Monday, August 31, 2009

Fall CBS Show Preview: Accidentally on Purpose

This show CRACKED me up! Here is what CBS offers about it:

ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE is a comedy starring Golden Globe Award winner Jenna Elfman as Billie, a single woman who finds herself "accidentally" pregnant after a one-night stand with a much younger guy, and decides to keep the baby… and the guy. A newspaper film critic, Billie is barely surviving a humiliating breakup with her charming boss, James (Grant Show), who's still trying to resume their relationship. Suddenly expecting a child with her "boy toy," Zack (Jon Foster), Billie and Zack make an arrangement: to live together platonically. Billie's party girl best friend Olivia (Ashley Jensen), and Abby (Lennon Parham), her conventional, younger married sister, eagerly look forward to the new addition and offer their own brands of advice and encouragement. But when Zack and his freeloading friends, including Davis (Nicolas Wright), start to turn her place into a frat house, Billie isn't sure if she's living with a boyfriend, a roommate, or if she just has another child to raise.

I LOVE Jenna Elfman. She has this quality about her that just makes me relate immediately. This ensemble is eclectic; both Billie's (Eflman) wild and calm sides are shown as she relates to family, her ex/boss, friends, and her 'baby daddy' and his pals. The other cast members are not immediately recognizable to me, so I'll call them 'newcomers', though I'm sure, with the caliber of acting that is represented here, they are FAR from new to acting!

I can certainly relate to this show. Though I am at at a totally different 'place' in my life, since I, too, recently discovered that I was expecting a child, I know that feeling of horror mixed with happiness. I could totally see this scenario, down to Zack's friends hanging out too late at night, taking place around America! What woman who finds herself getting older than she wishes doesn't fantasize about finding a 'boy toy' with which to play?! I love when Elfman says that she 'broke her boy-toy', and also love the scene when she explains to Zack what she meant when she said, 'Don't mess with my stuff!' This just seems to me to be a very down to earth and believable story line done with a fresh viewpoint. Yes, we've seen single women have babies in sitcoms before, but never exactly like this!

I truly believe that this will be a fun show to watch, and look forward to tuning in for the premiere on Monday, September 21st at 8:30 (which means that this show is joining my FAVORITE night of tv on CBS! Woo hoo!)

The premise for the show is based on Mary F. Pols' bestselling memoir by the same name.

Fall CBS Show Preview: The Good Wife

I am so excited to see Juliana Margulies come back to prime time drama as she stars in a fantastic show coming out this fall on CBS called The Good Wife.

Here's what CBS has to say about this upcoming show:

THE GOOD WIFE is a drama starring Emmy Award winner Julianna Margulies as a wife and mother who boldly assumes full responsibility for her family and re-enters the workforce after her husband's very public sex and political corruption scandal lands him in jail. Pushing aside the betrayal and crushing public humiliation caused by her husband Peter (Chris Noth), Alicia Florrick (Margulies) starts over by pursuing her original career as a defense attorney. As a junior associate at a prestigious Chicago law firm, she joins her longtime friend, former law school classmate and firm partner Will Gardner (Josh Charles), who is interested to see how Alicia will perform after 13 years out of the courtroom. Alicia is grateful the firm's top litigator, Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), offers to mentor her but discovers the offer has conditions and realizes she's going to need to succeed on her own merit. Alicia's main competition among the firm's 20-something new recruits is Cary (Matt Czuchry), a recent Harvard grad who is affable on the surface, but will use any means to ensure that he, not Alicia, secures the one full-time associate position that's available. Fortunately, Alicia finds an ally in Kalinda (Archie Panjabi), the firm's tough in-house investigator. Gaining confidence every day, Alicia transforms herself from embarrassed politician's scorned wife to resilient career woman, especially for the sake of providing a stable home for her children, 14-year-old Zach (Graham Phillips) and 13-year-old Grace (Makenzie Vega). For the first time in years, Alicia trades in her identity as the "good wife" and takes charge of her own destiny. Tony Scott, Ridley Scott, Robert King, Michelle King, Dee Johnson and David Zucker are the executive producers for CBS Television Studios.

How about a sneak peek? You know you wanna!

What I think about the show:
I think this show is definitely something that has never been done before. This is a subject that is current, and has not been addressed on a tv show previously. I love that this show focuses on a woman's 'rise from the ashes' as she copes with a life-changing and embarrassing situation. The focus being on a woman taking charge, even though it is against her will, is one to which many women can relate. The combination of her inner workings and her experience with her husband's infidelity, Margulies' character Alicia is very compassionate and down to earth lawyer.

The lineup for this show is also notable. Chris Noth stars as Margulies' husband, and Christine Baranski stars as her attorney mentor. When watching the pilot, the characters seemed to fit well together and interact smoothly. The writing for this show looks to be top notch. I was able to relate and be drawn to the characters after watching this one episode. There were even a few laughs thrown into the mix as well--I'll admit--when Alicia slaps her philandering husband! Even though I have never been faced with such a situation (and pray I never do!) I can certainly understand her fury over being in such a position!

This show has the potential to become one of my favorites! Don't forget to tune in to CBS on Tuesdays at 10 to check it out!

Friday, August 28, 2009

FIRST Wild Card Tour: Sweetgum Ladies Knit for Love

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:

Sweetgum Ladies Knit For Love

WaterBrook Press (June 2, 2009)


RITA Award–winning Beth Pattillo combines her love of knitting and books in her engaging Sweetgum series. An ordained minister in the Christian Church, Pattillo served churches in Missouri and Tennessee before founding Faith Leader, a spiritual leadership development program. Pattillo is the married mother of two children. She lives and laughs in Tennessee.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (June 2, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1400073952
ISBN-13: 978-1400073955



Every Tuesday at eleven o’clock in the morning, Eugenie Carson descended the steps of the Sweetgum Public Library and made her way to Tallulah’s Café on the town square. In the past, she would have eaten the diet plate—cottage cheese and a peach half—in solitary splendor. Then she would have returned to her job running the library, just as she’d done for the last forty years.

On this humid September morning, though, Eugenie was meeting someone for lunch—her new husband, Rev. Paul Carson, pastor of the Sweetgum Christian Church. Eugenie smiled at the thought of Paul waiting for her at the café. They might both be gray haired and near retirement, but happiness was happiness, no matter what age you found it.

Eugenie entered the square from the southeast corner. The Antebellum courthouse anchored the middle, while Kendall’s Department Store occupied the east side to her right. She walked along the south side of the square, past Callahan’s Hardware, the drugstore, and the movie theater, and crossed the street to the café. The good citizens of Sweetgum were already arriving at Tallulah’s for lunch. But Eugenie passed the café, heading up the western side of the square. She had a brief errand to do before she met her husband. Two doors down, she could see the sign for Munden’s Five-and-Dime. Her business there shouldn’t take long.

Before she reached Munden’s, a familiar figure emerged from one of the shops and blocked the sidewalk.

Hazel Emerson. President of the women’s auxiliary at the Sweetgum Christian Church and self-appointed judge and jury of her fellow parishioners.

“Eugenie.” Hazel smiled, but the expression, coupled with her rather prominent eyeteeth, gave her a wolfish look. Hazel was on the heavy side, a bit younger than Eugenie’s own sixty five years, and her hair was dyed an unbecoming shade of mink. Hazel smiled, but there was no pleasantness in it. “Just the person

I wanted to see.”

Eugenie knew better than to let her distaste for the woman show. “Good morning, Hazel,” she replied. “How are you?”

“Distressed, Eugenie. Thoroughly distressed.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Eugenie truly was dismayed, but not from worry over Hazel’s discomfort.

“Yes, well, you have the power to calm the waters, ”Hazel said with the same false smile. “In a manner of speaking, at least.”

Since Eugenie’s marriage to Paul only a few weeks before, she’d learned how demanding Hazel could be. The other woman called the parsonage at all hours and appeared in Paul’s office at least once a day. Although Eugenie had known Hazel casually for years, she’d never had to bother with her much. Eugenie couldn’t remember Hazel ever having entered the library.

“How can I help you?” Eugenie said in her best librarian’s voice. She had uttered the phrase countless times over the last forty years and had it down to an art form. Interested but not enmeshed. Solicitous but not overly involved.

“Well, Eugenie, you must know that many people in the church are distressed by your marriage to Paul.”

“Really?” Eugenie kept the pleasant smile on her face and continued to breathe evenly. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Oh, not me, of course,” Hazel said and pressed a hand to her ample chest. “I’m perfectly delighted. But some people… Well, they have concerns.”

“What concerns would those be?” Eugenie asked with measured calm.

