Everyday Tidbits...

"I am so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." - Anne Shirley

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Christmas Sweater...Review

About the book:
If you could change your life by reversing your biggest regrets, sorrows and mistakes...would you? New York Times bestselling author and renowned radio and television host Glenn Beck delivers an instant holiday classic about boyhood memories, wrenching life lessons, and the true meaning of the gifts we give to one another in love. We weren't wealthy, we weren't poor -- we just were. We never wanted for anything, except maybe more time together....When Eddie was twelve years old, all he wanted for Christmas was a bike. Although his life had gotten harder -- and money tighter -- since his father died and the family bakery closed...Eddie dreamed that somehow his mother would find a way to have his dream bike gleaming beside their modest Christmas tree that magical morning. What he got from her instead was a sweater. "A stupid, handmade, ugly sweater" that young Eddie left in a crumpled ball in the corner of his room.

Scarred deeply by the realization that kids don't always get what they want, and too young to understand that he already owned life's most valuable treasures, that Christmas morning was the beginning of Eddie's dark and painful journey on the road to manhood. It will take wrestling with himself, his faith, and his family -- and the guidance of a mysterious neighbor named Russell -- to help Eddie find his path through the storm clouds of life and finally see the real significance of that simple gift his mother had crafted by hand with love in her heart. Based on a deeply personal true story, The Christmas Sweater is a warm and poignant tale of family, faith and forgiveness that offers us a glimpse of our own lives -- while also making us question if we really know what's most important in them.


I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought it was a completely true story, but Glenn explains at the end that while it was a true story, he novelized his experiences and condensed them into this book. Whatever the reason, the Christmas Sweater is a must-read story of faith and forgiveness.

Eddie's father has died and his mother works 4 jobs to provide for him. As Christmas approaches, all he wants is a bike. What he finds under the tree instead, is a hand-made sweater which, at first, represents all that is missing in his life. But, as we read Eddie's story and the experiences that follow, we find, as he does, that the pathway of life isn't always easy, but with God's love, you can get through it and even enjoy the journey along the way.

I didn't like Eddie at first. He was a selfish boy even before his dad died, but afterwards he became downright prickly. He pushes everyone away with his ugly accusations and cruelty. Then, through some remarkable, spiritual experiences, he finally comes to understand that he is not alone: God loves him and his family loves him.

Some might say the book is predictable and full of platitudes, but I found it thought-provoking and compelling. There is a ring of truth to the lessons that Eddie learns. Lessons we can all learn from. This is a book that I know I will read again.

Thanks to my local bookstore for having a copy I could purchase.  You can get your own copy here.

Read 12/08

* * * *

4/5 Stars

Through the Storm...Review

About the book:
We all want our children to succeed. What happens when they do?

Britney Spears wanted to sing ever since she was a little girl. But the years of sacrifices, auditions, performances, albums, fame, and paparazzi left the little Louisiana family swept up and spun around, and nothing turned out the way anyone ever imagined or wanted. Now Lynne shares the inside story of the Spears family as only a mother can.


Through the Storm takes readers outside the narrow orbit of the Hollywood glitterati. Lynne shares how fame forever changed their family; her regrets letting managers, agents, and record companies direct the lives of her children; the challenges that shaped Lynne and Jamie's failed marriage and how they affected Bryan, Britney, and Jamie Lynn; the startling events that led to Britney's breakdown; the aftermath of Jamie Lynn's pregnancy; and how the family has tried pulling together to recapture a sense of hope and purpose.

Through the Storm, says Lynne, is "the story of one simple Southern woman whose family got caught in a tornado called fame, and who is still trying to sort through the debris scattered all over her life in the aftermath. It's who I am, warts and all, with some true confessions that took a long time to get up the nerve to discuss."

I liked this book more than I thought I would. I figured it would be some tabloid-esque piece of trivia. What I found, instead, was a thoughtful book written by a loving mother. Lynne shares her story and that of her famous family. She shares the ups and downs as well as her fears.

An incredibly easy book to read and while somewhat shallow and trivial, I came away with the impression that Lynne was very naive and trusting when it came to allowing her daughters to pursue their dreams of entertaining. She blindly trusted too many people, rather than educating herself about the entertainment world and taking an active role in her daughters' careers.

I also understood her fear and distrust of the media. I believe very little of what I read and hear reported by media outlets. I think that the entertainment media, especially, have a distinct lack of integrity in their reporting.

I don't follow Britney Spears in the media. I really don't care about her or her life. I did, however, appreciate the viewpoint her mother gives about how difficult life in the public eye can be. I'm sure that Lynne Spears is a loving, concerned mother just like the rest of us. Parenting itself is difficult, parenting in a fishbowl must be a nightmare.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.

Read 10/08

* * 

2/5 Stars

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Fall Into Reading 2008 Challenge Wrap-Up

It's time to wrap up my Fall Into Reading 2008 Challenge list. Katrina at Callapidder Days hosted the challenge and, as always, it was fun.

I read 26 books. Some of them were on my original list, but most were just added as I found them or they came up on my list in the library. Most I liked, some I didn't.

I read some delightful Christmas Books, including The Paper Bag Christmas, by Kevin Milne, and Finding Father Christmas and Engaging Father Christmas, by Robin Gunn. I had my first taste of an author responding to a negative review when I reviewed Chasing Diana, by Jack and Robin Firestone. I thoroughly enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Schaffer, but was disappointed in Going Down South, by Bonnie Glover.

The books I read are as follows, in reverse order and all have been reviewed here on the book blog.

Your Roots are Showing, Elise Chidley
Let Them Eat Cake, Sandra Byrd
More Letters from Pemberley, Jane Dawkins
White Christmas Pie, Wanda Brunstetter
First Families: The Impact of the White House on Their Lives, Bonnie Angelo
American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld
Doesn't She Look Natural?, Angela Hunt
When the Soul Mends, Cindy Woodsmall
When the Morning Comes, Cindy Woodsmall
The Paper Bag Christmas, Kevin Alan Milne
Going Down South, Bonnie Glover
Dark Pursuit, Brandilyn Collins
When the Heart Cries, Cindy Woodsmall
The Quilter's Kitchen, Jennifer Chiaverini
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Schaffer
One Perfect Day, Lauraine Snelling
Engaging Father Christmas, Robin Gunn
Finding Father Christmas, Robin Gunn
Chasing Diana, Jack Firestone
The Secret Journal of Brett Colton, Kay Lynn Mangum
Sisters, Ink., Rebeca Seitz
Midwife of the Blue Ridge, Christine Blevins
Matrimony, Joshua Henkin
Nice to Come Home to, Rebecca Flowers
Talk of the Town, Lisa Wingate
The Tenth Case, Joseph Teller

Thanks Katrina, for hosting this. I read anyway, but it's fun to have a little challenge to motivate me along. I'm now off to find another challenge. Any suggestions?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Marketplace Memos...Wild Card!



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

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





Today's Wild Card authors are:


and the book:


Marketplace Memos

New Leaf Publishing Group (October 20, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHORs:


David Shibley is founder and president of Global Advance, a ministry that trains and resources thousands of church and business leaders every year in many of the world's most underserved nations. Having ministered in almost 60 nations, David has a passion to strengthen and encourage national leaders to advance God's kingdom worldwide. David and his wife, Naomi, have two married sons.

Jonathan Shibley serves as vice president of Global Advance. His primary focus is directing the Marketplace Missions program for equipping business leaders in developing nations. He also is engaged in international business. Before joining Global Advance, he earned a business degree from Baylor University and served with Promise Keepers and Teen Mania. Jonathan and his wife, Sarah, have three children.


Product Details:

List Price: $ 13.99
Hardcover: 173 pages
Publisher: New Leaf Publishing Group (October 20, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0892216786
ISBN-13: 978-0892216789

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Giving Living


Years ago, a disgruntled man stormed up to Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse, after he heard Dr. Pierce preach. The angry man snarled, “I guess all there is to this Christianity is give, give, give.” Reflecting later on that encounter, Dr. Pierce chuckled, “It just goes to show that even with the wrong spirit a man can get some revelation and truth!”

