Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Finding the Good in Grief by John E. Baggett - REVIEWED

About the Book: (from Kregel Publications)
When his son was diagnosed with a disabling mental illness, John F. Baggett experienced a journey of grief unlike any other—a grief for the loss of all his son would never be and that he, as a father, would never experience.  Through that difficult period he learned that grief—by whatever definition and for whatever reason—can be a time of momentous spiritual struggle: it is no smooth sailing even for faithful Christians.  How then can believers navigate the struggles of faith that so often accompany personal tragedy?

Finding the Good in Grief is both a practical and inspirational guide that teaches readers to learn, change, and grow through their grief. In five stages, Baggett demonstrates how to:
  • Trust God and rely on others
  • Choose reality instead of illusion
  • Resist the temptation to get stuck
  • Recognize moments of grace
  • Discover new meaning and purpose
Finding the Good in Grief will help Christians successfully negotiate faith struggles that often accompany the different stages of grief and will encourage them to find and develop spiritual resources to survive their darkest days of emotional turmoil.  Most of all, it will guide them to understand that God does have the power to transform events of radical suffering and to use them for good in our lives.

My Thoughts:
Denial, even if it is expressed as religious hope, is a type of unfaith.  It is a refusal to face reality, the reality of God’s universe where pain and suffering are a part of life.  It is an unwillingness to acknowledge and respond in faith to our unique, tragic experiences, as God in compassion intends for us to do.”  (p. 41)

John Baggett writes with poignant honesty about suffering and the choices we can make when tragedy strikes.  No matter if it is your life that has received an unexpected blow, or if it is a family member or friend, this book MUST be in your library!  The chapters contain personal stories  and the resulting responses to life tragedy.  Sometimes healing comes easily, and sometimes it comes over years of painful struggle.  The true constant in each story is God’s incredible faithfulness in every single instance!

The end of each chapter contains a series of though-provoking questions.  I think it would make a great way to journal with guidance.  I think this book offers healing opportunities galore for everyone who comes to this book with an open heart and an open mind to receive God’s blessings of comfort and healing. 

Maybe your tragedy is recent.  Perhaps it is years in your past.  It really doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you take the first step beyond the pain and seek what God has planned for your life.  Your life, and the lives of those you love will be so BLESSED with the wisdom found in the pages of this book!

The author doesn’t presume to tell anyone the “best” way to deal with tragedy.  He simply shares what he has learned in the midst of his own life circumstances and the lives of others who have walked this very unexpected path.  God is faithful – and in that alone rests the hope and strength everyone needs to get through to the other side.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough!! IT IS AMAZING!!! Go! Buy a copy for yourself  and a copy to share!

About the Author:
Rev. Dr. John F. Baggett (MA, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) is a pastor, counselor, and mental health professional who has served as a United Methodist pastor in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Chicago for more than a decade. He has served as executive director of The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill of North Carolina and as director of The North Carolina Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services. A member of the American Association of Christian Counselors, the Association of Christian Therapists, and other pastoral associations, Baggett is the author of Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus and a contributing author to the Handbook of Mental Health Administration and Management. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta - Sneak Peek!!

Book Blurb:

The year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.

With two months to devise a better plan, Julia’s first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. Before she knows what’s happening, Julia finds herself a pawn in a deadly game between two of the country’s most powerful men. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own. But sometimes truth is elusive and knowledge is deadly.

A Sneak Peek:

“I am quite vexed with you.” Mrs. Windham placed a slice of lard cake on a plate. She eyed my dress hanging loosely over my frame, then added another sliver alongside a gooseberry tart. “Why did you not tell us your mother was ailing? Had I knowledge, I would have visited before she passed; indeed, I would have.”

My hand faltered as I reached for the plate. While I’d known the topic of Mama’s death was unavoidable, I had not expected it so soon.

“Mama.” Elizabeth cast her mother a disapproving look over the rim of her teacup. “You can scarcely blame Julia for it.”

“Blame Julia?” Mrs. Windham dabbed her eyes with the corner of her gardening apron. “What a notion, child.” Then to me, “Did she linger in much pain? Did she send me remembrances? Did she call for me in her deep despair?”

Tightness gathered in my chest as I sought for an explanation, knowing full well the Windhams wouldn’t be fooled into believing Mama had pined herself into an early grave over my father’s death. I placed the plate on my lap, then set about tearing the cake into bite-sized pieces. “She called for no one. The cholera took her quickly.”

Elizabeth froze, midsip, as if detecting my lie. Mrs. Windham frowned, but I wasn’t certain whether she sensed deception or simply disliked being robbed of the notion that Mama had died crying out for her.
Mrs. Windham turned toward the window, pressing her lace handkerchief against her mouth. “Well, if you’re going to try to spare me, I am sure there is nothing I can do.” Her voice trembled. “I have lost my dearest friend, but why should anyone consider me?”

A long silence ensued, during which Elizabeth frowned and I twisted my cup in its saucer. We both knew trying to start a new conversation would be useless until her mother had been properly indulged.
After a minute, Mrs. Windham’s mouth puckered. “Humph. Well, do not think yourself cleared on all accounts. I am even more outraged you agreed to have this . . . this guardian. I scarcely believed my own ears when I heard the tidings. Nothing, no, nothing, could have made me believe you would choose this person over me. Whatever are you thinking?” I tore the cake into yet smaller pieces.
Elizabeth darted an apologetic look at me, wrapping her hands about her cup. “Mama, you can scarcely blame Julia for whom her parents selected as her guardian.”

“What else am I to think? Especially when Lucy wrote me a mere month before her death begging me to care for Julia should this very thing happen. Well, all I can say is that Julia has certainly made it clear whom she prefers. Surely this person has no tie, no claim over you. I never heard of such an odd thing in all my life. Not give a name, indeed! And that man who came. That rude man! Is it so unreasonable to assume your guardian would have taken it into account that I have a daughter, and as such made allowances? See if I merit approval. Of all the insults.” She snorted into her half-empty cup.

I shot Elizabeth a questioning look. She’d not written anything about my guardian sending someone to Am Meer. Instead of meeting my eyes, her gaze drifted to the open windows.

“I never met such a rude man as that Simon.” Looking at my untouched food, Mrs. Windham fluttered her handkerchief at it. “Indeed, I wish we’d begun dining amongst higher spheres before I listed our acquaintances. That would have swept the smug look off that Simon’s face.”

Elizabeth let out a short sigh. “His name was Simmons, not Simon.”
“I think I should remember better than you, missy. I tell you it was Simon, and I cannot imagine a more disdainful or trying butler.”
“Butler?” I asked, more perplexed than ever. “Are you saying my guardian’s butler came here?”
“He was no butler; trust me,” Elizabeth said. “He dressed the part of a gentleman. I think he was a solicitor.”
“You can hardly expect a butler to wear his black tie when travelling. Take my word, the man is a servant, one who holds much too high an opinion of himself.”

“But, Mama, think upon it. What sort of person sends a servant to make those types of inquiries? Who would run the household during his absence?”

“Are you never to tell me of what you are speaking?” I finally said. “What does this man and his lists of acquaintances have to do with my guardian?”

Elizabeth gave her mother a look that plainly asked if she was satisfied now that I was upset. “Well, we were not supposed to mention the visit.” She glared a second longer at her mother. “Three months ago he arrived, stating he’d come to make certain Mama was a suitable chaperone for a visit.”

“Very rude, he was, too. I should not have thought there was such a rude man in all of England.”
Elizabeth took a sharp, annoyed intake of breath. “He gathered the names of all our acquaintances—”
“He dared to ask what we required as compensation for keeping you here for a month or two. The very idea, expecting to be reimbursed for keeping Lucy’s child! He made it sound as though you were living on—” Mrs. Windham stopped suddenly and eyed the patch on my threadbare dress. The tinkling of the wind chimes was the only sound filling the space for a half minute.