Hazel glanced to the right and to the left, then leaned forward to whisper in a conspiratorial fashion. “Some of them aren’t sure you’re a Christian,” she said. Then she straightened and resumed her normal tone of voice. “As I said, I’m not one of them, but I thought I should tell you. For your own good, but also for Rev. Carson’s.”

“I see.” And Eugenie certainly did, far more than Hazel would guess. Eugenie wasn’t new to small-town gossip. Heaven knew she’d heard her share, and even been the target of some, over the last forty years. She’d known that her marriage to Paul would cause some comments, but she hadn’t expected this blatant response.

“I’m mentioning it because I don’t think it would be difficult to put people’s fears to rest,” Hazel said. Her smug expression needled Eugenie. “I know you’ve been attending worship, and that’s a wonderful start.” Hazel quickly moved from interfering to patronizing. “The women’s auxiliary meets on Tuesday mornings. If you joined us—”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” Eugenie answered. She was determined to keep a civil tongue in her head if it killed her. “I have to work.”

“For something this important, I’m sure you could find someone to cover for you.”

Eugenie tightened her grip on her handbag. In an emergency, no doubt she could arrange something. But this wasn’t an emergency. It was manipulation.


“Particularly at this time,” Hazel said, barely stopping for breath. “With all the losses we’ve had in these last few months… Well, our community needs leadership. Our church needs leadership.” She gave Eugenie a meaningful look.

Eugenie paused to consider her words carefully. “It has been a difficult summer,” she began. “Tom Munden’s death was so unexpected, and then to lose Frank Jackson like that. And now, with Nancy St. Clair…”

“So you see why it’s more important than ever that you prove to church members that their pastor hasn’t made a grave mistake.”

“I hardly think that my attending a meeting of the women’s auxiliary will offer much comfort to the grieving.” Nor would it convince anyone of her status as a believer. Those sorts of people weren’t looking for proof. They were looking for Eugenie to grovel for acceptance.

Hazel sniffed. “Don’t be difficult, Eugenie. You’re being unrealistic if you expect people to accept you as a Christian after forty years of never darkening the door of any sanctuary in this town.”

“I’ve always felt that faith is a private matter.” That was the sum of any personal information Eugenie was willing to concede to Hazel. “I prefer to let my actions speak for me.”

“There are rumblings,” Hazel said darkly. “Budget rumblings.”

“What do you mean?”

“People need to have full confidence in their pastor, Eugenie. Otherwise they’re less motivated to support the church financially.”

Eugenie bit her tongue. She couldn’t believe Hazel Emerson was standing here, in the middle of the town square, practicing her own brand of extortion.

“Are you threatening me?” Eugenie asked, incredulous.

Hazel sniffed. “Of course not. Don’t be silly. I’m merely cautioning you. As a Christian and as a friend.”

Eugenie wanted to reply that Hazel didn’t appear to be filling either role very well, but she refrained.

“I’ll take your concerns under advisement,” she said to Hazel with forced pleasantness. “I’m sure you mean them in the kindest possible way.”

“Of course I do. How else would I mean them?”

“How else, indeed?” Eugenie muttered under her breath.

“Well, I won’t keep you.” Hazel nodded. “Have a nice day, Eugenie.”

“You too, Hazel.” The response was automatic and helped Eugenie to cover her true sentiments. She stood in place for a long moment as Hazel moved past her, on her way to stir up trouble in some other quarter, no doubt. Then, with a deep breath, Eugenie forced herself to start moving toward Munden’s Five-and-Dime.

She had known it would be difficult, stepping into this unfamiliar role as a pastor’s wife. Paul had assured her that he had no expectations, that she should do what she felt was right. But Eugenie wondered if he had any idea of the trouble Hazel Emerson was stirring up right under his nose.

True, she hadn’t attended church for forty years. After she and Paul had ended their young romance, she’d blamed God for separating them. If Paul hadn’t felt called to the ministry, if he hadn’t refused to take her with him when he went to seminary, if she hadn’t stubbornly insisted on going with him or ending their relationship…

Last year she and Paul had found each other again, all these decades later, and she’d thought the past behind them. But here it was once more in the person of Hazel Emerson, raising troubling questions. Threatening Paul. Forcing Eugenie to examine issues she’d rather leave unanswered.

As the head of the Sweetgum Knit Lit Society, Eugenie had taken on responsibility for the well-being of the little group several years before. Since Ruthie Allen, the church secretary, had left for Africa last spring to do volunteer work, the group had experienced a definite void. It was time for an infusion of new blood, and after careful consideration, Eugenie had determined that Maria Munden was just the person the Knit Lit Society needed. What’s more, Maria needed the group too. The recent loss of her father must be quite difficult for her, Eugenie was sure. And so despite having had her feathers ruffled by Hazel Emerson, Eugenie walked into Munden’s Five-and-Dime with a firm purpose.

“Good morning, Maria,” Eugenie called above the whine of the door. For years she’d been after Tom Munden to use a little WD-40 on the hinges, but he had insisted that the noise bothered him less than the idea of a customer entering without him knowing it.

“Eugenie! Hello.” Maria straightened from where she stood slumped over the counter. She had red marks on her forehead from resting her head in her hands, and her nondescript shoulder length brown hair hung on each side of her face in a clump. Eugenie had come at the right time. Maria was in her early thirties, but her father’s death seemed to have aged her ten years.

Maria came around the counter. “What can I help you with today?”

“Oh, I’m not here to buy anything,” Eugenie said, and then she was dismayed when disappointment showed in Maria’s eyes. With the superstores of the world creeping closer and closer to Sweetgum, mom-and-pop shops like Munden’s were living on borrowed time. Even if Tom Munden had lived, the inevitable day when the store closed couldn’t have been avoided.

“What did you need then?” Maria’s tone was polite but strained.

“I have an invitation for you.”

“An invitation?”

Eugenie stood a little straighter. “On behalf of the Sweetgum Knit Lit Society, I’d like to extend an invitation to you to become a part of the group.”

Maria’s brown eyes were blank for a moment, and then they darkened. “The Knit Lit Society?”

“I can’t think of anyone who would be a better fit.” Eugenie paused. “If you don’t know how to knit, one of us can teach you. And I know you enjoy reading.” Maria was one of the most faithful and frequent patrons of the library. “I think you’d appreciate the discussion.”

Maria said nothing.

“If you’d like some time to think—”

“I’ll do it,” Maria said quickly, as if she didn’t want to give herself time to reconsider. “I know how to knit. You won’t have to teach me.”

“Excellent,” Eugenie said, relieved. “Our meeting is this Friday.”

“Do I have to read something by then?” Lines of doubt wrinkled Maria’s forehead beneath the strands of gray that streaked her hair.

Eugenie shook her head. “I haven’t passed out the reading list for this year. This first meeting will be to get us organized.”

Relief eased the tight lines on her face.

“We meet at the church, of course,” Eugenie continued. “Upstairs, in the Pairs and Spares Sunday school room. If you’d like, I can drop by here Friday evening and we can walk over together.”

Maria shook her head. “Thank you, but that won’t be necessary.” She paused, as if collecting her thoughts, then spoke. “I’m not sure why you asked me to join, Eugenie, but I appreciate it.”

“I’m delighted to have you. The others will be as well. ”Mission accomplished, Eugenie shifted her pocketbook to the other arm. “I’d better be going. I’m meeting Paul for lunch at the café.”

Like most of Sweetgum, with the possible exception of Hazel Emerson, Maria smiled at Eugenie’s mention of her new husband. “Tell the preacher I said hello.” Maria moved to open the door for Eugenie. “I’ll see you at the meeting.”

Eugenie lifted her shoulders and nodded with as much equanimity as she could. After years of being the town spinster, playing the newlywed was a novel experience. She hoped she’d become accustomed to it with time—if she didn’t drive away all of Paul’s parishioners first with her heathen ways.

“Have a nice afternoon,” Eugenie said and slipped out the door, glad that at least one thing that morning had gone as planned.

After Eugenie left, Maria Munden halfheartedly swiped her feather duster at the back-to-school display in the front window. Hot sunshine, amplified by the plate glass, made sweat bead on her forehead. What was the point of dusting the same old collection of binders, backpacks, and two-pocket folders? She’d barely seen a customer all day. She turned from the window and looked around at the neat rows of shelving. The five symmetrical aisles had stood in the same place as long as she could remember.

Aisle one, to the far left, held greeting cards, gift-wrap, stationery, office and school supplies. Aisle two, housewares and paper goods. Aisle three, decorative items. Aisle four, cleaning supplies and detergent. Aisle five had always been her favorite, with its games, puzzles, and coloring books. Across the back wall stretched the sewing notions, yarn, and craft supplies. Everything to outfit a household and its members in one small space. The only problem was, no one wanted small anymore. They wanted variety, bulk, and large economy size with a McDonald’s and a credit union. Not quaint and limited, like the old five-and- dime.