The often-quoted maxim – “You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give” – is true. Here are seven practical benefits of giving for God’s Kingdom purposes and the fulfilling of the Great Commission.

Your gift goes where you may never go. Your gift is an extension of yourself. You receive money in exchange for your investment of time and life. So when you give for Kingdom purposes, in a real sense you’re giving a part of yourself. Your gift says you want your life to count for what is eternal. Americans are generous, and Christians in America are especially so. There are many legitimate causes, but I don’t know anywhere givers can get more done for the dollar than in giving to world missions.

Giving living loosens the grip of materialism. I noticed a bumper sticker on the back of a sports car that read, “The man who dies with the most toys…wins.” But Jesus taught that the man who dies with the most “toys” is a short-sighted fool. It’s time for us to stop loving cars and clothes and start loving countries! If God so loved the world that He gave His Son, we need to so love the world that we invest in being sure everyone everywhere hears about His Son. I’ve driven through the poverty-drenched streets of Kolkata and the wealth-lined avenues of Beverly Hills. In both environments I saw desperate people. Jesus wasn’t kidding when He warned, “Beware of covetousness because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses.” God calls us to embrace biblical prosperity while rejecting materialism. We can do both; we must do both.

You experience the eternal principle of sowing and reaping. Some churches in Africa practice a unique form of church discipline. If a professing Christian is living in sin, he is allowed to come to church, but he is not allowed to give! When the offering place comes to him, the usher places his hand over the plate and prevents him from giving. It is a powerful statement that the blessing of God is literally being prevented from coming to the unrepentant man’s life. It’s an eternal law woven into the very fabric of the universe. Farmers call it the law of sowing and reaping. Scientists refer to it as cause and effect. It’s reinforced throughout the Scriptures. The pattern is clear: you must sow in order to reap.

You lay up treasures in heaven. Jesus taught, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” A businessman once approached me and said, “I need more of a heart for missions. What should I do?” I replied, “Write out a $2,500 check for missions and sow it to the harvest, and I promise you, you’ll have more of a heart for missions.”

It just works that way. Where your treasure is (present tense), there your heart will be (future tense). Although “you can’t take it with you,” you can send it on ahead! This very day you can lay up treasures in heaven.

God will supply your every need. Are you ready for a jolt? Philippians 4:19 is not a promise for every Christian. It’s a great verse: “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” But it is not a carte blanche to be claimed at will by anybody. No, this promise is given exclusively to those who invest in advancing the gospel.

Read the context. Paul told the Philippians they were the only church that had invested to send him on his first missionary journey. As a result of their gift to launch Paul to the nations, he promised that God would supply their every need. Yes, you can claim Philippians 4:19 if you give for the advance of the gospel.

You experience the joy of making a difference in the world. I make no apologies for challenging American Christians to tear loose from some of their money and give it to advance Kingdom causes worldwide. Jesus taught, “To whom much is given, from him much will be required.” With blessing comes accountability. There is a longing inside every true Christ-follower to make a difference for Him. We do not bear sole responsibility for world evangelization, but because of our affluence and influence, we do bear heightened responsibility.

You experience the significance of participating in God’s global purposes. A businessman thanked me for the opportunity to give to Global Advance. He tearfully said, “You give me purpose.” For this man, building his company is not the bottom line. He goes beyond the bottom line to build Christ’s Kingdom through building his company.

You move past mere success to true significance by aligning your life with God’s primary purpose. God’s primary purpose is to see His Son known, loved, and worshiped by redeemed people from every tribe and nation. And you are part of that plan. Live to give.


Remember: “Give and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)


Reflect: “What do your offerings say about your heart levels of gratitude and love for God? What does your spending say about what’s truly important on this earth?” – Robert Morris


Pray: That God will make you a joyful giver to His Kingdom causes.


Act: Where is the Holy Spirit directing you to invest for Christ’s Kingdom today?


Friday, December 19, 2008

Your Roots Are Showing...Review

About the book:
Lizzie Buckley has a life many women dream of - a gorgeous husband, a beautiful home and darling (when they're not fighting) three-year-old twins. But ever since the birth of her children, she's had a fantasy about locking herself in her bedroom for twenty-four hours with a good book and a box of chocolates.

Unfortunately, her husband James doesn't understand her feelings. And when Lizzie unburdens herself in a flaming email to her sister Janie, then hits send at the wrong moment and accidentally shoots it off to James instead, her fairytale life gets a big dose of reality. With the word "divorce" ringing in her ears, Lizzie finds herself moving out and embarking on a totally different life - working hard to reinvent herself as a runner, a gardener, and a writer of children's books.

But despite transforming her body, her neglected career, and her libido (courtesy of the local landscape gardener), Lizzie can't get over her soon-to-be ex. As Lizzie discovers, sometimes the fairytale ending is just the beginning of the real story.

Lizzie Buckley has what appears to be a perfectly wonderful life: a lovely home, a handsome husband and two beautiful twin toddlers. But, as so often happens to tired young mothers, she suffers from exhaustion, some depression and a decreased desire for s*x. She writes an email to her sister, venting about her frustrations and, unfortunately, sends it to her husband by mistake.

What follows is a charming novel about life and love, and family and friends, and what happens when two people who really love each other forget how to communicate. After her husband leaves, Lizzie must pick up the pieces of her life and put it back together. As she does this, she finds herself again.

A funny, enthralling novel set in contemporary England. Lizzie's voice rings true and while you both cringe and laugh at her antics and misjudgments, you cry with her frustrations.

Elise Chidley captures what it's like to be a wife and mother. A terrific debut novel. I can't wait for more.

Thanks to Hatchette Books for the opportunity to review this book. You can find out more about Elise Chidley here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 12/08

* * * *

4/5 Stars

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's Your Call...Wild Card!



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

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





Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


It’s Your Call

Yorkshire Publishing; 1st edition (September 5, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Lawrence Powell is Pastor of Agape Family Worship Center in Rahway, New Jersey; a multi-ethnic ministry, that is home to thousands throughout the Tri-state region. In partnership with Oral Roberts University, he is also founder of Pneuma Life School of Ministry, an accredited teaching and training institute, equipping Christian men and women for missions, outreach, and church planting. Powell is a much sought-after speaker and respected Biblical teacher. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and a Master’s degree from Oral Roberts University. He resides in New Jersey with his wife Vanessa, and their three lovely children.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 19.99
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Yorkshire Publishing; 1st edition (September 5, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0881442917
ISBN-13: 978-0881442915

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Face it. You’re the One for the Job!


“Not called” did you say? “Not heard the call,” I think you should say.

~ William Booth Founder of the Salvation Army


It was a clear sunny day and I could not have been any more than about 5 or 6 years old. I was out in the backyard playing alone in the warm summer breeze. I do not remember why I was alone, but if you ask my mother, she will say that my sister and I used to get into petty squabbles. Our peaceful times of playfulness would somehow decline into: No! Stop! Move! Get off! Mine! Ouch! Mommy! And then, we were separated…for safety purposes of course.


This particular day in the backyard was probably no different.


I had an active imagination and I did not really mind playing alone. My “imaginary friends” and I climbed onto my little blue and white, double-seat glider swing set, and I had a captive audience.

That day I was performing live in concert, making up one song after another. As I was belting out my original tunes underneath the midday blue sky, I remember hearing myself repeatedly singing these simple lyrics: “Nobody knows me well like the Lord.” Now, at the time, I did not realize the profundity of the words. After all, I was just a kid. But somehow, I remember the lyrics so vividly. As I sat there on that swing, I began to sense the presence of the Lord. Everything grew quiet and still, and then, something peculiar happened. The heavens opened up and I heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased!” No, no, no…I’m sorry, wrong story. That was Jesus.


