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Archive for May, 2011

A few years ago I’d never heard of Jeanette Windle and I thought the U.S. could “win” the war in Afghanistan. Then I read Jeanette’s book  “Veiled Freedom,” a work of fiction so believable it could be true, and I eagerly awaited the sequel, “Freedom’s Stand.” 

The wait is over. “Freedom’s Stand,” now available in bookstores and online, picks up the story of humanitarian aid worker Amy Mallory, Special Forces veteran Steve Wilson, and Afghan native Jamil where “Veiled Freedom” left off — all experiencing change through their time in Afghanistan, and all searching for purpose, love and freedom.

It’s difficult for me to review “Freedom’s Stand” without including my thoughts on “Veiled Freedom” because the two books really are one story in two parts. “Freedom’s Stand” is a fitting end to the saga, and I’d hate to give anything away about either story because the plots are so captivating. But don’t take my word for it. Read chapter 1 of “Freedom’s Stand” here.

I will say this: I first read “Veiled Freedom” because I’d met and gotten to know Jeanette through a local writer’s group, and I was intrigued by the premise that war and military action could not change a country. As the wife of a veteran who served in Iraq, I generally support military action. And as an American, I naively believe that all people who want freedom should have it and we are the people to help them achieve it.

The stories in these two books have changed my thinking and opened my heart to the vital role of prayer in changing the hearts of a people I will most likely never meet. Like Kathi Macias’ “People of the Book,” this series increased my awareness of the plight of women in Muslim countries and the possibility that Jesus can reach people where I cannot.

Jeanette is an amazing author who takes readers vividly to worlds they cannot or will not visit. And she is trustworthy in her depictions. Her research is thorough, so much so that she has been accused of receiving classified information.

For more information about Jeanette, click here.

To read her blog, click here.

 

I wholeheartedly recommend “Freedom’s Stand” for your want-to-read lists. But if you haven’t read “Veiled Freedom,” start there. I found myself a bit lost at the beginning because it’s been more than a year since I read the first half of the story. Re-reading the two together is on my list of when-I-get-around-to-it things to do.

Suspenseful, romantic, heartbreaking, inspiring — Jeanette’s books have it all and are not stereotypical Christian fiction.

Do I have to say it again? Read this book!

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In exchange for this review, Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book.

I Review For The Tyndale Blog Network

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My husband and I had the rare opportunity this week to be away from our house and children for three days and nights to attend our church’s national conference. When we arrived home from the parenting sabbatical, our 18-month-old son greeted us at the door, holding one of his favorite stuffed animals, with the word “monkey.” He’s a verbal child anyway, but “monkey” was not part of his vocabulary when we left. And both kids looked taller or older. It was only a few days, but it was a taste of what their grandparents experience between visits. Sometimes the familiarity of everyday contact blinds us to evidence of change and growth.

I’ve been feeling a little useless lately. Or inadequate. Or some other emotion I can’t put a name to yet. I’ve been a Christian for 14  years and I sometimes wonder if I’ve changed much since Day 1. Or Day 365.  I sort of feel like I’m regressing a little. Maybe.

I wish spiritual growth looked more like this:

I noticed this on the tree in our backyard recently. I’m not much of a gardener or plant expert, but it would seem to me that the lighter needles are evidence of new growth. They extend from the branches and pick up where the darker needles leave off.

Even from a distance, you can see the difference.

I love spring, how the trees burst with buds and color, flowers bloom and the world looks alive. After the dullness of winter, spring’s palette is refreshing. Growth is obvious.

Like these peonies. Some fully in bloom, some on the cusp of fullness.

I want to see the growth in my life or know that my chance to bloom is near.

I’m no gardener, but I know what to look for in trees, flowers and plants. I can tell when a plant isn’t growing.

What about me? What do I look for when it comes to growth?

Am I more patient than I used to be? Less critical? More loving? Less selfish?

If those are my standards, then I’d have to say my growth is stunted.

Occasionally my husband will say something to me like, “You’ve come a long way. If that had happened a year ago, you would have responded this way.” Meaning that he can see that I’ve grown and changed.

Maybe it’s not easy for me to see because I live with myself every day. Maybe it’s not easy for other people to see how they’ve grown either.