From the counter a few feet away, Maria’s cell phone buzzed, and she sighed. She knew without looking at the display who it would be.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Maria, you have to do something about this.” Her mother never acknowledged the greeting but plunged into a voluble litany of complaints that covered everything from the state of the weather to her older sister Daphne’s management of the farm.

“Mom?” Maria tried to interrupt her mother’s diatribe. “Mom? Look, I’m the only one in the store right now. I’ll have to call you back later.”

“Where’s Stephanie? She was supposed to be there at nine.”

“I don’t know where she is. ”Maria’s younger sister, the baby at twenty-five, was AWOL more often than not.

Maria heard the shop door open with a whine of its hinges, not too different from her mother’s tone of voice. She looked up, expecting to see her younger sister. Instead, a tall, dark-haired man entered the store. He took two steps inside, then stopped. His eyes traveled around the rows of shelves, and his lips twisted in an expression of disapproval. The hairs on Maria’s neck stood on end. The stranger saw her, nodded, and then disappeared down the far aisle, but he was so tall that Maria could track his progress as he moved. He came to a stop in front of the office supplies. Someone from out of town, obviously. Probably a traveling salesman who needed paper clips or legal pads. Maybe a couple of blank CDs or a flash drive. Maria had dealt with his type before.

“Bye, Mom,” she said into the phone before clicking it shut. From experience, she knew it would take her mother several moments before she realized Maria was no longer on the other end of the line. Such discoveries never seemed to faze her mother. She would simply look around the room at home and find Daphne so she could continue her rant. Maria tucked the cell phone under the counter and moved across the store toward the stranger. “May I help you?” Upon closer inspection, she could see that his suit was expensive. So were his haircut, his shoes, and his aftershave.

His head turned toward her, and she felt a little catch in her chest. His dark eyes stared down at her as if she were a lesser mortal approaching a demigod.

“I’m looking for a fountain pen,” he said. He turned back toward the shelves of office supplies and studied them as if attempting to decipher a secret code.

A fountain pen? In Sweetgum? He was definitely from out of town.

“I’m afraid we only have ballpoint or gel.” She waved a hand toward the appropriate shelf. “Would one of these do?”

He looked at her again, one eyebrow arched like the vault of a cathedral. “I need a fountain pen.”

Maria took a calming breath. A sale was a sale, and the customer was always right—her father’s two favorite dictums, drummed into her from the day she was tall enough to see over the counter.

“I’m sorry. Our selection is limited, I know. Which way are you headed? I can direct you to the nearest Wal-Mart. You might find one there.”

At her mention of the chain superstore, the man’s mouth turned down as if she’d just insulted him. “No, thank you. That won’t be necessary.”

“Is there anything else I can help you with?” she said, practically gritting her teeth. She resisted the urge to grab his arm and hustle him out of the store. Today was not the day to try her patience. In two hours, assuming Stephanie showed up, Maria was going to cross the town square to the lawyer’s office and do the unthinkable. At the moment, she didn’t have time for this man and his supercilious attitude toward Sweetgum.

“I need directions,” he said, eyeing her dubiously, as if he thought she might not be up to the task.

“Well, if you’re looking for someplace nearby, I can tell you where you need to go,” she said without a hint of a smile.

He looked away, as if deliberating whether to accept her offer. Honestly, the man might be extraordinarily good-looking—and wealthy, no doubt—but she would be surprised if he had any friends. He had the social skills of a goat.

The hinges on the door whined again. Maria looked over her shoulder to see another man entering the shop.

“James!” The second man grinned when he caught sight of the stranger at Maria’s side. “You disappeared.” The newcomer was as fair as the first was dark. “We’re late.”

“Yes,” the stranger replied with a continued lack of charm.

“But I needed a pen. ”He snatched a two-pack of ballpoints from the shelf and extended them toward Maria. “I’ll take these.”

Maria bit the inside of her lip and took the package from his hand. “I’ll ring you up at the counter.” She whirled on one heel and walked, spine rigid, to the front of the store.

“Hi.” The second man greeted her with cheery casualness. “Great store. I haven’t seen anything like this in years.”

It was a polite way of saying that Munden’s Five-and-Dime was dated, but Maria appreciated his chivalry. Especially since his friend obviously didn’t have a courteous bone in his body.

“Thank you. ”Maria smiled at him and then stepped behind the counter to ring up the sale on the ancient register. She’d pushed her father for years to computerize their sales—not to mention the inventory—but he’d been perfectly happy with his tried-and-true methods. Unfortunately, while he’d been able to keep track of sales and stock in his head, Maria wasn’t quite so gifted.

The tall man appeared on the other side of the register. “Three dollars and thirty-two cents,” she said, not looking him in the eye.

He reached for his wallet and pulled out a hundred dollar bill. Maria refused to show her frustration. Great. Now he would wipe out all her change, and she’d have to figure out a way to run over to the bank without anyone to watch the store. She completed the transaction and slid the package of pens into a paper bag with the Munden’s logo emblazoned on it.

“Hey, can you recommend a place for lunch?” the blond man asked. He glanced at his watch. “We need a place to eat between meetings.”

“Tallulah’s Café down the block,” Maria said. Even the tall, arrogant stranger wouldn’t be able to find fault with Tallulah’s home cooking. People drove from miles around for her fried chicken, beef stew, and thick, juicy pork chops. “But you might want to go soon. The café gets busy at lunch.”

“Thanks.” His smile could only be described as sunny, and it made Maria feel better. She smiled in response.

“You’re welcome.”

The tall man watched the exchange impassively. Maria hoped he’d be gone from Sweetgum before the sun went down. Big-city folks who came into town dispensing condescension were one of her biggest pet peeves.

“C’mon, James,” the blond man said. “I have a lot of papers to go over.” He nodded toward his friend. “James here thinks I’m crazy to buy so much land in the middle of nowhere.”

Maria froze. It couldn’t be.

“Oh.” She couldn’t think what else to say.

“We’d better go,” the tall man said, glancing at his watch. “Thank you. ”He nodded curtly at Maria, letting her know she’d been dismissed as the inferior creature that she was.

“But I thought you wanted—” Before she could remind him about his request for directions, the two men disappeared out the door, and Maria’s suspicions—not to mention her fears— flooded through her.

She should have put two and two together the moment the first man had walked into the store. A stranger in an expensive suit. In town for a meeting. Looking for a fountain pen to sign things. Normally Maria was good at figuring things out. Like where her father had put the quarterly tax forms and how she and Stephanie could manage the store with just the two of them for employees.

What she hadn’t figured out, though, were the more complex questions. Like how she had come to be a small-town spinster when she hadn’t been aware of time passing. Or how she was going to keep the five-and-dime afloat even as the town’s economy continued to wither on the vine. And she certainly had no idea how she was going to tell her mother and sisters that she, as executrix of her father’s will, was about to sell their farm, and the only home they’d ever known, right out from under them.

“Welcome to Sweetgum,” she said to the empty aisles around her, and then she picked up the feather duster once more.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

FIRST Wild Card Tour: Not So Fast

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Not So Fast

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


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

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

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


1: What Are We Missing Out On?

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

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

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

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

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

Only seven stopped to hang around and listen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

scooted the kid away.2

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

And every single parent scooted the child along.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Run to see Winged Victory, snap a picture.

Rush to Venus de Milo—snap-snap-snap.

Quick, get in the long line to see Mona!

Enter the crowded, hot room.

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

“Can you see it?” he asked.


“Take a good look.”

“I see it.”

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

What Are We Missing Out On?

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

“For sure?”

“Yes, Papa! I saw it!”

And we left.

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

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

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

“I didn’t see it,” said another.

“The room was roasting hot.”

“I need a drink of water.”

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

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

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

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

Americans in the Louvre. Quelle horreur!

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

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

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

They just need us to slow down.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a poem that included these lines:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God:

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes;

The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries.

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

Not anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

For this people’s heart has become calloused;

they hardly hear with their ears,

and they have closed their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,

hear with their ears,

understand with their hearts

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

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

schedules? Are we missing the beauty of Christ?

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

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

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

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

Open our minds, Lord, to comprehend Your truth.

Open our hearts, Lord, to believe.

And slow us down, to take it all in.

But blessed are your eyes because they see,

and your ears because they hear

(Matthew 13:16).

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

Slow Notes

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

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

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

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

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

• Borrow a telescope to look at some stars.

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

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

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

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

Live from the Slow Zone: Ann Voskamp

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

The frogs have returned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, we wait.