No, really, I did have an unexplainable encounter with the Lord that day. It was like the old saints used to say, “Somethin’ got a hold of me.” It reminds me of the Old Testament story of the young prophet Samuel. God called him long before he knew how to distinctly recognize and respond to the voice of God (1 Samuel 3:4-9). Reflecting on that moment in the backyard, I know now with a surety, the Spirit of God was depositing a seed in me, predestined to bloom at a future time.


Encountering God


I grew up in and around the church, but early on I did not have a clear understanding of God. And I certainly was not aware that I had been divinely selected to touch nations with the message of the Gospel. But by degrees, the Holy Spirit would beckon me more and more, and over the years I came to know His voice better. I wonder, do you remember when you first sensed the majesty, power, and call of God on your life? Where were you? What were you doing? You may not have understood it at the time, and if someone asked you to explain it, you would not have been able to put into words the depth of the encounter.


It is similar to the blind man in the book of St John, who was challenged regarding the healing he received from Jesus. Although he could not explain the experience well enough to satisfy his detractors, his response was simple yet profound. “One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25b NKJV). After all these years, I’ve still not found words to sufficiently express the awesomeness of an authentic God-encounter. But one thing I know, though I was blind, now I see. Take this opportunity to reflect on the moment God began to open your eyes. Remember how you felt? Now softly thank Him for altering the very course of your existence.


His presence changes you, doesn’t it? Of course it does. Any true visitation from God alters the way you see, think, and experience the world. Although the full revelation of His will does not happen immediately, once He deposits His purpose in your heart, you will never be the same again. For me, it was a process that occurred over time. I had to grow, learn, and mature before I could begin fulfilling the call of God on my life. The same is true for you. Don’t be discouraged just because you are unable to fully grasp His purpose and plan for your life right now. All you need to know is He has one.


You may not feel that you have a specific calling, and yet, you do. Or, you may not feel like you’re qualified, and experienced enough to do what He’s chosen you for, but don’t worry. He will provide you with everything you need to fulfill your life’s purpose.


Perceive the Call of God


There is a story found in Mark 8:23–25 about a blind man in Bethsaida, who was brought to Jesus by a group of people. They were begging on his behalf for healing. Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town, much the way He leads you and me. He takes us by the hand when we cannot see our way clearly. That’s one thing I love about our God. He will never leave you alone, groping in darkness. He will always be there for you.


Jesus began the process of opening this blind man’s eyes. The Bible says, “And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. And he looked up and said, ‘I see men like trees, walking’” (8:23b–24 NKJV).


It’s important to recognize that there was nothing lacking in Jesus’ power, only in the man’s perspective. The very first time Jesus touched him, he miraculously received his sight. Now, Jesus had to clarify his perspective.


Sometimes, God is dealing with you and showing you things, yet, you don’t possess a clear view of His vision for your life. But if you stay in God’s presence, He will reveal His will to you. Like this blind man, your vision may be clarified in gradual stages; nevertheless, God will complete the work He has begun in you. Look at what happens in the story. “Then He put His hands on his eyes again, and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly” (8:25 NKJV). I speak victory over your life today and declare that, if you can look up with eyes of faith, God will cause you to see what you were not able to see before!


God wants you to recognize His call on your life and begin viewing things from His perspective. Are you ready? Let’s continue along the path to perceiving and understanding your calling more clearly.


As you embark upon your own journey, remember to keep your focus fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith (Hebrews 12:2). Only He can show you who you really are. I’m not saying that there aren’t valuable books, trainings, and other resources available to assist you in enhancing your life in some way. In fact, I encourage you to be a life-long learner and seek out practical tools to help you grow and advance. Be aware though; you cannot depend upon self-help books, advice columns, and the well-meaning opinions of close friends and family members, to help you understand and fulfill your Divine calling.


Outside of God, there is no real revelation of truth. His purpose and plan is the only one that will help you live the abundant life He intends for every believer. You may wonder how can you begin truly understanding your purpose and calling. There is a clue found in the book of Ephesians 1:11. The word “purpose” in this passage of Scripture is the Greek word “prothesis,” meaning “to lay out beforehand,” much like the blueprint of a building. Thus, it conveys the exciting idea that your life has been designed with forethought, predetermination, and deliberate intention. (See also Ephesians

2:19–22.) Isn’t that wonderful to know you are no accident? You are not here by happenstance.


The Lord, the Master Architect, has created you with a specific plan in mind. No one else understands the intricacies of your design quite like the One who created the blueprint. This is precisely why positive thinking, dreaming, goal-setting, planning, and networking, without God is grossly overestimated. Remember, “Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1a).


Time in His Presence


God is the only legitimate source for discovering your purpose and calling. As you come honestly and humbly before the Father in pursuit of His will for your life, the Spirit will teach you all you need to know. Paul prayed to this end, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:17–18 NKJV). Please understand—the wisdom and revelation for which Paul prayed only comes through time spent in the presence of the Lord.


The more you are in His presence, the more you learn His voice. The more you learn His voice, the more you understand His will. As you grow in your understanding of God’s Word, you will begin walking out the steps He has ordered for you before the foundation of the world. You indeed have a set path and it’s your job to seek God for direction. This is something I learned early on in my personal pilgrimage. “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, But a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5 NKJV).


Growing up in the church, I remember having a sincere desire to understand the concept of spirituality and what role it played in my life. As I matured, I moved from mere curiosity to genuine interest, and finally, to a deep longing to know God more intimately. Having said that, allow me a moment of transparency. In all honesty, it was the tyranny of my “Dear Mother” that kept me in church every time the doors opened. No, I’m kidding…well, half kidding.


In the Pentecostal church I grew up in, Sunday service was an all day affair. The old saints used to sing a song that said, “Put yo’ time in. Pay day is comin’ after while.” And on Sundays, I think they meant it—literally. I often preferred going to church with my father, because at the particular Baptist church he attended, morning service began at eleven o’clock sharp and it was over at one o’clock on the dot. But don’t get me wrong, even though it was only a couple of hours, it felt more like the long, hot summer road trips we took from New Jersey to Florida each summer for vacation. During these excursions, the only question on my mind was, “Are we there yet?”


If I could have combined the excitement of my mother’s Pentecostal church with the abbreviated schedule of Daddy’s Baptist church, it would have been a near perfect worship experience!


Although I did not enjoy the excessively extended hours at Mommy’s church, I had grown quite accustomed to, and fond of, the energy and exuberance of the Pentecostal style of worship. The distinct rhythmic beating of the tambourine and drums, the syncopated sounds of the Hammond B-3 organ, and the lively demonstrations of praise, were thrilling. But I would soon discover that the thrill was far more than the music.


Little did I know then, you cannot be in the presence of the Lord and not be impacted by the experience. A transformation was taking place in me before my very eyes. God was actually molding me into a vessel of honor to be used by Him, but I did not perceive it at the time. Even as you are reading this book, God is working on you— reshaping your mentality and calling you to a new place in Him. You may not fully understand His plan at the moment, however, just as the aforementioned blind man did, you too must grab hold of His hand. Let Him lead you out of your Bethsaida into a new dimension of revelation and clarity.


Accept the Call of God


Whenever you branch out and chart a new course along the road God has laid out for you, it is natural to feel some uncertainty. It seems so tough at the time, because you are challenged to do things you have never done before. All kinds of thoughts run through your mind. You wonder if you are really capable of doing what God is challenging you to do. You know you don’t want to remain in your current position. At the same time, you feel too afraid to go to an unfamiliar place. You also do not have a single ounce of tangible evidence that God is even speaking to you. How do you get to the point of fully accepting the call of God?