Maybe we need to look for the signs of life in other people and tell them what we see. I don’t always study the tree in our backyard, but that day I had to take the time to look and examine its branches. The tree is familiar, but that day, I saw something I hadn’t seen before.

So it is with the people in our lives, especially the familiar ones.

A closer look might reveal something we’ve never seen before.

And we might be able to encourage someone by telling them about the growth we’ve seen in them.

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… I’d choose this one:

“Not the power of a dynamic personality or the power of human wisdom and intrigue and scheming and carefully worked-out methods, but spiritual power through the Holy Spirit as we let Him fill us. Power that is made perfect through weakness, power that comes by grace through faith in the One who ‘is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us’ (Ephesians 3:20). High-voltage spiritual power that makes the enemy cringe!”

That’s how Ruth Myers describes the power available to Christians through the Holy Spirit in her book “31 Days of Power: Learning to Live in Spiritual Victory.”

While I admit this wasn’t exactly what I was expecting in a devotional, I do think it’s a valuable resource, especially for new Christians. Consider it a primer on spiritual warfare, but even for those of us who have been believers for a while the book serves as a reminder that we’re in a battle, we have weapons available, and in the end, we’re on the winning team.

The book is divided into two parts: a 31-day devotional and a section that further explains the basis for spiritual warfare and how a Christian lives in the midst of it. I appreciated the space to personalize each day’s prayers and the numerous Scripture references that served as sources for the prayers.

Click here to sample the first chapter.

In exchange for this review, I received a free copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.


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Finally, the follow-up to our free day at Longwood Gardens. My husband was in the middle of final papers and projects for seminary, and given the week we had that followed, being at Longwood for part of a day was a great way to relax in the midst of stress. Just walking through the doors, I could feel the worries and cares of the world  melt away. Longwood Gardens is becoming a retreat for us.

We began as we usually do, in the indoor children’s garden. Here, our kids can run around, make noise, play in the water and generally feel like they belong.

Isabelle was waiting to play with musical instruments. Corban, if you look closely, is soaked from head to toe.

Next, we took a lunch break.

The kids enjoyed our picnic in the van. Corban kept stashing his food in the side compartments near the window. I’m afraid we might be finding food for a long time.

After lunch, we headed to my favorite area of the Gardens: the Italian Water Garden.

I can’t really tell you what it is about water in a garden, but my soul is refreshed by such a combo. Corban, water-lover that he is, also appreciated it.

We took some time to wander through the outdoor flower gardens, which weren’t much to speak of when we visited in March, but were in full bloom this visit.

Phil & I started planning our tulip garden, taking a liking to these varieties.

I’ve honestly never seen so many different kinds of tulips!

Here was one of Isabelle’s favorite flowers:

Snapdragons, I think. Lovely.

Because we were on a time crunch — Phil had to go to work that afternoon — we hightailed it across the park to the outdoor children’s garden, so the kids could play a little more and, we hoped, tire themselves out for the drive home.

More water, more fun.

And, success.

A day well spent.

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And just to be clear, these two cuties aren’t on the list.

But here’s what is:

1. It exposes my weaknesses.

Like keeping a clean house, or a schedule for my kids. Like people-pleasing, being a pushover because I don’t want to fight, and the occasional (OK, more often than I like) bouts of laziness.

2. Ditto for my selfishness.

I never realized how self-centered my world was until I had kids and couldn’t do all the things I wanted to do whenever I wanted to do them. I still find myself fighting myself. I don’t like to share, but my kids always want my food, my time and my space.

3. It forces me to ask for help.

I’m a college graduate. With honors, even. But a bachelor’s degree in no way qualifies you for parenting. I don’t like having to ask for help or go to other people for advice or ask stupid questions. Parenthood has revealed I’m a dunce when it comes to consistency, potty training, patience, balancing love and discipline, child development and doctor’s visits.

4. And do things that, for me, are uncomfortable.

Like talking to strangers at the grocery store, standing out in a crowd, and making decisions.

5. It requires sacrifice.

Back to that sharing thing. How many dates, vacations, getaways and concerts could my husband and I have gone on/to? How much more comfortably could we have lived without the expenses of raising children? How much farther along would I be on my writing journey? Maybe my husband would be finished with seminary by now.

