Friday, March 17, 2017

Bookshelf Friday - Rescue Me by Susan May Warren

Guys. It's been a long time since I read a novel by Susan May Warren. But this new series caught my eye, and while I'd missed book one, I had no problem diving into book two. Here's a short blurb and we'll chat on the other side.

When Deputy Sam Brooks commits to something, nothing can sway him--not just on the job as liaison between the Mercy Falls sheriff's department and PEAK Rescue, but in his private life. He's the one who stuck around to take care of his mother after his father's accidental death. And he's the one--perhaps the only one--who believes Sierra Rose is the perfect girl for him. Safe, practical, and organized, she's nothing like her hippie, impulsive, bleeding heart sister, Willow.

Willow, however, has been in love with Sam Brooks for as long as she can remember. But she wants her sister to have a happy ending. Besides, Willow has other things to focus on--namely, nabbing the job as youth pastor for her small-town church. Best thing for her to do is to purge Sam from her heart.

Neither can predict the events that will bring them together in a fight for their lives in the forbidding wilderness of Glacier National Park. Stranded, injured, and with the winter weather closing in, Sam and Willow will have to work together to save a crew of terrified teenagers. As they fight to survive, they might just discover a new hope for love.

Like I said above, while this is a series you can easily pick them up to read as stand alone titles. There was so much to enjoy about this story. Warren is always great at writing her heroes, and Sam was no exclusion. What I liked was not only his struggle over his heart for Willow, but his struggle with his brother as well. It deepened Sam's emotional and spiritual arc, making his journey authentic. And he wasn't a perfect character--at times you might not even like him. But he was very quickly redeemable. Willow's struggles were also organic and left you rooting for her. I enjoyed her friends and the way she cared for others. These two were an unlikely pairing and yet it was evident they belonged together.

There's an over-arching story that continues to grow in the background, and it's evident that it will culminate in the final book of this series. Meanwhile we are graced with other characters whose stories are building as we ready for them to take center stage. The balance of secondary and primary characters is something Warren does well, giving her a wide cast of characters to play with and making sure the reader is invested in each one.

My only issue with the book was that the ending had a very predictable moment to it. Even still, it was sweet and we received our happily-ever-after. Definitely a book I enjoyed reading and I happily give it 4 out of 5 stars. You can purchase it here.

Happy reading, friends!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Rest in Our Storm

Ever watch the horizon of your life and see a storm gathering? The clouds slowly darkening and billowing up into the sky, churning around in circles. Then the low rumble of thunder starts.

I've been there my fair share. I mean, it's a part of life. Down here with all our imperfections and sand-paper spots, problems happen. Not to mention God sometimes does his best work on our lives in the midst of our storms.

And while we know this, big or small, no one likes to go through life's storms. We pray, we fast. Maybe we sit at the altar, but sometimes the thunder just keeps rumbling. It's then we realize that while we don't want to go through it, Jesus isn't exactly taking us around it either. And, quite frankly, there was one particular storm where I finally asked him "why not"?

He desires our questions. So I laid it on him.

And he returned my question with a question: Where is your faith? Then he followed it by reminding me of Mark 4:35-40. Jesus had just done a multitude of amazing, miraculous things and told some pretty amazing parables. The disciples actually got to see him teach. Sit at his feet! They were front and center. And then they all boarded a boat.

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

Okay. There is so much to those verses, and yet in our own storms, we forget it all. We focus on the waves swamping us and wonder how in the world Jesus can sleep through it all, on a cushion no less. Did you catch that? It's there. Go back and look. And it's why I love Mark's rendition of this story, because he included that little fact and can't we sound just like that? I'm in the middle of a storm here, Lord, and you're all tucked up nice there in heaven on your cushy seat not really caring. Have you not heard my cries? Can you not feel the rolling waves? You certainly haven't done anything about it.

But it wasn't that Jesus didn't care, he was simply living out his faith. He knew they were going to get through the storm, so why worry? Pull up a cushion and rest.

Rest in the midst of a storm. Totally sounds like a crazy idea, right? But it's what our faith is all about. And those storm-challenging moments can oftentimes be what stretch our faith the most, especially when they reach hurricane proportions. Yet if we've got God as our center, we can rest assured that the storm will not harm us, no matter how battered we are by the waves. And how can we know this? The same way the disciples should have, because they'd already learned it though what Jesus had taught them. They simply needed to remember it.

Matthew 6:24-25 talks about where we build our houses.
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.

That parable doesn't say if a storm will come, but when the storm comes--and it sounds like quite a storm. But it also says that house did not fall because its foundation was on the rock...and that rock is Jesus Christ.