Abraham, who is called the Father of Faith, would probably give you a very concise answer. It would sound something like, “Just do it.” How do you think he must have felt when God told him, “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1 NKJV). Sure, Abraham obeyed, but the decision certainly wasn’t an easy one. He was being pushed to embark upon a new journey, with most of the details missing. Sound familiar? You see, God knows the end from the beginning. You just have to trust Him. The most important thing is that Abraham obeyed God, accepted the call, and stepped out in faith. God expects no less of you.


You may not have all the particulars. However, God will unfold His plan as you progress along the path He’s chosen for you. If you are waiting for Him to perfectly map out the course before you respond to His call, then you’ll be left waiting forever. He develops and strengthens your faith as you walk with Him daily. But you have got to start walking.


Whether you are launching a ministry, business, career, product, service or other venture; the same is true of each. You have to start somewhere. Although you may not have all the answers, that cannot be your excuse for doing nothing. You will no doubt make some mistakes; it happens to the best of us. Still, you can’t let that stop you.


I remember one day, I got a call from my good friend, Pastor Donnie McClurkin. He is a world renowned Gospel singer, songwriter, and recording artist. On this occasion he was invited as a special guest at a White House Christmas dinner and invited me to tag along! I thought, why not? What an opportunity. I had not visited the Capitol since my ninth grade school trip. Of course, I wanted to make sure I was appropriately dressed. I asked what type of clothing I should wear and Donnie told me it was a black tie affair.


On the day of the event, I made sure I looked the part. I got a fresh hair cut. I put on my black Versace frock coat, custom-tailored shirt and pants. If I had to say so myself, it looked as if I had just fallen off the cover of a GQ Magazine. I must admit, I was feeling pretty good about going to the White House that day. When I walked, it was as if I had my own theme music playing in the background. It was that serious!


We arrived at the White House, went through the security check, and then, on to the room where the dinner was being held. Quickly, my eyes spanned the room. Then, the record scratched. My theme music abruptly stopped. And I knew…Donnie had not been given the correct information about the evening’s dress code. Everywhere I looked, the men were wearing blue and grey business suits.


At that very moment, I knew the answer to the riddle, “What’s black and white and red all over?” Me. I felt my face flush. My palms got sweaty. If I could have slid under a table without being noticed, I would have. To say that I was embarrassed, would be putting it mildly. I was utterly mortified. As I stood there in my formal wear, I expected someone to hand me a serving tray at any moment. Clearly, I looked like a resident butler, much like Geoffrey from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.


In that instant, I had two options. Either I could play “Cinderfella” and storm out of there like it was midnight. Or, I could laugh about it and still choose to enjoy the evening. After I got over the initial shock of it all, I chose the latter. Consequently, I met great leaders from around the country, took pictures with the President and First Lady, and no one seemed too put off by the fancy threads. Despite being overdressed, to my surprise, the evening turned out great. As the lyrics to one of Donnie’s hit songs say, “We fall down, but we get up.” If you don’t always get things right, it is not the end of the world. Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and “Keep on truckin’”, like Eddie Kendricks used to say.


There may be a few missing details along your path, but don’t worry. Things will still work out. Rather than focusing on all you don’t know and how out of place you may feel, begin to see the opportunity in front of you. Surely, I could have high-tailed it out of there, but what good would that have done? It really was not that major. At least I can see that now. While it was happening, however, it appeared much more important than it actually was.


Similarly, when you are called to take on a new position, it may seem very intimidating at the time. You may not feel prepared, or qualified. Still, you have been singled out for the job, so you might as well face it. Own it. Trust me, I know it can be difficult to overcome paralyzing fear and the haunting sense of your own inadequacy; accept the job anyway. Ignore that nagging voice whispering in your ear telling you, “God didn’t say that. He’s not really speaking to you. It’s all inside your head.” Although you may not feel completely confident, trust God anyway.


Are you familiar with the story of Gideon, the fifth judge of Israel? He was challenged by God to go into battle and defeat the Midianites, on behalf of the nation of Israel (Judges 6:36–38). When Gideon received his assignment, he was ambivalent about the mission. Gideon was not sure that he should be the one leading Israel into battle. After all, of his own admission, he was the least likely choice. He could not imagine why God would hand-pick him for the job.


Gideon was by no means a great warrior and naturally he was confused about why God called him to complete a task that was way out of his league. He was very distraught about the whole thing and could not resist sharing his dilemma with God. Gideon thought that he should probably give God a heads up to help Him understand why choosing him was such a huge mistake.


He said, “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15 NKJV). What did he think God was going to say? “Oh Gideon, you’re so right. What was I thinking? I had no idea about your deficiency. Whew! That was a close call.” Now, of course, God was not going to agree with Gideon’s excuses, just as He’s not going to agree with yours. Here is what God actually said, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16 NKJV).


Let me help you with something. God is not put off by your (what I call) leastlikeliness. It does not matter that you have been considered least likely to succeed, least likely to get the promotion, least likely to survive in business, or least likely to make an impact in ministry. God has called you and He is on your side. It’s time to change your attitude and your words. Yes, you are the least likely; that’s right. You are the least likely to fail, least likely to quit, and least likely to be defeated. You are more than a conqueror through Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37 NKJV).


It does not matter if you feel unqualified. Being unqualified does not disqualify you from being called by God. He is not deterred by your lack of experience and credentials. God is not limited by your natural limitations and He is in no way restricted by your restrictions. All you have to do is accept His call and He will take care of the rest. As the story continues, we learn that Gideon got cold feet before it was time to go to battle. He asked God to provide some kind of sign to let him know if He had truly called him to embark upon what seemed to be a kamikaze mission.


“So Gideon said to God, ‘If You will save Israel by my hand as You have said—look, I shall put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that You will save Israel by my hand, as You have said’” (Judges 6:36–37 NKJV). Verse 38 of that same chapter tells us, that God indeed provided the sign exactly as Gideon requested and everyone was happy, right? No. Not quite.


Actually, verse 39 shows us that Gideon still was not satisfied. He still needed more proof. He asked God for another sign. Essentially, Gideon wanted God to give him a confirmation, for his confirmation. He knew that he was in no way cut out to do what God called him to do.


God did not get frustrated with Gideon; rather, He provided him with another sign to demonstrate that He had indeed called Gideon to do His will. When God calls you, He always puts you in positions you feel woefully inadequate to occupy. Not to worry, because whomever He calls, He equips to do the job—and do it well. Israel went on to win that battle against the Midianites, because Gideon was finally obedient to the call of God.


I’m sure you can relate to the emotions he felt. You may be experiencing a situation in your life where you need God to confirm that He is indeed with you. God has strategically orchestrated this moment to let you know that He is going to complete His work through you. You do not have to fear. He is ushering you into your destiny.


God is speaking to you and He will not be silenced. He is ministering to you right now and He wants you to embrace what He is doing. His call on your life is for specific reason, a distinct purpose, and a set time. God is calling you. Trust me. He will stop at nothing to get your attention.


Think for a moment. Have you been bombarded with confirmations of God’s promises? Has He spoken to you in dreams, in visions, or through others? Be sensitive. Be open. Be prepared to fulfill the call. It is time to do what He has instructed you to do.


I know that you, like Gideon, just want to be sure. You want to “know, that you know, that you know” it is truly God. How many times and ways does God have to reveal Himself, before you will say yes to His call? When the voice of the Lord spoke to Isaiah and said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Isaiah told God, “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8 NKJV). God wants you to tell Him the same thing, “Here am I! Send me.”


When I was coming up in the Church of God In Christ, we would repeatedly say, “Yes Lord,” and “Have your way Lord,” in times of prayer and worship. That simply meant we were assuming a position of complete submission. We were giving up our own will in exchange for His. If you are going to experience God’s best, you must strive to let God have His way in every area of your life. Give Him the opportunity to speak to your heart. Remember the old hymn that says, “Have Thine own way Lord, have Thine own way. Thou art the potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me, after Thy will. Whilst I am waiting, yielded and still?” (Have Thine Own Way, Lord, Adelaide A. Pollard and George C. Stebbins, Hope Publishing 1907, 1935). Let God know that you willing to receive everything He has for you and open to the new dimensions to which He is calling you.