6. And slowing down.

Dishes. Laundry. Grocery shopping. Leaving the house. Whether it’s getting multiple people dressed, changing diapers the minute before I was ready to walk out the door, visiting the public restroom 3 times per grocery trip or chasing children from the back yard to the front yard and back while trying to hang up laundry, everything seems to take longer. Have you ever tried to hurry a toddler or a preschooler? Let me know your secrets to success in that department. Even a walk around the block isn’t quick as we stop to examine every stick, rock and flower petal along the way.

7. There are no days off.

I was sick this week, and I couldn’t call in help or send the kids away or call off work. I wanted to curl up on the couch with a book, but I still had to deal with children’s needs to the best of my ability. I’m “on call” 24/7. Some people go to sleep thinking about work. Some nights I go to sleep with my work.

8. And I’m always being watched.

“Why are you doing that?” “What are you doing?” And listened to. “Why did you say that?” When my natural instinct is to curse, insult, mock or demean, I have to think about who’s listening. When I want to kick, scream, or throw something in anger, I have to consider: do I want my kids to do the same?

9. It brings out the worst in me.

I don’t consider myself an impatient person, until Isabelle refuses to put her pajamas on for bed. I don’t tend toward anger, until the kids are fighting, screaming and throwing toys and food all over the house that I might have just cleaned. I don’t think of myself as immature until Isabelle says something like, “But I don’t feel like going potty,” and I reply with, “Well, I don’t FEEL like reading you stories.”

10. And reminds me that I’m not in control.

I can’t MAKE my kids do anything. I can’t force them to obey. I can’t wave a wand and have Isabelle magically potty-trained and accident-free. I can’t physically move their little legs faster so that we can finish our walk before dinner time. Some days, that makes me want to throw in the towel altogether, but I know I never could do that.

Yes, there are some things I hate about being a mom, but just because I hate these things doesn’t mean they’re not good for me. And when I look back on this list, I see it applies to my relationship with God, too.

Just as the goal of marriage isn’t to make me happy but holy (See Gary Thomas’ “Sacred Marriage” for more on that subject), so motherhood is not meant to fulfill all my natural longings but to show me my deep, utter need for grace and the love of Christ.

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A few good friends

It’s a rare friend who can call you “liar” to your face and live to tell about it.

Or raid your fridge and pantry like they’re his own. (My husband and I call them “refrigerator friends.”)

It’s a rare friend who can make you smile from 1,000 miles away with a few words on a birthday card.

Or be facedown on the floor in prayer for you in your darkest hour.

I’m blessed to have a few good friends.

© Verity Johnson | Dreamstime.com

The last week has reminded me of that.

Motherhood is a lonely gig sometimes, complicated for me by the fact that we live 700 miles from where I grew up, and I have a hard time making friends.

Not that I’m unfriendly. At least I don’t think I am. I’m just shy sometimes, and unwilling to be vulnerable with new people. And afraid of rejection. I want to invite people to my house to get to know them better but if they tell me “no,” then I’m afraid to ask again.

And I’m not good at maintaining a gazillion friendships.  I like people, and I’m of the mind that if I’ve ever known you at some point in my life, I consider you a friend of sorts. Or at least someone who I wouldn’t hang up on if you called me.

Do you ever wish we had another word for “friend”? Facebook has kind of ruined the idea with every acquaintance, classmate, co-worker and family member you have being called “friend.”

I want a word that describes those people I described above:

  • people who aren’t afraid to find out how you really are
  • who share their lives with you
  • who know you in ways a spouse can’t because they lived the drama of middle school, high school and beyond with you

Those kinds of friends deserve a better word. And I’m at a loss to find it.

Any suggestions?

For another take on friendship, check out my friend Courtney’s blog on the subject.

And tell me about the good friends in your life.

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And while we’re at it, I’d like to move Mother’s Day to August.

That said, I was intending to go in an entirely different direction with this post. It was all about me: how I hate that my birthday is often overlooked in our house because of finals, papers or, in the past, Army trainings/deployments; how the same is true of Mother’s Day because it also falls during finals week; how poor, poor me was in tears on my birthday and feeling unloved on Mother’s Day.

Then a delivery man brought this to my door:

(The instructions said to consume immediately. Who was I to argue? Especially concerning those chocolate-dipped apple slices.)

And I received a belated birthday card that made me smile.

And even though I’ve had a rough week, and I really did cry on my birthday and nearly told my husband off on Mother’s Day, my heart wasn’t in the post that I was writing.