“I heard nothing about this visit,” I said, forcing an even tone. “Pray, did he happen to mention the name of my guardian?”

“No, indeed. This is all very strange.” Mrs. Windham spooned more sugar into her tea. “I think your guardian must be very ill-mannered. What sense can there be in keeping one’s identity hidden, I ask?”
She paused, eyeing me for all she was worth. But I had no suitable answer. I no longer even wanted to know about the man who’d been sent here. His visit only increased my unease, making it harder for me to find the nerve to do what I must. If I succeeded in accomplishing my goal, then this Simon or Simmons person mattered little.

" A soft knock on the door interrupted us.

"Yes?” Mrs. Windham sank back into her chair, glaring. “What now?”

“I beg pardon.” Their stout housekeeper managed to open the door and curtsy at the same time. “Only the room’s ready, and Miss Lizbeth asked me to come fetch her.”

“Thank you, Hannah.” With undisguised relief, Elizabeth stood. “Mama, poor Julia must be exhausted. Surely you will excuse her.”

Mrs. Windham waved me away with her handkerchief. “I have no wish to talk further regardless, what with her upsetting the household. My poor heart is pounding after such a distasteful tea. When you wake, I insist you write your guardian. Tell him this whole affair upsets my digestion, and that you wish to be transferred into my care. For I cannot conceive he wishes such vexations upon me. And—”

“What shall we do about a lady’s maid for Julia?” Elizabeth had the mercy to interrupt. “Betsy scarcely has time in the mornings to arrange our toilette, much less someone else’s. What about that girl Nancy?”

“Yes, yes, anyone will do,” agreed Mrs. Windham, picking up her teacup. “I am quite certain Julia shall not mind.”

Invitation to an Inspired Tea!!

31-Days of Giveaway

Monday, July 29, 2013

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:

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (September 14, 2012)

***Special thanks to Laurel Garver for sending me a review copy.***


 Laurel Garver holds degrees in English and journalism and earns a living as a magazine editor. She enjoys quirky independent films, word games, British television, Celtic music, and mentoring teens at her church. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter.

Visit the author's website.


Days after her father’s death, fifteen-year-old Dani Deane begins seeing him all around New York—wading through discarded sketches in her room, roaming the halls at church, socializing at his post-funeral reception. Is grief making her crazy? Or could her dad really be lingering between this world and the next, trying to contact her?

Dani desperately longs for his help. Without him keeping the peace, Dani’s relationship with her mother is deteriorating fast. Soon Mum ships her off to rural England with Dad’s relatives for a visit that Dani fears will become a permanent stay. But she won’t let her arty, urban life slip away without a fight, especially when daily phone calls with her lab partner Theo become her lifeline.

To find her way home, Dani must somehow reconnect with Mum. But as she seeks advice from relatives and insights from old letters, she uncovers family secrets that shake her to the core. Convinced that Dad’s ghost alone can help her, she sets out on a dangerous journey to contact him one last time.

Product Details:
List Price: $9.89
Paperback: 236 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (September 14, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1479205079
ISBN-13: 978-1479205073


My dad and I have this game we play on elevators. One of us comes up with three related things and the other has to guess the category. If I say “Frick, Cloisters, Guggenheim,” Dad will know they’re museums — and our favorite Saturday haunts here in the city. He usually stumps me with weird British slang from his childhood or random facts about my mother. I have a way harder time stumping him. Even when I try classmates’ names, art terms, indie bands or obscure Harry Potter characters, he almost always gets it right.

As the floors blip by, I at last have the perfect clue: Self, Us, People.

Identity groups? he’d guess. Circles of moral responsibility? Subjects of your latest drawing?  Blimey, is it the multiple points of view in Renoir’s group paintings?

Nope, he’d never get it. He never saw those coffee-ringed magazine covers in the ICU waiting room. He was the patient. And even though he died two days ago, I can’t stop playing Three Things on elevators.

By the time I reach the seventh floor, I have a strep-like ache in my throat. I shuffle into the hall, hugging a packet of Dad’s memorial service bulletins to my chest. I won’t lose it. I won’t. The minute I let one toe stray into that quicksand, it will suck me right under.

As I trudge toward our apartment, every muscle fiber screams, “No! Run!” like I’m the ditzy chick in some horror movie about to go explore the haunted attic alone.

The moment I slide my key in the lock, my mother yanks open the door. She stands there in her cashmere suit, fists on hips, dry-eyed and smelling of Tresor perfume, like she’d spent the afternoon in client meetings rather than a crematorium in Greenwich Village. I bet she’d let her long-lost Central Pennsylvania accent slip out before she’d ever shed a tear.

“Dani! Where have you been? I’ve been sick with worry. Your grandfather’s cab got back ages ago, and he said you were right behind him.”

“You didn’t get my message?”

She sags a little. “Do you have any idea how many people have left messages today?”

“Sorry, really. I, uh, stayed late to help with this.” I hand her the packet of bulletins, still warm from the copier. “The secretary let me do the layout. And a special cover.”

“So all this time you’ve been at church?”

I nod and follow her into the dining room, where the table is set for six. She tosses the packet onto the sideboard, then turns, frowning, to inspect my ink-stained fingers. “What on earth? You had a nail appointment.”

If she’d look in the packet, she might have a clue where the hours went and how I got so inky. But as usual, she can’t be bothered with anything tainted by stained glass and steeples.

I glance at Dad’s chair, wishing he were here to run interference. He’d compliment my skillful hands, explain how I can’t draw wearing those thick acrylic tips. But his chair is empty, and no matter how hard I wish it, I’ll never hear his voice again.

“Sorry. I just…ran out of time.”

“This simply won’t do, darling.” Mum prods my ragged cuticles. “You can’t stand in a receiving line and shake a hundred hands looking like this. Go wash up, and I’ll give you a manicure after dinner.”

Nice. Deviate from Mum’s precious plan and I’m dismissed like a coffee-spilling, Xerox-breaking temp. I doubt anyone will give a hoot about my stupid nails tomorrow.

I open my mouth to argue, then clamp it shut. If Dad were here, he’d say it was “jolly nice of your mum to offer” and make the sign language motion for “honor.” My cue to remember the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.” To remember our long talks about Mum and God and how being a sullen jerk when she pushes my buttons only makes my faith a joke to her. Hypocrisy. A lie.

I sigh. “Okay, Mum.”

When I look toward Dad’s chair again, he nods and mouths, Well done.


He runs a hand through his thick, ginger-blond hair and smiles. His blue eyes crinkle in the corners. I want to run to him and kiss those crinkles, kiss his hawk nose and big ears. Hang on and never let go. But I can’t move, can scarcely breathe. There’s no sign that his face was a crazy quilt of stitches, purple welts and crusted bandages. That machines kept his lungs working.

Mum waves a napkin in my face. “Dani? Hello? You all right?”

I peer around her. Dad’s chair is empty again, but the placemat at his space is askew. No way did Madame Perfect do that.

“Danielle?” Mum touches my arm and I jerk to attention.

“Sorry. I was just remembering —” I rifle through my coat pockets. “Here’s the receipts and change from the taxi. And I’m not hungry. But…I’ll take care of my nails. Now. On my own. But thanks for offering. I guess I’ll go now. To my room. So, um, bye.”

I stumble down the hall and pull my bedroom door closed behind me. For a dizzy moment, I grip the knob and gulp in air. I’m all right. It was nothing. A flash. A brain burp. After spending hours drawing his portrait from an old photo, I must have his face burned onto my retinas like an afterimage.

Except he moved. Gestured. Communicated. Bumped a placemat. I don’t think that’s usual for a grief hallucination.

