen, but I was rushed for time.” When told what she walked out on, she laughed. “Evan is very smart!”



But Parker wasn’t the only parent who hustled her child along. The paper studied the video and concluded:


There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch

Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding.

Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three

groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single

time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent

scooted the kid away.2


Every single child that passed the music tried to stop. Every child yearned to listen. To see the bow dance across the strings. The children instinctively wanted to bask in the beauty and delight of the near-miraculous sounds that poured out of that Stradivarius violin and into their otherwise hustled-and-bustled everyday lives.


And every single parent scooted the child along.


No time to stop and enjoy the beauty, kids; we have appointments to keep and money to make. We’re running late. Let’s go. My boss will be waiting. Move along.


It could have been me. At one point, early in parenting, I might have passed right by on my way to something I thought was more important. As I wise up and embrace a slower life, I like to think

I’d choose to stop, that I would have dropped everything and had my children sitting in a semicircle around the musician. Absorbed. Transfixed.


Those parents have better excuses than I would have had. They’re working hard, rushing to make it to the office on time. Who can linger at a Metro stop listening to a street violinist and risk showing up late to an intense DC government workplace? They have to keep going, keep moving, watch the clock, and stay on schedule. There’s no time for spontaneity, and no time to alter the plan to accommodate beauty and linger with it.


Taking in art, music, or stories takes time. It takes attention. Appreciating beauty requires a degree of stillness.


I thought of a trip we took to Paris on our way to visit family. I wanted our girls to see the Louvre, but we had very little time. So we embarked on a compressed, rushed, American-style “highlights” tour: Hurry, kids!


Run to see Winged Victory, snap a picture.


Rush to Venus de Milo—snap-snap-snap.


Quick, get in the long line to see Mona!


Enter the crowded, hot room.


Philippe lifted up each child above the crowd to peek at the famous lady locked behind bulletproof glass.


“Can you see it?” he asked.


“Yes.”


“Take a good look.”


“I see it.”


“Okay.” Next kid, same questions, same responses.


What Are We Missing Out On?


“You saw the painting?” we asked one more time before exiting.


“For sure?”


“Yes, Papa! I saw it!”


And we left.


“That’s it?” they asked after were out of the room.


“What do you mean, ‘That’s it?’” I replied. “That’s It. That’s the Mona Lisa!”


“But it was so small,” one of the girls remarked.


“I didn’t see it,” said another.


“The room was roasting hot.”


“I need a drink of water.”


“Why were people taking all those pictures with a flash when the sign said not to?”


Yep. That was it. Those are their rushed and hurried memories. They didn’t really see anything. Basically, they were in the same room as the Mona Lisa. That’s all they can really say about it, because we had no time to linger with one of the most enigmatic works of art in the entire world. We had to move along and make room for the next herd of tourists.


While we rushed past some statues carved by Michelangelo, I thought back to the long hallway that led to the Mona Lisa. How many other da Vincis did we pass on our way? There were two side by side that we could have stopped and studied, as there was no crowd right there. I did pause in front of them briefly. “Hey!” I announced to my family, “These are da Vincis, too!”


We could have stayed there as long as we wished—no crowds—but we were in a hurry, so we scurried along down the great, long hall.


Americans in the Louvre. Quelle horreur!


Yet, what beauty we brush past every single day—and scoot our children past, as well! They learn, eventually, to ignore the impulse to respond, to revel. They learn to be efficient tourists; diligent students

hustled from one class period to another; and eventually busy and reliable employees answering e-mails and juggling multiple projects and reports. Over time, we schedule spontaneity right out of them. Without meaning to, we teach them that beauty isn’t worth our time or attention.


Each child is born with eyes to see so clearly the beauty all around and hear rhythm in our speech; in their youth, children’s ears aren’t yet deadened to the music all around. They hear the mockingbird serenading them from a telephone pole. They stop to stare at frost patterns on window panes. If we would stop tugging them away, they would admire the Mona Lisa and Joshua Bell. Their hearts are still open; their minds alert. They would stop. They would linger.


They just need us to slow down.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a poem that included these lines:


Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God:

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes;

The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries.


I used to think: Oh, that is so true.


Not anymore.


I’ve concluded that few adults even see the blackberries, let alone the common bush, and certainly not the fire of God. I wonder if the only ones left who have a chance of seeing—the only ones who will even think to take off their shoes—are the children. We grown-ups are too busy running, racing, rushing to even see the small faces lit with love and wonder, looking up at us in the busy Metro, asking to stay and listen to the pretty music.


