Monday, February 29, 2016

Blooms in the Desert



I recently ran across this idea of a super Bloom in Death Valley. These beautiful yellow flowers are sprouting all over this desert whose very name qualifies it as a place where nothing lives. How cool is that? It only happens when circumstances are just right, but when everything is in its place, these bright yellow flowers pop up, carpeting the floor of the desert with a show hundreds flock to see.

And it made me immediately think of how great our God is. Only he can bring life from something dry and barren--and not only life, but beautiful life. Something so alluring people can't help but be drawn to it.

This is what he does in our lives. When we think nothing is happening. When all we see is dried up dreams or brokenness, God is getting ready to show off. Everyday blooms draw our attention, for sure, but when something blooms out of brokenness there is a special sweetness to it. The impact is so much greater. The reach so much larger.

But it can't happen unless everything is in the right place. That means we need to stay rooted in him. We need to allow the seeds of his truth to fall into the cracks and settle, giving them room to sprout. We need to stay patient, knowing that he is more than able to bring this harvest. And when he does, we need to be thankful and enjoy the beauty of it.

Praying the blooms in your desert will burst into life soon.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Bookshelf Friday - If I Run by Terri Blackstock

Terri Blackstock is one of the first Christian authors I started to read. Her writing hooked me with its natural flow and page-turning suspense, and I've been a fan ever since. When a friend loaned me If I Run to read, I couldn't wait to dive in, finishing it in just over a day. Here's a small blurb and we'll chat on the other side!


Casey Cox’s DNA is all over the crime scene. There’s no use talking to police; they’ve failed her abysmally before. She has to flee before she’s arrested . . . or worse. The truth doesn’t matter anymore.
But what is the truthThat’s the question haunting Dylan Roberts, the war-weary veteran hired to find Casey. PTSD has marked him damaged goods, but bringing Casey back can redeem him. Though the crime scene seems to tell the whole story, details of the murder aren’t adding up.
Casey Cox doesn’t fit the profile of a killer. But are Dylan’s skewed perceptions keeping him from being objective? If she isn’t guilty, why did she run?
Unraveling her past and the evidence that condemns her will take more time than he has, but as Dylan’s damaged soul intersects with hers, he is faced with two choices: the girl who occupies his every thought is a psychopathic killer . . . or a selfless hero. And the truth could be the most deadly weapon yet.

Before I start I'd like to say my review will contain a very small spoiler. Not one that will affect the who-done-it aspect, but one that tells you a small fact about the end of the book which I wasn't aware of prior to reading it. So either keep reading, or go purchase the book and then come back and read my review:)

All right, so as usual with a Blackstock book, it starts out with a line that immediately links your hands to the page, unwilling to put the book down. And while I did find the story intriguing from page one, I struggled to truly get into the characters' heads as it is written in first person present. This lends itself to the feeling of the hero and heroine narrating their story to you. I am a fan of third person, deep POV and thus found it took me some time to connect with Casey and Dylan. That being said, the story is well paced with a secondary plot and characters that are as compelling as the main thread. I found myself flipping through the book, enjoying every word even though I knew exactly what was happening. There wasn't so much of a who-done-it aspect as there was simply good story-telling.

It wasn't until the last page that I took issue. ***SPOILER MOMENT***

While the secondary story neatly wrapped up, this book is only the first of what will be a series. I have no idea how long of a series--or even that it was a series--because no where does it indicate that is the case. However, Casey's story does not end on the last page. She simply drives off into the proverbial sunset with several loose ends that still need tying. I liken it the first episode of a current television drama. You've met the heroine and potential love interest. You've learned why she's on the run and who the Big Bad is. You understand why she must continue to run--and along the way apparently help other people--but her story will span other episodes until finally her Big Bad is put away. And I would have been okay with that...IF I'd have expected it.