Pursue the Call of God


When I began growing in my understanding of God, I knew that His call was on my life, but I still wrestled and wondered, “Could I really be called? Me, Lawrence Powell? Could God really use me for His glory? Could I be singled out to make a difference in the world?” You may ask some of these same kinds of questions. I want to assure you the answer is yes! God has great plans for your life—much bigger than you can imagine. So big, in fact, they would overwhelm you if He revealed them all at once. You are going to have to passionately pursue the call through intense prayer and supplication.


I recall my earlier days, attending graduate school at Oral Roberts University. I was experiencing a time of tremendous spiritual growth and development in my walk with the Lord. Still, I was seeking to understand exactly how God wanted to use me. One day, while I was in my room alone, I went into my literal prayer closet for a time of deep reflection, introspection, and prayer. That day, I was intent on asking God for direction. I was so full of questions and I really needed to gain a grasp of what He was calling me to do. I began to pour my heart out to Him. I said, “God, whatever You want me to do, I’ll do, but I need to know that it’s You speaking to me.”


I diligently sought the Lord and pushed past my fears, my anxieties, and my concerns. God spoke to me and assured me of His plans for my life. However, this was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that I sought God for His direction and confirmation. You see, I had a constant battle raging in my mind that kept me feeling uneasy, uncertain, and unsure about the path I should take. But I never stopped pursuing His call, even when I didn’t understand.


Don’t worry just because you don’t completely understand everything about your purpose today. You can still apprehend what you cannot comprehend. Simply respond to God as young Samuel did by saying, “Speak, for Your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:10b NKJV). This kind of act puts you in the right place to receive a word from the Lord.


Pause for a moment now and sincerely ask God to supernaturally develop your ability to discern His voice. Once you recognize His call and become more open to hearing from Him, you will realize that He wants to take you under His wing as His dear child and impart His purpose into your heart. From this day forward, become resolved as never before to pursue your calling intentionally, passionately, and relentlessly.


When it comes to going after God’s will for your life, you must possess an unquenchable thirst, unwavering perseverance, and unyielding commitment. Showing up on Sunday mornings out of

habit and mere obligation is not sufficient. Reading a few verses on a bi-monthly basis from your over-sized, large-print family Bible on the living room table won’t cut it. An occasional, “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer is not enough. Quoting, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35), will hardly sustain you during your times of uncertainty.


Pursuit is the proof of desire. Thus, if you approach your quest with a nonchalant attitude, devoid of the true passion it takes to ultimately realize God’s plan for your life, you will be met with frustration. Your yearning to understand His calling must infiltrate the very core of your being and cause you to seek Him with true sincerity and fervency in prayer. As you seek God, He will reveal the mysteries of His will in a way that only He can. But you must remain steadfast. You can do it! Just the fact that you are reading this book shows that you have what it takes to overcome adversity, pursue God, and fulfill your destiny.


I cannot tell you how many times I cried out to God from the depths of my being, as I struggled to know exactly what He wanted me to do. I heard His beckoning. I sensed His will. I wanted more clarity, but the answers continually eluded me. I knew God was leading me on a path, but like the proverbial “carrot on a stick,” the answers I so desperately craved, seemed to be dangling just beyond my grasp. Yet, I could not quit. Why? The call of God penetrated the very fiber of my being. The passion to pursue His plan became like an unquenchable fire that burned deep inside the recesses of my soul.


God will ignite a burning desire in you to fulfill a higher calling. He will stir up a fire in you to fuel your faith through times of fear and ambiguity. On this journey to discover and fulfill the call of God, you may feel like you are on an emotional rollercoaster, but continue to press on. Remember, when you are serious about seeking God, you are guaranteed to go through periods of uncertainty. Still, don’t be deterred. Just keep seeking Him. Hebrews 11:6 says, “…he who comes to God must believe that He is, and He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (NKJV).


Know that even though things may not come together all at once, God will complete the work He has begun in you. It pays to seek the Lord. Don’t give up your search to understand His call. When you seek Him, you will find Him, and when you find Him, you will find you. Then, the details of your call will be made clear.


These foundational principles are so important. Remember and rehearse what you have learned in this chapter. These principles will assist you in developing your faith during every stage of your journey. Never forget, God has indeed chosen you to complete an assignment that was laid out before the foundation of the world. As you walk with Him, He will continue to unfold His plan.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Your Best Life Begins Each Morning...Wild Card!



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

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





Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Your Best Life Begins Each Morning

FaithWords (December 10, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Joel Osteen is the pastor of the largest church in America with one of the most diverse congregations and over 30,000 members attending every week. He has quickly become a leading voice in a new generation of inspirational leaders and pastors. Under his leadership, Lakewood Church has grown in every area of ministry, more than quadrupling in size in the past five years. In the summer of 2005, the church moved into Houston’s 17,000-seat Compaq Arena and become the new Lakewood International Center. Joel and his wife Victoria live in Houston with their two children.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 13.99
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (December 10, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446545090
ISBN-13: 978-0446545099

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


YOUR Best Life BEGINS EACH MORNING


Devotions to Start Every New Day of the Year


JOEL OSTEEN



Introduction


The key to living your best life starts with how you approach every new morning, because today is the only day you have. You can’t do anything about the past, and you don’t know what the future holds. But when you wake up in the morning, you can make up your mind to do your best to enjoy your day. You’re not going to allow what does or doesn’t happen to steal your joy and keep you from God’s abundant life.


Don’t start your day off by feeling guilty about yesterday or recalling all the mistakes you made. Rather, when you make mistakes, simply ask God for forgiveness and then move on, confident that the moment you ask, God forgives you. You are ready for a great present and a bright future. Get up every morning and receive God’s love and mercy and the power of His Word for your life.


Start your day with God by saying, “Father, I thank You that this is going to be a great day. I thank You that I have discipline, self-control; that I make good decisions. I may not have done all that I could have yesterday, but that day’s gone. I’m going to get up and do better today.” These devotions are written to inspire ardent love and worship to God. While they are not meant to replace your personal time with God, it is my desire that the readings will be keys you can use to unlock doors leading a fuller life. I hope they will be a springboard to help you draw nearer to God and to help you overcome the obstacles that might keep you from living your best life now.


Your life can be transformed and renewed as you allow God’s Word to refresh and to reshape your thinking, speaking, and daily activities. Allow the Scriptures to speak to you. Be still and listen to what God is saying to you. No matter where you are or what challenges you face, you can start to enjoy your life right now!



J ANUARY 1


For I am about to do something new.

See, I have already begun! Do you

not see it? I will make a pathway

through the wilderness. I will create

rivers in the dry wasteland.

ISAIAH 43:19


Unpack Your Dreams


W HAT DO YOU WANT TO DO with your life?

If you could write your best life story this morning, what would it say? Is your first reaction to see and describe yourself in terms of past experiences or present limitations, more in terms of losing or just surviving rather than fulfilling your dreams?


If you’ve packed away your dreams, dare to unpack them today and ask God to rekindle them in your heart and mind. It’s time to enlarge your vision.

He wants to pour out His far and beyond favor on you (see Ephesians 2:7). He wants to do big things and new things in your life.


J ANUARY 2


“For I know the plans I have for you,”

declares the Lord, “plans to prosper

you and not to harm you, plans to

give you hope and a future.”

JEREMIAH 29:11


We Serve a Great God


Y OU MAY HAVE EXPERIENCED adversity or trials in your past. Perhaps you’ve had more than your share of setbacks and heartaches. But today is a brand-new day. It is time to stretch your faith and pursue the excellence that God has placed in your heart. It is time to break out of the “barely get by” mentality, to become the best you can be, not merely average or ordinary, for the rest of your life.