Conflicting feelings scamper inside me like crazed squirrels. All around me is nothing but more chaos. Deep drifts of crumpled Kleenex, unfinished sketches, textbooks, and lotion tubes litter the floor. My bed’s lost under heaps of laundry. In one corner, my half-packed suitcase lays open beside an unopened stack of Christmas gifts. When Mum gets a spare moment to see this place, she’s going to flip.

“Dani?” Aunt Cecily calls outside my door. “Back, are you?”

I turn from the mess and open my door. Dad’s older sister shifts nervously in her tweed overcoat and tugs on a lock of her bobbed, sandy hair. She hands me a white garment bag from Macy’s. “Your mother asked me to find you something dark and dressy to wear tomorrow. None of your skirts or dresses is quite right for the occasion, she said.”

“Probably not.” I rip away the plastic. Something black and blandly shapeless emerges. Lord have mercy. What fashion travesty has Aunt Cardigan-Khaki-Loafers decided to inflict on me? She must’ve fallen into the clutches of Macy’s most sadistic sales clerk, or the most clueless — someone who assumes every Brit takes fashion tips from the queen.

Cecily’s forehead puckers with worry. “Is it all right, dearest?”

“It’s…nice,” I say, trying to not cringe as I rub the scratchy fabric between my fingers.

“You hate it.” She blushes, two red splotches spreading across her milky English skin.

Dad looked just like that whenever I asked him to pick up tampons at the store. I wince and turn away.

“We can take it back,” Cecily blurts, misreading me. She frantically digs through her pockets, finds the receipt, and jabs it at me. “Here, I still have the bill of sale. We can go now. Or after dinner. They’re open till ten at least.” She grabs up the shredded garment bag, noisily rustling plastic as she tries to rewrap the dress. “I don’t know why your mother asked me to shop for you. She knows I haven’t her capacity for glamour.”

It’s one thing for Mum to boss and bully me, but there’s no way she can do this to Cecily.

“Please stop fluttering. It’s fine.” I take the dress again and hang it on a peg, letting the plastic fall. There has to be some way to fix this, to spare my style-challenged aunt from embarrassment or having to fight the city crowds, which terrify her. Come on, brain.

“Oh, Dani,” she says. “Don’t settle on my account.”

“It’s just very…grown up, which is kind of startling. Like you see me as so, well, mature.”

“Of course you are, so brave through such a difficult time.” As tears pool in her eyes, she briskly pats my arm and ducks away from my room.

The scent of beef bourguignon wafts through the door as she goes. For a split-second I’m tempted to follow her. But Dad’s counting on me to “honor” Mum, which for now means doing what I say I will — skip dinner to fix my raggedy nails.

I kick a path to my dresser and rifle through my toiletries for an emery board. As I dig deeper, something cool oozes onto my fingers. Oh, no. Hand sanitizer. One whiff and I’m back in Dad’s ICU room with powered-down machines, a gray stone man in a bed. So cold. So silent. So gone. I hurl the leaky bottle across the room, and it lands just short of the trash can, by Dad’s shoe.

Dad’s shoe?

I stare at the scuffed, brown oxford, size 12. My gaze drifts up to jeans legs, a corduroy blazer. It’s Dad, leaning on my desk like he used to every night.

He tilts his head and knits his pale eyebrows. “Rough day, my love?”

My love. His Rosebud. Dance-pants. Doodlebug.

Tears sting my eyes. My heart tugs me to go hug him and pour out all my troubles, while my brain screams Flatline! Corpse! Crematorium!

I wobble and sink onto my bed.

“Oh, Dad,” I croak. “What am I supposed to do without you? Mum and I…it’s hopeless. I can’t do anything right in her eyes. To her, I’m just a pathetic slob.”

“Not so, not so. Grace brags endlessly about your talent to anyone who’ll listen. She just frets about you, you know, developing a proper artist’s eye for composition, symmetry and all that. A bit of order does help, right?”

“I guess.”

He smiles. “Very well, then, let’s get to it. Crank some tunes and we’ll have this place spiffed up in no time. Come on. It’ll be fun. I’ll do my Bowie impression.”

I snort at the thought of Dad waving his long, wiry arms to glam rock while shelving books and dusting. He always is happy to be an epic doofus if it makes boring chores entertaining.

Not is. Was. Shame flushes through me.

“This can’t be real.” I turn my hot face away and peel off my coat. Why am I talking to this hallucination or ghost or whatever it is? How could I possibly believe that Dad can go on having fun and playing peacemaker? It’s wishful thinking in the extreme.

When I turn back, he’s gone. Instead of a sweet breeze of relief, the loss hits like a fist.


I squeeze my eyes shut and try to conjure him. The lilt of his northern British accent. The sharp scent of darkroom chemicals clinging to his clothes. But it’s no good.

“I’m sorry I doubted you, Dad. Please come back. I promise I’ll listen.”

* * *

My breath fogs the cold glass as I perch on my bedroom windowsill and frantically dial Heather. Stories below me, yellow cabs race down Columbus toward midtown.

At Heather’s end, the Mexican Hat Dance is probably jangling in a pocket of that heinous gold lamé knapsack she loves so much. I hope she can hear it. Chances are her Georgia relatives dragged her to a monster truck rally or line dance or whatever it is they do for holiday family fun. She headed south for winter break with her big, noisy family the day we were all so sure Dad would pull through. He did wake up for a while. And Christmas was coming.

But real life isn’t a cheesy holiday flick with miracles that arrive right on time. Dad didn’t pull through, and now my best friend is far, far away when I need her most.

The line clicks. “Hey,” Heather says. “I thought we were gonna chat online at nine. You okay?”

“No, I — It’s…something really, really weird has happened. I saw…um —”

“Becca!” she suddenly shouts at her toddler sister, “get your grubby paws off my pastels and go back to bed! Hang on a sec, Dani, I need to move my art stuff before Becca scrawls a tornado in Times Square.” The phone crackles on fabric and I hear Heather calling for backup.

I sigh with relief. Bless you, Becca, you sticky-handed terror. That was a close one. What was I thinking, trying to tell Heather I saw Dad? She’ll think I’ve gone off the deep end. Or worse, she’ll let something slip to our youth pastor or even my mother.

I grab my sketch pad and attack it with a charcoal stick while I wait. My jagged strokes form Dad and me on the steps of the Metropolitan. It sucks not being able to talk about his ghost or spirit or whatever it is, but what can I do? Who could I possibly trust with something this bizarre?

The phone clanks again. “Sorry ‘bout that. It’s too doggone noisy for Becca to sleep well here, with my redneck relatives hollering all the time. I keep hoping there’s some mistake and Daddy was switched at birth. Oh, get this — loony Aunt Pearl is going to clown college.”

My laugh comes out slightly strangled. Rusty. Like I forgot how.

“You don’t sound good, Dani. If the airport weren’t three hours away, I’d be on a plane home in a heartbeat. How about we take your dad some flowers when I get back Monday?”

“Sorry, but I can’t. I’m leaving on Sunday for England.”

“You are? But why?”

“The interment.”

“What’s that? Sounds like something Nazis would do.”

“It’s the, you know…the dirt part.”

“But I thought your dad was being buried in New York.” Her voice is thick and choked. “Aren’t we gonna get even a day of break to hang out?”

I blink back tears. “I wish. I really do. But the England burial is in Dad’s will. Sunday flights were cheapest.”

“You’ll come right on back though, won’t you?”

“No. Not for, um, two weeks.”

“Two weeks! Are ya kidding me? What about midterms?”

“Mum thinks she can cut a deal with the headmaster. I’m not sure what I’ll do if she can’t. I’ve got enough going on without worrying that my GPA is in jeopardy, too, right? I feel like I’m sinking into a swampy pit. I wish someone would throw me a vine.”

“I’ll try, Dani. Let me think. For your dad’s memorial service tomorrow, you need a plan, a way to bail if things get too ugly.”