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

Long we soak in these songs on golden pond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 17, 2009

FIRST Wild Card Tour: Christianish

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:


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


Mark Steele is the president and executive creative of Steelehouse Productions, a group that creates art for business and ministry through the mediums of film, stage, and animation. He is also the author of Flashbang: How I Got Over Myself and Half-Life/Die Already. Mark and his wife, Kaysie, reside in Oklahoma with their three greatest productions Morgan, Jackson, and Charlie.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434766926
ISBN-13: 978-1434766922



Nineteen months are all that separate my two older sons, Jackson and Charlie. In practically every way, one is the antithesis of the other. They both have their strengths and weaknesses, but smash them together and they fill out the other’s weak spots, becoming one practically perfect human being. Of course, the scattered remains that are left would be a bit messy. In other words, they complete one another, either as a right example or as a wrong one—their choice.

Charlie is currently seven and Jackson just turned nine, which means their choices— at least for the time being—might skew a bit ornery. A few months ago, I walked upstairs to turn off our daughter Morgan’s light for bedtime. It was later than usual and a good hour after the boys had been put to sleep (which means something different for children than it does for pets). They had been told to go right to bed. Unconsciousness isn’t really something that can be demanded of a child, but I—like millions of parents before me— made the attempt anyway. As I opened Morgan’s door to check on her, I caught the two boys in her room. They ceased mid-play, frozen, and stared at me—deer in the headlights. They were standing in the middle of her bedroom, a clump of Lego’s squeezed in each fist. They gaped with wide-eyed guilt on their faces for about three solid seconds. And then they ran like mad wildfire through the adjoining bathroom. I heard the scurry of feet on linoleum, followed by the bounce of springs and the flip-flop of covers as they scrambled into bed.

Reasoning doesn’t enter into the equation all that much at the ages of seven and nine. For some reason, not only was the rationale to sprint away and dive into bed considered a good idea, but the identical urge to flee the scene hit both brothers at the same time.

I sauntered through the hall to their bedroom (the longer path than the bathroom route by about eleven inches) and creaked open the door. They were each in their bunk, feigning sleep. And so, the cover-up began.


They attempted to rouse themselves from their faux slumber, “What? Huh?”

Were you out of bed and playing in Morgan’s room?

A beat. A moment of pause. And then—both—simultaneously…


Certainly I sympathize with the gut instinct of the cover-up. It is the defensive urge of the male, not to mention the mischievous pre-puberty male. In later stages of life, it will be replaced in-turn by hormones, rage at injustice, and unnecessary snacking. Throughout my own young journey, I was on the punishment end of the cover-up multiple times.

It felt ironic to finally be on the other side.

No? I responded, You were NOT in Morgan’s bedroom?

Sweat trickled down their tiny foreheads.

Nope. No. Nope.

Just now? Like, fifteen seconds ago, you were NOT holding Lego’s in Morgan’s room?

(Slightly more hesitant than before) Noooo.

I paused for dramatic effect: Well—I saw you.

Not since the Noahic Flood have the floodgates burst open so abruptly. The words “I’m sorry” rat-a-tat-tatted out of their mouths repeatedly in a fusillade of desperate penance.

I know you are sorry, but you lied. You know what the punishment is for lying.

I’m fairly certain there were a couple of “yes, sirs” uttered amid all the slobber and snot.

Go downstairs. You’re each going to get one spank.

Yes. My wife and I believe in spanking. Not “grab-your-knees-while-the-back-ofyour-eyeballs-rap-against-your-brain” spanking. But certainly a recognizable sting that serves as a tangible reminder of why the punishable incident was a bad idea. We want our kids to have a sensory reinforcement that sin is not such a preferable option. It always astounds me when parents don’t believe in appropriate spankings, because the world spanks people every day—especially the people who didn’t receive any as a child. Personally, I would rather feel a short-term sting than the sort the Internal Revenue Service doles out.

Of course, an appropriate spanking is exactly that. Just enough to sting—and definitely on the derriere. And, of course, the act is attached to teaching and forgiveness and a walking through of the issue so that it leads to reconciliation and change and love.

That’s the pretty version.

The boys weren’t seeing the benefits just yet.

Jackson and Charlie have a very different approach to the news of an impending spanking. Charlie just stares. Wide-eyed. His brain immediately begins clicking and whirring. Within fifty seconds, he orchestrates a mental plan of how best to charm his way through the incident with minimal pain. By a sheer act of will and a reasoning through percentages, he determines swiftly that playing the situation down will cause it to end with only a slight portion of hurt to his person.

Jackson destroys everything within his wake.

Not literally. He doesn’t throw things or flail. But within a small eight-inch radius, the planet implodes. Jackson takes the news that he will receive one spank the way most react in a house fire. He hugs his favorite belongings close to his body while screaming and rolling on the floor.

I greeted Jackson into the spanking chamber (our bedroom) first as I knew that the twenty-two solid minutes it would take to actually deliver the one spank would be an epic purgatorial wait (and hence, bonus lesson) for Charlie.

The reason a Jackson spanking can take so long is because we don’t believe in wrestling our kids into the spanking. There has to be the moment of surrender. Charlie can fake surrender like the best of them—but Jackson? Not so much.

Lean over, son.


You can have a glass of water after your spank. It will take ten seconds.


You cannot have a glass of water until after your spank.

No one tells a father he is going to be put in a position to say these sorts of irrational things.

You’re stalling. Let’s just get the punishment over with.




You can go to the bathroom after I spank you. We would be finished already…


I promise I won’t whack the pee out of you.

See. Irrational things. Of course, this is when Jackson moves from delay tactics and transitions into physical blockers. As I lean him over and pull back the spank stick, all sorts of appendages start

flailing about spastically like Muppet tails, blocking the punishment trajectory. I’ve never seen the kid move so fast as he does when he strategizes a spank block.




BOTH FEET (wow)!


The kid is Mister Miyagi-ing me, suddenly Jean-Claude Van Damme, blocking every attempt to close the deal. He won’t play football, but this he can do. I finally settle Jackson down.

Jackson, I’m not going to fight you. You have to decide that you’re going to accept the consequences for what you’ve done. You’ve fought me so long, that now you’re going to get—

(Wait for it.)

—two spanks.

Son. Of. A.Gun.

I had no idea what the kid had in him. He began to writhe and weep and gnash his teeth. I’d never seen gnashing—but it’s actually very impressive. I believe he may have even utilized sackcloth. The boy just flat-out wailed like he was being branded with a hot iron. To the neighbors, it must have sounded like I was stunning him with a police taser.

And then, Jackson moved away from delaying and blocking—to step three: blame.


Who are you and what have you done with my child?


All right, son. For that, you’re now going to receive—

Somewhere, between the bedrock layers of our planet, a mushroom cloud was forming its power, readying itself for a self-imploding FOOM! Tension built, and a roar and a rumble began to build just beneath the crust of the earth.

—three spanks.

And that is when Jackson vomited.


He barfed.

He wasn’t sick to his stomach or coming down with a virus.

The boy got so worked up over three spankings that he literally upchucked everywhere. He blew chunks all over the proceedings. As a father, you can’t help but debate your own discipline tactics at this point. I helped him wash up and then cooled him down with a cloth. He began to settle.

After a few moments, I addressed him.

You okay?

I told you I needed to go to the bathroom.

Against all of Jackson’s hopes and dreams, the regurgitation session did not replace any of the punishment, and I forged ahead with the three spanks anyway. The beauty of Jackson is, though he fights you all the way, you know where he stands. When the punishment is over, Jackson is quick to reconcile, huddled and sobbing in my arms. At that moment, after the pain, he is truly repentant. And he always comes out the other side changed.

Amid all of this excitement, Charlie sat waiting in the hall.

For twenty solid minutes. Hearing the sounds of torrential screams and human wretching. He sat, stone. Eyes like nickels on a plate of fine china.

Needless to say, Charlie walked in, bent over, and received his one spank in about six seconds flat.

Immensely accommodating.

But alas, not nearly as life-changing as Jackson.

It’s harder to tell whether or not Charlie truly changes because Charlie knows how to charm. During that same spanking, he sat near Kaysie and spoke to her as Jackson’s sobs and moans were muffled behind the bedroom door.

I’m not gonna do anyfing Jackson is doing when I go get MY spanking.

You’re not, huh.

Nope. I’m gonna walk wight in and jus’ get spanked.

That’s a good idea, Charlie.

I do not wike it when Daddy spanks me.

I’ll bet you don’t.

I wike it when you spank me. This piqued Kaysie’s interest and she hesitated before asking nonchalantly–

Oh really? Why?

Because when Daddy spanks me, it hurts—but when you spank me, it does not— Charlie’s gaze finally met Kaysie’s. The realization of the privileged information spilling out of his mouth occurred to him. He stared.

