Monday, April 29, 2013

Little Things

Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? 1 Corinthians 5:6

The longer we know God, the more comfortable we can get. And that's so great in so many ways. God is above all, relational. He desires us to know the depth of His love and that we can come to Him with anything. We can show up in our yoga pants, hair in a knot, no make-up and stinky breath, and He's still going to love us.

Total acceptance.

However, familiarity can breed a few little problems. Like we start to forget He's God. That when He asks us to do something, we need to listen.

Ever used this one on your children (or hear it used?) "I'm not your friend, I'm your parent."

That's what I'm talking about. Just like we want to laugh and have fun with our children, just like we want to bless them with every blessing we can, we ultimately want them to listen and obey. We can spot destructive behaviors and know what harmful habits they may lead to. We don't say 'no' or caution them about choices simply to destroy their fun. We do it because we want what's best for them.

God does the same. And sometimes it's with what seems like the smallest things to us. The things that earn our eye rolls because they seem so nitpicky--besides, we can handle them, right? Like what music we listen to. Or what we read. The movies we go to, or the friends we hang out with. Oh, and telling little white lies or sharing in a smidge of gossip. Those things seem trivial compared to what we often label as "bigger sins"--as if there's even a list. But we sure can keep one, can't we?

My point, however, isn't about the so-called "list".  You know if God's asking you to give something up, and that (whatever that may be in your life) is what I'm talking about. Case-in-point, years ago He decided to weed things out of my life one at a time. Some were easy, but some were so, so hard. Like my music. I had a tape back in the day by a female artist that I looooved. Knew every single lyric--and that was the problem. The music was great, but the lyrics would curl your eyebrows back. And God finally made it around to that tape.

I clung to it.

Me and my little Dodge Omni could really rock out with that tape playing.

And it was only a tape. Right?

But God calls us to holiness. In every area in our lives. And when something is pulling us away from Him, when we grip it so tight instead of saying "all I have is yours", then it becomes a stumbling block. Then it begins to wield a control over us, and that little sin, like yeast in dough, begins to work its way through our entire lives.

See, sometimes our hearts may be surrendered to Him but not our walk. And that will never work, because our unsurrendered walk will take us straight off the path that leads to Him. That's because man cannot serve two masters at once. God is light. Sin is dark. They cannot coexist. Either we allow the light to destroy the darkness--even the small specks--or we pull deeper into the shadows.

God pretty much spoke that over me one day when I was driving. Point blank, He asked me who I was going to serve, because really my struggle had become more about my unsurrendered heart than that cassette tape. And I knew, if I wanted to keep growing, I was going to have to give up those things He was asking me to give up. Even those that seemed like little things to be picking on.

Not even going to lie. I hated giving that tape up. Especially because He wasn't calling anyone else out on their music. But then again, it probably wasn't a stumbling block for them. Still, when I made the decision to obey Him I tossed that cassette into a dumpster and kept on driving.

So what about you? Are you at the place where you need to do some drive-by tossing of little things, or have you already been there? Truth be told, I still have dumpster days:)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Bookshelf Friday - Once Upon a Prince by Rachel Hauck

Who doesn't want the fairytale romance? The Kate Middleton moment--a commoner marries a prince? Rachel Hauck delivers a grown-up fairytale for all of us girls who still haven't outgrown our inner Cinderella.

Here's a short blurb:

Susanna Truitt never dreamed of a great romance or being treated like a princess---just to marry the man she has loved for twelve years. But life isn’t going according to plan. When her high-school-sweetheart-turned-Marine-officer breaks up instead of proposing, Susanna scrambles to rebuild her life.

The last thing Prince Nathaniel expects to find on his American holiday to St. Simon’s Island is the queen of his heart. A prince has duties, and his family’s tense political situation has chosen his bride for him. When Prince Nathaniel comes to Susanna’s aid under the fabled Lover’s Oak, he is blindsided by love.

Their lives are worlds apart. He’s a royal prince. She’s a ordinary girl. But everything changes when Susanna receives an invitation to Nathaniel’s coronation.