I’m certain Joshua Bell won’t be at the corner bus stop of our suburban neighborhood serenading us incognito as we drop off our kids and head to work. But what did I pass by this week? How much did I miss?


I’ll never know. I can’t know, because it’s already gone. But, like mercies new every morning, tomorrow holds more beauty. Will I see it?


Jesus talked about those who see, but don’t see: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand” (Matt. 13:13).


He meant it spiritually, of course. He quoted from Isaiah, saying:


For this people’s heart has become calloused;

they hardly hear with their ears,

and they have closed their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,

hear with their ears,

understand with their hearts

and turn, and I would heal them. (Matthew 13:15)



Is this, on some level, a description of the people in the Metro? Of me? Does this capture most of our stressed-out, high-speed culture? Are our hearts calloused by the relentless pace and pressure of our

schedules? Are we missing the beauty of Christ?


Maybe we can’t see … or, maybe we don’t want to see.


We hardly hear with our ears. We’ve closed our eyes.


We miss Joshua Bell when he’s only four feet away from us playing Bach.


Worst of all, we miss Yeshua, as well, even though He is right with us, inviting us to know Him.


Open our minds, Lord, to comprehend Your truth.


Open our hearts, Lord, to believe.


And slow us down, to take it all in.


But blessed are your eyes because they see,

and your ears because they hear

(Matthew 13:16).


I propose that we practice pausing at the end of each chapter—to slow, to pray, to begin to see—starting right now. Take a deep breath (which is an act of slowing), and peruse the Slow Notes that follow. You’re welcome to abruptly slam on the brakes, but it’s probably more realistic to ease into a slower pace as you learn to notice—and enjoy—some of the little things lost in the blur of a frenzied life.


Slow Notes


Ask the Lord to open your family’s eyes and ears to see and hear something from Him today. This is a great time to begin praying specifically about how the Lord wants your family to slow down. Ask Him to keep your eyes open to see Him more clearly in this crazy, sped-up world we’re trying to evaluate. And then be on the lookout for what He reveals.


Consider trying out one or more of the slow-down ideas below that stand out to you.


• Take a trip to an art museum. Stare at something beautiful. Stare for a long, long time.

• Go outside with your kids and look at things with a magnifying glass: a violet, clover, an ant, some bark.

• Sketch something. Paint something. Sit with the kids to create art that takes your full attention: Try to copy a great work of art. Blob color onto thick paper like Van Gogh. Draw and shade some people or birds like Leonardo da Vinci in his notebooks.

• Borrow a telescope to look at some stars.

• Take close-up photos with your camera and try unusual angles to see everyday details a little differently.

• Write a poem based on something detailed that you observed closely.

• Borrow a Joshua Bell CD from the library. Listen to what all those people at the Metro stop passed by.

• Tell your children the story of the Metro concert, and then ask them to listen to the CD as well. What do they think? Write it down.


Live from the Slow Zone: Ann Voskamp


We hear them far off in the woods, just as the sun sinks further down, and I stop, like you do when the world slips up behind and surprises you, and my son can’t believe it either, so we stand there and listen long and neither one of us can stop smiling.


The frogs have returned.


Then, after a bit, he and the dog go crashing off through the quiet of dusk coming down, worn carpet of leaves rustling as they bound through, both boy and Lab questing for game and excitement, but his little sister and I, we just stand there, having already found it. For hadn’t I mentioned that the frogs had returned?


On pond’s rim, she, her small fingers entwined through mine, stands wordlessly. A symphony of sound, trilling low and deep, fills the spaces between the trees, lifts us too. The light falls warm on our winter-faces, and this tattered snow still hugs water’s edge. But that sound. From where? It is like it’s the water itself, a looking glass of trunks and limbs, that croons.


At first, when I am still looking with everyday eyes, I don’t notice them. It takes time for eyes to adjust to stillness, to slow and really see. And then, they are, on the far side, these glinting eyes flickering up through waters cold and murky. The peepers are back and we see them.


I want front row seats. Can we pick our way across the swamp and closer? She squeezes my hand tight and across the bog we splash.


In a flash, the pond snaps shut. All is soundless. Just glassy reflection of branches pointing to that curve of muted moon come early.


She and I swish swash further out, as far as we can go. Then wait.