We serve the Most High God, and His dream for your life is so much bigger and better than you can even imagine. Never settle for a small view of God. Start thinking as God thinks. Think big. Think increase. Think abundance. Think more than enough!


J ANUARY 3


What, then, shall we say in response

to this? If God is for us, who can be

against us? He who did not spare his

own Son, but gave him up for us all—

how will he not also, along with him,

graciously give us all things?

ROMANS 8:31–32



With God on Your Side


GOD IS CONSTANTLY trying to plant new seeds in your heart. He’s trying to fill you with so much hope and expectancy that the seed will grow and bring forth a tremendous harvest. Never allow negative thinking to keep you from God’s best. If you will get in agreement with God, this can be the greatest time of your life.

With God on your side, you cannot possibly lose. He can make a way when it looks as though there is none. He can open doors that no one can shut. He can cause you to be at the right place, at the right time. He can supernaturally turn your dreams into reality.


J ANUARY 4


For therein is the righteousness of God

revealed from faith to faith: as it is

written, The just shall live by faith.

ROMANS 1:17


Stretch Your Faith


PERHAPS WE HAVE A GOAL to break a bad habit, to lose some weight, or to pay off our credit cards. At first, we’re so excited and we go after it! But over time, we get lazy; we get complacent. Maybe we see a little improvement, but then we get comfortable right where we are. Where we are may not be a bad place, but we know it’s not where we’re supposed to be. We’re not stretching our faith. We’re not pursuing the excellence that God has placed in our hearts.

Maybe you’ve been coasting lately, thinking that perhaps you’ve reached your limits. You’re not stretching your faith. You aren’t believing for an increase.

No, don’t stop halfway; go on up to the top of your mountain. Believe God for more.


J ANUARY 5


By faith Abraham, when called

to go to a place he would later

receive as his inheritance, obeyed

and went, even though he did not

know where he was going.

HEBREWS 11:8


Step Out of Your Comfort Zone


PEOPLE WHO SEE THEIR DREAMS come to pass are people who have some resolve, some backbone; people who refuse to settle for somewhere along the way. Abraham, one of the Old Testament heroes of faith, obeyed God and followed Him all the way to the Promised Land of abundance in Canaan. Abraham’s father, however, stopped along the way and settled in Haran (see Genesis 11:31), feeling it was good enough but missing out on God’s best.


Don’t fall into a complacency trap. It doesn’t take any more effort to stay filled with faith than it takes to develop a negative attitude. Dare to step out of your comfort zone today. God has so much more in store. Keep pursuing and keep believing.


Copyright © 2008 by Joel Osteen Publishing

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Christmas Edition...Wild Card!



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

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





Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


The Christmas Edition – first book in The Turtle Creek Edition series

The Wild Rose Press (November 21, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


In Robin's words:

I am the Special Education Coordinator for Denton County Juvenile Justice Alternative Program. I work with at risk teens from fifth grade through high school. My husband and I have been married for thirty-one years and we have two grown children. The first two years of marriage, Rick and I traveled overseas as missionaries. Afterwards we served as pastors of a church in Illinois. Presently we live near Dallas, Texas. He is in business and I work for the school system. (My husband still makes yearly mission trips to India.)

To date, my literary works include approximately two hundred articles in magazines such as: Guideposts, Live, Lookout, Mennonite, Christian Reader, Decision, Breakthrough and Christianity Today. Other short stories appear in the books: A Match Made in Heaven, Stories from the Heart, The Evolving Woman, and the New York Times bestseller, In The Arms of Angels by Joan Wester-Anderson. Ann Spangler also used one of my stories in her book, Help! I Can’t Stop Laughing. Another two-dozen stories have been published in the Chicken Soup books. One story, Mom’s Last Laugh, was re-enacted for a PAX-TV program: It’s a Miracle. I co-authored a thriller, The Chase, for Revell. My second book, The Replacement, was released in June 2006. The Candidate was released July, 2007. I continue to publish short stories in magazines. Wildcard, a mystery, will be a spring 2009 release. The Christmas Edition releases Nov. 20. The Valentine Edition releases in January 2009.


Visit the author's shoutlife and website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 11.99
Paperback: 236 pages
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press (November 21, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601543301
ISBN-13: 978-1601543301

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


December 1

The usual winter blizzard blew into southern

Wisconsin.


Lucy Collins carefully maneuvered her car

through the snow that grew deeper with every gust

of wind. She parked directly in front of her family

owned business, The Turtle Creek Newspaper, just

as her brother, Mike, was making his second pass at

clearing away the snow from the drive with the

snow blower.


“Hey, Mike! Help me carry these inside, will

you?” Lucy called to him as she got out of her heated

car. A sharp wind sucked up her words and nearly

knocked her off balance.


Mike turned off the blower and cupped his hand

around his ear. “What did you say?” His breath

circled around his face in the frigid air.


“Help!” Lucy hollered. She popped the trunk and

pivoted her body in an exaggerated fashion-the way

models do when showcasing prizes on a game show.

She stepped to the other side and waved her hands,

palms up, along the food trays and her mother’s

crystal punch bowl set. Then she flashed her

younger brother her biggest smile.


Mike galloped up to the car just as another gust

of wind, hammered snow at them. “It’s freezing out

here! Even my nose hairs are frozen solid. You go on

in. I’ll get these as soon as I’m finished shoveling the

walk.”


“Thanks.” Lucy gave him a kiss on the cheek. To

keep her balance, she gingerly walked across the

crunchy ice crystals and into the warm building.

Once inside, she tugged off one boot and then the

other, dropping them under her desk. She hung her

coat and scarf on the back of her swivel chair as she

looked around at the decorations of wreaths and

holly. A sprig of mistletoe hung over the empty desk

at the back. That would surely go to waste. Music

played loudly from her dad’s old stereo inside his

office.


Christmas used to be her favorite holiday, but

after a disastrous end to her engagement, a couple of

years ago, this particular holiday now only served as

a dark reminder of broken promises. With prayer

and a loving family, Lucy was ready to start her life

again, which meant buying her own place right after

the first of the year. Working and living with the

same people was often stifling, especially when

they’re her parents.


Lucy’s mom was the cheerleader as well as the

gopher, making sure everyone had what they

needed, whereas Lucy’s father focused persistently

on getting the next edition out and on time.

Each year at Christmastime, however, Harold

Collins took off his publisher hat and donned

something completely different. The weeks wedged

between Thanksgiving and Christmas became about

assisting others. She loved it all and nothing could

ever take her away from this life.


The employees had finished packing up the last

of the boxes from the food drive which were now

stacked neatly, ready to be dropped off at area

shelters. Lucy wanted to acknowledge all the work

they’d done. “For a small cluster of people, we sure

accomplish a truckload of work, fast! These

donations will help many people down and out this

holiday season. Like all the other years we’ve

worked closely together and done a great job.”

Christmas was about unbridled joy but today, try as

she may, she still wasn’t feeling it. Maybe she could

fake it for everyone’s sake. Lucy lowered her head in

modesty and stated, “This is going to be a Christmas

of miracles.”


As if releasing faith into the air, everyone began

to punctuate her words with applause. Right on cue,

Harold Collins stepped out of his office wearing a hat

something like one of the elves might wear. He even

bobbed his head up and down to show off the cluster

of bells that dangled at the tip of the loopy crown.

Lucy couldn’t help but have her first laugh of the

day, along with the other employees.


“I know it’s still over a month until Christmas

but I thought you could use this now,” Harold said as

he produced a fan of festive red and green envelopes.


Squeals of delight resonated as they opened the

envelopes and saw the amount written on the checks

but none was as loud as Ulilla Langston. Lucy’s dad

had inherited her along with the paper when her

grandpa died. Ulilla was a beautiful, black woman

with hair swept close to her head in a French twist.

She carried weight around the place both literally

and figuratively.


“Harold and Margaret Collins,” she crowed, as

her hand fluttered to her chest. “No way can you

afford to give us this.”