“How bad can it get? I doubt we’ll have a pro-wrestling smack-down, like at your great-granddad’s funeral in Mobile. My family doesn’t really do ugly feelings, except for sulks and sarcasm.” I pick up my sketch pad again and layer on choppy cross-hatch shadows. “But if I get weepy and my mascara melts, I’ll…I don’t know. Hide in the bathroom?”

“Not very original, but it’ll do. Listen, you need someone there for you who won’t be a mess themselves.”

“Like who? Everyone I know left town for the holidays.”

“That can’t be true. But don’t you worry about it, all right? I got unlimited long distance and I won’t rest till I find someone.”


“Trust me, I wouldn’t let you be alone at a time like this.”

Trust her. I look at my desk, where Dad was standing just minutes ago. Trust her, my only friend who came to the hospital, ate bad cafeteria meals with me, typed my tear-stained homework.

“Heather, I need to tell you something a little freaky.” I take a deep breath. Trust her. Trust her. “I just saw my dad. And he talked to me.”

She gasps, and then the line’s silent.


“You — You think your dad is…haunting you?”

“I don’t know exactly.” I go to my desk and touch the spot Dad had leaned against. “I was trying not to fight with Mum and he was suddenly there, kind of…helping me cope with her. Later he offered to help me clean my room. He seemed so real, down to the wrinkles around his eyes.”

“I know you miss him a lot, but what you saw…might not be quite what you think.”

“Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence. You think I’m cavorting with evil spirits, huh?”

“That’s not what I meant.” She blows out a slow breath. “You’ve got me worried. Please don’t do anything extreme — like climb in a casket or something. You’re stressed out and hurting and your mind can play tricks on you.”

“Climb in a casket? As if. You are so morbid. Anyway, there is no casket. Dad was cremated to travel lighter. I’d need to be the size of a Barbie doll to fit in his urn.”

“Dani, you better talk to somebody who’s there in person. Like now. I know you and your mom aren’t exactly tight. But your dad’s parents are there, aren’t they?”

“Yeah. His big sister, too.”

“Talk to them, okay? Promise?”

“Fine. Whatever. See you in a few weeks.”

I plunk the phone on my jagged sketch of Dad and me. My face looks half-melted, like Quasimodo or pottery that collapsed in the kiln. Heather’s right. I’m losing my freaking mind. And now my inky fingertips have a fresh coat of charcoal. Great. I can’t do anything without making a mess.

I tiptoe to the bathroom, hoping Mum doesn’t stop me for a surprise inspection. I scrub my hands with wet wipes, pumice soap, then nail polish remover. A dozen cotton balls later, my fingers still have a faint blue tinge, like I’m oxygen-deprived. I ought to put on Goth-black polish to complete the look. Better yet, I could stick feathers in my hair and change my name to Dances-with-Ghosts. It’d be about as sane as keeping my promise to Heather.

I can’t go marching into the dining room and say, “Great news! Dad’s back. He just stopped by for a chat.” I can picture how swimmingly that’d go down with my family. Aunt Cecily would weep into her knitting, while Dad’s mother, Grandma Deane, would sit pale and stricken in her ivory twinset, teacup rattling in her hands. Dad’s father, the Reverend Elliott Deane, would either conk me with a crucifix like I’m possessed or give me the senile church lady treatment — a thoughtful frown, reassuring pat, and vague inspirational quote of the day. Mum would flash one of her apologetic “teenagers are such a trial” smiles, and say nothing. Not like she’d get a word in edgewise with Poppa Tilman grousing about her “un-daughterly” hospitality, “uppity” cooking, “plain-Jane” décor.

Well, I didn’t promise I’d talk about the ghost, only that I’d talk. I think I can manage to get “More tea anyone?” to come out of my mouth.

I towel off each knuckle and nail, chanting a prayer: Lord God. Have mercy. On me.

My heart rate slows. I can do this.

I shut off the light and slowly pad down the hall. Voices grow clearer as I near the dining room. Mum is blathering on about the real estate market in our Upper West Side neighborhood.

Then Grandma asks, “You’ve discussed this with Dani, haven’t you?”

I freeze. Discussed what?

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Brotherhood Conspiracy by Terry Brennan - REVIEWED

About the Book: (from Kregel)

Tom Bohannon's discovery of an ancient scroll led him on an international adventure and through mysteries of faith and politics, ending in a place not even he could imagine: the Third Temple of God hidden under Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  But soon after his remarkable discovery, the future of the world changed again.  Tom watched as a chasm tore apart Temple Mount, as new rivers swept through the Kidron Valley and into the streets of Old Jerusalem, their discovery swallowed by an earthquake, crushed under tons of stone and debris.  A biblical prophecy realized.  The final days were upon them.

Wondering how to recover from such a momentous find and such horrendous destruction, Tom's adventures are not over. No one knows how much time is left in these last days—a year? A hundred years? A thousand? Plagued by murderous dreams, Tom fears members of the Prophet Guard—killers who wear the Coptic cross with a lightning bolt slashing through it—are back and looking for him.  But they are not the only threat to Tom and his team.  Forces behind the Arab Spring have sinister plans.  And underestimating their determination would be a fatal mistake.

The same fast-paced, page-turning prose that readers loved in The Sacred Cipher is back in Terry Brennan's eagerly awaited sequel, The Brotherhood Conspiracy.

My Thoughts:
There is no solution to the Mount.  So we make a solution that solves our problems.”  (p.44)

These words were spoken in the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, but they are words that could have been uttered by several groups represented in Terry Breenan’s latest novel, The Brotherhood Conspiracy.  This book opens with a catastrophic event that brings the world to the brink of destruction.  The Temple Mount or Dome of the Rock – the warring point of a centuries long battle between the Jewish and Muslim people – is the epicenter of this event, and thus the story is told from both Jewish, Muslim and American points of view.  The author cleverly takes the reader from one location on the globe to another at an ever-increasing speed so that you are able to understand what each group feels their personal stake is at this point in time.  It seems like everyone on the globe will be impacted to some degree – depending on who is the first to reclaim this holy site.

In addition to following this age-old warring over this site, there are even greater stakes at play – world power.  Also, there are ancient artifacts and hidden messages that are found by the same group from The Sacred Cipher. This time however, the group is reeling from loss and is very uncertain that God has called them back into this very dangerous place during this very critical time.  All of them, including Tom Bohannon, struggle with their faith, their purpose and the role it seems they are destined to play in these global events.  At times, it is rather heartbreaking, because they must face even greater, and more personal losses.

At first, I thought I was going to be reading an end of the world story.  And in a way, I was.  But more importantly, I was reading a story that wasn’t so very far removed from reality. Once again, Terry Brennan takes history and modern day events and blends them with future prophecy that hammers home the truth about the role the Middle East will play in world events until the Lord calls us home.  It is vital that we know what history teaches and the Bible prophesies about this part of the world!  At least that is what I feel when I get to the end of one of Brennan’s stories!

BUT, this is a very fast-paced thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time you are reading!  It is also a story that will impact the way you receive any news coming out of the Middle East. This is a powerful and thought-provoking story, and one that has more yet to be told!!  Not the end….

About the Author:
Terry Brennan has had an extensive career in journalism, winning several awards, including the Freedoms Foundation Award for editorial writing. Terry served eleven years as the vice president of operations for The Bowery Mission in New York City and is currently a management consultant.  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta - REVIEWED

About the Book:  (from Tyndale Publishers)  Available in September!!
The year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.

With two months to devise a better plan, Julia’s first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. Before she knows what’s happening, Julia finds herself a pawn in a deadly game between two of the country’s most powerful men. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own. But sometimes truth is elusive and knowledge is deadly.