It was ungrateful, selfish and truly pitiful. Even I wouldn’t have read it.

So let me tell you what I’ve learned this week:

  • Birthdays are just another day. I used to get upset at my dad for feeling this way about his birthday, but I sort of get it now. Yes, May 4 is the anniversary of the day I was born, and no, we can’t always celebrate it on that day. Does that mean my birthday has no meaning? That we can’t celebrate it at all? Nope. May 18 is the rescheduled day of my birth this year. My husband will prepare my pre-selected menu of meals that day, and I hope, have had time to buy me something nice. (Phil, if you’re reading this, you’ve gotten the hint, now get back to writing those papers!)
  • The postal service has not outlived its usefulness yet. At least, not in my book. More than 100 people posted a birthday greeting on my wall. (If you were one of them, thank you for that!) I also received a couple of e-mail greetings/cards. For me, though, there’s nothing like getting a card in the mail on your birthday. Some people see that as a waste of money, and if that’s your view, that’s fine. But let me tell you this story: my grandmother paid $18 in postage to ensure that my birthday card arrived ON my birthday. Extravagant? Perhaps. But love makes you do crazy things sometimes. I am resolved to try harder to send cards in the mail for birthdays and other special moments. I will fail, but I will try harder.
  • In the absence of family, friends and church family shine like stars in the night sky. I was overwhelmingly blessed by warm well-wishes for my birthday and Mother’s Day by people I’ve known less than 3 years but who feel like they’ve been a part of our lives forever.

When I look back on the pain I caused myself this week with too-high expectations and roller-coaster emotions, I wish I could take back the time I lost. But I can only move on, look ahead and hope that this time next year, no matter what does or does not happen in May, that I’m praising God for another year of life and motherhood.

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In the afterbirth of spring, when the world was gray, wet and gloomy but full of hope, this pop of color was a welcome sight — refreshing to the soul. We were on our second visit to Longwood Gardens, on a March day that was cooler than we’d hoped but still offered a pleasant indoor/outdoor garden experience.

This Friday, we’ll return to Longwood Gardens for our third visit, this time free, thanks to National Public Gardens Day and Better Homes and Gardens. (Click here to check if a garden near you is participating and print your FREE admission voucher.)

Since our first visit in August, I’ve wanted to return to Longwood Gardens. Our second visit didn’t disappoint in its uniqueness from the first. For one, our son is older and walking now, so he could participate in more of the children’s activities.

This is my favorite picture of our two kids in the children’s garden area:

Corban loves water, so to be able to “chase” water as it leaps along a winding path, was pure heaven for him. What fun to watch the two of them enjoy the plants. One of our best memories from this visit was Corban’s talent for falling and/or throwing himself into flower displays, causing dirt to fly. We were sure we’d be blacklisted from the gardens. But it’s a kid-friendly place, so not to worry.

In March, not much of the outdoor gardens were colorful or blooming, so we’re looking forward to seeing what spring has to offer.

But, the indoor plants made the visit worth our while. These were a few of my favorites:

My husband’s in the midst of writing final papers for the semester. My birthday and Mother’s Day are coming up. Taking a break to visit our favorite flowering sanctuary will be a treat this week.

I hope the fountains are running. The royal wedding earlier this week already put me in the England frame of mind. If I see the Italian Water Garden again, I might book a flight to my study abroad alma mater Harlaxton the next day.

If you’ve got nothing going this Friday and the weather looks favorable, I’d encourage you to participate in this generous event and experience a local garden for yourself. And if you find a good one in your area, I’d love to hear all about it!

And stay tuned for pictures and stories from our Friday visit at Longwood!

Happy spring!

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Kathi Macias’ “People of the Book” is a dangerous read, and I can only recommend it if NONE of the following apply to you:

1. You are comfortable with the level of your spiritual life.

2. You are unwilling to love Muslims.

3. You don’t want to think about being persecuted for your faith.

Or, if these statements do apply to you, but your heart is open, then find yourself a copy of this book. For a chance to win it, leave a comment on this blog and/or click here to leave comments on other blogs participating in the blog tour. Macias is giving away her entire four-book “Extreme Devotion” series on May 2 to someone who leaves a comment on one of the participating blogs.