On this isle of tangled grass, the water slowly rises up to boot ankles. A red-tailed hawk swoops and soars, his wings motionless on the currents. Moon rides higher, tailing sun dipping. We say nothing, this Little One and I, but watch swamp’s mirror, waiting stock-still for singers emerging. Bungler Lab charges up, smashing reflection of anticipating faces.


“Go, Boaz!” she whispers in a loud lisp. “We waiting for the frogs to thing!” From within the woods somewhere, boy whistles and dog ricochets off.


Again, we wait.


Then one by one, they pop to the light. We catch our breath and dare not move. Then tentatively it comes, this chorus, then crescendo, throaty yet gilded, and she squeezes my hand and we smile, spellbound.


Long we soak in these songs on golden pond.


And then, when our toes are cold and the shadows stretch to fading dark, it’s time to go.


“We leaving the frogs, now?” she whispers up to me.


True, I too could stay here forever, but yes, time to go home. Things to do.



We splash through the water, feet seeking islands of matted grass. The sudden hush turns our heads. She’s soundless, the swamp, blinked silent by our sloshing.


I scoop her up and tickle her ear with what I’m endlessly learning and relearning:


“Sometimes we only hear life sing when we still.”3

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

North! Or be Eaten by Andrew Peterson

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:


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.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Blue Enchantress by M.L. Tyndall

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 Blue Enchantress

Barbour Books (August 1, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



M.L. Tyndall, a Christy Award Finalist, and best-selling author of the Legacy of the King’s Pirates series is known for her adventurous historical romances filled with deep spiritual themes. She holds a degree in Math and worked as a software engineer for fifteen years before testing the waters as a writer. MaryLu currently writes full time and makes her home on the California coast with her husband, six kids, and four cats.

Visit the author's website and blog.



Product Details:

List Price: $10.97
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books (August 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602601577
ISBN-13: 978-1602601574

MY REVIEW:
This was an incredible book. Probably one of the most redemptive books I've read since Redeeming Love. I could not put it down. I loved how the characters had to grow and learn to see past each other's sins. It was such a great story of learning to give and accept grace. I'd definitely put this on my list of favorite books. I love Mary Lu's stories, and this has been my favorite so far. They just keep getting better and better. I can't wait until the next one!

LEAVE A COMMENT TO ENTER TO WIN A COPY OF THIS BOOK!


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


The Blue Enchantress by M.L. Tyndall
Chapter 1


St. Kitts, September 1718

“Gentlemen, what will ye offer for this rare treasure of a lady?” The words crashed over Hope Westcott like bilge water. “Why, she’ll make any of ye a fine wife, a cook, a housemaid”—the man gave a lascivious chuckle—“whate’er ye desire.”

“How ’bout someone to warm me bed at night,” one man bellowed, and a cacophony of chortles gurgled through the air.

Hope slammed her eyes shut against the mob of men who pressed on three sides of the tall wooden platform, shoving one another to get a better peek at her. Something crawled over her foot, and she pried her eyes open, keeping her face lowered. A black spider skittered away. Red scrapes and bruises marred her bare feet. When had she lost her satin shoes—the gold braided ones she’d worn to impress Lord Falkland? She couldn’t recall.

“What d’ye say? How much for this fine young lady?” The man grabbed a fistful of her hair and yanked her head back. Pain, like a dozen claws, pierced her skull. “She’s a handsome one, to be sure. And these golden locks.” He attempted to slide his fingers through her matted strands, but before becoming hopelessly entangled in them, he jerked his hand free, wrenching out a clump of her hair. Hope winced. “Have ye seen the likes of them?”

Ribald whistles and groans of agreement spewed over her.

“Two shillings,” one man yelled.

Hope dared to glance across the throng amassing before the auction block. A wild sea of lustful eyes sprayed over her. A band of men dressed in garments stained with dirt and sweat bunched toward the front, yelling out bids. Behind them, other men in velvet waistcoats leaned their heads together, no doubt to discuss the value of this recent offering, while studying her as if she were a breeding mare. Slaves knelt in the dirt along the outskirts of the mob, waiting for their masters. Beyond them, a row of wooden buildings stretched in either direction. Brazen women emerged from a tavern and draped themselves over the railings, watching Hope’s predicament with interest. On the street, ladies in modish gowns averted their eyes as they tugged the men on their arms from the sordid scene.

Hope lowered her head. This can’t be happening. I’m dreaming. I am still on the ship. Just a nightmare. Only a nightmare. Humiliation swept over her with an ever-rising dread as the reality of her situation blasted its way through her mind.