My Thoughts:
I knew in that moment, I’d reached an epoch.  Mrs. Windham was right.  No more would I try to be biddable, sweet, and compliant, as young ladies ought.  If I truly believed myself free with an unhappy fate awaiting me, then I would fight back at all costs.”  (p. 95)

You will never, ever forget Julia Elliston’s battle to survive the social constraints that bound her to a most unappealing and unpleasant future!  You will journey by her side through heartbreaking decisions, soul-wrenching losses and breathtaking revelations and plot twists!  You will be totally spent by the time you reach the final pages of Jessica Dotta’s debut novel, Born of Persuasion.  And to think! This is only the first in the Price of Privilege series!  What a thrill ride we have to look forward to!

It is a true privilege for me to share this novel with you, for I met Jessica when there wasn’t even a contract, much less a novel to read!  To witness the birth of this story is very special indeed, but the skill with which Jessica writes will draw readers to her work in droves!  She is a skilled wordsmith and has created a cast of characters which you will grow to love – fear – and hate.  The plot twists in the final one hundred pages are so fast and furious you will long for more hours in the day – or be completely exhausted from lack of sleep! 

I must admit that I am grateful to have been born in a later century than Julia Elliston! Her plight is not an enviable one!  However, she has a warrior’s spirit that sees her through some pretty perilous situations!  You will grow to admire her even though your heart aches for her soul’s emptiness.  I can barely wait to see how the author develops her character through the remainder of the series!

I highly recommend Born of Persuasion!  It is an emotional and thrilling ride in every sense imaginable!  Bravo, Jessica Dotta!! Bravo!!

About the Author:
Jessica Dotta has always been fascinated by England during the Regency and Victorian era. Her passion for British Literature fueled her desire to write in a style that blends the humor of Jane Austen and the dark drama of a Bronte sister. She lives in the Nashville area with her family and works as a freelance media consultant and publicist.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Undaunted by Christine Caine

The Call 
Have you ever walked into a place and been shocked as people popped out from behind the doors and furniture and shouted, “Surprise!” at the top of their lungs? If you have, you know the feeling of being both startled and delighted at the same time. Once your heart rate drops to normal, the adrenaline stops coursing through your veins, and you realize what is happening, you are delighted that these people have gathered to celebrate your birthday or other special event. They have planned, communicated, and gathered to surprise you and let you know you are loved. Everyone enjoys a surprise . . . when the news is good.

 Sometimes we face a moment when we receive news that startles us and redefines our life. With one line, a letter in the mail, a text message, or conversation, the landscape of our future looks completely different.

 A woman receives a call from her doctor’s office asking her to come in so they can review the results of the mammogram she had a few weeks earlier. She senses the news is not good, but has to wait two days to meet with the doctor. When she gets the report and learns that she has cancer, she enters a time of asking, Who am I, and what does my future hold?

 An employee who has devoted fifteen years to the same company opens an envelope from his boss which begins, “We want to thank you for your years of service,” and ends with, “we are downsizing, and your position has been removed.” The words on this single sheet of paper cause him to wonder, Am I the same person now that my job is gone? How should we respond when we face a moment that makes us feel we are not who we thought we were? Where do we look when the foundation of our life seems to shake, crack, and crumble beneath our feet?

 Bible Study Questions 
1. Christine talks about how she experienced God’s presence and peace in the midst of receiving shocking and painful news. How have you felt the presence of God and his sustaining power right in the middle of a hard time in your life?

 2. Read: Psalm 139:1–6, Psalm 139:13–16. What do you learn about God in this passage? What do you learn about yourself? How can an unshakable confidence in the truth of this passage help us in times when we receive shocking and lifealtering news?

 3. What are some of the things that people in our world tend to use to establish their sense of value, identity, and purpose in life? Why is it dangerous to base our worth on these sorts of things? Christine talks about how in a single moment, when she learned she was adopted, everything in her life changed. Yet, in a very real sense, nothing changed. Her fundamental identity was still the same. What are the things about you that will never change, no matter what you face, because of who you are in Christ? When you believe God is who he says he is, when you hang onto him and his Word in faith, his truth sets you free. The truth you store up in silence comes back to you in the storm, and it lifts you away as on a life raft from the fears and disappointments that would otherwise pull you down.

 4. Read: John 8:31-32. Jesus told his followers that the truth would set them free. What are some of the things that God declares are true about you and me? How can holding to these truths in the tough and uncertain times of life help us maintain a clear sense of who we are?

 5. The Bible tells us that God’s works are marvelous. God made you and me. This means we are marvelous! Tell something marvelous about yourself. Why is it so hard, in a day-to-day way, to see ourselves as marvelous in God’s sight and truly valuable?

 6. Read: Genesis 1:24 – 31. The pinnacle of God’s creation is people. In Genesis God makes the stars, seas, plants, and animals and calls them “good.” On the sixth day, when God created people, he said they were “very good”! God has a plan, purpose, and destiny for your life. How can you learn to identify and begin following God’s plan for your life? What gets in the way of your doing so? If you have gained some direction and clarity concerning God’s plan and destiny for your life, share what you have received in the comments section below. Let us know how we can encourage you and pray for you as you seek to follow God’s plan!

 7. When Christine says, “We are not a product of time, we are a product of eternity,” what is she getting at? What does it mean to know you are a product of eternity? How can this outlook change the way we view ourselves? How can it shape the way we love and treat others?

 8. Read: Romans 8:37 – 39. What are some of the things the enemy tries to use to separate us from God’s love? What truth can we speak to combat these lies?

 9. The love of God will carry and sustain you, even in the hard times. How have you experienced that reality? Tell about a time when you experienced the sustaining love of God.

 10. What are the things that can get in the way of our bringing the love and grace of God to a broken world? What tends to get in your way? What is one step you can take to share God’s love in a tangible way with someone God has placed in your life?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Original Artwork by Evan Tucker - ENJOY!!

 This young man has a rare gift!! I am pleased to share it with everyone!! He is a quiet, brilliant young man who is a good friend to my sons. I am blessed to know him!!
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:

Meadow Lane Publishing (June 15, 2013)

***Special thanks to Sharon Farnell for sending me a review copy.***


Texas native Jamie C. Amelio is the founder and CEO of Caring for Cambodia.  While vacationing in Cambodia in 2003, she expected to be wowed by the temples of Angkor Wat.  Instead it was a little girl panhandling for a few dollars who would change her life.  A few weeks later Jamie established Caring for Cambodia, which now supports 6,400 students in sixteen schools in Siem Reap.  IN 2005, 2010 and 2012 Jamie was awarded the prestigious Golden Hand Service Award by the Cambodian government.  After living in Asia for ten years, Jamie, her husband Bill, and their six children now live in Austin, TX.

Visit the author's website.


It all began with a dollar.

When Srelin, an eight-year old Cambodian girl approached Jamie Amelio and asked for a dollar so she could afford to go to school, Amelio was skeptical.  Was this just another beggar’s ruse? Amelio was visiting Cambodia for the first time, and was shocked at the filth and abject poverty.  Entire villages lacked plumbing and electricity.  Mothers on the streets pleaded with her to take their babies so they might have a chance at a good life. And this child wanted a dollar for school? A doubtful Amelio nevertheless told Srelin that if she would take her to visit the school, she would give her the dollar.

 What Amelio found at the school changed her life.

 In Graced with Orange, you’ll read the story of how Amelio discovered 75 hungry, impoverished Cambodian children crowded into a single room with bars on the windows, waiting patiently for a teacher who never showed up.  The students shared a pencil they had broken into small pieces, and had few other school supplies.  And this was a school that students had to pay to attend!  The situation was less surprising when Amelio learned that Cambodia was still reeling from the murder of 2 million people by the Khmer Rouge (The movie, The Killing Fields was based on this) a few decades ago – including anyone who was educated – All teachers, and even anyone with glasses, were ruthlessly disposed of.

 Amelio invested herself into making lasting change in a country that cried out for it. She vowed to make a difference and she did.  She established “Caring for Cambodia”, that in the next 10 years built 16 life-changing schools, and the opportunity for young people to learn in a safe, nurturing environment with motivated teachers. “I knew that God had put me in this position,” she says.