I'm still not sure exactly what to think. It was a long read for it to have the feel of only an episode at the end. However, I do think it's smart of Blackstock to use what could prove to be a fresh set-up for readers. My only caveat is that I wish the book would have been marketed as such as it would have prevented a frustrating moment when I hit the last page. My expectations were left unmet, and that could have so easily been fixed by a number on the cover or a sentence in the back cover blurb.

However, I cannot fault the story itself. Blackstock is an amazing writer, and now that I know what to expect from this series, I'm sure I'll be picking up the next book. I happily give If I Run 4 out of 5 stars and you can purchase it here.

Happy reading, friends!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Me, My Hairdryer, and A Dose of Perspective

So earlier this week I was drying my hair. Literally, I'd just started when it made this awful noise and died. With my hair still dripping wet.

And it wasn't one of my stay-at-home-wear-yoga-pants kind of days. I had places to go. Things to do. People to see. Let me expound by saying I have silky pin-straight hair that begs for a hair dryer before it will even consider playing nice. Plus, with it being a whopping zero degrees out, the idea of letting it stay wet left me with pictures of icicle strands where my should-be luscious locks should be.

As I stood staring at myself in the mirror and envisioned all the people I'd run into, I concluded my day was ruined before it had even started. Not only that, but my mood dive-bombed to a beyond grumpy status in 2.3 seconds flat.

All because of a hair dryer.

And I kid you not, that's what God dropped into my spirit. You're letting a hair dryer ruin you day, yet you:

Woke up. As in, you're breathing.

Had breakfast--with coffee. Have kids who woke up. Healthy. Have a husband who woke up before you and is already out the door--to his job. Had heat overnight. Solid walls that kept out the wind and snow. Clean water to drink AND bath in...that's why my hair was wet. Oh right, and at least I HAD hair! I also had a car that was going to take me places that day, one of which was the grocery store...

I could go on, but I don't need to. I'm sure the picture is becoming as clear to you as it was to me. Sometimes we let the littlest of things blow into huge issues that steal our peace. Not only steal it, but replace it with a sour spirit that can overflow on others. I mean, ladies, we all love to look good and there's nothing wrong with that. However, when it takes over how we act, then we have a problem.

So as I allowed God to turn my attitude around by bringing a little perspective to my morning (my day was definitely inconvenienced, but it was not ruined), I also began to roll up the cord to my hair dryer. It was then that I noticed the lint cap on the back was filled with lint. Ok. Honestly. Not something I look at often, but because I hadn't taken the time to clean it, my hairdryer couldn't get a steady stream of clean air. Too much debris was getting in the way.

And God just handed me a little more perspective with my hairdryer. Because when we don't take the time to clean up the little messes that stick with us--like anger after an argument, or jealousy over someone else's position, or bitterness from unmet expectations (go ahead and jump in here)--then these things clog up the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We need to allow Him to flow, unhindered, into all our issues so that we can work the way we were created to: as children of God showing all of his attributes.

I removed the lint cap and cleaned it, then tried running my hair dyer again. It started off slow but after a few minutes was back to its intended speed. Kind of like you and I. So today, how about we each try cleaning out an area that is may be preventing the freshness of God in our lives? I bet our day runs a whole lot better once we do:)

Friday, February 19, 2016

Bookshelf Friday - The Lassoed by Marriage Collection: Various Authors

Novella collections are truly catching fire. One large book filled with smaller stories that you can begin and finish in one setting? The idea has readers grabbing up these books, and I'm super excited to bring you this newest collection from Barbour in which one of my friend's had her debut published! Here's a short blurb, and we'll chat on the other side!


Come along on a romantic journey jam-packed with all the angst of marriages founded upon practical choices as well as coercion. Meet nine couples who barely know each other before they find themselves suddenly married to please family, to stem the tide of gossip, to save the land and joined for life. But can love grow when duty comes before romance? 

While all the titles in this collection look great, I'd be lying if I didn't say Rebecca Jepson's was my favorite. I had the pleasure of meeting Rebecca a few years back at a writing conference, and at the time she'd just been represented by her agent. That her story found a spot in this novella collection doesn't surprise me at all.

