Thursday, April 30, 2009

FIRST Wild Card Tour: Walking Taylor Home

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:

Walking Taylor Home

Monarch Books (February 10, 2009)


Brian Schrauger works as a research and marketing consultant. He and his wife, Debbie, live near Nashville with their sons, Christopher and Jonathan.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $11.69
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Monarch Books (February 10, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0825462916
ISBN-13: 978-0825462917



Almost always, especially early on, I told each of my three sons, “I can tell. Someday you are going to be an awesome dad.”

Then, almost every night after hugs and kisses, I turned off the lights and said, “Good night! I love you! See you in the morning.”

Each repeated back the words exactly as I said them. Except for Taylor, who with dyslexic echo said, “See you in the morning! Good night! I love you!”

Curious twist, I thought.

All throughout their younger years there was a quiet voice inside my mind, my heart, whispering but clear, Be sure to say this every night. Because it is a promise from both of us. No matter what life brings, you and your sons will always and forever see each other in the morning.

When I heard the voice, I shuddered, then quenched it with the thought, This is nothing more than what all parents fear. Of course the worst is possible. But we are careful. The worst is far from likely. Stuff like that only happens to people who are not careful or the unlucky few. And after all, worst-case odds are very, very slim.

And so my mind, confident in the odds, told the worry in my heart to just shut up.

Chapter One: Hard News (Nashville, Thursday, June 3, 1999)

Hi. This is Brian, Taylor’s dad. I’m using Taylor’s e-mail because his address book is more up-to-date than mine. After Taylor finished chemotherapy last February, he was given a battery of tests, including an MRI and CT Scan. Since then he’s had monthly x-rays of his chest. Two days ago, he was given a second round of scans. Yesterday, at about three in the afternoon, one of Taylor’s doctors called. He told us that new scans show four nodules on the left lung and another on the right. The cancer is back.

The Tumor Board at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital is meeting as I write. They are mapping out a strategy for the renewed battle that lies ahead. Immediately after yesterday’s call I went home, cried with Debbie, then exercised and showered. I also shaved my head. Again.

And all the while I wept and raged, shamelessly pleading with God.

About an hour later, while Debbie worked the phone calling friends and family, recruiting prayers, I went to find Taylor. He was at his best friend’s house just down the block. The two of them were playing on Nintendo 64. Standing at the front door of our neighbor’s house I said, “Hey, buddy. I need to talk with you. Would you walk home with me?”

“Well… okay, sure! See ya later, Trey.” He was happy as a lark.

Skipping at my side down the middle of the street, he suddenly noticed. “Hey Dad, you shaved your head again! How come?”

Silently I prayed for help. “Yeah. Kinda felt I had to.”

Unfazed by my elusive answer, Taylor chose to tease. “So why’re you out here? Shouldn’t you be doing something with Mom? After all, today is your twentieth wedding anniversary!” His question was full of impish innuendo. And he seemed to sense a need to make me smile. I tried to comply, but knowing his skill at reading my heart, I quickly changed the subject.

While we walked I made an impromptu promise. “Guess what? Just today I made a decision. We’re gonna get you a brand-new, state-of-the-art laptop, one with all the bells and whistles—like tons of memory and a DVD-drive!” The laptop he’s used for a year doesn’t belong to us. And at the ancient age of four, it’s a technological dinosaur. Taylor was thrilled with the news.

“Yes, yes, yes! So when’re we gonna get it? Huh? Huh?”

I chuckled, pleased with his euphoria. “Pretty soon. Prob’ly in the next two or three weeks.”


When we reached our house, instead of going in, I directed him to a seat in the front yard. Underneath a large shade tree, we sat atop a green metallic box shielding an electrical transformer for our neighborhood. Still excited by the promise of a new computer, Taylor looked at me, curious by my silence, by the dissonance he felt. Finally I spoke. “Well, buddy, I’ve got news. Good news and bad news. The good news is what I just toldja about the new laptop…”

O God! Help me do this…

“The bad news is that one of your doctors called this afternoon…” I paused and said no more. I didn’t have to. His jaw dropped.

“It’s back, isn’t it?” he whispered.

I didn’t say a word. Instead I just moved closer and put my arms around him. Taylor buried his face in my chest and bawled while I baptized his head with large, hot drops falling from my eyes.

Taylor’s birthday is tomorrow, on Friday, June 4. He turns eleven. A huge party is planned. On Saturday and Sunday, Taylor is supposed to be on TV helping host a telethon in a local effort to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network. And for at least a month he’s counted down the days until his Hickman catheter will come out. He’s had these tubes dangling from his chest for a year. With the Hickman gone and treatment over, Taylor’s summer is full of plans: uninhibited swimming, three camps, and a nostalgic visit with old friends in Dallas—a school-free time when they can really play. Then after summer ends, he’s thrilled about going to a new school where he knows the work will be harder.

Now, at best, these things are uncertain. Most are dreams destroyed. And all in less than sixty seconds. As our tears subsided, still sitting in the front yard underneath a tree, Taylor started asking questions.

“Will I still be able to go to my summer camps?”

“Don’t know. Prob’ly not all of ‘em, anyway.”

“What about school this fall?”

“Don’t know. We’ll just have to see what happens.”

“What will the doctors do now?”