I loved the scenes with Susanna and Nate. Loved how they met and their time spent on the tiny Southern island Susanna lives on. Where I started to disconnect with this book was around the time Nate went home. I would have liked to see more of his personal life and interactions with Susanna when she came to visit Brighton, and less of the political moments of the book. Now, the politics of his country were a huge stumbling block toward his relationship with Susanna and created the need-be conflict, however they became too much of a focus at times and pulled away from the actual relationship moments of Nate and Susanna. Moments I would have liked to see more of because they were so well written and I truly liked these characters. I wanted more Cinderella with her Prince Charming and less government.

That said, Rachel is a great writer, there's a very HEA delivered at the end (a sigh-worthy moment) and I'm excited to see more of this series.

Once Upon a Prince is available for pre-order here and will be out on May 7th. A start to what promises to be a wonderful series. I happily give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

If you'd like to see a break-down of what my stars equal, check out my page My Ratings System to the right there. And a big thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free ecopy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Learn the Word Verse #8

I posted this verse last week as our verse #8 in the wake of a pretty crazy week. Ever since then, I've worked hard to put this verse into practice. I've turned off the news. I've gotten up to spend time in God's Word. I've put on my worship music. And I gotta say, it's working. Ever notice where your mind is, there goes your attitude too? I tell you, our thought life is a powerful thing. It can make or break us. That's why this verse is so important to not simply memorize, but to live out.

So what about you? What do you do that helps you keep your mind on true, noble, pure, lovely things? 

Praying you're week is blessed:)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Don't Forget

I keep coming back to a passage lately, Deuteronomy 6:10-12:

When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

See, there are times where we cling to God. Where we call out to Him daily to rescue us. Each day we take moment by moment, praying we’ll make it though and hoping there are no other mountains waiting around the corner that need to be scaled. We all know those times. We’ve all experienced them. They’re our Egypt. And while we don’t like being there, we grow in those times.

Then God moves us. And at times the blessings almost seem too much. Land of milk and honey. Blessings we’ve done nothing to achieve, He’s simply given them to us. That’s the nature of a blessing. You don’t have to work for it, you just get to receive it. It’s a gift. And we serve a God who loves to bless us.

The problem with being in a land you didn’t have to work for is you tend to forget where you came from. The days you couldn’t breath without the presence of God next to you. And slowly you think you’re the one who got you there. Here’s where God’s warning comes in. Read that passage again and think about you’re life as you do. Are you scaling a mountain right now? If so, remember this passage when you’ve come to the top. Or maybe you’re living the good life right now. Then ask yourself, have you forgotten that God is the one who delivered you there?

So what do we do? Lucky for us God’s got that covered. In fact, before He even cautioned us not to forget where we came from, He tells us what to do. Check out Deuteronomy 5: 5-9. It may be familiar to you, but do you do it?

Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Impressing something leaves a mark. Talking helps you remember. Tying or binding them to you means letting them become a part of you--weave them through your character and your core. And writing them on your door frames? Make His commandments such a tangible part of your home that you cannot leave your house without them following you into the world.

So today, if you’re walking through land that is dry and cracked and feel like you can’t take another step, stop and impress this moment on your heart and how God is carrying you. Take a mental shot and remember it when life flourishes around you again--because it will. And if you’re living in the land of blessing, stop a moment and look around you. Then look up. Don’t forget the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt. Rely on Him today. Thank Him. Love Him with all your heart, mind and soul.
Whatever you do, don’t forget.

***this was a repost from 2011

Friday, April 19, 2013

Bookshelf Friday - Strand of Deception by Robin Carroll

This was the last book in Robin Carroll's Justice Seeker's trilogy, and we get to finally see the life of Maddie Baxter--little sister of Rafe and Riley.

Here's a short blurb:

When Gina Ford, the daughter of a prominent Tennessee politician, goes missing from the University of Memphis a week after another girl was murdered on the same campus, police call in the FBI. Nick Hagar, married to his job as Special Agent in Charge, is assigned to the case, and when Gina’s body is found, her father demands justice.

Maddie Baxter is the forensic expert running DNA tests from the crime scene. When they come back without a match, Nick asks her to do a familial DNA run that yields a shocking result: the prime suspect is Adam Alexander, the very same guy who broke Maddie’s heart when she was in college.

But do scientific advancements tell the whole story? Strand of Deception offers romance, suspense, and a lively debate about the impact of DNA testing, for better or worse, on the United States justice system.