I pwobably should not have told you dat. Kaysie smiled pleasantly.

Tell you what, son. From now on, we’ll let Daddy do all your spankings.

Charlie sighed.

Yep. I definitewy should not have told you dat.

So, there is an inherent difference in the way Jackson deals with disappointment and in the way Charlie deals with it. Yes, Jackson goes off the deep end, revealing his scars and putting his emotions in front of a microphone—but at least we know where Jackson stands when the consequence is said and done. Jackson wrestles his flesh to the ground— and he does so in public. That’s how we know the transformation is real. I know that his repentance is true because I witness his internal journey from resistance to acceptance firsthand.

Charlie? Well, you don’t always know with Charlie. Charlie is good at seeming fine. He keeps his deepest feelings close to his chest. And the rough stuff? You could go a very long time without Charlie allowing anyone to see the rough stuff. The result is an engaging and personable child—everyone’s best friend—though you don’t always know what’s really going on inside there.

And yet, we as a Christian culture seem to think that it is this same positioning and decorating of ourselves that ministers most. In an effort to put our best foot forward, we disguise the ugly, bury the past, and soak the dirty laundry in perfume. We have an emotional need to seem holier than all the “thou’s we encounter while fitting in to the perfect flawless world of those who side-hug us on the way to the sanctuary.

We delay. We block. We blame.

We cover-up.

And we somehow believe that it delivers a better impression of what it means to serve Christ. We believe that seeming the Stepford Wife makes us some sort of demented recruitment tool. But the truth is, we have done more damage to the world’s impression of Jesus by feigning inaccurate perfection than we could ever cause by allowing those who don’t follow Christ to see us wrestling our sins and flaws to the ground.


Many cite Matthew 5: 48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” but that verse doesn’t have anything to do with fakery. It is a call, instead, to spiritual maturity. And maturity owns up to the truth. Others refer to Jesus and how it was His holiness that truly ministered. This, of course, is true. But we too quickly forget that His holiness ministered most powerful as it stood side-by-side with His humanness. And, never was His humanness more on display than in His birth.

Jesus revealed the rough stuff with the very way He first came into the world.

It seems to me that the first sentence in the first telling of the Son of God entering into this world would be glorious and filled with holy hyperbole. Not so. Instead, we get a few pragmatic words: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.” This is merely a preamble to the names that follow—names that expose Christ’s lineage. The first chapter of Matthew fires the names off bam, bam, bam: so-and-so was the father of whatcha-macall-him—never taking the smallest breath, diving headlong into historic minutia until ZING! Verse seven delivers the whopper—the first specific detail mankind received about the family Jesus comes from:

“David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.”

Uriah? Wasn’t he the guy David had killed? Murdered so that David could sleep with his wife? That guy? Why on earth, out of all the admirable people in Jesus lineage—and for that matter, all the honorable traits of David—why is this bucket of family dirt given the first and greatest mark of attention? A golden opportunity missed. Here the ultimate history book had the option of paving a red carpet and paparazzi before Jesus, publicizing the elitist line He came from and urging the public down to its knees in awe. This was the proof: that Jesus came from the lineage of the favorite King, the man after God’s own heart—David. But instead of applauding this fact, chapter one in Matthew pauses to remind the reading audience that this great King David whose line led to the Savior—this beloved ancestor of Jesus Christ—was a man of great failure and greater scandal.

Matthew started his history book with tabloid fodder. Why?

Because just like you and me, Jesus came from a scandalous history. But unlike you and me, Jesus was not afraid for the world to know and remember that scandal. As a matter of fact, He welcomed it.

We all come from something scandalous. Perhaps those who came before us, perhaps the life we lived before we lived for Christ, perhaps some aspect of our current life. But in modern Christianity, we have somehow deluded ourselves into believing that priority one is to eradicate this reality.

We bury. We pretend. We deny to others and ourselves.

And, even worse—when the opportunity arises to actually come clean with the soiled spots of our life history—we instead make believe everything is, and always has been, a series of either perfect, fine, or no big deal. And in so doing, we make ourselves into the very fakers we detest. We somehow convince ourselves that this is what Jesus would want: a wiped-clean façade. A steam-pressed, white cotton, buttoned-down church shirt.

We live the rough stuff, but we keep it silent. We believe it to be a lapse in faith to actually comment on the rough stuff or give it reference. We assume that exhaling the rough stuff somehow gives it more power, so we smile and wave and praise the Lord that everything good is permanent and everything not-so-good had zero effect on us. We have a terrible habit of skipping the rough stuff.

I don’t understand why I do this. I look at the way Jesus entered this world and I see very quickly why it was important for Him to make mention of his scandalous history. It softened the blow for the shame and disgrace that would accompany Him into the world. It was as if Jesus said, I know the manner in which I am born is going to start the rumor-mill flowing, so I might as well give it a head-start. And, what rough stuff it was:

a mother pregnant before even engaged

a father who almost broke off the engagement

parents who make their decisions based on angel dreams

a cousin born of the elderly

a birth in an animal barn

adoration from astrologers

a birth that prompts the murder of hundreds of other infants

Let’s just say that if you brought all these needs up during a prayer meeting, the family would be ostracized forever before the first syllable of amen.

The truth is this: Jesus experienced the rough stuff before the age of five in ways you and I could never imagine. We consider Christ’s sufferings and we picture Him at the age of thirty-three, but the beatings go all the way back to the birth canal.


How did we take this life picture and somehow misconstrue it to mean that if we just believed in Jesus, our lives would be wealthy, prosperous, and happy? Jesus doesn’t promise that. Jesus says that many great things will come to those who follow Him, but He also promises a whole lot of lousy.

And, here’s the key: the lousy isn’t rotten. The lousy isn’t sin. The focus of your life is not supposed to be dodging lousy.

Because lousy is life.

And lousy is important.

It is in the rough stuff where we truly become more and more like Christ, because it is amid the lousy where we experience life on a deeper level. With intense pain comes the opportunity to love more richly. With disappointment comes the push towards selflessness. Neither of those come with pleasant because pleasant breeds boredom. And boredom is a moist towel where the mung beans of sin sprout. Life following Christ is not supposed to be a ride. It’s supposed to be a fight because there is a very specific villain—and if we don’t fight, he wins. If our Christianity aims only for pretty and pleasant and happy and rich, the enemy becomes the victor.

But there is another just-as-important reason that we should embrace the rough stuff. Not only because Jesus did. And not merely because it is important.

We must embrace the rough stuff because, for far too long, Christians have skipped the rough stuff. We have pretended it does not exist in order to speak into existence a more promising present. But there is a massive dilemma when the Christianish skip the rough stuff.

Real life doesn’t skip the rough stuff.

And those who do not yet follow Jesus know this. Their lives don’t skip the rough stuff and they know good and well that your life doesn’t skip it either.

So while we as a microcosm of faith have been busy naming-and-claiming, yearning for a better bank account and more pleasant pastures, ignoring the fact that lousy exists— the world watches.

And when they watch, they see the truth:

Life doesn’t skip the rough stuff.

We say that our lives do skip the rough stuff.

Therefore, we are liars.

Or—at absolute best—we don’t understand real life at all.

The world is looking for Jesus, but they don’t know they are looking for Jesus because they believe they are looking for truth. You and I know that truth is Jesus. But they? They do not know that truth is Jesus because you and I are supposed to be Jesus— and you and I couldn’t look less like the truth.

For decades, our focus has been completely skewed. In the eighties, our passion was prosperity, never noticing that the only wealth that is important to Jesus is a wealth of love and compassion for those around us. In the nineties, we were branded by righteous indignation, and Christianity became a political term that meant we were anti more things than we were pro. In the new millennium, the postmodern set poured out bitterness and disappointment on the church of their parents, disregarding everything the previous generation built only to construct the same thing with hipper color palettes and larger video screens. We still worship what we want our lives to feel like more than we worship Jesus. We still major on the minors, debating whether the book of Job is literal or parable when we should be out there pulling people out of the rough stuff. We still spend more money on self-help books than we give money to help others. We have become a club—a clique. A group that is supposed to be a perfect picture of the Father—but instead just acts like a bunch of bastards.

And we wonder why no one wants to be a Christian.

We’ve got to do some serious redefining of what that word means.

I am in the same boat. I am guilty as charged for all these crimes. I look back on my life and I see more times than not that I wish someone did not know I was a Christian. Why? Because my unkind words and bad behavior probably did more damage than good to the reputation of Jesus. Yes, this is spilled milk—but the longer we resist cleaning it up, the more sour it will smell.

The root, of course, comes down to the why.