“I have a few guesses, but… I don’t know. We should find out tomorrow.” We prayed, then went inside the house and cried with Mom. As Debbie hit the phones, dialing for defenders who would pray, Taylor and I went upstairs and lay down on his bed. I put my hand on his chest and sometimes stroked his new blond hair. I knew his too would soon be gone. Again.

My review: Though hard to read as a mother, the language and obvious love with which it was written shines through. This book is a testimony to the unconditional love that the Father feels for us and we need to feel for Him even when we struggle to understand.

Monday, April 20, 2009

FIRST Wild Card Tour: So Not Happening

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

So Not Happening (The Charmed Life)

Thomas Nelson (May 5, 2009)


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

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

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


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

And that’s when my life fell apart.

“Do you, Jillian Leigh Kirkwood . . .”

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

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

“. . . take Jacob Ralph Finley . . .”

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

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

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

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

I stare him down.

His eyes laser into mine.

Do we dare?

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

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


The church gasps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I. Am. An. Idiot.

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

Nope. Can’t watch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Daddy’s MasterCard in my wallet.

Then my mom got married.

And I got a new life.

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

Review: Faith Leaps

I'll admit it, I'm not so big on leaps of faith. Even though I am the daughter of a United Methodist minister and my life has always been influenced by the Lord's leading, I will gladly tell you that I like routine and knowing what is coming next. As we all know, life doesn't always follow the plan that we think it is going.

I have been known to run a bit from what I know God is telling me. I've gone against what I knew He would not want me to do. And every time, I come back to His way, because it is the Only Way that I am going to be fulfilled, blessed, and at peace.

For instance, I really felt like God was telling me to step away from volunteering with our church youth group and spend more time with my family. I argued with Him for months. I tried to convince him of the reason why I was right and He was wrong. Guess what?! Turns out He WAS right, and even though it was hard, I know it was the right thing to do. He has opened up possibilities and opportunities that I never would have had--opportunities to share His Word with people that I never would have imagined. But that Leap of Faith was very hard to take. It was hard to explain to others.

God is still giving me nudges. I'm not ignoring Him, but I've been trying to put Him off. But this time, it isn't quite so scary, because there is a wonderful program created by my friend Alyssa Avant to help me through.

Faith Leaps is a three month training program designed to help you figure out what and where God might be able to best use your Spiritual Gifts and talents.

Alyssa encourages you with her spunky spirit to examine yourself through prayer, online activities, questions, and audio seminar. She will lead you through the scary wilderness
upon which you might feel as though you stumbled.

God will lead you, and will never leave you. Alyssa uses her experiences and God's word to walk beside you as you work toward the clearing in which God has designed you to serve.

I am definitely called to teach. I'm feeling God call me in a new direction, but I'm not quite sure where He's leading me. I look forward to finding out, and am so thankful that He has equipped Alyssa with Faith Leaps to guide me!

Are you feeling God's call, but don't know exactly where He is leading? Or are you fighting that negative self-talk of "I don't have any gifts or talents! How is God going to use me?" Either way, Faith Leaps can help you discern the ways in which God is equipping you to serve.

Here I am, Lord! Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.

I am inspired by the words of Dan Schutte, and I will follow. Faith Leaps will help me find The Way!

Photo credits: Tricky, anjan58, and Steve_C

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Review: Yanni Voices CD

I had the opportunity to review the beautiful music of Yanni Voices thanks to One2One Network!

I first learned of Yanni Voices in a very Disney-esque production at Blissdom ’09, when we were introduced to the concept on both the huge screen and several plasma screen TVs. To say that we women were blown away was an understatement! We all loved the music and visuals, especially getting to see them in such a crisp, high definition manner. Add to it that the music shared was magnificent, and we were sold….but then, we got even MORE….Nathan and Ender were THERE in person! We got to learn more about them and the production, and if we weren’t already in love, both men credited their mothers with giving them much of the will and gifts with which they were able to share with us. Imagine my delight when a fellow attendee asked the men to sing Happy Birthday to another attendee who was celebrating that day…as was I! So they brought us both up and sang to BOTH of us! Ahhh, bliss! My husband showed no jealousy about this circumstance until he actually SAW Nathan and Ender on the bonus DVD!
Um, no honey, that isn't a look of adoration on my face....must have been the flash!

Anyway, back to the review!

The music is sublime on this CD! The four vocalists have unspeakable talent! Chloe’s soulful depth comes out best on “Kill Me with Your Love”, where her range is fully explored, and she gives life to the notes she sings. Ender’s passion especially shines through on “Desire”. Their duet on “Until the Last Moment” captured my heart. I am a sucker for beautiful harmony! I also like the harmonies explored on “Before the Night Ends”, where Leslie has almost an Enya-like sound, if I can compare her to another. The sensuality with which Leslie sings “The Keeper”, however, is entirely something different! Nathan’s rich baritone fills out “Adagio” much like a cello, and sounds so triumphant at the end of the piece! I also enjoyed “November Sky” and its upbeat style!

I really enjoy getting to see how much the artists put into the music on the DVD. It is a wonderful audio experience to listen to the CD, but with the DVD, you also get to see what fun and excitement the artists have for their music, which brings so much more to the experience!

I’d love to be able to see this on tour, but I doubt they’ll be coming close to me! But truly, if you have the opportunity, you need to GO! If not, do the next best thing and buy this awesome CD!

Go here to learn more about the tour, PBS specials, performers, CD, and more!