 Equally as inspirational is the story of how Amelio’s life, marriage, and children’s lives were profoundly changed by the children of Cambodia.  Or as her eldest son says, “Cambodia saved my life.”

Product Details:
List Price: $18.85
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Meadow Lane Publishing (June 15, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0986025801
ISBN-13: 978-0986025808


Chapter One - Spotting the Orange

Naturally, Virginia was with me in January of 2003 when I stepped off the plane in Siem Reap for the first time, the day that would change my life. As the airplane door banged open, Virginia, Amanda, and I felt the same blast of furnace-like air. When someone asks you what Cambodia is like, if you’re honest, the first thing that comes to mind is, “Cambodia is hot.” Jungle hot. If you start traveling to Cambodia frequently you are bound to hear the joke that everyone seems to tell: Cambodia has three seasons—hot, really hot, and really hot and wet.

Maybe so, but as a Texas girl I wasn’t afraid of the heat or the rain. Having visited other Asian countries, I was also prepared for the chaos of traffic jams, honking horns, and swarms of children asking for, and sometimes demanding, money.

When you become an expatriate living in Singapore your new friends tell you to take the opportunity to explore neighboring countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Hong Kong, all a few hours or fewer away by air.

Map of Singapore in Asia.

During our first year in Singapore Bill and I traveled to a number of different countries, including China when Bill had business there, plus Thailand, Indonesia, and Hong Kong either with friends or our children. On one vacation Bill and I took the kids to Ho Chi Minh City, so I had experienced the ferocity and commercialism of a Southeast Asian capital. The children there were a reflection of this aggressiveness, and as soon as we arrived at the airport we were bombarded with swarms of them crying out to me, “Hey lady! Hey lady!” as they begged for money.

We did have a fascinating few days in Ho Chi Minh City. We visited museums, saw a water puppet show, and toured the incredible C. Chi tunnels, an immense network of underground tunnels used by the Viet Cong army during the Vietnam War, or “the American War”  as the Vietnamese call it.

We also brought clothes to donate to one of the orphanages Christina Noble had created. I had been moved to tears reading Ms. Noble’s book,

Bridge Across My Sorrows, a memoir chronicling her horrific childhood in the slums of Dublin and how she had moved to Vietnam and devoted her life to the bui doi, the street children there. Her book was no doubt one of the inspirations that made me on the lookout for some way to make a positive difference in one of these very poor countries in Southeast Asia, located just a few hours from where I was now living.

I wanted to help, but as Bill and I visited one of the orphanages Ms. Noble had established, I immediately saw I would have to get involved in something very different. Looking at the conditions in which children were living left me dumfounded. We saw horribly deformed young people. Many children, some in diapers, seemed unable to even get out of bed. My most haunting memory is of the silence. We never heard the sounds of children playing or even crying. I greatly admired the people working there, but I left feeling devastated by the experience. I didn’t think I was strong enough to work in that kind of environment.

But right away Siem Reap seemed different. The airport had an unexpected calm. It would be modernized a few years later, but at the time it resembled a Pony Express outpost more than it did the second largest airport in a country of fifteen million people. As Virginia, Amanda, and I deplaned and walked across the runway we saw green vegetation that seemed to go on forever and tall palm trees and grass huts in the distance. It was as if we were walking around someone’s remote backyard.

As we were driven to our hotel, the city seemed to be moving at a slower pace. The streets were certainly crowded, but with motorbikes and bicycles rather than the constant hum of automobiles and twenty-first century neon and without the high-octane energy I had expected.

So this is what a developing country looks like, I thought to myself as I gazed at cows, monkeys, and dogs roaming the streets and at dirt flying everywhere. Driving alongside us, families carried all manner of

things on their bicycles and motorbikes: babies on handlebars, bags of rice strapped to shoulders, pigs being taken to slaughter in cages dangling precariously from saddlebags. Many motorbikes carted three or four people in addition to their various belongings. No one wore helmets.1

We sped past villages with barefoot children playing in the mud, not an electric pole in sight. Somehow the large buildings and modern activity in the other Southeast Asian countries I had visited had managed to mask the impoverishment, at least for the tourist. In Siem Reap, it was all in your face.

I felt like I had been dropped down the rabbit hole, except it was a familiar one, like a vaguely scary dream but one I didn’t fear because I’d had it before and I knew it came out okay on the other side. Instantly I felt comfortable in Siem Reap. My connection to the place went beyond just an empathy for people living in poverty. Even before we arrived at the hotel, well before we visited the temples, something struck a nerve in me. It’s difficult to explain. Some people fall in love at first sight with Paris or New York; others feel a special affinity for the big sky of the American West or even the small towns of Texas where I grew up. Almost immediately I had the powerful feeling that Cambodia was a place that was going to become an important part of my life. Maybe it was the way people greeted us, with a slight bow as they put their hands together up to their chins in a prayer-like motion. It was a salutation I would soon adopt. Or perhaps it was the simplicity of their lives and the feeling that it wouldn’t take much to make a genuine and lasting difference here.

The Raffles Hotel presented a wake-up of a different sort. Today Siem Reap has dozens of quality hotels, but at the time Raffles was the only one of its kind. It is still an oasis of beauty, one of the most elegant hotels I’ve ever stayed in. The employees wear stiffly starched white uniforms with traditional hats and matching knee socks and offer a cold washcloth and a soft “Welcome home”  as you walk through the door. The experience, walking out of poverty and into luxury, is surreal and more than a little disconcerting.

1. A few years later the police began to enforce a helmet law for motorbikes, but the law applies only to the driver. You can still routinely see three or four people on the same small bike, with only the driver wearing a helmet

The next morning Samedi, the guide we had hired, picked up Virginia, Amanda, and me in his beat-up Toyota to visit the temple of Angkor Wat, the most famous of the temples of Angkor. On the way we passed King Jayaraman Hospital, named for the Khmer emperor who in the twelfth century built his capital city less than a mile from the entrance to the temple.

Outside the hospital a long snaking line of people waited to enter. There must have been several hundred tired, sick-looking men, women, and children waiting in line or on the street corner hoping to see a doctor. Many were parents holding ailing babies or toddlers; others were sick children holding even sicker younger siblings.

I started grilling Samedi, who explained that families travel on foot, by bicycle, and on the backs of trucks from their villages many hours away to see the only doctor for a hundred miles. With the exception of the cities of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, modern healthcare in Cambodia is almost nonexistent, which helps explain why dengue fever and malaria continue to be major health problems.

Healthcare is not free in Cambodia. With an average income of $1,800 per year, many families must fend for themselves, often using ancient remedies of dubious efficacy, like squeezing someone’s ankle if you think he’s having a heart attack, or rubbing heated bottle tops or coins on the skin to “get the sickness out.” It took me years to ask what caused the round marks on people’s foreheads. I have also seen medicine men mix up a “cure your cancer” cocktail made of wood chips, herbs, and magic.

After just a few hours I could see that Cambodia was a country of paradoxes. Something beautiful like the fountains in the Raffles hotel existed just down the road from an entire village lacking plumbing or electricity. Temples built in the twelfth century, truly a wonder of the world, sat next to a hospital full of dying children who would not see a doctor until it was too late. The manmade magnificence of the ancient temples were in stark contrast to the manmade destitution in people’s daily lives; the gentle, soft-spoken people I met during my first 48 hours there lived with the memory of a genocide the rest of the world had all but forgotten.

Even the restaurants demonstrated the yin/yang of the small city. You might enter a dining place with an attractive, modern façade, but a glance next door would reveal dogs and birds rummaging through the restaurant’s burning garbage. Attempts at progress were butting up against years of extreme poverty and political upheaval, preventing people from making real progress.