All right. First off I always love returning to characters we've already seen--especially when they're family. Second, I really like Maddie's job in this book, very, very interesting. I also loved that she has a small past with Nick--the chemistry there is fantastic. Then there was the main story and the sub-stories, both of which pulled me in. My only issue with this book was the ending. I felt like both the stories ended at a different pace than the rest of the book. There was no real climatic moment at the end, just a resolution. As this was a suspense, I found I was expecting that fast-paced moment that brings us into the end, and I really missed that it wasn't there.

That said, it was still a great book with characters I loved--even the secondary characters. There was enough suspense and questions to keep me turning the pages, an intriguing plot, romance, and, yes, a very HEA:) 

You can pick up Strand of Deception here. If you haven't read the first two, no problem, you can start with this one, but you'll eventually want to go back and read the first two because it was a great series.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Learn the Word Verse #8

Verse #8 just seemed right for the happenings of this past week.  Hubby is a runner, and my kids and I have stood at countless finish lines. My heart broke when I saw what happened, knowing the place where those bombs went off held families. Truly, no words.

In the last forty-eight hours the news has covered Boston. Pictures of unspeakable horror have played and replayed. People have talked about terrorism and the safety of our country. And played more video and pictures.

In the midst of all this I watched a photo make it's way across Facebook. It had good old Mr. Rogers on it with a quote about how his mother taught him to always look for the helpers in tragedies--and I loved that someone was pointing us to look beyond the tragedy. And I immediately thought of this verse:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Phillipians 4:8

Yes. We need to talk about what happened, we cannot avoid the conversations it has brought into our homes and workplaces, or the need to process the senseless act. But God is still God. We cannot let this moment become our focus. We need to think on good things.

Because when we do, we find peace and hope.

And I'd much rather focus on that.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Challenge Questions

My seven year old is having a hard time trusting me lately. She seems to question everything I do. Nearly every sentence with my name in it has a Why, Are you sure, How come, I don't think that...

You get the picture.

The other day was full of it. I started out rather patient, but as her lack of trust in my every move continued, I found myself wanting to cup her little cheeks and say, "Why do you keep questioning me???"

Yep. And of course, that's when God stepped in, chuckling lightly in my ear, because I SO do this to Him.

Not out of disrespect. Not out of anger. But because I truly think--at times--that I know better. How incredibly silly is that? Yet I think I need to remind Him of what I see, forgetting that He sees an entirely different picture. Or I think I need to remind Him of the direction of my path, when He's the one who created it. Sometimes it's simply that my knees are shaking at the leap He's asking me to take, and I want to be assured the ground on the other side is solid...forgetting that He's never allowed me to fall someplace He can't catch me.

Our faith is a constant work in progress. And in moments like this, moments where He allows a glimpse of things from His side, I'm amazed again at the depth and width of His love. Of what He puts up with and His bottomless patience with His children.

And challenged to trust Him just a little deeper.

Okay. So your turn. How does God challenge you to trust Him even more?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Bookshelf Friday - The Survivor by DiAnn Mills

I was very excited for this book to come out as I really enjoyed the first in this series, The Chase. Let me give you the blurb then we'll talk on the other side:)

Is it her next bestseller . . . Or her last words? In The Chase, award-winning author DiAnn Mills introduced you to the world of Kariss Walker, the bestselling suspense author with a nose for trouble. In The Survivor, Kariss gets the chance to tell her most powerful story yet. But will it revitalize her writing career? Or bring it to a violent end? Kariss meets Dr. Amy Garrett, who survived a brutal childhood attack in which the assailant was never found. Now Dr. Garrett wants her story written in a novel. Kariss wishes she could seek the advice of Special Agent Tigo Harris, but she broke off the relationship a few months prior and seeing him again would be too painful. She interviews Amy and conducts her own research, stepping unaware into danger. Tigo misses Kariss and wants her back, but he understands why she broke off their relationship. Instead, he concentrates on solving a car bombing and bringing the killer to justice. As Kariss's new story attracts an onslaught of danger that she never expected, can Tigo save the woman he loves and find out who wants her dead for writing about an unsolved cold case?