Why do we as Christians strive for extremely temporal things and call them Jesus? As a people group, we are currently defined by the modern world as unloving and unwilling to gain a better understanding of any individual who is not already a Christian. These characteristics have absolutely nothing to do with Jesus. They are petty and selfish. They are Christianish. And yet, they are our very own bad habits. Why? Don’t we mean well? Don’t we want to live for Christ—to share His love with those around us? Don’t our mistakes stem from our frustration with the state of society? With what we perceive as the rebellion of modern mankind against the ideology of God?

Actually—that is the core of the problem. The world is broken. Completely broken. What we neglect to accept is that we are broken also.

We each come from damaged goods and scandalous histories and then pretend those negatives have no effect on us. The result equals a sea of followers of Jesus who can’t properly see or hear Him beyond the chaos of our own lives. So, instead of following Him, we say we are following Him while actually following a combination of Him and our own chaos. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong, but most of the time it is a mixture of the two. Just enough of God to make a difference. Just enough of ourselves to leave a questionable aftertaste.

So, the world sees that God is real—but at the same time, something doesn’t quite set well with them about Him. What is the negative common denominator?

The navel-gazing.

We are supposed to act as if everything is perfect, but deep down, we know nothing quite is. So, our silent desperate prayer is also a stare. A constant internal eyeball on the broken shards of ourselves. Deep down, most of us feel unglued—in pieces—longing for our Christian zealousness to turn to superglue. We feel that if we just do enough, act out the right formula, all the pieces will melt and coagulate like Robert Patrick in Terminator 2. That we will not only become whole, but indestructible. So, we wall up our compassion and act shatter-proof to a world at large while inside we are falling to pieces.

And we believe this reveals Jesus.

The great news is that Jesus looks down on us with the same tender compassion that He has for the rest of the world. He sees our pain. He sees our scandal. He knows what we are desperately trying to do, and He wants us to succeed.

But there is a realization that we must first accept.

We will never become indestructible by staring at our pieces.

We are not supposed to become indestructible. Untouchable. Safe.

And we aren’t supposed to be staring at our own pieces at all.

Because when we stare at our own pieces, we cannot see the solution.

We only find the solution when we stare instead into the eyes of Christ—and in those eyes, see the reflection of the hurting world.

We know this, but every gut instinct tells us to shout out, “I CAN’T! How can I help a hurting world, when I can’t even figure out how to glue back the broken pieces that make up my life?!” This is when Jesus changes our perspective. This is when He says softly…

You are not pieces.

You are my piece.

The Christianish approach is to see our lives as irreparable shards—always striving for the glue. But that pursuit is fruitless. Because God did not put your glue in you. He did, however, make you the glue for someone else.

Our lives are not shattered pieces. This whole world is a broken puzzle—and each of us fits next to those around us.


My favorite television show is ABC’s Lost. The masterminds of Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have constructed a vast mythology where none of the bamboo strands make any sense until the day they eventually become a basket. Yes, I adore the convoluted structure and the peel-back-the-layers mystery of it all, but more importantly, I appreciate the fact that the strands in that basket --are people.

The beauty of Lost is that these characters were marooned on an island with no foreknowledge of any of the others. They each carry their own bruises, scandal, and broken pieces onto this island. What they do not know is that each is the glue for someone else’s piece. Sawyer has the information Jack needs from his dead father. Locke knows where Sayid’s long-lost love lives. Eko knows that Claire’s psychic was a phony. Each one is the ghostbuster to what haunts the other—but some never discover this. Some in this story are never healed. Why? Because the answers do not exist? No.

Because the characters neglect to connect.

When Jesus came to this earth, He was bold about His own scandalous history and He was born under tabloid circumstances. Why? Simple.

Because He knew that His rough stuff was the answer to someone else’s—and He did not want to keep it quiet. He knew that the only path to healing was to connect His glue to someone else’s pieces.

In God’s great plan, He created us each the same way. We each have our own brokenness and we each have a God-given strength. However, we continue to sit in confusion because we feel like a life following Jesus should feel less disjointed and make more—well, sense.

And that is exactly the problem.

Our lives don’t make sense because our lives were not intended to stand alone.

Our lives were each made by God as pieces. Pieces of the eternal puzzle.

We are made to fit our lives into one another’s. Our entire lives.

The good. The bad. The strength. And the rough stuff.

As hopeful as we are that our strength will heal someone else, it is far more likely that our rough stuff will. Because, not only does our rough stuff hit another life where it most matters—the acknowledgement of our own rough stuff communicates that we understand this life we live and this world we live it in. Embracing the reality of our rough stuff communicates truth. Truth that the world is able to identify. Truth that will become the glue to their pieces.

This is the profound orchestration of how God intended to use imperfect people to represent a perfect God. It is not in each of us faking our way to an appearance of flawlessness. It is in each of us being true and vulnerable in our pursuit of Christ and taking the glue of His power (even amidst the frailty of our humanness) and connecting with the broken around us. It is this weave—this interlocked puzzle—this merging of shrapnel and adhesive into a beautiful picture—it is this that reveals the real truth of Jesus Christ. If we are ever to escape the Christianish and truly become little Christs, it will only be in this merging—acknowledging that our strengths are from God and not our own, while allowing that strength to mend the broken. But it does not stop there. We also have to be willing to reveal our pieces so that others’ strengths can heal our own pain.

This is the perfect earthly picture of Christ. It requires a new sort of church culture: a culture that no longer positions itself at the prettiest angle, but rather gets down to the scandalous histories for the sake of revealing to a world at large that Christ not only understands, but can transform our pieces through the power of other broken people.

Just like the rest of the world, my sons Jackson and Charlie fit together. They are simultaneously each other’s antithesis and each other’s antidote. Each other’s miracle or each other’s foil. It all depends upon whether or not they are each willing to fit together and allow the collision of their rough stuff and strength—their scandals and successes— to make the sum of both entirely complete.


Can you relate to the flawed thinking that positioning and decorating ourselves— pretending the rough stuff doesn’t exist—ministers most?

Do you come from something scandalous? Do you experience the rough stuff? Have you hidden from this? Is that hiding drawing you closer to Christ or driving a wedge between you? Is it drawing you closer to others?

Consider the statement: “We have done more damage to the world’s impression of Jesus by feigning inaccurate perfection than we could ever cause by allowing those who don’t follow Christ to see us wrestling our sins and flaws to the ground.” Do you agree or disagree? What are the detriments to hiding our struggle? What are the benefits of allowing it to be seen?

Do you agree or disagree with the statement: “The lousy isn’t rotten. The lousy isn’t sin. The focus of your life is not supposed to be dodging lousy. Because lousy is life. And lousy is important.” Why or why not?

Have you considered your life “in pieces?” Have you attempted to put yourself together on your own?

What do you think of the philosophy that you are actually a “piece”—that the solution to your life lies in the way you fit together with the other people who make up the community of this world?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Review: Fruit2O essentials

I have had the great opportunity to try out one of the new additions to the flavored water world: Fruit2O essentials! I was already a fan of Fruit 2O and other fruit flavored water, as I am much better about drinking something with a little more flavor to it. Now with the essentials line, we have the added benefit of the nutrients found in fruit--so we're not only hydrated by drinking these delicious drinks, we're getting the essentials that we might not get in our busy lives!

Each bottle of Fruit2O essentials contains 4-5 nutrients equal to the amount found in 2 servings of fruit. Since fruit often has natural sugars and calories, I know I've been guilty of skipping fruit in my diet and saving those calories for other foods. Now with essentials, I can have the best of both! I can save calories AND get the nutrients I need! The essentials have 0 calories, 0 sugar, AND 1 gram of fiber--something we ALL need more of in our diet!

I tried out 5 of the 6 flavors of Fruit2O essentials: Cranberry Raspberry, Strawberry Kiwi, Peach Mango, Citrus, and Blueberry Pomegranate. I like that these are some taste combinations not previously available in a water. My favorite flavors were Citrus and Blueberry Pomegranate, but I honestly enjoyed all the flavors!

Here are the specific nutrients provided in each flavor:
Cranberry Raspberry contains Zinc, Vitamin E, Potassium, and Manganese

Strawberry Kiwi
contains Vitamin E, Phosphorus, Vitamin B6, and Manganese

Peach Mango contains Vitamin E, Phosphorus, Vitamin B6, Manganese, and Vitamin B5

Citrus contains Phosphorus, Potassium, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B5

Blueberry Pomegranate contains Vitamin E, Phosphorus, Potassium, Vitamin B6, and Manganese

Cherry Acai
contains Phosphorus, Vitamin B6, Manganese, and Vitamin B5.

Why do we need these specific nutrients?
I'm so glad you asked! According to materials provided by Fruit2O essentials, this is why we need them!