Only later did I come to understand that Cambodian culture had recently been rebooted. Everywhere, in the eyes of the people and in their halting attempts to improve their lot, were remembrances of the recent past and the genocide they had endured. During my first days in Siem Reap I only had a cursory knowledge of what the Khmer Rouge had done to this beautiful country. I immediately started reading all I could about it, and what I learned was horrifying.

Between 1975 and 1979, in the name of creating an agrarian utopia, the Khmer Rouge had killed an estimated two million Cambodians, a quarter of the population, in a wave of murder, torture, and starvation aimed particularly at the educated and intellectual elite. Ninety percent of Cambodia’s doctors were either killed or fled the country. Small wonder that even today, Cambodia has fewer physicians per capita than all but thirty-seven countries in the world and an infant mortality rate

more than ten times that of the United States and almost six times that of neighboring Vietnam. If a U.S. tourist becomes ill during a vacation to Cambodia, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommends airlifting the patient to Bangkok rather than gambling with a Cambodian hospital or doctor.

It wasn’t just modern medicine that the Khmer Rouge leadership considered subversive, antithetical to their rural, “pure”  form of communism. In 1976, a year after taking power, the Khmer Rouge, formally the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), abolished the Cambodian currency, the courts, newspapers, the postal system, and telephone communication—in short, the very concept of urban life.

Phnom Phen, a city of three million, was emptied, the people forced to work in the countryside or worse, never heard from again. The “revolution” led by Pol Pot wasn’t just an attempt to eliminate disparities in income, monopolize the media, or limit personal freedoms. Individual thought, initiative, and creativity were also condemned. Anyone who was educated, particularly teachers, were targeted. People were shot simply because they wore glasses.

Angkor wat

Virginia, Amanda, and I weren’t thinking about any of this as we entered the grounds of Angkor Wat, surely one of the wonders of the ancient world. The temple was built during the Khmer Empire between the ninth and thirteenth centuries when Cambodian kings ruled a Southeast Asian empire that stretched from Malaysia to Laos, from Vietnam to Burma.

Sometime during the first half of the twelfth century the emperor Suryavarman II dedicated Angkor Wat to the Hindu God, Vishnu. Every inch of the temple seems to be made with purpose. The intricate statues and sculptures that appear to climb out of the walls and

rock cliffs give reverence to both Hindu and Buddhist deities and emperors, and numerology is interwoven throughout. In Hinduism, the God-like Devas are continually at war with the power-seeking deities called Asuras. The bridge that leads to Angkor Thom, which is part of Angkor Wat, is lined with 54 rivaling Devas and a corresponding 54 Asura statues. Together they add up to 108, a powerful number in Khmer mythology that is linked to the degrees of movement of the sun and moon.

Approaching the temple on foot makes you feel as if you are in a Tolkien land with ancient trees growing in and over the roads and buildings. The jungle heat prints the landscape green and emits a fresh smell of life regenerating. The rhythm and beauty of my first day in Cambodia were almost overpowering.

Seven Amelios at the Angkor Wat South Gate entrance; a tuk-tuk is on the left.

The First orange i See

At one point we were walking around the side of the temples and we could see in the distance four or five Buddhist monks in bright orange robes heading toward a nearby monastery. Just then a little girl of eight or nine came up to us. Throughout the day children had been asking us to buy all sorts of items. Each child seemed to have a specialty. Some sold silk scarves, others postcards and maps, still others books describing local tourist sites.

But there was something different about this girl who offered me a book on Angkor Wat and asked for a dollar. She approached us by herself, surrounded only by a flock of wild puppies running and yelping around her. In a soft clear voice, she asked, “How are you?”

At the time I was surprised at her ability to speak English, but I soon learned that most of the children who work near the temples learn to speak at least a little English so they can converse with the tourists.

“Could I have a dollar?” this sweet small voice asked.

Rather than just give her the money, I asked for her name and what she would do with the dollar. I wanted to understand what was going on in her country. That I didn’t know very much about Cambodia was beginning to dawn on me. It was poor; I could certainly see that after half a day. It had been part of the Vietnam War somehow, I remembered that. And the country had suffered through a genocide of its own making less than thirty years earlier. But what had happened since then, I hadn’t a clue.

The girl told me her name was Srelin and that she wanted the dollar to pay for school.

“What a clever answer,” I thought suspiciously, imagining a street person in a U.S. city standing outside a liquor store asking for money, supposedly for food. Still, something about the girl’s youth and her matter-of-factness captivated me.

“Why do you have to pay to go to school?” I asked her.

“We all have to pay to go to school in Cambodia,” was the response.

“What does your mom do?”

“My mom can’t work. She sick.”

“Where’s your father?”

“Well, he at home.”

“Where do you get your money, here at the temple?”


I found myself telling Srelin that if she showed me her school I would give her the dollar. I fully expected her to tell me I wasn’t allowed at the school, or to offer some other excuse. Instead she said that school wasn’t in session since it was lunchtime, but that I could visit later that afternoon. Then, very businesslike, we shook hands.

On our way back from Angkor Wat I began pummeling our guide with more questions. Up until that point Samedi had been playing the good tour guide, telling us about the likes of King Jayaraman and the history of the various Hindu and Buddhist temples we would be visiting. Now I began asking him why his country was so poor, why children had to pay to go to school, and why Srelin’s parents weren’t working.

“What is the source of most families’ income?” I asked. “Do they have electricity? Indoor plumbing?”

“Tourism,” “No,” and “No,” I gradually gleaned were the answers to those three questions. A child under the age of ten serving as the family’s breadwinner was not unusual, Samedi told me, and most homes did not have electricity. More than once since then I have seen people use a car battery to fire up a television set. On many nights that is the only light you see in a village.

 “But what happened to this country?”  I demanded. Vietnam and Thailand had developed into tiger economies. Why had Cambodia lagged seriously behind, with the lowest GDP in Asia?

Poor Samedi. He couldn’t answer most of my questions, but he did talk about the infamous Killing Fields of Cambodia and what had happened to his country during the past thirty years.

“Almost everyone has a family member who was killed,” he told me.

And everyone had a story, I was soon to learn. It was years before Samedi opened up and told me his. Eventually I learned that he was born in 1964, so he was eleven years old when the Khmer Rouge took power. Like millions of other peasants, he was marched out of his village and into forced labor in the countryside. Seven days a week he worked in the fields, from daybreak until ten at night, farming, herding cows, and building dikes. Virtually no one went to school. His was a story that was repeated a million times. All his family’s belongings had to be handed over to the Khmer Rouge, the ruling Cambodian party which became everyone’s mother, father, and big brother. If you were caught hiding jewelry you could be killed. If you tried to escape, you were killed.

In 1980 Samedi was reunited with his mother and other surviving family members, but his father, he learned, had been executed. Two of his siblings had also died. Samedi was then conscripted into the Vietnamese army and later saved himself by becoming a monk before leaving the monastery to make his way as a tour guide.

After lunch Samedi drove Virginia, Amanda, and me to Srelin’s school in the small village of Kravaan. A large, rusty wrought iron fence with yellow columns buttressing a swinging metal gate led to a complex of three buildings, one of which was a small, low-roofed, shack-like structure. Somehow Srelin knew I had arrived because out the door she came running up to us, exclaiming, “Oh, you’re here! You’re here!” like I was a favorite aunt she hadn’t seen in months.

I asked Srelin to show us her classroom, so she walked us back into the building, which up close we could see wasn’t much more than four walls and a ceiling. She opened the door to reveal what must have been seventy- five children of all ages crammed into a small room. They were sitting on benches under narrow tables, three to five kids to a table. The school was so crowded that children were literally sitting on top of one another. Every time a child stood the dust from the dirt floor billowed upwards. I had to force myself to stop thinking about the Peanuts character Pigpen, trailed by a cloud of dirt wherever he went.