What I liked about this book was that it brought us back to Tigo and Kariss's lives--a couple I really enjoyed getting to know in The Chase. This is a continuation of their story, and it shows how love is not always easy. There are definite bumps in the road before these two can make it to their HEA. I also like the complexity of the plot. I didn't latch on right away to the guilty party, and I love suspense books that can keep me guessing. 

However, I struggled with other parts of this book. Diann's writing didn't seem as close to the characters as she typically gets. Writers talk about something called deep POV, which basically is a style of writing that puts you right into the characters' skins. I didn't feel that in this book, but for most of the book felt like I was looking in on Kariss and Tigo. Add to that, their paths don't cross much for the first half of the book, and this gave the read a slower pace for me. At times I even struggled to finish the book. Which was a huge surprise for me as I typically enjoy Diann's stories.

Could it have just been me--of course. Will I read her again--of course. Diann is a great writer and this book has wonderful reviews on many sites. However, I have to give it my own personal review here and based on my star rating I give The Survivor 3 out of 5 stars.

If you'd like to see a break-down of what my stars equal, check out my page My Ratings System to the right there. And a big thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free ecopy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Learn the Word Wednesday Verse #7, AND March's Word Winner:)

Hey all! I've pulled names from Facebook, here, and Pinterest of everyone who followed along in March, and our March winner is...

Traci Kadzielewski

Traci, email me your address and what you choose from the grab bag to the right there, and I'll get it out to you:) And...because I just can't help but shout it out -- CONGRATS Traci on your new baby boy:) You've lived this week's verse:)

Now, onto verse #7, week 2...

This verse has stuck with me since I read it nearly a month ago. What amazes me is how many times I've read Psalms and somehow I'd never really "heard" this verse. Love, love, love that God keeps His word fresh, impressing it on our hearts and revealing it to us as we need it. The Word of God is truly alive and active! (Hebrews 4:12)

What I love about this verse really coattails on my Monday post. It's about expectations. HUGE expectations and being confident in them. I mean, when David wrote this he wasn't exactly wearing his crown and sitting on his thrown. Nope. He was on the run. No one on his side. No place to call home. And yet he knew he would see God's goodness while he was still in the land of the living. He was confident that what God promised, He would fulfill.

Oh I want that confidence! It's what I am working on because I want to have that abundant life! Some of us have waited years, decades even, for a word we know God gave us. Maybe you even feel it slipping slowly through your fingers. You're losing heart. Growing weak. Read this verse! Let it soak into your marrow. Know God loves us. Believe His goodness will be seen in your life while you still have breath in your lungs. Yes, oh yes, Heaven will be beyond compare. But here, in the land of the living, we will also see His goodness.

We just have to wait for Him.

Wait for His timing.

Wait for His preparation.

Wait for His prompting.

Be strong. Take heart. And wait for Him!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Huge Expectations

I was reading Acts this past week and got to chapter 3 where I stopped and camped out on the story of the Lame Man. You know, the man who Peter and John saw at the gate to the temple? The cripple who was brought every day to the Beautiful Gate and left to beg.

Listen to these verses:
And when he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. And Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze upon him and said, "Look at us!" And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, "I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you; In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene--walk!" And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were strengthened. And with a leap, he stood upright and began to walk...

I highlighted those words that stood out to me as I read. See, this beggar did all he knew. Here came these two men, two men known to have been with Christ, and the lame man held out his open hand and began asking them for alms. It's what he did every day. It was his life and all he knew. He could not work, but he could be provided for. When Peter and John stopped and asked for his full attention, the man turned to them, fully expecting to receive from them.

He asked. And he expected.

And God blew him away.  Immediately--which denotes a miracle--the man was healed. After a lifetime of being crippled, suddenly the man can walk.  My thoughts turned to Ephesians 3:20,

Now to Him who is able to do exeeding abundantly more than we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us...

See, it was an ordinary day for this lame man. He was doing all he'd ever done. I believe that healing had to have come as much as a surprise to him as to the people around him. It was beyond what he imagined in that moment, and far beyond what he was asking for.

And that's how God works. That is Ephesians 3:20 being lived out.

But it got me to thinking. What would have happened if that man had asked for healing. What if that's what he expected--not money--when he stopped those men of God? Would God have gone exceedingly abundantly beyond even that healing?