Manganese, Phosphorus, and Vitamins B5 and B6
are essential for the maintenance of strong healthy bones, immune function, and energy production. Zinc supports healthy immune function, cell growth and vision. Potassium is an electrolyte that helps maintain proper hydration and muscle function. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that provides cellular protection against free radicals.

Sounds to me like everyone wins by drinking these waters!

So next time you pick up a pack of bottled water for your family, try Fruit2O essentials! You'll be glad that you did!

FIRST Wild Card Tour: Don't Miss Your Life!

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:

Don't Miss Your Life!: An Uncommon Guide to Living with Freedom, Laughter, and Grace

Howard Books (June 2, 2009)


Charlene Ann Baumbich is an award-winning journalist, author of the Dearest Dorothy series of novels, author of the nonfiction titles The Book of DUH! and How To Eat Humble Pie and Not Get Indigestion, and a motivational speaker who makes frequent media appearances across the country.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (June 2, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416562990
ISBN-13: 978-1416562993


Don’t Miss Your Life!

It’s Better Than You Think

By Charlene Ann Baumbich


What We Already Know

MEMORY PORTFOLIO (MP): Your invisible, utterly personal, wholly

accessible, always readied for new entries, combination diary and scrapbook of

sensory loaded captured moments. Properly honored, added to, mined, evaluated,

sifted and sometimes even edited, gentle examination of said captured moments

can become the key—the very path—to your success in not missing your life.

When I was a child, I loved playing spaceship and building worm forts with the

Cook brothers. They lived just up the path through the weeds—the path we’d

created by endlessly running through them. (Cook brothers, if you’re out there, please contact me! My maiden name was Brown.) We once left this earth (for real)

on an abandoned hot water heater rigged with a control panel made of half-melted

camera flash cubes and pieces of wood which we wired and taped to its side. Of

course this was back in the pre-Wii days when our only option was to engage in

real-life hands-on play, like sifting through the remnants of the garbage our folks

burned in a rusty barrel out back. Where else could we discover a once common

flash cube transformed by fire into a crystal launch button?

During our space explorations, I was always Flash Gordon1. I mean to tell

you I was Flash Gordon, neither a pretend Flash nor one of those froo-froo tight clothed girls in the old black-and-white television show of my youth. Nope, I was

Flash, who was also tight clothed, but not in “that" way. As for the worm forts,

they were exquisite—although I do not recommend putting a swimming pool in

your complex. Don’t ask me how I know.

Over time, I became a gypsy (inspired by the exotic Sophia Loren), Annie

Oakley2 (sharp shooter), Calamity Jane3 (rough and tumble), Crazy Googenheim (I

loved making my mother laugh while pretending to be that wonderful character

brought to life by Frank Fontaine on The Jackie Gleason Show) and Doris Day,

that quirky fanny-swinging dame of a movie star with whom men always fell in

love. A comparative cast for today’s youth—or, on a bad day at the office or with

the kids, perhaps you—might be made up of an actual astronaut (we didn’t yet

have them back in the fifties), Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore or, say, Jim Carrey. Although I wasn’t doing typical childhood writerly things like reading stacks

of books or writing, not even in a diary, I always had a story running in my head. I

was too busy “living” in another world, or paying attention to the fine, wondrous,

confounding and startling details of my own life to sit down and write about it. At

the time, little did I know that my natural childhood inclination to live in “otherly"

skin was setting the stage for my all-growed-up, as my Grandma used to say,

“accidental” fiction writing career. Never did I suspect that my youthful God-given

instinct to pay close attention to the physical and emotional nuances of my own

life, as well as the lives of those around me, was preparing me for one of the most

fulfilling and rewarding joys of my entire life: writing this book.

However, during an astute memory portfolio (MP) review, my writerly path and this burning message became as clear as a bell. When we give our MPs a chance to work for us, what obvious and meaningful threads we discover woven throughout them! Not only that, but what might the patterns of our frayed threads teach us—spare us from in the future—if we learned to recognize and heed their warning stitches? Turns out I am best fed, educated and ministered to by the magical, mystical power unleashed through stories, and hugely blessed by passing them along. I’m also often a complete doofus, a “qualification” God uses to make sure I don’t run out of fun and wholly relatable, so I’m told time and again, material. Thank you,God—I think. That is why I’m offering you this easy-going pluck-and-play opportunity to pluck what you want from this book of stories and play theirimplications and possibilities into your life as needed. Be advised that along with a full exploration of your MP, a strong Play! thread will weave its way throughout these pages. Doesn’t this approach add up to more fun than a scary “self-help” theme?

In the most relaxing, amusing, yet thought provoking ways possible, I want to remind you, (and me, too) of an incredible asset you’ve been given. I’m talking a mega asset that is so easy to forget. Ready? Here it is: your one and only,

true-self—not someone else’s version/vision—God-breathed life. I don’t know how we can forget such an easy-to-remember asset, but we do. So, if you feel like you’ve lost your way, or like you might need an emotional laxative for your fun-impaired, spiritually-constipated, fear-laden self, this message is just the painless ticket (well, mostly) to help you get your life back to YOUR LIFE!

Then the Lord God formed man of

dust from the ground, and

breathed into his nostrils the

breath of life; and man became a

living being.

Genesis 2:7 NASB

‘Tis my quest to help you learn the lively and releasing arts of listening to,

mining, and then sharing your own stories. Yes, even that story which you hoped

you’d never have to think about again, since maybe, just maybe, you can at long

last learn to laugh about it, or at least unknot the emotional ties that feed its lifenabbing virility.

If you explore your happiest childhood memories of times at play with your

friends, I believe you will discover they reveal the same keys that can infuse you

with satisfaction today. This is one of the best features of a MP, demonstrated by

the fact that when I say something like “explore your happiest childhood memories

. . . ,” you can. Your MP is already up and running and contains everything you

need. Although it might require an occasional reboot or memory tickler—and I’m

going to deliver tons of them—no new software is required. Just dive in! In fact, do

it right now! Shine a light around in the alcoves of your childhood when you were

playing with your favorite playmates.

You are searching, remembering, rediscovering, reawakening . . .

What did you find? Did you spend the majority of your youthful play time

with your imaginary friend? Well that counts. If you thought, perhaps still think,

that imaginary friends are completely weird and unheard of in your land of play,

well that counts, too. After all, it is your brain, your life.

But the universal truth is this: whether our true friends were born of our

imaginations or our childhoods, or we cultivated them as adults, they can serve as

mirrors and stabilizers, partners and butt-kickers, examples and lessons in our

lives. Those voices from the past, trusted friends in the present, and conversations

regarding our futures can often guide us back to our personal north-star course

which we might have long ago lost in the shuffle. Please consider me one of your

new friends, for that is the spirit I bring to this book.

Are you unhappy in your current vocation? Perhaps something as easy as

perusing your MP and pondering your natural gifts, attributes and leanings can

point you toward a new, more satisfying career, or at least flush out a fresh,

rejuvenating and fulfilling avocation or hobby. Later, I’m going to help you

examine the “way" you used to play before someone encouraged you to start

“applying" yourself, which often implied you should knuckle down and leave your

natural-bent “fun and frivolous"—HA!—inclinations behind. Your MP is a great

place to search for the gifts you’ve lost or set aside, to lift them to the light and

reignite them.

What if you don’t even know if you have any gifts? Suggestion: Listen,

mouth zipped, to the way your friends, both old and new, can lay out your

strengths. If you don’t believe me, ask them. It’s time you shore up and reclaim

your uniqueness, if, somewhere along the line, you handed it over to the blandness of other people’s expectations for you. It’s time to reignite the Godgiven hope you already harbor within.

Hope is perhaps the first key that can enable you to wake up, then open up, to your life. Without hope, we are left only with despair. As I heard—and forever remembered—Marilla Cuthbert say to Anne Shirley in the 1985 made-for-TV adaption of Anne of Green Gables, “To despair is to turn your back on God.” Now who’s gutsy enough to do

that?! Not I!


Maybe you derailed (hey, you picked up this book, so something must have

happened!) when you began assuming your life is worse than its actuality. Our

assumptions can get us into whole heaps of trouble, not to mention waste big

blocks of our valuable time here on this earth. How often have you stood in the line

you assumed to be the correct line, only to learn upon finally arriving at the clerk

that you’ve wasted your time in the wrong line? How many times have you

assumed something about your spouse, say that she’d like a can opener for her

birthday, or that he’d welcome a subscription to Communicating 101 as a good

change of pace, only to learn you were wrong—by a gazillion miles? And not only

that, you’re now in deep doo-doo, buck-o or buckette. How often do you set a

course for your career, project or parenting skills based on assumptions that one of

those well-known and respected gurus, including the ones on television, is actually

correct about your individual situation? And surely they wouldn’t let people have

their own TV shows if they didn’t know what they were talking about! Would they?