Rebecca's story is titled A Highbrow Hoodwink, and when the black sheep of a family meets a sweet girl with a backbone, the resulting story is filled with laughter, love, and sparks. Rebecca packs a lot of character development and a strong-moving plot into the few pages her novella spans. The story leaves you happy while also hopeful that more novellas and books will be published by this new author.

I happily recommend this as a great weekend read to anyone who loves historical romance, and you can purchase a copy here. Happy reading, friends!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Distraction

Ever walk into a room and forget why you were headed there?

Or you're in the middle of a conversation with someone when dead silence is suddenly all you hear before realizing they asked you a question and you have no idea what it was?

Perhaps you ran to the grocery store for one item and you return home with three—none of which were the original item you went for.

Distraction.

It is all around us on a daily basis. So many tantalizing items to draw us away from what we were supposed to be doing in the first place. Oh, who am I kidding? Sometimes they aren’t even tempting, sometimes it’s busyness or boredom that become our distraction. Whatever the reason, distraction pulls us from our intentions to a place where none of them are accomplished. And it’s a tactic the devil uses daily.

See, for many of us we know the Truth. We fully believe we are saved, and we have a purpose directly given by God. Satan is unable to goad us into buying the lie that we are anything other than a daughter of the King. But if he can’t pull our eyes from the One who we wrap our identity in, then he is going to attempt the next best thing possible: distracting us from our purpose. One of the best ways satan renders us useless in the kingdom of God is by spinning that shiny ball of distraction in our face. Simply put, if he can’t beat us, he’ll distract us.

So how do we combat this? I mean, some days we don’t even recognize the tactics he employs. Like a pick-pocket, he moves in close with a clever manner that allows us to feel comfortable while keeping our focus on anything but what’s really occurring. In this case it’s our true purpose being stolen from us. The only way to combat this scheme is if we learn to keep our eyes on Jesus all the time and constantly be on guard for the devil’s smooth talk and shimmering diversions.

Friends, anything that diverts us from God’s purpose and plan for our lives is dangerous. Stay close to him. Spend time with in his presence every day, chatting and asking about the decisions before you. Just because something looks good—is good—does not mean it’s for you. There are so many wonderful opportunities that come into our lives, yet if they don’t align with what God has for you then it doesn’t matter how good they are, they are still a distraction from God’s best.

And don’t let the tactic of distraction pull you from it.

"...in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not aware of his schemes." 2 Corinthians 2:11


Friday, February 12, 2016

Bookshelf Friday - Keeper of the Stars by Robin Lee Hatcher

Robin Lee Hatcher was a new-to-me author. I mean, I know who Robin Lee Hatcher is, but I'd yet to  pick up one of her books. After reading Keeper of the Stars, I've decided I'm placing her other books on my TBR pile. Here's a short blurb, and we'll chat on the other side!


When her mother died from pneumonia, Penny Cartwright was heartbroken. But now, after burying her younger brother just 12 years later, she is devastated. Anger, guilt, and sorrow cloud Penny’s mind, and the last thing she wants is to be reminded of her pain—but that’s exactly what happens when a stranger comes to town.
Trevor Reynolds has been chasing fame for more than a dozen years, but his musical career can’t get off the ground. While on the road, an accident kills his young drummer, Brad Cartwright. Trevor wasn’t behind the wheel, but he still blames himself . . . and so does Brad’s sister, Penny. Now Trevor finds himself in Kings Meadow, determined to follow through on his final promise to his friend.
Still feeling the pain of Brad’s death, Penny and Trevor must learn that forgiveness is the only thing that can heal their hearts. And if they do forgive, something beautiful may rise from the ashes of heartbreak.