“Nonsense!” Harold blustered, and politely

dismissed her words of protest with a wave. “It

should be three times this and you know it! You all

have worked effortlessly and clocked in many

overtime hours in order to get the newspaper out

each week. I am the one who is grateful. Merry

Christmas!”


The bell above the front door jingled as Mike

walked in balancing the punch bowl along with the

holiday trays. “Where do you want these, sis?”


“Let me help with that.” Lucy took the top two

trays. “Take the rest into the break room. I’ll follow

you in.”


Margaret touched the sleeve of Lucy’s cardigan.


“Have you finished our Christmas cards yet?”


“I started a month ago and finally finished them

last night. Not only did I hand write each one, but

the envelopes are addressed and stamped.”


“Which of the photographs did you decide on?”


“I thought I told you that all ready. Never mind,

there’s one in my desk I’ll show you.” Lucy set down

the trays. From the desk drawer, she took a single

envelope and handed it to her mother. “Here, I was

looking for something that would embody a perfect

form of truth when it comes to Christianity.”


Margaret stared at the card. A country church

was nestled into a hillside surrounded on all sides by

fresh snowfall. Above, the sky was brilliant blue.

Lucy looked over her mother’s shoulder. She

scrunched her face, second-guessing her

photographic choice. “Does it look okay?”


“It’s a whole lot more than okay. This is simply

breathtaking and looks professionally done. Lucy,

you should have put your logo somewhere on this

card so people would be aware that you are the one

who took this photograph of our church.” Margaret’s

eyes glistened.


“Not this time. I want people to focus on the

birth of our Savior and the hope He gives for our

lives. Mom, in the past year, I have become more

appreciative of the upbringing you and Dad gave

Mike and me and how you shared your faith which

has now become mine.” Lucy choked back her tears

and touched the silver cross she always wore at her

neckline.


“Those words are the best gift you could ever

give to me.” Margaret hugged her daughter. “I want

nothing more this season than to see you happy.”

Lucy hugged back tightly. “I’m working hard on

that.”


“Lucy!” Mike called from the break room. “I

thought you said you were following me in. I’m

making a mess of things trying to get the food set

up.”


“Ah, I better go rescue the food from Mike and

start the punch.” Lucy picked up the trays. “By the

way, it’s getting worse outside so could you suggest

to Dad that we better let everyone go home early.”


“I will, but right now, I want to lend you a

hand.”


Lucy and Mike uncovered the trays of fruit,

cheese, and crackers. Margaret took her home baked

pastries from the refrigerator and arranged them on

top of doilies set on antique dessert plates. Mike

dumped plastic forks from the box into a basket and

then tore open the plates while Lucy poured the

punch into the bowl and added scoops of sherbet. “I

think we’re ready.”


Once everyone had gathered in the break room,

Harold asked one and all to join hands. Together

they asked for the Lord’s blessing. Then they dug in;

plates were quickly filled with condiments, the

routine appetizers, rolled pieces of meat, decorated

sugar cookies, and cinnamon rolls. That was just for

starters. Margaret kept laying out more and more

food.


Lucy sat at the edge of her chair and sipped her

cup of punch. It was fun watching everyone enjoy

themselves. She closed her eyes and drank in their

laughter. This is what she needed, to be surrounded

by such love and acceptance.


The employees had all worked for her father for

years, so she not only knew their names but their

spouses and children. This is what she loved about

the business. It wasn’t work. It was family. At times

they even squabbled like it, too.


When there were only a few squares of

cantaloupe and crumbs of her mother’s cake left,

Lucy suggested, “Before we go home for the

weekend, let’s go around the room and name one gift

we want for Christmas. No limitations on the gift.

Miss Ulilla, would you like to start?”


The society column woman was clearly pleased

to go first. In her world, this was the correct order of

the universe and she didn’t even try to suppress her

smile. Instead she brushed crumbs from her bosom,

cleared her throat and stood to her feet. “Since Lucy

removed the limitations, what I really want for

Christmas are tickets for a Caribbean cruise under

my tree this year.”


“That’s sounds exciting. I feel pretty confident

you can talk Abe here into going along with you.”

Lucy gave the elderly custodian a wink. It was no

secret Abe had been after Ulilla for as long as she

could remember, but Ulilla always put him off.

Abe stepped right in without being asked, “The

gift I am wishing for is that I can buy those tickets

for Ulilla. One for her and one for me. Separate

cabins, of course.” He turned beet red.


After the laughter died down, Lucy went on to

ask her best friend, “What about you, Monica?”


“I’m hoping for money. Lots and lots of money.”


“Here I thought you’d ask for perfume. The

French kind,” Mike said. His lips curled into a

slow smile. For the first time, Lucy caught

something in the air between her best friend and her

brother and it wasn’t perfume. French or otherwise.


Harold set down his plastic plate with a hollow

thump. “The gift I want this year cannot be found

under my tree.”


“Harold.” Margaret touched his arm. “This isn’t

the time.”


“I think it is, Maggie. After being a family

owned business for the last fifty years, first with my

Papa and now on my own, it’s no secret I want to

keep that other newspaper from coming here. Living

in a small town like Turtle Creek, we can’t

withstand the extra competition. Heck, we can

barely make it as it is. We need to come up with

some ideas of how we’re going to generate more

sales, increase our advertisers and get more

subscribers.” He pulled off his elf hat and lowered

his eyes. His thumb rubbed a finger as he spoke “Or

this might just be the last time we stand together

like this for Christmas.” To everyone’s dismay,

Harold had spit out his worrying words. They spread

across the room.


Lucy frowned. Everything her dad said was the

truth. They all knew it.


“My turn!” Lucy picked up her father’s hat and

pulled it down over her ears. Everyone laughed. “My

Christmas gift is to hire a new editor who will knock

the socks off our readers with his fresh ideas and

perspective!”


“And how will you know this editor when he

comes through the front door?” Carol from

advertising asked.


“Because…” Lucy tapped her chin in thought.

“The man I have prayed for will write with heart.”

Unexpected tears gathered along the edges of her

eyes. The end of her nose tingled. “Anyone who can

move an audience with words is going to increase

circulation which will attract businesses to grab ad

space and make readers buy our paper.” She touched

her cross. I have my faith in you, Lord.


The front door jingled. Monica looked out into

the office. “Hey, guys, there’s an awesome looking

guy standing at the front counter. I believe Lucy’s

gift just arrived. Quick Lucy, say another prayer

while you have God’s attention.”


Lucy walked out of the break room with

shoulders squared, back straight. There he stood.

Tall, with sandy brown hair and wickedly wonderful

eyes. Cherry cheeks, too, thanks to the frosty

weather. His gray eyes were unsettling. He stood on

one foot and tapped one shoe against the other to

knock off the snow. Then he repeated the process

with the other shoe. Monica was right. He was a

looker.


“How may I help you?” Lucy folded her hands

together and placed them on the counter.


“I’m looking for Lucy Collins.” He stared her in

the eyes.


“You’ve found her.” Lucy heard laughter. She

turned around to see the doorway to the break room

was crowded with faces. All eyes were pinned on

them. Of course, she had to put on a good show for

them. Lucy turned back around and faced him.

Feeling cocky, she said, “I know why you’re here.”


“You do?” he seemed startled.


“Yes, you’re here about the ad I placed in this

week’s paper for an editor.”


His chin dropped and he was speechless for a

moment. “You’re…absolutely right. I did see it

advertised.” The man set his briefcase down and

popped it open. He started shuffling around the

inside of it. Papers rustled. Finally, he looked up

sheepishly. He had worried eyes. “I seem to have

forgotten my resume. Not a good way to start a job

interview. By the way, I’m Joe McNamara.”


Lucy shook his hand and then reached under

the counter for an application. She clamped it down

on a clipboard, slipped a pen underneath and

handed it to him. “I don’t need your resume but I do

need to know if you can write. When you’re done

filling this out, I want you to write an editorial for

me.” She slid a blank piece of paper toward him.