So if we know he's in control of the storm, then why do we worry when we see it building on the horizon? What if this time, as the storm is rolling in, we pull up a cushion and rest in the knowledge that he has it all under control.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Bookshelf Friday - The Illusionist's Apprentice by Kristy Cambron

A book I've been anxiously waiting to read and tell you all about came out this week! Kristy Cambron's The Illisionist's Apprentice. Here's a short blurb, and we'll chat on the other side:)

Wren Lockhart, apprentice to master illusionist Harry Houdini, uses life on a vaudeville stage to escape the pain of her past. She continues her career of illusion after her mentor’s death, intent on burying her true identity.
But when a rival performer’s act goes tragically wrong, the newly formed FBI calls on Wren to speak the truth—and reveal her real name to the world. She transfers her skills for misdirection from the stage to the back halls of vaudeville, as she finds herself the unlikely partner in the FBI’s investigation. All the while Houdini’s words echo in her mind: Whatever occurs, the crowd must believe it’s what you meant to happen. She knows that if anyone digs too deep, secrets long kept hidden may find their way to the surface—and shatter her carefully controlled world.
Set during one of the richest, most vibrant eras in American history, this Jazz Age novel of illusion, suspense, and forgotten pasts is perfect for fans of The Magician’s Lie, challenging all to find the underpinnings of faith on their own life’s stage.
As a history buff, I always love Cambron's novels. She is skilled at taking well-known seasons and figures in history and weaving magical tales around them. This time she's brought in moments of suspense that show she is a skilled writer no matter the bend she takes with her genre. 
Wren is a strong female lead who pairs well with FBI agent Elliot Matthews. But I like that this story is so much more than their romance. It's about Wren's past and how that is affecting her present. It's about God's grace and our faith, and that is something else Cambron does well in her books. Cambron's own faith and love for God shine clearly on the pages without a heavy hand. It simply just is. As if you cannot separate the author from her faith, which makes the spiritual thread of this book so very natural.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The new characters. The underpinnings of faith. The moments of suspense. Cambron has hit her stride with The Illusionist's Apprentice, and I cannot wait to see what she does next.
I happily give The Illusionist's Apprentice 5 out of 5 stars and you can purchase it here. Happy reading, friends!

***Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.***

Monday, March 6, 2017

Out With The Old

We have a dog that is ten years old. He's a creature of habit who likes things the way they've always been. Recently he was experiencing problems with his joints that were giving him a lot of pain. Concerned, we purchased some new vitamins for him and a brand new bed. Prior to this he had a few ratty old blankets in his cage--but they were his blankets that he'd always had. But he'd reached a point in his life where he needed a little more support than those thin blankets could give him. We were so excited to show him the soft and cushy new bed we purchased him! What can I say, he's like our fourth child:)

Upon bringing it home, we presented it to him with much excitement and then removed the old blankets in his cage and dropped in the new, improved pad. It was made for aging dogs with memory foam that would support his joints. Yes. We were thrilled to offer it to his sore bones. Only problem? He wasn't so thrilled to receive it. He was determined to stay with his tattered old blankets rather than the soft bed we replaced them with. No amount of feigned excitement or long explanations could convince him otherwise. In fact, when we weren't looking he pulled the new bed out and dragged it to the front door, chewed the corner off, then proceeded to grab his blankets and try and push them back into his cage.

Can you say stubborn?

And while we were able to force the issue because we knew it would be better for him, I could hear God chuckling in the background. See...for whatever reason God uses these little life moments to speak directly to my heart. How many times has he had something new for me, something better for me, and I reject it to hold tightly to the old? And I know I'm not the only one! Maybe right now he's asking you to let go of what has served you well but you've outgrown. That season is over and what you need now is something very different. But different isn't always a bad thing! In fact, different can often usher in amazing things--if we'd only let it.

So what are you dragging back into your life today? Be willing to let it go. Because unlike our ability with our dog, God isn't going to force you to change. That's our decision to make. He'll present it to us. He'll give us chances. He'll sometimes even tell us why it's good to let go. But ultimately, we have to be willing to open our hands, release, and then receive.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Bookshelf Friday - Ready to Fumble by Christy Barritt

Christy Barritt is a prolific author of suspense. She both self-publishes and writes with Love Inspired Suspense. And she has a new series out titled "The Worst Detective Ever". Something about those words snagged my interest...and made me laugh. So I picked up the first book in the series. Here's a small blurb, and we'll chat on the other side!

Joey Darling, better known to the world as Raven Remington, detective extraordinaire, is trying to separate herself from her invincible alter ego. She played the spunky character for five years on the hit TV show Relentless, which catapulted her to fame and into the role of Hollywood’s sweetheart. When her marriage falls apart, her finances dwindle to nothing, and her father disappears, Joey finds herself on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, trying to piece her life back together away from the limelight. A woman finds Raven—er, Joey—and insists on hiring her fictional counterpart to find a missing boyfriend. When someone begins staging crime scenes to match an episode of Relentless, Joey has no choice but to get involved. Joey’s bumbling sleuthing abilities have her butting heads with Detective Jackson Sullivan and kindling sparks with thrill-seeking neighbor Zane Oakley. Can Joey channel her inner Raven and unearth whodunit before she ends up totally done in? And where is her father anyway? Can she handle fame or is disappearing into obscurity the wiser option?

Much like Barritt's "Squeaky Clean Mysteries" series, this new one is written in first person and with plenty of wit. Christy Barritt has mastered her tagline of "Quirky mysteries and spine-tingling suspense". And here in one of her quirky mysteries there are still plenty of suspenseful moments, but none that have you reaching to flip the lights back on.