I loved every aspect of this story. First, Hatcher handles grief so well through Penny. The emotion doesn't weigh the story down, but also doesn't shy away from the depths of it. Penny's character is believable, especially her internals which show from the very beginning how torn she is over Trevor being in her life. It is evident from the start that their paths will connect, but Hatcher moves them at a perfectly-paced winding path that maintained both their authentic arcs.

Trevor is one of my favorite male leads. He comes to King's Meadow not only to fulfill his promise to Brad, but to befriend Penny and her father. Romance wasn't first on his mind, and I love his slow awakening to that emotion. His internals also were great, showing his frustration with Penny's reluctance to take a liking to him, yet retaining an incredibly soft patience with her fragile heart.

I also loved how Hatcher involved Brad throughout the story, even though we opened at his graveside. The glimpses into who Brad was and his relationship with all the characters was an integral part of this story, and one I'm glad the author was allowed to keep. Flashbacks can often slow a story down, but in this one they only added to its depth.

All together I happily give Keeper of the Stars 5 out of 5 stars and you can purchase it here.

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.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Already Ours




There is SO MUCH in this verse!

I came across it while doing Priscilla Shirer’s Armor of God study this week. I’m not even going to lie, it’s one of my favorites. I am passionate about what this verse tells us, and I desire deeply for every person to understand these words are for them. Not simply to read, but to live!

See, I think that’s one of our problems with the Bible. We read it like we would other books. A good story. A fix-it manual. Or several auto-biographies rolled into one. We keep a safe distance, a third-party participant if you will, from the words on these pages…but the Bible is a living, breathing, powerful weapon full of truths and actions for our lives today!

The Bible was meant for us to know God intimately and, by extension, to change our lives radically. Those words on the pages are his very breath. They are filled with power. And they are ours to experience in a very tangible way. Oh, how much we miss in our lives when we think it’s simply ink on a page.

Simply look at this verse. Once we understand that it’s our to live, we can begin to let it transform us. First, we have hope to which he’s called us, meaning when we call on him we are saved. Redeemed. Free from our sins. Free. Now that is hope.

But he doesn’t stop there. He has an inheritance for us. We’re not talking monetary, no, we’re talking riches like mercy, grace, wisdom, joy, peace…life changing riches that are ours because we now belong to him.

Even better? The verse goes on to one more. Possibly the most important for us to grasp. His incomparably great power resides in us. Listen to that! It’s the linchpin of our Christian lives, people. The same God who raised the dead lives in us and has given us access to that power through him. This verse doesn’t say we are waiting for it, it says it’s already ours.

So why do so many of us live like we’re more of a watch battery than a power plant? There is nothing satan can throw at us that the God who lives in us can’t defeat. We need to start behaving like the God who raised the dead and called dry bones to life is the same God who is IN us. We need to believe the Bible is active and not black ink on paper thin pages.

It’s not a story, it’s a sword. And we need to start wielding it as such. Because every promise inside of it is already ours.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Bookshelf Friday - Cold Shot by Dani Pettrey

I have anxiously been awaiting the next book from Dani Pettrey since she ended her last series. Cold Shot opens up with a new cast of characters in an all new setting, and I was so excited to have it in my hands. Here’s the blurb, and we’ll chat on the other side.


In college, Griffin McCray and his three best friends had their lives planned out. Griffin and Luke Gallagher would join the Baltimore Police Department, Declan Grey would head to the FBI, and Parker Mitchell would study to become a crime scene analyst. But then Luke vanished before graduation and their world--and friendships--crumbled. 

Now years later, Griffin has left the police and his friendships behind. Still trying to forget a case that went bad when he was a SWAT team sniper, he's living a quiet life as a park ranger at Gettysburg. Quiet until skeletal remains are uncovered near Little Round Top--and they aren't Civil War-era. 

Griffin just wants the case to go away, but charming forensic anthropologist Finley Scott discovers evidence pointing to the work of an expert sniper. When FBI agent Declan Grey steps in to take over the case, past and present collide. Griffin soon realizes he'll need to confront some of the darkest days of his life if he--and those he cares about--are going to escape a downward spiral of crime, danger, and murder.