She swallowed hard and tried to drown out the grunts and salacious insults tossed her way by the bartering rabble. Perhaps if she couldn’t hear them, if she couldn’t see them, they would disappear and she would wake up back home, safe in Charles Towne, safe in her bedchamber, safe with her sisters, just like she was before she’d put her trust in a man who betrayed her.

“Egad, man. Two shillings, is it? For this beauty?” The auctioneer spit off to the side. The yellowish glob landed on Hope’s skirt. Her heart felt as though it had liquefied into an equally offensive blob and oozed down beside it.

How did I get here? In her terror, she could not remember. She raised her gaze to the auctioneer. Cold eyes, hard like marbles, met hers, and a sinister grin twisted his lips. He adjusted his tricorn to further shade his chubby face from the burning sun.

“She looks too feeble for any real work,” another man yelled.

The sounds of the crowd dimmed. The men’s fists forged into the air as if pushing through mud. Garbled laughter drained from their yellow-toothed mouths like molasses. Hope’s heart beat slower, and she wished for death.

The gentle lap of waves caressed her ears, their peaceful cadence drawing her away. Tearing her gaze from the nightmarish spectacle, she glanced over her shoulder, past the muscled henchmen who’d escorted her here. Two docks jutted out into a small bay brimming with sparkling turquoise water where several ships rocked back and forth as if shaking their heads at her in pity. Salt and papaya and sun combined in a pleasant aroma that lured her mind away from her present horror.

Her eyes locked upon the glimmering red and gold figurine of Ares at the bow of Lord Falkland’s ship. She blinked back the burning behind her eyes. When she’d boarded it nigh a week past—or was it two weeks—all her hopes and dreams had boarded with her. Somewhere along the way, they had been cast into the depths of the sea. She only wished she had joined them. Although the ship gleamed majestically in the bay, all she had seen of it for weeks had been the four walls of a small cabin below deck.

The roar of the crowd wrenched her mind back to the present and turned her face forward.

“Five shillings.”

“’Tis robbery, and ye know it,” the auctioneer barked. “Where are any of ye clods goin’ t’ find a real lady like this?”

A stream of perspiration raced down Hope’s back as if seeking escape. But there was no escape. She was about to be sold as a slave, a harlot to one of these cruel and prurient taskmasters. A fate worse than death. A fate her sister had fought hard to keep her from. A fate Hope had brought upon herself. Numbness crept over her even as her eyes filled with tears. Oh God. This can’t be happening.

She gazed upward at the blue sky dusted with thick clouds, hoping for some deliverance, some sign that God had not abandoned her.

The men continued to haggle, their voices booming louder and louder, grating over her like the howls of demons.

Her head felt like it had detached from her body and was floating up to join the clouds. Palm trees danced in the light breeze coming off the bay. Their tall trunks and fronds formed an oscillating blur of green and brown. The buildings, the mob, and the whole heinous scene joined the growing mass and began twirling around Hope. Her legs turned to jelly, and she toppled to the platform.

“Get up!” A sharp crack stung her cheek. Two hands like rough rope clamped over her arms and dragged her to her feet. Pain lanced through her right foot where a splinter had found a home. Holding a hand to her stinging face, Hope sobbed.

The henchman released her with a grunt of disgust.

“I told ye she won’t last a week,” one burly man shouted.

“She ain’t good for nothing but to look at.”

Planting a strained grin upon his lips, the auctioneer swatted her rear end. “Aye, but she’s much more stout than she appears, gentlemen.”

Horrified and no longer caring about the repercussions, Hope slapped the man’s face. He raised his fist, and she cowered. The crowd roared its mirth.

“One pound, then,” a tall man sporting a white wig called out. “I could use me a pretty wench.” Withdrawing a handkerchief, he dabbed at the perspiration on his forehead.

Wench. Slave. Hope shook her head, trying to force herself to accept what her mind kept trying to deny. A sudden surge of courage, based on naught but her instinct to survive, stiffened her spine. She thrust out her chin and faced the auctioneer. “I beg your pardon, sir. There’s been a mistake. I am no slave.”

“Indeed?” He cocked one brow and gave her a patronizing smirk.

Hope searched the horde for a sympathetic face—just one. “My name is Miss Hope Westcott,” she shouted. “My father is Admiral Henry Westcott. I live in Charles Towne with my two sisters.”