Thousands of dust particles sparkled in the rays of sun that shone through the windows, unobstructed except for thick steel bars. I was told the bars were to prevent break-ins, although what someone might want to steal I couldn’t imagine. Even with the bars the building didn’t seem particularly secure. I wondered how children could learn in this jail-like setting and marveled at the irony that they had to pay for it.

The moment I walked into the room the children went completely silent, with all eyes on the three foreigners. I said hello and they bowed their heads, offering polite “Hellos” in return.

Looking around further, I realized there wasn’t a teacher in front of the class. “Where’s the teacher?” I asked Srelin.

“I don’t know if teacher come today. Sometimes don’t come.”

Remarkably, without supervision, the children just sat there, talking quietly, waiting for their teacher to arrive. Srelin explained that they would stay there all day because that’s what they had been told to do.

“Do you have any kind of workbooks to read or lesson plans to follow while the teacher is absent?” I asked Srelin.

She looked at me blankly, but the fact that she didn’t understand the question gave me my answer.

“Where are the school supplies?”

She pointed to the front desk, which had small pieces of broken pencils. “We get one pencil,” she told me. “We break it. We share it.”

The teacher never did show up that day. Virginia, Amanda, and I stayed a few hours, walking the grounds with the school principal. With Samedi as translator, I asked how I could help.

“What do you need the most?” I asked.

“Paper and pencils,” the principal told me. I kept asking him questions, and in return I received my first introduction to the Cambodian public education system. It wasn’t the last time I would learn that the bureaucracy was sorely inefficient and often corrupt. Teachers, I learned, were supposed to receive a salary from the Cambodian government. Sometimes they did, often they did not, and even when they did it only amounted to about $25 a month. That was not a livable wage, even in a country as poor as Cambodia, so the teachers asked the children to supplement their incomes.

By the time we returned to our hotel something in me had changed. My heart and head had been turned topsy-turvy in a single day. I couldn’t sleep that night. Perhaps I was naïve, but I couldn’t get my mind around the idea that I lived two hours away in a country with everything I could possibly need while a mere two hours away children were trying to learn in an environment like the one I had just seen. This was simply not okay with me. People could do better. People like me could do better.

The next day after breakfast Virginia, Amanda, and I visited another top tourist sight, Ta Prohm, the temple made famous by Angelina Jolie’s film, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

Ta Prohm was built in the twelfth century, toward the end of the Khmer Empire. Although it retains its incredible beauty, it is losing its form to the jungle, crumbling under the weight of the massive trees and roots that snake between the stones, separating and lifting them in odd directions, filling every nook and cranny and giving the temple

a Dali-like quality. Man conquered nature in its construction and now nature is reclaiming her temple.

Just before arriving at Ta Prohm, with Samedi still our guide, we stopped at a small outdoor market. Young girls were selling cold drinks and souvenirs out of a series of stalls protected from the sun by makeshift roofs and awnings stuffed with straw, leaves, and mud. Suddenly we were surrounded by a swarm of girls maybe twelve or thirteen years old. I bought a few souvenirs from them, but after my experience of the day before I had more questions.

“What school do you go to?” I asked. “Does your teacher always show up? Do you use books and pencils and paper at your school?”

Like Srelin, these young girls attended school most days and sold trinkets at Ta Prohm to pay for it. I took a photograph of the girls and wrote down their names so I wouldn’t forget. We sat sipping water, talking for hours, and they told me a little about how they lived and pointed out their houses in a village without electricity. I asked about the sugar canes they were cleaning, and one of the girls pointed to a field full of them. All the girls chewed constantly on the cane, which explained their bad teeth.

Perhaps it was the water, but that night at Raffles both Virginia and I were so sick we had a doctor come and give us shots. The next morning, fighting through the nausea, I managed to meet with Samedi in the hotel lobby. I was obsessed with doing something to help, and I decided to give him $300 in cash, telling him I wanted to start helping the children of Cambodia by sponsoring the schooling of five girls—Srelin and a friend of hers I had met at her school plus the three girls I had sat with across from Ta Prohm.

Samedi was reluctant to take the money. I could see the apprehension on his face, as if to say, “Oh no, another tourist with big ideas who I’ll never see again.”

But I assured him I’d be back. I was adamant about giving this money to the girls and letting them know I’d be returning soon.

I know this sounds crazy as I barely knew Samedi, but a bigger plan was beginning to formulate in my mind. I wanted to establish that if I said I was going to do something I would follow through and do it. If I were truly going to do something in Cambodia I needed to create trust. I had promised each of these five girls the day I met them that I would help them, and I was going to start by making it possible for Srelin and the others to go to school for the next few months without having to pay for it. In the meantime, I was going to figure out a more permanent way to get involved.

That afternoon Virginia, Amanda, and I flew to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. We still didn’t feel well, and after we landed Virginia threw up on our way to the hotel, right in front of the Royal Palace.

I wondered if this was some kind of omen. As time has shown, the answer was a resounding no.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Harvest of Gold by Tessa Afshar - REVIEWED

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Harvest of Gold
River North; New Edition edition (July 1, 2013)
Tessa Afshar


TESSA AFSHAR was voted "New Author of the Year" by the Family Fiction sponsored Reader's Choice Award 2011 for her novel Pearl in the Sand. She was born in Iran, and lived there for the first fourteen years of her life. She moved to England where she survived boarding school for girls and fell in love with Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, before moving to the United States permanently. Her conversion to Christianity in her twenties changed the course of her life forever. Tessa holds an MDiv from Yale University where she served as co-chair of the Evangelical Fellowship at the Divinity School. She has spent the last thirteen years in full-time Christian work.


The scribe Sarah married Darius, and at times she feels as if she has married the Persian aristocracy, too. There is another point she did not count on in her marriage-Sarah has grown to love her husband. Sarah has wealth, property, honor, and power, but her husband's love still seems unattainable.

Although his mother was an Israelite, Darius remains skeptical that his Jewish wife is the right choice for him, particularly when she conspires with her cousin Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Ordered to assist in the effort, the couple begins a journey to the homeland of his mother's people. Will the road filled with danger, conflict, and surprising memories, help Darius to see the hand of God at work in his life-and even in his marriage?

A hidden message, treachery, opposition, and a God-given success, will lead to an unlikely bounty.

My Thoughts:
“…for when God is in the building, chaos will eventually be replaced by His order.  When things appear to be falling apart, God is in fact causing them to fall into place.”
  This is a story of restoration - the physical restoration of Jerusalem’s walls and city and the restoration of the hearts and souls of the story’s main characters – Sarah and Darius.  The marriage between Sarah and Darius has always been one-sided, because only Sarah will confess the love that she has for her husband.  Darius holds Sarah at arm’s length and hides his own emotions behind impenetrable walls constructed early in his youth.  When new life is crated within Sarah's womb and she and Darius are separated by a threat on the king's life, their lives begin to change in significant ways.  When they are tasked to go with Nehemiah as he rebuilds the walls of Jerusalem, they must face enemies within and without the walls of the city and their own hearts.

     Tessa Afshar has taken the story of Nehemiah’s obedience to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and created a masterpiece of grace!  She has taken Sarah and Darius from Harvest of Rubies and set them amid a historic Biblical event.  The story of their relationship and the rebuilding of Jerusalem are woven together in such a way that they mirror the rebuilding of grace and faith in the lives of a people who have listened to the voice of fear and discouragement far too long. You will be fearful, hopeful, wistful and enraptured as you read this story! Your faith will be transformed within you until it is refreshed and renewed in unexpected ways!

     Truly, this is one of the most beautiful pictures of God’s long-suffering and grace that I have read in quite a while. I have cried, and laughed, worshipped and praised the Lord throughout this story and I am a better person for having taken the time to read Harvest of Gold.  God has brought forth a harvest within my heart that has encouraged me deeply! I am thrilled to share this story with you!

If you'd like to read the first chapter of Harvest of Gold, go HERE.