From page one, Cold Shot brings you straight into the suspense. I truly enjoy that aspect. And the first meeting between Griffin and Finley suited them perfectly and set up what promised to be a dynamic relationship coming together. Instead, this became a portion of the book that left me wanting more.

While Pettrey does an amazing job with a complex plot that definitely keeps you sucked in for the suspense aspect of this book, I found the romance side slighted compared to what I know she typically writes. Cold Shot feels like a large set-up for this new series with many (if not all) of the new characters coming on screen inside the pages of book one. And while I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them all and am intrigued to solve their mysteries, too many of the pages focused on their introductions, making Griffin and Finley’s relationship take a back seat.

That being said, Griffin and Finley are still the main couple of Cold Shot and they do receive their HEA by book’s end, I only wish more pages had been dedicated to them getting there, because they are two amazing characters who would have benefitted from more screen time.

Still, Pettrey knows how to write a suspense that borderlines a mystery and she does craft some pretty amazing characters who will easily carry this new series. And though Griffin and Finley’s story is completely wrapped up at the end of Cold Shot, there’s enough overarching mystery in these friends’ lives to keep you coming back for the next book, which I most definitely will be doing.


I happily give Cold Shot 4 out of 5 stars and you can purchase it here.

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.

Monday, February 1, 2016

What Will Consume You?

This past week I was mad at God. I’m just going to lay that out there in all its honesty. It wasn’t pretty, as anger typically isn’t, but it also wasn’t unfounded. And it definitely did not come as a surprise to Him.

At first I didn’t want to admit it. I tiptoed around the subject, speaking to the feeling with all the right words because I knew it was the right thing to do, but I didn’t deal with it. When that didn’t work, I focused on other places as the root of the issue, aiming my anger there instead. Not that I acted out, no, I simply kept the anger to myself unwilling to face it head on or let it out because…well…the idea that I was mad at all seemed like something I shouldn’t feel.

But here’s the thing. God can handle our anger. He gets angry himself. Anger is not a sin. It’s what we do with it that can become sin. When we hold it inside, refusing to talk about it and allowing bitterness to take root, that is when sin enters the picture.

Friend, a relationship with God is like no other relationship we have and yet the same all in one breath. One facet that mimics other relationships—really is the key to them—is communication. I spoke a little about our need for regular chats with God last week. Communication must happen for us to grow in Christ. We cannot shut Him out or ignore a problem when it arises because we are scared to reveal our true feelings to Him. Spoiler: He already knows them because He already knows us that intimately (Read Psalm 139 to see this). Our thoughts are not hidden from Him! And as long as we continue to work through our emotions with Him, we’ll be okay.

I started by unloading on my husband. Sometimes having that physical listening ear can start you talking. But in the end it was God who I most needed to speak with. I needed to open my mouth and let out the frustrations hammering away at my heart. And they were understandable issues driving my anger. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s ever experienced this. We are going to get mad at God from time to time. It’s normal. Think of it this way. How many of you are parents? Our children don’t always like the decisions we make, but they are always made out of love and typically from a larger vantage point than our children have. We make them because we see a bigger picture, and we have their safety and best interests at heart. Yet in the moment our children don’t like us for it. Well, our relationship with God is much the same, and we have to trust that He loves us too much to always keep us happy. If happy-in-the-moment takes us away from His best, then guess what? God isn’t going to choose that. He’ll chose what is best for us, even if it upsets us sometimes.

And when He does, we have a choice. We can keep that anger inside and let it consume us, or we can run to God with it and let Him consume us.

It might have taken me the better part of a week, but I finally found myself speaking honestly with Him. He didn’t get upset. He didn’t act surprised. And He didn’t pull the silent treatment in response. Instead He gathered me in His arms, shouldered my anger, and began to heal my heart from it.

He’s waiting to do the same for you. All you have to do is start talking. He’ll listen.