“And I’m King George,” a farmer howled, slapping his knee.

“My father will pay handsomely for my safe return.” Hope scanned the leering faces. Not one. Not one look of sympathy or belief or kindness. Fear crawled up her throat. She stomped her foot, sending a shard of pain up her leg. “You must believe me,” she sobbed. “I don’t belong here.”

Ignoring the laughter, Hope spotted a purple plume fluttering in the breeze atop a gold-trimmed hat in the distance. “Arthur!” She darted for the stairs but two hands grabbed her from behind and held her in place. “Don’t leave me! Lord Falkland!” She struggled in her captor’s grasp. His grip tightened, sending a throbbing ache across her back.

Swerving about, Lord Falkland tapped his cane into the dirt and tipped the brim of his hat up, but the distance between them forbade Hope a vision of his expression.

“Tell them who I am, Arthur. Please save me!”

He leaned toward the woman beside him and said something, then coughed into his hand. What is he doing? The man who once professed an undying love for Hope, the man who promised to marry her, to love her forever, the man who bore the responsibility for her being here in the first place. How could he stand there and do nothing while she met such a hideous fate?

The elegant lady beside him turned her nose up at Hope, then, threading her arm through Lord Falkland’s, she wheeled him around and pulled him down the road.

Hope watched him leave, and with each step of his cordovan boots, her heart and her very soul sank deeper into the wood of the auction block beneath her feet.

Nothing made any sense. Had the world gone completely mad?

“Two pounds,” a corpulent man in the back roared.

A memory flashed through Hope’s mind as she gazed across the band of men. A vision of African slaves, women and children, being auctioned off in Charles Towne. How many times had she passed by, ignoring them, uncaring, unconcerned by the proceedings?

Was this God’s way of repaying her for her selfishness, her lack of charity?

“Five pounds.”

Disappointed curses rumbled among the men at the front, who had obviously reached their limit of coin.

The auctioneer’s mouth spread wide, greed dripping from its corners. “Five pounds, gentlemen. Do I hear six for this lovely lady?”

A blast of hot air rolled over Hope, stealing her breath. Human sweat, fish, and horse manure filled her nose and saturated her skin. The unforgiving sun beat a hot hammer atop her head until she felt she would ignite into a burning torch at any moment. Indeed, she prayed she would. Better to be reduced to a pile of ashes than endure what the future held for her.

“Six pounds,” a short man with a round belly and stiff brown wig yelled from the back of the mob in a tone that indicated he knew what he was doing and had no intention of losing his prize. Decked in the a fine damask waistcoat, silk breeches, and a gold-chained pocket watch, which he kept snapping open and shut, he exuded wealth and power from his pores.

Hope’s stomach twisted into a vicious knot, and she clutched her throat to keep from heaving whatever shred of moisture remained in her empty stomach.

The auctioneer gaped at her, obviously shocked she could command such a price. Rumblings overtook the crowd as the short man pushed his way through to claim his prize. The closer he came, the faster Hope’s chest heaved and the lighter her head became. Blood pounded in her ears, drowning out the groans of the mob. No, God. No.

“Do I hear seven?” the auctioneer bellowed. “She’s young and will breed you some fine sons.”

“Just what I’ll be needing.” The man halted at the platform, glanced over the crowd for any possible competitors, then took the stairs to Hope’s right. He halted beside her too close for propriety’s sake and assailed her with the stench of lard and tobacco. A long purple scar crossed his bloated, red face as his eyes grazed over her like a stallion on a breeding mare. Hope shuddered and gasped for a breath of air. Her palms broke out in a sweat, and she rubbed them on her already moist gown.

The auctioneer threw a hand to his hip and gazed over the crowd.

The man squeezed her arms, and Hope snapped from his grasp and took a step back, abhorred at his audacity. He chuckled. “Not much muscle on her, but she’s got pluck.”

He belched, placed his watch back into the fob pocket of his breeches, and removed a leather pouch from his belt. “Six pounds it is.”

The silver tip of a sword hung at his side. If Hope were quick about it, perhaps she could grab it and, with some luck, fight her way out of here. She clenched her teeth. Who was she trying to fool? Where was her pirate sister when she needed her? Surely Faith would know exactly what to do. Yet what did it matter? Hope would rather die trying to escape than become this loathsome man’s slave.

As the man counted out the coins into the auctioneer’s greedy hands, Hope reached for the sword.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Christianish by Mark Steele

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:


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 fa├žade. 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?