What about us? We all have dreams that God has planted in our hearts. Just as I'm sure that lame man had to dream about his healing. But sometimes those dreams seem so far out of reach we start to settle for simply asking what we know God will provide. Those things that have become a daily supply in our lives, or the things that seem easier to fulfill, and expect nothing too out of the ordinary to happen. We ask for just enough that seems safely able for Him to deliver. And with small expectations, it doesn't take much to go abundantly beyond them.

Anyone relate? I mean, I know I can fall into this habit real easily. It feels safer, to not expect too much. But really, where are our dreams and expectations safer than in the hands of our Father?

So what if we changed our expectations? I'm not saying He's our own personal genie, but what if we operated with the trust that ALL things truly are possible through our God--that nothing is too large for Him. What if those mind blowing moments were what we imagined? Ways He could use us to further His kingdom. Relationships He could heal. Old habits He could break. Not just great expectations, but HUGE expectations for a huge God.

I think maybe, just maybe, He would blow us away in ways we've never dreamed.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Bookshelf Friday - Sandwich With a Side of Romance by Krista Phillips

Not even gonna lie. I'd seen this book around, but hadn't made the time to read it. My TBR pile is huge, and I'm finding it hard to split time between reading and writing. And while I didn't dislike this cover, for whatever reason, it didn't pull me in. Add to that I had no idea what to expect from this little romance, so I simply did not pick it up.

I was WRONG!

Do not make the same mistake as I did. Pick this book up. Like today.

Here's a short blurb.

Sandwich represents hope for twenty-year-old Maddie Buckner and Kyle, the
eleven-year-old brother Maddie wants to spring out of foster care. Then she loses her new job after less than an hour on the clock. It’s all Reuben-the-Jerk’s fault, and she’s determined to make him right the wrong.  

He does so, reluctantly, by giving her a job at his restaurant, The Sandwich Shop. Then crazy things start happening at the restaurant, and Kyle’s foster parents apply to adopt him. To stop it all, Maddie must learn the art of humbling herself and accepting the help God has arranged, risking her heart to Reuben in the process. 

And she’d rather eat a million corned-beef on rye sandwiches
than do that.

Okay. So for me, the fact that Maddie is only twenty was another reason I held of reading this. I'm not exactly twenty any more. I truly wondered if I'd be able to relate to her.

I so totally did! Krista did such an amazing job making Maddie a woman that all of us can relate to. You understand her struggles and cheer for her to overcome them. Krista also wove God moments into the story in such an authentic way, I often found myself thinking "yep, been there, said that." And the humor and wit in this book? Loved it. Krista balanced the laughter so well with the heavier moments. I truly devoured this book with a smile on my face and cannot wait for her to release another book. 

So, if you like Contemporary Romance laced with humor, Sandwich With a Side of Romance needs to be at the top of your reading list! 

(Side note for those of you who didn't see my Facebook post last week. When I finished this book, my Kindle asked me to rate it and I happily gave it 5 stars. What I didn't realize is our Amazon account hooks to my husband's Twitter feed and it sent out a tweet from his account "Just finished Krista Phillip's Sandwich With a Side of Romance and I loved it!" He's still living that one down, and I'm still giggling.)

Have a great weekend everyone:)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Learn the Word #7

Hi everyone:) It's time for a new verse to learn and Pin. I'm trying something new. You should be able to hover your mouse over the image and it will ask you if you want to Pin It.  Though on iPad's and such, you may need to tap the image. Play with it. I did a trial run on Hubby's iPad last night and it worked, but I'm not too techno-savvy, so we'll see what happens when I put it out to you all!

Praying this verse impacts you as much as it has me recently. I'll be talking about it next Wednesday. For now, add it to your list. 

AND, it's time to draw a name for April's participants. I've heard from you on Facebook, in comments here, and been watching who pins the verses. If you've been participating and learning along with me in any way, I want to let you know I've seen it and encourage you to keep trying. This is not about perfection, this is about letting God's Word sink into our hearts and minds. Every time you say the verse, every time you look at it again, it's working it's way inside of you. Keep it up! His Word never returns void!

Be blessed this week:)