That said, I couldn’t put this book down, and I’m eager to read the other books in the series. Macias transports you to a world about which you know little or nothing. I walked away from this book feeling several things: ashamed that I take for granted how easy it is to follow Christ in the United States, love for a people group with whom I don’t have a lot of contact, and desire to take more risks in sharing my faith.

Wow. There’s my one-word review. This book changed my life. I hope that doesn’t sound like an oversell, but I’m serious when I say read it with caution. You just don’t know what God might do with you after reading it.

But don’t let my words alone convince you. Watch the book trailer here.

And read on for an interview with Kathi Macias by Christian Speaker Services.

“People of the Book” is the fourth and final book in your Extreme Devotion series. Each book is set in a different country, with the theme of first devotion and commitment to Christ above all else running through all four. How is “People of the Book” different, and who/what inspired you to write this book?

People of the Book was the most difficult of the four Extreme Devotion series books to write, but it is also the strongest when it comes to a call to personal commitment to Christ and to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. With each of the books, I began drafting the manuscripts through Internet research, since I had never lived in any of the four countries and had only visited one of them. After the original draft, I worked with someone who either currently lived in the country or who had recently spent many years there. People of the Book was the toughest because the Saudi women I connected with via the Internet were understandably apprehensive about associating with me. Most, in fact, were terrified to do so. I was therefore quite pleased to meet a young woman named Dolly Dahdal here in the States who, until just a few years ago, had spent the majority of her life in Saudi Arabia and understood perfectly why I had chosen to write this book. We shared a passion to help expose the fallacy of “honor killings,” a horrific crime perpetrated primarily against women and girls who in some way bring “dishonor” on their Muslim families, and Dolly was a major contributor to the authenticity of this book.

Can you give us a brief synopsis of this story?

Eighteen-year-old Farah, who lives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with her family, wants nothing more than to develop a deeper, more meaningful devotion to her Muslim faith. She sees the month of Ramadan as her chance to draw nearer to Allah, and she pursues that goal throughout the holiday. All goes well until the prophet Isa—Jesus—appears to her in a dream and
calls her to Himself. At the same time, her only brother, Kareem, who has never liked Farah, actively seeks an opportunity to expose her for the sham he believes she is.

Meanwhile, Farah’s seventeen-year-old cousin, Nura, has begun to frequent an online chat room where former Muslims gather to discuss their new faith, based on their belief that Isa is much more than a Muslim prophet—He is actually the Son of God. While there, Nura becomes acquainted with an American girl of Muslim ancestry—now a devout Christian named
Sara—and a friendship quickly develops. However, Sara has problems of her own due to her fifteen-year-old brother Emir’s involvement with a gang.

The lives of Farah, Nura, and Sara ultimately dovetail until each finds herself at a place where her faith is put to the test. Will they remain faithful to the end? Will God protect and keep them safe in the midst of persecution and treachery? Or will they be required to pay the ultimate price for their faith?

Kathi, how did you get into writing? Has it always been your passion, or is it something you came to later in life?

I’ve always wanted to write, for as long as I can remember. I was an avid reader even before I started kindergarten. I wrote a short story in third grade that the teacher liked so much she showed it to the principal, and they decided to turn it into a play for the entire PTA. I was hooked! One day when I was about 13, I was walking home from school with my then boyfriend (now husband), Al, and I told him I’d be a writer some day. He often reminds me how blessed I am to have been able to do what I dreamed of all my life.

I understand you’re running a special contest that has to do with this book. Can you tell us about it?

Not only are there several opportunities to win a copy of the book on various blog sites included in this tour, but I’m giving away the entire four-book series at the end of the tour to someone who leaves a comment on one of the blogs, so be sure to check them all out and leave comments on each one!

In addition to writing, you are a popular speaker at women’s event, writers’ conferences, and various venues around the country. How can people find out more about you, your writing and speaking, sign up for your weekly devotional newsletter (in English or Spanish), and/or just view your many book videos, etc.?

They can find me at one of my websites (http://www.kathimacias.com; http://www.theTitus2Women.com) or on my Easy Writer blog at http://kathieasywritermacias.blogspot.com.
There is a “contact” button on my Kathi Macias website if they’d like to send me a message. I always respond to all my emails!

I was given a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for posting the author’s interview on my blog. This blog tour is managed by Christian Speaker Services (www.ChristianSpeakerServices.com).

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