Never mind that he or she knows none of the details about your personal life. So

you follow their advice to the letter, only to receive a gut-punch to your psyche

when your leap of assumption dumps you and your loved ones down the proverbial

drain. Again.

But even if my examples of errant assumptions did feel like personal

excerpts out of your past year (doink!), be of good cheer since you, you smart

smart person, are reading this book. I’m going to deliver handles and stories that

can help you learn the vital art of questioning your assumptions.

[MOMENT OF TRUTH: You’re on your own with those store lines.] Together, we will tame a few shrewish thoughts and ignite more noble ones. And if that’s not already a deal for the price, I’m even going to help you question your questions! For instance, in your valiant attempts to find out why your life’s trolley has slipped off its happy track, perhaps you’re asking yourself, “Why can’t I be more like [fill in the blank]?”

BZZZZZZZZZZ! Wrong question! God and I are here to meet you exactly

where, how and who you are, which reminds me of a story logged in my MP that

well illustrates my point. See how this is going to work?


I love to attend stockcar races held on half-mile dirt tracks. My favorite part? The

glorious crescendo of rumbling thunder that comes rippin’ ‘round turn four when

the drivers see the track lights turn green. Previous to that moment, perhaps

they’ve had to circle the track once or twice, arranging and rearranging themselves

until they jostle into the track official’s liking, but then . . . GO! As opposed to the

“cleanliness” of NASCAR races, I adore the remarkable demonstration of energy

when, depending on track conditions, either dust or mud kicks out from behind the

tires as the metal-to-metal mass—or perhaps only two cars that have broken away

from the pack—makes its way past the roar of the crazed crowd. Heart pounding, I

sit in awe of each driver who dives into the turns (Man, I wish I was him!),

exploding the back end of his or her car into a wider skidding arc than that of the

curb hugging front end. Centrifugal poetry set to motion by wild childs! Oh, baby!

Although I feel badly for those who, on their own accord, spin out, I also secretly

revel in their courage, since it means they held nothing back. Full bore. Head on.

Havin’ at it! No put-puttin’for them! Isn’t that the way you want to go through life?

Years ago, the grand finale race at a track not too far from us held a “Run

What You Brung" event. (No doubt insurance eventually shut it down.) In other

words, if you’re revved up from watching the night’s action (Let me at it!) and

want to give it a whirl yourself, go ahead and line up your street car—the one you

drove to the races—for the “Run What You Brung." To be fair, you probably had

to prepare for this before the actual event since your car needed to be in the pits,

and there were no doubt indemnity waivers. But nonetheless, you “raced" your

street-drivin’ vehicle. [MOMENT OF TRUTH: Most nights for this event, the

word “race" was a gross exaggeration since gutsy racing appears easier than it is,

but buddy, by golly they were in it!]

So, too, all you need to begin this journey into not missing your life is to run

what you brung. You need no further preparation other than to show up, which

you’ve already done. If you’re happy and you know it, drive yer happy self right

on up to the starting line. If you’re lost and you show it, you, too, are on the right

track since you’re seeking a better way. So you see, you don’t need to be more like

somebody else; you just need to be whoever—and however—you are at this very


Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him

sing praises. James 5:13. Notice that doesn’t say snap out of it, shut up or go away.

Kinda sounds like God’s “Run what ya brung!" permission slip to me. Amen!


When I first started coming to grips with the fact that I’d “accidentally" (more on

this later) become a professional speaker, a professional writer (Stand back!

Professional words at work here!), I couldn’t for the life of me believe it.

[MOMENT OF TRUTH: To this day, only God can truly explain how I got so

“lucky!"] For years, every stumbling step of the writerly/speakerly way, I kept

thinking, “When are they going to discover I don’t know what I’m doing? When

will someone finally check my report cards and learn I received average grades in

all things English? How is it that editors at publishing houses, newspapers and

magazines have chosen to publish my articles and books instead of many others

written by people who’ve spent their lives doing all the right things to become

published writers, like write-write-writing stories from the time they were little,

keeping a diary or journaling every day, attending journalism school . . . none

which are in my history? How is it that kind folks pay me to come speak at their

events when I have no degrees in anything? Other than a couple miscellaneous

writing classes, an unending passion to share what I’ve learned, and more guts than

brains, I have no certifiable qualifications to do what I do. Oh, and that “mostly

Irish" thing, which not only honors Story, but believes in Story’s innate power to


But when I examine my childhood adventures with my friends, the writing

(hahahaha) was on the wall. Or rather it was lurking in the gifts God gave to me—

none which I earned or deserved—along with an unignorable lure to play with

them. (Ah, we’re back to the pluck-and-play mantra of this book. Nice!) Of course

when I was a child, I had no inkling about “gifts," nor did anyone pressure me to

use them. Thank you Mom, Dad! I had no drive to find a career path; my mom was

so happy in her homemaker role that all I wanted was to one day get married and

have kids too, which is what I did. My parents weren’t channeling all their energies

into pushing me down the “fast track" so I could attend the “right" college. Thank

you and bless you, Mom and Dad. (Don’t get me started on the topic of parental

pressuring!) Aside from school, household chores, horses to feed and stalls to

shovel, I had no demands. I simply had time to play at whatever floated my boat,

whispered to my creative brain, delighted my unstressed heart. I had leisure time

(which overbooked kids do not have—okay, I started anyway, but I promise that

I’m done now—I hope!) to explore my natural bents using the crude “tools" of

childhood that would one day help hone my happiness and ability to fully live.


In that last paragraph, you likely noticed that I tried not to get started on something

that launches me up on a soapbox—and not in a good way. (If you didn’t notice,

wake up, people! Thankfully, the next chapter is about wakefulness, but at least

flutter your eyes to let me know you’re still with me—and yourself.) Sadly, I failed

at my attempt to stifle myself since only three sentences later, I started! Is that kind

of lack-of-self-disciplined failure familiar to you? At least this time, even though I

sorrily started, I was able to quickly stop myself. [MOMENT OF TRUTH: I’m

getting better at catching myself. Just not always.] The encouraging part for all

of us is this: as opposed to the negativity of my soapbox , I also possess, and later

will share, many positive, productive antidotes and inspirations on the topic of

overbooked anyone, especially ourselves.

As with all of us, we possess our good sides, as well as our shadowy

soapboxy-y [or fill-in-the-blank] sides. Again, here’s where our MPs usher forth

yet another great incentive to explore them: I don’t want to one day open mine and

discover that every page is filled with me ranting. I feel assured you don’t want

that type of overriding vibe in your MP either. But here’s one of the truly great

things about life: right this moment, God is with us. Because God is with us and

holds us close, we therefore each possess the power—God’s power—to make our

new MP entries more positive. Wonderful! I’d much rather remember, and be

remembered for, my helpful attributes than my negative, harmful or sarcastic ones,

wouldn’t you?

So, even though we mess up, we’re here to run what we brung with the hope

that we can, and will, get better, especially if and when we let our MPs tutor us

while God holds our hands and hearts.

Summing it all up, friends [emphasis mine], I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and

meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the

worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what

you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes

everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

Phillipians 4:8, 9 MES

We find what we look for, so let’s look for what’s right—including in ourselves.

How can we move forward in our lives if we’re using all of our energy pounding

ourselves and others downward?


Throughout these pages, I’m going to share many stories from my journey. They

will run the gambit between hysterical (both Ha-ha! and Oh, no!), pristine,

tormenting, profound, Duh! and beautiful. I have no doubt that within them, you

will connect with the good, bad and dubious shades of yourself. As you read,

pluck, and play along, you’ll be able to apply some order, meaning and a tad of

funk-tionality to your memory portfolio, and discover that your days are, or soon

can be, indeed better than you think.

God called his creation and everything in it—which includes us—good.

Even when we behave badly and fall short and say stupid stuff, we are loved by

God. Put that in your memory portfolio and bring it along. It will be the most

important thing you need to remember. But do yourself a favor: stop every few

pages and pray for your own stories, memories and joys to rise to the surface. Be

willing to put the book down when they do, close your eyes, and allow yourself to

sink into them. When you read about me second-thinking things or questioning an

assumption, you do the same. Sometimes those double-clutch discoveries are both

startling and illuminating. Perhaps they’ll even be life transforming.

In fact, let’s practice. Stop and pray right now. Pray that God illuminates

everything—all the lessons, options, goodness and choices—you need to extract,

then trust his grace to help you pray and play it into your life.

(You’re supposed to be praying!)