With Ready to Fumble we're introduced to a new character, Joey Darling. She's strong and smart, and I like that about her. I also like that she has a sense of humor and is a very unlikely detective. Like other Barritt books, a love triangle is set up in this book. Here's the only thread I struggled with. I won't lie, I'm not in love with the character of Zane. I do like that he's very different from Jackson, but at times I felt Zane bordered a caricature of a surfer-boy and seemed too young for Joey. I missed what drew her to him, and that made the third angle of the love-triangle lacking for me. That being said, the mystery moved at a very good pace and the remaining characters were a joy to meet. I looked forward to the second book coming out, which did this week!

I happily give Ready to Fumble 4 out of 5 stars and you can purchase it here.

Happy reading, friends!

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Imitation Game

I've been reading 2 Kings lately, a book that never ceases to amaze me! Every time I read it I shake my head how chapter after chapter follows the same pattern of the Kings of Israel and Judah not following God. And where the King went, the people followed. They had so much God wanted to give them and do through them, but they forfeited it due to their continued lack of obedience.

As I was reading the repeating pattern, I came across words in 2 Kings 17:15 that made me pause. The chapter starts in much the same fashion as the previous ones and goes on to share how the Israelites were stiff-necked and unwilling to listen or follow the Lord. Then it says, "They imitated the nations around them..." and those few words made me stop. Actually, it was one word: imitate.

What got them in trouble was that instead of being the unique nation God created them to be, they tried to be someone else. Oh friends! How we do the same! Constantly faced with social media posts and air-brushed advertisements (to just name a few items) we strive to be like what we see rather than who God created us to be. And in doing so, not only do we miss out, but those around us do as well. Imitation is not the best form of flattery, it's the best way to miss your destiny. You were created for a specific purpose and plan (check out Ephesians 2:10 or Jeremiah 29:11) and when you choose to imitate someone else rather than walking in your unique purpose, there's a hole smack dab where you should have been.

That's not to say that God cannot fill that hole with someone else. But oh! Why would you want to exchange the amazing plans he has for you to mimic someone else's? What God has for you is exceedingly more than you can ever come up with on your own (that's in Ephesians also, chapter 3, verse 20.) so don't settle. Don't imitate. Seek out God and all he has for you. And start today.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Vengeance or Grace?

So I was sitting in church a while ago and the sermon was on forgiveness. I've got to say, in my life I've had to practice that quite a bit--on both the giving and receiving end. I was rather sure I had it down too, because quite honestly, I don't want to spend my time here bitter and hardened. Not forgiving doesn't hurt anyone but ourselves, and I'm just not willing to go there any longer.

When our pastor asked this question: "When you think about something bad happening to that person, do you get a little satisfaction, even just a twinge?" I could easily answer "no." In fact, I smiled at God and said, "I've got this God, right? I'm soooo past this one, we covered it years ago. Vengeance is all yours, I've left them with you."

But after my pastor's question, God followed it up with a deeper one--because He's God, and He likes to do that, especially when He sees those little corners of our hearts.

"But what if you're idea of vengeance doesn't match up with mine?"

Uh. Say what?

And He didn't stop there. Oh no. He went on.

"What if I save them. Redeem them. Give them grace instead of revenge?"

Yeah. Not a picture I'd thought of before.

And I know He wasn't talking about consequences. Of course there are consequences to sin--but they are God's to hand out, not mine. And while I can dream all the consequences up that I want, there's no guarantee they are the same ones God will be handing out. In fact, I may never see their consequences, but I sure may see their salvation and healing--and I should be praying for it. (oh, and be OK with it too--like even celebrating it, even if it's just a quiet "woo-whoo" in my heart.)

Gives a whole new meaning to: "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Matthew 5:44

And yet why was the whole purpose God came? "For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost" Luke 19:10 and "...He is not willing that any should perish, but everyone should come to repentence." 2 Peter 3:9. That includes the person you're trying so hard to forgive.

See, God calls us to something deeper than simply forgiveness when He calls us to pray for them. He calls us to the ultimate end goal--their souls. That doesn't mean we even continue unhealthy relationships. But just because we may need to sever a relationship does not mean we sever our prayers for them.

Believe me, I know what I'm saying is not simple. Exactly how I felt when God nailed me between the eyes with it. But it is His Word, and it is freeing. It happens in steps. Slowly releasing that person to God, and remembering the same grace that has saved us is the same grace He wants to extend to them. Forgiveness is a daily, hourly thing at times, and if you're wondering if you can do it, remember this verse too:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Phillipians 4:13

And you can. You can release them and pray for their salvation and healing. You can give up your idea of vengeance for God's gift of grace. You can do it because it's been done for you, and His strength now resides in you.

It may take a minute-by-minute reliance on God, but His power is made perfect in our weakness. Pray with Him today, ask Him to start this work on your heart, and then allow Him to move. You'll be amazed at what seems impossible, God makes more than possible.

Jesus replied, "What is impossible with man is possible with God." Luke 18:27

Let Him show you:)

Praying for you today!

***this post originally ran 5/2013***