“On what subject?” he scratched the end of his

nose.


“You’re the editor so you get to decide.” She

slapped her hand down on the paper.


Joe nodded and then looked around for a place

to sit. He chose a chair from the waiting area. Lucy

watched him as he read the application and then

thoughtfully filled in the blanks. Every now and

then he looked up and caught her staring at him. He

smiled but she quickly looked away.


The Turtle Creek Newspaper employees began

to quickly leave. “Don’t stay too long, Lucy, or you’ll

be trapped in here for the weekend,” Abe warned her

on the way out. For the first time ever, Ulilla was on

his arm.


“I won’t be much longer. I am dreaming of a cozy

fire with hot chocolate.”


“That’s only one of the things I’m dreaming of!”

Ulilla gushed as she plunged through the doorway.

Shocked over Ulilla’s sudden change of heart, Lucy

couldn’t help but stare.


Finally Joe stood to his feet and handed the

clipboard back to her, the pen returned to the same

position as when she had handed it to him. Now it

was Joe’s turn to slide the paper across the counter

to her. Lucy looked at it. Maybe she missed

something. She flipped it over. Both sides were

blank. She looked at Joe quizzically.


“May I?” he asked nodding toward one of the

computers.


“Be my guest.” Lucy granted permission and

then caught her reflection in a window. She quickly

pulled off the Santa hat. Static electricity popped

around her head like a lightening rod. She knew she

was blushing and really hoped he wouldn’t notice.

Lucy watched as his long fingers flew across the

keyboard. Her keyboard. The tips of the fingers hit

the center of the keys with great accuracy. Tap-tap tap

the keys sank and rose again. She was close

enough to see the words without her glasses and

didn’t see any red squiggly lines. At least the fella

could spell.


“Psst!” Monica called from the break room.

Lucy turned around. “What?” she mouthed

silently.


With frantic movements, Monica motioned for

Lucy to come talk to her. When Lucy walked into the

room, everyone huddled around. “We need details.”


Lucy gave a deep sigh happy to oblige. “His

name is Joe McNamara. According to his

application, he’s from Chicago, so I guess he must be

relocating. He’s trying out for our paper by writing

an editorial for me.”


“Good idea,” Harold said while cramming the

last sugar cookie into his mouth.


“Why would he want to apply for a job with us?”

Mike asked suspiciously as he tied the top of a

plastic garbage bag closed.


“That’s easy to answer. We are the best

newspaper in the entire southern lakes region,”

Harold answered shooting bits of cookie from his

mouth like falling stars.


“Yea, right,” Mike panned as he tossed the bag

on top of the other bags.


“You have to start at a small paper and work

your way up to get into a big city paper,” Monica

explained as she slipped on her winter coat. Then

she winked at Mike. “He’s getting his start right

here with us.”


“Whoa, first I have to hire him, and once he

hears what the pay is, he may just hop back on the

Interstate.”


“Finished,” a male voice spoke.


Everyone turned to look. Joe stood just feet

away, holding his paper out.


Lucy hoped he hadn’t heard everything. She

snatched the paper from him and furrowed her brow.


“That was fast.”


“Not when you have something burning inside

that you feel passionately about.”

She held it between her fingers and read aloud.



Saying Goodbye

by Joseph McNamara




What will I ever do without Cafe Books?

Ever since the announcement that the

independent bookseller was going out of business,

I've been a mess. The big chain stores serve a

purpose, sure, but they don't contain the atmosphere

and warmth that emulates from the owners of Cafe

Books. When I walk into their shop, it's like visiting

family. Mr. and Mrs. Myers always greet me and

everyone, with a genuine smile, and when are they

not armed with a recommendation for a new title

they know I'll enjoy? Just for me. They notice me. Me.

Cafe Books is where I first went whale hunting

with Melville and frog collecting with Steinbeck. How

can I forget all the murderous adventures I shared

with my good friend, Mike Hammer, or faced a scary,

yet Brave New World with Huxley? I’ve read more

than books on the leather sofa at Cafe Books. I've

made friends. Lived a million different lives. Cried

countless tears. And have laughed out loud so often,

and so hard, that my stomach still aches from the

memories alone.


How does one say good bye to such a place?


I started patronizing Café Books just off Kenzie

Avenue in Chicago about two years ago. And so when

the owners announced suddenly it would be going out

of business and closing its door yesterday, I made it a

point to stop by.


The room was busy with faithful shoppers who

felt this place was a stabilizing source in their

community. Lexie Jacobson, a 28-year-old hairstylist

scooped up discount novels and a couple of CDs. “I’m

sure going to miss this place,” she said with a shake

of her head. She was not alone with this feeling.


“It’s hard to find bookstores that are not part of a

national chain,” 35-year-old school teacher

Samantha Jones said with a sigh.


The sentiment was expressed again and again by

dozens of patrons.


In the never ending search for bigger and better,

give me the small and unique. Meet me at Café

Books. Help me say goodbye.



No one spoke. Lucy couldn’t take her eyes from

the page. The words evoked warmth and sentiment.

It was more than she had hoped for. He was it. This

was her Christmas gift.


It wasn’t the first sight of him that did it. It

wasn’t the endearing way he drummed his thigh

with the pen when he was nervously trying to figure

out what to write down on his application that

formed her opinion. Nor even his calm manner as he

slid his fingers across her keyboard that made the

difference. It was his words. These words. They were

simple and brilliant. Words that had taken the

breath from her soul. She looked up at him with new

eyes. He got her—yet how could that happen when

they only met minutes ago.


“Wow,” she gulped.


“Well, it was spontaneous.” Joe uneasily tugged

at his collar. “If I had more time, I could have done

much better.”


They smiled at each other as if there was more

to the words that hung in the air. Her mind was

wandering where it shouldn’t. “I need to clarify

something.”


“Clarify away, Ms. Collins.”


“Lucy.”


“Lucy,” he repeated in a sweet tone.


“Um, we can’t afford to pay you much. It’s

obvious you’re quite gifted so I’m not sure we’re what

you’re looking for in a newspaper.”


“The experience is what is valuable here.”


“How much notice do you need to give your old

place?” Harold stepped forward to ask. “The sooner

you can start the better.”


“Dad!” Lucy cut in as blood rushed to her face.


“Ah, my schedule is pretty well wide open, Sir. I

can start as soon as I’m needed, that is if I am hired.

I really don’t need much—a roof over my head

and...a new start.”


Lucy saw it in his eyes. He wasn’t kidding.


“You know, Harold, there is the small apartment

above our garage. Mr. McNamara could stay there

until he finds another place,” Margaret reminded

him.


“I’ll take it,” Joe was quick to accept.


A gust of wind whipped through the building

when Monica opened the door. “Better get a move

on, people. I just heard on the radio that the

Interstate is closed down. The town is pretty well

socked in. It’s time for us to lock up and head for our

homes. I love you all but no way do I want to be

stuck in here with you.”


Everyone went for their coats.


“I better take you home, so I know you made it

safely,” Mike told Monica.


“If you shovel my walk too, there might be a

reward in it for you,” Monica winked as she nudged

his side with her elbow.


“I love rewards.”


“Mike, don’t be long. There are Christmas boxes

in the attic I need for you to get down for me,”


Margaret said following her son out to the parking

lot. “We’re decorating the tree tonight and you can’t

miss it.” She shut the door behind them.


“Ah, is there something you want me to sign? A

contract or something?” Joe asked, quickly looking

from Harold to Lucy.


“I never thought about a contract,” Lucy said,

wondering if they had anything the resembled a

contract.


“We don’t do contracts here. A shake of my hand

is how I operate.” Harold slid his arm down through

his winter jacket and out the opening. “You better

come along with us. You’ll never get back to the city

tonight.”


With a simple handshake, Lucy Collins’ day took

a new direction.